Friday, July 15, 2011

Eat A Bowl of Shit

Yesterday, after doing some vigorous cleaning around the house, I decided that I would go for a well deserved massage. A friend had recently recommended a new place that is pretty close to my house. I got on my motorbike and made my way to the massage place, which is less than 5 minutes away from my house, or so I thought. My ride turned into an absolute nightmare that resulted in me having to eat the biggest bowl of shit ever. Here is how it unfolded....

I was driving through a complex that is a pretty slow and casual place to be driving. I go through this area regularly, almost on a daily basis. As I was coming up to a left turn (bear in mind that you drive on the LEFT in Indonesia) a bike coming in the opposite direction came flying around the corner driving not on the left but the right side of the road. To put this in perspective, this driver was making a RIGHT turn while driving on the RIGHT side of the road. Try to visualize this if you can, it is pretty much the most reckless and ridiculous thing one can do. In a panic, as the bike was about to hit me, I honked my horn. As he swerved around me, I kind of threw my hands in the air as to say (without actually speaking, this is important) "what in the world are you thinking?"

That was the end of that, or so I thought. I continued down the road and the driver of the other bike turned around and pulled up next to me and started asking what my problem was. I replied that I had no problem only that he should consider driving on the LEFT side of the road. He demanded I pull over, this seemed ridiculous to me so I kept on going. As we hit the end of the street, he veered left and I continued right. He started screaming, turned around again, pulled up beside me and started demanding that we go to the police office. I kind of laughed and just kept driving. He then jackknifed his bike in front of mine, forcing me to stop. This road is relatively slow one that is filled with houses on both sides. I expected a crowd to form immediately, it didn`t.

The man was somewhat older and extremely enraged. The whole conversation took place in Bahasa Indonesia but I will write in English only to save time.

Him: "You verbally insulted me, why did you do that"

Me: "I honked my horn so you wouldn't hit me when you were coming around the corner, there was no verbal insult."

Him: "I didn't hit you so what is your problem, why did you insult me? What country are you from?"

Me: "What does it matter what country I'm from? The only reason you didn't hit me was because I honked my horn, how is that an insult?"

Him: "I'm 50 years old, you can't speak to me like that!!"

Me: "Does that give you the right to drive on the WRONG side of the road????"

Him: "I demand we go to the police station, come with me to the police station now!!!"

Me: "You want to go to the police station, seriously? What are you going to tell them, that you were recklessly driving on the WRONG side of the road and almost caused an accident?"


Me: "No, I'm not going to the police station, I didn't insult you but I will apologize if that's what you want."

Him: "Do you know who I am? police station now!!!"

He then proceeded to reach over and grab my keys out of my ignition. I grabbed his wrist and twisted and pulled his hand as hard as I could until he dropped my keys. I pulled him so hard that he kind of fell over onto my bike and knocked it over. Usually when there is any kind of incident like this in Indonesia, a crowd forms instantly. I wanted this to happen so that I could get out of this situation as this man seemed to be absolutely insane. As he fell over onto my bike, I grabbed my keys and told him to back off. At this point, no crowd had formed yet. I started thinking that he was going to come at me again and that I was going to have to fight my way out of this situation. I haven't been in a fight or even so much as thrown a punch at anybody in the last 25 years but, if he was going to come at me again, I felt I would have no choice but to hit him.

A minute later, a group of men came over to see what all the fuss was about. I was extremely relieved as I did not want to have a physical altercation. Alright, I thought, they'll sort this situation out and tell this guy to get lost and leave me alone. One of the guys was the head security guy for the housing complex. These guys are usually the local complex "police" and nobody dares to mess with them. I started telling the security guy how he chased me and tried to take my keys. They asked that we go over to their booth 100 meters away. I agreed and went over there. I continued to tell my story to the security guy while the guy from the other bike kept shouting "Police station NOW, you are insulting!" I started to notice the body language of the security guy and his friends. They were a little afraid of this man from the bike and wouldn't tell him to stop shouting or to leave me alone.

Eventually, the security guy convinced me to come speak with him in a little food stall behind his booth.

Security: "I believe everything you say and that you did not insult him but only honked your horn but you need to understand that this man belongs to an important organization and has very powerful friends. We have no choice but to do what he says or I will have big problems."

Me: "Sir, I don't want to go to the police station, they will just make me pay money or try to take my bike away. I did NOT insult this man, this whole situation is ridiculous to me, I just want to go home."

Security: "The only way to make him happy is to give him money, I don't like this man very much but I have no choice but to do what he says or I will be in big trouble, sorry sir."

Me: "So he drives like a maniac and then chases me and tries to take my keys and I have to give him money? This does not seem very fair to me, especially since I didn't do anything wrong."

