Indonesia has a wealth of destinations that some might find unnervingly spiritual - Bali, Solo, Acheh and the list goes on. Jakarta is by far the most surprising spot for me. I have at least one story for each time I visited the capital city and this is my short account of my last visit in 2017.
There is a very famous hotel a distance off the CBD which is famed for its beauty and its reputation for being Jakarta’s most haunted hotel (I doubt it is, but I digress). I have checked in here twice and will not avoid it for the latter regard. It is a fabulous retreat from this maddening city much clogged by bad traffic and terrible air and if you have followed my writing on the subject at hand, I do love old, storied hotels.
Over the last visit, my itinerary was as usual packed with reviews and the best they could do was to slot me for a 7pm session at the spa on the last night of my stay. Very well, dinner can wait and I could have a quick swim at the pool before the massage as well.
There are 2 pools at this property, a gorgeous garden pool set over lush verdant grounds and an infinity lap pool next to the gym and spa, which are housed in another building from the main wing. The pool is on the 3rd floor and has a stunning view of the garden’s canopy. I arrived there at 620pm as the sky was turning dark and took a plunge immediately.
Ex-competitive swimmers who are used to long training sessions averaging 50 laps often have an issue with concentration. Even while one is used to such training, one cannot control the imagination going on overdrive as induced by such exceedingly repetitive routines. In between laps, one never forgets to ask if one is indeed alone in the water even when there isn’t anyone around.
After 5 laps, the feeling of being watched automatically sets in. The pool did not come with a lifeguard and there weren't any guests around when I arrived. By 640pm the pool area was already dark and with each underwater flip the other end appeared more obscured. But come hell or high water, there was no stopping the motion until at least 10 laps were fulfilled.
Over the very last 2 laps, the visibility underwater wasn’t at all optimal. On the last approach, some 15m from the finish I was able to make out a pale figure at the end of the lane. It seems like a child’s figure, no more than 3 feet tall, his lower body hovering just under the surface. He was strangely naked, and terribly pale, but for some reason I did not register any strangeness at finding a naked pale boy unaccompanied in a dark pool at that very hour. Very automatically, I steered myself leftwards and got ready for the final approach. Butterfly strokes are physically exhaustive and after 10 laps I was quite happy to call it a day.
As I gasped for air for the last surge forward, my blood nearly froze when I saw that there was no one at the end of the lane above the surface. Half expecting to find a detached body next to me under the water, I leapt out of the pool without even checking if there was indeed a child in the water. Besides the ripples from my movements, the pool was eerily quiet and empty. No one was at the pool decks and the lights were not turned on.
I grabbed my towel and walked hurriedly towards the spa reception.
“Hello, Mr Tan? Welcome to the spa” I was greeted enthusiastically by the receptionist.
“Why aren't the lights switched on at the pool outside?” I had clearly forsaken my manners after my brush with the watery spectre.
“Oh, you didn’t see the sign? Swimming is not allowed after 6pm at this pool. We’ve had accidents before in the past and management has decided to close it from 6pm from last year.”
“What sign? No!” I swore there wasn’t one but it was not like I doubted her.
“Oh, maybe you missed it, but don’t worry. Hope you enjoyed your swim. Now you are booked for our special 90 minutes Indonesian massage. Would you like to fill up this form for me please?”
The spa was as deserted as the pool and I was the only guest there at that hour. It was as quiet as a grave when I had changed into the provided bathrobe in the dimly lit ‘gentleman’s sector’ that comes with a sauna, jacuzzi and steam room. Nothing would have tempted me to step into any of them, not even hypothermia. I was shown to my treatment suite reverentially where my therapist met me there with sweetly cooed instructions for the massage.
Perhaps it was the expert strokes of the therapist or perhaps it was the calming scent of the massage oil, but minutes into the session I was dozing off heads down on the massage table even as I was still just steps away from the eerie pool outside. Right on cue, at the very edge of consciousness and trance, I heard a child’s laughter ringing from right under my massage table.
The last thing I heard in that room was my therapist asking me in a raspy child’s voice, “apakah kamu suka tuan?