Posts Tagged ‘seminyak’

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More Than A Pat On The Head

April 20, 2013

I saw a heart-warming sight on Double-Six beach in Bali a few weeks ago. Amongst the dogs joyfully frolicking on the sand was one that seemed not to be participating. From quite a distance, it looked happy enough, but there seemed to be something different about the way it was standing. It was not until I drew much closer that I realised what that was.

I discovered that a French couple had found themselves ‘adopted’ by a dog lying on their doorstep. It didn’t seem particularly distressed, but its hindquarters were completely paralysed. Not even its tail could manage a single twitch, much less a wag. No-one knew how it got there, or what had happened to it. Some dogs, of course, have a hard life in Bali. I have seen them hit, kicked, and run over by motorbikes and cars. Whatever the cause in this dog’s case, it was obviously serious. A traumatic injury such as this to a dog in Bali generally means that it has no chance of survival. It would be left to die slowly, or be put down.

But this couple, showing compassion above and beyond the call of mere duty, took the dog in. They fed it, gave it medical attention, and tried to make its life as comfortable as possible. The dog, immobilised, was understandably depressed, and showed little sign of recovering from its debilitating paralysis. They tried massage, pharmaceuticals and traditional medicine – all with minimal effect.

Then they went that one step further, getting a custom made trailer/wheelchair made overseas to support the dog’s hindquarters. It was delivered and fitted, and a wonderful transformation began.

There on Double Six beach, I saw the results of that kindness – a dog happily romping on the sand with his canine mates, towing his hind legs behind him, and wagging his previously inactive tail with the sheer joy of mobility.

Custom Dog Wheelchair

Custom Dog Wheelchair

Even his back legs show signs of movement now, and his new owners say that they are even making jerky running movements when he dreams. You could, of course, attribute the improvement to medicine, to regular meals, and to the contraption supporting his back end.

But I think this dog is recovering mainly because of the genuine care and love shown by two strangers who could have abandoned him – and chose not to. They made him part of their pack instead, and for a dog, this is the most important thing in the world.

Aren’t some people wonderful?

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Attracting The Elderly Tourist

July 12, 2012

Bali’s grand plan for tourism seems to be a bit of a dog’s breakfast. It doesn’t really seem to be a plan as such – it’s more a series of somewhat reactive slogans that sound plausible until they need to actually be implemented.

For years, the driving principle seemed to be ‘let’s encourage more and more to come – but we won’t even think about improving the infrastructure to support the increase. Then, when it became apparent that tourists were staying for shorter periods and spending less, it became ‘there are too many stingy tourists – let’s go for quality instead’. Still no mention of improving infrastructure to attract those elusive ‘quality’ tourists though.

Now, it seems that a new target market that fulfils the desired ‘quality’ demographic is in the cross-hairs. Ida Bagus Kade Subikshu, head of Bali’s tourism agency, wants to encourage older visitors. He is quoted as enthusiastically saying, “The prospect for elderly tourism is huge.” He speaks of promoting activities, destinations and cultural experiences for the mature set, which is laudable, but says little about – you guessed it – viable infrastructure that would make it possible.

So I contemplate his suggestion while gazing around me. I see the uneven, dangerous footpaths, open pits and loose, pivoting manhole covers – and think of fragile, low-density bones just waiting to snap, crackle and pop as well as any breakfast cereal. I see the unpredictable traffic that demands astonishing agility by pedestrians just to survive a simple road crossing.

I see hotels with a multitude of levels, few lifts, and bathrooms with showers over slippery, high-walled baths. I see the potential for a tropical environment exacerbating age-related illness, and the impossibility of getting fast-response trauma care through the grid-locked streets. I see the heat, humidity, dust and exhaust fumes sapping the strength of young, healthy tourists and wonder just how the elderly would cope.

And just as I am ready to dismiss Kade’s idea as yet another pie-in-the-sky dream, I read – with no small degree of  shock – that he defines his ‘elderly’ target group as those over 55 years old. I’m already more than 10 years past his cut-off point! I’m not elderly dammit! I’m … well, mature, but I still manage to live happily in Bali without breaking a hip, or needing someone to hand me my Zimmer frame when I get off my motorbike.

