Ojek Nation: Indonesia

Jakarta was our first stop in Indonesia and our first Asian city, and many people seem to think it’s a dump. But I liked it.

One of my favorite things about Jakarta, and Indonesia in general, was the ojeks, or scooters. They carry everything, and I do mean everything. I’m still upset I didn’t get a picture of the ojek with a block of dripping ice strapped to the seat.

Ojek with rocket or needle Indonesia Oct 2015

It was common to see families riding on ojeks, usually with the babies sandwiched between adults. Lots of people wear helmets, including some children, and lots don’t.

Ojek with and without helmets Indonesia Oct 2015

Sometimes little kids stood in front of the driver’s legs and held on, grinning, like this boy in Pemuteran.

Ojek with grinning kid Indonesia Oct 2015

But in Jakarta, the ojeks don’t have many opportunities to go very fast because the streets are so crowded. In Permuteran, Bali, they could go faster, and most people in the northwestern corner of Bali weren’t wearing helmets. Even teenagers riding to school. I felt more unsafe around ojeks in Bali than I did in Jakarta.

Ojek Bali two girls Indonesia Oct 2015

It’s pretty easy to avoid being a ojek victim. Make sure you look right and then left when crossing, and in general, don’t try to get out of their way. They’re used to the traffic and will avoid you much more easily than you can avoid them.

Ojek Bali woman in hijab Oct 2015

I rode an ojek briefly in Bali and didn’t much like it, but my purse made me feel off-balance. I think I’d like to get a motorcycle license so I could go back to Jakarta and hire an ojek and go in between cars every which way.

Ojek in front of black vans Indonesia Oct 2015

There’s a company in Indonesia called Gojek, which delivers anything via ojek: food, flowers, dry goods, housecleaners, massage therapists … what a great idea. You can recognize the drivers by the green helmets worn by their passengers. Here’s one checking the delivery address.

Gojek Jakarta Indonesia Oct 2015

I tried to think of a good metaphor for ojeks. They’re the red blood cells in Indonesia’s circulatory system, carrying oxygen down the traffic arteries clogged with vehicle-plaque (clunky). They’re the oxygen (nonsensical). They don’t really have an equivalent in western countries.

Ojek man with greens oct 2015

They simply are, and everyone wants one, except the people who can afford cars. Especially the people who want to sell food from the back of their cars.

Kemang Raya with Skull Truck Jakarta Oct 2015

And the people who are truly old school.

Bali traditional man walking Oct 2015