Winning and losing

I wonder if anyone has a life where most things go to plan? In recent times, we have bought a house in Australia and established a company in Indonesia. Both of these activities seemed to have been made unnecessarily difficult by the actions of others. They are done, but the hair is a bit greyer and the blood pressure is a bit higher as a consequence. At the moment, the icing on the cake is attempting to get our work visas.

Stage one was yesterday, a long day in Singapore. I’d already tee-ed up the next stage, of sending my passport to Immigration, with the people “organising” it – “Yes, Mr. Andrew, if you give your passport to us by 9am Friday, you can get it the next Thursday evening”. Excellent, until I got a text, this morning, saying it would be 3pm next Friday. This is a small problem, because I should be checking in for a flight to Dubai for a month at that time. There is, hopefully, a solution, but I don’t like doing “dodgy” with matters like this.

As well as that, the last week, or so, has been fairly eventful. I tagged along while Helen conducted at workshop at Bali International School, and we stayed on for another day for her to enjoy Sanur beach.

I popped in to the school to catch up with the support staff, and it was great to see quite a few of them, even if most have aged a bit over the past decade. I wandered pretty much all over Sanur during the three days of the workshop. A lot has changed, but a lot hasn’t. My feet became sore, so I tried a foot massage at a small salon just off the beach. The young woman told me she was from Kintamani, up on the volcano, one of many young woman from that part of the island engaged in some sort of massage activity. She also revealed that she received a monthly wage of Rp500,000, which puts her below the United Nations poverty line of US$2/day.

As well as an increase in beggars from past trips, an examination of some wares on sale in the tourist shops indicated that there must also be quite a few people making things who receive very little for their labour. So, while Bali is perceived as one of the more affluent areas of Indonesia, the affluence of some seems dependent on the relative poverty of others.

A single male strolling receives offers of “a woman” every hundred metres. One taxi driver stopped and asked me if I wanted to go to Ubud. When I replied in the negative, he offered a woman – I was a bit surprised at the match of alternatives. An older bemo driver, sitting with his mates asked if I wanted “jiggly jig”, and they all laughed when I told him he wasn’t my type. However, even though this seems to be an indication that times might be getting tougher, most suggestions are made in fun.

Despite a regulation from the governor of Bali limiting development, it goes on unchecked. Since the ’70’s, people have been predicting the demise of Bali, but it has hung in there. However, with the advent of better industrial construction methods, the ability of developers to destroy the island has increased dramatically. The trend is fast becoming one of tourists staying in big hotels, and spending their money in larger, air-conditioned shops. Few of these are owned by Balinese, and the small family-run businesses look like they could be in serious trouble.

On Wednesday, the afore-mentioned conversation, about passports at Immigration, took place at an office in central Jakarta. Because the traffic is even more abysmal than usual at the time I needed to be on the road, I decided to try the Busway. In theory, the Busway has dedicated lanes and simply zooms along its route unimpeded. Martinie accompanied me, to provide a bit of local knowledge. I thought it might be a good idea to walk through to the next main street where there is a Busway route. Martinie was less-than-enthused, so we caught a public minibus (bemo), which cost us ~AU$0.60 for two.

We paid our AU$0.80 each for a ticket and waited. Boarding the bus was like something out of an old British comedy. The bus was packed. We entered via the back door. As we did so, a man behind us picked a wallet up from the ground and handed it to Martinie. In the bus, as we were negotiating the throng, the young man who boarded before us claimed it. As Martinie handed it to him, the bus lurched away. Martinie cannoned into me. I had my bag in my left hand, and threw out my right hand to balance myself, without whacking any of the people sitting in the rear seat in the head. My arm contacted the door jam, and, just as I started to regain my balance, the driver closed the door on my arm. I was trying to get balanced and free up my other hand to try and force the door open when cries from other passengers alerted the driver, and my now-sore arm was released. It was nice to be able to bring a smile to the faces of so many fellow passengers.

The Busways are a great idea – fast, direct routes that intersect at well-placed interchanges. The practice is not much like that. Even thought the system is not all that old, it is already dirty and run down. For example, the doors at the bus shelters are supposed to stay closed until the bus stops, like those in subway train systems, but most are broken, and remain constantly open, which means that folk at the front of the queue are in a very dangerous situation. Then, despite clear signage, and even employees who operate booms gate along the Busway lanes, the buses are too often stranded because of the motorbikes, cars and other buses which block them. The air-conditioning units also cannot cope with a full load of passengers.

The return trip was better, because we went via a newer route. The Busway lived up to its reputation, until we got to the terminus, where we spent nearly 10 minutes sitting in a hot bus waiting for the terminus to clear. We have a long way to go.

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