I grew up around cars. I’m a not a motorbike man. I don’t really like them and I consider them quite dangerous. That said, it’s very hard to live without a small scooter in South East Asia. When I arrived in Bali a few months ago, I’d only driven scooters a handful of times and always on quiet deserted roads. I wanted to get more confident driving scooters whilst I was here.
As soon as we got our villa sorted out, I headed down to a rental shack and negotiated a deal on an automatic scooter.
I’d say it took me about two weeks of regular driving before I stopped having to concentrate hard and I began to use muscle memory.
Taking passengers on the back seat was more challenging but with some slight adaptations to my style, this has become second nature now too.
After 6 months I’m pretty comfortable on most roads but I still find Indonesian road users somewhat unpredictable.
When in Rome
Indonesia isn’t like the UK. There are huge cultural differences. Many of these differences are subtle and the limited interactions one might have with local people as a backpacker may mean that these differences go relatively unnoticed. Take to the roads on a scooter however and the cultural divide quickly becomes apparent.
I’m a firm believer of the old adage “When in Rome.”
I’ve tried very hard not be judgemental of Indonesian driving culture and go with the flow as much as possible, but I’ve found it tough at times.
To the credit of the Indonesian people, they are very calm road users. They seem to share a common understanding with other Indonesians and they never get angry or upset.
As a foreigner I don’t have the benefit of that understanding, moreover I’m not used to looking at the rules of driving as flexible things. In the UK, stop means stop, no exceptions.
The Two Commandments
Here on the Indonesian roads the two guiding principles from which all understanding seems to radiate are these:
- Always do the most convenient thing for yourself, even if it’s dangerous or counterintuitive.
- Right of way belongs to the person that gets there first.
This may seem bizarre and ultimately it is, but in practice, right now, it seems to keep the traffic flowing.
On the few occasions I’ve tried to be unselfish on the road or stop due to not having the right of way, I’ve only succeeded in causing an awkward or dangerous situation.
Now I drive with total disregard for others.
It’s what everyone is expecting, so it simply works.
Near Death Experiences
The only facet remaining that still drives me bonkers in Bali is the fact that local people seem OK with endangering each other’s lives on the roads.
Where I’m from, not endangering others is the most basic principle. Break it, and you’d better be prepared to be arrested or get dragged in to a violent altercation, especially if there are children in the vehicle.
Here in Bali, when someone almost kills me, I’m expected just to smile and drive on.
I find this hugely annoying and a little conflicting. Part of me wants to play the laid back tourist but another part of me is saying “if I don’t scream at this person, he/she will never realise how dangerous their actions were.”
Yelling at a person that doesn’t speak English would be pointless of course. Instead I scream at my wife or in my own head.
I’m not sure I’ll ever be OK with this but I’ve found that by driving extremely defensively I can mitigate the number of life threatening incidents to just a couple each month.
I know the road safety situation is like this in many developing countries. I understand the necessity of how it has come to be. The way everyone just gets on with it and it all just works is amazing. I love the fact that people stay calm and there is no road rage but, that said,
…the horrible safety stats speak for themselves.
Sooner or later Indonesia will have to invent some serious road rules and enforce them if they want to save lives.
For the most part I’m happy driving my little automatic scooter with Nav on the back. I keep the speed down on all but the biggest roads and I try to lead by example. If even one Indonesian sees me driving the correct way around a roundabout or stopping at a stop sign then perhaps they may try to emulate me and I will have done my bit to improve road safety.
If I return to the UK, I may well buy a scooter. They are an awesome way to get around your local area cheaply. I’d also like to learn how to drive some manual bikes. That one is on the To-Do list for 2018.
Drive safely everyone!