44:Mixed Messages

Jakarta Bound is a travelogue about life in one of the largest and most densely populated cities in South East Asia.


As soon as I read Jeff’s text message my overactive imagination became over activated. I read the words again, and then again, and then again trying to elicit the tone and intention. Those 16 words said so little, but in their brevity alluded to so much more. Simon had definitely done something wrong, but what? Surely he hadn’t forced himself on the drunken girl and caused a disturbance that had woken Jeff. And why was Jeff using his wife’s phone?

I sent a message back  to Jeff to say that I hadn’t seen Simon and almost immediately I received a reply asking me to meet him. The immediacy of his reply and his request to meet him were loaded with latent information and my curiosity was piqued to the point of distraction. I was just about to go into my first lesson, but the focus of my attention was now on constructing the complete body of this unknown story out of the DNA of cryptic information I had. So I replied to Jeff saying that I had to go into my lessons and I would call him during my break, which would be in couple of hours. I decided to leave my phone in the teacher’s room so I wouldn’t be distracted by it during my lessons. But it wasn’t the phone that was the distraction, it was my impatient need to know what had happened.

As I sat in the lesson talking about vocabulary and verb tenses, in the back of my mind there was a detective constructing plots and scenarios. I saw Simon’s naked body hurriedly trying to get dressed whilst telling a crying girl with smudged make up to be quiet. I saw him, sweating, dishevelled and unkempt, fleeing from Jeff’s apartment; waiting nervously at the elevator before rushing down the stairway, his comb-over uncombed, wispily wafting above his head as he stumbled down the stairs. I saw the fear in his face as he scanned the streets for a taxi to take him… somewhere, anywhere, just away from where he was and away from the trouble he had got himself in. I saw Indonesian policemen in his room going through his things whilst Evi was consoling the now starkly sober young girl, mascara smudges and tear streaks running down her face. I saw Jeff gravely giving a statement to the police, telling them how little he knew of the lodger staying in his spare room. I saw his little daughter sitting quietly, maybe drinking from a bottle with sweetness in it, oblivious to what was going on, but, wide-eyed, sensing the drama and feeling excited. But then of course I was aware that all of this was just in my imagination. Perhaps nothing bad had happened at all. Maybe Jeff had spoken to Simon about the apartment that morning and he now wanted to speak to me. The cliche about having watched too many movies was was actually true for me. However, on the other hand, coming from the  Manchester council estate culture I had come from, I had borne witness to some real wrongness and a lot of fucked up shit, and right now my instincts were telling me that whatever had happened, it definitely wasn’t good.

My distracted mind and the fluttering butterfly wings in my gut meant that my lessons were not the best, but that wasn’t important. What was important was finding out what had happened with Simon. So I immediately checked the messages on my phone when I got back into the teacher’s room, but there was only one message from Jeff. He wanted me to meet him in Central Park at a place called Solaria, a cheap restaurant chain that you find all over the city. It was Jeff’s local apparently. I wasn’t too comfortable about meeting him without getting a little bit more information, so I decided to give Simon a call to find out what happened. But, and this was no surprise, all I got was a brief pre-recorded notification in Indonesian that I couldn’t understand before the call cut off. His phone was obviously switched off. This confirmed to me that something was definitely wrong, so I decided to call Jeff. All this to-ing and fro-ing with text messages was irritating, a phone is for talking.

Talking in Mall Taman Anggrek is more difficult than it sounds. First of all, it was Saturday afternoon so it was full of people and the noise that crowds of people make. In addition, with it being full of people, there was also some kind of promotional event in the main auditorium on the lower ground floor and it was very, very loud. The high pitched tone of the lady speaking on the microphone accompanied by some Asian pop soundtrack was impossible to escape. The building’s design is structured around an atrium so each floor is open to the sound of the PA coming from the auditorium below. This meant that there was nowhere to hide from this noise. The best you can do is go inside one of the shops or get to the end of one the many passageways on each floor. Only then you don’t get a phone signal. So after trying and failing to connect with Jeff a couple of times, I decided to go outside. However, when you get outside, the shrill screech of mopeds and roaring noise of the traffic that surrounds everywhere in Jakarta is so loud that it’s very difficult to hear anything there either. Difficult but not impossible. So when I did eventually get through to Jeff I managed to get some details and the basic gist of what had happened.

