Invisible Businesses

By Stephen Ewashkiw | June 18, 2014

14,974 km so far.

I should be used to this by now, after 8 months in Asia, but I’m not. For some reason, I still expect that cafes will be open, that shops will be easy to find, that people will answer phones.

Not so in Asia.

Coffee Talk

At breakfast this morning our guesthouse owner noticed my coffee contraptions, and we started talking coffee. This shouldn’t be surprising, since we are on Java, but I am still surprised whenever someone seems to know about coffee. He told me about all the different growing regions on the islands of Indonesia, and told me a friend of his had a specialty coffee shop in town, with many of these beans to sample.

laundry hanging by a wall in yogayakarta indonesia

Laundry, Yogyakarta.

I went back to the room and did some of my own research on coffee shops in town, and found one that seemed to be the best, called Klinik Kopi. It was far from the centre of town, but the photos showed a beautiful building set in a small grove of trees. There was a WhatsApp number listed, so I messaged the owner to make sure they were open. Unfortunately he didn’t message back before we left. This should have been a sign.

I mentioned to the owner at Mango Tree where we were going, and it turned out this was his friend’s café. He assured us it would be open, and even gave us directions on how to take the bus there, which he said was much better than taking a taxi.

Hot Bus, Cold Café

The bus was inexpensive, but traffic was hectic. Also, the route the bus took was anything but direct, taking us on a winding path that must have covered twice the 7 km we were trying to go. There was a fan blowing on the bus, but every seat was packed so the heat just kept building and we kept sweating as we travelled 49 uncomfortable minutes to get to our stop.

Jane’s note: Why didn’t you just ride your bikes there? Because we are idiots, that’s why.

After wandering around for about 15 minutes we finally found the café, tucked down a back alley, through a rusty metal gate, in the middle of a small grove of trees. They were closed. Some people were around who were able to tell us they don’t open until 4pm. There was no sign to tell us this, and their website doesn’t indicate this at all. Also, what kind of coffee shop doesn’t open until 4pm?

When we got back online the owner had replied to my message and told me they were indeed open, which was obviously not true.

We hailed a cab to take us back, not wanting a repeat of the heated bus, and in air-conditioned comfort made our way back home. Yes, the taxi cost 5 times as much as our bus fares, but it took about a fifth of the time, was comfortable and direct.

yellow polka dot scooter yogayakarta indonesia

Itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polka dot scooter.

Transport doesn’t cost much in Yogyakarta, so the round trip only cost a total of $4, but we wasted our morning and accomplished nothing.

Close, But No Cigar (or The Part Where I Bitch)

Here, it feels like the economy is chugging along, but people are still struggling to make ends meet. To our eyes, it seems like the smallest amount of extra effort would make a world of difference.

A sign in the window saying when you’ll be open. Heck, any sign, like, for example, one with your business name on it, would be a good start.

Full marks for a sign with your business name on it, Yogyakarta.

Full marks for a sign with your business name on it, Yogyakarta.

Putting your hours on your website, and making sure those hours are correct. Linking to a map of your location, especially if you are hard to find, and making sure the map is correct. Washing the bedsheets when guests check out…

I am all for a laid-back lifestyle, but also for pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. I am not saying everyone needs to do business like Americans, but a little effort goes a long way. In Cambodia things were chill, but businesses seemed to be well run.

Maybe business owners in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia should visit Cambodia and see how it’s done.  

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  1. Comment by irfan yusuf

    irfan yusuf June 23, 2014 at 10:06 pm

    Hi Stephen and Jane,

    Love this writing! I will miss to have a conversation with you both especially for a Coffee thought. and Also, this post remind me to another interest eyes thought of my City Yogyakarta.

    Thanks to choose and became our guests at Mangotree Dipudjo Homestay before. Success for your Journey and hopefully we could meet each other again.

    • Comment by Stephen

      Stephen June 25, 2014 at 12:43 am

      Thanks for stopping by and reading Irfan! Oh, and the GPS coordinates for your homestay are: 7.81281°S 110.37082°E

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