Riding the Economic Roller Coaster of TransJakarta Route 1
July 3, 2010 1 Comment
The little girl, not more than 4 or 5 years old, was lying motionless in a fetal position, discarded like trash, on a ramp leading to the Sarinah station on TransJakarta‘s Route 1. Passersby displayed only one emotion – annoyance they had to step over, or step around the little body. A little body that had never known the joy of a birthday party, the warmth of a nurturing family, or a family picnic in the park.
Two stops down the road, at the Tosari Station, sits Plaza Indonesia, an icon to opulence with customers slurping iced lattes and munching scones at a Starbucks, taking a much needed break from power shopping at Christian Dior or Cartier.
The TransJakarta is Jakarta’s attempt at building a mass transit system within the capital city. With 7 major routes, it rivals cities such as Los Angeles in the ability to serve large numbers of people needing to get around the large metropolitan area of Jakarta. All riding on buses traversing dedicated busways which bypass some of the epic traffic jams which routinely gridlock nearly all areas of the city.
Route 1 begins at Blok M, and slices its way through the city center to Station Kota at the north end of Jakarta. Riding the route takes about 40 minutes, and you get to experience all the good, the bad, and the ugly of Jakarta.
Starting at Blok M
Blok M is known for both shopping and nightlife. With shopping malls running from hundreds of small kiosks in the Blok M Terminal, to new higher end shopping malls within 100 meters of the terminal, Blok M has all the shopping you can handle. But it is the nightlife that most foreigners and expats consider when heading to Blok M. Blok M is known for loud bars, with wall-to-wall working girls, and taxi drivers who take the dumber tourists on long rides throughout the city of Jakarta while enroute to hotels and other destinations.
You work your way up Route 1 to the beginning of a scattering of high end shopping malls, including Senayan City, Pacific Place, Plaza Semmangi, and Plaza Indonesia. Immediately adjacent to most high end shopping malls are small communities of homeless people living in cardboard boxes or lean-to shacks. There is the irony, you go shopping or eating donuts a J. Co at City Walk Mall, and the trek back to your hotel passes through a fairly large homeless community surrounding the Intercontinental Hotel or le Meridien.
Each station requires you to walk up a ramp, cross an over pass, and walk down another ramp to the bus ticket stand and platform. Passing children and a photo album of disabled persons with ailments that – if you do not harden your heart and soul to the images, will keep you up long hours at night thinking.
The entire corridor leading from Senayan City to the area around the National Monument (MONAS) resembles a deep ravine resting between skyscrapers hitting 60+ stories housing every multinational company in existence. There is a tremendous amount of money passing back and forth between the buildings creating this Grand Canyon of Jakarta. You can dine at the Jakarta Hard Rock Café, the Outback Steak House, Tony Romas, or Burger King and McDonalds – all within a 15 minute bus ride on the TJ-1.
Heading North to the Kota Station
As you pass the National Monument, Jakarta’s landscape starts to change back to the dust and poverty we started with at Blok M. The buildings start to show more and more signs of decay, the people showing more and more signs of despair, and the smell of open sewage hits your senses. Then you realize it is actually a small stream, a living part of the sewage system, and there are children playing next to it.
Add the thick, syrupy smell of diesel exhaust, 2 stroke motor engines, and sidewalk vendors cooking over open fire, and you wonder how a child could possibly make it to 5 years old without serious lung problems.
You pass Mangga Besar and Olimo, famous in the expat community for its massage parlors and prostitution, and finally find your way to the end of the line at Station Kota. Straddling the port on one side, a shopping mall on the east (Mangga Duo), and a concentration of museums adjacent to the station, it is a mix of images and senses that don’t quite fit into one small geographic postage stamp in the city.
One afternoon, 20 bus stations, and a million images, emotions, and memories. Nowhere in the world can you observe the best and worst of life in such concentration. As a foreigner, taking pictures of everything I see, you would expect a reaction of annoyance and contempt from those who become part of your album. But not once did I receive a negative response, a sharp comment, or even a cold stare. Almost a feeling of people wanting the scenes to be recorded, preserved forever. Recorded so nobody forgets Jakarta the way it is, was, and provide a basis for what Jakarta can aspire to for the future.
I won’t use a picture of the little girl on the ramp, as it would be a dishonor to her memory. But I won’t forget that a little life, and her memory is recorded, and the image will never be lost. Too bad she couldn’t beg, I would have given her something, anything.
900 words in a blog cannot describe Jakarta. It is a wonderful city, one of the great cities in the world. Great memories, horrifying memories.
LA has South Central, San Francisco the Tenderloin District, Chicago has the South Side, and Honolulu has Hotel Street. We cannot be sanctimonious, as every country and city has poverty and rough areas.
At some point, whether it is the Philippines, Mongolia, China, Indonesia, Thailand, Mexico, Uganda, or Palestine, poor areas all start looking the same. The sad thing is that once they all start looking the same, we become accustomed to seeing poverty, and it does not bother us any longer. It almost becomes expected and natural to step over little girls discarded on the side of a road.
Then we are in an airplane, 16 hours later we pop out in Burbank, and again prioritize worrying about getting a jaywalking ticket for walking across San Fernando Road outside of a painted cross walk on your way to Fuddruckers.
It is a roller coaster
NOTE: You can see full sized pictures by clicking on each photo.
You can see all photos HERE