Hemlock reports from equatorial parts (3)

A few random and hasty observations to summarize Jakarta succinctly in a brief, condensed nutshell…

1.  The restaurants don’t have smoking areas – they are smoking areas. One exception: one of those places selling chocolate mousse with shaved cheese, where customers may smoke indoors (in the air-conditioning) but not outside on the sweaty veranda.

2.  You can ignore seat belts in cars but must by law sport a big shiny crash helmet if you are one of the teeming billions on mopeds weaving around the clogged-up traffic like corpuscles streaming through capillaries. The logical explanation for this is that, since only motorbikes attain any real speed, only their users need protection. Logical and thus, of course, wrong. My sordid and cynical assumption was that maybe the helmet industry is monopolized by someone important’s niece, but I am assured that such shenanigans are a thing of the past in Indonesia these days. The real reason, I am told – and it’s so absurd it must be true – is that the government made expensive protective headwear compulsory in an effort to curb the growth in motorbike numbers after cut-price installment payment plans for the locally assembled mopeds proved overly successful. That is, the helmets are less affordable than the bikes and thus a form of tax. (It doesn’t seem to be working.)

3.  Not only does the Sari Pan Pacific’s Irish bar charge HK$90 for a local beer, the business centre demands 39 US cents a minute to access the Internet. Good thing the hotel doesn’t sell crash helmets. However, it’s nothing personal: step outside and wander around, and going on-line is pricy everywhere. Broadband in Indonesia is a duopoly, and introducing competition – according to a business magazine – would be fraught with complications. Nothing to do with important people’s nieces, presumably.

4.  Although the redundant ‘visa’ is issued on arrival for US$25 without even the slightest check to see whether you pose any threat to national well-being, the immigration officer who stamps your passport when you leave asks you the reason for your visit.

6. I am out of touch. Does Greece and/or the Euro still exist?

5.  Condemned to Cathay Pacific economy class on the flight back, I finally get to examine the new seats that caused such anguish and mouth-frothing when they were launched. For years, airlines have attempted to market cattle class – human history’s cheapest-ever method of transport – as something semi-luxurious. They are finally learning to be honest. Rather than have backs that recline, these new seats have bottoms that slide forward. It is horribly uncomfortable and long overdue. Never again will innocent, unassuming passengers capable of sitting upright have to put up with the selfish bore in front leaning right back so his headrest sticks into their face and traps them. Now all the airline needs to do is train the cabin crew to explain that business class is for leaning back, and economy class is for leaving the passenger behind you with a bit of space – the one thing they have a right to expect when paying less than a dollar a mile to travel at not much less than the speed of sound.

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