As I set out to collect my spawn from the airport, on my birthday, I am feeling quietly smug about not having paid a single bribe, in three months in Bali.
My friends from Z’s school, the ones I met after they attempted to reverse their car over my bike, in the slow motion essential to all minor vehicular encounters, have been nabbed twice.
“It’s a lot more expensive than it was last time we were here,” my friend explains. “Offered them a hundred thousand and they were having none of it. Looks like the going rate is two hundred thousand now.”
Driving a car without a seatbelt then not having the proper papers had cost them over twenty bucks. The same again for riding a bike without a helmet.
Not good, really.
Traffic is heavy en route to the airport, so I attempt to hang a right off the bypass from the wrong “lane” at the lights.
It is, in all honesty, a quite egregiously horrible and pathologically inept piece of driving. Or, more accurately, “indicating then braking“.
Not least because there is a U-turn 100 metres up the road.
It’s classic “tourist takes motorbike out for the first time” f*ckwittery.
All I need to be the ultimate Kuta cliché is to be male, Australian, a decade or so younger, out of my skull on arrack and rocking a Viking helmet and board shorts.
I sit stranded between some rather pissed-off lorries for a while then clear the intersection in solitary splendour.
So when I hear the whistle, I know it’s briby time.
My first thought, as I pull over for the traffic cop, is, “Oh Jesus, this is going to cost me.”
My second is, “I really hope I am not so late to pick up Z that the airline phones his father in Australia and I have to explain this.”
The cop crosses over. He is round, jolly and, I am pleased to see, actually laughing. As are his mates at the checkpoint.
“You know you cannot do that,” he says, laughing.
“Wah! Sorry! Excuse me,” I say in rubbish Indonesian, trying to maintain an appropriate solemnity. “I know, ya? That was very bad driving, ya? Sorry, ya?”
“How long have you lived in Bali?” he says.
“I’ve been renting a house in Ubud for ten weeks now,” I say. “I’m on the way to collect my son from the airport, ya?”
“This you must not do,” he says. “Going like that. You need to be in the right lane for turning right, ya?”
“Yes,” I say. “I know. It was horrible. I need to pick up my son from the airport, ya?”
“Do you have your license and registration?”
“Let me look, ya?” I say.
“International license?” he asks.
Err, no, actually. It’s an English one, which expired a month ago.
I haven’t got around to renewing it. That’s firstly a logistical nightmare from overseas, and secondly pointless since what I actually need is an International Driving Permit.
Nor have I got around to buying an Indonesian license, which is, I would hope for the sake of the world’s roads, less easily convertible into an IDP.
Though, since we are headed for Papua, which is famously briby, I had been planning to purchase one on Monday.
“I have them,” I say. “But they are at home.”
His face looks like Christmas has come. His wife, his kids and the entire station will be hearing about this one.
This is really going to cost me.
“So,” he says, endeavouring to appear stern. “You have no papers, no license and you have turned illegally?”
“Er, ya,” I say. “Wah! I’m sorry, ya?”
Now, I’m not quite sure what the penalty would be for what I’ve just done back home.
I’m thinking it counts as “careless” driving rather than “dangerous” driving, but when you add not having the papers for the vehicle and not having a valid license it’s quite possibly arrestable.
“So now the penalty for this is that we take the bike, and you need to pay one million rupiah,” he says. “This is what we should do, you see.”
“Ya,” I say, preserving a straight face.
The only Indonesian verb I can think of for “can we work something out?” means “haggle”, and I am not sure that is appropriate to this sensitive situation.
“Is it possible to pay?” I ask.
He grins broadly. “How much?” I say.
“Is up to you, what you think?” he says in finest Kuta taxi driver Indlish.
“100,000?” I suggest.
“150,000,” he says. “Three guys, ya?”
“That’s fine,” I say. It’s a little north of five bucks a head.
Much more rewarding all round than a trip to court, an impounded vehicle, loads of paperwork plus a hundred dollar fine. Though not necessarily good for the economy of this country I love so much.
The cop flags down traffic so I can safely get the bike across the road to their hut.
“Where are you from?” he asks. “Australia?”
“No,” I say. “I am English. My son is in Australia, ya?”
“Ah,” he says. “With your husband?”
“Ya,” I say. “He’s spent the week there and comes back to Bali today. He’s at school in Mas, near Ubud, ya?”
I hand over three crisp 50,000 rupiah notes.
One of the guys makes some sort of note in a book.
I guess all bakhsheesh gets distributed among the hierarchy on a sort of tronc system like the one the hospitality industry uses for tips.
“You are trying to get to the airport?” he says.
“Ya,” I say.
“You need to go that way,” he says, pointing at the way I was headed before I decided to hang a right. “That turn takes you into Denpasar.”
“Thanks,” I say.
“Same-same,” he says.
And then, with a note of genuine concern and well-wishing, “And always, you need to always have your papers and your license, ya?”
“Ya,” I say.
“Drive safely,” he says. “Be happy.”
“Thank you,” I say. And they stop the traffic for me and wave me on my way.
We take a motorbike taxi to my birthday dinner. It’s a lovely evening, all in all, and I’d hate to spoil it by another vehicular farce.