We want you safe in Paradise.

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The peak tourist season in Bali is July-August. But this year according to friends in the travel trade the season is expected to commence in June! This is heartening news for those who depend on tourism for their livelihood. However, along with the hordes of tourists lurks the spectre of adventurous and sometimes foolhardy people who wilfully disregard the warning signs put up by lifeguards thus ending in watery graves off the sun soaked beaches.

Padangbai – Some days ago a man drowned in full view of onlookers and family members but no one could save the poor soul as he was caught in treacherous currents. Apparently there are no signboards in place warning swimmers of the currents in the lagoon. No red flags or Lifeguards.

Kuta beach – On hearing the tragic news in Padangbai I thought it necessary to speak to Lifeguards on Kuta beach to try and understand how such mishaps occur and what should be done to prevent reoccurrences.

My trusted cold drinks vendor Nyoman took me to a few Lifeguards on watch not far from his stand that is opposite Macdonald’s. I met Ketut Arthayasa and Made Ernawan two strapping young lads dressed in yellow and red gear.

When I spoke about the drowning in Blue Lagoon they apologised for the tragedy and assured me that if they had been present it would not have occurred. Ketut told me that a fortnight ago he and his colleagues rescued 6 men and one woman from drowning. Though he was happy that precious lives were saved, Ketut was angry that the people who he rescued had paid scant regard to the red flag that signals rip tides, warning people not to swim in the waters around.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the flags here’s what they represent:
– The red flag signifies dangerous currents and warns swimmers to keep away from that area. But surfers are allowed to surf in these waters.
– The area between the red and yellow flags is safe for swimmers. No surfer is supposed to be surfing here for obvious reasons.

While we sat chatting we could see swimmers and surfers doing exactly what they are not supposed to be doing. Ketut shrugged his shoulders and said that the guards could not possibly handle so many people as they are not law enforcement personnel but Lifeguards. Sadly whenever a drowning occurs they are blamed for not preventing it. The two things he carries around are his walky-talky and whistle. The first item is used to keep in contact with the control room and the other to call in errant swimmers and surfers, who very often never heed the calls.

After a brief exchange of words with Made and Ketut I visited the office/control room of the Lifeguard and met Made Suparka, Chief instructor, Baliwista Badung. He was most helpful and over a cup of Bali kofi he told me all about his team and the equipment that was urgently needed.

01. The total number of Lifeguards for Canngu/Kuta/Uluwatu/Nusa Dua is 110. Whereas the required number is 200.
02. Once a year Australian Lifeguard instructors conduct a 15-day course for them. Made would prefer this is done twice a year.
03. There are 6 posts spread across Kuta to 66 road. Some do not have look out towers. Look out towers must be installed at all posts.
04. Binoculars should be provided to all posts.
05. Of the two jet skis that they possess, one needs urgent repairs. In fact, they require one Jet ski for every post.
06. The Lifeguard ambulance is 7 years old and often breaks down. It is the sole medical emergency vehicle for Canngu/Kuta/Uluwatu/Nusa Dua! They urgently need at least four such vehicles – one for each area.
07. Surfers should be fined for straying into areas designated for swimmers as people have been injured in the past. Also surfers should be fined and/or their surfboards confiscated if they did not return to shore by 7 pm. when the Lifeguards remove the flags and go off duty for the day.
08. The Lifeguards should be taught a smattering of Japanese/Korean/French/Spanish etc. Words like – danger, don’t swim in this area etc. This is necessary as in the past tragedies could have been prevented if the guards had made themselves understood to the foreign tourists.
09. Swimmers and Surfers should enter the water only between 7 am and 7pm. as the Lifeguards are on duty during this period.
10. The solitary rubber boat or dinghy is woefully inadequate. There should be a minimum of four such boats: One for each area – Canggu, Kuta, Uluwatu and Nusa Dua.

Made’s 10 point program is reflective of the need of the hour. It must be viewed as a constructive suggestion that will help in creating a world-class tourist island destination. The safety of all tourists visiting the isle is of paramount importance in this very important year of – Visit Indonesia. Therefore, these suggestions could also be applied across Bali in consultation with tour operators/government officials etc.

In the past, I have witnessed tourists arguing with hapless Lifeguards about swimming in a particular area. On more than one occasion the people who rent out the surfboards encourage the tourists who are usually novice surfers to surf in dangerous waters disregarding the flags. These people must be educated in safety measures and then if they do not heed the lessons, they should be penalised and if need be their licence should be cancelled.

