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.

 

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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.

46. Unmoved

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

*****

When my lessons were over I went over to the Solaria in Central Park to meet Jeff as arranged. I still didn’t know exactly what had happened apart from what he had told me earlier. Simon had also told me that Jeff had confiscated his phone and asked me not to say that we had been in contact, which suited me. I thought the best way to find out what really happened was to hear both stories independently before making any judgment.

When I walked into Solaria I spotted Jeff sat alone in one of the booths in his unbuttoned linen shirt, reading a book. As I approached he looked casual and relaxed, albeit with a quite serious demeanor. He greeted me with a handshake and a polite smile and made some small talk about Solaria being his regular local eating spot. He had brought in his own drink, but told me that since he was known by the staff there they didn’t mind. He said it was his personal little place to get away from the noise of traffic and the mall and while away a few hours reading a book. He was an avid reader and he spoke about his love of Dutch and English literature and the library of books he had at home. Having told him that I used to write, he asked if I would let him see some of my work one day. I told him I had mainly written spec scripts and theatre work, so he wouldn’t really find it a good read. He said he would like to see something anyway and kindly offered to let me come and lend one of his books if I ever fancied something to read. Despite his quirks he was always cordial and difficult not to like.

After five minutes or so of small talk I turned to the issue of the robbery in his apartment and asked him to tell me more about what had happened as I hadn’t quite fully understood him on the phone. So with a sombre shrug of resignation, he told me that the girl Simon had picked up and brought back to the flat had apparently crept out of his room barefoot, quietly shut the door behind her, and then helped herself to anything of value that was in the living room – a laptop computer, two mobile phones, a Bluetooth speaker and whatever change was lying around – all of which had belonged to Jeff and his wife. She did leave her flip flops behind, but she had not taken anything of Simon’s. As cruel as this twist of fate was I couldn’t help but find it funny. The sheer injustice of it was just laden with irony. Simon should never have taken anyone back to the apartment without Jeff’s permission, let alone a complete stranger who he had literally picked up off the street; an apparently vulnerable, drunken stranger who he was for all intent and purposes taking complete advantage of. Yet, for Simon’s sins, Jeff had been robbed. However, my amusement soon turned to sympathy for Jeff when he told me that his laptop contained all of his personal photos on the hard drive. Mainly pictures from his wedding and family photos with his wife and daughter. This was a really bitter pill for him to swallow.

Was there any real divine justice in this world? Poor Jeff had done nothing but provided a room to a fellow expat. For that he had become the victim of his lodger’s unscrupulous behavior. And whilst he had not only confiscated Simon’s phone, but also his laptop, the monetary losses he had suffered were inconsequential in comparison to the personal loss of all those photographic memories. Almost every visual momento that he had captured of his only child growing up from birth was gone. It must have been devastating for the man. And I now recognised that casual yet serious demeanor to be the look of vacant despair; there was just no way he was ever going to get any of those memories back. And all because his lodger wanted to get laid. There was even a further bitter irony, because when I had first met Jeff to view his apartments, of the many things that we had talked about, the subject of technology and backing up data had come up. Jeff had dismissed the idea saying, “I don’t know anything about technology, but it’s no problem because I have all my photos on Facebook”. That thought must have been one of many going through his head that day. That and the fact that he was also out of pocket, which was the primary reason he wanted to talk to me.

I was now sure that Jeff desperately needed someone to move into one of his apartments. He even alluded to the idea that he might accept Simon back, but that was unlikely. He had understandably lost his temper with Simon after discovering the robbery, and although Simon had agreed to compensate him for his financial loss, they had parted on pretty bad terms. Despite pressing me on the matter, I couldn’t let Jeff know that I had been in contact with Simon, and I certainly didn’t want to let him know that we had been out together the previous night discussing sharing a place together. Whilst I sincerely sympathised with his situation, it wasn’t my problem. Why hadn’t he taken a copy of Simon’s passport, or at least a deposit? Jeff’s excuse was that he was a trustworthy man who saw the best in people. However, from the little that I knew of him, I suspected he was just a little gullible and foolish, and probably too eager to take Simon’s money rather than making sure the man he was going to share his family home with his wife and child was trustworthy. Making decisions in times of desperation is always a risky business.

I had no help to offer Jeff. I couldn’t give him a definite confirmation regarding his place, although I wasn’t completely ruling it out. I also couldn’t shed any light on the whereabouts of Simon, which in truth, I didn’t know. All I could do is offer my sincerest sympathies for his predicament. I myself still had nothing absolutely confirmed regarding my own living situation, which one way or another needed to be resolved in the next week.

