Mon, 24 Apr 2000

City buses offer risk and entertainment

JAKARTA (JP): Most readers of The Jakarta Post might not take a chance on using the city's public buses, and the reasons might vary.

Everybody, including regular passengers, is well aware that Jakarta's public buses are regarded as one of the worst public transportation systems in the world.

Hazardous drivers, aging, neglected vehicles emitting black clouds of exhaust, run-down interior, pickpockets and armed robbers have become the well-known characteristics associated with buses in the capital.

These distinctions are also the reasons why some Jakartans, expatriates, tourists and ministers do not join the sweating hordes of passengers.

The outside world and many Jakartans who do not use this mode of transport will never know that these buses offer a variety of entertainment on board.

Newspaper vendors, beggars, poets, street musicians, people asking for donations for religious organizations and traders offering a variety of items are some of the entertainers.

Regular bus commuters might have come across a beggar who acts as if he is disabled and can not stand. This man, in his twenties, usually boards buses with the help of other passengers.

Once inside the bus, he crawls on his hands and knees, passing standing passengers in the aisle, begging for money: "Tolong bu, tolong pak ..." (help me, ma'am, help me, sir).

After receiving some money, the man -- again with the help of other passengers -- gets off the bus. Shortly after the bus pulls away, passengers in the rear seats who still feel sorry for the man's condition and stare after him out of the rear window, are amazed at what they see.

Some passengers chuckle, while others' faces turn red. From a distance, they see the "handicapped" man stand up and wave at them with a broad smile.

One day, The Jakarta Post witnessed several angry passengers kick this man off a bus at a station near the Istiqlal Grand Mosque.

Then there is the bus singer. This chubby man begs on buses with the help of his guitar. He seems like a normal singer in the beginning as he sings local pop songs. But in the middle of the song, he begins to make almost the entire audience of passengers, except those who know his trick, grin when his voice fails to reach the high notes of the tune.

As if he is a serious learner, he repeats the song from the beginning at least three times even though he is still out of tune. Finally he says amid the chuckles of passengers: "Well, you can see that I've tried my best but my voice is still off-key. Sorry about that. If you want to give me any money, please do. But I'm not forcing you to do so since I can't complete even a single song."

Most passengers, particularly the females, burst into laughter. Some look released from the stressful routine.

The man then holds out a small plastic bag, which once was a candy package, for people to drop their change in. Many times, the bag is filled with Rp 100, Rp 500 and Rp 1,000 notes.

With a broad smile, the singer thanks the passengers for their generosity and leaves the bus to jump onto another using the same ploy to win over passengers.

This man still runs his business on city buses plying different routes, including those to Jakarta's outskirts, such as Bekasi, Tangerang and Depok.

During peak morning hours on weekdays, newspaper and food vendors struggle along with the crowd offering merchandise in their own style and language. Sometimes, they yell a few outrageous words simply to attract the attention of commuters.

With several dailies displayed in his hands, one newspaper vendor shouted, "Pos Kota, Kompas, Media Indonesia ... Today's headlines, last night RSCM (Cipto Mangunkusumo General Hospital) was on fire. All patients, including some women who were about to give birth, fled in panic. At least three corpses managed to safely escape the morgue of the burning hospital."

His words stunned some morning passengers. But others giggled as they know that the newspaper seller was only joking.

"Bapak-bapak, ibu-ibu (ladies and gentlemen) ... Please kindly smile before you start the day so you will all have good luck and be able to buy my newspapers tomorrow," said another vendor before he jumped off of a bus.

If you are lucky, your trip on the buses, usually air- conditioned ones, will be complete with the entertainment of a talented group of street singers.

Passengers on the air-conditioned Patas buses plying the Tangerang-Blok M route are often entertained by the five-member Apostolos band, which always performs at several cafes and restaurants.

Unlike other regular street musicians, they perform four or five Latin songs in fine costumes and with good music equipment.

"We're glad to entertain bus passengers. Besides getting a free ride, we also get some money from generous passengers," Rico Paris, the leader of the group, told the Post recently.

The city buses are home to many other entertainers, such as poets and small traders. But some passengers, particularly those wanting to take a nap during their trip, refer to them as annoyances.

But this kind of entertainment would not be enjoyable if the bus was fully loaded so that your face was pressed against the window.

The atmosphere would be worse if the driver continued speeding or zig-zagging through traffic, although the number of passengers had reached three times its allowable limit.

Under such unfavorable conditions, your mind would focus on your wallet or purse and all your concentration would be on the moves made by the person behind you. And the passenger standing nervously in front of you would be doing the same.

The only medley that might come to you at this time would be your own heartbeat. (bsr)