Posts Tagged ‘Indonesia’

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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 Great Nyepi Escape

April 29, 2013

I usually enjoy Nyepi Day, Bali’s annual Day of Silence, when all are confined to their domiciles for 24 hours and no noise, work, fun, or illumination is permitted. It is an opportunity to reflect and allow the stillness to enter you.

Despite having honoured this day for the last  four years,  sequestered alone in my dwelling, this year the prospect was a little more daunting. A few minor technical hitches – such as a broken stove, a malfunctioning DVD player and no hot water – would have made the enforced isolation more unpleasant. OK, OK – I’m a wimp.

My brilliant solution of checking into a hotel with expansive grounds, where guests can wander around freely during Nyepi, came to naught. Bali’s hotel prices are just too high for me now. Expansive grounds come with an expensive tariff, and of course the Nyepi lock-down means you have to book two nights. As it turned out, going off the island – to Kuala Lumpur – ended up being cheaper for four nights at a hotel, including airfares, than staying in Bali.

So here I am in Malaysia. Ten minutes to get through the immigration formalities, an automatic, free visitors’ visa, luggage waiting for me on the carousel. A train station right in the terminal, and a 25 minute, 57 kilometre trip to KL Sentral on the KLIA express.

The KL traffic is busy, but free-flowing, with amazingly disciplined and courteous drivers. Drivers stop for pedestrians on crossings, they stop for red lights, they wait for traffic to clear before pulling out from the left, and they park properly. The streets are wide and clean and clearly signposted. I don’t see a single piece of trash on the footpaths.

It’s weird being in a place where everything just … works. The electricity stays on, water quality is good, places are open at their designated hours, and everything in my little hotel is as it should be. Well, most of it – my room’s air-conditioner control panel appears to be connected to a Bali-style ‘Wishful Thinking’ module, which in turn is connected to nothing. Like governments, I suspect it is there purely to give us all an illusion of control.

But no-one controls the weather, and at this time of year, there is rain. Lots of it. Regular as clockwork, the customary 4pm thunderstorm hits the city, often violently. Today’s is massive, with lightning striking every building around me every few seconds. I notice that all the smart birds are diving from the tops of tall buildings and taking refuge at street level. They don’t look happy, and they’re not smiling – but how can one tell? I mean, they have no lips …

I witness two hippy types, presumably with an IQ far lower than that of most of the birds, dancing in the rain on an 8th floor roof across the street. Faces upturned towards the continuous bolts of lightning, they wave their arms towards the raging skies as if in supplication to their gods. They are far closer to heaven than they ever imagine. But someone is looking after these dolts, and they fail to be vapourised in an incandescent ball of energy. I confess to feeling faintly disappointed.

While Bali is dark and silent for Nyepi, Kuala Lumpur is pumping. Checking out the restaurants, I find one called the White Raja. Ah, OK, Indian food. Then I look closer and notice that it’s actually called the White Raja – Borneo. Right, it appears that we have Kalimantan food with an Indian influence. Possibly with some traditional Dyak fare? Interesting. So I check the menu. It’s Italian.

Never mind. I find a basement under one of the plazas which is crammed with every imaginable type of food stall, each one serving delicious food. While English is widely spoken in KL, the locally-patronised food stand owners tend to stick to Bahasa Melayu – or Chinese, or dialects from the Middle East. Fortunately, even though they struggle to understand my Bahasa Indonesia (which is no surprise; people in Indonesia have the same problem) I can make myself understood.

I think I’ve worked out the secret. If I Anglicise every 5th word, add “lah” to every 3rd word and excitedly finish every sentence with “!”, they seem to understand me better. Or I could just stop torturing them and speak English …

After dinner, I find a footpath bar close to my hotel, and kick back with a wee drink while watching the passing parade. Suddenly, my ears are assailed with a strange, eclectic mix of Euro-Arabic-Latino-style music. Shortly thereafter, a figure materialises in the gloom of a doorway to one side. I see a hint of sinuous dance movements, a silhouette promising sensual delights, and a tantalising glimpse of a deep décolletage. And then the lighting improves, and an … apparition becomes visible.

