42: It’s Not Fare.

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

*****

As we came down Dan Mogot toward Centro City apartments the driver’s taxi meter was still rolling forward and was now reading well over 100,000. This was practically double what it should have been. I didn’t want to pay him any more than 50,000 for his dodgy detour, but since Simon had given me a 100,000 note to cover the taxi, I wasn’t too concerned. That was until I looked at the note in my hand and realised it was only a 50,000. And since I had spent most of my money it was pretty much all I had left at that point. As the driver pulled up at the footbridge on the opposite side of the slip road leading to my apartment block, I told him that I was only going to give him 50,000 and handed him the note. He looked at it with bemusement, then looked at me and pointed to his meter. I had given up on trying to communicate with the man in Bahasa by that time, I was just too tired, so I shook my head and told him he had gone the wrong way and I was only giving him the fifty. Despite the length of time he had spent with Simon and I in his taxi, his English had not improved and he still had no idea what I was saying. However, I could see that he clearly wasn’t happy with the 50,000 IDR I was offering and wanted the amount that was on his meter.

I had been here before; taxi driver thinks you don’t know where you’re going, takes you on a long detour accidentally on purpose, acts dumb and then insists that you pay him anyway. It seems to be inherent to the profession all around the world. So, to satisfactorily end my night on a downer, the taxi driver decides he’s going take me to “Polisi”.

‘Go on then’ was my first thought as he started to drive off down the road, ‘I’m in the right and he’s in the wrong’. Then I had second thoughts and decided that I really did not want to be negotiating Indonesian police in the early hours of the morning stinking of alcohol. But I didn’t want to be jumping out of a moving car either. So it was my turn to go on the turn, only I think it’s fair to say that my turn was a lot nastier than Simon’s.

The driver had got maybe a few hundred metres up the road before he decided it was probably wise to stop his cab. Whilst he certainly didn’t understand what the enraged Bule in the back of his car was shouting at him, he knew they were strong words and a lot of them were probably obscene. It was also pretty clear to him that the furious finger pointing, bulging veins and look of rage on the man’s face were good reasons for him to concede and release the man from his car.

I didn’t feel proud of bullying the taxi driver, but there are times when being nice and trusting that the right thing will be done is just the wrong thing to do. That tricky little bastard knew what he was doing when he drove us in circles around south Jakarta for half an hour. He had played his hand and he lost. I still gave him the 50,000 though, so he should have been grateful that he got any money at all.

As I briskly walked back to my apartment, mindful of the massive pothole on the corner of the road but eager to get to my bed, I couldn’t help but have a little laugh to myself. The last hour had been a little bit crazy and unexpected, but I had got home safely. Ok, I was going home to an empty bed and I was now more or less sober, but at least I wasn’t sat in a polisi station trying to convince an Indonesian police officer with a gun and limited English that I hadn’t cheated one of his fellow countrymen.

As I turned into the Grand Prix Inn and walked past the barrier at the checkpoint I was still smiling to myself. I passed the security guard that sat outside the entrance to the apartment block and greeted him with a ‘good morning’ – “Selamat pagi”. He smiled and nodded back at me. I think the smile was because this was third or fourth time he had seen me get home in the early hours of the morning in the last two weeks.

As sober as I might have thought I was after getting out of the taxi, the room still swirled me to sleep that night. But it was sound sleep. I had forgotten about the drunken girl Simon had picked up. I had forgotten about threatening the taxi driver. I had had fun and I was now safely in my bed. Nothing else could go wrong, for now at least.

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41: Speed Dating

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

*****

Stepping out into the thick, humidity of late night Kemang, I felt that inflated high you get from alcohol when you come out of a club and the air hits you. With these high spirits I suddenly felt optimistic about the coming months in Jakarta and was at ease with the ever so slightly swirling world. I’d had a genuinely good night, listened to some good music, and even though it was the early hours of the morning the lights were still shining in Kemang. This area was clearly the place to be for any adult adventure. It’s just a shame I lived in Taman Anggrek, which was miles away.

“Right Simon” I said – probably with a little bit of a slur, “let’s find a cab, I’m pissed.” I turned around and, adjusting to the dazzle of the streetlights, I noticed that Simon had found some company. Where she had come from, I don’t know, but as drunk as I was, I was nowhere near the state of this young woman. Beneath the sparkly makeup, her sleepy eyes, harshly framed in thick mascara, told the recent story of a night of excess. Nonetheless, Simon was undeterred.

