In the soothing micro-environment of a modern car, you can go through life without saying a word to anyone other than friends, family and colleagues. (So) there really is no such thing as society. Joe Moran, the author of On Roads: A Hidden History.
Our Kid and I spent much of yesterday on our near-monthly visit to Ratu Plaza looking for computer stuff and good pirated DVDs. We generally follow this up with a meal in Ya 'Udah, and it all makes for a pleasant outing.
It being a Saturday and relatively traffic jam free, we use public transport, a mixture of a clapped out mikrolet, exhaust belching buses, both large and small, and the air-conditioned but crowded splendour of the Busway.
Having disembarked at the city's major intersection at Semanggi to wait for a clapped out Kopaja bus which would drop us off at Ratu Plaza, a young, tallish and fairly well-dressed man holding a young girl in his arms accosted me.
Hey, mister, you will help me, he said in reasonable English.
Er, why should I?
Because my wife is in hospital, and you can.
Being singled out from the crowd around us, presumably because I obviously do not look Indonesian, annoys me.
I pointed to Our Kid, who is Indonesian and looks it, and said, quite firmly, that my wife was in hospital too, not true, but hey, maybe the stranger's wife wasn't either.
Why do you talk to me like that? he asked.
Because it's the way you are talking to me, I said
At that point, our bus arrived and Our Kid and I left the stranger looking for another mark.
The whole conversation, short though it was, upset Our Kid enough for him to launch into a minor anti-racist rant. He suggested putting something up on his webpage. He is not yet thirteen, but is beginning to understand society.
It was a fairly successful shopping outing in Ratu Plaza. Our Kid added to his collection of anime cartoons, to which I added a guitar tuition CD-rom. My selection included the original Third Man movie, starring Orson Wells, Hitchcock's Thirty Nine Steps, and a lost Fritz Lang classic, Scarlet Street starring Edward G. Robinson.
We wended our way outside through the closely parked cars and treacherous steps to the pavement where a couple of youngish male westerners, in black trousers and white shirts, were about to navigate their way upwards. I thought I recognised one of them and nodded as he smiled at me.
Hi, he said, are you American?
So we hadn't met before, I realised, so said, No, I'm British.
Then I twigged and said, Ah you're missionaries.
How did you know? the smiling stranger asked.
Because you look too neat and tidy, pointing to my rumpled Bali batik-ish shirt - I tend to dress down when using public transport. Oh, and your ID cards, from the Church of Prosperous Evangelists or something, which were pinned to their shirts
Would you like to come to one of our meetings?
No thanks, I replied politely, I'm a Muslim.
I'm not, but the look on their faces as they skedaddled put a smile on mine.
A bit later, Our Kid and I set off to stroll down the road, the sidwalk being blocked in most places with parked vehicles, vast ornamental vases and warungs, to Ya Udah.
A helmetted young man sat on his parked motorbike with a toddler in front. As we approached, we saw his wife stand up and make her way towards them. She was holding a handbag and it didn't take much guesswork to know what would happen next.
So we sat on the bench she had just vacated and watched. Yes, she took the helmet off the head of her very young son, put it on her head and the family drove off.