His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences
You’ve Got to Have Sole
We gate-crashed a good meeting recently at the immensely comfortable – for superannuated diarists it is also immensely unaffordable – Semara Luxury Villa Resort on the Ungasan cliffs. Well gate-crashed is perhaps too strong a term: Robert Epstone of SoleMen, the man who smiles so much you can’t say no, asked us along. And it’s fair to say, we think, that GM Mandy McDermid didn’t mind.
Epstone and Bali-resident British nurse Sarah Chapman – she of Little Ani fame – were there to brief McDermid on funding programmes to help alleviate poverty in Bali. They were just back from the Bukit Walk, the annual tramp around the limestone blob – some people do it barefoot – that is also part of the fundraising process.
There’s a really worthwhile programme in place through which guests at participating properties may opt to donate to aid schemes. Some places do it on a (voluntary) dollar a day basis; others leave it up to guests to decide. It holds huge promise for becoming a greatly growing revenue stream.
Semara like many establishments is fully into the business of supporting the local community and spending money further afield. These things are not widely publicised. They come from the heart, not the PR budget. And along with many other things, they make you glad to you live in Bali and know so many nice people.
This year’s SoleMen walk tied in with the ROLE foundation and with Earth Day (April 20). There was a lovely party at ROLE’s Island Sustainability Education Centre in Nusa Dua involving about 450 children from around the Bukit.
Back to the Warmth
Adelaide Worcester, who is well remembered here as Australian Vice Consul on her last overseas posting, tells us she’s set for another tropical adventure, this time in Vanuatu. She’s going to Port Vila as Consul and Senior Administrative Officer at the Australian High Commission there and is taking up her post on August 1. It will be a touch of warmth for her and husband Inoeg after a series of bleak winters in the Australian capital. Not quite as warm as Bali is, of course. We remember it being a tad cool on August evenings on Efate’s beautiful lagoons, when feeble vespers of winter far to the south can make a brief visitation and knock the temperature down to, oh, say 17C. But that still beats a frosty -3C Canberra winter morning any day.
Vanuatu – like Australia a Commonwealth country (hence the delicious British imperial echo in the “high commission” rather than “embassy”) – has an eclectic history. It was once the New Hebrides and enjoyed, though perhaps that’s not quite the word, the uncertain status of being jointly ruled by the British and the French. It was officially a condominium. It was popularly known as the pandemonium. And this was not simply because while it drove on the right in Gallic fashion (in all senses) it applied drive-on-the-left British traffic rules.
Worcester, Inoeg and Sebastian, now a sturdy toddler, are back in Bali briefly at the moment, with Inoeg’s mum who is visiting from Surabaya. Then it will be back to Canberra for more Bislama lessons and yet another winter chill-thrill until that welcome plane trip to Port Vila in three months’ time.
The Diary was last in Vanuatu in 2004. It was a nearby place of favoured resort over many years living in Brisbane. We’ve threatened to stage a return during the Worcester years.
Off to the Chill
Speaking of tripping, Diary and Distaff are off to Scotland shortly – Hector needs to renew his genetic vows – for a week, followed by a month in Marseille in Provencal France. The city is this year’s EU’s “capital of culture”. There should be plenty to keep us occupied, beyond running on the spot to ward off the unspeakable chills of a Scottish spring and the less than tropical heat of the northern Mediterranean in May and June.
A side trip to Venice is planned just ahead of the Biennale, to see some friends who live in the former Serenissima. And in Marseille, of course, there’s real bouillabaisse. It should be fun. Hector’s taking his trusty laptop computer along, so expect reports.
Scoop de Jour
Tim Hannigan, whose new book Raffles and the British Invasion of Java is eminently readable for all sorts of reasons – not least in that it thoroughly upsets Victoria Glendinning, the doyenne of Rafflesian hagiography – tells us he had a lovely time at the West Country Writers’ Association’s awards held recently in Torquay (home of the famous but fortunately fictional Basil Fawlty). He won the inaugural biennial John Brooks award, named after a West Country chap who died and left a bequest for same to the WCWA.
