Jakarta : All In A Spin ( or 'A Life of Perfect Error' )
Jakarta Travel Blog› entry 260 of 268 › view all entries
It's okay. I've given it some thought. I think I've worked it out now. Where or why it all started to go just a little bit wrong, even though everything was alright.
You see, it's no good. Everything's back to front, and I haven't even begun. How can something be going wrong when it's going alright?
But there must be a reason! A reason why upon arrival in Indonesia the now well trained and honed traveller that I had almost become starts to fall apart a little. Starts to make foolish decisions, mistakes, require emotional attachments and just generally start to ever so slightly split at the psychological seams. To lose himself a little. A reason why I find myself cupped to a prostitute's bosom rather than running away with my moral tail between my legs; a reason why I don't know where I'm going anymore even though I'm sure I knew yesterday (or did I?), why I start spending money like it's water (relatively speaking), hit the bottle again ( yes of course it’s a woman!.
You see, for the first time in my life I have crossed the equator. The zero line of latitude. A southerner by upbringing, to the English mind, I am now truly a southern traveller. In the southern hemisphere for the first time in my life. And what happens when you cross the equator? Remember all those science shows on TV as a kiddy? Water running down a plughole in the northern hemisphere spirals clockwise. In theory if you pull the plug directly on the equator it washes straight down.
[ REWIND ]
‘A Life of Perfect Error’ : Part One
'Oh but my friend, I promise you I can give you the best blowjob in the whole world!' I extricate myself from April's copious bosom wherein she had forcibly entrapped my head. 'Well April, really, I've no doubt... um?... I'm sure you can... that would be very... um? .
I've been in Indonesia about two hours and Jalan Jaksa (Jakarta's tourist trap rat run) about two minutes when I am accosted by 'April', her copious bosom and her transgender friend Mina.
The next morning I am sat in the Margot Cafe reading The Lonely Plonker's Guide to Indonesiania. Sat across the other side, sipping Coke with her back to the world is So-called Cynthia who I don’t have time to introduce you to properly. So-called Cynthia, like April and friends is a ‘kupu-kupu malam’.
I turn back to The Lonely Plonker’s Guide to Indonesiania. So far a one page guide to the land of Indonesia written by and for lonely plonkers. It's my intention to travel Indonesia for two or three months without giving in to the purchase and use of a guidebook. Sick to death of having my travel vision skewed through the prism of guidebook opinion forming. And anyway I fared just fine for six weeks in Eastern Europe with only the one page Lonely Plonker’s Guide to the region didn't I, if you recall.
But speaking now with a month and mores worth of hindsight I can clearly flag this up as one of so many minor but nevertheless completely foolish and inefficient decisions I make during the early phase of my time here.
Jalan Jaksa is one of those classic when-a-city-and-tourism-get-together-between-the-dirty-sheets streets.
Essentially it's a people street. Not an exclusively foreigner ghetto. Small traders, businesses, bike, watch and cell phone repairers and cheap eats stands for local people proliferate in the spaces between and in front of the travel agents, internet cafes, bars and hotels for out-of-towners and tourists. Just one step off the main drag and you are in the winding concrete lane, washing draped sludge-gutter-lined runnels of ‘real’ peoples lives and happy homes.
But Jaksa, I would say as a professed people watcher, has more than its fair share of cracks, nuts, loops and bums if you look in the right places.
Finding my feet and a friend
It's true to say I would have been lost in Indonesia before I'd even arrived without my TB friend Simsim (Justasimsim). Where to stay in Jakarta, precisely how to get there from the airport, early days recommendations for what to see in the country she has warned me is 'dangerously beautiful' are just some of the boons she grants me. You name it, you gotta a question, the info's been streaming down the fibre-optic cables and bouncing off satellites and into my brain for some weeks ahead of my arrival.
On my first evening proper in Indonesia it's my good fortune to meet the lady herself. My first of a host of wonderful TB ambassadors to Jakarta and Indonesia. I sit in Starbucks. An air-conditioned little bubble of modernity the likes of which I have rarely experienced on my journey. People sit tapping their WiFi laptops and Blackberry phones in smart business dress and the security doorman with his laminate badge glowers over and implies with frowns and fingers that I should be purchasing Product.
In fact, being Ambassador Number 1 Simsim ushers in a range of important firsts for me. My first lesson in Bahasa, a pastime that will soon arguably become the most important facet of my journey through Indonesia. 'Terima Kasih' [ 'Thank you' ], 'Apa kabar?' [ 'How are you?' ] and 'Sampai jumpa lagi' [ 'Until we meet again' or some such expression ].
