Friday, September 17, 2010

Becak Becak Becak!

Ah the of the characteristic sites of Jogjakarta. A becak (bay-chak) is a common form of transportation here. Becaks are a type of pedicab(1); that is, the driver propels the vehicle with his own power, in this case his feet. Other types of pedicabs include trishaws and bicycle rickshaws. You may have seen one of these vehicles rolling around Waikiki or Ala Moana.

It's simple to ride a becak in Jogja. In most cases, you don't even have to look for one, because they will find you. Tell the becak driver where you want to go and he will quote a price. Make sure you have your bargaining shoes on, because the first price is never the final price. Sometimes the final price is less than half the first price quoted by the driver. If it's raining though you can expect to pay a little more. And it's more expensive to go uphill than downhill! But for most people the becak represents an affordable and efficient way to get around.(2)

Riding a becak is great fun and an excellent way to see the city. It's also a good way to pick up some bits and pieces of Javanese, the local language that is spoken by many people in this city. But this form of transportation is not without problems, both for the operator and the city at large. Becak drivers don't make very much money. The average day's wage for a becak driver is around 30,000 rupiah (the unit of money in Indonesia). While this may sound like a lot, think about it this way: there are approximately 9,000 rupiah in one US dollar. Can you figure out how much the becak driver earns in a day in dollars? Can you imagine trying to live on this much money every day?

Another problem is crowding. There are an estimated 6,500 becaks operating with permits in Jogja alone, with perhaps another 1,000 without permits. Becak drivers are often criticized for blocking traffic. Indeed the use the same streets as cars and motorcycles, and on narrow roads they can slow things up quite a bit. There have been proposals to limit the number of becaks on the road as well as the hours of operation. Some have suggested banning becaks from some areas or even eliminating all of the becaks. In fact, Indonesia's capital city (can you remember what the capital of Indonesia is?) banned becaks years ago to improve traffic.

1. ped- words usually refer to the feet (latin roots) or children (greek roots)...what do the following words have to do with feet or children?
a. pedestrian
b. pedicure
c. pediatrician
d. pedal
--Can you think of some other examples?

2. In addition to being affordable and efficient, can you think of some other benefits becaks provide?

Check out the National Geographic video I included from Youtube. What do you think?,20100610-254271,id.html

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