Jakarta is a big city through and through, the kind of place most people don’t want to stay for more than a few days. It’s busy, and spread out, and the traffic is absolutely nutso. There are few traffic signals, which would be a joke anyway because the place seems to run on its own set of ‘suggestions’, the lines painted on the road are simply ignored, motorcycles slide in and out and sometimes just go the opposite direction; there are no such things as rules here.
So, it’s your first night in town and you need things, like bottled water, snacks and dinner. You venture out, alone. It’s dark. The rows of cars never end and everything is on the other side of the street. You wait for some locals to cross, and go with them. You’ve been told it’s only five minutes to the convenience store but as you walk, dodging bad pavement and crumbling curbs, you look down dark side streets and it seems like forever before you reach the gleaming fluorescent glow that you seek.
The next day, you take your partially blind husband out on those same sidewalks, with shrubbery that crowds on one side and every bit of broken pavement becomes something to warn him about. The spicy food pushes his heat tolerances, the traffic still doesn’t make sense and Jakarta is feeling rather intimidating about now.
But then you take a tuk-tuk ride, and that’s fun. There’s more bad pavement and tons of stairs everywhere, up, down and back up again – but slowly you get used to giving the necessary warnings. At every turn, people are patient and helpful. At the least, they slide around you, at best, they take your arm and help.
Then a kind local explains the rules for crossing the street – never rush, but go steady and they’ll stop – and it all starts to make sense. You come to understand the flow of the city and its people. Your mistakes and foibles are accepted with good humor. They appreciate the effort.
At tourist spots, people, especially school kids, want to take pictures with you and interview you for their class assignment. These interactions are always entertaining and you wonder how many hundreds of times your picture has been viewed online.
You fall in love with the street food that is now just a hop across that street that was once so intimidating. After walking up and down you know where it’s best to just forego the sidewalk and walk with the cars. They have no interest in hitting you, or even complaining. With a couple beeps of the horn, they’re just letting you know they’re there. Oh, and that convenience store that seemed like it was ages away? It now means you’re almost home.
And it’s not just about getting used to the place. There’s something about that flow, that acceptance, of so many people taking life in stride and not getting upset at every little inconvenience, or being jaded into constant discontent.
Despite all of the craziness, Jakarta has a very human energy, in some of the best ways humanity has to offer.
Check out: Top 10 Secrets to Enjoying Jakarta