Posts Tagged ‘karma’


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?”

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?




Is Sari Site Sacred – Or Just Another Shakedown?

October 12, 2012

In the emotion-charged swirl of the tenth anniversary of the Bali bombings, many have come to Bali to pay tribute to the victims of an insane attack by anti-Western fanatics in 2002.

The deaths of 202 people from 22 countries, and the injuries sustained by another 240, left emotional scars on thousands of families and friends of the victims. The Sari Club in Kuta, site of the blast, was practically destroyed, along with the lives of the victims, and the peace of mind of their families.

The relatives and friends of those killed want closure. The survivors, and those close to them, want closure. The citizens of those countries where their murdered compatriots once lived want closure. But they’re not getting it, and perhaps they never will.

Yes, the cowards who, in pursuit of some warped religious-political agenda, thought it was perfectly acceptable to use powerful bombs to destroy hundreds of innocent lives are dead or in jail. Yes, there is a monument to those who died on a street corner nearby. Yes, there was a seismic shift of attitudes towards terrorism in the region, and a push to reduce the chances of such an outrage occurring again.

But to many of those affected, these responses, while comforting to some degree, did not bring closure. It was strongly felt by many that the Sari Club – the epicentre of the outrage – was a sacred site. They wanted the place where their loved ones died to be honoured with the creation of a memorial Peace Park, a place of contemplation and a reminder to all that violent political tactics achieve nothing in the long run, except to demean the perpetrators and their causes in the eyes of the world.

To many of us in the West, final closure is intimately tied up with places. We tend to place a great deal of importance on the sanctity of final resting places, and on the emotional power of memorials at actual sites where people perished. These provide both a spiritual focus and concrete anchor points for our thoughts and memories and prevent them from becoming too quickly diluted by time. They are how we show respect.

To this end, and with the support of the Australian government and Bali’s Provincial administration, plans were drawn up and $1,000,000 raised to implement a proposed Peace Park on the Sari site. Many words were spoken, many meetings were held, endless negotiations were entered into. It was classic NATO – No Action; Talk Only.

Ten years on, the Sari Club site is a filthy wasteland of unevenly packed dirt. Part of it is being used as rat-infested garbage dump. Motorists pay money to leave their cars and bikes all over it. A slum-like corrugated iron shack sells snacks and drinks. There is no signage and no-one shows any sign of remembering that 202 people were killed here 10 years ago. Oh yes, and since Bali has no public toilets, an area to one side has become a stinking, de-facto open sewer where those with full bladders can urinate on the ashes of the dead. The much-vaunted Peace Park has become a Piss Park instead.

What happened?

Well, for one thing, this is not a Western country. Attitudes and cultural mores are very different, and this includes attitudes to death. One Balinese explained it to me thus: “We are used to death. We die early. We die in accidents. We don’t really have graves, or memorials, or monuments. We have ceremonies.” He went on to use the term ‘continuous remembrance’, which I took to mean that the ‘monuments’ to those who die here are both internal and intangible.

That explains part of the laissez-faire approach to the disgusting junk-yard that is the Sari Club site, and the foot-dragging delays in creating what would be a true memorial in our eyes.

But the real reason why nothing has been done is that the money isn’t flowing –  the one  constant that flows through the veins of  the Indonesian body politic.

According to media reports, the land is privately owned by Tija Sukamto, a reputedly rich Javanese businessman. He in turn is said to have leased the land to Kadek Wiranatha, one of Bali’s richest tycoons, and a powerful and influential figure here. The amount raised by the Australian and Bali governments – around $1,000,000 – represents a fair market value for this land, perhaps even a little above. However, both men have steadfastly refused to sell, at least at the price being offered.

Instead, they are demanding $7,200,000 – a price which even the Governor of Bali has described as “crazy” and “unbelievable”. Why? Because they can. It’s their land. It is not sacred to them; it is sacred to us. They know that, and in their eyes, it is a perfect opportunity to drive up the price.

In my opinion, it is a battle that we supporters of a Peace Park can not win. We are motivated by sentiment, emotion and respect for the dead; they are motivated by profit. You don’t get to become successful in business if you let hard-nose financial decisions be swayed by emotion. Don’t blame them for that – it’s the way business is done here.

The ten-year stand-off can only be solved by one party beating a strategic retreat. In my view, insisting on the Sari Club as the only location for the Park is only going to drive up the price further. Let’s find an alternative site at a reasonable price, because the spiritual significance to us trumps the physical location.

Let’s do this quickly, so all the parties can at least get closure, if not comfort. And if Tija Sukamto and Kadek Wiranatha miss out on their $7.2 million windfall, or even fail to get market price for their land, well, that’s just business.

Or maybe it’s Karma.


