7. The Peculiar Belgian

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

After some prompting by text whilst waiting at the information desk at Central Park, Jeff arrived about 20 minutes late. He wasn’t quite what I expected.

Jeff’s introduction on Facebook gave me the impression of a rather professional European expat who had a solid profession that he subsidised with a short-term real estate rental business. The man that shuffled up to me wearing a dirty old pair of Crocs, a pair of loose, cream coloured, linen trousers, a white, linen shirt unbuttoned to the peak of his paunch, and a weathered old holdall thrown over his shoulder, looked more like a backpacker who had stayed too long in Asia and was no longer equipped to return to Western formality. But his handshake was firm and his welcome warm.

Jeff was a talkative man and although I was now used to speaking in clear defined syllables to foreign English speakers, I wasn’t sure he was picking up everything I was saying. He seemed to be emitting the sound of the Beatles as we walked through the stream of taxis and traffic that continually circled the entrance of Central Park. As we moved further away from the engine noise, heading toward the Mediterania Gardens apartment complex, I definitely noticed that the music was coming from his bag and asked, “Is that you?”

“Yes” he replied, “I always walk with music, everywhere I go. I love music. It is the one thing I need in life.” This guy was definitely an eccentric.

Before taking me up to see his apartment, Jeff showed me around the pool area of the Mediterania complex. It looked very nice. It was designed within a tropical landscape garden set in the natural atrium made by the four surrounding tower blocks of Mediterania 1. The entire pool feature grew out from the middle of the two blocks on the south side, leaving the sun to set between the west side towers. The main pool was raised up from the ground level and had a stone canopy and grotto-like area where steps led underground to the aging showers and changing rooms. More steps lead down toward the lower ground garden area and to the doorways to the surrounding apartment buildings. A moat of shallow water ran through the tropical flora that was bedded in amongst the rockeries that surrounded the pool. This was the fun area where children played and paddlers paddled as the serious swimmers did laps above them. The whole pool garden looked as good as any you would find in a three or even four-star hotel, albeit a little old. This was promising.

Mediteranea 1 pool

The pool area of Mediterania Gardens Residence 1.

One thing that was immediately noticeable about the Mediterania 1 complex was that it was mainly populated by Indo-Chinese. They filled the lift that we took up to the apartment floor whilst the Beatles played out of Belgian Jeff’s bag. It sounded quite loud in the confined and crowded lift space and I felt a bit awkward. However, Jeff didn’t seem to care and continued talking at a level that made me wonder if he even acknowledged that there were other people in the lift. He pointed out that the buildings in Jakarta had no 13th or 14th floors, or any number with a four, as those numbers were considered unlucky. This means that all the high-rise buildings are a few floors lower than they actually state. That being said, they still looked pretty high to me. I have never lived in anything above four floors. Ping! The lift arrived at the 32nd floor – which of course is only the 28th. Still, it was more than high enough for my liking.

Lady luck wasn’t travelling with me on this trip. As soon as I saw the size of the Beligian’s apartment I knew it wasn’t a one bedroom, which meant I would probably have to take up Suki’s offer of sharing. However, if I had to share, Jeff’s apartment looked like it was big enough to comfortably accommodate two people.

The apartment’s décor was homely let’s say. There was a little two-seater leather sofa and an armchair that had no relation to the rest of the interior furnishings or decoration. Actually, none of the décor was related. It was a sporadic mass of kitsch and random bits and pieces. There was an ethnic Balinese painting here, a sequinned, embroidered wall hanging of an elephant from Thailand there. There was a cabinet filled with miniature porcelain ornaments on one wall. There were more of them on some corner shelves that flanked the cupboards of the kitchenette and cooking area. The rest of the cooking area consisted of a sink, a twin gas burner, a small fridge, a microwave and a small preparation surface. There was also a bar, two stools and a large fan on the ceiling.

Of the two bedrooms, one was a fair-sized double with a fitted wardrobe and mini safe; the other was a much larger room that had been split into two by a false wall. The flat screen TV in the living room sat on a modern black unit with a DVD player, and the smaller bedroom had a smaller TV on a unit opposite the foot of a single bed. The third room annexed that room and consisted of another single bed and bedside unit.

