My, my, my… Since I got this new website online I’ve been resting on my
laurels/petards. So I’ll quickly churn out some form of update in the name of
It’s late Wednesday evening and I’ve just confirmed that the girls’ lights are
out. Tomorrow is the first day of classes – school starts at 7:30am and the
school bus is expected at 6:30am. Interestingly, school gets out at 2:40pm
and we’re told they’ll be home by 3:00pm. An hour to get there and 20
minutes to get home. Such is life in Jakarta.
As we anticipated, traffic is our greatest foe here (if you don’t count the
pollution and the threats of terrorism, bird flu, food poisoning, and dengue
fever). It’s the unpredictability of traffic that is most troubling. Arianna has
been going to an 8am soccer camp for the last several days and our travel
time has varied from 20 to 45 minutes. One feels a small sense of triumph
upon arriving somewhere exactly on time; the norm ranges anywhere from
20 minutes early to 30 minutes late.
However, the travel time continues to be endlessly entertaining (for me,
anyway). Small shops line almost every roadway, regardless of the size of
thoroughfare. The shops are often highly specialized (e.g., the nearby 6’ x
10’ shop filled with car-window-cranking mechanisms) or remarkably varied.
Contributing to the sense of mercantilism are the strolling vendors, offering
their wares from either the ubiquitous pushcarts or from the poles and
baskets carried on their shoulders. The roving restaurant is a particularly
common feature on the streets and one to which I intend to devote a photo
essay sometime soon.
Also on view is a wide variety of modes of “public” transportation. These
range from mid-size busses, which may be about half the size of a U.S. big-
city bus and which come in a variety of colors, to smaller busses, to minivan-
size busses that seat about 10 passengers sitting face-to-face along side
benches, to the many taxis (or “taksi,” as it’s written here), to the bajai –
small, orange, exhaust-spewing, three-wheeled, semi-enclosed motorcycle
carts for hire – to the motorcycle taxis which, as far as I can tell, are entirely
unmarked. Annaliese is, for some reason, desperate to ride in a bajai and
Arianna is fascinated by the women riding side-saddle on the motorcycles
without holding on.
As the throngs of vehicles weave, nudge, lurch, and otherwise insinuate
themselves among one another, the key is to never look another driver in
the eye. Although the Indonesians (those from the island of Java,
especially) have an elaborate code of politeness and respect in their
interpersonal dealings, these mechanisms are dispensed with entirely when
in any sort of vehicle. Oddly, pedestrians are continuously and
spontaneously helpful, often at what would seem their own peril. Whenever
our car meets an oncoming car while threading along some narrow alleyway,
there is always some man or boy sizing up the clearance and helping us
negotiate the passage. These spontaneous traffic directors may be seventy
years old or, more often, seven. Although I often find myself holding my
breath and fretting as we drive past toddlers at the road’s very edge, it’s a
treat to see these tykes waving cars past as they’ve seen others do. I don’t
think I’ve ever noticed a female of any age offering this guidance. And the
wave is quite characteristic – the arm is down, showing the back of the hand,
with the fingers generally kept straight. We’ve read that a wave or similar
gesture with the fingers up and the palm toward the “waver” (i.e., the way an
American might beckon a waiter) is lewd and is to be avoided.
Other activities that seem to keep the children of Jakarta occupied (aside
from working or somehow helping out from a startlingly young age) are
streetside soccer, improvisational badminton (a very big sport here), and
kite-flying. Actually, although there were many kites in the air when we were
in Bali, I’ve seen only a few here. I infer the popularity of kites by the
quantity of colorful kite remnants clinging to electrical wires all over the city.
Finally, for you music-lovers in Houston, I’ll tell you that our house on
McKinney has been rented by some aspiring musicians – the more
upstanding members of a musical ensemble called ScabrousSphincter.
They say it’s a jazz combo. Our real estate agent tells us they seem the
picture of wholesome, caring, thoughtful youth and we’re glad to help keep
the arts alive in Houston. But should you find yourself in our old
neighborhood, we’d appreciate you cruising slowly past the house to verify
that the door is still on its hinges and that no small-mammal carcasses have
been tacked to the picket fence. Thanks, friends.