So I decide that ‘elderly’ is a relative term. My 90 year-old mother is elderly, not me. Mind you, I thought she was elderly when I was 30, and I’m sure my own kids, being in the prime of their lives, regard me as a broken-down old crock.

With that epiphany, I look around again with fresh eyes. And suddenly my focus is on the teeming throngs of people, not on the obstacle course that they are negotiating. A good proportion of them are over 55 – and they are all managing splendidly. They happily go on tours all over the island, they walk the broken streets with confidence, explore rickety stairs, ride motorbikes,  and generally seem to thrive on the anarchic bedlam that is Bali.

And that could well be the secret. My own contemporaries love Bali, because it provides an escape from the cloying strictures of Australia’s over-regulated nanny-state. They enjoy a place  where a righteous army of do-gooders doesn’t choke their spirit. They thrive in a place that, despite having many risks to life and limb,  allows them to take personal responsibility for their own safety and well-being, instead of being treated like extraordinarily dense sheep.

So go for it Kade. Encourage the oldies. For a start, the SKIers (Spending the Kids’ Inheritance) crowd are not as impecunious as the youngsters and they are far less likely to get blind drunk and abusive. You also solve at least part of your problem with the late-night club scene, because they’re all in bed by the time the clubs open.

By all means fix the garbage problem and the dirty beaches – that’s for the benefit of the whole society here. But don’t try to lure oldies with the promise of vastly improved infrastructure. Not only can Bali not afford the broad boulevards, wide footpaths, parks and proliferating malls of places like Singapore, those free-spirited older tourists who come to Bali probably don’t really want them anyway. Some might even be making up for missing the hippy trail experience in their youth, and are making up for it now.

Bali is still a frontier in a way – a place where you can survive on your wits, enjoy the local culture, learn the rudiments of a different language, interact with a wide variety of interesting characters, dodge traffic and just go with the chaotic flow of life here.

And if any of the older tourists that you attract with your campaign are unhappy with the unordered, unpredictable rhythm of Bali life, the answer is simple. Send them to Singapore.

I’ll bet they come back.

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Crooked Money-Changers In The Island Of Temples

February 22, 2012

I have just read a fascinating report from the State News Agency Antara, which warns that up to 40% of Bali’s 146 money-changers are operating illegally. This is shocking news – not because of the number of dishonest foreign exchange places, but because Antara seems to believe that there are only 146 money-changers in Bali.

Legian alone probably has 146, and most likely a lot more. Seminyak has hundreds. Kuta, that bastion of ethical trade and commerce, may well have thousands. Every street, every lane, every seething market zone with more than twenty kiosks is festooned with those ubiquitous boards: “Authorised Money Changer. No Commission.” The rates look attractive, but only if you actually get them. And the “authorisation” has most likely been issued by the operator’s cousin, not by any known bank.

The reality is that there are not 146 money-changers in Bali; there are thousands. And the registered, legitimate ones – 88 of them, according to Antara, are far outnumbered by the thieving rat-bags who live off gullible tourists, robbing them senseless and giving Bali a bad name. This would make the real percentage of illegal places closer to 95%.

Just about every first-timer gets stung. You suddenly realise you’ve spent most of your rupiah on T-shirts, bling, cheap massage and cooling beverages, and start looking around for someone to change 50 or 100 dollars so you can continue the spending spree. You see the sign – it says “Authorised”, so it must be legal. In fact, they don’t even charge commission. What nice people! Even the tout drumming up business outside, sincerity oozing from every pore, solemnly declares, “No rip-off!” in earnest tones. And the rate – why, it’s much better than that fancy place your friends recommended!

So in you go, escorted at close quarters by the tout, only to end up jammed up against a tall counter, the top of which comes up to your neck. Behind it is an unctuous smile attached to a person of dubious integrity, who immediately begins the process of cunningly getting as much from you as he can, while giving you as little as possible in return.

He asks how much you want to exchange, you tell him, he pecks on a calculator and displays a figure. For those unfamiliar with the vast number of zeros in Indonesian currency, this can be terminally confusing. He keeps up a high-speed patter designed to distract you from the discrepancy between what you see on his calculator and the rate posted outside on his board. If there is also a rate chart inside, it will often show a different rate to confuse you. If you happen to have a modicum of mathematical ability, you soon realise that the amount shown on his calculator is just plain wrong.