It has been suggested by my drinks vendor, Nyoman, that every tourist on the beach be given a multi-lingual pamphlet of the dos and donts of swimming and surfing. And more importantly the telephone number to call in the event of an emergency – +62-361-755660.

To the above suggestions I would like to add that all surfers should pay Rph 5000/- to the control room prior to surfing. This would help in raising much-needed funds for equipment.

We must never forget that the Lifeguards are on the beach to save lives. We should give them all the equipment and support to make them 100% effective.

At the end of the day when all have returned home to roost and the restless dark waters brush against the shore let us remember all who have drowned and pray for their souls – whether they are tourists or Balinese.

In the words of Made Supraka, “We want you safe. So let us do our job”.

Note: According to Made the best months for surfing are July/August and for swimming March/April.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

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Bali – death on the roads

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img_7543Road kill is an animal run over and killed by a motor vehicle.

Here in Bali road kill is the ever-growing number of youngsters on motorcycles mowed down by other vehicles. In a previous issue of The Bali Times Managing Editor, William Furney, wrote passionately about the rising death toll on the roads – the unfortunate victims being motorcyclists who were and are and will continue to be (albeit tragically) the primary cause of most fatal traffic accidents unless some drastic positive action is taken not only by government but more importantly by us, the people.

The question that immediately comes to mind on reading the disturbing statistics is – if all life is sacred on the isle how come we disregard the dangers of reckless and underage driving?

I suppose it is easy to comment on the prevailing situation mindless of the predicament the Balinese have to face:

There is no credible mass transport system (MTS).

The homes of many are scattered in the rural areas and access is usually narrow roads. Therefore, even a mass transport system may not be the answer.

Absence of a comprehensive transportation system (school buses) for children.

So the only alternative the Balinese have:

Hire/purchase of motorcycles with an average price tag of rph 13 million + bank charges/interest.

Invariably, more than one vehicle is acquired by each family thus putting a financial burden on them.

School children are forced to drive themselves to school.

Some months ago, Kadek a 27-year-old married woman living in Padangbai narrated the grisly incident of a teenager who had died in a road accident at the turn off to Padangbai on the coastal road. The young girl on a motorcycle drove across the turn off oblivious to an oncoming truck. Her head came under the wheels of the vehicle. Her mother who rushed to the spot on hearing the news had to remove her remains from the asphalt – remains being the operative word here.

Kadek told me that the crossing is very dangerous as there are no traffic lights or proper street lighting, added to this the speeding vehicles and reckless driving by motorcyclists makes it a death trap.

I met a traffic cop and asked him about the reason for frequent recurring road accidents. He spoke to me on condition of anonymity, which I have to honor. This is what he had to say.

“Bapak we polisi are under constant pressure to maintain discipline on the roads. But this is not easy. How can we stop a family of four riding on a vehicle and going to the temple for ceremony? You tell me? Most of the time even my 13-year-old son drives himself to school, as there is neither school bus nor a proper bus service. The sepeda motor is the only transport. I know as a polisi it’s my duty to penalise these offenders. Children as young as 11 are driving to school and to the market – How can we stop this? My answer to this would be to instil road sense into our youngsters to teach them in school and colleges about road signs, road safety, obeying traffic rules and more. We could have a policewoman visit schools and colleges to lecture on this matter. I believe that such education will surely prevent future accidents on the road. I have witnessed a few bloody accidents myself and as a parent it makes me very worried about my own family. Not all of us can afford cars. I have this message to give to the readers of The Bali Times – we must together work to vigorously teach our children about road safety. After all we polisi are also human beings with families and we should not be made to look bad just because of these accidents. The government is trying to solve the problem of transport but this takes time. So in the meantime at least let’s start teaching our children about road safety.”

There has been many a voice raised at the errant motorcyclist who weaves through the traffic without a helmet; carries materials in one hand while holding the handle with the other; carrying a baby in one hand; talking on a hand phone; lighting a cigarette:and other heart stopping actions. So what makes these docile and smiling folk drive around like headless chickens doing death-defying manoeuvres and/or like boxers without the Marquee of Queensbury’s Rules?

I asked a friend Wayan about this curious behaviour and this was his reply.

“Mark Useless, most of us live in large extended families together in ancestral compounds. We share our responsibilities, wealth etc. Our lives are not private. Everyone in the family knows everything about each other. Our young generation wants time away from prying eyes and some feel their lives are very confined. Therefore the sepeda motor for them represents unbridled freedom. When they are driving they feel free as the wind and are very happy the faster they drive.”

It has been observed and experienced by some visitors and long time residents on the isle that if one got involved in an accident the blame would always fall rightly or wrongly on them. This is so as some locals believe that if the foreigners were not on the isle the accident/s would not have happened.

