Posts Tagged ‘police’

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The Problem With High-Mileage Bodies

June 15, 2013

The human body is a wondrous thing; complex, resilient, flexible, tough, and built for endurance. But its very complexity makes it fragile, and susceptible to disturbances in its equilibrium that baffle medical practitioners.

Never is this more true than for those of us who suffer from the complaint known as ‘age’, when our component parts begin to wear out, when the dies of our DNA become blunted with repeated cell replications, and we begin to wonder what the hell has happened to our bodies.

Sometimes the signs of decay creep up on us like wraiths in the night and we wake more tired than when we went to sleep. And sometimes they leap out, gibbering at us, in the course of a normal day. When one’s personal odometer clicks over to 24,500+ days, these signs appear more frequently.

So I’m doing my normal Bali thing of writing, reading, reflecting and waiting for inspiration’s thunderbolts to strike, when I feel an urge to have some condensed milk instead – something I haven’t consumed for six months or so. When it comes to actually sitting down and writing, I am very good at displacement activity, particularly when it involves ingesting something sweet.

After mindlessly spooning half a can of the sweet goop into my mouth, I don’t feel so good. Fifteen minutes later, I have a violent attack of dizziness and nearly black out. With a fine understanding of cause and effect, I resolve never again to use a spoon to eat condensed milk, but to drink it straight from the can in future. Obviously, there is a chemical reaction occurring between the spoon and the milk, causing vertigo. Because this has never happened before during my youth, I deduce that it must be my advancing years, together with the use of the metal spoon which has exacerbated the problem. Never again.

Later that afternoon, feeling better and thinking that my condition has resolved itself, I go for my customary coffee. This is a time of day that I enjoy, sipping a good brew, watching the passing parade of humanity, and browsing the infinite weirdness of my favourite social media.

But wait, what is happening here? I can’t understand what is on my screen! Not because it’s Twitter, where almost everything is incomprehensible, but because I seem to have lost the ability to translate letters and words into anything meaningful. My screen is a series of distorted, whirling voids superimposed on individual letters, which either disappear altogether or morph into unrecognisable shapes.

Suddenly, my screen looks like this ...

Suddenly, my screen looks like this …

The distorted shapes writhe and pulse, and the visual field around my phone is shimmering and undulating like a heat haze. And no, I haven’t been drinking. Sweet Jesus! I’m going blind! Or I’m having a stroke, or a TIE. Maybe my retinas have decided to spontaneously migrate and wrap themselves around my irises, but after thinking about the anatomical improbability of this scenario, I dismiss it.

Perhaps it’s glaucoma, I think hopefully, because the treatment for that is cannabis. Then I remember that in Bali, this medication is impractical because it tends to be accompanied by either lengthy incarceration in the Hotel Kerobokan, or a free death penalty, especially if one is unfortunate enough to be a foreigner. OK, scratch glaucoma; consider giant cell arteritis, or a brain tumour, or maybe just one of those psychotic episodes common amongst expats …

Strangely, I don’t feel any fear – just an incredible curiosity as to what might be causing these weird visual effects. My ruminations are interrupted by loud sirens and flashing lights in Jalan Melasti, where a police car escorting one of the terminally entitled VIPs in their shiny black cars has stopped just outside the cafe, taking up a whole lane and inconsiderately blocking traffic. The occupants, presumably some raja kecil with more money than consideration, get out and wander around to do some shopping while traffic snarls behind their car, and I snarl behind my coffee.

I can feel my blood pressure go up, and with that comes an additional visual disturbance – radiating, wriggling worms of light and shade surrounding my central visual field, coruscating with a ghostly radiance and causing pulsating halos around the flashing lights of the police car. This is getting really interesting.

Melasti_Street
The effect is both trippy and magical, and lasts for half an hour, after which it fades. When I can read my phone screen again without distortion, I seek medical advice. Not from a doctor, I hasten to add, but from an alternative source blessed with more diagnosticians than a hospital. I am referring of course to Facebook, where my FB friends rally instantly to provide suggestions, explanations and advice.

And one explanation, thanks to friend Vida, emerges as the most likely. It would seem that I have had an attack of ocular migraine, a painless affliction I had never heard of, and for which there is no real explanation or cure.

Whatever it is, I can vouch for the fact that it is fascinating. I am now looking forward to what other mystery ailments will befall me in my journey towards the dark side. New experiences are endlessly intriguing of course, but I agree with Carl Jung, who so accurately remarked about the travails of ageing: “Thoroughly unprepared we take the step into the afternoon of life.”

But I think that it is this very unpreparedness that makes life in the sunset years so sweet, so interesting and so challenging. You know – live in the moment, devil take the hindmost, carpe diem, damn the torpedoes, and long live spontaneity. Forget the future; it hasn’t happened yet.

I live every day by each one of those wonderful aphorisms.

Well, sort of.  After today, I’m adding ‘Be Prepared’ to that list. I’m off now to check that my medical insurance is up to date, and that my will is in order …

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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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How To Upset A Bali Taxi Thug

October 10, 2012

So I’m finishing off my coffee in Melasti Street, enjoying watching the chaotic procession outside, when I see a young couple trying to hail a cab. They seem unaware that Bali’s taxis are divided into two distinct groups, the good (Bluebird) and the truly abysmal (most of the rest), and keep trying to flag down the latter.

Each cab that stops seems unable to understand their request to be taken to a particular restaurant, which is not too far away as the crow flies. But with the rat’s nest of one-way streets here, it’s a tortuous drive, but still a reasonable fare of about 12,000  rupiah.  Three cabs stop, their drivers eyeing the couple, their three small children and the collapsible pusher. None have ever heard of the restaurant. All shrug unhelpfully and drive off.

I drift over and ask whether they need any help, which they gratefully accept – just as yet another taxi mafioso pulls in and winds down his window. It’s too late to wait for a real cab, because the passengers have already flagged him down. The boys here take any subsequent refusal to engage their services as a mortal insult.

“Do you know where Restaurant X is?”, I ask. The driver shakes his head and looks blank, so I explain where it is. “Yes, yes, yes!” he snarls, pretending he knew all the time. “Put your meter on please”, I request, only to be met by a scowl and a brusque injunction to get in. As the passengers open the back door, the driver leans out of the window again and says: “30,000 rupiah.” I tell him no, I said we want the meter. “No meter, 30,000 rupiah”, he yells louder.

I tell the family that this is not going to work, and that I’ll get another cab for them. The driver is incensed. “OK, 25,000 rupiah”, he snarls. When I tell him his services will not be required, he turns nasty and starts hurling abuse. Then, as we all move away, he suddenly reverses his cab onto the footpath, nearly hitting the family’s pusher. He leans out of the passenger window and accosts me, giving me the classic middle finger salute and yelling: “You get fucked! You fucker! Fucking bule!” The little kids are listening to this tirade, wide-eyed. They will probably remember this.

I move in close to him and look at his upraised middle finger. I must be telegraphing what I am thinking – which is that his finger is such a tempting target, and that I would love to bend it back to somewhere near Jimbaran – because he suddenly pulls his hand away. I tell him firmly, but still politely, that he can go, and that these passengers don’t want someone who is going to rip them off for three times the normal fare. He keeps swearing at me.

I shrug. “OK”, I say. “I’ll call the Tourist Police.” He loses it completely. “I will kill you! I will kill you!” He looks dead serious. Boy, I really know how to win friends and influence people. Must be my engaging personality. As he drives off, he keeps glaring back at me, repeating his death mantra.

So I flag down a real cab – a Bluebird – whose driver is not only happy to take this young family to their destination, but seems grateful to be told the location of the restaurant. He puts on the meter without being asked. Bluebirds have the real, certified meters, not the double-speed rigged specials employed by the thugs.

