by Linda Hoffman
Sooner or later every visitor to Jogja must face the seemingly insurmountable dilemma: crossing a busy street full of speeding cars, darting motorcycles and fume-spitting buses. Jalan Malioboro, home to the most popular shopping area in town, poses an especially daunting challenge. Here are a few insider tips to help you expand your horizons safely.
The easiest way to begin your foray to the opposite side of a Jogja street is to wait for a group of locals to come along who have the same goal in mind that you do. They already know the ropes, so you simply tuck in behind one of them (the more the merrier!) and shuffle or sprint when they do. Voila, you’re there!
With one successful crossing under your belt, venturing out alone begins to seem possible. Think of it like the children’s game “jump rope” where two of your team members control the rope’s motions. Before jumping into the rotating rope you study its rhythm, and it’s the same with Jogja traffic. As in any country, patiently studying the movement of the oncoming traffic before stepping off the curb is a good idea. But in Jogja, there are a couple of other tricks little known to outsiders that will speed you merrily on your way.
Begin with establishing eye contact with a driver. The first time you try this technique, you’ll quickly see that Jogja drivers have had far more practice at it than you have. Suddenly you’re invisible and you fear that no one will ever look you in the eye. But eventually someone will and you’re part way there. Establishing eye contact means the driver knows you exist, and no polite Jogjanese would run down someone who exists. Instead, he will usually react by slowing down a bit. You’re in!
Stepping off the curb while still maintaining eye contact with the polite driver, the next step is to motion with your hand outstretched in his direction. With your palm facing the road, a simple upward and downward flick of the wrist signals that you’re on the move and that if he doesn’t pause long enough to let you pass he’ll have an awfully big mess to clean off his front bumper. You might want to observe local street-crossers do this first to convince yourself that it actually works. No matter how panicked you feel, a smile and a nod in the driver’s direction as you pass in front of his vehicle might encourage him to extend the same kindness to the next pedestrian he encounters.
All busy one-way thoroughfares in Jogja have multiple lanes of traffic heading in the same direction and the two-way streets have a second set of lanes going the opposite way. Thus, getting across one lane is only the beginning. When you’re three-quarters the way past the first car, it’s time to start anticipating the next onslaught of vehicles. Now you’ll see why studying the movement of the traffic as suggested in Step One is so important. First, even with your heart pounding desperately in your chest, you’ll know in which direction to look for the next wave of cars. And second, hopefully you’ve timed your crossing so there will be a lull in the traffic in the next lane. Repeat the procedure above even though motorcycles are clipping your knees and backside as you stand helplessly in the middle of the road: Establish eye contact, flick the wrist, smile, nod and proceed to the next lane. Continue this method until you have arrived intact on the other side. Once there, congratulate yourself for successfully navigating Jogja traffic like a pro!