Indonesian traffic is really something to watch and be a part of. The streets are crowded with cars, motor bikes, food carts, and a pedestrian here and there. Stop signs, as well as traffic lights, are mere suggestions, and the hilly side streets are full of speed bumps and playing children. Cars and motorbikes honk their horn through every intersection and around every corner and people cross the streets with their hands outward telling all the vehicles to stop for them. And they do! I spent the first week awestruck that the streets weren’t full of multi-car pile ups and accident victims. I actually am yet to even see a fender bender or a car in seriously bad shape. Maybe miracles happen every day on the streets of Lampung, but being a serious realist, I can’t accept that theory. I think that the only reason that everyone doesn’t crash and burn in Indonesia is because they all move pelan pelan, or ‘slowly’.
Below is a picture of the parking lot at the English school that I teach at. Notice how full it is.
In roughly five minutes everyone was out of the parking lot. One impatient person could have ruined the entire thing, but working together calmly and slowly meant that everyone got to go home quickly.
Yes, the chaos on the road happens slowly and therefore accidents never happen. It’s awesome and so different from the combis (mini busses) in Peru. Road rules in Peru are also suggestions and people exercised their ownership of the road quickly. I spent much of my time in the bus to and from the university (which was 45 min from my house if everything went smoothly) smooshed, car sick, arguing with the cobrador (the man collecting fare), and sitting still while two drivers decided how to deal with their collision. Even the cobrador worked shouted very quickly at the passengers to get on the bus, pay, and then off the bus. Let’s talk about a stressful commute. Fortunately, I only had class two days a week.
In Bandar Lampung, the entire process is much more pelan pelan and relaxing (except when the guy collecting money tried to take my designer sunglasses – “please let me have them! They look so good on me and the lenses are so good!” “Yeah, they are great. You absolutely cannot have them.” Weirdest bus conversation ever). We get on. Chat about where we’re heading. And then when we arrive the bus stops, and we get outside to sort through our wallets and pay in a comfortable, orderly fashion. Aaaah.
The word pelan pelan has another important meaning for me. There comes a magical moment in foreign language learning where your brain slows down what’s coming into it and the listener starts to distinguish words, inflections, and rhythms in spoken language. After only three weeks in Bandar Lampung, Indonesia, that’s starting to happen with me. That doesn’t mean I understand everything that I’m hearing, but it’s a big step towards being able to carry on a conversation. I’m two weeks into my classes and every day I learn new words and get more confident speaking with my friends. I’m also lucky to have made friends with who I’m convinced are the most patient Indonesians ever. I’m endlessly grateful their support as I’m trying to learn their language.