Sunday, August 9, 2009

Why do Indonesians drive on the left?

It sounds like a stupid question to ask if you live in Europe every day. Having lived in China, US, driving on the right side of the road is the normal thing to do for me. Until one day Mr. Aawaraa mentioned that when he first came to US, he would easily bumped into other person since he was used to walking on the left. Mrs. Aawaraa thus realized that there were quite some countries driving on the left. This became real experience when later visiting India, it was really very easy to walk on the wrong side of the road. Another visit to UK was also similar, cars running on the left side of the street is the first thing to remind you that you are in a different country. For me, another connection was also established: India is British colony, and that is why they both drive on the left.

This connection however troubled me a lot in my recent visit to Indonesia: Why do Indonesians drive on the left side of the road? I couldn't understand, because, because Dutch drives on the right! Indonesia was Dutch colony, but how come they do not follow the Dutch rule?

What makes this even more troubling is, nobody knows the answer. I kept asking everyone around, including some university professors, master students, nobody has any idea... I just can't understand, why do Indians follow their colonizer, while the Indonesians do not. That doesn't make sense to me, not at all.

Then I have to rely on my own research abilities, I have to do the research myself. A brief search connect me to this map, however, it doesn't answer my questions. It only give the history after 1858, and the Netherlands drove on the right, and Indonesia drive on the left since then.

My further findings are really interesting. In this website, it writes:
When the Dutch arrived in Indonesia in 1596, they brought along their habit of driving on the left. It wasn't until Napoleon conquered the Netherlands that the Dutch started driving on the right. Most of their colonies, however, remained on the left as did Indonesia and Suriname.

So, this is consistent with my previous connection: Indonesia did drive the same as their colonizer Dutch. What has changed is the Dutch rule. However, I couldn't find very reliable sources on the history of the change. It generally talking about it here,
The Netherlands drove on the left until Napoleon's time, but Dutch colonies (mostly) remained on the left as did Indonesia.

Reading more you will find, it is hard for a country to maintain left driving if your neighboring countries all drive on the right. The Netherlands being a small country in the middle of Germany and Belgium, even if it didn't change during Napoleon time, it would have to change later when most of the Europe drive on the right. Indonesia was able to stay on the left, is mostly because it is a country on islands. There are not much confusion of changing the side if you drive into a different country.

This may hold true also to India and UK. India has bordering countries, including Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan, all drive on the left till today. The Himalayas on the north minimizes the traffic almost to zero. UK sustains because of its being an island country. However, I heard that were complains about cars across the British tunnel can not be easily used in France. There might be one day this globalized world will move towards driving on one common side of the road.

The picture was taken in Dublin, Ireland in 2008. It was to remind pedestrians to look to the right for upcoming cars, definitely a sign for those people who come from the right side driving countries.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Biking along the canals - a weekend Dutch activity

Summer is leaving and it has been a long time not writing anything again here. Life in the Netherlands seem to have reached to a stage of balance and peace. I more and more value the weekend, after stressful working days. It is the time you really want to totally relax, not thinking of anything relating to the work.

We are here on this orange journey for two years. Another family who came together with us left back to US last week. In these past two years, we regularly get together and gossip on things we like or dislike about this country, mostly using US as the reference point. Now they are gone, sold their bikes here and plan to buy a car back there, a life style quite different, but will have to adapt to soon. It is a little sad feeling for us, kind of leaving alone . We do not seem to have somewhere that we really belong to, that is not so good feeling while you feel you are getting older.

As the last gathering to see them off, we planned to go to a bike ride together. They have a long to-do list before they leave and a short time left to do all of them. So we will together do one item on the list, a bike ride from Gouda to the west. The weather forecast showed that the weekend would have rain, however the Saturday rain lasted only during the early morning. So we decided to make the decision on Sunday morning, after checking the radar forecast. It turned out there were only sporadic rain clouds around, and there won't be rain longer than 10 minutes. So we decided to go. True, it rained several times during our bike ride, and each time no longer than 10 minutes.

The bike ride was along the canal, and we finally reached the town called Schoonhoven. When you are here for longer, you feel many places are similar. They look like each other, with similar buildings, but you can not describe each building well, they are together to form the image in your mind. Maybe that is the beauty of European towns and cities. I later found out this is a city famous for its silversmith.

Last weekend, we two again had a bike ride along the polders between Delft and Schiedam. My Dutch colleague heard this and commented: you two are real Dutch now. We both enjoy this kind of outdoor activity. It is also amazing to see, biking for leisure is not common among other social groups here. We were the only non-White, when we were sitting in a busy cafe along the canal in a quite Sunday afternoon.

The image is a painting of Gouda from here.