Steady as she goes
Nothing to see here, move along
The weather has turned decidedly cool for Jakarta. Early mornings are bracingly fresh, evenings mild and mellow. My street is full of folk enjoying the pleasant air tonight, and it’s a treat to drive slowly along, nodding and smiling at the neighbours. I’m still quite a source of amusement for the tots and the teenagers, who always wave at me and joke to each other as I pass. It occurs to me that my status must be somewhat akin to the traditional village idiot, being the token expat in the neighbourhood.
The drive is disappointingly boring – traffic flows, motorbikes keep well clear of me, pedestrians stop and look before crossing the road, and there’s not a policeman in sight. As I make an easy turn into Jalan Falatehan and park outside Top Gun, I feel just a little bit cheated.
It’s like an ice box in Top Gun, because the aircons have a somewhat rudimentary thermostat control – they’re either on full blast, or off. As the girls start to come in I observe that a fair number of them are dressed up warm and cosy in an idiosyncratic mix of denim tops, woolly cardigans – and one girl is wearing something resembling a sort of proto-anorak. They disappear into the ladies, and emerge minutes later like butterflies breaking out of their chrysalises.
In one of those rare flashes of non-alcoholic insight, it dawns on me why certain nooks and corners of the bar are so popular with the Sweet Young Things. It’s not for any particular strategic advantage, but because they’re out of the direct blast of the aircons. Whereas I, and many of the guys, prefer the cooler spots at the bar and the tables.
As the bar fills up I notice quite a few new faces. Rather nice new faces. All in all, a very pleasing variety of new faces. I count up three, no, four, new Indramayu lasses – not youngsters, but the right side of twenty to my experienced eye. Making a mental note to investigate their pedigree and provenance, I look forward to nurturing future acquaintance.
There’s a couple of friends at the back of the bar who look most promising. One is slim, lissome and short haired, and she’s wearing a nicely cut loose floral dress – she has the distinct look of a twenties flapper. Her companion is a very striking, suave young thing, with cool piercing eyes and a most distinctive facial bone structure. Her resemblance to the young Audrey Hepburn is quite astonishing.
There are other new things – well, new in the sense they’ve not been spotted in Top Gun before – but slightly older than their make up would have you believe. What sets them apart is their stretched and shiny faces, and their glossy, tightly-groomed hair. One thing that really puts me off these girls is their eyebrows: they all favour thin, arched and pencilled curves that give them a rather disdainful, quizzical look.
I notice one new girl at the pool table whose face seems to be set in a permanently sour scowl. Putting on my best Philip Marlowe imitation, I laconically drawl “the lady’s got a look would reverse global warming.”
Lust in translation
The band warms up. It’s one of those so-so groups, hovering between talent and optimism – but their style matches the mood of the evening. And of course, what they lack in star quality they certainly make up for in volume. In fact, a couple at a nearby table haul over one of the bar staff and ask for the music to be turned down. Obviously not regulars, I reflect, as I long ago learned the futility of making such audacious requests.
My strategy when it gets too noisy is to relocate behind the band in the Twilight Zone, so I shift myself to a seat back of the loudspeakers. As I settle down to watch the pageant from this strategically desirable spot, a couple of pleasingly buxom and obviously well-primed girls take the adjacent bar stools. As the other Sweet Young Things around them get up and start to gyrate to the music, this tipsy couple joins in and they do one of those girl-on-girl lesbian acts to the music.
Now this sort of frolic is quite common, and is invariably done in a self mocking way. But my two neighbours, to my surprise and delight, are getting completely carried away with the act, rubbing each other with lascivious intensity. One of them is panting in not altogether feigned ecstasy, the other heaving in a decidedly erotic fashion, when they suddenly stop dead in their tracks, grab their handbags and each others’ hand, and make a bee line for the bar door. Priceless!
Lost in space
After a while the musical din finally starts to get to me, so I drink up and wander out into the street. It’s as pleasant a night as you could wish for, with a slight breeze and the lazy ebb and flow of humanity going about its business. There are a couple of street urchins skipping around my car, little girls who chatter and dash up to anyone who looks like a soft touch for a few coins.
As I drive down the street I suddenly see a hulking great lorry blocking my regular exit road, so I have to swing eastwards towards Pasaraya and loop round to join the main thoroughfare southwards. Not being accustomed to this route in the dark, I miss a turning and blissfully head off into unknown territory.
Now the art of road signing in Jakarta is still in its infancy, and there’s an endearingly useless quality to many of the signs. They point to places whose names no-one recognizes – official titles of areas that are known by completely different appellations to the locals. After meandering round a maze of dark and characterless side roads I at last emerge into a street I recognize, and all is well.
Or so I think. Swinging into the one-way system near Dharmawangsa I very nearly have a nasty accident. The road is empty, visibility clear, and I am disturbingly sober – so what, you ask, is the cause? Well, it’s a newly-painted sign on the corner of the main south Jakarta police complex. It announces ‘Police Resort’ – which conjures up visions of a sunny seaside holiday camp, or a lakeside retreat. Enjoying a hearty belly laugh as you’re turning a tight corner is not the safest of things to do in a car at night, and I swerve back still chuckling at this glorious misuse of our great language.
The verdict? A most pleasant, very relaxing, and thoroughly enjoyable night on the Blok, with a couple of unforgettable moments to tuck away in the mental junk store that is my memory.
This is one of the great things about Blok M – it’s at once familiar, comfortable and predictable, but capable of swinging a completely unexpected googly at you. Who, after a day’s hard grind, could ask for anything more?