Often throughout my travels, people have taken me in as treated me as family. This is the only time I’ve stayed with people who actually are related to me, despite never having met them previously. But by the time I left, there was no question about it: we are family.
My first full day in Jakarta was merely a tiny eye opening introduction to this crazy world I was entering. After some running around, I was indulging in a much needed nap only to be woken by my father asking me to join him at the whorehouse for a drink. I thought he was kidding at first, but he wouldn’t let me go back to sleep and insisted I join him, my stepmom, and uncle for a beer with some nice classy hookers. And in this house, no never means no.
As Ping had loaned the money to build this brothel, he was given unlimited free access to anything he wanted, and I really mean anything. He also has a coupon book (not a joke) he can use whenever he wants or give out to friends. And you better believe this book is good for any number of girls he wants. Luckily for me, no one indulged in anything that would later traumatize me, but I did have to remind myself a few times that this actually is my life.
What’s interesting about this place was that it was set up as nightclub so you could easily forget it was 4pm on a Tuesday, yet all the girls were piled into a back room lit disturbingly bright with numbers tagged on all of them. They simply sit there altogether chatting, not doing much, as the men stand outside watching them creepily and taking notes on which numbers they want. Later, the numbers are given to “Momma” and she will fetch whoever you choose. They come out for a drink, a chat, and then you can head upstairs whenever you’re ready. I think I might have been the first person to ask these girls what they want to be when they grow up, because trust me, they weren’t all grown up yet.
What makes this experience so great is that since Ping knew the owner, the Momma came and not only chatted to us for a bit, but gave me a necklace as a present. (I’m fairly certain young white females are not common there.) When we left we tipped the few girls who sat with us and needless to say, it was a most interesting start to this vacation.
Something I learned within a matter of days was not to mention any needs or wants unless I’m very serious about it because it will happen in an exaggerated manner. Say you like lychee (a fruit) and in comes 20 pounds of it. Wish I was kidding. I never expressed hunger because even when I showed slight interest in food, 10 plates of it would make its way to me. Still not kidding. Even after I’ve been given three breakfasts, somehow they think I can eat more and offer copious amounts of fresh, delicious food. This wouldn’t be so awful if it weren’t for my stepmom whose favorite thing to say is, “finish it”. (Thankfully after she left no one has told me to finish anything.)
Truly though, if I dared touch something it could soon become mine. I quickly became afraid to touch anything as if I were Midas. When purse shopping I was only interested in one purse, but since it was the most expensive one there, I insisted I didn’t want it. I reassured them many times and told them not to go back and get it. Low and behold a few days later it magically made its way to my room. To be honest, I really wasn’t surprised (or upset…I love my new purse).
What I love best about this family though is how unpretentious they are. Despite their ability to design any number of houses they want or eat constantly at fancy restaurants (and they do both), they love their near dilapidated warehouse and eat at hole-in-the-wall noodle shops. It’s truly not because they’re cheap; they have no problem spending money. It’s because they want what they want and it’s as simple as that. My favorite example of their unpretentious attitude lies in the Kobe beef steakhouse story.
The one and only night Ping decided to stay out late was to take us to the best steakhouse in Jakarta to sample Kobe beef, the best in the world. Located at the top floor of an exquisite building with a fine view, we strolled in this classy joint with beer bottles in hand. (Ping goes absolutely nowhere without a couple of beers in the car and in hand, grocery store included.) He also brought his own whiskey bottle and had no problem cracking it at the table. Was he trying to save money? No, he just wanted his whiskey, the best $120 bottle he could find to match the best steak. Now for the best part…
He didn’t want to bring the whole bottle so he simply poured some into another smaller bottle. But this bottle was for some cheap as dirt Malaysian crap. So despite the dime he dropped on dinner, he looked like a weirdo strolling in with beer bottles and cheap whiskey in pocket. He just doesn’t care what people think of him, and that’s what makes him the Godfather.
Despite not visiting much other than Jakarta, we still ventured to neighboring areas. One of the best day trips we took was to Bogor, the lush, green, mountainous region hours away from pollution. Sure the botanical garden was great, even the shopping was fun, but what made this full day adventure so fantastic was our trip to Jurassic Park. Or at least the closest thing in the world to it.
I’m not exaggerating when I say this park is set up nearly exactly how it is in the movie, minus dinosaurs. Instead, substitute lions, bears, hippos, giraffes, ostriches, and every other animal you can imagine. Yes they’re all free and yes they can wander right up to your car. Luckily the dangerous animals don’t usually do so, although I’m not entirely sure as when we were in that particular section it was raining pretty badly and they couldn’t be bothered to do much of anything other than sit under shelter.
But when it was clear, the zebras and camels did all they could to nearly poke their heads into our car as we fed them carrots and bananas. Before you enter the park, it’s up to the individual to load up on snacks to feed the animals and attract them close to your car, despite the warnings not to do so. (The joy of being in a country without crazy lawsuits.) Does this park sound crazy? Yes. And was it fun? Absolutely. As an animal rights advocate I hate zoos, more than you can imagine. But I loved this place. Here, the animals roamed free and could stay as close to people or far away from them as possible. Is it entirely natural? No, but it’s a hell of a lot better than being in a concrete cage behind bars with asinine children taunting them.
One interesting fact about Indonesia I’ve neglected to mention is that fact that there are no laws. Well, technically there are, but nothing a bribe can’t get you out of. The price of the bribe must be in direct proportion to the size of the law you’re breaking, but everything is negotiable.