How My e-Cigarette Made Me Wet My Pants

January 21, 2012

Breakfast complete, I lean back in my chair at the new cafe I’m trying out and puff contentedly on my cigarette. The couple at the next table glance at me disapprovingly, despite the fact that I’m sitting in an open area, well downwind from them. One of the pair wrinkles his nose and ostentatiously fans the air in front of his frowning face, as if to signal that my smoke is destroying his sensitive olfactory system. “You smokers are so bloody selfish”, he yells. For reasons that will become clear, I find his reaction a little surprising, and decide to rev him up even more.

So I take a deep drag, watching the tip of my cigarette glow cherry red as his face assumes the same hue, presumably due to his climbing blood pressure. Then, pretending that I have just noticed his negative reaction, I wave an apology, and stub the cigarette out in my right eye. I am supremely gratified as he knocks over a glass of water in shock. I take another quick puff and drop the apparently burning butt into my shirt pocket.

I say ‘apparently burning’, because I am using an electronic cigarette, a rechargeable device with a red LED on its end that glows brightly when you draw on it. It has a cartridge containing ethylene glycol and some additives which are vaporised by a tiny heating element. The ‘smoke’ produced is not smoke at all, but water vapour. It has no odour and dissipates almost instantly. Its operating principle is the same as that in the nebulisers used by asthmatics. But it looks like a real cigarette and satisfies the behavioural addiction inherent in smoking without its downsides.

In response to my cheap trick, the disapproving patron recoils and mutters darkly to his companion while giving me the fish eye. Obviously a person who takes great pleasure in being annoyed by everything, he switches the focus of his ire from my ‘smoking’ to me personally, snarling, “Bloody wanker!” at me as he leaves. Uncalled for, even if true.

I am consumed with immature glee at having pricked his pomposity and making him lose face. To stifle my  guffaws, I put my face in my hands and my elbows on the table’s edge. Unfortunately, I’m seated at a round table mounted on a pedestal – one of those awful designs with only three legs. My position midway between two of these legs gives my elbows perfect leverage to instantly tip the table towards me. Naturally, my glass of pineapple juice slides towards me and falls into my lap, saturating my crotch with yellow liquid.

That’s right – I’m in Bali. I’d forgotten that karmic payback here can be immediate. Embarrassing that non-smoker chappie may not have been such a great idea after all. Now everybody who sees me in the next hour will shake their heads at the poor old duffer who has obviously forgotten to wear his incontinence pads. Maybe I could just sneak out with a newspaper over my lap …?

No such luck. A local acquaintance promptly walks in and greets me with a sunny Balinese smile. This gets even wider when he sees my saturated pants. To distract his attention before he makes the obvious coarse comment, I show him my electronic cigarettes. It seems to work, as he loses all interest in my wet lap. However,  this also proves to be a massive tactical blunder, because he is utterly fascinated by the e-cigarettes. And as with many locals, fascination with a new consumer item leads to desire, and desire inevitably leads to an unabashed request, which I, as a bule, am expected to immediately fulfil.

“You give me one electronic cigarette, ya?” he says eagerly. “You have two.”
“No, I need two because one gets charged while I’m using the other”, I explain.
“That’s OK, you only need one. Smoke first, then charge. So I can have one too”, he persists.
I change tack. “It charges from a USB port on a computer”, I tell him.
“Yes, yes, I know USB”, he says.
“But do you have a computer?” I ask.
“No,” he says, “but my cousin does, and I see him every month.”

I try to discourage him by pointing out that you have to charge the things several times a day, but he won’t have a bar of it.  I unscrew the end of one and show him the cartridge, explaining that once it loses its ability to generate the vapour, it has to be replaced. He is unimpressed.

“No worries. You give me one cigarette and one hundred cartridges”, is his solution to the unexpected problem of having to replace consumables.
“Well, no, I won’t do that, because I only have ten cartridges.” I say, trying to keep my cool.
Ever creative, he says, “But you can just buy some more and give them to me.”

This is getting nowhere. So I spend a little time on a basic lesson about the difference between consumer items, which might be relatively cheap, and the consumables that they need to keep running, which in the long run can end up hellishly expensive. I go through all the arguments as to why it would be thoroughly impractical for me to give him one of my electronic cigarettes, stressing that he has no way of charging the thing anyway, and would have no source of consumables or spare parts.

I leave out some other, equally pertinent reasons for not wanting to accommodate his request, such as the fact that I hardly know him and my general ire about always being asked to buy things for people in Bali. But the main reason is that I just want to get out of here and change my pants. He looks at me and nods solemnly, and tells me that he understands completely. I am relieved – I have managed to convince him with the sheer weight of my logical arguments and my forceful and persuasive personality.

He pauses for a few seconds, looks straight into my eyes, and says, “So, can I have the cigarette then?”

