Monday, June 11, 2007

matter of fact its true to say / they would rather switch than fight

We sat at the traffic lights today, waiting patiently, unlike the honking large yellow overloaded truck (which probably had badly painted pictures of semi naked girls on the back as most seem to) behind us, for the green, to turn right. We were, as is our habit in the late afternoons, taking our two eager dogs down to Sanur Beach for their walk, which we then use as an excuse for a beer at the Bonsai Café as the sun sets.

Then further behind us something rowdy started. There was, initially, a faint siren wailing and as it came closer there was a chorus of car horns accompanying the staccato siren pulse and I could see a swag of flashing blue lights in the rear view mirror. In a flash, three or four brown clad bodies, complete with jackboots and white helmets rushed out into the intersection in front of us and furiously started waving us forward. I proceeded to begin my rightwards turn but the policemen closest waved me to proceed in a straight. Since I was not going that way, and the dogs were getting very beach anxious, I ignored him, in the full knowledge that he was in no position to follow or wave me down, panicking as he was.

As so he was….one of the days more important traffic events (aside from raising lunch money from passing motorists) was happening: somebody extremely important was passing, and the world, and all the traffic in it, had to be stopped or be diverted to allow them to go by at quite some speed. You get used to it, the stopping of traffic when somebody very, very important needs to pass. Police are stationed every hundred metres or so, often dozens of them. As often as not, of course, it’s some General’s wife taking the mother in law shopping or a major player from Jakarta heading down to look at his villa investment. But these people are different and the traffic must be stopped so the VIP can get to where they are going.

I guess it’s a hangover from the bad old authoritarian days (and yes I know that other nations use motorcades but not for minor officials' families or the military), or, indeed the colonial distant past, when some people are deemed more important and need this sort of being made to feel important to confirm their status to both us and themselves but especially us…. after all they already know it. And it’s sadly out of place in the democracy Indonesia proclaims itself to be now (and they have come a mighty long way in ten years). Then again so much of what happens here seems rather out of step with a democracy at work. There seems to be a grasp of the rough idea but not the detail. For example a working democracy does not charge its citizens a fee to leave the country, especially when said Fiskal Exit Tax is more than most of the populace earn in a month.

But all that aside, the police are very efficient at moving the very important people through with much waving of hands, flashing lights, flashing lights and escorts. I hope she finds something worthy at the mall.

What truly does bemuse me though is that they seem nowhere nearly as efficient at directing traffic at intersections when the power goes down, and they simply disappear or disinterestingly watch from afar.

I wonder why….

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