Posts Tagged ‘Melbourne’

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Australia Is So Like Bali Now

July 30, 2011

There was a time, not so long ago, where one looked forward to a short break away from Bali. Re-visiting Australia was once an opportunity to get away from the endemic chaos here, to experience first-world efficiencies, punctuality, reliability and good service. After a harrowing ten day trip to Melbourne, I’m here to tell you that those days are rapidly disappearing.

Apart from the freezing Winter weather, unbelievable prices and astonishing displays of road rage, Australia is becoming more like Bali every day. Well, not quite – in Australia, there is a surfeit of do-gooder-inspired over-regulation that assumes everyone is a complete imbecile in need of protection. That’s not a feature of Bali life. Yet.

The street signage is well up to the usual in absentia Bali standards. However, the authorities make up for it by providing thousands of speed limit signs, including those for ‘school zones’, which display a confusing mess of times and vague dates when the limit actually applies. Nobody but an airline pilot has the multi-tasking ability to decipher the damn things while driving, or the reflexes to avoid running over some errant kid while doing so.

Bureaucracies, both corporate and government, have become bloated and unresponsive, rarely getting things right the first time. Businesses, formerly bastions of efficiency, are happily following suit. Maybe that’s because everyone is too busy complying with Occupational Health and Safety directives to actually do any core business. Answering the phone too often might cause work-induced hearing loss. Or maybe no-one cares about pursuit of excellence any more. Either way, just like in Bali, it’s unusual now for things to run smoothly.

So, after failing to get a direct flight to Melbourne, I start my trip by boarding a midnight plane in Bali, which naturally leaves late. It’s not a cheap flight, costing nearly twice as much as the usual discount deals – yet there is not so much as a bottle of water on offer from the cabin crew. No breakfast either. It’s OK, I’ve heard that dehydration and hunger are good for the soul. I transit through Brisbane, where I have to lug my bags through customs, then make my bone-weary way to the domestic terminal. They do give me a train ticket to get there though. I’d hate to travel by low-cost carrier … oh wait, I did.

Once in Melbourne, the fun of helping my 89 year old mum through the rigours of a major house relocation begins. A mere 20 minutes on hold to the phone company gets me a nice chap who arranges the old phone to be cut off in six days time and reconnected at the new place. He assures me that everything is set. Two hours later, the phone gets disconnected, making it impossible to arrange all the other pressing details. It takes until mid-morning the next day before we get an active line again. I am reminded of Bali business practices.

The mail redirection goes just as smoothly. “Ooh, sorry, you need to give at least three business days notice …” We fix that problem through a convoluted ‘stop mail’ arrangement that apparently doesn’t need three business days notice.

We order a skip for the inevitable rubbish that has accumulated over fifty-five years of continuous home occupancy. “Ooh, sorry, you can’t put mattresses in there – they’re a health risk.” A health risk? No-one will be sleeping on them at the tip, for crying out loud! I call the local tip. “Yes, we take mattresses.” Great! “But there will be a $67 surcharge for each mattress. They’re a health risk”. I ask: “So how does paying this charge reduce the health risk?” Silence on the phone. I guess it must be like a carbon tax or something. That does nothing useful either. I think of Bali with nostalgia. Here, we just throw old mattresses in the river, and nobody gives a hoot.

To my dismay, I discover that Bali has exported the much-loved philosophy of jam karet (rubber time) to Australia. Companies promise to do something “between 8am and 2pm – barring unforeseen circumstances of course.” The rubbish skip, which would otherwise block access to the removalists’ truck, is meant to be taken away two full days before the move. It is finally collected, after numerous phone calls, 20 minutes before our enormous truck arrives. That’s cutting it fine.

Then there is customer ‘service’. The man from Bigpond is supposed to come “between 12 and 5” to hook up the new broadband service, which of course means he arrives at 5pm. He seems a bit surly when he finds out that under-floor cable installation will not work out. He finds the task of going via the ceiling and down a cavity wall too onerous. He decides to drill through a wall in an adjacent room and curtly says: “Here’s enough cable to reach the computer. Will he at least tack it to the skirting board? “No, I don’t do that. But here are some nails.” Can he check the computer to ensure we are on-line? “It’ll work”, he says as he hurriedly leaves. It doesn’t. Even Bali provides better service.

Bali-style opportunism is not unknown in the Antipodes either. We buy a new digital TV. The nice salesman tells my mum that his friend can deliver it for $50 and “do all that complex set-up required” for a mere $150 extra. I tell him that’s too expensive, and maybe we’ll buy the TV from another store. He hurriedly offers to do the ‘complex set-up’ for only $50. I decline. After delivery, we unpack the set and switch it on. It automatically sets itself up and is ready to go. I begin to suspect that Aussie companies do their in-service training in Indonesia.

And it’s not over even when I’m ready to go back home to Bali. A service station sells me a blister pack of Duracell batteries for my calibrated, accurate luggage scales. When I open the pack later, they are corroded beyond recognition. Caveat emptor. I get new batteries elsewhere and weigh my suitcase. It is exactly 22.1 kilograms, and under my limit. The airport check-in counter scales insist my bag weighs 24 kilos and I am told I have to pay $15 excess baggage. I ask when the airline’s scales were last calibrated, and receive the non-sequitur answer that it will cost $15. After some affable banter, I am permitted to remove items from the bag. I extract my obviously faulty scales, which weigh 225 grams. The check-in scales now show 23 kilos. How much money do airlines make from these capricious instruments? They always seem to read high – does anyone ever check them?

