Dave Gullett

a miscellanea

Life in Jakarta, pt. 2

Disclaimer: If you’re looking for a short, encouraging update that has consistent grammar and an uplifting point, you might want to skip this one. If you prefer honesty, keep reading. There is something inherently dignified about a violinist. Maybe it is their particular posture or facial expression. Maybe it is the craftsmanship of the violin itself. Or perhaps the dignity comes from the convergence of the artist and their instrument, the experience of the created creating together. Whatever the reason a violinist exudes dignity. One does not mock a violinist. Not if one has any since of beauty at all. One does not ignore a violinist. Even a novice demands attention from her audience. Rather the sometimes haunting strains that come from its strings, twining beauty and sadness and grace and sorrow into continuous melodies enrapt us, move our souls, even bringing tears to our eyes. Such raw emotion is brought forth not only by the master, highly practiced and perfected… But also by the beggar playing whatever he knows to earn change to feed himself as he serenades a cross town bus. The children who step on board singing folk songs or tapping rattles, you give them a few rupiah out of compassion or guilt. The teenage guitarists entertain with their renditions of Bob Dylan and John Denver; you give them change because the show was at least worth that. The ranting poets and storytellers might get change, if they don’t smell too bad, yell too loud or harass the other passengers. But for me all this was done with a bit of emotional detachment, a bit of reflex rather than response. Until that violinist broke my heart. I’m not sure why it took him to do it and I’m not sure how I got so calloused so quickly. It has only been two weeks since I started commuting from across town to the office here in Jakarta. It’s a time consuming trip to say the least. In order to be in by eight, I get up at four and hit the road by five or five-thirty at the latest. The first leg of the journey is made in an “ancot” Basically, its an old Toyota minivan of sorts with two sideways bench seats in the back. Fully loaded (and they rarely move when they are not) they seat at least 13, and sometimes more. There are thousands of ancots and they run routes in neighborhoods all around the city, each one color coded according to the beginning and ending of the route. In the morning ours is green and white. They belch diesel smoke and travel slowly through the early morning haze and congestion then speed recklessly when the traffic flows. On a good day the ancot gets us to the bus station in 45 minutes to an hour. Our alternating sprint and meander takes us through dusty city streets crowded with “becaks” (three wheeled bike taxis), “bajai” (three wheeled motorized taxis that look lie a cartoon golf cart), more “sepeda motor” than one could count (scooters and motorcycles), buses, trucks, and any other “mobile” you can probably imagine. Add to that countless pedestrians, many pushing or pulling carts, carrying loads or rolling “kaki lima” (roadside vending carts) all along roads hopelessly out of date and all too narrow. We pass shops and open markets, houses in varying states of disrepair and countless abandoned structures along the way. Things change, though, when we get to the bus station. The TransJakarta busway is the new ultra modern mass transit system being built to replace the old, decrepit “metro minis”. These are small diesel buses that seat about 20 and are not even regarded as safe by those who live here. They are neglected mechanically and are a haven for pickpockets and the like. In most areas of the city, though, there is no other way to get around that is affordable by most since it costs only 2000 rupiah (about 2 dollars). In contrast, the TransJakarta is new, modern, computerized and air conditioned. The buses are far nicer than those of most US cities. There are attendants (guards) on every bus and at most stations keeping order and ensuring safety. Its no coincidence that the TransJakarta line goes straight into the center of the government and financial district of Jakarta. As we ride on the scenery progressively becomes more and more modern and less and less decrepit. From the tiny shops and road side vendors we move on to shopping centers, supermarkets and malls. We pass several hotels, many banks and at least four Starbucks coffee shops as the bus rolls steadily on. When we reach downtown after about an hour we transfer to a second TransJakarta for the next leg of the trip. By now the sun is fully rises and throngs are making their way to their jobs. The bus is packed and often we end up standing most of the way. The route of the second bus takes us through the rest of the business district and into what I suppose would be called a depressed area of the city. Once the main area for shopping and trade, the Blok M area is still popular but is overshadowed by newer shopping areas around the city. It’s a good place for deals, though, as most vendors will bargain with you and since some sections while not quite black market, are certainly on the edge. The trip to blok M takes about 45 minutes, so generally we’re there by 7:30. Here the TrasnJakarta ends its route and we transfer to “taksi” to finish up the trip. Not all taksi are created equal and we stick with Blue Bird. They actually use the meter and are very reliable, and the drivers usually know where they are going. Other companies tend to be sketchy and unreliable. The taksi ride takes about 30 minutes and passes quickly. Usually the whole process takes 3 hours in the morning, and up to 4 hours in the evening to get back home. It’s been a long two weeks to say the least. And maybe the exhaustion is what made me calloused. Or maybe that between Indonesian lessons, commuting, eating and a little bit of sleep there just hasn’t been much time for reflection at all. So when the violinist woke me from my fitful nap on the way home Thursday night, I suppose I was ready to have my eyes reopened. To actually see what is around me again. And it’s about time too. Last night was our last night with our Indonesian hosts, and this morning was my last three hour commute through Jakarta. And thanks to that violinist I remembered to look at what matters most. Not the traffic, not the shops and buildings, not the statues and scenery, but instead I saw the people. People just like the violinist. People just trying to survive. People trying to find security and hope in a culture that offers little of either. Factory workers, security guards, bankers, bureaucrats, students, executives, salesmen, beggars and thieves all breathing but not all living. All hearing, but not all listening to the sounds.. All looking, but not all seeing what is around them. Closing their eyes, trying to sleep, trying to shut out the world for just a few minutes Just like I was. Until God used the violinist to wake me up. I think I gave him 750 rupiah for his trouble.

