Posts Tagged ‘chaos’

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Watering The Seeds Of Religious Intolerance

August 6, 2013

Here are two sad little tales that encapsulate the rot that is slowly eroding the previously harmonious social fabric of Indonesia. The stories are connected, but separate; their threads weaving dark changes in the characters and mindsets of their protagonists, and diminishing their faith in humanity.

A few months ago, a woman from a lovely family in Sumatra, despite being comfortably settled in Medan, accompanied her husband to Perawang, a village 50 kilometres from Pekanbaru in Central Sumatra. He had secured a better job there, and while it was hard to shift so far away from the family’s love and support, they made the move. They found a house and executed all the necessary agreements to rent it for twelve months. It seemed like a friendly neighbourhood, and the local residents appeared welcoming. But that was soon to change.

After having lived there for just over a month, and having settled in – with all the usual establishment expenses – there was a knock at the door. The house owner was standing there, and he did not look pleased.

“What religion are you?” he demanded without preamble.
“We’re Christian – why?” was the bemused reply.
“You have to get out of the house”, demanded the owner. “We are all Muslims here. You are not welcome.”

Stunned, the couple protested, saying that the owner had already agreed to a twelve-month rental, that he had sighted their KTP identity documents (which specify to which of the six ‘government-approved’ religions one belongs), and that they had done nothing to upset any of the neighbours. The owner was unmoved. “I don’t care. Get out now. We don’t want you here.”

So they were forced to move, and having lost their rental money – and their house – to a religious bigot, had no option but to seek charitable help from their local church. Fortunately, the church showed a compassionate face sadly lacking amongst the Muslims of Perawang, and allowed them to use one of their church properties, where they found temporary sanctuary.

Meanwhile, here in Bali, my good friend Septyni was furious. You see, the woman in question is her sister, and she is both fiercely protective of her sibling and enraged at the bigotry displayed towards her and her husband. For the five years I have known her, Septyni has always been one of the most tolerant and accepting human beings I have ever met. But her family’s crisis in Sumatra, together with the constant news of religious intolerance towards minorities in the press, have begun to change her. She is developing a profound distrust and dislike of the dominant religious group in Indonesia, and this, while sad, appears to be a view shared by more and more people as abuses continue.

And so to the second part of the story, the timing of which was both unfortunate and destructive. Through an acquaintance, Septyni recently met someone who had just arrived  from Aceh – a man who was looking for a job and a place to stay. Ever-helpful to all people, regardless of their origins or faith, Septyni gave him helpful advice about job-seeking strategies and about settling in to Bali life.

She helped him to find accommodation at her kost, where there was a room available for rent. She guided him in his search for ads for job vacancies, and helped him to find a motorbike to rent. And when his rented bike developed mechanical issues and became difficult to ride, she even lent him her own bike and rode his faulty bike herself. He was a neighbour now, and in her view, one should help thier neighbours.

She didn’t pay much attention to his pronouncements that he was “a good Muslim”, because in her mind, a person’s faith is a personal matter between them and their god, and irrelevant to most normal human interactions. So as a Christian, and as a good person, she helped him, not because she wanted anything from him, but because that’s the sort of person she is.

And then this bastard, who called himself “Adang”, repaid her kindness by waiting until she had inadvertently left her room unlocked while using the shower at the other end of the building, sneaking into her room, and stealing 400,000 Rupiah and some of her books, leaving her with insufficient money to pay her rent or buy food. By the time she had finished her shower, he had disappeared for good – no doubt to find someone else to rip off.

Her sister’s forced eviction and her experience with this opportunistic thief were two events that occurred within days of each other. As a result, this kind, tolerant woman now has a deep antipathy towards Muslims – perhaps unwarranted on the basis of only two incidents – but wholly understandable given the very personal nature of her experiences.

She is now on the brink of becoming intolerant – a state of mind previously completely foreign to her, but now precipitated by the appalling behaviour of some people, who just happen to be Muslim. Each new anti-social event she experiences in Indonesia, each new example of religious bigotry, will continue to water the seeds of her intolerance until they produce the same toxic flowers of hate and misunderstanding that we see growing every day elsewhere throughout the archipelago.

The government should do something to stop this rot, instead of promoting it as they are doing, despite their weasel words to the international community. And maybe the vast mass of tolerant Muslims should reclaim their once-vaunted reputation for friendliness and hospitality by opposing those in power who continue to promote Muslim supremacy over all others.

Because if they don’t, the situation will only get worse – and Indonesia will implode.

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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 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 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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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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Lies, Lies, Lies – The Devalued Currency Of Politics

July 12, 2012

We expect our friends to tell the truth, because it forms the core of trust. We are disappointed if they deceive us and betray that trust. We expect a little less of big business, knowing that the ‘truth’ for them is sometimes a malleable commodity. But we can still accept those semi-truths, as long as they are wrapped in a warm fuzzy cloak of integrity.

And then we have our politicians, many of whom regard the truth as a chimera that can shape-shift at will.  For them, integrity merely a word in the dictionary, and not one they have to look up often. There are people who base their lives around “Whatever is Right”, but they are rarely politicians, whose creed is “Whatever Works”. We trust our friends, we tolerate our corporations, but we rarely, if ever, trust our politicians.

When our politicians lie, they do it with vigour and panache. They like the big lie, because it is bold, and addresses the reptile brain, not rational thought. Consciously or unconsciously, they follow the precepts of Adolf Hitler, who described lies in Mein Kampf  thus: “… in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily”.

That’s a mouthful, so his words from  are often paraphrased as: “The bigger the lie, the more it will be believed.” You don’t have to look far for examples of outrageous big lies from Indonesia’s own beloved leaders.

Suryadharma Ali, head of Indonesia’s Religious Affairs Ministry which was described by the Corruption Eradication Commission as the most corrupt ministry of all (which takes some doing), came out with a whopper recently. After several years of violent and deadly marginalisation of minorities, religious hate crimes and murders, a government edict that allows only six approved religions, and an absolute ban on atheism, blasphemy and apostasy, he blithely stated that Indonesia was “the most tolerant country in the world.” As if to reinforce the lie, he went on to say, “We treat equally the minority and the majority. Indonesia’s religious harmony is the best in the world.”

Right Ali, I’ll give that priceless jewel of mendacity and denial ten out of ten.

Not be outdone, Mahfud MD, Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court, came up with a gem this week while entertaining Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel. In response to her stated concerns about the freedom of religion and democracy in Indonesia, he lied shamelessly, asserting that “…  the Constitutional Court has guaranteed the freedom of atheists and communists in this country, as long as they do not disturb the freedom of people of other religions. Freedom is equality”, he declared, according to Kompas.com.

Meanwhile, Alex Aan, a 32-year-old civil servant  incarcerated in June for 30 months for declaring that he was an atheist, is probably sitting in his cell wondering what Mahfud is on about. The producers of  a television program about Tan Malaka, a well-known Indonesian nationalist and communist, are also probably bemused as to why army chiefs banned the show from going to air last year if there is constitutionally-protected tolerance in the country.

Mahfud, for this one, you are just behind Ali. Nine out of ten.

Politician’s lies, of course, are to gain political advantage, or to make individuals or the state look good on the world stage. For Muslims, such as the two worthies mentioned above, lying is not only permitted by the Qur’an, it is encouraged under certain circumstances, such as any anticipated harm (in the broadest sense) to one’s self, fellow Muslims, or to Islam. This principle of Taqiyya is well-documented and widely used. If describing taqiyya as lying is too harsh for you, just call it ‘dissimulation’ if it makes you feel more politically correct.

