Five simple questions to determine your ability to qualify as a Jakarta taxi driver.
1) You are driving along a narrow street. A car is coming in the opposite direction and there is not enough room for both of you to pass because a car is parked on the side of the road. Do you:
a) Pull over behind the parked car and allow the other vehicle to pass.
b) Flash your lights onto high beam frequently in an obnoxious manner to indicate that you are going to press on and the other car better do something to stay out of your way.
c) Continue to drive, get to a position where both you and the other car are stuck, beep your horn continually for a few minutes hoping that it will provide some kind of solution, then have some random dude come out of the kampung from somewhere and start to direct the traffic screaming “kiri, kiri, kanan, kiri” etc to get you out of your bind. After a series of complicated maneuvers and much beeping you will be free and the meter will have jacked up considerably. You then try and convince your angry passenger to pay the guy who volunteered to direct the traffic.
2) The narrow road gets slightly wider, but the sides of it now drop down to open sewers and there are power poles every few meters. The road is also very curvy. The safest way to proceed is to:
a) Drive down the road at a reasonable speed, keeping more to the center unless you see another car approaching.
b) Drive very fast down the center of the road, making sure to accelerate whenever there are blind corners.
c) Swerve violently down the road, narrowly avoiding the sewer and poles. If you spot pedestrians walking on the road, beep at them while driving up behind them and then slam on the brakes and swerve just before potential impact. Clipping the corners of a few roadside noodle carts on the way reminds them who is boss.
3) You spend a lot of time sitting in your taxi waiting between customers. It’s most polite to:
a) Wind down the windows to air out the taxi and leave it smelling as fresh as anything in Jakarta can possibly smell.
b) Use a super strong air freshener made of noxious chemicals that are probably banned in many Western countries. Suitable scents include “bubblegum” “I can’t believe it’s not real pine trees even though it smells like toilet cleaner” and “durien”.
c) Leave the windows wound up tight so the passenger can enjoy the complex mix of aromas that have stewed inside your taxi as it bakes under the tropical sun. Scents include: farts, body odour, sweat, dusty upholstery, leftover dried shrimp from that nasi lemak you had for lunch, diarrhea, the fragrance clove cigarettes leave on your clothes, vomit from the person you picked up from one of those North Jakarta nightclubs and the smell of broken dreams.
4) You have a female passenger in your taxi from a foreign land. She speaks a little Indonesian. What should you say to her?
a) Ask her about what she is doing in Indonesia. Make polite conversation about her home country and what things she likes in Indonesia. Ask her if she likes Obama, even if she’s not American.
b) Ask her if she is married. If she is not, ask her why. Then offer her your self/son/nephew.
c) Ask her if she’s married. If she says no, ask her if she has a boyfriend. Then ask her if she’s ever had sex. When she pretends she doesn’t understand you, use hand miming to demonstrate sex, or proceed to another topic of conversation. Potential topics include telling her she isn’t married because she is fat.
5) Some may assert that it is a reasonable expectation for a taxi driver to carry enough change. If a fare is Rp 15,000 ($1.50), then a passenger can pay with which of the following banknotes and expect to receive the correct change?
a) Rp 50,000 or Rp 100,000 note. Any of the notes.
b) A Rp 20,000 note
c) None. Always say you don’t have change. Pull a Rp 1,000 out of your shirt pocket and look bewildered if the passenger keeps asking about it.
Sorry, you fail. Get on your motorcycle and do whatever it takes to build up a good sense of invincibility, then come back and try again. Bluebird might take you though and train you up.
Congratulations, you have passed taxi school. However, you still have much to learn from the habits of older drivers, grasshopper. Watch and learn.
Congratulations! You have passed with honors. Go forth and strike fear into the hearts of those wealthy enough to avoid the busway but too poor for a personal driver, while driving a taxi branded with a name tenuously linked to a precious gem or metal, the notion of celebrity or a random family connection. Don’t forget to never use your indicators!!