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.

63: A Menu For Everyone

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


Beyond the air-con of the food venues in the malls, there is an unlimited number of off-site street food available and little eateries dotted all over the place – and I mean ALL over the place.

You will find aged grandmothers in Muslim dress on the busway overpasses crouched next to pans of rice and pots of sauces from which they spoon takeaway portions into little plastic bags they seal closed with an elastic band. There are also an assortment of traders sharing the same overpass selling all sorts of random handy goods as well as fruits and fried, doughy snacks

Every day sinewy, tanned, bicycle traders cycle their way in and out of the busy parts of town, a makeshift display cabinet propped on top of the handlebars of their modified mobile cafes from where they sell peanuts and various other bits of low maintenance, lightweight, edible nibbles. This is not an easy gig and my heart bleeds for these guys when I see them peddling back through the pollution and heavy traffic to whatever shack they live in having only made a few thousand rupiahs (10,000 IDR is less than a dollar) for their great efforts. But even the traffic congestion offers an opportunity for some of the poor locals to scrape an income of some sort together. You see men, women and children with little snacks bound with string and slung over their backs for sale to the stationary commuters stuck in traffic jams. Necessity really is the mother of much of life’s invention.

Whilst you can’t expect a great deal of hygiene from many of the tax-free street eateries, the food from warungs and the pece lele’s is often just as tasty, if not more so, as the overpriced mall food. I’ve also found that these street traders are a lot better at producing an accurate bill!

There really is a remarkable amount of food outlets around this city. It’s as if in the absence of a drinking culture an eating culture has developed. Hangovers don’t get in the way of appetites in Jakarta. Judging by the abundance of wobble and the copious amounts of junk-in-trunks on display, smoking doesn’t either. But if the lack of outlets for social drinking is down to the influence of Islam, I don’t get what Mohammed’s plan is. Cigarettes and sugary foods are as sure a way to heart failure, an early grave and an oversized coffin as pork products and alcohol. Furthermore, whilst all the smoking and sugar consumption is a sure way to bring you closer to God, you’re hardly going to look the part as you wobble up to the pearly gates with your big gut, chafed thighs, bad breath and nasty teeth. If hell is crowded it’s only because there’s no room left in heaven; it’s full of all those good Muslims who abstained from alcohol but, addicted to sugar and hydrogenated fats, gorged themselves on milkshakes, bubble teas, cakes and ice-cream after massive Halal feasts. Meanwhile the Catholics and Christians must be sat at a bar in purgatory getting drunk with the Sikhs and Hindus whilst the Jews are stood outside the pearly gates, bemused and affronted, insisting that as God’s chosen people they should be on the guestlist.

Religious irreverence aside, there are a couple of things you may want to know about eating Indonesian food: First of all, food is eaten with a spoon and fork instead of a knife and fork. Rather than cutting up chunks of food and impaling the mouthful on the fork, the people here use both utensils to scrape and peel away a mouthful of what is on their plate before scooping it into their mouths with the spoon.

Secondly, that tasty looking food that you see inside the glass display cabinet is cold, and it is served that way. If you want your food hot (panas) then you have to ask, otherwise, a packet of hot rice wrapped in a banana leaf is the only thing that will add some heat to that cold fried fish or meat. Also, Indonesians like a lot of sambal, hot chilli and spices to accompany their cuisine, so go easy on those condiments if you’ve got a sensitive tongue.

The drink of choice here is iced tea. If you order a coke or lemonade it will likely be one of those little chaser cans you normally get in a bar, and you’ll need at least three of those to douse that red-hot chilli fire.

There is one other thing that’s worth noting; there are no smoking restrictions in public places in Indonesia. This means that if you go out for something to eat, unless the restaurant specifically has a no smoking section, you are probably going to have to tolerate smoke and tobacco fumes. Like in Spain, the tobacco industry is very big in Indonesia and many of the people here do like to smoke.

