When I was in Mexico, I taught alone immediately and thought it was an alright gig. Here, I’ve been in training for two weeks and have been nurtured and pampered. Yesterday, my manager scheduled three hours so I could prepare to teach my very first class.
I bombed spectacularly.
Everyone said afterward that your first class is always tough and that I shouldn’t take it too hard, that I was expecting too much of myself. yahunh I went home and got pie-eyed, and then backed out of two events with the other teachers because I needed to be alone. I was a hurtin’ cowboy.
This morning, I woke up angry and that’s always the best place for me to be if I have to accomplish something. It’s Sunday, which is Car-Free in the centre of this town. I needed to be there. Donning my Yo Soy #132 shirt, I left the apartment.
The lifestyle in Jakarta is very different from anything I know. Logic is non-existent. Instead, people make decisions based on how they feel at that moment. Do I feel like attending my class? On the roads, there appear to be rules only if it suits the person. Motorcycles cross busy intersections if there’s no traffic, regardless of the light situation. Still, the people are kind to a fault, and that’s what’s keeping me here.
Getting into a taxi, I began to notice more bikes on the road almost at once. Since I’ve been here, I’ve seen about five bikes. On Radio Dalam I spotted a Giant and a Bianchi, two bikes you’d never normally see in this traffic on a regular day. When we reached Jalan Sudirman, the major street for the event, there were barriers everywhere. On a regular day, Sudirman is an incredibly busy, chaotic street. Cars, buses, taxis, motorcycles… it’s madness. The air is thick with exhaust. This is the situation at 9 a.m. on Sundays:
I forgot about the events I was missing with my fellow teachers. Walking along the road, I was passed by all kinds of bikes, ridden by people of all ages, races, and social strata. It was really neat. Someone recently told me that if I ever found myself on a bicycle in Jakarta, I should engage others because they would be pleased to greet me back with a big smile. And here it was. Everyone I smiled at grinned like a Cheshire cat. They seemed almost to be waiting for me to initiate.
SO. Lots of people ride folding bikes here: Bromptons, Bike Fridays, something called Fold.
Fixies and single speeds abound (and are extraordinarily beautiful). A few commuter bikes, and several kids on bikes with their families. Several young people practicing their handsfree technique.
A BMX with four posts. Lots of Soloists, a couple of Colnagos, several VISPs. Something charmingly called a Police. Specialized, Merkx, United, Mongoose, Trek, Dominate, Merida… everything imaginable. It was almost like being in Toronto. Is this what happens when a culture is forced to take something back, like personal space or the ability to transport oneself independently? Is transportation a political issue, where those in power impose their will on the masses and discourage independent movement, like they do independent thought? Do the masses respond by being creative, by parading their own style? By being feral cats?
It felt liberating. Some were clearly out to do laps in their technical gear and having a good sweat. Others were out as a family or on a romantic outing. The majority felt like a “beat the system” moment though. It was inspiring.
As I headed inside for some breakfast, I realized I was breathing normally. The pollution on an average day in Jakarta is so bad that my lungs have stopped working at full capacity. My parents were heavy smokers and I sustained lung damage as a child. My doctor told me fifteen years ago that I had a weak spot on one lung that, whenever I get a cold I should be careful because it could easily turn into pneumonia, a sad legacy from my dear parents. My body can’t tolerate bad air quality. Three days ago, I began sneezing. Two days ago, I had a hacking cough. Yesterday I was blowing green Elmer’s Safety Glue out of my nose. I was beginning to panic. And yet today on Sudirman, I was breathing normally.
I want a bicycle.
Walking back to Sudirman after breakfast, I found the oddest thing: a fifteen foot bike lane on an approach to the mall. It goes nowhere and comes out of nowhere.
On the road again, I spotted a man on a mountain bike, something I hadn’t seen yet. He was Indonesian so I worried about the language barrier a little.
“Excuse me. Do you speak English?”
Yes he did, and not only that, but he knows a man who owns a bike shop that’s not far from where I live. He called his friend Mike, who owns Happy MTB in the Komplex Lotte Mart on Jalan R.S. Fatmawati and asked him to give me a deal. Then, this very kind man handed me the phone.
“Great!” I said to Mike. “I’ll be over tomorrow.”
“Come today,” Mike replied quickly. “I’m closed Mondays.”
In Jakarta, you take things when they are presented, no waiting. Kissing my new friend Indra, I climbed into a taxi and rode over to Fatmawati. Mike was waiting for me. When I described my heart’s desire, he pulled out two bicycles and got the tires pumped up for me. And that’s how I met (and fell in love with) Sargeant Klunder, named for one of my interviewees in Toronto. My new bicycle is a Florida Beach Police (how weird is that?!)
I bought a good helmet, lights and a lock. Grabbing a map from Mike and some simple instructions, the Sargeant and I rode home. It wasn’t nearly has horrific as everyone declared it would be, but then I’m a determined cyclist and I hail from Toronto.
When I got home, I put on some music. Robyn came up.
“If you knew bettah, you would do bettah.”
It’s true. These drivers aren’t used to sharing the road. Yet.
One of the men who lives in my complex on Kamboja met me at the water fountain. He introduced himself and asked where I was from. What I was doing here. He looked concerned at my overheated condition, so I smiled broadly to reassure him.
“I just bought a bicycle,” I told him, expecting the reaction I’ve gotten since landing here. The traffic is a real concern, and no one believes you can cycle in it. No one does it, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t.
“Where will you ride?” he asked kindly.
“To work, to get groceries, to Car-Free Sundays… everywhere. I will ride everywhere,” I told him, a little brusquely. Having to convince another Indonesian who probably thought me too naive was not on my agenda right now. I fretted at my bad manners, but it was unnecessary.
“Wow,” he enthused. “The world needs more people like you.”
It’s a crappy picture, I know. I was dog tired from the ride home! Still. Yo Soy. I Am. And I embrace cycling in Jakarta.