Monday, June 06, 2011

She chuckles and shakes her head slowly

I've learned two big tips to keeping (what's left of) your sanity here in Jakarta: Never ask why (the only possible answer is 'because it's Indonesia') and laugh at the regular ridiculousness of it all.  Here's a list of things that have made me shake my head in amazement but not surprise.  Maybe it was surprise and not amazement.  Hmmm.  Maybe it was something else entirely but it was all definitely Jakartaesque. I've made a list on my blackberry over a couple weeks as most of these epiphanies come while I'm on the back of the motorbike between school and home. In that vein, lets start with:

People wearing stretchy gloves when driving a motorbike.  It's never less than 75 degrees here, so it's not that their fingers get cold.  As far as I can figure it's either that they want to keep their hands out of the sun (darker complexion here is that last thing any Indonesian wants, though that's not true for the white folk) or they think they need gloves for protection and these are cheaper/more readily available than other types.
These make total sense in 84 degree weather with 78 percent humidity, if your Indonesian.
If protecting their hands is the logic, then I can't sort out why they wear sandals on motorbikes.  I've become a bit paranoid lately that I'm going to be in a crash and, while other injuries are potential and obvious I can't stop thinking that, no matter what, I'll lose several toes. If they are protecting their hands with flimsy cotton gloves, why not put on proper shoes?

Finally for motorbike issues, I'm certain that the Indonesians all know I'm white, even on the motorbike.  I am in jeans, a jacket, my face mask, helmet and sunglasses, but they still know.  Maybe it's because of my sandals.
Now mentally change the jacket to blue and put sunglasses on me.  How do they know?!?!
The more people try to stay dry in the pouring rain, the wetter and more pathetic they seem. It generally rains on the trip home and I am not bothered since I can change when I get there.  There have been days I've been down right soaked, as have others on their motorbikes.  I laugh in spite of myself at the ones trying really hard to stay dry, but without any appropriate gear.  They hold newspapers or a plastic bag over their head, goosestep it through the puddles flinging water about their rolled up pant legs.
Courtesy of  Like this but even less successful.
Jakarta has no shortage of inappropriately dressed people,.  I swear the hotter it gets, the more clothes people wear.  I understand they don't want a tan or darken their skin, but when it's 92 degrees in the sun, seeing someone in a sweater and a jacket makes me uncomfortably hot!

I lied, here's another motorbike related one. On three different occasions I have seen motorbikes paired up.  The one in front and off to the right is having some sort of mechanical difficulty and isn't running, but will roll.  The second bike is behind about half the diameter of a wheel and a legs length off to the left.  Can you see where this is going?  The guy on the 2nd bike puts his foot somewhere on the casing near the first bike's back axel, fires up his bike and pushes the first bike along.  I can hardly imagine doing this as the traffic is so bad, but I haven't see a big fiery death ball crash . . .yet.  I'm trying for a photo  but this one below is the same idea, ish.
Courtesy of pakwheels.  He's pushing the car with the motorbike.
I can't decide whether to make this a multi-parter or just a regular feature, like the weekend recap, as I group a few of these unique incidents together.  I have a few more in the bank now, but as my desire is not to bore you into oblivion, I'll resist adding them here.  If you're in Jakarta, or in any other city where bizarre/different/interesting things strike your funny bone, I'd love to hear about them.


  1. All the same in VN too.

    The gloves or to protect from light (sunshine) not for safety - that would be too smart. In Vietnam they wear them right up their arms... like audrey hepburn.

    The 'push the bike' is the same as a tow. The first guy has broken down or has engine issues and is getting a 'push tow' from the guy behind. Normally the get a few rupiah for helping.

    As for the "bule on the bike" it's most likely your size and the way you sit. I had my own bike in VN and the cops would spot me a mile away. But then... I am three times bigger than the average Vietnamese male. :)

  2. But there are Indonesians (male and female) that I see regularly on my ride home that are so big I wonder how the bike runs at all. They aren't all tiny, so unless it's my height. . . I do agree it could be the way I sit, and the fact that there aren't four people on the bike!