I close my eyes and shake my head, both to indicate that no, he can’t have the damn cigarette, and in despair at the damage that we, as Westerners have inflicted on the locals with our pervasive toxic consumerism that just does not fit in here.

“Oh”, he says with downcast eyes, the single syllable clearly conveying that he thinks I’m a hopelessly stingy bule. He pauses for perhaps five seconds, then meets my gaze, the better to deliver a dose of classic Balinese passive-aggression:

“Why did you piss in your pants?” he asks.


When ‘Bums on Seats’ Is More Than a Theatre Term

March 21, 2010

The behaviour of some visitors to Bali continues to stagger and amaze. Sometimes youthful (and not so youthful)  high jinks cross over into the territory of disrespect, sometimes they are merely thoughtless or annoying. But sometimes such events commence as an episode of bad taste and end as a wonderful example of karma at work in its purest form, providing learning experiences for the protagonist, and vast amusement to spectators.

And so it was that I was drawn to visit Kuta. It was one of those rare occasions where the morbid fascination of watching the denizens of this enclave perform their arcane rituals outweighed my usual reticence to venture into this netherworld. It was mid-afternoon and hot, the cloudless day and furnace-like lanes combining to suck the moisture out of the bodies of all who, like me, were stupid enough to be out on the streets. Needless to say, I sought refuge in one of the many bars catering to the needs of the hot and thirsty.

Inside, where it was marginally cooler, grateful patrons were partaking of icy-cold refreshments.  At the next table were a group of young men, whose preferred tipple was, not surprisingly, Bintang. Judging by their loud, slurred voices, the obscenities, the good natured arguments that often spilled over into macho challenges and the inability of most of them to navigate to the toilet without falling over, they had been there for quite some time. The peculiar alchemy of alcohol, heat and reduced inhibitions while in holiday mode had taken its toll – as it is wont to do on those recently out of adolescence, but not yet into full adulthood. They kept on about their bikes parked outside, referring to them as ‘toys’ and ‘scooters’ which were not worthy of the name motorbike – at least compared to the ‘real’ machines they apparently rode at home. Then, with unerring accuracy, the alpha male in the group, whose name was apparently “Wazza” or something similar, began to zero in on the group’s underdog, “Willsy”, a brash type who seemed to be taking a lot of flak from his contemporaries and therefore drunkenly determined to both prove his worth and improve his status. Talk about a soft target … 

Wazza: ( Baiting the hook) “Hey Willsy, bet you haven’t got the stones to do a streak in the bar”
Willsy: (Blinking) “Wot, here?”
Wazza: “Nah mate, in Sinny! Yeah, here ya dill! Go on – it’s Bali mate!”
Willsy: “I dunno …”
Wazza: “Knew it. You’re gutless. $20 says ya won’t do it”

So Willsy thinks about it, calculates the potential loss of prestige in front of his peer group, and emboldened by one more cold Bintang, decides to do it. To a slow handclap from his friends, he peels off his singlet, drops his boardies and is about to take off. Wazza looks scornful: “Wot? That’s not a streak – you’ve got ya jocks on! Forget it – just gimme the $20”. Willsy caves in, drops the last vestiges of his modesty, and again starts his run around the bar to mixed reactions from the patrons, some gleeful, some mildly shocked, most watching with amused curiosity. The bar staff are less than amused. Before he has stumbled five paces, Wazza yells “Wait!” A relieved Willsy returns, thinking he has been spared.

Wazza: (setting the hook) “Tell ya what, mate. Anybody can do a streak in a bar. I’ve got $50 that says you won’t do a streak on ya bike”
Willsy: “Wha …”
Wazza: “On ya bike. Just up to the next corner, turn around, come back. $50.”

So poor foolish Willsy, outmanoeuvred yet again, mumbles “Yer on” and runs outside, followed by most of the bar. If he had had less contempt for step-through motorbikes and mounted in the approved girly fashion, he would have sensed the danger while mounting. But no, he had to fling his leg over, macho-style, and drop straight down on the seat. Did I mention it was hot? And that bike seats are black, are ideal for absorbing heat, and get close to 90 degrees Celsius after hours in the sun? Hot enough to fry eggs, and a goodly part of a breakfast sausage actually, which is pretty much what happened to Willsy. I have never seen anyone get off a bike so fast. His yelling was loud, but nowhere loud enough to drown out the screams of hilarity from his ‘friends’, and in fact, most of the street. The bar staff, obviously having reconsidered their disapproval, were now in tears from sheer glee. I left, chuckling, while his mates helped the hapless Willsy to the bathroom to pour cold water on his burnt gluteals and other accoutrements.

Wonderful thing, karma. It comes in many guises, and perhaps the sweetest of all is when a transgression carries the seeds of its own punishment. Bet you’ve learned something, Willsy. Bet you didn’t get your $50 either.