There are many intersections in Jakarta. One, which I - and many thousands of others - must pass through on our journeys home, is the Pancoran intersection.
It is easy to know you have arrived at this intersection. For on a huge arced pillar there is a large bronze figure of a man, who for some inexplicable reason appears to be, well, surfing.
What he is really doing I have never been able to fathom out. Its meaning is also lost on the local people it seems: nobody I have ever asked has been able to explain to me what the statue represents. And why should they care anyway? They have more urgent matters on their minds – like how to make enough money to feed their kids.
There are quite a few revolutionary statues like this in Jakarta, built during the regime of Indonesia’s first president Soekarno, when idealism took precedence to using public funds to help feed the city’s many poor. The Welcome Statue near Plaza Indonesia in the city center is supposed to send a message of friendship to foreign visitors I guess; but the “Pizza Man” Statue near Blok M is another enigma.
Anyway, on Friday evening last week, I came to the Pancoran intersection as I have many times before. There was a large traffic jam as usual. Horns were blaring. The passengers in the decrepit buses looked sweaty and tired after a hard day’s toil. Sleek German automobiles provided protection to their wealthy owners.
It’s not as if the traffic lights aren’t working normally. There is no power cut. Yet the drivers lose their tempers in this madness – and the motorcycles jolt forward like wild horses.
As we waited at the junction the lights turned green. But the intersection was blocked with cars – it was impossible to move forward. Just ahead of me was a soldier on a battered Honda motorcycle. And he wasn’t in the mood to wait. As he tried to negotiate the blocked intersection, a taxi went through a red light regardless, cutting right across his path. In an instant, the soldier started to pummel the taxi’s bonnet with his fists. Still not satisfied, he then got off his motorcycle, and began to kick the rear end of the taxi, the way a reckless footballer goes in for a fifty-fifty challenge, studs up.
While this assault was going on, no one did anything of course. Only a fool would try to reason with an irate soldier in such circumstances. To his credit, the taxi driver remained calm. But his frightened passengers cowered behind the front seats in the rear of the vehicle.
In only a matter of seconds the assault was over. The soldier got back on his motorcycle and went on his way. The vehicles ahead of me inched slowly forward. I followed from behind, but making sure to keep plenty of distance between myself and the angry soldier ahead of me…
NB 1: This is a good way to get wiped out at Pancoran: just drive in the opposing direction to the oncoming traffic.
NB 2: The picture below (click on it to see the full size image), from a collection of historical Jakarta shots, shows Pancoran back in the 60s:
An incredible shot I'm sure you'll agree - and people actually waiting at the bus shelter for God's sake! Also apparent is the cloudy sky - you virtually never see clouds like that in Jakarta any more because the city now seems to be covered permanently by a blanket of smog due to the terrible levels of pollution.
If you want to see the famous statue yourself and are not sure how to get there, check out the peta Pancoran here.