For as long as there have been umbrellas, there have been ojek payung. Every time the skies open over the Big Durian, thousands of unorthodox entrepreneurs like Dede take to the streets offering their umbrellas to citizens looking to stay dry.
Statistically, Jakarta receives an average of 400 millimetres of rain in January, and as little as 92 hours of sunlight during the first month of the year. That means entrepreneurs like Dede, who claims to be 19 and a high school graduate, have plenty of chances to hold out their umbrellas to strangers looking to stay dry in exchange for a nominal fee and a little bit of conversation. And while some may refer fondly to ojek payung as the umbrella children of Jakarta, the truth is that depending on the time of day, ojek payung is a lot like the game Monopoly, everyone can play, from ages eight to 80.
Here’s how ojek payung works: As soon as the sky darkens and it starts to rain, everyone with an umbrella and a thirst for cash rushes to the entrances of office buildings or the front doors of one of the 177 malls in Jakarta, and offers up their umbrella for as little as Rp.10,000. Customers take shelter while the ojek payung follows faithfully behind, stepping in or over puddles depending on their age and attention level. Once satisfied customers reach their destination, they reach into their wallet and hand over crisp purple or green bills. Most times the ojek payung shakes the rain from their hair and thanks them with a nod before scampering off to scoop up another customer. Hours of business depend, of course, on the boss – mother nature.
Bleeding hearts might worry that ojek payung, who usually range from five to 15 years of age, are at risk of getting sick from exposure to the elements, but just like a lemonade stand or a paper route, ojek payung are simply intrepid industrialists, looking to make a little money on the side. Jakarta is famous for its entrepreneurs, whether it’s the 3-in-1 jockeys or the gentlemen selling kerupuk (prawn crackers) or water amid the toll road gridlock.
“Everyone I know is an ojek payung,” says Dede. “It’s simple. We wait until it starts to rain and then we find a spot to help people get wherever they are going without getting wet. Everybody wins.
But is Dede worried about masuk angin (catching a cold)? “No,” he says with a shy smile. “A little rain never hurt anyone. Plus, this is a chance for me to make money. Normally, I shine shoes outside the Ministry of Education. If it is raining, there is no one who wants their shoes shined. I always pack an umbrella during the rainy season.”