With nothing to detain me in Serang, a city which surprised me in its enormity considering I'd never even heard of it until its recent appearance on the radar screen, it was only a token snap of an unusual statue of a horseman, giant eagle and traditionally garbed guardians which detained me in catching a Bemo out to the bus terminal. My enduring tiredness from the previous day's marathon didnt afford me much patience to smile my way through especially inane and persistent pestering from the manic crew, and not for the first time I couldnt help feeling a little short changed in them exacting a little over the odds for dropping me short at a roadside bus stand devoid of choice. Fortunately the one bus there was headed for Jakarta sure enough, a rare large good quality bus with uniquely even the prices written on the windscreen. That didnt stop the habitual teenage ne'erdowell from getting balshy with me when I proferred the prescribed fare though, I stood my ground and deliciously did myself proud in exacting the accomplished phrase of "Berdeka di sini sepuluh ribuh" (It says there 10,000). My fatigue and short fuse was aided by the contemplation of the notoriously large and chaotic city now imminent and so in the land of salutations the boy turned round to get a middle finger and a token expletive in his back for his trouble. A fellow incumbent confirmed my stand and so ground rules seemingly set, we were soon off down a fast if strange new concept for Indonesia, a dual carriageway with tollbooths and crash barriers. The eternal rice fields were apparent as ever, yet it was perceptibly drier here and the sun shelters dotted around were larger house sized open walled thatched affairs. Another resembled a giant Toblerone with no vertical walls to give it elevation. The telltale intense traffic was soon joined by a conurbation of random developments and sporadic skyscrapers, and it was as though my onboard non-friend tried to up the pressure even more with a denigratory derision of my destination, as if I were somehow headed the wrong way. They were going to Kerembalis terminal as I knew very well, as if I expected them to take me anywhere else.
Jumped on as ever by eager Ojek drivers, I subdued them initially with my belated first feed of the day, where a local boy obligingly eased the sense of disorientation in managing to explain well enough how to reach my tricky final goal still some 15Ks hence. The number 64 bus to take me to Jalan Diponegoro was never coming though, and it was only after a long hot frustrating wait constantly shunning more Ojek sharks that upon eventually concocting a plan B in desperation, the bus immediately usurped it by showing up. The next challenge was to figure out where in this endless hotchpotch tapestry I had to get off the rattly smoke splutterer, and devoid of notable landmarks I just had to resort to the ever inadequate maps of the guideboook and sporadic sign spotting. Thankfully the befitting "Welcome Monument" eventually appeared as a vaguely discernible interpretation of its name, and so I knew to hop off shortly for the remaining 2K trudge, again mercifully through an unexpectedly quiet leafy enclave of embassies. Amazingly, the residency of the British High Commissioner was the first building I came across in all Jakarta.
It was en route that I pinpointed what would later prove to be the handy Gondangdia rail halt, and a short life threatening road crossing later there I was, Jalan Jaksa. Every capital city had its prescribed travellers ghetto, and so it was with mixed trepidation and anticipation that I first encountered Jakarta's promise of facility, vice and bullshit. Jaksa was cool. Whilst Istanbul's Sultanahmet district had become a tad too up market and Khao San Road in Bangkok had been unforgettably overwhelming and partisan, Jalan Jaksa proved to be just a normal side street upon first impression, mustering a redeeming melange of useful travellers services and unglorified local trappings. The cafes were relaxed, the net cafes reassuringly unobtrusive, the touts benign and the few street stalls endearingly grungy, all camouflaged amongst a down at heels neighbourhood of ordinary houses and pavement businesses. Top choice of the guidebook was the Bloem Steen Hostel, materialising surprisingly uninspiring, available and empty of white faces, and so safely ensconced a Bintang beer seemed more alluring than a much needed Mandi. Randomly hitting upon the nearby "Memories" cafe just around the corner, it was an acceptably unhurried low key mix of locals and the odd wanderer, and the habitually ensuing inquisition seemed apparently unloaded and genuine compared to what I might have expected. At least so it seemed. I didnt know it yet, but "Memories" was destined to impart me with many memories indeed.