After hearing the brief outline of his story through the street noise, I agreed to meet him later that evening after I finished work. I hung up the phone and couldn’t help but laugh as I made my way back into the mall to get some lunch. From what I managed to garner from Jeff, Simon had been well and truly Kemang banged. Only it seemed that poor Jeff was the one who had paid the price.

43: Damage Limitation

Jakarta Bound is a travelogue about life in one of the largest and most densely populated cities in South East Asia.


I woke up with that familiar but unwelcome hangover feeling. The clothes I had worn the night before were scattered around my bed and something had crept into my mouth in the middle of the night and taken a dry shit.  When I was younger I had never suffered from hangovers. Had I experienced that otherworldly please-let-me-out-of-my-body feeling a hangover brings, along with the additional symptoms of shit-in-dry-mouth and an overall feeling like you have been embalmed alive, I probably would have stopped drinking altogether and saved a fortune in the process. But hey, it’s pointless me crying over spilt alcohol, I am now, true to my Irish heritage, an established drinker.

I dragged myself out of bed a little before noon. As I got up and made my way to the toilet I almost tripped over a bundle of denim. I must have scraped my jeans off with my toes whilst lying prostrate on my mattress in drunken semi-conciousness when I had got in. After relieving my bladder, my thoughts immediately turned to the water in the fridge and alleviating my dehydration. The micro ants that I was involuntarily sharing my room with were foraging for micro scraps of food on the kitchenette surface. I massacred them with a few swipes of a damp cloth before gulping down a bottle of water and eating an apple and a yoghurt for breakfast. Not really a sufficiently filling and nutricious start to the day, but that was all I had in.

There would  be no swimming that morning, just groaning and regret. Regret that I had inflicted the dehydration and mild brain damage that is drunkeness upon myself at my own expense. I had no thoughts of Simon and his pick-up, or the robbing taxi driver; I wasn’t even thinking of Andida, the pretty young woman with the braces who gave me her phone number. No, none of that; I was preoccupied with my own self pity. I was the walking wounded and I only had a couple of hours before I had to walk into work and there was no way of avoiding it.

The sweltering heat and sweaty humidity of my journey to Taman Anggrek went someway to rebooting my system, but I was still feeling pretty rotten as I entered the extreme air conditioned cool of the mall. I took the escalators purely because continual motion was preferable to waiting for a lift. I also wanted something sweet to go with the coffee I was going to have as soon as I got into the EF school and there was a Bread Talk on the ground floor. Bread Talk is a very decent chain of  bakeries found in all the big malls in Jakarta and they do a great chocolate muffin. So I grabbed a chocolate muffin and took the moving stairs up to the third floor. There I was greeted by the corridor of noise that leads to the EF school.

The now familiar sound of yapping dogs, bleeping and zapping robots, minions and other mechanical toys outside the toy shop was not pleasant. The loud techno music and the competing teams of sales reps shrieking offers at passers by outside the phone shops that faced each other was even worse. There is a pretty young girl who is part of the mobile phone shop mob who always catches my eye. She never looks enthusiastic about her job, but nevertheless, she always smiles at me when I pass and I always smile back. But this afternoon I didn’t even look at her. Eyes down and focussed on the coffee awaiting me, I steadily strode into the school and greeted Rudi, Julie and Linda who were busily surfing the net and playing Clan of Clans on their phones at the reception. I greeted them all with a lively “Selamat pagi” and a big smile, both performed with flawless sincerity. Professor X himself wouldn´t have known how fucked I was right at that moment.

Only the ‘Office Boy’, who is actually a grown man called Firman, was in at that time. Classes don’t start until 2pm and it was still only just before one. The only other student I noticed was quietly working on a tablet in one of the booths, but I didn’t make eye contact. I just headed straight for the coffee machine and hoped that it actually worked for me this time. It was an over complicated contraption that always seemed to be out of coffee beans or milk or water, or something was wrong with it whenever I used it. Fortunately it was fully loaded and working fine this morning. So with coffee and cake I walked into the teacher’s room and logged into my computer to prepare for my classes. Mercifully I only had two sessions before my first break, and I had taught both the lessons before. Easy.

I supped on my coffee and munched on my muffin and gradually started to feel human again. As I was reading through the lesson plan notes, I received a text message from an unknown number. It was Belgian Jeff and his message was a little bit cryptic:

‘Hello its jeff. I am using Evi’s phone. Have you been in contact with Simon today?’

