71: End of the Bus Affair

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

Transjakarta busway sign 2014-09-30

Since I was now living within walking distance of Mallville and my workplace, I no longer had to use the Transjakarta busway every day, which to be honest was a relief. Whilst there is some cultural novelty to using the buses in Jakarta, that novelty soon wears off when you have to use them every day.

The Transjakarta Busway is like the rest of Jakarta, congested, dirty and lacking any real logical coherence. There is a map and there are fixed routes, but from what I can tell there is no timetable, which is not too surprising given the unpredictable nature of the horrendous traffic in the city.

The buses vary between freshly valeted, up-to-date vehicles and condemnable rust buckets with bricks for suspension. Someone told me that some years earlier there had been a large pot of public money invested into upgrading the stock of buses for the city. Unfortunately, by the time this money had filtered through the corrupted hands of government officials, all the people got with what was left was more of the same crap with a few shiny new vehicles thrown in for appearances sake. Corruption within government and public institutions is such a pariah for developing countries. In a fairer more just society, offenders would be treated as harshly as drug dealers.

transjakarta bus

One of the newer Transjakarta buses

The Transjakarta buses are split into two sections. The section at the front of each bus is for women only (wanitas) because apparently, women being inappropriately touched by male passengers had become a bit of a problem. Along with the signs on the bus windows indicating no eating and no smoking, there is one that always makes me smile; its a graphic of a male figure sneakily touching the skirt hem of a female passenger to indicate ‘no groping’. The ‘no eating’ sign on some of the buses is also pretty unique to Asia. It has a graphic of a durian, which is a large, oval, southeast Asian fruit about the size of a small honey melon. It has a hard, vicious-looking shell covered in inch-long spikes and looks like it should be on the end of a medieval club. But it’s not the spikes that make this particular piece of edible flora so threatening, it’s the smell.

Durians are also known as ‘smelly fruit’ because the soft flesh of these pomological beasts absolutely reeks. I really don’t know how to describe it, but food writer Richard Sterling comes pretty close, describing its rank, potent odour as a combination of ‘turpentine and onions garnished with a gym sock’. American chef Anthony Bourdain goes one better – ‘Your breath will smell as if you have been French-kissing your dead grandmother’ – It smells bad! So bad that, even with its husk intact, it is banned from both the Bangkok and Singapore MRT public transport systems. It is also banned from many of the upmarket hotels in Asia, some even fining guests for releasing the stink of this fruit thing into their socially manicured temporary living areas.


The notorious ‘smelly’ fruit

If you use the Transjakarta Busway when it isn’t full, it’s fine. But riding a bus during rush hour is hard work.

The average temperature throughout the year in Jakarta is about 35 degrees, which is pretty damn hot, even before you factor in the humidity, so just the sheer heat of a busy bus is difficult to tolerate. Although in fairness, even when packed, the buses don’t really smell bad; nowhere near as bad as a busy bus in a busy city in the UK for instance. But still, being packed in a bus with a bunch of hot and sweaty commuters in tropical temperatures isn’t pleasant.

Getting on and off a bus during rush hour is a mission. People somehow manage to push and jostle without any real force being asserted, which is a paradox of physical law. Yet despite this antagonistic melee, nobody ever complains about losing their place in what passes for a queue and nobody ever loses their temper. It’s like watching hordes of wildlife in action. If this scenario were played out in Britain, or anywhere else in the western world, there would be fights and arguments on a daily basis. Somehow it just doesn’t happen in Jakarta. I think I am the only one who so much as scowls during these scrambling bouts of organised chaos. The coolest person of all though, is the conductor.

The conductors on these buses stand all day in their tropical patterned company shirts, monitoring the doors, ushering the passengers on and off in a disorderly orderly fashion. As you can imagine, with the sweltering heat and the intermittent madness of fifteen or so people trying to get on and off the buses all at the same time, the conductor seldom smiles. This guy has a tough job and no one ever says ‘Terimah kasi’ when they bundle past him; but I always do.

