64: The Sheepish Wolf

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

*****

Simon moved into the apartment on Wednesday night after he had attended a networking event at the Marriott hotel. The event, which was hosted every week by an Austrian businessman, was open to expats and local professionals. The host provided a free buffet (including pork sausages) and special drink offers for those who attended and it was quite popular.

The Marriot Hotel is in the same upmarket Oakwood development and just a short walk from Loewy’s where Wednesday night was Ladies Night. So typically, when the Marriot finished up at around ten/eleven, many of the attendees would walk over to Loewy’s and enjoy a few more drinks in there. It made for a good bit of mid-week social entertainment and had become a regular part of Simon’s professional/social calendar. Unfortunately for me, it was on during the evening when I was working so I couldn’t go.

It was around midnight when Simon walked into the apartment with a rosy glow in his cheeks and brighter than usual smile on his face. I assumed it was just down to his night of drinking, but he apparently also he had some “interesting” news for me.

“I met a girl tonight” he said in his quintessentially British accent, “but not the typical type of woman I usually go for” he continued. “I think you’ll be quite surprised.” Was that rosy glow in his cheeks that of a drunken man or the rosy glow of attraction? I felt like a father whose son had just told him he’s got engaged; I was quite intrigued.

“What do you mean?” I asked him.

“Well, she’s certainly not the most… demure of females. She’s actually quite… quite feisty. And she has quite a bit of extra weight shall we say. Definitely not the usual type of woman I go for.”

“What? She’s fat?”

“No! Not fat exactly, but she’s much more… more curvier than what I typically like. She has a fair bit of ‘junk in the trunk’, so to speak.” He was emphasising his adjectivals even more than usual and he did seem genuinely quite giddy and excited.

“Simon! What’s come over you mate? A feisty woman with “junk in her trunk”! Have you finally decided to try and have a proper relationship with a proper woman?”, I joked.

“Well it has been quite a while since I’ve had what you could call a proper relationship. But yes, she’s… she’s interesting. She’s quite opinionated” he said, before repeating – “She’s certainly not like the typical Asian girl I would normally go for”, this fact seemed to have to be bewildering to himself mainly. I was actually quite surprised too.

Although I hadn’t known Simon long, in the short time I had known him, we had spoken quite a lot about women, our respective likes and dislikes and our relationships – typical man-chat. Simon had been very clear about his preferences; he liked petit, slim, submissive Asian women, so listening to him sound all excited about some opinionated, feisty, plump professional Indonesian woman went against the grain of understanding I had about him. It was also a bit of a disappointment, from a purely selfish point of view at least. I mean, we had barely been flatmates for a couple of days – we hadn’t even shared the flat yet, let alone got started as a couple of swinging young bachelors hitting up Jakarta and its promising nightlife, and he had landed himself what seemed to be a proper girlfriend. And of course, that meant that they were going to be inseparable’ for the first month at least, which in turn meant that I was back to being Billy No Mates. I swear the God’s of Indonesia really didn’t fucking like me.

Of course I was happy that Simon had found himself a woman who he didn’t have to pay for, but I was also pissed off that I was back to being… well, on my own. A solo singleton.

I say singleton because, despite the commitment I had made to my so-called Latin lover, the combination of loneliness and the revelation of just how beautiful Indonesian women are was making me lose that loving feeling. The fact that she had not made much effort to contact me since we had agreed to try and extend our brief fling and pursue something more wasn’t really helping to keep that feeling going.

She had by this time left the UK and gone back to Venezuela to holiday with her family for a month. I had tried to Skype a couple of times and I had sent a few messages, but I hadn’t had much of a response. Actually, she had more or less told me that she wouldn’t be able to speak to me much because she would be focussing most of her time on her family whilst she was in Venezuela. However, she was going to make more time to contact me when she was back in Madrid. Essentially, this translated as: ‘I’m busy enjoying myself with my family right now. However, when I’m back in Madrid where it will be cold and wet because it is winter, and I will be back at the job that I hate, I will need someone to talk to then so I’ll be in touch’. Is that a cynical interpretation? Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Either way, it is what it is, which is pretty much a polite “fuck off”. So, after a little over a month since committing to this woman and then dealing with the extreme culture shock of life in Jakarta – alone – I was having second thoughts about whether I really wanted to hold out for her.