I’m good at reading between the lines and those few words did not sound good.

First World Problems – An Interlude

We all depend on our computers these days right? I need mine to work. My MacBook is like my  partner and friend. So when the hard drive died last year I thought I had lost him. I was devastated. But I was told I could save it with a simple hard drive transplant. The new Samsung solid state drive would make it a faster, more efficient machine at a fraction of the price of buying a new one. It did. I was complete again. Until a couple of weeks ago when it died on me again.

After spending a couple of frustrating days trying to diagnose the problem myself, I conceded defeat and took it to an official Apple Mac repair shop. They contacted me the following day to tell me that the hard drive needed replacing. They had installed the new one less than a year ago and we’re as bemused as I was because the Samsung SSD drive I was using had a great reputation as one of the best on the market (I like to get the best things if I can afford it). This was galling to say the least. However, as it was less than a year old it was still under the manufacturer’s guarantee I should be able to get a replacement.

I found out where the nearest service centre was in Madrid and took it there, but they don’t deal with memory or computer parts, only TVs and domestic products. Instead they gave me a phone number to call. What I didn’t know was that it was a premium rate number. Since my Spanish isn’t very good, it took me all of the credit I had left on my phone to navigate myself to the right department and be told that an English speaking agent would call me back. The phone cut out before I could ask when. Unfortunately that ‘when’ came on the only two occasions that day that I didn’t have my phone in my pocket so I missed both the calls – grrr!!!

Most of the students I teach are business professionals who I teach in their offices, and I have some private students who I teach at home. There are no whiteboards, flip charts or resources other than those on my computer, so without it I’m pretty stuck. However, I do have some materials on a USB, so I used a friend’s laptop to look at these and organised some lessons for the following week. Meanwhile, the director of a language academy I work for lent me an old notebook laptop she had spare and agreed to help me with my phone enquiries. Unfortunately  the computer I borrowed was unbearably slow and the Microsoft Office software needed an access code or update or something; essentially, I couldn’t use it. This was more annoying than I can express without violently smashing something.

Anyway, my kind Spanish colleague contacted Samsung on my behalf and she was given a freephone number to pass on to me. Unfortunately, whilst the number worked with her phone network, mine didn’t recognise it. So again I had to impose on her and ask that she call them for me, which she kindly did. She was given an email address to pass on to me to contact someone about my problem. By now a week had almost passed and I couldn’t help but wonder WHY THE FUCK THE SAMSUNG SERVICE CENTRE HADN’T GIVEN ME THIS EMAIL IN THE FIRST PLACE!!! But on the bright side, I was now able to make progress, hopefully.

I emailed the email outlining my problem. This opened a ‘ticket’ and I received a return email asking me to give as much details as possible about my problem – essentially repeating what I had put in the previous email – as well as the serial number of the product. However, to get the serial number of the product I had to open the computer and remove the drive. To do this requires special tools that I don’t have. So I asked my friend who is an IT technician to help me, which he did. He took the drive out, I completed the details and I’m waiting for Samsung to reply, collect the drive, take the drive, examine the drive and then hopefully provide a replacement drive. But I don’t know how long this is going to take and I absolutely need my laptop for my lessons. Fortunately, the lovely lady from the language school has lent me another laptop that has fully functioning Microsoft Office software – although I can’t access the internet using the guest account… grrr!!!

It is now almost two weeks since my MacBook’s hard drive died. I am still waiting for Samsung to collect it to examine and hopefully replace it. The lady from my language academy has created an account for me on the little notebook she lent me so I can now use the internet and Microsoft Office. However, all of my files are locked away in the Apple Time Machine facility, waiting to be restored to my MacBook once it is brought back to life.

I’m partly sharing this to explain why there has been a long gap since my last Jakarta post. However, I’m mainly writing this to help me calm down from the raging anger I felt 20 minutes ago at the sheer frustration of not being able to do anything without my computer – listen to music, watch movies and Youtube, connect with people online, read stuff online, do stuff online – just generally get on with my life. You see, many of us do everything with our computers, both professional and personal. They are our ‘personal’ computers. And when we lose them, we lose our connection with the world that they have created for us. This is magnified even further when you are an expat living away from the familiar comfort zone of the place you once called home.

Anyway, first world problems and all that. At least I’ve got my health, and a temporary replacement computer. So here’s chapter 43: Damage Limitation.

42: It’s Not Fare.

