If China had wheels, it would likely be a bajaj.
But what IS a bajaj? First of all, it’s pronounced bah-JAI in Indonesia, though it’s bah-jaj in its native India. The company founder’s surname is Bajaj, so instead of giving into peer pressure and calling the three-wheeled eyesore a tuk-tuk, Jakarta moves to the beat of a more eponymous drum. If a tuk-tuk is more your style, hop on a plane to Bangkok, another of the 5,000 Venices of the East.
Pollution. THAT’s a bajaj. Not that the original 1975 beasts are still plying the exhaust-choked streets, but your lungs will shed tears while you try to hail one on the curb. The orange ones that you see still mainly use petrol/gasoline, but the newer-looking blue bajaj run on the less destructive CNG (compressed natural gas). Also, if you couldn’t tell by the picture, when it rains, you get wet. When your sopir (driver…or chauffeur) is smoking, you’ll be inhaling. If you still have a spine (in the literal sense), you won’t after riding in a bajaj. Last, but not least, while he’s burning rubber, the kretek smoke, multicolored carcinogens and durian scents trickle back to him and you, the windowless passenger. Hmm, must be why a synonymous term for this method of public transit is AC alam (ah-CHEY), or nature’s air conditioner. Note: They aren’t permitted to go on certain major roads, and are supposed to stick to specific regions of the city, so your dreams of taking one from Jakarta to Bali are dashed.
With all of those perks, you’d think that traveling by bajaj would be free. I’ll tell you what. They don’t have a meter, and there are a lot of zeros in rupiah, the Indonesian currency, so you’ll either need a lot of hands or a hint of common sense. Or learn a few numbers here and there. OR, are you ready for this, locate the only bule (Caucasian foreigner) driver:
Sure, I could’ve reduced the contrast slightly more, but it sets the appropriate tone. I wanted to test it out, but only after getting a clearer idea of the city’s geography (ie, where the fuzz aren’t hanging around). After an exacting walk around the Olimo neighborhood, I found a biker who promised to help me find a bajaj to try out ONLY if I bought him two boxes of baby formula. Sounds like a normal trade in the world of Jonathan.
Here’s one guess as to how it went: do you walk at a 45° angle? The seat back is metal. Quit complaining? OK. If you can ride a motorcycle, this will be cake. Furthermore, if you are an expat fluent at bribery, you would have no problem controlling a bajaj throughout Jakarta. In other words, the actual driver, the guy standing on the right, wasn’t too keen on letting me have at it.
Have you been in a bajaj before? Were you in the front or the back?