Indonesia Anonymus

We are a group of Indonesians, ranting about our beloved country. This blog is a result of many people grumbling about many things in many ways.
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Anonymus is the Latin word for anonymous, the correct English spelling. The Latin spelling, however, is traditionally used by scholars in the humanities to refer to an ancient writer whose name is not known, or to a manuscript of their work. Read more at Wikipedia.

Our blog in Bahasa Indonesia (but rarely updated) can be found here.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The journey of a broken heart 3

3. Feel like a fool

(Note: this is part 3 of 'the journey' series. To read from the beginning, click here.)

I started my trip at the inter-city bus station. So there I was, standing there, looking around when suddenly it hit me: I have never done this before. (I do travel, but mostly by flying, and a couple of times by train. But never by inter-city bus).

That means, I did not know which bus I should take, I did not know where I should go to buy the ticket and I did not know how much the ticket would be.
And the worst part is, it seems I was the only fool in town. Everybody else seem to know where to go and what to do.

Unfortunately, it did not happen just once, because as I travel from one city to another, almost in every city I was back to being clueless: I did not know which one to take to go to where I wanted to go, and when I knew, I had no clue how much it would cost me.

(Sure, there was one time when I could see the price posted on a local angkot. But then when I paid exactly that price, the driver got mad. Apparently the price had changed and they did not bother to change the sticker.)

And the story did not end after I managed all that and got on. Because I still needed to know where to get off, to go to where I was going. Along the way, I ended up asking a lot of questions to a lot of people.

In short, I am a foreigner in my own country. I can't imagine how foreigners who visit Indonesia would feel when they had to take public transportation to get around. How do you ask question when you don't even speak the language?

You don't feel good when you are clueless. And you feel worse when you think you are the only one who had no clue.

Before this, I always thought a good public transportation would mean something that is efficient, on time, fast and comfortable. Now I realize, there is one thing that is more important.

A public transport is good when you can get from point A to point B, without having to ask a single question.

Sure, efficient, on time, fast and comfortable are all good. But if the system is confusing, a first timer like me would still find it annoying.

I know I should stop comparing what we have with what other country has, but bear with me for a moment. The first time I visited Japan, I had no experience in taking its public transport. But I could find out easily which one I should take, how much it will cost and where I should buy the ticket. Bear in mind that I do not speak or read Japanese, and outside Tokyo not all stations post the sign in english. But the signs are equipped with pictures and symbols that even I can understand it right away.

A system is good when even an illiterate first-timer fool like me can understand it.

So maybe, this is why people said good things about public transport in some developed countries. Sure, they may be fast and comfortable, but above all, the system don't make you feel like a fool.

We all want better public transport in this country, and we started with the busway, people talk about having a subway system, even dreaming about high speed train. They are all nice, but they are also a departure from what we have now. As if we want to ditch whatever we have because they are bad, and just start with something completely new.

Sure, why not. But creating an efficient, on time, fast and comfortable takes time. And money.
In the meantime, we still have to live with what we have, and actually we can make it better by simply posting clear signs at bus stations and bus stops, displaying the route and the ticket price clearly on buses and angkot - And be consistent with it.

Design it for a foreign illiterate first-timer fool such as I am.

When everything is clear, taking a local public transport in a small town actually has its charm.
More than any subway or high speed train can offer.



Anonymous Hendro said...

Very interesting insight. Getting from point A to point B is the 'core' feature. Yet, many people overlook that fact and focus on 'nice to have' features (AC, high speed etc).

Wonder if that blindness is due to the fact that policy-maker, rich and the powerful of Indonesia never use their own public transport?

That might have some truth considering the author is someone that is educated and has power in the system yet just realize this basic fact after many decades.

6:57 PM  
Blogger Indonesia Anonymus said...


Very good point.
If the policy-makers have to take the public transport everyday, they will not have a choice but to make it better.

As for the author, he may be educated, but has power in the system? Not really.

When it comes to public transportation, we are only humble users just like million others.

But that does not change the fact that for us to "just realize this basic fact after many decades" is indeed a shame and we deserve the humbling criticism.

