Stalking Leopards

I was contacted by a reporter for the International Herald Tribune last week. She had come across my blog and asked if I’d compose an article for publication. The focus of the article was to convey expat experiences with having guests stay with you, “quirky, extreme, or unexpected stories”. So, for better or worse, here’s one of those stories I wouldn’t usually share!

Jakarta. Famous for political strife, bird flu, and harboring terrorist cells, it’s also the gateway to Indonesia. Most travelers and tourists never leave the airport, much less venture into the heart of this city of 14 million souls. However, as an expat who has called this place ‘home’ for over four years, I tend to attract interesting experiences with those guests who decide to drop by and stay a while.

An expat who opens their door to a variety of visitors will inevitably find that people have many different interests when taking in a new culture. Some pursue the arts, the monuments, perhaps the landscape and natural wonders, while others prefer the more visceral and raw experience; they want to crawl into the under belly of the place so to speak.

One such guest made it a personal mission to experience Jakarta’s lesser known secret: the infamous nightlife that is said to rival Bangkok. Despite Indonesia being a nation with a 90% Muslim population, the bars and nightclubs in Jakarta are stocked with gorgeous girls seeking the company of both expats and their wallets.

Having witnessed the shock of visiting bars and seeing older expats bonding with women a quarter of their age, I strongly attempted to dissuade my friend to follow that route. As his host, I felt a certain responsibility to keep him out of the ‘dark side’ of Jakarta. When hosting out of town guests, the experience they have and the memories forever carved in their minds are a direct reflection of what you choose to show them. After attempting to persuade him otherwise, my friend was determined to see the ‘real Jakarta’, and I was about to find out just what kind of reflection I was about to provide.

Strolling into the five star hotel bar, I had to help my friend (let’s call him Joe) retrieve his jaw from the ground: the women were nothing short of breathtaking. He confidently made his rounds, as happy as a man who’d found utopia. As the night wore on, I noticed Joe was like an eight year old in the cereal aisle: desperate to know what prize was in the box, but unable to choose from the copious selection. The more time passed, the darker it seemed to get in the club. Toward the end of the night, I found Joe in one such dim corner practicing his 20 word Indonesian vocabulary with a slim woman in a leopard print dress. He had found his prey.

Drained and ready to leave I pulled Joe from his shady corner and into a cab. Climbing into the front seat, ready to close my eyes in preparation for the 30-minute ride home, I heard not one, but two doors slam shut behind me. Joe was not alone. Joe had captured a leopard. Knowing that Joe was a responsible adult, I decided to keep both my judgments and my mouth shut. To each his own, I told myself.

Two minutes into the ride home, I was pulled into Joe’s conversation with the Leopard. Apparently the Leopard didn’t speak English. I turned around to help Joe translate with his new friend. A nauseating feeling began to well up in me. Something was definitely wrong with the situation but I couldn’t put my finger on it. What was it? Was morality rearing its ugly head? Was it the fact that I should I tell Joe just how wrong it was to take home a woman whose English vocabulary stopped at “hi” and “beer”? As the fast moving car passed under the street lamps, it created a strobe light array that reflected off the Leopard’s face at rapid intervals. And then it hit me: my subconscious had noticed something my (and Joe’s) eyes hadn’t seen. The Leopard had a 5 o’clock shadow arriving 8 hours late. The Leopard was a man!

I couldn’t help but blurt it out to Joe.

“Oh my God she’s a he!”

“What are you talking about?” replied Joe with a drunken slur.

“Your chick has stubble!”

“No way, I’d never be tricked into that.”

“Dude, wait till we get under a street light.”

The discernable horror that stretched across Joe’s face will forever be etched in my mind.

“Pull over!” he screamed.

“C’mon, you can’t just drop her, I mean him, errr it, here!”

“If you don’t pull the cab over, I’m gonna puke all over the driver!”

The Leopard apparently knew the drill, as s/he wasn’t noticeably surprised or shocked in the least. S/he simply held their hand out waiting for cab fare to hitch a ride back to the same club. Ten dollars lighter, yet stocked with a lifetime’s treasure of humiliation, Joe made me swear never to tell the story again. Well, at least until a few years had passed.

The mortification we both experienced that night leapt through a range of emotions: the most immediate being fear of what could have been, followed by vodka induced laughter as we replayed the script in our heads, and finally into a dead silence of shame; his from the shock of it all, and mine from allowing myself to get him into that situation in the first place. As a host familiar with the trappings of Jakarta’s nightlife, it was my duty to steer him towards safer venues, like bookstores or shopping centers. Places where the sex of a customer was not a discussion point.

Joe didn’t seem keen to hit Jakarta’s nightlife after that, and for some reason we drifted apart after his departure. The last I heard he was stalking prey in North America, in well-lit venues where Leopards simply cannot hide.