Posts Tagged ‘bule’

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Why Do Parents Insist On Killing Their Kids In Bali?

July 19, 2013

I don’t really understand why some Balinese parents are so hell-bent on killing their kids here. Oh, they don’t do it deliberately – in many ways they care for their children in a way that far surpasses child-raising practices in westernised countries.

But they allow them to ride motorbikes from a very young age – an age when common sense has not yet begun to develop, when risk-awareness is non-existent and understanding of consequences is totally absent. And ‘road rules’? Well, I doubt that many of the parents who allow their kids on the road have any idea themselves.

So I’m on the road, on the way to brunch, and the road is full of kids on bikes. Many are in elementary school uniforms, all look to be between 7 and 10 years old. They are skittish and impulsive, weaving all over the road, impulsively accelerating and braking without a thought for any other road users. They are dangerous, and unaware of anyone but themselves. I ride defensively, because they show the same the attributes of caution as a cat caught in the middle of a busy road. At least a cat has the sense to be scared; these kids show no fear.

Suddenly, on a bend in the road, a child on a bike – way too big and heavy for him – comes straight at me on my side of the road. He looks to be about 6 years old. He is not wearing a helmet. It’s a blind corner, but he is taking a racing line, cutting the corner at speed, oblivious to the possibility of on-coming traffic. He sees me, but takes no evasive action. Maybe that’s because he has a phone firmly clutched in his left hand and has not yet mastered swerves using only one hand.

I brake hard – tricky on a bend – and manage to get far enough onto the left shoulder to avoid a head-on crash. He deviates not one centimetre from his line on the wrong side of the road. As he passes, he glares at me, his face twisted with anger. How dare I, as a bule, occupy a part of the road where he wants to be? How arrogant of me.

Worse, as he flashes past, his passenger – a little girl of perhaps 4 or 5, who is also helmet-less, just looks at me with that Balinese direct opaque stare, without a trace of fear, or a skerrick of understanding that she was seconds away from death or a horrible maiming.

In the next ten minutes, I see dozens of small children on motorbikes, riding three abreast, chatting to each other and ignoring oncoming cars that have to brake and swerve. I see others cutting corners, stopping without warning, turning right from the left lane without indicating, and entering heavy traffic streams from the left without looking. Just like their elders.

I ride as carefully as I can to avoid them all, because I know that in Bali, if any local crashes into my bike because of their ineptness, inexperience or stupidity, it will be my fault. I am the foreigner; if I had had the sense to stay in my own country instead of coming here, the accident never would have happened. Ergo, it’s my fault. Balinese logic.

And if I do have an accident where a local is hurt, at best I will be expected to pay for all hospital bills, repairs to their bike, ‘compensation’ to the family and a gratuity to the police to avoid further unpleasantness. At worst, I will be beaten or killed by an enraged roadside mob.

So why do Balinese parents allow their under-aged, inexperienced, unlicensed kids to ride the family bike? They know the danger. They know that three people a day are killed on bikes in Bali alone, and that countless others are badly injured. They know that children are more at risk than adults, and they know that children will always promise to be ‘careful’ despite not having the slightest understanding of what ‘careful’ even means.

My feeling is that it’s sheer, uncaring laziness. Or a pervasive fatalism. I was with one family as their very young son jumped on the family bike and rode off to school.
“Why don’t you give him a lift?” I asked the father.
“Oh, I’m too busy”, was the reply.
I tried a different tack: “But he doesn’t have a licence …”
I got a pitying look. “Of course not. He can’t get a licence until he’s 16″. (Unspoken: “You idiot.”)
I thought I’d give it another try: “But it’s dangerous …”
“No. He knows how to ride the bike. He has been practising in the gang outside for two weeks now.”
I have no answer to that.

Finally, I asked the question that I had been avoiding, as I didn’t want to bring bad luck.
“Does he know what to do if he has an accident?”
“Oh, yes”, he laughed. “I’ve told him. Get out of there as fast as you can!”

Oh. I guess that’s OK then.

With growing impatience at my obviously retarded intellect, he also indicates that the young boy had been riding as a pillion passenger practically since he was born, “so he knows the rules”. Presumably by some variant of osmosis. Or worse, by watching his parents, both of whom scare me to death when I see their abysmal lack of road-craft when riding.

Later, as I was writing this piece, I spoke about this problem to a couple of my local friends, who gave me an ever-so-gentle spray. They politely implied that I don’t understand Balinese customs, that “this is what we do”, and that I should not bring my Western preconceptions to Bali. At least this time I didn’t get the time-honoured response of : “If you don’t like it here, why don’t you go back where you came from?” But I’m also sure that one will come from the affronted after they read this.

Well, maybe I don’t understand. Maybe I believe that all parents have a responsibility to keep their children from harm, and this includes not allowing them to have control of a lethal weapon  such as a car or motorbike before they are old enough to do so responsibly. Maybe I don’t want to be killed or injured by a child on a bike, or see children badly hurt even if their parents don’t seem to care.

But hey, what do I know? I’m just a bule here.

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The Problem With High-Mileage Bodies

June 15, 2013

The human body is a wondrous thing; complex, resilient, flexible, tough, and built for endurance. But its very complexity makes it fragile, and susceptible to disturbances in its equilibrium that baffle medical practitioners.

Never is this more true than for those of us who suffer from the complaint known as ‘age’, when our component parts begin to wear out, when the dies of our DNA become blunted with repeated cell replications, and we begin to wonder what the hell has happened to our bodies.

Sometimes the signs of decay creep up on us like wraiths in the night and we wake more tired than when we went to sleep. And sometimes they leap out, gibbering at us, in the course of a normal day. When one’s personal odometer clicks over to 24,500+ days, these signs appear more frequently.

So I’m doing my normal Bali thing of writing, reading, reflecting and waiting for inspiration’s thunderbolts to strike, when I feel an urge to have some condensed milk instead – something I haven’t consumed for six months or so. When it comes to actually sitting down and writing, I am very good at displacement activity, particularly when it involves ingesting something sweet.

After mindlessly spooning half a can of the sweet goop into my mouth, I don’t feel so good. Fifteen minutes later, I have a violent attack of dizziness and nearly black out. With a fine understanding of cause and effect, I resolve never again to use a spoon to eat condensed milk, but to drink it straight from the can in future. Obviously, there is a chemical reaction occurring between the spoon and the milk, causing vertigo. Because this has never happened before during my youth, I deduce that it must be my advancing years, together with the use of the metal spoon which has exacerbated the problem. Never again.

Later that afternoon, feeling better and thinking that my condition has resolved itself, I go for my customary coffee. This is a time of day that I enjoy, sipping a good brew, watching the passing parade of humanity, and browsing the infinite weirdness of my favourite social media.

But wait, what is happening here? I can’t understand what is on my screen! Not because it’s Twitter, where almost everything is incomprehensible, but because I seem to have lost the ability to translate letters and words into anything meaningful. My screen is a series of distorted, whirling voids superimposed on individual letters, which either disappear altogether or morph into unrecognisable shapes.

Suddenly, my screen looks like this ...

Suddenly, my screen looks like this …

The distorted shapes writhe and pulse, and the visual field around my phone is shimmering and undulating like a heat haze. And no, I haven’t been drinking. Sweet Jesus! I’m going blind! Or I’m having a stroke, or a TIE. Maybe my retinas have decided to spontaneously migrate and wrap themselves around my irises, but after thinking about the anatomical improbability of this scenario, I dismiss it.

