Contrary to common misconceptions, the monsoon rarely involves torrential downpours. Instead, it rains steadily for days with only occasional breaks. It is the incessant wetness, combined with the Indonesian habit of covering every horizontal surface with glazed tiles, that makes this time of year grate on the nerves.
The non-stop rains also lead to more dangerous situations. Here in the city, flash floods and cresting rivers are common problems. It is so regular, in fact, that it is a normal way of life. Our important appliances, like the refrigerator, sit on 18-inch stilts, should the waters rise high enough to overtop the first floor, which is already 2 feet above street level.
There is also the obligatory reports of landslides across the country, and mountains are slowly whittled down into molehills. This occasionally leads to exciting moments when the passable part of a road is barely wide enough for a car to pass, while a gaping hole leads to a heart-thumpingly sheer drop into oblivion.
This past night, we were treated to a bonus: an hours-long electrical display of extraordinary proportions. There has been over the past few hours a nearly non-stop lightning storm, with overlapping flashes - some quite close by - followed by the mournful crash and rumble of split air. The ionized atmosphere has the dubious effect of causing the three young cats to go completely nuts, running around in circles, simultaeouslyleaping onto furniture and skidding across the room into rolling tackles.
Other than the occasional streams of water pouring off the stairs and landing on the desk within inches of my valuable electronics, it is not so bad, until one has to venture out into the wild.
The most annoying aspect of monsoon season is the inevitable traffic snarl. Jakarta has world-class epic traffic jams without any help from Nature. When it rains, however, the poorly constructed roadbeds rot under the pounding of thousands of vehicles, turning large sections of road into little more than finely crushed gravel. Additionally, people naturally slow down in the rain so that the usual crawl is reduced to barely more than a squirm. It is not unusual to sit in one spot for over two hours while folks try to solve the puzzle of 30 cars trying to occupy the same point in space and time simultaneously.
Carrying rain gear and a change of socks, using rubberized shoes and leaving at least four hours before any scheduled appointments are among the many adaptive behaviors one uses to get through monsoon. Any more, umbrellas are not for one's self, but to protect the ubiquitous electronic devices one needs for daily life these days. The four-hour lead time is not just for travel hitches, but also to allow an hour or so at the coffee shop to dry off before meeting an important client.
Having grown up in subtropical Houston, I had little problem with this change in weather, but many of the ex-pats I know complain endlessly about the rain and floods and the constant feeling of being wet. I know many who bought houses in areas prone to noahide floods. I have heard tales of using bathtubs as row boats from second story windows to get to the market. They are not exaggerating. I see scenes like this at least once a year - all taken in stride as a consequence of geography and fluid dynamics.
One often overlooked benefit of monsoon is a break from the overbearing heat. As I write, it is about 20 degrees Celcius, which is roughly 5 degrees cooler than usual at five in the morning. There is also a mild but refreshing breeze coming in the open doorway, where the young cats are tearing in and out doing their best cheetah impressions. The water in front of the house is about 30cm deep, at the moment, but the rain is letting up a bit, so there is hope that I don't need to move the first floor up to the second at the moment.
It is blissfully quiet, as well. The usual vendors with their various calls are home in bed and the sound of rain is drowning out the four mosques within 300 metes of the house. There is only the ongoing, overlapping claps of thunder, as hardly any of the normal daily activities have been delayed.
The rain has been steadily falling for the last 24 hours, and the light show has been ongoing since about 11 last night. With any luck, it will abate in the next few hours and the stream of water coming down the upstairs wall and cascading off the stairs onto my desk will finally stop. Yet it would not be unusual for this to continue another day or two. The local news shows have no weather reports, since they are rather pointless. There are only the breathless reports of landslides, flooding and traffic jams that accompany monsoon.
The lightning has slowed to about five per minute now, so there is hope.