Lighter Side

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November 20th, 2000

HOW TO DRIVE IN INDONESIA

By M i k e H u m p h r i e s, Singapore

I don't know where I came by this piece or whom it came to me from, but having spent the last 25 years or so in South East Asia, I can assure all that the below is not only representative of Indonesia but also of Vietnam, Thailand and areas of Malaysia (notably the North South Highway!). ~ Humphries

To operate a vehicle in Indonesia, you must understand the transportation gestalt in an entirely different way. Definitions that you had thought were above redefinition will immediately be redefined. Please pay attention.

The Road:

Includes not only the paved portion of the highway, but also what others might call the verge, the curb, the sidewalk, the front yard and the roadside restaurant. The paved portion of the roadway is generally one lane wide. Not one lane in each direction, but one lane.

Respect:

All animals are granted the greatest respect in Indonesia. It is presumed that, being highly evolved creatures, chickens and dogs and the like know how to sidestep a Mitsubishi doing 78 mph on a fog shrouded road during a national religious holiday.

This same position of honor is also granted to small children, men with 50 pounds of hay on their heads, unattended oxcarts and elderly women in mystic trances. Slowing, or swerving to avoid these beings would cause them dishonor.

Lanes:

These colorful white and yellow markings wish a hearty Selamat Datang ("Welcome") to every traveler. They have no other function.

Passing:

This is the national sport of Indonesia. Observant motorists may encounter the vertical triple (passing three vehicles in one acceleratory movement), the horizontal triple (passing a vehicle that itself is in the process of passing another vehicle), or even the rare double-double (passing a vehicle at precisely the same time that another vehicle, coming in the other direction is also engaged in the act of passing).

Tailgating:

What to do when not passing.

Being Passed:

An insult not to be endured. The greater the differential between your vehicle (say, a Boeing 747), the greater the potential loss of prestige. The owner of the less powerful vehicle must do everything in his/her power to thwart the attempt to overtake.

Lights:

Rapidly blinking the headlights can mean many things, including "OK, pass now", "dangerous to pass now", "get out of the way", or "may you find the thread of gold in the linen of existence". It takes years, sometimes entire lifetimes, to learn this subtle and intriguing, intuitive, nonverbal communication skill. Generally, however, you have about three seconds.

Belts:

Absolutely unnecessary. Not only are they not worn, they are not even provided. Passengers are fully protected by the horn.

Horn:

When used loudly and frequently, the horn sets up an invisible energy barrier protecting the vehicle and its occupants from harm. The faster the vehicle is traveling the better the horn works. This is the fundamental concept of Indonesian driving.

Accidents:

Rare. Usually the result of a malfunctioning horn. ~ M i k e Humphries

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