Jakarta Bound is a travelogue about life in one of the largest and most densely populated cities in South East Asia.
On our first day of meeting at the FX Mall School in Surdiman, Suki had told me that she had found three or four pretty decent apartments in the Mediterania Gardens Residence apartment complex that were reasonably priced. There are three Mediterania blocks – Mediterania 1, Mediterania 2 and Royal Mediterania Gardens – and these are the main apartment units in the Podomoro complex in the area close to the two big malls in the Grogol district. There are also apartments in the Taman Anggrek mall complex and the Central Park buildings themselves, but these were out of my price range as EF did not pay the good expat wages that the international schools paid.
In Jakarta, international school teachers are paid something in the region of $2500 upwards a month, with an additional apartment allowance of around $1000. This converts to around 40,000,000 IDR a month, which is a pretty damn good wage in Jakarta. You can live very comfortably when you’re earning that kind of money. EF paid 13,500,000 IDR net after tax (10%) with no apartment allowance. This is ok, but you can’t exactly spend indiscriminately, although with some budgeting you can live well enough. However, it meant sacrificing the grandeur of a home-from-home kind of apartment – with a maid – and regular nights out in the expat areas where your drinks will cost around the same as an average bar in the UK or US (around 100,000 IDR for a good spirit with a mixer, which is the equivalent of around $8 or £5). For all their talk of being the biggest language school company in the world, English First were pretty fucking mean with their teacher’s wages.
The Mediterania apartments were the best option for me if I wanted to be in within walking distance of my job in Mall Taman Anggrek. I had seen enough of the traffic in Jakarta to know that I didn’t want to commute any distance to work. Besides that, I just couldn’t afford paying for a taxi every day. Also, the Mediterania apartments were at the heart of Mallville, so there were a couple of bars nearby and plenty of easily accessible amenities. However, there weren’t many apartment owners that would let you pay rent on a monthly basis, so I was keen to get something sorted out sooner rather than later. I was pretty happy with Belgian Jeff’s place, but he had already started pestering me with text messages giving me deadlines to make a decision. Ideally I would have preferred to spend a little less than 4,000,000 a month on an apartment due to my paltry salary, but I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity of having an option to fall back on if the places Suki had found didn’t materialise.
I had already asked Suki a few times about the accommodation leads she had told me she had gathered, but she kept on saying that she hadn’t followed them up, which kind of bothered me. I wanted out of The Grand Prix Inn, but I wanted to know I had something in place rather than leaving it to the last minute and worrying. Despite her assuring me that there was plenty of time, I wasn’t so certain; I just didn’t feel too much confidence in relying on good fortune in Jakarta. When I had worked overseas 15 years earlier in Cyprus, from the moment I arrived on that island everything seemed to fall into place. I got a good job working the villa program for a holiday company. They put me in a great apartment and gave me a car and a mobile phone. I made friends quickly and settled into the resort within days. In Cyprus everything felt right from the very start. In Jakarta, everything felt wrong. Things had not been running smoothly from the moment I had arrived and was greeted by that rainstorm.
First of all there was the disappointment of my accommodation in Centro City Apartments. I had to deal with the blocked drain in my shower on day one, which in fairness was pretty straightforward; a maintenance man came up armed with a plunger, I gave him one of the wire clothes hangers to dig out the bits of hair and dead skin that were blocking the drain and he soon had it fixed. However, I had now been there for over a week and the water coming out of the shower was still cold and the TV still didn’t show anything but static.
