59: In Search of the Lost Mail

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

*****

My new apartment was supposed to have wifi, but the signal was really weak, so I plugged in the ethernet cable, opened up Firefox on my laptop and waited… and waited… and waited… It was ridiculously slow; I mean it was practically useless.

I spent almost an hour waiting to get the Royal Mail website to load, put in my tracking number to track my letter, which was at ‘kantor pos’ in Tajung Duren, then for Google Translate to tell me that ‘kantor pos’ is actually the word for post office in Bahasa, then to do a search for the place, which seemed to be very close. With all that done, I was finally good to go.

I used the Google navigator on my phone to get the location of the kantor pos, which seemed to be in the middle of a space behind the Taman Anggrek mall, so I went on to the street to get an ojek driver to take me there. I showed the driver the location on my phone and he pointed to the Taman Anggrek mall. Then I remembered, I had already been to a mail carrier company in there the week before to ask them if they had received anything for me from Royal Mail, which they hadn’t. So I explained to the ojek driver as best I could that I was looking for a “kantor pos” to collect a letter from England. Fortunately, he knew a little English and seemed to know where to go. He gave me the spare helmet that all ojek drivers have for their customers. I reluctantly pulled the sweaty headgear over my head. I fumbled with the knotted chinstrap for a while before the driver adjusted and fastened it for me. I then got on the back of his bike and we headed toward Tanjung Duren.

After going through the maze of little streets in Tanjung Duren we soon pulled up outside a little building that was raised off the ground and had wooden steps leading up to its doorway. The driver stopped, took off his helmet and, with a big smile, pointed to the building; “Kantor pos”, he said.

I gratefully removed my sweaty helmet and got off his bike. He then led me up the little wooden stairs and into the building. He said something to the two male clerks behind the front desk – I assume he was explaining who I was and what I wanted. Still smiling, he asked me for 10,000 IDR for the journey. I paid him, gave him his helmet and he left me with the clerks in the post office.

The Tanjung Duren post office was like the rest of Tanjung Duren, shabby. It was very hot inside and there was no air-conditioning to cool the place down, just a little desk fan that was directed toward the clerks; any loose paper or documents were impaled on stick bill forks or under paper weights. Behind the clerks were piles of packages and letters that were stacked up in what to my untrained eye seemed like no kind of order. Shabby, shoddy and rag-tag as it was, the two clerks, despite not understanding a word of English, were friendly and helpful. In that respect, it was superior to any similar such set up you might find in London.

Normally, my Google Translate app would have given me the basics to communicate my needs to these men, but it was having a timely I’m-not-working-now-hahahaha moment, as it was prone to do at times of need. So again, para-linguistics was all I had, and it was all I needed. When I showed them the tracking number for my letter that I’d typed into my phone, they seemed to know exactly what I was looking for and where I could find it. They entered into a discussion between themselves, typed some details into an ancient computer whilst I stood there with my fingers crossed. However, they weren’t going into a back area to get anything and they weren’t looking amongst the piles of letters and parcels that were strewn around the room. But then again, they weren’t shaking their heads, stroking their chins and looking confused either. This meant that my letter was definitely somewhere, just not there, but they knew where, because one of the men was drawing a map and writing something in Bahasa on a piece of paper. He then said something, not a word of which I could interpret yet I fully understood. He was telling me that my parcel was not at their post office but at a depot of some sort that was only a short distance away. He came from behind the counter and took me outside. He called a very, very old man over, they exchanged words, the old man went off and got two helmets and called me over to his moped. It was all very clear. This old man was going to take me to the depot on the direction of the post office clerk. I was actually enjoying this little adventure. I felt like Indiana Jones in search of the Holy Mail.

I thanked the post office clerk, got on the back of the old man’s moped and we rattled off through the maze of streets and canals and out of Tanjung Duren and onto a large road that I recognised as Daan Mogot.

58: Debt Recovery

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

*****

With everything unpacked and put away, the next thing on the day’s agenda was to track a letter from home that my daughter had sent to me. It was a form I needed to fill in to get the wages from my last job.