He, because it definitely was a he, is about 190 cm tall and is dressed in a frilly, black, deeply low-cut top revealing astonishingly profuse chest hair, black leggings and a strange sort of fringed tutu. His dancing is a cross between belly dancing, erotic salsa, and pole dancing. Pelvic thrusts of an energy and amplitude that suggest a serious future back problem seem to hypnotise the rapt female patrons of the bar. The first unexpected thrust makes me inadvertently swallow one of the ice-cubes in my drink.

But that isn’t all. Every half-minute or so, he emits a shrieking ululation of a frequency and volume high enough to coagulate eyeballs for a one kilometre radius, as well as instantly kill any birds that have survived the earlier lightning storm. The first of these lifts me  completely of my chair, and I spill my drink. I discover later that this is a Zaghrouta – a traditional Iraqui cry of great joy.

My own joy is tempered somewhat when I try to go to sleep in my room later, only to discover that not only is his performance continuing, but the walls of the hotel are completely transparent to the sonic barrage. As I watch my bedroom walls tremble, their paint flaking off, and my bathroom fixtures fracture into shards of porcelain, I am struck with the thought that George Bush was looking for the wrong Weapons of Mass Destruction. The real ones were larynx-based, completely hidden and totally transportable all this time.

Zaghrouta aside, KL was a great short break from Bali. Perhaps I shouldn’t compare the quality of infrastructure with that found in Indonesia, as the circumstances and mindsets are so different. It is amazing what a genuine pursuit of excellence can achieve – and of course, the will to improve things. It is a shame that some of those in power in Indonesia are so consumed with antipathy towards Malaysia. They could learn so much.

Will I come back for next Nyepi? Probably not. I sort of missed the silence.

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Insensitivity, Victimisation and Compassion

April 24, 2013

This is a story of blind bigotry, injustice, denial, and a culture of blaming victims.  It is also a story of  wonderful compassion and tolerance.

In September of 2012, a 14-year-old schoolgirl made an error of judgement that changed her life. She befriended a young man on Facebook, one whose carefully selected ‘identity’ was superficially charming and solicitous. As young girls sometimes tend to do, she responded to his wiles, mistakenly believing that his friendship was genuine, that he was a decent person, and that he was truly interested in her.

Well he was, but not in the way that she thought. The man, identified in the press as being Den Gilang, a.k.a. ‘Yugi’, was apparently in the habit of lurking on social media specifically for the purpose of verbally seducing and meeting naive under-aged girls. He convinced her to meet him at a department store – a place that most people would think would be safe.

But of course it wasn’t. Her new ‘friend’, a predator of the worst kind, lured her into a public minivan, where more of his predator friends were waiting, and they drove her to a house in Parung, Bogor. There, she was imprisoned with  several other young girls who had been similarly duped.

Over the following week, ‘Yugi’ allegedly raped her, threatened her with death if she disobeyed him, and forced her to have sex with numerous other men. The plan, as she understood it, was that she was to be ‘sold’ to someone in Batam,  Riau Islands when he tired of her. During the time that she was missing, her frantic family and friends had widely distributed flyers to try and find her. The media had also picked up on the story, so to her captors, she suddenly became a liability. They dumped her at a bus terminal, where local residents recognised her and took her home.

Now the story took a bizarre turn. After spending a month to recover sufficiently, this brave girl wanted to pick up the broken threads of her life, return to her studies at Budi Utomo Junior High School – a private school in Depok – and put her ordeal behind her.

But when she returned in October 2012, she was publicly humiliated in front of the whole school at a flag-raising ceremony, where she was told that she had “tarnished the school’s image”. She was summarily expelled, and prohibited from sitting for her mid-semester examination. As so often happens to women in Indonesia, this teenager – a victim – was treated as a perpetrator.

The principal refused to meet with the girl’s parents. Journalists were fobbed off without explanation. Officers from the school’s foundation refused to comment, apart from denying, despite clear evidence to the contrary, that she had been expelled.