Lest the accusation be levelled that I’m engaging in Islam-bashing, or selectively using Indonesian politicians as examples of big-ticket lying, let’s look at some other luminaries on the world stage. Truth came a distant second to diplomacy and commercial interests for two recent visitors to these shores.

US President Barack Obama waxed lyrical about Indonesia being “a model for the world”, heaping praise on its “religious tolerance” while pointedly ignoring the widely-documented increase in religious bigotry, violence and intolerance. His ‘praise’ came, not surprisingly, during his efforts to flog $21.7 billion worth of Boeing planes to Lion Air. It makes the lie understandable, but it doesn’t make it believable. Nine out of ten, Obama.

Five months later, British Prime Minister David Cameron, in an astonishing display of ‘me-too-ism’ spouted an equally fatuous homily. Without even blushing, he intoned, “Indonesia’s respect for democracy and minority religious groups should serve as an example for other Muslim nations”. By the most amazing coincidence, he too was there to flog planes; in this case 11 Airbus A330 aircraft which he wanted Garuda Indonesia to buy for $505.5 million. I give Cameron 9.5 out of ten, just edging out Obama and Mahfud, but still running behind Ali’s perfect score.

Of course, all these prevaricators would be uneasy if you came straight out and called them liars. They would claim that it’s just spin, or a sales pitch, or diplomacy, or it’s for the greater good, or a legitimate way of gaining and consolidating power. After all, you know – it’s all just politics in the end.

Well no, Ali, Mahfud, Obama and Cameron – it’s lying. And it diminishes both you and the institutions that you lie about. Nietzsche put his finger on it when he said, “I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.” Small wonder that no-one, but no-one trusts politicians.

When you politicos brazenly lie for your own purposes, whatever those may be, what does it do to you? Do you know in your hearts that you are lying? If so, you are unfit for office. Or do you rationalise your thoughts and words to the extent that you believe you are actually telling the truth?

If that’s the case, the writer Dostoyevsky has an insight into the terrible thing that has happened to you. He says, “Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others.” 

And of course, any politician whose internal integrity compass is malfunctioning to this extent is unfit for office too.

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Attracting The Elderly Tourist

July 12, 2012

Bali’s grand plan for tourism seems to be a bit of a dog’s breakfast. It doesn’t really seem to be a plan as such – it’s more a series of somewhat reactive slogans that sound plausible until they need to actually be implemented.

For years, the driving principle seemed to be ‘let’s encourage more and more to come – but we won’t even think about improving the infrastructure to support the increase. Then, when it became apparent that tourists were staying for shorter periods and spending less, it became ‘there are too many stingy tourists – let’s go for quality instead’. Still no mention of improving infrastructure to attract those elusive ‘quality’ tourists though.

Now, it seems that a new target market that fulfils the desired ‘quality’ demographic is in the cross-hairs. Ida Bagus Kade Subikshu, head of Bali’s tourism agency, wants to encourage older visitors. He is quoted as enthusiastically saying, “The prospect for elderly tourism is huge.” He speaks of promoting activities, destinations and cultural experiences for the mature set, which is laudable, but says little about – you guessed it – viable infrastructure that would make it possible.

So I contemplate his suggestion while gazing around me. I see the uneven, dangerous footpaths, open pits and loose, pivoting manhole covers – and think of fragile, low-density bones just waiting to snap, crackle and pop as well as any breakfast cereal. I see the unpredictable traffic that demands astonishing agility by pedestrians just to survive a simple road crossing.

I see hotels with a multitude of levels, few lifts, and bathrooms with showers over slippery, high-walled baths. I see the potential for a tropical environment exacerbating age-related illness, and the impossibility of getting fast-response trauma care through the grid-locked streets. I see the heat, humidity, dust and exhaust fumes sapping the strength of young, healthy tourists and wonder just how the elderly would cope.

And just as I am ready to dismiss Kade’s idea as yet another pie-in-the-sky dream, I read – with no small degree of  shock – that he defines his ‘elderly’ target group as those over 55 years old. I’m already more than 10 years past his cut-off point! I’m not elderly dammit! I’m … well, mature, but I still manage to live happily in Bali without breaking a hip, or needing someone to hand me my Zimmer frame when I get off my motorbike.

So I decide that ‘elderly’ is a relative term. My 90 year-old mother is elderly, not me. Mind you, I thought she was elderly when I was 30, and I’m sure my own kids, being in the prime of their lives, regard me as a broken-down old crock.

With that epiphany, I look around again with fresh eyes. And suddenly my focus is on the teeming throngs of people, not on the obstacle course that they are negotiating. A good proportion of them are over 55 – and they are all managing splendidly. They happily go on tours all over the island, they walk the broken streets with confidence, explore rickety stairs, ride motorbikes,  and generally seem to thrive on the anarchic bedlam that is Bali.

And that could well be the secret. My own contemporaries love Bali, because it provides an escape from the cloying strictures of Australia’s over-regulated nanny-state. They enjoy a place  where a righteous army of do-gooders doesn’t choke their spirit. They thrive in a place that, despite having many risks to life and limb,  allows them to take personal responsibility for their own safety and well-being, instead of being treated like extraordinarily dense sheep.

So go for it Kade. Encourage the oldies. For a start, the SKIers (Spending the Kids’ Inheritance) crowd are not as impecunious as the youngsters and they are far less likely to get blind drunk and abusive. You also solve at least part of your problem with the late-night club scene, because they’re all in bed by the time the clubs open.

By all means fix the garbage problem and the dirty beaches – that’s for the benefit of the whole society here. But don’t try to lure oldies with the promise of vastly improved infrastructure. Not only can Bali not afford the broad boulevards, wide footpaths, parks and proliferating malls of places like Singapore, those free-spirited older tourists who come to Bali probably don’t really want them anyway. Some might even be making up for missing the hippy trail experience in their youth, and are making up for it now.

Bali is still a frontier in a way – a place where you can survive on your wits, enjoy the local culture, learn the rudiments of a different language, interact with a wide variety of interesting characters, dodge traffic and just go with the chaotic flow of life here.

And if any of the older tourists that you attract with your campaign are unhappy with the unordered, unpredictable rhythm of Bali life, the answer is simple. Send them to Singapore.

I’ll bet they come back.

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Solve Bali’s Problems By Changing A Deeply Flawed System

June 28, 2012

Bali’s popular and caring Governor, I Made Mangku Pastika, is again in the news as being concerned about the effect of tourism on the island. “Tourism has been a disaster for the poor”, he said. The number of people living in poverty in Bali has jumped by 17,000 to 183,000 over the last year alone. He blames tourism for driving up the prices of basic commodities to a point where the indigent can no longer afford them. He also points to increased transmigration by non-Balinese looking for tourism-related work as putting pressure on both prices and infrastructure.

I am sure that for diplomatic reasons, Pastika didn’t mention the opportunistic price increases here ahead of Jakarta’s recently botched ‘phasing out’ of fuel subsidies and the resulting fuel price rises. That increase didn’t eventuate of course – the Central government’s duty to responsibly manage the economy took a back seat to political popularity – but there is little doubt that that fiasco has contributed to the problem as well. Prices of just about everything went up. But when the whole rationale for these cost increases suddenly vanished, those prices … well, of course, they stayed up.

Pastika’s attempts to manage Bali’s tourism bubble without destroying the soul of the island have been laudable. His ‘moratorium’ on further development in an island already over-supplied with accommodation – and under-equipped with suitable infrastructure – was a genuine attempt to rescue Bali from its growing problems.  We can see these every day – grid-locked streets, mountains of rubbish, collapsing road surfaces, environmental degradation, insufficient water and inadequate power supply.

