Posts Tagged ‘kuta’

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Bali Bogans Are Not Always Foreign Imports

December 11, 2011

The group of young men have been there for weeks now, at least since the Schoolies epidemic started. Hanging idly around the Circle K every afternoon, they behave badly, as drifters at a loose end tend to do everywhere in the world. Strewing their bikes haphazardly around the parking bay outside the door, they sullenly refuse to yield space to customers trying to enter the store, and stubbornly block access to delivery trucks. Their facial expressions are simultaneously vacant and sullen, and they seem to be attempting to cultivate an air of menace which sits uneasily on their youthful features.

They engage in sporadic conversation, if you can call desultory grunts ‘conversation’. They seem rootless, bored and lacking any sense of engagement with their surroundings – except to leer at passing skimpily-dressed female schoolies. As two young women, who look about seventeen, emerge from the store and pause to put away their purchases, one layabout detaches himself from his compatriots and swaggers over. Yes, he actually swaggers, despite this being a mode of locomotion normally employed by bad actors in made-for-television films.

He must be the alpha male, because the others watch with barely-concealed anticipation as the master makes his move. Standing a metre from his quarry, he stares, face set in an expression that could only have been learned from watching James Dean movies. The girls are aware of him of course, but pointedly ignore him. Young they might be, but they are not without experience in handling the unwanted advances of predatory males.

So he moves closer, intruding into their personal space. A flicker of eye-contact is enough to embolden him into emitting what he must believe is the ultimate in smooth pick-up lines. “How about some jiggy-jig?” he asks brusquely. Wow. No time-wasting here. His attempted sang-froid is spoiled somewhat by an unanticipated break in his voice, which he attempts to remedy by pitching his tone lower and repeating himself. It sounds worse this time – the transition from Dean to De Niro is somewhat lacking in its execution.

The girls might not know the term jiggy-jig, but they certainly pick up on its intent. They stare at him for two seconds, using that peculiar opaque look perfected by teenagers inappropriately accosted by older men. I mean, this guy is probably twenty-four. He is positively elderly. He doesn’t realise that he has lost the race before the starter’s gun even goes off. Without a word being spoken, the girls brush past him as if he was an insubstantial shadow, and walk off without a backwards glance.

Thwarted, the inept lothario skulks back to his bike, glaring at his acolytes as if daring them to make a comment on his loss of face. They understand the game though, and immediately blame the girls for being so unresponsive to their mate. To salvage a few shreds of what passes for self-respect, the group starts making insulting comments, which become increasingly loud and offensive. Reclining on their bikes, heads resting on handlebars and feet stretched out on pillions – presumably to project an air of unconcerned relaxation, they begin a loud series of hoots and catcalls aimed at the backs of the departing girls. When that elicits no response, they reach back and squeeze their horn buttons, creating a strident cacophony that continues for more than sixty seconds.

The psychological meaning of playing with their horns for stress relief escapes them, but the noise does annoy staff and customers in the convenience store, the adjacent coffee shop and the local spas where people are trying to relax. In fact, the racket intensely irritates everyone within a hundred metre radius. Several locals attempt to calm them down, but are treated with utter disdain. The only people who think their antics are amusing are the off-duty taxi drivers who also hang around the Circle K every afternoon, their street-blocking hoodle of parked cabs causing traffic chaos during the busiest time of day. The young men on their bikes posture and preen, playing to each other and to the cabbies, ignoring all requests to tone down their behaviour. They just don’t care.

They are genuine, card-carrying bogans. But these delinquents are not Schoolies, or crass young Australian tourists. They are local boys. And this seriously embarrasses the locals who work in the area. “They are not from here, they are from villages far away,” says one staff member dismissively. “They have no education, no jobs, and no money.” I point out that they have motorbikes. “Probably stolen,” snorts another local.

I ask whether there is anything that could be done for these young men to encourage them to be productive members of society. “No. We don’t want them here. They make visitors uneasy, and we can’t afford that,” says another local trader. “If they are here again tomorrow, we will call the local banjar office. They will take them back to their villages.” I suggest that they might be reluctant to go. “Then someone will beat them up until they agree,” laughs another. I can see that there is not much call for caring and sharing social workers here. Whether that is a good thing or not, I don’t know. Bali handles its problems in its own way.

