77: A Change of Plan

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

*****

Now I did feel like a fool. It turned out that Simon was right and that Evi had just “done what my husband ask me”.

I ended up telling Evi that her husband was a real arsehole and that I didn’t want him to contact me anymore. I doubt she passed all of my message on.

I sincerely apologised to Simon and made some of that jovial small talk that I had avoided earlier. I felt so bad that I tried to deflect some of my guilt with a lame attempt at eliciting sympathy; I told him how much I hated Jakarta and how it was stressing me out. I told him about all the issues I had been trying to sort out back home and how that was adding to my frustrations. He was very understanding and reassured me that it would get easier.

Maybe I was wrong about Simon. Maybe I needed to lighten up on the guy and give him a chance. One thing was for sure, this was not the night I had wanted to have before going away.

I eventually finished packing just after 11pm and didn’t get to sleep until around midnight. It was a typically broken sleep, as expected, and when my alarm sounded at 6.30 I was already awake.

I got up, had a shower, ate my fruit salad, took the lift down to the reception and ordered a taxi.

As I sat in my taxi en route to Soekarna-Hatta International Airport to catch my flight to Kalimantan, there were no thoughts in my head of Simon or Jeff, nor of sleepless nights with that noisy fan in my bedroom, or the cacophonous call to prayer every morning. No work, no students, just two days and two nights on a boat on the Kapuas River floating through the Borneo jungle looking at monkeys. You don’t get to do that at the weekend when you live in Manchester.

The taxi took a different route to the airport this time, passing through a toll on the way. The new route cost an extra 30,000 or so, but didn’t get me there any quicker.

I arrived at the airport in about half an hour with well over two hours to spare, but I was still hungry. I messaged Claire to see if she and her friends had eaten. They had; so before I checked in, I went into the KFC outside the airport for some coffee and pancakes and a piece of fried chicken. It was damn good and I was ready for my second Indonesian getaway.

Simon once told me that 80% of flights in Indonesia were delayed. He may have been joking, but so far two of the four flights I had booked here had been delayed, which makes 50%. When I consider the years of travelling I’ve done, including the year I spent working as a rep for a holiday company when I took over a dozen flights in a year, I had experienced maybe three or four flight delays. By the time I met up with Claire and her group, Indonesia was getting closer to Simon’s percentage rate of failure.

When I got to the waiting area to go to the gate for our flight, I saw Claire sat with her friends and was a little surprised. I had assumed that they would all be thirtysomethings like Claire, but she was probably the youngest out of the lot of us. Not that this was a problem, it just changed my expected dynamic of the holiday.

As I walked up to introduce myself, I could tell by the body language that there was a problem. Claire got up to greet me and introduce me to her group of friends before giving me the news that our flight to Kalimantan was delayed by two hours. Two hours isn’t the worst amount of time for a flight to be delayed, but this was only a short break and the delay meant that our early morning boat trip was screwed (by this time I had still not heard anything from the useless agent at Dwidaya Travel). The plan had been to arrive in the morning, meet with the guides and then head straight up the river to an orang-utan feeding station in the early afternoon. The delay meant that we would miss the orang-utans and only really have one day on the river before an early morning start the following morning.

Out of Claire’s party of six, four were teachers at the international school where she worked, but it was a half term so they were in no rush to get back. The other two in the party were expat wives of well-paid businessmen. That meant that it was only me who had any work commitments. They were also all on pretty good money, so it wasn’t too much of a big deal for them to stay an extra day to get the most out of the trip. I of course had a dilemma because I was expected to be in class at 1pm on the Wednesday. Plus, I hadn’t budgeted for the extra million or so IDR that this was going to cost. However, I didn’t really have much of a choice. I could have left on the morning of the third day, but getting taxied from the river to the port in a speedboat would have cost me more or less the same as staying on. So it was agreed that we would reschedule our flights and Claire would lend me the extra money. Her work colleagues agreed to cover any story I told my bosses at EF.

