Great Balls of Fire! The Gas Bottle Regulator ScamJune 27, 2010
It’s lunchtime, and just before Rini, my pembantu, leaves for the day, the doorbell rings. Two gentlemen, their uniforms bearing corporate insignia and carrying the ubiquitous clipboard and shoulder bag, politely request admittance. They say they speak no English, so it is fortunate that my Indonesian helper is still there. Responding to that unmistakable sign of ‘authority’, The Clipboard, she invites them in and explains to me that they are there “to check my gas”. I repress a grin, and refrain from making a flippant, flatus-oriented retort.
We eyeball one other. I see that their uniforms are those of a Denpasar gas equipment supplier. They see that I see this, and switch their attention to Rini, who is treating them with the deference normally shown to government officials. A convoluted exchange follows and Rini (who is not quite up to U.N. translator standards) tries to explain to me that they are ‘safety inspectors’ who need to examine my gas stove. I’m curious. “May I see your ID?” I enquire innocently. Consternation. “Why do you want to see my ID?” says one of the ‘officials’, miraculously discovering this expression in his hitherto barren English lexicon. I don’t get to see ID.
So I show them my gas stove and the gas bottle. The smooth one (there’s always a smooth one in every pair of travelling entrepreneurs) claps eyes on the cylinder’s regulator and says: “Oh no!” in well-practised, lugubrious tones. I play along, raising an eyebrow. “Big problem”, he continues, “Regulator not standard”. Strange, I think – it was standard when it was installed a year ago. But this is Bali, so perhaps it has spontaneously become non-standard in the last twelve months. I say nothing.
He looks at me expectantly, and perhaps divining that my lack of response indicates that I am not entirely convinced, says: “I show you.” Fast as a krait, he whips the cylinder out of its enclosure, removes the regulator and hose and peels back the protective metal hose wrapping. “See?” he says triumphantly. “Rubber is perished! Must buy new!” His English, while not perfect, is getting better all the time. I look at the near-new, flawless hose rubber and tell him that it looks pretty good to me. He scrutinises the hose minutely, and says in a voice of ineffable surprise: “Yes. Is good. My eyes maybe not good”. I agree with him and he gives me a Look.
He shifts his focus back to the ‘non-standard’ regulator. “Very dangerous”, he intones. And proceeds to ‘prove’ it by putting it back on the cylinder to pressurise it while keeping his finger on the hose outlet. Then he takes it off the gas bottle and flicks a lighter while brandishing the regulator in the air. When he releases his finger, the gas rushes out and a ball of fire leaps into the air, singeing his eyebrows and causing Rini to shriek and leap backwards into a chair.
“Yes”, I say solemnly, “that can happen when you fill it up with gas and light it”. He agrees happily, loudly saying “Dangerous! Hati hati! Regulator no good!” I tell him that, on the contrary, the regulator must be in good shape it it can hold the gas he forced into it without leaking. He inexplicably forgets that he knows English and turns to Rini. I think he is explaining to her that unless her stupid boss understands the ‘danger’ and buys a new regulator, she will be incinerated the next time she lights the stove. Rini looks at me imploringly, but I am unmoved.
In desperation, he takes my now unregulated gas cylinder, cracks the main valve with a screwdriver, and lights it. The resulting flame shoots out a metre and a half, nearly giving his side-kick an unwanted Brazilian. Then something goes wrong and he can’t stop the conflagration, so he tips the whole bottle on its side. I have slow reflexes, so I have no time to jump in the pool to avoid the explosion; I just stand there frozen. He interprets my paralysis as evidence that his demonstration has not impressed me and his shoulders slump dejectedly. “You not frightened”, he says. “No” I croak, while waiting for my heart rate to slow to below two hundred.
Fortunately, he doesn’t see Rini hyperventilating, so he continues the sales pitch with me. He insists that I need a new regulator – which he just happens to have in his shoulder bag. In fact, there are about twenty of the things in there. They seem identical to the one I already have. “How much?” I ask. He brightens, “Only 350,000!” he says. “Cheap!” Well no actually. I believe they are selling in Ace Hardware for 75,000. I tell him I’ll think about it and ask for his company’s business card. He suddenly goes all shifty and claims that he has run out. So I ask him for his company’s phone number and address. Surprise, surprise – he’s ‘forgotten’ both.
“Are you really a gas safety inspector?” I ask casually. He assures me he is. As I gently shoo him out, I ponder why, if he was, he didn’t see fit to mention that I am renting a villa where the gas bottle is in an enclosed, unventilated cupboard directly under the stove. Now that is dangerous, but I guess he’s not selling cylinder relocation services, just over-priced regulators.
But the worst thing is that, after his dramatic fire show, my poor pembantu can’t walk past the stove without her eyes sliding fearfully towards the lethal time-bomb of a gas regulator she believes is lurking inside, just waiting for its chance to immolate us all. Oh well, that’s Bali.