Here Thar Be Monsters!

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18.8.16

The Big Durian

Here in the Big Durian, where 12 million people are piled on top of each other trying to beat the odds and get rich, no matter how many people they have to screw, life has made me rather morose lately.

Not only has the government gone on a robbery campaign (see yesterday's rant), but nearly all of the internet access providers - whether cell-based or cable - have all decided to crap out at the same time.  Out of 24 hours, they are usable about 8-12 hours a day.  No reasons given.

On top of that, the public water system, at least in my neighborhood, has also decided to crap out.  We have a 150-gallon reservoir in the house, which is only getting partially filled each day by a pitiful trickle from the city supply.  No reasons given.

Electricity in some parts of the city has been spotty.  This would be just an inconvenience in most cities, but in the Big Durian, there are only three stoplights in the whole mess, and one of them happens to be near the heart of the city.  When it craps out, it causes a ripple-down effect resulting in a traffic jumble of epic proportions.  And that's on top of the epic traffic situation already caused by the "odd-even" license plate scheme being implemented to try and ease the epic jams in the city center.

Jakarta - the Big Durian - is a mess.  It is a 2,000-year-old settlement with donkey trails for roads that has been paved over a hundred times to stuff more people into a tiny space.  You could put the entire city inside the Inner Loop area of Houston, with enough space left over for all the damn parks Jakarta doesn't have.  And Houston has three loops, with the outer one being about 75 miles from side to side, accommodating 4 million people.  Jakarta has 12 million crammed into what amounts to the inner city of Houston.

What's worse is that Jakarta is the political, commercial and financial center of the country.  All the jobs are here that amount to more than selling coffee and cigarettes in a warung.  Any good jobs outside the Big Durian were centered on minerals and energy, and in case you haven't noticed, those industries have been pounded for the past two years, forcing even more people to come here looking for scraps.

Imagine Washington, D.C. being the only place in the US where decent jobs could be found.  That's the problem here.

On top of all that, every day, millions of people migrate from the surrounding area, called Jabodetabek (Jakarta, Bogor, Depok, Tanggerang, Bekasi), raising the population to around 20 million daily, and all using trucks, cars, motorcycles, bajaj, angkot, trains, buses, bicycles, and push-carts on roads that are barely an improvement over dirt and gravel, with an incomprehensible toll system of freeways that require every - single - car - to - stop - and - pay.  There is no EZ Tag or automated payment system, since Indonesians would quickly find a way around it.

In fact, that is the nation pass-time - finding ways around the rules.  It starts with five lanes of traffic on roads barely wide enough to handle two.  Then there's the motorcycles, which flat refuse to follow ANY rules.  Oh, and let's not forget the aging city buses that like to race each other to the next stop to get the customers.  Top it all off with sidewalks that are so crammed with food stalls and warung that people walking are forced into the streets to get around - that is WHEN there are sidewalks at all.

The pièce de résistance is that the Big Durian is a city, a state and a national capital.  That means there are presidents, vice presidents, ministers, members of parliament, governors, vice governors, mayors and vice mayors all trying to plow through traffic with their police escorts, making an untenable mess even worse.  And, of course, being Indonesia, every company CEO and his brother hire police escorts to do the same thing, since their time is FAR more valuable than us peons.

The public transportation system here is a joke.  The TransJakarta busway is built at street level, and where it crosses U-turns and intersections, there is a gap in the barrier, so hundreds of cars, trucks and motorcycles jump in the bus lane to try and get around the traffic snarls, causing - naturally - more snarls that now include the mass transit system.

They are installing an MRT system, but of course, the construction causes more snarls and I frankly will never use it because the last place I want to be is trapped in a tunnel with thousands of panicky people during an earthquake or flood, both of which are part of the scene here.  Not to mention the fact that Indonesians are not especially known for their ability to maintain complex systems, and the national pass-time of trying to find ways around the rules.

One great example of finding ways around the rules was an earlier, abortive attempt to reduce congestion in the city center.  The then-governor created a 3-in-1 zone, requiring three passengers in every car during peak times of the day.  Well, since a great number of folk here use drivers (so their lives aren't frittered away behind the wheel), that left only one additional person to get round the rule.  An entire cottage industry sprang up of "jockeys" who would stand on the sides of roads at the 3-in-1 borders and get paid to ride along as the third head.  Result?  Absolutely no effect on congestion, and instead caused worse jams at the borders as people stopped to pick up jockeys.

Just yesterday, I noticed the new improved system to beat the "odd/even" system: electronic digital license places that can be changed at a moment's notice.

Yes, living in the Big Durian is a true adventure, one I have never experienced before.  There are days when it is extremely difficult to keep laughing at it, and today is one of them,

It's a good thing I am producing a musical comedy right now.  I need the laughs.

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