Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Javanese Way

Java has one of the world's highest population densities (according to Wikipedia, if Java were an independent nation, it would be the eighth most densely populated nation in the world, at 863 people per square kilometer), so it's no wonder that Javanese culture values togetherness and cooperation. This means that doing things alone here is impossible, or, at the least, strange. If I sit in my room alone for too long, one of the maids knocks on my door to come hang out with me, or at the very least offer me strange desserts. If I want to exit or enter the house, one of the maids asks where I'm going, and one of the random boy servants opens the gate for me. If I walk around the city by myself (see previous post), at least 27 people ask me, in total shock, "kok sendirian?" or "why are you by yourself?" and offer me a ride.

This aspect of Javanese culture was brought home to me in painful force this morning. I wanted to go to a nearby bookstore, and I wanted to ride a becak. However, I didn't know how much was reasonable to pay for the distance I wanted to go, so I asked S., one of the maids. She didn't know, so she asked A., one of the drivers. A. told me a price (about fifty cents), and unlocked the gate for me. Since there was no becak waiting outside the gate, a rare occurance, A. and I waited for a few minutes. After no becaks approached, A. asked one of the random men sitting outside the door if they could find us a becak. (I don't know who these men are or what they do--at the very least, they're another byproduct of Java's overpopulation.) Random Man #1 called across the street to a group of becak drivers there. One young driver made motions as if he were going to bring his becak around, but then ended up shouting back across the street to some of the becak drivers sitting about a block down from the house. One old man then dragged his becak, against the flow of traffic, back to the house.

Let's take a look at that again. I asked S., S. asked A., A. asked Random Man #1, Random Man #1 asked Young Driver, and Young Driver asked Old Driver to come back and pick me up. It's like a giant game of Six Degrees from a Becak Driver.

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