We have heard many views on the subject of road safety. And the one that strikes a note of truth is that of the policeman’s whose candid opinion reflects reality: the blood on the roads of Bali caused by ignorance and a frightening apathy towards the fact that our children are being permitted to ride the road of death without first learning the basic rules of survival.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

Incarcerated in Paradise

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This week’s column is about a burning issue that is perpetually in the limelight of the local and Australian media – drugs and drug busts. Many less intelligible folk voice misplaced apprehensions that are usually fed by Chinese whispers doing the rounds of the island. Here in paradise such unfounded assumptions have a way becoming fact thereby obfuscating the truth and creating schisms between peoples and cultures.

The Bali Times carries regular reports of youngsters being arrested for buying banned substances in spite of the deadly warning – welcome to my paradise, we have the death penalty here for drug pushers and users.

Recently I had the opportunity to talk to an Australian couple from Perth holidaying in east Bali – Cheryl Smith a social worker and her husband John, an engineer.

Cheryl appeared distinctly agitated when I brought up the topic of young Australians incarcerated in jails in Bali for the mindless act of buying and or using drugs.

“We all stand accused of not forcefully inculcating a sense of proportion in our children, of not teaching them that with democracy – its freedom of speech and action – comes responsibility. Do you know when every Aussie is issued a passport we are given a booklet titled Hints for Australian Travelers produced by our Foreign Affairs and Trade Department. It is helpful as it contains all the dos and don’ts for Aussies traveling in foreign countries such as obeying the laws of the land, observing local customs, illegal drugs, child sex, wildlife etc.” she said.

“And are there any Indonesia specific guidelines?” I asked hesitantly.

“Yes, we have a website that clearly mentions the punishment of death for trafficking, buying and consuming drugs in Indonesia”.

She told me that Aussies are often lulled into a false sense of dolce vita when they encounter Bali with its captivating beaches and titillating lifestyle. The laid back atmosphere, low prices and non existent dress code in most areas except religious places make them feel they can dance with death as no one is watching them.

A visibly upset Aussie sitting at an adjacent table in the warung, who had obviously been eavesdropping walked up to our table and introduced himself as a regular visitor to the island. He informed us that on every occasion that he had visited Kuta he was offered drugs by people standing on the pavement. When he shouted at them he was abused and threatened. Cheryl confirmed this allegation saying that she and her husband had had similar experiences. Sadly, youngsters don’t always act the same way and get carried away with false bravado and the excitement of treading the hairline of deception.

Cheryl told me that in Australia, there is an ongoing program conducted by the State called ‘Constable Care’. Policemen regularly visit primary and secondary schools to educate pupils on the Law and in particular the perils of drugs and under age drinking.

Was she proposing a similar program in Bali? If so, the idea does have relevance for the impressionable islanders whose view of the world is probably through the media and tourists from around the globe flocking to the island. These are not always the best representations of other cultures.

Unfortunately every time an Aussie is busted for drugs in Bali the ‘Shock Jocks’ (as they are popularly known) on Sydney radio stations vitiate the atmosphere with their raucous verbosity that sullies relations between two great countries – Indonesia and Australia. Current affairs programs aired on television could be blamed for adding a curious blend of hysteria to these events. This doesn’t help the situation either for those busted for drugs or for the two governments trying hard to resolve this prickly problem.

It has been said in the past that Australian police have alerted their counterparts in this country on drugs being smuggled into Indonesia. If this is true then it is a heartening development and we hope this connection between the two law enforcement agencies continues to keep a check on illegal activities that are tragically destroying families and lives in paradise and in Oz.

As an experienced social worker counseling juvenile delinquents with drug and alcohol addictions, Cheryl feels that small time offenders incarcerated in Indonesian jails could be repatriated to serve their jail term back home under strict State supervision as this would – keep them away from hardcore criminal elements, rehabilitate them, save the Indonesian State a lot of money and foster closer people to people and government to government relations.

This suggestion of repatriation of small time drug offenders is a noble idea. However, one must take cognizance of the fact that Indonesia is a sovereign democratic republic and therefore this should not be construed in some circles as a capitulation of its sovereignty. It should be handled with great care and sensitivity away from the glare of the media that has invariably made a Hollywood drama of even the slightest hint of anything out of the ordinary that happens in Bali.

It is well known in diplomatic circles that the two countries are forging closer ties in many fields and so an irresponsible media response could jeopardize these positive developments.

Sense and insensibility are the paradoxes in paradise where death lurks in the palm of a drug peddler and Life in the words – just say no to drugs.