I am left pondering the reasons as to why the first driver arced up when he failed to browbeat the family into paying an exorbitant fare. He obviously didn’t like the idea of someone with some local knowledge advising visitors, because this severely erodes his profits. Flipping the bird was juvenile, but sort of cute in a way. The threat to kill me was less so, particularly after hearing the venom and sheer hate behind the threat. Even so, one could dismiss it as an explosive outburst by someone with a mercurial temper.

Except for one little thing.

The driver concerned was in full ‘Islamic’ garb, or at least in the sort of Saudi-influenced garb favoured by hard-line extremists elsewhere in Indonesia. It was as if a fully-fledged member of the FPI was suddenly teleported into the streets of Bali, instead of extorting people in Jakarta as those thugs usually do.  Should his attire be relevant to any discussion of his suitability as a taxi driver? Of course not. Should his behaviour be relevant to his suitability as a taxi driver? Most definitely. And so we come to the crux of the matter – what is acceptable public behaviour of a person who clearly and visibly chooses to identify himself as a particular type of Muslim, especially in the light of recent events?

We’ve all heard about the world-wide episodes of violence involving some radical Muslims, who chose to show their disapproval of an amateurish satirical film by an Egyptian non-entity living in California. Some of them killed an innocent diplomat, some ran amok in the streets, and here in Indonesia, some inexplicably attacked a hamburger shop owned by locals in Surabaya. Rage knows no logic, as evidenced by the unrelated targets and the one common thread in all these protests – the repeated refrain of ‘Death to all Westerners’.

So given the current volatile situation, when an angry man in ‘Islamic’ garb threatens to kill me, a Westerner, I probably should take it a little more seriously than I normally would.

But I won’t, of course, because I don’t generally pay much attention to raving nut-jobs, even if they are dressed in white. A local Muslim woman came up to me after the maniac’s  cab had departed, saying, “I’m so sorry. We’re not all like that”. I know that – but she helped reinforce my view that Islam is not monolithic, and that crazy people come from all walks of life.

But, you know, just in case my headless torso is found in the morning – ask the police to check out a wild-eyed, foul-mouthed cabbie dressed in white …

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A Nasty ‘Win A Car’ Scam That Breaks Hearts

June 22, 2012

Her eyes are alight and she is suffused with a joy that I have rarely seen before. Her usually stoic nature is transformed by the radiance that today illuminates her spirit, spilling on to those around her. She has worked very hard for years, rarely complaining, and constantly dreams of being able to support her parents on a distant island in the archipelago. Today, that dream has come true.

“I’ve won a car!” she cries, pulling out a plastic token carefully wrapped in flimsy paper printed with complicated winner’s directions. I had heard of those ubiquitous promotional prize deals which seem to abound here in Bali. I had actually seen ads from the Tango people breathlessly pushing the usual line –  you know the ones: “Buy our product, win a car!” But with one car as first prize, its coveted token hidden in one of perhaps five million packets of product, the chances of winning are vanishingly small.

Even so, someone has to win, and it seems that my friend has struck it rich against all the odds. I congratulate her; no-one deserves a win more than her. “But I haven’t told you yet”, she goes on, “It’s not just one, but two cars! I can’t believe it!”

I can’t believe it either, but for me it’s a species of disbelief that comes from cynicism, not overwhelming excitement. As she tells me about finding the Tango car token last night, and another winning one in a separate purchase of a different product this morning, my internal radar begins beeping. She’s on a roll, telling me of her plans to sell one of the little Nissan March cars she has won and giving the proceeds to her parents, and keeping the other here in Bali to generate rental income. My ‘something’s wrong’ detector won’t shut off as I calculate the odds of winning not one, but two major prizes. “Ring them”, I advise, “find out what you have to do now to collect your prize.”

An hour later, I get an excited message. “It’s all real”, she says. “They will deliver the car as soon as I do the registration transfer!” She then diffidently asks if I could lend her 3.7 million “for the STNK transfer”, but assures me that everything is completely safe, because the mysterious ‘they’ will return the money as soon as the car is delivered. “Then I can use that money for the second car’s transfer, and give it back to you when that one is delivered.”

Uh oh. Nigerian scam with a twist. I don’t want to rain all over her parade, but the weather is not looking good right now. I try logic. “Why can’t they pay the ‘transfer’ themselves if they’re only going to give it back to you?” She tells me that they explained that doing it that way would not be legal. Oh, right. But I press on. “If the car is new, why do they want you to ‘transfer’ the registration?”

She tells me they say it is a police requirement. “Have you called the police to ask?” I enquire. “Of course! They encouraged me to do that!” I am momentarily stumped, but then ask her what number she called. “Oh, it’s right here on their instruction page, where it says ‘Call Police to confirm correct registration transfer fees.” Ah, right, very clever.

So because she’s excited and happy, and wants to hear nothing from the King of Negativity that might spoil that, I make a deal with her. I’ll advance the money, but only if my solicitor talks to her first, examines the deal and approves it. I know her – she is very intelligent, honest, caring and a workaholic – but she is also extremely stubborn and independent. If I refuse her request, she will simply go elsewhere to get the forward payment, then run aground on the deadly Nigerian reefs as so many have done before her.

Luckily, she agrees to meet my solicitor, and I sit sadly watching while that worthy explains the nature of the scam to her, shattering the dream of financial independence for both her and her parents in the process. It is a necessary and brutal surgery, and one that requires a finesse better administered by my solicitor than by me. I listen as she describes how scam artists buy biscuits or confectionery in bulk, then professionally re-pack them using counterfeit bags. The bogus tokens – most of them “winners” – are slipped into the bags before they are sealed, ready for ecstatic purchasers to find and get suckered into pre-paying ‘delivery’, ‘registration’ or ‘transfer’ fees to facilitate a major prize which, of course, never arrives.

Those who are cautious are encouraged to check with the ‘authorities’, whose number is conveniently printed on the accompanying instructions. The number is, of course that of the fraudsters themselves, who explain in official tones that declining to make the requested payment will mean instant forfeiture of the ‘prize’. Very few use their own resources to find and call the customer service number of Tango, or any other company being unwittingly used as a front for these crooks. Very few think to question the “Police’ number printed, because this is Indonesia, where the social norm is never to challenge those in authority.

Most are in borderline economic circumstances, which makes them easy prey for the heartless bastards who care nothing for their victims, thinking only to enrich themselves at the expense of others. They operate with impunity, apparently safe from police interference, and make billions while doing so. Personally, I would cut off their balls and sell their scrotums as tobacco pouches before boiling them in oil. Perhaps it is fortunate that I don’t have any say about the implementation of justice in this country.

At the end of the meeting, after living through 12 hours of sleepless joy and the sudden shock of betrayal, I am worried that my friend will be faced with months of regretful contemplation, the annoying mosquito of  ‘what might have been’ buzzing constantly around her mind. But no. She is calm and stoical and simply smiles and says, “Thank you so much. I have learned a big lesson today.”

And after watching how she handled this little episode, so have I.

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Gaga Saga Is Over, But Reverberations Continue

June 10, 2012

The shouting, threats and moralising are over. The vicious little thugs of the FPI got their way of course – there is no-one left in Indonesia with the balls to stand up to these extortionists.  They employed their usual tactics – threats, the promise of violence and lies about the performer’s supposed personal affiliation with the Devil himself.

Using the smokescreen of religion, they browbeat an ineffectual police force into delaying a ‘permit’ for the Lady Gaga concert to try to force the promoters into staging a watered-down version suitable for their sixth-Century sensitivities. Minds like that are incapable of understanding the logistics involved in re-costuming, re-lighting, re-scoring and rehearsing a major concert.