What I do know is that despite Bali’s frenetic tourist-driven pace of development, opportunities for locals to share in the spoils will always be limited to those with drive, initiative and education. Those who want to participate in civil society will be the winners. Those who choose to opt-out, or who are forced to do so through family circumstances, poverty or ignorance will be the losers. And when you are a loser, all that is left is to hang around convenience stores, letting off steam to relieve the frustration and the hopelessness of life. For these people, I see no brightness of the future.

And it’s interesting that the solution here is to identify the under-classes, and then ship them out. Out of sight, out of mind. Does it work to clear the tourist areas of undesirables? Most certainly, albeit temporarily, because there are always more to take their place. Does it address the underlying causes of the problem? Of course not. But isn’t it the same everywhere?

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The Secret Language Of Survival On Bali Roads

December 5, 2011

Bahasa Indonesia is not the only language that Bali visitors must learn – especially if you drive or ride on our roads. There is a separate, informal language for road users that, although it has no words or grammar, has its own peculiar syntax.

It is more akin to the body language used by dogs, which lets them identify strangers, assert their right of way, recognise alpha dogs, resolve territorial disputes and generally smooth the path of social interaction. Motorists and bike riders here, at least those who are still alive and uninjured, have not only learned this non-verbal language but use it fluently every day.

The first and most important rule is that size matters. Visitors from more regulated places might expect that every road user will follow the same set of guidelines, whether they are driving a bus or riding a moped. Not in Bali. Here, one’s ability to dominate a traffic situation is directly proportional to the physical size of your vehicle. It’s the Bigger Is Better Rule. So trucks give way to buses, cars give way to trucks, scooters give way to big motorbikes, and pedestrians are meant to give way to scooters. To add a little uncertainty to the system, cabs will often ignore this hierarchical structure. The magnitude  and frequency of these lapses in protocol will depend on the taxi company involved  and whether the driver is at the beginning or the end of his typically long shift.

Basically, you give way to the might, and a lack of understanding of this prime aspect of Bali traffic dialogue by newbies causes quite a few problems, many ruffled feathers, and even the occasional injury.

Visiting pedestrians are particularly vulnerable here, believing as they do that because the streets here are so narrow, they automatically qualify as footpaths. Those who wander along carriageways, three abreast in a bovine stupor, will soon get their elbows clipped by a passing motorbike mirror.  Few realise that this is in fact a practical lesson in the finer points of ‘Bali Road Language’ being administered by a fed-up motorist. The exception is, of course, for locals. Within their own village precincts, Balinese reign supreme. They may strike up conversations in the middle of the road, suddenly stop their bikes anywhere on a whim, or even close an entire main road for a ceremony. Relax, that’s normal, but don’t try it yourself.

The second rule of the secret traffic language is to do with the judicious use of lights. I don’t mean indicators, which when used at all, only serve as a visual clue that the driver or rider has made a turn some time during that day, or might be thinking about turning at some stage in the future. Or just has a fondness for flashing lights. Hazard flashers, however, are used to indicate that a car is continuing through an intersection without turning. They are never used to indicate that a car has stopped in a dangerous spot. In Bali, there is no need for this; you can safely assume that every parked car has been left in a dangerous spot.

No, the real light signal communication here  is through the use of headlights. The ‘high-beam flash’ is used in conjunction with the Bigger Is Better Rule, but it’s the driver who flashes first who gets precedence. If you are proceeding up a narrow street and an oncoming taxi is stymied by a parked car, it will generally not stop until you have safely passed the chicane, but execute The Double Flash. This is the universal Bali GOOMW (Get Out Of My Way) signal. A especially tetchy driver will triple-flash you, which is more of a GOOMFW signal, and should not be ignored. Police and other authority figures may occasionally use the Multiple Repeated Flash, also known as the GOOMFW,YI. The correct response is to stop, or move over to the left as far as you can even if it means knocking over several parked bikes and creaming the odd pedestrian to let the oncoming vehicle through.

The third rule has to do with the use of sound. A minor aspect of this is the actual engine note of a vehicle. Whatever the other complex rules say, if you hear a large truck coming at high speed, get out of the way immediately. Don’t get precious and listen for squealing brakes; most trucks here don’t have any. Get out of the way if you hear the characteristic sound of a Harley. You might theoretically have right of way, but its rider is likely to be bigger and tougher than you.

But discounting mechanical sounds, the most mellifluous part of the traffic’s  symphonic language is the horn section. Bikes will beep you as they overtake – not to hassle, but to politely warn. In terms of right of way,  it’s a He Who Beeps First, Wins Rule. If you are about to change lanes and someone beeps you, wait until they have overtaken. However, the reverse applies in some extremely narrow lanes where there are often blind corners leading to even narrower lanes, wide enough for only one bike. It is, of course, customary to beep as you approach. No audible response means you can continue, but an answering beep usually means stop until you see the other rider. So in these lanes it’s a He Who Beeps Second, Wins Rule.

