52. Double Dutch

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

*****

Kemang is probably the most popular district for expats and Friday nights are very busy. When you come off the main highway and enter the district at the start of Kemang Raya, the main road that runs through it, the traffic grinds to a halt. I had found it impossible to time my journeys from Taman Anggrek to Kemang. The busway is the quickest way to get out of Grogol in the evening so I took route 9 and stopped at Semanggi where the traffic eases of a little. I took one of the taxis that were waiting at the bottom of the steps of the overpass up to Kemang, but it’s just impossible to predict how bad Jakarta’s traffic is going to be so it’s hard to make solid meeting arrangements.

I had arranged to meet Adam at Eastern Promise – EP as it’s known – at 9.30 and I was already a little late by the time my taxi rolled up to the back of the Kemang Raya tailback, so I got out of the taxi and started to walk. I knew EP was close, but I didn’t know where it was exactly. However, I did know that Murphy’s was on Kemang Raya so I decided to call Simon to tell him to meet me there. But just as I was about to dial his number I saw him walking toward me.

“Hey, how are you doing?” he said as he greeted me with his toothy grin and firm handshake.

“I was just about to call you”, I said to him. “It’s a good job I bumped into you because I can’t remember where EP is. I was going to tell you to meet me in Murphy’s; it’s the only place I know how to get to.”

My sense of direction is as bad as my memory for names, and to be honest, I wasn’t even too sure where Murphy’s was. It was now about ten o’clock and Simon had just come from an evening of drinking with one of his clients so he was already a little drunk and in pretty high spirits. “So where should we go?” I asked.

I wanted to try and find Treehouse again, but Simon wasn’t too bothered where we went, he just wanted another drink.

As we were stood by the side of the road considering where to go next, two young white women came walking by. As white women are few and far between around Jakarta, I assumed that they were expats. As they approached I said, “Excuse me, do you know a place called EP? Eastern promise; it’s a… popular… expat bar… near here…”

For an awkward moment I thought they were going to completely ignore me and walk on by. But then they stopped.

“You speak English!? Where are you from?” one of them asked. Perhaps they just needed a moment to adjust to the sound of an English voice.

“I’m from Manchester” I said, “What about you? Are you Dutch?”

There is something about the Dutch English accent that sounds like the German English accent, yet with a specific tone that, if you have the ear for both, makes it easy to tell them apart.

“Yes, how can you tell?” said the other young woman.

“Oh, my brother lived in Amsterdam for a couple of years and I know the Dutch accent”, I replied.

They didn’t actually look Dutch, if the Dutch even have a particular look other than being tall, which neither of them were. They were actually both quite short. The smaller of the two, whose name was Naomi, was a slim, pale young woman with long brown hair and wide eyes. Her friend, who was also called Naomi, was a little taller and more solid in her build. She had black hair, pale olive skin and looked Mediterranean.

“So you’ve never heard of EP?” I asked them. “I believe it’s the local spot for expats in Kemang.” It turned out that they had also only been in Jakarta for a couple of weeks and hadn’t really been anywhere – hence their pale complexions. They said they had just come from a nearby rooftop bar where they were the only white women. It hadn’t been very busy and the host at the door had been pestering them so they had left. The littler of the Naomi’s said that they thought I was Indonesian at first, which is why they were ignoring me; nice.

