Before I went to live in Jakarta, Indonesia in 2008, I was already well-equipped to spin yarns about some particularly heady commutes. Getting smushed into train carriages in Tokyo by station staff dressed better than me (or maybe that’s why I was being smushed); erroneously dashing into the women’s carriage in Mumbai only to quickly realize my mistake, then jumping off and falling onto the platform of Cotton Green station; trying to find space to blink in Rome’s metro system during the 2000 Great Jubilee. I have to say that the last anecdote was by far the most crowded I’ve ever seen a subway, even more so than those in China.
At the same time, you could also say that I didn’t know Jakarta’s variegated transportation system well enough. Let’s run through the list:
1) There’s a motorcycle taxi, called ojek. Innocent enough, unless you’re the driver, passenger or anyone that gets in the way of said ojek.
2) Jakarta’s notorious tuk-tuk, called a Bajaj, named after its Indian parent company. If internal organs freely took vacations… hmm, where I am I going with this?
3) Taxis. The ones with four wheels. Multiple brands, and lots of fakes. What’s a fake taxi? It still has four wheels, no?
4) Transjakarta, The most miserable bus system I’ve used. I’ll give them one shred of credit for being extra efficient (surpassing legal speed limits) at night. Take one of these though, and you won’t be treated to the buskers found on…
5) Kopaja buses. I like them because they go everywhere, but despise them because they are smoker-friendly. So, don’t forget your face mask and don’t forget that each time you board one you’ll be charged whatever. If you couldn’t tell by now, Indonesia is a small bills country. Make change for everything.
6) Mikrolet. You’ll know that other foreigners have taken a mikrolet when their necks are tilted forward. Don’t ride one unless you are shorter than the word “a.” To be fair, they go everywhere the Kopaja do not.
7) Little trucks that sit outside of train stations such as Kota. Haven’t been in one yet, so, minus one point for me.
Commuter rail. As is the case in many cities, tourists are an uncommon sight on these trains. How can you tell it’s a tourist? If it’s me, or if the photographer produces a blurry photo so that no other commuter realizes that she (or in this case, he) is carrying a camera.
To answer your question, no I didn’t have the courage (that time) to ride atop the carriage. Is it because station officials started spraying painting those particularly evasive passengers? No, it certainly is not.
Have you ever ridden on top of a train? Don’t be shy.