The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Wednesday, January 11, 2006


A NEW YEAR’S REVOLUTION © Duncan Graham 2006

By the way, welcome to 2006. This greeting is a few days late, but what the heck? If it’s OK to arrive at meetings long after the scheduled starting time, why not a New Year? Blame jam karet.

That’s a pedestrian excuse for a bule so here’s another: Jam traffic.

I don’t know who’s responsible for road management in Indonesia. Maybe no one does, because no one is.

But just in case such a worthy exists, this appeal is courteously addressed to him. Should you know his name and position please pass it on. Probably Chief of Chaos. Or Minister for Motoring Mayhem.

Why not to her? Women are the calming forces in society, famous for ensuring a tidy, clean and safe environment. It would be genetically impossible for a female public servant or politician to happily preside over the mess on this nation’s pot-holed hardtops.

To celebrate getting this far down life’s unpredictable one-way road, here’s a wish: Wouldn’t it be grand if we could all exit the twelvemonth we’ve been privileged to enter, still sound in mind and limb?

To get moving here are three novel resolutions to try, proof there was no over-indulgence on 31 December and the brain is sparking on all four cylinders. Pass them on and keep them moving; the points not the pistons:

· How about stopping at zebra crossings when a person dips a toe in the river of bitumen? Drivers never walk so have no idea what it’s like to have only a handbag or briefcase to shield themselves and deflect hurtling steel missiles.

What’s a zebra crossing? Well it looks like the bar code you get on packaged groceries, and it’s supposed to mean that pedestrians have rights. It’s true that in the Javanese hierarchy of mobility four wheels have higher status than two feet, but walkers are still fellow humans, even when they don’t hold a steering wheel.

· Do you really need to carry your helmet-less offspring on a motorbike? If you want to see human cannonballs try a circus.

· And finally, just for a laugh because we all need humor on the highway, try using the indicator before you turn.

Why bother? Well those little winking lights are rather pretty and the click-click in the cab makes a chirpy sound. Go on, I dare you, it’s absolutely painless! The switch is a lever on the steering column. Found it? Amazing. What will the manufacturers think of next?

Please don’t dismiss these suggestions as the impertinence of an outsider. I respect the local way of doing things and understand every country has its own traffic culture.

By comparison with Australia, where zealously-policed rules make motoring a misery, driving in the archipelago is a breeze. In Java we’re famously forgiving and polite, smiling as we T-bone stray buffaloes on the Jalan Tol, grinning to maintain harmony as the bonnet slices under the tray of a truck parked in the centre lane.

No road rage. Just carnage.

Here’s an intoxicating positive thought: The chances of being picked up by a booze bus in Jakarta, Surabaya or anywhere else are like a halal Bintang - zero. That’s the spirit! Breathalysers wouldn’t work anyway – they’d just take readings of the pollution which is definitely over the limit.

The brief flashes and red spots you see at the curb as you whiz to work in first gear aren’t radar speed cameras as in Singapore with its tiresome regulations. They’re just becak drivers lighting up a kretek as they steer straight into your path.

Another illuminating point: It’s good to see the calls for energy conservation made by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono are being followed. Actually I thought he was referring to lighting in offices and homes, not vehicles at night. But I’m a bit dim at times and might have missed something in the translation. Or the gloom.

Having had the effrontery to dish out all this gratuitous advice it’s about time I came up with a personal pledge.

My resolution for 2006 - and all the other years to come that God may graciously grant me – is this: To never, ever, drive in Indonesia.

Why not follow suit? Then there’d be no traffic problems at all.

First published in The Sunday Post, 8 January 2005)


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