Nov. 27-Dec. 3, 2009

Airport Shocker

Dear Sir

In the hope that someone will take an interest, I would like to tell the following story.

I arrived at Bali’s airport on Sunday afternoon (Nov. 15) with my lady friend after more than 30 hours of travelling. We were absolutely exhausted. An off-guard man approached me in the luggage hall, asking questions, checking my passport, identifying our suitcases, all in a most official and dominant manner.

He was dressed like an official with a kind of “badge” and I took him to be an official officer. He led me through Customs and on to the currency-exchange counter, telling me to change my money.

I said I did not want to as I thought I could use US dollars in Bali. He insisted I needed to change my money and I thought it wouldn’t make any difference. Therefore I changed $800 and was given seven piles of Rp100,000 notes and a few loose notes.

Just as I was reaching for my money, this man pointed at the desk and said: “Now you put two of those notes here,” pointing at the Rp100,000 (US$10) notes.

I said, “What for?” and he said, “You must pay.” At this point he was very aggressive, repeating both commands. Never having seen a banknote with so many zeros, I held two Rp100,000 notes to the currency buyer, asking him how much it was; but he would not answer. I repeated the question several times without getting an answer.

Then the “official” person demanding payment suddenly said, and his exact words were, “It’s only a few dollars.” I asked how few and he repeated, irritated: “It’s only few dollars.”

Since I wanted to get out of the threatening situation, I gave him the Rp200,000 just to get it over with.

But it was not over.

Now he pointed at the desk again, even more aggressive, demanding, in his exact words, “And now you give each of them the same,” pointing at porters who had grabbed our luggage. That’s when I realised they all wore the same kind of “badges.”

The situation was now even more threatening and I thought the only way out was to pay. It all cost me a total of Rp1.4 million ($140) and was not a nice start to a two-week Bali holiday.

I can live with the loss but I would have preferred an honest street robbery. What I find difficult to live with is having been “robbed” by what I felt were officially employed airport personnel. And what’s more important is the question of how many have been or will be “robbed” the same way.

It didn’t feel that this was an isolated incident – it was a well-rehearsed act.

Yours sincerely

Borje Sjoberg
Stockholm, Sweden

* * *

Electrifying Vistas

Dear Sir

A prominent ornithologist at the Bogor Institute of Agriculture raised a concern that the proposed Java-Bali electricity-supply transmission line might lead to increased poaching of the endangered Bali Starlings.

It was nice to read the reassurance from the PLN Bali general manager that this new power line will be along the periphery of the West Bali National Park and not affect the starlings. If the new power line is to closely follow the path of the current one, then there would seem to be no danger to the birds.

Power transmission lines are a perennial source of complaint and conflict between those who love the unspoiled countryside (the greenies) and the power authorities in many countries. I can recall the screams that echoed through the highlands of Scotland when the greenies of the day claimed the march of the pylons would desecrate the mountain scenery and disturb the wildlife.

There are similar protests now in parts of England, where some of the pristine countryside is threatened with skyline-piercing towers.  In Australia, the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority was often lobbied by the greenies to disguise their pylons by painting them green. In Switzerland many of the pylons have in fact been coloured green, but this does not offset the visual impact of the great yellow spheres attached to the cables to warn paragliders, low-flying aircraft and kindred spirits.

I do have a whinge about a PLN transmission-line project in Bali that has punctured the panorama at part of the River Saba valley. What used to be one of the prettier rivers, ricefield and forest views in Bali has become peppered with glistening pylons that will carry the new North-South transmission line from near Surabarata to near Sererit.

There is a lookout parking area near Busungbiu that is some 150 metres above the river and it is a favourite stopping spot with those travellers who venture to explore Bali west of Tabanan.

It will still remain a pretty spot, with the river winding down to the sea flanked by ricefields which merge into the forested mountains; however it has lost its photogenic charm.

When you consider the topography of this part of Bali, I do not think PLN could do much else but select the path through the Saba valley, but it is a pity that another lovely tourist vista has been downgraded.

Yours sincerely

James Dell-Robb
Jembrana, West Bali

* * *

Bombing Monument Peril

Dear Sir

It is interesting to note that Bali expects to attract 2.1 million tourists next year. However, with expectations come responsibilities and unless public amenities are improved, people may be turned off from visiting the island through word of mouth.

Besides sightseeing, shopping for souvenirs and clothes is a popular pastime of tourists, and tourists walk the streets of Kuta, Legian, Ubud, etc. to do this. But follow any tourist around and sooner or later you will hear them grumbling about the uneven streets, and the gaping holes that without caution could see a pedestrian swallowed up by a sewer and breaking a few bones.

The Bali bombing monument in Kuta is another disaster waiting to happen. Admittedly it is well-maintained and clean, but the fact that all but a narrow section of the steps leading up to the memorial wall is chained off prompts people to walk down the decorative ramp to the main street, instead of returning to the narrow gap in the chain barricade at the rear of the central part of the site.

At first glance, the ramp appears to be an access ramp for wheelchairs, but it is so steep that any person attempting to push a wheelchair up the ramp would either find it impossible or have the wheelchair run back over them. Anyone in a wheelchair attempting to exit the site via the ramp would no doubt pick up great speed due to the steepness and go flying onto the street in the path of traffic.

When I was there recently, a friend of mine assumed it was a ramp for wheelchairs and attempted to exit the site via the ramp. Due to the steepness, she stumbled and fell heavily, fracturing her wrist and a pelvic bone. She was in intense pain and is now confined to bed and a wheelchair for at least for a month. While helping my friend up and sitting her on the end the ramp’s balustrade so she could rest and gather her strength before being taken to the hospital, many people approached us. We continually warned people who were using the ramp of the danger but they continued to do so, and many struggled with the steep decline. Unsurprisingly there were tales of similar incidents, with one person relating how a child fell down the ramp and cracked open his forehead.

The nature of the ramp begs the question: What it is for? It could not possibly be for disabled people to use. In the one hour that I was there tending to my friend and arranging transportation to the hospital, umpteen people that used the ramp struggled and almost lost their footing

If the steps must be chained off – presumably to discourage people from sitting on them – then so too should the ramp so that nobody falls down it and breaks their neck.

More thought needs to be put into ensuring public safety, especially now that there is a public liability law. The majority of tourists – domestic and foreign – visit the Kuta bombing monument sooner or later and public safety at such a revered site should be a given.

Most tourist areas in Bali, and the rest of Indonesia for that matter, lack pedestrian-friendly facilities. What will it take to have even footpaths – a high-ranking official’s child being left a paraplegic?

It is all very well to rub palms together in glee at the possibility of the vast amount of tourist dollars to be had with Bali’s tourist industry, but it is high time that the Bali administration took responsibility in ensuring basic safety, not only for tourists but also for its local residents.

Yours sincerely

Amanda O’Connor
Sanur, Bali

Filed under: Letters

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