9. Brief Encounters

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


Like Claire, I had a long distance lover who I had left behind. However, my circumstances were a lot different. I had met my Latin Lover before coming to Jakarta and had only known her for a few months. It was supposed to have been a brief encounter with the possibility of some fun before I headed off to my new start in Asia, where I had planned on being a free agent and enjoying some free exploitative expat love. I’d hoped to meet an exotic stranger who I might whisk off to the Western world, or beyond, and share a life with. Instead I met a beautiful South American woman in Manchester.

She herself lived in Madrid and was only staying in England for six months to do an immersive language course to improve her English. Ironically, she was studying at a franchise of the same language school I was now working for. The greater irony was, that after having made the bold move to reignite the dulling embers of my own life with an extreme geographical paradigm shift, I had fallen for a woman from Venezuela in my own backyard. A woman who had the same enthusiasm for travel that I had. A woman who offered the possibilities of opening the pathways to a life less ordinary beyond the cold, grey, cloudy shores of Britain. However, I had mixed feelings about the timing of this unexpected romance. I wanted to enjoy my Asian adventure as a free agent and an unexpected long distance romance presented distractions. I wasn’t entirely sure that I wanted to invest in the possibility of something more developing from what had only been a brief relationship at the expense of suffocating my experience of living in Indonesia. But, life’s a crazy bitch – sometimes demanding, sometimes a nightmare and frequently unpredictable. It usually depends on the choices you make. I had only been in Jakarta for a week and already I had reservations about staying much more than six months. So, perhaps selfishly, my thoughts at this time were leaning toward a reunion with this beautiful woman from Caracas with the Russian name.

Claire and I finished up our meals and drinks and requested the bill, which Claire insisted on paying. I had carried enough cash to cover the night, but admittedly, I was surprised by the difference in prices between west Jakarta and Kemang, which is in the south. Whilst a meal and drinks in Taman Anggrek or Central Park would have set you back around 150000 IDR or so at best, in Kemang it was expat prices and more than double that. Either way, Claire insisted on picking up the bill and considered it a ‘Welcome to Jakarta’, so I insisted on picking up the bill for the drinks for the rest of the night.

When the bill for the meal came, it was totally wrong – basically, it was someone else’s bill! Claire had told me during the evening that Indonesians were generally pretty dumb and I should learn to get used to it. This had been a ‘matter of fact’ kind of observation rather than an offensive dig. It certainly wasn’t a racist statement; you can’t work as a teacher in the Middle East and then Asia, make friends with a six foot two Jamaican who is as black as night, marry a broke Fijian with dreadlocks and pick up the bill of a Jamaican Irishman who you have only just met and be racist. Besides, the glaring mistake with the bill kind of proved her point to some degree. However, time would tell whether this was a one-off or an Indonesian cultural maxim.

By the time we left the restaurant and stepped out into the hive of late Saturday night traffic on Kemang Raya, the rain had stopped and I could see that the road was indeed a main strip. Jakarta actually had a strip – hallelujah! A place where a person can go at the weekend and hop from bar to club to club to bar is salvation for the working Westerner, for whom the alcoholic nectar, salubrious adventure and social matrix of the adult playground and it’s soundtrack of dance music is essential. We stepped into a Blue Bird taxi and remained virtually stationary in traffic for about fifteen minutes before handing over 25000 IDR and walking the rest of the way to an Irish bar called Murphy’s.

Murphy’s was noisy – very noisy. There was a live Indonesian cover act playing popular western music – and playing it very well – and a fair share of ‘Bules’. Claire told me that Bule (pronounced boo-lay) is the name given to the white foreigners and expats living in Jakarta. One of these Bules was lapping up the band, waving his hands in the air, pumping his fist and mouthing the words to some rock-pop song the band were playing with the enthusiasm of a teenage fan at a concert. He was pissed of course. We speculated whether he was American or Australian, but we couldn’t decide. What we did decide was that it was likely he would have been a little more reserved back home.