A few weeks back, this particular rule caused perhaps the most absurd situation to date during my time here. I often take short cuts through narrow lanes, and one in particular has a very tight turn. I approached, politely tooted, and immediately received an answering beep. So I waited. And waited. After a while, a repeat beep elicited another beeped response. Again, no sign of a bike. Edging carefully forward and craning my neck, I managed to peer up the lane. Nothing. Grrr. So I edged the bike around the corner, beeped twice in sheer frustration – and heard a loud beep-beep in my right ear. Nearly falling off, I snapped my head around to see an alcove leading to a Bali house. And sitting serenely in a bamboo cage was a nondescript brown bird. Beep-beep, it said again. It’s difficult to do when you have no lips, but I swear it grinned at me.

Anyway, that’s Bali. Needless to say, situations will arise where the Bigger Is Better Rule conflicts with the Double Flash Rule, and cannot be resolved by the He Who Beeps First, Wins or even the He Who Beeps Second, Wins Rule. This can lead to some hairy situations, but most of these can be overcome by a judicious application of the Slow Motion Good-Natured Bullying Rule, which is normally used at all Bali intersections. This simply involves continuing in your intended direction at a slow creep until someone eventually gives way to you. However, remember that regardless of all the other rules, the Don’t Collide With Anyone Even If You Supposedly Have Right Of Way Rule always, always has precedence.

Got all that? Makes trying to learn Bahasa a piece of cake, doesn’t it?

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When Shockingly Shoddy Workmanship Can Kill

November 26, 2011

My pool light hasn’t worked for a while. Eventually, I pull out the globe to have a look. It looks normal, but just to be sure, I give it a quick continuity check with the multimeter. It’s fine. So I flick the switch a few times and notice that occasionally the lamp glimmers on for a second before lapsing into inactivity. A quick inspection of the switch wiring reveals nothing loose and nothing broken. Right, I think, the switch poles themselves have arced over one too many times. Time for a new switch.

The usual in-stock/out-of-stock lottery at Ace Hardware rewards me with a win – a Chinese-made outdoor switch assembly which looks perfect. Until I get it home, that is, because it’s a factory discard that has obviously been eagerly bought by the store because it’s cheap. It’s cheap because it has a manufacturing defect – the case has been meticulously welded shut after assembly. There is no known method of disassembling it in order to wire it into the circuit. I try to remember my mantra from my meditating days, without success.

My pool man, Dewa,  is aware of the problem and offers to have a look. He thinks it might be the wiring loom in the pool’s pump room, a chaotic mess of cables which acts as a sort of switchboard for the pool electrics. In true Bali fashion, there has been no reluctance on the part of the building contractors to mix water and electricity at my villa. I tell Dewa to be careful. Two minutes later, there is a yell from the pump room and Dewa staggers out with his hair standing up on end and scorch marks on his hand. We isolate the power and call an electrician.

I tell this worthy to replace the switch, install an earthing point, check all potentially dangerous wiring and make sure the pool light works. He does the universal Bali thing and asks for money for parts before he will start. So he finishes the job, asks for an exorbitant amount for labour and tries to get out of the door in record time. “Wait”, I say. “Is the switch working?” He assures me that it is, so I try it. The pool lamp stays dark. “It’s the globe”, he says, “I check – broken!” That’s funny, it wasn’t broken before. “Did you check the wiring where Dewa got a shock?” I ask. “Ya, ya – everything fixed. Just need new globe”. I’m busy with other stuff, so I don’t check immediately (silly me), and the electrician practically does a wheelie leaving the villa to spend his ill-gotten booty.

Next day, I check the globe and it is intact. Grrrr. Dewa arrives and climbs into the pump room to check the electrician’s work. There is a louder yell, a thump, and Dewa emerges, quivering and smoking slightly from the ears after yet another shock. After isolating all power again, I check the pump room myself and find that a transformer appears to be the culprit. We haul it out and carefully plug it into a power point in the kitchen, making sure that we touch no part of the case or its cable before switching on the power, carefully using an insulated screwdriver. We are only alive because we did that.

