Friday, December 30, 2011


For our last night in town we took a ride over to a Lebanese restaurant a few streets away. Every day that we've been in Jakarta we've seen little cardboard signs stuck on trees by the side of the road, with the magical incantation 'OJEK' magic markered on them. It took a few days before we realised that this was the Bahasa for motorcycle taxi. Or, as we refer to it in other worlds, being insane.

It's more efficient, I must say. We took less than five minutes to make a journey that on Jakarta's crowded streets would be at least half an hour in a taxi. However, efficiency comes at a cost, the cost of me clinging, terrified, as we hurtle down a darkened street, mixing it with speeding taxis, people on bicycles and random animals, all of which have their own ideas about road safety and which side of the street you're meant to drive on.

And I was wearing flip-flops, and thinking back to what my friend Colin told me, about how you're safer on a motorcycle the better your imagination is. Especially when all I can imagine involves skin grafts and being fed soup for the rest of your life. As in Belitung, drivers in Jakarta are unimpeded by an imagination that would lead them to worry about mortality or hospital bills - they just pin it, or wobble between stationary vehicles as and when they see fit.

Still, we survived. I suppose that the fatality rate can't be that high on scooters, because otherwise there would be nobody left alive in Jakarta pretty quickly. And perhaps it doesn't matter that the helmet they give you to wear has already had a thousand other heads sweating inside it, and the strap would probably pop off if it was ever needed, because, well, we didn't need it. Likewise you don't need gloves, or a visor, or proper shoes, as long as you don't fall off. What was it they say about not taking extra risks just because you're on holiday?

Apparently the accident rate isn't that high in Jakarta. Roads are more dangerous when there's a wide mix of speeds (think mentalists in white vans racing bicycle couriers in London) but I can't quite square that with Jakarta, where as well as a mix of speeds there's the mix of directions, as previously alluded to. But still, didn't fall off, didn't catch fire, didn't have to wait in a car for half an hour.

I'm not sure if life tastes sweeter once you've been terrified. Probably would do if my hands weren't quivering too much when I was trying to eat dinner. Still, I suppose after a few more trips zooming through Jakartan traffic, I'd probably accept this as quite normal and wonder why on earth we don't do this all the way across the world.


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