Posts Tagged ‘motorbikes’

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Why Do Parents Insist On Killing Their Kids In Bali?

July 19, 2013

I don’t really understand why some Balinese parents are so hell-bent on killing their kids here. Oh, they don’t do it deliberately – in many ways they care for their children in a way that far surpasses child-raising practices in westernised countries.

But they allow them to ride motorbikes from a very young age – an age when common sense has not yet begun to develop, when risk-awareness is non-existent and understanding of consequences is totally absent. And ‘road rules’? Well, I doubt that many of the parents who allow their kids on the road have any idea themselves.

So I’m on the road, on the way to brunch, and the road is full of kids on bikes. Many are in elementary school uniforms, all look to be between 7 and 10 years old. They are skittish and impulsive, weaving all over the road, impulsively accelerating and braking without a thought for any other road users. They are dangerous, and unaware of anyone but themselves. I ride defensively, because they show the same the attributes of caution as a cat caught in the middle of a busy road. At least a cat has the sense to be scared; these kids show no fear.

Suddenly, on a bend in the road, a child on a bike – way too big and heavy for him – comes straight at me on my side of the road. He looks to be about 6 years old. He is not wearing a helmet. It’s a blind corner, but he is taking a racing line, cutting the corner at speed, oblivious to the possibility of on-coming traffic. He sees me, but takes no evasive action. Maybe that’s because he has a phone firmly clutched in his left hand and has not yet mastered swerves using only one hand.

I brake hard – tricky on a bend – and manage to get far enough onto the left shoulder to avoid a head-on crash. He deviates not one centimetre from his line on the wrong side of the road. As he passes, he glares at me, his face twisted with anger. How dare I, as a bule, occupy a part of the road where he wants to be? How arrogant of me.

Worse, as he flashes past, his passenger – a little girl of perhaps 4 or 5, who is also helmet-less, just looks at me with that Balinese direct opaque stare, without a trace of fear, or a skerrick of understanding that she was seconds away from death or a horrible maiming.

In the next ten minutes, I see dozens of small children on motorbikes, riding three abreast, chatting to each other and ignoring oncoming cars that have to brake and swerve. I see others cutting corners, stopping without warning, turning right from the left lane without indicating, and entering heavy traffic streams from the left without looking. Just like their elders.

I ride as carefully as I can to avoid them all, because I know that in Bali, if any local crashes into my bike because of their ineptness, inexperience or stupidity, it will be my fault. I am the foreigner; if I had had the sense to stay in my own country instead of coming here, the accident never would have happened. Ergo, it’s my fault. Balinese logic.

And if I do have an accident where a local is hurt, at best I will be expected to pay for all hospital bills, repairs to their bike, ‘compensation’ to the family and a gratuity to the police to avoid further unpleasantness. At worst, I will be beaten or killed by an enraged roadside mob.

So why do Balinese parents allow their under-aged, inexperienced, unlicensed kids to ride the family bike? They know the danger. They know that three people a day are killed on bikes in Bali alone, and that countless others are badly injured. They know that children are more at risk than adults, and they know that children will always promise to be ‘careful’ despite not having the slightest understanding of what ‘careful’ even means.

My feeling is that it’s sheer, uncaring laziness. Or a pervasive fatalism. I was with one family as their very young son jumped on the family bike and rode off to school.
“Why don’t you give him a lift?” I asked the father.
“Oh, I’m too busy”, was the reply.
I tried a different tack: “But he doesn’t have a licence …”
I got a pitying look. “Of course not. He can’t get a licence until he’s 16″. (Unspoken: “You idiot.”)
I thought I’d give it another try: “But it’s dangerous …”
“No. He knows how to ride the bike. He has been practising in the gang outside for two weeks now.”
I have no answer to that.

Finally, I asked the question that I had been avoiding, as I didn’t want to bring bad luck.
“Does he know what to do if he has an accident?”
“Oh, yes”, he laughed. “I’ve told him. Get out of there as fast as you can!”

Oh. I guess that’s OK then.

With growing impatience at my obviously retarded intellect, he also indicates that the young boy had been riding as a pillion passenger practically since he was born, “so he knows the rules”. Presumably by some variant of osmosis. Or worse, by watching his parents, both of whom scare me to death when I see their abysmal lack of road-craft when riding.

Later, as I was writing this piece, I spoke about this problem to a couple of my local friends, who gave me an ever-so-gentle spray. They politely implied that I don’t understand Balinese customs, that “this is what we do”, and that I should not bring my Western preconceptions to Bali. At least this time I didn’t get the time-honoured response of : “If you don’t like it here, why don’t you go back where you came from?” But I’m also sure that one will come from the affronted after they read this.