The drivers on the buses in England – well Manchester at least – are all too often miserable bastards. They’ll happily drive off when they’ve watched someone busting a gut to catch them at a stop. They’ll abandon man, woman or child in the middle of the night for not having the right money, the right bus pass or even the right change. Yet us Brits always say “Thanks” when we get off at the end of our journey. These guys on the Transjakarta Busway genuinely deserve some thanks. Managing that rush hour madness in the heat and humidity, they deserved a fucking medal!

Despite the shortcomings of the Transjakarta Busway, I strangely enjoyed this up close and personal slice of city life. It was the nearest I got to any symbiotic empathy with the people who lived here. It was the shuttle for the people who endured this tropical rat race – and boy did those people look exhausted. I usually stood up with my earphones plugged in my ears, listening to music as I scanned the passengers in the carriages, trying to get a sense of who they were. But I couldn’t. The best I could perceive was that, like most commuters chained to a life of work and debt, they were physically and mentally drained for the most part. But despite my voyeuristic fondness for the Transjakarta Busway, it didn’t seem to like me. Almost every time I crossed a walkway towards my station, I would see a bus pulling in at the stop. Then by the time I got there, it was gone, leaving me to wait in the heat as my lungs got assaulted by the toxic fumes and dust of Jakarta’s traffic. And typically for Jakarta, whilst the busway stopping stations have fans, those fans usually don’t point in the direction of where people sit and wait for the buses.

Transjakarta busway 2014-09-26

The joys of commuting

One time I arrived at station just in time for the bus, only to watch it clear everyone off and drive on empty. I found that this happens quite frequently, although I have no idea why. On this particular occasion, the next three buses drove past without stopping and I was left to wait for another 20 minutes for the next one to pick up. So yes, whilst there was some perverse cultural charm to riding Jakarta’s public transport system, I had built up a healthy contempt to the familiarity of doing it every day.


70: Different Strokes, Different Folks

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


As I had hoped, Debbi was very cool about me rearranging my days off to take the long weekend trip to Kalimantan. She confirmed my time off the day after I asked so I now had another short holiday to look forward too. If Karen’s friends were as cool as Karen, then it should be fun. In the meantime, I was still quite enjoying living in my apartment in Mediterania II, although I don’t think Simon was.

Simon wasn’t the sporty type so he didn’t appreciate the on-site pool as much as I did. In fact, I had only seen him use it once when he had brought Kas over one weekend – he definitely wasn’t a swimmer!

I had noticed that many of the residents at Mediterania II had peculiar swimming styles. It was as if most of them had never had any formal instruction on how to swim properly. There were a lot of variations of doggy paddle, a lot of energy sapping splashing and there was one particular swimming style that I can only best describe as a dolphin stroke. It involved descending deep under the water, taking a couple of strokes, coming back up for air, and then another couple of strokes before diving under again. However, none of the Indonesian swimmers’ styles were as odd as Simon’s, which even Kas had to laugh at.

Simon approached swimming like a person who was trying to avoid getting wet, which of course is impossible if you’re swimming. He began by placing his towel at the edge of the pool before slowly descending into the water. He then gently pushed off and began his motion, which was like a really slow butterfly where his head – not even his face – ever went under the water. Whereas the butterfly is a really energetic stroke, Simon would softly paddle his legs and, with his arms outstretched, merely stroke the water like someone rowing a boat who doesn’t really know how to row; I don’t know how he even stayed afloat. The 50-metre length pool was too much for him, so he swam back and forth the width of the smaller pool, stopping in between each set to dry his face with his towel. It was comical.

He didn’t seem to like spending too much time in the flat either. In fact, he spent hardly any time there since he couldn’t get a proper internet signal and he spent most evenings at some networking event or another. He wasn’t the best company when he was there either, often entering looking glum and tired. We might have a beer or two and a little bit of idle chit chat, mainly about how his “relationship” with Kas was going, but that was about it. And we seldom went out together, mainly because there really wasn’t anywhere interesting to go in west Jakarta, not even to watch the football (like me, Simon was a City fan). Besides, I think that when he did go out in the evenings, he would arrange to meet Kas, so he didn’t get back until late and he’d usually just go straight to his sauna of a bedroom, meaning the air-con would go on in my room, which pissed me off.