“When you said hello, I was like, ‘what’, then I realised you were speaking English. I thought you were going to start hitting on us like the weirdo in the bar”, said the taller Naomi. I guessed that meant that Simon and I had passed the obligatory man-scan that women silently give strange men before committing to engaging in further conversation. This is an involuntary and informal ‘Not a Total Dick’ or ‘Complete Weirdo’ test that, in fairness, any sensible young woman should do. However, it seems like the assumption is always that the man wants to get into their knickers, which more often than not is probably true. However, on this occasion, although neither of them were particularly unattractive, I didn’t have any lurid intentions. And I don’t really think Europeans were Simon’s taste. But they were young, lively and spoke English with no effort at all. All of those things were bonuses for me. Plus, we were all new to Jakarta and shared a common geographic dyslexia with regard to Kemang, so I decided to invite them to join us for a drink; only perhaps not in EP. I didn’t ask, but I guessed that they were both in their mid-twenties. I didn’t think that a bar full of middle-aged expats and Indonesian Bule-prey would have really been their scene so I suggested that we go look for Treehouse. I knew it was close and I was determined to find the place. If we couldn’t find it this time we could always ask someone.

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51. Almost, But Not

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

*****

Despite the fact that my days off were Tuesday and Wednesday, Friday still marked the start of the weekend. This weekend also marked a full month since I had been in Jakarta and a week since the robbery at Jeff’s apartment. Yet since agreeing to flat share with Simon, he had not yet formally signed a contract with the owner Vivi.

It was probably just my instinctive lack of trust for the man, but I was beginning to suspect that Simon was stalling and considering other options for himself. He had made excuse after excuse for why he hadn’t finalised the signing of the tenancy contract with Vivi. By now he had got himself another phone, but he hadn’t bought any phone credit to call her and she hadn’t called him he said. She had told me that she had emailed him several times to request a copy of his passport, which she needed to finalise the tenancy contract, but he told me hadn’t received any email from her. Perhaps he had reconsidered living in an apartment complex next to the man he was trying to avoid.

In the meantime, I had Jeff sending me messages asking if I had seen Simon and asking to meet with him “to talk”; about what I don’t know. I suspected that he was anxious to get me to give him confirmation about his apartment. I didn’t owe either of them anything, all I needed was a place to move into. If Adam let me down I always had the room in Jeff’s place to fall back on, but Adam didn’t know that. I also figured that Jeff suspected that I was stalling him because he knew I had agreed to move in with Adam, but I hadn’t confirmed that fact with him either. So as it stood, until Adam signed the contract with Vivi and paid his deposit, I was still in a limbo of sorts.

It was all ridiculous. I felt like one of the players in some petty drama where all the characters were trying to con, bluff and double-bluff each other: An English teacher thousands of miles from home, a salacious salesman masquerading as an English gent and a Belgian buffoon with a place to rent. But who can be trusted? It was comical really. But at the same time it wasn’t, because I needed to move, and my time was running out.

I didn’t want to give Simon an ultimatum so instead I pretended to be relaxed about the apartment and told him that I had found another place that I could move into if he was having second thoughts. This seemed to spur him into action and he promised to arrange a meeting for us to get the keys off Vivi on the Monday. In truth, I had until the following Wednesday, which bought me a little bit of time if he didn’t come through as agreed.

I may have been just a little paranoid about Simon, but I didn’t really know this guy and my instincts were telling me that he couldn’t be relied on or trusted. There was just something about him that I found ingenuous. Probably that fact that he was a salesman; can you ever take the word of a salesman? There always seems to be something manipulative between the lines of what a salesman says. So it was with Adam, with his penchant for evading direct answers to direct questions and his ever so particular choice of the appropriate adjective. Furthermore, he described himself as a libertine and seemed quite proud of the fact that he had no moral qualms about how he sought his pleasures. Obviously, this wasn’t the best foundation for the start of a flat sharing relationship, but unfortunately I wasn’t left with much choice. Nevertheless, it was Friday and Friday is the first day of the weekend and should be a good day anywhere. Whatever Adam’s faults, he was a fun guy to go drinking with, and he was the only guy I had to go drinking with. So with Monday set as the date for signing the contract and collecting the keys, we agreed to meet in Kemang for a night out. Also, with this being Simon the salesman, there was another reason why he was keen to go out – I still owed him for that night he had covered in Loewy’s and Blok M a couple weeks earlier. This night was going to be on me, but there would be no late night pick ups!