71: End of the Bus Affair

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

Transjakarta busway sign 2014-09-30

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

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

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

transjakarta bus

One of the newer Transjakarta buses

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

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


The notorious ‘smelly’ fruit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transjakarta busway 2014-09-26

The joys of commuting

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


67: The Odd Couple

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

66: Fable? Unbelievable.

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

Fable Interior-Outdoor

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

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

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


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

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

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

fable behind the decks

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

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


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

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

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

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

65: Can I Interest You In A Shirt Sir?

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

jakarta equinox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fuck that.

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

63: A Menu For Everyone

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

62: Moody Foodie

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


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

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

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

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

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

61: New Beginnings

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Food montage

A kaleidescopic mirage of colourful culinary delights.

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