DUBAI // Ferdi Idris grew up in the remote Indonesian village of Cianjur surrounded by little more than acres of rice paddies. Even as a child he had to help till the land and, as the eldest of four children, it was assumed that he would eventually take over his family's rice farm, as his father and grandfather had done.
Instead, the 31-year-old now manages the bar at the new Mövenpick Hotel in Dubai Marina and thrills his customers by breathing fire and juggling flaming bottles. "What I do here is 180 degrees away from my world back home where I grew up tending the land," he says. "When I was young, I'd drive the tractor and work the land, asking myself, is this the life for me?" His act, which involves props including ribbons and chains, is "a cross between bartending and a circus". When he talks about it, it is clear that Mr Idris has landed himself his dream job.
"It's about little moves to make the drink serving more entertaining. It's my selling point as a bartender." Ultimately, he wants to work in Las Vegas. Each step up the ladder, he says, gets him a bit closer. "In five years' time, I have to be the food and beverage manager or director in a five-star hotel. I would love to be in Vegas or Florida, though." He practises for at least three hours a day, his arms covered with burn marks and scars from handling flames and broken bottles. "That's a normal part of work," he says. "No pain, no gain."
Despite his rural upbringing, Mr Idris has long sought adventure. Back home he competed in cross-country and downhill BMX races, go karting and even became hooked on bungee jumping. His started on the road to Dubai 12 years ago when he was working as a DJ - but realised the real show was behind the bar. "I saw a guy doing an act with fire and I believed that was my world," he recalls. "That was when I knew I had to get my diploma."
He enrolled in the Indonesian Tourism College and earned a diploma in bartending. After polishing his skills he went on to compete in "flare" competitions in Thailand and Hong Kong and then New Zealand, where he competed against 41 others, placing second in the 2006 Cocktail World Cup. In 2006, he arrived in Dubai, a world away from his homeland. At Buddha Bar at the Grosvenor House Hotel, he served celebrities including the football player David Beckham, the actor Hugh Grant, the basketball star Michael Jordan and the pop singer Nancy Ajram.
"Dubai is such a positive place with a lot of positive energy," he says. "It's what keeps me going. Every day I meet such different clients. It's a new experience every day. It's the most happening place in the region." He does not earn as much as he could earn back home, but working in Dubai has opened more doors. "The experience here is better for me," he says. "Here I have a worldwide network and get to meet a lot of people. It's a good aura here."
But he has not forgotten his roots. He sends 80 per cent of his wages home every month to buy more land for his family. He also saved enough - Dh32,000 (US$8,700) - to send his parents on the Haj two years ago. "When I moved abroad, our family relationship became even stronger and whilst I am not the backbone of the family, I am involved in everything. "My father and I have a very strong connection. We share the same birthday on April 14, so it gives us an almost telepathic connection. My father wants me to continue his tradition.
"We are saving up to buy more land for myself and the family. He and my mother have always supported my dream." @Email:email@example.com