The fat man with the vacant stare who sat at reception in the evenings didn’t inspire confidence when challenged by a query. The slim and angelically sweet looking girl who worked the day shift was much easier on the eye, but was as equally unlikely to win you many points in a pub quiz. So I was hardly surprised when it took a couple of nights to get a maintenance man round to look at the TV. When he did come, he spent around two hours adjusting the channels and making some soldering adjustments to the aerial cable. During this time I fell asleep. When I awoke and asked him how he was getting on, he told me that the TV couldn’t be fixed. It couldn’t be fixed because it wasn’t broken. According to him, the reason it wasn’t working was because the satellite dish was pointing the wrong way. However, this didn’t make sense as the neighbour’s TV woke me up every morning, and I assumed we shared the same dish. Plus, the building was by no means new, so whatever the TV was connected to, it had been there for some time. Surely the dish hadn’t always been pointing the wrong way? I relayed this idea to him in broken bits of English, though I’m not sure how much he understood. Nevertheless it was enough for him to adjust his assessment and tell me that I actually needed a cable TV package. But this didn’t make sense either, as the leaflet for Centro City Apartments stated that the rooms had satellite TV as well as hot water and wifi. So later that evening I enquired with the sleepy looking fat man at reception and found out that only the hotel residents of this aparthotel received those luxuries. The apartment residents only got The Static Channel and wifi access in the lobby; wifi access that required a new access password every day for each device and the need to cover yourself in mosquito repellent to fend off the hive of flying micro-vermin living in the rug by the armchairs and sofas.
Aside from being a waste of time and bloody annoying, the experience with the broken TV and shower made me think of what Claire had told me about the general lack of intelligence amongst the Indonesian people in Jakarta. I mean, why would the reception staff send a maintenance man up to repair a TV in an apartment room when they knew that none of the rooms had cable TV? But aside from the questionable levels of common sense amongst the aparthotel staff, it wasn’t just the niggling little problems in my apartment that prevented me from settling in comfortably in this dirty, hot and sticky tropical city. Before leaving England, I had made careful plans and provisions to ensure all my outstanding matters at home were taken care of and I would have some money to come away with. But there were still several things that hadn’t been settled before I had left. I had some money owing to me from friends, but those friends had not been in touch. I was also relying on income coming in from renting my own place back home, but the tenant I had planned to move in had let me down at the last minute and I didn’t have a replacement as yet. I was also dealt a financial blow when I found out that my previous employer had gone into liquidation and I hadn’t received my last month’s wages. So literally nothing was going to plan, which made me feel very unsettled and a little bit anxious.
I had brought around a £1000 with me in cash and had some money in the bank. I calculated that I could survive a maximum of three months without finding a tenant to live in my place back home. If I didn’t get a tenant by then, I would have to go back or I would be left in dire financial straits. However, it was still early days and I was trying to stay positive about my situation, but there were only really two positives that were working in my favour. Three Mobile, who were my English mobile phone service providers, had a feature called ‘At Home’ that allowed me to call and receive UK calls whilst in Indonesia without incurring excessive roaming charges. This was a massive bonus for keeping in touch. Even better still was my daughter, who was coordinating things for me on the home front. She was collecting my debts, forwarding important mail, coordinating with my letting agent and the workmen who were completing a couple of repairs in my property, and keeping me generally updated on all my unresolved matters. She was an immense help. But it was already exhausting spending every spare minute of my free time calling back home and going down amongst the hive of mosquitoes in the lobby in the evening to use the internet to read emails in a bid to get things sorted out quickly. With the time I was spending travelling to and from work and trying to get things fixed in my current temporary home, I hadn’t exactly been relaxing at the end of the day. With the seven hour time difference, the evenings were the only time I could make calls back to the UK. And the uncertainty about my living situation didn’t help either, nor did EF. Thus far they had not given any support other than offering to tie me into a 12 month contract for the accommodation they had secured at Mediterania 2.
All of the unsettling issues I was having had been at the forefront of my mind since I had arrived in Jakarta and I wasn’t enjoying my initial experience of life here. Nevertheless, I was determined not to let any of it get me down. I had only been here for a couple of weeks. I knew that once the letting agent had found me a tenant back home and I had found a permanent apartment to live in this city, my new normality would follow and I could start to assimilate with this new temporary life I had chosen.