That’s because his calculator commences the calculation with a pre-set bias – and believe me, it’s not in your favour. Should you do the unthinkable and produce your own calculator, he will look at your result with utter shock and horror, apologise profusely, and proceed to thump and shake his “faulty” calculator, blaming its ‘incorrect’ result on the manufacturer, bad batteries and its advanced age. But the calculator trick is only Phase One of the con in these places.

Phase Two is a complex ritual which commences after the actual amount is finally agreed upon. The man takes your money and starts an intricate game of banknote-shuffling  behind the high counter, during which he calls out a running total in hundreds, meaning hundreds of thousands. This is designed to both confuse you and lull you into a false sense of security. Meanwhile, his accomplice, the tout, stands uncomfortably close behind you, so you have to turn around to answer, and engages you in an endless stream of questions.

These continue unabated as the money-changer suddenly slaps down a huge heap of mixed denomination bills on the counter and starts counting them out into piles, calling out the amounts. It’s during this part that tens might miraculously transform into hundreds, at least verbally. If you show the slightest sign of actually following the transaction, the accomplice will distract you with a very personal question accompanied by a friendly dig in the ribs. If this action causes you to take your eyes off the money for a spilt second, some of it disappears behind the counter. No, actually, a lot of it disappears behind the counter, typically between 200,000 and 400,000 in an exchange totalling perhaps 960,000.

By this stage, if you are the average first-timer, you are so confused by the unfamiliar money, the endless chatter, the unwelcome jostling and the oppressive heat that you tend to take the money and run. After all, you saw the entire amount being counted out in front of you, right? Wrong.

If your face betrays any sign of suspicion, the purveyor of dodgy rupiah immediately tries to disarm you by asking, no, insisting that you count out the money yourself. Which of course, you try to do on the only space available – the counter-top. Another barrage of questions and assorted distractions follows, particularly when you discover a discrepancy. Standard operating procedure at this point is for the con-man to say, “This can’t be right. Let me count it again.”

He then quickly picks up the money and arranges it into one pile again, at which point he expertly  ‘fumbles’ and drops some of the stack behind the counter. Amidst profuse apologies, he retrieves both the dropped money and the previously stolen stash, counts it all out again – correctly this time – and gives it back to you to count again.

After you laboriously count out all the small bills and are finally convinced you have it right, he will grab the money  in a lightning-fast move “to stack it for you” as the tout behind you distracts you once more. Needless to say, a goodly portion of your money disappears behind the counter again in a sleight-of-hand manoeuvre that is very difficult to see. Result – you are badly out of pocket.

So why do visitors even use these dubious places? Convenience is one reason – why walk to a legitimate money changer in Bali’s heat, when hey – there’s one right here! The other reason is simply greed, together with an inability to perform the simplest arithmetical computation. A rate of 9,600 looks good compared to the 9,450 offered at a ‘real’ place. But if you’re changing $100, this translates to a ‘saving’ of 15,000 rupiah, worth about $1.60 AUD.

At legitimate places – such as those registered by the Association of the Foreign Exchange Dealers (APVA), you get low counters, money counted out in front of you in high denomination bills, plenty of time to count it again yourself without harassment, a receipt, and friendly, professional staff.

And the rip-off places? Well, as you can see, they’re very different. After a few years of living here, I went back to one of these dodgy places just to see whether I could outsmart the guy and make a whole extra 15,000 rupiah. I changed $100, watched him like a hawk, called him on every trick, and finally counted out the money into the hands of my own accomplice without letting the shonk anywhere near it.

The previously friendly money-changer stared at me aggressively, thrust back my $100, snatched the stack of grubby rupiah from my friend’s hand, and snarled, “You fuck off. Not come back.”

Don’t worry mate, I won’t.

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Puzzling Packaging Of Pies And Other Palatable Products

November 20, 2011

Buying food in Bali is an adventure. I’m not talking about those imported food and beverage items that are now subject to usurious taxes and duties imposed by the perennially greedy and terminally  myopic dunderheads in Jakarta. I can’t afford those now anyway. And even if I could, I would still flatly refuse to buy them, simply to prevent the government from gouging us for every single rupiah they can get their greedy paws on.

