Thursday, December 9, 2004


I don't know if this applies to any other city in the world, but most drivers in Jakarta, in many aspects, are mad. Mad as in mentally ill. Nutty as a fruitcake.

Before going further, let me define "driver" as "a person who controls an automobile on the public roads". So it applies to any car, motorcycle, bus, bajaj, and everything else with an engine and wheels cruising the metropolitan roads of Jakarta.

First of all, people are in such a hurry, and they really make big noises about it. This applies especially when somebody is cutting them off, or the movement of traffic stopped for a fraction of a second (even at traffic lights), and when they finally get released from traffic gridlock to more sparse roads. In the first two cases, a generous helping of honk and horn sounds fill the air, perhaps with occasional profanity here and there. The third case, it's usually the engines being revved up for maximum noise, either for high speed to get away from the gridlock... or just plain being noisy.

Another strange thing is that at a traffic light, the moment the light goes green, tens of horn sounds go off, usually behind the first few cars in the line. It's like that they think that the pure energy coming from their sounds can actually make the cars in front go faster. Same in the case of traffic jams, or momentary hold ups; people generally don't look around for what is causing it, they just honk their horn and hope the sheer power of the horn will make it go away. Press the horn longer, and get a louder horn, for better effect. All for the benefit of some unlucky pedestrian in the area, getting a free hearing test (and losing some at the same time).

In Jakarta, there are 2 monsters of the road: the public transport buses and the motorcycles. Before I go on, let me put in a disclaimer that the next sentences are not meant to offend anyone in particular, it is just a casual and general observation. But on the other hand, if you're offended, that may be because you're a culprit as well.

Man, these buses. They go about thinking they're as small as your usual sedan or minibus, and take even less caution when changing lanes. Also the case when stopping, I mean, there's only so much space on the road that a car or motorcycle can pass through, and buses usually stop a bit diagonally or even in the middle of the road to pick up passangers. The passangers are also to blame, I guess... and whenever there's an empty home stretch in front, these buses would not hesitate to speed through there, for the sake of trying to get more passangers. So there go those buses, as big as a house, down the street, at breakneck speed, and leaving souvenirs in the form of carbon monoxide in its wake.

And you'd think that buses in Jakarta have unlimited capacity, because, that's what the operators of these behemoths think. So don't be suprised, for those of you who have not been to Jakarta, to see buses packed to the brim with people of various shapes and sizes (with at least 2 pickpockets inside) and still calling people aboard, claiming that it is still 'empty'. This must be a general delusion, because it works every time.

You'd think that companies who do service for their buisness, who carry people all around everyday to get their money, would think about treating their clients better? Well, no sirreee, doesn't happen here. The buses cut their routes whenever they feel like it, transfer their passengers or simply yell at them to get off whenever they feel like it, and hardly ever respect the letter of the law (not that the law is being enforced effectively either).

Second monster, motorcycles. Motorcycles are like water, with the roads as their rivers. Any empty space on the road must be filled by a motorcylce, even overflowing to the pedestrian sidewalks, forcing those crazy people who still actually walk in this polluted metropolis (me included) having to step aside, or give up the pleasure of walking for the cursing of motorcycles. These motorcycles can't seem to see an empty space go unused, even if when the rules say it's supposed to be empty (like say, the empty space of an intersection). They just go their in droves. Sometimes it's like insect intelligence, the drivers do it without thinking, they just do it, because everybody else is doing it.

That's still the majority of motorcyles still abiding to the law, staying on the proper side of the road, wearing helmets (for everybody's sake, I must add) and just trying to survive on the road to get home soon. There's also motorcycles with no license plates, drivers with no helmets, no headlights or taillights, no muffler for maximum noise, either going down the wrong side of the road or taking up the wrong lane to get ahead of the traffic. And for what? If it's just to piss people off, it certainly worked on me.

To be fair, I have to say that sometimes life is so tough in Jakarta, that you do anything to survive. And these (mostly) men who drive these cars, tend to carry over their survival instincts, the same instincts that served our ancestors well in the wild, to their driving, in the midst of the urban jungle. All the frustrations, the pent-up anger, and the unfulfilled goals of men in life, are sort of played out on the road; somehow like "if they're gonna push me around in work, they're not going to push me around on the road. Yes, that means YOU!".

So... a lot of people are having problems, being depressed, and having a hell of a life. Well... I can respect that, but as mentioned before in this blog... all you need is a change of attitude.

[By the way, I got the image above from I think the picture is a bit old, though, at least 10 years old. That's the Bunderan HI area, if I'm not mistaken.]

[Update: since there was trouble with the former image, I changed the image to this one from That's Jalan Thamrin, in a more recent photo.]

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