Prior to arriving in Jakarta airport, I understood that I had a good overall perception of what Jakarta promised.
I had a loose list of assumptions and expectations. I assumed that all capital city airports were more or less the same. Marble floors, brushed stainless steel, glass walls, clean lines, Starbucks, Costa Coffee, air conditioning, electric light and functioning toilets. I also assumed that there were areas of Jakarta that would have a third world feel, galvanized roofs, lean-to buildings and barefoot children playing in the puddles. I assumed that at some stage over my time in Jakarta, I would take a drive through these areas, photograph them from ten paces and show the kids how less privileged children lived. I assumed that where I would live would be just off a slip road on a ring road somewhere, a new build, purpose built, isolated from[D1] “real Jakarta”, in a neat little bubble all of its own. Executive Paradise it was called and in line with the name….“paradise for executives” was my expectation.
Walking off the plane at Jakarta Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, I headed briskly towards immigration, carrying my travel folder, which contained, passports, entry visas, (obtained in squeaky clean Singapore the day before), additional passport photographs for me and each of the three children, vaccination reports, company details and my husband’s name and address, which I had written on a piece of paper, in case I couldn’t recall on the spot, not the best sign of a marriage but a testament to my organizational skills.
It wasn’t until we stood in the queue at the immigration desk that I had time to take in my surroundings. The wooden paneled painted ceiling looked as if it was about to collapse onto the worn carpet tiles, the floral pattern of which had faded since its heyday of 1981. The lack of air conditioning, saw the county jerseys of my children (their preferred travel attire) cling to their backs and the beads of sweat on their foreheads washed away all promise and hope as they stared at the exposed cables trailing across the wooden ceiling, only held in place here and there with plastic tacks. There would be no finger swiping, card scanning or retina imaging here, as the immigration clerk, waded through the documentation, pen in hand. When he asked, “Why are you in Jakarta”, I felt he was reading my mind, I’m was just thinking the same thing myself.
The only white people in the arrivals hall, we drew a lot of attention as people stared and children gathered around us giggling and pointing. At first I thought I had a made some of fashion faux pas but, my white jeans and tan pumps were the perfect travel clothes according to Elle Sept 13, and then I realized that it was our skin colour, hair colour and the look of apprehension in our eyes that was causing the stir. Local Indonesians laid strewn on the floor of the arrivals hall, barefoot and fanning themselves with pieces of limp paper, there was a distinct lack of light and oxygen. I had a bottle of water so I was only missing two out of the three key elements necessary for survival.
At the door, I spotted a sign with my name written in bold. Taking the chance that there wasn’t another Denise Hession in Jakarta, certainly not another one arriving on the same flight, I took the car and waiting to be transported to Executive Paradise.
I assumed the driver was taking the scenic route as the next one and a half hours was spent driving through slums and dodging tuk-tuks and motorbikes and stopping at about six toll booths, as apparently this was the toll road, the main route. The torrential rain and fork lightning didn’t do much to help visibility but I could see the streams of rainwater happily carrying the rubbish alongside us, like they were old friends on an outing together.
In the middle of this scene beside broken footpaths and exposed gullies on a once white wall were the letters large and in script, Executive Paradise. Broadening my imagination I braced myself for what lay behind the gates, just after the security guard scanned the car for a bomb, we were here in Executive Paradise. Would it be considered paradise in Dublin or Dubai, maybe not, but everything is relative and it’s paradise in Jakarta.