No, I’m talking about local supermarket products, the stuff that is produced or packaged locally, doesn’t attract the horrifically business-unfriendly government imposts, and is therefore relatively affordable. The trouble is, the way these things are packaged is quirky at best, often misleading, and downright hostile to the consumer at worst.

A high-end Deli in Seminyak sells a good quality ice-cream in fairly small tubs. The size is perfect for those of us who like to fool ourselves that not buying a two-litre container will force us to reduce our portion size, thereby slowing down the process of waist expansion. The strategy works, but not for the reason you might think. It works because you can’t get the lid off. Because of either appallingly bad design, or because Weight Watchers have paid the company to do so, the lid has no known method of removal. It can not be twisted off. It can not be pried off. It has no tear-off strips which might free some obscure mechanism to unlock it.

I tried screwdrivers, pliers and chisels to no avail. I tried clamping the lid while exerting maximum torsional force of the body of the thing. I tried running hot water over the lid to free a possible frozen thread, which turned out not to exist anyway. In desperation, I cut the lid off with a Stanley knife, thereby rendering it useless for resealing. I couldn’t even eat the contents, because by the time I had finished opening it, the damned ice-cream had all melted.

And have you noticed that toilet paper rolls have shrunk in overall size in the past year? Not only that, they are now wound on cardboard cores of much larger diameter. The formulation of the glue that sticks the first layer to the roll has changed too. It’s now a watery goop that penetrates twenty layers into the roll, making the first few metres useless. To hell with it – I’m going native. Stay away from my left hand.

Free SalmonellaDon’t worry about catching any disease from me though. You can get those for nothing from local eggs, the packaging for which has been obviously designed by someone whose native language isn’t English. Emblazoned on the carton is a marketing slogan, proudly stating, “Free Salmonella!” “Free E.coli!”
At least we don’t have to pay for the bacteria here.

More strife results from local tins of sardines not having a pull tab. Inconvenient, but not really a problem if you have a can opener. You have to understand that locally-made can openers have cutting components with the tensile strength of mie goreng, but that’s not the real problem. The cans you want to open often have a top rim which is higher than the depth of the cutter, so it doesn’t reach the lid anyway. I am so sick of chewing cans open that I have given up sardines.

Here’s a pro tip for you. Local packets of frozen bakso balls need care in defrosting if you are in the habit of using a microwave. Nestling amongst the meatballs – and hidden inside the opaque plastic packaging – are several sealed plastic sachets of sauces. Unfortunately there are also two foil packets of dried spices. Foil isn’t exactly microwave-friendly. Not only do the sauce sachets explode, but the hidden foil packets create a pyrotechnic display inside the oven that would be quite spectacular if it wasn’t so scary, especially at night.

Then there is the packaging of local pies. My inner bogan sometimes requires to be fed a pie. Not those awful designer pies that have replaced the real thing, but a good old-fashioned Four’n’Twenty-style Aussie pie. I don’t care if they aren’t nutritious, or are out of style – I sometimes just want a pie. Recently, I discovered that my favorite coffee shop, (which has inexplicably re-named itself after a mixture of beer and lemonade) stocks Aussie pies. I was in heaven, particularly when the owner said he was willing to sell me some of his frozen stock.

So here I am, sitting at home on a Saturday night. Mouse in hand, my eyes are glued to the computer screen. Outside in the real world, hordes of socially-addicted Bali glitterati swan around the bars, restaurants and clubs while the entourages of the visiting elites speed down temporarily empty streets. The peasants, of course, gridlocked and muttering, are forced to wait out of sight and out of mind. Inside my comfortable villa oasis, which some unkindly refer to as my “rut”, my writing binge has made me feel peckish. Inexorably, I am drawn by the siren song of the pie waiting in my freezer.

It sits in its plastic wrapper, beckoning. The bold legend  says “Aussie Meat Pie – Original Taste”. Smaller type betrays its origins as a local product, but no matter. I reverently put it in the microwave, ignoring the warning  that says: “Remove from packaging before heating”. Ha! I’m not stupid. As an experienced pie-warmer, I know that you always leave a pie in its bag for heating. You can’t fool me.

