Meeting the Man Who Knew Everybody

If you ever find yourself staying at Indies Heritage Hotel Yogyakarta, try walking out of the hotel at night and turning right to a small field doubling as a parking lot. Chances are, you’ll find a tiny stall selling coffee and a variety of fried snacks there. If the odds are in your favor, you’ll also find something else there: the man who knew everybody.

My encounter with this man was nothing short of unique. That Friday night, I had just been introduced to an awesome man (whom I will introduce to you in my next post!) by my dad and we decided to just sit down somewhere and have a drink before we headed out again. As we were walking from Indies Heritage Hotel, we found the makeshift coffee shop and decided to hang out there for a while.

That night, the wooden benches surrounding the stall was packed with locals. A man with graying, bushy mustache and Javanese hat – to whom I will refer here as Mr. Mustache – saw us coming and instantly jumped out of his seat.

“Come in,” he said, motioning towards the empty seat. “Monggo, please sit here.”

We all said there and started placing orders. I was initially planning to order milk tea, my staple drink of the entire trip, when the man with the mustache asked me from the other side of the stall,

“Have you ever tried kunir asem?”

“No,” I said. “What is it?”

“Ah, you should. It cleanses your entire body and protects you from viruses too,” he smiled at me.

“It’s a traditional drink, Mbak. We drink it for detox here,” the woman who owned the stall added.

I rolled the idea of this kunir asem in my head over for a while then thought “oh what the heck” and asked the lady to brew one for me. She cut up some ginger, cinnamon sticks, and turmeric to a glass, added some other spices and ice then handed the glass over to me.

I took a sip and decided that I liked this kunir asem. It was anything but close to my usual milk tea with its sharpness of taste from all the spices, but somewhat nice and comforting. I love ginger and cinnamon anyway.

Kunir Asem

As I slowly sipped my kunir asem and talked to my new acquaintance, I couldn’t help but notice that Mr. Mustache was talking to almost everyone on his side of the stall about seemingly everything. He had a conversation going with the woman who owned the stall while laughing with two other men to his left. As more people were walking past the stall from the mosque after their evening prayers, Mr. Mustache also said hi to more people and had small talk with them. The guy seemed to know everyone – men, women, and children. He even struck up a conversation with my new acquaintance that night about his job.

In the middle of his conversations with everyone else and the laughter, he suddenly exclaimed at me,

“Hey, how do you like your kunir asem?

I gave him a thumbs-up. “It’s actually really good. I really like it.”

“Good to know that,” he said to me before turning to face a guy he had been talking to and said, “She just had her first kunir asem, you know.” And they laughed.

Later during that night, Mr. Mustache finally got up and said to no one in particular or everyone around that stall, “Well, I should be on my way home now. Goodbye!”

I kid you not, a chorus of “goodbye” broke out from that stall. The man had talked to just about everyone in the stall that we all felt the need to say goodbye to him as he started getting on his bike. When he started pedaling and waved at us all, we all waved back.

I honestly thought he was the owner of the stall for his warm hospitality to everyone in it.

But Mr. Mustache’s presence in the stall left a magical effect because it somehow broke the ice and led us to strike up our own conversations with each other. I started asking the coffee owner about how they made coffee when I saw her light up fire wood underneath her kettle. My visible fascination about how making coffee with fire wood and coals could boost the taste of coffee led to a man to my right to ask, “You’ve never seen coffee made like this before? Where are you from?”

“Jakarta,” I replied. “And I’ve honestly never seen coffee made with coals before.”

The man then talked to a couple of other guys and the stall owners while the stall owners and I had this conversation about the different ways to make a coffee and when the time came for me to head out of the stall, I decided to take a picture of the stall just to make sure I don’t forget it.

The man who asked me where I was from noticed my camera and said excitedly to the other guys in the stall, “Hey, look! We’re getting our picture taken!” and moved out of the shot.

And just like that, I got one of my favorite photos from the trip thanks to the story behind it.

After I gave them the thumbs-up, one of the other men asked me, “Is this going to be in a book or a newspaper?”

“No,” I said, “But it will be on the internet.”

The shot that turned out

I thanked everyone and did what Mr. Mustache had done: said goodbye to the entire coffee stall. The entire stall was filled with strangers for me when I had first arrived there and I left saying goodbye to everyone in there because we had all talked to each other as an effect of Mr. Mustache talking to everyone.

Later that night, I finally asked my new acquaintance who seemed to be familiar with Mr. Mustache.

“That man with the mustache, who is he? Is he some sort of government officer here or something? He seems to know literally everyone.”

“Oh, him,” he said. “No, he’s not. He’s actually the leader of a community for vintage bicycle lovers. I don’t even think he’s from around that part of the city. He’s quite popular though.”

And I can honestly see why.

Mr. Mustache made me realize that being hospitable to other people is really awesome and can lead to really awesome things. If he hadn’t given up his seat and talked to me, I wouldn’t have talked to other people in that stall as well. In the hour I spent watching him interact with other people, asking how they were with genuine concern, talking about anything and making everyone feel welcomed by him led me to see that kindness is never not cool and – as cliche as it sounds – inspired me to want to be just like that towards people around me.

I didn’t get a single picture of Mr. Mustache that night. I didn’t catch his name and even though I had tried googling every single vintage bike community in Yogyakarta, I couldn’t find anything on him or any photo that would lead to a name. To me, he was just Mr. Mustache, the man who knew everybody and got everyone to know a bit about each other.

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