Tuesday, December 09, 2003

The Best Hiding Place in Jakarta

The Best Hiding Place in Jakarta

Many of my married friends here in Jakarta indulge in extra-marital affairs. As a bachelor, I am privy to the secret lives of my married male friends. They often share interesting tales of their trysts with me. But of course, I will not be exposing any of their infidelities here! There's always a secret brotherhood among men and I assume women have the same kind of understanding among themselves too.

One major problem for adulterous men is finding a place to meet their lovers without being spotted by people they know. Everyone has their favourite cheap hotels in town where they would normally conduct their secret rendezvous: Hotel Menteng, Ibis Slipi and Travel Hotel are some of the popular places. Some of them even asked me if they could use my hotel room when I'm not in town! But thank God I have successfully dodged such requests so far.

The cheap hotels that I've mentioned are also quite well-known. These men run the risk of bumping into other adulterous acquaintances there. When that happens, they have to rely on the that secret pact between men, typically reinforced in such awkward situations with a sly and knowing smile. Of course they are other cheaper love motels in town that even offer hourly rates; but still the risk of being seen is always there.

Where then is the best hiding place for lovers in Jakarta? Bogor? Puncak? Or maybe even Bandung? But out-of-town places are so awfully inconvenient for an afternoon quickie. The best place is one that is cheap, convenient and safe from prying eyes.

Being the devil I am, I once suggested to my friend that the most "obvious" place is the best hiding place. (read Edgar Allan Poe's classic C. Auguste Dupin short-story, The Purloined Letter). I told him that the best place in town is Hotel Indonesia, located right in the center of Jakarta, in front of the famous Welcome Statue fountain--the busiest roundabout in the city. Hotel Indonesia is affectionately known to the locals as "HI", pronounced "hah-ee".

Why is it the best hiding place? This hotel used to be the pride of Sukarno: Opened in the 60s, it was the first air-conditioned international-class hotel built in Jakarta--the setting of many pivotal scenes in Christopher Koch's Year of Living Dangerously, likened by the author to a luxury liner floating in a sea of poverty. But now it is considered run-down, out-dated and very unstylish--and old man's place. The rich and the hip frequents more opulent places like Grand Hyatt, Marriott, Hotel Dharmawangsa or the Regent. Only lowly provincial civil servants and delegates of political party conferences are forced to stay at HI--because it is cheap and government-owned. No one goes to Hotel Indonesia anymore--except for Sukarno freaks like me. (In fact, I once almost decided to stay there long-term, but that is another story).

Surprisingly my friend thought it a very good idea and said he would try using HI for his next tryst. I will try to catch up with him next time to see if my theory proves correct!

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