And yet, despite the moratorium, new hotels and condominiums keep springing up like noxious weeds, taking over residential areas, obliterating rice fields and breaching height and set-back limits with impunity. Many developers appear to commence construction without even bothering the get the required permits and don’t even attempt to comply with the 40% open space rule designed to catch rain to replenish a diminishing water table. And as far as the ‘Balinese character’ required in their architectural features – well, I guess developers think that Miami or Gold Coast designs are close enough for Bali.

How can this be? I hear people blaming Pastika – after all, he is the Governor of Bali, right? He has the power to lead the way for Bali – why isn’t he enforcing his own moratorium? Why doesn’t he do something about the infrastructure?

The simple answer is – he can’t. He might be the Governor of Bali –  one of the 33 provinces of Indonesia – but he effectively has no power.

The real power in Indonesia is vested in the districts or regencies (kabupaten), and the cities (kota). Bali has eight regencies and one city – Denpasar.

The head of each regency, via its administration, has total authority, often by-passing the role of the provincial government in making and enforcing regulations and policies. And every regency can make its own rules. So much for consistency.

In effect, the Bali Governor’s role as head of the provincial government is limited to a vaguely-defined mediating role between regencies. For those familiar with the tiers of Australian government, the situation is akin to granting local municipal councils the same rights and powers as a State government, reducing that body to a symbolic and largely ceremonial role.

In Australia, such a system would result in planning chaos, with no consistency in laws, regulations, tax charges and levies, urban construction standards, or anything else that provides the glue to hold civil society together. In Bali, this system results in planning chaos, with no consistency … well, you get the picture.

The genesis of this unbelievable situation came about 11 years ago. In an attempt to decentralise Jakarta’s absolute control and devolve power to Indonesia’s far-flung provinces, the Regional Autonomy policy of 2001 was implemented.  It might have even been workable if the sub-national units – the Provinces – were granted the power to manage their own local affairs.

But no, the post-Dili paranoia that gripped Jakarta meant that districts/regencies – not provinces – were given this power, in the fear that a genuine transfer of authority to provinces might induce them to break away from Jakarta’s grip.

Are all the eight regencies happy with this arrangement? Well, Badung is happy. A large part of Bali’s development, and hence revenue, is generated there. Gianyar too seems reasonably happy with its share of the cake, as is the municipality of Denpasar. But the other six regencies would be close to destitute if it wasn’t for a revenue-sharing arrangement that originally took 30% of Badung’s revenues (and since considerably reduced) to be redistributed to the poorer areas.

So now, we have the sad spectacle of the governor of Bali trying his best to address the problems here, but being stymied by autonomous regencies which not only compete with each other for hand-out money, but whose very survival is dependent on funds from development licences, fees and taxes – and of course, the eternal bribe windfalls from granting inappropriate development permits. “Moratorium?”, they ask – “What moratorium?” A ‘permits for sale’ mentality rules, and Bali disappears under yet more towers.

Adding to the volatile mix of greed versus sustainability is a set of central guidelines which don’t even address the role of tourism or handicrafts – two of Bali’s critical ingredients. It’s a recipe for chaos. I sympathise with the Governor, and I can understand why he over-simplifies the formula so that it reads “Tourism = A Disaster for the Poor”. That’s just politics, although it does make for a fine sound-bite.

The reality is that to improve the lot of the Balinese people requires a radical re-think of all the complex components of the situation. Bali generates more than 50% of Indonesia’s $7 billion+ tourist-related revenue. Does Bali get to keep what it generates? No. Does Bali get any of the huge Visa On Arrival windfall collected from its tourists? Not a rupiah. Retaining a fair share of this money would go a long way to implementing poverty-reduction programs in Bali – but it won’t happen as long as Jakarta keeps seeing Bali as a cash cow.

On top of the huge discrepancy between the money generated and money retained, is the ludicrous situation of having a provincial government with no real power, no clout, no mandate to plan, and basically no voice in the affairs of Bali itself. These functions are being undertaken by competing regencies to the detriment of the whole province.

While Bali may not yet be ready for Bali Merdeka – true independence (nor would Jakarta’s nationalistic power-brokers ever permit it) –  it certainly is ready to push for special autonomy status, with the provincial government assuming its rightful place as the strategic seat of planning and power. It’s time that the dog wagged the tail.

When it does, listen for the screaming of the regents, especially those who have been putting their local interests ahead of those of Bali. They will provide the soundtrack for the birth of a new, mature Bali, one with a proper, hierarchical government structure instead of a chaotic set of divided fiefdoms.

I just hope that someone of Governor Pastika’s calibre, and possessing his vision, will be at the helm when that happens.

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The ‘Express’ KITAS Renewal Process

May 20, 2012

Knowing that I could not travel for a few months, I grudgingly surrendered my passport and soon-to-be-expired KITAS to the Immigration office. Of course the usual raft of paperwork had to accompany this, including solemn written promises that I will employ Indonesian staff, that I will live in an approved tourist zone, and that I will not, under any circumstances, engage in gainful employment. Truth be told, I actually welcome this latter injunction, as it validates my choice to live a life of slothful drifting from one day to the next. In fact, I have no idea how I ever managed to fit work into my daily life before coming here.

As in previous years, I was a little worried about not having my travel documents while the tedious process of KITAS renewal dragged on for several months. One can’t travel at all without documents – not even within Indonesia, where ID is mandatory. The supposed 12-month KITAS which I pay for is not really usable for the whole year anyway. Not that that matters, because the essential Multiple Entry and Exit passport stamp is now only valid for eleven months, because the authorities have decided that they don’t like you travelling during the final month of your KITAS term …

Two years ago, it took two and a half months for the renewal process, because my documents were ‘lost’ – and then the official who had to sign off on them was ‘on leave’. Last year the process was incredibly protracted because the Immigration Office was being investigated by the anti-corruption people, during which time most of their normal work – glacially slow at the best of times – ground to a halt. Ironically, it was suggested to me that a ‘facilitation fee’ might speed up the process, but given the reasons for the low work output, I thought it best to decline.

This year, I planned, perhaps optimistically, for a eight-week turnaround. Naturally, only five days after feeding my entire legal identity into the maw of the Immigration Office, I found out at 9am on a Monday morning that I needed to travel urgently to Australia to help out a friend who had been incapacitated in an accident.

Luckily, I have an excellent agent, who immediately put in an urgent request for ‘express processing’. By 11am, I was in the Immigration Office being fingerprinted yet again, presumably because my fingerprints had changed in the intervening twelve months. I was told that processing would take about a day, so I couldn’t travel on Tuesday, but was assured that I could pick up my completed travel documents by noon on Wednesday. The nice official told me that it would be quite OK for me to book  a flight for Wednesday afternoon. The only flight I could get at short notice was via Jakarta, which meant that I had to be at the airport by 5pm on Wednesday. With Bali’s notorious traffic, I had to leave home by no later than 4pm.

But by noon on Wednesday, there is no sign of my passport or KITAS. I feign stoicism until 1pm, when I call my agent. She says my passport “is on its way and will be there this afternoon”. I begin to worry; “this afternoon” is a rubbery concept in Bali.

At 3pm, my rising stress levels making my voice rise an octave, I speak to my agent again. With insufferable calm, she says: “They’re still waiting for a signature at Imigrasi”. Ye gods. At 3:05pm, she tells me my documents will be arriving in 40 minutes. She also chooses  that moment to inform me that I need to bring 1.5 million with me for the express processing fee. Oh, wonderful. Three hours ago I discovered that my debit card has stopped working at all of the ATMs I tried, and I have just enough cash for the taxi, a humble snack and the obligatory departure tax.

