Saturday, December 5, 2009

Transportation Trauma

Jakartan traffic is notorious.  The streets are a constant tangle of cars, trucks, semi-roadworthy bajaj, and the ubiquitous motorcycle and even a few lunatics on bicycles.  As someone without their own vehicle, I am forced to rely on the various forms of public transport.  These are numerous and varied
1. Blue Bird Group taxi
This is basically the best way to travel.  Safe, air-conditioned, RELIABLE (a big factor, more on that later) knowledgeable, and if you remember the cab number, you can even retrieve items if you happen to leave something in the back seat.  Starting price 60 cents, which takes you a certain set distance before increasing by 30 cent intervals.  5 minute trip is about a dollar.  Not cheap here, but by TO standards its a real bargain.  Going from my area to downtown is about 5-7.50.  
2. Non-Blue Bird Taxi 
These guys are cheaper and start at 50 cents but their reliability is highly suspect.  They might not genuinely know where they are going, as many rural people have migrated to the city and don't necessarily know their way around.  They might take you around the entire city, or not turn on the meter and try to hustle you.  Cheaper but riskier, and even the locals tend to avoid them.
3. Ojek
This is a motorcycle taxi.  A guy with a motorcycle and sometimes a spare helmet spends his day ferrying people around the city.  They hang out at these stands indicated by a hand-drawn sign, with a platform bed or bench where they play chess and nap.  The cost is highly variable and basically depends on your negotiating skills.  Quick tip, be prepared to walk away, and always agree on the price in advance.  The one advantage of the ojek is that it is not really affected by traffic jams, which are constantly a looming threat in Jakarta.  Conversely, most ojek drivers are also not 
4. Angkot
This is a third-world thing through and through.  It is a small, SUV shaped vehicle, but riding low to the ground.  There is no door, it is an opening into the back, lined with benches and no AC.  The open windows provide natural AC.  There are no stops, you just flag him down.  To get off, you yell out "kiri" or knock on the roof/window.  Again, no stops, he'll let you out as soon as he can when he hears you knock.  The big advantage, it costs only 20 cents flat fee!  This is my favourite mode so far due to the price and the fun.  And, you get to briefly mingle with the people, and you all know me, a man of the people!  
5. Bajaj
These guys are the champions of the city.  They drive these old two stroke three wheel covered motorcycles imported from India (you know you're in the developing world when they import vehicles from India!).  These little orange devils will shake your eyes right out of their sockets as you slowly rumble along, inhaling more fumes than you ever thought possible.  Price on these is a total crapshoot and there isn't as much room for negotiation.  I rode around with an Indonesian guy and on the way we payed double what we payed on the way back and he didn't blink. 
Getting from point A to B is not a small matter, but instead a herculean feat of patience, and bravery.  When you step out into the fray, every form of transport greedily stops, assuming that you want on.  Every shady cab and scruffy ojek calls out to you, beckoning you into their conveyance.  You see the coveted Blue Bird wiz by in the far lane, knowing that he won't see you in time.  Crossing the street is a nightmare, a game of chicken where you as a pedestrian need to act like a car, with the same confidence and aggression, but with the full knowledge that you are delicate blood and bone, while those you compete with are fatal metal and shearing plastic.  Further, the roads are a tangle of non-existent urban planning and I have seen born and bred Jakartans get lost driving around their own city! 

Celebrating Eidol Aza

So, last weekend was Eidol Adha.  This is a muslim celebration which commemorates the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice Isaac/Ismail (in Islamic tradition it is Ismail) to God.  At the last minute, god magically replaced Abraham's son with a sheep.  So, for Eidol Adha, sheep/goats are sacrificed, as well as cows and buffalo (if the community can afford it) and the meat is then distributed to the poor and shared amongst those who participate in the ritual.  So, I was picked up by Agung, a great guy who worked in Vancouver for 4 years and is the bf of one of my co-workers.  He lives about an hour from me, in a place called Tengerang, just outside W. Jakarta.  He was adamant that I wear a jacket so that I didn't "Masuk Angin".  In Indonesia, the people firmly believe that if you Air (angin) enters (masuk) your body it will make you sick, and further, that the air could become duduk angin (sitting air) which will cause your death!  So, even when you are in 32C weather, when you ride a motorcycle, you need to wear a jacket.  They also sell these things which are best described as bullet proof vests, which ostensibly will save you from getting scraped if you fall off your bike, but sell here due to there defensive powers against masuk angin.  Anyway, I slept over at his house, where I took my first Indonesian shower.  In Indonesia, they have a big square basin, about a metre high, filled with water, and a scooper.  You scoop water out of the basin and pour it onto your body.  The whole bathroom is one big shower stall, so you water just goes everywhere.  At first, I didn't spot the train, and was panicking as to where to dump the water?  Then, I noticed the drain in the opposite corner.  Next day, we woke up, went to the pasture to pick up the goats.  I personally led a goat down the road to the flat area which had been set up for the sacrifice by the way, the whole days activities were accompanied by traditional Indonesian music for Eid called Beduk Lebaran.  It is a fast, rhythmic drumming and Islamic praises sung by a group.  This cassette was played THE ENTIRE DAY!  There were 7 goats, 1 cow and 1 water buffalo.  Buffalo are really muscular and kind of scary to be honest, seems like they could easily kill you.  The goats were trying to hump each other, even though they were all male, as we led them down the road.  Then, a butcher came and started setting things up.  Long story short, they butcher the animals and the whole community helps cut up the meat into portions for distribution.  It takes eight men to flip a buffalo.  I didn't see the buffalo or cow get killed, but i saw two of the goats get butchered.  I was a bit worried that I would pass out and everyone would think I was a wimp, but I was fine.  Then I sat down on the dirty, bloody ground and cut the hot meat, meat so fresh, that when you cut into it the muscle would still flex!  One of the butchers, a thick, muscle bound guy who fit the perfect stereotype of a butcher then showed me the raw, skinned balls of the goat and said "you like?"  I thought this would be a prelude to me having to eat the balls, but luckily, the guy just dropped the whole "set" right into his mouth and swallowed it down.  Balls are highly prized here because they give you "man power" and not in the labour ministry sense.  Finally, the day was over and we all headed back to Agung's house.  There, I ate and talked to his family and his mom said if I ever needed anything, I should consider her as my mother in Jakarta.  Very nice family.  Then, I headed back to my apartment on the back of Agung's motorcycle.  Worst thing was, I literally almost fell asleep!  I never would've believed that I could fall asleep while darting through the traffic of Jakarta but there I was.  I just gripped the back of the bike hard and flexed my legs, you know, get the blood flowing.  Fell asleep around 8 pm back at my Apartment.