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Coming to Jakarta:
A Lone Englishman's Experiences

Part 1- The First Week

  1. After 20 hours of traveling, you find yourself in a twin-cam doing 200 kph diagonally across the toll road. Your knuckles are white and you are sweating. You timidly ask the driver to slow down - a mistake, as he looks at you instead of the road, smiles broadly and says, “Yes!”- the only English word he knows. He doesn't slow down. You wish you hadn't worn that vest.
  2. In the city, you spend 20 minutes in the car without moving while old men overtake you pushing carts. You wonder if all the blue/grey stuff in the air is normal, and resolve never to eat in one of the millions of roadside food stalls for fear of your life.
  3. At least the hotel is a bit like home. They even have fish 'n chips on the menu. Beer costs a fortune.
  4. You have your first meeting with your Indonesian business contacts scheduled at 10:00 a.m. Arriving on time, you are about to leave 30 minutes later to find the CORRECT venue when everyone else shows up. Your secretary keeps laughing heartily at the Indonesian comments, which is unsettling. Unfortunately, it is Friday, and everyone disappears again at 11:30 a.m. to go and pray. They never come back.
  5. All the Indonesian girls in the hotel bar seem very friendly. They all speak English, and are intrigued to learn about your home and family. Then the barmaid who took pity on you on your first day whispers you the girl's price lists. You are aware you stick out like a sore thumb, as even the westerners call you 'bule' - you guess that must mean 'newcomer'.
  6.  More time in the traffic going nowhere, until suddenly an unseen light goes green and you suffer minor whiplash from the acceleration. Motorbikes with whole families aboard come at you on the wrong side of the road. You wonder where you can buy a copy of the local Highway Code (It probably consists of 7 words: “If you get there first, it's yours”).
  7. You give up drinking tea and coffee, because no matter what gestures you make you can't stop them putting 4 tablespoons of sugar in it. You also give up smoking, because Silk Cut Ultra-Low doesn't seem to be very widely available.
  8. The driver hasn't showed up, so you get a taxi. Despite having worked all day, the taxi driver only has Rp 500 in his pocket, so you have to pay Rp 50,000 for a Rp 5,730 journey. Later you wonder if the driver was telling the truth.
  9. You are enjoying some Indonesian home hospitality when a 2-inch long brown thing runs over your foot. No one flinches except you, and as you re-enter the earth's atmosphere you realize it wasn't a mouse, but a cockroach.
  10. For the third time that day you look away awkwardly from the beggar, pretending not to notice. You wonder how the hell you'll stand it here for the rest of the week.

Part 2: The Twenty-first Week

  1. Your driver, Pak Yanto collects you from your apartment at 6:00 a.m. During the drive to the office you alternately read the paper, sleep and exchange jokes in Indonesian with Pak Yanto. You get to the office with no recollection of the journey whatever.
  2. At 11:10 a.m. you decide it must be lunch time. You are by now well used to “rubber time”- the concept that watches are useless, as it is whatever time you want it to be. You go to a little restaurant with your colleagues and eat “ayam rica-rica” with extra sambal. That makes you sleepy, so you postpone a couple of meetings until next week.
  3. Back home, the maid greets you with genuine enthusiasm and runs your bath and lays out your evening clothes. She doesn't speak English, but you understand the intricacies of her analysis of today's price increases at the market and the scandal surrounding the fact that the maid next door was seen smoking in the street, as she chatters happily away to you.
  4. You stop off at one of the millions of roadside food stalls with your beautiful Indonesian girlfriend and enjoy a huge bowl of soto kambing that tastes like heaven, and decide on the spot that you'll marry the girl. The thought of eating fish 'n chips now seems about as appealing as eating your own fingernails. No one seems to notice you're the only westerner in the place - perhaps you're starting to look Indonesian?
  5. You go to the beach with your newly appointed fiancee at the weekend and eat fresh barbecued lobster in the sunset. Pak Yanto joins you to drink coffee (tidak pakai gula!), and smoke Sampoerna underneath the sign you vaguely noticed that says “Dilarang merokok”. You are not alone.
  6. Your driver is at the workshop with the car so you get a taxi. Unfortunately the taxi driver has no change and you only have a Rp 50,000 note for a Rp 5,730 journey. You exclaim “cuek aje!” and leap out of the car to get the exact money, but the taxi driver suddenly remembers a sack of cash he'd accidentally overlooked in his back pocket.
  7. Pak Yanto is looking pleased with himself. He explains that as you spend so much time at the nightclub of the best hotel in town, they now let him park out front with the limos instead of in the underground car park. You wonder if you might be overdoing things a bit.
  8. You wonder if any city in the world is as beautiful as some parts of Jakarta at night. Despite having driven this way hundreds of times before, you never get bored with the lights. It was driving down here with the music loud and a car full of Indonesian friends, excited at the prospect of a good night out, that you decided this was the place you wanted to be for a long, long time.
  9. You are enjoying some Indonesian home hospitality with your fiancee's family and her sister's newly arrived westerner friend, when a 2-inch long brown thing runs over his foot. As he picks himself out of the ceiling, you realize how far you've come in the last few months.
  10.  For the third time that day, you help make a poor person happier, and ponder the best ways of helping others on a broader scale. And you wonder how the hell you'd stand it if you ever went home.

Semi autobiographical! (Pak Yanto is a pseudonym!)

© Dave Cook

Mini Glossary:

Ayam rica-rica Chicken dish
Bule Derogatory slang word for foreigners, literally means albino
Cuek aje “No Problem”, “I don't care”
Dilarang merokok Smoking forbidden
Sambal Spicy hot chili paste, an essential condiment to Indonesian food
Soto kambing Goat soup
Tidak pakai gula Don't add sugar