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76: Noitacinummoc Doog

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

*****

I was hungry, which doesn’t help a man’s mood, but I don’t think that was the reason I lost my temper. No, I think it was a culmination of frustrations that had built up over the previous couple of months; a general dissatisfaction with the fruits of the labour I had put into my big Asian adventure and an ever-increasing irascibility that had come with it. There were a number of niggly things I had pushed down into my septic tank of tolerance, but the most recent things were directly attributable to Simon. His living habits had been pissing me off. The fan in my room had been pissing me off. His veiled hints at moving out of the flat were pissing me off. Being in the middle of the shit he had with Jeff was pissing me off. Yet despite all of this, I was still prepared to help out with his situation with the Belgian buffoon, but just not today. And I had told him this.

He was resting on his bed with Kay when I burst into his bedroom.

“What did you fucking tell Evi?”, I barked at him.

He didn’t want his girlfriend to know anything about the prostitute-theft-Jeff situation so I had been avoiding the subject whilst she had been around. Now, I didn’t care. I had made it absolutely clear that I was doing nothing but packing and sleeping that night, but this toffy nosed little twat had gone ahead and made arrangements for me to meet Evi anyway! He was taking the piss!

“What…! What are you talking about?!”, he stuttered back in shock.

“I just got a call from Evi telling me that you had arranged for me to meet her tonight”, I said.

“Evi!? I haven’t spoken to Evi!” he replied.

“She said you just sent her an email”

“I haven’t sent her any emails… today… I sent an email to Jeff earlier today before I sent you that message”, he said, totally bewildered – or was he? Was he just putting on an act? The tricky little fucker – I just didn’t trust him.

“Show me your emails”, I demanded.

Kay didn’t have a clue what was happening. She just remained quietly sat on the bed, and it dawned on me that I probably looked like a nutter at that point. Meanwhile, Simon, a little groggy and somewhat shaken, picked up his phone and trundled out of his room, his hairy gut overhanging his sweaty boxer shorts. He pulled the door behind him so that Kay couldn’t hear and fumbled nervously with his phone to open up his emails. He then showed me the trail of email correspondence he had sent to Jeff’s email address that day.

It was true, he hadn’t contacted her since earlier that afternoon and he hadn’t said anything about meeting me. But I still didn’t trust him. What was it? Was he really so untrustworthy or was I just a paranoid loon with suppressed anger management issues? Maybe it was both.

I felt a little bit stupid and a little bit guilty as I apologised. I explained to him what Evi had told me and why I was so angry. He said that Evi may have just gotten the information confused and suggested that I “should be more relaxed about these things”… this for some reason really wound me up again. I found myself getting a sudden rush of blood and an urge to punch him in the mouth. I didn’t want him to be intimidated by me, but at the same time I did; this was a guy who I felt would take a yard for every inch given if allowed to. I should be more relaxed! – he was taking the piss… Then my phone started ringing. It was Evi.

Evi and Jeff still didn’t know for sure that Simon and I were sharing an apartment so I told her that I had just spoken to him. I told her that he said he hadn’t sent her an email to arrange a meeting. She was at her apartment with Jeff so she went off to speak to him for minute before coming back on the phone; “I think there’s some confusion from message from my husband.”

75: A Reluctant Errand Boy

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

*****

“It’s all about the holidays”, Claire had told me. “The best thing about living in Jakarta is that you’re always only an hour or two away from somewhere beautiful”, she’d said. Despite having a nice ring to it, I can’t see the Jakarta tourist board using that line anytime soon.

It was a Sunday, the day before my little holiday break in Kalimantan with Claire and her friends.

Sunday is a short working day at the EF school so I was out by around six o’clock. However, I still had to have dinner, pack my bag and get in touch with Claire to clarify some changes with the return flights.

The return flight from Kalimantan was with a company called Kalstar Airways and the flight for Claire and her group had been moved forward. Although I had booked my flight separately, I assumed I had booked the same flight as they had so I needed to know if my flight was also affected. Claire’s travel agent had informed her, but neither the airline nor my travel agent at Dwidaya had told me anything. I thought that this perhaps meant that the flights were different. I mean if they were the same flights then surely I would have been notified about the changes too. This being Indonesia, I didn’t want to take anything for granted so I decided to go to the travel agent after work to ask them directly. The outgoing flight was scheduled for 9.15 in the morning and I wanted to have a relaxing day to organise myself before having an early night.

