Thursday, February 10, 2011


Having recently returned from Calcutta (and yes, it is called Calcutta), I’ve begun to appreciate Jakarta more than ever.  South Jakarta, where we live, looks like a nice bustling city, with winding streets, roadside shops, lots of trees and only the occasional high rise building (in fact, you can use them to navigate by, since they tower over everything for miles around). Once you get to the Central Business District, however, it’s another story. This is no city, it’s a metropolis. Skyscrapers everywhere, roads and flyovers worthy of anywhere in the developed world, and of course the Malls: eight-ten story behemoths with names like Chanel, Versace, Ferregamo, all brand spanking new (and, according to rumour, with not enough stock – but that’s another matter).

Of course, every city has a marked contrast betwen it’s business and residential areas.  But Jakarta is the only one I know which has kampungs like Calcutta and a CBD like Singapore.  A fact that I’ve had plenty of time to appreciate over the past month in my wide-ranging search for Christmas presents (alas, most of my shopping was done at Toy Kingdom instead of the aforementioned Chanel et al).

Driving around, I noticed a great many things. First and foremost was the Jakartan (possibly Indonesian?) tendency to name your business ‘D’ something. D’Bar (a bar), D’Ocean (seafood), D’cafe (coffeehouse), D’Best (slightly grandiose), D’Branded (oddly enough, this was a shop for desginer rip-offs) and, best of all, D’Smut (a cafe and art gallery – the mind boggles).

One of the other things you pick up on are local driving customs: I’m filing them away for future reference, for the day when I finally start using my driver’s licence. Little things like using your hazards when you go straight over an intersection (illogical? yes; unneccessary? not if everyone is expecting you to do it);  honking when you go around a corner (unless you’ve been thoughtfully provided with a road mirror for that purpose); and of course the road jockeys.

I first came across road jockeys while driving out during the morning  rush hour. At some point I became aware of a number of women, fairly well dressed and heavily made-up, waving at cars as they passed by. ‘Hallo,’ I thought to myself, this doesn’t usually happen until well after dark  in Dar es Salaam. Then I realised that there were men as well, indicating their willingness to be picked up. How very equal minded, I thought. Next, I realised that many of the women were carrying babies. Surely this went beyond  the limits of broad-mindedness? I finally succumbed and asked The Driver about them. They were ‘jockeys’ he explained, a by-product of Jakarta’s traffic laws. During the rush hour, certain roads may only be used by cars with at least three passengers. An admirable law, drafted  in order to promote car pooling. However, what you end up with is a number of people willing to ride in your car for a price – hence the term ‘jockeys.’ The women with babies are the most popular, since they count as two passengers for the price of one.

As someone who cares about the environment, I should be horrifed by this blatant bypassing  of what was originally, a very good idea. One can’t help but be a tiny bit impressed at entrepreneurship of the jockeys, though. Where one person might see a general nuisance, they see a money-making opportunity by providing a widely-deplored but much appreciated service. And I suppose that technically this is increasing Indonesia’s GDP...

 The final observation about Jakarta’s streets came just before the Chinese New Year, when we lost ours. To a street market. Apparently this happens once a year, and I’m grateful that it was strategically placed just after the entrance to our alley, so we could still enter and exit. And that it was only over the weekend, since the market was blocking the quickest way to the childrens’ school.  I did wonder, though, about the forebearance of the drivers who phegmatically turned around and drove in the opposite direction when they found their way blocked by several metres of gaily decorated street stalls, instead of getting out of their cars and angrily demanding why on earth didn’t someone have the decency to put up at least one warning sign before they came all the way down a very a narrow road (which would have been my reaction).

But in general, Jakarta drivers seem to be a calm lot.  There is, of course, a lot of honking, but they let you out at junctions. And are tolerant of a sudden change of direction which necessitates a five-point-turn in middle of a traffic queue. And I haven’t yet heard of any road rage incident similar to those in India (Delhi in particular) which seem to be far too commonplace.  Perhaps, with ths many cars on the road, you have to be fairly tolerant otherwise no one would get anywhere (yes, even towards those annoying motorbikes which get in front of you everywhere). All of which bodes well for when I finally get out on the roads and start driving.

I’ll keep you posted.


  1. How many rides as a 'jockey' would I need to make before I could afford the trip home??? To the UK that is...

  2. Lovely to get a feel of Jakarta from your description! I had thought the whole place would be more like Singapore with high rises! This ‘jockey’ thing is common in Washington DC sans the kids (here most HOV lanes are for 2 persons and some 3).

    Please do post more. Will wait for it.