“What are you doing?” I said to him, as he signalled an Express taxi to stop. “Are you taking her home?!”

  • If spiders could smile, that smile would look like the grin that was on Simon’s face. It would be the grin they have when a fly takes the unfortunate flight path that leads it into their web. Before I knew it Simon had bundled this girl into the back seat of the taxi, climbed in beside her and shut the door behind them.

“Seriously?” I said, as I got in the front.

“Taman Anggrek, Mediterranea Gardens”, he told the driver.

“Simon, is she even conscious?”, I said as the driver moved off.

“Of course she is,” he said, grinning like a Cheshire cat “aren’t you?” She spoke with a level of slurred legibility that was a couple of grades below what mine was and just about understandable. Understandable enough for Simon to deduce that she was fair game and happy to share a taxi with us back to his place.

“I drink too much”, the girl replied.

“Drink too much eh? What’s your name?” I asked her.

“Sindy. My name Sindy?” she replied.

“Ok Sindy; are you sure your alright?”

“She’s fine”, said Simon, “She’s just had a few too many drinks perhaps.”

“A few! D’ya think?”, I said. “She’s fucking pissed!

“Ya; drink too much” she said as she slouched under Simon’s arm. “Open window please”.

As she reached over to open the window in the back, the little floral miniskirt she had wrapped around her waist offerred an undignified display of her pink underwear. Nevertheless, legs akimbo, she leant back to nestle herself under Simon’s arm as if they were a couple returning from a dinner party where she had drunk too much wine; but it didn’t feel right.

The girl was in no fit state. Her eyes were half-closed and she was practically laid out in Simon’s arms in that back seat. To say she was vulnerable was stating the obvious and I suddenly felt sober and uncomfortable about the moral dilemma I found myself in. I had just spent the night bonding with my future flatmate, was I now really going to accuse him of an intended date rape by forbidding him from taking his drunkenly aquiescent prey into his bed? The taxi was already on the highway so what was I going to do? Stop the car and kick her back out onto the street, potentially putting her at risk of being picked up by someone even less scrupulous than Simon, but more forceful, more aggressive? Better the devil you sort of assume isn’t a violent psychopath than the one that definitely could be. As far as I knew the last girl Simon took home with him got out alive. He had even told me that they had exchanged numbers and he was considering getting in touch with her again. Furthermore, I was a witness to what was happening here, although whether I would even remember what the girl looked like the following day was doubtful. And how much danger could she be in? Simon was not exactly an athletically intimidating or imposing man. He shared a flat with Belgian Jeff, his wife and their four year-old daughter so he wasn’t taking her back to an empty lair. He had told me that he wasn’t even supposed to bring anyone back to Jeff’s apartment without telling him first. If anything seriously bad went down he couldn’t possibly get away with it. Could he?

Anyway, besides all of that, this girl wasn’t even my responsibility. I didn’t get her drunk and I didn’t tell her to get drunk. I was in a developing country in South East Asia where the rules and protocols are very different to back home. I didn’t create the socio-economic environment where pretty young girls felt the need to offer themselves up to the western Bulays for exploitation. Maybe deep down I was just a little envious that a drunken girl hadn’t fallen into my lap, that my moral compass was taking me nowhere other than to an empty bed. No, I had no responsibility here. Only I did. I had a moral responsibility. A moral responsibility all the more acute for having a daughter who could easily be the same age as this girl and who could maybe find herself in the same situation. How would I feel if my daughter got drunk one night and was then used and abused and there was another in the same position as me who did nothing to stop it?

The trial by conscience taking place in my mind had turned my mood from an alcohol fuelled joy and optimism to a feeling of sober anxiety and guilt. I already knew I was going to allow the night to play out by itself and could only hope that it played out safely. Although in all honesty, I don’t think I really believed in the worst-case scenarios my imagination had conjoured up. Nevertheless, I found myself trying to quietly convey to the taxi driver as best I could with the snippets of Bahasa I took from my Google translator that he should keep an eye on my friend in the back. Somehow I don’t think the driver was interested or concerned. I think he was more interested in taking the two drunken Bulays in his taxi on a long diversion. I say this because we had been in his cab for almost half an hour and I hadn’t seen anything that looked familiar or any signs to suggest that we were driving toward Taman Anggrek.

