Thursday, April 22, 2004

Flotsam of the Streets

Flotsam of the Streets

An evening of heavy downpour created havoc with the Jakarta traffic. With some difficulty I managed to get a taxi back to my hotel in Tanah Abang. I was lucky that I was heading north from the business district, those going south towards places like Pondok Indah, Kemang and Bintaro--the PJs and Bangsars of Jakarta--are probably still trapped on the road.

Here in the comfort of my room, I could see from my window, red points of lights, like flotsam in a river of darkness, oozing their way slowly through the mazy streets of Jakarta. It must be very bad, for I could hear horns blaring incessantly. One of my Indonesian friends who have been to KL before joked that taxi drivers there should undergo training in Jakarta first--to learn patience and to see what a real traffic jam is like.

The first thing I noticed when I first arrived in Jakarta is that, you can never find a spot in the city that is devoid of people. There are everywhere, in every nook and corner, and at any time of the day--peddlers, beggars, ojeks, musicians, vagrants--there are always there in the streets. Some just loiter around doing nothing--that good old-fashioned practice called nongkrong.

It is common here for middleclass families here to hire chauffeurs to drive them around. Every building basement here has a congregation place, furnished with benches and sometimes equipped with a TV, for drivers to laze around while waiting for their employers. There too you will find cigarette and food vendors, serving the needs of these drivers. Even down in a dingy basement, there's a thriving community!

I read somewhere in the papers that the city authorities routinely pick up dead bodies from the streets, like garbage. I am not surprised, so many of these people spend their whole lives in the streets. And in the end, they die there too, to be swept away, like the debris and flotsam that gets flushed down the canals everytime it pours.

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