Sharing with Simon really wasn’t going as expected, and after the first couple of weeks at the flat, he had already started to hint at moving.

He talked about places Kas had seen in Sudriman that were affordable. At first I thought he was talking about places that were affordable for me and him to move into, but then he told me, albeit half-jokingly, that Kas was making overtures about the pair of them moving in together. He probably didn’t see how I could read between the lines, but I always read between the lines. I find that that is where the real information is.

Knowing that Simon was actively looking for another place put me on alert to start thinking about moving options again, but I just couldn’t be bothered doing anything about it. I really couldn’t. Besides, despite him implying that he was intending to move in with his new girlfriend, I was already starting to notice imperfections in the early bloom of their romance.

From what I knew about Simon, he wasn’t the relationship type; it just didn’t suit his personality. He was a career salesman and I think, generally speaking, professional salespeople are inherently selfish. I suppose you have to be to make it in that game. He could also slip into what can only be described as a petulant mood when frustrated or when he wasn’t getting what he wanted. He would become very stroppy, like a spoilt little boy who is tired and can’t get his own way. When he was in this mood he could be quite curt and unreasonable, which isn’t a characteristic conducive to relationship building.

I had already seen him get into one of his strops with Kas when she was taking a typically feminine amount of time to get ready to go out. I didn’t think much of it, but I guessed that he had shown this side of his character before when she started asking me questions about him; “How long have you known Simon for?” “How well do you know him?” “Did you know any of his other girlfriends?” “How long has he been living in Asia?” “Does he often get angry?”. I told her I had only known him as long as I had been in Jakarta, which wasn’t very long. The other questions I didn’t have conclusive answers to. Even if I did I wouldn’t have told her anything other than neutral nothings because, first of all, whatever his faults, my loyalty lay with Simon as I had met him first. Secondly, as with the sisterhood, the brotherhood take sides in any battle of the sexes, and mine was with my fellow brother. But most of all, experience has taught me not to get involved in other people’s relationships as you always come out of it as the villain. If they break up and they regret it, it’s all your fault. If they stay together, then whoever’s side you took, the other one will harbour a bitter resentment toward you which they will eventually use to squeeze you out of both of their lives. But perhaps worst of all, if they do stay together, they will both end up accusing you of being the malignant tumour that was ruining their relationship and hold all those opinions they begged you for against you. So no, never again will I enter that snake pit. Anyway, it was all pretty silly. They had only been together a few weeks so it was hardly even a relationship. And the truth was that I didn’t even care, I just wanted to stay in my apartment for as long as possible. Since I didn’t know whether them staying as a couple would help, I reserved judgement and just tried to ignore what I knew deep down was inevitable – I was eventually going to have to move again, and probably very soon.

69: Five Favourite Things

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


Ok, maybe I’m being a little too optimistic when I say I was starting to like the place, but I was certainly finding more of my comforts, and for me certain home comforts are essential to… well, being comfortable.

There are five things that I need in my life that will keep me generally satisfied: food, films, music, sleep and sex. If I can satisfy those needs, I am pretty much content. This may be oversimplifying life a little, but sometimes a simple life is a happier life. Sure, I could include things like family, friendship and love, but I know I have all of those things. And I’m not talking about Maslow’s psychological hierarchy of needs either, I’m simply talking about my hierarchy of comfort needs, and for the most part, they were being fulfilled.

I had come to master the two malls on my doorstep. They had become my big walk-in menus. I had sampled quite a lot they had on offer, but the beef rendang in Java Kitchen hit the spot every time. There was also a cheerful Chinese woman who spoke English who had a little warung in the shopping precinct on site at Mediterania 2 that opened up for food for a couple of hours in the afternoon. Her food was unbelievably cheap and unbelievably tasty. I had tried a Domino’s pizza from Tribeca Garden’s one time when I had an unassailable urge for some straight up western food without spices, but the pepperoni substitute gave the whole thing a strange flavour that I didn’t like. However, the PHD (Pizza Hut Direct) on the street just outside the apartment building did a very good spicy beef pizza that thoroughly satisfied. In between meals I snacked on the Japanese bread cakes from the cute little Hoshi bakery in Central Park and the chocolate muffins in Bread Talk. I got fruit, yoghurts, drinks and cereals from the supermarket so on the whole the food mountain – which was probably the most important – had most definitely been conquered.

