Many people associate Indonesia with white sandy beaches, tropical greenery, and long afternoons resting in hammocks with polite natives delivering fruit cocktails to your private cabana on the beach. Also part of the image of this idyllic surrounding is that you take up yoga and practice sitting cross legged on your handcrafted wooden porch and you ditch your diet of deep fried fancies for sushi and raw vegetables. Well, that’s not the Indonesia I moved to, I’m not even sure which island of the c.18,000 islands that make up Indonesia that dreamy destination would be on, but I can confirm it is not on my island, the island of Java or anywhere near the capital city of Indonesia, Jakarta.
Jakarta is a built up, run down and graffiti decorated sprawling abyss of poverty with a sprinkling of middle class wealth and topped off with pollution. The twelfth largest city in the world and the most densely populated city in Southeast Asia.
However the romantic in me was heavily influenced by the book “Eat, Pray, Love” and rather taken with the notion of becoming more Zen-like in general whilst during my stay in Indonesia so I decide to make strides in doing so, despite my challenging surroundings.
Eat & Love: Reducing wine intake was already taken care of – as I could not justify swallowing down wine at the cost of Eu.35 a bottle whilst making dinner which cost Eu.8. So for “eat”, I decide to spend the Eu.35 on food and pray that my thickening waist will miraculously reduce. Being naturally fond of my food, I can couple “eat” and “love” in this one step as I love to eat.
Pray: This proved a little more difficult as Jakarta is predominantly Muslim and I have yet to find a Catholic Church. I will point out at this stage that during my summer in Ireland, the church steeple was visible from my kitchen window and I also failed to attend, but I had different and very valid excuses, sorry, reasons, each week. Again referring back to the book and the form of pray that the main character engaged in was meditation and yoga, so “pray” being open to interpretation I decided to visit a local spa, which would act as my form of prayer.
I walked down the steps to the basement spa, which had a small Zen-like fountain in the waiting area, the sound of trickling water did provide a certain ambience but the effect soon faded en route to the treatment room area where the a/c was off and the windows were open at street level just enough to let the sound of traffic and rickety tuk-tuks permeate the air. Handing me a green coloured smock I duly changed and followed the 4 foot tall masseuse to the communal treatment area. A sea of pink smocks and brown eyes greeted me, I was the only white woman and the only one wearing green – perhaps she thought green was more my colour and to be honest , I had to agree.
Ten minutes later I realised that this wasn’t going to be the candle-lit, scented oils type of massage I’d been hoping for. When I flipped over and noticed the metal bar overhead, meant for the masseuse to hold on to as she walked on my back I took solace in the fact that she looked to be about 55% of my body weight. The dimly lit room, filled with the fumes of traffic and the smell of twenty two peoples perspiration wasn’t the idea of Zen-like prayer I had in mind.
Kneaded like a lump of pizza dough and pummelled close to death, I prayed for the treatment to end, but it was two gruelling hours later before she led me back to the changing area and there I noticed – the two baskets, one for the pink smocks size small to medium and the other for the green ones – feeling the need to break the silence and end the session on a good note I help up the smock and asked smilingly “my colour?”, ‘no ma’am’, she replied, ‘Pink colour is small / medium, Green is Large size’.