Jakarta is a series of choked arteries, tangled. Motorbikes weave around stuck SUVs and taxis, while the roads collapse under the weight, potholed and vulnerable.
The city is manic and gasping for fresh air. Smog traps the heat and they swirl together, suffocating the millions below.
But as the city stresses and heaves, its people appear relentlessly laid-back. No one walks, they stroll. Time is fluid; it is rare to find two clocks set to the same time.
It is night when I arrive in Jakarta. In the taxi from the airport I daze in and out, trying desperately to take in my surroundings, but I am tired from built-up anticipation. Back when my naive mind imagined Indonesia, I imagined plentiful weekends away to beaches and forests. Jakarta, in comparison, is post-apocalyptic. Flyovers, massive billboards and skyscrapers clutter my periphery. Orange lights dissipate through the haze. Shanties cluster on canal beds.
We are trapped in traffic and already I long to see green, to see more trees. In two months time I will become even fussier and long not only for green, but for the sea, for open spaces and for crisp air.
The driver turns to me, smiles and says, ‘Macet’ (traffic jam) – my first Indonesian word.
This is the first part of a four-part story called “Collecting words in a complicated city” originally published in gang re:Publik (2008).