Ramzan walking in Jakarta

Ever since I stopped being vegetarian in 2011, I’ve started indulging in the so-called “Ramzan walks”. The concept is as it states – basically a bunch of you go to this Muslim dominated area where special stalls are set up so that people breaking the fast can indulge. Food at such stalls is generally of a very high quality, so you have a large number of non-fasters, which includes a large number of non-Muslims also indulging.

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I somehow missed going on one such last year, but have done so in 2011 and 2012 (in Bangalore, in Frazer Town) and 2013 in Mumbai (Mohammed Ali Road), and generally enjoyed them.

And this time was going to be different, and special, since this is the first time ever I’m in a Muslim-majority country during Ramzan. Though I’m basically stuck in this hotel with access to little else but two adjacent malls, I got lucky in that one of these two malls decided to have a food festival to celebrate Ramzan. I wasn’t able to go the last two days since I was meeting people for dinner (one of the said dinner counterparties was vegetarian and the other(s) demanded a more formal setting), but made amends today.

So the open courtyard of this mall called La Piazza (in Kelapa Gading, North Jakarta) has a large number of stalls set up. You have these cash counters where you pay up and get a prepaid smart card. Once this is obtained you can walk up to any counter and buy food from there upon swiping the said card. An excellent and efficient system to ensure fast processing, keep track of revenues (from the point of view of the organisers) and offer a hassle-free experience for customers.

The big challenge, of course, was the lack of knowledge of the language. While Bahasa uses the Roman script (because of which you are able to “read” stuff), almost no one here speaks any English, so trying to figure out what was what, and what to eat was a huge challenge.

We started with the safe option of the Chicken Satay (I had figured out through Rosetta stoning over the last few days that Ayam is Chicken), which is something we were already aware of. It was absolutely excellent. Next we decided to get a “rice item”. I saw someone at the adjacent table eating something and decided to hunt for that specific thing. I finally found it – “Nasi Bebek Madura” (Nasi is rice; Bebek is duck and Madura is an island off Java). It was extremely spicy but the leftover Satay sauce tempered matters.

We followed this up with a meat-based “kaDubu” equivalent, which was excellent once again, and rounded things off with a local dessert (a lot of random things poured over crushed ice), which was quite nice, too.

This food festival goes on for another week, so if you’re going to be near Kelapa Gading, you should surely attend. The organisation is top-notch. I already mentioned about the simplified payment dynamics. Apart from this, sufficient tables have been set up (both sitting and standing types) all over the place, and there are people cleaning the tables and floors at regular intervals. The variety in food is astounding and just the atmosphere itself is something worth taking in!

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Now I’m jealous of the wife since she has an opportunity to continue experiencing this for a few days more!

Jakarta: General Notes

I’ve been in Jakarta for about two days now (not counting the weekend trip to Yogyakarta) and I’m not particularly impressed. My main problem with the city is that it is not walkable – roads are so wide and traffic so fast-moving that they are impossible to cross; there are absolutely no pavements to walk on (forcing you to take shelter from parked cars while walking) and there are no zebra crossings at all in some places!

A side effect of this unwalkable-ness is that it is impossible for you to explore – I haven’t seen any bus stops or buses nearby, too. So if I’ve to go somewhere it has to be by taxi, and with a purpose. This has led to my not going out anywhere at all, save for two malls that are close to my hotel and which can be reached without crossing any major roads (though you need to walk through a shady-looking alley to get there).

In some ways this city is like Gurgaon on steroids – massive roads, massive malls, massive traffic jams and massive freeways. To its credit the city is quite clean (much cleaner than any Indian city I’ve been to) and there is a functioning and efficient taxi system, so you can get around if there’s someplace you want to get around to.

But if you just want to spend some time here, “take in the city”, have a look around and so on, it is surely not the place.

The other day the wife and I were having a conversation on where we want to live, and one thing we agreed upon is that we want to live in a place where the commute doesn’t drive your life. Of course, rather ironically, the only time that has been true for me was in Gurgaon in 2008-09, when I had a commute which took less than 20 minutes at any point of time, because of which I didn’t have to base my schedule on when traffic would be smooth. A later visit to Gurgaon has shown that this is not true of Gurgaon any more (the same 20 minute commute from 2009 took 40 minutes on a rather empty Saturday morning in 2014).

I think I’m too much of a sucker for walking and public transport to be able to survive in a place like Jakarta.

Where Uncertainty is the killer: Jakarta Traffic Edition

So I’m currently in Jakarta. I got here on Friday evening, though we decamped to Yogyakarta for the weekend, and saw Prambanan and Borobudur. The wife is doing her mid-MBA internship at a company here, and since it had been a while since I’d met her, I came to visit her.

And since it had been 73 whole days since the last time we’d met, she¬†decided to surprise me by receiving me at the airport. Except that she waited three and a half hours at the airport for me. An hour and quarter of that can be blamed on my flight from Kuala Lumpur to Jakarta being¬†late. The rest of the time she spent waiting can be attributed to Jakarta’s traffic. No, really.

Yesterday evening, as soon as we got back from Yogyakarta, we went to visit a friend. Since this is Jakarta, notorious for its traffic, we landed up at his house straight from the airport. To everyone’s surprise, we took just forty minutes to get there, landing up much earlier than expected in the process.

So I’ve described two situations above which involved getting to one’s destination much ahead of schedule, and attributed both of them to Jakarta’s notorious traffic. And I’m serious about that. I might be extrapolating based on two data points (taking into the prior that Jakarta’s traffic is notorious), but I think I have the diagnosis.

The problem with Jakarta’s traffic is its volatility. Slow-moving and “bad” traffic can be okay if it can be predictable. For example, if it takes between an hour and half to hour and three-quarters most of the time to get to a place, one can easily plan for the uncertainty without the risk of having to wait it out for too long. Jakarta’s problem is that its traffic is extremely volatile, and the amount of time taken to go from one place to the other has a massive variance.

Which leads to massive planning problems. So on Friday evening, the wife’s colleague told her to leave for the airport at 7 pm to receive me (I was scheduled to land at 10:45 pm). The driver said they were being too conservative, and suggested they leave for the airport at 8, expecting to reach by 10:30. As it happened, she reached the airport at 8:45, even before my flight was scheduled to take off from KL! And she had to endure a long wait anyways. And then my flight got further delayed.

That the variance of traffic can be so high means that people stop planning for the worst case (or 95% confidence case), since that results in a lot of time being wasted at the destination (like for my wife on Friday). And so they plan for a more optimistic case (say average case), and they end up being late. And blame the traffic. And the traffic becomes notorious!

So the culprit is not the absolute amount of time it takes (which is anyway high, since Jakarta is a massive sprawling city), but the uncertainty, which plays havoc with people’s planning and messes with their minds. Yet another case of randomness being the culprit!

And with Jakarta being such a massive city and personal automobile (two or four wheeled) being the transport of choice, the traffic network here is rather “complex” (complex as in complex systems), and that automatically leads to wild variability. Not sure what (apart from massive rapid public transport investment) can be done to ease this.