Perhaps it’s glaucoma, I think hopefully, because the treatment for that is cannabis. Then I remember that in Bali, this medication is impractical because it tends to be accompanied by either lengthy incarceration in the Hotel Kerobokan, or a free death penalty, especially if one is unfortunate enough to be a foreigner. OK, scratch glaucoma; consider giant cell arteritis, or a brain tumour, or maybe just one of those psychotic episodes common amongst expats …

Strangely, I don’t feel any fear – just an incredible curiosity as to what might be causing these weird visual effects. My ruminations are interrupted by loud sirens and flashing lights in Jalan Melasti, where a police car escorting one of the terminally entitled VIPs in their shiny black cars has stopped just outside the cafe, taking up a whole lane and inconsiderately blocking traffic. The occupants, presumably some raja kecil with more money than consideration, get out and wander around to do some shopping while traffic snarls behind their car, and I snarl behind my coffee.

I can feel my blood pressure go up, and with that comes an additional visual disturbance – radiating, wriggling worms of light and shade surrounding my central visual field, coruscating with a ghostly radiance and causing pulsating halos around the flashing lights of the police car. This is getting really interesting.

Melasti_Street
The effect is both trippy and magical, and lasts for half an hour, after which it fades. When I can read my phone screen again without distortion, I seek medical advice. Not from a doctor, I hasten to add, but from an alternative source blessed with more diagnosticians than a hospital. I am referring of course to Facebook, where my FB friends rally instantly to provide suggestions, explanations and advice.

And one explanation, thanks to friend Vida, emerges as the most likely. It would seem that I have had an attack of ocular migraine, a painless affliction I had never heard of, and for which there is no real explanation or cure.

Whatever it is, I can vouch for the fact that it is fascinating. I am now looking forward to what other mystery ailments will befall me in my journey towards the dark side. New experiences are endlessly intriguing of course, but I agree with Carl Jung, who so accurately remarked about the travails of ageing: “Thoroughly unprepared we take the step into the afternoon of life.”

But I think that it is this very unpreparedness that makes life in the sunset years so sweet, so interesting and so challenging. You know – live in the moment, devil take the hindmost, carpe diem, damn the torpedoes, and long live spontaneity. Forget the future; it hasn’t happened yet.

I live every day by each one of those wonderful aphorisms.

Well, sort of.  After today, I’m adding ‘Be Prepared’ to that list. I’m off now to check that my medical insurance is up to date, and that my will is in order …

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Your Call Is Important To Me

June 9, 2013

Your call is important to me, and that’s why I won’t answer it. I get voice calls on my hand-phone all the time. I ignore them, not because I’m a curmudgeonly old fart (which I am), but because it doesn’t make any sense for me to answer your call. And it’s not because I wish to emulate those execrable call centres who tell you in unctuous tones: “Your call is important to us”, and then leave you on hold for the ninety minutes it takes for some earnest character, for whom English is a fifth language, to pick up and tell you why he can’t help you.

My voice call avoidance behaviour is partly a matter of motivation. At least 70% of my voice calls are from people I don’t know, and who are trying to sell me something. Regardless of the pervasive ambient noise problem here, I won’t answer calls from unknown numbers, or from those whose caller IDs are blocked. Life is too short to waste on dreamers who believe that I want to give them money, or that buying their insurance policy will somehow enrich my life. How will it do this when I have to die to get a payout?

No, I don’t answer because my phone usually rings when I am riding my bike, and I am way too busy avoiding other riders who are texting and talking because they have answered their phones. Just because they are dangerous lunatics who can’t concentrate on actually driving while talking doesn’t mean that I should become one too. So while you fume at the manifest unfairness of your call going unanswered, I am occupied in staying alive and relatively un-maimed.

And when I have parked my bike and I am sitting in some restaurant or bar, I don’t answer my phone either, simply because there are probably only two venues in the whole of Bali that are quiet enough to hear you, and I’m rarely in either of them. I’m so deaf now that I wouldn’t understand most of what you say even if I did pick up in such noisy environments. Do you really want a conversation that goes:

You: “Hi, Wayan here, apa kabar?”
Me: “Um, no this is not Wayan, it’s Vyt, and yes, I’m in a bar. Who’s calling?”
You: “Wayan!”
Me: “Why? Because I want to know who I’m talking to!”
You: (Gnashing teeth) ” No, it’s … doesn’t matter. You free there tonight?”
Me: “No, not three, I’m here alone …”

And so it goes. Any conversation under those circumstances will end in either tears or homicide.

Once I am actually at home, where it is comparatively quiet, the situation theoretically should be better, but in practical terms rarely is. The rushing sound of water from my pool produces white noise which is perfect for masking critical mid-range vocal frequencies. The dog next door is psychic, and with devilish cunning, only barks during critical words in conversations, rendering the meaning of sentences unintelligible. Bali’s air traffic controllers only schedule aircraft to fly overhead when I get a phone call. The ringing of my phone immediately triggers a need by some locals in my lane to rev the shit out of their motorbikes just outside my gate, or some clown to begin fogging the place, and all of these sonic distractions serve to destroy any chance of meaningful conversations. But that’s not why I don’t answer my phone at home.

It’s because Telkomsel, my lovely provider, has somehow managed its tower coverage so that their normal 4-5 bar signal everywhere else in Legian drops to 1-2 bars in my house. Voice calls drop out, or they are so broken up as to become auditory garbage. Sure, if I stand on tip-toe on the edge of the south-east corner of my pool and connect an earth wire to my left foot, I get a reasonable signal, but only if I hold my mouth right. That’s why I don’t answer my phone at home.

My eyes still work – not very well, but they are good enough to read SMS messages, as long as I take my glasses off and squint a bit. The trouble is, no-one who rings me, and gets no answer,  seems to consider the possibility that sending me an SMS might actually be more productive. I used to reply to missed calls with an SMS explaining that I can’t hear voice calls, but inevitably this would trigger yet another voice call. Sigh. I don’t do that any more.

Now all I have to do is to work out how the hell to clear my phone log of 1,679 missed calls. Last time I tried, I deleted all my contacts by mistake. Actually, that might not be such a bad thing …

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More Phallic Language Pitfalls

May 5, 2013

So as I painfully and slowly add to my meagre Indonesian vocabulary, I discover yet another trap for the unwary practitioner with limited knowledge of local languages.

Whenever I discover a new word, I try to sneak it in to the conversation in order to demonstrate my evolving mastery. Most of the time, I get baffled looks, because I’m either using it in the wrong context, or at the wrong time, or in the wrong situation. I still mix up harga and ongkos –  to me, it’s all ‘price’.

Or I mix up words that sound similar to me, such as jempol (thumb), jemput (pick up) and jembat (bridges), resulting in such inane requests as “where is the nearest thumb across the river?” Or “What time do you want me to bridge you?”

Of course, these gaffes pale into insignificance when I accidentally use jembut instead of one of the three above. Then there is the prospect of real trouble on Facebook, where Indonesians refer to a “like” quite logically as a “thumb”, often responding to a ‘like’ with “Thanks for the thumb”. You should have seen the hysteria I caused the first time I mistakenly used jembut instead of jempol, because basically what I wrote was “Thanks for the pubic hair”. Awkward.

The soft consonants at the end of Indonesian words give my bule vocal apparatus grief too, particularly with slang. Don’t try telling someone that you are very broke (bokek), because with poor enunciation, it may well come out as bokep. What you have actually said is “I am extremely pornographic”. Even more awkward. And don’t even get me started on the confusingly similar words for ‘gecko’, ‘breast’ and ‘shit’ – these are all too hard and should probably be avoided altogether.