The FPI, despite their ‘moral and religious’ aversion to all manner of commonplace activities, seem to readily forget their objections if they are paid enough bribe money. Just look at the dangdut venues, the brothels and strip joints, the venues where drugs are freely available and where the under-age children of the elites frolic with impunity. Pay the FPI, pay the police, pay a bunch of corrupt officials, and the pathway to Hell magically transforms itself into the pathway to Heaven.

But this time they blew it. Their own bully-boy antics, the traditional ‘hands-out’ feet-dragging by the police, the knee-jerk opposition by an assortment of religious bodies and the smarmy sermonising by a certain fundamentalist-controlled English-language newspaper all combined to get the concert cancelled.

But they all forgot about the Law of Unintended Consequences. Gaga is a world-wide media phenomenon, and once the spotlight had swung onto Indonesia, the country’s demons could no longer be hidden inside a pretty cocoon spun from the threads of political double-talk. Journalists from all over the world saw the cancellation for what it was – interference in artistic freedom of expression – and looked deeper.

What they uncovered, and published, was not at all flattering to a country that claims to be a secular democracy. They noted with interest that the FPI acts as a paid goon squad for the police, and when not under instruction from their masters, freelance as a Mafia-like mob specialising in stand-over tactics and protection rackets. They discovered that the Head of the National Police, Timur Pradopo, is a founding member of the very same FPI that enjoys such an astonishing immunity from arrest and prosecution. They unearthed the intriguing fact that Indonesia’s somnolent president has referred publicly to the FPI as his “brothers”.

They have found that Indonesia’s much-vaunted religious tolerance is a sham, and that any crackpot regional head or mayor has more power than the President, being able to defy rulings from the Supreme Court, closing and burning Christian churches and harassing, intimidating, and physically beating their congregations using FPI mobsters. They have reported on numerous cases of the apparent breakdown of the rule of law and have asked why it is that the police stand by – doing nothing – while these atrocities are committed.

They have been asking why the Ahmadis, amongst the most peaceful of Moslems, have been systematically marginalised, brutalised, and even killed by rampaging mobs of FPI-led fanatics, and the survivors herded into obscene concentration camps such as those in Lombok. They write with disbelief about the killers of Ahmadis getting three-month ‘sentences’ for murder, while their surviving badly-injured victims get six months for ‘provoking’ the violence by merely existing.

They have written about violent attacks on Canadian author Irshad Manji during her visit to Indonesia, where she tried to talk about her book, which ironically promotes tolerance.

They have commented about the rigidities of the Shariah Law-dominated province of Aceh, where new laws prohibit sale of ‘tight clothing’, women are forbidden to be alone with men, public canings are customary, and where punks are marched off to ‘re-education camps’ to recite passages from the Qur’an, their hair forcibly being shorn before they are thrown into a lake as punishment for their personal mode of expression.

They see Shariah-inspired regional by-laws being enacted all over the nation, and the entire West Java city of Tasikmalaya being transformed into a fundamentalist Shariah city-state by religious zealots in direct contravention of Indonesia’s Constitution. The FPI, of course, supports these moves towards a totalitarian theocracy without question.

It’s all supposedly about morals, you see, which the self-appointed vigilantes of the FPI are determined to police. Tight clothing is immoral. Lady Gaga is immoral, and a ‘Satanist’ to boot. Christians and Ahmadis, Shi’tes and most foreigners are immoral. Authors with a libertarian viewpoint are immoral.  But apparently FPI extortion rackets, violence and murder are not immoral. Apparently corruption in government, where literally hundreds of billions – that’s dollars, not rupiah – are stolen is not immoral, nor is unilateral termination of foreigner’s contracts and mining leases, or ad hoc changes to the divestment rules of foreign corporations. And Arabian belly-dancing, or near-naked local dangdut performances are not immoral either. No wonder the world’s media is getting confused.

This country still has blasphemy and apostasy laws. It has punished a man who wrote “God does not exist” on his Facebook page. It allows only six ‘approved’ religions, but marginalises all but one. People of the Jewish faith, at least those with Israeli passports, are not even permitted to enter the country. It has a Ministry of Religious Affairs, which deals almost exclusively with Islamic Affairs. Despite the overwhelming evidence of a huge rise in religious intolerance, its Minister, Suryadharma Ali, recently described Indonesia “the most tolerant country in the world.” No-one seems to believe him, not even in Indonesia.

One good result of the FPI’s self-righteous posturings – and the official dithering over Gaga – is that the government of Indonesia has inadvertently been put under the microscope.  The world has discovered that the beleaguered and endemically corrupt ruling party relies on the support of the radical Islamist parties for its survival. People are beginning to understand why the government so regularly appears to cave in to every religious-based whim and fantasy from these minority power-brokers, no matter how much it damages the country. They are beginning to suspect that because those fundamentalist parties have only ever managed to scratch up 25% of the vote, they will do anything to mobilise the religious vote in order to consolidate their constituency before the next election.

Meanwhile, the world’s media, human rights organisations, and foreign investors are all now trying to understand why Indonesia is allowing itself to be held hostage by a group of radical Islamists whose ideology is not religious, despite their purported piety, but political.  They grapple with the dissonance embedded in nationalistic government rhetoric about undesirable foreign influences, while the same government embraces a foreign pseudo-religious culture, one whose attire, attitudes and modes of political action are not of Indonesia, but Saudi Arabia, the source of its funding.  The oft-stated agenda of these imported radicals is the creation of a world-wide Islamic Caliphate – and if that means the destruction of the beautiful Indonesian culture of yesteryear, then so be it. They don’t really care.

The most powerful weapons than can be deployed against the creeping radicalisation of Indonesia is world-wide media scrutiny of the fanatical religious elements within the nation, and a subsequent growth in awareness amongst its own populace as to what is really happening to their country. In some pockets of Indonesian society, this epiphany is already happening. With luck, it will spread to the silent majority too, especially those tired of being lumped in with extremists and terrorists as being the face of Indonesia.

And if this attitude prevails, when reason and tolerance finally reclaim their rightful place in Indonesia, we will have both the FPI thugs and Lady Gaga to thank.

Now wouldn’t that be ironic?

 

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Some Post-Nyepi Reflections

March 25, 2012

Another Nyepi has come and gone.  It was a time of quiet darkness, the freedom from the incessant chaos of traffic and people on the streets providing a balm for jaded souls. A Day of Silence, introspection and respect. Except, of course, for those who seem to be exempt from respecting the strictures that this day imposes on the rest of us.

Like the local lads in Buleleng who rampaged through the streets of the silent Nyepi night on motorbikes, attacking rival communities, hurling insults and missiles, and co-opting reinforcements to swell the numbers of those engaged in this desecration.

Like the police and paramilitaries who responded to this affray not with mediation, counselling and diplomacy, but with gunfire. Gunfire on Nyepi Day, no less!

Like some Balinese children and teenagers, caught up in self-righteous vigilante hubris – and believing that they have the same rights as adult Pecalang – rampaging noisily down streets, hammering loudly on doors and demanding that lights be doused.

Like the Pecalang who believed that young children under their supervision, should be permitted to play in the otherwise empty streets while their charges socialised, chatted and played cards.

Like some insensitive bules who perhaps thought that they had been quiet for long enough by 11 pm on Friday night, and were therefore justified in letting the sound of their loud, drunken arguments escape their villas and pollute the still night.

Like the few errant mosques, whose clerics arrogantly permitted amplified sounds to sully the silence despite all prior polite requests for quiet – and despite Bali’s already generous concessions which allowed Muslims to walk to mosques in the name of religious tolerance.

