Couscous is difficult to get hold of in Bekasi and finding a pack of asparagus is almost like looking for a needle in a haystack. The nearest Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf outlet is about 30 minutes away by cab and bookstores, like Kinokuniya and Times, I was told, are in the heart of Jakarta. Gramedia, a bookstore located at the third floor of Metropolitan Mall, only carries books written in the national language and English books translated into Bahasa Indonesia. On the upside, there is a tiny Baskin & Robbins outlet at Metropolitan Mall, which is across one of the several Dunkin Donuts branches in Bekasi. Just down the road from Global Prestasi – National Plus School is a branch and another one at Metropolitan Mall, bringing up the total to two Dunkin Donuts stores in the mall. A war of the donuts is certainly in the midst as the American franchise and its formidable competitor J Co lock horns, each securing its share of donut eaters. As for tea, my stock of jasmine green tea would surely be replenished on a regular basis unlike my chamomile and peppermint teas.
The disparity between living in the city and the suburbs is slowly becoming apparent in the seemingly mundane things that were commonplace while in Singapore. Living in Cavenagh Gardens then, which is situated at the back of Istana, the country’s presidential palace, Orchard Road was a short 10-minute walk. Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf was at Paragon Shopping Centre; Starbucks was at Centrepoint Shopping Center and another – an al fresco setting – was across OG Shopping Centre, which was parallel to Centrepoint. Couscous was as ordinary as basmati rice and, although it ran out every now and then, asparagus – in 180-gm or 360-gram packs – was certainly available the next time you were at Cold Storage. Chamomile and peppermint teas were also obtainable; the tough part came in choosing which brand and flavor to buy.
But, having recently rediscovered the adage nil desperandum, I wasn’t hard pressed to see the charm of the burbs. There was really no point in being pertinacious in my attitude about adapting against living in suburbia. Riding the angkot, the local transportation ferrying 10 to 12 passengers around Bekasi and beyond, was the cheapest way to get around town. Taking the van-like vehicle, its entrance/exit at the side, costs only Rupiah2, 000 per person except one faced the perennial problem of getting trapped in traffic especially during rush hour. Circumventing the setback, most students and professionals have turned to the motorcycles to get them to their destination despite the slightly higher price of Rupiah7, 000 and the very close proximity to other vehicles as the motorcyclist meandered in and out of the snarled traffic. My other bugbear with riding motorcycles: holding on tightly to a complete stranger.
Admittedly, walking isn’t a stroll in the park around Bekasi even to get to the ubiquitous supermarket, Super Indo. But just the same, it’s something I chalk up to experience. There’s no recognizable sidewalk so a part of the road will have to do and, surprisingly, there’s no irate driver obsessively honking the horn behind you and who seem to avoid you. Dust is the major bone of contention when one decides to walk and not take the angkot or taxi. Crossing the side streets is a test of one’s agility. You walk – half run actually –and stare down the driver behind the wheel who graciously yields for a few seconds until you get to the other side.
Resigned to not finding couscous, Super Indo can be a cornucopia of surprise, if one perused the aisles as if with a fine-tooth comb. Carrots are huge and sweet to the palate and my new favorite snack of sale pisang, banana slices that are crunchy, is readily available unlike in Singapore. One can get a fill of the fruits without buying a few grams – you can always taste the fruit and saunter to the next aisle. Quaker’s Instant Oatmeal is common. Brown sugar is not the regular granulated type but the raw and tubular kind. Not used to the real brown sugar, I opted to purchase a bottle of local honey instead as sweetener for my bowl of oats. Eggs come in two choices – commercial or kampong (local word for village thus referring to eggs from chickens raised in the kampong). The latter, which comes in a plastic tray of six, are slightly more expensive but you can discern a certain flavor that is conspicuously absent from the former.
Outside Super Indo, especially the one nearer to my home base, is a food kiosk selling risoles in different flavors like ayam (chicken), tuna, keju (cheese) and sapi (beef). The croquette cum pie-like savory snack reminds me of empanadas from Red Ribbon bake shops in Manila, Philippines, except the former is encrusted in bread crumbs. One ayam risoles is enough to tide one over until dinner time.
Suburbia living does take a bit of getting used to, but the transition isn’t that difficult. It’ll be a shame to take on an attitude of niladmirari when one is given the opportunity by the universe to start anew. That elusive box of couscous is bound to turn up in some shelf in some supermarket or hypermarket in Indonesia – Jakarta or Kemang perhaps – together with the boxes of chamomile and peppermint teas.