17: Picture Postcard Possibilities

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

bunaken island

Wednesday was my first full teaching day and I had been given a pretty light timetable of classes. The induction and preparation helped me to ease into my teaching routine very easily. The students were keen to learn and after my first session with just two beginners, I felt pretty confident in my new job. There were only five lessons to teach and the sessions were all just under an hour. This gave me a two-hour break in the middle of my timetable to go and make some holiday enquiries.

I found a travel agent on the ground floor of Taman Anggrek mall. I told the female travel advisor, that I had a three-day break and asked what she could recommend.

I seemed to be quite a novelty in the area where I lived and was looked on with curiosity by most native Indonesians there – I suspect that dark skin and English accent threw them off a little. Bule they could understand, but brown skinned Bule – with a strange Mancunian accent – this frazzled their circuitry a little. The sales advisor I spoke to was called Chintia, a plump, young, light-skinned Indonesian woman with chubby cheeks, bad skin and petit little features. She wore blue coloured contact lenses in her large, round, eyes; a common accessory I’d noticed amongst the Indonesian women. She spoke good English and I being one of those rare customers who wanted to buy whatever was on sale, she was keen to help.

Chintia quickly offered me the choice of a beach break in Bali or a three day stay in Jogja where I could go and see a couple of temples. A middle aged Indonesian lady who was sat beside me suggested that I visit the island of Bunaken off the coast of North East Sulawesi. She came from Manado, which is the main city on the island and she said that Bunaken had one of the best beaches in Indonesia. She was very convincing, mainly because she had a wonderfully warm character and a generous face that made you smile when you spoke with her. Her large, brown eyes beamed with sincerity from behind the glasses that sat on her petit little nose above her petit little mouth and she spoke with a delicate, almost secret voice, and with the slightest of lisps. She reminded me of the favourite auntie who always gave you a nice treat when she visited. I’ve never had an auntie like that, but I’ve heard of them. She asked where I was from and what I was doing in Jakarta, so I introduced myself and told her I was a teacher at EF. She seemed very impressed. EF had been doing a lot of advertising for their new adult schools in Jakarta and it seemed that a lot of people knew of them. The lady’s name was Yvonne and she, like many practising English speakers you meet, was unnecessarily apologetic about her English. In Yvonne’s case she had even less reason to be apologetic because her English was fairly good. However, she insisted that she must improve because she was writing a paper in English for her Phd in medicine. I was impressed, and quite surprised that this unassuming lady was so modest yet clearly so very well educated. I suggested to her that she should come to the school and join my lessons. EF offered free taster sessions that potential students could attend, so I told her she should come and try one out. She gave me a big smile and thanked me before we both continued with our respective travel enquiries.

bunaken map

Despite Yvonne’s convincing endorsement of Bunaken I decided that it was too far to travel for a three-day break. To fully appreciate a beach you need a little more time to actually bask in the sunshine properly. Bali was the same. It required a longer stay and good company to fully appreciate the setting and enjoy some nightlife. I just needed to see some sights, a little tropical landscape and the opportunity to take in some proper Indonesian culture, so I decided on Jogja.

I booked a three-day trip that including tours to the huge Buddhist temple at Borobador and the Hindu temple at Prambanan. However, it was becoming pretty evident that Jakarta was not being easy on me. Whilst accommodation and flights were easy enough to arrange, it was too short notice to book the tours that came with the package. I didn’t care and booked the flight and hotel. I was not missing my opportunity to get out of Jakarta. After less than a couple of weeks in this city I desperately needed some fresh air. So after the paperwork was done and payment was made, I rushed to get back to my next lesson feeling pretty good about my upcoming break.

When I got back to the school Suki was there and she had something to tell me. She had decided that she didn’t want to share a place anymore because she was going to get a place of her own. This news completely dampened that little excitement I had briefly experienced just a few minutes earlier at the travel agent. I was a week and a half into my temporary new life in Jakarta, I was going to be on holiday for three days and I now only had two weeks to find an apartment. With no knowledge of Bahasa, no help from EF, limited internet access and a limited budget, it wasn’t going to be that easy and I wasn’t fucking happy. The shitty stick ends that this city kept thrusting into my hand were unrelenting and already I was growing to hate the place.

Suki had her reasons for changing her mind. She had decided that it was better for her to move into a place of her own as her boyfriend was coming over to stay for a few weeks in November. She was also planning on going to Europe for a couple of months in December so it was better for her to get a place on a temporary contract. Apparently she had lived at the place she was moving to before and it was convenient for her situation as she could pay for it monthly and didn’t have to commit to a long-term agreement. Her contract with EF was only temporary and the house was in Kemang, which was closer to where her other job commitments were. So whilst I was pissed off, I did understand her reasons. Also, to her credit, she didn’t leave me totally hanging out to dry. She had finally made some headway with earlier enquiries and found a two-bedroom apartment in Mediterania 2 that at $5,500,000 was just about affordable for me. She had contacted the landlady and already arranged a viewing later that day. I was just hoping that the place was going to be okay because the uncertainty about my accommodation was draining me of all my enthusiasm.