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.

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.

35. Private Massage

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

*****

After all those hours sat in the passenger seat of a car I was looking forward to my nine o’clock massage appointment. But I was also pretty hungry. I thought about putting the massage back half an hour so I could get something to eat, but it was late and there just wasn’t enough time. Besides, a massage on a full stomach is not a great idea. All that kneeding and circulatory rerouting is likely to release some unwanted gas, which would not have been a pleasant experience for me or the masseuse. No, food could wait a little longer; I wanted my massage, so I decided to stop off at the little on-site spa on the way to my room and to let them know that I would be coming as scheduled.

When I opened the door and looked into the little waiting area of the spa, I saw a reception desk, a few chairs and two Indonesian girls wearing the white, nurse-like cotton uniforms of the professional beautician. They were both slumped on the loungers half asleep. Surprised by my abrupt entry, they shuddered out of their semi-slumber and shifted upright in their chairs.

“Erm, sorry” I said, as I had obviously disturbed them, “I’ve got a massage booked at nine? Mr. Green? I booked it this morning.”

Still a bit groggy, they looked at each other in bemusement. I assumed neither of them understood English until one of them said, “You want massage sir?”

“Yes” I replied. “I have massage booked for nine.”

The girl stood up and walked toward the reception desk as if to check the timetable. I don’t think there was really anything in the timetable to check, but she turned to me and said, “Nine o’clock? No massage at nine o’clock sir. You wait half hour mister?”

“Erm… yeah, ok, nine-thirty’s ok.” I said.

“Ok, lady come to your room at nine-thirty. What your room number?”

The girl who was pretending to read the timetable looked a little older than her colleague and seemed to be in charge. Of course it was also possible that neither of them were in charge and she just spoke more English. I say this because her colleague looked as if she had no idea what we were saying; she was a stumpy but curvy little thing with droopy eyes, a flat face and long black hair held back off her face in a schoolgirl fashion by a headband, and if I’m being honest, she didn’t look as if she had any idea about much of anything. Of course that didn’t mean that she wasn’t a great masseuse, but I was doubtful. I was also doubtful about having the massage in my room. My bed was against the wall, which meant that the masseuse wouldn’t be able to get the full 360 degree access to reach the necessary parts that needed kneeding. But it wasn’t only that. It was late in the evening, and perhaps I was being guilty of making stereotypical assumptions about private massages being offered in Asia, but I didn’t want to be distracted by the blurry lines of any suggestion of a ‘happy ending’.

“No, I don’t want massage in my room” I said, “I want massage here.”

The girl in charge seemed a little put out that I wanted my treatment in their spa rather than in my room. She probably wanted to wrap up and go home early, or maybe they hadn’t had much custom and the massage rooms weren’t ready, I don’t know. Whatever the reason was, it didn’t do much to allay the prurient leanings of my overactive imagination. But, the customer is always right, right?

“Ok mister, no problem” she said “I call your room when ready, ok?”

“Ok” I replied, “Thirty minutes, yeah?” She smiled and nodded. I then rushed back to my room to have a quick shower before she arrived.

By 9.30 I was showered, ready and waiting for my call. At 9.40 I heard a knock on the door. I opened it and there was the little, flat-faced, droopy-eyed massage girl with all of her massage kit. “Massage mister”, she said.

I was about to ask her why she had come to my room when I had asked to have the massage in the spa. I was about to ask why she had not called as had been arranged. But as I opened my mouth to say something, I changed my mind. I looked at the girl with her tired, droopy eyes and her seemingly permanent look of bemusement and decided to concede. If I was going to spend the next year in this country, or only six months, I was just going to have to get used to how things worked – or didn’t work. Putting up with the inconvenience of having an hour-long massage in my room instead of in a spa was a good way to start. So I stripped down to my boxer shorts and submitted myself face down in prostration into the palm of Buddah’s hand in hopeful anticipation that the next hour would be one of blissful massage magic.

It was.

Like most people, I enjoy a good massage. I have suffered from sciatica in the past and I had regular massages as part of the many treatments I used to get rid of the pain and realign my muscles. I’ve had all kinds of massages – gentle therapeutic massages, deep tissue sports massages, aromatherapy massages, Swedish, Thai, Cambodian, Chinese – I even had a non-contact chakra massage once (it didn’t really do much for me) – but I’ve never had a Javanese massage. It was great.

The little masseur went through here massage motions from fingertip to toe with a series of swift, swiping motions. Her little hands whipped up, down and around every muscle she could find in a fantastic frenzy of emollient movements whilst I drooled into my pillow and melted into the mattress.

There really was no need for the space around the bed after all because the diminutive little thing climbed all over my back to do her stuff, absolutely magic stuff. All the knots and taut spots that had cultivated during the day’s drive, all the tensions of the previous week’s stresses, she kneeded, rubbed, and swept them all away stroke by stroke; it was almost better than sex. Actually, at one point she went so far up my inside thigh that I have to confess to feeling aroused. Fortunately I remained in control and avoided any embarrassing pointing.

“Finished mister” she said after the hour was over, but I could have lay there all night.

It was my turn to look dopey and bemused as I rolled over and mumbled a thank you whilst fumbling for my wallet to pay the girl.

I lay there for about ten minutes with a dumb smile of contentment on my face after she left and would have fallen asleep if my stomach would have let me. But it didn’t. It needed feeding. I really didn’t want to move and disturb the wonderful feeling of relaxation I was enjoying, but I had no choice. A nagging hunger for the rest of the night would have only ruined my sleep. So, remembering that we passed the big outdoor noodle place that advertised moto parking on the way back, and it was only a short walk away, I gave myself another ten minutes of relaxation before heading out for a late night snack. It was my last night in Jogja and I was satisfied that an early night on a full stomach after a great day out and a fantastic massage was a satisfactory way to sign off my first Indonesian holiday.