The oven dings, and I reach eagerly for my pie. It is no longer a pie. It turns out that I am stupid; unlike every other pie in known space, the packaging for a Bali pie is apparently made from shrink-wrap plastic which contracts to a third of its original size, but only along one axis. I am staring at a pulsating sausage, ready to explode and coat me with boiling beef shrapnel. With the studied focus of a bomb-disposal sapper, I extract the deformed thing from the oven and eventually manage to remove it without harm to myself or the banjar.

Then I discover that I have no tomato sauce. No tomato sauce! A pie without tomato sauce is like Legian street without traffic, a restaurant meal without a grimy urchin thrusting leather thongs at you, or a line of traffic without a suicidal local attempting to pass everyone on a blind corner. In other words, it’s utterly inconceivable. The chilli sauce I am forced to use is an extremely poor substitute.

But fortunately, because it takes me five minutes of frustration to work out how to get the weirdly-designed top off, it makes me completely forget about the shrinking pie bag fiasco. Doesn’t take much to keep me happy in Bali.

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Fighting The Fear Factor – Phobias In Paradise

November 7, 2011

So I’m taking a short-cut home one night after a late dinner, and turn the bike into a somewhat dark lane in Seminyak . It’s around midnight, and my headlight illuminates a young woman standing stock-still in the centre of the road. She has long black hair covering most of her face, which is slightly averted, but I sense that she is staring straight at me. Her dress is of pure white and imbued with a dazzling intensity. It reaches down to the ground, seeming to blend seamlessly into the very cobblestones  of the lane.  Her garment shimmers and undulates like sunlight on the top of a cloud. Although she is clearly female, not a single detail of the contours of her body is visible.

Right, I think – another lost Eat, Pray, Love acolyte wandering the streets of Bali, looking for salvation, or enlightenment, or … something. Yet she doesn’t seem to have that New Age look about her, and she’s a hell of a long way from Ubud. In fact, in the two seconds it takes me to draw abreast of her, I decide that she’s quite creepy and I ride past without pausing. I feel an intense psychic pressure boring into the back of my skull and write it off as the effect of too many scotches at dinner.

“You are lucky you are not dead! It was a Kuntilanak!” says a shocked local friend the next day. Another one, the horror evident on her face, says, “A Pontianak! You met a Pontianak! She would have ripped out your belly if you had stopped!” It turns out that those who believe in Indonesian ghosts apparently have a overwhelming fear of these apparitions. Reputedly women who have died in childbirth and become ‘undead’, they terrorize villages as they seek revenge. Legend has it that they target passing men. Lucky she wasn’t on a motorbike.

Not being a believer in ghosts, I still think she was just a particularly scary Gilbertine. But the experience did serve to remind me that I’ve met many people here who have some pretty powerful fears and phobias. Some, like the fear of snakes, wasps or bees are understandable, related as they are to self-preservation and avoidance of pain or anaphylactic shock. Some are cultural, like the fear of dogs, or the reaction of small children to Ogoh-ogohs, those huge Balinese monsters of legend.

Likewise with the pervasive fear of the dark displayed by many locals. I had a live-in pembantu who kept her room light on all night. Any power outage would result in screams of fear until she found her flash-light to ward off the terrifying dark. My villa is a haven of relative silence – but the lack of community noise scares some locals who have told me, “I could not live here. It is too quiet – I would be afraid.” They must be glad Nyepi Day comes only once a year.

But other phobias are beyond my ken to grasp, although obviously very powerful for those so afflicted. I think spiders are cute, but I have a friend who lapses into a catatonic trance at the mere sight of one. It takes at least thirty minutes before he is even capable of speech. I love storms – the more lightning, the better – but I know people who cower in locked rooms at the first distant peal of thunder. I know a fearless and adventurous woman who is terrified of mice. A single rodent glimpsed in her peripheral vision will cause her to execute a leap on to a chair – from a standing start – that would be the envy of many Olympians. She flatly refuses to come down until the offending animal has died of old age.