Hannigan, who is 32 and hails from Penzance, though not quite in pirate fashion, was in Nepal on a travel writing assignment when we last chatted with him. He was in Bali briefly earlier this year on his book launch tour. He used to live in Surabaya where he taught English and is no stranger to our island. It really would be nice to see him back. Around October would be good, when Janet DeNeefe is doing literary things with her writers’ festival in Ubud.
He’s a great laugh. He gave us several in a private report on the awards lunch; sadly, discretion suggests we should not repeat them here. We can say this, however. It seems customary English provincial hotel cuisine may not have improved by any measurable value in the four decades since we threw up (our hands) in horror and left the country.
The WCWA was founded in 1951 to foster the love of literature in England’s West Country. Eminent members have included Agatha Christie, Daphne du Maurier, E.V. Thompson, Henry Williamson, Christopher Fry and Victor Bonham-Carter.
Raffles and the British Invasion of Java was published last year by Singapore’s Monsoon Books. Hannigan’s previous book, Murder in the Hindu Kush: George Hayward and the Great Game, about the life and foreshortened times of the 19th century British explorer, was published by The History Press.
Garuda Indonesia will make its long-awaited return to the prospectively lucrative Bali-Brisbane route from August, flying daily with 162-passenger Boeing 737-800NG aircraft. It dropped Australia’s third-largest city from its network in 2008 when its innovative scheme not to make lease payments on its aircraft unaccountably led to the planes’ owners taking their aircraft back.
Still, that was then and this is now. The new service will fly Jakarta-Bali-Brisbane, neatly corralling both tourist and business traffic. The latter is by no means insubstantial, as Queensland’s state treasurer Tim Nicholls noted recently. “Last financial year, Indonesia was Queensland’s ninth largest merchandise export destination worth almost A$1.2 billion to the state’s economy. This figure has more than doubled in the past 10 years,” he said.
Since Garuda’s 2008 pull-out Bali-Brisbane has only been possible non-stop on Virgin Australia. Qantas low-cost operator Jetstar flies via Darwin. There was a short-lived additional input from the now defunct Strategic/Air Australia airline.
Speaking of Darwin, the closest Australian city to Indonesia and a place of growing importance to Bali, it’s good to see that Indonesia AirAsia is returning there soon. It took over the route after Garuda dropped its 18-year-old service during one of its notional airline hissy-fits, but then also pulled the pin. Thankfully the hiatus has proved short-lived.
It’s their Mantra
Michael Burchett and Alicia Budihardja – respectively former genial general manager and decorative chief spruiker at Conrad Bali – have both moved on. It seems to be the thing to do nowadays and may indeed possess benefits, provided you don’t fall into the trap of affecting complete amnesia about the past. We’ve never bought that Francis Fukuyama line about the end of history.
The two Bs chose the relevancy option. Burchett, who moved into consultancy after clearing out his desk at Tanjung Benoa, got the job of managing the launch of The Mantra Nusa Dua, the first South-East Asian venture by the Queensland-based Mantra chain. And Budihardja got the gig of running its corporate and media promotion.
It’s a welcome addition to the Geger Beach end of Nusa Dua for all sorts of reasons – affordable accommodation for the less than filthy rich being one – and is also a great example of how you can do things properly if you want to.
Its official opening is on June 1.
Elsewhere on the Bukit, the new Rima resort being built by the owners of AYANA is coming along. Expect an opening this year. Rima means forest, not that much actual forest exists on the Bukit given that the climate favours more your savannah-style vegetation and that people keep chopping it down anyway, to build more stuff. Still, if stuff’s got to be built – and we suppose it has – then rather AYANA’s environmentally aware operators than some others we could name.
Hector’s Diary appears in the Bali Advertiser newspaper,published fortnightly, and on the newspaper’s website http://www.baliadvertiser.biz. Hector tweets @scratchings and is on Facebook (Hector McSquawky)