Monday, April 20, 2009

Three bedroom house


After a journey of enchantment we finally reached the two-storey, three bedroom house I was going to be renting in a posh, middle class part of a district called Kebayoran Lama. We walked through a dark front garden and entered a huge dimly lit but well furnished lounge-dining room where my servants awaited me. The room had a large dining table of dark wood, a three-piece suite in dark leather, a tiled floor, a picture of a mountain in Bali, and a broad staircase that led to the upper floor.

"Tomorrow the nightclubs!" said Fergus, eyes twinkling. "But tonight there’s only time to show you your house and introduce you to your maid and your house guard."

I shook hands with Ami, a smiling and rather pretty girl aged about thirty, and with middle-aged Rachmat, who looked much too skinny and gentle to be an effective guard. I wondered what the folks back home would think when they heard I could sit in the garden sipping gin and tonic while my servants scurried around doing all the work!

"I asked Ami to have some nasi goreng and some beers ready for us," said Fergus.

Rachmat retired to the front porch; Ami retired to her quarters, a room I discovered some weeks later, while Ami was out shopping, that was the size of a broom cupboard.

I sat at the stylish table and began to tuck-in to spicy fried rice. Fergus, sitting on the leather settee, refrained from eating. I began to ask some of the many questions circulating in my jet-lagged brain.

"Tell me about my staff," I asked.

"Ami is married," explained Fergus, "and she goes home to her husband every Sunday, her day off. Incidentally, it’s not a good idea to get too familiar with your domestic staff." Fergus’s tone was friendly and avuncular.

"Good point," I said, immediately conjuring up a picture of Ami’s husband wielding a machete. I had read that Indonesians smilingly put up with a certain amount of exploitation, and then they run amok.

"The maid will clean the house, wash your clothes and cook," explained Fergus.

"What do I pay her?"

"About fifty pounds a month."

"Heavens."

"Don’t pay her anymore," said Fergus "or she’ll take advantage. She’ll see you as a soft touch."

"The same pay for Rachmat?" I asked.

"Yes." said Fergus, "Your guard’s supposed to stay awake at night to guard the house but in practice they all fall sleep."

"What’s the teaching like?" I asked.

"Piece of cake," said Fergus, looking very serious. "The school sets high standards and the students and staff are mainly great. There’s the occasional young member of staff who’s scruffily dressed and who doesn’t worry about spelling. I don’t know why the boss appoints them."

Fortunately I was wearing a smart shirt.

"You like it here?" I said.

"Yes. I was in Australia before this," explained Fergus. "The worst students are the Australians and the Brits. Spoiled and lazy. I prefer the Asians."

"Where else have you been?" I asked.

"Kenya. That was beautiful but there was hostility from the local people. I was in Oman. An attractive country. I started in the UK but only lasted a few months. I didn’t see why I should waste my time on brats."

"How do you spend your weekends?"

"Squash at the sports club or the Mandarin Hotel," said Fergus, "and working-out at the gym."

Fergus was seemingly someone who took great care over his personal appearance.

"What about the poverty. That worry you?" I said.

"It’s not as bad as it used to be. Suharto’s ‘the father of development.’"

"Do you mix with the locals?" I asked.

"I’ve made friends with some of the secretaries in the office," said Fergus. "People like that."

I glanced at Fergus. Did his eyes suggest someone who carried some secret burden; or was it Scottish gloom, loneliness or simply temporary tiredness?

"This is the biggest Moslem country in the world," I said. "Does that create problems?"

"No, it’s only in Aceh they have fundamentalists. Jakarta’s very broad minded."

"Like Bangkok?" I asked.

"Not exactly. There are no go-go bars of the sort you’d get in Patpong. But the locals are very friendly and there are lots of bars. It’s not as fussy as Kuala Lumpur."

"Do you take malaria tablets?" I inquired.

"There’s no malaria in the city," pointed out Fergus. "The Thousand Islands can have malaria though. That’s just off the coast."

"When do you think my luggage will arrive? It’s coming by boat."

"Quite a few weeks," said Fergus. "Did you bring the basic essentials with you on the plane?"

"A few clothes. A few books. Most of my teaching materials will be on the ship."

"Have you got a lot of stuff coming over? Furniture?"

"No. I sold my London flat," I said "and most of the things in it. It’s amazing what you can do without. Do you miss Britain?"

"Not at all," said Fergus, grinning. "Each time I arrive back in Jakarta I think of it as home. We had one girl who came out here to teach and she just wasn’t suited. She was homesick within weeks. Missed the English way of life. Missed her friends. She had a boyfriend back in England."

"I like foreign places," I said, "and I’ve no attachments."

At Heathrow there had been an ex-colleague who had been weeping at my departure, but I had never been romantically attached to her.

"You’ll love it here Kent," said Fergus cordially.

Fergus and I picked up our beers and began touring the house. Fergus seemed easy to get on with. He spoke highly of life in Jakarta. I was feeling tired but happy.

"Master-bedroom," said Fergus, as he pointed into a high-ceilinged room with tiled floor, king sized bed, shuttered windows, desk, and large wardrobe. "It’s a good idea to have the filter on the air-conditioning cleaned from time to time and remember to spray the room with insect killer."

"Are mosquitoes a problem?"

"You don’t want to get dengue fever," said Fergus. "It gives you dreadful headaches and you can start vomiting blood."

"Ah."

"You should have no problems with noise at night. Apart from the pre-recorded call of the muezzin, coming from a distant mosque. If you have problems sleeping, move to the edge of the bed and you’ll soon drop off."

"Aha."

"En suite bathroom with light blue tiles," announced Fergus, as we entered a spacious loo fit for a five star hotel. "Make sure the maid doesn’t use the same cloth for cleaning the toilet bowl and the dishes in the kitchen."

"Is she likely to?"

"Yes."

"Garden?" I asked.

"We won’t walk around it now," said Fergus. "You get snakes at night."

"OK."

"Kitchen," said Fergus, once we were back downstairs. "Nice big fridge. I should mention that Ami had typhoid last year. They’ve nearly all got it most of the time. I would keep an eye on her to make sure she washes her hands occasionally. At home I do most of my own cooking."

"What do you eat?" I asked.

"Tinned corned beef and tuna."

"No nasi goreng. And what about security?"

"Security shouldn’t be a problem," said Fergus. "There was a spate of violent robberies a few years ago but the army rounded up the worst offenders, shot them and left their bodies lying around for all to see."

"Goodness."

"OK," said Fergus. "Tomorrow I’ll take you to the bank to open an account. In the evening it’s a trip to one or two bars. It’s not long until term starts so you need to know where things are."

With Fergus gone, and my bags unpacked, I lay in bed and thought about my new life. I had had my typhoid jags so I didn’t need to worry about a serious dose of that particular infection; the house was luxurious; the school was apparently well-managed; the country was magical. This was going to be paradise, so long as I behaved myself. I wondered about the nightlife tour that Fergus had organised.

2. NIGHT AND DAY
Gamesman's Bar
Pop Gun
The Bintang Disco
The Ranamok and the J Bar Bogor

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