Run-ins with the ‘Karma Polisi’

“Kita sama-sama manusia Pak,” says our driver, Reyhan. “We’re all just humans, Sir!”

If you were driving in a lane reserved for buses – only – would this work as an excuse on a traffic cop in your country?

Well, when you come to Indonesia, your poor police-state mindset doesn’t pass customs. It will do you a disservice here. Actually, the more you take police seriously, the more money they will take, and the more problems they will make for you. The blanket solution here is really quit simple:


For very-well adjusted people, taking it easy is beneath them, because it’s too easy. For them, here are three general rules:

  • Never hand over more than US $20 (about Rp. 200,000) to an officer on the side of the road. You can get it as low as US $2 (Rp. 20,000), if you can out-wait them. Time to make clear decisions is something they’re very good at eliminating, by speaking fast, and repeating themselves.
  • Better yet, ignore the traffic cops’ whistles, flags, and kicking gestures – and keep right on going, if you have it in you to do something so counter-intuitive.
  • Learn to say ‘Aduh Pak’ like you mean it, then tell ’em you already paid ‘Wayan’ (read on for an explanation).

Jaydid’s Magical Lisensi Internasional

Dodging through a 5-way intersection on scooters, Jaydid attracts a police tale. I speed up and wait for him down the road. My International License had expired. It needed to be extended in person…in Canada.

After a long wait, I do a U-turn and find Jaydid chilling in the shade with five, grim-looking officers. One of them is pouring over an expired, Dutch license.

“You are need International License,” says officer Wayan.

“Come on guys I already told you! This license was with me in Africa, Thailand, Australia, France, India, Java…It’s an International License now!” says Jaydid, saucily in that Dutch accent.

The officer looks at me, “You. You have International License?”

I respond in the national language of Bahasa Indonesia. The right, well-mannered tone in the face of their authority is all they’re looking for.

“I do have a license, yes,” I say, padding my empty pocket.

“Are you married?” they ask me in the local language. “You find Balinese girl? This good idea for you.”

They let us go with a warning, laughing as they recall my friend’s jocular ruse. We save our laughter for later down the road.

Officer Rudolf and the Plant Headdress

Scootering through Seminyak with beers in my cup holder, my American friend with a headdress made of living plants therefore doesn’t want to wear a helmet. We are stopped and pay Rp. 100,000 (US $10) for this infraction (a newbie could be suckered out of as much as two million Rupiah (US $200).

“What’s your name?” I ask the officer.

“Pak Rudolf,” he says.

On our way back from the club, Annie and I are stopped again; but she’s up on her game – and her language skills.

“Aduh kita sudah bayar sama Pak Rudolf tadi,” she says. “Oh but we already paid Mister Rudolf before.”

In Bali there are only 8 possible first-names: Wayan, Gede, Putu, Made, Kadek, Nyoman, Komang, Ketut.

If you are ever stopped by the Balinese Polisi, just tell them you’ve already paid one of those 8 people; they’ll probably let you go. It’s that easy! Don’t expect your karma not to catch up with you, however.

I wonder if the name Mohammed would work on neighbouring islands? Or if John Smith would get you far, in America? How about Mister Kim in the ROK?

Karma Polisi, Arrest this Man…A Sarong Wrong!

When my friend Puput and I were coming back from Ubud, she wore a borrowed, fluorescent green helmet, while I wore an udeng (what noobs often call the Hindu ‘handkerchief’). This ceremonial headdress is a substitute for a helmet in Bali, because it’s a religious rite, and because accidents just don’t happen when you’re wearing the equivalent of ‘Sunday bests’.

“But what about you?” she asked me before we took off.

“You don’t believe in karma?” I asked her, turning my head all macho like some action-movie-hero-star-champion-person.

At a Sanur intersection, a police officer steps forward from a line of beggars. Right away it strikes me that there is little difference between him and those beggars. Should we not also pity police for having to ask for money on the side of the road? Anything to avoid being angry with them is always a good idea.

He tells me that, in order to wear an udeng headdress you must also wear a sarong wrap-around that ties at the waste.

On the side of the road, the officer helps me to secure my wrap-around; then tells us to keep moving.

It is the job of Karma Polisi to ensure ceremonial clothes are worn correctly, after all.

Safety first!

Do you have any goofy stories about run-ins with the police in foreign countries?

Save the grim and serious ones for later…!


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