Following a great deal of public ire and media publicity, the school reversed its stance, saying those all-too-common words, “It was all a misunderstanding”. Mediation was agreed to, and it was reluctantly agreed that the girl could return to school. No apology was offered, and no attempt was made to rehabilitate her good name. The feelings of the girl, and her family, can only be imagined.

I spoke to a friend in Jakarta about this episode, and I must say I didn’t try and hide my feelings about the lack of compassion shown by some Indonesians towards girls and women who have been sexually abused. And while I was in mid-flight, she stopped me and said, “I agree with everything you say. But you need to know something else about this case.” What she told me provided an interesting and illuminating new perspective on Indonesian society.

During the time that the girl was missing, the predominantly Muslim neighbourhood where the girl’s family live were incredibly supportive, keeping the family calm, promoting positivity, and helping to distribute flyers. Then, after she was found, her recuperation was helped by the many caring, supportive neighbourhood visitors who brought food, money, and most of all, the gift of their time and love.

They didn’t stop with that. They started – and completed – a major fund-raising drive to enable her to finish her education privately, away from the school that had besmirched her name and honour, and treated her with such vile insensitivity. They also found her an excellent, well-qualified teacher who was also a counsellor familiar with the needs of traumatised young girls to guide her education.

The whole Muslim community in her neighbourhood rallied to help someone who was in trouble and desperately needed their help. To me, this is one of the untold stories of true, genuine compassion in Indonesia that might well be common, but largely remains un-trumpeted. Maybe this is because compassion carries its own quiet rewards.

Oh, and I nearly forgot – the girl and her family are Christians. To their wonderful, caring Muslim neighbours, that fact was, as it should be, completely irrelevant. I salute you.

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More Than A Pat On The Head

April 20, 2013

I saw a heart-warming sight on Double-Six beach in Bali a few weeks ago. Amongst the dogs joyfully frolicking on the sand was one that seemed not to be participating. From quite a distance, it looked happy enough, but there seemed to be something different about the way it was standing. It was not until I drew much closer that I realised what that was.

I discovered that a French couple had found themselves ‘adopted’ by a dog lying on their doorstep. It didn’t seem particularly distressed, but its hindquarters were completely paralysed. Not even its tail could manage a single twitch, much less a wag. No-one knew how it got there, or what had happened to it. Some dogs, of course, have a hard life in Bali. I have seen them hit, kicked, and run over by motorbikes and cars. Whatever the cause in this dog’s case, it was obviously serious. A traumatic injury such as this to a dog in Bali generally means that it has no chance of survival. It would be left to die slowly, or be put down.

But this couple, showing compassion above and beyond the call of mere duty, took the dog in. They fed it, gave it medical attention, and tried to make its life as comfortable as possible. The dog, immobilised, was understandably depressed, and showed little sign of recovering from its debilitating paralysis. They tried massage, pharmaceuticals and traditional medicine – all with minimal effect.

Then they went that one step further, getting a custom made trailer/wheelchair made overseas to support the dog’s hindquarters. It was delivered and fitted, and a wonderful transformation began.

There on Double Six beach, I saw the results of that kindness – a dog happily romping on the sand with his canine mates, towing his hind legs behind him, and wagging his previously inactive tail with the sheer joy of mobility.

Custom Dog Wheelchair

Custom Dog Wheelchair

Even his back legs show signs of movement now, and his new owners say that they are even making jerky running movements when he dreams. You could, of course, attribute the improvement to medicine, to regular meals, and to the contraption supporting his back end.

But I think this dog is recovering mainly because of the genuine care and love shown by two strangers who could have abandoned him – and chose not to. They made him part of their pack instead, and for a dog, this is the most important thing in the world.

Aren’t some people wonderful?

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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 Collateral Damage From The Van Der Speck Sting

April 16, 2013

A recent video uploaded by Mr. Van Der Speck, the Dutch ‘journalist’ posing as a tourist to ‘expose’ so-called corruption and extortion practices of the Bali police, went viral, as its maker had hoped. It showed the well-known practice of paying police a small fee when caught in a traffic infringement.