Next, my first lessons in Indonesian table etiquette. A hot cup of some milky-ginger concoction ( a favourite I now know as 'susu jahe' - literally 'ginger milk' ) that Simsim swears blind I am to descant from the cup into the saucer before drinking it from the latter.
Most importantly of all my firsts ushered in by Sim though - my first experience of the great warmth, kindness and generosity of the Indonesian people that I will soon become well used to. Particularly within the TB community!
‘A Life of Perfect Error’ : Part Two
'My friend I see you're a WRITER. Whatcha writin' THERE?' You see I told you it wasn't possible to have more than five minutes to yourself here. 'Oh just thoughts, observations.' 'That's good.
'This is a testament to a life lived to the fullest in a true Hunter S.Thompson fashion, begun before his renown and continued after his demise. This is being written for the benefit of my two man cubs, Thomas Jefferson Trengaro Rex and Jack London Rex so that they may have a record of their father's life in the wake of his sudden demise.'
I apologise. I hadn't properly introduced you. Of all the part-time nut jobs I interact with in Jalan Jaksa Mr Mark T.Rex ( 'T-Rex' to his friends) is undoubtedly the Chief Bull-Goose Looney, to borrow a term from the literary tradition of the asylum. A tall, brash, bristling white moustached American who's been here for 'twenny ONE an' a HALF years', is divorced from a native lady with two kids (sent by mother to study and grow up in Australia), suffers from insomnia and hypotension, who claims to be an ex-CIA employee, is a polyglot (speaking seven languages) and a polymath (apparently teaching psychology, philosophy, politics and history on top of the languages) and is given to causing great embarrassment and offence for the fun of it whilst wielding omnipotent control over the remote control of the Margot Cafe TV where he sips fridge-chilled glasses of beer Bintang all day watching Sponge Bob Square Pants ( 'You GOTTA love cartoons man!') and the Fashion Channel ( 'My friend, look, those there ladies are not wearing any bras hynyuh, hynyuh, hynyuh' ).
An earlier version of this entry contained large transcripts of 'T-Rex' moments but space dictated that they 'ended up on the cutting room floor' as they say. But undoubtedly a highly intelligent if now somewhat troubled man, he's sure a character. And whether it's Barry the equally beer-addled Irishman who's just had his first baby boy with his Indonesian wife of three years who's mouth sounds trashier than a landfill site and whose father-in-law freaked him out by bringing a clay pot into the birthing room to collect the placenta and 'bits of their bodies my son and wife didn't need anymore' to bury in his back garden or whether it's Ivan the Serbo-Croat-Australian oil-rig supervisor who at the prompting of T-Rex tells a ripping yarn of daring-do and escaping from the former Yugoslavia following Tito's rise to power (provided you can understand a narrative comprised with 99% of its content and grammatical structure deriving from the root word 'f**k' delivered in an incomprehensible accent), or the bonkers ojek (motorbike taxi) driver always trying to bum drinks and ciggies and known only to me as 'orang gila' [ 'crazy man' ] Jaksa is not short of characters.
T-Rex grins over his chilled beer and laughs his cheeky schoolboy laugh 'hynyuh, hynyuh, hynyuh' having just knowingly offended our fellow diners with high-decibel observations of the finer, firmer attributes of the figure skaters' forms on the TV. 'Don't mind ME. Why, I'm JUST a SWIRLing mass of ATOMS in a state of FLUX' he proudly announces. He is one to often throw such lines of philosophic semi-profundity into conversation. 'I just like to give a little piece of my heart as Janis Joplin once said.' 'Wherever you go, there you shall be' one of my favourites from his internal encyclopaedia of always fully credited quotations.
Check the watch. Eight o'clock. Look left. And there it is. No mistaking it. Even at this distance. Half a street away. Blinding. That legendary smile. After months of TB ‘smiles’ and interactions over our experiences of India, the Real-Deal super-stylin’ smilin’ Rini is on her way. Fran, Rini's self-declared 'partner in crime' beaming at her side with glowing skin, beige shorts and green top - a vision of a truly Asian Tinkerbelle.
But within 2 minutes 36 seconds (or there about) of having known the girls who should be coming our way down Jaksa... but Mr Mark T.Rex. 'Sh*t!' Of all the people! He pulls up, towering over us, beaming his cheeky smile. I sense the perpetual beer on his breath and stand still, terrified that with one sentence he'll say something to put a wrecking ball through those all important first impressions the girls'll be making of me ( 'What kind of company does he keep?' ). Certain crude observations could be made by one such as he about a Westerner strolling down Jaksa with two beautiful Indonesian ladies for company but thankfully he opts for buffoonery and self-parody.
