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 them 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.

umbra-outside

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.

umbra-terrace

umbra-1

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 it 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!”

“Hahaha!”

“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 these 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. 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. However, 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 said; “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.

38. Undesirable Residence

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

*****

The next morning I got up to have my morning swim, but the band on my swimming goggles broke when I was putting them on. Nevertheless, I swam anyway. A bit of chlorinated pool water in my eyes for one morning couldn’t hurt. Well maybe a bit of chlorinated water wouldn’t have hurt, but whatever anti-bacterial agent the pool maintenance staff used to sanitise the pool water at Centro City managed to temporarily blind my right eye. I was squinting like Popeye on the busway journey to Podomoro City and for about an hour afterwards. But blind in one eye or not, I was determined to find an apartment.

I followed the same routine as I had done the day before, albeit with a visual handicap and a little less enthusiasm, but all I got were the same responses: Twelve month contract and money up front. The best offer I got was a six-month contract, but that was still with the money in advance. It was pissing me off because I had asked Sally the recruitment manager if I would be able to find decent accommodation on the salary EF were paying and she assured me it would not be a problem. So far choices were looking extremely limited. The only glimmer of hope came right at the end of the day when I met with an estate agent who told me she had a couple of two-bedroom apartments available for 6,000,000 IDR on a pay-monthly basis. Not exactly within budget, but at least I wouldn’t be committed. If something came up at a later date I could always move out, so it was worth a look.

Sammy Ming was a little dark-skinned Indo-Chinese woman who worked for Vivi Properties. She had no connection to the other Vivi (whose name isn’t actually Vivi) and did not look quite as trustworthy. Sammy Ming was a shifty-looking woman with narrow eyes, badly drawn, old and worn tattoos up her arms, and a set of teeth that were little more than rotted, brown, stumps. Her office was a bit of a shit tip too. There were stacks of old fashioned furniture piled up everywhere and even more of this old junk stacked up behind a long screen that split the room in two. The walls were decorated in old, garish wallpaper and there were a series of cheap paintings of Jesus hung up on the walls. I think these paintings were artistic depictions of the Stations of the Cross, but I’m sure there were some missing and they were definitely not in the right order.

Sammy Ming had a couple of units to show me that she was prepared to rent on a monthly basis. The first one was a shithole in Mediterania 1 that was dank, dull and horrible. The walls quivered with a scurry of movement as soon as the door was opened as a gang of little half-grown roaches rushed back to their cracks. I was surprised this dwarf-like woman even had the gall to show it to me, let alone keep a straight face whilst doing so.

The other place she had to show was a two-bedroom apartment in the Mediterania 2 complex. This was much nicer, but it wasn’t as nice as the one that Vivi was offering in the same block for 500,000 less.

After two days of apartment hunting things weren’t looking good. Belgian Jeff had extended his deadline, which led me to believe that he didn’t have anyone else lined up to take the place. Nevertheless, I didn’t really want to share a place with someone I hadn’t even met yet and parade of random people dropping in for short stays as and when his online bookings came in. No, that was not an option; therefore, to avoid shelling out too much on rent I had to try and get Simon to agree to sharing. The week before when we had met at Loewy’s I had completely forgotten to talk to him about it, so I sent him a text message to see if he was still interested. His reply came straight away and he still seemed very keen on the idea, so we arranged to meet in Loewy’s again later that night. This time I was going to make sure that we did actually discuss the apartment before either of us got too drunk to make any sense.

37. Positive Mental Attitude

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

*****

As had become my new routine, I started the day with a swim, which was proving to be an invigorating morning tonic. I was now up to twenty unbroken lengths (ten breaststroke followed by another ten of front crawl). As I was drying off, I was approached by a round, little African man with bulging, sleepy eyes and a happy face. He started speaking to me in some foreign language I didn’t recognise or understand; “What?” I replied.

“You are from Morocco?” he then asked in English.

“No” I said, “I’m from Manchester. England.”

“Ooooh – I t’ought you were my friend from Morocco”, he said. He then introduced himself and his colleague; “My name is Duda, this is my friend Ali.” Ali was a slimmer, but equally short man. He smiled at me warmly as he offered his hand.

“Where are you from?” I asked them.

“We’re from Tanzania. What are you doing in Indonesia?” he asked me. I told him I was an English teacher and asked him what he was doing here.

“Business” he said, “Jakarta a very good place for business.” He then smiled, wished me a good day and he and his colleague walked to the sheltered area of the uncompleted bar that was at the other end of the pool. There seemed to be quite a few African’s who were staying at the Grand Prix Inn, but I had never spoken to any of them until now. I wondered if they were all here on business. Surely they couldn’t have been at the Centro City for a holiday!

