Aside from the folks at the Freedom Institute and security guards at our apartment complex, the only people who we regularly talk to here are cab drivers. For some reason, probably like in New York, cab drivers here are either very surly or very friendly. There seems to be little in between.
Yesterday we were in a taxi at the exact time that the call to end the day’s fast started. (We could tell because our cabbie was listening to a Muslim station on the radio.) The cabbie turned around, smiled, and took a big swig from a bottle of tea he had with him. Then he spit it out the door. Then he took another sip and drank it. (People in general here, when stuck in traffic, have no problem opening the door and clearing their throat and hocking loogies. Maybe it’s the smog and the cigarettes.)
An interesting observation is that without fail, the Christian cabbies want to talk to us. Always. And they go on and on about how radical Muslims are such a problem. Now, we, on the other hand, try to be a little more evenhanded. While we would never point out the Protestant violence against Muslims in central Sulawesi, we do say that it’s such a small percentage of Indonesia that is actually radical. They eventually agree with us, but seem a bit disappointed that they don’t have a sympathetic ear to whine to. They also tend to talk to us for a couple of minutes before letting us know that they are Christian, so we are extra-sensitive and extra-careful to be politically correct.
The Muslim cabbies, on the other hand, sometimes talk to us and sometimes don’t. Among those twho do talk, they all like to ask about Pak George Bush, but oftentimes I (TP) am the one who brings it up. They are also sometimes interested in how Americans feel about Indonesia, but alas, we tell them that most Americans don’t think of anything about Indonesia. Sometimes they ask us if we are scared of Indonesia, especially since the Australian embassy bombing a month ago. We reply that we are not, and are particularly saddened by the fact that it’s only Indonesians who actually perish in these attacks, excluding the Bali bombing. They like this. They, like the Christian cabbies, tell us that Muslim radicals are bad for Indonesia, and that Indonesia needs good government and free education for kids. We agree.
NB: This is all contingent on us actually understanding them. Cabbies in Jakarta are seldom actually from Jakarta, but rather come as itinerant workers from the outer provinces, which means that their Bahasa Indonesia is heavily accented and peppered with loanwords from Minang, Javanese, Menadonese, and/or Jakarta street slang.