Satisfying the film void was easy enough as I had cable TV with both the HBO and Fox channels. Not exactly a choice on demand, but there was enough to fill the void of boredom on most evenings. As for music, I never leave home without it. Whilst Jakarta had offered up nothing in its bars or clubs, I had my own library on my hard drive, not to mention Soundcloud, YouTube and Traxsource on demand, when I could get internet that is.

With food, films and music sorted, I had most of my needs covered, but sleeping was not so easy. Ever since Vivi had put the fan between me and Simon’s rooms, a lack of good sleep was gradually developing into a burgeoning issue. I’ve never been a great sleeper, but waking up half way through the night to turn the fan and aircon off was pissing me off. That was something that had to give at some point.

So what about sex? What about it? I wasn’t getting any of that either. My Latin Lover was still on vacation in Venezuela so I didn’t really hear anything from her. Not that that would have constituted sex, but it would have at least felt like some kind of intimate connection. As such, I was trying mightily hard to ignore the libidinous buzz in my balls that I woke up to every day. The sultry tropical atmosphere didn’t help. Going into the refrigerated EF office every day cooled me down a little. Then spending the rest of the day looking at my big, ugly work colleagues took my mind of sex completely. That is unless Yulia or Shirley were working, two attractive Indonesian girls who worked as sales agents. They were coffee coloured brush strokes of perfect feminine curves created from God’s own hand. From the tops of their pretty little heads to the tips of those little toes squeezed into their high-heeled shoes they were a delight to look at. But even if they weren’t working, you couldn’t walk through Jakarta for more than five minutes without seeing a beautiful woman – a naturally beautiful woman too. Three out of five is pretty good, but I needed my five things. If I’m tired enough I can sleep through anything, but the sex, something had to give sooner or later.

68: Be Like Water

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


I hadn’t seen Claire since we had first met for dinner and drinks in Kemang. She seemed quite involved with her job and I had just been too involved with lots of other things. Nevertheless, we had kept in touch via text messages and I had been keeping her updated with how I was settling into the city. She had been really supportive, and she really didn’t have reason to be. Having someone who was happy to let me sound off when I was frustrated was invaluable and I was really grateful to have her on-side. She was like my culture shock therapist. She had been in Jakarta for four years so she related to all of my frustrations, so when she invited me to join her and some of her friends for a weekend on the river in Kalimantan – the Indonesia side of Borneo – I jumped at the chance.

Borneo has its own unique ecosystem with hundreds of indigenous species of plants and animals, the most well-known probably being the orang-utans, a peaceful, charming and intelligent species of ape that had almost died out due to excessive tree farming destroying their habitat. Not many people get the opportunity to take a trip like this so I really wanted to go. I just had to convince Debbi to give me the time off, which I didn’t envisage would be too difficult. So far she had proved to be a pretty easy going boss. In fact, work had been the one constant since I had been in Jakarta.

EF were proving to be a pretty good company to work for. Ok, I didn’t share much in common with my work colleagues, we never went out for drinks, food or even visited each other’s apartments, but they were nice enough to work with.

Suki had been moved to the Sudriman school in FX Mall and they had moved a teacher from their called Tina to our school, another American. Like Debbi, she was also quite a big unit, although not as big as Debbi.

Tina was very much a no-frills kinda gal. She had a wild curly afro of fair hair and dressed like a backpacker, which is how she had seemed to have been living her life for the past few years. She had spent most of her time in Asia – India in particular – and I think for her, like many other ESL teachers, teaching English was just a way to travel.