Like surfers and visitors to Medewi, who freely used the streets and beaches all day.

Like some restaurants in the same area, which were open for business on the Day of Silence.

And like a few non-Balinese households, who believed that their brightly-lit, noisy houses were as exempt from silence, darkness and respect for local customs as those of their compatriots in other parts of the archipelago.

Visitors, tourists, expats and most Indonesian non-Hindus have, in the main, always shown respect for Nyepi, observing its restrictions with good grace. But now, with breaches and exemptions on the increase, some people are starting to question whether the Balinese take it all that seriously themselves. And if they don’t, why are the rest of us bothering?

I think that the spiritual currency of this special day is being slowly devalued – and that makes me sad.


RELATED POST: One Day, Will We Commemorate Nyepi Day With A Minute’s Silence?


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In Their Own Words – The Wisdom Of The Elites: Part 3

January 12, 2012

Go to Part 1  •  Go to Part 2

PART 3 more public statements made by those in high places in Indonesia. These are an endless source of amusement, wonder, embarrassment, amazement and despair. Many of their pronouncements seem to be characterised by outright denial, shifting blame to others, justifications, outright lies and misplaced piety. Here is a selection of gaffe-prone luminaries, their immortal words, and the context in which they were uttered. You couldn’t make this stuff up.


Netty Prasetyani Heryawan, Head of the West Java Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Agency

Showing a strange lack of compassion for a “women’s empowerment” official, she stated that women have only themselves to blame if they fall into the clutches of human traffickers and prostitution rings. As reported in The Jakarta Globe, she said:

“They’re … leaving West Java only so that they can live out their hedonistic lifestyles.” 
“For these women seeking a hedonistic life, they end up becoming victims of human trafficking.”


Marzuki Alie, House of Representatives Speaker

The poor attendance records of many House members, and their reported manipulation of the current signature-based attendance log, has resulted in calls for a fingerprint reader system. The House Secretary General, Nining Indra Saleh, announced that the cost would be about Rp 4 billion. Marzuki Alie vehemently disagreed, citing his expertise in IT:

“… my calculation is different. My background is in information technology, so I’ve processed it. It’s not correct … I don’t think the equipment should cost any more than Rp 200 million. Rp 4 billion? That’s crazy.”

A few days later, Marzukie Alie had revised his expert calculation upwards by a staggering Rp 1.2 billion, saying that the plan should cost no more than Rp 1.4 billion.


Amir Syamsuddin, Justice and Human Rights Minister

The just-inaugurated Amir refused to comment on the recent spate of killings of villagers in Sumatra, allegedly by security forces and police, defended his reluctance to talk by saying:

“I should not talk about human rights. It is something that I’m not good at …”


Inspector General Iskandar Hasan, Aceh Police Chief

After sixty four young people were arrested by Aceh police for the non-existent ‘crime’ of being ‘punks’, they were beaten, had their heads forcibly shaved, were thrown in a lake and held underwater. After their unlawful arrest, they were subjected to a 10-day ‘re-education’ program at the Aceh State Police camp.

After several foreign embassy officials questioned the illegal arrests, assaults and forcible detention, the Police Chief dismissed their concerns, saying:

“… it’s a tradition. When I was still in the police academy, we were all pushed and plunged into a lake.”


Illiza Sa’aduddin Djamal, Deputy Mayor, Banda Aceh

Freely admitting that she is on a moral crusade against the punk community, the Deputy Mayor justified the action taken against punks, claiming that:

“This is a new social disease affecting Banda Aceh. Their morals are wrong. Men and women gather together, and that is against Islamic Shariah.”


Eddie Widiono, former president of the State Power Company PLN

On being sentenced to 5 years for corruption involving Netway, a company for which he fraudulently approved a contract for Rp 92.7 billion, when the real cost was only Rp 46 billion, he complained:

“I feel really hurt by being said to be unprofessional,” he said. “This really hurts my track record.”


Sofyan Usman, former lawmaker from the United Development Party

During his graft trial on 29 December 2011 for allegedly receiving bribes of Rp 1 billion, he claimed that there was no problem, because he wanted to build a mosque. He indignantly asked:

“Do I, as a lawmaker who intended to help the construction of a mosque, deserve to be jailed?”

Interestingly, it was only six months earlier that a judge had sentenced Sofyan to serve a year and three months, and fined him Rp 50 million for receiving a bribe to influence the selection of a deputy senior governor of Bank Indonesia in 2004.


Djoko Suyanto, Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs

After a spate of episodes of religiously-motivated violence, including
attacks on Shia communities in East Java, Djoko Suyanto said his office is not responsible for resolving matters such as these, claiming that:

“It is the role of the Religious Affairs Ministry to handle violence that is related to religion.”

Because Djoko’s office would normally be concerned with criminal acts such as unlawful assaults, violence and intimidation, observers have interpreted his words to mean that the government regards assaults ‘related to religion’ as apparently not being criminal acts.


Majudien, Chairman of The Islamic Reform Movement (Garis)

The besieged GKI Yasmin church in Bogor, still being unlawfully harassed by the Bogor Mayor and resident fundamentalists in contravention of a Supreme Court order, suffered yet another attack on New Year’s Eve. The Jakarta Globe reported that a mob of enraged Muslims led by Majudien terrorized church members after becoming infuriated by a bumper sticker on one Christian’s car, which read: “We need a friendly Islam, not an angry Islam.” Majudien justified his group’s attack, complaining:

“What is the aim of that sticker being put there? That is a provocative action against us, the Muslims of Bogor.

An important fact (that had obviously escaped the incensed Majudien) was that the sticker was actually a souvenir distributed by the family of the late former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid during a commemoration of his death. All guests, including the chairman of the Constitutional Court, the deputy religious affairs minister and many VIPs, had received the same sticker. None had apparently complained.


Inspector General Saud Usman Nasution, National Police spokesman, and
First Brigadier Ahmad Rusdi, Police Officer and Plaintiff

Police officer Ahmad Rusdi took a teenaged boy to court in Sulawesi for allegedly stealing his Rp 30,000 pair of sandals. He and his colleague, Jhon Simson, had questioned three youths over the missing pair of sandals, after which Ahmad claimed that:

“The three then admitted it.”

However, one of the boys’ parents accused the police of forcing a confession by beating the teen. The National Police spokesman, Saud, then rushed to the police officers’ defence, denying the boys were beaten and explaining:

“There was an emotional action of pushing the boy until he fell.”

The officers were disciplined, but the boy still had to face court, where:

1) Ahmad, the plaintiff, told the court that he was uncertain about his accusation, and that it was more a matter of intuition than proof.

2) The court was told the court that the sandals found with the defendant were Eiger brand. Ahmad, the police officer said his sandals were Andos. 

3) Ahmad couldn’t prove that the defendant had actually taken the sandals, which had been lying in the street some 30 meters from the policeman’s rented room. 

Despite the obviously weak case, the court inexplicably ruled that the boy:

“… was proved to have engaged in theft and it was decided to return him to his parents.” 

Saud, the National Police spokesman, tried to defuse anger at the the minor’s need to appear in court by blaming the parents, saying that they:

“… demanded that their offspring … be reported legally.”

Saud further claimed that police had reminded the parents that their child was still a minor and should not be taken to court – a strange statement, given that 6,273 minors were being held on criminal charges in Indonesian jails last year.