Simon was having a nice day out with his girlfriend at Dreamland, the theme park in Ancol, in the north of Jakarta. Yet despite being busy, he managed to find some time in the afternoon to send me a text message with explicit instructions to contact Jeff’s wife Evi and arrange to meet her to hand over another instalment of his debt. Knowing Simon as I now know him, I knew he didn’t mean to come across as his message implied – as a boss giving his subordinate orders – so I bit my figurative tongue and replied, in plain tones, reminding him that I was going away the following day and I wouldn’t have time to do his money drop. He was fine with this, which was very understanding of him.

I didn’t have many details about the Kalimantan trip. I would be spending a couple of days on a boat floating up a river through the Borneo jungle with a bunch of people I had never met before, food and drink included; that was it. Claire had paid my deposit for the trip and I had paid for my flights. She had told me that we were being met by the tour guides at the airport in Kalimantan to start the tour so I wanted to be well rested, fresh and prepared to hit the floor running when I arrived. With the flight leaving at 9.15 I would have to arrive around two hours before. The journey time to the airport was an expected but not assured half-hour. I figured a 6.30 alarm would give me enough time for a shower and a fruit salad breakfast before leaving. But I needed an early night.

Simon and his girlfriend had returned from their day out and were in the apartment when I got in, but I wasn’t in the mood for making small talk. I was still a little bit annoyed at the cheek of this guy in assuming that he could give me instructions via SMS for delivering his debts whilst he was having a nice day out. Checking my flight details with the travel agent gave me a polite excuse for getting away from him for half an hour.

Dwidaya Travel wasn’t open when I got there and when I tried the phone numbers on the travel paperwork nobody was answering. I hadn’t eaten since lunchtime so I decided to go to Java Kitchen to get some dinner to take back to the apartment. Unfortunately, they didn’t have anything left that I wanted to eat.

As I walked through the mall back toward my apartment, I was trying not to acknowledge that I was hungry and a little bit pissed off at having wasted the last half hour accomplishing nothing but getting a sweat. I then noticed my phone was vibrating in my pocket; it was Jeff’s wife, Evi. I answered.

“Hello Sir… Mr Jeff… I just got email from Simon… he say you can meet me in the lobby…”

I couldn’t fully hear what she was saying between the noise of the mall and the bad reception, but I heard enough. After a brief but fractured communique with Evi, I established that what she was telling me was that Simon had just sent her an email to say that I was going to meet her between nine and ten in the lobby of Mediterania Gardens 2 that night to give her some money.

74: Destiny Can Go F**k Itself

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

*****

I stopped off at the local Indomaret and picked up a couple of bottles of Anker beer before I headed back up to the apartment. Simon was still at home when I got in so I opened both the beers and gave him one and told him all about my meeting with Jeff. It was pretty funny in retrospect and we both had a bit of a laugh about it, but when I told him I wasn’t going to do any more money drops for him he wasn’t so amused. Nevertheless, as was typical with Simon, he was quite calm and pragmatic about it and suggested that I could maybe meet with Jeff’s wife Evi instead. This seemed like a pretty good idea. I didn’t particularly mind helping him out if there was no stress involved, and the couple of times I had met with Evi she was always easy going and pleasant, like pretty much all of the Indonesians I had met. I couldn’t imagine her being awkward with me in the way Jeff had been. It also dawned on me that Jeff was possibly trying a bit of psychological chess. Perhaps he thought that by implying that I was a being some kind of little bitch for Simon, it would pique my ego and I would stop doing his money drops, forcing Simon to do it himself. Or perhaps I was just overthinking things, something I’m prone to do. Either way I agreed. Keeping Simon onside was in my best interests. Despite his faults he was still one of only two ‘friends’ I had in Jakarta and everyone needs friends. Especially when they’re miles from home.

