Donna Summer’s song never fails to sweep through her mind every single time she sees the sun-roasted man cycling along the road, his wrapped vegetables swinging like pendulums from the trellis that somehow manages to say clipped on to the front of his bike. Market on wheels! It sure beats walking all the way down to SuperIndo. At other times, it could be the plastic ware vendor pushing his trolley of goods at early evening or the young children who intrepidly hang on from the angkot by hooking their shoulders onto the ceiling of the entrance while strumming their ukulele and singing off key. She would then remember – without fail – the shriveled and fatigued clown entertaining the children at a colleague’s daughter’s first birthday party. His costume was filthy and his face lined with weariness. But – applause, applause – he soldiered on in making the children laugh.
Even the motorcycle has become a source of income for most people. In Bekasi alone, a multitude of ojek riders continuously jostle for passengers alighting from the angkot. Forget about the helmet! Hold on for dear life or make like the Flying Wallendas as he meanders through the rush-hour traffic.
She recalls a friend’s adventure (or misadventure?) with the ojek.
“My knee was almost touching the door of the vehicle on my right!” he narrated in horror. “And I was getting dizzy with the way he was darting in and out of traffic.”
In a country where the value of the currency fluctuates between Rupiah6, 720-6730 to S$1| Rupiah9, 360 to US$1, every idea is seemingly exhausted in trying to make ends meet even though the takings are meager. Pillion riders are good money if you’re lucky to get a lot of them in a one day, given the stiff competition. Aside from the other ojek drivers, there are also the angkot drivers who charge much cheaper fares. An angkot ride starts at Rupiah2, 000-2,500 to almost any destination in the area while it’s Rupiah7, 000 per pillion rider.
She thought she had seen it all when it came to eking out a living, but she was mistaken. It was during an afternoon trip to Jakarta when she spotted them from the SUV she was in. They – men and women – were standing almost near the middle of the road. Each one had a hand raised in the air. Were they flagging down the bus? But there were no buses in sight. A Bluebird taxi perhaps? Apparently not, as several cabs whizzed past them.
“Pak, what are these people doing? Why are they on the road?” she asks.
“They’re riders for hire Ms,” he answers.
“Riders for hire?”
“Yes, Ms. They’re called jockeys. In Jakarta, from 4pm to 7pm, vehicles must have at least three passengers inside. You can hire them at Rupiah10, 000 to ride with you so you don’t get pulled over by the police,” explains Pak Rudy.
“Ang hirap talagang kumita ng pera ngayon*,” was the thought that suddenly zipped through her mind, eclipsing Donna Summer’s song.
*Translated from Filipino: It’s hard to earn money these days.