Jakarta Bound is a travelogue about life in one of the largest and most densely populated cities in South East Asia.
Another bad nights sleep at the Grand Prix Inn had me awake well before my alarm. The shoot started at 8am but I was advised to leave my apartment for about 7.30 to avoid the traffic, which meant I had no time to get anything to eat. However, I arrived at Taman Anggrek with time to spare so I figured I could grab a bite whilst I was there.
An empty mall without light or shoppers is a strange place and I got a little lost trying to find my way to the school in the pre-opening darkness. The cleaners and early starters were trickling in, some of them grabbing light bites from the warungs (an Indonesian name for a small café or street food vendor) set up in the basement entrance of the lower ground car park. They were offering various fried, dough based snacks, fruit, cold drinks and take away tubs of nasi goreng (fried rice) with a variety of bits and pieces inserted. I should have picked something up myself because the mall hadn’t reawakened yet from the previous day’s trading so nothing else was open. And when I got to the office, only Adit and the cleaner were there. There was no film crew and nothing to else to eat. I don’t function well without breakfast so I went back to the warungs in the basement to get one of those tubs of fried rice.
The film crew still hadn’t arrived by the time I got back so I ate my spicy breakfast, washed it down with a coffee and made use of the wifi at the school to do some general social media catch up and browsing to pass the time. When the crew did finally arrive at around 9.30am, all they had with them were cups of Starbucks and filming kit. I’d been told they’d have wardrobe so I arrived in my casual gear – t-shirt, shorts and toeless footwear. This wasn’t appropriate apparel, so I had to go back to the apartment and get some formal wear for the shoot.
An hour later, I’d returned to the school looking more school-teachery and the shooting began. A camp, podgy, Indonesian man powdered my face and everyone was placed in position for the scene. I was merely a background artiste playing a teacher talking to a student. I was sat on a small table across from EF’s media manager, Santi, who played the role of student. She fiddled with an iPad and we made general chit chat as if engaging in teacher-student activity whilst the indie crew did what crews do, point the camera, measure, prod and adjust the artificiality of the scene like live action Photoshopping.
The shooting was long, and as indie shoots tend to be, not very exciting. I did enjoy talking to Santi though. She had an effervescent enthusiasm for her job, which she clearly enjoyed. Not surprising really as she got to travel around the EF centres in Indonesia taking care of media related projects. This meant that she was often near the coast where she enjoyed her favourite pastime, “the beach”. She filled me in on some of the places that I should visit and just how long it would take me to get there from West Jakarta. Karimun Java was her favourite. She described it as, “the Maldives of Indonesia”, but it took a whole day to get there from Jakarta. This seemed to be the case with anywhere with a beach or natural beauty and I was already wondering whether I should ask for a transfer to one of the kids’ schools on the coast. After all, the main reason I had chosen Indonesia as a teaching destination was to enjoy the beauty of its natural environment. So far it seemed like most of my time would be spent hopping from air-conditioned cab into air conditioned mall to air conditioned classroom and back to shit apartment (also air conditioned) via scenes of poverty and squalor that seemed to line every street and highway. Already at this early stage I wasn’t too enamoured with the thought of staying in Jakarta for a year.
After my part in the EF advertisement was over, I hung around the office waiting to utilise the computers and use the internet to search for another apartment to move into after my free month at the Grand Prix Inn was up. That was when I met Miles, an Australian teacher who had been living in Indonesia for quite a long time and knew the place very well. He’d come to Jakarta to do an Australian rule’s football project and stayed on when it ended. He currently lived with his girlfriend whilst working for EF full time.
Miles spoke Indonesian Bahasa and was a wealth of knowledge on things to do, how to get around, where to go and how to get there, so I pummelled him with questions about public transport, good places to visit and the pro’s and con’s of Jakarta living. He was generous with his information as he poured out loads of useful details in a very straight-faced and matter-of-fact kind of way. He was like a tour guide who had become tired of tourists but couldn’t resist the urge to show off his extensive knowledge; I think he enjoyed being the expat-native expert. He certainly found something about Jakarta that he liked. Either that or he was escaping something far less interesting at home. He was a little hard to read, or perhaps I’m just trying too hard to analyse him to give his cursory introduction more fizz. Hopefully I would find out more about Miles; a guy who plays Australian football and loves Jakarta enough to stick around and even learn the language must surely have more peaks and troughs to his personality than first impressions implied.
After I left the school I visited the Hero supermarket in the basement of the Taman Anggrek mall to get some supplies, which took some time. I always find it intriguing to see what other cultures have on their shop shelves. You also have to keep an eye on the prices of those simple, cheap items that you are familiar with back home as they can cost a good deal more when overseas with the varying import levies – around £3 for the teeniest weeniest box of Weetabix for example (not that I’d entertain anything produced by Nestlé).
I was in the supermarket for about an hour despite only having a hand basket and shopping for a place with no oven, no toaster, no cutlery, pots or pans and only one gas burner. About twenty minutes of that time was spent in a short but painfully slow queue. This wasn’t so bad though, because as I waited in line, a smiling Indonesian woman, who was stacking shelves in the store and spoke good English, started flirting with me. Apparently she could tell I was single by the contents of my basket so the first thing she asked was if I was married. It was all pretty innocent, but a nice end to an otherwise pretty mundane day. However, I did get a pleasant surprise when I got back to the apartment and found out that the lobby had wifi. There was also a pool and a café in the complex so at least I now knew I could get something to eat and have a swim in the mornings before venturing out.
When I got up to my apartment I decided to go to bed. There wasn’t really much else I could do in a space consisting of a bed, a shower, a sink, a wardrobe and unit with a 32 inch flat screen TV with no picture. So I turned the lights out, closed my eyes and restlessly tossed, turned and scratched until the sun came up. The following day was an eleven o’clock start and the beginning of induction training. Whoopee!