My trusty multimeter shows 220 volts on the transformer’s metal case, and 90 volts on most parts of the outer insulation of the power cord itself. I don’t know what rubbish the manufacturer used for the cord insulation, but he should be in jail. Dewa is alive only because he grasped the power cord, the dodgy insulation of which fortunately still had some resistance left. If he had touched the metal casing of the transformer while standing in five centimetres of water, he would not have survived.

My ‘electrician’ – a barely qualified amateur at best, and a lethally incompetent charlatan at worst – does not accept any responsibility. “I checked!” he screams on the phone. “No you didn’t”, I tell him. He is incensed. “You did not see me! You were on phone!” Oh, so I have to prove it to him now? “Not my fault!” he yells. No, it never is here, is it? Deny, lay blame, justify and invent a story – the four mainstays of the incompetent’s defence. Not a hint of an apology, or of accepting responsibility for his actions. I resolve never to use him again, but wonder uneasily how long it will be before he kills either himself or one of his customers.

I think of other times and other villas, where shocks are the norm and the quality of electrical work is abysmal. I ride past villas under construction and see bare electrical cable being laid in concrete slabs without the use of conduits, cabling with savage kinks being pulled tight in walls and roofs, and metal boxes with fragile wiring poking through roughly-drilled holes without the protection of tape, much less a grommet. I see rat’s nests of wiring on poles and main boards of shops and houses. I think of the number of fires here caused by electrical faults, and people risking their lives through contact with live wires.

I dismantle the jerry-built, lethal transformer and find bell-wire gauge conductors carrying mains voltage, their insulation perished, and rubbing up against sharp pieces of metal casing. A decomposing mains switch is not even properly insulated from the case. Bet it was cheap though.

And just as I reflect on how lucky Dewa and I were not to be killed, I hear the tragic news. A young man, trying to negotiate piles of construction material blocking the footpath in Legian Street, grabs a pole carrying a neon sign outside a cafe to steady himself. With his other hand, he grasps another metal pole in the footpath. It is the last thing he ever does; the casing of the neon sign is live. An electrical authority official says, “… the cable to the neon box was scraped”, meaning that bare wires were exposed. He said that wiring safety is the cafe’s responsibility.

The blame game starts immediately. The manager of the premises denies responsibility, saying that tourists were to blame. He was quoted as saying, “Most of night people got very drunk and he banged the sign,” he said. “Something broken inside of the sign.” Right. Not our fault. It’s those terrible bules again.

But you see, denying responsibility does nothing to bring back a life. Blaming others or justifying is futile after the event. When we are talking about electrical energy and its safe use, we aren’t just talking about typical Bali inconveniences. It’s a potentially lethal form of energy. The true responsibility for its safe use lies with governments and training institutions, who must insist on Grade A standards for everybody who has anything to do with electricity – and this includes component manufacturers and importers, electrical design engineers and all those who claim to be ‘electricians’.

As long as amateurs and incompetents are allowed to play at being ‘electricians’, people will continue to die. I was lucky. Dewa was lucky. An unfortunate young man who did nothing wrong except walk down a street today and touch a harmless-looking fixture, was not so lucky. And that is just not good enough.

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Schoolies In Bali Struggle Without Safety Net

November 23, 2011

So I’m sitting there on a torpid Tuesday afternoon, slurping down my caffeine fix and watching the endlessly fascinating passing parade in Jalan Padma Utara. Suddenly, there is an eruption of demented yells and a group of boys  zoom unsteadily into view on their rented motorbikes. Shirtless, barefoot and helmet-less, they weave between both kerbs, oblivious to the attempts of oncoming traffic to avoid them. Their age, about 17, their self-absorbed demeanour and their disrespectful attitude marks them as schoolies, a peculiar subset of Bali visitors that come here to unwind and wreak havoc at the end of each school year.

The first seven pass my vantage point and hurtle around the nearby right-hand bend, barely in control of their bikes. In their testosterone-fuelled exuberance, they ignore both basic road rules and standard rider courtesies. Naturally, they are completely unaware of their limitations as riders. Many of the boys have female companions riding pillion, almost as under-dressed as they are. Some are waving their arms about and twisting on the seat, throwing the bike into barely-controllable swerves. I think of debridement, permanent scarring and crippling injuries, and shudder. A bad outcome is inevitable.