Many of the expats in Jakarta and other developing countries tend to act is if their lives outside of work are just one big holiday. They’re thousands of miles away from home where nobody knows who they really are. They’re respectively wealthier than they would be back home and have an elevated status among the local population due to their high incomes, so why not live a little. Like the man who was entertaining us, they were usually harmless and fun to watch.

Aside from the comedy factor of the overenthusiastic Bule, there wasn’t much else in Murphy’s apart from expensive Guinness, smoke and noise. Having a conversation was hard work. After a short while of shouting across a few inches of space to make myself heard, my throat was hoarse. Claire wasn’t too impressed with the band either, so I killed the rest of my Guinness, Claire knocked back the whiskey she had ordered, I paid the 200000 IDR for the drinks and we headed out to somewhere else.

Treehouse, the place for cool kids in Kemang.

Treehouse, the place for cool kids in Kemang.

We walked through the noisy Saturday night melee of traffic and people, carefully manouveuring the treacherous cracked stones, paving and potholes that pass for a footpath in Jakarta, and found a nice little bar called Treehouse. This was more like the kind of terrace bar you would find in an informed European resort. It reminded me of the kind of place you would find in the Northern Quarter in Manchester. It was a small venue with raw wooden features and a staircase suspended by rope that led to an open mezzanine that hovered over the main bar. Unlike the shrill racket in Murphy’s, lounge style, deep house music played at a tolerable level through the PA system and the place had a nice atmosphere. However, when we ordered our drinks and walked up the rope stairs it seemed apparent that there was a private party going on as there were remnants of a buffet lying around and a half-eaten birthday cake in the middle of a busy table of trendy, young Indonesians. It was a cool little place, but we felt like we were gatecrashing so we left to find somewhere else. Luckily, just around the corner we heard some more decent music that led us down a narrow corridor to a larger, even better venue called Bremer.

Bremer had the same type of trendy, young Indonesian crowd as Treehouse, but it was a bigger venue. It was all open air and literally built around two large trees, upon which was suspended a terrace area that overlooked the rest of the bar. There was a Dj in a white shirt and sunglasses set up in the corner amidst the seating on the ground level who was playing some damn good house music and it had a decent atmosphere. So we ordered some drinks and took the steps up to the terrace that was built into the trees. We found some seats and oiled the wheels of conversation with a steady flow of Jack Daniels (for me) and rum (for Claire) as we spent the rest of the night talking about travel, England and the frustrations of long distance relationships.

We remained in Bremer until the Dj started playing noisy chart hits, which the locals did seem to prefer as they joined in en masse with the big choruses. I suppose in a place where karaoke is so popular it shouldn’t really be a surprise, but how the hell the Dj segued from Ibiza style house beats to The White Stripes I don’t know. However, I don’t care for pop or rock and it was way past two in the morning, so we decided to call it a night. But before I left, Claire wanted to show me one more place.

Eastern Promise, which is more commonly know as EP, is an established expat favourite that has been part of the Kemang scene since the late 70’s. It is only a short walk from Bremer, but when we arrived there it was clearly coming to a close. Claire said the place was usually full at the weekend with the older male expats looking for easy local pickups. That time had clearly passed and the night was over. There were just a few straggling single white males and the last of the un-plucked Indonesian women left. I didn’t want to waste any time murdering my mojo in there. I was tired, I’d had a pretty good night and it was time for me to head back to Mallville.

Getting a cab outside was easy. I gave Claire a warm farewell hug, thanked her for my introduction to Kemang nightlife and promised her that the next night would be on me. She had saved my weekend and shown me a part of the city where I knew I could come out to play. I was also a lot happier knowing that I now knew at least one person who I could go and socialise with. So, contented, I took the taxi back to Daan Mogot – a journey that was half the price and half the time without the heavy traffic – and I was back at the Grand Prix Inn in less than forty minutes.

I slept well that night thinking about my Latin Lover and what other places of interest I would find in Jakarta over the coming weeks.