Posts Tagged ‘Australia’

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Let’s Keep Cycling Fun And Lycra-free In Bali!

June 4, 2011

Bike riding is on the increase in Bali. I’m not talking about motorbikes, but pushies. Sepeda. Deadly treadlies. Oh, there have always been frighteningly fit expats around who power through the streets, easily keeping pace with nominally-faster motorbikes in our terminally clogged thoroughfares. There have always been those expat women floating serenely through the traffic on their traditional style ladies’ bikes, wearing elegant long flowing dresses and looking utterly unfazed by the heat. And there have always been local kids zooming around on tiny, erratic bug-like things that are obviously an interim stage before they graduate to motorbikes at about 8 years of age. But there seems to have been a quantum leap in the numbers of cyclists recently, and this is getting scary.

Soon after sunset, when the air cools, big pelotons of young riders appear on the roads and continue swooping and darting through traffic until late at night. They seem like organised groups, and are obviously having fun. Most seem to have at least a rudimentary knowledge of road mores – in the sense that they at least – generally – stay to the left. But there is not a helmet to be seen, none of their bikes have lights, and riding three or four abreast seems to be the norm. While I hope fervently that it won’t happen, it is only a matter of time before a car ploughs into one of these nocturnal groups.

Children naturally imitate their elders, so it should have been no surprise for me to encounter such a group in one of the smaller streets in Legian last week. The trouble was, all thirty or so of the tiny riders were in pitch-darkness and all were riding fast. The entire width of the lane was occupied by excited kids looking sideways while yelling happily to each other as they swept around a blind corner, straight at me. I managed to stop my motorbike before any contact, but two of the budding BMXers still ended up wobbling into each other and falling off. Sadly, they both gave me the traditional dirty look reserved for bules in Bali, because naturally, it must have been entirely my fault.

No-one denies the health benefits of bicycle-borne exercise, or that the carbon footprint of a bike and its rider is much smaller than that of a motorbike. Except for the occasional release of methane in an exertion-induced kentut, bicycle riding is generally regarded as more friendly to the environment than motorised transport. And I am the first to encourage it – as long as this laudable pursuit does not go down the same path as it has in Australia.

On my last trip to Melbourne, I arrived on a weekend. I needed to drive to a bayside suburb along a main road which follows the line of the bay. To my surprise, it was completely closed to cars – something that apparently happens every weekend. Not for a scheduled bike race, I hasten to add, just so that recreational riders can use a main arterial road without the hassle of dealing with cars. Cyclists are the only ones who can use the road, causing untold angst to thousands of residents who have to find their way to their destinations through choked back streets that eventually feed into overloaded main roads many kilometres away. Maybe the preponderance of surrealistic Green-dominated local councils has something to do with it. Maybe it’s just that social engineering in Melbourne has finally tipped over the edge into unbridled lunacy. Who knows? While some of those weekend riders are no doubt motivated by opportunities for healthy exercise, many unfortunately give the impression of being self-centred fanatics, if not complete psychopaths.

It wasn’t enough that many of these ‘enthusiasts’ in their visually confronting harlequin-bug costumes saw fit to dominate the only viable thoroughfare, they also took over the side streets. Negotiating those congested minor routes was a nightmare. As well as the displaced cars, these streets also had to cope with clots of angry, Lycra-clad ectomorphs oozing endorphins, and consumed with an irrational rage towards anything on four wheels. They ignored stop signs and traffic lights, cut in, changed lanes without warning, and overtook cars on the left and on the right. Thank the gods that none had mountain bikes, or they would have ridden over the top of my car. Some even thumped my roof as they passed, glaring and yelling “Bloody Cager!” as they passed. Apart from anything else, I resent their hijacking of the motorcyclists’ term of endearment for a car driver. Bloody cheek!

Then, at a roundabout in Elwood, where I was going straight ahead, a pair of suicidal idiots shot past me on my left and promptly turned right across the front of my car. I stopped abruptly, despite a strong urge to keep going and reduce their bikes to scrap metal. Incensed, they promptly yelled abuse at me for daring to get in their way, for daring to drive a car, and for “destroying the planet”. Wow! L’il ol’ me – actually inciting passion in someone. Then, like a disturbed wasp nest, the other riders in the area swarmed to the defence of the aggrieved riders. Several dozen of them immediately entered the roundabout and circled endlessly, screaming epithets at me – and at all the other drivers blocked from entering the intersection. Very mature. After five minutes of this, they apparently decided I had completed my penance and rode off to find other targets.