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.

56: Goodbye To The Grand Prix Inn

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

*****

During my month at the Grand Prix Inn I’d had very little to do. Neither the accommodation nor the location offered much in the way of benefits or amenities. If I’d had a moped then maybe I would have gone exploring the Tanjung Duren area a little more, or perhaps taken a look around Tomang and Grogol or the other surrounding districts. What I would have found, I don’t know; I didn’t speak Bahasa and most of the people I’d met in West Jakarta didn’t speak English. However, if what I’d seen over the last month during times in transit was anything to go by, I imagine there wasn’t much more than food and non-alcohol drink traders, more traffic and more crazy paving. As for my apartment in Centro City, there was no TV and it had the lousiest hotel restaurant I’ve ever encountered. Using the wifi in the lobby required a generous layer of toxic mosquito repellent and I couldn’t even listen to the music on my laptop through the Bluetooth speaker because of the twats next door and their security hotline. The only benefit on offer at the Grand Prix Inn was the pool, which I’d been using almost every morning.

Having access to your own 25m outdoor pool is a luxury if you come from the north of England. It was the only luxury I had in that shitty place, so I had made the most of it. After that first swim where I huffed and puffed and wheezed after a measly two lengths, I had been determined to get up to at least a regular ten lengths of uninterrupted front-crawl each day, which I did. However, I’d had a little set back in my daily routine when my swimming goggles broke. I’d tried to swim without them a couple of times, but whatever anti-bacterial agent the pool maintenance staff used to sanitise the water blinded my right eye for almost an hour after I got out. I kept meaning to buy a new pair, but never got around to it. Also, the last time I used the pool, I believe a middle-aged Chinese man tried to hit on me. Maybe he was just being friendly as he looked me up and down with a leery grin whilst firing the usual introductory questions, including – “Are you here alone?” But somehow I don’t think strolling out to the pool area fully clothed in the peak heat of the mid-afternoon sun to make idle chit-chat with a dripping wet semi-naked stranger who is sat alone is standard. Maybe I had inadvertently triggered some kind of Indonesian gay mating ritual just by being alone by the pool, I don’t know, but it was a bit creepy, so I had avoided the pool for the last couple of days of my stay.

The day I left to go and take up residence in my new pad in Mediteranea Gardens was my day off and I was actually excited. I haven’t moved much during my life, but leaving that shitty place in its shitty location with its shitty restaurant and its shitty neighbours and its useless reception staff and its useless TV and its cold shower and its ants and its gay poolside cruiser; it was a great relief. I hadn’t felt as pleased since I’d first arrived in this shitty city and I was determined to make this my turning point for a new positive start in Jakarta.

I returned my key and card to the property management team that I’d heard about who were located in a poky office in a corner of the swelteringly hot basement car park. They looked a bit confused and didn’t really know what to do, but I didn’t care. I’d gotten used to Indonesian people looking confused and not knowing what to do. This time I didn’t need anything from them, so I wrote Rudi’s name and phone number on a piece of paper so they could contact him to settle the bill and got out of there as quick as I could to my waiting taxi. I gave a wave and a salute to the reception staff and headed toward Mallville.

55: Shame and Suffering

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

*****

The ideal fiction for what happened next would be for me to recount the menage et trois fantasy of every grown man; to tell you that those two young Dutch women couldn’t wait to get me back to their place so we could all get naked and have a lick-nasty, sordid three-way. Well, whilst the truth is often stranger than fiction, in this case it’s just plain ordinary. We simply listened to some music, talked for a while and then I fell asleep. Although, I don’t actually remember when I fell asleep. I’m pretty certain it wasn’t long after we got there. I don’t even think I managed to finish any of the beers we bought from the mini-market. It was a little embarrassing for me to be honest. They lived in a kost, which is the Indonesian name for a homestay. In their case, it was basically a hotel room with a bed in the middle and an en-suite bathroom. When I woke up I was sprawled across the bed so they wouldn’t have had anywhere to put themselves; awkward!