Tina was very softly spoken and had what seemed quite an introverted character. She didn’t like bars or discos and she didn’t particularly like to drink too much. She was in her early thirties and wasn’t really the socialising type either. She actually admitted that she preferred her own company, for the most part staying indoors or walking around new places alone. Another thing that I noticed about Tina was her facial hair. I mention this because this was a bizarrely common feature of all three of my western work colleagues. Debbi obviously struggled with abating the five o’clock shadow that covered her hefty chin. I had also noticed that Kate had more than a few teenage boy hairs poking from her chin. Even Sandi had the clear signs of a moustache on her top lip. Was it something in the water!?

My students continued to be a delight to work with and I was now very comfortable with the material we were working with and the timetable. Living so close to the school made it easy for me to satisfy my stomach, get some rest, and make the most of my new pool. I had now smashed the ten-length barrier and was getting around 500 metres a day of swimming. This was after watching some old Chinese man from my balcony do length after length without stopping. That was a psychological gauntlet thrown down and I was determined to get myself up to 1500 metres a day. Apart from the physical health benefits, I was starting to get a good rhythm going and finding that once in the zone, gliding comfortably through the water, it was very meditative. I had always found swimming hard work, but when you get your stroke going and it becomes effortless, the rhythm and the solitude of gliding through clear water is like a form of meditation where all your thoughts flow through your mind unrestricted. Actually, my daily swim had become the best thing about my new lifestyle. Within the chaos of that dirty polluted city, it offered a period of calm contemplation and I think this was helping me immensely as I was gradually growing to like the place.

67: The Odd Couple

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


That night, Simon took his new girlfriend back to our place and I had the unwanted pleasure of listening to them having a good old meat slapping session, which was a bit uncomfortable.

In fairness, I could tell by the restrained whimperings that they were trying to be quiet for my sake. But since the walls of the flat were made of little more than MDF board, it didn’t really make much difference so the audio painted a pretty unsightly picture in my head as I tried to sleep. Simon had told me that Kas shared an apartment with six other girls so this was probably going to be something I would have to put up with every weekend. I have never shared an apartment before and I knew there were certain things that I was going to have to get used to, but I hadn’t expected to be sharing with a couple. And I certainly hadn’t factored in listening to the sound of paunchy porn every weekend.

Moving in with Simon, I thought my apartment troubles would be resolved, but it wasn’t long before I was having second thoughts about our arrangement. And it wasn’t just the idea of listening to him shagging in the room next door. I actually I didn’t mind Kas being around, but she did seem to make herself at home a little too quickly for my liking. That first night when she stayed over, she spent the rest of the morning lounging on the sofa flicking through the TV channels in nothing more than a big t-shirt. This was to become a regular weekend event.

The place was only small, so once Simon and her were cuddled up on the couch, I was relegated to feeling out of place on the stool at the bar in the kitchenette. In the evenings, the pair of them would camp on the sofa eating pizza and watching box sets of her favourite American comedy series, How I Met Your Mother. Simon was playing out loves young dream and he seemed to be enjoying it. I wasn’t.

Simon also had some questionable attitudes toward general cleanliness around our living space.

From what I could tell, he had one pair of shoes, a pair of trousers, one suit, a couple of pairs of boxer shorts and two or three pairs of socks. During the first week he lived in the place, he somehow managed to hand wash his shirts, socks and boxer shorts in our little bathroom sink with nothing but water. Naturally, he had to regularly wash his underwear so he would leave it hanging out to dry on the balcony, which wasn’t too big, especially as the air conditioning outside unit was fixed to the wall out there too. Nevertheless, there was just enough space for a little table and chair so I could sit in the sun and take in the view of the pool, the rooftops of Tanjung Duren, and Simon’s underpants.

He also had a habit of leaving everything just where he left it. Food, crisp packets, cans, bottles, pizza boxes; he’d just consume and go like a slug. He’d never empty the bin – he hardly ever even put anything in the bin. When I mentioned this to him, he actually suggested that we get a maid. A maid! There wasn’t room enough to wave a duster around your head, but he wanted someone to come in every week just to put his bottles, cans and food wrappers away and take out the rubbish!

