Jakarta Bound is a travelogue about life in one of the largest and most densely populated cities in South East Asia.
I’m no tennis player but I can serve the majority of balls in the right area, hit a return, get around a court with some purpose and just about look the part. Belgian Jeff could barely move. His open linen shirt clung to his sweaty torso and flapped around his man boobs as stickily as his feet moved around the green painted tarmac. Even during the tennis this peculiar man had the Beatles playing out of his Bluetooth speaker; I’m sure ‘Love, Love Me Do’ isn’t what inspires the players on the ATP tour, but it was fine for a pair of sub-standard amateurs who couldn’t maintain a rally longer than five shots. The hardest part for me was not laughing at Jeff.
After an hour we were relieved of our time on the court by some keen looking Indonesians who stretched and limbered up for what I expect was going to be a proper point scoring contest. Jeff and I gathered up the wayward balls and the rest of our things and he generously invited me up to his apartment to use his shower.
After I had showered Jeff offered me a drink. He had no beers but he did have English tea with milk, which I happily accepted. There isn’t much hot English tea on offer in Jakarta and I hadn’t tasted a good brew since I had been at the Surdiman school where the out-going DoS, Nick, had ensured there was a regular supply of Liptons.
Jeff seemed like a man who was desperate for some Western company. Despite attesting to “living the dream” in Jakarta as he had put it, he struck me as a retiree who hadn’t quite reached the heights of his expectations and I don’t think his expat retirement “dream” had quite materialised as he had envisioned. He seemed like a nice enough guy though – he was friendly, easy going and his eccentricities didn’t irritate too much, although the ongoing soundtrack of the Beatles was starting to grate a little. The sounds of John, Paul, George and Ringo played through his little Bluetooth speaker for the entire time I was in his apartment. It was like an offbeat soundtrack to his narrative about how he had ended up in Jakarta. He told me he had run a record shop and had enjoyed his job, but was forced to sell up after the online music revolution killed off the high street industry. He had met his wife Evi whilst on holiday in Bali and they had been together for six years, four of which they had been married. Their daughter was also four years old, which I perhaps cynically assumed explained their marriage. I suppose Jeff was the stereotypical Bule ‘catch’ for someone like Evi. Untypical however was the fact that the four properties they rented out around Indonesia were all in her name.
A foreigner can’t own more than 49% of any asset in Indonesia. The controlling share of 51% or more must be owned by an Indonesian national. I understand that this safeguards developing countries from the type of foreign exploitation that has plagued them in the past. It would have surprised me that a man of Jeff’s years and experience in business would settle for such an arrangement, but in the little time I had know this peculiar fellow, he seemed unbelievably blasé and naïve. Perhaps this was down to his easygoing nature, but the fact that he had other properties to live in yet chose to share a small apartment with his family and a short-term letting tenant that he knew nothing about indicated that he was either incredibly stupid, incredibly trusting or incredibly desperate for money.
Jeff had told me his lodger, Simon, worked for Bloomberg and was paying $1000 a month for the room. He also said the reason he and his wife hadn’t moved into the other place they had was because until recently they had guests from Holland staying there. However, I had come to the conclusion that a lot of what Jeff said was bullshit. This didn’t bother me too much though, I was just hoping that my apartment saga was over. He seemed harmless enough and I imagined he would be an amenable landlord. So as I nodded and smiled and ‘umm’-ed and ‘ahh’-ed and ambled along with the conversation, half an hour quickly passed before his lodger came through the door.