Tag Archives: cars

A lesson in polite chaos

21 Sep
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Jakarta city view

Jakarta traffic is insane. I’d been warned before I got here about the traffic, but it’s something else to see it up close. Everyone is always trying to get somewhere. In a hurry. In a city of more than 12 million, and in one of the most densely populated parts of the city, that’s a lot of people in a relatively small space. Thankfully, there are rules … kind of.

Rule #1 – Every space is a usable space. It’s common to see a swarm of scooters, sometimes with 2 or 3 passengers, crowded at the front of a line of traffic, waiting on the light to change so they can squeeze ahead of cars. And when traffic is moving, they are everywhere, inching between cars, snaking around buses, all the while blowing their horns just in case.

Rule #2 – Lane markings count, except when they don’t. Try to drive in a straight line and you will find most people are in their lanes (well except scooters, see rule #1). But try going around a corner, merging on or off a main road, or my personal favourite – going around a roundabout – and all bets are off. It’s more of a case of who goes first wins. It’s the strangest thing because as soon as you are back on a straight road, the order returns.

bus lane

Bus lane

 Rule #3 – Bus lanes are for buses. So far this is the one I’ve seen respected without fail. Not sure if this is because there are major fines for violating this rule, or because of the big curb that divides regular traffic lanes from the bus lanes.  I’m sure that the fact that TransJakarta bus drivers swing the buses around like they are training for F1 competition has nothing to do with it.

Rule #4 – HOV lanes are serious business. Certain streets are designated “3 in 1” especially during rush hour, which means that there must be a minimum of 3 people in any 1 vehicle to travel in these areas. Here’s how I discovered how this played out. One evening leaving the office, the car I was in was stopped by police. The office driver hadn’t done anything wrong that I could see, but 2 other cars were also pulled over so I assumed a routine traffic check. After a brief conversation where the office driver seemed to be trying to persuade the policeman of something and what looked like a “financial exchange”, we were allowed to pass. The next night, I noticed a number of young men standing along the driveway exit, all holding up 1 finger like they were asking for a ride, or counting to 1. Soon after we pulled out of the gate, the driver stopped and picked up one of these men, seemingly at random. He turned to me apologetically and explained this was the “jockey for 3-in-1”. Then it hit me. The rules are so strict that drivers will pay to have a 3rd passenger or “jockey” in the car in order to access the restricted areas! After a few blocks when we had cleared the 3-in-1 zone, our “jockey” hopped out and went his way, presumably to rescue another driver. Serious business indeed.

policeIncredibly, I’m yet to see so much as a fender-bender, although sometimes I’m pretty sure scooters are routinely touching cars or each other in the crush. As I said, it’s chaos, but polite chaos. Don’t forget to look both ways.

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Things that go beep in the night

15 Jul

It was the loud and insistent ringing that woke me. The intercom phone in my apartment, which kind of sounds like a fire alarm.  Was it a summer vacation prank, an urgent summons, a dream? It was weirder than that – it was the police!

“Good Evening Ms. Rudder. This is the police. Your car alarm keeps going off, can you come down and turn it off? The police car will be waiting, ma’m.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but it’s not every day that the police show up at my house, especially in the middle of the night.  Still rubbing sleep from my eyes, I dressed, grabbed my keys and headed downstairs.  Sure enough, there was one of New Westminster’s finest, along with a tow truck, flashing lights and one of those fabulous “policeman’s flashlights” we all secretly crave.  Sure enough, there was my car horn, stuck somehow and producing a pretty feeble, fast-fading tone.

“Could you open up the car, ma’m? There’s a smell of burning wires, we just want to make sure there isn’t a short or a fire.  Maybe you should make sure it starts and the battery isn’t dead.  If you pop the hood we’ll take a look for you.”  Such service!

The tow truck driver, a sprightly young guy with a “back East” Nova Scotia accent checked it over, concluded my battery was fine, and that it must have been my steering wheel lock that had somehow pushed against the horn and caused it to stick in the “on” position.  After recommending I take it in for service, and verifying my name and address, my two new heroes disappeared into the night, taking their flashing lights and sense of adventure with them.

Now, let’s reflect for a moment on the amazing things about this story.  That I live in a neighbourhood where noise after about 11 p.m. gets the attention of the neighbours.  That said neighbours care enough about what’s going on out in the street to call the police, and that the police respond with politeness and assistance. That I live in a place where social trust is high enough that if the police ring your doorbell in the middle of the night (well OK, it was 11:30 p.m. but I’d been asleep for at least an hour by then!), you feel comfortable enough to answer the door, rather than diving to hide the valuables and grab your passport as you head out the back way!

I love this country! July 1st is fine and all, but this officially marks my personal “Canada Day” this year.  Here’s a lesson to us all: make sure you put your steering lock on properly, and don’t forget to appreciate the small but important things in life.

Happy Canada Day, everybody!