The eighth rider, the least confident of the bunch, is trailing by twenty metres and seems desperate to catch up with his peer group. In a series of inept wobbles, tries to cut the blind corner. Inevitably, oncoming traffic stymies him and he tries to get back to the left side of the road. The trouble is, he has no idea how to turn a bike – or at least has not internalised the process enough to properly respond in an emergency – so he turns the handlebars to the left. Um, you don’t do that, mate. The bike already has a 30 degree lean to the right; so his reflexive attempt to counter-steer the wrong way slams the bike down hard on the pavement with an explosive bang. His right leg is trapped under the bike as it grinds to a halt, shredding both bike fairing and ankle tissue, and leaving a smear of wet red stuff mixed with shiny bike bits on the tarmac.

Dragging himself from under the bike, he re-mounts, foot oozing blood. By-standers offer help and ask him if he needs help. Looking embarrassed and angry, he snarls “Ah, fuck off!” at them. He doesn’t feel the pain yet, but at his age, he keenly feels the loss of face. The pain will come later. His little lapse does not deter the others in his group though – they continue to ride up and down the street for another 20 minutes, clowning around while hooting and yelling and generally causing chaos, until they finally vanish. Whether this is because of another accident, or just the onset of a bout of ADD is difficult to say.

Later, a friend who works at a bar nearby says, “Ah yes. Skuli. Very drunk. Very rude. Very loud. And very young.” He shrugs. “But they spend money.” Oh, that makes it all right then. I think about what it must be like to be 17 years old, full of piss and vinegar, having just burst out of the restrictive confines of regimented schooling and going to a foreign country to decompress. I can hardly remember being that young, but I do remember feeling invulnerable, immortal and rebellious – attitudes common to many at that age.

But if I put all disapproving, grumpy and somewhat envious thoughts aside, I realise that most of these kids are having fun. It helps no-one when the media in Australia runs sensationalistic ‘exposes’, with headlines screaming ‘What your kids are really up to’, and to selectively edit vision implying that Bali – that terrible den of iniquity and sleaze – is full of drunken, drug-addled, sex-crazed, motorbike-crashing and semi-naked under-age children. It might sell newspapers and boost the ratings, but the real casualty is the truth. They’re having fun.

As with any group, some will act up and some will thoroughly enjoy the experience without acting like dorks and risking their lives. There is no doubt that the antics of a few will result in injury, perhaps even death. Others will fall foul of Bali’s seamier side, contracting STDs and getting robbed, or just end up falling for the scams of those police in cahoots with drug peddlers, thereby spending a far longer time in Bali than they ever anticipated. It’s the oldest rule of life – maximum fun is often accompanied by maximum risk.

So how can we reduce the risks for these young people? Knowledge is power, and I suspect that schoolies have so little knowledge of Bali that they are powerless to survive an environment that can suddenly turn hostile on them. The real problem for them here is that they assume that the same parental, community, government and police protections are available to them here as at home. They are not. There is no safety net, and it’s time that one was provided.

Instead of being negative and sensationalistic about schoolies week, Australian media could provide useful survival guides – information that could help schoolies in Bali to manage an ostensibly ‘rule-less’ environment, but one that is in fact a veritable minefield for the inexperienced. Let schoolies know that coming here without travel/medical insurance is the epitome of craziness. Let their parents know that a medical evacuation will cost them up to $75,000 without insurance. Let them know that three motorcyclists die every day on Bali’s chaotic roads and that if you ride without a licence or helmet, a police fine is the least of your problems. Even if you survive, your medical insurance will be invalid.

Tell the kids what to do in case of emergency. Give them phone numbers for hospitals, but warn them that they won’t be treated, even in emergency situations, unless they pay in advance. Make them understand that there are no ’emergency numbers’ in Bali. You can’t just call for an ambulance, and even if you manage to get an expensive private ambulance from one of the clinics, it might take an hour or more to arrive through the choked traffic. Taxi drivers will flatly refuse to take you to hospital if you are bleeding. It messes up the seats.

Let them know where to call if they are arrested. Make sure they have their Embassy’s number. Explain about the culture of bribery, and the corruption that is necessary to get things done – but also warn them about being too blatant about offering bribes so that they don’t get charged for that as well. Consider setting up and publicising a government-sponsored emergency number – somebody to call when things go wrong, as they will. I’m sure there are many expats here would would be happy to be part of a volunteer network of non-judgemental call-takers to offer advice to young people in trouble.

The thing is, would schoolies listen to such advice or warnings? Would they use a safety net like this? Maybe they would, maybe they wouldn’t. Would I have listened at seventeen? Probably not. I knew it all then. It took quite a few decades before I realised I didn’t.

