Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Visiting a Rumah Kos

Visiting a Rumah Kos

I've always wanted to see what a typical rumah kos (boarding house) in Jakarta looks like. Many young workers or students in this crowded metropolis live in a rumah kos. They occupy rooms--often cramped wooden partitions--costing between 100 to 300 thousand rupiah a month. Typically three to six rooms would share a common bathroom and toilet.

Yesterday I had a chance to visit one when Wiwik invited me to her rumah kos near Jalan Jaksa. Well, actually I had pestered her for a while to let me catch a glimpse of her rumah kos. Wiwik works as a sales rep at the hotel where I'm staying at. I've known her for the past two years that I've been staying there.

It was fun following her deep into one of those urban settlements sandwiched between modern high-rises in the city. There's a whole community that live their entire lives within these urban crevices. The drains are clogged with foul-smelling ooze, and the occasional motorcycle or car would squeeze it's way through the maze of narrow streets.

The air inside Wiwik's two-storey boarding house was very stuffy. There are probably around ten rooms, made from wooden partitions, each measuring around six times eight feet in size--enough space for a mattress on the floor a a small closet for clothes.

Though small, Wiwik's room is rather cozy. Located on the second floor, up a steep set of stairs, climbing up there was like entering into an attic. She has a table fan, TV set and a small portable CD/Radio player in her room. Photos of her, her family and ex-boyfriend adorn the wall. There's a common kitchen, washing area and bathroom at the end of the corridor.

Wiwik's boarding house is an all-girls one. But many rumah kos have mixed male and female occupants; and there are many interesting stories circulating around about the loose lifestyle of their young occupants.

I had an interesting time looking through her CD collection (Rosa, Nat King Cole) and books (Mistikus Islam--a translation of a book by Margaret Smith, attracted my attention). Wiwik loves to read and is also fond of Kahlil Gibran. Due to her many failed relationships in the past, Wiwik at 30, is still unmarried. But she is optimistic of finding a good man.

Wiwik seemed happy living in her tiny room at the rumah kos. There are many other girls like her in Jakarta. It is here, in stuffy rooms like this, behind the shadows of the gleaming highrises, in midst the tumult of traffic and the stench from the clogged canals that criss-cross the city, girls like Wiwik live and breed.

When I left her place, it was quite dark and I had a bit of difficulty finding my way out from the maze of tightly-packed dwellings. As I walked through the damp and narrow alleyways, I kept thinking of Wiwik in her attic-like room somewhere out there, reading Kahlil Gibran.

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