My Jakarta: Melvyn, World Traveler

Melvyn knows her way around the country. But in due time, she may know her way around the world as well.

As a travel consultant, she has virtually figured out the global road map like the back of her hand. But her recent trip to Europe as a lone backpacker gave her a more intimate insight into other countries to which most of us only dream of going. It also helped her gain a better understanding of herself and how to travel on the cheap with help from a very useful Web site.

You just recently came back from a trip to Europe. Tell me about that experience. 

It was great. I finally got to travel by myself. I’ve been dreaming of going on a backpacking trip all my life, and I think I just spent all of my life savings [laughs], but it was worth it. I went to Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, France and the Netherlands in 45 days. I gained a lot of experience during that trip. There are just so many stories to tell.

Do you think it’s better to travel alone or be with friends?

I used to be indecisive when I was with my friends, but because I went on this trip alone, I felt like I learned to make decisions on my own. Traveling alone is nice because you make decisions by yourself. If you want to do something or go somewhere, you just do it. But I did constantly meet up with people everywhere I went, mostly from CouchSurfing.org

Tell me a little bit about CouchSurfing.org. 

It’s a nonprofit organization with members from around the world. Basically, it’s a Web site that helps you find a host who can accommodate your stay in a country you choose to visit. And you can also be the host yourself. To be able to experience a new culture right at your home is cool, but it’s also a good way to meet people. And not everyone just wants to find a place to crash. Some just want travel tips from locals.

You are a couch surfer representing Jakarta. How long have you been doing this? 

About two years. I’m living with my cousin, so I can’t always invite people to stay at our place. But being a host doesn’t always mean that your guests have to stay at your place. You can also serve as their guide and take them out for a good time.

Where do you usually take your guests? 

Standard sightseeing, which includes going to Monas, the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle, the old city and the highlight, of course, is making them eat durian. I also take them out to the city and ride the ojek , the bajaj and the bemo .

Where do your international guests usually come from? 

From Singapore, the US, Portugal, Holland and England.

How many couch surfers are there in Indonesia? 

In Indonesia there are thousands, but in Jakarta there are only a few hundred. I don’t know the exact number, but I know not everyone is active.

Don’t you think it’s dangerous to invite strangers into your own home? 

There are people who think it isn’t appropriate to invite strangers to their homes. But by letting them stay, I think you’ll eventually get to know them better. And there’s a reference system that you can also use. I’m sure there are incidents, but that can happen at any networking site.

Where are you do you originally come from? 

I’m from Palembang, South Sumatra. I was born there and I stayed there until I was in high school. I moved to Bandung to study at a university where I took up communications science and public relations. I moved to Jakarta in 2005.

Why made you decide to move to Jakarta? 

When I lived in Bandung, I spent most of my weekends in Jakarta. After I graduated, I got an offer to work at a company that was into wedding photography. Then one day I saw an ad from a travel agency, and I thought it could be interesting. I applied, got accepted and I’ve been working in the field ever since.

Tell me a little bit about working at a travel agency. 

I work as a travel consultant. I make reservations for plane tickets and hotel accommodations. I’m also into product development and serve as tour leader. I do a lot of research, organize information and get in touch with local travel agencies everywhere that can work with us. I’ve arranged tours to China, Egypt, Thailand and several more countries. I’ve also served as a tour guide for destinations around Southeast Asia.

So you managed to ‘couch surf’ throughout your recent trip? 

Pretty much. I was serving as a host before my recent trip, so when it was my turn to travel, some of the people that stayed at my place kind of returned my hospitality. I was sleeping in all sorts of rooms. I stayed in a living room, a guest room with a private bathroom and at times on the floor with only a blanket. You just can’t be picky.

Have you been able to coach-surf around Indonesia? 

Yes, at Bandung, Bali, Solo, Semarang and Yogyakarta. Even though I have friends living in Bandung, I stay with other couch surfers because I travel with a guest. This is to meet people from other parts of Indonesia with the same ideas in mind: traveling on a budget.