Well, maybe I don’t understand. Maybe I believe that all parents have a responsibility to keep their children from harm, and this includes not allowing them to have control of a lethal weapon  such as a car or motorbike before they are old enough to do so responsibly. Maybe I don’t want to be killed or injured by a child on a bike, or see children badly hurt even if their parents don’t seem to care.

But hey, what do I know? I’m just a bule here.

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Bali: Contrasts, contradictions and rubbish

October 30, 2009

One of the many things I love about Bali is the way that apparently contradictory things coexist so happily.  On the roads, you will find ‘pedestrian crossings’ whose only purpose is to ensure that the injuries sustained by people skittled by traffic are clustered in handy first-aid access zones, instead of being spread over the length of Jl. Legian. Then there are the traffic lights, where red can mean turn left, or turn right, or if you really, really want to, go straight ahead. Less confusingly, a green light only seems to have one purpose – to signal the start of timing for a special Bali reaction test to discover how quickly everyone can blow their horn. The record is apparently held by a local ojek rider who consistently achieves the feat in less than a  millisecond.  

Of course, there is the white line at intersections too – a fat stripe set so far back from the traffic lights, it  couldn’t possibly be where you have to stop, could it? Unfortunately, it is. Its true purpose is to serve as a cunning revenue-collection device that makes Polisi materialise from thin air if even a molecule of tyre rubber touches it. And don’t even mention the ‘footpaths’, so named because they are in fact designed for motorcyclists who run out of room on the road. When selfishly stymied by thoughtless pedestrians who actually choose to walk on the footpath instead of teleporting, these riders need to stop and put their foot down for stability … hence footpath.

Then there are the written inconsistencies. In Bali you can read advertising tabloids containing ads for English classes – complete with spelling mistakes. Reassuring. Ads for pool maintenance people who rarely answer their phones or return emails, and if they should happen to do so, don’t turn up for appointments. Ads with incorrect phone numbers, unchanged over five subsequent editions. Why bother advertising?

Drive down any street and you will find signs assuring you that it has six completely different names in a stretch less than a kilometre long. Lucky I navigate by landmarks, because even street numbers are designed to confuse rather than illuminate. Sure, dwellings are numbered consecutively, but house numbers appear to be allocated in chronological order of construction, not their geographical location. My own villa is the first house in the street, so officially it’s Number 1. But there is another Number 1 in the same street, because it is the first house at the other end of the street. The owner ‘solved’ the problem by telling me to use Number 4, because he didn’t think 4 was taken yet. It’s all academic, because none of the houses have any numbers up on the gates anyway. Directions to get to my place involve statements like “keep going until you see a sleeping three-legged dog, then turn left.” I don’t think there is even a word for precision in Balinese …

But to me, the most striking aspect of Bali is the stark visual contrast everywhere around you. Impeccably dressed locals in traditional attire conduct ceremonies that are both moving and spectacular – next to huge piles of rubbish spilling from ruptured plastic bags.  At a recent ceremony, I saw a muscular local, resplendent in udeng, kamben, saput and selempot – all the traditional, respectfully appropriate garb that one would expect for the occasion. Except that he was wearing a perfectly ironed, collared shirt – with a mammoth Harley Davidson logo emblazoned on it. To me, the contrast was jarring, but his compatriots kept stealing frankly admiring glances at him. I wouldn’t have the courage to do that, but it would seem that no courage was needed.

It’s a multi-faceted society here. Bali locals can be seen taking their beautifully groomed, healthy dogs for walks on expensive leather leads, while other locals nearby take well-aimed swipes with brooms and buckets at street dogs. Small wonder that there were 124 dog bites treated last week at one hospital alone. Karma? I was asked by someone recently “You like dog?” Without thinking, I replied “Of course”, and was promptly informed that if I went to a particular warung, they have it on the menu today. Yikes! I have witnessed gentle people sacrifice chickens at ceremonies, and watched excited crowds of what appear to be perfectly normal people cheering wildly at cockfights. There are social and cultural undercurrents here that I can not begin to understand, and that means that I am not qualified to judge them. But it does give me pause for thought …

However, some ‘visual contrasts’ I do judge. We love our Bali beaches, but all along the south-west coast, stunning ocean vistas are interrupted by the shocking contrast of open drains which pour garbage and raw sewage across the beaches. Their once-pristine sands now frequently conceal festering rubbish such as cigarette butts, plastic bags, needles and other nasties. It’s ugly, but it is fixable.  They should do something about it right? Wrong. There is no they in Bali; it’s up to all of us to fix stuff we don’t like. We all know what to do to make it better. Let’s start by binning our butts, reducing plastic bag use, refusing to throw rubbish in the gutter – it will only end up on the beach. Something has to be done. But it needs to start with each and every one of us. Then we can afford the luxury of enjoying the cultural contrasts of this island.