Before leaving the UK I was the English Project Manager at a language centre that delivered courses preparing students for citizenship applications. There had been a documentary on television that had exposed dozens of colleges and language testing centres across the country that had been cheating the examination system. As a result, the Home Office had made new legislation that meant thousands of non-native British citizens had to also reapply for their citizenship. The new legislation also required applicants to pass an ESOL E3 level speaking test. The directors of the centre, Mr. and Mrs. Mustafa, had shrewdly decided to capitalise on this new market and I was employed to coordinate the project. My job was to develop a scheme of work and lesson plans for the language courses and a preparation course for the citizenship test. As the only qualified teacher in the centre, I was also responsible for assessing the students, delivering the lessons and conducting the exam.

I had never really felt comfortable with the way things were set up at the MIC Citizenship and ESOL Centre, it just felt a little off. Mrs. Mustafa, who was the director of the school, had a contrived air of pretension about her. She was well-spoken, clearly well-educated and she conducted herself in a very dignified manner. She always wore traditional Indian dress and seemed to command a great deal of respect from the Asian community that the centre predominantly served. But despite seldom being in the centre, she liked to micro-manage, which was a little irritating. She would come in for a “brief meeting” to discuss how the project was developing, then tell me what she wanted to do. If I questioned or queried anything, her response was a passive-aggressive indignation, perceiving me to be argumentative.

I never saw Mr. Mustafa who owned the school, but I knew he also had another larger language school that had been running for some time. But irony of ironies, this larger school was itself investigated in relation to its examination and assessment practices. The outcome of this investigation led to the school losing its examination status and being forced to close. As a result, Mr. Mustafa put the companies into liquidation, which meant that I didn’t get paid my final wage. However, as I was now one of their many creditors, when the receivers set about administrating the liquidation process, I had been contacted so that they could recover the money owed to me. All I had to do was complete the relevant form that had been sent to my home address. My daughter had collected this letter and posted it to my address at Centro City Apartments. But that had been about three weeks ago and I still hadn’t received it. Overseas mail isn’t sent by boat anymore so I knew it must be somewhere in Jakarta, and I needed that money.

57: Hello Mediterania Gardens

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

Medi 2 pool 8 2015-03-18

 

Opening the door and stepping into my new place felt great. It wasn’t big or extravagantly decorated, but it was cosy. Ok, the kitchen was little more than a 70’s looking kitchenette with a double gas hob burner that was supplied by a canister in the cupboard underneath, but from what I had seen, that was pretty standard in Jakarta. Nevertheless, the sofa was modern, there was a modern LCD TV that actually worked, and the décor was uniformly simple, the only flourish being an abstract Matisse-esque tree pattern that had been printed on the wall behind the TV. But even that, with its colour palette of browns and greens was pleasantly understated and complimentary to the rest of the place.

My room, which was the large room with the king size bed, had a large fitted wardrobe on the back wall with plenty of space for all my stuff. There was a bedside cabinet and a little desk beside the window in the corner. It was pretty nice. Of course, compared to my own flat back home it was pretty shit, but it’s the simple pleasures you learn to enjoy again when you are stripped of options. Right now, it was about 30-plus degrees in Jakarta and the sun was shining like it did every day. No amount of home décor in grimy grey Manchester could substitute that. Not to mention the fact that I had access to a lavish pool area with a 25-metre pool and a 50-meter pool, replete with outdoor jacuzzi. You can’t get that kind of luxury in Ikea.

Medi 2 pool 2 2015-03-18 16-56-00

After unpacking my stuff, I spent a moment taking in my 29th floor view, which when you subtract the 13th floor and all the floors with fours is actually the 25th floor; it wasn’t bad.

Medi 2 pool 1 2015-03-18

At the base of the atrium created by Mediterania blocks D, E and F, I had my pools. There was no tower block to the west so, just across a road beyond some tennis courts and a school that was beside the apartment complex, the surrounding district of Tanjung Duren filled the open-ended space. The roofs and walls of the houses cramped into the area created a fractured mosaic pattern of browns, greens, ochres and off-whites just beneath a hazy layer of blue-grey Jakarta smog. ‘This is not bad at all’, I thought to myself.

