I arrived in Yogyakarta to a flourish of westernisation. I found a cheap hotel without too much ado, and after six weeks of forests, valleys, small villages, rice and noodles, I was mesmerized: McDonald's, Pizza Hut, shopping malls, TVs, CD players; these things have been constant companions in my life since the year dot, and after six weeks I was so amazed by their reappearance that it felt like rediscovering technology all over again. It's a powerful drug, westernisation: I wanted to flash the plastic right there and then, to buy some music, some computer hardware, some trendy clothes that didn't look they'd been dragged backwards though the rainforest.
And McDonald's was there, Ronald holding out his hands just like the tau-tau, enticing the tourists in. For Yogya (pronounced 'Jogja') is a tourist town par excellence, and although at first glance it seems that there aren't that many tourists, look again: there aren't necessarily that many white tourists, but there are plenty of Indonesians and Malaysians visiting the malls and the junk food stalls.
But it's not quite the same McDonald's as we're used to back home. Java is a Muslim island, and McDonald's is halal: it has the halal sign plastered on its food, on its publicity, on the certificate from the leaders of Islam to pronounce that McDonald's might be lacking in nutrition and redeeming qualities, but at least the meat was bled properly. Then there's McDonald's chilli sauce – an essential part of Indonesian cuisine, of course – and the McRice meal, an addition to the McRange that I gave a wide McBerth; the area in the centre of the restaurant where the tables and chairs give way to six-inch high tables and floor mats, so those who so desire it can eat their Big Macs in their favourite manner; the sign above the door that proclaims, in Indonesian, 'Thank you, please come back tomorrow,' a far more unsubtle version of the more western 'Please come again'; the automatic question 'Do you want ice?' when you buy a drink, a result of the dangers of drinking iced drinks in a country where the water is dodgy and can only be purified by boiling, not freezing; the most popular dish with the locals is chicken, cooked just like it is in Kentucky Fried Chicken... Big Macs come in a poor second; and the number of staff ready to take away your tray is much bigger than in Europe, where labour costs are much higher. But it's still McDonald's, with the same taste, the same gut-plugging effect, the same wonderful fries... and a price that's truly Indonesian, with a Big Mac meal for 6900rp, or about £1.25.
Not that Yogya was just McDonald's, oh no. On the second night I went to Pizza Hut with four others from our hotel, and I swear that it was one of the most delightful meals I have ever had. Cheese, bread, meat that doesn't kill you... it was worth paying the western prices for the thrill of the taste sensation. It just confirmed what I had been thinking: Indonesian food is OK, but I know what I'd rather eat.