HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Oct. 17, 2012

by 8 Degrees of Latitude

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Bali be Buggered

The ruination of Bali at the hands of mass tourism and its high-end glitterati offshoot is a topic that periodically exercises many minds. Those of us who live here notice it chiefly from the strains it imposes on utterly inadequate public infrastructure. But the other side of the coin is that there are benefits too, mostly in the employment and incomes tourism generates for Balinese and other Indonesians, and these are the primary reason why tourism needs to be encouraged to continue growing.

     Nonetheless, there are significant problems, which are chiefly revealed to the world by observers who write for media elsewhere. Australian scribbler Deborah Cassrels did that most recently in The Weekend Australian of Sept. 29, with a piece that reminded our primary tourist market what a shambolic mess Bali has made of its best income earner.

     Cassrels homed in on the new Mulia at Nusa Dua. It’s an excrescence. How it got past any planner or regulator would be a mystery were it not for the fact that Badung (the regency) routinely gives provincial regulations the middle finger. Mulia has ruined Geger Beach at Nusa Dua in the name of commercial advantage without an apparent thought for the bigger picture (especially the beach and marine environments), the public status of beaches, or other, smaller and long established businesses around it, or for the future except as defined by corporate profit.

     Money talks, as the old saying puts it. And Big Money shouts. As always “consensus” – the quotation marks are essential – is achieved by measuring who has the biggest baseball bat. But on a broader argument, it is rather hard to criticise Balinese landowners for wanting some of the action; the bit not already alienated to Jakarta and Surabaya plutocrats, anyway. Bali’s dilemma is customarily sheeted home to rapacious foreign investors. But it’s the local variety that’s far more predatory and much more of a worry.

      It’s not just Mulia, though its demerits are many. Basically, everyone who can make a play is at it. At Jimbaran Beach, for example, down at the Four Seasons end, a big stone wall has been erected right on the high-water mark, altering the beach and high tide wave dynamics and just waiting for a bad weather episode that will create beach erosion havoc. Still, some fat-wallet tourists will get to enjoy the extra ration of sun lounges for a while.

     At many other places in southern Bali free access to the beach is effectively proscribed by private roads. This does every Balinese an injustice.

     Cassrels was not the only complainant on Sept. 29. Robert Schrader had a piece in the American-focused Huffington Post travel blog the same day, in which among other things he observed:

     “The tourists who visit Bali are the very worst types of tourists in the world: They viciously argue, without removing their Prada sunglasses, over 20 or 30 cents, without realising that employees in even Bali’s most posh resorts are lucky to earn this amount in exchange for an hour of extremely hard work.”

     Allowing for a measure of dyspepsia – poor Robert apparently suffered the indignity of being abandoned by his boyfriend while he was here, though it eludes us why any of his domestic distempers are relevant – we wouldn’t cavil with his argument.

     Bali needs to get its act together, certainly. But frankly, so do tourists.

An Annual Rite

It was fun to be around this year’s Ubud Writers and Readers Festival and especially, for a diarist, at the two cocktail functions we attended. On such occasions we like to pretend we’re an aspidistra, so we can hear the chatter without necessarily having to bore ourselves rigid by taking an actual part in the serious frivolities. But not to be churlish, we also make an appearance from time to time, often in search of another nice red wine, and meet some nice new chums. We met some on this occasion, from Darwin, Alice Springs, Brisbane and Melbourne, a demographic that fairly sums up the ubiquitous Australian nature of the support mechanism for the festival. Expect to see a more visible ongoing presence by the Australia Asia Institute, a government funded body, in the future.

     People sometimes wonder why the Australian presence is so pervasive – not only in terms of the writers’ festival – but simple geography, national interest (on both sides of the Arafura Sea) and the generous level of aid funding available explain that. Many more Australian dollars come here than Australian tourists, after all. And provided this traffic is managed, and conducts itself in a mannered way, it’s a good thing.

     The Australian presence at the festival grows stronger every year, which is no bad thing given the need to create some lasting symbiosis in the Indonesia-Australia relationship. It also helps in the absence of a corporate naming sponsor, though why big business is so short-sighted on this front is a mystery.