Never mind; it’s slowly coming together.  But every so often I still drop a clanger, even if I think I have checked word meanings carefully before experimenting with them in public.

So my Balinese waitress asks me if I would like dessert after a good meal, and I reply “Tidak makasih, aku sudah ada kenyang“, intending to say “No thanks, I’m already full“. Kenyang is, of course, my new word of the day. I attribute the stifled giggle that follows to my awful pronunciation. She rushes off and returns with another waitress, who asks me the same question, and gets the same reply. They both collapse in giggles. I think I’m being set up here.

It turns out that the word ‘kenyang’, which does mean ‘full’ in Bahasa Indonesia, has a completely different meaning in Bahasa Bali, and what I have so earnestly been saying to these Balinese is “No thanks, I already have an erection.” Kill me now.

Later – too late, naturally – a friend tells me that to avoid confusion, I should say ‘kenyang Java’, or ‘kenyang Bali’. I think I’ll pass on that suggestion; I can’t think of any occasion in a restaurant where I would need the tumescent version of that word …

But it’s not just us foreigners that get challenged by unexpected meanings. My delightful assistant, not being Balinese, commented one morning on all the penjors in my street – those tall, drooping ceremonial structures made of bamboo. She didn’t know what they were called, so she said, “Wow! Your neighbour has a … um,  a really big bamboo!”

I laughed, which was a tad insensitive of me, and which disconcerted her. So I played her the classic old calypso ditty ‘Big Bamboo’ on YouTube. After she listened to the bawdy lyrics – and giggled a lot when she understood what ‘Big Bamboo’ actually meant  - she said solemnly, “I will NEVER use those words again.”

I know exactly how she feels.

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On Being A Cat In Bali

May 4, 2013

One of Bali’s many cats, practically a walking skeleton, crosses the road slowly outside a restaurant. It doesn’t even try to dodge cars and bikes; it doesn’t even look for hazards; it is beyond caring.

Unlike many of its contemporaries, who target restaurants in the hope that patrons will throw them a morsel in response to their piteous meowing, this one ignores everything and everybody. It seems wholly focused on the process of walking without falling over, single-mindedly intent on its unknown destination.

Focus. Stay alive. Keep going.

Focus. Stay alive. Keep going.

Bones stretching its dull and matted fur, it plods slowly past the tables, paying no attention to the smells of food. It is almost beyond using its scavenging skills, beyond hunger, and nearly beyond life.

Does it have a human family? Someone to nurture it and look after it? Probably not. In Bali, there don’t seem to be many locals who feel more than a diffuse and distant empathy for cats. After all, it’s only recently that  the Balinese have discovered the companionship that dogs provide; cats don’t seem to have quite made the grade yet.

Perhaps that’s because dogs have owners, people on whom they can lavish affection and loyalty, and therefore get it in return. Cats, on the other hand, don’t acknowledge anyone as being their master. Instead of accepting a human leader, a cat sees a competitor. Cats don’t have owners; cats have staff, whose sole purpose seems to be to minister to their needs and to be ignored as soon as these needs are met. They pay a price for this independence.

Of course there will always be ‘dog people’ and ‘cat people’ as long as humans respond to animal personalities in different ways. I’m more of a dog person myself, but it makes me sad to see any animal alone, unloved and discarded as this cat appears to be, and I try to help it.

But it rejects my offer of food, acting as if it can’t see, or smell it. Maybe it can’t; maybe its whole being has shrunk to a tiny pinpoint, the purpose of which now is just to stay alive for another minute, another hour, another day.

Unbidden, the plight of Indonesia’s poor rises to the surface of my mind, but, like a true coward, I push it back down. Many, like this cat, are alone, malnourished, without hope, and without opportunity. But there are 100 million of them and I can do nothing; the problem is too vast. Instead, I focus on the cat, because there is only one, it’s right here and it provides me with an illusion that I can actually help it.

But of course, I can’t. It walks on as if I wasn’t there, any spark of hope it may have once had in those dead eyes beaten out of it by a thousand rejections, a thousand harsh words and a thousand disappointments.

Go in peace cat, and may the end be peaceful.

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The Marquee Job – A Metaphor For The Planning Process In Bali?

May 1, 2013

Bali has many attractions to tempt visitors. Its culture is alluring, the scenery is stunning – once you get away from the The Great Southern Urban Blight – and the opportunities to relax are boundless. With proper planning,  sustainable policies and infrastructure that matches its population, it could be fabulous.

Good planning would mean that hotel and condominium permits are curtailed to match demand. Instead, permits are issued at the whim of Regents who can not see beyond the windfall of the ‘special fees’ that such permits deliver. The resulting oversupply of beds means that competition for guests is fierce.

But instead of competition driving down the high room tariffs, hoteliers have been told by the government that a ‘fixed price’ regimen is to be implemented for accommodation. Ostensibly to maintain the perception of ‘quality’, the real reason is obvious. Lower room tariffs mean a reduction in the government tax take. Hoteliers are now being threatened with loss of their star rating if they reduce prices in line with the normal rules of supply and demand. A modicum of long-term planning could have avoided this ridiculous situation.

Good planning would also mean that supplies of electricity and water were sufficient for both the existing and the projected population. It would also involve introducing methods of conserving and recycling both water and energy. Proper planning would avoid the situation we see regularly here – load-shedding power blackouts, a poor water supply and distribution system, and salt-water contamination of ground wells. But there is little evidence of any such planning.

Good planning would mean that purchasers of cars here would have to demonstrate that they actually have somewhere to park the things, instead of clogging up every narrow road and gang outside their garage-less dwellings. Pro-active registration policies could reduce the increasing numbers of over-sized private cars, bought for status – and invariably on credit – which try to squeeze into narrow streets, causing monumental traffic jams.

Good planning, and proper information channels, would mean that owners of restaurants, stalls and other businesses would know in advance when visitor peaks are expected. Right now, the owners of hundreds of businesses are staring glumly out into the streets, wondering where their customers are. They are oblivious to the dates of school holidays and other tourism-drivers, because no-one has told them and they haven’t bothered to find out.  So they let their staff go, without pay, until suddenly the tourists are back and everyone is under-staffed and under-stocked. There is no planning for peaks and troughs, and so the mad oscillations continue.

I fear that planning, at any level, is not one of Bali’s strengths. The government seems to show little evidence of strategic long-term planning, and individuals seem to show little tactical planning ability. When action is taken, it tends to be reactive, and there seems to be little understanding of the consequences of those actions. Maybe that’s why there is so much back-flipping on policies, so many abandoned projects and so much confusion here.

Sitting and watching preparations for a wedding at a little beach restaurant in Petitenget, I witness a  perfect example of the ‘no planning’ mindset that seems to afflict Bali. In this microcosm of what is happening here on a larger scale every day, I watch a group of industrious lads meticulously setting up a marquee and table on the beach sand. They have been doing this for the last 90 minutes, perhaps ten metres from the water. The tide is coming in.

Planning Ahead - Setting Up The Marquee

Planning Ahead – Time And Tide Wait For No Marquee

One of the wedding planners wanders over from the restaurant, speaks to the workers and gestures at the incoming waves. The lads stare out to sea for 5 minutes, verify that they are indeed waves out there, then shrug and continue working.

The next wave swamps the marquee and table and saturates the carefully arranged tablecloth. The boys, bemused, move the whole outfit 3 metres back and start re-setting the decorations and replacing the wet stuff. The tide is, not surprisingly, still coming in. In fact, the high-tide mark, clearly visible, is a good 20 metres shoreward, but this does not seem to register with them or affect their endeavours.

