Cross-cultural studies involving A/C

Case Study the First

On a recent Friday night, in need of an air-conned, ex-pat break from the otherwise paradisiacal environment that is Jogja, I pointed a cab to the ritziest 5-star hotel in the town center. Once there I headed for the bar through the cooled foyer and shopping arcade. The spacious, plush bar had a stage at one end, pool table at another, horseshoe in the middle, and leather chairs, couches, and tables throughout… It was 9:00 on a Friday, I was the only one there… me and my John Lennon biography.

I ordered a beer… by the time it came I noticed the air felt a bit still and warm, like Jogja air nearly always does, and which I wanted to pay good money to escape this night. Looking past the waiter, I noticed the double door entrance to the patio was open.

I asked the waiter if there was AC. “Yes sir” laughing (laughing is usually a sign of embarrassment, or covering up non-comprehension).

“Oh. Is it on?” Laughing, “Yes Sir.”

I smiled warmly. I said, “It feels warm,” and pointed to a little moisture on my shirt.

“Ah.” Laughing. He points to the door. “The doors are open.”

We can both see them. “Oh really?”

“Yes sir.” No laughing (this is an indisputable fact, so no need for embarrassment or possibility of misunderstanding). He has clarified the situation.

“I see.” I’m still waiting for him to suggest closing the door, but I’ve been here long enough to know that’s not going to happen.

The humidity and staff hover near my table. My skin and shirt take on a glow as my beer glass slowly drains. Before it hits bottom, a female waitress pounces and asks if I’ll be wanting another. I surrender, and determine to reopen the a/c inquisition. By this time a pair of bules has entered and are drinking at the bar, also pawing over rock music books. So there are three of us, at 9:30 on a Friday night. Why is this huge place so dead? We wonder not.

She returns with the beer, and no joke, this is how the conversation starts:

I asked the waiter if there was AC. “Yes sir” laughing.

“Oh. Is it on?” Laughing, “Yes Sir.”

I smiled warmly. I said, “It feels warm,” and pointed to a lot of moisture on my shirt.

“Ah.” Laughing. She points to the door. “The doors are open.”

We can both see them. “Oh really?”

“Yes sir.” No laughing. She has clarified the situation.

“I see.” I’m still waiting for her to suggest closing the door, but I’ve been here long enough to know that’s not going to happen.

So I take the initiative. “Do you think if we close them it is cool?”

HUGE laughter and nodding, but no “yes.”

“Do you think you can close them? I’m very warm here.”

Still more loud laughter, but she nods and says “yes sir”. She is uncomfortable because she did not open the doors in the first place, and closing them will require that she assume responsibility for possibly going against another staff person’s desire, and causing loss of face.

Still, she closes them, 20 minutes later it starts to feel cooler, the other two bules and I make friends, play some pool, have a cigar, sing a song in memory of Wilson Pickett RIP who had died a few hours earlier, and have a great time.

Then we got the bill. A plate of calamari, 3 x $6 beers and a pitcher, for $50 bucks in a town where anywhere else the price would have been about a third of that, and we had to fight for the a/c. On this Friday night by 11:00 there had been a maximum of eight customers, and you wonder why.

Case Study the Second.

The next night I again want classy cool comforts, and Julia and I hop into a cab to find a couple of new places we’ve heard about for dinner. Bumbu Payon is the spot we settle on. Looks pretty nice, in the wide-open Jogja way. Several large rooms with big French doors opening onto cross-ventilated patios, and the outside temperature’s really OK, but I spot one big room at the back with several wall-mounted a/c units and settle on this room.

There are no other customers in this room, and only one other paying couple visible anywhere. The tables in my room are all set and waiting. I ask the waiter if he can turn on the A/C…


“This room is for big parties.”

“Oh. I see. Are you expecting a party tonight?”(it IS Saturday after all)

Laughter “There’s no reservation yet.”

“Oh, well, can we eat here, and we’ll move if a party comes?”

Laughter. “Of course sir.”

“Great. Could you please turn on the a/c?”

“There is a $2.50 charge for the a/c.”

Laughter. “No way.”

Laughter. “Yes sir.”

No laughter. “Crazy.” We took a table on one of the patios, had a pretty nice meal. The a/c would have amounted to a 25% surcharge…

Case Study the Third

Sunday afternoon, Julia and I went to a big franchise of pretty decent quality called Dixie Diner. 3 floors, 2nd floor enclosed in glass and lined with a/c, all on, all the time. I/we’d been there several times before in my four months here in Jogja. The place is usually bustling with families and university students. Service is good and friendly, music unobstrusive except when the band is playing and then it’s gypsy kings style stuff and pretty darn good. We stayed there two hours, had a second round of iced coffees in our cool comfy cushy sofa, paid about $15, more than for dinner the previous night, and didn’t mind a bit. I’ll probably be back again next week.


It just blows my mind sometimes. The staff at a massively overpriced hotel bar, potentially the most comfortable place for big-spending bules within a 40-minute driving radius, had trained potential customers not to come there for fear of the climate and the price-gouging. Local staff usually know no better than to keep themselves comfortable, and just don’t understand that they can drive away the best customers by doing that. They never see many customers in any decent restaurant in town, so they don’t expect any in their own joints. They DO get cold when the a/c is working and the doors are closed, and this tends to be frightening, but they are not the ones who pay to come through the doors…

The restaurant that charged for a/c? Do I need to say anything about how often I’ll go back there even though the food was fairly good?

Related Summary of Studies in Bar/Club Music

Elsewhere in Jogja, bar staff also control the music, and this usually makes the situation even worse, as their taste gravitates to current brainless heavy-beat electronica and drum stuff at impossible volumes that most bules run from. No conversation possible. Seems to be made for E…

So where’s the managerial oversight? These hands-off owners/managers who leave everything in the hands of their staff whom they pay insultingly and train not at all…are losing profits hand over fist…


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