It was with a certain amount of self-congratulation that we use to talk of our social evenings in Makassar. We were able to leave a bar on our face at midnight, fail to remember how we got to the next, refuse eyewitness accounts about throwing up in an ashtray in the third, then kiss the bed we awoke on just because it was our own, and always find our wallets and phones still nestling in our crumpled trouser pockets.
Makassar, at the turn of the millennium, was a safe sprawling kampong; low-rise, interspersed with fields and brimming with “Hello Misters” and many a quaint “**** *** mister”. It was not used to foreigners. There was only one McDonald’s until Bali and the only people who liked us were the police. You could drive anywhere in South Sulawesi without fear of ‘the sting’. Show an officer a long-expired library card instead of a license and the worst outcome would have been a Rp.20,000 tip (actually, this still holds).
Now, if we could fast forward time, we’d see the low-rise pantai (beach) being dwarfed by steel and scaffold, rendered looking like a bad game of Tetris for all the misconceived and shockingly coloured high-rise hotels. Progress. Unfilled complexes and office rises came next. They blight an area that was once reclaimed land-become-swamp; an ornithologist’s xanadu and monitor lizard’s smorgasbord. The Metro Road that connects the pantai to this Tanjung Bunga ‘flower park’ commanded stunning views of the islands to the west and mountains to the east. But then the road broke. Was fixed, broke, fixed, broke, etc. Now it’s a concrete skid-pan walled with breezeblocks, graffiti and advertising about how wonderful all the development is. Progress.
Left along a wide river, before the hideous and empty mall, is where I used to live – a gated complex under siege. I fled because a little further along is ‘the pung’; a bit like the hood, except the narrow gangways don’t facilitate drive-by shootings. Going the other way past the hideous mall and over a picturesque estuary is Barombong, or bandit central. It’s in the sticks but leeches off the city like a malignant kidney. So time has moved on. The city is all grown up. Progress. In the face of imported labourers, bandit country, the pungs and myriad new bike gangs being edged out of the city, we’re in trouble. No one parties late anymore. Brace yourself for possible incredulous chuckling.
All in the same Metro Road area, Friend A has always been hapless. Every house she’s lived in has been burgled twice. She laughs it off like the weather now. But friend B who house-shared with her didn’t find it funny; even less so after having her childhood gold necklace ripped from her neck while on her Vesper, and less funny when her whole bag was lifted from her bike on the Metro Road. Friend C really didn’t like it when, returning along the Metro Road one night, bikes surrounded her boyfriend and her and pillion riders fired poison metal bolts for fun. Friend C was rather drunk and didn’t realize what had happened until dismounting by the security post outside the ugly mall and seeing her boyfriend pierced like the French cavalry charge at Agincourt. With hospital treatment, it took him a week to deflate.
Friend D was boxed in on a bicycle, four against one, and asked to hand over her bag at knife-point. It had everything in it. Friend E was similarly accosted and lost all. Now these are just friends over the last year. Then my wife was tailed and managed to shake the bike bandit by pulling into an aunt’s house along the same road. And it doesn’t end there. It turns out everyone we know has had, or knows someone who’s had, multiple incidents in this area. And then there were friends F, G and H.
F and G, an expat couple, were riding home one evening. H was trailing thirty seconds behind. Again there appeared two bikes with four knife-wielding assailants bent on robbing F and G. H then appeared, headlamps blazing and horn quacking like Ghost Rider on a scooter. The young assailants got skittish and made off with only F and G’s bike key. A relief, as I lease them their bike. And then F reported to the police.
Here is a fun quiz where you have to guess the policeman’s responses during the crime report.
“I would like to report an attempted robbery on the Metro Road.”
A. “Certainly sir. Step this way and I’ll get the forms.”
B. “Please wait a long time while I forget to find someone competent.”
C. “Please pay us some money to do work.”
“Is crime a problem here?”
A. “Yes, but we’ll have it under control with public support.”
B. I only work here.”
C. Laugh and declare: “Yes, we’ve had 1,500 reports since January (8 months).”
“Well, why don’t you do something?”
A. “We’re following leads and one policeman’s volunteered to do stake out until tea time.”
B. “I’m standing here talking to you, aren’t I?”
C. Laugh and say, “I know. We’re under-funded.”
“Well, what should I do?”
A. “We are close to cracking the case.”
B. “We’ll call you as soon as we know something.”
C. “Why don’t you fight back… or get a car. I have a can of mace.”
All answers were C.
I should add that the exchange was done through an interpreter and F’s rage was diplomatically filtered. Personally, I have nothing against the police. We get along. But my humorous observation has to be that after being robbed, the quickest way to getting robbed again is to report the crime. 1,500 accounts of theft since January in a small area is seven crimes a day. And those are only from the victims who bother paying bribes to file disguarded reports.
Stay frosty out there.