Jakarta Bound is a travelogue about life in one of the largest and most densely populated cities in South East Asia.
Morning came with more mosquito bites and a blocked shower drain, which meant I had limited time to have my cold shower before the water ran into the room.
I sat in my Blue Bird Limo taxi (that’s Toyota Limo, not Limousine) on the way to Taman Anggrek and itched a swollen lump on my shoulder that looked like a party of mossies had had a barbecue blood supper at my expense during the night. I was on my way to meet Debbi who was going to take me over to EF’s main Smart School in FX Mall in the Surdiman district of the city centre. This was where all of us new staff would be having our weeklong induction.
The Surdiman school was about twice the size of the one in Taman Anggrek and even more impressive. Glass-walled classrooms and workshop spaces were clustered to the right at the bottom end of a long office space that opened up into a wide English Speaking Zone. The back wall of the space was a floor-to-ceiling glass window that looked out onto the Surdiman cityscape. We were three very high floors up and the whole room appeared to spill out over an open ledge that dropped into the city. There was a long table more or less the length of this huge, glass, panoramic wall. The view looked like a hyper-real 3D cityscape painting. Students were scattered along the table and amongst the colourfully upholstered seating that was casually arranged around the English Speaking Zone. Most of them were hardwired into the iPads provided by the school to use EF’s Efekta language software via in-ear headphones, many multi-tasking with social media and apps on their smartphones.
Opposite the glass wall at the far end of the room there was an open mini-lecture theatre space with stepped seating. A massive monitor hung on the wall, which like most of the walls was decorated with huge blown up cropped images of some of the worlds most famous cities – London, New York and the Golden Gate Bridge of San Francisco.
As you enter this über modern language learning zone from the mall, the automatic glass doors slide apart and you are welcomed by the smiling staff in the reception booth. Next to them are two desks where the Education Consultants, who are essentially the sales people for the school, sit in wait for any new customers, ready to pitch the benefits of English learning with EF. Further along is the staff room/office, which occupies a long section of the room behind a glass wall that runs along the right side of the corridor leading to the open zone. It is a space that is around 20 feet long. On the opposite side running parallel to the office space are a row of booths where students have meetings and assessments with staff, or just meet with friends and practice their English.
From the coffee maker to the 35 assorted retro-styled light bulbs hanging over the long table in front of the panoramic glass wall looking out onto the city, this was a pretty amazing place to teach and learn.
The induction week was the usual corporate indoctrination that began with the do’s and don’ts of representing English First in Jakarta. All the team were introduced to each other and we were asked to read and then sign our contracts. The contracts were air tight but pretty straight forward. There was a section that pretty much stated that all thoughts and ideas during our term of employment were the property (in perpetuity) of The Company! Signing off to that part did make the creative in me feel uncomfortable, but what was I going to do; object, decline and get on the next eighteen-hour flight home? Of course not, so I signed the papers knowing my ideas were always going to be my ideas and I could do what I liked with them. No contract signed in Indonesia was going to buy the inside of my head. All of us had a quibble and gripe about various aspects of the contract, but Sandi, one the Indonesian office staff who was overseeing this process despite knowing absolutely nothing about contract law, just smiled, nodded agreeably and shrugged. Then after the contract signing, we had a quick coffee break – although Eric, the new incoming DoS at the Surdiman school, didn’t drink coffee.
Despite the strict rules as stated in the ‘Code of Conduct’ in relation to acceptable language, behaviour and topics to be avoided whilst we were the working property of EF, the training sessions were a great laugh. Since nobody had told me that I had to wear my professional attire for the training, I had rolled up in a short-sleeved linen shirt, denim shorts and sockless summer shoes, which made me the target for the first jokes of the day and pretty much set the tone of the subsequent relentless, sarcastic wit, peppered with inappropriate innuendo of varying sorts – most of which we had only just been contractually informed were forbidden. However, teachers tend to be an irreverent and humorous bunch. With the combination of a British Northerner who had served almost a decade in teaching service for the company in Indonesian and was now returning back home for an educational sabbatical; a six-foot-seven Canadian who had spent nine years in various teaching jobs in Japan, Iraq and Qatar; a four-foot-eleven Indo-Dutch Jakarta native who was getting more delirious by the day because she was juggling too many different jobs to earn money and not getting enough sleep; and a Mancunian (me); it was kind of inevitable that there would be a fair few laughs along the way. I deliberately exclude our American friend Debbi from this mix, not because she wasn’t in attendance, but because a lot of the humour seemed to go right over her head. Maybe being American she didn’t quite get a lot of the British wit, or maybe it was because she had been nursing a bad stomach all week, or maybe she was just trying really hard to remain professional in her new role as DoS. Whatever it was, she just wasn’t on the same comic page as the rest of us. However, she did share the odd belly laugh (and she had quite a belly) over the course of the training and, to coin a British phrase, ‘she was a very good sport’. In fact, from what I could tell, Debbi seemed like she was going to be pretty ok.
On the whole, the 5 days of training were pretty uneventful in terms of experiencing Jakarta life, although I did find out a few useful things that week:
- When you buy food or drinks in the restaurants or bars in Jakarta, the price you pay is topped with a 10% tax and an additional service charge that can be as much as 15%. However, you don’t find out what the service charge is until you get your bill and the tax is added after the service charge, which makes it pure guesswork as to what the bill is going to actually be; the point being – don’t budget around the actual prices on a menu.
- The price of goods and services in Surdiman, and central Jakarta in general, are around 10-20% higher than in the west of the city.
- Always check for cars before opening your door to get out of a taxi, as when the car that is driving past rips off the taxi door, you have to foot the bill! Luckily for me, EF kindly covered the cost of the damage – but it did seem like a bad omen. Time would tell if that would be the case.