Opening Hours

You know how it is when you want to go to the bank: You can write it into your day’s agenda because you can pretty much expect that, barring a public holiday, the doors will be wide open at 10 a.m. (or whenever your own bank opens). You can rely on the signs posted on a bank’s door to plan your visit accordingly. Excepting for unforeseen circumstances – say a robbery in progress – are also pretty much guaranteed to have unhindered access into the bank for the duration of the working day. The current shift of clerks and managers will be awaiting, prepared to assist with your transactions.IMG_0103

Pretty boring, if you ask me. Soooo predictable!

Why be content with the predictability of opening hours when you can notch it up a bit? Why not move to Bali where the only thing you can rely with any degree of confidence is the utter unpredictability of opening hours? Why not be satisfied with a certain degree of uncertainty?

Where, for example, you can note down a bank’s opening hours (say one that ostensibly opens its doors at 8 a.m.) and arrive the following morning just after 8 to be greeted with the security guard’s blank face and his nonchalant statement that the bank is not yet open. In which case, a conversation such as this might ensue (the original, in bahasa Indonesia, is translated for ease of comprehension – and comedic effect):

IMG_0102Amit: Aduh! (in a word, this means, what the heck?!) When will the bank be open?

Pompous guard: Tak tahu (no idea).

Amit: But I see that the doors are open?

Guard: But the employees have not yet arrived.

It is, by now, nearly 8:15 a.m.

Amit: Nobody? There’s no staff here at all?

Guard: No.

Amit (exasperation starting to creep in): Where are they?

Guard: I don’t know.

Amit: No staff yet and you don’t know where they are?

Guard: No. They all come together from Denpasar and today there is a lot of traffic.IMG_9799

This, you should know: Denpasar, the capital of Bali, is a one-hour drive south of Ubud, at the best of times, WITHOUT traffic. Add on the morning rush (north or south bound) and we’re talking AT LEAST another hour. Not just today there is a lot of traffic; EVERY day…

Surprised by the guard’s response? Don’t be. In Bali, this is a perfectly clear, reasonable, logical excuse for tardiness. There are many others. It matters not one bit that the bank might open an hour or two later, nor does it boggle the mind of any Balinese person that not a single employee of that bank lives in Ubud.

There’s good reason that the notion of time in Bali is a relative matter, and that the island has earned itself the phrase “jam karet” rubber time. Time is fluid and the Balinese reign supreme in the art of waiting. Which requires one to cultivate a gargantuan dose of ‘sabar’ – patience.

IMG_9992What about shops, stores, restaurants? Possibly more problematic… Opening hours are rarely, if at all, advertised on doors and windows of commercial premises. For a simple reason: It is impossible to determine when it might actually open, nor when it might need to be closed. It is also impossible to rely on a manager’s firm guarantee of being in the shop at a given time each day. Bewildered? Confused?

Clearly you have not lived in Bali…

I’ll illustrate by way of this conversation, by sms (again, translated from bahasa), that took place just the other day, between myself and the manager of the cellular store just up the road (from where I rented a wifi modem):

Amit: Hi Anom, I think my modem is not working. Do you know why?

Anom: Could you come to my shop to check about quota.

Amit:  Can I come now? Are you there?

Anom: No I’m still at home. There is a cremation today… My staff can help you.IMG_0084

Yes, cremation is a perfectly reasonable excuse to be absent from work. In fact, cremation is the mother of all excuses on this island. You don’t mess with cremations, nor with any of the associated obligations imposed on all Balinese; to prepare offerings, to remain with the dead person and family for days after the death, to chop up and cook pig (and its blood and entrails). It’s a sacred cow, cremation. Hands off.

So how then do you do business, get errands done, know if someone will show or not for an appointment?

Well, you just go ahead and show up – with the caveat that, at any given time or day, you might arrive to find a closed bank or shop, the neighbor informing you (in the most matter-of-fact tone) that Wayan is not coming in today – or tomorrow, or until next month for that matter – because his father-in-law’s cousin just died, or because of a tooth filing at his neighbor’s son’s wedding.. or simply because he can’t make it.

Opening hours? Pshaw. For good, bad or worse, in Bali it’s a ubiquitously fluid concept.

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