Tuesday, August 10, 2004

The 477-Year-Old Organism

The 477-Year-Old Organism

It took me more than an hour to reach Jalan Thamrin from my customer's place at Daan Mogot. The traffic can be very bad in Jakarta but when you are not driving yourself or not particularly in a hurry, it is quite alright. It gives you the chance to catch a few winks and also do some thinking. In Jakarta, you get to learn Javanese patience; and patience is a good virtue to cultivate.

Not having to drive actually makes one's life very different. You don't feel so exhausted at the end of the day and you actually save time by not having to search for parking. When you drive your own car, time is also wasted having to queue up to pay for your parking ticket; and don't forget time is also needed to walk from the parking lot--usually in some fume-choked basement--to your intended destination. Whenever we estimate the time it needs to get to a place, we normally do not factor these things in. We only estimate how much time it takes to drive from point A to point B: that's the time you'll take if you go by taxi--door to door--and not if you are driving yourself.

Of course, middle-class Jakartans have a way around that--they have their own chauffeurs. Poor folks like me take the public transport. The Busway in Jakarta has been a boon to me; I've been able to zip up and down Sudirman, Thamrin and Kota very easily using this much criticized public transportation system. I enjoy walking too--even though it can be quite a challenge in the polluted and crowded streets of Jakarta.

The bajajs--motorized three-wheelers--are also very convenient when you need to cover short distances. They are everywhere in Jakarta. Tourists are often advised to bargain with the driver on the fare but I noticed that this practice usually encourages the drivers to start with an unreasonably high asking price. Regulars don't bother with that--just pay them what you think is the reasonable fare. If you do it coolly enough like a local, they'll take it. Of course, the amount has to be reasonable.

Ojeks or motorcycle taxis, are another popular form of transport for the working class--even more popular than bajajs, because they can go anywhere. Microlets or angkots--Kijang cars converted into minibuses--are also ubiquitous and cheap. Besides that, there are the regular buses which are alright but one has to be careful of pickpockets and be willing to tolerate the irrritating pengamins. These street musicians will hop in from every other bus stop and attempt to serenade you through your entire journey with bad renditions of Dewa songs.

Every morning Jakartans come out from their homes--the working class from the outer fringes of the city like Bekasi and Tangerang, the well-heeled from their posh homes in Menteng or Pondok Indah, the Chinese middleclass from their housing complexes of West Jakarta--to participate in this titanic struggle in the streets to get to their places of work. The population of Jakarta city swells up during the day and ebbs in the evening. It is fascinating to watch how the city goes through its daily pulsations; Jakarta is like a living organism and a very resilient one at that--having survived 477 years of wars, riots and natural disasters.

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