Ten minutes later, as I am leaving, the water is again lapping at the legs of the marquee. The boys, Canute-like, stare out to sea and will the tide to retreat. Inexplicably, it doesn’t, and they painstakingly shift the whole edifice back another 3 metres.

I don’t know how many iterations of this little drama occurred, because I left, unable to watch the inevitable. But I’m willing to bet it was at least three more …

I wonder if education might help. If schools and colleges encouraged their students to plan ahead, use logic, understand consequences, and gave them the tools to do this, would this change the paradigm? Would this result in a new generation better able to plan for Bali’s growth?

Or is what I keep seeing here just “The Bali Way”, and therefore unchangeable?

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The Great Nyepi Escape

April 29, 2013

I usually enjoy Nyepi Day, Bali’s annual Day of Silence, when all are confined to their domiciles for 24 hours and no noise, work, fun, or illumination is permitted. It is an opportunity to reflect and allow the stillness to enter you.

Despite having honoured this day for the last  four years,  sequestered alone in my dwelling, this year the prospect was a little more daunting. A few minor technical hitches – such as a broken stove, a malfunctioning DVD player and no hot water – would have made the enforced isolation more unpleasant. OK, OK – I’m a wimp.

My brilliant solution of checking into a hotel with expansive grounds, where guests can wander around freely during Nyepi, came to naught. Bali’s hotel prices are just too high for me now. Expansive grounds come with an expensive tariff, and of course the Nyepi lock-down means you have to book two nights. As it turned out, going off the island – to Kuala Lumpur – ended up being cheaper for four nights at a hotel, including airfares, than staying in Bali.

So here I am in Malaysia. Ten minutes to get through the immigration formalities, an automatic, free visitors’ visa, luggage waiting for me on the carousel. A train station right in the terminal, and a 25 minute, 57 kilometre trip to KL Sentral on the KLIA express.

The KL traffic is busy, but free-flowing, with amazingly disciplined and courteous drivers. Drivers stop for pedestrians on crossings, they stop for red lights, they wait for traffic to clear before pulling out from the left, and they park properly. The streets are wide and clean and clearly signposted. I don’t see a single piece of trash on the footpaths.

It’s weird being in a place where everything just … works. The electricity stays on, water quality is good, places are open at their designated hours, and everything in my little hotel is as it should be. Well, most of it - my room’s air-conditioner control panel appears to be connected to a Bali-style ‘Wishful Thinking’ module, which in turn is connected to nothing. Like governments, I suspect it is there purely to give us all an illusion of control.

But no-one controls the weather, and at this time of year, there is rain. Lots of it. Regular as clockwork, the customary 4pm thunderstorm hits the city, often violently. Today’s is massive, with lightning striking every building around me every few seconds. I notice that all the smart birds are diving from the tops of tall buildings and taking refuge at street level. They don’t look happy, and they’re not smiling – but how can one tell? I mean, they have no lips …

I witness two hippy types, presumably with an IQ far lower than that of most of the birds, dancing in the rain on an 8th floor roof across the street. Faces upturned towards the continuous bolts of lightning, they wave their arms towards the raging skies as if in supplication to their gods. They are far closer to heaven than they ever imagine. But someone is looking after these dolts, and they fail to be vapourised in an incandescent ball of energy. I confess to feeling faintly disappointed.

While Bali is dark and silent for Nyepi, Kuala Lumpur is pumping. Checking out the restaurants, I find one called the White Raja. Ah, OK, Indian food. Then I look closer and notice that it’s actually called the White Raja – Borneo. Right, it appears that we have Kalimantan food with an Indian influence. Possibly with some traditional Dyak fare? Interesting. So I check the menu. It’s Italian.

Never mind. I find a basement under one of the plazas which is crammed with every imaginable type of food stall, each one serving delicious food. While English is widely spoken in KL, the locally-patronised food stand owners tend to stick to Bahasa Melayu – or Chinese, or dialects from the Middle East. Fortunately, even though they struggle to understand my Bahasa Indonesia (which is no surprise; people in Indonesia have the same problem) I can make myself understood.

I think I’ve worked out the secret. If I Anglicise every 5th word, add “lah” to every 3rd word and excitedly finish every sentence with “!”, they seem to understand me better. Or I could just stop torturing them and speak English …

After dinner, I find a footpath bar close to my hotel, and kick back with a wee drink while watching the passing parade. Suddenly, my ears are assailed with a strange, eclectic mix of Euro-Arabic-Latino-style music. Shortly thereafter, a figure materialises in the gloom of a doorway to one side. I see a hint of sinuous dance movements, a silhouette promising sensual delights, and a tantalising glimpse of a deep décolletage. And then the lighting improves, and an … apparition becomes visible.

He, because it definitely was a he, is about 190 cm tall and is dressed in a frilly, black, deeply low-cut top revealing astonishingly profuse chest hair, black leggings and a strange sort of fringed tutu. His dancing is a cross between belly dancing, erotic salsa, and pole dancing. Pelvic thrusts of an energy and amplitude that suggest a serious future back problem seem to hypnotise the rapt female patrons of the bar. The first unexpected thrust makes me inadvertently swallow one of the ice-cubes in my drink.

But that isn’t all. Every half-minute or so, he emits a shrieking ululation of a frequency and volume high enough to coagulate eyeballs for a one kilometre radius, as well as instantly kill any birds that have survived the earlier lightning storm. The first of these lifts me  completely of my chair, and I spill my drink. I discover later that this is a Zaghrouta – a traditional Iraqui cry of great joy.

My own joy is tempered somewhat when I try to go to sleep in my room later, only to discover that not only is his performance continuing, but the walls of the hotel are completely transparent to the sonic barrage. As I watch my bedroom walls tremble, their paint flaking off, and my bathroom fixtures fracture into shards of porcelain, I am struck with the thought that George Bush was looking for the wrong Weapons of Mass Destruction. The real ones were larynx-based, completely hidden and totally transportable all this time.

Zaghrouta aside, KL was a great short break from Bali. Perhaps I shouldn’t compare the quality of infrastructure with that found in Indonesia, as the circumstances and mindsets are so different. It is amazing what a genuine pursuit of excellence can achieve – and of course, the will to improve things. It is a shame that some of those in power in Indonesia are so consumed with antipathy towards Malaysia. They could learn so much.

Will I come back for next Nyepi? Probably not. I sort of missed the silence.

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More Than A Pat On The Head

April 20, 2013

I saw a heart-warming sight on Double-Six beach in Bali a few weeks ago. Amongst the dogs joyfully frolicking on the sand was one that seemed not to be participating. From quite a distance, it looked happy enough, but there seemed to be something different about the way it was standing. It was not until I drew much closer that I realised what that was.

I discovered that a French couple had found themselves ‘adopted’ by a dog lying on their doorstep. It didn’t seem particularly distressed, but its hindquarters were completely paralysed. Not even its tail could manage a single twitch, much less a wag. No-one knew how it got there, or what had happened to it. Some dogs, of course, have a hard life in Bali. I have seen them hit, kicked, and run over by motorbikes and cars. Whatever the cause in this dog’s case, it was obviously serious. A traumatic injury such as this to a dog in Bali generally means that it has no chance of survival. It would be left to die slowly, or be put down.

But this couple, showing compassion above and beyond the call of mere duty, took the dog in. They fed it, gave it medical attention, and tried to make its life as comfortable as possible. The dog, immobilised, was understandably depressed, and showed little sign of recovering from its debilitating paralysis. They tried massage, pharmaceuticals and traditional medicine – all with minimal effect.

Then they went that one step further, getting a custom made trailer/wheelchair made overseas to support the dog’s hindquarters. It was delivered and fitted, and a wonderful transformation began.

