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 My morning swim had been replaced by a cold shower and the excesses of the night before had been converted into dehydration, a headache and a lack of appetite.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.

51. Almost, But Not

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

*****

Despite the fact that my days off were Tuesday and Wednesday, Friday still marked the start of the weekend. This weekend also marked a full month since I had been in Jakarta and a week since the robbery at Jeff’s apartment. Yet since agreeing to flat share with Simon, he had not yet formally signed a contract with the owner Vivi.

It was probably just my instinctive lack of trust for the man, but I was beginning to suspect that Simon was stalling and considering other options for himself. He had made excuse after excuse for why he hadn’t finalised the signing of the tenancy contract with Vivi. By now he had got himself another phone, but he hadn’t bought any phone credit to call her and she hadn’t called him he said. She had told me that she had emailed him several times to request a copy of his passport, which she needed to finalise the tenancy contract, but he told me hadn’t received any email from her. Perhaps he had reconsidered living in an apartment complex next to the man he was trying to avoid.

In the meantime, I had Jeff sending me messages asking if I had seen Simon and asking to meet with him “to talk”; about what I don’t know. I suspected that he was anxious to get me to give him confirmation about his apartment. I didn’t owe either of them anything, all I needed was a place to move into. If Adam let me down I always had the room in Jeff’s place to fall back on, but Adam didn’t know that. I also figured that Jeff suspected that I was stalling him because he knew I had agreed to move in with Adam, but I hadn’t confirmed that fact with him either. So as it stood, until Adam signed the contract with Vivi and paid his deposit, I was still in a limbo of sorts.

It was all ridiculous. I felt like one of the players in some petty drama where all the characters were trying to con, bluff and double-bluff each other: An English teacher thousands of miles from home, a salacious salesman masquerading as an English gent and a Belgian buffoon with a place to rent. But who can be trusted? It was comical really. But at the same time it wasn’t, because I needed to move, and my time was running out.

I didn’t want to give Simon an ultimatum so instead I pretended to be relaxed about the apartment and told him that I had found another place that I could move into if he was having second thoughts. This seemed to spur him into action and he promised to arrange a meeting for us to get the keys off Vivi on the Monday. In truth, I had until the following Wednesday, which bought me a little bit of time if he didn’t come through as agreed.

I may have been just a little paranoid about Simon, but I didn’t really know this guy and my instincts were telling me that he couldn’t be relied on or trusted. There was just something about him that I found ingenuous. Probably that fact that he was a salesman; can you ever take the word of a salesman? There always seems to be something manipulative between the lines of what a salesman says. So it was with Adam, with his penchant for evading direct answers to direct questions and his ever so particular choice of the appropriate adjective. Furthermore, he described himself as a libertine and seemed quite proud of the fact that he had no moral qualms about how he sought his pleasures. Obviously, this wasn’t the best foundation for the start of a flat sharing relationship, but unfortunately I wasn’t left with much choice. Nevertheless, it was Friday and Friday is the first day of the weekend and should be a good day anywhere. Whatever Adam’s faults, he was a fun guy to go drinking with, and he was the only guy I had to go drinking with. So with Monday set as the date for signing the contract and collecting the keys, we agreed to meet in Kemang for a night out. Also, with this being Simon the salesman, there was another reason why he was keen to go out – I still owed him for that night he had covered in Loewy’s and Blok M a couple weeks earlier. This night was going to be on me, but there would be no late night pick ups!

50. Mind The Gap

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

*****

As I walked in the sticky heat from FX mall to the main atrium at the centre of Senayan Plaza, the sharpness of contrast between the lives out on the street and the aspiring lifestyles presented in the mall was startling. Passing the sweating vagrants and exhausted hawkers pitched up along the road desperately trying to earn a living whilst those who had broken through, those who had gained employment, those who had gained a uniform, those who were shielded from the unsightly poverty grazed in the shop windows inside, cut through to the poor inner city kid at my core. I just couldn’t help but feel socially disconnected from the air of superiority in the place.

