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17 December 2011 / leggypeggy

Salesmanship on the bus

Sellers compete for the aisle space on the bus.

There’s no chance of starving on public transport in Indonesia.

Trains and ferries are oversupplied with sellers of all sorts of meals and snacks—fried rice, peanuts, noodles in a cup (they happily add the hot water), hot drinks, cold drinks, nuts, bready things, biscuits.

They walk down the aisles carrying trays of goodies and calling out their wares in Bahasa. Prices aren’t as outrageous as they would be in an airport, and the choice seems endless. I was tempted to ask for something they didn’t have to see if they’d jump off the train at the next stop and get it for me—a service that would be harder to provide on a ferry.

The whole process is fairly orderly UNTIL you get on the Java to Bali bus–ferry combo. As soon as you board the bus in Ketapang in Java the onslaught begins. Seller after seller, musician after musician pile on the bus in the hopes of relieving you of some cash. The problem is, there is no room on the bus. There are five seats across, so there is a much narrower-than-normal aisle. Seats have been oversold so at least 10 passengers are standing in the aisle. Add a guitarist, peanut seller and the conductor, who all expect to work their way from front to back, or vice versa, and you have the makings of a new version of the ship stateroom scene from the Marx Brothers’ classic movie, A Night at the Opera. As an aside, you must see this movie. It’s hilarious.

Poor John wonders how he might get this guy off the bus. Note the red plastic chair in the background, being passed up for someone standing in the aisle.

In less than 10 minutes, we had two guitarists come through, strumming a few chords and expecting a donation of a couple of coins or a single cigarette. They aren’t hitting up the tourists—the bus is crammed with locals who cough up a surprising amount of generosity. Then came the food sellers, an orator, a paper seller (he’d have done some business with Poor John if only he’d had something in English) and the conductor passing plastic stools to the passengers who were standing (including the two of us).

These intrepid salespeople attempt to board from either entrance of the bus, creating a stalemate in the middle. Poor John managed to prevent just one from hopping aboard, but it was hardly worth the effort. I managed to snap a couple of pics of the aisle congestion, including a snap of two sellers passing from opposite directions and one of a rather surprised-looking Poor John who is wondering how he might put a stop to all this.

One Comment

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  1. Louise M Oliver / Dec 17 2011 7:42 am

    Hi Peggy,
    I can see that this could be good in that you can quite easily get food and entertainment while travelling at a reasonable cost. But it doesn’t look all that safe and it looks like it might get pretty noisy. However, it all ads to the grist of the travelling experience. I like the photo of Poor John stranded in the middle.



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