Medi 2 Tanjung Duren view 2014-09-30

56: Goodbye To The Grand Prix Inn

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

*****

During my month at the Grand Prix Inn I’d had very little to do. Neither the accommodation nor the location offered much in the way of benefits or amenities. If I’d had a moped then maybe I would have gone exploring the Tanjung Duren area a little more, or perhaps taken a look around Tomang and Grogol or the other surrounding districts. What I would have found, I don’t know; I didn’t speak Bahasa and most of the people I’d met in West Jakarta didn’t speak English. However, if what I’d seen over the last month during times in transit was anything to go by, I imagine there wasn’t much more than food and non-alcohol drink traders, more traffic and more crazy paving. As for my apartment in Centro City, there was no TV and it had the lousiest hotel restaurant I’ve ever encountered. Using the wifi in the lobby required a generous layer of toxic mosquito repellent and I couldn’t even listen to the music on my laptop through the Bluetooth speaker because of the twats next door and their security hotline. The only benefit on offer at the Grand Prix Inn was the pool, which I’d been using almost every morning.

Having access to your own 25m outdoor pool is a luxury if you come from the north of England. It was the only luxury I had in that shitty place, so I had made the most of it. After that first swim where I huffed and puffed and wheezed after a measly two lengths, I had been determined to get up to at least a regular ten lengths of uninterrupted front-crawl each day, which I did. However, I’d had a little set back in my daily routine when my swimming goggles broke. I’d tried to swim without them a couple of times, but whatever anti-bacterial agent the pool maintenance staff used to sanitise the water blinded my right eye for almost an hour after I got out. I kept meaning to buy a new pair, but never got around to it. Also, the last time I used the pool, I believe a middle-aged Chinese man tried to hit on me. Maybe he was just being friendly as he looked me up and down with a leery grin whilst firing the usual introductory questions, including – “Are you here alone?” But somehow I don’t think strolling out to the pool area fully clothed in the peak heat of the mid-afternoon sun to make idle chit-chat with a dripping wet semi-naked stranger who is sat alone is standard. Maybe I had inadvertently triggered some kind of Indonesian gay mating ritual just by being alone by the pool, I don’t know, but it was a bit creepy, so I had avoided the pool for the last couple of days of my stay.

The day I left to go and take up residence in my new pad in Mediteranea Gardens was my day off and I was actually excited. I haven’t moved much during my life, but leaving that shitty place in its shitty location with its shitty restaurant and its shitty neighbours and its useless reception staff and its useless TV and its cold shower and its ants and its gay poolside cruiser; it was a great relief. I hadn’t felt as pleased since I’d first arrived in this shitty city and I was determined to make this my turning point for a new positive start in Jakarta.

I returned my key and card to the property management team that I’d heard about who were located in a poky office in a corner of the swelteringly hot basement car park. They looked a bit confused and didn’t really know what to do, but I didn’t care. I’d gotten used to Indonesian people looking confused and not knowing what to do. This time I didn’t need anything from them, so I wrote Rudi’s name and phone number on a piece of paper so they could contact him to settle the bill and got out of there as quick as I could to my waiting taxi. I gave a wave and a salute to the reception staff and headed toward Mallville.

55: Shame and Suffering

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

*****

The ideal fiction for what happened next would be for me to recount the menage et trois fantasy of every grown man; to tell you that those two young Dutch women couldn’t wait to get me back to their place so we could all get naked and have a lick-nasty, sordid three-way. Well, whilst the truth is often stranger than fiction, in this case it’s just plain ordinary. We simply listened to some music, talked for a while and then I fell asleep. Although, I don’t actually remember when I fell asleep. I’m pretty certain it wasn’t long after we got there. I don’t even think I managed to finish any of the beers we bought from the mini-market. It was a little embarrassing for me to be honest. They lived in a kost, which is the Indonesian name for a homestay. In their case, it was basically a hotel room with a bed in the middle and an en-suite bathroom. When I woke up I was sprawled across the bed so they wouldn’t have had anywhere to put themselves; awkward!

