HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser May 29, 2013

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Family Time

The ties that bind otherwise widely disparate families and characters into a familial network are very apparent in Bali, as in many other cultures. They are decreasingly visible in western societies where the state has long since taken over the role of matriarch (or patriarch if you like) and individuals are far more mobile and have much wider choices of employment and location.

So it is good still to be numbered in the declining percentile and be firmly for the family. This was reinforced during a week in Scotland in mid-May, a sojourn deemed necessary for remedial, toe-in-the-gene-pool therapy. It was a time spent among the family in the Border country where the churches are Episcopalian, a goodly portion of the ecclesiastical architecture has identifiable Norman leanings, and the food is, well, fantastic.

It is true Sassenach country (Saxon country), very far from the Scotland of the picture books and tourist brochures. This made it altogether strange that the railway station near where we were staying with a lovely cousin was named An Druim, in Scottish Gaelic, as well as Drem, the name by which it is universally known.

There was a lovely party on the weekend before our departure for notionally warmer clines, involving several cousins and including a representative of the family’s Australian connection – a genuine one, not the ring-in Diary version. There are few people with whom it is possible just to take up a conversation where one left it two years earlier; and even fewer who on first acquaintance seem instantly to be family.

Auld Reekie Revisited

We were twice in Edinburgh, a city that soothes the soul – big enough and sufficiently cerebral to be a genuine national capital, yet small enough to be both manageable and scenic – and which is a great place for lunch.

The weather was bleak in the unforgiving way that bleakness acquires only nine degrees south of the Arctic Circle, but the food makes up for any chill the city can throw at you, especially in the Grass Market and on Lothian Road. Soup warms the bones as well as the heart; and at certain venues Italian cuisine, in good company, absolves all sins.

What the weather serves up in the way of inclement conditions is in any case offset by the long days at this time of the year. It’s a treat to be able to sit outside (rugged up if necessary) and drink in the 10pm twilight.

Marchon! Marchon!

From Scotland we went on to Marseille (it’s better, and authentically, spelt that way) which was to be our base for a month. Our apartment, a particularly fine home exchange option, overlooks the Mediterranean (actually the Ligurian) Sea and the sweep of Provencal coastline the north and west of the city: a magic spot.

Equally magic is the variety of eating and shopping experiences close by. We’ve even been to Carrefour, a one-kilometre stroll up the road from our beachside digs, though just as at home in Bali we prefer smaller, local shopping opportunities. We’ve found those too, and in consequence are eating really rather well.

The walking routine is as close as we’ll be getting to the Marseillaise and its command to the citoyens to marchon, even though we are temporary residents of the city that brought the world the French revolutionary anthem. They’ll have to excuse us. Our sang is still a bit froid to make us happily sing about someone else’s nationalistic fervour. And anyway, it’s not July 14 yet.

Schengen Shenanigans

KLM’s Denpasar-Amsterdam service is very good. Even with an hour-plus on the ground in Singapore, the time in air from wheels up at Ngurah Rai to touchdown at Schiphol is well under 17 hours. Flying westward, the effects of jet lag are minimal, especially on the KLM schedule which effectively makes the trip just one very long night. Just set your watch on Amsterdam time on departure, and relax.

We had a very short connection time in Amsterdam before flying on to Edinburgh, but (in contrast to Air France via Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris two years ago) our luggage nonetheless managed to accompany us to our final destination.

But Schiphol does have a problem with Schengen area passport control and central security screening. On our trip back from Edinburgh via Amsterdam to Marseille that part of the programme was a shemozzle. The queues were huge, unruly and cross, and the airport staff and security personnel similarly distempered.

No one sensible objects to strict passport controls or to invasive security checks. But someone at Schiphol needs to work out that people with short connection times need to be accommodated on a more productive basis than complete lack of official interest in whether they make their flight or not.

We’re in Touch

Not too many years ago departing from anywhere to anywhere out of immediate earshot meant cutting yourself off from current events in your place of origin. Sometimes this was to personal advantage: Raffles, for example, could invade Java free of any worries that someone at head office might see a tweet from him or look at his Facebook and detect a scurrilous plan in the making. Similarly, England’s wayward remittance men could safely be sent to the colonies and never be heard of again.

No more, of course, with the internet ubiquitously available. So even though we’re half a world away (only temporarily; no one should get too excited) we’re fully briefed on Bali business.

Among those things to have piqued our interest is an impending event in the AYANAsphere due to take place in June – happily, on a date after our return to Bali. They’re launching their grand ballroom and meeting rooms, set for MICE (spenders rather than rodents) and introducing new sister resort RIMBA at a function on June 21. We’ll be there.

Family Tree

It might strike some as strange that the new Mangrove Motorway through the fragile marine environment of Benoa Bay – an enterprise we are assured will solve South Bali’s horrendous traffic problems, won’t do a bit of harm to the mangroves, and will be launched (we do hope not literally) by the President in June – has not yet been given a name. They do things differently in Bali.