Jakarta Bound is a travelogue about life in one of the largest and most densely populated cities in South East Asia.


As we came down Dan Mogot toward Centro City apartments the driver’s taxi meter was still rolling forward and was now reading well over 100,000. This was practically double what it should have been. I didn’t want to pay him any more than 50,000 for his dodgy detour, but since Simon had given me a 100,000 note to cover the taxi, I wasn’t too concerned. That was until I looked at the note in my hand and realised it was only a 50,000. And since I had spent most of my money it was pretty much all I had left at that point. As the driver pulled up at the footbridge on the opposite side of the slip road leading to my apartment block, I told him that I was only going to give him 50,000 and handed him the note. He looked at it with bemusement, then looked at me and pointed to his meter. I had given up on trying to communicate with the man in Bahasa by that time, I was just too tired, so I shook my head and told him he had gone the wrong way and I was only giving him the fifty. Despite the length of time he had spent with Simon and I in his taxi, his English had not improved and he still had no idea what I was saying. However, I could see that he clearly wasn’t happy with the 50,000 IDR I was offering and wanted the amount that was on his meter.

I had been here before; taxi driver thinks you don’t know where you’re going, takes you on a long detour accidentally on purpose, acts dumb and then insists that you pay him anyway. It seems to be inherent to the profession all around the world. So, to satisfactorily end my night on a downer, the taxi driver decides he’s going take me to “Polisi”.

‘Go on then’ was my first thought as he started to drive off down the road, ‘I’m in the right and he’s in the wrong’. Then I had second thoughts and decided that I really did not want to be negotiating Indonesian police in the early hours of the morning stinking of alcohol. But I didn’t want to be jumping out of a moving car either. So it was my turn to go on the turn, only I think it’s fair to say that my turn was a lot nastier than Simon’s.

The driver had got maybe a few hundred metres up the road before he decided it was probably wise to stop his cab. Whilst he certainly didn’t understand what the enraged Bule in the back of his car was shouting at him, he knew they were strong words and a lot of them were probably obscene. It was also pretty clear to him that the furious finger pointing, bulging veins and look of rage on the man’s face were good reasons for him to concede and release the man from his car.

I didn’t feel proud of bullying the taxi driver, but there are times when being nice and trusting that the right thing will be done is just the wrong thing to do. That tricky little bastard knew what he was doing when he drove us in circles around south Jakarta for half an hour. He had played his hand and he lost. I still gave him the 50,000 though, so he should have been grateful that he got any money at all.

As I briskly walked back to my apartment, mindful of the massive pothole on the corner of the road but eager to get to my bed, I couldn’t help but have a little laugh to myself. The last hour had been a little bit crazy and unexpected, but I had got home safely. Ok, I was going home to an empty bed and I was now more or less sober, but at least I wasn’t sat in a polisi station trying to convince an Indonesian police officer with a gun and limited English that I hadn’t cheated one of his fellow countrymen.

As I turned into the Grand Prix Inn and walked past the barrier at the checkpoint I was still smiling to myself. I passed the security guard that sat outside the entrance to the apartment block and greeted him with a ‘good morning’ – “Selamat pagi”. He smiled and nodded back at me. I think the smile was because this was third or fourth time he had seen me get home in the early hours of the morning in the last two weeks.

As sober as I might have thought I was after getting out of the taxi, the room still swirled me to sleep that night. But it was sound sleep. I had forgotten about the drunken girl Simon had picked up. I had forgotten about threatening the taxi driver. I had had fun and I was now safely in my bed. Nothing else could go wrong, for now at least.

41: Speed Dating

Jakarta Bound is a travelogue about life in one of the largest and most densely populated cities in South East Asia.


Stepping out into the thick, humidity of late night Kemang, I felt that inflated high you get from alcohol when you come out of a club and the air hits you. With these high spirits I suddenly felt optimistic about the coming months in Jakarta and was at ease with the ever so slightly swirling world. I’d had a genuinely good night, listened to some good music, and even though it was the early hours of the morning the lights were still shining in Kemang. This area was clearly the place to be for any adult adventure. It’s just a shame I lived in Taman Anggrek, which was miles away.

“Right Simon” I said – probably with a little bit of a slur, “let’s find a cab, I’m pissed.” I turned around and, adjusting to the dazzle of the streetlights, I noticed that Simon had found some company. Where she had come from, I don’t know, but as drunk as I was, I was nowhere near the state of this young woman. Beneath the sparkly makeup, her sleepy eyes, harshly framed in thick mascara, told the recent story of a night of excess. Nonetheless, Simon was undeterred.

