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Organised Chaos!

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In my travel guide, the streets of Indonesia are described as 'ORGANISED CHAOS' and I must say that I quite agree with this expression. Every visit to the center of Surabaya is an adventure.

First, we have to go with the 'becak' (public transport bicycle) to the exit of the area where we live. Around the corner, a becak is waiting for customers most of the time, so far no panic. Then the danger starts! We have to cross the very, very wide street and playing Russian roulette is a game without risk compared to this action.

All the traffic is mixed up, there are cars, motors, buses, trucks, mopeds and on the side of the road are bicycles and men with food trolleys. The game on the road is to 'honk and speed up' and everybody joins in. My thought during crossing was, "When the driver sees me, he will slow down" but that shows, I still have a lot to learn. With three lives less and a pale face, we reach the other side of the road where we have to wait for a while for our 'bemo' (small bus packed with people) to the center of the city.

Every minute, a little bus passes with a man shouting the route of his bus to his potential clients. The potential clients are all the people on the street, and I can tell you that there are an awful lot of them. Our destination is TP (shopping center Tunjungan Plaza) passing Darmo and when we hear a man shouting "T.P., Darmo, T.P., T.P., Darmo, Darmo, T.P., T.P., T.P., Darmo, Darmo, T.P.", I tell Ari, my small Indonesian bodyguard, that this is probably our bus.

The bus is still half empty and everybody can still breathe normally. I do manage to almost sit on a little box of food from the lady next to me, "Sorry madam". Halfway along the route, the bemo is packed, but there is still half a centimetre of free space, so another passenger enters. The trick to sitting down in this very small space is smile at the people
around you while moving your bottom from left to right until you get completely stuck.

We are not very lucky today, because even though the bus is still driving, I am sure that it has not had any check-up for ages. When we stop for the 268th time, the motor stops. Some men push the bemo and the driver manages to start the engine. As long as he accelerates in first gear up to 80 kilometres per hour, everything is all right.

The thing is, every time we stop, the motor stops. We stop every three minutes so need I continue my story? Everybody stays calm and keeps smiling. After 15 minutes, the engine stops again in the middle of the road and dangerously avoiding the rest of the traffic, we manage to reach the side of the road.

Some useful tools are collected; it looks like an axe and a screwdriver. With a lighter in his left-hand, the driver makes an attempt to repair the car with his right hand. As this will probably take a while, we are offered to get on another bemo with the same destination.

After five minutes, we arrive and all I want to do at this moment is celebrate that we have arrived safely. Knowing that we also have to return home is a thought for later ...!

Our thanks to Gaby Schilders for his contribution of this story.

© Gaby Schilders

Housing and schooling information for expats in Indonesia expatriate website for Indonesia Indonesian language translation of article

Practical Information for foreigners, expats and expatriates moving to Indonesia - find out about housing, schooling, transport, shopping and more to prepare you for your stay in Indonesia

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