There on Double Six beach, I saw the results of that kindness – a dog happily romping on the sand with his canine mates, towing his hind legs behind him, and wagging his previously inactive tail with the sheer joy of mobility.

Custom Dog Wheelchair

Custom Dog Wheelchair

Even his back legs show signs of movement now, and his new owners say that they are even making jerky running movements when he dreams. You could, of course, attribute the improvement to medicine, to regular meals, and to the contraption supporting his back end.

But I think this dog is recovering mainly because of the genuine care and love shown by two strangers who could have abandoned him – and chose not to. They made him part of their pack instead, and for a dog, this is the most important thing in the world.

Aren’t some people wonderful?

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The Changing Of Lovina

April 18, 2013

Every so often one needs what my avian friend Hector refers to as a Short Essential Break.  These SEBs serve to reset perceptions, decompress from the daily chaos of South Bali, and just do some inspired blobbing.

My most recent sojourn was to Kalibukbuk, known to most as the central hub of Lovina – the generic name for a ten kilometre stretch of closely-spaced villages west of Singaraja. It’s a low-key place – which for me is its attraction – and it’s different enough from South Bali to make it either a pleasant stop-over or a destination in its own right.

Since my last trip there, things have changed a little. The sleepy little strip, with its super-low meal prices, its laid-back sellers of knick-knacks,  and its providers of friendly service at approachable prices seems to be starting to develop a ‘down-south’ mentality. Of course, I would expect prices to be higher than last time. After all, Lovina is not immune to the cost increases experienced by the rest of Bali. But the cancer of opportunistic greed seems to be creeping in here slowly and surely.

Local friends here blame the new North Bali airport – a pipe dream that will take a long time to be realised. Even the concept itself  is still in the dreaming phase, much less the realities of infrastructure development or transportation logistics. Yet the mere possibility of its future existence seems to have driven land prices through the roof, and created unreal expectations of a tourist bonanza (and its attendant opportunities for charging high prices) decades before the first tourist plane touches wheels to tarmac.

This attitude seems to have permeated the low-level hawker industry too. As I stroll around, an optimistic purveyor of coral gewgaws tries to sell me some trinkets, worth maybe fifteen thousand rupiah each, insisting that he never bargains, but sells only for fixed price. He tells me, “I will only sell for thirty, no less.” After bargaining for some time with ‘he-who-never-bargains’, the price drops to twenty each for five items. Still too high, so I start leaving. “Twenty each”, he insists, “but you can have one more for free.” I weaken, agree, he bags the merchandise and I pull out the negotiated 100,000 rupiah.

He looks at me with a mixture of disbelief and horror. “Where is the rest?”  I tell him that’s it. “What?” he says with just a hint of fake anger. “You agreed! $20 each for five!”  After I stop laughing, during which his stern facade slips only a little, I thank him for the entertainment and start leaving. He only lets me get a few metres before he acquiesces, grumbling, to the negotiated price – in rupiah. “Pelit”, he mutters as I leave. Yes, stingy I might be, but not yet that completely stupid as to fall for a bait-and-switch scam.

Kuta-style hawkers aside, the place has a relaxing ambience not found in the Deep South. That evening, I savour the quiet at my hotel’s beach-side bar, sipping a wee scotch and gazing over a sea, smooth as trowelled ant’s piss in the lambent evening light. No surf, no surfers – just a few fishermen knee-deep in the shallow waters two hundred metres from shore, bamboo rods held with casual patience. Glorious.

Next day, needing to rent a scooter to visit friends three or four kilometres away (and way too far to walk in my current state of sloth) I find a bike rental place, and discover that the previous day’s hopeful vendor is not an anomaly. After negotiating a ridiculously high price for a day’s rental down to something merely over-priced, I pay and get the keys. It’s 11 o’clock in the morning. “We close at 8pm. Please bring the bike back before then”, says the proprietor.

I explain that, no, I will bring it back at 11am the following day, because I rented it for a day. “Ahh”, says the nice lady, “You are from Legian.” I am nonplussed by the non-sequiteur. Seeing my confusion, she explains, “In Legian, a one day rental is for 24 hours. In Lovina, one day is 12 hours. So I leave, she calls me back, and grudgingly allows that, just for me, she will arrange for the earth’s rotation to be shifted back to a 24-hour cycle, but just this once.

Before she can change her mind about re-writing celestial mechanics, I take off, and immediately marvel at the handling of this little bike compared to my own. It feels as if the road consists of  a bed of lubricated ball-bearings. The steering responds like a startled cat on shabu-shabu, and the brakes are … well, hesitant. I stop and check the tyre pressures, which are unfortunately OK, which means the problem is more deep-seated. Never mind,  it adds a frisson of excitement to an otherwise quiet day, even though I feel like a rhinoceros strapped to an office chair that has been suddenly catapulted out into traffic. At least I have a helmet …

That night, I talk to some locals and expats, and discover that ‘Joger-style’ village greed has surfaced here too. (In the South, the Joger company chose to close down one of its outlets rather than bow to the endless and increasingly rapacious demands for money from nearby villages.)

Here in Lovina, the story goes that a developer in the final stages of construction of a high-class 8-villa complex has just been hit with an economic body blow. Just before its official launch, the local village has apparently demanded ‘village fees’ of 30 million per villa, per month, regardless of occupancy.  Interesting to see how that pans out – if true, 2.88 billion rupiah per annum would be a nice little windfall for the village – if the owner can avoid bankruptcy, that is.

I really hope that this bit of news is not true. Let’s hope it’s one of those legendary ‘misunderstandings’ which are so common here. It would be a shame for Lovina, and its future, if what appears to be an emerging hardness of spirit and Kuta-style opportunism kills the friendly and laid-back character of the place.

One wonders though, if it is the impending, though distant prospect of a North Bali airport that is causing this sea-change, or whether it is something deeper and more pervasive that is happening in Bali. I guess only time will tell.

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The Collateral Damage From The Van Der Speck Sting

April 16, 2013

A recent video uploaded by Mr. Van Der Speck, the Dutch ‘journalist’ posing as a tourist to ‘expose’ so-called corruption and extortion practices of the Bali police, went viral, as its maker had hoped. It showed the well-known practice of paying police a small fee when caught in a traffic infringement.

Equipped with a hidden camera, plus an accomplice with a second camera close by, he rode past a police post, sans helmet, waiting to be pulled over. Following the best practices of journalistic entrapment, he effectively offered an inducement to the police officer to avoid ‘going to court’. Readily agreeing to a fairly high pay-off fee, he then intimated that he would love a beer, whereupon the unfortunate cop, perhaps motivated by guilt for accepting such a relatively high payment from a ‘nice guy’, scurried off and bought him a a few beers with the proceeds – which they then both enjoyed.

Reactions to this sting followed the predictable pattern of those who come from a different culture, where all corruption is considered wrong. Ignoring the distinction between ‘minor’ corruption here, and the unacceptable ‘major’ corruption which is endemic amongst Indonesia’s officials, the media, in a fit of unseemly glee, went bat-shit over the issue. No point in explaining to people that ‘minor’ corruption plays an important role in the complex economic and social fabric here, and is actually beneficial given the subsistence salaries that are the norm.

No, uninformed moralists of all persuasions, holding firmly to their belief that ALL payola is wrong no matter what the circumstances, expressed their condemnation with the usual Bali-bashing. This, of course, caused Bali’s authorities to lose face and crack down on a practice that is both complex and necessary, at least under the present system of dealing with traffic violations. The police involved were disciplined as well – a scapegoat was necessary.