“What are you doing?” I said to him, as he signalled an Express taxi to stop. “Are you taking her home?!”

  • If spiders could smile, that smile would look like the grin that was on Simon’s face. It would be the grin they have when a fly takes the unfortunate flight path that leads it into their web. Before I knew it Simon had bundled this girl into the back seat of the taxi, climbed in beside her and shut the door behind them.

“Seriously?” I said, as I got in the front.

“Taman Anggrek, Mediterranea Gardens”, he told the driver.

“Simon, is she even conscious?”, I said as the driver moved off.

“Of course she is,” he said, grinning like a Cheshire cat “aren’t you?” She spoke with a level of slurred legibility that was a couple of grades below what mine was and just about understandable. Understandable enough for Simon to deduce that she was fair game and happy to share a taxi with us back to his place.

“I drink too much”, the girl replied.

“Drink too much eh? What’s your name?” I asked her.

“Sindy. My name Sindy?” she replied.

“Ok Sindy; are you sure your alright?”

“She’s fine”, said Simon, “She’s just had a few too many drinks perhaps.”

“A few! D’ya think?”, I said. “She’s fucking pissed!

“Ya; drink too much” she said as she slouched under Simon’s arm. “Open window please”.

As she reached over to open the window in the back, the little floral miniskirt she had wrapped around her waist offerred an undignified display of her pink underwear. Nevertheless, legs akimbo, she leant back to nestle herself under Simon’s arm as if they were a couple returning from a dinner party where she had drunk too much wine; but it didn’t feel right.

The girl was in no fit state. Her eyes were half-closed and she was practically laid out in Simon’s arms in that back seat. To say she was vulnerable was stating the obvious and I suddenly felt sober and uncomfortable about the moral dilemma I found myself in. I had just spent the night bonding with my future flatmate, was I now really going to accuse him of an intended date rape by forbidding him from taking his drunkenly aquiescent prey into his bed? The taxi was already on the highway so what was I going to do? Stop the car and kick her back out onto the street, potentially putting her at risk of being picked up by someone even less scrupulous than Simon, but more forceful, more aggressive? Better the devil you sort of assume isn’t a violent psychopath than the one that definitely could be. As far as I knew the last girl Simon took home with him got out alive. He had even told me that they had exchanged numbers and he was considering getting in touch with her again. Furthermore, I was a witness to what was happening here, although whether I would even remember what the girl looked like the following day was doubtful. And how much danger could she be in? Simon was not exactly an athletically intimidating or imposing man. He shared a flat with Belgian Jeff, his wife and their four year-old daughter so he wasn’t taking her back to an empty lair. He had told me that he wasn’t even supposed to bring anyone back to Jeff’s apartment without telling him first. If anything seriously bad went down he couldn’t possibly get away with it. Could he?

Anyway, besides all of that, this girl wasn’t even my responsibility. I didn’t get her drunk and I didn’t tell her to get drunk. I was in a developing country in South East Asia where the rules and protocols are very different to back home. I didn’t create the socio-economic environment where pretty young girls felt the need to offer themselves up to the western Bulays for exploitation. Maybe deep down I was just a little envious that a drunken girl hadn’t fallen into my lap, that my moral compass was taking me nowhere other than to an empty bed. No, I had no responsibility here. Only I did. I had a moral responsibility. A moral responsibility all the more acute for having a daughter who could easily be the same age as this girl and who could maybe find herself in the same situation. How would I feel if my daughter got drunk one night and was then used and abused and there was another in the same position as me who did nothing to stop it?

The trial by conscience taking place in my mind had turned my mood from an alcohol fuelled joy and optimism to a feeling of sober anxiety and guilt. I already knew I was going to allow the night to play out by itself and could only hope that it played out safely. Although in all honesty, I don’t think I really believed in the worst-case scenarios my imagination had conjoured up. Nevertheless, I found myself trying to quietly convey to the taxi driver as best I could with the snippets of Bahasa I took from my Google translator that he should keep an eye on my friend in the back. Somehow I don’t think the driver was interested or concerned. I think he was more interested in taking the two drunken Bulays in his taxi on a long diversion. I say this because we had been in his cab for almost half an hour and I hadn’t seen anything that looked familiar or any signs to suggest that we were driving toward Taman Anggrek.

