44: Mixed Messages

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


As soon as I read Jeff’s text message my overactive imagination became over activated. I read the words again, and then again, and then again trying to elicit the tone and intention. Those 16 words said so little, but in their brevity alluded to so much more. Simon had definitely done something wrong, but what? Surely he hadn’t forced himself on the drunken girl and caused a disturbance that had woken Jeff. And why was Jeff using his wife’s phone?

I sent a message back  to Jeff to say that I hadn’t seen Simon and almost immediately I received a reply asking me to meet him. The immediacy of his reply and his request to meet him were loaded with latent information and my curiosity was piqued to the point of distraction. I was just about to go into my first lesson, but the focus of my attention was now on constructing the complete body of this unknown story out of the DNA of cryptic information I had. So I replied to Jeff saying that I had to go into my lessons and I would call him during my break, which would be in couple of hours. I decided to leave my phone in the teacher’s room so I wouldn’t be distracted by it during my lessons. But it wasn’t the phone that was the distraction, it was my impatient need to know what had happened.

As I sat in the lesson talking about vocabulary and verb tenses, in the back of my mind there was a detective constructing plots and scenarios. I saw Simon’s naked body hurriedly trying to get dressed whilst telling a crying girl with smudged make up to be quiet. I saw him, sweating, dishevelled and unkempt, fleeing from Jeff’s apartment; waiting nervously at the elevator before rushing down the stairway, his comb-over uncombed, wispily wafting above his head as he stumbled down the stairs. I saw the fear in his face as he scanned the streets for a taxi to take him… somewhere, anywhere, just away from where he was and away from the trouble he had got himself in. I saw Indonesian policemen in his room going through his things whilst Evi was consoling the now starkly sober young girl, mascara smudges and tear streaks running down her face. I saw Jeff gravely giving a statement to the police, telling them how little he knew of the lodger staying in his spare room. I saw his little daughter sitting quietly, maybe drinking from a bottle with sweetness in it, oblivious to what was going on, but, wide-eyed, sensing the drama and feeling excited. But then of course I was aware that all of this was just in my imagination. Perhaps nothing bad had happened at all. Maybe Jeff had spoken to Simon about the apartment that morning and he now wanted to speak to me. The cliche about having watched too many movies was was actually true for me. However, on the other hand, coming from the  Manchester council estate culture I had come from, I had borne witness to some real wrongness and a lot of fucked up shit, and right now my instincts were telling me that whatever had happened, it definitely wasn’t good.

My distracted mind and the fluttering butterfly wings in my gut meant that my lessons were not the best, but that wasn’t important. What was important was finding out what had happened with Simon. So I immediately checked the messages on my phone when I got back into the teacher’s room, but there was only one message from Jeff. He wanted me to meet him in Central Park at a place called Solaria, a cheap restaurant chain that you find all over the city. It was Jeff’s local apparently. I wasn’t too comfortable about meeting him without getting a little bit more information, so I decided to give Simon a call to find out what happened. But, and this was no surprise, all I got was a brief pre-recorded notification in Indonesian that I couldn’t understand before the call cut off. His phone was obviously switched off. This confirmed to me that something was definitely wrong, so I decided to call Jeff. All this to-ing and fro-ing with text messages was irritating, a phone is for talking.

Talking in Mall Taman Anggrek is more difficult than it sounds. First of all, it was Saturday afternoon so it was full of people and the noise that crowds of people make. In addition, with it being full of people, there was also some kind of promotional event in the main auditorium on the lower ground floor and it was very, very loud. The high pitched tone of the lady speaking on the microphone accompanied by some Asian pop soundtrack was impossible to escape. The building’s design is structured around an atrium so each floor is open to the sound of the PA coming from the auditorium below. This meant that there was nowhere to hide from this noise. The best you can do is go inside one of the shops or get to the end of one the many passageways on each floor. Only then you don’t get a phone signal. So after trying and failing to connect with Jeff a couple of times, I decided to go outside. However, when you get outside, the shrill screech of mopeds and roaring noise of the traffic that surrounds everywhere in Jakarta is so loud that it’s very difficult to hear anything there either. Difficult but not impossible. So when I did eventually get through to Jeff I managed to get some details and the basic gist of what had happened.