And this opportunistic little set-up is now having very expensive repercussions for locals.

A friend – a local person – was pinged by traffic police in Kuta/Legian tonight for riding without a helmet. Yes, it was a silly and dangerous oversight. Normally, in return for a small fee (for locals) of 20,000-30,000, it would incur a safety lecture and an exhortation to stay safe. Most people I know learn from such an experience and remember to wear their helmet – at least for a couple of months anyway.

But this time, the cop apologised for not being able to accept the usual ‘fee’, and said his hands were tied as his supervisor was watching closely. He kept glancing around as if to find a hidden camera. He then proceeded to write out the first traffic ticket I have ever seen in Bali, saying that all police were being watched like hawks since the Lio Square sting by Van Der Speck.

My friend now has to go to the police station in the morning and pay the official fine, which according to the vaguely-worded citation, will be either 100,000, or 250,000, or 500,000 rupiah. Even the cop didn’t know.  That’s a lot of money for a local person. The printed citation form doesn’t even provide an address at which to pay the fine, undoubtedly because this method is so rarely used here that the kinks in the system haven’t even been discovered yet.

I wonder if the holier-than-thou ‘journalist’ ever considered that his actions would have such repercussions? A fine of up to two week’s salary for a local is savage. Loss of discretionary income for a police officer – who has already paid 100 million plus for a place in the police academy, and a further few million a month to ‘buy a franchise’ for a spot on a lucrative ‘fine’ corner will seriously affect his family.

Am I ‘for’ corruption? No. But the system under which the traffic police have operated for years is finely tuned to the society here, and the ‘fees’ paid for vehicular transgressions go straight to the officer to supplement his meagre salary. In developed countries, without a culture of, er,  personal fee-for-service, the money paid in fines goes to Consolidated Revenue for the government to totally waste on airy-fairy social experiments. I know which one I think is the more equitable system. I don’t even see it as ‘corruption’, rather, it is an equitable re-distribution of wealth.

Will this new system last? I don’t know. I do know the police on the street are not in favour of it because of the loss of their income. Their bosses may be of a different mind, suddenly realising that a hitherto-unrealised revenue stream is there for the taking. I know the average local is horrified that they will have to pay up to ten times the amount they are used to.

But I suspect that when the fuss dies down, Bali’s traffic regulation enforcement methods will quietly revert to their time-honoured state, where there is a social benefit for all who get trapped by their vehicular misdemeanours.

And, despite the arguments for and against the existing system here, the fact remains that no-one needs to pay anything to the police or the Traffic Department. Ever.

All you have to do is wear a helmet, a shirt, keep your headlights on during the day, stop before the white line at traffic lights, and carry a valid licence and registration documents. No-one will book you.

And Mr. Van Der Speck – next time you come blundering into a foreign country, ignorant of its culture and social mores, and deliberately break its laws in order to entrap someone – for the sake of journalism - stop and think. You might be happily back in Holland, but the damage your stupid journalism has inflicted remains.

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The Tangled Skein of Bali’s Rubber Time

April 12, 2013

They say things happen in threes. In Bali, long periods of peaceful inactivity tend to be punctuated by bursts of craziness when everything seems to happen at once. And when they do, it’s usually not in threes –  five or more minor crises can manifest themselves at a time here.

Much of this is caused by Indonesia’s penchant for jam karet – rubber time – where appointment times are adhered to, but with several days’ margin of variation. But knowing that foreigners are likely to get severely bent out of shape when agreed meeting times are unilaterally ignored, many locals have taken to adopting the common courtesies of at least messaging a change of plan, although this is often done an hour after a scheduled appointment.

I have a number of local acquaintances here who occasionally seek advice or assistance on various matters such as business ideas, overseas contacts, computer or web skills – in fact anything which is a little outside the ambit of available help here. When I have time, I am happy to help if I can, as long as it doesn’t involve my dipping my hand into my pocket. For people I know, any topic is fair game, as long as it is scheduled between items in my own onerous schedule of sleep, eating, naps, writing, blobbing, or compulsively going out for my afternoon coffee. I seem to average a meeting of this type perhaps once a fortnight, but this week was the one that broke the mould.

On Sunday night, I get a message from Person A: “Can I see you about … ?”
“Sure”, I reply, “When?”
“Now?”

After we establish that ‘now’ is a tad late, and that I’m busy anyway, we finally settle on Monday at 1pm. On Monday morning, I get a call from Person B. “Can I see you about … ?” Turns out that the only time Person B seems to have available is … 1pm. I suggest an alternate time of Tuesday at 1pm. Agreement is reached, and I pencil in the time.

At 1:30pm on Monday, half an hour after the scheduled appointment, Person A messages me: “I can’t come at 1pm today.” Yes, I guessed that. “I will come tomorrow at 1pm”. I explain that I will be busy at that time, and am met with stunned disbelief. A time for Wednesday is set.

Late on Monday afternoon, Person C sends me a message: “I am coming to see you now.” I explain that that is not possible, because the only thing that will drag me away from my afternoon coffee is for a major lottery win, and even then only if they actually have the money with them. An attempt is made to get me to agree to a dinner ‘meeting’ that night. I decline; the only thing worse than a ‘business dinner’ is that modern abomination, the ‘business breakfast’. Besides, I already know who will be stung for the bill. We negotiate a mutually convenient time for Thursday.

Tuesday dawns bright and clear. I do a little preparatory work in anticipation of my 1pm meeting with Person B, regretfully turning down a social lunch meeting for that day with a visitor from Australia. Person B is a no-show. At 3pm I get a message saying that he can’t make the 1pm meeting. Yep, I’d figured that out all by myself. “But I will be there tomorrow at 1pm.” Well no, Person A is coming on Wednesday … We sort that out and re-schedule for Friday.

On Wednesday, Person A, already re-scheduled from Monday, fails to either show up or leave a message. Strangely, I somehow expected this, so I get on with a well-deserved siesta, which is interrupted by Person D, who really, really needs to see me on Thursday. I don’t even try to make an appointment, but tell him to call me next week.

On Thursday, Person C calls and wants to come on Friday instead. She gets the “call me next week” treatment as well; I am becoming somewhat jaded and more than a little terse.

On Friday, Person B misses their re-scheduled time as well. That means that I have not had a single person turn up this week at the time arranged. That’s OK, I have no expectations anyway. I meander off for my caffeine fix and ponder the mutability of time in Bali. I realise that there is no point in making appointments here. If all my people had just materialised at my house when the whim struck them, I probably could have attended to them all without a single clash or overlap. Time consciousness is probably just a Western affectation anyway.

Then, while I am having my coffee, I get four separate messages in the space of ten minutes, from each of A, B, C and D, all basically saying the same thing:

“Where are you? I am waiting outside your house, and you are not here! … and who are all these other people?”

I smile and continue with my coffee, then wander off to dinner. I might reply in an hour or two. If I feel like it.

Isn’t karma a real bitch sometimes?

 

 

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Does ‘OHS’ in Bali Mean ‘Ostrich Heads In Sand’?

April 11, 2013

It’s always entertaining having a coffee while watching local riggers putting up the steel framework for one of the endless new hotels here. There are no hard-hats, no safety harnesses, no goggles for the sparking oxy-acetylene gear, and no protective clothing. There also seems to a complete absence of fear as the workers scamper along narrow I-beams, which may be two or three storeys above the unforgiving, rubble-strewn ground below.

The thought of death, or serious injury – even though it is only one missed step away – never seems to enter their minds, which is probably just as well.

