For reasons of both time and money, I commute by economy class train from my semi-suburban home to the office where I’m tapping this out. I suspect that few of my readers here will have been through this experience, preferring the air-conditioned comforts of private cars or taxis as I used to do. For me, needs must.
Getting on the platform is literally the first hurdle. The sidewalks and footpath up to the ticket office are invariably blocked by ojeks (motorcycle taxis), their drivers and meals-on-wheels vendors. Once the ticket to town – Rp.1,000 (= 8p) – has been purchased, I try to find somewhere to sit and wait. This is difficult as most of the benches, made from old rails, are occupied by refreshment stalls, vendors of shoes, pens, eyeglasses, or scavengers having a morning kip.
This is a busy station in terms of genuine passengers but freedom of movement is in short supply for us and, unfortunately, the train frequency does not seem to have increased in line with Jakarta’s population growth.
So I usually have time to sit and contemplate life on the opposite platform. This is not a peaceful muse as either Iwan Fals, Indonesia’s Bruce Springsteen, or dangdut, the hybrid Bollywood / Arabic music, is blasted out from the five stalls selling pirated CDs. Not that I’m grumbling; one of the stalls sells DVDs of exceptional quality in terms of the unlikely films which make their way here.
This platform is also my favourite market. I pay regular weekend visits to buy cheap energy-saver light bulbs, taps and the various bits and bobs which have a very short half-life in these tropical climes. If there is a ticket collector/inspector on duty, a fairly rare occurrence, I tell him that I’m just shopping and he grants access.
During the longer waits there is cross-traffic between the platforms. The shorter than me Indonesians show great agility in getting a leg up given that the platforms are at least chest-high. Why there is the cross-traffic I’m never quite sure. Very occasionally it’s to have a chat with an acquaintance, but most seem to prefer a shouted sentence or two across the divide.
For some, the tracks are a short cut between their kampungs which line the tracks and the level crossing which serves as the main entrance to the station. For most, the tracks are a convenient place to sweep the detritus away from the stalls or to dump the plastic bags and drinks cups. Every so often a scavenger will emerge from his or her nap and collect what is deemed to have value through recycling.
Ah, there comes my train. I’m now sufficiently in tune with my environment to ignore the hordes of rooftop passengers, which denote an even more stoical experience ahead.
My morning training has, so far, gone well.