At 3:45pm, not game enough to call the agent again because my voice is approaching ultrasonic frequencies, I hurtle over there on my bike. Praise be to The Great Squirrel! My passport and KITAS has just arrived! The agent apologises for the delay, explaining that, only that morning, a team of workmen had unexpectedly descended on the Immigration offices to perform ‘unscheduled maintenance’, which stopped all work. I am so speechless that I brush off her request for money and rush back home to call a taxi, finally departing for the airport, my stomach full of hydrochloric acid, a mere half an hour behind schedule. But I have my passport back!

On the way to the airport, I puzzle over my itinerary, which doesn’t tell me whether I leave from the domestic or the international terminal. The cab driver laughs. “If you transit in Jakarta, you go from domestic terminal”, he says assuredly. I am sceptical; after all, isn’t it a normal international flight with a stop-over? “No”, says the cabbie. “This is Indonesia. You go from the domestic terminal, because that way you have to pay 40,000 departure tax, and another 150,000 when you leave Jakarta.” He grins wickedly. “The government likes that.” Oh, of course. Why didn’t I think of that?

So, finally on the plane, I have time to think about how it is possible, for extra money, to get a two-day KITAS renewal instead of waiting for two months. And I realise why it normally takes that long for us normal schmucks to get one – because the full resources of the immigration department are engaged in making money from the express delivery set.

Some might think that it’s almost like a sort of, er, bribe. But when you need something done right now, and people have to make a special effort to make sure you get it – well, I reckon paying a fast-tracking facilitation fee is worth it. Despite the last-minute panic, it certainly was for me.

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Stingy Tourists? Or Stingy Government?

April 29, 2012

The Chairman of Bali’s Tourism Board,  Ida Bagus Ngurah Wijaya, opened his mouth wide last Wednesday, and firmly inserted his foot. Annoyed that, despite the rise in total tourist numbers to Bali, visitors are now staying for only an average of three or four days instead of the seven days which was the norm ten years ago, and spend only $100 per day instead of $300, he blamed the tourists.

“Stingy tourists” are overcrowding Bali, he whinged. “When they come we have serious problems of traffic and waste. The island becomes dirty”, he said – falling headlong into the time-honoured local practice of blaming everyone else except yourself. It’s a little shocking to see officials – whose job it is to attract tourists – turn on their target market and accuse them of not being good little visitors by staying longer and spending more. It’s more than a little disconcerting to see a high-profile public official actually exhibit the same cargo-cult mentality that pervades many less sophisticated villagers here. In effect, he is saying: “You have it. We want it. Give it to us. If you don’t, you are a stingy bule.”

Well, Ngurah, you might think that, but as the voice of Bali tourism, you are not supposed to say it, because the backlash from tourists as a result of your rudeness will only result in a wider public discussion as to the real reasons that people are deserting Bali. I too was a tourist for twelve years before coming here to live. Now, as a resident for over three years, I have constant contact with ‘stingy’ tourists, and as a result of their feedback,  I am happy to summarise for you just why this trend is developing.

Look around you, Ngurah – not with the rose-coloured glasses of a local, but through the eyes of someone arriving in Bali after a long, tiring flight. What do you see?

You will see tourists paying $25 USD each for a 30-day visa-on-arrival to enter the country, and then another $16 USD each to leave. Family of four coming for only 5 days? That’s $164 USD out of the spending budget already, and no way to save money on a one-week visa, because officialdom has withdrawn the short-stay visa facility. Visiting Bali on a cruise lay-over for 6 hours? That’s $25 USD per person thanks.

You will see chaos, delays and inefficiency in a hot, overcrowded arrivals hall, with insufficient staff to handle the passenger load and a confusing queuing system.

You will see tired visitors being pounced on by “porters” at the baggage carousel and cajoled into letting them wheel their bags twenty metres to the customs desk, then stridently demanding $10 for each bag before running off to scam their next victim, as airport ‘security’ personnel stand by and grin.

You will see the monopolistic taxi counter ‘mistakenly’ ask for a rate higher than the official published rates displayed, then see their drivers try to con their passengers out of another 40,000 on arrival at their hotels and villas with a pathetic sob story, or an insistence that “this is the rule!” You will see arriving visitors quail as they face the long, long, crowded walk to their car during the chaotic and visitor-unfriendly airport reconstruction.

You will see tourists arrive at what are now grossly-overpriced and over-starred hotels, which no longer offer the ‘book 7, get 10″ incentive packages of past years, only to be told, “Sorry, your room is not ready.” Even Singapore hotels are now cheaper than those in Bali, which is no longer competitive.

You will see a proliferation of Mini-Marts in garish colours selling monstrously-overpriced items to the hapless tourist. Buy a local magazine there, published in Bahasa Indonesia, with a printed price of 25,000 rupiah on the cover, and you will be charged 55,000 when it is scanned. Shrug from the cashier. “Boss’s rules”.

You will see tourists being accosted by rude touts, women being physically man-handled by sellers who refuse to accept a polite refusal to buy their wares, stall-holders muttering thinly-veiled abuse at tourists who won’t pay four times the going rate in Bali (and twice the price in their home country) for their shoddy goods. You will see criminal money-changers short-changing gullible tourists every day, and the arrogant taxi mafia (the non-Bluebird companies) over-charging customers and threatening real taxi drivers with violence.

You will see tourists stuck in traffic for hours on Bali’s poorly-maintained roads, because no-one even considers the grid-locking consequences of allowing local drivers to park wherever they feel like. You will see suicidal motorbike riders come close to killing pedestrians with their brainless antics and causing accidents with cars, after which they shrilly demand compensation for their own stupidity.

You will see visitors to Bali try to negotiate the open drains with lids which masquerade as  ‘footpaths’ here, and injure themselves when brittle manholes collapse beneath them. You will see tourists with infants in strollers being forced to risk death by having to share the narrow roads with texting drivers and motorcyclists.

You will see tourists now being expected to pay the same prices as at home for mediocre western-style meals, and absolutely exorbitant rates for imported wine, spirits and food. Spirits in bars are frequently counterfeit local replacements and deliberate half-shots in mixed drinks are common. Despite smokers being banned in all restaurants, bars and clubs from the first of June this year, tourists can expect no relief from the constant burning of toxic plastic waste all over Bali, the carcinogenic mosquito fogging smoke and noise, or from the stinking emissions of the ubiquitous buses, trucks and illegal 2-stroke motorbikes.

You will see tourists give up on visiting the ‘cultural epicentre’ of Ubud because of traffic jams and the hundreds of huge buses clogging the town. You will see them give up on visiting far-flung temples and seeing the ‘real’ Bali, because it’s all too hard, and now too expensive. Eventually, you will see them avoiding the immense, noisy, polluted construction zone that is South Bali altogether.

You will see tourists recoil from the stinking piles of garbage on the beaches, on the streets and in the ‘rivers’. Where garbage is collected, it ends up in make-shift tips anywhere the collectors choose to dump it. Just have a look at the huge rat and snake-infested mountain of refuse dumped opposite villa developments in Legian, just off Jalan Nakula; have a look at the environmentally-disastrous heap of rubbish at the entrance to the Mangrove Park.

You will see tourists cautious of potentially rabies-infected dogs, scared of contracting Dengue fever from the incessant mosquitoes, wary of getting Legionnaires disease from poorly-maintained air-conditioners, and amazed that nothing is being done about electricity outages and Bali’s looming water shortage. They are worried about increasing crime and a police force that does nothing without money up-front.

