Getting out of the house to head to the countryside is a way to break the monotony of a routine, but traffic is a killer during the weekends in Bekasi. The next best thing to do is to get a good seat with a view at Starbucks and watch the world go by. The sole Starbucks in the part of Bekasi I’m at is on the second floor of Metropolitan Mall (MM), which is usually half-packed on weekday nights and, to my dismay, crowded on the weekends. But, fortuitously, a seat with a view was what I got amidst the crowd of tea-or-coffee-sipping smokers. And it wasn’t just one of those wooden chairs; I secured one of the few cushioned seats. Seated comfortably, sipping my Tazo peppermint green tea and nibbling on my caramel-chocolate éclair, I was ready to read Nathaniel Hawthorn’s The Scarlet Letter and people-watch in between. Like Edward Morra, the character of Brian Cooper in Limitless, who was saturated with NZT, a drug that connected all the synapses and powered the brain, I took in all that I could as I “read” the landscape of MM.
Bekasi is no different from Jakarta. Shopping is shopping, brand or no brand, in Bekasi or Jakarta. Brand-conscious shoppers especially those who hanker for uppity brands will flinch at the lack of fancy boutiques in Bekasi, but MM has its own target market. It’s a lucrative group of practical shoppers and bargain hunters who make an art out of rummaging through clothes bin during a sale. MM is not devoid of good brands priced reasonably. Colorbox deals with women’s apparel with a summer, casual feel to them mixed in with a tinge of bohemian fun. The short and long summer dresses I bought from the store are great for beating the scorching sun of Indonesia. Korz is another fantastic store for ladies that feature a less than casual flair to their clothes, which, I learnt from the sales ladies, are exported overseas. They’re good for smart casual affairs and definitely for office wear but without looking too staid and sombre.
There is no dearth in shoe stores and I’m a regular at Charles and Keith, which is strategically placed near the main entrance, and Hush Puppies located at the Pintu Timur entrance. The department store, Matahari, is a goldmine for clothes and shoes. As for mobile phones, Nokia has a licensed outlet on the fourth floor that’s staffed with amiable sales people who don’t scuttle away if you don’t speak Bahasa Indonesia.
Everyone gravitated to the centre of the mall, which is a long stretch of open space on the first floor that simulates a flea-market. It’s everything Muslim on sale during Ramadan and everything possible to sell – cars, SUVs, motorbikes, clothes, hand-crafted accessories, batik, massage chairs, property, shower heads, rugs and carpets – on regular weeks.
Looking up, down and at the sides of Starbucks, I noted the strollers who frequented not the clothes stores but the eateries and Cinema XXI on the third floor. Fast food choices include Wendy’s (newly renovated), A&W, Hoka-Hoka Bento and Pizza Hut. Eaton Place is the one restaurant that features Singapore meals from roti prata to briyani and a smorgasbord of Japanese cuisine. Downstairs, KFC gives a new meaning to fast food – time comes to a standstill as you wait to and for your order. The staff take their sweet time and, at times, try to pull a fast one on you by adding something you didn’t order like extra fries and saying they can’t undo the order because it’s already in the computer. Nonetheless the KFC lovers remain truly loyal to the Colonel.
Without a doubt and without even looking, I knew J Co, the local doughnut store that’s giving Dunkin’ Donuts stiff competition, was with its usual crowd. Similarly, Bread Talk hadn’t lost its lustre and continues to entice mall-goers with their freshly baked tarts, pastries, and buns.
Still like Morra, something I read decades ago bubbled from the deep recesses of my mind stirred by the scenes of mothers with babies in their arms strolling in MM. I had read that babies exposed to noisy environments where shorter than babies who weren’t. Not to forget, as my mind was whirring with general facts, the germs and second-hand smoke they were exposed to in the mall. ¡Que horror!
Something was amiss though. Starbucks is a much better place to let the world go by on week nights with jazz tunes floating freely through the air. The raucous downstairs is barely heard and you can actually hear your thoughts. The seat with a view becomes a seat of introspection, of clearing out the weeds and cobwebs. But, for now, in the middle of a weekend afternoon, the seat with a view is a respite from everything agonisingly unpleasant.