Source 1   Source 2


And just to show that not all weird utterances occur in Indonesia, here’s a gem from the Adhaalath Party – A Fundamentalist Islamist Opposition Party in the Maldives
Ninemsn reports that luxury hotels in more than one thousand islands of the Maldives have been forced to shut their lucrative spa services after the Islamist political party complained that they were just brothels. An Adhaalath spokesman called for an end to spas, and, wait for it:

“Their lustful music”


I think it’s time for another cup of tea and a good lie down. I look at this list of gaffes and wonder why politicians, police, religious leaders and the so-called elites hold themselves in such high esteem. It’s beyond me, it really is. I may have to go and listen to some lustful music.

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Fire – But What Happens After The Inferno?

December 9, 2011

The heat is sapping at just past mid-day, and I’m finding it hard to focus on work. The pool beckons, and it’s a toss-up between a cooling dip and just drifting off for an early siesta. A waft of smoke blows into the villa, its mixed aromas of burning leaves, wood and plastic creating a surge of annoyance. I snarl. The neighbours are burning garbage again. How inconsiderate.

But it’s not a rubbish fire at all. The smoke intensifies, and from my distant past as a volunteer fire-fighter comes an olfactory memory I prefer to forget. I recognise the unmistakably acrid smell of a dwelling on fire. By this stage, there is panicked shouting, and by the time I throw some clothes on and get outside, the air is thick with smoke. My lane is only fifty metres long, but I can’t see more than ten metres in front of me. Last June a neighbouring villa caught fire, but swift action by locals, who rushed selflessly to help, prevented a calamity.

This time, there is no chance of that. Eyes streaming and handkerchief pressed over my nose, I struggle to the end of the lane and see that the little warung on the corner is well alight. No-one can get close because of the radiant heat, collapsing roof timbers and explosions of flammables. The people in the villa behind the burning warung are mobilising with garden hoses, but this seems like such a puny defence. I am hoping fervently that no-one is trapped inside, because survival would be impossible.

Once around the corner, I get a clearer view and am shocked to see that not one, but all seven shops in the small block between my lane and the next are well ablaze. Shop owners are desperately trying to salvage valuables and stock. They seem to be risking their lives for mere goods – but the reality is that it’s not just things they are trying to save, it is their livelihood. As the toxic fumes thicken and swirl and I start to feel faint, I belatedly remember the dangers of smoke inhalation . After a sudden whomp! as a gas bottle explodes, spraying bits of shrapnel and belching great gouts of flame, I beat an undignified but sensible retreat to safety.

Miraculously, the fire brigade arrives within ten minutes and the scene transforms from chaotic panic into a well-organised drill. The Bali fireys are great, quickly assessing the fireground, checking for anyone trapped, rolling out the hoses and wasting no time in getting water on the fire. They are efficient, calm and relaxed.

They haven’t lost their sense of humour either. One of them has a momentary problem with the water cannon perched on top of his fire truck, accidentally swivelling it down as he struggles with a control to start the flow. As the valve snaps open, the sudden water blast from the misdirected nozzle scores a direct hit between the shoulder blades of his commander standing on the road in front. He is the first to burst out laughing at this unexpected incident. Maybe that’s why he’s called an incident commander. But I’m glad no-one takes a photo – the sight of firemen cackling uncontrollably while fighting a serious blaze would no doubt have been gleefully seized on by certain sections of the Australian anti-Bali media.

A little white car, which I have often seen parked in an awkward position at the entrance to the lane, is blocking access to the extra appliances that are now arriving. It’s also in danger of either catching fire itself, or being crushed should the wall of the building collapse. After unsuccessful attempts to locate the owner, the police, who are now in attendance, decide to shift the car. I am expecting use of a cunning, ‘police-only’ method of quickly breaking in to the locked vehicle. But no, they elect to use a ‘master key’ instead. A Bali master key apparently consists of an enthusiastically-wielded axe, which makes short work of the laminated side window, and the car is quickly pushed out of the way.

Frankly, if this approach was used on all badly-parked cars in Bali, the entire parking chaos problem would be solved overnight.

Finally, after an hour, the main fire is out. The crew is on mop-up duties and the police are sealing off the scene with yellow tape. Neighbours and shop owners are standing silently by the side of the road, staring in shock at the devastation. Fire-blackened, saturated goods lie in dismal piles on what is left of shop floors. Warped and melted roller shutters form grotesque sculptures; sad monuments to lost livelihoods. A cell-phone shop owner clutches the few boxes she has managed to save and stares fixedly into the ashes of her dreams.

At night, the scene is even more surreal. As I return from dinner, I ride past fifty or so people sitting silently on the opposite footpath, staring into the still-smoking ruins. I recognise some of the local shop owners, but no-one is in the mood for conversation. Apart from a small police presence, the rest of the onlookers seem to be family or friends. Perhaps they are there to give moral support, maintain some sort of vigil or pray. Maybe they’re just there to ensure that the wreckage of their lives is not made worse by overnight looting.

Few of the affected would have had insurance. For most of them, loss of their shops means complete loss of their livelihood. What little money these people have is tied up in stock. They subsist on their meagre revenues, which have now disappeared. What do they do now? Will their banjar offer financial support? Are there other sources of community assistance? Should I, as a neighbour, offer assistance? Is there a local disaster fund? If I donate money, or raise money from others who would like to help, how do I ensure that it gets to those affected without it vanishing into the pockets of ‘commission-takers’ or other opportunists?

It has taken an event like this to bring home to me how coddled I am as an expat. I take insurance cover for granted and I can afford smoke detectors and fire extinguishers. I understand the risks of unattended candles and incense, and I don’t have to use dangerous spirit stoves or dodgy gas bottles. But in my local community, I am probably in the minority.

And I am ashamed to realise that I have lived here for nearly three years and I still have not made the effort to learn how local communities cope in times of personal traumas like this. Sad, isn’t it?

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Draconian Anti-Smoking Law Hits Bali

November 30, 2011

There is nothing more pleasant than sitting in one of Bali’s thousands of open-air restaurants or cafes. Delectable food, a cool drink, or even a book – in case the passing parade of absurdities begins to pall – and a cigarette or two to enhance the experience. The outdoor ambience, and the fact that ventilating breezes minimise the impact of any occasional wisps of smoke on others makes Bali a relaxing getaway for those who choose to indulge their habit without nanny-state interference.

Not any more.

The inexorable tide of do-gooder interference has finally reached the previously easy-going shores of Bali. A law implemented only this week now bans smoking in many parts of Bali. Any place designated as a “tourism destination”, or “tourism support facility” is henceforth to be smoke-free. The list of proscribed premises includes some intelligent bans, such as places of worship, health facilities, schools and children’s playgrounds. But this draconian legislation goes much further, enmeshing hotels, open-air markets, airports, restaurants, cafes, bars and night clubs in its web. Smoking is to be banned in all of these places. They will also be prohibited from selling or advertising tobacco products as well.

A straw poll taken this evening at a local cafe revealed that more than two-thirds of the patrons were smoking. The effect on air quality was negligible. Later in the evening, the staff at a local bar were stunned when I told them about the new legislation. Looking around at his customers, most of whom were smoking, a senior barman summed up Bali’s new by-law with a pithy “That’s bullshit! They can’t do that! We will lose all our customers.” Still later, at an open-plan restaurant nearby, I observed most of the customers lighting up after their meals. I asked a few of them for their thoughts, and most of their responses were tinged with anger. “That’s crazy!” was a typical answer. “We come to Bali to get away from all the stupid laws at home, and now this! Oh well, if they bring it in, we’ll just go somewhere else.”  Thailand featured as an alternative destination for quite a few, while Malaysia was mentioned by others. Even the restaurant staff were jolted by the news, saying, “But no-one will come here any more …”

Without a doubt, smoking is unhealthy. But it is a lifestyle choice – as well as an addiction – for most of us smokers. It is not up to self-appointed elites in government to presume that they know best, and on that basis to mandate what is “good for us”. For us smokers, it is our choice to smoke. In Bali, where open, ventilated structures are the norm and effect on non-smokers is minimal, this legislation is both oppressive and unnecessary. Its implementation will be problematic, if only for the reason that laws in Indonesia are meaningless until wrapped in their subsequent rat’s nest of regulations. Given the inept drafting of most laws here, getting a workable regulatory framework up and running could take years.