Melvyn was talking to Iwan Putuhena

Original interview was published in The Jakarta Globe

My Jakarta: Melvyn, World Traveler

Picture by Iwan Putuhena

My Jakarta: Hendro, Rock Star Middleman

Trying to please a diva or a rock star during a tour is no easy task. Just ask the Jakarta-born Hendro, who has worked in artist relations since 1993. Hendro and his team are responsible for ensuring every aspect of an artist’s comfort and well-being.

And anyone who thinks working in the entertainment industry is all fun and games had better think again. Hendro gives us a breakdown of what it’s like traveling around the country trying to keep the talent happy.

How did you get to work with famous bands and artists? 

In this business it’s all about word of mouth. People hire me and my team based on the quality of work that we do. Bands recommend us to other bands.

What exactly is an artist relations officer? 

I’m a middleman. I work between the artist and the event organizer. I have to make sure that everything that the artist needs is prepared.

What’s the biggest difference between working with people in Jakarta and outside the city? 

It’s hard to say because I was born in Jakarta, so I’m used to this pace. But I’ve traveled to many places around Indonesia, from the countryside to major cities, so I can really see the difference. In Jakarta, it seems like you are always chasing the clock. Elsewhere, everything tends to be more relaxed, like you are killing time. It’s a really different lifestyle.

Which local artists have you worked with? 

I have worked with a lot of well-known bands and artists, like Padi, Gigi, Agnes Monica, Peterpan, Nidji and many more. I maintain a good relationship with them and earn their trust; they always rehire me for their shows.

Have you worked with any international artists? 

Yes, in 2003 I worked with Linkin Park for their concert in Jakarta. International artists have their own relations officers, so at that time my job was to manage 700 internal security officers. It was a really good experience.

Can you describe a typical day with an artist?

When an artist is on the way to the airport we ensure the boarding passes and seat numbers are ready. The bags and equipment are already checked in, so they can just jump on the plane. Before arrival, we have the event organizer standing by with transport from the airport to the hotel. Then we need to evaluate the situation with the team, such as crowd control for example, just to make sure everything is secure. Before arriving at the hotel, we already have the artist’s room prepared according to their wishes. They don’t need to check in, just go straight to the room.

Then on the way to the venue, we have to coordinate backstage preparations, for example a clean bathroom, food, drinks, backup security and other requests. From the beginning to the end of the concert, our team has to be aware of and control the crowd. Three songs from the end, we have to be ready to evacuate the artist back to the hotel. I constantly have to confirm and reconfirm everything to make sure it’s all smooth.

Have you ever had an incident involving an artist and a fan? 

Well, there was one incident where an artist’s hair was accidently pulled by a fan. I think it was unintentional; the fan was just really excited and trying to reach the artist. Once in Kalimantan there were mothers forcing their kids to meet Peterpan, but it turned out that they were the ones who wanted to meet the band [laughs].

Why choose this job? 

I don’t know [laughs]. Somehow I ended up here. It all began when a friend became an event organizer. A cigarette company sponsored a 15-city concert tour and I was on the team as a relations officer. Because I did a good job, since then it has never stopped.

What’s your plan for the future? 

Everyone wants to grow. My friend and I want to create our own artist management company. It will be called FOH (Front of House).

What’s the difference between local and international artists? 

International artists are better timekeepers than local artists, but they make twice as many requests. And more interesting ones [laughs].

Have you ever had obsessed girl fans who would try anything to meet the band? 

Yes, all the time. We make reservations under different aliases and we have to monitor all the artists’ phone calls. Calls must be directed to us first.

Do you need basic martial arts training to be able to protect the artist? 

Basic martial arts is good, but it’s not necessary. You have to use your brain first to solve a problem. If we get physical or use a weapon, it can damage the reputation of the artist. It’s better to think first or use persuasion to solve any conflicts.

What are you doing over the next couple of months? 

I still have to go to five more cities with two bands and four more cities with Agnes Monica. And I’m also working with The Changcuters and Nidji. I’m looking forward to it.

Hendro was talking to Iwan Putuhena

Original interview was published in The Jakarta Globe

My Jakarta: Hendro, Rock Star Middleman