“Does this look familiar to you?” I asked Simon. “We’ve been driving for ages. We should be near Taman Anggrek by now”, I said. The fare showing on the meter was already well over the 50,000 IDR or so that it had been last time I returned home from Kemang that late at night. When I pointed this out Simon suddenly turned. Sounding for all the world like a colonial master rebuking one of his subordinates, he started remonstrating the driver; “Look, I don’t know what you’re playing at but you better take us to Taman Anggrek right now… This is ridiculous… I’ll report you to the police… Polisi – you understand?”

Of course the driver didn’t understand a word Simon was saying, but he got the gist – the Bulay in the back was angry, Polisi, time to start going in the right direction.

“Taman Anggrek. Yes, I go Taman Anggrek. This way sir”, the driver replied.

“Well stop pissing around and take us the right way”, Simon shouts back at him. “I’m not paying any more than 50,000 for this journey, you understand?”

Listening to Simon’s uncharacteristic little outbust of petulance, I didn’t know whether to laugh or be even more concerned. Despite sounding like a Leslie Phillips character from an old Carry On film, there was clearly an aggressive side to Simon’s character and he could assert himself when he needed to, and it worked. Minutes after his outburst we started to see some familiar signs and it wasn’t long before we found ourselves coming over one of the overpasses of criss-crossing highways that lead toward Taman Anggrek and Mediterania Gardens Residence. The huge LED screen that usually beamed out across the sky had long been switched off, but Central Park and the Podomoro complex are the most imposing structures on the landscape in that part of west Jakarta so you know when you have arrived.

As the driver pulled up outside the Mediterania Gardens Residences, Simon leant over and said, “There’s a hundred”, and pushed a banknote into my hand before whisking his young prey off up to his dirty little den of salaciousness. What happened from herein was out of my control. My primary concern was to get back to my bed and enjoy that deep sleep of the drunk. So I told the driver to head toward Centro City, which was only a few minutes away.

40: Temptation

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

umbra-outside

EP was still pretty lively when we arrived, but it was starting to peter out before we finished our drinks. It was only a Wednesday night, but my new flatmate and I were kind of celebrating our future cohabitation and in no mood to call time on our drinking, so we decided to venture out to see what else Kemang had to offer. I had only been in the district once before when I came with Claire and I didn’t really know where anything was, but I did remember that we had walked from Bremer to EP in only a few minutes so it couldn’t be that hard to find – in theory.

When Simon and I left EP we headed in the general direction of where I believed Bremer to be. Whether we were going in the right direction or not, I didn’t really know. However, the whole of Kemang looked like a place that had plenty going on and it wasn’t long before we stumbled along the battered pavement toward a road that was lit up with nightime neon and a place that seemed worth checking out.

It was the sound of old school house classics coming out of Umbra that attracted me to it. The entrance was at the top of some external stairs that looked like a fire escape where a group of people were stood outside by a table. It appeared to be a late night bar or club so we walked to the top where the young man and woman at the entrance ushered us in with a smile and without any charge.

umbra-terrace

umbra-1

As we walked in we entered an area that looked like an outdoor terrace bar. It was a stylish, brightly lit, airy space with plants growing up the glass walls and a long bar to the right. The main club where the music was coming from was directly opposite in a larger, darkened room that you entered via open patio doors. There was an area with high tables and stools as you walked into the main room and a floating bar almost in the middle of the club that sat in front of the dance floor. A long DJ booth overlooked the dance floor at the far end of the room and there were coffee tables surrounded by sofas and low-level seating on either side. It was a nice space. Not completely full, but more than busy enough to have an atmosphere. Simon and I were the only Bulays in there, but the Indonesian crowd were a Kemang crowd so we weren’t out of place. We plotted up at the bar and bought a jug of Long Island ice tea; the night had now begun in earnest.

The first jug of Long Island iced tea didn’t last long and it soon got my mojo motoring. I had the perma-grin of a happy drinker as Simon and I rambled on about our past adventures and future exploits as expat partners in crime; and of course the many beautiful women in our host city.

Simon’s preoccupation with the women in Jakarta was one that I could understand and I found myself comfortably leaning toward the single man’s agenda; it was just too difficult not to. It had been a long time since I had been near my Latin lover and it would be a long time before I would get anywhere near her again. I always knew I would need to exert a massive force of will to stay faithful for the entire time I was away, but there I was, after only a few drinks, and already my imagination was leering toward the lascivious possibilities in my mind. I needed a distraction, so I decided to send her a Whatsapp message.