“Hey, come on party boy. Your taxi’s outside” I heard one of them say as I unpeeled my eyelids.

Disorientated and a little embarrassed, I mumbled an apology for my lame showing, slowly got up off their bed and shuffled out of the room through a pleasant indoor garden and into a waiting Bluebird taxi outside. The daylight was harsh, but the stark realisation that I still had to go to work that day was harsher.

Mercifully, my timetable of classes that day was relatively light, but it was still hard going. My morning swim had been replaced by a cold shower and the excesses of the night before had been converted into dehydration, a headache and a lack of appetite. Grimacing inside, I got through the day with an artificial smile, minimal conversation and an exemplary level of professionalism. When it came to an end, I couldn’t wait to get back to the Grand Prix Inn (this was a first) and just lie down.

The people in the room next door were noisy bastards. They seemed to enjoy a good sing-song before bedtime at around midnight. Then, a couple of hours after the five o’clock call to prayer, they’d have the television on full blast. I hadn’t complained about them, only because I couldn’t be bothered making the effort; I wasn’t going to be staying there permanently so it hardly seemed worth it. Yet that evening, the one evening I was happy to just stay in, rest up and listen to music, I get disturbed by a knock on the door. When I open it, there are two security staff stood there with grave looks on their faces. I can’t really relay what they said to me because their English wasn’t very good, but para-linguistic communication and the odd English word here and there translated into a complaint from the neighbours about the noise I was making. Not the noise from my music, but the noise of my door closing when I come in late at night. Of course, I tried to counter their complaint with my own, but I don’t think the security guys had any idea what I was trying to say. So, I smiled and nodded and apologised and they returned to their important standing duties. I turned down my music a touch and lay back on my bed thinking; ‘Three more days and I’ll be out of this shit fucking place’.

That night, as I lay in my room going through the final stages of my hangover recovery, I thought about the last month I had spent in Jakarta. It had consisted of frustration, swimming, teaching and excessive drinking. Already a corrupt little pattern was emerging: Get through the frustrations and mundanity of each day and then totally abuse myself with alcohol at the weekends; I might as well have been in England. I wasn’t exactly embracing a new culture and this certainly wasn’t a wise way to structure my week. But for the time being it was all I had to work with. I had spent most of my life making lemonade out of the lemons I’d been lumped with, and the lemonade usually had a healthy dash of something alcoholic in it. Does that mean I have a problem with alcohol? Well I certainly overdo my recommended weekly intake, but that doesn’t mean I have a problem with addiction. I don’t think I’m the addiction type; I get bored too easily. I enjoy drinking up to a point, but I wasn’t going to descend into the binge and depression state of an emerging alcoholic that’s for sure. No, this had simply become my way of dealing with the boredom and the feeling of isolation that had so far been representative of my life in this city. Nonetheless, I also knew that it wasn’t a healthy pursuit and if I didn’t reign it in it could potentially be destructive.

54: Beery-eyed & Leery-eyed

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

*****

When we got into Bremer there was no DJ playing house music, there weren’t even any decks. In fact, there was hardly anybody in there at all. But there was a bar and the floor was flat so it beat going back out onto the streets of Kemang to stumble around looking for somewhere else to go. Besides, good fun is more about the company you’re with than the venue you’re in. I had good company and I was in good spirits. I was tipsy enough to be the witty and charming me I can be, but still sober enough to want to drink some more.

