December 12, 2011

Jakarta Primer 1.1

Traffic.  Traffic jam.  Macet (mah-chet).  It's a fact of life here, and epic in its proportions.  I wish I could say that this is only a picture of rush hour traffic.  But I could only do that if by 'rush hour' you mean anytime between 7a.m and 10p.m., seven days a week. 

Frustrating.  Selfish.  Thoughtless.  Lawless.  It's so bad that the company provides a car and driver and requests that we never use one without the other.   

It's so bad that even after driving for years in the demolition derby that was Africa, we aren't even tempted to get behind the wheel of a car.

I am never in the car without a book.  I don't look up, I don't backseat drive, I try very hard to be NOT IN THE CAR.  It has the same chaotic components of Africa, but much worse due to sheer numbers and the addition of motor bikes by the thousands.

All the people in the cars are very very important and have to be wherever they are going first, or at least before you.  Common sense, common courtesy, rule of law, and safe driving practices go right out the window as soon as an Indonesian starts his car.

Need to turn left from the right lane?  No time like the present.

Need to turn onto a street, but stopped by a line of cars coming off the street? No problem, just turn into the wrong lane and shimmy over later.

Don't want to stop when the light turns red?  Okay.

What are those lines in the street? It's like they are there to keep me from making a new lane to drive in, and that's just stoopid!

Add to this the thousands of motorbikes who weave, drive on the wrong side of the road, ignore traffic signals of every color, and swarm through stopped car traffic like a machine made ooze  and you have a recipe for frustration, anger and tons of wasted time.

Ted sits there and stews. 

He watches, he gets indignant and he itches to ram the whole mess with a Bradley tank, but all it does is feed his ulcer.  I have extolled the virtues of books and being NOT IN THE CAR, but he just can't seem to let it go.

The company requires our drivers to learn and follow safe driving practices, but that mostly covers safety of the vehicle and occupants, not what we would call defensive driving.  

We have given our driver a letter outlining the things we would like to have him do- over and above the company regs, and he has made a valiant effort to comply, although he isn't completely on board.

We asked him to stop or at least slow for pedestrians instead of playing Carmageddon.

We asked him to allow other cars to pull in front of us as they exit parking lots and side streets. You know... when you wave someone out?  Unheard of here.  Crazy foreigners and their crazy ideas.  Why would anyone do that when we are all so important and have places to be...?

We asked him be courteous to other drivers even if it took longer to get where we were going.

He thanked us for being to him in his job and we've moved on with a kind of half-assed courtesy and patience policy that still makes him the most courteous driver in Jakarta.

I will not test your patience with my traffic whining by including stories about what happens when there is rain/hujan (hoo-john) and the streets flood/banjir (bahn-jeer). 

Bottom line: we both drove cars in Africa where the traffic is legendarily bad.  We do not drive cars here.

Although we are still thinking about getting a scooter and becoming part of the ooze... (don't tell the company).

1 comment:

Barbara said...

I can't even begin to imagine your frustration level. Well, maybe the beginning stage, but the end? No way. I'd have an ulcer to match Ted's. It's gotten worse here in the two years (that long already?) since you're gone. Took us 45 minutes to get from the new traffic light at the University of Legon junction to the traffic light near Wild Gecko... what is that? Half a mile? Good thing we allowed 3+ hours for our trip to Korle Bu. Ugh. Yes, a good book or headphones and some good tunes. And a beer or two couldn't hurt either. Stay strong you two!