 

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Blokes Swap Bars For Bali Beauty Salons

July 10, 2011

When I first started visiting Bali more than a decade ago, my experience of the ubiquitous beauty salons here was limited to dropping The Companion off at the front entrance, and sometimes glancing cautiously inside to marvel at the incomprehensible things transpiring within. Not only were there strange things being done to hair, but even stranger rituals were being performed on body extremities. The patrons were almost invariably women, although a sprinkling of persons of indeterminate gender, possessing improbably large breasts, Adam’s Apples and large hands and feet were often there as well.

It was all just too strange for a bloke like me. Finding a nearby shady bar in which to while away a couple of hours was absolutely essential while the baffling alchemy of beauty pampering was administered to languid female customers. From this vantage point, one could watch young girls emerge from the salons, their hair a mass of braids pulled so impossibly tight that their faces became bland waxy masks, upper lips were peeled back in permanent moues and ears were laid flat like those of scared kittens. But they always seemed pleased and cheerful. So did their mothers, who despite looking not much different to the way they were before, now acted happy and relaxed.

It took a few years before I noticed that men were starting to frequent these places too. It took another few years before I dared, somewhat uncomfortably, to sample the services myself. My first time was for a manicure, which was shock to the system. I couldn’t understand why anyone would want someone just to trim their nails, but found that there was slightly more to it than that. I also discovered that I had cuticles, whatever they are, which apparently need to have things done to them. And that other strange bits of skin need to be attacked with something resembling lino-cutting tools, and that they use a weird cream on nails, which I was told does something ‘good’. All in all, it was an eye-opening experience, albeit a quite pleasant one.

More recently, a weird thing I discovered was that these places are half-full of men. Not theatrical types, but big, boofy, singleted footy-player type of men, unselfconsciously relaxing while having manicures, pedicures and foot massages. Last month, I even saw one of them (I think it was an NRL player) getting a facial – a procedure which I needed to have explained to me, but haven’t been game to try yet.

In the last two years, I have whole-heartedly adopted the salon regimen, especially pedicures, even though my peculiarly large big toes always cause the beautician to dissolve into giggles, and the sheer bulk of my toenails breaks at least one set of jumbo clippers. One therapist even asked me what I do to them to make them grow like that. I replied that I soak them in a special jamu to condition them so that after cutting, I can use them as guitar plectrums. Without missing a beat, she offered to shape my nail off-cuts so I could take them away with me in a little bag. A bungkus pedi service, she called it. To this day I don’t know if she was taking the piss – it’s sometimes hard to tell with the locals.

There is still stuff on the menu at many of these places that I haven’t tried. A cream bath is one, but that’s mainly because I only discovered last week that it’s a hair treatment, not a dunking in a vat of dairy product. Colonic irrigation doesn’t appeal; if it ever does, I have a garden hose at the villa. And of course, the mechanics of those back-room vaginal smoking chairs completely elude me. I mean, how is the smoke supposed to get up there anyway? Is there a built-in speculum or something? If you know, don’t tell me. Some mysteries should remain hidden from mere men.

But I have tried a lot of the treatments on offer. Massages of all kinds are fantastic, with and without oil. A body scrub is great – well, the smooth-skinned end result is great, even though the process itself feels like being sanded by a wrestler wearing muddy gloves laced with #60 abrasive grit. Getting pedicures has changed my life, not only because my feet feel better, but because nowadays I simply can’t bend my knees far enough to reach my own feet without considerable pain. Growing five-centimetre toenails is not an option in Bali, where snagging one’s feet on footpath cracks and random motorbikes could well cause serious damage.

Never in my early days did I ever think that this would happen, but I have become a beauty salon tragic. Do I miss sitting in the pub while the womenfolk get pampered? Not at all. I’ve just about stopped drinking anyway. Ever since I accidentally became old, standing up fast has exactly the same effect as eight Bintangs, so I may as well spend the money in salons, look sleek and feel good.

But there is a downside. I have been getting a disturbing number of unwelcome propositions from other smooth-looking, immaculately-groomed characters around the traps. I guess that’s the price of beauty. Maybe I need to roughen up a bit …

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How To Stave Off Total Gridlock In Bali

June 29, 2011

Recent visitors to Bali who have returned after an absence of several years are shocked at the current chaos on the roads. Traffic here is like a turgid flow of molasses at the best of times. But during peak hours, it congeals in the streets into an immobile, impenetrable grout, filling the skinny spaces between the mosaic of shops and warungs on each side. Motorbikes fill every available niche between cars, mounting footpaths in their efforts to slip past immediate blockages, only to be caught in total gridlock a few metres further on. And it’s like that every afternoon. Well, that I know of anyway. I’m rarely up early enough to report on any earlier peaks.