      Janet DeNeefe’s PA, Elizabeth Grant Suttie, gave us a Villa Kitty bookmark. It proclaims “Proud to be a Bali Cat”. We’re happy to have it as a memento. One’s Kindle doesn’t need it, of course, since it cleverly, electronically, bookmarks your current page, but there is yet a place for actual books (thank goodness).

Sanglah Song

We hear good news in relation to the Sanglah-Royal Darwin Hospital link, something that formally came into being while former Northern Territory health minister Kon Vatskalis was in the driving seat. There’s been a change of government in that Australian territory since and Vatskalis is now experiencing the benefits of opposition (there are democratic benefits in this process). But he tells us he’ll be keeping a close eye on the Sanglah connection and that is pleasing.

     The new government in Darwin is strongly committed, but as Vatskalis points out, it is also committed to balancing the budget and fiscal paring is always a risk in such situations. Much is made in Australia of the fact that with the assistance of the link, Sanglah is able to treat many Australians who injure themselves or fall ill while here on holiday. Less is understood – since it is not really headline material in the Odd Zone – about the incremental health gains it promises for Balinese and other Indonesians on the island.

     That’s its real benefit.  And that’s why it’s really important.

A New ROLE

Ayana Resort and Spa at Jimbaran hosted a lovely dinner on Oct. 6 at which trainee chefs and other young local people cooked a spectacular menu list and served guests as the culmination of their sponsored training at the resort.

     It is an initiative of the far-seeing ROLE Foundation.

From the Art

Bali’s unique art and culture continue to fascinate scholars and others, which is great news in an environment in which so-called global culture is trying to get us all in a head-lock. It is a heritage that must be protected at all costs and advanced where possible. So it was good to see the launch of Adrian Vickers’ scholarly new book at the Hotel Griya Santrian in Sanur on Oct. 5.

     Vickers is professor of Southeast Asian Studies and director of the Australian Centre for Asian Art & Archaeology at the University of Sydney. He says of his book, which is titled Balinese Arts: Paintings and Drawings of Bali 1800–2010, that it is the first comprehensive survey of Balinese painting from its origins in the traditional Balinese villages to its present place at the forefront of the Asian art scene.
     He told the Jakarta Post’s dinky little Bali Daily wrap-round: “One of the things that I think was a problem with Balinese arts in the past was that when people published books, they didn’t necessarily choose to exam (sic) a lot. Part of my work over the last four years has been trying to get materials from museums in the Netherlands, private collections in Singapore and the US, where there are a lot of works that have never been seen.”

     It’s a book of considerable importance – not least because its text and glorious illustrations also form an online data base – and one that will look good in the residual print section of the library at The Cage.

We’re Away

It’s not just the unnecessarily maudlin song and dance that’s been made of the tenth anniversary of the 2002 Bali bombings that’s driven us away on yet another Short Essential Break. Though the fact that Bukit Jimbaran would be a virtual no-go zone while leaders (including the “Australian premiere” in the words of the screamer of a headline in a formerly sentient English-language weekly newspaper here) and bulk supplies of tissues were being distributed for the lachrymose crowds expected at GWK was certainly a factor. Oct. 12 was a good day not to be here.

     That’s not because we should now forget the outrage of 2002 or its smaller reprise in 2005. Both were abominations at the hands of murderously deluded terrorists, most of whom are now locked up or are, so to speak, no longer among us. Good riddance to them and their perniciously skewed catechism. We must never forget. But neither should we fixate on past horror.

     Next edition’s Diary will come to you from the splendid wine regions of Western Australia, where we’re going to pop a cork or two.  We’ll be back in Bali at the end of the month.  With Vegemite supplies.  

Our Heroine

Nengah Widiasih, the 19-year-old disabled weightlifter from Kubu, Karangasem, who represented Indonesia at the London Paralympics, deservedly won the Outstanding Achievement award at this year’s YAK Awards.

     Congratulations, Nengah. You make us all feel proud – and humbled.

Hector’s Diary appears in the fortnightly print edition of the Bali Advertiser and on the newspaper’s website http://www.baliadvertiser.biz. Hector tweets (@scratchings) and is on Facebook (Hector McSquawky). He blogs at http://www.wotthehec.blogspot.com.