The Blurred Lines of Bali

By Richard Boughton

Recently an Englishman arrived in my neighbourhood in Biaung. He moved into a house just a couple doors away from my good friend Vick’s house. Vick is also an Englishman, and so there are two of them now. This makes for far too many Englishmen in the neighbourhood, if you ask me.

But in any case, this Englishman’s first questions, naturally enough, centred on matters of general etiquette and law here in Bali. What exactly, he wanted to know, was the speed limit on the roadways? Curiously (in his mind anyway), he had observed no posted signs.

“Speed limit, you say?” Vick answered. “Well … how fast does your car go? It really depends on that, and on how many cars are in your way.”

“Ah, I see. Well, what about drinking? I had a couple beers the other night, and I just wondered – how many beers do you reckon one could get away with?”

“How many beers can you drink?” was Vick’s reply.

The man, you see, was still swimming on the falling crest of the strange warp between West and East, and just about to hit the sand with a resounding thump. One may know well enough that he is not in Kansas anymore, but just exactly where in the world has he landed? That is the question.

And so I thought I’d do my part by offering a few tips to help orient the newcomer

The white lines, for instance, which in the West serve to divide traffic lanes or designate pedestrian crosswalks, mean nothing in Bali. For all practical purposes, it was a waste of white paint, which might otherwise have been used for graffiti, and more meaningfully so at that.

“You want woman?” is not an offer of a housemaid. Similarly, “You want very young woman, maybe 17?” is also not an offer of a housemaid.

It will take approximately three weeks and seven phone calls to get your Indovision hooked up and working. An Indovision crew (two guys on a motorbike) will come to your house within two weeks, but on this initial visit they will bring no tools or cables, or dish. They have either forgotten these common tools of the trade, or it is “simply not done.”

You will find that every other day is a Hindu ceremony of some sort, and that the days in between are Muslim holidays. These are of varying size and commotion and you will need to anticipate unusually snarled traffic, or even becoming, unintentionally yet inextricably, a part of the procession.

Expect to be stopped by the police on a regular basis. It’s nothing you did. It’s simply your skin colour. Don’t take it personally. Ignore the whistle and the pointing finger. Everyone else does, and so it will make you seem more of a “local.” If you go out of your way to pull over to the side of the road, you have merely shown yourself to be as callow as they were hoping you would be. Once stopped, in any case, don’t bother asking what you did wrong. It doesn’t matter. Just cut to the chase and give the man Rp50,000.

When the woman on the beach says, “Come look my shop; just looking-looking; very cheap,” she does not really want you to just look at the shop, and the things in the shop are not really very cheap at all.

If you paid Rp200,000 for your ubiquitous Bintang t-shirt, you paid too much. If you paid Rp100,000, or Rp70,000, or even Rp50,000, it was also too much. But in some sense this is okay, for you have made your contribution to that which keeps the island of Bali in business – to whit, the Bintang t-shirt along with the Bintang itself, at its own exorbitant price.

Lastly I will mention the honking of horns. In the Western world the horn is a shout, an explicative. Here, the horn says: “Hi! I’m Ketut, and I’m coming through on your left. Hati-hati, ya!”

Filed under: Practical Paradise

One Response to “The Blurred Lines of Bali”

  1. Mary Says:

    Ah! Life in Bali…every day is an adventure! Ya?

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