Never mind. Things are moving on that front now. Suggestions for names are beginning to emerge. Among them is a great proposal from Udayana University academic Darma Putra Nyoman, who says the toll road – Bali’s first – should be named after dance artist I Wayan Lotring (1898-1983), a grandmaster of Balinese dance and percussion from Kuta who contributed mightily to the development of Balinese art and culture both locally and as an international icon.

We really like that idea.  It seems appropriate. There’s already been a bit of a song and dance about the road. And it would be so much better than recycling a name from the political or insurrectionist past or choosing something utterly soul (and culture) destroying as in the case of Jl. Sunset Road. Come to think of it, we’re not much into tautology, either.


Speaking of Sunset Road, which anyone who has to drive to or through Kuta does frequently, often in less than complimentary terms, we got a giggle out of some of the feedback in The Beat Daily recently about the new underpass at Dewa Ruci.

This followed a report that the Bali legislature is inquiring into the adequacy of emergency escape staircases at the underpass, which is now partially open to traffic. Our lawmakers apparently want to know where this essential bit of infrastructure is and indeed, whether it exists. They could pop down there in their taxpayer-provided limousines and have a look of course, but that’s asking a bit much.

One comment on this issue related to the misbehaviour of motorbikes, a constant issue on Bali’s roads. It also suggested that given the fact that it rains now and then, and that motorcyclists invariably seek shelter, the underpass would inevitably be blocked in anything heavier than a passing sprinkle.

We’re all in favour of upgrading Bali’s arterial road system. But this would be of far greater utility if driver skills were similar improved, by several thousand percent.

(Hector is away from The Cage, on a slightly longer than normal Short Essential Break)

Hector’s Diary appears in the fortnightly print edition of the Bali Advertiser. He tweets @scratchings.

Voodoo in a Pinstripe – Kingdom of the sick #1

This is a really good read, and challenging.


After the announcement last week of Angelina Jolie’s ‘decision’ to remove her healthy breasts because of medical advice, and the trillion-dollar industry that is benefiting from her influence, I decided to publish a little story from Sydney in 2003, when I was told I was terminally ill and would never walk again… in support of all those frightened into medical dependence.


St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney, Australia. Office of Dr S. Brite, Immunology: He clearly had an ironing lady, and had not done anything all morning to disturb the post-colonial violence of his immaculate pin-striped business shirt.

Even though he was a man who dealt, every half hour, with the agonies of the people he was assisting to die …slowly. And even though it was February, in Australia.

Against the deleterious drab of his office, so vividly just one brick wall away from the baking sheet of the Sydney summer…

View original post 2,633 more words

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, May 15, 2013


His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences


It’s Tough at the Top

Governor Made Pastika has faced some tough challenges during his term as Bali’s elected leader (today, May 15, is the gubernatorial election and he’s running again, vying for a second term) which have in some instances not been because of the things he has done or not done, but instead relate to the poisonous nature of politics. We’re not making an invidious point: politics is poisonous everywhere. Indeed, one of the reasons your diarist moved to Bali to live was to ameliorate the effects of too many years too deeply and too intimately involved in this arcane art in Australia.

     In the Great South Land, the special biosphere, source of the monosyllabic legions of singlet-clad, beer-swilling, low-cost (golly, we nearly wrote low-rent) tourists who with alarming frequency turn Kuta and parts of Legian into something resembling an Antipodean swamp, Pastika’s local problems would be ascribed to one or other, or possibly both, of two immutable laws of public affairs:  Murphy’s, and that of his cousin Sod.

     Often, it must be said, it is somewhat inventive to invoke these functions of dysfunction as the agency of one’s own misfortune. It’s a long-handed way of advancing the explanation for failure, popular here, that one’s friend did it. In other places, it’s the dogs that eat the homework. Here they have no need to. There’s rubbish aplenty in the streets for them to scavenge.

     So leaving aside a few inconvenient mangroves (which we see from reported remarks of the chap who’s in charge of building the Mangrove Motorway through the fragile and shallow waters of Benoa Bay are actually enhanced by concrete pylons) and a couple of his more visible stumbles into the footlights while starring in the latest popular farce, we sympathise with the Guv.

     Take the recent rape-robbery of an unfortunate Australian woman at an Umalas villa, for one example. Pastika had nothing to do with this or indeed with the detail of policing to deter criminal mayhem. It’s not the Governor who sits on his bum all day instead of getting out patrolling the neighbourhood. That’s not his job. Ahem, that’s actually the job of the police. Pause for polite laughter.

     Nevertheless, the Guv still found it politically necessary to give a categorical guarantee – which similarly he cannot give – that tourists are safe here. Chalk up another opportunity for Murphy; or Sod.


A Stand-Out Success

Founder Gaye Warren tells us 588 tickets were sold for this year’s Bali Pink Ribbon Walk – held at Nusa Dua on Apr. 28 – and says the 2013 event was spectacularly endowed with children and dogs. Both are essential elements of life, we agree. As well, an active interest in combating breast cancer (and other diseases) is crucial and should be inculcated in young people as early as possible. There’s no reason why an appreciation of civil society – in its broadest sense – should not be widely apparent in anyone with even embryonic faculties to recognise the rights of others and the fact that we’re all aboard the same Ark, in a manner of speaking.

