Posts Tagged ‘thugs’

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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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Bali Bogans Are Not Always Foreign Imports

December 11, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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