The genius of Balinese traffic
Driving a car and riding a motor bike in Bali, an experience in collective intelligence
I have spent years in India, have ridden a motor bike around Pune where I lived for many years, down to Goa from Maharashtra, over to Nepal through the Chitwan National park where I had a near miss with a rhinoceros, experienced the hell and terror of driving up and down the ghats leading to Kathmandu, the sheer beauty of the drive across to Pokhara and then back to Manali in northern India. I have been driving in Australia, 100s of thousands of miles since I was 18, and in Europe and in the US, and have never encountered the traffic intelligence I came across in Bali.
It is pretty scary first getting on a bike in Bali as the traffic moves very fast, and bike riders disregard most road rules, and it feels very much like diving into a fast river. Once in, however, I found it to be very relaxing. 'Go with the flow' assumes a whole new meaning. Sometimes it is slow, sometimes fast, yet always moving. Bikes go around all kinds of obstacles; bikes with whole families on board with mothers breastfeeding, bikes with fathers riding with a baby in his arms, bikes with young men and women texting while riding, bikes loaded up with chickens, mini restaurants, all kinds of things. Babies grow up on bikes in traffic, so learn very early the ebbs and flows of traffic and feel at home there.
Ocassionally traffic conumdrums occur that in India would mean hours of honking horns, of all drivers, and eventually the police would have to intervene and unravel the gridlock. In Australia there would be rage, possibly fighting. In Bali, there is some kind of collective intelligence similar to how fish move when in schools, and conumdrums, traffic Gordion knots, simply dissolve. And while there is the odd 'fish' that moves outside of the school, outside of the flow, mostly it appears relaxed, alert.
Yes you have to stay awake on Balinese roads, as similar to India pretty much anything can jump out on the road in front of you, though in India, where it seems lead poisoning amongst drivers (especially rickshaw drivers in the cities) has diminished mental their capacity, you encounter sheer stupidity while the Balinese are way more careful, much more respectful of their own lives and that of their family.
I believe that one of the reasons why Bali is so attractive to Westerners, why the Balinese have such ready smiles, mostly willing to laugh and enjoy, is because of the chaos of their traffic, and a sense of belonging, of connection, one can feel while in a swarm of motorbikes. I find it is inadvisable to get too focussed while riding, as focussing on one spot, on one car, pushes the rest of what's around into the background, and that is dangerous. I find that the best way is to simply have a loose awareness where you are watching everything.
Which is why I find it relaxing.12/4/2011
An article appeared on the Australian ABC website Nov 9, 2011, Fish may hold secret to beating traffic chaos supports some of the theories enunciated above.
Am interesting point talked about in this piece is that fish make better decisions when in a large group than individually or in a small group. How they move is that each fish maintains his distance from only one other fish at any given moment. Researchers are theorising that cars that sense each other like fish would make the roads much safer.
By Mark O'Brien