And what does the Tourism Board do to make Bali a more attractive destination for visitors? Nothing. It blames the “stingy tourists”. Wow. What diplomacy, what amazing sensitivity. What a truly stupid, irresponsible thing to say.

Well, Ida Bagus Ngurah Wijaya, I have news for you. Tourists have been coming to Bali for decades because it has a special sort of magic. The magic is still there, but it is now being countered by a not-so-special sort of opportunism and greed, over-development, collapsing infrastructure, and an arrogant belief that tourists will keep coming, no matter what.

They won’t. They have already stopped coming; and those who do still come, are spending less. Tourists are changing the Bali paradigm, not because they are “stingy”, but because they are driven by the concept of value for money. And frankly, Bali simply does not provide value for money any more.

The question for you, sir, is what will you and your cohorts in government do to change this?

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When Security Sanctions Sabotage Smooth Sending

April 14, 2012

My guests have left;  the last minute rush to collect belongings before they head off to the airport is over, and peace once more descends upon the villa. All nooks and crannies where overlooked items might lurk have been reluctantly scrutinised by the temporarily-resident Teenager (as requested by his mother) and declared, “like, totally empty” by the exasperated youth, who appears to find the whole notion of double-checking to be completely redundant

“Are you sure you’ve checked that you have everything?” his mum asks, which is the trigger for the obligatory teenage eye-roll and an expressive and prolonged “Maaah-a-um!!!”, a wail which first descends, then rises in pitch. This is apparently teenage verbal shorthand for “I just can’t believe that I am fourteen years old and you still don’t trust me to do the right thing and you’re implying that I’m a moron who can’t do anything right and I can’t BELIEVE you’re picking on me like this!”

So it’s half an hour before my guests are due to fly out, and I’m quietly relaxing in the villa when the phone rings. Not my phone, mind you – The Teenager’s phone. It’s sitting on the table, vibrating and emitting all kinds of bright colours and complex sounds, as expensive smartphones are wont to do. “Yeah, I know, I left my phone. My bad. Anyway, it’s not my fault; it’s the same colour as your table.” Having established that the responsibility for his misplaced phone is purely mine because of my inconsiderate choice of furniture, he calmly requests that I nip over to the airport and return it.

My bemused explanation that he has already passed through passport control, and is actually in the departure lounge, and that his plane leaves in twenty minutes, and that it will take me thirty minutes to even get to the airport is met with disbelieving silence. He is massively disgruntled. I am philosophical – to me it’s just a phone; to him, it’s a digital lifeline to his friends. “And it has all my contacts!” he moans.

Next morning, I discover that his idea of ‘scrutinising’ his room at the villa does not extend to checking power-points, where the power supply for his mum’s computer is still plugged in. He apparently ‘borrowed’  it for a late-night Facebook session and ‘forgot’ to put it back. Sigh.

I stay philosophical. I would have been happy to eventually send the phone to him (after a suitable delay in the interests of a good dose of Adlerian consequential punishment), but I can’t leave his mother with a rapidly-depleting battery for her work laptop. I call DHL, the international courier service, who tell me to package the items securely and bring the parcel to their office. Fortunately, their branch office is only minutes away.

An hour later, after modifying a cardboard box, wrapping the bits and pieces in bubble-wrap, securing the box with gaffer tape, wrapping the whole shebang in brown paper and vast quantities of sticky tape, I present myself at the Legian DHL office.

“You have wrapped the parcel”, says the chap on the counter, frowning. I agree, I have wrapped the parcel. “You must open it now so we can see what is inside.” I stare at him. “But you told me to package it securely!” I protest. “Yes. Easier for you to carry”, is his response.

Fortunately, I don’t open it before telling him it contains a phone and power supply, which turn out to be items apparently equivalent to the devil’s spawn, and which can not be accepted by them under any circumstances. He explains that it has to be taken to their head office, for an exorcism, or “security checks”, or some-such nonsense. Head office happens to be located at the airport, in the cargo road side street off the main terminal road. I am rapidly losing my calm, philosophical demeanour.

Forty minutes later, having fought my way through traffic, I arrive at the aforementioned cargo road. But it is no longer open, being blocked off by a large set of  corrugated iron gates and various ominous-looking notices. Feeling a tad snarly, I ride into the forbidden area anyway, to be immediately surrounded by a phalanx of security guards who eye my little brown paper parcel with deep suspicion. I explain my mission, but they insist that I can not enter this area, even though my ultimate destination is only one hundred metres up the street, which is ‘closed’ despite being visibly open.

The guards wave me back the way I came. I request explicit directions to the DHL office, and their response is more arm-waving and an elliptical “follow the road”. Thanks guys, I’d figured that part out for myself. I am nothing if not resourceful.

So I follow the road and end up at the entrance to the airport itself, where an amused security chap tells me that I have missed a small gang off the main airport drive, which leads to the cargo road I am seeking. I tell him that I didn’t see any signs. “No, no – there are no signs!” he laughs. I feel like assuming a foetal position on my bike, rocking gently and sucking my thumb, but I resist the urge to be immature about this.

“How do people find businesses on the cargo road if there are no signs? I want DHL, but that’s where the main Immigration Office, all the cargo shippers and the police station are as well”, I whinge plaintively. He laughs again. “They don’t!” he says with a cackle. “They all end up here!” He then informs me that to get back to the invisible lane, I have to go back through Tuban and circle around for another attempt. I calculate that will take about twenty minutes, or forty if I miss the damn thing again. I go home instead.

On the way, I fulminate about the madness of an airport reconstruction project that is so chaotic and badly-planned that not only do people have to spend extra time navigating an incomprehensible, unsignposted traffic layout just to make their flights, but that makes surrounding businesses become almost inaccessible. I grizzle to myself about visitors who leave things behind in a place where simple problems morph into bigger problems while one is trying to fix them.

I conclude, bad-tempered, nasty person that I am, that I don’t really care that someone needs their phone or computer urgently, and resolve to send the forgotten bits in my own time, and only when I am good and ready. Besides, people are way too reliant on their computers anyway – let them suffer; why should I put myself out anyway?

So after a total of two hours in hot traffic, I finally get home – only to find that my laptop battery has inexplicably died, and my power supply is overheating. Oh no! My laptop! My life!

Karma can be a real bitch sometimes.

 

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Cruise Customers Climb, But Venal VOA Vexes Visitors

March 12, 2012

Bali’s cruise tourism market is showing signs of significant growth in the last decade. In 2002, the number of cruise ships arriving in Bali was 20. This year, it has hit 90 and rising. As usual, the hype surrounding this sector of the tourism market is relentlessly upbeat, focusing as it does on the expected flood of money into Bali, based on projections assuming untold thousands of free-spending passengers deliriously spending vast amounts of cash.

It would be wonderful if this was to actually happen, but the combination of appallingly bad planning, sub-standard construction, lack of proper cruise industry infrastructure, and the venality of the central government could well turn the hoped-for cruise bonanza into a pipe-dream. Another triumph of greed over practicality.

The much-vaunted Tanah Ampo International Cruise Terminal in Karangasem, East Bali has proved to be a massive embarrassment. Apart from being situated so far from the main tourist and shopping precinct in South Bali that a shopping trip is impossible during a 12-hour layover, it was not even designed or constructed properly. No-one seems to know why the pier, originally planned to be 308 metres long, mysteriously shrank to only 154 metres during the final construction phases – way too short to accommodate most cruise ships. And the attached passenger pontoon was of such shoddy construction that it disintegrated a few weeks after being built. One consequence was that in 2011, the Sun Princess, carrying 1,950 passengers, had to divert to Benoa because of the potentially dangerous disembarkation situation.