Workers preparing girders at yet another hotel

Workers preparing girders at yet another hotel

I watched the chaps here hoist the steel beam (highlighted in yellow) from ground-level using only old ropes and muscle power. Then, by walking along two widely-separated beams, they carried it across to its intended position and put it on its side. I spilt part of my first coffee when one of them slipped during this manoeuvre, fortunately recovering before plunging to the ground.

As far as I could see, their safety gear consisted of baseball caps and thongs. That’s flip-flops to those of you whose culture may have led you to believe that I meant buttock-exposing underwear. They may have had steel toecaps, but I was too far away to see.

One would think that the beam would have been measured, pre-cut to the correct length, and pre-drilled on the ground, ready for fixing into place.  But no, not here. As it was about a metre longer than was needed, they decided to cut off the excess length once they manhandled it up there.

So the character sitting astride the main beam proceeded to cut through the yellow beam with a torch, cleverly leaving a mere nubbin of metal to holding the unwanted excess length. There were no gloves being worn either, which caused a minor problem. After the oxy-cutting job, the first thing he did was grab the cut joint with his bare hands to see how secure it was, which resulted in a fairly rapid heat transfer to his fingers. However, a bit of frantic hand-flapping seemed to alleviate the pain somewhat – until he did exactly the same thing  three minutes later. More hand flapping ensued, accompanied by what sounded suspiciously like fruity Indonesian curses.

That’s when the real fun started.

Our intrepid workman wrapped a few turns of thick poly rope around the short end – which looked like it weighed about 80 kg – and tied it off. Inexplicably leaving a 2 metre loop dangling in space, he then wrapped the other end several times around his forearm. The intention was obviously to
catch the piece of girder when it fell – yet the method he employed betrayed no knowledge of the behaviour of falling masses, inertia, momentum, kinetic energy, or any other fundamental law of physics.

Thus prepared, he hit the end with a large hammer, the girder broke off as intended and 80 kilograms of steel accelerated towards the ground at 9.8 metres per second per second. The rope snapped taut, his arm jerked, and he was a split-second away from following the whole ill-thought-out contraption to the ground, when his personal gods must have intervened to save him.

The cut end of the beam slipped through the badly-tied knot and fell to the ground with a mighty crash as it hit some equipment below, reducing it to scrap. Naturally, I spilt most of the rest of my coffee at this point. Leaning precariously, he teetered on the beam for a few seconds, but somehow – I really don’t know how – managed to recover his balance and climb back on.

Despite having had a reduced amount of coffee during this episode, although more than enough adrenaline, I left, unable to watch any more imminent-death scenes. He, after rubbing the rope burns on his arm for a while, just went on with his work as if nothing unusual had happened.

Bali is nothing if not entertaining.

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The Anxiety Of Being Untethered

April 6, 2013

It’s 4 o’clock in the afternoon; my energy is low and my body craves caffeine. I can’t think straight, and the demands of dealing with with writing, social media and lazing by the pool have become overwhelming. Within five minutes I have thrown together my essential leaving-the-villa survival kit and launched my favourite motorbike towards the coffee shop. Well OK, it’s my only bike, and it’s actually a scooter – but that’s beside the point.

But only a few minutes into the caffeine experience, I experience a crisis. I feel suddenly exposed, like in those crazy dreams where you’re on a bus on the way to work and suddenly realise that you are naked. Totally naked. Everyone is dressed except you, and even though no-one seems to notice, you just know that within minutes, the whole bus will be pointing and giggling at the idiot who forgot his clothes in the morning rush.

But it’s not one of those dreams, even though the feelings are the same. My discomfiture morphs into a horrifying realisation that I am truly alone. I am blind and deaf, shut off from the world around me, unable to communicate, to listen to others, or to contribute to their debates. I can’t even lurk on the periphery of life’s countless conversations and vicariously enjoy the swirling currents of existence around me. My brain no longer functions, and my surroundings blur into a surrealistic cage, leaving me incommunicado.

I feel as if I have entered some sort of dissociative fugue state, alive but cut off from my normal sensorium, and as a result, isolating me from my network of friends and family. I have lost a big piece of my identity and this generates enormous anxiety. Is this what a Transient Ischaemic Event feels like? Or a sudden onset of dementia?

But, even with my depleted sense of identity, I still understand that I don’t need medical or psychiatric intervention. I know, at the deep core of my mind which still works, that my mental and emotional state is purely due to my forgetfulness. It is a self-created problem which is fairly easily fixed.

You see, I have left my smartphone at home. My god! No Twitter with my coffee. No email. No Jakarta Globe on which to leave pungent rants in the comments section. No Facebook to let me engage with endless pictures of cats. No Messenger to answer important questions like, “What are you doing?” No Google. No Google Translate – how will I converse? Rely on my memory? Ha!  No news. No … life.

Fortunately, just as I am about to leave my coffee half-finished and ride desperately home to retrieve my missing life-line to the world, I remember that I still have some ageing technology with me. It might be ancient, but it still has the capacity to connect me to the world, and to the Universe beyond. It’s modern enough to have random-access storage, and its display, while not back-lit, is adequate for ambient light. People might look at me askance while I’m using it, but at least I don’t have to worry about being caught with a low battery, because it doesn’t have one.

So within minutes of using my old-fashioned portal to other realities, I am immersed in the imagination-expanding richness of the old-style information stored on my portable, albeit retro, Bound Offerings Of Knowledge unit, a Caxton product from a past era, which surprisingly, is still available on-line today. I promptly forget all about my smartphone and stop stressing.

I highly recommend this technology – and not only for those occasions where you forget your phone or tablet either. You have probably heard of it by its more commonly-used acronym, “BOOK”.

Try it. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

 

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Is Sari Site Sacred – Or Just Another Shakedown?

October 12, 2012

In the emotion-charged swirl of the tenth anniversary of the Bali bombings, many have come to Bali to pay tribute to the victims of an insane attack by anti-Western fanatics in 2002.

The deaths of 202 people from 22 countries, and the injuries sustained by another 240, left emotional scars on thousands of families and friends of the victims. The Sari Club in Kuta, site of the blast, was practically destroyed, along with the lives of the victims, and the peace of mind of their families.

The relatives and friends of those killed want closure. The survivors, and those close to them, want closure. The citizens of those countries where their murdered compatriots once lived want closure. But they’re not getting it, and perhaps they never will.

Yes, the cowards who, in pursuit of some warped religious-political agenda, thought it was perfectly acceptable to use powerful bombs to destroy hundreds of innocent lives are dead or in jail. Yes, there is a monument to those who died on a street corner nearby. Yes, there was a seismic shift of attitudes towards terrorism in the region, and a push to reduce the chances of such an outrage occurring again.

But to many of those affected, these responses, while comforting to some degree, did not bring closure. It was strongly felt by many that the Sari Club – the epicentre of the outrage – was a sacred site. They wanted the place where their loved ones died to be honoured with the creation of a memorial Peace Park, a place of contemplation and a reminder to all that violent political tactics achieve nothing in the long run, except to demean the perpetrators and their causes in the eyes of the world.

To many of us in the West, final closure is intimately tied up with places. We tend to place a great deal of importance on the sanctity of final resting places, and on the emotional power of memorials at actual sites where people perished. These provide both a spiritual focus and concrete anchor points for our thoughts and memories and prevent them from becoming too quickly diluted by time. They are how we show respect.

To this end, and with the support of the Australian government and Bali’s Provincial administration, plans were drawn up and $1,000,000 raised to implement a proposed Peace Park on the Sari site. Many words were spoken, many meetings were held, endless negotiations were entered into. It was classic NATO – No Action; Talk Only.

