Monday, March 12, 2007

Enterprising Indonesians

I guess I better start doing this bit by bit..

The thing that I notice most about my trip to Jakarta and Bandung is that Indonesians are very enterprising. I see people of all ages trying to sell something. It doesn't matter if what they're selling makes sense or not, or whether the business is successful or not, they will try.

The moment we reached the first traffic light in Bandung, our car was besieged by people selling maps and magazines. There were maybe 10 or 15 of them, all selling the same thing. During our shopping trip the next morning, we saw small kids and old men hauling granite mortar and pestles on their shoulders, their backs bent from the weight. My mom took pity on one young boy, perhaps only 7 or 8 years old, while we waited for my sister to buy us some tit-bits. She paid 12thousand rupiahs for a medium sized one, even though my sister's maid complained that it costs half of that at the wet market. Takpelah, sedekah (as a charity)... said my mom. I looked at the boy and imagined Ilham peddling mortar and pestles around town, and agreed with my mom.
At the traffic lights in Jakarta, there were men selling magazines and IKEA catalogs. Some traffic lights have teenagers playing their guitars and singing, and I don't know whether drivers paid them to sing or to stop. My guess is the latter, because they would stop once you paid them.
Even when parking or getting out of your parking spots, there would be men rushing to help you. "lepas lepas" (you can pass through) they'd shout. "balik lagi pak" (turn some more) they'd instruct. Before you leave, you'd slip them 1thousand rupiah. (that's like 50 cents). They are everywhere and we are thankful for them when the traffic is particularly heavy, but we pay them anyway even when there's no other car in sight.
I won't even mention the tiny tiny kids who walk and sometimes run up to your car to beg for money. I get choked up just thinking about them. (In Bandung we saw a boy about Anis's age, sitting on the road divider with his baby brother sleeping on his lap. I almost got out of the car to grab him and bring him somewhere, anywhere, just out of there.)

Some things that they offer do not make sense though. On one busy road in Jakarta, there were several signs for "Ketuk dan Cat". I soon realized that they were offering services to do bodywork. On your car. By the side of the road. With a hammer and a can of spray paint.
And the thing is, it's not just one crazy guy who's offering this service. behind him all along this road, there were at least 20 others doing the same thing. They sit on a stool while smoking a cigarette and when they see a car passing they'd stand and point at your car and motion you to park. When no one stops, they sit back down on their stool and go back to smoking a cigarette.
If you ask me, I think it's just a guise to fool their wives. They tell their wives that they're 'working' but actually they're actually just sitting around and smoking. "Alas, no one wants to do bodywork today, dear", they'd tell their wives when they go home.
tee hee.

Some business tactics are just plain annoying. In Tangkuban Perahu (where the volcano was), they practically swarmed us everywhere trying to sell knick knacks, from marble eggs to furry hats, to angklungs to necklaces to oh god knows what else. They were persistent to the point of being annoying. We actually had to rush through the visit because the fear of being harrassed by the sellers were taking away from the awe-inspiring experience of seeing a real life volcano. I understand that they're just trying to make a living, but I suggest the government teach them some tact, because if it gets too far, it could really spoil the tourism industry.

One enterprise that I am really thankful for, is the jamu sellers. Every morning this lady would come in her traditional kebaya (shapely blouse) and batik sarong (shapely long skirt) to my sister's house and serve us with kunyit assem (a herbal perparation of turmeric and tamarind juice). I think the jamu helped me get through the numerous excursions in Indonesia without feeling so tired. No wonder the Indonesian ladies are so gantang (energetic and firm) !

Mokciknab's beloved Jamu Lady

Overall, it impressed me that the Indonesian people are very hardworking and determined. They are not the kind who would lie down and wallow in depression. They're the kind of people who would pick themselves up and do something to survive, day by day.

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