At Wall Street Institute, an important lesson on giving street directions offers students new vocab and grammar. The teacher is expected to elicit different ways to direct a tourist from one location to another.
At the t-junction, turn left/right.
Go three blocks and the library is on your left.
All this is excellent but a little boring, especially if the map provided is a simple grid with no redeeming personality of its own. That’s where I like to come in.
“Do you know what a landmark is?” I usually begin. We talk about the statue at Patung Pemuda Membangun, which continues to be my favourite statue in Jakarta and the one landmark that always indicates I’ve arrived at my beloved carfee Sundays event. All my students laugh, but they recognize this statue as an excellent landmark.
“Is a little black cat a good landmark?” I ask them next. Well obviously not, because it moves. You can’t count on the cat being in the same place for ten minutes together, so it’s not useful. “What about a big tree?” Actually, yes that would work, as long as there’s some identifying quality to it, like an unusual bark or an exceptional branch shape.
This morning, my third last ride in Jakarta’s carfree Sundays event, I looked eagerly for all the landmarks I’ve come to appreciate on my weekly rides: Patung Pemuda Membangun, whom I always greet with the phrase, “Hello Sudir-MAN!” My friend Djoko and the low-rider herd, with their charming and warm riders. Djoko wasn’t there as I rode past, but many of the young riders present waved as soon as they spotted me.
I looked through the traditional Dutch commuter bike herd for familiar faces and the tall bike groups, whose riders continue to be too shy to engage in conversation. And today, I watched for the camaraderie of the bike polo game.
As I rode in among the players, I was greeted at once. “Hello Miss!” I heard. My friend Achieles was waving to me. I sat down on the curb and we chatted for an hour.
In fact today, as with many Sundays recently, people greet me regularly along the route. Two people pulled up alongside me as I cycled and began conversations, almost like we’d already been introduced (maybe we had, I’m embarrassed to admit). More than once, I heard what I thought were strangers beckoning to me. Because I haven’t missed many of these events, most regular attendees know me. They expect to see me.
I’ve become a landmark. Despite the fact that I move–like the little black cat, I have become for several cyclists a reliable, easily identifiable element of the weekly rides.
It’s flattering I suppose. When I first started riding, I didn’t notice any other bules on the route, and yet today there were several, riding bicycles, running, walking. It’s reassuring to see them. Maybe I just didn’t see them and they were there all along. Maybe they don’t really care to be noticed. Me, I’ve got this sign on my bike and I’m trying to engage others in conversation, so I’m not exactly invisible. Sadly, in three weeks my landmark status will be a thing of the past.
What will continue are the landmarks that I personally have come to know and rely on each week–Djoko, Achieles, and so many others. These people have challenged many, many Jakartans to get on a bicycle. If I had my choice, this is the landmark I’d challenge JKT to embrace. Youth, learning to live on a bike, hearing the call of adventure and transportation and optimal health and community.
Get out there Jakarta. If I can do it, then anyone can be a landmark.