16. The Affable English Expat

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

Central Park La Biere

The first time I met Simon was only very briefly in the lift when I had first come to view Belgian Jeff’s place a couple of days earlier. I hadn’t had a chance to take him up on his offer to meet for drinks, so this was a good opportunity to get more of an idea of what he was like before committing to a full-on social session. To be honest, with his extreme English accent, public schoolboy looks capped with a thinning mop of dark hair that just about hid a way too premature comb-over, he looked for all the world like a young Tory and you could have been forgiven for thinking he was gay. As bored and friendless as I was, hanging out with a posh, gay, Tory wouldn’t have worked for me, so here was a good opportunity to sound him out and see if he would be good company.

Simon was returning from work so he was dressed in a formal suit and shirt without a tie, and carrying a laptop case. He eagerly took of his jacket and his stiff, black leather shoes before reintroducing himself, “Hi, I’m Simon; good to meet you”, he said, smiling broadly as he offered his hand. He had a surprisingly firm and well-practiced handshake. Not the handshake you would expect from a gay, public school boy.

“Jeff”, I replied.

“So have you been playing tennis?” he asked.

“Well we’ve been hitting tennis balls and running around the court. Whether you could call it ‘tennis’ is debatable” I replied. “Jeff tells me that you’re pretty good with a racket.” I was joking with him. Jeff had told me he was useless. Simon smiled broadly and gave a little laugh as he replied in the most English of English accents.

“Oh… well I wouldn’t go as far as to say I was good, but I can play a little bit. Tennis isn’t really my thing.”

“Football?” I asked.

“I think I prefer to watch rather then play to be honest.”

He had the slightest hint of a lisp as his tongue stuck in the crooked, enamelled fencing of his comically bucked teeth. He was almost like a caricature of a public schoolboy rather than the real thing and I still couldn’t tell whether he was gay or not, but he was certainly very cordial.

An artists impression of who Simon might just be.

An artists impression of who Simon might just be.

Whilst our accents placed us miles apart socially, I found it surprisingly easy to speak with Simon. The usual expat questions were asked – What do you do? How long are you here for? Where are you from? These are the opening conversational gambits for most people travelling and living abroad. As it turned out, Simon had actually gone to university in Manchester and seemed to have enjoyed a lot of that time going to the bars and clubs in the city. This meant that we shared some common ground, enough to leave Jeff as a spectator as Simon and I settled comfortably into conversation about his time in my hometown.

I got on pretty well with Simon and found that despite his accent and appearance he was a bit of a lad – or a cad perhaps? He certainly wasn’t gay. He hadn’t been in the city for long and I think he was actually keen to find a partner in crime for prowling Jakarta’s nightlife. He told me he had stayed in the city before for a few months a year or so earlier, but most recently he had been working in Cambodia. Before that he had worked in China, Thailand and Japan. He didn’t go on too much about his job, but from what he had to say about his student days, the man liked a night on the town.

The time had flown pretty swiftly since I’d been speaking to Jeff and Simon, it was almost midnight and I fancied a beer. So did Simon. So I suggested that we all head over to La Biere in Central Park for a few drinks. Belgian Jeff seemed a little reluctant to join us, but he decided to come along anyway.

Maybe it was the free flowing nature of how two English people can talk with each other, but the Belgian was rendered little more than a mute onlooker for the rest of the night as Simon and I emptied bottle after bottle of Bali Hai and talked about home and abroad, our respective travelling experiences and perspectives on Jakarta since we’d been there.

Simon was turning out to be quite an amusing character. His mother was Scottish and his father was Egyptian, but he looked more Jewish or maybe even Mediterranean. He was most definitely a straight shooter and his main preoccupation seemed to be with Asian women. During his time working and travelling in Asia he had developed a preference for submissive, giggly, little Japanese and Chinese girls and considered himself quite the player. He remained a little vague about his job, but it seem that he spent his time selling finance and insurance packages to expats. He didn’t actually work directly for Bloomberg, but they were one of his company’s clients, although I got the impression that he had probably made more of the Bloomberg connection to Belgian Jeff when enquiring about his apartment.

Simon was basically a salesman, and like all salesmen he was cordially disarming with corrupt undertones. The more he drank the more of his insalubrious nature he revealed. With his quintessentially English accent and youthful looks, the man was very much the suited sheep in wolf’s clothing, and he was well aware of it. I imagine he was pretty good at his job though, as at a youthful 33, he had gone from managing his company’s office in Phnom Penh in Cambodia to setting one up in Jakarta.

Simon seemed to have been working for his boss for a long time and said that they were as much friends as colleague. Of the many nights out he told me he’d had in Cambodia and Asia, he had enjoyed many of them with the man he worked for. However, he said his boss was well into his 50’s and struggled to keep up with Simon’s excesses – excesses he was quite proud of. He told me it would be good for me to meet him and for us all to go out for some drinks when he came over to Jakarta. In fact, as I suspected, Simon was very keen for he and I to go and explore the nightlife of Jakarta. He’d done his research and was assured that there was indeed a great expat scene going on in the city. By now I knew exactly what he meant – easy Asian girls. If not easy, then cheap.

Simon was very much the fun seeking expat enjoying a libertine lifestyle in Asia, which brought with it the freedom of easy sexual dalliances that the western bar and club scene made much more challenging. He made no apologies for this, and had he not been so formally turned out he would have come across as sleazy. However, he was more entertaining and sociable than anyone I had met so far and I was looking forward to stepping out with him on a proper night out. Anything was better than the isolated boredom of Grogol and it’s noisy, unwelcoming mall bars.

It was midweek and the strip in Central Park finished at 2am. In the couple of hours we had been there Simon, Jeff and I had finished three buckets of bottled beer – fifteen in total. Simon and I had drank most of those as Jeff had become surprisingly mute after we’d arrived and stopped drinking after his second beer.

We grabbed the bill and Simon and I exchanged numbers. He keenly suggested that we get together for a few drinks the following night at a place called Loewy’s. There was a networking event that happened every Wednesday at the Marriott hotel where they had a free German food buffet. Simon said it was predominantly expats and a good place for him to solicit business (I imagined he solicited a lot more than business through the course of the night). Unfortunately it started at 6pm when I was still working. However, Wednesday night at Loewy’s was ladies night and he said it was always very busy and good fun and didn’t end until late. I had been starved of western, English speaking company so I agreed to meet him after I finished work.

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