Finally on the flight itself, I ask for a bottle of fruit juice and offer a $5 note. “Ooh, sorry, credit card payments only.” My card is in my checked luggage. I opt to dehydrate. The flight attendant shows unexpected compassion and gives me a bottle of water for free. Everyone else has to pay. It’s obviously my lucky day.

So now I’m back in Bali, and the arriving culture shock is nowhere near as great as it used to be. The laissez-faire attitudes to time are identical in Australia now, as is the lax approach to service and the rampant opportunism. And the two container-loads of furniture I helped shift can be seen on a single motorbike in Legian any day of the week.

But the weather sure is better.

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Let’s Keep Cycling Fun And Lycra-free In Bali!

June 4, 2011

Bike riding is on the increase in Bali. I’m not talking about motorbikes, but pushies. Sepeda. Deadly treadlies. Oh, there have always been frighteningly fit expats around who power through the streets, easily keeping pace with nominally-faster motorbikes in our terminally clogged thoroughfares. There have always been those expat women floating serenely through the traffic on their traditional style ladies’ bikes, wearing elegant long flowing dresses and looking utterly unfazed by the heat. And there have always been local kids zooming around on tiny, erratic bug-like things that are obviously an interim stage before they graduate to motorbikes at about 8 years of age. But there seems to have been a quantum leap in the numbers of cyclists recently, and this is getting scary.

Soon after sunset, when the air cools, big pelotons of young riders appear on the roads and continue swooping and darting through traffic until late at night. They seem like organised groups, and are obviously having fun. Most seem to have at least a rudimentary knowledge of road mores – in the sense that they at least – generally – stay to the left. But there is not a helmet to be seen, none of their bikes have lights, and riding three or four abreast seems to be the norm. While I hope fervently that it won’t happen, it is only a matter of time before a car ploughs into one of these nocturnal groups.

Children naturally imitate their elders, so it should have been no surprise for me to encounter such a group in one of the smaller streets in Legian last week. The trouble was, all thirty or so of the tiny riders were in pitch-darkness and all were riding fast. The entire width of the lane was occupied by excited kids looking sideways while yelling happily to each other as they swept around a blind corner, straight at me. I managed to stop my motorbike before any contact, but two of the budding BMXers still ended up wobbling into each other and falling off. Sadly, they both gave me the traditional dirty look reserved for bules in Bali, because naturally, it must have been entirely my fault.

No-one denies the health benefits of bicycle-borne exercise, or that the carbon footprint of a bike and its rider is much smaller than that of a motorbike. Except for the occasional release of methane in an exertion-induced kentut, bicycle riding is generally regarded as more friendly to the environment than motorised transport. And I am the first to encourage it – as long as this laudable pursuit does not go down the same path as it has in Australia.

On my last trip to Melbourne, I arrived on a weekend. I needed to drive to a bayside suburb along a main road which follows the line of the bay. To my surprise, it was completely closed to cars – something that apparently happens every weekend. Not for a scheduled bike race, I hasten to add, just so that recreational riders can use a main arterial road without the hassle of dealing with cars. Cyclists are the only ones who can use the road, causing untold angst to thousands of residents who have to find their way to their destinations through choked back streets that eventually feed into overloaded main roads many kilometres away. Maybe the preponderance of surrealistic Green-dominated local councils has something to do with it. Maybe it’s just that social engineering in Melbourne has finally tipped over the edge into unbridled lunacy. Who knows? While some of those weekend riders are no doubt motivated by opportunities for healthy exercise, many unfortunately give the impression of being self-centred fanatics, if not complete psychopaths.

It wasn’t enough that many of these ‘enthusiasts’ in their visually confronting harlequin-bug costumes saw fit to dominate the only viable thoroughfare, they also took over the side streets. Negotiating those congested minor routes was a nightmare. As well as the displaced cars, these streets also had to cope with clots of angry, Lycra-clad ectomorphs oozing endorphins, and consumed with an irrational rage towards anything on four wheels. They ignored stop signs and traffic lights, cut in, changed lanes without warning, and overtook cars on the left and on the right. Thank the gods that none had mountain bikes, or they would have ridden over the top of my car. Some even thumped my roof as they passed, glaring and yelling “Bloody Cager!” as they passed. Apart from anything else, I resent their hijacking of the motorcyclists’ term of endearment for a car driver. Bloody cheek!

Then, at a roundabout in Elwood, where I was going straight ahead, a pair of suicidal idiots shot past me on my left and promptly turned right across the front of my car. I stopped abruptly, despite a strong urge to keep going and reduce their bikes to scrap metal. Incensed, they promptly yelled abuse at me for daring to get in their way, for daring to drive a car, and for “destroying the planet”. Wow! L’il ol’ me – actually inciting passion in someone. Then, like a disturbed wasp nest, the other riders in the area swarmed to the defence of the aggrieved riders. Several dozen of them immediately entered the roundabout and circled endlessly, screaming epithets at me – and at all the other drivers blocked from entering the intersection. Very mature. After five minutes of this, they apparently decided I had completed my penance and rode off to find other targets.

But that’s Melbourne; this is Bali. So far, cycling here is at the same stage as it was in my youth –  a time of pleasure in healthy physical activity, a time of freedom and joy in self-powered motion. Let’s preserve that if possible; let’s encourage safe cycling through education and socialisation. Let’s do that before cycling becomes a hip fashion, a form of institutionalised arrogance and a cult politicised by inane do-gooders who have no idea of the ramifications of their actions.