The reply came quickly. She asked what I was doing, how things were going, what Jakarta was like, etcetera. I gave her a little rundown on the city and told her about my new flatmate Simon. I even took a photo of us together; Simon’s toothy smile and comb over alongside my drunken perma-grin was a quirky coupling. She sent a ‘Jajaja’ (a Spanish ‘Hahaha’) and asked me if I was drunk. Of course I was, but I was in high spirits. So much so that I  decided to try and call her using Whatsapp. I went into the terrace area where I thought it was quiet enough to talk, but the connection was weak, there was an annoying delay and the music was still intrusive enough to make hearing difficult. So after a brief and illegible exchange of words, I ended the call and sent her a message to tell her I missed her before rejoining Simon and our second jug of Long Island iced tea.

Temptation is a cunning little bitch and, like a good salesman, she always seems to have the answer to all your objections. So whilst I had hoped contact with my Latin lover would have been enough to stop my eyes from roving, it only made me long for female company even more. It didn’t help that when I returned to the main room, a beautiful young Indonesian woman and her friends had come to stand by Simon and I at the bar. She smiled, I smiled back, she then asked me to take a picture of her and her friends at the bar, to which I courteously obliged, and then that was it; the butterfly dance of flirtation began…

“What’s your name…?

“What’s your name…?

“Where are you from?”

“My mother!”

“Hahaha!”

“No, I’m from Manchester, England.”

“What are you doing in Jakarta?”

“I’m an English teacher. I work for EF in Taman Anggrek”

“Do you like Indonesia…?” – etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Everywhere in the world it’s more or less the same trivial exchange in the mating game. But I didn’t care; braces or not, she was lovely and I was merry and unashamedly aquiescent. ‘If it happens it happens’, I told myself as I kicked guilt and fidelity to the curb.

The girl was called Andida and her English wasn’t perfect but perfectly understandable. She was much better looking than her two friends, although I don’t think that was the reason Simon seemed disinterested in any of them. He had already made it pretty obvious that he didn’t like the work involved in the mating game. He much preferred an easy, compliant catch in his net rather than the challenge of charm and seduction. Nevertheless, I made sure I involved him in the conversation. For his part he remained polite and sociable and was happy to pose with me and the girls when they asked to take photos of us all together. After all, it wasn’t as if I was simply abandoning him for someone I had just met, which was pretty much what he had done to me the previous week. No, as far as I was concerned, as attractive as the young woman with the braces was, I am flirtatious by nature and I was simply being sociable rather than predatorial – or so I told myself. The truth was, if something came of it I wasn’t going to say no, which of course makes me a bastard. But aren’t all men bastards? If yours isn’t, he just hasn’t had the right exposure to temptation, he’s a very good liar, or you’re fortunate enough to be very much content and in love.

Bastard or not, I have my own code, and I hadn’t yet done anything to break that code, so I continued to be sociable with Andida and her friends. Meanwhile, Simon and I continued to enjoy our second… third jug of Long Island ice tea and the rest of our night out. I even almost got him onto the dancefloor.

Time flies when your having fun and you’ve drunk three jugs of strong liquor. The music in Umbra had nosedived into the intolerable, noisy, audio assault of Jakarta style house… techno… whatever the fuck they called that racket – and it was time to move on. However, it was almost three o’clock and both Simon and I had work the next day. Not starting work until one in the afternoon has its benefits, but it was the middle of the week and sometimes it’s good to call it quits whilst your still on a high. Andida and her friends had remained with us, but the conversation had petered out a little. She had told me she worked as a secretary and that she also had to go to work later that day. However, before she left with her friends, she actually asked my permission if she could go! This was very sweet, but clearly a cultural thing, unless what she meant was lost in translation. I laughed and said, “Of course you can go”, to which she gave a coy smile (smiles seem to be a permanent feature of Indonesians). However, I now felt obliged… well, not just obliged, it was probably as much a habitual reflex, but I felt I should ask for her number. So I did and she dutifully gave it to me – not exactly faithful behaviour. But fuck it, I didn’t care. I’d had a damn good night out and just the whiff of female company was satisfying enough; for now at least. I just couldn’t see this fidelity thing lasting very long.