Asian Games 2018: Of traffic snarls, Shah Rukh Khan and Selfies

Palembang: The worst fears about traffic in Indonesia are coming true but there is unmistakable warmth all around as the city welcomes participants of the 18th Asian Games, beginning in Palembang and Jakarta tomorrow.

While the Indonesian capital Jakarta is notorious for its traffic jams (it made President Joko Widodo walk two kilometres last October); Palembang, the capital of South Sumatra province, is not far behind. The 8km drive from city centre to main venue Jakabaring Sports City can take close to an hour.

“Sometimes it could be even more. You never know about traffic in Palembang. It is not as bad as Jakarta but it is bad enough,” said one of the many affable volunteers stationed at the Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin II International Airport here. And it did take an hour when one set off to recce the Jakabaring Sports City from a city hotel. The busy roads, accommodating more bikes than cars, reminds one of the traffic troubles back in India.

Palembang was chosen as the Games co-host primarily because the infrastructure was already in place with the city, situated on the banks of Musi river, hosting the Southeast Asian Games in 2011. Otherwise, the narrow roads and an ill-equipped public transport make the job tougher for the organisers. Not long ago, President Widodo had asked the organizers to intensify promotion of the Games in the build-up to the mega event but a slight buzz is palpable in Palembang.

“In fact, most of the people think that we are hosting the Southeast Asian Games again. Only this time, it is a much bigger event. They are really excited,” said an official stationed at the Main Press Center.

However, the shortcomings in infrastructure are easily forgotten when the locals greet with an infectious smile. The volunteers, a mixture of young boys and girls, deployed at the airport, major city hotels and competition venue go out of their way to help. Language is an issue but not a barrier as they are still able to express their love for Bollywood stars Shahrukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan. SRK though has a much bigger following than his celebrated senior.

“We don’t understand the language but we love Shahrukh Khan,” said a bunch of volunteers, who even make the Games’ visitors feel like celebrities.

One way they show their warmth is by asking for Selfies.

“India is a huge country and we as Indonesians are excited to have you here and also each and every member of other countries. It is a big moment for us,” said an official.

More than 11,000 athletes from 45 countries are set to compete at the multi-sporting event, the second biggest after the Olympics.

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