For example, there are no extensions given to the one month tourist visa. Unless of course you have an Uncle Ping who knows someone in the government he can slip some cash to and an extension stamp will magically appear in your passport. (The immigration officer at the airport was a bit surprised how I got it, but I was clearly not someone to be questioned as evidently I knew people.) The bottom line is, don’t break the law in Indonesia…unless you have the cash to back it up.
While the massages, shopping, drinks, and delicious food was absolutely fantastic, it was never the best part. By far what makes this place so special in my heart is how welcome and loved I felt. They took me in and without question I was family. Over time we grew closer; I stayed up late chatting with Aliu, went to Wei’s home in the country no one had seen before, and soon they were all able to predict my preferences. While I might have glorified all the material blessings I’d been given, that’s not the reason I stayed so long. Feeling welcome and appreciated is a priceless gift never to be ignored. And being given a family in Indonesia is by far the most valuable thing I’ve ever received.
My first two weeks in Indonesia was spent vacationing with my dad and stepmom aka being ushered around constantly meeting new people and sharing pleasantries over meals out. It seemed everyone knew my stepmom was in town and had to schedule an appointment with her and her bule family.
One of the families we met had three daughters, all near my age, and spoke perfect English as they go to an international school. We hit it off on our first lunch and we were all promptly invited to their house in Bandung the following weekend. (I actually remained close with them my entire time in Jakarta.)
Bandung is a breath of fresh air compared to Jakarta. Sure the traffic and malls have followed, but there is a chance to escape up the volcano, go for a hike, and receive at least some peace and quiet. After only a couple of days it was time to leave, but somehow I knew it wasn’t goodbye. Final farewells do not exist in my book and I’m always liable to return.
At first it was only for one night, but somehow I stuck around for a week and a half. It started with meeting Jasmine at a birthday party for one of my friends here. She was half Indonesian and half British, but had lived in America for nearly 10 years. Being that she was still in high school, that’s enough of her life to consider her American. She was on two week holiday with her father and invited me to stay for the weekend for a couple good nights out. (Since arriving in Jakarta I had been deprived of any nightlife and after a month I was itching for it.)
Our first night was a prelude to the new absurd world I had entered. Entirely different from that of my family in Jakarta, this one was still crazy and unreal in its own way. Cloud 9 is the only way to describe the first night; it’s also the name of the bar up in the hills we went. With live music, good food, and a spectacular view, this place is the perfect place to swig cocktails all night. So that we did.
The following day was Christmas and while I was concerned I was impeding on some family day, her dad told me to get ready to really party. Breakfast consisted of guacamole, apple streusel cake, and every other western junk food you can imagine. We didn’t even see her dad all day until we went out at night dressed to kill. Jasmine had a hair straightener, little black dress, and heels for me to borrow so I could escape the backpacker I had been for so many months.
Being that I had never spent the holidays away from home, I was hoping for something good. I didn’t care what; I just didn’t want to completely ignore it as I had Thanksgiving, Halloween, and my birthday. And thankfully it was the best Christmas I could hope for as drinks were heavy all night long and the bill footed by her father. A far cry from backpacker’s budgets, I drank everything from shots on fire to tequila, and you could tell at the end of the night.
By the time the weekend was over it was clear I needed to come back for New Year’s Eve, but as lazy days stretched into long nights, it became obviously stupid to leave for just a couple of nights.. Besides, Jasmine’s dance on stage and vomit on the table antics were reminiscent of me a long time ago. (A month could be considered a long time to some people.)
The week was spent sleeping in, watching Sex and the City, eating dinner out, and if we weren’t partying, we were still hanging out with friends. Luckily for me, her group there could speak English and while it took some time for them to use it regularly, they always made me feel welcome and I loved hanging out with them. From adventures in hot springs to late night movies, I had a great vacation away from my vacation.
New Year’s Eve was a whirlwind of a night as we were ready to go out by 5 (even though I only had 45 min to get ready). The traffic in Bandung on the weekends is epic and nothing to be trifled with. We all wanted to be well drunk by midnight and that meant not only an early start on the bottle, but on the road. Starting with classy martinis at a 5 star hotel, we then bought some flashing devil horns and were ready to find trouble at the North Sea.
The North Sea is the little bar Jasmine’s father has taken as his own, where he and his gang of friends hole up every night owning the place. They’ve acclimated to only buying bottles as single drinks is just ridiculous. Luckily for me, their drink of choice are gin and tonics. And I never thought I’d meet anyone who likes a stronger G&T than me, but her dad’s is lacking in the T department; pretty much entirely.
While Jazz and I planned on venturing to other places all night long, we somehow drank our way through the evening without ever switching venues. At midnight the horns blew, everyone cheered, and then my memory started going. I know I was loud, saying stupid things, and acting a damn fool. But in the end, I had heaps of fun, made it home safely, and didn’t have too bad of a hangover the next day so it was a roaring success.
Early Sunday morning it was time to bid farewell. Jasmine and her dad had a plane to catch back to reality, and I scored a seat in their car back to Jakarta. Despite having so much fun, I was tired, sick, and in dire need of recovering my body before I got back on the backpacking trail. While this blog doesn’t give too many specific stories, it’s for a specific purpose. Things that happen in Bandung should stay in Bandung, and out of respect for others I’ll keep these stories to myself. Or I’ll tell them to you in person after I’ve had some wine. The very least I can say is that Jasmine can turn a gay man straight and a straight girl gay.