Walking through Senayan Plaza felt like walking through a hologram; none of it felt real. Irrespective of the fact that it wasn’t very busy, it felt empty. Devoid of any soul. There was a very attractive, smartly-dressed Indonesian woman travelling up on an escalator. She carried an air of importance about her, but for no reason that I knew. I saw an Indonesian man in a sharp suit sat at his laptop in a stylish coffee shop. He looked focussed and aspirational. In fact, as I looked around, I noticed that everyone in there looked as if they were of a superior, aspiring class. Particularly the Indonesians. I imagined none of them had any reservations about turning their backs on the life of indigenous poverty outside. Their goal was being achieved, if it hadn’t been already. I wondered if they even cared about those left behind on the streets and those doing the shit jobs for shit money. They probably didn’t. Like many people who have escaped the poverty trap, they are likely to have been hardened by the idea of never returning to it. For those who were never there, there is seldom empathy for those who are. Despite being all too aware that this was simply the way of the world and I should accept it, my thoughts wound me up.

In 1965, Britain and the USA backed a violent coup in Indonesia to oust the then President, Sukarno, from power. Sukarno wanted to implement a socialist style of economic reform in Indonesia and redistribute the wealth of the country amongst its people. He had already rejected the edicts of the IMF and World Bank, infuriating the rich western nations who knew the huge financial potential of exploiting the economy of Indonesia and gaining control of its natural assets. They knew that if they could impose their version of western democracy and thrust a brutal Milton Freidmann style of capitalism onto this nation, it could be transformed into a rich cash cow for generations to come. So with the support of western commercial interests and information provided by the CIA, a military coup led by General Suharto took over the Indonesian government. This violent coup led to the imprisonment, torture and brutal murders of hundreds of thousands of Indonesians. In fact, it is believed that in a little over a month, Suharto’s brutal regime massacred around a million people. Witnesses at the time said that the small rivers and streams in Java ran red with blood and were clogged with bodies for weeks. And for what? so that one day someone could drive to a fancy mall in an air-conditioned luxury car, buy a Gucci handbag or a pair of Nikes and stop for a fucking Starbucks before going home!? It’s insane. Senayan Plaza was insane. The clinging humidity of the outside world glued me to those who were relegated to the streets and the commercial opulence of Senayan Plaza disgusted me.

plaza-senayan

The prize of progression.

I got a sense that Indonesia – Jakarta in particular – had been forcefully nudged toward a commercial culture in the mould of western society. South East Asian pegs being forced into western consumerist holes; holes that quickly become bottomless pits of emptiness that can only be filled by purchases of unnecessary shit. Pits filled with snakes that want you to spend all your money. Pits that lure you in with advertiser’s lies about improving your lives and seductive marketing promising you happiness if you spend. These pits have little room for ethics or culture unless they can be rebranded and used to sell more shit. These pits use spin to make you dizzy and forget who you are and where you were going. Like the proverbial crab in a barrel, once you’re in this pit you forget everything as you try to crawl to the top to get the latest, newest, most improved stuff to fill the hole in your life that those seductive corporate marketers have convinced you that you must have. Wants become needs and as you pursue those imaginary needs you no longer want to hear about what is beyond your aspirational consumerism because it gets in the way of the dizzying dream of the shopping pit and its promise of a better lifestyle. Fuck pollution and the environment, fuck culture and tradition, fuck your friends, neighbours and countrymen over if it makes you rich. Fuck an expat if he can help you be that badass bitch with the Gucci handbag and Manolo Blahniks. It’s a well-worn path in the industrialised west, but it doesn’t seem to fit here. No more than those naturally broad flat Indonesian feet fit into those narrow high-heeled shoes. Having taken a glimpse of the rural life on Java, Jakarta’s culture feels as ill-fitting and unsteady as the beautiful Indonesian girls painfully hobbling through the malls and nightclubs in six-inch heels and tight mini-skirts. It feels as odd as those young, aspiring go-getters in their shiny, pointy-toed shoes, tight pants and long-sleeved shirts sat at their laptops in 30° heat. It just feels wrong.