“Hey, come on party boy. Your taxi’s outside” I heard one of them say as I unpeeled my eyelids.

Disorientated and a little embarrassed, I mumbled an apology for my lame showing, slowly got up off their bed and shuffled out of the room through a pleasant indoor garden and into a waiting Bluebird taxi outside. The daylight was harsh, but the stark realisation that I still had to go to work that day was harsher.

Mercifully, my timetable of classes that day was relatively light, but it was still hard going. My morning swim had been replaced by a cold shower and the excesses of the night before had been converted into dehydration, a headache and a lack of appetite. Grimacing inside, I got through the day with an artificial smile, minimal conversation and an exemplary level of professionalism. When it came to an end, I couldn’t wait to get back to the Grand Prix Inn (this was a first) and just lie down.

The people in the room next door were noisy bastards. They seemed to enjoy a good sing-song before bedtime at around midnight. Then, a couple of hours after the five o’clock call to prayer, they’d have the television on full blast. I hadn’t complained about them, only because I couldn’t be bothered making the effort; I wasn’t going to be staying there permanently so it hardly seemed worth it. Yet that evening, the one evening I was happy to just stay in, rest up and listen to music, I get disturbed by a knock on the door. When I open it, there are two security staff stood there with grave looks on their faces. I can’t really relay what they said to me because their English wasn’t very good, but para-linguistic communication and the odd English word here and there translated into a complaint from the neighbours about the noise I was making. Not the noise from my music, but the noise of my door closing when I come in late at night. Of course, I tried to counter their complaint with my own, but I don’t think the security guys had any idea what I was trying to say. So, I smiled and nodded and apologised and they returned to their important standing duties. I turned down my music a touch and lay back on my bed thinking; ‘Three more days and I’ll be out of this shit fucking place’.

That night, as I lay in my room going through the final stages of my hangover recovery, I thought about the last month I had spent in Jakarta. It had consisted of frustration, swimming, teaching and excessive drinking. Already a corrupt little pattern was emerging: Get through the frustrations and mundanity of each day and then totally abuse myself with alcohol at the weekends; I might as well have been in England. I wasn’t exactly embracing a new culture and this certainly wasn’t a wise way to structure my week. But for the time being it was all I had to work with. I had spent most of my life making lemonade out of the lemons I’d been lumped with, and the lemonade usually had a healthy dash of something alcoholic in it. Does that mean I have a problem with alcohol? Well I certainly overdo my recommended weekly intake, but that doesn’t mean I have a problem with addiction. I don’t think I’m the addiction type; I get bored too easily. I enjoy drinking up to a point, but I wasn’t going to descend into the binge and depression state of an emerging alcoholic that’s for sure. No, this had simply become my way of dealing with the boredom and the feeling of isolation that had so far been representative of my life in this city. Nonetheless, I also knew that it wasn’t a healthy pursuit and if I didn’t reign it in it could potentially be destructive.

54: Beery-eyed & Leery-eyed

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

*****

When we got into Bremer there was no DJ playing house music, there weren’t even any decks. In fact, there was hardly anybody in there at all. But there was a bar and the floor was flat so it beat going back out onto the streets of Kemang to stumble around looking for somewhere else to go. Besides, good fun is more about the company you’re with than the venue you’re in. I had good company and I was in good spirits. I was tipsy enough to be the witty and charming me I can be, but still sober enough to want to drink some more.

