From the Jakarta Globe: Piece of Mind: Finding a Love for the Motherland Through Its Notorious ‘Macet’


It’s not so bad being the new kid on the equator. Leaving LA-LA Land, better known as Los Angeles, and its beaches for the summer to spend time in this mega-city of humidity initially seemed like a huge challenge, and a questionable decision.

Growing up as an Indonesian-American, what I knew of Indonesia came from the sambal terasi, boxes of Indomie and packets of abon that our kitchen was always stocked with. As a child, I visited Indonesia on numerous occasions, visiting my extended family in several parts of the archipelago.

Family photos of trekking to the top of the majestic Borobudur, hanging out with aunts, uncles and cousins, and making countless trips to the “up-sized” malls line the walls of my LA home.

The photos were calling out to me. I had a yearning to get back to my roots.

Having been in Jakarta now for more than a week, the traffic still amazes me — but not in the way it strikes the average expat. I am much more optimistic about Jakarta’s macet (traffic jams), and think Los Angeles could learn a thing or two from the streets of this city.

The traffic here is nowhere near as bad as the more hostile and frustrating gridlock I experience when I visit New York City.

Jakarta has a unique medley of bajaj (auto-rickshaws), motorbikes, hulking buses and SUVs swarming the roads, disregarding individual lanes and all traffic regulations. Rules were made to be broken, in my opinion, and New York commuters might find themselves less stressed if they mounted the curb in their cars as Jakartans do and just got on with it.

And why not get an ojek (motorcycle taxi) system going in the States? Ojek drivers are clever and courageous, loitering on convenient corners — I now scoff at loitering laws back home.

Jakarta’s ojek take up little space on the road and are able to weave through the traffic with ease for little money. In fact, some ojek drivers are so generous, they will happily squash two or three passengers on a tiny seat at a time, saving plenty of greenhouses gases for when they want to leave the motor running for no apparent reason at the ojek stand.

In addition to the ojek, there are the convenient bajaj. Never mind the lung-collapsing black exhaust these loud orange vehicles from India produce, bajaj are the perfect way to sample the city’s varied, interesting aromas. Clearly, the only losers on the road are those refusing to compromise, people going to work in their private cars driven by their personal drivers. Move to Hollywood, I say.

When the Jakarta administration tried a well-thought-out new tactic to combat the city’s macet ­— the three-in-one policy — it successfully killed two birds with one stone, the other bird being the Garuda of unemployment.

The three-in-one policy requires all cars on certain roads during set hours to carry at least three people. This not only encourages cars to take more scenic routes to work, it has created employment for thousands of jockeys, people who will sit in your car for a small fee so you don’t get fined for having too few passengers with you.

Who cares about global warming when there’s an economic crisis going on? It seems the administration has greater foresight than its US counterparts.

This three-in-one policy has put more cars on the road, giving street hawkers more opportunities to sell newspapers and antiporn versions of porn. Unlike Western countries, Jakarta appreciates the beauty and utility of such quality publications.

While the United States and Britain are swiftly steering away from producing and printing wasteful newspapers, Jakartans appreciate freshly pressed news. One more newspaper floating around Jakarta’s sewers can’t hurt too much, and if printing newspapers helps keep one more person employed and wealthy enough to hire his own personal jockey each morning, what conglomerate executive would heartlessly switch over to the Net?

So, my next adventure is a trip to Ragunan Zoo, where I will be able to appreciate animals who have been lucky enough to be given homes in Jakarta’s finest cages. I expect Jakarta’s employment-friendly traffic will accompany me, but I wouldn’t have my Jakarta experience any other way.

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