Security: "I agree with you, sir but your choices are to either give him some money or call the police and have them come here." (I knew right then and there that I would probably be forced to give the police even more money, not to mention that they were probably friends of this other guy)

Me: "OK fine, how much should I give him? is 100 thousand ($9) enough?" (By the way the driver was dressed, I could tell that he had money, he did not care about the amount of money but merely wanted to show me how important he was and rub my face in it)

Security "Sir, that should be OK, people only give me 25 thousand ($2.75) when I ask for money, let me go talk to him, wait here`

Security `Sorry sir but he says that you must give another 50 thousand ($4.50) or we have to call the police`

Me: `That`s not fair, sir but I will pay it` (paying the police off would have cost me a LOT more)

Security: `Sir, he has agreed not to call the police, you can go now. I`m sorry, sir, please don`t think we are bad people who hate westerners `

Me: `OK, thank you sir, I don`t think that way, I only think that other man is crazy`

Security: `Me too, sir`

I then went outside and the other driver who was previously in a rage had completely calmed down. I said nothing to him as I walked back to my bike. He mentioned something about learning some manners. Knowing when I am defeated, I gave him an evil scowl, got on my bike and went to the massage place.

After having time to reflect on this situation, the bad taste in my mouth still lingers. I don`t feel that I did anything wrong and, even had I insulted this man, did not deserve to be treated this way. This was a reminder for me of how corrupt and ridiculous a country this is and how some `elite`people can do whatever they want whenever they want. It was absolutely shocking to see the security guy cower in front of this so called important man. They are usually pretty much at the top of the food chain and are feared by most.

I would like to point out that this is one of the worst incidences I have ever been involved with and that the vast majority of Indonesian people here, even rich corrupt ones, usually treat others with respect and deal with things in a civilized manner.

I have been daydreaming and hoping that by some strange twist of fate this man one day needs something from me. I would make him publicly kiss my hand and admit that he is evil and corrupt. Doubt that will ever happen but one can always dream.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Karma Beer

When it comes to getting around Jakarta, public transport is the only option for many. For those of us who are lucky enough to be able to afford taxis or who actually own a vehicle, the idea of using public transport is foreign. Admittedly, I rarely use it as it tends to be hot and slow. I sometimes take a mini bus that takes me directly to a plaza near my home. Otherwise, the logistics and headache make me not want to bother.

Yesterday, I decided to visit the northern regions of Jakarta. I planned on taking the transjakarta busway there (and even planned my route online) but changed my mind due to the rain. After the rain did not cease for hours, I gave in and called a taxi. The ride did not take that long and only cost (toll road fees included) Rp. 70 000 (around $8). Bear in mind that that is a somewhat expensive taxi ride by Jakarta standards. After spending some time at Emporium Mall in Pluit (went all the way to North Jakarta to hang out in yet another mall, I made my way to Mangga Dua Square to the tune of Rp. 35 000 ($4) in a taxi.

Once finished in there, I decided it was time to make the inevitable journey home. I started doing the math in my head and realized that, with toll fees and a tip, it was going to cost me Rp 120 000 ($13) to get home. This is an obscene amount to pay for a taxi. A fare of this magnitude is usually reserved for trips to the airport or an out of town excursion. That amount of money is a nice dinner and a couple of beers at a pub in Jakarta.

Since I was in no rush and it was past 8 p.m. (traffic subsides at night), I decided to give public transit a try. Step 1 was figuring out where/how I would get home. The first mini bus I saw outside was destined for Kota station, the first stop on the transjakarta busway 1st corridor. Sorted! I hopped on and had an interesting 15 minute ride to Kota station. This leg cost me a grand total of Rp. 2 000 (25 cents). From there, it was a short walk to the busway entrance where I bought a ticket for Rp. 3 500 (40 cents) and almost immediately got on an empty bus.

The great thing about corridor 1 of the busway is that it has it's own exclusive lane that cuts right through one of the busiest areas of the city. It also covers a great amount of road as it only took me 25 minutes to get from beginning to end of the route. The last stop is Blok M terminal, which is the transit hub (among other things) of South Jakarta.

Once finished in there, I had to decide what to do next. Blok M terminal is filled with buses that go to every place you can imagine. There are buses that go near my house but not directly to it. The other problem is that some buses sit in the terminal for up to 30 minutes while you sit and wait. Feeling that I did not want to deal with this headache, I opted for an ojek (motorbike taxi). Before boarding an ojek, one must negotiate the price. After some haggling, I agreed on Rp. 25 000 ($2.75). Had I been more persistent, I could have gotten down to Rp. 20 000 ($2.25) but the driver had an entertaining quality and I didn't feel like persisting.

10 minutes later and Rp. 25 000 in the driver's hand, I was home. The whole trip took me around 1 hour and 15 minutes and cost me a mere Rp. 30 500 ($3.40) which meant that I had saved around Rp. 90 000 ( $10). Admittedly, the trip did take me an extra 30 minutes or so but it was well worth it. I don't know if I would want to repeat this trip in the daytime as the heat and traffic factors would come into play. This whole ordeal has made me somewhat change my opinion of public transit. As for the $10 I saved, that money is going directly towards what I like to call "karma beer" which will go directly into my new bar fridge.