Why are you taking pictures of my country?” — spoke a heavily accented voice behind me, causing me flinch to before I took a shot. I turned around. “This is not a tourist site, are you lost?” — the man continued. “The city centre is that way, you should cross the track”, — he added, pointing to another side of the platform.

Tanjung Priok Station trains which go through Jakarka’s biggest slums.

He was not like the typical Indonesian men I saw during my travels in the country. He wore black Ray Ban aviators, a black Indonesian Marine Corps cap, a blue shirt and an amulet around his neck, similar to the ones from “Prince of Persia”.


I was just taking pictures of the slums” — I replied, anticipating a negative response. “Pictures? Americans are not in favour here currently mister” — he instantly replied with a giggle in his voice and crossed the track. “Unfavourable pictures will be checked and erased in airport on departure” — he added and stopped right in front of me. He was obviously making it up and trying to frighten me, but “what for?” — was my main question. “Just like in North Korea?” — I suggested. He replied instantly, completely ignoring what I asked him, with — “what is your name?” His voice was loud, so that people on the platform turned around. “Anton” — I said softly, hoping to quell the unnecessary attention. “Mike, nice to meet you” — he stretched out his hand and continued — “where are you from Anton?”, “Russia” — I replied hastily. Which was a lie, but with good reason, since I was hoping to create a more favourable impression for someone who seemed to dislike America. “Zdarova tovarish, kak dela, blad?” — he dropped casually, with a straight face, making laugh and shake my head in disbelief all at the same time.

I didn’t know what was funnier: the phrase itself, which translates as “Hi comrade, how’s life, you slut?”. Or that he didn’t miss a beat when responding with such a straight face, as if the phrase was pre-prepared. Or the fact this phrase was pronounced as fluently as if it was his own language, and much better than his English. It was both a surprise and an ice-breaker, evaporating the tension and causing the conversation to flow.

Mike, the English name he gives to all random foreigners like me, told me about how he’d served in the Indonesian Navy for some years and spent a large amount of time on a Soviet submarine with Soviets, similar to the one I’ve visited in Surabaya. The experience helped him nail some key phrases in Russian, possibly a little too far from the favourites of Russian poets.

He told me stories about his service abroad, his retirement and his current work at the port, where some of his duties are to deliver captains off the ship to the port. He offered to give me a free tour and I happily agreed.

Tanjung Priok is a 6 sq km port handling more than 50% of Indonesia's trans-shipment cargo traffic.

Coincidentally for me, Jakarta’s port is operated by the Hutchison Port Holdings, which is owned by the parent company of the design agency, WHAM, who I used to work for in London before I left to travel.

He took me through the gates and security posts ensuring I got through without any issues. He also showed me around and told me stories about how it had become one of the largest and busiest ports in the world.

Thank you Mike, you are one of those people that restores my faith in humanity.