I was going to take a taxi back to Taman Anggrek because it was rush hour and the bus was likely to be packed, but I didn’t want to. It felt somehow hypocritical. As ridiculous as it sounds being British Expat with all the privilege that it affords, I just felt like I wanted to be with the regular people. I didn’t want to be in the air-conditioned bubble that many of the expats spend their lives in as they travel from office block to apartment block in taxis. I think I maybe just wanted to readjust my social compass and brush alongside reality for a while. Or perhaps I was just having another rush of extreme culture shock.

49: Plaza Senayan

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When I took a look around FX mall there wasn’t really a great variety of shops for a place designed for shopping. There were probably more places to eat than anything else. I did find one sports shop, but they didn’t sell swimming goggles. However, the eager young sales assistant told me that I would find more sports shops in Plaza Senayan, which was a much larger mall that was “only next door”. Naturally “only next door” isn’t quite as simple as it sounds in a mega city knotted together by traffic, pollution and crazy paving. It’s even less simple when the place isn’t actually next door.

Plaza Senayan is behind FX at best. Quite a long way behind it. Nevertheless, it isn’t too hard to find as it is the largest of all the nearby structures, with its apartment block towering a good few stories higher than any of the surrounding buildings. There is also the Senayan City complex across the road from the plaza, so if you miss one of the developments you will probably find the other.

senayan-city2

Senayan City on the other side of the street

When you see Senayan Plaza, it is clear that this place is one of the showpiece shopping malls in Jakarta. It is a pristinely maintained mecca of high-end consumerism. Most people probably go there by car, which spares them the embarrassing discomfort of facing the contrasting display of poverty that clings to the fringes of this extravagant development. I myself got the full view of Jakarta’s gaping poverty gap as I walked from FX mall to the rear entrance of Plaza Senayan. Turning the corner down the street that runs alongside Gelora Bung Karno National Stadium, I passed the poor street vendors sat at their mobile rickshaw shops and the many homeless people sat begging on the street before turning left down the side street that leads to Plaza Senayan car park. As I teetered along the edges of the unpaved pavement, trying to avoid slipping into the deep gutter that ran alongside, and ducking and dodging the overgrown trees and bushes pushing their way into my path, I could see this gleaming palace of commercialism just ahead. There was a queue of Mercedes’, BMWs, Land Rovers and other $60,000-plus cars queuing up to the barrier and security checkpoint that allows you through to the rear car park of this big shopping, office and apartment complex.

At the checkpoint security guards opened the boot of each car, took a cursory glimpse inside and glided their bomb detection mirrors underneath the chassis’. Indonesia has been targeted by Muslim extremists several times in the past, but it seemed that the security was there for show more than anything else. I’m no expert, but looking in the boot of a car for a little less than a second is not the most vigilant or committed of security check procedures. I managed to stroll past this security pantomime unchecked, through the outdoor car park across to the rear entrance of the building, past another security guard, beyond the information point, across a road coming out of the underground car park where there was a valet service, and straight through the underground promenade that leads to the main shopping arena totally unchecked. I guess putting people in uniforms and giving them shiny badges is good for morale if nothing else.

As I walked through the promenade that led to the main shopping centre, there were bistros and coffee shops flanking either side. They were serving a busy looking assortment of expats, professionals and ‘suits’. An oriental man waved his hand in the air without looking at anyone in particular. His casually arrogant gesture prompted a waiter over holding a very modern looking digital ordering pad and ready to service the customer’s needs. As I looked around I noticed that there were more white faces and English voices in these bistros than I had seen anywhere else since being here. It could have easily been a hot summer’s night in an upmarket business district of London.

senayan-coffee-shop I carried on into the mall and there they were – Gucci, Dior, Bulgari, Armani, Rolex – all the commercial marques of distinction (and Zara) that tell people they’ve made it, or at least give them the appearance of someone who has. There were no gaudy, clashing colours or tacky promotion people hanging out of doorways with frivolous gimmicks. Everywhere was polished, cream marble, brass, chrome and glass. It was undoubtedly a very classy place; aesthetically at least. For as beautifully designed this temple of exclusive commerce was, I suddenly found myself filled with this feeling of contempt.

plaza_senayan-interior

Plaza Senayan, a gleaming temple of consumerism