The ladies kindly treat me to a delightful dinner of so many (to me) novel dishes that their names mostly escape my memory despite a (now broken) promise to myself to follow in Fran’s foodie footsteps and pay great attention to the plethora of gastronomic pleasures that I’m sure Indonesia’s soon to offer me.
After weeks of wibbling on about visa hopes and woes I proudly show off my passport with the ’b*gger off by 13th May’ Visa On Arrival in it and then ask the girls to contribute something to the authorship of The Lonely Plonker’s Guide to Indonesiania. The Indonesian flag bears a bar of red for courage and white for (spiritual) purity I’m told. The nation is comprised of some 17,000 islands. ’Phewf!’ Asked to name and then invited to draw a national animal Rini very bravely commits to an impromptu illustration of the lesser known Bird-Eating Komodo Dragon. Whilst The Lonely Plonker’s Guide to Indonesiania was fated never to be published in the end - a creative bit of silliness abandoned in favour of concentrating on Bahasa study - a picture is herein included of Rini’s masterpiece, representing as it does a unique moment of great artistic and zoological interest (and a means of embarrassing a good friend) ;P
The rest of evening number one in the company of the Partners in Crime is spent back on Jalan Jaksa where to the clink of drinks my new friends and I exchange travel chatter amidst the melee of morally questionable nightlife to be found in these parts at such times.
The next night finds me 14 stories high and on TB Cloud 9 in south Jakarta for a group Meetup at Fran’s apartment that the girls have kindly organised to welcome me to Their World. A ’Pot Luck’ meetup that will have every attendant providing a tasty traditional dish of some national or regional significance.
Despite having showered , even having dug up some ancient ampoule of Izimiake and generally tried to make myself as presentable as my hobo-wardrobe will permit (i.e. not at all), two Trans Jakarta buses across town in 30 degrees and a trudge to find Tinkerbelle’s tower does enough to wilt my appearance and rather travel-weary self esteem. A little nervous and surrounded by such pretty hostesses it’s hard to regain control of my internal thermostat even in the air-conditioned flat, sweating like a hog and fielding introduction and travel questions ( ’Six months in India?!’ becoming practically a catchphrase exclamation for the night) and I try to focus on the important task in hand of eating.
Sandy (?) turns up to double the male quotient for the evening. Fresh chopped fruits with spicy sauce. Asri stands, elegant in red frying up fish cakes on the cooker. In rapid succession Eliz and Amelia show up and soon Henny ( Trineebooster) and Savitri (Savitri) too. Amongst other treats and in no particular order this adds red wine, cake, ‘baso’ (meat balls in a kinda broth), buckets of rice and fiddly but fabulous (and fabulously messy) Bornean style crab to our large menu. Towards the close of the evening, vociferous games of Uno underway, Rini (Green8) pops up with a massive tray of ’sate ayam’ ( chicken sate on sticks doused in thick, sweet peanut sauce).
It’s a wonderful evening and I remain eternally grateful to all the TB gang for such a warm welcome to their city and country. Since my early mega-Meetup in The Netherlands (Leiden) in only the second week of my journey I have rarely had the opportunity to hook up with the TB community in the Real World although many of you have become my friends and frequent companions on this journey through the medium of online Blogdom. Amongst the numerous things my beer-loosened tongue had blabbed to Rini and Fran (nicknames, family history and the revelation of the final line that will ever be written for this blog etc... really!) is the statement that ‘without TB there’s a chance that by now I’d just jack it all in and head home.‘ The writing process and the kind responses from you guys therein having become such an important part of this particular journey.
To meet the Jakarta gang was such a fabulous way to say “Hi!” to a country I know nothing about but hope to learn so much from. After Sandy makes an early departure little Stevie is all on his own as the only one with a missing X-chromosome and finds himself in a truly ‘pinch me am I dreaming’ situation. An absolute ‘the boys’ll never believe this one when I get home’ moment. Southeast Asia, Jakarta, Indonesia, 14 stories high ( ’Six months in India?!!’) surrounded by good food and a crowd of stunningly attractive ladies. It remains the ‘Electric Ladyland Meetup’ in the curious and colourful gallery of my travel memories.
Jesting aside and more importantly it’s the impact of so suddenly being so surrounded by happiness and friendship - the latter for sure not a rarity but an all too fleeting phenomenon on The Road - that most effects Stevie’s happy heart.