As a parent I appeal to all other parents in Indonesia, Australia and elsewhere please let us stop this madness.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

Silence of the lambs

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First May or Labour Day as it is popularly known is celebrated across the world. Many dismiss this as a throwback to communism when rights were more apparent than duties.

Here in Bali free trade and enterprise is the corner stone of a prosperous and growing economy based primarily on the fruits and offshoots of tourism.

This island had tragically suffered in the past due to mindless ideology that resulted in death and huge losses for the then thriving travel business that brought millions to its shores in search of a heavenly experience. It directly affected the livelihood of all and percolated down to the masses i.e. the workforce.

However, as the years rolled on business revived albeit sluggishly but has not reached its previous level of high energy and big profits. The side effects of this growth has brought about a form of inflation that presently out runs the wages paid to the workers, thereby creating an uneven balance – monthly salaries lagging behind inflation.

This is not a criticism of the powers that be but a reality that we have to face in our daily lives wherever we are in the world, including Bali.

Basic costs like the increase in price of cooking gas and food grains etc., has created a piquant situation whereby workers are now spending a higher percentage of their earnings on food; Added to this is the stark reality that the basic minimum wage is not paid by many commercial establishments in Bali even though there is an existing Law – an allegation levelled by some workers.

This not my rendition of the truth but that of a young working couple, who shared with me some facts of life on the isle. While their beautiful three and a half year old son sat on my lap and nibbled on a chocolate biscuit we chatted in a warung about religious beliefs, the role of the Banjar and the community at large. Soon the conversation veered towards tourism, the price of food and the sudden rise in the cost of living.

Then Dewi uttered the words, “We are living on borrowings because our salaries pay for only half our monthly household expenses. The rest we have to get help from our families.”

I requested them to give me an approximate breakdown of their monthly expenses for the readers of The Bali Times. The basic cost of living for this Balinese couple, their small child and two aged parents is approximately:

Rice US$27/-: Vegetables/meat US$20/-: Cooking oil/spices US$22-
Electricity US$ 9/-: Water US$ 8/-: Transport/petrol U$ 22/-: Medical US$ 22/-
Ceremonies US$22/- : Bank US$47/- instalment towards loan for motorcycles.
The total is US$ 199/- whereas the combined salaries of Made and Dewi is US$140/- per month. Their earnings work out to US$2.40 per person per day! (US$ 1 = lDR 9000/-).

Made told me that their families who are farmers often gave them some vegetables and fruits. They also got meat from the family on Galungan and Kuningan. In return for this occasional assistance Made works in the field cutting grass for the cows prior to leaving for his job every morning. This was how they could make ends meet. Luxury – like a family outing to MacDonald’s or any fast food outlet occurred once in two months.

Dewi felt that the minimum wage for the work she did in a restaurant should be US$80/- for eight hours plus medical benefits and paid maternity leave. Although she showed her displeasure at being paid below the minimum wage she was grateful to her employers who gave her food on the job.

I sat and heard this couple speak eloquently about their life with great dignity even though the resignation to a life living on the edge was apparent on their faces. However, they appeared happy and content in a curious sort of way that defied logic. This was a side of Bali I had not known – the silence of the lambs.

After leaving Made and Dewi with her slumbering child in her arms I drove straight to a well known restaurant, ordered a meal and asked to speak to the owner who I knew to be a fair and just person. I told her about my meeting with the couple and requested her to throw some light on the facts I had collected.

“ Mark please understand one thing, you can’t just speak to one couple and then start confronting me with what they said. We do a lot for our workers. Do you have any idea how many ceremonies there are in Bali? We have to employ twice as many people as is required because the workers are always off on some ceremony or the other. It is their culture, their religion that we must honour. Our limited resources are stretched when we have to employ nearly double the staff we actually require to run this restaurant. If I paid them what you say should be a fair amount my business will close down. Now am not defending our low wages but we do give them food and yes for deserving cases we pay the medical expenses. When business nearly came to a standstill some years ago we never retrenched the staff. They got their salaries on time. The result was a huge overdraft with the bank. We have to recover these losses. Do I have to spell out the fact that the tourist trade has only in the last six months registered a reassuring increase. The forecast for this year is bright and we hope the trend continues and there are no hiccups.”

The paradox in paradise is evident wherever one looks. The beauty, the ugliness smothered in a joyful and woeful blend of culture and commerce. Where will this lead to could be anyone’s guess.

Let us pray that Bali returns to the dizzy heights of yesteryears so that we can all go home with full stomachs and money to spare in our pockets.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om