I volunteered the next round of drinks; the tab I owed Simon wasn’t quite yet paid, not that I was counting. As I was at the bar negotiating a good price for a jug of Jack Daniels and coke and ensuring that the jug was fully loaded, I asked the barman where the DJ was from the previous week. He told me that they only had a DJ on special nights. I had been quite into DJ-ing when I was back in Manchester. I had fancied myself as a promoter and even put on a few nights of my own. I love music and I enjoyed playing out in a bar or a club. I would have liked to have done more of it, but it’s competitive and involves the kind of social ‘networking’ – brown-nosing and obsequious fawning around other DJ’s and venue owners – that I have never been any good at, nor wanted to be. Nevertheless, I had brought my collection of music with me should the opportunity of getting a gig somewhere arise. In a city where there seemed to be nothing to do but wait for the next holiday break, moonlighting at the weekends doing something I enjoy would be the ideal way to meet people and save money that would seemingly be otherwise spent on drinking away my boredom. I liked Bremer as a venue and this was a good opportunity to try and get a spot there, so I left Simon talking with the two Naomis whilst I did some impromptu ‘networking’ with the barman.

The barman’s name was Rahman and it just so happened that his brother was the owner of the venue. So far I had found Indonesians to be generally congenial and friendly people so it wasn’t too difficult to get the conversation going. The place was dead so he was hardly rushed off his feet. I pitched him my slightly embellished DJ-ing history and he appeared to be quite enthusiastic about the prospect of me coming to spin some tunes there. Only the decision was not his to make, it was his brother Peter’s, but Peter wasn’t around.

“No problem”, said Rahman, “I give him a call and you can speak”.

Peter’s English wasn’t quite as good as his brother’s and I couldn’t entirely understand what he was saying, but I understood enough to arrange a meeting the following week. Apparently, he owned a few bars in Jakarta, including one directly across the road from Bremer called Route 86. I think he was suggesting that this is the bar where he has DJ’s from “outside” come and play. By “outside” I think he meant foreign, or perhaps he had a resident DJ who played regularly and the outside DJ’s were the ones who came to do guest spots. Either way, it all seemed very promising and I thought to myself, this night is going pretty good. I might have just been thrown a bone to chew on to make life in this city bearable, and who knows, with the vibes this little Dutch chick was giving off I might even get laid tonight. With the right amount of alcohol and positive encouragement, anything seems possible; unfortunately, it’s just a shame that devil-may-care optimism doesn’t last.

We spent the rest of the night in Bremer until it was close to closing time, my enthusiasm dragging Simon and his dour mood through the night. I wanted to carry things on and so did the Dutch girls, but none of us really knew enough about Jakarta to suggest a good nightclub that we could go to. This was probably a blessing as I wasn’t really in the mood for clubbing. Particularly if it meant risking further audio assault by that horrible Jakarta house sound. Then little Naomi suggested that we get some beers from the mini-market and go back to their place, which sounded like an excellent plan to me. Simon on the other hand was not so keen; there was just no lifting his flat mood. Although I’m pretty sure a late-night trip to Blok M would have cheered him up. But this wasn’t Simon’s night. All the energy was coming from me and little Naomi. We were the instigators, alcohol and Friday night were the catalysts, but Simon just wasn’t being the willing participant I wanted him to be. When we left Bremer and got onto the main road, he jumped into the first taxi that came along and left without so much as a ‘goodbye’. This man was proving to be a somewhat odd and unpredictable individual. And his off-mood hadn’t gone unnoticed by the Dutch girls.

“What was his problem man?”, said the little one.

“Oh I’m glad he’s gone”, said the other one, “He was so boring”

I was inclined to agree with her, but at that point, full of alcohol and lurid high hopes, I would have agreed with anything either of them said. I felt like there was a little more adventure left in this night and I was happy to follow them into it even if Simon wasn’t going to join in.

“Come on, there’s an Indomaret on the way to our Kost”, said little Naomi. “We’ll get a taxi, stop on the way for some beer and go back to our place”.

“Yeah, ok” I said, “sound’s good to me.” Of course it did.

 

53.Finding Treehouse

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

*****

After walking up Kemang Raya for a short while, I didn’t get a geographical epiphany and suddenly remember where the elusive Treehouse venue was, but the girls spotted a place they had been to before.

