By Vyt Karazija
A sudden need to go to Tuban sees me braving the swirling traffic in Kuta and fighting my way past the Matahari bottleneck. I have to get to Jl. Kartika Plaza in order to reach Discovery Mall. Or Centro, or Megawati’s Parthenon, or whatever they call it nowadays.
Trouble is, the traffic-control gnomes have changed the way one can access Tuban yet again. I now have no option (if I want to stay legal) but to take a two-kilometre detour to reach the street I want, which is less than 100 metres away and clearly visible. Mild irritation sets in.
To hell with that. I cut through the market area instead, dodging vehicles and pedestrians and emerge victorious just short of where I want to be. Now a mere 20-metre dash against the one-way traffic remains. Unfortunately, a police car is parked on the corner where I am about to make my illegal turn. The driver eyeballs me. I eyeball him back. I turn anyway. He opens his mouth and raises his hand. I shake my head, point to myself and shout: “Diplomatic Corps!” He laughs, waves me through and I’m on my way. I mean, I could have been a diplomat; how would he know?
After a further 10 minutes of dodging suicidal locals, I reach the edifice that is my destination and look for a place to park. Then the real frustration begins. The car park, which is huge, is underneath the shopping complex. I locate the narrow entry lane for bikes, stop at the barrier and pull out some money. The attendant waves it away and gives me a plastic smart card. “Pay when you leave,” he says. I’m impressed. Little did I know it was premature.
The motorbike-parking area is packed, and is separated from the car area by a robust fence. I wend my way through the narrow track, my knees tightly together to avoid knocking them on the rear wheels of the thousands of bikes crammed into tiny spaces. Inevitably I have to stop a few times, dismount and shift a bike whose spatially challenged rider has seen fit to leave jutting out and blocking the track. Equally inevitably, the evidently sight-impaired dimwit behind me blips his horn continuously while I am doing this. He smiles a lot. I don’t.
Finally a space manifests itself and I manage to insinuate my bike into it. The noisy gentleman behind me stops and in aggrieved tones, but still smiling, informs me that “this is my space.” I tell him that MySpace is old hat, and that he should get onto Facebook. He stops smiling and roars off.
I am well inside the cavernous interior now, so rather than walk all the way back to the main road and enter the complex from the front, I look for a quick way into the mall. This involves climbing through a steel barrier fence (displacing only a few vertebrae in the process) and squeezing past several thousand parked cars to discover a hidden door into the complex. Big mistake. The door inexplicably locks behind me and I have to climb about eight flights of stairs until I reach the top floor, before I can actually enter the shopping centre itself. People politely ignore me as I stand gasping and wheezing against the wall. Finally, I get enough oxygen to stagger to an escalator back to the ground floor.
After my meeting, this time I astutely take the long way back to the car park and find my bike. Clutching my trusty smart card and money, I snake my way back through the tortuous path to the exit barrier. The man looks at me blankly. “No, no! Must pay first!” he says. He finally gets through to me that I have to pay “the security man” before I can leave, and he does one of those 360-degree finger-pointing waves that pass for Balinese directions. He won’t let me through the barrier, so I can’t make a simple U-turn and re-enter the car park. “No, you will just go home!” he says suspiciously. He’s not wrong. So he forces the 10 bikes behind me to back up like a big mechanical millipede. This does not endear me to their riders.
So, through the maze again, until finally I find a “security man.” Except he really is a security man, and won’t take my money. “No, no, pay at security office!” he says, and points me back towards the exit gate. As I reach the exit again, I finally see the pay station. It’s out in the car parking area, behind the damn fence. I finally twig that you’re supposed to go there and pay before you go back to your bike. Which means I have to find a spot to park my bike again, climb through the fence again, pay the fee and then climb through the fence one more time before I can get out of this place.
There is a small thundercloud over my head and I am getting very tetchy. I go through the entire rigmarole, pay the fee and am told that I have 10 minutes to depart the building, or else the smart card expires. When I get back to my bike, it’s completely blocked in by locked, double-parked bikes. It takes nine minutes, plus a few popped spinal discs and assorted muscle strains to get my bike out.
I get to the exit boom. The man puts my card in the reader slot, then looks at me. “Card expired,” he announces blandly. “Open. The. Gate,” I say, enunciating each word flatly and very clearly. He looks at my face and sees something there that scares him. He says nothing, but he opens the gate.
After that, even the peak-period Kuta traffic didn’t faze me on the way home.