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Elevator Usage in Indonesia

On of the most interesting places where you can encounter a different culture is on elevators. It seems that peoples' behavior on elevators varies from country to country, and Indonesia is no exception. Some people say how elevators are used is just an extension of how they walk or drive, which provides some insight on how people in a culture think en masse.

For many Indonesians who have come straight from villages to the big city of Jakarta, an elevator is a magical thing. When we first hired our maid to work in our apartment on the 10th floor, she asked that we go with her down the elevator the first couple of days. Each time she watched what we did, we got in and pushed “B” for the basement. When she arrived in the morning she came up with the satpam (the building guard). After the first two times, she told us that she figured out how to use it by herself, when she comes to work she pushes '10' and she pushes 'B' to go home. The concept of having to go to the 10th floor to work was not described.

Most city dwellers are quite adept elevator users, many are office workers and quite often you see couriers with their light leather jackets and parcels to deliver. Everywhere you go in Jakarta it's crowded, and so are the elevators as well as the lobby outside the elevator. As the crowd gathers to wait for the next car, they dutifully stand in front of the elevator, though many times it's not necessarily the next elevator (that's indicated by a light being lit up) nor would it be their correct elevator that's going to their floor (i.e., standing at the wrong elevator bank). People stand in random places in front of the elevator and often don't make room for people to pass nor get out of the way when someone obviously is running to get an elevator that's about to leave. One consistent behavior is people will stand together with their cohorts laughing and talking, often with their arms inter-linked so effectively it makes an impenetrable wall (this you see in malls, on the street, etc.). This makes 'catching' an elevator almost impossible unless you are standing right in front of it.

When an elevator does come, immediately the crowd pushes toward the elevator, the door opens, and inside another packed crowd pushes to get off. Instantly, those wanting to get on the elevator push their way into the car seemly without making way for those who want to get off. It's quite an interesting scene. Eventually, those who want to get off and those who want to get on do, most of the time. In some instances people may get trapped in the back of the car and have to go for another ride; this is normally due to the 'volunteer doorman'.

The volunteer doorman is inevitably someone who silently volunteers to man the 'close door' button. He or she rides the elevator with his order finger poised over the close door button. As soon as the elevator doors open and if no figure is standing right in front of the door to get on, the close door button is furiously pushed. This, of course, leaves those poor souls who wanted to get on, but were unfortunately standing in front of an other elevator door, little hope of catching the elevator.

Riding an elevator is an interesting experience for those who are new to Indonesia to watch as experienced by some of my expatriate friends. Several of us were waiting for an elevator to go down, unfortunately the elevator in our building is often bingung (confused) and even though a light on one elevator will go on to indicate it. s the next car, inevitably another car will come and the lights will switch to that car just as the doors open. This keeps you guessing which car will be next. The first time this happened, the light switched to another car, and one of our party bolted to the elevator. The rest of us looked surprised that this gentleman could run so fast, as it turns out, he has been here the longest of all of us (over 5 years) while the rest of us had only been here for a few weeks. He obviously was well trained in the art of elevator catching in Indonesia.

© Lisa Kumaradjaja