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A police experience in Bali and Yogyakarta EINDHOVEN (THE NETHERLANDS) - A different world of course, since Bali is located about 500 kilometers east of Yogyakarta. It's another island, another culture and whatever more, but one thing I encountered amazed me the most, but in fact I only realised it when I was home again, bringing back memories with some friends and beers. This is about the difference in approach, if you can call it that, of the local police concerning 'traffic violations'. For a start I would like to admit that I do actually make mistakes. Probably nothing close to a miracle.

When in Yogya, I tend to use my motorbike a lot. It's easy, fast and doesn't require the patience of being in a traffic jam all the time. You can simply pass those waiting cars via one side or another, depending how the traffic situation is at the moment. A rare occasion, when the city's traffic in the downtown area comes to an almost complete stop, motorbikers will use trotoars, sideways, to pass over the waiting traffic. Intending to shortcut a roundabout, junction or railroad crossing, motorbikers drive the sideways with almost at just little lower speeds as they are using on the road itself, leaving little options for the occasional pedestrians, if there are any of course. Yeah, I did that a couple of times. It's fun to have the guts of following them on the pavement too. I always assume, yes assume, that if they can do it, I can do the same.
The same story for taking over on crowded highways and big streets in the city. Left or right doesn't really matter if you take a look at the traffic itself. However traffic guidelines will tell you to drive on the left side of the road, there won't be a problem at all then you take a little bit of the right lane as well. If you take over, people don't assume you will do this only at the right side of your lane, since there is always a possibility to pass a vehicle on the left side as well. Sometimes you will have to use your horn to warn a farmer who wants to cross. Sometimes you will have to use your brake when the warned farmer seems deaf and crosses the street in front of you anyway. In that case, all you can do is offer him a way to cross in front of you and smile friendly. Next time you will be the winner of this battle called traffic.

This all is in Yogya and some other cities in Jawa in which I drove around for some hours, getting away towards Bali by motorbike for the first time. It was an experiment for sure, but I was also sure I would make it to Bali (and further) and back again as well. A friend warned me that the Balinese police is completely different. Since there are much more tourists there, they would take money instead of warning you. Hmm, I didn't have the experience with that ye, but I was about to find out. I didn't wear a helm standar, a big helmet with your ears covered. It's assumed to be some law, but in most places on Jawa this law isn't enforced yet (it was the end of 2004). Bali, in contrary, was said to be completely different.
Arriving on Bali, I had an empty and new road in front of me. Since there wasn't any police to be seen, I put on my topi, a small hat like helmet and started the trip from the harbor towards the tourist-contaminated area of South Bali. It was a trip of about 2 to 2,5 hours and the biggest part in time would be spend in the south, finding our way through the densely populated areas. Most kilometers however, were to be travelled in the first part, as it was about 100 kilometers. Speeding is nothing too difficult here, as the road was new, smooth and straight. I remembered this road as being old and narrow from my journey by bus back in 1999. That had changed for the good to my relief. Roads are, upto now, in a far better condition than I had read and heard. Above all, it was in the middle of the wet season.

Upon entering the first big town in Bali, Tabanan, we had to stop for a red traffic light. From the opposite side of the road, a one-stripe traffic police used his highly irritating whistle to tell us to go there. By the time the motorbike was parked in front of the police booth, she had already told me that I was keras kepala and that I should listen to my friends. Of course she was right, but now I got to experience what other people were already warning me about... or not of course. Some low-ranked whistle-blower greeted us and smiled at me, probably knowing that he could have dinner outside with his family tonight.
After a hassle with the STNK, the ownership letter of the motorbike, the kartu SIM and my international drivers license (they will never get my passport for sure) it was obvious that we had to pay for not wearing the proper helmet. I agreed with that because we still had to buy one in town, but since we came from Jawa, we didn't think of it. I thought that was a pretty good excuse, but Bali is different, and to are those celana coklat with white hat. That would be Rp. 60.000, to be paid instantly without receiving a ticket. Eerrr... something I didn't quite understand. I wasn't to receive a ticket but still had to pay? Too bad my Indonesian friend was with me, because they had her KTP and SIM until payment was fulfilled. The question about not paying didn't even come up, but I would like to have a copy of the ticket I had just received. He made a carbon-copy of it anyway, so why the problem?
It was simply not allowed for him to give it to me. I could claim it in three days at the central police station here in Tabanan. The white hat was already told that we didn't want to stay here and were travelling to the south to meet friends. We would buy helmets as soon as possible as well. Of course he didn't move an eyebrow when hearing our story. "Just another bule paying my dinner", he was probably thinking. After a short talk we left with no ticket and paying Rp. 60.000. At the moment we drove away, I was just thinking what would happen when we would be stopped again, by another policeman, probably informed by his friends. At junctions we choose the side where the police booth wasn't located to pass them almost unseen. So far so good. Just outside the city we were also looking for a little shop to buy bigger helmets, just looking because we would need them in the coming weeks when travelling towards the east.