7:22 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

as a foreigner who ain't too good with indonesia - understandable transportation info would go a long long way.

i actually think indonesian transport isn't too shabby - it's just getting to grips with it is a problem!

1:31 AM  
Anonymous colson said...

Your description/analysis of (public transport) seems convincing to me. Though even if morones like me can have the infromation they want/need, it doesn't garantuee a good system. If, for instance, the system consists of private systems it can happen that maintenance is sloppy - and everything comes to a standstill the moment a few inches of snow have fallen for instance( as was the case here).

What you said about living in a bubble is another interesting ( and worrying) observation. Translated to politics: isn't that why the ruling elite in all countries tend to forget to solve the real problems-of-the-poor they never experience themselves?

3:47 PM  
Blogger Indonesia Anonymus said...


That's exactly it: getting to grips with it is the problem.
And it's difficult not just for foreigners. Indonesia is a big place and just because we know how to get around in Jakarta does not mean we know what to do in say Denpasar or Lampung. So in that sense, we are all foreigners.
We agree with you, all in all the system is not that bad, and people are (mostly) helpful so that makes things easier.

That is a very good point. Regardless how well-explained it is, the system still needs to have some kind of reliability for it to work.

7:28 PM  
Anonymous Hendro said...

Indeed. I should bear the criticism as much as you guys. I'm Indonesian.

I stand corrected that the author indeed is powerless. He only has the power when each and every individual of us (the educated and lucky few) stand together and march toward the same direction.

Oh well, probably will take decades to see that happen. Won't hurt to have some optimism though. :)

9:51 PM  
Blogger Masyhur said...

IA, I cannot agree with you more on how different the public transportation system is from one city to another. To make things worse, sometimes even inside Indonesia, you are faced with situation where the local driver do not speak Indonesian at all.

I experienced this when I was in Lombok, feeling a bit adventurous, and decided to try the local transport and found that they spoke very little Indonesian.

In the end, I did made it to my destination, but the experience would be a whole lot more pleasant without the anxiety of 'am I going in the right way?'

1:05 PM  
Blogger Indonesia Anonymus said...


Thank you, and yes, we need all the optimism.
Let's dare to be optimistic that if we stand together, it will not take decades to get things fixed.


thank you for sharing your story in Lombok.
We can imagine the anxiety. Not a good feeling to be a 'foreigner' in our own country, isn't it?

3:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is excellent idea

3:01 AM  
Anonymous Silverlines said...

I am enjoying the series.
And do keep them coming, please.

10:18 AM  
Blogger Indonesia Anonymus said...


Thank you. Glad you like it.

4:32 PM  
Anonymous kamil said...


I reckon (basing on my experience) the public transport in question (angkot) is, to a good degree, actually quite reliable. Granted there is no actual written system or strict guideline to follow, but personally that's one of the charms of itself, and it makes it much more "local".

At the same time, I agree wholeheartedly with IA in regards to a better info system. A poster right around the door of an angkot, or maybe a visible, easy to reach sign at the station would make a really big difference I would expect.

It's a really great article, IA. Great insight.

5:30 AM  
Blogger piqs said...

hahaha, can't agree more! Once I planned to build a public transport info website for my hometown, Bandung, and retreat because I couldn't figure out how to map it. LoL!

But some of my foreigner friends say that it is not that hard to navigate around the country. They surprised me by going around Jakarta just by using public transport just by themselves! The peoples are very helpful they said. :)

6:11 AM  
Blogger Indonesia Anonymus said...

Kamil, thank you.
Piqs, yes, that is true. The people are (usually) very friendly and helpful.

8:05 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

Have a look at Jakarta from Google Earth some time. What I saw was, in the center of town, many H's - helipads. Where I come from, Australia, this is very uncommon. But where ever you may be, a helicopter is a rich person's option only. So I drew a tentative conclusion - the rich and powerful find it worthwhile getting around in helicopters in Jakarta. And with the R&P able to ignore gridlock, well then no effort will be made to fix it. Am I being too jaded do you think?

(Here's someone else's point of view... note the the blogger's comments about using the helicopter next time!

6:41 PM  
Blogger Indonesia Anonymus said...


What an interesting observation!

3:57 PM  

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