Jakarta Bound is a travelogue about life in one of the largest and most densely populated cities in South East Asia.
For most of the working western world Friday is a big ‘Yaaaay!’ day, but I was having the most miserable Friday night I’d had in a long time. What made it worse of course was being thousands of miles away from home and being alone.
The only people I had really gotten to know since had been in Jakarta were Suki, Eric and Debbi. Suki lived on the other side of the city in the lively expat district of Kemang, but she was broke. Eric lived in the centre in Surdiman, which I understood had a few decent places to go out and socialise, but he didn’t really like bars or nightclubs or alcohol. As for Debbi, I didn’t think she and I were really on the same social wavelength. Besides, she was still nursing her abdominal pain and running a fever; she just wanted to rest up and hope that her illness would go away without the need to see a doctor. I hadn’t seen Kate during the training week so I hadn’t really gotten to know her. Besides, she lived with her boyfriend and just didn’t strike me as the going-out type. Adit and Benni didn’t do bars or alcohol. Even if they did, they were best mates, they lived together, they had girlfriends – they clearly had better things to do than entertain the new teacher from England. I hadn’t really gotten to know the rest of the Indonesian contingent at the school and they hadn’t offered up any form of social orientation, so it was just me.
I’m a gregarious type and I can usually entertain myself with a bar, a drink and a bit of social voyeurism. But the area of Grogol where I was staying doesn’t really have a bar scene or anything else for foreigners. There’s a strip of café bars in the Tribeca gardens at Central Park mall that stay open until 3am at the weekend. There you can eat and drink whilst your ears are battered by the clashing sounds of obnoxiously loud music pounding out of each of their PA systems. There are no expat faces there and it doesn’t really have the vibe of a place where you can go solo and mingle. So with no friends and no invitation I decided to drift off home alone for a date with Jim Beam and an early night.
The sun choked its way through the smog on a hot, clammy, Saturday morning as I awoke after another bad nights sleep in the Grand Prix Inn. I had made contact with a Belgian man called Jeff through a Jakarta expat page on Facebook and I had arranged to meet him later that day to view a couple of places he had to rent near Taman Anggrek. I wasn’t meeting him until four, so with time to kill on my first day off I decided to take a leisurely stroll through the surrounding area of Tajung Duren.
I was hoping that I would find somewhere within walking distance of my shitty, temporary digs that would alleviate the crushing isolation and boredom I had felt the night before, but there was nothing. Not a damn thing. Aside from the occasional green strip where a garden trader would have his plants and decorations on display, it was all roads with treacherous paving, auto mechanics, mini markets, run down dirty-looking warungs, run down exhausted locals sleeping in the shade of whatever little run down construction they worked or lived in, then hives of mopeds and cars buzzing loudly toward the malls. Worst of all though was the stench of rotting garbage rising up from the thick, green soup of pollution that lay stagnant in the waterways that ran through the district. As for the ‘leisurely stroll’ part, it was about as leisurely as off road mountain biking. The pavements that existed in the local area appeared to have been made by dropping lumps of concrete direct from the quarry off the back of a tipper truck, shoving them to the side of the road and steam-rolling over them until they were just about flat enough to walk on. Every footstep is an ankle sprain waiting to happen.
After weaving through the traffic and noise, dodging potholes and stumbling over the battered broken rocks and stones that made up the pavement, I stopped at a restaurant/café for something to eat because I was desperately hungry. I’m normally quite confident about my stomach’s capacity to digest most things in most places without agonising abdominal comebacks – within reason of course – and this place looked about as good as it got. There were a lot of people in there, which is always a good sign, and it had an open kitchen where I could see what they were doing. It also had a roof, which amongst the dozens of shabby little warung stalls, seemed like a mark of prestige. Despite this, it was still little more than a hashed together, wooden shack with seating. But it looked clean enough and the flies were manageable.
Naturally, nobody spoke a word of English. There were two impossibly cute little waitresses who seemed to find it impossibly funny that I wasn’t Indonesian, yet I was somehow in their venue. I guess it was pretty odd since there really weren’t any other expats or travellers to be seen. I had no internet signal so my Google Translate wouldn’t work, which meant I couldn’t read anything on the menu. I had tried a dozen times to download the offline Indonesian dictionary, but it just wouldn’t work, so I looked at the pictures on the wall to find something to order, awkwardly trying not to look like a total tourist. However, I couldn’t really figure out what was in the faded, laminated images. The 3D models that this particular restaurant had innovatively decided to use to represent their tasty culinary delights, mainly looked like glazed lumps of various shades of shit. There wasn’t really a discernible form I could make out. So knowing the word for beef is ‘sapi’, I saw a picture that vaguely resembled a soup of sorts with sapi and vegetables and ordered it.
The hot and spicy soup came, and it was nice. The meat was a bit tough, but there were toothpicks. The main thing was that I was now fed and watered and ready to move on to the polished and fully serviced world of Mallville. Taman Angrekk and Central Park, the twin towers of commerce that seemed to be the focal point of the district, were only a few minutes of uneven walking away.