Indonesia Expat
Featured Observations

Death Machines


This bule is in a dilemma. I hate motorbikes. But I think I need to get one. The swarms of motorbikes that stream through Jakarta’s streets, forming and reforming like schools of fish, fascinate me.

Until recently it did not even occur to me that I should join them. Bikes are clearly unsafe for a large, clumsy bule, who did not grow up absorbing the instinctive formations of Jakartan traffic from birth. But then I realised that I am constantly on the roads, dicing with death, motorbikes, cars, buses, and trucks anyway.

To quote completely unreliable statistics, every time I walk a step outside, I compete with at least ten million motorcycles, six million cars, 600,000 trucks, and 360,000 buses.

The human body, essentially a fragile bag of blood, flesh, and bone, doesn’t stand up well in this competitive environment. Metal travelling at speed wins every time.

In a city where only 6 percent of roads have footpaths, the competition between metal and flesh is inevitable and intense. I am competing for space with machines that will kill me if I put a foot wrong – or even if I don’t.

Not only am I inherently fragile, but I am also travelling at 4 km per hour. The metal death machines are going a lot quicker – except when they aren’t moving at all.

Oddly, the average traffic speed in Jakarta at peak hours has been calculated at five km per hour. Think about that. The average traffic speed at peak hours is the same as someone walking. A little bit quicker than a buffalo.

Of course, those inside or on top of the metal death machines will argue they are safer, more comfortable and ultimately quicker than a pedestrian. And they’d be right.

That’s why Jakartans use a motorbike or a car for any journey longer than 200 metres!

Even with taxis, I am faced with a dilemma. For a start, I’ve found that drivers get upset when I flop into one of their air-conditioned cocoons at the top of a queue of vehicles and ask them to take me 200 metres. No-one is happy about trips that don’t cover at least a couple of kilometres.

If I want to travel somewhere between 10m and 2km, I have little choice but to risk my life, walking on the road.

If my destination is one km away, it will take me 10 minutes to walk there. And I’ll risk my life.

Depending on how long it takes to find a ride and the traffic, the same distance could take me 30 minutes or more by car. I’ll be there in five minutes on my bike. Most importantly, when I get my Scoopy I’ll be competing on equal terms – metal against metal.

I may only average my normal walking speed, but at any given moment, I’ll be travelling at the same speed as all the other death machines around me.

Wish me luck.

See: New Bule Leaves Town

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