The apartment had clearly been thrown together without much interior design consideration, but it was functionally equipped for short-term tenants. It had what was needed, including a hot and cold shower and a washing machine that filled the minor space of a small balcony (the rest of the space was filled by an air conditioning unit).

Jeff talked all the way through the viewing in the way that a hard seller does to smother any objections. Eventually, I cut to the chase and asked about the price and terms. I wanted an option and as far as comfort was concerned, his apartment was suitable. Unfortunately the price wasn’t. The apartment worked out at 9,000,000 IDR a month including a 400,000 IDR service charge. It wasn’t exactly cheap considering the one-bedroomed apartments the company were providing were 4,000,000 IDR. However, the Belgian was prepared to accept monthly payments.

He had originally shown me pictures of another house that was dimly lit and dull – it actually looked as if it was located somewhere in the old German Eastern Block from the pictures I had seen. He also had another two-bedroom apartment in another block in Mediterania 1 where he was living with his wife and child. They also had another short-term tenant who was staying with them until the end of October. I had a couple of hours to kill before I was due to go up to Kemang and meet Claire so I agreed to take a look at the other two places.

We left Mediterania C to go and see his other apartment, which was located in the B block. The soundtrack of John, Paul, George and Ringo followed us everywhere. As we stepped out of the lift onto the 23rd floor of Mediterania B we met his temporary tenant, Simon, and Jeff introduced us. Simon looked like a formal Jewish businessman. He had a very young face, although he was probably in his late 20’s or early 30’s. He was well-spoken and very cordial. So much so, that he immediately asked if I fancied a drink later, which took me by surprise. Nevertheless, I agreed. I didn’t know anybody else so anyone who was friendly enough to offer a social get together was better than no one at all. If he turned out to be gay, which seemed very possible, I would immediately leave him with no illusions as to my heterosexuality.

Jeff’s second apartment was the same size as the one he had shown me in Mediterania C, but it didn’t have the partition in the second room. There were toys all over the place and there was a mural of the sky and balloons on the ceiling. Jeff said that it was one of the things that made him like the place. I didn’t like it at all. In fact I much preferred his other apartment. The décor may not have been the best, but at least it looked as if it was post millennium. The Mediterania B apartment looked in desperate need of redecoration and just felt too old.

Jeff hadn’t stopped talking for the entirety of the viewings and I realised I’d been with him for well over an hour. It was approaching six and I needed to get back to change so that I could get over to Kemang and meet Claire. However, Jeff offered to show me his other property, the dingy looking Eastern Bloc house. I figured that since it was still relatively early and I needed as many accommodation options as possible, I may as well go and see it. I needn’t have bothered.

The Belgian’s third property was a house in the local neighbourhood of Tajung Duren; it was very much native living. The entrance was down a dark alleyway populated by locals, dust and dirt and I decided that there was no way I was going to live there before I even looked inside. The inside itself proved, unsurprisingly, to be even worse than the outside – worse even than the pictures he’d sent. It was covered in cobwebs and the TV and décor were so old that it could have been used as part of a set for a Kafka stage play. I don’t know how the man kept a straight face as he suggested that he could let me have the whole house for $350 dollars a month, which was over 4000000 IDR. I was tired and by this time I felt familiar enough with this man and his singing holdall to abruptly end the viewing. So I asked him to point me in the direction of a taxi so that I could get back to the Grand Prix Inn, get changed and get over to Kemang to meet Claire.

As I travelled back to my apartment, I wasn’t entirely satisfied. Yes, I had an option for sharing, however, none of the accommodation I had seen was great and I remained unsettled and uncertain about where I would finally end up living. I didn’t want to think about it. It was Saturday evening and I had an invitation to see another part of Jakarta and share some social time with a fellow Brit. Amazingly, by the time I got home, quickly showered and changed it was well past eight. I could have sworn I’d left the Belgian well before seven. Somehow this place just seemed to swallow up time.

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3 thoughts on “7. The Peculiar Belgian

  1. I’m impressed at how much detail you remember. My first days overseas were a bit of a blur. But maybe that’s because it was also a lot of years ago. I’m really enjoying following your story. Great characters. I can see them in my mind.

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