After hearing the brief outline of his story through the street noise, I agreed to meet him later that evening after I finished work. I hung up the phone and couldn’t help but laugh as I made my way back into the mall to get some lunch. From what I managed to garner from Jeff, Simon had been well and truly Kemang banged. Only it seemed that poor Jeff was the one who had paid the price.


43: Damage Limitation

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


I woke up with that familiar but unwelcome hangover feeling. The clothes I had worn the night before were scattered around my bed and something had crept into my mouth in the middle of the night and taken a dry shit.  When I was younger I had never suffered from hangovers. Had I experienced that otherworldly please-let-me-out-of-my-body feeling a hangover brings, along with the additional symptoms of shit-in-dry-mouth and an overall feeling like you have been embalmed alive, I probably would have stopped drinking altogether and saved a fortune in the process. But hey, it’s pointless me crying over spilt alcohol, I am now, true to my Irish heritage, an established drinker.

I dragged myself out of bed a little before noon. As I got up and made my way to the toilet I almost tripped over a bundle of denim. I must have scraped my jeans off with my toes whilst lying prostrate on my mattress in drunken semi-conciousness when I had got in. After relieving my bladder, my thoughts immediately turned to the water in the fridge and alleviating my dehydration. The micro ants that I was involuntarily sharing my room with were foraging for micro scraps of food on the kitchenette surface. I massacred them with a few swipes of a damp cloth before gulping down a bottle of water and eating an apple and a yoghurt for breakfast. Not really a sufficiently filling and nutricious start to the day, but that was all I had in.

There would  be no swimming that morning, just groaning and regret. Regret that I had inflicted the dehydration and mild brain damage that is drunkeness upon myself at my own expense. I had no thoughts of Simon and his pick-up, or the robbing taxi driver; I wasn’t even thinking of Andida, the pretty young woman with the braces who gave me her phone number. No, none of that; I was preoccupied with my own self pity. I was the walking wounded and I only had a couple of hours before I had to walk into work and there was no way of avoiding it.

The sweltering heat and sweaty humidity of my journey to Taman Anggrek went someway to rebooting my system, but I was still feeling pretty rotten as I entered the extreme air conditioned cool of the mall. I took the escalators purely because continual motion was preferable to waiting for a lift. I also wanted something sweet to go with the coffee I was going to have as soon as I got into the EF school and there was a Bread Talk on the ground floor. Bread Talk is a very decent chain of  bakeries found in all the big malls in Jakarta and they do a great chocolate muffin. So I grabbed a chocolate muffin and took the moving stairs up to the third floor. There I was greeted by the corridor of noise that leads to the EF school.

The now familiar sound of yapping dogs, bleeping and zapping robots, minions and other mechanical toys outside the toy shop was not pleasant. The loud techno music and the competing teams of sales reps shrieking offers at passers by outside the phone shops that faced each other was even worse. There is a pretty young girl who is part of the mobile phone shop mob who always catches my eye. She never looks enthusiastic about her job, but nevertheless, she always smiles at me when I pass and I always smile back. But this afternoon I didn’t even look at her. Eyes down and focussed on the coffee awaiting me, I steadily strode into the school and greeted Rudi, Julie and Linda who were busily surfing the net and playing Clan of Clans on their phones at the reception. I greeted them all with a lively “Selamat pagi” and a big smile, both performed with flawless sincerity. Professor X himself wouldn´t have known how fucked I was right at that moment.

Only the ‘Office Boy’, who is actually a grown man called Firman, was in at that time. Classes don’t start until 2pm and it was still only just before one. The only other student I noticed was quietly working on a tablet in one of the booths, but I didn’t make eye contact. I just headed straight for the coffee machine and hoped that it actually worked for me this time. It was an over complicated contraption that always seemed to be out of coffee beans or milk or water, or something was wrong with it whenever I used it. Fortunately it was fully loaded and working fine this morning. So with coffee and cake I walked into the teacher’s room and logged into my computer to prepare for my classes. Mercifully I only had two sessions before my first break, and I had taught both the lessons before. Easy.

I supped on my coffee and munched on my muffin and gradually started to feel human again. As I was reading through the lesson plan notes, I received a text message from an unknown number. It was Belgian Jeff and his message was a little bit cryptic:

‘Hello its jeff. I am using Evi’s phone. Have you been in contact with Simon today?’

I’m good at reading between the lines and those few words did not sound good.

