…Unless You’re Balinese

By Amy Chavez
For The Bali Times

You may have heard that you cannot buy property in Bali unless you are Balinese. This is true. But there are loopholes that allow you to get around it. Yet there are many other more basic things in Bali that are not so easy to get around. For example, you will not be able to get away with riding a motorbike without a helmet because the police will surely pull you over. Unless you’re Balinese. Then the policeman will look the other way. After all, not all Balinese people can afford to buy a helmet. Us tourists and expats, however, all can.

Because of economic necessity, many things that would be unacceptable in our own countries are tolerated here in Bali. If you’re Balinese.

For example, a motorbike is built for a maximum of two people to ride and is not a Winnebago for the whole family to live in, or on. Unless you’re Balinese, in which it is built for four: mother, father, first-born child in front holding on to the handlebars and a baby sandwiched between the parents (sleeping through exhaust fumes and deafening noise in the blazing hot sun while wearing a knit hat on its head).

Speaking of hats, in a climate as warm as Bali’s, you’ll never need to wear a thick down jacket to keep you warm. Unless you’re Balinese, in which case you’ll wear a sweater under the down jacket as well. And if you’re still cold, you’ll wear the down jacket backwards, to combat wind-chill.

But as the weather never ever gets to the freezing point, it’s definitely not cold enough to ever need scarves and gloves. Well, not unless you’re Balinese, and surely want to wear gloves, long sleeves and an extra thick scarf for when the temperature dips to below 30 C.

In addition, nothing is considered too dangerous if you’re Balinese. Who in our countries would drive a pick-up truck stacked perilously high with furniture, and continue driving even after the tarp covering it had flown off and was barely hanging on by a rope, flapping wildly and endangering traffic in all directions? Or how about the guy on the back of a motorbike holding a large piece of plywood, battling to keep hold of it while it tries to take off in the wind? Or the father driving a motorbike with his 10-year-old son on the back who was holding his newly purchased bicycle upside down, across his lap and resting his chin on the saw-toothed gear?

In Bali, what’s so dangerous about that? We see these things every day. After all, you’re already on the Bypass, the most dangerous spot on the island. You expect it to be safe in there? Not if you’re Balinese.

But I think it’s fair enough to say that everyone should follow universal road rules. For example, stopping should never be allowed anywhere in the middle of heavy traffic. Unless you’re a Balinese taxi or bemo driver or food vendor. Food carts may take up to half a lane, on the off-chance someone would like a little extra car exhaust with their order of fried bananas.

If you are a child riding your bicycle on the way home from school, you should ride single file and not take up an entire lane of traffic. Well, not unless you’re Balinese, and friendship is prized over individual single-file style. After all, how can you chat about what happened at school among the din of all those cars speeding by?

And no one should ever drive their motorbike the wrong way up a one-way street. Unless you’re Balinese, in which geometry is always favored: the closest distance between two points is straight up a one-way street.

And never, ever drive across the solid white line in the middle of the road, and then come back, do the dotsy doh and swing your partner round and round. Unless you’re Balinese, and it’s considered skilled driving.

And absolutely never, never ride a motorbike sitting backwards, blindfolded, going the wrong way on a one-way street, at peak traffic time. Unless of course, you’re Balinese.

Amy Chavez, who yearns to be reincarnated as a Balinese, is at amychavez2000@yahoo.com.

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