Life in Jakarta

So it’s been a busy week here in Jakarta. We’ve been staying with Indonesian families in different parts of the city all since last Monday afternoon. It has been quite the interesting experience. Like many things here there is a mix between the familiar and the strange. Three of us have been staying with the parents of the Indonesian girl who is the assistant leader of the team. They’ve lived in Jakarta for 12 years but are originally from Manado in the north of the island of Sulawesi. Like many Manadoese they are Christian, and they are ethnically Chinese. Their family speaks Indonesian, some Mandarin, and Manado at home. They all also speak varying amounts of English. The family lives in a typical Indonesian home in a neighborhood on the outskirts of Jakarta near the airport. If the winds are just right the climb out pattern for the airliners is almost over head. The house is small by our standards, one of several in a row made of block and stucco with the typical tile roof. In front of the house is a concrete patio where the family parks their motor scooter. The main room and two small bedrooms are tiled and have basic furnishings. The living room has two chairs and a few plastic stools for gatherings, a writing desk, bookshelf and small fish tank. There is also a small TV on which we have been watching the World Cup. The bathroom is typically Indonesian, with tile walls and floors and the typical Indonesian “plumbing”. There is a cistern that holds ground water for washing and a blue barrel that holds clean water for rinsing. Since Indonesian bathrooms are “wet”, there is no separate shower like in western baths. There is also no shower head or tub, and the toilet isn’t exactly a toilet, but that’s all one needs to know about that. Unless, you’re here of course. The kitchen is in the back of the house, added onto what might have once been a patio. The roof is open in places to allow sunlight, rain and the occasional lizard in. They have basic appliances and running water, but because the water isn’t potable there is another blue barrel for washing and cooking. Beside the refrigerator is a water cooler that holds “white water” for drinking. There’s a table and chairs, some shelving and a old LPG oven and separate cook top set on blocks, I think. Ibu (their word for ma’am) prepares food on the floor, sitting on a small wooden block, in the traditional fashion. All in all it’s a simple home, modest by Indonesian standards but not impoverished, though to our eyes it seems at first derelict. It’s darker and dirtier than we would like, and maybe a bit crowded. Whatever they may lack in material things, or modern technology or “western” comfort is overshadowed by their humility and hospitality. They do everything they can to take care of us and make us comfortable and welcome in their home. They food they provide is so amazing. It’s a mix of Chinese and Indonesian, and is do good…though having rice three times a day and noodles at least twice might take some getting used to. Getting to know this family and the language and their way of life has been a challenge and a blessing. Sometimes you feel every bit at home, and sometimes you wonder exactly where you are. But every minute has been worth it, building relationships and learning about them and about ourselves. The next time I have a chance to write, I’ll talk about our morning, and evening, commutes….