I volunteered the next round of drinks; the tab I owed Simon wasn’t quite yet paid, not that I was counting. As I was at the bar negotiating a good price for a jug of Jack Daniels and coke and ensuring that the jug was fully loaded, I asked the barman where the DJ was from the previous week. He told me that they only had a DJ on special nights. I had been quite into DJ-ing when I was back in Manchester. I had fancied myself as a promoter and even put on a few nights of my own. I love music and I enjoyed playing out in a bar or a club. I would have liked to have done more of it, but it’s competitive and involves the kind of social ‘networking’ – brown-nosing and obsequious fawning around other DJ’s and venue owners – that I have never been any good at, nor wanted to be. Nevertheless, I had brought my collection of music with me should the opportunity of getting a gig somewhere arise. In a city where there seemed to be nothing to do but wait for the next holiday break, moonlighting at the weekends doing something I enjoy would be the ideal way to meet people and save money that would seemingly be otherwise spent on drinking away my boredom. I liked Bremer as a venue and this was a good opportunity to try and get a spot there, so I left Simon talking with the two Naomis whilst I did some impromptu ‘networking’ with the barman.

The barman’s name was Rahman and it just so happened that his brother was the owner of the venue. So far I had found Indonesians to be generally congenial and friendly people so it wasn’t too difficult to get the conversation going. The place was dead so he was hardly rushed off his feet. I pitched him my slightly embellished DJ-ing history and he appeared to be quite enthusiastic about the prospect of me coming to spin some tunes there. Only the decision was not his to make, it was his brother Peter’s, but Peter wasn’t around.

“No problem”, said Rahman, “I give him a call and you can speak”.

Peter’s English wasn’t quite as good as his brother’s and I couldn’t entirely understand what he was saying, but I understood enough to arrange a meeting the following week. Apparently, he owned a few bars in Jakarta, including one directly across the road from Bremer called Route 86. I think he was suggesting that this is the bar where he has DJ’s from “outside” come and play. By “outside” I think he meant foreign, or perhaps he had a resident DJ who played regularly and the outside DJ’s were the ones who came to do guest spots. Either way, it all seemed very promising and I thought to myself, this night is going pretty good. I might have just been thrown a bone to chew on to make life in this city bearable, and who knows, with the vibes this little Dutch chick was giving off I might even get laid tonight. With the right amount of alcohol and positive encouragement, anything seems possible; unfortunately, it’s just a shame that devil-may-care optimism doesn’t last.

We spent the rest of the night in Bremer until it was close to closing time, my enthusiasm dragging Simon and his dour mood through the night. I wanted to carry things on and so did the Dutch girls, but none of us really knew enough about Jakarta to suggest a good nightclub that we could go to. This was probably a blessing as I wasn’t really in the mood for clubbing. Particularly if it meant risking further audio assault by that horrible Jakarta house sound. Then little Naomi suggested that we get some beers from the mini-market and go back to their place, which sounded like an excellent plan to me. Simon on the other hand was not so keen; there was just no lifting his flat mood. Although I’m pretty sure a late-night trip to Blok M would have cheered him up. But this wasn’t Simon’s night. All the energy was coming from me and little Naomi. We were the instigators, alcohol and Friday night were the catalysts, but Simon just wasn’t being the willing participant I wanted him to be. When we left Bremer and got onto the main road, he jumped into the first taxi that came along and left without so much as a ‘goodbye’. This man was proving to be a somewhat odd and unpredictable individual. And his off-mood hadn’t gone unnoticed by the Dutch girls.

“What was his problem man?”, said the little one.

“Oh I’m glad he’s gone”, said the other one, “He was so boring”

I was inclined to agree with her, but at that point, full of alcohol and lurid high hopes, I would have agreed with anything either of them said. I felt like there was a little more adventure left in this night and I was happy to follow them into it even if Simon wasn’t going to join in.

“Come on, there’s an Indomaret on the way to our Kost”, said little Naomi. “We’ll get a taxi, stop on the way for some beer and go back to our place”.

“Yeah, ok” I said, “sound’s good to me.” Of course it did.

 

53.Finding Treehouse

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

*****

After walking up Kemang Raya for a short while, I didn’t get a geographical epiphany and suddenly remember where the elusive Treehouse venue was, but the girls spotted a place they had been to before.