45: Don’t Trust Strangers

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

*****

When I got back to the school Debbie, Kate and all the usual students who attended classes were there. I said ‘Hi’ to everyone, this time with far more sincerity since my hangover had long since passed. I then sat at my work station and logged on to my personal Yahoo account. If Simon’s phone was switched off, the only way I could communicate with him was by email. I assumed that he had probably gone to his office so he would be able to use the internet. I was right. When I looked at the messages in my inbox there was one there from Simon. It read:

Hi Jeff,
So what a night!  Wow.
Anyway I will go with this lady now, do you also have her email address?
If you want to share, you can pay me informally every month you stay.
Adam

Now this sort of confirmed my lack of trust in Simon. He had totally side swerved the events that had taken place at Jeff’s apartment and was asking me about Vivi’s apartment! I gathered that he had made the assumption that Jeff had not been in contact with me and figured that if he didn’t mention what had happened then I would be none the wiser. Why wouldn’t he want me to know? Well, if you’re going to share an apartment with someone then you don’t want that someone bringing home random ladies of the night who are then going to clear the apartment out whilst you’re sleeping. What you do want is for the person you’re sharing with to be upfront and honest with you about things. However, to think that I would not find out about his little contretemps sooner or later showed me that Simon was a little bit stupid himself. I mean surely he knew that Jeff was going to contact me at some point. And how did he expect to explain why he was no longer living there?

Although I didn’t have the full details of what had happened, it was obvious that Simon could not return to Jeff’s apartment. This meant that he was now as desperate as me to find a place to live. Due to the circumstances, I would have thought that his need was even more immediate than mine. He obviously didn’t want to jeopardise the opportunity to share with me and must have thought that had I found out about what had happened at Jeff’s place I would have changed my mind about the idea. He wasn’t wrong, but  the truth was, I needed him as much as he needed me, only I wasn’t going to let him know that. I hadn’t done anything wrong to Jeff so should the worse come to the worse, I still had the option of renting the room at his place, though I really did not want to do that. Then again, due to the current circumstances Jeff, who struck me as someone who was struggling with his finances, would be more willing to negotiate on terms and price. Simon was no longer living there so he needed someone to help cover his expenses sooner rather than later.

It seemed like this comical yet unfortunate chain of events had put me in an unexpectedly advantageous position. One way or another, I would have somewhere to live at the end of the month.  But before I was going to live with Simon, he would need to be made fully aware that I was not the trifling buffoon that Jeff was. He needed to be clear that should anything like what had happened at Jeff’s apartment happen whilst we were sharing, there would be more likelihood of him leaving via the balcony rather than the front door.

44: Mixed Messages

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

*****

As soon as I read Jeff’s text message my overactive imagination became over activated. I read the words again, and then again, and then again trying to elicit the tone and intention. Those 16 words said so little, but in their brevity alluded to so much more. Simon had definitely done something wrong, but what? Surely he hadn’t forced himself on the drunken girl and caused a disturbance that had woken Jeff. And why was Jeff using his wife’s phone?

I sent a message back  to Jeff to say that I hadn’t seen Simon and almost immediately I received a reply asking me to meet him. The immediacy of his reply and his request to meet him were loaded with latent information and my curiosity was piqued to the point of distraction. I was just about to go into my first lesson, but the focus of my attention was now on constructing the complete body of this unknown story out of the DNA of cryptic information I had. So I replied to Jeff saying that I had to go into my lessons and I would call him during my break, which would be in couple of hours. I decided to leave my phone in the teacher’s room so I wouldn’t be distracted by it during my lessons. But it wasn’t the phone that was the distraction, it was my impatient need to know what had happened.

As I sat in the lesson talking about vocabulary and verb tenses, in the back of my mind there was a detective constructing plots and scenarios. I saw Simon’s naked body hurriedly trying to get dressed whilst telling a crying girl with smudged make up to be quiet. I saw him, sweating, dishevelled and unkempt, fleeing from Jeff’s apartment; waiting nervously at the elevator before rushing down the stairway, his comb-over uncombed, wispily wafting above his head as he stumbled down the stairs. I saw the fear in his face as he scanned the streets for a taxi to take him… somewhere, anywhere, just away from where he was and away from the trouble he had got himself in. I saw Indonesian policemen in his room going through his things whilst Evi was consoling the now starkly sober young girl, mascara smudges and tear streaks running down her face. I saw Jeff gravely giving a statement to the police, telling them how little he knew of the lodger staying in his spare room. I saw his little daughter sitting quietly, maybe drinking from a bottle with sweetness in it, oblivious to what was going on, but, wide-eyed, sensing the drama and feeling excited. But then of course I was aware that all of this was just in my imagination. Perhaps nothing bad had happened at all. Maybe Jeff had spoken to Simon about the apartment that morning and he now wanted to speak to me. The cliche about having watched too many movies was was actually true for me. However, on the other hand, coming from the  Manchester council estate culture I had come from, I had borne witness to some real wrongness and a lot of fucked up shit, and right now my instincts were telling me that whatever had happened, it definitely wasn’t good.

My distracted mind and the fluttering butterfly wings in my gut meant that my lessons were not the best, but that wasn’t important. What was important was finding out what had happened with Simon. So I immediately checked the messages on my phone when I got back into the teacher’s room, but there was only one message from Jeff. He wanted me to meet him in Central Park at a place called Solaria, a cheap restaurant chain that you find all over the city. It was Jeff’s local apparently. I wasn’t too comfortable about meeting him without getting a little bit more information, so I decided to give Simon a call to find out what happened. But, and this was no surprise, all I got was a brief pre-recorded notification in Indonesian that I couldn’t understand before the call cut off. His phone was obviously switched off. This confirmed to me that something was definitely wrong, so I decided to call Jeff. All this to-ing and fro-ing with text messages was irritating, a phone is for talking.

