Once in a Bali Lifetime: Gas Men (and Women)
By William J. Furney
The Bali Times
Cockiness is a preresiquite if you want to apply for a job flogging gas regulators under the guise of a safety inspector. I had three sets of such youngsters at my gate last week, a new frequency record.
Through the intercom I see their impish faces, noses pressed upwards towards the camera.
“Gas. We’re here to check your gas.”
“There’s no gas in this house,” I fib.
“So how do you cook?”
They’re not used to this insolence; it unsettles them.
Upstairs the gas regulator on the shower is newly broken and needs replacement, but still I don’t let them in. I’ve made that mistake once before.
“It’s damaged. You have to change it for a new one,” the gas kids told me as we stood in the kitchen staring at a perfectly flawless stove gas regulator and feed hose.
“Where is it damaged?”
“Inside. It’s very dangerous.”
“It doesn’t seem to be…”
“You need to change it and we have…,” the pimple-faced unofficial official in shirt and trousers and phony ID said, reaching into a bag, “a brand new one here.”
“Right. How much?”
“That’s four times the going rate.”
“You can’t be too careful when it comes to safety, and you need this.”
“No. I don’t.”
“Yes. You do.”
Who dreams up these things?
When a replacement Visa card arrived, I got a gift: a voucher for a liter bottle of cooking oil that I could redeem at any hypermart (that’s the all-lowercase name of the store). With two fresh signatures from bank executives, it looked the ticket. Until I realized that I only buy extra-virgin, and this was not, and there are no “hypermarkets” to my knowledge in Bali, only sprawled out across Jakarta. And to redeem my golden prize, I would have to make a minimum purchase of Rp299,000. For a bottle of low-grade grease-oil.
So I want to know what dumbbell dreamed up of this dimwitted promotion, and who in their right mind could get wound up by such an un-tempting lure.
As they say in Ireland, they’re gas men (oddly humorous).
As is the woman from the Culture and Tourism Ministry in Jakarta who’s called to my cellphone to ask if I’m attending a seminar in the capital on Monday – all expenses (plane, hotel) paid by the government. But it’s Saturday, and I can’t even contemplate juggling to make it. So I fob her off with some assurance I can’t quite recall now and think once again about the nature of Indonesian invitations to events and how the invites nearly always are sent mere days beforehand. Someone told me it’s because the invitees “won’t forget” about the occasion – as in wedding invites in the West sent out months in advance – but what if you can’t apportion the time due to lack of time?
Then there are those who rely on telepathy. “So I’ll see you tomorrow evening?” said a friend of an event I hadn’t even known was happening. “Oh, don’t worry about an invitation; I’ll put your name down at the door.”
In Jakarta, door-to-door salespeople sell stuff that’s useful: sets of kitchen knives are my favorite. Here in Bali, all I get is an endless stream of pretend-officials peddling gas regulators, and I can’t think of a more insane, or inane, job to have. However, in other neighborhoods, I’ve seen sellers meandering about burdened down by great big bags of clothes, shoes and outsized stuffed toys (not that I want any of that).
On the beach, no one sells anything I need: sun cream, buckets and spades, mojitos. I wish they were more entrepreneurial, rather than trying jadedly for the umpteenth time to persuade me to buy yet another silver Buddha or fruit bowl. I won’t entertain their woes. When they moan about a falloff in business, I tell them to diversify their product range – sound advice that invariably falls on clogged-up ears. There’s a guy on the beach beside my house who I see when I go out for a run in the late afternoon. He carries rolls of badly copied paintings under his arm, and when I get near he attempts to unfurl them but I just salute and keep on a-runnin. I think he’s delirious from the sun, as he seems to stagger around in concentric circles. Once, we spoke, and he griped about a lack of sales – on a barren stretch of sand popular with only a handful of die-hard surfers and the occasional jogger. I told him to move on, get a better patch – a life! That’s not harsh; it’s reality.
Meanwhile, I’m interrupted by the chime of the intercom and ear-shattering dogs’ barking.
“LPG,” says the lone youth, whose pixie features peering greedily into the camera seem familiar.
“No gas here,” I say.
“So you use electricity?”
They’re catching on.
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