Monday, December 08, 2008

Up at the Crack

The news never stops in this country of course. After my Bakrie rant of a couple of weeks back our man has seen sense and decided not to drag Tempo magazine through the courts, for now. Looking at the controversial cover image of the minister’s face made out of numbers I see that in addition to the contentious 666 written on Mr. Bakrie’s forehead, a number 2 also seems to be emerging from his nose. Could this possibly be due to its perennial proximity to the presidential posterior I wonder?

This week though a rather different story caught my attention. Jakarta Governor and proud owner of a bristlingly handsome moustache, Fauzi Bowo, has hatched a dastardly, and rather desperate sounding new plan to ease traffic congestion in the city. His proposal is that from January 1st 2009, Jakarta’s rush hour will be staggered in order dissipate the usual pell-mell daily chaos. Under these new proposals, school starting times will be rolled back half an hour from 7.00am to 6.30am. In addition, office workers should start at 7.30am in North and Central Jakarta, at 8am in East and West Jakarta and at 9am in South Jakarta.

Mercifully I live in South Jakarta and I’ll take 9.00am over 7.00am thank you very much. As for schools starting at 6.30am, Mr. Bowo claims that moving the school day back half an hour will result in increased, “Freshness,” in students. Personally, if I’d had to be in class at 6.30 every morning when I was a teenager then I don’t think that fresh would have been a very apposite description of my condition. I’d probably have been so traumatized that it would have stunted my growth.

Asians generally get up a bit earlier than us indolent whiteys however. In fact, many are the times that I’ve been just drifting off to sleep after a hard night when the local mosque has started its 4.00am, Big Brother fun and games. How many people are actually in that mosque at 4.00am is an open question I suppose and alas I have absolutely no intention of getting up at that ungodly hour of God in order to research the problem. Forget it.

So will half an hour really make much of a difference to the prevailing traffic situation out there dear reader? Possibly a more effective plan, given the current lunar surface like condition of my local artery, Jl. Mampang Raya, would be to pave the city’s roads properly in the first place. A couple of hours of rain and they seem to crumble like biscuits causing massive tailbacks.

Failing that, perhaps a more ambitious metropolitan flexi time plan would help things. Start half the city working at the normal time and the other half at midday. That just might ease the traffic a bit as well as hopefully creating a Barcelona like night life as an indirect consequence (shame there’ll be no booze to drink when that happens).

It’s sheer population pressure that has driven us to such an impasse I guess. Where will it all end I wonder? In a wildly imaginative short story entitled Chronopolis, Surreal seer of the near future, JG Ballard, imagined a fate that could befall Jakarta if Mr. Bowo’s time zone plans are taken to their logical extreme. In the story, a metropolis becomes so overcrowded that its citizen’s every waking activity, from working to shopping to travelling, have to be strictly time managed and scheduled in order to avoid jams. All clocks are fitted with five coloured hands which delineate different times for the different professional classes of the population. People are forced to carry correspondingly time colour coded railway passes, have colour coded car number plates and even have to use colour coded money to avoid a stampede at the shops.

Eventually the population rebels against this surrender of human dignity to the pitiless slave driving of the clocks. In the scattered society that follows, all clocks and watches are outlawed and the story’s two central characters reflect on the situation thus:

“It’s against the law to have a gun because you might shoot someone. But how can you hurt someone with a clock?”
“Isn’t it obvious? You can time him; know exactly how long it takes him to do something.”
“Then you can get him to do it faster.”

Now clearly Indonesians, with their concept of Jam Karet (rubber time) perhaps more closely resemble this post revolutionary, clock-less society than the rigid dogmatism of Chronopolis. Getting some of this city’s residents to do things a bit faster wouldn’t necessarily be such a bad thing. Mr. Bowo’s time zoning plan however is a whole new ball game and something that I’ve never heard of before outside of Mr. Ballard’s typically prescient story.

It’s cars that we’re really talking about here though. Thinkers throughout the modern age from Marx to Sartre to Freud have noticed how technological advances meant to free us end up emasculating us. In the case of the car we see every day how urban motorists are caught in a series of escalating jams created by the easy availability of cars whose original intention was to enable us to move more freely. Trapped in our moving steel prisons we are isolated from both the natural environment and human contact.

Still, on a more positive note I read in The Globe last week that some cycle lanes should be opening up in town in the New Year. This could be the way forward although on the downside there’ll be a heavy fug of body odour hanging over our offices and schools as we all start our working days covered in sweat. Anyway, more next week, I’m off for a drive.