Ten years on, the Sari Club site is a filthy wasteland of unevenly packed dirt. Part of it is being used as rat-infested garbage dump. Motorists pay money to leave their cars and bikes all over it. A slum-like corrugated iron shack sells snacks and drinks. There is no signage and no-one shows any sign of remembering that 202 people were killed here 10 years ago. Oh yes, and since Bali has no public toilets, an area to one side has become a stinking, de-facto open sewer where those with full bladders can urinate on the ashes of the dead. The much-vaunted Peace Park has become a Piss Park instead.

What happened?

Well, for one thing, this is not a Western country. Attitudes and cultural mores are very different, and this includes attitudes to death. One Balinese explained it to me thus: “We are used to death. We die early. We die in accidents. We don’t really have graves, or memorials, or monuments. We have ceremonies.” He went on to use the term ‘continuous remembrance’, which I took to mean that the ‘monuments’ to those who die here are both internal and intangible.

That explains part of the laissez-faire approach to the disgusting junk-yard that is the Sari Club site, and the foot-dragging delays in creating what would be a true memorial in our eyes.

But the real reason why nothing has been done is that the money isn’t flowing –  the one  constant that flows through the veins of  the Indonesian body politic.

According to media reports, the land is privately owned by Tija Sukamto, a reputedly rich Javanese businessman. He in turn is said to have leased the land to Kadek Wiranatha, one of Bali’s richest tycoons, and a powerful and influential figure here. The amount raised by the Australian and Bali governments – around $1,000,000 – represents a fair market value for this land, perhaps even a little above. However, both men have steadfastly refused to sell, at least at the price being offered.

Instead, they are demanding $7,200,000 – a price which even the Governor of Bali has described as “crazy” and “unbelievable”. Why? Because they can. It’s their land. It is not sacred to them; it is sacred to us. They know that, and in their eyes, it is a perfect opportunity to drive up the price.

In my opinion, it is a battle that we supporters of a Peace Park can not win. We are motivated by sentiment, emotion and respect for the dead; they are motivated by profit. You don’t get to become successful in business if you let hard-nose financial decisions be swayed by emotion. Don’t blame them for that – it’s the way business is done here.

The ten-year stand-off can only be solved by one party beating a strategic retreat. In my view, insisting on the Sari Club as the only location for the Park is only going to drive up the price further. Let’s find an alternative site at a reasonable price, because the spiritual significance to us trumps the physical location.

Let’s do this quickly, so all the parties can at least get closure, if not comfort. And if Tija Sukamto and Kadek Wiranatha miss out on their $7.2 million windfall, or even fail to get market price for their land, well, that’s just business.

Or maybe it’s Karma.

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How To Upset A Bali Taxi Thug

October 10, 2012

So I’m finishing off my coffee in Melasti Street, enjoying watching the chaotic procession outside, when I see a young couple trying to hail a cab. They seem unaware that Bali’s taxis are divided into two distinct groups, the good (Bluebird) and the truly abysmal (most of the rest), and keep trying to flag down the latter.

Each cab that stops seems unable to understand their request to be taken to a particular restaurant, which is not too far away as the crow flies. But with the rat’s nest of one-way streets here, it’s a tortuous drive, but still a reasonable fare of about 12,000  rupiah.  Three cabs stop, their drivers eyeing the couple, their three small children and the collapsible pusher. None have ever heard of the restaurant. All shrug unhelpfully and drive off.

I drift over and ask whether they need any help, which they gratefully accept – just as yet another taxi mafioso pulls in and winds down his window. It’s too late to wait for a real cab, because the passengers have already flagged him down. The boys here take any subsequent refusal to engage their services as a mortal insult.

“Do you know where Restaurant X is?”, I ask. The driver shakes his head and looks blank, so I explain where it is. “Yes, yes, yes!” he snarls, pretending he knew all the time. “Put your meter on please”, I request, only to be met by a scowl and a brusque injunction to get in. As the passengers open the back door, the driver leans out of the window again and says: “30,000 rupiah.” I tell him no, I said we want the meter. “No meter, 30,000 rupiah”, he yells louder.

I tell the family that this is not going to work, and that I’ll get another cab for them. The driver is incensed. “OK, 25,000 rupiah”, he snarls. When I tell him his services will not be required, he turns nasty and starts hurling abuse. Then, as we all move away, he suddenly reverses his cab onto the footpath, nearly hitting the family’s pusher. He leans out of the passenger window and accosts me, giving me the classic middle finger salute and yelling: “You get fucked! You fucker! Fucking bule!” The little kids are listening to this tirade, wide-eyed. They will probably remember this.

I move in close to him and look at his upraised middle finger. I must be telegraphing what I am thinking – which is that his finger is such a tempting target, and that I would love to bend it back to somewhere near Jimbaran – because he suddenly pulls his hand away. I tell him firmly, but still politely, that he can go, and that these passengers don’t want someone who is going to rip them off for three times the normal fare. He keeps swearing at me.

I shrug. “OK”, I say. “I’ll call the Tourist Police.” He loses it completely. “I will kill you! I will kill you!” He looks dead serious. Boy, I really know how to win friends and influence people. Must be my engaging personality. As he drives off, he keeps glaring back at me, repeating his death mantra.

So I flag down a real cab – a Bluebird – whose driver is not only happy to take this young family to their destination, but seems grateful to be told the location of the restaurant. He puts on the meter without being asked. Bluebirds have the real, certified meters, not the double-speed rigged specials employed by the thugs.

I am left pondering the reasons as to why the first driver arced up when he failed to browbeat the family into paying an exorbitant fare. He obviously didn’t like the idea of someone with some local knowledge advising visitors, because this severely erodes his profits. Flipping the bird was juvenile, but sort of cute in a way. The threat to kill me was less so, particularly after hearing the venom and sheer hate behind the threat. Even so, one could dismiss it as an explosive outburst by someone with a mercurial temper.

Except for one little thing.

The driver concerned was in full ‘Islamic’ garb, or at least in the sort of Saudi-influenced garb favoured by hard-line extremists elsewhere in Indonesia. It was as if a fully-fledged member of the FPI was suddenly teleported into the streets of Bali, instead of extorting people in Jakarta as those thugs usually do.  Should his attire be relevant to any discussion of his suitability as a taxi driver? Of course not. Should his behaviour be relevant to his suitability as a taxi driver? Most definitely. And so we come to the crux of the matter – what is acceptable public behaviour of a person who clearly and visibly chooses to identify himself as a particular type of Muslim, especially in the light of recent events?

We’ve all heard about the world-wide episodes of violence involving some radical Muslims, who chose to show their disapproval of an amateurish satirical film by an Egyptian non-entity living in California. Some of them killed an innocent diplomat, some ran amok in the streets, and here in Indonesia, some inexplicably attacked a hamburger shop owned by locals in Surabaya. Rage knows no logic, as evidenced by the unrelated targets and the one common thread in all these protests – the repeated refrain of ‘Death to all Westerners’.

So given the current volatile situation, when an angry man in ‘Islamic’ garb threatens to kill me, a Westerner, I probably should take it a little more seriously than I normally would.

But I won’t, of course, because I don’t generally pay much attention to raving nut-jobs, even if they are dressed in white. A local Muslim woman came up to me after the maniac’s  cab had departed, saying, “I’m so sorry. We’re not all like that”. I know that – but she helped reinforce my view that Islam is not monolithic, and that crazy people come from all walks of life.

But, you know, just in case my headless torso is found in the morning – ask the police to check out a wild-eyed, foul-mouthed cabbie dressed in white …

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