Jakarta Bound is a travelogue about life in one of the largest and most densely populated cities in South East Asia.
The pre-night bourbon and generously spirited cocktails in Loewy’s had taken more of an effect than my Irish ancestry was ready to admit and I was pretty damn drunk by the time Loewy’s wound down at around 2am. Of course when you’re pretty damn drunk all you really want to do is more drinking, so when Gavin and Simon suggested we head to a place called Blok M, I was all for it, except I had little money left. However, Simon was keen to extend the night and extended the offer of a drinking loan by way of an introduction to Jakarta. So with that invitation, we made our way outside where the taxis were waiting and we all headed off to Blok M.
A few minutes later we turned down a brightly lit, lively, little street. There were a few late night convenience stalls selling drinks and snacks and the ubiquitous street vendors peddling ready cooked fried rice, fried dough snacks and other bits of edible bric-a-brac. Taxis and mopeds flanked either side and there were plenty of people hanging around. There were even a few young children bustling around trying to hustle the visiting, drunken Bules for spare change. This was obviously the well-worn path for die hard drinkers – and it was still only Wednesday… Thursday morning!
We entered the doorway of a dirty, ramshackle building that was a million miles away from the polished chic of Oakwood and Loewy’s bar and bistro. Gone was the subtle, mix and blend of a deep house soundtrack, this place slapped you in the face with a dirty wallop of bass as soon as you walked in. There were signs of a band that must have played earlier, but they had packed up and left us with a Dj and his noxious playlist of tacky r’n’b and noisy techno. The glass, brass, and marble décor from before was now replaced by bar stools and tables with scuffed paint and chipped edges. Through the smoke and dim lighting, much of which emanated from the end of the room where there was a well-worn pool table, it was plain to see that this was little more than a shabby downtown, late night bar – a very late night bar. Nobody came here dressed to impress, people came here for cheap pick-ups, and there were plenty of them. Clutches of Indonesian women in twos, threes, fours and more, hugged the sides of the room. These were not the well-preened ladies of Loewy’s. These “ladies of the night”, leaning against the bar and the walls and gathered around the tables, they were conspicuous in their intent. The bar’s other clientele consisted mainly of expat men – mostly middle aged and mostly casually dressed – at best. I was clearly in a hot-spot for prostitutes and cheap liaisons.
We quickly found a free table and Gavin ordered us all a beer. As I looked around the place I could see women staring in our direction. All trying to make eye contact, waiting to be summoned over.
Simon took no time at all in reeling in his catch. Before our beers had even arrived he had a slim, young and quite beautiful Indonesian girl gyrating between his legs. We couldn’t have been in there for more than a couple of minutes and Simon, who hadn’t even gotten off his seat, had this pretty young thing with the tightest of tight jeans practically painted onto her slender little legs, enthusiastically wriggling in his crotch. He beamed with toothy satisfaction, sat on his stool in this dingy bar dressed in a formal suit, he was the centre of attraction. I shook my head in disbelief as I watched the instant transformation of this professional, respectable young Englishman into a seedy sexpat.
Our beers soon arrived and as Gavin handed them out I asked him; “What the fuck is this place?”
“This is Top Gun mate.”
As I looked around taking in the scene in Top Gun, it was a familiar format to other seedy, downtown, pick up joints I had seen around the world. Thinly veiled prostitution dressed up as late night drinking. The Bule predator only needs take his pick of whichever lady catches his eye, buy her a few drinks then invite her to his place, or a hotel. Somewhere in between the sex and the taxi he negotiates a price. Simon seemed to know the drill well. He’d hardly finished his second beer before he turned to me and told me he was leaving.
“What!” I said – I hadn’t really expected to be left in the middle of some seedy part of Jakarta in the early hours of the morning – but before I even realised that he was on his way out of the door with his little Asian catch, he was already gone. So I was left with an Australian man I’d only met a couple of hours ago after he nearly got into a fight, and I had nothing but the price of a taxi in my pocket.
I wasn’t particularly happy about Simon abandoning me, but hey, I’m a grown man and perfectly capable of taking care of myself. As much as I didn’t really want to hang around a seedy bar full of prostitutes in the arse end of a shithole city with a guy who was practically a stranger, I didn’t want to look like a complete pussy and just up and leave because my friend had left me either. So I decided I would casually finish my drink before making my excuses and getting a taxi back to my apartment from wherever the hell I was. But I wasn’t really in control of this night, and before I even had a chance to finish my Bintang, Gavin turned to me and said, “Come on, let’s get outta here.”
Before I knew it, we had crossed the street and were inside a club. I had no idea what this club was called but it was jam-packed and the nasty sound of Jakarta techno was pounding out of a loud sound system out across a throng of people who were bouncing in and out of the colourful beams of laser lights that projected out of the Dj booth on the other side of the dance floor. It was dizzying.
No sooner had I entered the club, I’d lost sight of Gavin, but then caught sight of Simon. He walked over with a drink in one hand, his prostitute in the other, and a big smile on his a face. He garbled something in my ear, which I couldn’t hear or understand, before disappearing into the crowd. Then Gavin returned with another bottle of Bintang, before he also then disappeared back into the noise and the crowd of the club.
I found a table to lean against and through the hazy gaze of my inebriated brain, I took in the scene around me and thought to myself, ‘Maybe this place could be fun.’ But of course, I was very, very drunk.
I don’t know how long we stayed in the club for, or what it was called, all I remember was Gavin coming up to me at the end of the night with an Indonesian woman who wasn’t his wife.
The three of us walked outside and I jumped into the first cab that came along. Luckily it took me back to the Grand Prix Inn without any major detours, and luckily I had enough to pay for it.
It was daylight when I passed the security guard and took the lift up to my apartment. As I stumbled through the door, I was unsure whether I had locked it behind me. I peeled off my clothes and dumped them in a pile at the end of my bed, tumbled onto the mattress and was asleep before my head hit the pillow. It was the first easy sleep I’d had since arriving in Jakarta.