    Organisers were aiming for 500 ticket sales this year, so the result is very good. It testifies not only to increasing awareness of breast cancer but also to the energetic promotion of the fight against it that Bali is fortunate to see in people such as Warren and her band of enthusiastic associates.

     This year’s walk, supported as always by the hotels and resorts which make up so large a part of Bali’s foreign earnings sector (the food was yummy, guys) also featured the otherwise unusual spectacle of medical perambulators. Doctors from Singapore and Darwin, as well as local specialists, trotted off round the circuit with the rest of the crowd.

     In the days following the walk, they got down to the serious field work that is crucial to detecting breast cancer early enough to combat it effectively. On Apr. 29-30 the Pink Ribbon House mobile scanning team checked out 280 women in Denpasar and Ubud. This was followed by preventive checks and education sessions more widely throughout the island. In another innovation an online auction was held from Apr. 29-May 1 to raise further funds.

    Breast cancer is still little understood in traditional and remote Balinese communities so the education effort and medical checks are a continuing need. Too many Balinese women are not aware enough of the risks of breast cancer to report symptoms early.

     Pink Ribbon House in Kuta, a pioneer institution in Indonesia in more ways than one, is set for its official opening in October, world breast cancer awareness month.


Hot Form

We ran into Gaye Warren a day or so before the Big Walk when both she (and husband Chris) and Hector turned out for the opening of a lovely art exhibition at Ganesha Gallery, Four Seasons Jimbaran, organised by the energetic Melly St Ange in aid of the Senang Hati (Happy Hearts) Foundation at Tampak Siring, near Ubud. It is a not-for-profit group that assists the disabled in Bali. The foundation creates programmes to develop self-confidence, physical and economic independence, and increase awareness in the general community of the rights of people with disabilities. Its motto is “From Isolation to Integration”.

     An auction on opening night raised funds for the group. Works by five artists were featured: Ida Ayu Wiadnyani Manuaba (her father is former traditional painter turned priest Ida Bagus Gde Djika) who has exhibited in Australia; Putu Suriati, from Kedewatan near Ubud ,who never went to school because she got polio when she was five; Kartika Sudibia, who started painting as therapy three years ago after surviving cancer of the uterus and whose work sells in Malaysia, Taiwan, Australia and Europe; and Australians Nina Packer (she lives in Bali) and Cheryl Tonkin, whose art presents the female form, frequently with a piquant eroticism.

     Ganesha’s, and Four Seasons’, support for charity deserves a cheer. We caught up with Geetha Warrier, the plush pub’s publicist, at the show and said so.


Is That You Puss?

Facebook is an engaging environment, if you use it sensibly. It can bring you little moments of joy, such as, for example, an exchange recently – it related to the utility and function of Bali’s roads (the consensus was nil on both counts by the way) – that drew out American cult novelist and multimedia artist Kris Saknussemm, who is no stranger to Bali. He was a star attraction at the 2010 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival.

     It was in relation to the uniformly quiet nature of Bali’s roads that Saknussemm surfaced. Like public thoroughfares anywhere, the island’s roads are forever inanimate and silent. Their lot in life is merely to provide channels for those who use them to test Darwin’s theory of evolution or take the mischances of fate. Your diarist, wearing his day job hat, had noted this quality of quietness. Saknussemm, delightfully electing to miss the point, came back with a line that said the road from Ubud to Denpasar might sometimes be quiet, but only at the dead of night.

    Saknussemm has lived most of his life outside the US but at present resides in Las Vegas, home of the Elvis Chapel which your diarist has never entered though some of his family have (it’s OK, we don’t have an issue with it). He told us: “But then it’s often dead silent where I live now. You could hear a cat piss right now. Not far away is the quiet of a million years.”

    A writer of consummate talent (as well as 10 books) he certainly is. That drew a lovely word picture and we said so. And added: “I think I just heard a distant tinkle.”


 Just a Thought

 Twitter also gets a bad press. This is unfair. Not everyone on it is a total twit. And like all good things, it occasionally gives you a giggle. One popped up on our Tweet Deck the other day while we were desperately trying not to notice Kim Kardashian or someone else equally forgettable (perhaps it was Kanye West). It was doubly welcome because it also temporarily reduced angst over the latest annoying fiddling with things that work very well, by the busybody gizmo wizards in tweet heaven.

    Here it is: “Fake friends would ask if you were okay when you fell. Real friends would trip you again.”


Sits Vac

Conrad Bali at Nusa Dua is looking for a marketing and public relations manager. Mirah Marhaendra, who got the job after the 2011 management changes there, has departed. Conrad is a stellar property in Bali’s international resorts firmament with lots to market and plenty to publicly relate. We look forward to staying on the mailing list.


Hector’s Diary is published in the Bali Advertiser, out fortnightly, and appears on the newspaper’s website http://www.baliadvertiser.biz. Hector tweets @scratchings and is on Facebook (Hector McSquawky).