A man drives an odong-odong amusement ride on Jl. Angkasa in Central Jakarta. The kids pay for Rp. 1,000 (10 US cents) a ride. (JP/R. Berto Wedhatama)
Green, green, everywhere, but no parks to play in.
The office buildings, mansions and golf courses of the capital offer plenty of shady gardens and green expanses to those who can access them.
Children like 3-year-old Muhammad Hafiz, however, live in dusty, trash-strew alleys with no trees or grass.
Even if there are decent parks like Situ Lembang public park in Central Jakarta, his mother is too busy watching over her tiny shop in their house in the Kali Pasir slum to take him there.
Instead of playing on slides or swings or in a sandbox, little Hafiz runs up and down narrow concrete alleys near the drought-dried river that gives his neighborhood its name.
But at a certain hour every morning, Hafiz can be a knight on a galloping steed or a pilot flying a colorful plane onboard the bicycle-driven ride, an odong-odong, a mini-amusement park in itself.
Once the boy’s mother, Yanti, 41, sits her son on one of the four wooden toys installed on a cart pulled by a bicycle, the driver will turn on a recording of nursery songs or popular love hits to entertain his loyal customer.
Yanti says that Hafiz sometimes refuses to get off the ride. “But that’s okay, because the man charges us only Rp 5,000 [52 US cents] for an hour. I feel relieved too, as I can then focus on my shop,” she said.
The driver, Asep, 52, says that making the slum kids happy is his pleasure. He loves children, he says.
“I feel like I’m being helpful to the children and the mothers. When the children are playing, the mothers can feed them easily,” Asep, a resident of Manggarai, South Jakarta, said.
Asep, once a knickknack vendor, said he became an odong-odong driver when the ride business was booming back in 2008.
He explained the idea for such rides emerged after the city government cracked down hard on the use of the becak, a three-wheel pedicab, in urban areas, which the Jakarta administration had been trying to phase out since the mid-1980s.
Rather than having their pedicab smashed to pieces or thrown into the sea, a group of becak drivers revamped their pedicabs into amusing rides with wooden animals or vehicles on them in an attempt to imitate a carousel.
Those days, Asep could earn Rp 300,000 on a daily basis.
“But business has not gone well lately,” Asep said.
These past two years, he has only been able to make around Rp 100,000 a day. “Too many competitors,” he said. The business was too lucrative, and that drew many people to try to profit from it.
“Moreover, people have gotten bored with the odong-odong that moves only up-and-down or back-and-forth,” he said.
Asep has opted to stick to his outmoded odong-odong, saying that it is enough to keep him alive, now that his children have grown up and make a living on their own. He said, however, that some of his competitors have altered their odong-odong into more sophisticated rides to buck the trend and survive.
Some even ditched their bicycles and use motorcycles instead, while some installed a mini ferris wheel, and still others have made train-like odong-odong that ferry the kids around their neighborhoods.
Some odong-odong drivers have gone even further by offering tour packages to Situ Lembang park near Kali Pasir, to the National Monument, or to other public parks with playgrounds around Jakarta.
Hafiz’s Mother Yanti says the odong-odong that carry children to the parks are her neighbors’ favorites.
“I rarely take Hafiz riding on them because I have to watch over my store, but my neighbors usually wait by the end of the alley for them to come in the afternoon,” she said.
Kusnaenah, 40, and her son Syahrir Syawal, 5, also Kali Pasir slum residents, take advantage of this service.
The two board an odong-odong, usually one in the shape of a train, every afternoon to enjoy the breeze and the shade of Situ Lembang park along with 15 other passengers.
Syahrir usually rushes to the swings and plays there for an hour, or watches people fishing in the pond at the center of the park, which is in the wealthy residential area of Menteng.
Kusnaenah, who has to pay Rp 5,000 for her and Rp 3,000 for her son to enjoy such a trip, said that she went to the park every day to stop her son from crying.
“He threatens me every day that he won’t go to school the next day if he doesn’t get to ride the odong-odong. But I do love going to the park with him, it’s nice to be here,” Kusnaenah said while sitting under a tree, watching her son playing on a swing.
After a year of having such a routine, Syahrir is yet to get bored with it.
“I love watching cars on the way, my papa might be driving one of them,” Syahrir, who is the son of a chauffeur, said. “And I love playing on the swings.” (aml)