It’s the pursuit and start of new friendships that has kept me six days in Jakarta, a city tourists normally don’t spend any longer in than it takes (I presume) to receive ‘the best blowjob in the whole world.’ But I’ll soon be leaving all of these wonderful people behind. And I’m not sure I want to. The fast formation and sudden severance of ties of any kind ( mere company, necessity, respect, happiness, attraction, whatever) whilst travelling long term is an exhausting emotional process. Forever resetting, or having to jump-start the psychological clock. Starting over again. And over again. And over and over again.
‘A Life of Perfect Error’ : Part Three
Uh-oh! I try to focus on my watch face without my glasses. The time 9.15am eventually makes itself legible. Great! My flight to Banda Aceh took off ten minutes ago. Fabulous. My first missed transport connection in 20 months on The Road and it had to be one of the most expensive... and due to alcohol. Of course!
I'm strangely calm about this fact. It's a true 'nothing can do' situation. Everyone's allowed at least one mistake right? So I stagger into my clothes and stagger up Jaksa back to the same travel agent who's eyes open wide when I step inside, communicating the obvious message 'What the heck are you doing here, aren't you supposed to be on a plane right now?' I just slump down in the swivel chair, still fuggy headed. 'I missed my flight. I need another one.' I can't hang around this alcoholic ex-CIA agent, expletive-riddled, love hunting, kupu-kupu malam and Bintang besieged nuthouse a minute longer! 'Would you like the same flight tomorrow morning?' 'NO. No thanks.' You and I know what'll happen. 'When's the next flight to Medan?' 'It's in three hours time.' 'Book it please. Thanks.' Time to roll. I wobble back to my room and pre-packed bag and wobble onto an ojek and to the bus station and on to the airport.
At the airport a five minute panic as it seems finally, terrifyingly the inevitable has happened and I've lost my passport!!! I took it out the other night to show Rini and Fran my visa and then... then?... what did I do with it?! Sh*t!!! Cold sweats. Sobering effects. A top three worst possible moments for a traveller. (I'm not sure what the other two might be, but I'll let ya know should they ever occur). What the f**k is happening to me today?! This week?! Since arriving in Indonesia! Across the equator. Everything running in the wrong direction. Currents switched. Backwards. Spinning out of control.
But it's okay. It turns up. Panic over. Through to the departures area. Still fuggy headed. I wobble into a book shop and without checking the price (for fear this will kick in the mental budget-brakes and stop the transaction) I buy a Berlitz Indonesian language guidebook. This is singularly the most important (and only sensible) action I take in my first weeks in Indonesia.
My next decision's not so good. There's something about being hungry and either drunk or hung over that compels us to purchase food products with the least possible nutritional value. So it's to Beard Papa and its assortment of cream filled puff-pastry buns that I turn for breakfast. [ Switch to voice of Homer Simpson ] 'Mmmmmm, lots of chocolate covered buns being filled with hand-pumped cream by pretty girls.' [ Snap out of it! ]. What are these things suddenly in my hand?! I seem to have two chocolate covered buns filled with hand-pumped cream by pretty girls in my possession. Oh well, better eat them now I've paid. I bite into one of the buns and instantly a humungous fountain of globbulous cream ejaculates out the far side of the bun splattering down my trouser legs, onto my hobo shoes (through the tears in the Gore-tex lining) and 'slappa-slappa-splat' onto the immaculately tiled airport floor. I am slightly embarrassed now. And still hung over. Wipe-wipe. And have dubious stains all down my clothes. Wipe-wipe. It's been an unusual, faltering, folly and friendship filled start to proceedings in Indonesia. And I can see, it having only just begun, that today is clearly going to be a good day.
[ Coda : Invisible Think ]
... oh, and the ’thinking in invisible ink.’ Well, it’s self evident enough I guess. My first Indonesia journal entry, a right old garbling mess and coming nearly seven weeks after I arrived. Finally exhausted. All outta ink. All outta think. My mental travel pen run dry now for quite some time. A little to do with focussing on learning Bahasa. Quite a lot to do with fatigue, and not helped by that heart that slipped out of gear in Jakarta. The usual writing process my mind seems to have nurtured of its own accord during this journey suddenly stopped forming inspirations and thoughts, or writing images that were any good or ones that just plane faded away leaving me with little or nothing to say. Thinking in invisible ink. But hopefully I’ll get this show back on the road... there‘s not so long left to go after all... do I see a finishing line in sight?... ‘To Be Continued’... I suppose :)