36. Back to School

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


My weekend break in Jogja had given me a taste of what the real Indonesia had to offer. The monumental Prambanan and Borobudur temples were impressive, but it was also just as interesting to see the Indonesians in an environment outside of the concrete catastrophe of Jakarta. Passing through the mountains and villages and seeing the Javanese people going about their day-to-day lives in a rural setting offered a different perspective on life in this country and I had really enjoyed my brief stay.

On the final day, my flight back to Jakarta wasn’t scheduled until after five in the afternoon, so after checking out of the Puri Artha I spent the rest of the afternoon lounging around the little hotel pool where I was practically undisturbed for the entire time. As I dipped in and out of the empty pool and lounged on the sun lounger, I thought about the last two weeks. They had felt very long, but they had been pretty easy going. There I was lying in the sun at the end of my first holiday since I had become an English teacher for EF in Jakarta and I had only done about a day and a half of actual teaching work. As honeymoon periods go, this was pretty satisfying. However, on my first day back at the school I was to find that this long honeymoon period was over.

My work contract stated that I would only ever get an absolute maximum of twenty-four teaching hours to do each week. When I got back to work on Monday afternoon I found that my timetable had been generously filled with twenty teaching sessions. Whilst only a few of those sessions actually needed planning from scratch, delivering three or four fifty-minute teaching slots back-to-back with only a ten-minute break in between is pretty intense. But I got to meet more students and I was remembering more of their names – Vendi, Handi, Harry, Budi, Yudi, Yoda, Florbella, Lydia, Natasha, Ivan, Andre, Aldo, Putri, Phil, Bernard, Lucky – so many names, so little recall and so little time in between classes. With a full timetable and such a tight turnaround I was literally racing through the day, but I was learning a lot about my students.

English classes at the EF school were not cheap by Indonesian standards, but most of the students were professionals with good jobs. Many of them managed departments in companies, some were recent graduates or students with aspirations to become successful entrepreneurs. Handi worked for his sister’s company, Yoda was a departmental manager for a distribution company, Harry was the senior manager responsible for brand endorsements on products with Disney and Pixar, Budi was an engineer, Florbella was training to be a doctor but wanted to be a photographer, Ivan was aiming to finish college and go to a university in America, Bernard was an aspiring software engineer – these were all middle class Indonesians with ambition and family money behind them. Some of that money had been hard earned by parents who had slogged away for years in their shops or warungs to give their children the opportunities that they had never had, and these young people really appreciated that sacrifice. In one of the lessons we discussed who were the people that they most admired in there lives. Almost all the students talked about their fathers, the men who had worked so hard to give them an opportunity to go to the schools, colleges and universities they had attended. Budi spoke of the love and admiration he had for his wife who had supported him and his family whilst he went out to work. If asked about inspirational people in their lives, many English students would have no doubt cited sportsmen and women, film stars, singers and other celebrities. In Indonesia they recognised that the real role models in their lives were those people that gave them life, nurtured them into adulthood and supported them, not successful, wealthy strangers with great PR.

By the time my first day back had come to an end my throat was dry and I was pretty exhausted. I had left the school too late to be able to get anything to eat from the mall because most of the restaurants start packing up at around 9.15pm, so all I had to look forward to when I got home were coffee, cake and some snack food I had picked up in the Hero supermarket in Mall Taman Anggrek. Unfortunately, when I got home that evening, a colony of micro ants had gotten to the cake before me. Not just the cake but also the few other snacks I had stored in the cupboard – sugar, cornflakes, apples, crisps – these tiny little bastards were in everything, not to mention all over the kitchen worktop. It was my own fault. I had forgotten the tropical home rule of keeping everything packed in airtight containers and never leaving so much as a drop of spillage un-cleaned. So, tired and hungry, I went downstairs to the onsite minimart, bought some bleach and then spent half an hour wiping down all the surfaces of the kitchenette in my room. I then wrapped all the food seized by the ants up in a carrier bag and discarded it in the waste disposal that was at the end of the corridor on my floor. By the time I had finished cleaning up it was after 10pm and I was still hungry. I knew the café downstairs closed at around 11pm, so I rushed down to get myself a takeaway meal.

The café menu didn’t look too appetising, but I eventually settled on the chicken teriyaki with noodles. Twenty minutes later it was ready, wrapped and packed for me to take up to my room. When I got to my room and opened up my Styrofoam-boxed late dinner, there was no teriyaki in there, but there were these strips of chicken coated in batter that came with noodles and a gelatinous gravy.

Maybe the people in the café got teriyaki, teppanyaki and tempura all mixed up, or maybe they were just plain stupid, but what I had was not chicken teriyaki and I wanted chicken teriyaki! I was really pissed off, but I was just too tired and hungry to go back down and argue with them. The smiling girl who worked their wasn’t pretty, but she was nice. She was nice but also very dim. And she didn’t speak any English. There was another guy with a wonky, offset eye who was also very nice and he did speak some English. But he was also as dumb as that stray eye made him look. No, I didn’t have the energy to humour the smiling idiots in the café so I just ate what they had given me. And yes, it tasted as shit as it looked, but I ate all of it anyway. The important thing was that I wasn’t going to wake up hungry the next day because I had to go and find myself an apartment.

Despite the full timetable of my third week, Tuesday and Wednesday were my designated days off. So even though I had only just returned from my little holiday, I got another two days off straight away. But those two days were not going to be spent idling. No, I’d had enough rest and relaxation, I needed to spend those two days apartment hunting.




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