It was only a belated realisation that I had hit upon Jaksa's focus, the only place which really kicked off at night and the only ostensible bar girl hangout, and though I didnt play that ever popular game I still managed to succumb to an altogether different encounter. Her name was Helen, a very contrasting beauty to the others and the most beautiful of them all. Though Indonesian, Helen was similarly a transient resident devoid of any such agenda, she was here in order to secure a visa application so that she might oversee a student exchange to Australia, and upon seeing me plugging away inexorably at my diary she enquired as to whether I was a journalist. I did myself a favour in answering in the affirmative since my literary quest had long seemed to feel just as much like that kind of work. However banally, I had also had a couple of articles printed in Oz and with aspirations of books to follow, I thought I should do myself justice. And so all was revealed. Another point in her favour, amongst many commendable traits Helen was a political activist who had married an Australian journalist, and in his absence due to an early death through cancer, I had to admit that I bore more than a passing resemblance to his photo. A civil servant of clear intelligence, her depths and charm worked that day to disarm me of my eternal healthy cynicism, still quietly determined not to succumb to South East Asia's potential pitfalls. Even Benz in Bangkok had been an inconsequential celibate encounter, and I had steadfastly stuck to my pledge of not playing the Asian girly game, though that might not always prove easy or on the surface even seem rational. She did not appear of that ilk however, and dubiously consoled by the knowledge that technically she wasnt even Asian but Melanesian, I still fought it on point of principle wary of untold dangers, only to finally give way to temptation in the end. Spurred on by her determination, 10 months of hardship without so much as a cuddle was long enough I finally resolved, and so I ended up in her arms that night, my own little chocolate pygmy girl. Ethnically distinct to any I had hitherto encountered, a genetic quirk had rendered her different to her people and even the rest of her family. Though from West Papua, the farthest Eastern reach of Indonesia on the island of New Guinea, she might have passed for Pakistani or East African, and upon letting her shock of deep red hair descend I somewhat mindblowingly saw that I was now going out with Tina Turner. Wow!
It was a complicatory factor which I had not expected or made contingency for. Hoping for a quick smash and grab raid of Jakarta's highlights given its bad reputation, I also knew from experience that that might not prove realistic. Big cities had to be fought through with a tendancy of soaking up time and money, and being distracted by Helen now ensured that. Time was pressing, with my visa expiry shortly pending and Java's considerable attractions still wholly undiscovered. Southern Sumatra had been arduous in the main though, and for once I afforded myself the indulgence, explaining that I still had to keep one eye on the job, Helen understood and respected me for it. One day (and night) passed into another, with ridiculously short museum opening hours and insufficient signing proving as much an obstacle as Helen, but however convolutedly I still managed to retain a certain discipline all the same and get the job done. There were ups and downs as ever.
In consolation, the indulgnce of a full on swanky nightclub was an experience I would not have attained, tempered therein by the loss of one of my diarys and with it a weeks worth of hard earned insight. That one hurt, but I consoled myself it had not been all three of them and therefore a months worth, that would have been devastating. Helen betrayed more endearing qualities in jealousy and insecurity, with numerous competitors making their amorous intentions plain to me. I resisted Roma the stereotypical pick up chick for example and more genuine Ivi who yearned for what Helen had but couldnt find. She was the woman every man wanted to be with, even to the point that I risked violence from one particularly persistent admirer too captivated to reel in his dick and afford us respect, but Helen was a strong principled woman who steadfastly stood by me. She hadnt been with a man in 2 years she explained since her Ukrainian fiancee with whom she had had a third child had died piloting a cargo plane in Iraq, resisting all advances throughout her previous fortnight in Jakarta, only to be raptured by me. I may have only been fulfilling the fantasy of her dead husband, but certainly she wanted me for a new one, I had to feel priviliged all the same. Alarm bells ringing, the proposition of offspring and marriage came quickly.