As you may have noticed, I was cross on Friday. Most long-term expats here have days like that. However attuned we think we are to local life, there remain regular what-the-f***? and why-don't-they? moments.
Simon Pitchforth has a regular column called Metro Mad in the Sunday edition of the Jakarta Post. I usually find myself nodding with recognition.When I was a child, my first experience with the law occurred when I was riding my bicycle home one evening. It was already dark and I had no lights on my bike. A policeman stopped me, told me I was breaking the law and endangering people and ordered me to dismount and push it home.
Fast-forward 20 years and I'm sitting on my Honda at a red light in Jakarta, near my office, watching rider after rider steam past me, straight over the crossroads paying no heed whatsoever to the traffic lights in front of them.So what links these two stories together, aside from a predilection for two-wheeled thrills? Well, it's revealing of cultural attitudes to the law. In our first bicycle light related encounter with the law, a common rite of passage in one's dealing with the police in the West, our hero's (me in short trousers) respect for rules and laws is reinforced and he learns that a sanction will be imposed if they are broken. It would have been inconceivable for me to try and give the officer who stopped me 50 pence (about US$1) from my pocket money in order to let me continue my ride home.
But not inconceivable here, eh Simon?
Simon continues ...Our second example shows just how futile local attempts to crackdown on corrupt judges and politicians and to get high-profile tax dodgers to cough up, are. If you can't even get people to stop at a red traffic light, then what's the point? You'll never eradicate corruption from the top-down if such disrespect for even the most basic of laws is buried deep within the Indonesian psyche.
(You'll have to register
and login to read the entire article
railing against the 'brick wall of cultural intransigence
'. Maybe Simon could post his articles in a blog much as another Jakarta Post contributor, Surabaya-based Duncan Graham
I think Simon has it slightly, but only slightly, wrong on that one. There is another factor at work, as described by Brandon at Java Jive
.Mungkin mereka mau bertemu Allah(Maybe they want to meet Allah.)
Without throwing exaggeration or frustration into the mix, I can honestly say that I've never seen a city with worse drivers in all of my life. It's not so much that people are sleeping at the wheel - because they know they're making poor decisions. When you have gigantic buses storming along at 120km/hr ON THE SHOULDER, you know there's just a different respect for lives.
Talking of respect for lives, Brandon was sick recently and actually visited a doctor
.There's no way this was a common cold, but it's been years since I've had the flu - and I couldn't remember how that felt. I decided I should finally get to the doctor. He literally laughed at me when I asked if there's any chance it could be bird flu - so is that Indonesian for "yes, you will die soon" or "not a chance"?. He quickly responded with, "If you had bird flu, you would have been dead yesterday and wouldn't be standing in front of me now." What a warm human being.
I asked for some pain killers and maybe something to help me sleep. Once I got home, I checked out the painkiller on the 'net. Oddly enough, the drugs he gave me were specifically marketed towards menstrual pain!?!
Who cares, cause they sure helped.
In today's Observer, John Pilger offers a couple of valuable insights.
Being tall invests you with an authority you have no right to - and you're not likely to be mugged. But in parts of southeast Asia, where if you stand out someone might shoot you, it's a huge disadvantage.
That's one fear I don't have here, although having my pocket picked is something I have experienced. Four times.
There's one photograph from Vietnam by Philip Jones Griffiths that shows a very large GI having his pocket picked by a tiny Vietnamese woman. It told the whole story of the clash of two cultures and how the invader could never win.
And there you have it. It can be difficult to adapt completely to so-called 'Asian values'.