Since I had moved in with Simon, we had rarely stayed up late, drank a beer and had a chat in the way I expected flatmates would do. I found this a bit odd as when we had been out our conversations had flowed freely. Perhaps he had a different head for different occasions. People can be like that. Also, I didn’t start work until two in the afternoon so going to bed late wasn’t a problem for me. Simon was usually out by 10.00 in the morning so he would be in bed by midnight most nights. Since I usually didn’t finish until 9.30 at night we tended to be out of sync, which kind of worked for both of us because it meant that he got at least an hour with the fan blowing into his room and was usually asleep before I got into bed and turned it off. But that night I let the fan run longer than usual as, despite sharing my bed most nights with that bitch Insomnia and not falling asleep for two or three hours, I wanted to have a little thinking time. That night the idea of destiny shared the bed with us.

Some people have a great belief in destiny, but I have my doubts. Mainly, because whilst most of the destiny adherers see it in a positive light, the other side of that coin isn’t always a positive thing.

Take Boabdil “the Unlucky” for example. He was the last of the Moorish kings of Spain to occupy the Andalucian throne in the stronghold of the magnificent Alhambra in Granada. From his birth, the Moor soothsayers prophesised that Boabdil’s reign would mark the end of the Moor’s 700-year rule in Andalucia, and they were proved right. Everything this guy did was fated to lead to the ultimate end of the Islamic empire’s reign in Spain. So what if some people are destined to be failures from the moment they take their first breath? And what if those people who are unfortunate enough to have this destiny forced upon them, never having a chance no matter how hard they try – what if they decide that they are going to fight their destiny head on and refuse to lose? Is it a futile battle? Do you just lay down and die? Or do you suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and take arms against a sea of troubles and, in opposing, end them? Is it possible? Can you fight fate? Why was I thinking this? Well, it wasn’t the first time I had ruminated on this idea.

I’ve come from what is romantically termed ‘humble beginnings’ and from a very early age I had decided that I was going to make my own destiny; I was going to be the difference. Yet it seemed, despite putting the work and effort in, everything that I did ended in failure. It’s been pretty depressing. Yet here I was, in my third profession, having made a bold move to force a paradigm change in my life, but still hitting brick wall after brick wall; how the fuck could I manage to take a job eight thousand miles away from my place of birth, yet within a month find myself embroiled in some drama, albeit relatively trivial, but drama nonetheless?

You could argue it is my choice of friends, but what other choices had presented themselves since I had been in Jakarta? None.

You could argue that it is my combative personality, but combative personalities have helped many successful men and women succeed. And besides, I hadn’t done anything particularly confrontational since I had been in Jakarta. Yet within less than a month, a had gone on what was a highly enjoyable night out and it had turned into the catalyst for a drama that was not of my doing!

Fuck you destiny. Fuck you and the grubby little boat you sailed in on. I’m going to take my resilience and shove it up your tight little party pooping arse.

73: The Drop

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

*****

After the unfortunate incident between Jeff and Simon, I had agreed to be a go-between so that they could at least resolve the monetary aspect of their issue. Simon had agreed to compensate Jeff for the loss of his physical belongings to the tune of 16,000,000 IDR, but the loss of all those photographic memories of his wedding and his only child growing up could never be compensated. Nor could Simon’s abuse of his trust.

I thought I was helping by offering to meet Jeff on Simon’s behalf to hand over his money, but perhaps it would have been better if I had made him man-up and do it himself. Jeff, understandably, still harboured a fair amount of resentment toward his ex-lodger, which was fair enough. But because he had never got the opportunity to see Simon again after what had happened, he never really got closure and I think he had let his resentments stew. So when I met with him he decided he was going to direct that resentment toward me. Fuck that.

Simon could only withdraw a certain amount of money at one time from his bank’s cash machines so he was paying Jeff in instalments. I met with Jeff at a bar in noisy Tribeca gardens to pay him one of those instalments on Simon’s behalf. When I arrived, he was lounging in a booth in one of the bars looking dour and pissed off. I was a little bit later than was arranged so that was the first thing he started on about. This unemployed man of leisure was not happy that I had kept him waiting. I apologised but he continued to ramble on anyway. I ignored it. Then, as he was counting his money, he started with his digs.