It’s not just the sheer number of cars, or the huge number of motorbikes that is the problem either.  It’s also the anarchic behaviour, lack of spatial awareness and absence of any road-craft skills on the part of those who are in charge of these vehicles.  Nor is it the roads themselves, those weird emergent artefacts of ad hoc development which have no chance of ever having their capacity increased without tricky land acquisitions and compensation for disenfranchised business owners.

These are very real problems, and they need both strategic long-term and short-term tactical solutions. Considerate road use should be taught as part of  driver education and driver training programs. Learning to ride a bike at eight years of age – by borrowing the family rocket to zip around the back streets – might be a way (for those who survive) to discover how to keep the thing reasonably upright, but is not the way to develop road-craft. Publicising the traffic regulations might be useful too. I’m sure that a free rules booklet given out at registration renewal time would really surprise most drivers here, if only for the astonishing fact that the place actually does have rules.

We also know that big cars cause big problems in little Bali, so how about instituting a hefty annual road-use levy for anything bigger than a Karimun? A sliding scale based on size means the local government could charge an absolute fortune for those oversized 4WD monstrosities that clog up the streets, and hopefully discourage their ownership.

But no-one seems to want to address the real issue with traffic congestion here. The roads might be narrow, but their effective width has been so reduced by the insane parking practices here that most roads might as well be bike paths. Drivers park anywhere they want, unwilling to walk twenty metres after leaving their cars somewhere that will not impede traffic. Motorcyclists park nose-in to the kerb anywhere convenient for them, or on the apex of blind corners, despite enormous disruptions to the traffic flow. Cars are parked haphazardly with rear ends sticking out into traffic lanes. Often, only a single lane is left free in a busy street, one that then has to be shared by vehicles travelling on both directions. The resultant atherosclerosis chokes all movement and as a side-effect, asphyxiates road-side business.

Parking practices in Bali are so out of control that immediate action is necessary. This is something that can be done immediately to give this place some breathing space. Analyse the problem at the local level. Identify trouble spots where bad parking causes congestion. Paint the kerbs red where there is to be strictly no parking. Where parking is to be tolerated on certain sections of road, paint a white line – at a distance from the kerb equal to the width of a small car. Do this so there is enough room for two lanes of cars to pass in the road adjacent.  Issue a hefty fine for any car not parked completely within the defined space. Through the local Banjar, appoint local staff (Jakarta-style) to monitor parked cars and issue tickets. Make the fine 200k, and pay the parking boys 10% commission. Where a car is left badly-parked in non-controlled areas, and is causing traffic mayhem, glue an A4-sized sticker to the windscreen with non-removable glue. It could read, in big letters, “This Car Has Been Parked Here By A Complete Moron”. As an added extra, it could also say: “Feel free to remove hubcaps, wing mirrors and other accessories without penalty”.

Even the little dead-end street that leads to my gang is almost impassable now. A year ago, it had two cars regularly parked there. Now there are twenty-four, their proud owners draping their treasures with opaque car covers and parking in staggered formation on both sides of the narrow street. The cover means that you can’t see past them, and even on a motorbike, navigating these chicanes is stressful and dangerous. It’s almost impossible in a car. Maybe it’s time to tie car registrations to proof of availability of off-street parking. If we don’t, soon there will be no roads to actually use, except as elongated car parks.

Then, of course, there is the road layout. A perfectly good, wide road runs along the beach between Jalan Melasti and Jalan Double Six. It could do wonders to relieve the pressure on Jl. Legian, Jl. Melasti, Jl. Padma and Jl. Double Six. But it’s closed, and has been since it was built years ago. Open it. Yes, you’ll upset the beach hotels along that strip. So what? Bali’s roads are bursting – relieve the strain in any way you can.

But this is Bali, so nothing will be done. And in the meantime, every afternoon, we will continue to experience the glutinous mess of Legian Street, the disaster that is Jalan Padma and its tributaries Padma Utara and Garlic Lane. The maxed-out Rum Jungle Road, the dreaded Jalan Double Six macet, and the frustrating nightmare of Jalan Laksmana, where expats joust with locals for every square metre of road space, will keep us fuming, and late for everything. And that’s just in the Legian/Seminyak precinct.

I’d love to write about the congestion in other areas of Greater Kuta – but unfortunately, I’ve never actually been able to reach them in our traffic.

