Monday, November 19, 2007

Off the Rails

Back again. Metro Mad has found itself in the unprecedented position of provoking a couple of letters of complaint to the Post this week. My outrageous suggestion that the small number of Afghan refugees who live here be naturalized has drawn some flak. It’s always nice to provoke a bit of ire and righteous indignation but I really didn't think my comments were that controversial. I find it very interesting, after all the columns that I've written, that negative correspondence has only been generated by me suggesting that a few outsiders be legalized as Indonesian citizens. Very interesting indeed.

Back to everyone's favorite topic this week though, urban transportation (oh God no). More disruption seems to be plaguing the city due to various new busways being constructed (and, in Pondok Indah, the ensuing bourgeois revolt). In addition, many of the old busway lanes are being fixed after crumbling to dust, which is also slowing things up. Some of the busway stops are also in a pretty parlous state.

One that I saw last week really took the biscuit. On one of the overhead walkways above the road, a metal floor panel was simply missing. There were no cones around the resulting hole or anything and I had visions of some poor grandmother, whose eyesight may not be what it was, plunging 20 feet onto the windshield of a Kijang below.

Back to matters in hand though. This week, I wanted to travel up to the electronics Mecca of Mangga Dua (the two mangoes) but decided to forego the disintegrating busways in favor of a far nobler form of travel. It is possible to get up to Kota by city train which runs on a viaduct over the roofs of the city's densely packed huddle of buildings. I hadn't been on it for years so I thought I'd give it another go.

I arrived at Gambir station and enquired about tickets. I was informed that they could be bought on the platform itself if one was wishing to travel locally up to the Kota area. I took the escalator up to the platform but couldn't find any tickets. Never mind, I plonked myself down on a bench and took in some of the marvelous views of Monas and the city skyline that are afforded commuters at Gambir.

After about 20 minutes the train rocked up and I took a seat. There were no tickets available here either but the train's interior was actually quite pleasant; in fact not totally dissimilar to a London Tube train. There was even a snack trolley at the front of the carriage, all very civilized. Mind you it wasn't rush-hour.

The train ploughed a gentle furrow up through Juanda, Sawah Besar and Mangga Besar stations before terminating in the faded colonial ambience of Stasiun Kota. I had once again been seduced by the romance of the railway and the journey had been fast and mercifully free of choking pollution. It was all as fine as can be despite the stern ticket collector I encountered on my way out who, despite my protestations, berated me for not having a ticket to give him. I paid up and sloped out of the station.

I then headed up the road to the Two Mangoes, in search of a WiFi plug-in thingy for my computer. After finding one for the knockdown price of Rp.280,000, I had a wander around the electronic shops and DVD stands. One particular shop was selling fantastic, state-of-the-art speaker systems and record turntables. Unfortunately there was a Kenny Loggins LP propped against one of their most expensive turntables which rather put me off. It’s always important to listen to Kenny in razor sharp, audiophile fidelity apparently.

Over the road in the crazy market plaza, the usual hubbub, hullabaloo and chaos was in progress and I had an interesting time strolling around the labyrinthine maze of outlets whilst people assaulted me with assorted bags, wallets, kitchen equipment, bras and kinky vibrating back massagers. All good clean fun.

Getting home wasn't such a breeze however. Upon returning to Kota Station I learned that due to technical problems, there were no trains running back to Gambir. Hmmm. I wonder how often that happens? No worries, I thought, and headed out to the busway terminal at the front. Alas the glass and metal ringed bus stop was absolutely jammed to the rafters with seething, sweating commuters. I was between a rock and a hard place and with hover boots alas still on the drawing board it had to be a Tarif Lama taxi home. There's only so far I can take my commitment to public transportation I'm afraid.