The teenage daughter of a friend is a spectacularly confident young lady, über-cool and totally together – until a butterfly flies towards her. Then it’s bedlam of monumental proportions as she tries to to scale barbed-wire fences and run through masonry walls to put some distance between her and the attacking lepidopteran.

Yet another educated, confident and otherwise secure person of my acquaintance appears to be scared of nothing on the planet. She happily jumps off tall towers, only prevented from dashing her brains out on the ground by a large rubber band attached to her leg. She climbs ridiculously steep and rocky mountains in the dark, and can rappel like a commando. Most impressive of all, she can negotiate Jakarta traffic with equanimity. But the sight of a millipede, even one that has been dead for six months, will provoke a panic attack that only two hours of meditation and a cylinder of pure oxygen can assuage.

I do sympathise though, I really do. I know that aversions and phobias can be extremely uncomfortable, but I also know that repeated exposure to the offending stimulus can do much to habituate the sufferer. It worked for me – my aversion to Bintang singlets was so debilitating that I was actually forgetting to enjoy Bali. But continual exposure to these disturbing garments – impossible to avoid in much of South Bali – has de-sensitised me to the point where I can now see one without flinching. Much.

Who knows? The technique might work for ghosts, snakes, spiders, mice, millipedes and butterflies too. At least it would be nice to see my fearful friends relax a little.

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How To Stave Off Total Gridlock In Bali

June 29, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Sate Was Flaming Good

May 15, 2011

A large part of Bali humour tends towards the physical, sometimes bordering on slapstick. If someone gets slightly hurt, or at least discomfited, it’s even better. Any event that causes someone to be brought down a peg or two triggers an unseemly display of mirth from the locals. It really doesn’t seem to matter whether the butt of the joke is a local or a bule – everyone is fair game.

Ever tripped on one of those lethal Bali footpath bumps and sprawled in a painfully undignified heap into a nest of parked motorbikes? The rapidly glued-on masks of concern will be replaced by barely muffled chortling and streaming eyes as soon as your back is turned.

Ever ridden your bike through an innocent-looking puddle during a rainstorm? You know the ones – the mantraps that conceal half-metre deep sink-holes into which you and your steed suddenly plunge. You get thoroughly soaked if you’re lucky, and moderately contused if you’re not. If you have the presence of mind to look around after the event, chances are you will observe that you have become the object of borderline-enuretic peals of laughter from spectating locals. They even drag benches to the best viewing spots to ensure that not a single dunking is missed.

And so it happened that I was sitting on the porch of a little bar in Legian Street one evening. On the other side of the street was an alcove of sorts, containing some tiny shops and an open-air stall manned by a purveyor of fine sates. A steady stream of locals was arriving and ordering their food. The sates were being cooked over a charcoal brazier, which required a careful monitoring and maintenance regimen to get the flames exactly right. The young gentleman involved in this process was attired in the usual Bali youth garb – an oversized tee-shirt and a huge pair of mid-calf pants of a style that only starts moving forward after their inhabitant has taken several steps.

As he was engaged in vigorous fanning of the coals with a large piece of cardboard, his attention was momentarily distracted by a customer who began pointing behind him and obviously asking a series of complicated questions. As he looked away from the flames to answer, for some reason the frequency and amplitude of his cardboard oscillations increased. This caused his tee-shirt to billow like a skirt on a motorbike and the flames to shoot higher. Naturally, he promptly caught fire.

The waiting customers, of course, collapsed in gales of laughter as the bottom of his shirt flared, watching him beat at the flames with his bare hands. Only one had the presence of mind to grab a bottle of water from the wares he had for sale, and pour it on his shirt. The others, on the ground by now, convulsing in fits of shrieking joy, just ribbed him mercilessly. And me? Mr. Compassion? I watched all this from across the street, laughing like a drain and thinking it was better than any sinetron I’ve seen in Bali.

So maybe I’ve been here for too long. Maybe my erstwhile caring demeanour is being replaced by a Bali-like appreciation of farce, slapstick and physical humour. I now find things like this quite funny – as long as they don’t happen to me, of course.

The sting in this little tale? As I was leaving the scene, still chuckling, the sate vendor was engaged in an argument with the guy who saved him from self-immolation. Apparently he was insisting that the Good Samaritan pay for the bottle of water he used to douse the sizzling sate man …