In February of this year, the  MV Aurora, carrying 2,800 passengers and crew, could not pick up its passengers after their day visit because the new, improved, ‘re-built’ pontoon collapsed again. Passengers were stranded on the pier for over 6 hours. The ‘International’ cruise terminal was not equipped to provide any food, water or shelter while an inevitable rainy-season storm drenched the unhappy passengers. This is not good PR, and needless to say, many visitors left with a very negative image of Bali.

But let’s assume that all these problems are miraculously fixed, and that cruise ship passengers are somehow presented with a truly professional experience at both of Bali’s main cruise ports of Tanah Ampo and Benoa. Would the expected economic benefits then manifest themselves? Will 2,000-odd passengers disembark in the morning and go on a massive spending spree for 8 hours before returning to ship-board life?

It doesn’t look like it. The data from the Benoa Port Office show that only 20% of passengers disembark for a typical one-day stop, and that they spend an average of $45 USD each. That’s not what you call big money. By comparison, Wellington, New Zealand, reports an average daily spend of $141 per day per passenger when in port, and a lot more people. Even Jamaica claims $90 USD. Of course, with cruise lines promoting a self-contained experience on-board, nobody expects all passengers to take the opportunity to make landfall, yet the number actually getting off the ship here, and their daily spend, seems very low.

I spent a day recently with a cruise ship passenger who arrived at Benoa at 6.30am. Because the Benoa pier is another one that is too short for major liners, passengers are brought to shore by ship’s tender, a process requiring advance booking and a lot of waiting. They are dropped off in an area which is confusing for first-time visitors, who are immediately surrounded by hordes of insistent taxi touts demanding outrageous fares for the relatively short trip to the shopping hot-spots. I had sent a driver to pick her up, but even so, pre-booked drivers were restricted to waving their signs from behind a high fence. From her description, the chaos in the port arrivals area made Denpasar airport look like Changi by comparison.

She said that few of her fellow passengers opted to come ashore, many baulking at paying the $25 USD Visa On Arrival fee. For 6 or 7 hours in Bali, it’s simply not worth it. The standard VOA is valid for 30 days. You can enter Bali for half-an-hour if you like, but you will pay the inflexible, one-size-fits-all visa fee of $25 USD. Why? Well, just look at the revenues. In the first nine months of last year, VOA fees for entry to Bali (mainly through the airport) amounted to more than $42 million USD. How much of that stays in Bali, to provide for tourism infrastructure? None of it. It all goes straight to Jakarta. Don’t expect cheap one-day cruise ship visas any time soon – I don’t believe Jakarta officials would sacrifice a single dollar of their VOA revenue to grow this sector of Bali’s tourism industry,  because there would be nothing in it for them.

Another passenger reports that on arriving back at the port for departure , a helpful chap offered to help him find his way back to the correct tender – for free! Naturally, he was delighted, until he was led to a small shack where yet another helpful chap (no doubt a cousin) relieved him of 150,000 rupiah ‘Departure Tax’ and took him to his boat. Only later did he realise that there is no ‘departure tax’ payable at ports …

Of course, back at the airport, the VOA scams are still alive and well. The officials who embezzled over $300,000 USD by misreporting $25, 30-day visa fees as $10, 10-day visas (and pocketing the difference) were rapped on the knuckles and sent back to work. The government’s solution to their corrupt behaviour was to charge us all $25 now, regardless of length of stay. Now reports are coming in of a new wrinkle, where tired passengers arriving after long-haul flight are told, “You are from Europe. You must pay 25 Euro.” Those who protest that it should be $25 USD are told, “That is only for Americans.”

Oh yes, there is the transit mess as well. If you think you are ‘transiting’ through Bali, say from Darwin to Kuala Lumpur, make sure that you have a ‘fly-through’ ticket. If you travel on a cheap point-to-point carrier, you actually have two journeys. On arrival at Bali, you will have to purchase a $25 VOA for your proposed one-hour stay in Bali, clear immigration, collect your bags, clear customs, exit the airport and walk 200 metres to the departures area, where you will have to check in, pay 150,000 departure tax, clear immigration and board your connecting flight. That’s if it hasn’t left during this lengthy process. That’s because you are not ‘transiting’, you are ‘transferring’, which involves a world of pain.

If you are genuinely ‘transiting’ – that is, your bags are checked through and you have a boarding pass for the second leg, you should be right. Just get off the plane and go to the transit lounge to wait for the connecting flight. However, rumour has it (unsubstantiated, I hasten to add) that the Bali transit lounge has been closed during airport renovations. If this is true, you will need to purchase a $25 VOA … get the picture? Just skip back one paragraph for the full saga if you need to be reminded.

Anyway, that’s the airport. We all know what a disaster area that is. But back to my main thread about the way cruise visitors are being treated – which is with an incredible lack of vision for the future. It is without a doubt, a potentially lucrative sector of the tourist industry for Bali. So why are the local authorities being so completely amateurish about growing it? Why didn’t they build a proper, professional-standard cruise terminal in East Bali? Why are they not lobbying Jakarta for the immediate introduction of a cheap one-day entry permit for cruise passengers?

Why do I even hope that things will ever change in the torturous labyrinth of Indonesian officialdom?

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It’s Official – I Have Acclimatised To Bali’s Officialdom

February 19, 2012

The first few years in Bali  drove me spare. The peculiar culture of slowness in offices, where efficiency and customer service was a foreign concept, used to frustrate me to the point of screaming.  The quaint processes in community banks and payment centres where one settles utility bills would drive me to chewing my toenails in impotent rage.

Not any more. Three years in Bali have instilled the same laissez-faire ennui in me that you find in almost all bureaucrats everywhere on the island. Nothing about official processes bothers me much now. If I wait for an hour for my number to be called just so I can pay a bill, then watch all the tellers walk out for lunch, that’s fine. If it’s 12.30pm and I walk in to an office – signposted as being open until 2pm – to find one person busy locking up, so be it.

Even if that person, when asked why they closed early, says blandly, “There were no customers, so we close”, I stay calm now. And when the contrarian in me is compelled to say “But I’m a customer!”, and I’m told: “But you are too late, because we are closed now”, I just accept my fate, illogical as it might be. It is far easier on the nervous system to accept the inevitable than to do the enraged bule act, because this is Indonesia, and making a fuss does no good anyway.

So here I am,  a water bill to pay at one office, and electricity meter pulsa to buy at another. My electricity meter is a modern version of those old ‘coin-in-the-slot’ jobs. When it runs low, I buy credits, punch in the code I am given, and bingo – I have power, at least on those days where PLN deigns to supply it. I’m down to 30,000 credit – about a day’s worth – so I must pay on that day, or risk going dark.

The water bill payment goes as expected, meaning that it’s the usual organised chaos. The deal is, you walk in, spear your bill details on a low-tech spike device sitting on the counter, wait until someone removes it for processing, and eventually calls you. This particular office is somewhat under-staffed today, so the two staff at the counter who are apparently dealing with bank teller duties, investment enquiries and about ten other types of payments are as busy as ants at a picnic. There are fifteen customers waiting patiently. Six more staff lurk in the background, variously smoking, reading magazines, or updating their Facebook profiles. The stack of papers on the spike grows steadily, but no-one is even looking at them. Mine is about the third from the bottom, so I’m not overly concerned.

Then, in the midst of the rush, one of the two ‘working’ staff wanders off for a smoke. Oh, no. But all is well, a replacement arrives within a mere five minutes and reaches for the spike. My adrenaline spikes in sympathetic anticipation. But then, obviously new at this job and not yet having taken an IQ test to determine his fitness for the position, he grabs the topmost spiked bill! Three more people spike theirs; mine stays near the bottom. Luckily, a senior operative, who is aware of the Reverse Sequencing Principle of Spikes, steps in to correct him and I eventually get to pay my bill, a mere forty minutes after arriving. I am uncharacteristically serene.

