Rising Tide

Merdeka Cross is a small Indonesia in the most modern sense. Just like what you will get from the teaching about nationhood of the nation, of which the military men are the most passionate learners and teachers and defenders and enforcers, the huge cross is peopled by people with various backgrounds: Javanese, Manado, Batak, Sundanese, Bali, Ambon – you can name the entire Malayo-nations of the Nusantara Archipelago and they will have at least a representative here. Very diverse though they are, these people share some common things – many things, actually, but the most prominent is the hardship the people have to endure, like the Christian yoke for Everyman.

It is indeed Indonesian in the most modern sense from whatever point of view you are happened to take. From economic perspective, the diligent hawkers, masters of pickpocket, unemployed youngsters who never have a chance for any employment ever since they graduated from high school, tukang ojek, and other almost-pariah people, are all necessary power horse that move the real economy. Any sensible professor of economy who has not yet out of his mind will definitely told you that these people are free of financial crisis caused by greedy speculations at the wealthy BEJ – the very source of endless unrest and nightmares of the country’s businessmen, politicians, bureaucrats, the government and the theatrical parliament. The people of this cross are being scolded for their negative contribution in social life and traffic of the capital but they are defended with the clearest scientific reasoning by economic experts.

And by politicians and adventurers who believe that winning this class of the masses is the inevitable key to win the election. The numbers of people who live lower-than-the-poverty-index just like the people of this cross are so huge, and these people are all legal citizens, each with a legal vote. You impress them and you get their votes and you get your shares of power. That is why the ruling party and the oppositions have a kind of uniformed slogan – all are meant to convince such huge votes to vote for a given party in the next election.

You really can see Indonesia by seeing Merdeka Cross. And the representation is the most updated one. When imagining this huge cross of the Indonesian capital, people used to expect packed old-shaped Mercedes buses, dokar, becak, bicycles, and a few automobiles. There were not too many engines back then. But now it is much livelier. Modern buses with modern facilities like air conditioning and toilet, army of small city transportation that people call Angkot, luxurious private cars, heavy-load trucks, old buses, old cars, produce the thundering sounds from morning to night.

And you should not forget the motorcycles. There are millions of motorcycles in Jakarta today. Ninety nine percent of those motorcycles bear Japanese names like Honda, Yamaha, and Shogun. No, it is not millions: they are as much as the stars in the sky – you can’t actually count them. These two-wheeled engines swarm the city from morning to night, too. And almost all of the riders of this army of motorcycles are racers. That is why traffic hit is so common in Jakarta, although it does not prevent people from crowding around whenever an unlucky racer hits or gets hit – unintentionally and sometimes intentionally – by a truck, a bus, an Angkot, a taxi, a private car, or another fellow-rider.

You can catch a valuable glimpse of Indonesia by watching the life at Merdeka Cross – and it does not resemble what the government said at all.

Ramli sat behind his cigarette counter, just like he does everyday, contemplating the traffic. It was the turn for the western side of the cross now. Motorcycles fled past Angkot, taxis, buses, trucks and private cars. A policeman, ready to hunt down any traffic law violator, parked too close to the traffic lamp post. Although his massive motorcycle was well-hidden behind the bushes, the front tire of the vehicle jutted too far that racers from the west saw that and took relevant precautions.

The thunder of the traffic was so loud but it was not a problem for Ramli. Actually, Ramli has no problem with anything at all now. After younger years full of fights and sweats and dreams and hopes and disappointments, he has accepted his place behind this cigarette counter. Every morning he sets the counter under the big, lush tree which for years has been his hermit-cave and his store, and in the evening he undone the counter, locked and chained it to the tree. Playing his role as a cigarette seller was now a second nature for him. What perplexed him now was of different nature. He had heard the rumors of another operation coming. He never liked the operation. It was a stately matter performed to get things on the streets better but actually done more harms the people living on Merdeka Cross.

Ramli did not like the waiting period. The messenger from the Head of the Satpol PP or City Police said gawkers and stalls owners can be active again a week after the operation. The period was enough to let the hotness of the news calmed down and the media to forget it. Ramli did not like waiting because during that period he would get nothing while those City Police groups and the sub-district officials got the fame, exposure in TV and newspapers, criticism but overall they only strengthened their positions with those impacts. But he had to participate in that big theater otherwise he would lost his living or his head. (To be continued)

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