Jakarta Bound is a travelogue about life in one of the largest and most densely populated cities in South East Asia.
The school day after the night before was difficult. I’m one of those social smokers who likes the accompaniment of a cancer stick with my liver killer. However, since I’d arrived in Jakarta I’d been smoking more and more – I think out of boredom more than anything else – and I had smoked a lot of cigarettes during the previous night’s lengthy session. So not only was I struggling with the mild brain damage and dehydration of a hangover, I also sounded like Darth Vader. I just hoped I wasn’t going to get lured to the dark side and become a regular smoker.
As the day wore on I managed to soldier on through my lessons with my gravelly voice, carrying my hangover with me. It wasn’t the first time I’d had to manage work whilst still under the influence of the residual effects of a heavy night. Javanese coffee is high quality and there is a ready supply from the coffee machine in the school. There’s also a water cooler. Rehydration and caffeine help hangovers. Having great students also makes the teacher’s hangover bearable, and that was the one redeeming feature of my fledgling experience of Indonesia so far, the students. They were proving to be the one shining light on what was so far a dull and disappointing experience. They were so cheerful and enthusiastic and respectful of my role as their teacher that I couldn’t help but warm to them straight away.
Amongst the many characters that attended the classes at the school was Didi, an elementary learner who loved football and Bob Marley. Like Yvonne who I’d met at the travel agent, Didi came from Manado. He had an overbite like a shelf and a playful character to match his goofy looks. He attended regularly and had made a lot of friends from the pool of students that had been enrolled since the school had opened a few weeks earlier.
Most of the learners at the Taman Anggrek school were elementary or lower intermediate students, so they only had a basic level of English. Some were quite confident and took their lessons by the scruff of the neck, ensuring they got the most out of their fifty-minute learning slots. Khadir, a business manager who was perhaps in his late-30’s or early 40’s, always cheerfully volunteered himself for exercises. He always had dry, cracked lips and dark shadows around his eyes as if he hadn’t had enough sleep, yet he put so much effort into every word and sentence despite the struggle. Although he often made mistakes, it never affected his confidence to try again until he got it right.
Vitri, a bespectacled Muslim girl in her late teens with a grave countenance for someone so young, practically berated me every time I mispronounced her name (which was often). However, when I managed to make her laugh, I found that behind the serious look framed in that hijab was an ambitious young woman with a beautiful smile.
Lenni was an upper intermediate learner. She was a big, round, loud girl whose spoken English and grasp of grammar was really good. So much so that I had to reign her in when she was in the classroom as she was inclined to dominate. Her closest friends in the school were Hani and Echo. Hani was an unassuming, quiet, young woman who I learned was a doctor by profession. Echo was a big, dopey-looking, bear of a man with pinhole eyes who was just as loud as Lenni, but not as accomplished with his English. Echo was serious in lessons, but was like an overgrown child when hanging around the lounge area with the other students. His high-pitched giggling was unmistakable and his permanent smile beamed at me every time I walked by.
It would take weeks before I remembered the names of all of the students, but they all knew my name from day one. And when I walked through the door of the school, they greeted me as if I had been working there for months and I was their favourite teacher. How could you not love a teaching environment like that?
All the students I met in the first couple of weeks made teaching for EF nothing less than enjoyable (even with a hangover). The time spent in the classroom and amongst the students was easily the best time I had spent in Jakarta so far. But wherever you are, whatever you do, you need a good work/social balance. I didn’t have a social circle or a social life to speak of.
Neither Debbi nor any of the other teaching staff had made any effort to get the new recruits together for a meal, or maybe just to have a few beers; and whilst Rudi had said that he liked to play futsal (the Indonesian version of 5-a-side football) he hadn’t extended an invitation to me. Apart from Adit, who was teetotal, and Yulia, a feisty young, Indo-Chinese woman who was married to a young Australian guy who worked at one of the other EF schools in the north of the city, none of the Indonesian members of staff at the school in Taman Anggrek had a good grasp of English. As such, I had no social relationship with anyone apart from Claire, and now Simon. But Claire lived on the other side of the city, and Simon’s main focus was going out on the town and fucking as many Asian women as he could. I may have only been in Jakarta for a couple of weeks, but I knew that if my situation didn’t change soon I probably wouldn’t stay here for much longer. I needed more than just work and a descent into alcohol and corrupt behaviour once a week to endure a full year – or even six months – of life in this place. I need to feel part of the place that I’m living in, even if I am only there temporarily. Yes, I liked my students and so far work was good, but I just wasn’t getting on with Jakarta.