Related Post: How to Fix Bali’s Parking Chaos (from 16 June 2010)

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How I Escaped From The Parking Maze At Centro

May 8, 2011

A sudden need to go to Tuban sees me braving the swirling traffic in Kuta and fighting my way past the Matahari bottleneck. I have to get to Jl. Kartika Plaza in order to reach the Discovery Mall. Or Centro, or Megawati’s Parthenon, or whatever they call it nowadays. Trouble is, the traffic control gnomes have changed the way one can access Tuban yet again. I now have no option (if I want to stay legal) but to take a two kilometre detour to reach the street I want, which is less than one hundred metres away and clearly visible. Mild irritation sets in.

To hell with that. I cut through the market area instead, dodging vehicles and pedestrians and emerge victorious just short of where I want to be. Now a mere twenty metre dash against the one-way traffic remains. Unfortunately, a police car is parked on the corner where I am about to make my illegal turn. The driver eyeballs me. I eyeball him back. I turn anyway. He opens his mouth and raises his hand. I shake my head, point to myself and shout “Diplomatic Corps!”. He laughs, waves me through and I’m on my way. I mean, I could have been a diplomat; how would he know?

After a further ten minutes of dodging suicidal locals, I reach the edifice which is my destination and look for a place to park. Then the real frustration begins. The car park, which is huge, is underneath the shopping complex. I locate the narrow entry lane for bikes, stop at the barrier and pull out some money. The attendant waves it away and gives me a plastic smart card. “Pay when you leave”, he says. I’m impressed. Little did I know it was premature.

The motorbike parking area is packed, and is separated from the car area by a robust fence. I wend my way through the narrow track, my knees tightly together to avoid knocking them on the rear wheels of the thousands of bikes crammed into tiny spaces. Inevitably I have to stop a few times, dismount and shift a bike whose spatially-challenged rider has seen fit to leave jutting out and blocking the track. Equally inevitably, the evidently sight-impaired dimwit behind me blips his horn continuously while I am doing this. He smiles a lot. I don’t.

Finally, a space manifests itself and I manage to insinuate my bike into it. The noisy gentleman behind me stops and in aggrieved tones, but still smiling, informs me that “this is my space”. I tell him that MySpace is old hat, and that he should get onto Facebook. He stops smiling and roars off.

I am well inside the cavernous interior now, so rather than walk all the way back to the main road and enter the complex from the front, I look for a quick way into the mall. This involves climbing through a steel barrier fence, (displacing only a few vertebrae in the process) and squeezing past several thousand parked cars to discover a hidden door into the complex. Big mistake. The door inexplicably locks behind me and I have to climb about eight flights of stairs until I reach the top floor before I can actually enter the shopping centre itself. People politely ignore me as I stand gasping and wheezing against the wall. Finally, I get enough oxygen to stagger to an escalator back to the ground floor.

After my meeting, this time I astutely take the long way back to the car park and find my bike. Clutching my trusty smart card and money, I snake my way back through the tortuous path to the exit barrier. The man looks at me blankly. “No, no! Must pay first!” he says.  He finally gets through to me that I have to pay “the security man” before I can leave, and he does one of those 360 degree finger-pointing waves that pass for Balinese directions. He won’t let me through the barrier, so I can’t make a simple U-turn and re-enter the car park. “No, you will just go home!” he says suspiciously.  He’s not wrong. So he forces the ten bikes behind me to back up like a big mechanical millipede. This does not endear me to their riders.

So, through the maze again, until finally I find a “security man”. Except he really is a security man, and won’t take my money. “No, no, pay at security office!” he says, and points me back towards the exit gate. As I reach the exit again, I finally see the pay station. It’s out in the car parking area, behind the damn fence. I finally twig that you’re supposed to go there and pay before you go back to your bike. Which means I have to find a spot to park my bike again, climb through the fence again, pay the fee and then climb through the fence one more time before I can get out of this place.

There is a small thundercloud over my head and I am getting very tetchy. I go through the entire rigmarole, pay the fee and am told that I have 10 minutes to depart the building, or else the smart card expires. When I get back to my bike, it’s completely blocked in by locked, double-parked bikes. It takes nine minutes, plus a few popped spinal discs and assorted muscle strains to get my bike out.

I get to the exit boom. The man puts my card in the reader slot, then looks at me. “Card expired” he announces blandly. “Open. The. Gate.” I say, enunciating each word flatly and very clearly. He looks at my face and sees something there that scares him. He says nothing, but he opens the gate.

After that, even the peak-period Kuta traffic didn’t faze me on the way home.