Simon wasn’t the most considerate flatmate either. He would use all the bottled water in the apartment – not just for drinking, but for shaving too – then he wouldn’t bother to get anymore; perhaps just a small bottle from the mini market downstairs if he really need it. However, it wasn’t just Simon’s slovenly habits that were the problem, the apartment itself wasn’t ideal for two sharing.

The apartments in Mediterania II were only allowed to have two air conditioning units, even the two bedroom ones like ours. Why? Well there was a limitation on the power allocation for each apartment apparently. Now, the air-conditioning unit in my room was ok, but the unit in the living room was useless. Even on its coldest 16-degree setting you had to leave it on for about an hour just to cool the room down a little. It didn’t really bother me because I’m not really a fan of air-con. Simon on the other hand liked that chilly, refrigerated freshness of ultra-cold air-conditioning when he was inside so he would leave it on permanently, even though it wasn’t really making any difference. This wasn’t so much of a problem during the day, but he wanted to leave it on throughout the night too because he had no air-con in his room, which with its sun facing window, was practically a sauna. He thought that some of the not-so-cool air in the living room would drift into his bedroom and cool it down, but it wasn’t working. With or without the air-con his room was an oven. A fan would have helped, but he said it would have given him a dry throat, which is probably true. But leaving the air-con on all day and night was just an expensive waste of electricity, so we got in touch with Vivi to see what she could do.

Vivi’s solution to the problem was to get a workman in to drill a big hole in the wall between our bedrooms and install an extractor fan to suck the cool air from my room into Simon’s room. This meant that I would have to have the air conditioning on all night in my room whilst listening to the noise of the extractor fan sucking the cool air into Simon’s room. This simply wasn’t going to work. Not just because of my dislike of extreme air-conditioning, but also because of the noise that came from the extractor fan. I just couldn’t sleep through that racket. So the situation was that either Simon wasn’t going to sleep because of the heat or I wasn’t going to sleep because of the air-con and noise from the extractor fan.

The other big issue in the apartment was the internet; it just didn’t work. Simon spent a significant part of his day sending and replying to emails, which was vital to his job. Having no internet was a big problem for him. And even when he bought a portable 4G Bolt unit, that didn’t work too well either. Apparently, this problem was to do with the building and the location itself rather than the internet connection. But what it meant was that Simon had to go to his office or find a wifi connection in a café somewhere whenever he had to communicate with clients, which was every day. Moving around Jakarta is not easy and this constant moving around just wasn’t working for him.

One of the enduring qualities of human beings is that we learn to adapt to any environment. Deep down I knew that the issues with the apartment in Mediterania II weren’t going to resolve themselves, but I just didn’t want to think about it. I’d had enough of stressing about where I was going to live and everything else and I just wanted a breather. A few weeks just concentrating on enjoying this temporary new life I had in Jakarta. The new apartment had a fantastic pool area, I could walk to work in less than ten minutes and there were plenty of places to eat nearby. My bed was really comfortable too. I was relatively happy and I wanted to keep that feeling, even if it was just for a short time. But deep down I just knew it wasn’t going to last long. Usually in those kind of situations, things get worse before they become completely untenable.

66: Fable? Unbelievable.

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

Fable Interior-Outdoor

Not too far away from Equinox on the other side of Jalan Jenderal Sudirman, the big road that runs through the Sudirman district, is Fable nightclub. You can walk there from Senayan Plaza, but rather than suffer Jakarta’s treacherous paving we took a short ride in a cab.

Fable is located in Fairgrounds in SCBD (Sudirman Central Business District), the same building as the popular rooftop bar Lucy in the Sky and Jakarta’s lavish Potato Head venue. However, despite the high-end Mercedes’, BMWs and Lambourghinis parked out front, Fable isn’t quite as upmarket as the setting would imply. Nevertheless, it is actually a beautiful looking venue.

Entering at ground level you go up a sweeping staircase that takes you to the front desk at the entrance of the club. There was no entrance fee that Friday night, so we walked through the futuristic passageway into the main club and into an audio barrage of Jakarta techno. This vicious, horrible sound betrayed the undeniably stylish design of the venue.


