4. Gut Reaction

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

Warung life

After the week of training was over I was starting to feel a bit more comfortable in my new polluted home. I had gotten to know my new work colleagues as well as all the staff at the Surdiman school and everyone seemed pretty ok so far.

Sally, the Indonesian recruitment manager who had recruited me, had recently been promoted to Production Manager for EF’s Jakarta operation. There’s a stereotype about Asian women being shy and submissive, but there was nothing wispy or submissive about this lady. She struck me as someone who worked hard and was quite the alpha female; about five-nine in office heels, she had an acerbic wit that she delivered in a lazy, almost alluring style. She walked with a lopsided tilt, possibly due to one leg being shorter than the other, but this in no way tilted her confidence. However, despite her little handicap and a noticeable lick of dark hair above her top lip, she had a physical presence that was quite attractive.

Pauline, the Country Manager, who had worked for EF in Indonesia for almost 20 years, also had a laidback, quietly confident and executive air about her. She had a professional smile and quite emotionless eyes that peered out through the lenses of her designer glasses from a tight, moon shaped face. She looked a little icy.

Ananta, the FX School Centre Manager, was an athletically built woman who enjoyed adventure holidays and extreme sports. She also came across as a strong female. In fact, it seemed that all the senior staff team at the Surdiman school were strong women. I liked it. It was just a shame I wasn’t going to be working with them.

Suki, the diminutive Indo-Dutch woman who was taking the induction training with us, spoke impeccable American-English, albeit at a pitch that could deafen a dolphin. She was a character that could be equally sweet and annoying. She was working two jobs on opposite ends of the city and trying to get some kind of online business off the ground, so she was exhausted most days. This made her a little cranky at times, but she still managed fits and spurts of effusive energy. It was a little strange having her working with us because I had actually connected with her online before I had come to Jakarta. This happened when I had been doing some research into what it would be like working in the city. Suki had contacted me via an online forum that I had found about working for EF in Jakarta. Most of the other people on the forum had been less than complementary and I was considering backing out. However, after I had spoken to Suki via Skype, she settled my anxieties a little. She had worked for English First for many years and offered a much more balanced view of what they were like as a company and what life was like in Jakarta. She gave me a rundown of what to expect in terms of work and living standards on the salary they offered (13,500,000 IDR – after 10% tax deduction). She told me that the cost of living could be as much or little as I chose, such was the stark contrast in lifestyles in Jakarta. However she assured me that I would live a relatively comfortable life by Indonesian standards (although that all depended on what ‘Indonesian standards’ were). She also said that I would find decent enough accommodation, which was the main thing that had concerned me before coming. I didn’t want to be living in some shithole, hovel in a shanty-town at the arse end of the city – that would definitely have been a deal breaker.

Suki had told me she’d had enough of teaching when we spoke, but when we met for the first time during the induction at FX she told me that she now needed the extra money after her business plans had suffered a setback. I was just glad she was part of the team. It was like I already had a friend on-side. She even did an apartment hunt for me on day one, suggesting that we share a place together. I agreed to the idea – although after a day or two with her I started to think that I may have been a little too hasty; that high pitched voice… hmm – could I cope with it for twelve months? Could I cope with it for 12 hours!?

I’d spent most of the training week getting to know Suki and Eric, the six-foot-seven Canadian who was the incoming DoS for the Surdiman school. The three of us looked like a pretty odd trio – big bear, little bear and teeny-weeny little bear. Eric in particular was quite a sight as, amongst the generally diminutive Indonesian locals, he stood out in the Jakarta crowd like Gulliver in Lilliput. The funny thing about Eric though, was that despite being a towering length of man that unfolded out of a chair like a giant puppet, he was a delicate thing. He was long rather than broad and seemed to be allergic to everything – cats, caffeine, beer, and something he ate in the basement café of FX Mall apparently.

Warung dining street style

Warung dining street style

Most of the indigenous workers who service the shops, cafés and restaurants of the many fancy malls in Jakarta can’t afford to eat in the places where they work. Instead, they go for lunch and dinner in the basement food courts. Here you can get a meal and a drink for around 10000 to 20000 IDR (£1 to £2) with no tax or service charge included. These are a step up from the warungs you find on the street, but I found that the food was still really tasty. However, the level of hygiene was questionable at best!

Warung hygiene street style.

Warung hygiene street style.

Eric had been eating in the food court in the basement of FX Mall since arriving about a week earlier, but by day two of training he was back and forth to the toilet purging his bowels. Obviously something didn’t want to be in there and his body was making sure it didn’t stay. He got some advice from the Indonesian staff in the office and bought some black tablets, which he took to remedy his ailing guts. He spent the day drinking water in between toilet trips, but he was fine by the following morning. Debbi on the other hand hadn’t eaten from the basement – although she’d pretty much eaten everything else the malls could offer – but she was also suffering from a bad belly. However, she suffered her stomach troubles for the whole week and worked through it. Rather than medicine or a doctor, she was relying on sleep and rest. I was actually worried for the woman, although part of me was a little unsympathetic. Since I’d been there I had watched her unapologetically shovel a whole lot of shit into herself. Fortunately however, like Eric, she came out the other end of her colonic troubles without any serious problems. After a few days rest her abdominal agonies abated without needing drastic medical attention. Nevertheless, I decided I was going to be a little more wary of where and what I ate in the future.

The main training week ended on Friday evening. There were just a few more induction sessions to do the following week in the Taman Anggrek school on Monday and Tuesday. But it was Friday night, what to do? Nothing apparently. I suddenly started to feel lonely and a little depressed.