Next stop is the electricity payment office, which makes the chaos at the water office seem like a relaxing Bintang on the beach. There are about fifty customers waiting, and three staff in the office. One is sitting at his desk, sporadically pecking at his computer keyboard, but mostly reading a newspaper and smoking. He looks bored to the point of catatonia. One sits at a section of counter marked “Phone Payments”. Not one of the fifty customers want to pay their phone bill, so this chap sits with an unfocussed stare and does not move once. I don’t even see him blink; for all I know, he might be dead.

The third chap is handling all of the work. The system here is similar to the water payment office, except pulsa customers drop their paperwork into a plastic tray on the front counter, then wait patiently for service. However, this time, my card goes on top of a pile of about fifty bills. My heart sinks. After half an hour, the computer guy has bored himself into a stupor and leaves for an early lunch. The catatonic phone payments guy continues to sit there like a stone carving. Perhaps rigor mortis has already set in. The electricity payments specialist is so overloaded with ‘normal’ bills that he doesn’t even glance at the growing pile of of ‘pulsa’ bills in the tray.

After an hour, there are another thirty bills in the tray, the computer guy seems to have disappeared for good, and the phone man hasn’t yet moved or blinked. My new-found persona is calm and relaxed, but I finally decide to retrieve my card from the depths of the pile and leave. Once I would have been incandescent with rage; now the situation seems completely normal.

On the way home, I find a little hidden place that accepts PLN electricity payments. My spirits lift temporarily, at least until I am told that, regretfully, they cannot process my payment. This is because the recipient of my payment, PLN has chosen this specific area, and this specific time, to impose one of its rolling blackouts. The irony does not escape me, but I remain unruffled.

The next day, with 5,000 rupiah left on my meter, I go back to try to pay my bill. The office is open on a Saturday until 11am; I arrive at 10.30am and I am the only customer there. The single staff member on duty is ready to close down, “because there are no customers.” It takes two minutes to pay my bill. I recharge my meter with 1,000 rupiah remaining before it shuts down.

So all is well; everything was paid on time; everything worked out. As I now realise – after a mere three years – there is no point whatsoever in getting enraged over life’s little vicissitudes in Bali.  Of course, ten minutes after getting home, my villa lost power in one of Bali’s rolling black-outs, but hey, that’s normal. I can handle delays, disappointments, inefficiencies and minimal customer service with equanimity. After all, I have experienced Jetstar, dealt with KITAS renewals, ordered things in Bali shops and generally coped with the traumas of officialdom in many countries.

Sing ken ken. No worries mate.

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The Downside Of Flying No-Frills – No Plane! (Part 2)

December 30, 2011

How did this all start? Read Part 1.

Well, there wasn’t going to be a Part 2. I mean, the Pythonesque debacle that was Jetstar’s JQ36 Bali to Melbourne flight scheduled for Thursday 22 December surely could not happen again? Unfortunately, yes – it could, and did.

My return flight to Bali on JQ35 was scheduled for 6.45pm on 29 December. I should have realised that I was again about to be trapped in the Low Cost Carrier vortex when I tried to increase my checked luggage allowance. I had already paid $40 to raise the ludicrously low limit to 25 kg, but knowing I had overdone things in the purchasing department during the break, I wanted to go to 30kg. That will be $40, thanks, says the website. Ye Gods! Charging $8 per extra kilo is obviously not a disincentive for overloading the plane, because an extra 10 kilos costs the same.

So there I am at the airport, waiting for the check-in counters to open at 3.45pm – and the place is looking deserted. I go to the airline information desk. “When does check-in open for JQ35?” I ask, already sensing the answer will not be to my liking. “Never!” says the delightfully good-natured lady. Airline humour. “You know the flight has been delayed?” she goes on without missing a beat. My heart sinks. “It’s now scheduled for 10pm,” she says. My heart plummets into my shoes. “We did notify everyone,” she continues sternly.

“Well, I didn’t get an email,” I say just as sternly. She laughs. Not the effect I was looking for. “Of course not. We never send emails! We send everyone an SMS.” I groan. “I didn’t get an SMS either.” She is unperturbed. “Of course not. You have a foreign mobile number. We only send SMSs to Australian numbers for flights from Australia.” Being an argumentative type, I point out that when my previous week’s flight from Bali was cancelled, then delayed by six and a half hours the following day, I received no SMSs either. I also point out that I actually did get an email just before my cancelled flight, which supposedly confirmed my booking. “Oh that!” she said. “That’s a completely different system.” Right, that explains it. Who handles your IT systems, Jetstar? It may be time for a change.

“Anyway,” she went on, “we’re still going to open the check-in counters at 3.45pm so at least you don’t have to lug your bags around. I am obsequiously grateful, in the hope that I will get an upgrade, preferably to the cockpit. She then goes on to say that as compensation for the inconvenience, we would all be given a voucher for food and drinks to help pass the additional three hours and fifteen minutes. “The staff at Departure Gate 3 will arrange all that.” I increase my level of obsequious gratitude, and mooch off to wait for 3.45pm.

At 4pm, staff start drifting in to man the check-in desks. There is no hurry obviously – the damn plane isn’t leaving for another six hours. Check-in is smooth, except the scales fluctuate erratically between 29.1 and 31.9 kg as my bag is weighed. The check-in woman is perplexed, and I foolishly try to reassure her. “Oh, that’s just my dog in there. He’s restless because of the delay.” I come perilously close to being bumped from the flight, and decide that airline humour is best left to airline staff.

The specified Gate 3 is handling passengers for New Zealand. However, Gate 5 displays the information that JQ 35 is scheduled for departure at 6.45pm. I stick around just in case the departure board is right and the staff are wrong. At 6.35pm, the board at the unmanned Gate 5 starts urgently flashing “Final Call”. A number of us start looking around for an invisible plane. It’s Jetstar, anything is possible. Ten minutes later, the board goes completely blank. There is not a staff member to be seen, and not a single announcement about the status of our flight. Needless to say, there is no sign of the promised food and drink vouchers either.

By 9.45pm, there is still no plane at the gate, and the assembled passengers are getting restless. Then, several of them suddenly gather their belongings and disappear. Then a few more scurry off, until there is just me and one other puzzled unfortunate left. Apparently those lucky enough to have an Australian mobile number are getting text messages telling them to go to a different gate. The under-classes are kept in the dark. Once we have assembled at Gate 14A, we continue to hurry up and wait. There is no announcement, but the departures board sneakily changes over to a new time of 11pm. We finally push back from the gate at 11.30pm. Those of us without a Jetstar-approved phone number have now been waiting at the airport for seven hours and forty five minutes. Did I mention there were no food and drink vouchers?

Except for a nasty little thunderstorm, the flight is uneventful. Bali Airport is basically deserted and the formalities take no time at all, at least for those of us with a KITAS. The customs guys are even more torpid than usual, barely managing to lift a hand to wave us through without inspecting anything. I could have brought in three bottles of Scotch. Grrr. The one on the X-ray machine is far more interested in his iPhone than anything on his work screen. Who can blame him?