“Does this look familiar to you?” I asked Simon. “We’ve been driving for ages. We should be near Taman Anggrek by now”, I said. The fare showing on the meter was already well over the 50,000 IDR or so that it had been last time I returned home from Kemang that late at night. When I pointed this out Simon suddenly turned. Sounding for all the world like a colonial master rebuking one of his subordinates, he started remonstrating the driver; “Look, I don’t know what you’re playing at but you better take us to Taman Anggrek right now… This is ridiculous… I’ll report you to the police… Polisi – you understand?”

Of course the driver didn’t understand a word Simon was saying, but he got the gist – the Bulay in the back was angry, Polisi, time to start going in the right direction.

“Taman Anggrek. Yes, I go Taman Anggrek. This way sir”, the driver replied.

“Well stop pissing around and take us the right way”, Simon shouts back at him. “I’m not paying any more than 50,000 for this journey, you understand?”

Listening to Simon’s uncharacteristic little outbust of petulance, I didn’t know whether to laugh or be even more concerned. Despite sounding like a Leslie Phillips character from an old Carry On film, there was clearly an aggressive side to Simon’s character and he could assert himself when he needed to, and it worked. Minutes after his outburst we started to see some familiar signs and it wasn’t long before we found ourselves coming over one of the overpasses of criss-crossing highways that lead toward Taman Anggrek and Mediterania Gardens Residence. The huge LED screen that usually beamed out across the sky had long been switched off, but Central Park and the Podomoro complex are the most imposing structures on the landscape in that part of west Jakarta so you know when you have arrived.

As the driver pulled up outside the Mediterania Gardens Residences, Simon leant over and said, “There’s a hundred”, and pushed a banknote into my hand before whisking his young prey off up to his dirty little den of salaciousness. What happened from herein was out of my control. My primary concern was to get back to my bed and enjoy that deep sleep of the drunk. So I told the driver to head toward Centro City, which was only a few minutes away.

40: Temptation

Jakarta Bound is a travelogue about life in one of the largest and most densely populated cities in South East Asia.


EP was still pretty lively when we arrived, but it was starting to peter out before we finished our drinks. It was only a Wednesday night, but my new flatmate and I were kind of celebrating our future cohabitation and in no mood to call time on our drinking, so we decided to venture out to see what else Kemang had to offer. I had only been in the district once before when I came with Claire and I didn’t really know where anything was, but I did remember that we had walked from Bremer to EP in only a few minutes so it couldn’t be that hard to find – in theory.

When Simon and I left EP we headed in the general direction of where I believed Bremer to be. Whether we were going in the right direction or not, I didn’t really know. However, the whole of Kemang looked like a place that had plenty going on and it wasn’t long before we stumbled along the battered pavement toward a road that was lit up with nightime neon and a place that seemed worth checking out.

It was the sound of old school house classics coming out of Umbra that attracted me to it. The entrance was at the top of some external stairs that looked like a fire escape where a group of people were stood outside by a table. It appeared to be a late night bar or club so we walked to the top where the young man and woman at the entrance ushered us in with a smile and without any charge.



As we walked in we entered an area that looked like an outdoor terrace bar. It was a stylish, brightly lit, airy space with plants growing up the glass walls and a long bar to the right. The main club where the music was coming from was directly opposite in a larger, darkened room that you entered via open patio doors. There was an area with high tables and stools as you walked into the main room and a floating bar almost in the middle of the club that sat in front of the dance floor. A long DJ booth overlooked the dance floor at the far end of the room and there were coffee tables surrounded by sofas and low-level seating on either side. It was a nice space. Not completely full, but more than busy enough to have an atmosphere. Simon and I were the only Bulays in there, but the Indonesian crowd were a Kemang crowd so we weren’t out of place. We plotted up at the bar and bought a jug of Long Island ice tea; the night had now begun in earnest.

The first jug of Long Island iced tea didn’t last long and it soon got my mojo motoring. I had the perma-grin of a happy drinker as Simon and I rambled on about our past adventures and future exploits as expat partners in crime; and of course the many beautiful women in our host city.

