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Tight-fisted to open-handed.

INDONESIA | Wednesday, 4 February 2015 | Views [723]

Where is Kristoff when you need him?

Where is Kristoff when you need him?

After somehow managing to spend about $5 for the entire day visiting the Monas, easily overlooking the fact that Claire fetched beer and paid for it while I cooked dinner, my last day was going to be about getting rid of the remaining Rupiah I had. Even though most effigies on the Indonesian bank notes sport moustaches impressive enough to keep some as souveniers, exchange rates meant I was probably better off just doing what I do best and littering the streets with it like confetti.

At 35 cents per train ride, I was tempted to see how much it would cost to bribe my way on to the ladies only carriage. Ticket sellers at suburban train stations aren't hired for their English skills, or their sense of humour, so the 45 minute train ride to Fatahillah Square was just another opportunity to be stared at for free.

A few Ojek drivers lazed around out the front of the station, using their bikes more like hammocks as they awaited their next fare. Even though a westerner would look like a money bag on legs to them usually, they were obviously too happy doing nothing in the stifling heat to notice that I was a slot machine on the verge of a jackpot. “Hello mister” ventured one with the such a dainty, limp wristed wave that I don't think he had a wrist bone. “Jalan jalan” I replied because no fare is worth having my fingers buried clavicle deep as you try and drive. “Ahhhhh, very good mister” he beamed, utterly chuffed with his solid grasp of a foreign language.

The square was so close that I could have afforded to stretch-limo it if one was available. The back end would have sat at the station while the front end abutted the edge of the square though. I hadn't done any research on the area, and Claires only instruction was to go to the famous Cafe Batavia and have a cocktail. Sound advice if ever I had heard any, so it was there I headed first. The walls were completely covered with famous people, who I imagine the proprioters would like to think had visited at one point or another. After the previous few days of celebrity snapshots, I am convinced it will only be a matter of time before my face appears somewhere on the wall.

I occassionally like to fool myself into believing I am at least a little cultured, so I read up on the history of the place, and will share the highlights of it now, in the style known as 'cut and paste'.

Once upon a time, Fatahillah Square was the centerpiece of Batavia, the town built by Dutch colonizers in the image of their cities back in the Netherlands. With its bustling canals, open spaces and graceful townhouses, Batavia in its heyday reflected the prosperity of its residents. Some remnants of old Batavia remain to this day, but the once-prosperous town has largely been left to the ravages of time. In the daytime, the square is littered with homeless people sleeping on the steps of the former Stadthuis (now the Jakarta History Museum). The nearby Kali Besar canal is stagnant and reeks to the heavens, and other old structures in the vicinity are occupied by squatters.

Couldn't have said it better myself. Now, that's out of the way, I can go back to my usual toilet humour. Cafe Batavia did have a guy standing at the entrance to the john, who thanked me after paying a visit. In light of the way westerners are viewed with all the photos, smiles, waves and skin whitening products sold there, perhaps I honoured their facilities with my western pee?

It would have been more valuable than usual seeing as I paid $30 for a mocktail that was simply 5 different flavours of cordial with no water, a Black Russian in a half filled tumbler and a vegetarian fried rice. “So, pork ok mister?” “Sure, show me a photo of a pork tree and I'll go to town on it!” I tipped, then checked the receipt on the way out and saw that a tip had been added anyway.

Author hard at work.......getting drunk.

Given how many people do the job of one person, any tip would be split so many ways, a handshake would be more valuable. I couldn't figure out if there was so many people doing the work of so few because of how many people lived in Jakarta. Or that so many people lived in Jarkata so that so many people could do so little. Was the toilet man paid to thank people for their deposits, or was he there for the sheer joy of it? Was it necessary to have three people greet you as you walk into a department store? Were five security guys needed to guard Claires apartment complex when a nod was the most scrutiny an incoming car got from any of them?

The visa guys at the airport had to break up their jovial conversation when I walked up to get my stamp, both in and out of the country. Compare that to Bangkok where the immigration folk hammer passports like 'Whac-a-mole' while a constant queue of at least 20 people stare impatiently at them. Trains were swept and mopped by a team of cleaners as it traveled along. That night Claire and I went out for dinner and three different waitresses approached us for our order in the first 5 minutes.

It was our last night together and the bottom of my pocket was simmering, but not yet burnt all the way through. Claire had come home ready to give me a foot up ass parting gift because twice I had roughly stacked the blender without telling her, or without her hearing me tell her that my assembly had been rather ad-hoc. Twice Claire had painted the kitchen bench, floor and walls with her breakfast and only that special kind of holiday sleep stopped me from waking up to all the door slamming it resulted in.

So not only did I need to thank Claire for all her hospitality, I had to ensure I didn't end the night with my balls in a properly assembled blender. The Italian restaurant was as fancy as they come with water served in wine glasses, a DJ mixing up some classical music like there was a crowd ripe for it and a large, single red rose on the table. That would have made the setting rather romantic was that the nature of our friendship, but the illusion was well and truly sullied as we spent the evening in often heated debate about animal rights.

Perhaps to prove a point, Claire had chicken, a Risotto Con il Pollo and I had one of the most delicious serves of Gnocchi alla Crema di Tartufo I had ever eaten. For the middle of the table, we ordered some patata fritte. Another illusion was shattered when the posh setting and incredibly well presented individual dishes had a plate of French fries plonked in the middle of it. Others may have objected, but I rejoiced at my dinner of potato two ways. Again a tip was mandatory, equal to about 5 cents each for the 200 staff rostered on that night, and the tally of expenditure for the day showed how differently you can holiday just by your choice of dining out.

What use is a phone if it can't take a good selfie?

You may be wondering why there has been no mention of Indonesian food other than Indo Mie 2 minute noodles. Other than being an undisputed high point in college campus cuisine, the 2 minute variety approximates the street vendor or restaurant version close enough to make the decreased chance of additional pork, or e.coli, negate any difference in quality. Fried tofu or tempeh was common street food but rumours abound about plastic being added to the oil to increase the crispiness. I love brown food as much as the next person, and not being a masterchef, I had gotten that all important crispiness by just accidentally deep frying shit for too long.

Being an ex-pat, Claire had exhausted interest in too much Indonesian food a long time ago. She seemed more than happy to let me make up for her breakfast having too many floor tiles in it with a decadent Italian treat. And that ended what had been a most pleasant stay with a dear friend that I sincerely hope gets another job in some other exotic country so I can visit her there.


Postscript. I did manage to spend most of my remaining rupiah, getting ripped off in the process but still leaving with a smile on my face. The handful of coins I sported was 5 cents short for a bottle of water so I had to break a $10 note that was mostly needed for the departure tax at the airport. The bus terminal shop attendant feigned her disgust at my apparent wealth then as she pulled notes out of every corner of her clothing, she rambled on good naturedly, probably telling me straight up that she as going to over charge the almighty fuck out of me. I stood there nodding and grinning like a moron thinking “Look at me connecting with the locals”. I walked out about 80 cents out of pocket and she was so stoked at winning the stupid foreigner lottery that she started high-fiving all the customers in her shop. At the end of my stay, I'm glad I was able to leave the people as happy as they made me.

Tags: dining out, food, jakarta, travel

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