68: Be Like Water

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


I hadn’t seen Claire since we had first met for dinner and drinks in Kemang. She seemed quite involved with her job and I had just been too involved with lots of other things. Nevertheless, we had kept in touch via text messages and I had been keeping her updated with how I was settling into the city. She had been really supportive, and she really didn’t have reason to be. Having someone who was happy to let me sound off when I was frustrated was invaluable and I was really grateful to have her on-side. She was like my culture shock therapist. She had been in Jakarta for four years so she related to all of my frustrations, so when she invited me to join her and some of her friends for a weekend on the river in Kalimantan – the Indonesia side of Borneo – I jumped at the chance.

Borneo has its own unique ecosystem with hundreds of indigenous species of plants and animals, the most well-known probably being the orang-utans, a peaceful, charming and intelligent species of ape that had almost died out due to excessive tree farming destroying their habitat. Not many people get the opportunity to take a trip like this so I really wanted to go. I just had to convince Debbi to give me the time off, which I didn’t envisage would be too difficult. So far she had proved to be a pretty easy going boss. In fact, work had been the one constant since I had been in Jakarta.

EF were proving to be a pretty good company to work for. Ok, I didn’t share much in common with my work colleagues, we never went out for drinks, food or even visited each other’s apartments, but they were nice enough to work with.

Suki had been moved to the Sudriman school in FX Mall and they had moved a teacher from their called Tina to our school, another American. Like Debbi, she was also quite a big unit, although not as big as Debbi.

Tina was very much a no-frills kinda gal. She had a wild curly afro of fair hair and dressed like a backpacker, which is how she had seemed to have been living her life for the past few years. She had spent most of her time in Asia – India in particular – and I think for her, like many other ESL teachers, teaching English was just a way to travel.

Tina was very softly spoken and had what seemed quite an introverted character. She didn’t like bars or discos and she didn’t particularly like to drink too much. She was in her early thirties and wasn’t really the socialising type either. She actually admitted that she preferred her own company, for the most part staying indoors or walking around new places alone. Another thing that I noticed about Tina was her facial hair. I mention this because this was a bizarrely common feature of all three of my western work colleagues. Debbi obviously struggled with abating the five o’clock shadow that covered her hefty chin. I had also noticed that Kate had more than a few teenage boy hairs poking from her chin. Even Sandi had the clear signs of a moustache on her top lip. Was it something in the water!?

My students continued to be a delight to work with and I was now very comfortable with the material we were working with and the timetable. Living so close to the school made it easy for me to satisfy my stomach, get some rest, and make the most of my new pool. I had now smashed the ten-length barrier and was getting around 500 metres a day of swimming. This was after watching some old Chinese man from my balcony do length after length without stopping. That was a psychological gauntlet thrown down and I was determined to get myself up to 1500 metres a day. Apart from the physical health benefits, I was starting to get a good rhythm going and finding that once in the zone, gliding comfortably through the water, it was very meditative. I had always found swimming hard work, but when you get your stroke going and it becomes effortless, the rhythm and the solitude of gliding through clear water is like a form of meditation where all your thoughts flow through your mind unrestricted. Actually, my daily swim had become the best thing about my new lifestyle. Within the chaos of that dirty polluted city, it offered a period of calm contemplation and I think this was helping me immensely as I was gradually growing to like the place.

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.

64: The Sheepish Wolf

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


Simon moved into the apartment on Wednesday night after he had attended a networking event at the Marriott hotel. The event, which was hosted every week by an Austrian businessman, was open to expats and local professionals. The host provided a free buffet (including pork sausages) and special drink offers for those who attended and it was quite popular.

The Marriot Hotel is in the same upmarket Oakwood development and just a short walk from Loewy’s where Wednesday night was Ladies Night. So typically, when the Marriot finished up at around ten/eleven, many of the attendees would walk over to Loewy’s and enjoy a few more drinks in there. It made for a good bit of mid-week social entertainment and had become a regular part of Simon’s professional/social calendar. Unfortunately for me, it was on during the evening when I was working so I couldn’t go.

It was around midnight when Simon walked into the apartment with a rosy glow in his cheeks and brighter than usual smile on his face. I assumed it was just down to his night of drinking, but he apparently also he had some “interesting” news for me.

“I met a girl tonight” he said in his quintessentially British accent, “but not the typical type of woman I usually go for” he continued. “I think you’ll be quite surprised.” Was that rosy glow in his cheeks that of a drunken man or the rosy glow of attraction? I felt like a father whose son had just told him he’s got engaged; I was quite intrigued.

“What do you mean?” I asked him.

“Well, she’s certainly not the most… demure of females. She’s actually quite… quite feisty. And she has quite a bit of extra weight shall we say. Definitely not the usual type of woman I go for.”

“What? She’s fat?”

“No! Not fat exactly, but she’s much more… more curvier than what I typically like. She has a fair bit of ‘junk in the trunk’, so to speak.” He was emphasising his adjectivals even more than usual and he did seem genuinely quite giddy and excited.

“Simon! What’s come over you mate? A feisty woman with “junk in her trunk”! Have you finally decided to try and have a proper relationship with a proper woman?”, I joked.

“Well it has been quite a while since I’ve had what you could call a proper relationship. But yes, she’s… she’s interesting. She’s quite opinionated” he said, before repeating – “She’s certainly not like the typical Asian girl I would normally go for”, this fact seemed to be bewildering to himself mainly. I was actually quite surprised too.

Although I hadn’t known Simon long, in the short time I had known him, we had spoken quite a lot about women, our respective likes and dislikes and our relationships – typical man-chat. Simon had been very clear about his preferences; he liked petit, slim, submissive Asian women, so listening to him sound all excited about some opinionated, feisty, plump professional Indonesian woman went against the grain of understanding I had about him. It was also a bit of a disappointment, from a purely selfish point of view at least. I mean, we had barely been flatmates for a couple of days – we hadn’t even shared the flat yet, let alone got started as a couple of swinging young bachelors hitting up Jakarta and its promising nightlife, and he had landed himself what seemed to be a proper girlfriend. And of course, that meant that they were going to be inseparable’ for the first month at least, which in turn meant that I was back to being Billy No Mates. I swear the God’s of Indonesia really didn’t fucking like me.

Of course I was happy that Simon had found himself a woman who he didn’t have to pay for, but I was also pissed off that I was back to being… well, on my own. A solo singleton.

I say singleton because, despite the commitment I had made to my so-called Latin lover, the combination of loneliness and the revelation of just how beautiful Indonesian women are was making me lose that loving feeling. The fact that she had not made much effort to contact me since we had agreed to try and extend our brief fling and pursue something more wasn’t really helping to keep that feeling going.

She had by this time left the UK and gone back to Venezuela to holiday with her family for a month. I had tried to Skype a couple of times and I had sent a few messages, but I hadn’t had much of a response. Actually, she had more or less told me that she wouldn’t be able to speak to me much because she would be focussing most of her time on her family whilst she was in Venezuela. However, she was going to make more time to contact me when she was back in Madrid. Essentially, this translated as: ‘I’m busy enjoying myself with my family right now. However, when I’m back in Madrid where it will be cold and wet because it is winter, and I will be back at the job that I hate, I will need someone to talk to then so I’ll be in touch’. Is that a cynical interpretation? Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Either way, it is what it is, which is pretty much a polite “fuck off”. So, after a little over a month since committing to this woman and then dealing with the extreme culture shock of life in Jakarta – alone – I was having second thoughts about whether I really wanted to hold out for her.

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.