A Jaunty Jig around Jakarta
Life is good when you’ve just enjoyed the refined taste of sate kambing, lontong and gorengan tempe. Life is less enjoyable when you find yourself driving a tuk-tuk on the raging roads of Jakarta. Today was my baptism of fire as an active participant in the pandemonic traffic of Indonesia’s bustling capital.
Today’s journey started at the ASEAN HQ in Kebayoran Baru, where all tuk-tuks were neatly lined up for the grand send-off. Escorted by politicians, tambourine players, flower-bearing girls and policemen, the convoy headed to Java’s westernmost tip to catch the ferry to Sumatra.
The event drew attention from the Indonesian and Singaporean media (do let us know if you see us and our tastefully decorated tuk-tuk on television or in the newspapers). In addition, a female reporter of a Chinese television station eagerly and conspicuously collected a myriad of details about me which couldn’t possibly all be rickshaw related. She had, according to Xin Hui, a mission in life…
Agreeing that true adventurism involves veering off the beaten track, Team Project Southeast Asia Oxford decided to take an alternative route. If driving in Jakarta is so hazardous that a police escort is required, why not give it a try? We decided to park our rickshaw at the Cambodia Trust’s Jakarta School of Prosthetics & Orthotics in Cilandak Barat, about seven kilometres from our starting point, where we could also continue to sharpen our driving skills.
All of this would have been much easier if we didn’t start off with a flat rear tyre. Our spare tyre, it turned out, was even flatter. “Part of the challenge”, the mechanics cheekily commented, dismissing us on a quest to find the nearest pump.
After testing both my driving and surviving skills to the limits, PJ and I finally found a pump, dodging kaki lima, taxis and suicidal motor drivers. We had discarded our baggage and Xin Hui earlier to make our vehicle as light as possible, yet still managed to crash into a road bump at full speed. Remarkably, the tuk-tuk did not fall apart on the spot. We also went through a junction where none of the traffic lights were on; ten minutes later, we went through a junction where every single traffic light was on, showing red, yellow, and green simultaneously.
All in all, I’d say our driving skills have greatly improved today. That said, the tuk-tuk still stalled at the most awkward moments: in the middle of a one-way lane, at the slope of a petrol station and during an attempted U-turn on the high-way. Still, we reached the JSPO just in time for our next adventure: Xin Hui’s first test drive.