In Singapore, we depended on our driver, provided by the company, for all our weekday needs. We had a similar arrangement in Jakarta, where we spent three years, but the car sat in the driveway for only a few weekends, before I decided to get a drivers license. This turned out to be an interesting experience.
There is one building in Jakarta (think of its size, about like Los Angeles, population over 7 million) to get a license (its only a written test if you have one from abroad). All government offices and buildings have many uniformed police or military standing by, so you don’t pay much attention.
Well, I went to a desk, following arrows, selected the English form to fill. Retired to a chair and desk for that purpose, and as I was studying the first question, a big brown finger came down and pointed to one of the multiple choices.
I looked up, there was Dudley Do-Right in full uniform with pistol strapped to his hip, and not a whisper of a smile. So I marked the one to which he was pointing. And the finger moved down the page, question by question, as I marked those so indicated. You think I was going to argue with him?
As the test was finished, he moved back to the wall where he stood at attention. I took my test to the desk (it was in English). Passed with flying colors. Don’t know yet what that was all about, but I’m now legal on the road!
Armed now with a vehicle (our driver didn’t work weekends), on a Saturday afternoon, I decided to drive to the next town, Bogor, about an hours drive south. I’d been told there was a gong factory, where they make the large gongs that hang in the hotel lobbies or in museums. We had talked about getting one for some time.
Since the driver was out, I just hit the road by myself, Bogor being about 40 miles south, a one hour drive. This is a beautiful city, some 800 feet above Jakarta, that’s a mountain, so to speak, where Sukarno, Indonesia’s first president, spent most of his time when the nation was founded (~1965). I was sure I could find the place, that someone would tell me where it was when I got there. So there I was, big country rube in a strange city, speaking a strange tongue (by the way, how would you explain to someone how to pronounce ‘tongue’?).
I decided the best way to find the place was to park the car and take a taxi, right? The taxi I took was a “Bacek,” (bay-chek) a three wheeled bicycle with one passenger seat and a peddler. I tried to explain where I wanted to go, with hand motions showing how I would hit the gong with a dinger, or whatever it is called. After a bit he seemed to know what I wanted, so away we went, across town, up hills, down hills, I would get out and walk up the hills with him. I was one of his heaviest loads.
Finally we came to a ravine where he pointed down through some trees to the dark outline of a building. So I crossed the ravine on a narrow walkway, after convincing him to wait for me, climbed through a fence and down the hill through the trees, finding myself at the back entrance to a golf course clubhouse.
So, back up the hill, through the fence, across the ravine, to my little friend, where I re-explained where I wanted to go. Only this time I explained with pictures as I drew my version of a gong on a slip of paper I had in my pocket. His face lit up as he finally understood, so back across town, up & down the hills, this about two hours after I had parked the car, we rounded a bend and there it was, Goodyear Tire Company! So much for my drawing of a gong.
After a few more inquiries, I found a guy who spoke enough english and knew where the gong factory was. He asked, “You want to buy a gong? How much you want to spend?” He told me to have the Bacek driver take me back to my car, then drive back to him and he would take care of me! Well, by the time I got back to the car it was nearly dark and I didn’t want to be taken care of, so I drove back to Jakarta. Another time!
As resident’s of Indonesia, there is an issue of critters, something new and different. You’ve heard all the cockroach stories, well they are indeed a cunning adversary. On occasion I had to race from the yard to see who gets to the open door first. You can’t leave a door open for a moment. Norman Rockwell painted four pictures, called the Four Freedoms: Freedom from fear, Freedom of speech, Freedom from hunger, and Freedom of worship. I love those four pictures, but recently thought of the freedoms in the U.S. we take for granted, and how neat if he had painted more in the same line, such as:
Freedom from cockroaches,
Freedom from leaks,
Freedom from power outages,
Freedom from water outages,
Freedom from telephone disruptions,
Freedom from sticky handshakes,
Freedom from Diarrhea,
…to mention a few…
We had a delightful time in Singapore with Lori when we got our physicals. Stayed five days, then back to Jakarta for the rest of her stay. Daniel had grown 3 1/2 inches since his physical last Christmas, and I think 2 more since our return. Good thing I can still whip him, not much longer…
Back in Jakarta, its raining like cats & dogs. We are in the rainy season now, had a severe drought all summer, and into the fall. Should start raining about Sept/Oct time frame, but we didn’t get any ’til December.
Real concern in many of the provinces where the rice crop won’t feed the populace. But rain it does when it does. It will now rain for about three months, some each day. There is a lot of concern about the lava flows at the active volcanoes, that the rains will start mud slides & wipe out some villages. The volcanoes have decimated many areas during the past year, but you don’t read much about it, it would make big headlines in the states.
I sometimes think, as I drive past the serene scenes of happy Indonesian life, me worrying about this project and that manager, and that debt, who is really civilized. This is really great, typing this letter on the way home, I am reminded of all the things I wanted to tell you about this place. Public transportation is terribly important here, since most people don’t drive cars or have them (you wouldn’t think that as you see the numbers of cars on the road at this hour, you’d think everyone is in a car on the road). But Jakarta is the size of L.A., without the benefit of traffic flow systems, or traffic lights on many busy intersections. Other ‘not too busy’ intersections don’t even have stop signs, so you pick your way along carefully.
If you were to describe driving here it would have to be called “offensive,” not only that you would be offended by it, but more importantly, you are continually on the offensive as you drive. You don’t worry about anyone in the rear as you drive. Rather, the tool for your success is your front fender. If you can get that one inch ahead of those to your left or right, then you have the right away. And try you do!
I’m careful to avoid fender benders when possible, because as a general rule of thumb, when an Expat gets in an accident it is his fault. Why? The reasoning is simple, if I had stayed in America where I belong, the accident would not have happened, right? So there is that hazard in driving here. I don’t do much driving with the family, to church once in a while when I give the driver the day off or when I drive to the video shop to get something to watch at home on our company provided video player.
We’ve seen more movies in the last two weeks than we saw in a year in the states. At the video shop we can rent a movie for about $1.00. A guy will deliver for about $2.50. So on a good weekend we might watch 8 or 10 movies, pop corn, and really live it up. I think we’ve seen every movie in Indonesia twice by now, I was so desperate last time I got “Tarzan,” not for the kids!
When we go to Singapore we aways buy one or two good movies to keep, and enjoy watching them over and over. We have a few Disney’s, Fiddler on the Roof, which is always good, Electric Horseman, that I watch and drool over that Utah mountain country, Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, and couple of others. One we’ve got to bring home and show you is called “The Gods must be Crazy,” funniest show I’ve ever seen. If you ever get the chance, don’t miss it.
The family went to Singapore four days ahead of me to get the medicals taken care of, and on the Wednesday evening the night before I left I attended the annual Christian’s Christmas program at the plant. It was an interesting mixture of traditional Javanese festivities and more modern Christian ceremony. Showed with skits and pantomimes how the ancient religions here on the island of Java were replaced through the years with Christian tradition.
And SING! They sing with more gusto and enthusiasm than I have seen anyplace. Beautiful women’s choir, and then at the end, three guys and a girl with a guitar sang, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” & it about did me in. Most beautiful song I’ve ever heard. Our number two daughter graduated high school from the Jakarta International school and left for college.
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