A room with a view. Fable set up for dinner and cocktails in the evenings.

As you enter Fable, there’s a beautiful bar, the surface of which is made of a softly lit translucent, marbled amber resin material. There are no beer taps to spoil the finish, just two sections filled with bottled spirits and mixers – Johnny Walker whisky was on offer that night.

Across the narrow wooden, panelled floor space, a barrier topped with a narrow shelf for drinks separates the bar from the small dancefloor. A dancefloor that was heaving with drunken, young Jakarta locals doing some kind of uncoordinated, techno moshing to some seriously hardcore Jak-tech beats the DJ was quite literally slamming down. The DJ booth itself was lit from behind with a video screen and there was an MC, hip-hopped out to the max with baseball cap, fat trainers and baggy clothes, whipping up the already frenzied crowd with his mic magic as the DJ played the music – if you can really call it music.

fable behind the decks

As we waited to order drinks, I tried to take in the impressive venue, but it was difficult to concentrate with all the people and the racket coming out of the soundsystem. What I could see was that the whole place had a glass ceiling framed by girders that looked up and out into the SCBD skyline and its impressive display of modern skyscrapers. To the right of the dancefloor, there were sofas and low tables, and the back wall was a continuation of the glass ceiling, sloping down to the floor. This angular, slanted glass wall was also framed by iron girders and through the steamy windows I could see that there was also a terrace outside.

When our drinks came, Simon, Kas and I must have all been thinking the same thing because as I leant over to suggest we go out onto the terrace, they both nodded as if to say ‘That’s exactly what I was thinking’.


Out on the terrace, away from the sonic maelstrom inside, my concentration returned. There are a row of wooden benches leading down to the end of the large outdoor deck where there is an open space with more tables and a fountain in its centre. The whole space is secured by a row of high bushes and . trees, so there’s no chance of anyone falling over the edge, which is just as well because I could now see just how young the crowd in there were. Simon and Kas were canoodling in a corner and, feeling a little bit of a gooseberry, I looked around at the people sat on the benches outside and on the sofas through the windows and they were really young. I mean barely sixteen and seventeen. And a lot of them were really drunk. And I mean really drunk, which was hardly surprising as downing massive gulps of Johnny Walker whisky straight from the bottle seemed to be the thing to do, and it must have been a pretty expensive thing to do too, because a bottle cost around 2,000,000 IDR! These had to be the rich kids.

As classy looking as the venue was, the music in Fable was too noisy and the crowd was just way too young for me to feel comfortable. The drinks weren’t cheap and I wasn’t really enjoying being the spare part in Simon’s love tryst, so after I had finished my beer I told the pair of them that I was going to head home. Luckily they were thinking the same thing and we all decided to leave together.

On the way out of the club, right by the beautiful bar where we walked in, there was a young Indonesian boy lay flat on his back in drunken unconsciousness. His friends didn’t seem too concerned as they feebly tried to get him up. I told Simon to wait for me outside before stepping over the body to head toward the toilets. When I returned, the kid was still there, flat on his back, absolutely gone. His friends were nowhere to be seen and he looked for all the world like an abandoned corpse. But, I couldn’t help but laugh. Especially when I took one last look at the dancefloor before leaving and saw a crowd of pissed up young revellers in a circle with their arms around each other, drunk and disorderly jumping up and down to the insane acoustic violence pounding out of the speakers. One of them was clutching a bottle of whiskey whilst another was pouring the contents of another bottle down his throat. ‘This place is bonkers’, I thought, as I stepped over the body again and walked down the entranceway to leave. But the best was yet to come.

As I got to the top of the steps to walk down to the front of the building to meet Simon outside, there was time for one last Jackass-type laugh before bedtime. There were three youngsters coming out of the club, one being flanked by the other two who were holding him up. As they got to the top of the stairs, they let him go so that he could walk down by himself – big mistake. The poor drunken fool went cascading down to the bottom like a sack of potatoes. He hit the marble floor hard when he got to the end, but I couldn’t help laughing – I’m laughing now just thinking about it. But the funniest part was, despite the heaviness of his fall, he simply popped back up like a zombie that someone failed to shoot in the head. His friends rushed down the stairs to help him, but he waved them away and staggered out the door as if nothing had happened. He will have felt it the next day, that’s for sure. Never mind fable, that fall was epic.

