JAKARTA - I have had it with being stuck in the back of a taxi going nowhere fast, and ojek (motorcycle taxi) drivers who speed about with seemingly little regard for either mine or their own safety.
So, I have taken matters into my own hands. I bought a bicycle. Yup. A "push-bike" that I have to manually move with the power of my legs.
Most people think I'm crazy. One guy at work even said that I was planning my own funeral. "Madness!" he cried. "What about the men who hang around at night? It's not safe for a woman to be cycling in the dark."
But, to be fair, most "things" seem to be dangerous. It has gotten to the point where I am afraid to talk about what I do in my free time because everything is unsafe. "You take taxis, alone?";"You walk to the shop?"; or "You eat with a knife?"
Now, I can't pretend that my decision to get back on the saddle was for any noble reason. No, my main motivation was, in a word, gorengan (deep fried snacks). Gosh, how I love those deep-fried patties of joy. So does my waistline, unfortunately, which happily collects each one and stores it somewhere near my now-AWOL midriff.
My love for gorengan wouldn't be a problem if it weren't for the fact that getting regular exercise in this city is all but impossible. People complain about the traffic, but the traffic is so terrible because no one walks!
And why does no one walk? Because Jakarta's sidewalks seem to have been designed by someone entering the later stages of dementia. There are over-road bridges that have steps either side of the road-but no bridge; there are sidewalks that dead-end, and there are so few crosswalks that motorists have no idea what the noise and blinking lights are telling them to do.
One afternoon I was taking a stroll around Gambir and was about to walk past the American Embassy, which I noticed had been barricaded off from the street. That's a good idea, I thought, as I clambered over it to make my way to the sidewalk; the barricade protects pedestrians from the crazy traffic careening down this busy thoroughfare.
Alas, I realised, as security guards ran toward me, waving their arms at me to turn back and their hands hovering over their firearms, I was obviously mistaken. This sidewalk was not made for the commoner. Nope, the hoi polloi would have to inch carefully along the road; this heavenly stretch of even, well-maintained sidewalk wasn't for them.
Add to this the unspoken truth that sidewalks in this city are not for pedestrians. No. They are for food stalls and parked motorbikes, what else?
So, I chose to mount my two-wheeled steed and pedal through the city. And yet, I wasn't quite prepared for the crazy traffic regulations. Forget blinkers, they mean nothing. Left-hand lane to turn left? Don't be silly, just turn from whatever lane you find yourself in; who cares if you have to cut across traffic.
The key weapon in any motorist's arsenal in Jakarta is the horn. I'm turning around "beep". Get out my way "beep beep". The lights have gone green "beeeeeeeeeeep". Needless to say, not having a horn on the roads of the Big Durian is like going to school without a cool backpack. You can get by alright, but no one is going to notice you.
Finally, riding a bicycle means navigating around what are probably the biggest potholes I have ever seen in my life. I live in constant fear of catching my wheel in one and falling into some abyss, never to return.
However, all things considered, I love cycling around Jakarta.
Yes, I have to wear two face guards to protect my lungs from the fumes. Yes, the sight of a female bule, red in the face as she fights to catch her breath at the traffic light, never fails to elicit giggles from the other motorists. And yes, the sorry state of the roads means that I often have to patch up a punctured tube.
But for all its negatives, there is nothing quite like cycling, where I ride slowly enough to take in all the things that normally zip past me on a motorbike. I am not restrained by one-way roads or jalan tikus, as I can pick up my bike, walk over bridges, or even drive down the small, winding side streets. And, at last, I am doing something, healthy, outside and on my own terms.