Monday, July 21

A Month in Jakarta: The running

For a month abroad, I am fairly proud of how little I took. Everything fit comfortably in my day pack and a World War II Army duffel, never straining the seams. I managed this by cutting out all non-essentials. The only things which I considered luxury items among my luggage were my camera and film, devilsticks and juggling balls, and my running gear. It is with these last items this post revolves. I packed them with little hesitation and even some excitement. I had read earlier that running was a good way to explore a new city and had never really tried out urban running before since every other city I ever ran in had such easy access to trails and parks far away from traffic.

In all truth, the running gear may as well have stayed behind. I ran only four times before giving up. There are a number of reasons for this. First, the roads were a mess, the anti-Munich if you will. As straight and wide and reasonably designed as the roads outside of Munich's Innenstadt were, Jakarta's roads were narrow and curvy. I would even have taken the centuries of twisting Cadolzburg streets over those in Indonesia's capital. Literally, I do not think you could see more than 200 meters straight ahead in any direction because the road would already have to go around some houses. Or just end. Deads ends were an unmarked rule, and I would have to burn down alleys to escape them because backtracking was sure to get a few laughs from people who saw me go by the first time. I was very unwilling to try the main roads with how insane the traffic was and poor the sidewalks were. Breathing that deeply on the roads did not seem like that great of an idea either considering how many people on motorbikes wore masks and covered their mouths.

This was already enough to give me pause, but running had the bonus made me stick out all the more, too, not something I was terribly eager to emphasize any more. If it was not easy enough already to pick out the 6-foot bule, running in a bright yellow running shirt made it so obvious that they could be blind and looking entirely the wrong direction and still notice me.

But there was something more obvious than my height or glowing pale at these times: I was absolutely the only runner. I am used to other runners. It is a rare outing when I do not see muscle-bound guys trying to get some cardio in before the free weights or older people keeping active or even those few who are actually competent at running. It is something entirely different to be the only runner whatsoever. In America, this might inspire a feeling of superiority, healthier-than-thou or something like that, but it just made me uncomfortable in Jakarta. Many run in the States to keep the weight down and body in shape. In Jakarta though, despite the dearth of runners, I did not see many overweight people and absoluely none of those whom are so fat they give cause to marvel at the elasticity of human skin. I like to think that I run for the sheer enjoyment of movement and the release of energy, but being the only runner was enough to remind that America's running culture is one built on the privilege of plentiful food as much as anything else. And that was enough to cause me to quit running for the month.

The awareness of privilege by simple chance of birth and nationality is something any American who gets out of the Western world eventually has to deal with. Someday I hope to have a better answer to it than withdrawl, but recognition is a beginning. Maybe the eventual answer will find its way here.

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