In a tribute to me getting run over by a motorcycle last week, I thought it would be pertinent to elaborate a little more on the road (non-)rules of Yogyakarta and life amongst the traffic. While Yogya couldn’t hold a candle to the sheer number of vehicles in the “big durian” (Jakarta) nor the manic behaviour of traffic in places such as Bangkok – it’s still fairly dangerous, quite lawless and largely reckless getting around on the roads of Yogya, either in a vehicle or on foot.
We’ve spent the past few months surviving (just) the twice daily sepeda motor (motorbike) university run, the potentially life-threatening challenge of menyeberang jalan (crossing the road) mixed in with the occasional semi-suicidal sopir taksi (surely you can work that one out). There have been some pretty close calls and to say you have to have your wits about you is such a huge understatement. Motorcyclists turn across you, buses seem to desire to end your existence and taxi drivers seem to desire to end theirs.
So here are a few observations and tips on surviving, should you find yourself gazing at the on-coming traffic from a broken piece of curb in kota Yogyakarta:
– In several places throughout the city, there are white lines painted on the road as a warning to motorists that bules will attempt to commit suicide wandering in to oncoming traffic on them.
– You can stop traffic using the “hand of God”. Done by meandering in to oncoming traffic wafting your hand at cars and motorcycles in the dim hope that they will a) see you b) care c) take any notice that you want them to slow down. Best done by the locals.
– If you do attempt to cross – go slow and steady. You change direction quickly, all the traffic trying to meld around you has to too.
– As mentioned here a 125cc motorcycle can be used to transport anything and everything. Lengths of timber, sheets of glass, gas cylinders, dozens of chickens, whole families. If you can hold it (a bit) you can jump on your motorbike and nearly kill yourself, your passengers and fellow road-goers with it!
– Helm tidak wajib! (helmet not compulsory!) well, technically they are – but who can be bothered enforcing such a tiresome law when there are much more interesting things to do! Why wear one when you’re only going a short distance, or you’ve just done your hair, or you’re wearing a jilbab. Far too hard!
– Parents need helmets. Kids grow to quickly. Why buy a helmet one year when you know it won’t fit the next!
– Doing up your helmet, if you do decide to lash out and wear one, is also a bit inconvenient. If you do try to wear one over your jilbab, the chin straps don’t quite meet up. In general chin-straps are a bit uncomfortable, so why not forgo them! At least you started with one on your head, right?
-There is a food-chain on the roads. At the bottom – bule tourists looking to join the obituaries, followed by bules thinking they “live” here and are “experienced”; then regular pedestrians. Next up on the chain are mobile food stalls, bicycles then becak (similar to a rickshaw). Sepeda motor come next (in their thousands), then cars, trucks and finally buses. Bus drivers generally drive with a wanton disregard for life. Slotting somewhere amongst all of that are taxi drivers. They normally drive with similar care as Kamikaze pilots and the same desire of longevity.
– It is perfectly permissible to drive on the wrong side of the road, against traffic up a one-way street or overtake over a crest and around a corner (at the same time) – provided you ensure two things. 1 – you are higher up the food chain then oncoming traffic, 2 – you have an indicator on. Doesn’t matter which one. Maybe both. Toot your horn for emphasis.
– Parkir work the footpaths and roads ensuring cars can back out of parking spaces, can turn around and generally keep traffic flowing and orderly. Ok, they don’t. more realistically they wander amongst traffic wearing orange, shouting incoherent instructions, blowing a whistle and waving a flag.
– You see lots of young guys on flash motorbikes, with tyres so worn out beyond bald (front and back). They can afford the monthly bike repayments, but not the maintenance.
– I quite like my skin, and in case of an accident I’d like to keep as much as possible. I ride pretty well covered up. I also try to avoid the eyes of the constabulary so I cover my shining white face amongst the masses of sawo matang (brown). I’m probably at one end of the scale of safety attire. At the other end are the guys that ride barefoot, in shorts and a t-shirt with no helmet. What I love though are the guys in-between – wearing a leather jacket, nice helmet (undone), shorts and thongs!
What really surprises on the roads of Yogya is the lack of accidents. Despite the craziness, traffic rarely gets about 60km/h in the city and most people a hugely aware of what is happening around them. You expect people to do crazy things – so when they do them, you are prepared. Of course, like last week, accidents do happen. To be fair to myself though, the guy did hit a big, white bule, standing completely still in the middle of the road wearing a fluorescent yellow singlet. Still, could have been worse. Could’ve been a taxi. Or a bus.