Posts Tagged ‘blackouts’

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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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More power to the people – please!

November 13, 2009

So there I am, nose buried in my laptop, revelling in the sheer breadth and rich magnificence of the online universe – and the lights go out. Again. As they did four days ago, and every four days before that. At least PLN, Bali’s only electricity supplier, is consistent in its inconsistent delivery of power. How can my reliance on being connected survive this? OK, I’m borderline autistic and prefer computers or dogs to people – but I still need my network to give me at least a semblance of human communication. My laptop is battery powered, but the wi-fi transmitter isn’t – when the lights go away, so does my known universe. No mail, no web, no Twitter, no Facebook, no blogs, no Skype, no chat – what the hell does PLN expect me to do – actually go out and talk to people?

I understand the need for load shedding in emergencies, but come on! How long does it take to replace the fish-nibbled extension lead that brings Bali’s power from Java, or pry stray squirrels out of the Gilimanuk power station generators? If the problem is that the turbines are not getting enough gas, they could at least import some Australian politicians. Ten pollies’ worth of hot air should surely produce at least an extra 1000 megawatts. And anyway, why did everyone wait until the demand exceeded supply before actually starting to do something? Aarghh!

The restaurants, warungs and bars that don’t have backup power are bleeding. Romantic as candlight is, customers tend to evaporate when the darkness descends. Who wants to eat unfamiliar dishes when they can’t see what they’re eating? Who wants to drink warm beer? Who wants to risk eating food from warming fridges? Who wants to fossick in the dark for unfamiliar money when it’s time to pay the bill? And who wants to walk down unlit streets and risk disappearing forever into one of those black holes cunningly scattered along Bali footpaths? Not many, I suspect.

Tourists are remaining in their generator-equipped hotels, and yet another night of infinitesimal takings depresses an industry already reeling from ludicrous duties and taxes on alcohol and imported food. In the last month, I have listened to various visitors saying that they are seriously considering a different holiday destination next time – somewhere where a bottle of good wine doesn’t cost the same as Visa On Arrival fees for a family of four and where there is an electricity supply that works. One said it’s like having a Nyepi Day every 4 days. When they get home, these people talk to their friends, they blog, they Twitter – and they write travel articles. The word is spreading. Can Bali afford this?

But of course, all of this is nothing compared to the real problem created by PLN blackouts – pembantu nyctophobia. I have discovered that many locals here are afraid of the dark. However, where my pembantu is concerned, afraid is a manifestly inadequate word to describe what she experiences. If there was a word that combined terror, dread, horror, panic, alarm, dismay, consternation and trepidation, it would barely begin to describe the emotions that seize her when the lights go out. Her eyes widen like saucers, she freezes for a few seconds, then stabs desperately at the keys of her ever-present handphone for some backlit salvation. 

I really tried to help. I bought a stack of emergency lights for my place. These stay plugged in, quiescent and charging, until PLN hits the off switch, then automatically light up. Problem solved, I thought. Umm, no – the lights, perhaps because they are bluish LEDs, seem to offer little solace to her. “Sir, they not real light …” she says timidly. At some primal level, she knows they are powered by batteries – and batteries eventually go flat. When I insensitively ask her whether she is afraid of ogoh ogohs – the fabled monsters of Balinese lore – she laughs nervously and denies it, while her eyes fearfully scour the multiple dark crannies of the villa, expecting large, flesh-eating entities to leap gibbering and moaning towards her. Within three minutes of a blackout, she will surround herself with every emergency lamp she has been able to find, plus a few candles for backup. Then she sits holding (but not reading) a book while sending an incredible barrage of text messages to what appears to be most of Indonesia. Despite almost never catching sight of the girl during the day, I notice that during outages, she always manages to be in the same room as me.

So of course, when I say that I’m going out for dinner, the stricken look on her face means that I inevitably have an unexpected dinner companion. I didn’t think she thought much of my motorbike riding skills, but to see her jump onto the pillion seat with such alacrity could mean that I’m wrong. Then again, I suspect that her fear of the dark trumps her fear of my riding …

PLN, you are costing me a fortune. Not just in dinners, time and inconvenience either. My pembantu is getting married soon, and I was going to give her a modest, token wedding present. Now, because of you, I can see that nothing less than a 5kV diesel generator and a full lighting rig will do – and they are not cheap.