Equipped with a hidden camera, plus an accomplice with a second camera close by, he rode past a police post, sans helmet, waiting to be pulled over. Following the best practices of journalistic entrapment, he effectively offered an inducement to the police officer to avoid ‘going to court’. Readily agreeing to a fairly high pay-off fee, he then intimated that he would love a beer, whereupon the unfortunate cop, perhaps motivated by guilt for accepting such a relatively high payment from a ‘nice guy’, scurried off and bought him a a few beers with the proceeds – which they then both enjoyed.

Reactions to this sting followed the predictable pattern of those who come from a different culture, where all corruption is considered wrong. Ignoring the distinction between ‘minor’ corruption here, and the unacceptable ‘major’ corruption which is endemic amongst Indonesia’s officials, the media, in a fit of unseemly glee, went bat-shit over the issue. No point in explaining to people that ‘minor’ corruption plays an important role in the complex economic and social fabric here, and is actually beneficial given the subsistence salaries that are the norm.

No, uninformed moralists of all persuasions, holding firmly to their belief that ALL payola is wrong no matter what the circumstances, expressed their condemnation with the usual Bali-bashing. This, of course, caused Bali’s authorities to lose face and crack down on a practice that is both complex and necessary, at least under the present system of dealing with traffic violations. The police involved were disciplined as well – a scapegoat was necessary.

And this opportunistic little set-up is now having very expensive repercussions for locals.

A friend – a local person – was pinged by traffic police in Kuta/Legian tonight for riding without a helmet. Yes, it was a silly and dangerous oversight. Normally, in return for a small fee (for locals) of 20,000-30,000, it would incur a safety lecture and an exhortation to stay safe. Most people I know learn from such an experience and remember to wear their helmet – at least for a couple of months anyway.

But this time, the cop apologised for not being able to accept the usual ‘fee’, and said his hands were tied as his supervisor was watching closely. He kept glancing around as if to find a hidden camera. He then proceeded to write out the first traffic ticket I have ever seen in Bali, saying that all police were being watched like hawks since the Lio Square sting by Van Der Speck.

My friend now has to go to the police station in the morning and pay the official fine, which according to the vaguely-worded citation, will be either 100,000, or 250,000, or 500,000 rupiah. Even the cop didn’t know.  That’s a lot of money for a local person. The printed citation form doesn’t even provide an address at which to pay the fine, undoubtedly because this method is so rarely used here that the kinks in the system haven’t even been discovered yet.

I wonder if the holier-than-thou ‘journalist’ ever considered that his actions would have such repercussions? A fine of up to two week’s salary for a local is savage. Loss of discretionary income for a police officer – who has already paid 100 million plus for a place in the police academy, and a further few million a month to ‘buy a franchise’ for a spot on a lucrative ‘fine’ corner will seriously affect his family.

Am I ‘for’ corruption? No. But the system under which the traffic police have operated for years is finely tuned to the society here, and the ‘fees’ paid for vehicular transgressions go straight to the officer to supplement his meagre salary. In developed countries, without a culture of, er,  personal fee-for-service, the money paid in fines goes to Consolidated Revenue for the government to totally waste on airy-fairy social experiments. I know which one I think is the more equitable system. I don’t even see it as ‘corruption’, rather, it is an equitable re-distribution of wealth.

Will this new system last? I don’t know. I do know the police on the street are not in favour of it because of the loss of their income. Their bosses may be of a different mind, suddenly realising that a hitherto-unrealised revenue stream is there for the taking. I know the average local is horrified that they will have to pay up to ten times the amount they are used to.

But I suspect that when the fuss dies down, Bali’s traffic regulation enforcement methods will quietly revert to their time-honoured state, where there is a social benefit for all who get trapped by their vehicular misdemeanours.

And, despite the arguments for and against the existing system here, the fact remains that no-one needs to pay anything to the police or the Traffic Department. Ever.

All you have to do is wear a helmet, a shirt, keep your headlights on during the day, stop before the white line at traffic lights, and carry a valid licence and registration documents. No-one will book you.

And Mr. Van Der Speck – next time you come blundering into a foreign country, ignorant of its culture and social mores, and deliberately break its laws in order to entrap someone – for the sake of journalism – stop and think. You might be happily back in Holland, but the damage your stupid journalism has inflicted remains.

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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?