Outside, the taxi booth is closed, but there are plenty of airport taxi drivers quoting outrageous prices to weary and baffled new arrivals. I listen to some of the ridiculous quotes. “Batu Belig? You go to Batu Belig? Ooh, very far. 500,000 Rp.” And “I take you to Tuban. Only 250,000 Rp.  One quotes me 150,000 Rp to take me to my villa – a 60,000 fare. I snort in disdain and try to haggle, but he stands firm: “Very late. Cost more.” Yeah, I can see that. I wander off, thinking that I’ll walk to the exit gate and catch a Bluebird. Then I realise that the crazy changes to the airport mean that the gate is now about two kilometres away, it’s 2.30am, my bags are very heavy and I’m bone tired.

But before I can turn back, the cabbie senses that he is about to lose a fare altogether and chases me with an offer of 100,000 Rp. I know I’m getting skinned alive, but I agree anyway. He must feel guilty because he grabs my suitcase, not realising how heavy it is, and wheels it off towards the car park. I have a momentary flash of unashamed joy as he loses control of my 32 kg bag as he tries to get it down a steep ramp, and short-steps desperately across a road before ending up in the bushes. But he thinks that this is uproariously funny, thereby cheating me out of any petty satisfaction.

As we drive home, I reflect on the perils of travelling Jetstar, and Low Cost Carriers in general. I wonder why airlines believe that no-frills means no communication. I wonder why customers are treated not as people, but as numbers – mere entries on someone’s balance sheet. Sitting in this extortionately-priced taxi, I wonder why my life has dished out two horrific Jetstar flights in a row. I like to think that this is a normal response after enduring a seven hour delay and a six hour flight.

Then I suddenly see the driver’s ID and number on the dashboard, and it is a veritable epiphany. His number is 42 – Douglas Adams’ famous answer to the question: “What is the meaning of Life?” And it all becomes clear. Delays, cancellations, disappointments, rage, uncommunicative corporations – and the way we handle all this shit – that is the meaning of life. It may be just because I am delirious with fatigue, but it seems significant.

I thank you Jetstar for this opportunity to achieve a measure of Zen enlightenment. But I will never fly with you again.

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The Downside Of Flying No-Frills – No Plane! (Part 1)

December 23, 2011

I’m not supposed to be here at my computer.  It’s 11.05 pm on Thursday 22 December, and I’m supposed to be on Jetstar flight JQ36, lifting off from Denpasar airport at this very moment, enjoying my comfortable StarClass window seat and settling in for the haul to Melbourne to see my family for a brief Christmas break away from Bali.

But I’m not on the plane; after five hours of wasted time, I’m back home in my villa, all dressed up and nowhere to go. Plans and schedules are in disarray. Appointments will be missed, time with family and friends will be curtailed, and my rental car may not even be available. Worst of all, I will have to repack the damned suitcase – and I hate that.

So it’s earlier in the evening and I’m set to go. I’ve somehow managed to get everything organised and sit there patiently while my driver fights through the Bali traffic. Then I sit patiently while he fights his way through the incomprehensible temporary airport entrance schemozzle and deposits me at the new passenger drop off point, which is about 10 kilometres from the terminal. Humping the bags through the security checkpoint (twice – “no, nothing wrong sir, I just forgot to look at your bag the first time”) I finally get my shoes and belt back on and search myopically for my glasses on the conveyor. I thank the gods that I don’t have a prosthetic leg and artificial hip joint – it would take me hours to re-assemble myself and I would miss the plane.

There is no danger of that this time. The Jetstar check-in counter is a milling mass of confused and angry people. All order has broken down because the illuminated signs all say “FLIGHT CANCELLED”, and customers are paralysed with indecision. There is no queue as such and when I reach a counter, the representative sighs and gives me a printed sheet explaining that due to “Operational Requirements” my flight has indeed been cancelled. Further questioning elicits no explanation from the the check-in person. “It’s cancelled” is the only response. “But why”? I ask. “It’s cancelled”, he repeats.  He will not be swayed by entreaties; he will not give me any additional information. “When was it cancelled?” I persist, and I am told it was during that afternoon.

So why no email, Jetstar? Why no SMS? Why wait until people arrive at the airport before you tell them there is no flight? And why use the term ‘cancelled due to operational requirements’, which basically means ‘because we wanted to’? If the cancellation is due to mechanical failure, tell us. If it’s because of regional cyclonic activity, tell us. We mightn’t like it, but we will understand. If it’s one of those commercial ‘screw the passengers’ decisions because your plane was not full enough, tell us that too, but we don’t promise to even begin to understand that one. Just. Don’t. Keep. Us. In. The. Frigging. Dark! We hate it.

I ask when the flight will actually leave. “Tomorrow, 11pm”, says the man. He must see something in my eyes, or maybe a fear of Karma niggles at him, because he adds “Probably.” I am less than reassured. Then he explains that visitors who are returning from Bali are to wait outside for a bus to a hotel in Tuban. “What about me?” I say – “I live here”. “Oh” he says, and looks nonplussed. “Maybe ask the bus driver to take you home?” Yeah, right. I can just see the forty-passenger behemoth threading its way through the lanes around my place. “Or just catch a taxi”, he goes on helpfully. “Is Jetstar paying for the taxi?” I ask. “Ahh, no …”

Of course, my struggles with the corporate mindset don’t end when I finally make it home. I won’t be in Melbourne to pick up my rental car at the designated time, so I have to try and call the company to let them know. It’s 2 am in Melbourne, but my call goes through to a call centre in some place where people don’t sleep. I can actually understand the very polite fellow who takes my call and I am pleased. I explain the cancelled flight, and request that my reservation be delayed by 24 hours.

“Ooh”, says the man. “If  you don’t pick the car up within one hour of your booked time, they will cancel.” “OK,” I say, “just re-book me for the next day.” “Sorry, the computer says no cars are available the next day”. So I try to introduce some logic. “What about the car I booked for the week – is that available?” I ask. “No, sorry”, he replies. I’m perplexed. “Why not?” A slight hint of impatience at my obvious stupidity creeps into his voice. “Because it’s already booked by you.” I feel like I’m in an episode of Fawlty Towers.

I wonder briefly if the car rental man would consider getting a job with Jetstar, but he’s probably over-qualified. I just blew a whole day out of a very short trip to visit family and friends – I wonder what is in store for me with this airline tomorrow? And I was supposed to be travelling ‘Star Class’, no less. I certainly don’t feel like a star. I actually feel like going supernova.

Thanks for stuffing up my break, Jetstar. Season’s Greetings to you too.

UPDATE: So I’m back at the airport the following night to check in for the previously cancelled JQ36. “Umm, sorry, your 11pm flight is, er, delayed a little.” I give the clerk a disbelieving stare. “How long is the delay?” “Umm, it now leaves at 5.30am.” I am speechless yet again.

We all get herded on to a bus and taken to a hotel. No food or drink vouchers – just a photocopied screed citing “operational reasons” for the current delay. At 1.30am we are bussed back to an empty airport. No-one can even enter the departures area, because there are no staff to operate the security scanners. We all bed down on the hard tiled floor, because there is no seating. An hour later, security staff straggle in and we check in. I am offered a seat at the back of the plane. I politely demand my Starclass seat 3A which has been booked, paid for, and anticipated for six months. I finally get it, but the clerk gives me the impression that she thinks I have pulled a fast one.

We leave exactly on time at 5.30am. I’m charged a higher rate for my rental car because I’m a day and a half late in picking it up. I finally get to see my kids, one of whom has travelled from Perth, the other from Brisbane, for our much-anticipated 48-hour family get-together. I get to see them for a total of 8 hours.

Like I said – thanks, Jetstar.


The story doesn’t end there. I was unfortunate enough to have to fly back to Bali with Jetstar. Read the sorry saga of what happened on the way back in:
The Downside Of Flying No-Frills – No Plane! (Part 2)