JAKARTA’S PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION may be something that can boil your blood with those poor facilities, infrastructure, management and so on. But there is something it offers: the juicy interaction between passengers.
A couple of days ago, on a public bus, I saw a rare competition among three parties: a street singer, a teenager and a couple of lovebirds. It was a pretty annoying fight but still, I couldn’t help but watch. There was too much to miss.
The air-conditioned bus I was in was heavily crowded. All seats were taken and about 10 people were already standing in the aisle. I was quite lucky to find myself a nice spot in the last row where I didn’t need to hold on to the bar. I just leaned against the seat.
Some minutes after I got on the bus, the competition began.
I think the street singer started it first. Standing in the middle row, with her crappy voice, she had been singing some songs from Ebiet G. Ade, a famous Indonesian balladeer. No matter how tortured the voice she produced (I guess she had an ability to not listen to her own voice), she kept singing off-key for near half an hour.
Heavily congested traffic combined with off-key ballad? Just not a perfect match.
So the lovebirds reacted smartly — or so they thought. First, the boy took his mobile phone out. He touched the keypad several times, then BAM, music came out, a song by Ungu.
Next to him, the girl looked happy. So happy that they started cuddling, which made for double the entertainment — a more familiar pop song and … a foreplay show for free.
But I was wrong for having thought the situation was better.
Behind the lovebirds, in front of me, a teenager was sitting with his earphones on. Maybe feeling annoyed at the lovebirds, he raised his MP3 player volume up until I could hear the sound coming out from his ears. From the rhyme and the way he nodded his head along with the beat, I guessed it was hip-hop. Or not.
Now everybody was confused. Which music would we listen to? Crappy ballad, loud pop or vague hip-hop? We could not listen to all three of them simultaneously as we are only human and have a limited hearing capacity.
And to make it worse, all sources of sound didn’t seem likely to back down soon. Maybe they thought their taste in music was universal, and that we, the rest of passengers, would like anything they “played for us for free”? I have no idea.
Indeed, at this point I began to question the common saying that music is a universal language. It’s not.
I remember a friend of mine who told me recently that every morning she started her day by putting on jazz in her apartment.
“I do it because I can’t stand my neighbor who’s been playing dangdut so loudly in the morning that I get a headache,” she said.
Another friend of mine told me she bought a karaoke set only to go into competition with her neighbor who had been singing karaoke without realizing that a microphone is supposed to amplify human voice so there is really no need to scream-sing.
Unfortunately my friend didn’t succeed in her revenge. She mistakenly bought a karaoke set that couldn’t be made to go loud enough to compete and I haven’t heard any update about the neighbor’s love-hate relationship since.
But again, is music really a universal language? If it is, then why do some of us get annoyed listening to some stranger’s taste in music? Is it really only because of the volume?
If music is not a universal language, then why do some us find it “compulsory” to share the music we like by playing or singing it out loud and not considering that Jakarta is a very dense city where people can bump easily against each other?
Back to the bus again, the street singer finished singing. Collecting the money from the passengers, she finally reached the back row to meet her competitors — who were still playing songs from their gadgets.
The street singer, as if to offer a cease-fire, asked the lovebirds where they bought the mobile phone. “The sound is nice. How much does it cost?”
The two didn’t reply. Instead, they just stopped the music. And so did the hip-hop teenager. He removed his earphones and spoke to the street singer.
“It’s quite costly. More than a million (rupiah).”
“Wow, that is expensive. I should save more money then,” she said.
I didn’t see the street singer get much money for her bad gig. But it was a pretty beautiful ending to the competition.
#The Jakarta Post’s “Out & About