We walked up the steps into a noisy little cocktail bar called Attics. It didn’t look much from the street, but inside it was a chic modern space, very dark, lit only by glowing purple and red panels around the bar. We sat at the glowing bar and I ordered some drinks. I shouldn’t really have bothered as the music was horrible. A shrill, caustic sound that was tantamount to a forced electronic ear-fuck. As we sat at the bar trying to talk, every word was assaulted by this hideous, aggressive, techno sound that seemed to be the theme tune to Jakarta’s nightlife. It smashed into the tight dark space and ricocheted off the walls, battering the life out of us until we could take no more. We endured about fifteen minutes before drinking up and escaping.

attics-kemang

As we stepped out of Attics and turned to go back up Kemang Raya, I suddenly got that geographical epiphany I was waiting for and remembered where Treehouse was. It was the big McDonalds on the corner that jogged my memory. I remembered walking past it when I had gone there the first time. As I had suspected, it was just a stone’s throw away from Murphy’s, which was only a short walk from Attics.

Once inside, I remembered just how small Treehouse was. There were about fifteen people in the downstairs bar, but that was enough to make it crowded, so we walked up the roped spiral staircase to the little terrace.

It was either a coincidence or Treehouse must be a popular spot for parties. I don’t know whose birthday it was, but there was still a lot of cake left and whoever it was didn’t mind us being there. Besides that, there was a free sofa and table and I was in no mood for doing any more walking around Kemang. Like everywhere else in Jakarta, any unnecessary walking around Kemang increases the risk of an ankle injury.

The DJ in Treehouse was playing some respectable old school funk and hip hop at a respectable bar room volume. A simple equation but one that was clearly lost on the proprietor of Attics and all those bars around Tribeca Gardens. Being able to hear ourselves think, the two Naomis, Simon and I finally settled into our drinks and the rest of the night.

The two Naomi’s were similar but different. They had been best friends since school and had come to Jakarta to work for a film production company. It wasn’t too clear what their roles were, but they were both working in some kind of capacity as production assistants for an advertising or media company of some sort. They were both from Amsterdam, which is a pretty cool city, so understandably they were far from impressed with Jakarta.

“We have only been here for a couple of weeks, but oh my God it’s so fucking boring!” said the smaller Naomi, suddenly animated now the niceties of introductions were out of the way.

Little Naomi was arguably the prettier of the two. She was a lively, petit little thing; no more than five-five, long brown hair with big wide eyes. She had a stud in her pierced tongue and a voice like an excited teenager at her first concert. She wore white Adidas shell-toes with her little mini skirt and tight little backless tube top. She had that kinetic energy that winds down to a standstill before most people get to their late thirties.

The other Naomi also sported a pair of retro-Adidas, but she wore them with a pair of trousers and a patterned blouse. She wasn’t small and petit or as energetic as her little friend, nor did she look like a typical northern European. Her black hair and olive-skin betrayed her Mediterranean origins. “My parents are from Cyprus”, she said when I asked her “but I was born in Holland”. I had worked as a holiday rep in Cyprus many years ago, which was a most memorable summer. However, I never learnt much Greek apart from ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’, ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘cheers’, all of which I pronounced badly.

I found the Dutch girls to be good company, particularly the little one. She just had so much energy, practically bouncing up off her chair when she spoke. It was a very low chair and she was wearing a very short skirt so she couldn’t help inadvertently flashing her little black and white polkadot knickers at me every couple of minutes; a running theme of a Kemang night out perhaps? Hmm, could be worse.

Time flew as we each finished a couple of Jack Daniels and cokes. I was enjoying sharing the company of a couple of lively young women who spoke English, but I had noticed that Simon was a little subdued. I thought that his early drinking may have caught up with him, or maybe he wanted to go somewhere a bit bigger, a bit more lively. Perhaps somewhere less young and trendy. Me and the two Naomis were dressed pretty casually – smart, but casual. Simon on the other hand was in his suit and may have felt a little out of place. Whatever it was, he wasn’t being his cordial and congenial self so after we finished our drinks I suggested that we go to Bremer. This was the big lively outdoor venue next door that I had been to that first night I came to Kemang with Claire. They had a dj playing cool music and we had a good night in there.

 

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.