Those Good Old Boys in Brown

By William J. Furney

The Bali Times

You’re under arrest!” shouted the policeman, rushing to snare me as I walked into the foreigner office of the drivers’ licensing center in Kerobokan.

Unfazed, I greeted this trickster that I’ve known for some time but it wasn’t long before he spoke his mind: “Money.”

“How much?”

“Rp250,000 (US$23) last time to extend.”

“No, it was Rp200,000,” I said, even though he was right (though in the wrong).

“OK, Rp200,000.” And off he went with a band of foreigners on an odyssey to get all accredited for the unaccredited roads of Bali.

So I slapped down the cash with a mighty bash and took a seat beside a policeman who was beat.

“Fill out this form,” said he, “I’m too tired.”

“May I smoke?” he added, removing a kretek from a pack.


And with a chuckle he lit up, sat back and repeated, “So tired…”

After paying Sloth three times the law-mandated amount to extend a driving license, I also did his job for him. What a life.

* * * * *

Squashed into this tiny box of an office are three Japanese women and their Indonesian guide; the women alternate between dozing and attempting yoga moves in their chairs. In their own human-origami world, they aren’t shy. The guide goes out and returns with sugary fried snacks and drinks, including for Sloth, in the hopes the greasy morsels will grease the police wheels, which so far have failed to turn even one revolution.

While I’m waiting and waiting and on the phone, a young European man and woman come in and sit and take up the waiting game. Call over, I’m about to plug in to tunes when the skinny lad, with a deeply leathery tan, asks where the police officers are. I tell him they’re probably at lunch, as it’s that time of day, and the girl – in contrast, pasty-faced – asks how long it will take to get a license. “About three hours,” I tell her. But play by the rules – the unofficial rules – and it could be much less.

Earlier another European couple were in and seeking a year-long license. “You must have KITAS,” Sloth told them, ever lethargically, before slumping back in his aged chair.

“What’s that?”

Their guide bungled an explanation that left the tourists perplexed.

“A work and residency permit,” I offered.

“How do we get one of those?”

Oh, dear.

* * * * *

Finally Trickster makes a reappearance and fobs off the others and escorts me down to the steaming cattle crush where chaos rules and you need the stamina of an elephant before you emerge with a piece of laminated plastic that allows you to drive.

How reliving, then, to carry a report in last week’s edition on police streamlining the entire process, or at least attempting to, starting with issuing badges to those entering so that “agents” – who had long since done the biz on behalf of frazzle-evading clients – can not get through.

“People can’t use agents anymore because only they can receive a badge and enter the processing room,” Traffic Unit chief Waluya said. And so far, that’s it – apart from cracking down on self-inflicted high-rollers who make their own, customized number plates (just how many “DK 1”s can there be?).

Meanwhile, upstairs in the foreigner con(trol) room, it’s business as usual, and the pace is brisk. But to expedite, are you willing to pay the higher price?

There are some among us who don’t bother at all with officialdom, deeming whatever happens on the streets will be; read: if you’re going to be stopped by the boys in brown, they’ll find something wrong, no matter how licensed-up you are, and it’s makes for a far easier life to just pay an on-the-spot “fine.”

This, I confess, was my reason for extending my license this day, as I had previously been stopped and informed (as I knew) that it had expired, and the good officer had directed me to come off the road, to a secluded spot at the side of his car, where we could “discuss” it.

But I knew the shakedown, and this time stubbornly stayed put. And so he was forced to write me up, to appear in court to answer my misdemeanor – which transpired into someone else going there, paying a Rp20,000 fine before the hearing (which never happened) and another Rp20,000 thereafter and retrieving my vehicle documents. It was all a money-extracting charade.

But good citizen that I am, with that timely reminder from the police, I duly embarked on my annual pilgrimage for another 12-month extension (Indonesians get five years).

I had known the grimy score, and was willing to pay more, for towards the end of the laborious process, I had been thrust into a molten sea of ravenous license-seekers, and was plucked from my rudderless meanderings by Trickster, who commandeered a terminal and in a flash had me fingerprinted and snapped, mere minutes later my name called and a shiny new license handed over.

Now that’s service, with a great big greasy smile.

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