Saturday, May 21, 2005

Traffic in Indonesia and Malaysia

If you can drive in Medan, you can drive anywhere. No shit.

Indonesian traffic is legendary for its perpetual chaos. Lanes don't exist (well they do, but nobody cares about them anyway), speed limits don't exist (my favorite part), and traffic lights are considered decorative lights.

Foreigners get slight heart attacks on their first time on an Indonesian road. I read somewhere that Juha Kankkunen, the four-time World Rally champion, was freaked out when he was driven around in Medan during one of the Asia Pacific Rally leg in the 90's (hey how come we never host any of those anymore?). A guy who drives 200km/h in the woods for a living was scared to be on the Medan main road, that's bad.

The roads in Indonesia are filled with not only cars and motorcycle, but also bicycles, becaks/trishaws (on cities where they aren't abolished and dumped to the sea yet), bajajs, kaki lima carts, people walking, people standing, people demonstrating (ah, we get a lot of that), and people begging.

It takes special skills to maneuver around so many obstacles. But if you think it's better to drive a small car in such a crowded place then you are very wrong. Size does matter in Indonesia. That's why Daihatsu Ceria (Indonesia's version of Kancil) sells poorly there. Little cars don't stand a chance against the off-road wannabe Land Cruisers and mad angkot drivers. That is why Toyota Kijang (or Unser, for the non-Autocar reading folks) is the best selling car of all time in Indonesia. It's medium sized, can accommodate eight people (two parents, three kids and three maids), and has gazillions of accessories available in the toko aksesori.

Once you've gotten used to the mad driving it'll be okay. You can then relax a bit and enjoy the organized chaos around you. Just don't get too relaxed like Indonesians who are often found driving while:
  • SMSing their friends
  • Playing with their Communicator/PDA/other high tech toys. Indonesians love their gadgets
  • Teaching their baby kid to drive
Motorcyclists in Indonesia think they're immortal. They consider wearing helmet as an annoying chore, plus it ruins the hairstyle. So they choose not to wear it. But how if there's a traffic cop doing his rounds, you ask? Well, Pak Polisi also doesn't wear helmet, so why bother.

They are also very good in squeezing whole familes on one small motorcycle. Although this can also be found in Malaysia, but the Indonesians have perfected the art. I've seen one family (mom, dad, and three kids) on one tiny kapchai enjoying an afternoon ride. Scary I tell you.

There are too many motorcycles in Indonesia. That makes motorcycles the no 1 obstacle when you're driving. They're simply everywhere. You have to be extra careful when driving cos these people will swerve in traffic like nobody's business. The very annoying part is that in the event of an accident, the motorcyclist is always right. Well who wouldn't symphatize with one family lying on the road with a wrecked bike and condemn the driver with his fancy car even though it was the bike that sped and hit the car. So too bad for drivers. Just watch out for those daredevils.

One more thing about motorcyclists, they seem to love teaching their 10 year old sons to ride. I've seen this one many many times. A very young boy learns to ride with his dad riding pillion. Dad looks smug, damn proud that his kid can finally ride on his own, ready to race with his little friends, ready to crash onto an incoming truck, ready to lie dead in a blood pool and become another statistic.

I've been driving in Malaysia for about 1.5 years now. As I have experienced the worst traffic, I gotta say that Malaysia feels like heaven. A lot of Malaysians complain about the jams, but its nothing compared to Jakarta. Once I travelled from Soekarno Hatta Airport in Cengkareng to Gambir Station in Central Jakarta to catch a train. The trip lasted for 2.5 hours and I almost missed my train. The 2.5 hours duration is considered pretty lucky as the driver knew all the jalan tikus passing wet markets and all. If we were to use the main road I would've had to take another train.

KL jam is mild. Sure the traffic is frustrating, but at least its moving. In an Indonesian jam you can be stationary for hours. I guess this is also the reason why so many Indonesians employ drivers, cos it's better to sleep in the car and let the driver worry about getting to the destination. I was a bit surprised when I came to Malaysia and I saw expensive German cars driven by their owners. In Indonesia even an Avanza owner has a personal driver, no kidding.

If there's one thing that irks me about driving in Malaysia is the drivers' attitude. They lack a lot of basic courtesy like giving signals when switching lanes or even driving in the proper lane according to their speed. Many times I had to brake suddenly cos some idiot decided to change to my lane without giving signal even though I was much faster and was about to pass him. And when I honked he even got the balls to stare at me. Asshole.

Enough ranting, FA Cup Final is on.

Listening to: Judas Priest - Fever


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