My morning swims were helping me face the day with enthusiasm. It would have been nice to use the Centro City gym on occasion, but it was apparently closed due to a leak in the roof. It had been closed all the time I had been there so God knows how long it had been closed before I came, or when they planned on getting it opened again. I suppose just saying you have a gym on the website and promotional flyer is good enough. The pool bar also looked as if it had been incomplete for a very long time, and there were dozens of cracked and broken tiles around the pool that hadn’t been replaced, or even filled, just waiting to slice open a naked toe. Centro City really was a shit place to stay and didn’t do much to enamour me with Jakarta. However, once I got my own place, I was sure that I would be a lot more comfortable and feel a lot more optimistic about living here.

I arrived at the Mediterania complex at around midday with no plan of action other than optimism. I knew there were plenty of estate agents in the office units on the ground levels of both buildings, so I spent the entire afternoon asking around for available accommodation. However, by the time the working day had approached its end my moving options looked no better than they had in the morning and my optimism had faded.

I had spent the whole day doing a lot of waiting around in air conditioned offices and answering a lot of questions about where I was from, what I was doing in Jakarta, how long I was staying, how much money I wanted to spend and what kind of apartment I was looking for – “Manchester, England… Teaching English… At least six months… No more than five million for a one bedroom apartment and I want to pay monthly…” Unfortunately, to this final answer the response was always the same – “Sorry mister, we only have twelve month contract.”

My first day of apartment hunting had been hot, frustrating and ultimately fruitless, but tomorrow was another day and I was determined to remain positive.

36. Back to Work

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

*****

My weekend break in Jogja had given me a taste of what the real Indonesia had to offer. The monumental Prambanan and Borobudur temples were impressive, but it was also just as interesting to see the Indonesians in an environment outside of the concrete catastrophe of Jakarta. Passing through the mountains and villages and seeing the Javanese people going about their day-to-day lives in a rural setting offered a different perspective on life in this country and I had really enjoyed my brief stay.

On the final day, my flight back to Jakarta wasn’t scheduled until after five in the afternoon, so after checking out of the Puri Artha I spent the rest of the afternoon lounging around the little hotel pool where I was practically undisturbed for the entire time. As I dipped in and out of the empty pool and lounged on the sun lounger, I thought about the last two weeks. They had felt very long, but they had been pretty easy going. There I was lying in the sun at the end of my first holiday since I had become an English teacher for EF in Jakarta and I had only done about a day and a half of actual teaching work. As honeymoon periods go, this was pretty satisfying. However, on my first day back at the school I was to find that this long honeymoon period was over.

My work contract stated that I would only ever get an absolute maximum of twenty-four teaching hours to do each week. When I got back to work on Monday afternoon I found that my timetable had been generously filled with twenty teaching sessions. Whilst only a few of those sessions actually needed planning from scratch, delivering three or four fifty-minute teaching slots back-to-back with only a ten-minute break in between is pretty intense. However, on my new working rota Tuesday and Wednesday were my designated days off. This meant that, despite only just getting back from my little holiday, after that first day of work I would have another two days off. Those two days would not be spent idling however. No, I’d had enough rest and relaxation; I had to spend those two days apartment hunting.

After finishing that first day back at work I was pretty exhausted. I had left the school too late to be able to get anything to eat from the mall because most of the restaurants start packing up at around 9.15pm, so all I had to look forward to when I got home were coffee, cake and some snack food I had picked up in the Hero supermarket in Mall Taman Anggrek. Unfortunately, when I got home that evening, a colony of micro ants had gotten to the cake before me. Not just the cake but also the few other snacks I had stored in the cupboard – sugar, cornflakes, apples, crisps – these tiny little bastards were in everything, not to mention all over the kitchen worktop. It was my own fault. I had forgotten the tropical home rule of keeping everything packed in airtight containers and never leaving so much as a drop of spillage un-cleaned. So, tired and hungry, I went downstairs to the onsite minimart, bought some bleach and then spent half an hour wiping down all the surfaces of the kitchenette in my room. I then wrapped all the food seized by the ants up in a carrier bag and discarded it in the waste disposal that was at the end of the corridor on my floor. By the time I had finished cleaning up it was after 10pm and I was still hungry. I knew the café downstairs closed at around 11pm, so I rushed down to get myself a takeaway meal.

The café menu didn’t look too appetising, but I eventually settled on the chicken teriyaki with noodles. Twenty minutes later it was ready, wrapped and packed for me to take up to my room. When I got to my room and opened up my Styrofoam-boxed late dinner, there was no teriyaki in there, but there were these strips of chicken coated in batter that came with noodles and a gelatinous gravy.

Maybe the people in the café got teriyaki, teppanyaki and tempura all mixed up, or maybe they were just plain stupid, but what I had was not chicken teriyaki and I wanted chicken teriyaki! I was really pissed off, but I was just too tired and hungry to go back down and argue with them. The smiling girl who worked their wasn’t pretty, but she was nice. She was nice but also very dim. And she didn’t speak any English. There was another guy with a wonky, offset eye who was also very nice and he did speak some English. But he was also as dumb as that stray eye made him look. No, I didn’t have the energy to humour the smiling idiots in the café so I just ate what they had given me. And yes, it tasted as shit as it looked, but I ate all of it anyway. The important thing was that I wasn’t going to wake up hungry the next day because I had to go and find myself an apartment.