So let’s scratch a little beneath the surface of this nonsense to find out what the real motivation is. Supposedly, it is for health reasons. But will it discourage the Balinese population from smoking? Probably not. The overwhelming majority of locals do not sit in bars, frequent cafes and restaurants or play in expensive tourism enclaves. Foreigners do. The purported “health benefits” look a little shaky when you look at the prescribed penalties. Miscreants who flout the new non-smoking regulations will be banished to languish in the over-crowded Kerobokan prison for up to six months, or pay a fine of 50 million rupiah ($5,475 AUD). This is not a penalty aimed at locals who could never afford it, instead it is targeted squarely at foreigners.

Bali’s Governor Made Mangku Pastika has already foreshadowed the true intention of this law, saying,  “I think tourists will understand … it is Bali’s people who often do not understand.” In its implementation phase, it is clear that smoking locals will be ignored by the police, while ‘rich’ bules will be expected to pay substantial bribes to avoid the threat of a costly court case and exorbitant fines for … smoking. You know, a bit like only bules being stopped for not wearing a helmet. No, Governor, I don’t think tourists will “understand” at all. They will see it for what it is – another unashamed grab at the wallets of the very people who are part of the underpinnings of Bali’s economy.

The Chairman of the Bali Tourism Board, Ida Bagus Ngurah Wijaya, clearly understands that officials might have trouble enforcing the regulation for locals. In the DPRD building where the law was passed on the 28th November, smoking is rife amongst the lawmakers. “Every time I am invited for a hearing at the DPRD”, he said, “members smoke in the meeting room.” I very much doubt that will change after the law is brought in. And yet he naïvely goes on to say, “but I don’t think we will have a problem from tourists.” Oh, really?

Well, let’s wait and see. This issue is not about smoking. It is about personal freedom. I suspect that any implementation of the type of despicable social engineering that Australia’s do-gooders have fallen in love with, and that has made Singapore such an over-regulated nanny state, will backfire in Bali. The people who come here do so because they are, at least temporarily, free from the fanatical zeal of self-appointed arbiters of personal choice. They are willing to overlook the rubbish, the crumbling infrastructure, the corruption and the incessant demands for money because of that sense of freedom, and the magic that derives from that.

What if  loss of freedom to smoke here turns out to be the tipping point that causes a shift in the delicate balance of factors that drive travel decisions? Bali is freedom. But if visitors stop feeling free in Bali, they will simply stop coming.


UPDATE: OK, time for me to ‘fess up. This was a mild troll  designed to see what people really think – and the comment responses make that fairly clear. In the interests of fairness, I left them all in, including the abusive ones.  

As expected, only a few people noticed a tag attached to this post, i.e. “a troll to gauge reaction”. My personal view  is that neither smokers nor non-smokers should be advantaged or  disadvantaged. Where the practice of smoking affects the health or comfort of non-smokers, I fully agree that steps should be taken to prevent this harm. Restaurants are a perfect example – my habit should not impinge on your right to breathe smoke-free air. The challenge is to provide workable solutions for all stakeholders.

But I draw the line at people who condemn and marginalise all smokers as an article of faith, or because they are just “wrong” to smoke.  I acknowledge that opponents of smoking may be right. But I do object when this crosses the line into becoming righteous.

Thank you for your comments. They are enlightening.


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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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Lombokschwitz, Indonesia’s Ahmadi Shame

November 16, 2011

The rising tide of religious intolerance continues unchecked in the great ‘secular democracy’ of Indonesia. Diani Budiarto, the Mayor of Bogor, only sixty kilometres from Jakarta, thumbs his nose at the government, the Constitution, the Supreme Court and the essence of Pancasila itself by continuing to victimise members of the Taman Yasmin Indonesian Christian Church. “No church should be on a street named after a Muslim”, he said. Scholars are apparently still poring over the 114 Suras in the Qur’an to find any which might support his bigoted stance.

Elsewhere in Java, Sumatra and Sulawesi, Christian churches are burned, parishioners attacked and anyone who does not adhere slavishly to Islamic orthodoxy is marginalised. The police stand by and watch. The President, his hands tied by fundamentalist coalition partners, does nothing, thereby condoning the attacks.

In Cikeusik, West Java, 17 year old Dani bin Misra was released from jail to a hero’s welcome. He had received only a three month sentence for the violent murder of Roni Pasaroni, a member of the Ahmadiya sect, during a vicious siege of their home. Their house was torched by a fanatically screaming mob, two of its occupants being set upon as they tried to escape, then clubbed and slashed to death. In a stunning example of Indonesian jurisprudence, one of the survivors was sentenced to six months jail “for provoking the attack”, simply by being in the house. The police stood by and watched. The President called for the perpetrators to be caught and punished, but as is usual in Indonesian courts, the pressure from hard-liners ensured that prosecutors didn’t even bother to call eye-witnesses.

Hard-line Muslims don’t approve of the peaceful Ahmadis. Oblivious the the irony of her words, one resident of Cikeusik said, “We had to clean our village. This is no place for the followers of a cult.” The FPI, a fundamentalist band of uneducated thugs for hire, don’t approve of the Ahmadis either. In fact, they don’t seem to approve of anything that deviates from the ideology being forced upon Indonesians by the fundamentalists’ Arabic masters.

The FPI operates with impunity because the police let them. “As a part of society, the FPI is our partner … in a positive way”, said National Police spokesman Senior Commander Boy Rafli Amar. What else can he say? His boss, Chief of the Indonesian National Police General Timur Pradopo is reported to be a foundation member of the FPI. And despite knowing this, the President still appointed him to his position. What does that tell you about SBY’s commitment to tolerance?

But all of these violations of religious freedoms, all of this intolerance, violence and bigotry don’t really impact Bali, do they?. We can all relax in paradise, because these insanities perpetrated in the name of religion are a long way away in West Java, North Sumatra and Sulawesi, right?

Wrong.

Just 35 kilometres away lies Lombok, touted as “The New Bali” and a fledgling tourist destination. Lombok, which is predominately Muslim, also is home to a population of Ahmadiya – Muslims who have so offended fundamentalists by their belief in a variant of mainstream Islam that they are not even permitted to call themselves Muslims. This peaceful sect, who have been in Indonesia since 1925, has grown in numbers worldwide by 400% in the last ten years. In Lombok, their numbers have been savagely reduced by violent persecution by the local population. Their homes have been destroyed, their land and possessions stolen. Forcible conversions to the “true Islam” have decimated their numbers. Those who have asserted their right to freedom of worship have been hounded into a ghetto in Mataram.

The run-down Transito shelter in Mataram is now home to 140 Ahmadis, crammed into a shelter where sanitation is non-existent and where the government has cut off electricity three years ago. The government has banned them from returning to their homes and has refused to register them as residents of Lombok. Because they are not residents, their food aid was cut off last year, and they are denied the free gas stoves supposedly distributed by the government to all citizens. They are the forgotten people of Lombok. Presumably, everyone is waiting for them to die off in poverty and squalor so that the problem will go away.

