By Vyt Karazija
Paying a water bill should be a short, simple process – right? Wrong. At least, not in Bali. The labyrinthine mechanics of local bureaucracy seem designed to obstruct and frustrate. Small wonder some of us expats are rendered clinically insane or become alcoholics after a year or so here.
Last month, two full days before my payment was due, I wander down to my local BPD office to pay my water bill. As far as I can tell, the BPD is some sort of bank branch that accepts various utility payments. The gentleman who is usually behind the counter, a relentlessly cheerful chap, is there, smiling as usual. He scrutinises my account details carefully, smiles happily, and says “No.” To the best of my knowledge, that is the only word of English in his vocabulary. That, together with my rudimentary Bahasa, makes communication somewhat difficult. “No? Why not?” I ask. “Computer broken,” is the bland reply.
So I tell him I’ll come back later. “No,” he says again. Apparently, despite the office being open until 5pm, he can only take water payments up to 2pm, and not a second later. “OK, I’ll come back tomorrow,” I offer. “No,” he says. “Holiday tomorrow.” I helpfully point out that the holiday is actually in two days, not tomorrow. “No,” he replies happily. “For me, holiday tomorrow.”
Through a diligent questioning process consisting of some Bahasa, lots of sign language and frequent use of the word “No,” I finally unearth the date on which the office will be open again, and tell him that I will come and pay then. Guess what? I get the big “No” again, because apparently once a payment deadline is missed, I have to pay at the head office in Denpasar somewhere. I say that I haven’t actually missed a payment; it’s more that they won’t take my payment. He says “No.” I tell him it’s a long way to go. “No,” he says. “Only 40 minutes on the bike, unless macet.” Unless? There’s always a traffic jam in Denpasar!
I grip my lip firmly to stop from screaming, but still can’t stop myself from emitting muted wails of anguish. I feel like a John Cleese clone trapped in an episode of Fawlty Towers, Bali. Back at home, I look up the address – a Jl Bedahulu. Oh great – there are 33 Jalan Bedahulus in the one block. They seem to be numbered, but this being Bali, the numbering is completely random. One hour later, I am hopelessly lost in a maze of unnumbered streets and lanes, looking for an unsignposted building that probably doesn’t even exist. It feels like I have ridden half-way to Lovina. I give up, spend another hour getting home and have a scotch and sulk.
A few days later, I enlist the services of a friend’s driver to go find the damn place and pay the damn bill. After much difficulty, he finds the elusive head office and goes up to the counter. Another smiling man is there, who again scrutinises the proffered account details carefully before saying “No. Computer broken.”
I think I will have to do what I did last time. Ignore the bill until the man comes to the villa with his bag of tools to disconnect the water. Then I’ll pay him, and everyone can live happily – until next time the computer is broken.
Vyt Karazija writes a blog at http://borborigmus.wordpress.com and can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org