Letter from Bali – XVII
I’ve just gone through a period, actually I’m not entirely sure whether it is finished yet, when new things happen. Strange things. You know how it goes… you spend months (years?) with the same old, same old, washing back and forward over you like you’ve been staked out in the surf and then… wham!… all new and weird.
These last few weeks have been full of firsts, and so is this instalment of Letter from Bali.
Arguably it is one of the worst jobs in the world: The Indonesian policeman. Black pants and boots when every other sod is in shorts and flip flops, their pollution filtering mustachios are unfashionable, their hats are less than serious. Every day they brave accident, injury and death from scooter madness and exhaust and for what? For what? To keep the streets safe for you and I? Ok, for I?
And what do they get for their work? A big thank you? No no, see you later officer. A big pension pot? Consider inflation Mr. policeman. A solid take home wage? Eight bucks a day is what they get, the guys with guns! No no, I don’t think so. I’ll tell you why they do it, why they do this job, how they get out of bed every morning… they do this job for love! OK, love and community spirit. Well… love, community spirit and the whitey boolay idiot who just turned down that one way street.
Let me be clear. For the three million Balinese who drive scooters there is no such thing as a one way system. For cars maybe, but scooters?… no. Eight dollars a day isn’t going to keep your wife happy though, so something will have to be done. Me, it turns out.
It goes something like this, every boolay gets waved down while every Bali chappy whizzes by, regardless of direction. The gentleman with the gun at first seems despondent that I have a) a helmet, b) a license, c) a registration. But never underestimate the cunning of the Balinese bureaucrat, I soon join a line of touristimos outside the sergeant’s desk, one he’s set up on the pavement in the shade of a convenient tree.
“Do you read Indonesian, sir?” The sergeant is extremely polite. He has a tray of gold filled teeth that he flashes, an experienced hand at this game. Lambs to the slaughter are we. If you happened to miss that elective course in Polynesian dialects then the sergeant dutifully produces a telephone directory sized manual of gibberish. It is likely a television parts catalogue or a boat auction manifest, or a list of that evenings movies culled from Denpasar Post. It doesn’t matter so long as it provides him with a list of ridiculously large numbers down the right hand side and he can pass it off as a Criminal Code book. His finger meanders up and down the number column until it lands on something fresh and appealing.
“This is what you must pay if you go to court, sir.” I take a look. ‘2100, Screen 2’.
“2100… is that all?”
“Million!” he says with zeal. “2100 million rupees!” And his teeth sparkle like a disco ball. But we both know what this is all about. The rate is 50,000. It always is, one blue one, almost six bucks. ‘Three boolays a day keeps the doctor away’ is the ancient Balinese backhander proverb. The sergeant gets three shares, the three officers with him get one share apiece. I imagine if there is a guy with a peg leg and a parrot running the show from the bar across the street he’ll be in it for six shares of whatever comes past that day… old rackets die hard.
I’m in the wrong today, and they’ve got me. The fact that Balinese children of eight are zipping past me (going the wrong way!) and waving to me without their helmets on rubs salt into the wound but they know they are immune, they don’t have any money, so what would be the point in stopping them?
I’m galled though. I have to admit it, I’m galled. As he takes my shakedown cherry I’m annoyed at myself because I got lazy. You know the shakedown is coming so you know to keep a blue fifty in with your papers. Me? It has been 228 days since I arrived and I have never been collared yet. I’d grown slack and taken my blue fifty for groceries and now I have to dive into my wallet where only red bills survive… hundred thousand’s! I ask the sergeant for change. Is it polite to ask for change when you are bribing a policeman? Whatever the answer his English isn’t good enough to let me know, not now it’s not. And when I leave? Yes, when I leave I’m sent on my way against the one way! Don’t want me warning anyone. So ticket free and without a care in the world I rejoin the madness, just like everybody else.