What motivated the Lombok population to begin to destroy their own neighbours? Well for a start, maybe the 2005 edict issued by the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) against the Ahmadis started the ball rolling. The government, which had every chance to reinforce the propaganda that Indonesia is a secular nation by nipping this in the bud, dropped the ball and did nothing until 2008. At which time, inexplicably, a Ministerial Decree ratified the unconstitutional religious decree by making it law. Since then, fuel has been poured on the fire by Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali’s call for an complete ban on Ahmadiyah. To the uneducated and the poor, the message is clear. The Ahmadis are fair game.

The latest lame attempt at controlling religious thought comes from the government’s current draft Religious Harmony Bill. This masterpiece of bad drafting requires the consideration of “the local community’s wisdom” prior to the construction of a place of worship. Wisdom? It also wants to specifically regulate how people should spread their faith, celebrate religious holidays, construct places of worship, hold funerals and organize religious education. Have any of these intellectual giants considered the impact of a national law like that on a place like Bali? Unbelievable. Sounds like a law to promote intolerance, not eliminate it.

And once intolerance takes root, it’s hard to eradicate it. In Lombok, it’s not just the Ahmadis that are targets now. Ask any expat unfortunate enough to have a villa with Hindu iconography as part of the design. Ask them about the vandalism. Ask expats who have been brazen enough to politely request their village chiefs for the volume to be turned down on the 4.30am to dawn hyper-amplified call to prayer. Oh wait, you can’t ask them – they’re now in jail.

And ask poor, deaf,  Sadarudin, a harmless disabled Ahmadi resident of the Lombokschwitz concentration camp, who was the target of an attempted beheading by an intolerant coward with a machete. Ask him what he thinks about the politics of religious intolerance in Indonesia. Ask him what he thinks about pancasila, and the constitutional guarantees of freedom of choice of worship. Ask him what he thinks of the President of a  ‘secular democracy’ who allows his country to slide into a fundamentalist theocratic regime while his pious, hypocritical elites grow fat on graft.

Oh wait, you can’t – he’s fighting for his life in a Mataram hospital and can’t talk to anybody. Shame, Lombok. Shame, Indonesia.

— ooo —

UPDATE:
15 November 2011: FPI, MUI and FKUB harass Ahmadis in Bekasi, just East of Jakarta

RELATED POSTIndonesia’s Silent Majority Silent While Country Is Hijacked [10 October, 2011]

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Washing My Naked Aphrodite’s Bits

May 29, 2011

Sitting here at my desk at the Global Headquarters of Borborigmus in Bali, my attention drifts – as it frequently does – away from the computer screen, across the shimmering blue of the pool and comes to rest on one of my favourite girls. She is standing amongst the bushes, completely naked except for a sarong trailing from her left hand and concealing only her left calf . She stands unselfconsciously facing me; the weight of the urn balanced on her right shoulder resulting in a shapely cocking of her right hip. Despite the serenity and confidence of her pose, she keeps her eyes averted from mine and stands as still as a statue.

That’s because she is a statue. My very own Venus de Milo –  a life-sized girl of white stone, standing proudly in her arbour of contrasting dark-green tropical vegetation. Except she is far more attractive, is in much better shape and she actually has arms, which provide a pleasing balance to her form. In fact, she’s more the way I imagine an Aphrodite to be, rather than a Venus. The only thing is, she has developed a bit of a patina. Her once-white flawless surface is becoming marked with irregular blotches of algae and mould, which has begun to detract somewhat from the purity of her compound curves.

My pembantu, Delfi, a demure and highly moral woman who bustles industriously around my villa, scrubbing and polishing every hidden nook (and most of the crannies), has long become accustomed to Aphrodite’s nakedness.  She even recently, in her inimitable patois, referred to Aphrodite as “this girlfriend you, ya? Hee-hee!” But never once has she offered to give my ‘girlfriend’ a good scrubbing. I suspect that has been far less to do with her state of dishabille than Delfi’s absolute certainty that she will slip, fall into the pool and drown if she tries.

As I gaze across the pool at my tarnished stone maiden, I decide that it is time to restore her to the pristine condition of yesteryear. Wire brushes and other tools in hand, I enthusiastically commence the job. Delfi looks on approvingly as I scrub the carved stone tresses, the shoulders, the urn, the arms, the face and the throat. Encouraged by the newly-emerging, sparkling upper regions, I continue my ministrations downwards. But then, as I am about to start on the breasts, I become strongly aware of being watched. My pembantu has become very still and is just … staring. I look at the brush in my hand, then at Aphrodite’s torso, then back at Delfi. I give one stained stone breast a tentative swipe and watch Delfi’s body language to see whether I am breaking some local taboo here, but while her look is just a teeny bit shocked, it is not censorious. Not yet, anyway.

A little more relaxed now, I finish up in the bust department with excellent results. But I notice that Delfi is becoming progressively more, ah, concerned as I move downward to hips, belly and below. Then I see the problem. My Aphrodite’s groin area is sporting a light, but noticeable algal bloom. My cleaning job is just about to become the statuary equivalent of a Brazilian wax job. To complete the task properly, I am going to have to become a tad intimate with Aphrodite’s anatomy – and this while being watched like a hawk.

I tell myself that I am a mature man, that I am doing nothing unseemly, and that if outside observers choose to judge me on the basis of their own taboos and social mores, then that has nothing to do with me. I will not interrupt my labours to satisfy the mere concerns of others. I am rarely embarrassed, and I am not embarrassed now. I tell myself all this, but of course I don’t listen. So I tell Delfi that I am taking a break and will finish later. She seems inordinately relieved, and seems even more relieved when she finishes her shift and goes home at lunchtime.

Now freed from moral supervision, at least in my own mind, I tackle the job with renewed gusto. Hips, stomach and thighs yield their overgrowths easily to the brush, but the complexities of below-the-belly curvatures pose more of a problem. I try using an old toothbrush, but it still can’t get the stone crevices clean. Finally, I hit on the solution – an emery board, intended for manicures, is of the right size and shape, and has the appropriate abrasive qualities. It’s bright pink, but, hey, you can’t have everything.

So as I stand there, engrossed, head lowered to better see what I am doing,  scrabbling away with my arm gently around Aphrodite’s waist to prevent me from falling in the pool, I suddenly hear a woman’s voice: “Mister, I have some anti-nyamuk for…” Damn, I left the villa gate open. She stops dead, dropping some of those confounded sachets of useless anti-mosquito powder the locals keep bringing round to sell.  She stares at me, with my left arm embracing a naked statue, my right hand holding a pink thing which, I realise instantly, is in a somewhat compromising position. I spontaneously utter a word with religious connotations, which on reflection, is probably unwise. She mutters something like “ah, lain kali, ya?”, which I gather means something like ‘some other time, pervert’, and rapidly flees to her motorbike where she performs a flawless Le Mans start.

Oh well. On the negative side, I’m waiting for a visit from the anti-pornography squad, and maybe, if she understood my startled exclamation, from the blasphemy police as well. On the positive side, I now have a clean statue, and even better, I doubt that anyone will be trying to sell me those sachets any time soon, if ever.

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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.

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Dancing the Traffic Cop Tango in Bali

April 27, 2011

Getting through this Kuta road junction is like being caught between the intersecting trajectories of four machine guns. The cacophony of blaring exhausts, incessant horns and tortured suspensions of vehicles thumping over Bali’s prodigious potholes jangles the mind. This  sonic counterpoint is a metaphor for the mental turmoil that accompanies the instantaneous decision-making needed to negotiate complex traffic in Bali and survive.

Anyway, that’s my excuse for not hearing a shrill whistle blast as I zipped between killer yellow trucks, four-wheel-drive ego-boosters and bee-like swarms of crazed motorcycles. I’m relatively immune to the chaos, but my pillion rider’s state of mind registers clearly as her fingers dig painfully into my lower ribs. A fleeting moment of regret that I hadn’t insisted on her wearing a helmet passes quickly as we clear the intersection and enter a normal street where the likelihood of death is not quite so imminent.