34. What A Wonderful World

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

 

The drive back to Yogyakarta wasn’t quite as spectacular as the drive there. The sun sets in Indonesia at around six o’clock and it was already after five so the light was fading. We were also descending through the clouds and there was some drizzle and rain on the way down.

As we took the main road from the plateau we trailed behind a couple of trucks carrying sulphur miners back to their villages and I remembered a documentary I had seen on TV about the world’s most dangerous jobs. Sulphur mining in Indonesia is one of them. The biggest of these sulphur mines is Gunung Ijen, an active volcano in the east of Java.

Sulphur miners use basic tools to hack away rocks of sulphur from inside the mouth of the volcanic crater before carrying heavy baskets of the stuff weighing up to 90 kilos to the weighing station where they get paid in cash. They do this for about ten hours a day in the blistering heat surrounded by poisonous gases that not only scorch their eyes, throat and lungs, but have also been known to dissolve their teeth. Their life expectancy is around 50 years, and many of them end up with crooked, bent and disfigured backs from the hard graft they do. Yet for this literally hellish job they are paid a mere pittance of around 1,000 IDR (about 4p) per kilo.

As I looked at the red eyes of the men smiling from the trucks in front of us, I was reminded of the way people living in developing countries and the Third World are cruelly exploited. Often these places are what we westerners consider natural paradises. They are the places we go for holidays and gap years and, if we happen to be wealthy enough, to bank our money tax free. We get our cheap hotels and cheap drinks and cheap food and cheap souvenirs and cheap counterfeit goods and even cheap sex from these places. Whilst we retain a guiltless distance, the truth is that all the exploitation these people are subjected to is typically in order to feed the capitalist appetites of those of us who live in the developed western world. It’s like vicarious slavery experienced at a moral distance via consumerism, commerce and online shopping. This ethically unsound condition is the human toxic waste of capitalism that pollutes humanity. However, the irony is that on either side of this extreme social chasm, no one is truly satisfied. Whilst the poorest of the world often live in abject poverty, most of us in the industrialised western world live in a state of lost abjectedness. Despite their grim lot, the truckload of miners arguably had more smiles in them than the throng of early morning rush hour commuters scrambling to jobs that they also hate. Tired and sleepy and with half a mind on the massage I had booked, I drifted off as I pondered on what a wonderful, cruel and crazy place this world is that we live in.

 

Specially Brewed Just For You

So, it’s been a while since I put fingertips to keypad and aired my thoughts into the ‘blogosphere’. As the time between my last and my next posting lengthened, finding the inspiration to write something worthy of a ten minute read that didn’t require an effort of concentration on my part has been difficult. But here I am, sat on a Ryanair flight to Budapest and the most unlikely of things have spurred me into action. The menu card. Well not the menu card itself, but the copy accompanying the advertised ‘gourmet’ hot coffee they have for sale at €3.00 a pop.

I could probably go into an intellectual examination of the exaggerated claims (lies) that advertisers and traders get away with to peddle their products, but if you can read then I’m sure you’re intelligent enough to be aware of that obvious fact. But every now and then you see something that makes you think ‘Aw cmon, please!’ My ‘cmon, please’ moment was the copy describing the Lavazza coffee. The ‘gourmet’ Lavazza coffee. A budget airline coffee that comes with a ‘unique’ lid that means that your coffee comes ‘freshly brewed just for you’. Wow! I have to have one of those.

The SUPRLID

Well check that out people – the SUPRLID. Aren’t you blown away? I want to ask the air stewardess if this amazing and unique piece of technical engineering – a lid with a piece of gauze and a raised edge – was developed by NASA. I was so excited by the idea that I was using the same space age hardware used by astronauts. I was even more excited by the idea that Ryanair had created my personal profile based on the information given when buying my flight ticket and brewed a fresh coffee just for me. Not for anyone, no, just for me. Awesome. Totally awesome. I mean, how do they manage to brew a coffee specifically for me? These guys at Ryanair must be like, wizards or something.

I didn’t get to ask the air stewardess if the SUPRLID was developed by NASA or if it was used by astronauts. I didn’t find out how Ryanair collated information to make personal profiles of its passengers in order to provide us with bespoke hot beverages either. My daughter wouldn’t let me ask – she pleaded with me not to ask actually. However, I must admit that the coffee was quite tasty. It was by no means a great coffee, but it wasn’t the usual warm brown dishwater that’s usually served up on a plane either. I’m not sure that the ‘brewed just for you’ crew at Ryanair got it quite right with my personal profiling as it would have tasted more like a milky frothed up Douwe Egberts with demerara sugar, but if I was on a space mission for six months, living on food from a tube, then it would have tasted pretty damn good.

NO CHILDREN OR AIR STEWARDS WERE HARMED DURING THE WRITING OF THIS POSTING. ALL THE SARCASM CONTAINED HEREIN WAS WRITTEN BY A PROFESSIONAL AND SHOULD NOT BE COPIED AT HOME.

Me, My Selfie and I

jessie-j-selfie-twitter

Oh selfie oh selfie
Such self loving ain’t healthy
But by God I can’t help me
How I love me endlessly.
iPhone prepped nice and steady,
Prepared pout and pose ready,
In a club somewhere trendy
With my girls who’re my Besties.
With some guys who just met me,
In a toilet nonchalantly,
Silly face or seriously,
Or just me being me.
In my room getting ready,
Half naked, in flagrante,
Showing off my hot body
And my big bubble booty.
The people will love me
Repost and promote me.
They’ll all look and see me.
They’ll all want to be me.
Everybody will watch me
Nobody can stop me
Oh selfie oh selfie
How I love me endlessly.

Selfies