Bali’s Great Sideshow

Bali’s Great Sideshow

By Richard Boughton

Here’s something we never get tired of hearing about: the weekly, twice weekly, or thrice weekly “cop stop.” We’ve all been there. We bules, I mean.

The activity soon becomes so familiar that we begin to miss the experience if too much time passes between incidents. An essential ingredient seems missing from life in Bali.

What happened? Where are all my buddies? Gone? Those long lines of crisply uniformed, whistle blowing, machinegun-packing officers of the law, custodians of the traffic jam; those princes of petty larceny; those smiling faces; the snappy salute; the unfolding of our wallets for the exchange of money. What sort of bargain can we strike this time? Fifty thousand, or maybe even thirty?

Sure, it’s not the cheapest entertainment in town, but still it is part of the overall ambience of the island. Moreover, we get to meet a lot of new people and exchange niceties. “Where you from? How long you stay? Oh, I have a cousin in San Francisco!” And so on. Recently one officer saluted me so many times that I felt like a retired five-star general.

Maybe we see an officer we know. What’s his name again? Chan? Fife? And so we ask the officer who has made the actual stop whether we can receive the fine from our friend instead.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the gist of what’s being done here. Given the recent renewal of threats from people who just can’t stop playing with matches, the Bali Police force has been put on full alert, and the officers have been given the authority to stop any and every car or motorbike without specific cause in order to prevent the aforementioned pyromaniacs from bringing another bomb to our paradise.

It’s a good idea. Even if it’s a bit bothersome, it is still worth the bother (ostensibly), just the same as security checks and the resulting long lines in American airports is worth the bother, for the alternative to a lack of vigilance is unthinkable.

During one recent stop I mentioned to the officer that I had just been stopped two hours earlier while travelling in the opposite direction. “Yes, yes; it’s okay,” he said. “Nothing wrong for you, but we look for the bomb. Terrorists have declared war on the police.”

So they have. And so they have done on whole human race.

But hold on a sec. Something’s wrong here. The aim is not quite level with the barrel. For I see, as I stop my bike, remove my helmet, take my license from my wallet with a certain slight of hand (in order to hide the money therein), that quite a few cars and bikes are slithering through the blockade unfettered. Suspicious-looking cars and bikes. Here goes a black pickup with no front bumper. There goes another with no license plates and no rear window. And what about those cyclists who are sneaking along the outer sides of the big trucks like pilot fish?

As I notice in a politically incorrect albeit factual sort of way that they are stopping all cars and bikes driven by the unlikeliest appearing terror suspects – white people, bules, wealthy Indonesians in big silver cruisers.

I have to wonder, statistically speaking, how likely it is that potential terrorists are being detained? How likely is it that wealthy people, of any nationality, otherwise busy at enjoying the better things in life, would decide for no particular reason (as Forrest Gump might put it) to blow themselves up?

But of course I’m not serious. It’s a question of money; that’s all. It’s business as usual, regardless of responsible intentions at the top.

On a practical level, the thing is a charade, and not something terrorists need worry too much about.

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