62: Moody Foodie

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


I like to eat, and I like to eat Asian food. Yes, I understand that it is quite literally a matter of taste, but as far as my taste buds are concerned, the variety of ingredients, flavours and textures on offer in Asian cuisine totally trump any other by a Usain Bolt stride. The Italians, French and Spanish with their pasta, snails and jamón, all claim to have the best cuisine in the world. Dream on. That’s just European colonial arrogance and swagger. They’re merely spectators at the global food awards when compared to what Asia has to offer.

The imagination, creativity and sheer audacity of what they cook up in Asia is amazing. I’ve tried Thai and Chinese food, some Japanese and a little Korean, but I had never tried Indonesian food, so I was looking forward to sampling the spicy delicacies of Indonesian cuisine.

I had learnt the words for fish (ikan), chicken (ayam), beef (daging), goat (kambing) and rice (nasi). I already knew that nasi goreng was an Indonesian fried rice, and it’s very nice, but as for the actual dishes themselves, apart from the satay – a peanut sauce (I don’t particularly like peanut sauces) – I didn’t have a clue. Ikan bakar, ikan goreng, bebek goreng, pecel lele, bakmie, kwetiau, soto betawi, nasi uduk, nasi kuning, tempeh, tumpeng, bakso, gado-gado, sop buntut, sayur-asem, sayur-mayur, bubur ayam, lauk-pauk, Padang food – I had no idea what any of it was. Then there was all the other Asian food too. Thai and Chinese I knew, but apart from sushi, all the Japanese stuff was a mystery to me. Then there were the fusion places… I was just lost.

It isn’t just the Indonesian and Asian flavours on offer in Jakarta, there really is a wide and diverse range of food in the restaurants and cafes. The ubiquitous American burger is widely represented, and you can always find a decent cut of meat at one of the Pepper Steak restaurants, or any of the many other restaurants for that matter. However, a good steak does come at a premium.

Obviously, the global culinary contagion that is McDonalds features in almost every district, and KFC also seems to be a popular franchise. What is lacking are English speaking descriptions on menus, or English speaking serving staff, so you better have a translator of some sort handy. You’ll also need a large helping of patience because, like a lot of things in Jakarta, what you see is often not what you get. What you ask for isn’t even guaranteed to be what you get. And of course, what you get isn’t always what you’ll be asked to pay for on your bill.

61: New Beginnings

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


I spent the first night in my new apartment alone. Simon had passed by to drop off a holdall and a few things, but he wasn’t checking out of his hotel for another day or two. He was also busy with whatever it was he did in his job – networking, meeting with clients, drinking with clients, schmoozing potential clients; I still wasn’t entirely sure what his job was or what his role as a ‘country manager’ involved. I was a little surprised at how few belongings he had though; one holdall with a few clothes in, a laptop bag, a spare shirt and suit on a hanger wasn’t much luggage for a man who had been in Asia for the last six years. He was a curiosity for sure.

With a day off all to myself, no friends and nothing much to do, I decided to take a closer look at what was in and around Mediterania residents complex and my new Mallville neighbourhood.

Although the MGR apartment blocks are right next to the two big malls, they still have most of the amenities on site that you would typically find in a small shopping precinct on a housing estate, albeit without the outdoor swimming pools or tennis courts. So, in the basement car park of Mediterania II there is a launderette that offers a washing, drying and delivery service. Mediterania I has a nursery and on both sites there are mini-markets and several small cafés and restaurants. There is also a PHD – Pizza Hut Delivery – just outside the entrance to Mediterania II on the street corner, not to mention the overwhelming choice of food on offer in Mall Taman Anggrek and Central Park, the latter having a direct entrance from Mediterania II.

With all the choice of food on offer on my doorstep, you would think that finding something to eat would have been pretty straight forward. It wasn’t. Although I like to think of myself as a fairly adventurous foodie, I can also be a bit picky about where I eat. Whilst I’m happy eating street food when I can see what they’re cooking and where they’re cooking it, if a place looks a bit grimy, a little less than hygienic, or if it just doesn’t smell right, I’m not eating there. Unfortunately, none of the places on-site in Mediterania I or II looked like any place I would really want to eat. And to tell the truth, I didn’t really know what to order anyway.

