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Down at the D.M.V

Not really at the DMV, but it sure felt like it.

After being here nearly a year, I finally got my Indonesian driver’s license. I’m afraid this blurb will not do the experience justice.  


From previous entries, you’ll recall that Jakarta is a city of 20 some million.  No one really knows.  And, while back in the states, DMV offices are branched out into the city, in Jakarta, there is one. Yes, just one office serves the entire population.


This city adds 1200 new vehicles per day. If just half of the 20 million people have or want a license and they need it renewed every 5 years and there are 220 working days in a year, that makes about 9000 people needing a license each day.  And, since they all know it will take a while, they all show up as early as possible. When one shows up at 9:30, you can imagine the line that has already formed.


The DMV here is not really a building, but rather a campus dedicated to the provision of driving documents.  It is massive and surreal. Large, tall concrete semi open structures seemingly built to hold heat.  The ceiling fans are distantly placed so as to be totally unhelpful. Rows and rows of hard plastic benches.  A fake, random and non-native maple tree with orange plastic leaves sits in the corner.  


Everywhere you look there are lines for various tasks required to get your license.  Getting a form line. Turning in a form line.  Eye test line. Pay your money line  Photo and fingerprint line.  Receive your license line.


Rows of holed windows line walls.  At intervals, official voices bark out names, volume unassisted. The sound trailing off into the space and the background noise. No one hears anything  An odd 8-bit chorded sound track is on auto repeat and plucks at the last nerve anyone has left.


There is one room labelled “Simulator room.”  Apparently this is a splendid boondoggle.  A former government official received a large kickback for allowing a contract of driving simulators that promised to allow everyone to take their driving tests without having to venture out into the the Jakarta traffic that they rode in on.  Alas, the software and technology were so glitchy that they are unusable and thus collect dust.


And, as always, all sorts of enterprises have sprung up around it it try and make some money.  ATMs offer a ready supply of cash to help grease the wheels of bureaucracy. There are photo copy booths. Food vendors line the streets selling food while you wait.  Hawkers even sell pencils that you’ll need to fill out forms.


The Indonesian government won’t allow open necked photos or t-shirts or photos of women with bare shoulders or, curiously, people wearing flip flops, though they only take a head shot. The result is a massive cavern of damp people and wallets full of the wilted photos.


I know many Indonesians can spend a day here just getting something done.  My pembantu, spent the better part of a day only to find she’d been in the wrong line and so had to go back the following day to finish up.

Fortunately, we had a facilitator.  Many expat companies hire these people to walk their employees through the process.  They handle the paperwork and know how to get things done.  Our guy worked for the embassy and seemed to know everyone.  We only had to wait in one spot for very long.  We were in and out in an expedient three and half hours!

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