this past Sunday

Sunday morning we awoke early to make the drive to the church we were going to visit. It’s in the middle of the city and is surprisingly large and modern. Our leader described the nature of the Discovery Program, and we sang some songs (I tried to hide in the back) and a few of us gave their testimonies. We repeated this all morning in a few different services. During the youth services, one of the team who is Indonesian shared about how God has called her to ministry with a focus to encouraging the youth of Indonesia to serve God. After lunch with the Pastor we went on to a College Student fellowship the church supports. The program was basically the same, and I shared from Eph 2 with the youth pastor of the church interpreting. After the fellowship we took a train back to Jakarta. We had a wonderful time visiting the church and spending time with some Indonesian students from the area who joined us for the weekend. These students, some going to secular schools, some to Christian were amazed that Americans would come to visit them there. Like many Indonesians, they tend to idolize the west and the Bule (what they call us) and hold us up as examples of how things should be. So, all of us coming there impressed on them the idea of serving God, wherever He calls.

this past Saturday

Finally, some time to work in an update, though for a few reasons it will be a little vague. This past weekend all of us on the Discovery Team traveled to a nearby city to visit a large church there to participate in their services. We left Jakarta on Friday afternoon by rented car and made the 2 ½ hour drive to a college where we slept for the weekend. Saturday morning we were visited by two people who are involved with ministry to our “cousins” (i.e. those that follow the majority religion here). One of them has left his comfortable life and become a low class laborer to allow him to make relationships with cousins in his new line of work. He is totally investing his life in reaching them, even taking them into his home to give them a place to stay. The other is running a school for that teaches literacy and general knowledge in order to become involved in the lives of children and their families in their city. They have been threatened with closure by the government several times. In the afternoon we did a little sight seeing in a small tour bus. We visited an active volcano, reeking of sulfur and smoldering with hot gas. And we stopped by a spa whose water is heated by the volcano to 120F. It’s a popular spot for people seeking to get relief from their ailments. On our way to our next stop the bus was hit by a young lady on a motor scooter. She was hurt a bit, so we put her on the bus so the driver could take her to the Hospital, and we waited nearby for a replacement bus. Life here is different, so involving police, ambulances etc. doesn’t usually benefit anybody. After the new bus picked us up we went to a concert put on by a children’s group. There were dozens of children playing angklung, a traditional bamboo instrument. After the concert, on our way to dinner, our new bus was hit by a Kijang, a small suv-like vehicle. There wasn’t much damage so the driver paid our driver and we were on the way. After dinner at a traditional restaurant we headed back to the college to prepare for the services Sunday. The accidents reflect both the crowded, hectic streets of this city and the unpredictable nature of life. And they also show us that God is in control and uses the things we see as challenges to give us opportunities we do not expect. The urban sprawl of the city and the contrasting natural beauty of the country side around it is becoming a familiar kind of contrast here in Indonesia. There is the ugly and the beautiful, the rich and the poor, the convenient and the maddeningly tedious, and none of these can be taken with out the other. This is a land of sharp contrasts, and few shades of gray.


One can listen to “Teach Yourself Indonesian” cd’s. One can read introductory books. One can try and memorize “survival phrases”. And none of this is bad or wrong or useless. It is all woefully inadequate until you hear real people using the real language. When a man offers you ayam in the market or when you need to pay for kope at the hypermart one needs to be able to understand and speak on a basic level. There isn’t time to flip through a phrase book or ones notebook when the taksi is making a wrong turn or the motor mini is speeding past your stop. And while we do not (yet) need to master the language, we do need to get by. Not because it is practical, though it is, but because it is respectful of guests to learn the ways of their hosts. But it is hard. Not just the memorization of words and meanings, but the training of oneself to reply in another tongue with out thinking first. And it is hard to know you speak and act as a child (at best) or a fool (at worst). Pride must be swallowed. Humility has to be embraced. For we could bulldoze on in English. This, though, would not respect them or glorify God. So we learn. Slowly. Tediously. Maybe painfully. But we must learn if we are to interact with the people here in any kind of meaningful way. So pray for us please. That we are able to remember and to understand what we are attempting to learn. And that we learn it quickly, so we can be better of God. Once again, thank you all.