“Car Talk” with Seth, Part II

The first post I made about transportion was left as a cliffhanger, due to my completely accurate forecast that pinning down new wheels just-ain’t-easy offshore. If you are short of time, here’s the synopsis of this post in easily palatable metaphoric form: You might not have had the full expat experience without having owned/borrowed/madesignificantuseof at least one motorbike. Yes, that’s right and I’ll stand by that overgeneralization. The motorbike is to individual transport in Asia what baked beans are to the English breakfast: absolutely required, and kinda weird for Yankees.

I’d like to present to you, the Italian word for wasp: Vespa. These wasps are post WWII designed, with over 15 million sold over 50 years, little changed over that time which makes it close in total population and flavor to the number of the old VW Beetles sold worldwide. Right? Right. And they are just not seen in America outside of hobbyists/clubs. No one north of Mexico is really looking for baked beans for breakfast. So, here’s the deal: Scooters (cause that’s what North Americans call them) are absolutely ubiquitous here. It’s the families’ 5 seater SUV, source of livelihood, farming mule, point of pride, and you most certainly need to have one. I don’t care who you are, where you come from or how much money you have. It’s just the gold standard getting around SE Asia.

Countless motorbikes roam the streets, buzzing and beeping, crawling out of every crevice and forming a line. They are completely economical, get 60mpg and simple to own. There are roadside carts that sell fuel in small increments cause you don’t need more than a liter and can avoid the lines at real gas stations. You can get your ridiculously-small flat tire fixed on the sidewalk by a guy with a vice, torch and air-compressor. It’s just the only way to get around for about 85% of the population and the place is built on this approach. As an expat, you will come to rely on, and have some intimate knowledge of at least one motorbike. Motorbikes come in all flavors; Short, long, racing inspired, automatics, workhorses, even pink for the ladies. But in the late 70’s, a company called Danmark started a joint venture with Vespa to build them here.

And I got one.

1979 model, P150X, a real-deal classic Vespa with a two stroke (sounds like a giant pop-cork popper) engine. Honestly, I kinda like it. I like that it’s a relic, a real antique. I like that it is Italian and Indonesian at the same time. I like that I can get any part for it for under $10 that day, in town. I like that I had it rebuilt for me, with a fresh coat of paint, by a family friend and it helped him out. I like that while its been recently freshened, it’s still a bit broken enough that I need to do a bit to it to make it completely roadworthy. I like the way it looks, the stink of it’s oily exhaust, the late 70’s color “Old Blue” (directly translated from Indonesian “Biru Tua”).

Did I mention that we share the same birth year? So, ya… it’s not a hog, or a crotch rocket (a Ninja is still 250cc’s around here, but highly coveted as the big boy motorcycle) but it’s got all the right moves for me starting out here. OK, so it’s not safe. Well, not any more than any other bicycle… I can’t exactly get up to any real high speeds in it. I won’t be on any freeways, and not any of the bigger roads anyway. I’d argue that it’s actually safer than tooling around on my folding bike here on the small city streets. I can at least get out of the way of traffic.

It’s the answer I am looking for right now. I can finally stop waiting on the street corner for unreliable and unscrupulous scooter taxis. I finally have a toy to tinker with. I can get better at my Indo road manners and have the range to run my errands without sweating through my shirt directly after my morning shower.

So now, heres the rub you’ve been waiting for: I get to have a cop “fix” my Indo moto-license. No one has paid the annual taxes on it for the last 7 years, and I’m not subsidizing their delinquencies (yes, it aggregates). I am not going to tag, title, or register the thing, which has completely inaccurate plates and would cost me almost 60% of what I paid for it to get it up to date with the authorities. I just have to assume that keeping an extra 50k Rupiah in the glove box, just in case, is that insurance I need. That’s $5, my friends. And all this cost me was $250.

I already feel like an expat-status achievement has been unlocked, just by having it in my driveway.


4 thoughts on ““Car Talk” with Seth, Part II

  1. Great story! Love hearing these kinds of things- keeps us connected to you….. Hope all is well- been thinking about you. Love all 3 of you!!! Aunt Lisa

    • All of us are helmeted. I am the only rider currently, as I practice and gain more confidence and trust in the machine. The farthest I have gone is just to the mall and to get groceries. Still have a bit of mechanical work to complete, completely new front brakes went on today, gone through the front suspension and mounted new tires & tubes. Rear brakes tomorrow.

      Feels completely different then when we acquired it, and it’s starting to be more fun, overall. I kinda get the fun people have with these things, it is a little toy of a bike, but it brings joy. Cheap and cheerful.

      At some point, it will carry all of us short distances, hopping a couple of km to the mall and back. Ellie up front standing on the frame between my hands, Jennifer behind me. This will be only low speed trips, so don’t get worried.

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