non-fiction rock from Aotearoa New Zealand

Southeast Asian Tour Diary 4: Bekasi – A chicken sleep at the hairdressers

Friday 22 July:

Last train to BekasiOur journey to Bekasi is on the overnight train, leaving close to midnight. We choose to travel via executive class, it’s a bit more pricey but it means we can actually sleep, and store our gear in secure conditions.  It’s a much more sensible option if you have the chance, we tell a story to locals about our previous tour here where when we traveled from Semarang to Blitar on overnight economy – no sleep, no rest, no room, no air con! And funnily enough, the local’s we tell this too share a similar opinion, they also prefer not to go economy, … so we’re not being wusses. The train is an express, it goes through Bekasi but does not stop. We have to disembark at the Jakarta station then get a ticket from  Jakarta to Bekasi commuter line, back the way we have just traveled. What we were told to be a 30 minute wait turned out to be a couple of hours. We have a few false starts in anticipation of what train to catch but with some friendly local help we eventually manage to get on the right train without pissing too many people off.

Last train to Bekasi30 minutes (and several hours) later and we’re standing at the Bekasi terminal. Our host Doni collects us and helps us get breakfast/lunch. He takes us to an incredibly small stall serving vegetarian food, the stall is located down an alley of printing shops. It’s hot, noisy, cramped, and there’s ancient and modern printing equipment in constant use producing booklets, fliers and all other manner of material.

Once we’re feed and watered, we catch a bus, another modified van that can hold 8-10 people in the back, our larger western bodies make the seating arrangements a bit more snug. We balance bags and instruments on our laps, and agree that 20kg of drums parts isn’t made for cuddling.

It’s hotter here, and definitely more humid. Just getting out of the van to walk ’50 metres’ (give or take another 50) around the corner to Doni’s friend leaves us exhausted. We arrive at a small hairdressers and beauty salon, our base for the next few hours. We have an opportunity to grab a ‘tidur ayam’ , a local phrase for a quick afternoon nap, or chicken rest. And cleverly we figure out that this would become ‘tidur kuching'[cat nap] back home. Chrissie seems to sleep like the dead on the massage table and then we are awoken by the generosity of our hosts, again there is more food, this time Goreng Pisang – fried banana – excellent.

We also find out more information about the show. A major shuffle at the last minute.  It seems there has been some problem with the original venue and Doni has had to find a new venue the previous day, extremely short notice in any town.  The show has now been booked into a studio space, and the only time available is between 2 and 5pm this afternoon, not far away.

ConcertWe are driven across town to the studio, becoming easily disorientated as we weave down tiny streets. Arriving at the studio we see that it is a well establish practice and recording studio. The place is run by an elderly gent who used perform in a Tom Jones crooner style since the 60’s in Indonesia. He tells us he has only recent retired from performing.

The studio is small and warm. The show doesn’t start on time, no audience or performers have arrived yet… We get changed in anticipation, and to ensure we are ready should we need to play sooner. People start to arrive and the first performer takes the floor, it turns out to be an experimental noise show, brilliant. The first performance is a solo improvised guitar piece of frenetic action and bursts of sonics interspersed with static noise. A very kinetic performance. Next is a two piece that starts as a post rock wash, both on guitars and loop pedals. One guitarist leaves his loop on, takes off his guitar and climbs on the drums. The overall effect reminds me a bit of Sonic Youth, Dead C, or of a friend from NZ – Swagger Jack.

mr sterile at JSN Studio, Bekasi, Photo by Sawi Liew

Next is another two piece, drums/guitar, playing short intense songs, in 30 second screamo bursts, the guitarist is clad in a jacket and hat looking a lot like a swan-dry style, shesh, makes me melt.

Then it’s our turn, and the set goes well, though a little chaotic with bits of drum parts falling off and some spontaneous audience help with rearranging mic stands. But after the set the connections happen. There are photos and conversations. And despite the small turn-out, and the change of venue and time, it is still worth while. The enthusiasm is genuine and warm.

Chrissie at JSN Studio, Bekasi, Photo by Sawi Liew

However, the show finishes by 5pm and we find out now that we are going to stay at a friends of Doni’s, rather than on the floor of an internet cafe. Arriving at the friends house we discover we have a bed to sleep in, such simple luxuries. And for the rest of the evening we eat, rest and chat. We watch a TV show like NZ Idol but in a Dangdut style, a specific local variation of pop music.

Post-party photoIn the morning our hosts help us get our gear and bodies to the bus station. An interesting observation was the local petrol stations to accommodate the seas of scooters. These are essentially wooden crates holding a number of 2/3 full coke bottles full of gasoline. Bekasi scooter petrol stationA scooter would pull up and may take up to two bottles to fill the tank. We have seen these structures over the last few days  but today is the first time they had made sense.

We find out we can get a bus directly to the airport, a bonus as we had anticipated navigating a number of trains and buses to get to the airport. But the bus is easy, and the traffic on the Jakarta motorways is light so our journey is quick. Arriving at the airport we repack and bags and get ready to depart Java.

It has been a remarkable few days in Indonesia. A constant experience is the need to be flexible with any preconceived planning. And when things change shape how to make the best out of the available scenario. We think we did alright.

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