Simon’s preoccupation with the women in Jakarta was one that I could understand and I found myself comfortably leaning toward the single man’s agenda; it was just too difficult not to. It had been a long time since I had been near my Latin lover and it would be a long time before I would get anywhere near her again. I always knew I would need to exert a massive force of will to stay faithful for the entire time I was away, but there I was, after only a few drinks, and already my imagination was leering toward the lascivious possibilities in my mind. I needed a distraction, so I decided to send her a Whatsapp message.

The reply came quickly. She asked what I was doing, how things were going, what Jakarta was like, etcetera. I gave her a little rundown on the city and told her about my new flatmate Simon. I even took a photo of us together; Simon’s toothy smile and comb over alongside my drunken perma-grin was a quirky coupling. She sent a ‘Jajaja’ (a Spanish ‘Hahaha’) and asked me if I was drunk. Of course I was, but I was in high spirits. So much so that I  decided to try and call her using Whatsapp. I went into the terrace area where I thought it was quiet enough to talk, but the connection was weak, there was an annoying delay and the music was still intrusive enough to make hearing difficult. So after a brief and illegible exchange of words, I ended the call and sent her a message to tell her I missed her before rejoining Simon and our second jug of Long Island iced tea.

Temptation is a cunning little bitch and, like a good salesman, she always seems to have the answer to all your objections. So whilst I had hoped contact with my Latin lover would have been enough to stop my eyes from roving, it only made me long for female company even more. It didn’t help that when I returned to the main room, a beautiful young Indonesian woman and her friends had come to stand by Simon and I at the bar. She smiled, I smiled back, she then asked me to take a picture of her and her friends at the bar, to which I courteously obliged, and then that was it; the butterfly dance of flirtation began…

“What’s your name…?

“What’s your name…?

“Where are you from?”

“My mother!”


“No, I’m from Manchester, England.”

“What are you doing in Jakarta?”

“I’m an English teacher. I work for EF in Taman Anggrek”

“Do you like Indonesia…?” – etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Everywhere in the world it’s more or less the same trivial exchange in the mating game. But I didn’t care; braces or not, she was lovely and I was merry and unashamedly aquiescent. ‘If it happens it happens’, I told myself as I kicked guilt and fidelity to the curb.

The girl was called Andida and her English wasn’t perfect but perfectly understandable. She was much better looking than her two friends, although I don’t think that was the reason Simon seemed disinterested in any of them. He had already made it pretty obvious that he didn’t like the work involved in the mating game. He much preferred an easy, compliant catch in his net rather than the challenge of charm and seduction. Nevertheless, I made sure I involved him in the conversation. For his part he remained polite and sociable and was happy to pose with me and the girls when they asked to take photos of us all together. After all, it wasn’t as if I was simply abandoning him for someone I had just met, which was pretty much what he had done to me the previous week. No, as far as I was concerned, as attractive as the young woman with the braces was, I am flirtatious by nature and I was simply being sociable rather than predatorial – or so I told myself. The truth was, if something came of it I wasn’t going to say no, which of course makes me a bastard. But aren’t all men bastards? If yours isn’t, he just hasn’t had the right exposure to temptation, he’s a very good liar, or you’re fortunate enough to be very much content and in love.

Bastard or not, I have my own code, and I hadn’t yet done anything to break that code, so I continued to be sociable with Andida and her friends. Meanwhile, Simon and I continued to enjoy our second… third jug of Long Island ice tea and the rest of our night out. I even almost got him onto the dancefloor.

Time flies when your having fun and you’ve drunk three jugs of strong liquor. The music in Umbra had nosedived into the intolerable, noisy, audio assault of Jakarta style house… techno… whatever the fuck they called that racket – and it was time to move on. However, it was almost three o’clock and both Simon and I had work the next day. Not starting work until one in the afternoon has its benefits, but it was the middle of the week and sometimes it’s good to call it quits whilst your still on a high. Andida and her friends had remained with us, but the conversation had petered out a little. She had told me she worked as a secretary and that she also had to go to work later that day. However, before she left with her friends, she actually asked my permission if she could go! This was very sweet, but clearly a cultural thing, unless what she meant was lost in translation. I laughed and said, “Of course you can go”, to which she gave a coy smile (smiles seem to be a permanent feature of Indonesians). However, I now felt obliged… well, not just obliged, it was probably as much a habitual reflex, but I felt I should ask for her number. So I did and she dutifully gave it to me – not exactly faithful behaviour. But fuck it, I didn’t care. I’d had a damn good night out and just the whiff of female company was satisfying enough; for now at least. I just couldn’t see this fidelity thing lasting very long.