First (and last) bowl of extra crunchy Bali granola
I’m taking care of myself, as well as these things go. As reported earlier in the Yoga supplement I now can touch my toes (and thankfully I did have my wallet so didn’t need to prove that to the police officer). I’ve gone further still with my bending. I can now put my knuckles to the floor which is as flexible as I’ve been since the womb. You know, in some places you can’t say things like that without it coming out wrong… I hope this isn’t one of them. Anyway. Back to the story. So I’m trying to eat OK as part of taking care of myself, that’s the point I’m trying to make. OK is good enough, it doesn’t have to be great – no wheatgerm casserole for me thank you very much, but I’m doing my best. You might understand better if you know where I’m coming from.
This is where I’m coming from. A country proud to present breakfast sausage made out of fizzy pop. This is what I’m up against. First the deep fried Mars bar and now this. No thank you, not me. Well maybe just the one to try it? I’m on the up and up mostly. Or I was.
Bali granola is lovely, delicious, crunchy and good for you. I’ve been eating it for six months until I found the new protein supplement they’ve been putting into it. Can you find it quicker than I did, reader?
No? Still not there? Look a little closer, perhaps? Prod around with your tongue. Let me give you a little help if you haven’t swallowed it yet. Click on the picture for a better view.
I don’t know if it snuck in the bag after it left the factory or not. I don’t know if it hatched from an egg in there or nipped in, unbidden and mature, two seconds before I poured the milk and drowned it. I really don’t give a fuck. It happened two weeks ago and makes it a first time I’ve chewed on a cockroach. Cockroach! These thoughts can keep you awake at night. I still haven’t found the other antenna.
Not a first in itself but instrumental in delivering one:
Noun – A day of festivity or recreation when no work is done.
Last week was the kids spring break. (We’re in the southern hemisphere! Go figure that one out). How does one take a holiday from a holiday? Quite easily it turns out!
From our house it’s a one hour ride to the small port of Padang Bai on Bali’s eastern coast. There, if you are lucky enough to be ladened with doubloons or coin of exchange you can win passage on the 1200hp flying machines they call ‘tourist ferry’. At sixty bucks return per person it is fifteen times the price of the Indonesian state ferry but a) it takes 1.5 hours instead of 6 and b) it comes with life jackets to help prevent dying. These boats are full of tourists and the occasional Balinese in black boots showing gold filled teeth.
The island of Lombok is Bali’s neighbour, it is moslem, it has a honking big volcano, lovely beaches and it is dirt poor. The smaller islands around Lombok are all called ‘Gili’ in the local patois and there are a triumvirate of beauties in the NW which was our destination, Gili Trawangawangawanagan held our hotel reservation.
The charm of this exploitation? Obvious! No cars allowed, no scooters, no trucks of anykind. No dogs, only cats of which a genetic trait is common, similar to the Manx in the Isle of Man, that crop their tails short. Maybe you don’t care for cats – in which case you don’t give a shite. But consider this… because of the cats there are few rats! See how it works? Win win win! The island is criss crossed with pathways wide only for a horse and cart or a bicycle (the transport of choice). Bridleways weave through coconut plantations in which cows and goats and chickens freely wander as you pedal by, your fins in your basket, your bottled water at your side. Coral reefs girdle the whole, waves breaking over tumble into the lagoon. Here, protected, children can swim safely and the snorkelling is divine. Watch the coral and schools of fish and the odd turtle before you retire to the bar. It’s a rough life. Did I say retire to the bar?
First time I vomited in my snorkel
That didn’t sound quite right. It gives the veneer of plausibility to the suggestion that I have vomited in someone else’s snorkel already and I need to make the distinction… which I gratefully don’t and hope I never shall! As experiences go I don’t recommend this one. I may still be hungover today. The novelty of certain experiences is soon outweighed by the mechanical challenges to your not drowning. The fish, at least, found it pleasantly amusing.
Despite my travails I’d recommend the destination to anyone, the place is quite splendid. Make the Gili’s a first for yourself if ever you can, keep a spare 50,000 note in your pocket at all time, stick to toast and jam, and if you are really lucky and ask nicely, I’ll even let you borrow my mask.