She leans next to my ear and says: “That cop wasn’t too pleased with you. He’s blowing his whistle and waving you over.”  “Relax”, I reply loftily, “they never chase you – they’re too lazy. Always keep going when they do that.”

Unfortunately, I score a cop who isn’t lazy. In fact, by some miracle of teleportation, he is waiting for me at the next intersection where he insinuates his bike into a position that leaves me no option but to crash into him, fall off, or pull over. I pull over, and secure in the knowledge that I have done nothing wrong, grin at him. He grins back. He understands my hubris; he deals with it every day.

“I whistled at you there at Jl. Pantai Kuta”, he says. I avoid making an inane comment about Roger Whittaker and instead tell him that I didn’t hear him. I innocently ask him why he is stopping me. “No helmet”, he says, pointing at my pillion passenger. “Not required”, I say confidently. He is disconcerted. I press my advantage and say to him, “Bali law only says rider must wear helmet, not passenger”. He looks uncertain, despite the fact that I am spouting unmitigated drivel. Of course both people on a bike must have helmets – it’s not only the law, it’s plain common sense. But I’m on a roll here and I sense an advantage in our little dance, even though I’m dancing around the truth.

He looks like he is trying to remember whether the authorities have changed the road law yet again, because they never actually tell anyone, including the police, whenever they do that here. He changes tack suddenly and asks me whether my headlight was on. I tell him it was. A beat of silence ensues.  “Licence please,” he orders, changing tactics yet again. He looks at my International Driver’s Licence and his face lights up. “Ahh! Not legal in Bali!” I say confidently that it is legal actually, and his face clouds over. Quickly flipping to the last page, he sees the two stamps there, one for a car and one for a motorcycle endorsement. His face falls further.

We spend a minute or two in idle chit-chat while I try desperately to keep the smile of triumph off my face. I should have stayed alert instead of gloating, because the guy is toying with me before setting me up for his master-stroke. As he closes my licence booklet, he suddenly freezes and points to the front cover. “Oh no!” he says. “What?” I say, sucked in. “Look!” he intones with beautifully studied regret. “Licence is expired! Now have to go to court in Denpasar …” And he points his finger at the date – 11 February 2011 – clearly stamped on my licence.

I am thunderstruck. How stupid am I? I must have forgotten to put my new licence in the cover after getting it renewed earlier this year. “Umm” I say intelligently. “I think it’s in my safe at home …” He looks at me with that cop stare for a long moment. I reach into my pocket and hand him the obligatory 50,000 rupiah note. He grins. “Next time, both of you wear helmets” and sends me on my way.

On the way home, it dawns on me that his parting shot was about the helmet, an issue that I had already conned him about, and not the licence. I did con him, didn’t I? With some unease, I check my licence again, and there, clearly written on the front are the words ‘Issued 11 February 2011′. The damn thing is still valid for another year, and I finally realise that he knew that all along!

Today’s score: Cop 1, Vyt 0. Oh well, at least the money goes to his family. Back home, traffic fines go to Consolidated Revenue for the government to waste on yet another useless exercise in social engineering. Here, it’s just your standard Bali re-distribution of wealth. And it was an entertaining and compassionate way to cut me down to size. I’m comfortable with that.

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Why the Police Will Never Get “Safety Riding” to Work

April 11, 2010

Tactical solutions to strategic problems never work. It is useless to treat symptoms without addressing the cause, and legislators who think that increasing punitive traffic regulations will solve Bali’s traffic ills are showing a disappointing lack of understanding of traffic management and safety issues. In their recent knee-jerk traffic law-making fit, they are not just showing ignorance of driver and rider behaviour, but betraying the trust of the people who elected them. Bad driving examples are just symptoms of a greater malaise, which in Bali, is a set of deep-seated anarchic attitudes to driving which are at the core of the traffic chaos here.

April 1 (how apt!) saw the introduction of greatly increased penalties for a whole range of misdemeanors. Not a single one of these will do anything to prevent accidents, or change the basic nature of riders (and many car drivers) who regard traffic rules in the same way as they regard grit blowing into their faces while riding. An irritation perhaps, but of no real relevance to the way they drive.

Why won’t the regulations work? Well, for a start, the new rules are not being promoted effectively – at least, not to the locals. I ride with my headlight on during the day – a logical, safe strategy which gives me higher visibility and perhaps even a reduced risk of being hit by a texting, arak-addled kamikaze rider with the anticipatory skills of an ashtray. And because for the last month, it has been the law for all riders here. Yet every day, I am waved at by helpful riders telling me that I have “left my lights on”. All conversations about this end up with the same set of reasons why they would never ride with their lights on, regardless of the law:

“It wastes electricity” (What?!)
“Light will burn out quicker. Globes too expensive!”
“But it is daytime!” (Unsaid: “You idiot!”)
And the one that gives the biggest clue to the way locals think: “Oh no, rule only for bules …”

The thing is, despite us bules being only a very small percentage of riders on Bali roads, we fall foul of road rules here much more often than locals. We are your classic soft (and rich) target. And not only is there a selective implementation of road rules based on this offensive racial profiling, but we pay much higher fines than locals when we do get busted. The police know full well that the new fines structure is out of the question for locals to pay, so the new regimen will inevitably focus attention on us – the smallest group of road users with the greatest capacity to pay. So pray tell, how will that improve compliance, or road safety, or roadcraft for the vast majority of local road warriors? The short answer is, it won’t.

When we talk of the mad behaviour of Bali traffic overall, we are not actually referring to something tangible. Traffic patterns, like any chaotic system (in the mathematical sense) are examples of emergent behaviour. The crazy complexity that we see is the resultant of a relatively small number of simple behavioural imperatives displayed by the majority of motorists. Like the schooling behaviour of fish swimming in flawless formation – the whole school seemingly behaving like a unified entity – Bali traffic appears dangerous, disorganised and sometimes downright suicidal in its overall aspect. But like fish, who are governed by simple, instinctual rules such as: ‘keep 5 cm from the fish on your right’, and ‘if there are no fish in front of me, avoid obstacles and predators’, Bali motorists have their own simple rules of engagement.

So what are these simple driving and riding imperatives in Bali? Here are the 7 main personal rules that, I believe, motivate most motorists here:

* Get to where you want to go in the fastest possible time
* Follow the shortest path to do so that is within the physical capabilty of your vehicle. (This may include footpaths, median strips, one-way streets and over the occaional pedestrian or kaki lima)
* Give way to no-one unless a collision is imminent
* Always use internal criteria, (such as one’s own deeply flawed judgement) instead of irrelevant external criteria such as traffic lights to ascertain if it is possible to cross intersections or enter streets
*  Assume everyone else will give way to you, or stop, including oncoming yellow trucks with a momentum 500 times that of your bike
* Never, ever give way to a bule. If you crash into them, it’s OK – they will pay for all expenses
* Never take responsibility for anything, because it’s never your fault.

So what is the emergent behaviour that you get when all these simple little rules interact? The Bali traffic phenomenon. And it will never change as long as regulators address what they see as the ‘big picture’ and ignore the elements that actually create the big picture. Of course, the only way to change those is to re-educate, so that you change the mindsets of motorists driven by their own personal agendas, not traffic regulations irrelevant to them.

That’s why the police will never be successful in ensuring road safety. Their tools – the road regulations – are simply the wrong ones for the job. Their targets are the wrong ones too. And many are motivated by profit, not safety anyway. In the meantime, while we wait for officialdom to get its act together, hati hati!