The Trouble With Onions, And How Carolyn Webb’s Terrible Touts Saved The Day

October 27, 2011

Finally, I reach the end of the long check-out queue at Bintang Supermarket. My purchases are scanned, and only about one-third of them need manual input because of the inevitable crumpled bar-code labels – apparently a specialty of this place.  Then I’m only delayed for a further five minutes while the cashier looks at me with silent censure and sends an assistant to wander off to weigh my pre-packed bag of onions. I’m looking at my pre-packed, bar-coded bag of potatoes and thinking, “Why should onions be different?” but I hold my tongue.

After four minutes of waiting, I’m ready to tell the cashier to forget the onions, but just then I spy the assistant slowly ambling back and bite my tongue again. The bar-code won’t scan properly, of course, so there’s more pecking of cash register keys until the display grudgingly admits that I have bought onions and not tomatoes as it insists at first. I should have recognised that all this nonsense was a sign from above that I should have just left the onions, paid and gone home.

Eschewing the dreaded plastic bags, I load up my two venerable recyclable bags with a ridiculously heavy load, stuffing all of my shopping into one shoulder bag and one smaller bag. The cashier looks at my shoulder bag with a practised eye, says “too heavy!” and offers me a plastic bag. I piously refuse. As I stagger to my bike, listing well to the right to counterbalance the load, I’m thinking that maybe the cashier was right. But, you know, it would be unmanly to go back and ask for another bag now, so I persevere. Besides, once I’m on the bike, I can just rest the weight of the bag on the pillion and everything should be fine. I’m such an optimist.

So there I am, negotiating the left-hand turn from Jl. Legian into Jl. Nakula, grinning a greeting at the local touts outside the MiniMart.  I skilfully manoeuvre through the deep pothole on the corner – the one that has been cleverly patched with concrete and immediately opened to traffic before it has set. It is a maze of trenches, ridges and wheel ruts which jolt my bike and rattle my teeth. Obviously I’m not skilful enough through this obstacle, because I feel a little warning snap of releasing stitches at my shoulder. But before I have time to react, the strap breaks completely and my precious bag falls off the pillion and into the middle of the road with a great thump.

Oh no! I hear the Bali traffic bearing relentlessly down on it while I try to park the bike at the side of the busy road. My coffee jar! My chilli sauce! Visions of exploding Rinso packets mixing with all the gooey stuff as fat tyres crush my shopping fill my mind. There is another thump as my other bag slips off its bike hook and bounces to the kerb. I stare at it, see that it’s not going to fall any further, spin around to see what has become of the first bag – and stop dead.

One of Carolyn Webb’s much-maligned touts has stopped traffic for me. Drivers are grinning and waiting patiently as I run back to retrieve my goodies, helped by another of the tout’s allegedly terrible cronies. An ojek driver – obviously taking time out from ferrying prostitutes, if you are to believe Ms. Webb – stops his bike and pushes mine to a safer place on to the footpath. He retrieves dropped bag number two and puts it back on the hook. It takes less than a minute to clear the road and have me on my way. I thank the guys profusely, but they wave it off with a grin and a “no problem!” They think that the whole debacle is funny – they’re big on physical humour here.

I like the so-called touts in Bali. After nearly three years here, many of them recognise me, wave hello and then leave me alone, seeking more bountiful prospects elsewhere amongst the visiting hordes. But even when I first arrived, I didn’t have a problem with them. I would tell them “No thanks, I can’t”. When pressed for an explanation, I would tell them, with a completely straight face, that I am incredibly stingy, but I wish them well and hope they find a Japanese tourist soon. We get along fine, and I like talking to them. They are human beings doing an incredibly difficult job to feed their families, and I have a great deal of respect for them. I don’t mind in the least when they greet me cheerfully as Pak Pelit – it’s almost a compliment to be called Mr. Stingy.

You’ve got to love Bali. Where else would you have people jumping unselfishly to help you when you get yourself into trouble? Because of them, my shopping, luckily undamaged in its plunge from the bike, remained uncrushed by traffic.

But I can’t help feeling that if I had only left the damned onions in the supermarket, the extra weight wouldn’t have snapped my bag strap. But then again, I wouldn’t have had the chance to show that Carolyn Webb’s perception of Bali was deeply flawed either.



  1. Damn those onions! Perhaps it was to let people like Carolyn know that people in Bali can be fantastic!

    I read the comments on the link. It can be annoying but one does have to learn to be firm with a smile and not aggressive. They will leave you alone. Just as annoying can be people here in Australia who have the cheek to ring me in the evening when I am having dinner or reading your boly and interrupt me wanting to sell me things over the phone. I dont know them so why bother ringing me. They are trying to make a living in a very difficult way…doesnt appeal to me and I am glad I dont have to or need to be a ‘hawker’!

    I love the happiness and acceptance of people in Bali and am now coming back, not so much as tourist but will be studying at the university in Lombok…I want to learn Indonesian so will be doing so in my holidays. I wil be staying in a home stay so am really looking forward to the experience as a mature age student.



  2. Carolyn Webb doesn’t have a clue what Bali is really like. And what was she doing at the Writer’s Festival. Borborigmus, you’re a far better writer than she is.

  3. Boly…LOL..I had better learn to improve my typing..I meant BLOG

  4. I read her opinion…. Last week a “new to Bali” friend left her bag in a warung on Double 6 road. I retrieved it for her. It had US $1000 and her passport in it. The owner questioned me to make sure I knew the owner. He outright refused a reward. Yeah Bali is full of money grubbing touts and thieves…..

  5. Yeah Carolyn ya numpty!!! Nice one Vyt. Seeya in 24hrs Bali 🙂

  6. Gotta watch out for those onions, indeed.
    I have checked Miss Webb’s article and one thing i really don’t understand is this :
    “in Australia, if a woman gets on a motorbike with a stranger, that is called prostitution.”
    WTF is she talking about ?

    • Maybe she has confused a Freudian dream with reality?
      In any event, I heard a rumour that there was a large contingent of bikers headed to her house as we speak. Apparently their pillion-riding girlfriends and wives wish to have a few words with Carolyn …

  7. Another great post! I see the anti-Bali movement is growing fast amongst the world’s media – this is one in the eye for them, haha!

  8. Great post. I’ve just read Carolyn Webb’s article – disgusting – makes me ashamed to be Australian. I agree, touts are people too trying to make a living to support their families.

  9. An excellent story. One can only wishes that Mzzz Webb draws a post in outer Mongolia where she can suck on Mares milk and eat horse meat cooked over Yak dung, In your eye Mzzz Webb

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