But that’s Melbourne; this is Bali. So far, cycling here is at the same stage as it was in my youth –  a time of pleasure in healthy physical activity, a time of freedom and joy in self-powered motion. Let’s preserve that if possible; let’s encourage safe cycling through education and socialisation. Let’s do that before cycling becomes a hip fashion, a form of institutionalised arrogance and a cult politicised by inane do-gooders who have no idea of the ramifications of their actions.

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Balloons, Broken Broadband and Bill Payments in Bali

August 14, 2010

So here I am – back into the swing of Bali life after swanning around Lithuania for several weeks. Set against a broader world canvas, the parking insanity here suddenly seems almost normal. Lithuanians park wherever they want to – sometimes in the middle of a road – simply because they can. In some ways, Bali seems more organised and less of a frontier country. Here, I haven’t seen as many incidents of restaurant fire-bombings by competitors aggrieved by the success of others. Or of people building houses on someone else’s land, then shrieking about their self-granted squatters’ rights. Nevertheless, like Bali, Lithuania is beautiful and the people are friendly and hospitable.

It takes maybe a week to adjust to the 4pm gridlock in Jl. Double Six – and everywhere else – because of fools parking their 4WD behemoths on both sides of the road, and motorcyclists with the IQs of dog biscuits then double-parking on the outside of the aforementioned fools. When the inevitable truck arrives, the resulting infarction lasts for hours.

It then takes me another week to realise that my already woefully slow internet connection has been drastically degraded even more since I left. Yes – it’s the same lunatic, censorship-obsessed fringe element that we already have in China (and soon, Australia) – technically inept buffoons who think nothing of reducing the effectiveness of an entire county’s IT infrastructure in order to impose their own view of ‘morality’. I am saddened by the erosion of pancasila by extremists, but I guess that they feel that prevention of accidental erections is worth it.

But the real indicator that I am truly back in Bali is my re-connection with the quirky business practices here. My Indonesian friends, in the process of opening up a new shop, decide that some printed balloons might be a good promotional idea. I offer to source these. Silly me. I find a balloon shop. “No, we cannot print on balloons, we just sell them”. So I find a printer who tells me: “No problem, we can supply and print balloons.” I tell him that I will take fifty. “OK – you go out to buy balloons now?” he says. It’s not worth arguing about the logical disconnects in this conversation, so I go back to the first shop to actually buy the balloons, then come back to the printer. He scrutinises each balloon minutely and pronounces them suitable. He tells me to come back in three days and ushers me out of the shop. “Don’t you want to know what to print?”, I ask. He reluctantly agrees to record this, even though I can see that he regards this as useless information. As it turned out, it was.

I come back after the agreed period and he hands me my bag of unprinted balloons. “Can not print”, he says, “Balloons not flat. Stick in machine”. So I go back to the balloon shop, where they don’t want to take the balloons back. “Used”, says the man laconically. That’s OK, I think – everyone needs a bag of balloons.  I might accidentally stumble on a party somewhere. I ask him for a business card, just in case I am crazy enough to buy more balloons in the future. The card is double-sided, and one side says “Latex Balloons Printed Here”. I raise my eyebrows at him in a mute question. “Yes”, he offers. “We print balloons”. I breathe deeply and tell him I’ll take fifty. “You want 50 more?” he says, scenting another sale. “No, I want 50 printed“, I say, my voice rising a notch.  He looks genuinely remorseful. “Ahh, sorry. We cannot print on balloons, we just sell them”.

I recognise a Ground-Hog Day when I see one, so I  quietly capitulate and go off to do something inspiring, pleasant and straightforward, such as paying the water bill. The nice man at the office looks at my previous bill, smiles and says that no water bills can be paid after 2pm. It is 2:01pm. My pleading leaves him unmoved. The next day, the same nice man says that, despite my having paid the bill there each month for the last four months, I now have to pay this one way out in North Denpasar somewhere. Bemused, I ask why. “Because it is overdue. Cannot accept here now.” He then adds helpfully that it was due yesterday. I stare at him. He smiles at me, and kindly writes down the address I should go to – a Jalan Bedahulu. My street directory shows me that there are about twenty-five streets of that name, all in one large block in Denpasar. The place is nearly half-way to Bedugul.  It would have taken about two hours to ride there in heavy traffic, so I do the right thing and go and have three Bintangs instead. I don’t care – let them chase me for the money, or cut off my water, or deport me – I will just go with the flow.

Strangely, despite the culture shock of transitioning back to Bali from Europe, I feel at peace being back. After all, it was partly the anarchy, the freedom and the lack of logic that brought me here from over-regulated Australia in the first place. And after today’s adventures, I really feel that I am truly back in Bali.

But I still wouldn’t mind getting my old, unthrottled, unfiltered excuse for broadband internet back. Maybe I will if sanity prevails once more amongst those who impose their personal and religious mores on the rest of us.