65: Can I Interest You In A Shirt Sir?

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

jakarta equinox

I hadn’t really seen much of Simon during that first week in the flat. Then, when the weekend came, instead of the two of us hitting the Jakarta bar scene as had been the expectation, he had already made plans to go out with this new woman he had met. However, he was keen for me to meet her so he asked me to come along and join them for a drink in Kemang. I suspected that he partly wanted me to help him carry him through the night with this voluble new woman and her opinions. I think he might have been a bit nervous, like a teenager going on a first date. It’s easy when you’ve had a few drinks and you’re going with the flow on the night of meeting, but that first follow up date can be a bit of a nervy one. I think it reduces most grown men and women to being teenagers again. But I like that feeling. There’s a meme that says: ‘Don’t grow up – it’s a trap!’ It’s true. There are a lot of advantages to being a grown up, but you’ve already lost many of the joys of discovery by the time you’re thirty, so going on a date and feeling like your sixteen again is very nervy yes, but a lot of fun too.

I arrived at Murphy’s at about ten o’clock and found Simon and his date sat at a table in the quiet side of the bar away from the noisy cover band. Simon greeted me in his usual cordial manner and introduced me to his date, Kas.

“Hi, nice to meet you”, she said as she stood up to shake my hand. Very professional.

She was a diminutive little thing, although ‘little’ is probably not the right adjective. Simon had described her as being curvy, but, for want of a better word, she was more dumpy than voluptuous. Short and fully padded out but well-proportioned let’s say; not that she was unattractive, certainly not. She was probably in her late twenties but looked younger. She had a very typical Indonesian look: moon-shaped face, big almond-shaped eyes, full red lips, pure black hair with a natural lustre and a little bit of a wavy kink; she was a good-looking woman. And she spoke very good English – albeit American English – and she spoke it with confidence. As Simon had said, she wasn’t the typical type of woman I would have imagined him with. She was very easy to get along with though, and Simon seemed very relaxed in her company – he was even wearing jeans!

Soon after I had arrived at Murphy’s Kas suggested that we move on to a place called Equinox, which is one of Jakarta’s main nightclubs. She had a job at a commercial estate agent and was obviously part of the upper class, hip Jakarta crowd, which is what Equinox caters for, as well as the well-paid expats of course. Let’s face it, in developing countries like Indonesia, only the better off can afford to go to places like Equinox. The average lower wage scale in Jakarta is about 3,000,000 IDR per month, which is about £200 (those who don’t have a proper salary can be on as little as a dollar a day). My wage was only around the average of 15,000,000 a month, so with a beer costing about £4 or £5, night clubbing isn’t a luxury the lower classes can afford.

Equinox is located in the plush upmarket Senayan Plaza with the entrance via a lift located at the car park entrance. Guests are greeted by valet parking and the usual “exclusive” nightclub pantomime of suited doormen and host – or door picker as they’re sometimes called – carrying a clipboard with the guest list attached. Fortunately, Jakarta isn’t like the UK where they take this pantomime all too seriously. Like many things in this city, it is just for show. However, they did have a dress code of sorts, and that dress code meant that all male patrons entering the club had to wear a shirt.

I wasn’t wearing a shirt. But I could hire one for the night. No, really, there was a man at the door who was renting shirts for 150,000 IDR – about seven or eight quid.

Fuck that.

Was it Groucho Marx who said that he wouldn’t want to be a member of any club that would have him as a member? Well, call me a pretentious twat, but I don’t want to go into any club that rents shirts to punters at the door so that they are in line with its spurious dress code. Watching some middle-aged fat guy with big hair, a tango tan, a bright pink polo shirt and fluorescent orange trainers walk into the lift to go up to the place didn’t really sell it to me either. So I declined the gentleman’s kind offer of temporary apparel rental and suggested we find somewhere else to go that wasn’t so fucking ludicrous.