We walked up the steps into a noisy little cocktail bar called Attics. It didn’t look much from the street, but inside it was a chic modern space, very dark, lit only by glowing purple and red panels around the bar. We sat at the glowing bar and I ordered some drinks. I shouldn’t really have bothered as the music was horrible. A shrill, caustic sound that was tantamount to a forced electronic ear-fuck. As we sat at the bar trying to talk, every word was assaulted by this hideous, aggressive, techno sound that seemed to be the theme tune to Jakarta’s nightlife. It smashed into the tight dark space and ricocheted off the walls, battering the life out of us until we could take no more. We endured about fifteen minutes before drinking up and escaping.

attics-kemang

As we stepped out of Attics and turned to go back up Kemang Raya, I suddenly got that geographical epiphany I was waiting for and remembered where Treehouse was. It was the big McDonalds on the corner that jogged my memory. I remembered walking past it when I had gone there the first time. As I had suspected, it was just a stone’s throw away from Murphy’s, which was only a short walk from Attics.

Once inside, I remembered just how small Treehouse was. There were about fifteen people in the downstairs bar, but that was enough to make it crowded, so we walked up the roped spiral staircase to the little terrace.

It was either a coincidence or Treehouse must be a popular spot for parties. I don’t know whose birthday it was, but there was still a lot of cake left and whoever it was didn’t mind us being there. Besides that, there was a free sofa and table and I was in no mood for doing any more walking around Kemang. Like everywhere else in Jakarta, any unnecessary walking around Kemang increases the risk of an ankle injury.

The DJ in Treehouse was playing some respectable old school funk and hip hop at a respectable bar room volume. A simple equation but one that was clearly lost on the proprietor of Attics and all those bars around Tribeca Gardens. Being able to hear ourselves think, the two Naomis, Simon and I finally settled into our drinks and the rest of the night.

The two Naomi’s were similar but different. They had been best friends since school and had come to Jakarta to work for a film production company. It wasn’t too clear what their roles were, but they were both working in some kind of capacity as production assistants for an advertising or media company of some sort. They were both from Amsterdam, which is a pretty cool city, so understandably they were far from impressed with Jakarta.

“We have only been here for a couple of weeks, but oh my God it’s so fucking boring!” said the smaller Naomi, suddenly animated now the niceties of introductions were out of the way.

Little Naomi was arguably the prettier of the two. She was a lively, petit little thing; no more than five-five, long brown hair with big wide eyes. She had a stud in her pierced tongue and a voice like an excited teenager at her first concert. She wore white Adidas shell-toes with her little mini skirt and tight little backless tube top. She had that kinetic energy that winds down to a standstill before most people get to their late thirties.

The other Naomi also sported a pair of retro-Adidas, but she wore them with a pair of trousers and a patterned blouse. She wasn’t small and petit or as energetic as her little friend, nor did she look like a typical northern European. Her black hair and olive-skin betrayed her Mediterranean origins. “My parents are from Cyprus”, she said when I asked her “but I was born in Holland”. I had worked as a holiday rep in Cyprus many years ago, which was a most memorable summer. However, I never learnt much Greek apart from ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’, ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘cheers’, all of which I pronounced badly.

I found the Dutch girls to be good company, particularly the little one. She just had so much energy, practically bouncing up off her chair when she spoke. It was a very low chair and she was wearing a very short skirt so she couldn’t help inadvertently flashing her little black and white polkadot knickers at me every couple of minutes; a running theme of a Kemang night out perhaps? Hmm, could be worse.

Time flew as we each finished a couple of Jack Daniels and cokes. I was enjoying sharing the company of a couple of lively young women who spoke English, but I had noticed that Simon was a little subdued. I thought that his early drinking may have caught up with him, or maybe he wanted to go somewhere a bit bigger, a bit more lively. Perhaps somewhere less young and trendy. Me and the two Naomis were dressed pretty casually – smart, but casual. Simon on the other hand was in his suit and may have felt a little out of place. Whatever it was, he wasn’t being his cordial and congenial self so after we finished our drinks I suggested that we go to Bremer. This was the big lively outdoor venue next door that I had been to that first night I came to Kemang with Claire. They had a dj playing cool music and we had a good night in there.