Police car; this car is not related to the police in Tabanan or Amlapura.
Police car; this car is not related to the police in Tabanan or Amlapura.

As soon as we started picking up speed on the highway outside the town, a brown finger with policeman attached forced to us to stop... because of not wearing a helmet. Because we directly told them about the previous mal-practice he wanted our identity cards and KTP. He could have my international drivers license, but not my passport, as I told you before. I was still holding on to that one. The officer climbed back on his big and shiny white motorbike and sped away. We did our best to follow him, so we were sure which way to go. A simple signal by hand from the officer was not enough, since we didn't know where we were exactly. Another roundabout, in the center of town. A small police booth again. This officer had more stripes, three in total. I was already thinking about lower tickets because of his high grade. Maybe a little bit too positive.
Okay, to make it short it was the same story again. Not a good helmet, no excuse. Until the moment he actually started to look beyond the fact that I was the rich bule. He now noticed the motorbike didn't origin from Bali, but from Yogyakarta. Hmm... that didn't change things concerning breaking the law, but he offered us a chance to buy a helmet anyway. We could use the motorbike to look for a shop, but the KTP and STNK were to be left here. How impossible can you make things? The next time we are be stopped we don't even have a proper drivers license! Would that police officer believe the fact that we were already stopped twice and the papers were already with the police? I already saw something like that coming, but we gave it a try.
The helmets were only Rp. 45.000 each, the second ticket still Rp. 60.000, even after extensive talks and questions. Tickets were to be claimed at the central police station after three days. The fine was non-negotiable (hmm, because of his higher rank I expected some possibilities) and taking a picture was totally out of order. Even the idea that I could make a picture. Uuh.. I almost pissed off a Balinese officer here. I decided to leave it with this, grabbing the KTP and STNK from the officers hand we left the booth after about 30 minutes. I was sure next time I had more luck, if there would be a next time of course, since we now had helmets!

Later that trip, after returning from Lombok and Sumbawa, we were back on Bali. Only one time more I would make a mistake that would cost me money and some time. Again, I was the one who made the mistake, but this policeman made it even more funny. We passed the main road in Amlapura twice, we were looking for a Honda dealer to give the bike it's needed - free - checkup. Together with another bule and his friend we drove around over one of the many jalan satu arah (one way streets) to see how we could get to a place we had just passed. We weren't allowed to turn around at junctions, and we obeyed it. Maybe we shouldn't have. We were stopped when we stopped for another red traffic light. Of course we were stopped because we were bule, two for the price of one! At least that is that the old guy thought. My friend had his drivers license with him, but I forgot it.. oh oh... another Rp. 50.000 I already had it in my hand, borrowed from my friend to make it look like that I didn't bring my wallet at all, because it fitted the 'I changed my clothes' tactic I was trying to bring in practice.
The policeman had an eye on the woman that came with my friend. She could pay for my ticket if she liked. Knowing her, the got to talk with him, but soon it became clear that I was the one who violated a small law enforced by money-loving Balinese police. Talks with the officer lasted minutes and price dropped from Rp. 50.000 to Rp. 30.000 when we told him that we came from Yogya, being students. I would for sure go to the police station (I would in fact indeed because I would stay near here for some nights to come). Again the ticket disappeared with my money into the booth of the policeman. (Ticket books are often put there, so they don't forget them in order to extort as much money as possible.

Two weeks later, back in Yogya, I made another little mistake. I left home from a neighborhood just south of Jl. Ring Road Utara, on my way to daerah Malioboro to pick up yesterday's order. As soon as I was driving on Jakal (Jalan Kaliurang), towards the south, a police officer blew his whistle and watched me. He signalled with both hands above his head. I stopped and soon discovered I had totally forgotten my helmet. Whoops.. The Bali experiences popped up and I was almost grabbing a 50.000 note from my wallet to pay for what I had done wrong. I stepped of the motorbike and turned it of. I crossed the street to bring a visit to the police man. At first sight he wasn't angry and impolite at all.
He started to ask about my drivers license and STNK. I had them with me - I don't want to say of course now - and handed them over. He started talking and asking. Of course I could give my bahasa Indonesia a try. In a mix of Indonesian and English I told him about my long trip from Yogya to Sumbawa and back again. I told him to see the kilometer counter and the date of the motorbike. He was just interested in the fact why I went there by bike and was asking about that. After a fifteen minute talk, in which the traffic wasn't controlled in any way, the officer reached out his hand to shake mine and which me a very pleasant day. I went back to pick up my helmet.

Posted in Travel @ 20 February 2005 by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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