Jaywalking

Jakarta motorists are no joke.  They stop for no-one – man, woman, child or other motorists.

In Jamaica, we have something called “giving a bligh,” which is applicable in any situation where someone gives another person a chance to do something that the second person doesn’t have the right to do.  There is also “begging a bligh”, which is applicable in any situation where someone asks another person for a chance to do something that they don’t have the right to do.  All this bligh asking and giving is particularly applicable in traffic.

For example, if a car is stopped at a T-junction waiting to merge into traffic, the law says that they must wait until there is a break in the traffic  on the main thoroughfare; when the way is clear, they are free to turn right or left.  In Jamaica, it is more than likely that the person who is stopped at the T-junction will edge out into the oncoming traffic on the main thoroughfare, which is his way of begging a bligh.  The person who eventually stops to allow them to merge into the traffic is said to give a bligh because they really did not have to stop to allow the car to merge into traffic.  Blighs can be begged or given for lane changing, pedestrians crossing the street, or any number of other traffic situations.  Sometimes a bligh-giving is forced but we’re not getting into nuances here.  I think you get the picture.

The notion of a bligh does not exist in Indonesia.  I didn’t really notice it until I came to Jakarta because the traffic is so heavy here, but it was the same in Aceh and it was the same in Bali.  I’ve seen becaks, bikes and cars trying to turn from a main road onto another street and oncoming traffic will come within a hairsbreadth of the stopped vehicle but they will absolutely not stop to allow the other vehicle to turn.  I’ve seen cars, buses, bikes and becaks trying to merge into traffic and not one motorist will stop to allow it.  I’ve seen near-collisions during lane changes because no-one gives blighs – not ever.  Honestly, what happens on Indonesian roads can either be described as a free-for-all or an intricate dance.  Whatever it is, it’s not for the faint of heart and side-mirrors are a must.

This attitude extends to pedestrians, who must join in the roadway dance or forever be stranded on the sidewalk.  Since I’ve been in Jakarta, where traffic is always heavy, I’ve become an expert jaywalker.  If I don’t do that, I’ll never get across the street.  To be fair, jaywalking isn’t necessary on every road – many major thoroughfares have overhead pedestrian bridges.  But I’m not walking on major thoroughfares; I’m walking on the main roads near the centre and around the places where I spend my days off and my 4-day mini-breaks.

There are 2 ways that I jaywalk here.  The first is fairly simple.  I walk in the road beside the sidewalk instead of on the sidewalk, while being aware of bikes, becaks and buses, which like to drive near the sidewalk as they swerve around other vehicles.  The reason why I walk in the road instead of on the sidewalk is that there are always bikes parked on the sidewalk, or other obstacles blocking the way of pedestrians.  For example, most streets are lined with small eateries, many of which set up tables and benches or stools for their patrons on the sidewalks.  Usually, it’s just not possible to walk more than a few feet actually on the sidewalk.

The other way I jaywalk is in how I actually get across the street.  When I need to cross, I stroll along beside the sidewalk until I see a break in the lane of traffic closest to me (a break means that the nearest vehicle is 10 or 15 feet away).  Then I stride quickly into the road until I get to the middle of the street, where I stop or continue meandering up the middle of the street (depending on how heavy the traffic is) until there’s a break in the other lane of traffic.  Then I complete my crossing to the other side.  Pedestrians have to do it this way because pedestrian crossings mean nothing here.  We could stand there until Jesus returns, no-one would ever stop to let us cross.  Also, don’t think that motorists see a human being standing in the middle of the road and stop for them to finish their crossing.  That doesn’t happen.  I’ve seen school children crossing the road and not a car, bus, bike or becak will stop to allow them across.

I suppose the ethos of the Indonesian road user is that everyone is trying to get somewhere and we all just have to navigate our way there with no expectations of favours from other road users.  I’m not sure if this is selfish or pragmatic.  You decide.

 

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