“So you’re Simon’s errand boy now?” was his first swipe. I parried, not wanting to get into a verbal scuffle, but he continued; “How can you trust someone like Simon?” “Do you do everything for him now?” “How is your cosy little apartment together?” “How can you trust this man? Don’t you have any integrity?” – Now he was starting to get on my fucking nerves, so I told him…

“Look Jeff, you were the one who let a stranger into your home – your family home – without taking any kind of security or even a copy of his passport for ID. You let this stranger into your home with your wife and child when you had another apartment that was free. Why would you do that? Was it simply because you were thinking about the money? Did you put money before your own flesh and blood Jeff? Yet you’re talking to me about ‘trust’ and ‘integrity’!” He had no reply, he just babbled some nonsense about having trust and faith in all people; “Yes, and where did that get you?”, I said. I felt a little bit bad poking at what I knew would be a raw nerve, but what was I supposed to do? He then changed the subject.

“Where is the rest of the money?”, he said.

Simon had given me 4,000,000 IDR to pass on to him. I had counted it twice after he gave it to me to make sure that it was all there, and it was. I knew it was. Yet Jeff had counted it twice in front of me and somehow came up 100,000 short. I took it back off him and counted it again and sure enough it was all there; the guy was just being an arsehole.

“It’s all there Jeff. Count it again.”

He counted it again as I watched and it was all as it should be.

“Right then, that’s us done. I’m gonna get back”, I said and turned to leave, but he couldn’t resist one last dig.

“It’s a good thing that you trust him so much. I hope your new best friend doesn’t fuck you like he fucked me.”

I’d had enough of his shit. “First of all” I said, “He’s not my ‘best friend’, I’ve known him less time than you have, and only an idiot would trust someone they’ve only known for five minutes. Secondly, I am not worried about him fucking me over Jeff, because I’m pretty certain he’s aware that if he does I’ll fuck him right back a lot harder than you did”, I told him. “If I were you and he had brought some random girl into my house who robbed my shit, I would have made damn sure he paid for it. And I think he knows that.”

I must have raised my voice and looked a little bit pissed off at this point as the security guard came over and asked us to take it easy. Jeff didn’t have much more to say either, but I did.

“Look Jeff, just because you feel bad about letting a stranger into your house and putting money before the safety of your family, don’t take it out on me. I’m just trying to help you two resolve the situation. I suggest the next time you let people stay in your home that you take as much time taking a copy of their ID as you do their money. You should also be thankful that Simon didn’t turn out to be some crazy lunatic because your mistake could have turned out a lot worse.” At that, I turned and left him to marinate on what I had said. I also decided that I wasn’t going to be doing any more money drop-offs for Simon.

72. The Call

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

*****

I am not a religious person. Although I know it is polite to follow a declaration of this kind with something like; ‘Oh, but I respect other people’s religious beliefs’ – I actually don’t anymore. I simply have no time for the arcane, irrational, rituals and ceremonies and sanctimonious doctrines that religious gangs obsess and argue over.

I am aware this is an antagonistic and divisive attitude, but quite frankly, I don’t really care. Unlike most people’s indoctrination of religious allegiance, I haven’t arrived at my attitude by virtue of the random nature of universal chance placing me in a particular cultural or geographical position at birth; that lottery branded me a catholic. I was raised a catholic and spent my early years practicing that faith. No, it is after many years of soul searching, personal exploration and theological enquiry done in my desire to try to understand the world and our place in it and how it connects with the vagaries of these various forms of social control that I have come to develop my attitude. Now, I simply don’t care for religious institutions. However, I am not an atheist. And I am certainly no believer in a selfish ‘dog eat dog’ society based on the cruel, neo-liberal capitalist ideals of Milton Friedman disciples. We really should have moved on from the ‘survival of the fittest’ ideology. That way leads to tyranny. No, I firmly believe in the concept of a God, I just don’t have the affront and arrogance to believe that I or anyone else have the monopoly on what that universal concept is.