First World Problems – An Interlude

We all depend on our computers these days right? I need mine to work. My MacBook is like my  partner and friend. So when the hard drive died last year I thought I had lost him. I was devastated. But I was told I could save it with a simple hard drive transplant. The new Samsung solid state drive would make it a faster, more efficient machine at a fraction of the price of buying a new one. It did. I was complete again. Until a couple of weeks ago when it died on me again.

After spending a couple of frustrating days trying to diagnose the problem myself, I conceded defeat and took it to an official Apple Mac repair shop. They contacted me the following day to tell me that the hard drive needed replacing. They had installed the new one less than a year ago and we’re as bemused as I was because the Samsung SSD drive I was using had a great reputation as one of the best on the market (I like to get the best things if I can afford it). This was galling to say the least. However, as it was less than a year old it was still under the manufacturer’s guarantee I should be able to get a replacement.

I found out where the nearest service centre was in Madrid and took it there, but they don’t deal with memory or computer parts, only TVs and domestic products. Instead they gave me a phone number to call. What I didn’t know was that it was a premium rate number. Since my Spanish isn’t very good, it took me all of the credit I had left on my phone to navigate myself to the right department and be told that an English speaking agent would call me back. The phone cut out before I could ask when. Unfortunately that ‘when’ came on the only two occasions that day that I didn’t have my phone in my pocket so I missed both the calls – grrr!!!

Most of the students I teach are business professionals who I teach in their offices, and I have some private students who I teach at home. There are no whiteboards, flip charts or resources other than those on my computer, so without it I’m pretty stuck. However, I do have some materials on a USB, so I used a friend’s laptop to look at these and organised some lessons for the following week. Meanwhile, the director of a language academy I work for lent me an old notebook laptop she had spare and agreed to help me with my phone enquiries. Unfortunately  the computer I borrowed was unbearably slow and the Microsoft Office software needed an access code or update or something; essentially, I couldn’t use it. This was more annoying than I can express without violently smashing something.

Anyway, my kind Spanish colleague contacted Samsung on my behalf and she was given a freephone number to pass on to me. Unfortunately, whilst the number worked with her phone network, mine didn’t recognise it. So again I had to impose on her and ask that she call them for me, which she kindly did. She was given an email address to pass on to me to contact someone about my problem. By now a week had almost passed and I couldn’t help but wonder WHY THE FUCK THE SAMSUNG SERVICE CENTRE HADN’T GIVEN ME THIS EMAIL IN THE FIRST PLACE!!! But on the bright side, I was now able to make progress, hopefully.

I emailed the email outlining my problem. This opened a ‘ticket’ and I received a return email asking me to give as much details as possible about my problem – essentially repeating what I had put in the previous email – as well as the serial number of the product. However, to get the serial number of the product I had to open the computer and remove the drive. To do this requires special tools that I don’t have. So I asked my friend who is an IT technician to help me, which he did. He took the drive out, I completed the details and I’m waiting for Samsung to reply, collect the drive, take the drive, examine the drive and then hopefully provide a replacement drive. But I don’t know how long this is going to take and I absolutely need my laptop for my lessons. Fortunately, the lovely lady from the language school has lent me another laptop that has fully functioning Microsoft Office software – although I can’t access the internet using the guest account… grrr!!!

It is now almost two weeks since my MacBook’s hard drive died. I am still waiting for Samsung to collect it to examine and hopefully replace it. The lady from my language academy has created an account for me on the little notebook she lent me so I can now use the internet and Microsoft Office. However, all of my files are locked away in the Apple Time Machine facility, waiting to be restored to my MacBook once it is brought back to life.

I’m partly sharing this to explain why there has been a long gap since my last Jakarta post. However, I’m mainly writing this to help me calm down from the raging anger I felt 20 minutes ago at the sheer frustration of not being able to do anything without my computer – listen to music, watch movies and Youtube, connect with people online, read stuff online, do stuff online – just generally get on with my life. You see, many of us do everything with our computers, both professional and personal. They are our ‘personal’ computers. And when we lose them, we lose our connection with the world that they have created for us. This is magnified even further when you are an expat living away from the familiar comfort zone of the place you once called home.

Anyway, first world problems and all that. At least I’ve got my health, and a temporary replacement computer. So here’s chapter 43: Damage Limitation.