Thursday, June 26, 2003

The Hotel: My Home, My Palace, My Monastery

One of the most common questions people ask me is: Why don't you get an apartment instead of staying in a hotel? People are often surprised that I've been calling a budget hotel my home in Jakarta for one-and-a-half years. Loneliness, claustrophobia, boredom and lack of privacy are some of the common fears for people not wanting to stay long term in a hotel. They cannot imagine how I could live, "holed up" in a small room.

I've often quipped that I consider the whole hotel my "house", and all the hotel employees, my friends and family members. And I have a retinue of servants to answer to my every whim and fancy. Living in such "opulence" and "luxury", why would anyone want to stay in a pretentious looking expatriate condominium 1 hour away from the city together with bules (Mat Sallehs) and their noisy kids who are forever splashing in the swimming pools?

I go back to my room everyday with my bed freshly made and my clean laundry hanging in my closet. I never need to lift a finger whenever I go out to catch a cab to work in the morning - the porter will rush down the streets to hail me one. And if I feel lonely, I can always chit-chat with Diki at the concierge, Marlyn at the reception or Wiwik from the sales department. Every morning I'm greeted cheerfully by the housekeeper Intan who keeps my room well-stocked with mineral water and coffee. And if I feel like it, I'll drop by at the restaurant downstairs for my complimentary buffet breakfast or hop into the gym for a workout and a relaxing session in the sauna.

Convenience aside, I have other personal reasons for staying in a hotel: it makes my life simpler. Everything I own can be packed into two or three suitcases. It helps me to maintain an austere discipline and forces myself not to accumulate unnecessary things and to keep them uncluttered. From previous experiences staying in an apartment or a house, packing up after a long stay can be quite a nightmare. The less space you have, the more orderly you become.

I like to think of myself as living the life of a Benedictine monk in a secluded monastery. The Seven Storey Mountain by the Trappist monk, Thomas Merton and The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris give good accounts of the monastic life. A quiet life of studies and contemplation is what I seek these days. My small hotel room serves that purpose very well. Every night I spend quiet moments in my "cell" writing, reading and typing into my Jornada PDA. Ocassionally I would stare out of my glass window into the night speckled with neon lights: deep in the bowels of the city, the night pulsates with sin and excitement - hawkers and hookers strolling the alleyways, junkies gyrating trance-like in smoky techno-clubs and ubiquitous taxi-drivers touting for customers outside every nightspot.

And I have my home sweet home right here in the middle of all this seediness - a sanctuary of peace in the Capital of Sin.

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