I consider myself a spiritual believer, but I simply don’t believe that wearing a specific hat, collar or gown, or having a specific array of bodily hair and dietary preferences makes you a better person or closer to ‘God’. The Christians state, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’; the Buddhists state, ‘Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would not find hurtful.’; Judaism – ‘What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man’; Hinduism – ‘do naught to others if done to thee would cause thee pain.’; Islam – ‘No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.’; Sikhism – ‘No one is an enemy and no one is a stranger. I get along with everyone.’ These are the simple tenets I take from religion, because they make sense and they engender a fair, peaceful, loving, free society where everyone is treated equally. So, it is with this lengthy preamble by way of explanation of my position on religion that I introduce my perspective on the call to prayer.

If you have been to an Islamic country, you will be aware that the call to prayer rings out from all the mosques five times a day. I have heard this call in Morocco, Egypt and England, and it has been a quite melodic and pleasant sound. This is not the case if you are living within close proximity to the mosques in the Tanjung Duren area of West Jakarta. Here the call is an obnoxiously imposing, caterwaul of misery. It lasts an eternity and is blasted at full strength from a network of minarets as far as the ears can hear.

I understand that the rhythmical sounds of song and melody resonate with the human spirit, and I understand that places of worship use this musical inspiration to invoke a deeper spiritual connection. But the agonising wailing that emits from the mosques around Tanjung Duren sounds like the end of the world is coming. It’s frightening and creepy in the same manner of Gregorian chanting. The multitude of wailing verses coming from the different mosques overlap and compete like a religious soundclash of horror and penetrate the atmosphere like a call of doom and despair. I respect the fact that I am living amongst the largest Muslim community in South East Asia, but do we ALL really need to have this noise thrust upon us five times a day? It’s the 21st century and Lord knows that everyone in Jakarta has a mobile phone – can’t they text or Whatsapp the damn thing? It’s a bit intrusive and inconsiderate to impose this hideous orchestra of agonised devotion upon people when they’re trying to sleep, work or otherwise enjoy life.

It was early September, which marks the Islamic holiday of Eid Al-Adha. Four days of celebration involving sacrifices of sheep and serious wailing. Living in Mallville, the contrast between this fervent adulation of ancient religious faith and the relentless commercial traffic of modern commerce taking place in and around the consumer temples of Mall Taman Angrek and Central Park was a bit bizarre. To be honest, my whole expat life, as short as it had been, was a bit bizarre.

71: End of the Bus Affair

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

Transjakarta busway sign 2014-09-30

Since I was now living within walking distance of Mallville and my workplace, I no longer had to use the Transjakarta busway every day, which to be honest was a relief. Whilst there is some cultural novelty to using the buses in Jakarta, that novelty soon wears off when you have to use them every day.

The Transjakarta Busway is like the rest of Jakarta, congested, dirty and lacking any real logical coherence. There is a map and there are fixed routes, but from what I can tell there is no timetable, which is not too surprising given the unpredictable nature of the horrendous traffic in the city.

The buses vary between freshly valeted, up-to-date vehicles and condemnable rust buckets with bricks for suspension. Someone told me that some years earlier there had been a large pot of public money invested into upgrading the stock of buses for the city. Unfortunately, by the time this money had filtered through the corrupted hands of government officials, all the people got with what was left was more of the same crap with a few shiny new vehicles thrown in for appearances sake. Corruption within government and public institutions is such a pariah for developing countries. In a fairer more just society, offenders would be treated as harshly as drug dealers.

transjakarta bus

One of the newer Transjakarta buses

The Transjakarta buses are split into two sections. The section at the front of each bus is for women only (wanitas) because apparently, women being inappropriately touched by male passengers had become a bit of a problem. Along with the signs on the bus windows indicating no eating and no smoking, there is one that always makes me smile; its a graphic of a male figure sneakily touching the skirt hem of a female passenger to indicate ‘no groping’. The ‘no eating’ sign on some of the buses is also pretty unique to Asia. It has a graphic of a durian, which is a large, oval, southeast Asian fruit about the size of a small honey melon. It has a hard, vicious-looking shell covered in inch-long spikes and looks like it should be on the end of a medieval club. But it’s not the spikes that make this particular piece of edible flora so threatening, it’s the smell.

