Pak Ogah – Unofficial Traffic Directors

Macet or Traffic

There are guys who direct traffic in Indonesia but are not officially employed to do so.  One of my teachers told me that they are called Pak Ogah which literally means “Mr Unwilling”, or someone who doesn’t really want to work.  

The first time I saw a Pak Ogah I was with my friend in Jogja on the way to karaoke.  As he drove skillfully like only an Indonesian can through the afternoon chaos also known as traffic, Andreas gave him a cepek, an old fashioned Chinese Indonesian way of saying ‘coin’.  Only then did I realise that the guy was directing traffic – for tips. The realisation that someone is working just for tips was another jarring revelation about a society that has no welfare, no Centrelink, a society where people do what they can just to get by.  It’s pretty ironic though, calling someone who works for tips to get by, Mr Unwilling.  To me if they are willing to get up and do something like that, I think they are pretty willing.  It’s not like they are just begging, they are doing something for their money, right? Restoring order to the chaos that is called macet (traffic) in Indonesia.

I asked Andreas, wouldn’t it be better if he wasn’t there, isn’t he making it all worse by blocking up the road?  Andreas smiled at me but didn’t say much, perhaps it was my uncharitable western attitude.  Often I blurt out what’s on my mind, rather than thinking things through before I say them.

Not a Pak Ogah, but someone working as a clown for tips, all in among the traffic

Indonesia has so many layers and I ignorantly always assume people are working for wages but then I find out they are working unofficially for whatever money they can make that day.  In fact, in Indonesian the translation for ‘making money’ is mencari uang.  Mencari means ‘looking for’ and uang is ‘money’.  But if you put mencari uang into any translation app, the English is always translated as ‘making money’.  Nevertheless, its more literal, as they really are ‘looking for money’ if they are working for tips.  Apparently sometimes the polisi actually pay some of the Pak Ogahs that do a good job, due to the shortage of traffic directors and the overwhelming traffic in Indonesia. More about that here.  

There is an Indonesian boneka or puppet show called Si Unyil.  One of the main characters is a Pak Ogah, also named so in the show.  Si Unyil is very retro now, very jaman dulu.  Being from a bygone era myself, I am a fan of all things jaman dulu.  Si Unyil is for kids and based on morals, it’s pretty simple Indonesian, so great for some viewing practise, not to mention the cute music and characters.  There is a modern version of Si Unyil on Youtube called Laptop Si Unyul if you prefer.  

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