Traffic Love

by Ghani Kunto

Red and White: not just the colors of our flag

“There’s a difference between welfare and well-being,” a friend told me a few weeks ago.

“We spend our energy and our most precious resource: time, to increase our welfare.  We work hard to make enough money to support our aspirational lifestyle.  All that so we could better enjoy life.  All that so we could enjoy a state of well-being,” she continued.  “In other words, we increase our welfare in the hopes of increasing our well-being.”

“The irony is that in the process of increasing our welfare, we ruin whatever well-being we might already have.  Often times, we ruin our well-being so much, that whatever increase in welfare we experience, would never cover the well-being we’ve lost.”

“Take the traffic for example.  You wake up 6:30 in the morning everyday so you could work hard long enough, so you’d make enough money, so could buy a car and avoid the inconveniences of being cramped in Jakarta’s sweaty, rickety, unsafe public transport.  You can only afford to go home only after everyone else is almost asleep.  Never mind that you’d have to miss your child’s early developmental years.  You need that car.”

“Once you have enough money for a car, now you have to leave even earlier, 5:30am maybe, so you could avoid the rush hour.  And you have to work harder, because you know also have to pay for gas, insurance, extra taxes, and down the road, maybe for a therapist to help with your marriage and for your child who barely sees his father.”

“So, what’s the alternative?” I asked my friend.

Her silence held no answer.

Stuck in Style

Just a few hours ago, as I waded through Jakarta’s rush hour(s!), a Rolls Royce Phantom was stuck alongside my car.  The molasses-like movement of the traffic gave me plenty of opportunity to gawk at the beautiful rendition of a royal carriage, and to take in the situation.

“He’s stuck too, but he’s stuck in style,” I thought with a smile.

Were I the person in that car, I’d enjoy those moments of solitude in that luxurious rolling fortress.  I imagined him to be a person who’d be important enough to have many people vying for his time.  Being in Jakarta’s traffic is the perfect excuse for not having to handle unwanted disturbances that the outside world insist on imposing.

But maybe this is not true anymore, now that cellphones are ubiquitous.

In terms of privacy, cell phones = hell phones

And my hypothesis that traffic could be fun if I was in a comfortable and private enough ride held no truth if people who cared about me are waiting for my arrival.

Learning to Love Traffic

Another friend of mine said that he enjoyed Jakarta’s morning traffic.

On his way to work, he has to first drive his son to school, and he had to take his wife to her office.  He enjoyed those moments, because those are virtually the only moments he had to be with his family.

“The car becomes the breakfast table,” he said to me.

And perhaps that’s the key to keeping your sanity in Jakarta.  You’ve got to be a master at reframing situations.

“Stuck in traffic?” No, it’s “quality time with your family.”

Upset because “the number of street lanes are temporarily reduced?”  Don’t be, because those are “signs of development.”

etc

etc

Truthfully, while all that sounds good, there are times when I’m just too fatigued to exert extra cognitive energy to reframe my perception of my surroundings.

Solutions?

During rush hours, the speed of the Jakarta’s street is glacial, but the temperature is blistering.  Perhaps one day I’d move away from this metropolitan life.  Maybe I’ll live in KDF’s ecovillage.

But until then, in every traffic jam, I know I’d miss the things that’d make any suffering sufferable, the things that could change punishments to joy.  I know I’d always miss my wife and child.

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