Everything on the menus and in the buffet trays seemed to be similar variations of the same dish, some with fried fish, some with chicken, some with beef, some with soggy vegetables or sloppy thin noodles or sloppy fat noodles – it was all just a bit sloppy and not very inviting.

Inside the malls it was different. The shopfronts and terraces are colourful, shiny and bright. Neon lights in powder puff colours, Javanese and Asian themed décor, serving staff in colourful uniforms with big, bright smiles welcome you to come and eat from a dazzling choice of beef, chicken, duck, fish and even pork dishes. Rice, noodles, ramen, pasta and pizza; doughnuts, cupcakes, pastries, tarts, crepes, waffles and ice cream; ice tea, bubble tea, yoghurt drinks, smoothies and juices; hot dogs, burgers, sushi, wanton, gyoza, jiaozi, baso, bakso, gado-gado – there are well over a hundred different places to eat and drink in Central Park alone and even more than that in Taman Anggrek, yet somehow I just hit a blank whenever I tried to think of what to eat!

Food montage

A kaleidescopic mirage of colourful culinary delights.

The best dish I had eaten since being in Jakarta had been the Indonesian (or Malaysian depending on who you ask) beef rendang – voted by CNN Travel as the best food dish in the world (2014). Unfortunately, none of the food outlets in Mediterania Gardens sold it so I had to go over to Java Kitchen in Taman Anggrek to get my regular rendang fix. Aside from the rendang, there was only the rica-rica fish and a sizzling teppanyaki beef dish I’d had up in the food court of Taman Anggrek that I thought were really good. I had struggled to find anything else that my palate really warmed to. Finishing work when everything was closing up in the malls didn’t help either. What was left or left over by that time was nothing but left leftovers. But what was most frustrating was knowing that not knowing what to ask for was limiting my range, especially when you know those tasty dishes are out there.


60: Lost & Found

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


As we pulled out onto Daan Mogot and passed the Indosair busway stop where I had been taking the bus to work every day, I couldn’t help but smile.

The bike continued up the highway, past the KFC on the corner of the street that led to Centro City Aparthotel and up toward the crossroads where it did a u-turn to head back in the opposite direction. We passed the Ibis, which was now on the left, and headed back up toward the Indosair busway stop. Just before we reached the bus stop, we turned left to go down a dirt road that led to a group of large warehouses. This was where we stopped.

As I handed the ojek driver 10000 IDR and thanked him, he possibly wondered why I was sniggering and shaking my head. He couldn’t have known that I had been trying to find out where this letter was for the last three weeks. And he couldn’t have known that the depot I had just spent the best part of the last couple of hours trying to find was just across the road and a couple of minutes away from the apartment building where I had been staying for the last month; the apartment building I had left that very day. I knew he couldn’t have known any of those things and the irony was not lost on me. Perhaps a couple of weeks ago I would have been angry, but today I was just glad that I’d moved out of that shitty apartment and I was finally going to get my letter, fill out the form inside, send it back home and hopefully get those wages I was owed.

Getting the parcel took some time. The depot was like – well it was like what you would imagine a depot in a developing country would be like, slow. I was sent from one warehouse building to another where stacks of parcels of all sizes from all over the world were bundled in corners and piled up against walls. I gave my address and tracking number to three different members of staff who typed details into old computers, walked off with pieces of paper, returned with pieces of paper, until after about 20 minutes a lady took me over to a storage area where her colleague held up my jiffy bag with my address on it, but no name! – ‘Lois!’ I thought. No wonder they had taken so long finding it, but find it they had and I was pleased.

City had got a 4-2 result at Hull at the weekend, I had a new apartment, a new housemate and I’d even had word from the estate agent back home that they had found tenants for my property and they were due to move in at the end of the week. And once I will have sent off my form and the auditors will have processed it, I will get the wages owing to me from my previous job and have money in the bank again. It really did feel like things were finally starting to come together. With this renewed enthusiasm, I decided to go to Hero and buy some shopping, fill the fridge, then spend the rest of the sunny day lounging around my new pool. Jakarta didn’t have me licked yet.