39: Bonding and Agreements

Jakarta Bound is a travelogue about life in one of the largest and most densely populated cities in South East Asia.


I arrived at Loewy’s at around 10pm to find Simon sat at the bar with a Long Island ice tea. He was wearing the same suit and shirt from the previous week and had the same affable grin. However, this time he wasn’t cherry red drunk.

“Hey, how’s it going” he said with a broad smile as I approached, offering his well-practiced, firm handshake. He asked me how work was going, which I thought was nice of him. It wasn’t often friends or acquaintances asked me how work was going. Even most of my girlfriends hadn’t ever bothered to ask me about my working day. However – and maybe it’s just my cynical inclinations toward salespeople – Simon struck me as someone who had his scripted protocols and practiced the art of professional seduction instinctively. He knew how to warm his clients up and his impeccable social manners matched his impeccably English accent. I ordered a drink and straight away we got down to discussing the apartment.

Belgian Jeff had told me that Simon was paying $1000 per month for the room he was renting and asked me not to tell him how much he had offered the apartment to me for, which was considerably less. I’d promised the Belgian that I wouldn’t say anything, so instead I told Simon about the price of the other apartments I had seen, which Simon thought were a much better deal than what he was paying at the moment, which was $500 dollars for the room at the Belgian’s place.

“$500!?” I said

“Yes; why? How much did he offer it to you for?” he asked. Since the Belgian had not been honest with me I no longer felt compelled to honour the promise I’d made to him, so I told him that Belgian Jeff had told me that he was charging him a $1000 for the room and asked me not to tell him how much he was offering the whole apartment to me for; “Don’t tell Jeff I told you this, but he offered me the whole apartment for 8,500,000 a month.” Simon clarified that he had actually also been offered the whole apartment for $1000, but definitely not just the room. Either way, the Belgian was not being straight with either of us, and I don’t think Simon liked the idea that he’d been had over. He had quite a high opinion of himself and the idea that a Belgian buffoon who walked around in Crocs with a Beatles soundtrack coming out of his bag bothered him.

“Look” I said, “the best way to do this is to tell Jeff that you have looked around at other places and they’re much cheaper than what you’re paying with him. Tell him that you’re thinking of moving into a place with me and then ask him what’s the best price he can offer us his whole apartment for. He’ll have to give you the same deal he offered me.”

Simon agreed, but he was also interested in taking a look at the other places I had viewed in Mediterania 2. Surprisingly, despite describing his job as Country Manager for his company’s office in Jakarta, a title that alludes to a grand status and a large salary, he was as keen as I was to save money on his accommodation. I told him the best apartment was Vivi’s and I would pass his details onto her so that he could arrange a viewing before we made a decision.

It seemed that my apartment troubles were now over. With Simon pretty much committed to sharing a place with me we were now practically flatmates, it was just a matter of deciding which flat we would be sharing. So with the apartment issue resolved, Simon and I got on with the business of getting drunk in Loewy’s and I got to learn a little bit more about my quirky new flatmate.

Simon very much played on the image he presented as the suave, well-bred Englishman abroad. He told me he liked to wear a suit when he was out socialising in Asia because it helped him stand out from the crowd. It had certainly worked for him that night in Top Gun where he was very much the honey pot amongst the swarm. Even perching at the bar was part of his performance.

“I don’t like to approach a woman, I like to remain aloof”, he said. I think it gives you an air of mystery amongst the women in bars in Asia.”

“Really” I said, surprised at the confidence of this man with the thinning hair, premature paunch and slightly crooked, bucked teeth. I had to admire the fact that he confidently worked his strengths. And to be fair those disarming boyish, English looks surely gave him something that the ladies of Asia only ever saw in Hugh Grant and Mr. Bean movies. Simon was also very easy to talk with and it surprised me just how well we seemed to get along. I also had to admire a guy in his early 20’s who had come to Asia, alone, and had lasted almost a decade carving out a career and what I imagined a decent income for himself. Salesman or not, I kind of liked the guy. I didn’t trust him, but I did like him. And he was proving to be a pretty good drinking partner.

When the crowd in Loewy’s thinned out at around one o’clock, we decided that the night was still young enough for a few more – but not in Blok M. Simon was as new to the city as I was and hadn’t yet been to Kemang, so I decided to take him to EP. I figured it would be his kind of place.