Talking in Mall Taman Anggrek is more difficult than it sounds. First of all, it was Saturday afternoon so it was full of people and the noise that crowds of people make. In addition, with it being full of people, there was also some kind of promotional event in the main auditorium on the lower ground floor and it was very, very loud. The high pitched tone of the lady speaking on the microphone accompanied by some Asian pop soundtrack was impossible to escape. The building’s design is structured around an atrium so each floor is open to the sound of the PA coming from the auditorium below. This meant that there was nowhere to hide from this noise. The best you can do is go inside one of the shops or get to the end of one the many passageways on each floor. Only then you don’t get a phone signal. So after trying and failing to connect with Jeff a couple of times, I decided to go outside. However, when you get outside, the shrill screech of mopeds and roaring noise of the traffic that surrounds everywhere in Jakarta is so loud that it’s very difficult to hear anything there either. Difficult but not impossible. So when I did eventually get through to Jeff I managed to get some details and the basic gist of what had happened.

After hearing the brief outline of his story through the street noise, I agreed to meet him later that evening after I finished work. I hung up the phone and couldn’t help but laugh as I made my way back into the mall to get some lunch. From what I managed to garner from Jeff, Simon had been well and truly Kemang banged. Only it seemed that poor Jeff was the one who had paid the price.

42: It’s Not Fare.

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

*****

As we came down Dan Mogot toward Centro City apartments the driver’s taxi meter was still rolling forward and was now reading well over 100,000. This was practically double what it should have been. I didn’t want to pay him any more than 50,000 for his dodgy detour, but since Simon had given me a 100,000 note to cover the taxi, I wasn’t too concerned. That was until I looked at the note in my hand and realised it was only a 50,000. And since I had spent most of my money it was pretty much all I had left at that point. As the driver pulled up at the footbridge on the opposite side of the slip road leading to my apartment block, I told him that I was only going to give him 50,000 and handed him the note. He looked at it with bemusement, then looked at me and pointed to his meter. I had given up on trying to communicate with the man in Bahasa by that time, I was just too tired, so I shook my head and told him he had gone the wrong way and I was only giving him the fifty. Despite the length of time he had spent with Simon and I in his taxi, his English had not improved and he still had no idea what I was saying. However, I could see that he clearly wasn’t happy with the 50,000 IDR I was offering and wanted the amount that was on his meter.

I had been here before; taxi driver thinks you don’t know where you’re going, takes you on a long detour accidentally on purpose, acts dumb and then insists that you pay him anyway. It seems to be inherent to the profession all around the world. So, to satisfactorily end my night on a downer, the taxi driver decides he’s going take me to “Polisi”.

‘Go on then’ was my first thought as he started to drive off down the road, ‘I’m in the right and he’s in the wrong’. Then I had second thoughts and decided that I really did not want to be negotiating Indonesian police in the early hours of the morning stinking of alcohol. But I didn’t want to be jumping out of a moving car either. So it was my turn to go on the turn, only I think it’s fair to say that my turn was a lot nastier than Simon’s.

The driver had got maybe a few hundred metres up the road before he decided it was probably wise to stop his cab. Whilst he certainly didn’t understand what the enraged Bule in the back of his car was shouting at him, he knew they were strong words and a lot of them were probably obscene. It was also pretty clear to him that the furious finger pointing, bulging veins and look of rage on the man’s face were good reasons for him to concede and release the man from his car.

I didn’t feel proud of bullying the taxi driver, but there are times when being nice and trusting that the right thing will be done is just the wrong thing to do. That tricky little bastard knew what he was doing when he drove us in circles around south Jakarta for half an hour. He had played his hand and he lost. I still gave him the 50,000 though, so he should have been grateful that he got any money at all.

As I briskly walked back to my apartment, mindful of the massive pothole on the corner of the road but eager to get to my bed, I couldn’t help but have a little laugh to myself. The last hour had been a little bit crazy and unexpected, but I had got home safely. Ok, I was going home to an empty bed and I was now more or less sober, but at least I wasn’t sat in a polisi station trying to convince an Indonesian police officer with a gun and limited English that I hadn’t cheated one of his fellow countrymen.

As I turned into the Grand Prix Inn and walked past the barrier at the checkpoint I was still smiling to myself. I passed the security guard that sat outside the entrance to the apartment block and greeted him with a ‘good morning’ – “Selamat pagi”. He smiled and nodded back at me. I think the smile was because this was third or fourth time he had seen me get home in the early hours of the morning in the last two weeks.

As sober as I might have thought I was after getting out of the taxi, the room still swirled me to sleep that night. But it was sound sleep. I had forgotten about the drunken girl Simon had picked up. I had forgotten about threatening the taxi driver. I had had fun and I was now safely in my bed. Nothing else could go wrong, for now at least.