Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Big Durian

Throughout my six years in Indonesia, I have avoided visiting its capital city, Jakarta. One really hears nothing good about the place, and much that is bad. With a population of more than 10 million, and a rather famously inadequate mass transit system, Jakarta is pictured in countless photographs as one big simmering traffic jam. This has always been enough to deter me.

Nonetheless, when my wife headed out for her most recent trip to the city (where business has taken her on many occasions), I decided, rather inexplicably, to tag along.

And, in fact, I found it to be one big simmering traffic jam.

If you live in a large city, such as Atlanta, for instance, or Los Angeles, you may think that you know about traffic. Think again. No city in the world can lay claim to a bigger traffic disaster than the city of Jakarta. Very often, one could walk to where he’s going more quickly than drive there. But people in Jakarta do not walk. It is simply not done. There is a special word in Indonesian for this phenomenon, which, unfortunately, I’ve forgotten, but it means something like “lazy bastards”.

On the bright side, however, traffic does thin out at around 2 in the morning.

Of course, a three day stay in any given city may be an insufficient amount of time to form a fair appreciation of the character of the place. Nonetheless, I came away with no particular feeling at all. It is just a very large city with lots of very large shopping malls and little in the way of a defining mood – unlike cities such as Savannah, or San Francisco, or even Seattle, which seem to have a distinct personality, an attendant mood, and beckon return in the future. Having visited Savannah once, I have always wanted to return; whereas one visit to Jakarta feels like more than enough.

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