The Landlord Line


Titbits from his regular diet of worms


The Cage, Bali

Saturday, Mar. 3, 2018


A FRIEND who is in the poor but thoroughly sensible expat cohort ignored by the hyped media that surrounds the other chief cohorts – the party expat and the good works expat – has just enjoyed another round of that Balinese sport, renting a “villa”. His story is an object lesson in a number of things, including landlord venality.

This last demerit is by no means exclusive to Bali, though it finds some of its loftiest expression here, because of course, to many, all foreigners are rich and shouldn’t  be here except as handy ATMs, and are fair game.

Our friend had earlier done the right thing: his lease would be up in several months, so he had advised his landlord that he’d like to renew for a further year at the same cost as his current contract. He heard nothing until the week before expiry, when he was informed that the house would be available, but at a much higher rent.

This was unacceptable, our friend told his landlord, and in any case, in his situation, unaffordable. He began searching for a rooming house to lodge within at a price he could afford. This proved difficult, especially morally and ethically (these commodities are in short supply in Bali too, by the way). One place he found, while speaking Indonesian, was not available until the operator discovered that he was talking to a foreigner, not a local.

At that point he got a call from his landlord who agreed to rent the house to him for a further year at the existing rental, but with no renovations (read: repairs). That’s partially happy news, since our friend now has a place to live – and after all, the rainy season is sure to end soon and so a leaking roof and area flooding aren’t long-term problems, or so the landlord probably thinks – but it’s the sort of smash-and-grab behaviour that leaves a sour taste in the mouth and the name Rachman echoing in the brain of anyone old enough to remember 1950s-1960s London slum landlordism.

Things are not necessarily better elsewhere, but in most places there is some recourse to mediation, if necessary through the courts. Here, you’d think, with the prevalence of karma as a guiding principle of life, being a slum landlord wouldn’t be what you’d want to be.

It’s true of course that local people rent accommodation that is even less salubrious than a broken down “villa” rented to a poor foreigner for the cost-of-living equivalent of squillions. But it’s also true that couldn’t-care-less local property owners make the local equivalent of a motza from foreigners.

Apparently, here in paradise on the Island of the Gods, it’s as easy as anywhere to ignore your conscience if there’s profit involved.

Road Rage

THE roads are a mess in south Bali. There’s no argument about that, especially while the underpass is being constructed at the airport traffic circle in time for the IMF conference scheduled for Nusa Dua in October this year. As a recipe for chaos, that’s unbeatable. Even the police agree, and suggest finding alternative routes. In theory that’s great, except that there isn’t really any alternative to sitting in a tailback of up to an hour, or going far out of your way to sit in another monster parking lot waiting to get through the card-swipe gates at the southern end of the Mandara-over-the-water-way.

But it affects everyone equally. And you get used to being pushed out of the way by enormous tourist buses full of Chinese, or trucks driven by madmen, in even more confined spaces than usual. The rules of the animal kingdom prevail as always: if it’s bigger than you, flee!

Road rage is seldom seen here. That’s always been one of the pleasures – no really – of driving in Bali. But there was an incident the other day on the bypass south of the airport shemozzle that’s worth reporting. Partial reporting, at least: There was a denouement that deservedly pained the perpetrator and cheered the local drivers he had also monstered, which we shan’t report.

We drive a Suzuki X-4. We call her Suzi (very original, we know) and we chose her because she is engineered – and powered – to propel her weight with the required torque, unlike most of the underpowered conveyances that help gum up the works here. When she needs to zip, she zips, and when she needs to zoom she just about shouts “Yeehah!” and leaves everything in her wake, even a lawyer’s BMW.

It wasn’t a lawyer’s BMW that gave us trouble, however. It was another Suzuki, a smaller car, driven by a guy who was either on bad uppers or had just been dissed by his girlfriend. We’d zipped through the airport traffic circle slo-mo, being awake. Pak Tidur behind us didn’t like this. Being beaten into the last available cubic centimetre of space by a Bule is no fun any more. Apparently.

He pursued us, desperate to get past and prove … something. That he’s an idiot, probably. Who knows? Since we were in the outside lane (a notional proposition near the airport traffic circle given that motor bikes use the opposite lanes as their personal space) we could not move over so he could get off on his personal power. He could, though, via a series of illegal manoeuvres that had his little black Suzuki on two wheels at times and drivers braking and shouting all over the place. He caused two motorbikes in the left lane to decamp into the mangroves, then jigged in front of us, also on two wheels, spilling another motorbike onto the median strip, and braked, one space further forward in the tailback than he would otherwise have been.

The traffic was stalled, waiting for the lights at the Benoa Square intersection, half a kilometre ahead. We got out of our car and asked the motorcyclist on the median strip if he was OK. He was. His bike wasn’t all that well. We then approached the little black car in front, watched with close attention by the drivers of other vehicles in the tailback. We could see them thinking, “What’s that old Bule doing?”

We tapped upon the driver’s side window and motioned “window down”. The occupant complied and shouted “Bule c–t!” To which we replied, “And you’re a limp-dick.” Sadly, he was a Balinese driver, not some off-island Indonesian with bad manners and no local road sense. He seemed to be some sort of junior gangster, snappily dressed in an expensive white shirt, tight black pants, shiny shoes and glittering with gold. Perhaps he was thirty. But anyway, from an old Bule’s perspective he was a young man.

He sat in insolent silence in his car. We told him he had been driving dangerously, that he could easily have killed three motorcyclists, and that he was a fuckwit. (These are not the sorts of things you generally tell Indonesian drivers. It was leading edge stuff.)

He said again, “Bule c–t!” The bit we shan’t report then followed, to thumbs-ups and loud acclaim from the locals. Since the traffic was then beginning to move we returned to our vehicle and zoomed away.

Some days are diamonds.


IT’S possible that we are now on the Facebook geeks’ list of undesirables, since an incident the other day. One of their silly prompt-questions popped up and we answered it. We’ll paraphrase, but what the question asked was what would we wish for if a genie materialised from a bottle. For Facebook to stop playing silly kindergarten games was our answer. Oddly, it didn’t appear on the timeline.

Though we missed an opportunity. Instead of being dismissive, as one is sometimes tempted to be with small, errant children, we could have been more adult in our response. “A cool djinn and tonic, thanks,” would have fitted the bill perfectly.


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