Once in a Bali Lifetime: (No) Power to the People
By William J. Furney
The Bali Times
I’m writing this on my phone, which graciously has an ample keypad and Word, during yet another hours-long nighttime blackout in Canggu, the only sound that of screeching crickets outside and the occasional motorbike spluttering by, and no letup from the deep tropical heat that has this year severely and unseasonably intensified during the transition to the rainy season.
Calls to the PLN power company drop off, due, I assume, to a flood of irate callers, like myself, enquiring what this latest outage is about and when electricity will be restored.
And so I sit, and wait. And wait. For power that is not coming back anytime soon.
It’s an ongoing travesty for Bali, this galling power-supply flux. We depend on Java stations for much of our electricity , and even then, we’re at the mercy of nature.
When the rai y season made a faux appearance a few weeks ago, with drowning showers that caused havoc island-wide, naturally our electricity ran for shelter and just gave up straight away, deeming itself no match for precipitous precipitation.
But the fleeting, sporadic rains have largely gone –not for long – and now, tonight, parched, we’re left high and dry all over again.
It’s all a bit too much.
As produce spoils in the fridge, we’re not reassured by a power firm that claims to “care,” according to signage on its vehicles. There will be no reduction in our monthly bills, no mea culpas or promises it won’t happen again, at least for so long.
Jakarta generator firms know the score, and they’re hoping to score. One runs adverts in this newspaper, offering to dispel the dank gloom with its machines, powered by gas. But not everyone can afford the high price.
Quite how this island can internationally progress with this lack of basic facility is anyone’s guess. How can we hope to move forward when we’re saddled with a state power company that won’t move forward? We’re living in Dickensenian times – candles and oil lamps at the ready!
Two mornings ago at my children’s school, a brief power outage was swiftly followed by a brief power surge that fried a computer in my young son’s class and send a toxic pall wafting outside.
Still, do we really think we’re entitled to top-level service – of any kind – even without a smile? In Bali, some do it so well; many others haven’t a clue. And a large swathe of the population appears indifferent.
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With a constellation of tiny twinkling lights in the soaring ceiling, Telkomsel’s sparkling headquarters in Denpasar seems at direct odds with its pliable customers that are sprawled over neatly arranged seats that look, like the rest of this cellular set, as though they have come direct from a corporate catalogue.
So smart are the young and well-pressed staff at this pinnacle of customer service – that’s right, in Bali – and so expert are they in their knowledge of all things mobile, from cellphones to 3G internet, that you’d be forgiven for thinking you had just landed in Singapore.
(Not surprising, then, that SingTel owns a large chunk of Telkomsel, which, due to anti-monopoly legislation, it has been forced to divest.)
But as I look around at people awaiting this stellar service – young lads and girls, in shorts and T-shirts, and a pair in suits, the occasional middle-aged man – they would just as happily be lined up in a fusty old office building somewhere in the back of beyond. For as I look around, they are so indifferent to the offerings that for most, their knees are almost on the ground, their shoulders rolling off the seats.
On the way here from Canggu, there were a great many traffic violations – mainly braindead motorcyclists running red lights and almost causing accidents with oncoming vehicles. Someone, an Indonesian professional, told me recently that this country will not progress until its people learn some semblance of discipline, and she’s right. But while the government flailingly tries to instill some sense of order, chiefly with lukewarm signage and associated slogans, it’s the private sector that’s turning the country around, as is so often the case here, not least with the airline sector.
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Meanwhile, as reported last week, just as I thought I had my satellite TV woes sorted out, it all implodes again, though mercifully just after Barak Obama’s election. I had asked the Indovision company in Jakarta, now my sole provider, after its rival Astro was forced to close, for an updated billing statement, after weeks of no service. They dutifully replied, some days later, to say they were working on it, would send soon my email and to “please wait.”
Then they cut me off.
Finally, someone picks up at PLN, and in singsong customer-service tones tells me tonight’s outage is due to a station problem somewhere in Bali and that it should be restored “soon.”