Durians are also known as ‘smelly fruit’ because the soft flesh of these pomological beasts absolutely reeks. I really don’t know how to describe it, but food writer Richard Sterling comes pretty close, describing its rank, potent odour as a combination of ‘turpentine and onions garnished with a gym sock’. American chef Anthony Bourdain goes one better – ‘Your breath will smell as if you have been French-kissing your dead grandmother’ – It smells bad! So bad that, even with its husk intact, it is banned from both the Bangkok and Singapore MRT public transport systems. It is also banned from many of the upmarket hotels in Asia, some even fining guests for releasing the stink of this fruit thing into their socially manicured temporary living areas.

durian-fruit

The notorious ‘smelly’ fruit

If you use the Transjakarta Busway when it isn’t full, it’s fine. But riding a bus during rush hour is hard work.

The average temperature throughout the year in Jakarta is about 35 degrees, which is pretty damn hot, even before you factor in the humidity, so just the sheer heat of a busy bus is difficult to tolerate. Although in fairness, even when packed, the buses don’t really smell bad; nowhere near as bad as a busy bus in a busy city in the UK for instance. But still, being packed in a bus with a bunch of hot and sweaty commuters in tropical temperatures isn’t pleasant.

Getting on and off a bus during rush hour is a mission. People somehow manage to push and jostle without any real force being asserted, which is a paradox of physical law. Yet despite this antagonistic melee, nobody ever complains about losing their place in what passes for a queue and nobody ever loses their temper. It’s like watching hordes of wildlife in action. If this scenario were played out in Britain, or anywhere else in the western world, there would be fights and arguments on a daily basis. Somehow it just doesn’t happen in Jakarta. I think I am the only one who so much as scowls during these scrambling bouts of organised chaos. The coolest person of all though, is the conductor.

The conductors on these buses stand all day in their tropical patterned company shirts, monitoring the doors, ushering the passengers on and off in a disorderly orderly fashion. As you can imagine, with the sweltering heat and the intermittent madness of fifteen or so people trying to get on and off the buses all at the same time, the conductor seldom smiles. This guy has a tough job and no one ever says ‘Terimah kasi’ when they bundle past him; but I always do.

The drivers on the buses in England – well Manchester at least – are all too often miserable bastards. They’ll happily drive off when they’ve watched someone busting a gut to catch them at a stop. They’ll abandon man, woman or child in the middle of the night for not having the right money, the right bus pass or even the right change. Yet us Brits always say “Thanks” when we get off at the end of our journey. These guys on the Transjakarta Busway genuinely deserve some thanks. Managing that rush hour madness in the heat and humidity, they deserved a fucking medal!

Despite the shortcomings of the Transjakarta Busway, I strangely enjoyed this up close and personal slice of city life. It was the nearest I got to any symbiotic empathy with the people who lived here. It was the shuttle for the people who endured this tropical rat race – and boy did those people look exhausted. I usually stood up with my earphones plugged in my ears, listening to music as I scanned the passengers in the carriages, trying to get a sense of who they were. But I couldn’t. The best I could perceive was that, like most commuters chained to a life of work and debt, they were physically and mentally drained for the most part. But despite my voyeuristic fondness for the Transjakarta Busway, it didn’t seem to like me. Almost every time I crossed a walkway towards my station, I would see a bus pulling in at the stop. Then by the time I got there, it was gone, leaving me to wait in the heat as my lungs got assaulted by the toxic fumes and dust of Jakarta’s traffic. And typically for Jakarta, whilst the busway stopping stations have fans, those fans usually don’t point in the direction of where people sit and wait for the buses.

Transjakarta busway 2014-09-26

The joys of commuting

One time I arrived at station just in time for the bus, only to watch it clear everyone off and drive on empty. I found that this happens quite frequently, although I have no idea why. On this particular occasion, the next three buses drove past without stopping and I was left to wait for another 20 minutes for the next one to pick up. So yes, whilst there was some perverse cultural charm to riding Jakarta’s public transport system, I had built up a healthy contempt to the familiarity of doing it every day.