8degreesoflatitude

THINGS THAT INTEREST, ENGAGE AND ENRAGE

Month: September, 2014

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Oct. 1, 2014

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

 

A Zesty Little Soup, Again

This year’s Ubud Writers and Readers Festival kicks off today without the assistance of V.S. Naipaul, the Tolstoy of Trinidad, who withdrew from the program last month apparently dissatisfied with the quantum of perquisites set to come his way. Never mind. There are plenty of other entertainingly literary minds involved in the festival, the eleventh. Most of them aren’t gold pass members of the Figjam Club.

This year’s theme, Saraswati: Wisdom & Knowledge, is an exploration of the wisdom to be gained by creative expression. The festival is fielding more than 150 writers from 25-plus countries, including a great line-up of Indonesian talent. Goenawan Mohamad, intellectual Azyumardi Azra, art patron Agung Rai and Festival favourites Debra Yatim, Ahmad Fuadi and Ketut Yuliarsa are on the list, as well as Sacha Stevenson, the How to act Indonesian YouTube hit sensation.

Made Wijaya will make an appearance. It’s good to see the Seer of Sanur out and about. He’s no stranger to paradise, after all, and he’s always good for a giggle. The festival organizers declare him to be Truman Capote with a machete. Such a shame then that we shan’t actually be present: People tell us we do a great Stephen Fry with a sharp s-s-stick.

Prizewinning Hassan Blasim (Independent Foreign Fiction Prize); Eimear McBride (Baileys Women’s Prize) and Cyrus Mistry (2014 DSC Prize) and the Scottish queen of crime writing and creator of the TV series Wire in the Blood Val McDermid will be sampling the mists of Ubud. Novelist Amitav Ghosh and Pulitzer Prize-finalist Deborah Baker are on the program and will also lead an exclusive post-Festival Komodo Islands cruise.

Also on board are avant-garde Asian fiction writers Can Xue from China and Minae Mizumura from Japan. Former UN Representative in Sudan Mukesh Kapila; frontline journalist Pallavi Aiyar; author of The Wisdom of Whores and Indonesia etc Elizabeth Pisani; and Polish editor and journalist Adam Michnik are providing the human rights and social comment diet. And on the environmental front there’s Keibo Oiwa, Nadya Hutagalung and Willie Smits, among others. It will be a good show.

One of the book launches is especially timely. Darwin, by Tess Lea, captures the essence of Australia’s northern capital. Her Darwin is a hybrid creation: part social history, part anthropological study, part personal memoir. Lea captures the city’s violent beginnings, its battles with the elements, the press of the heat and humidity, its wondrous multiculturalism, its beauty and its policy foibles.

The book launch is free and is at The Elephant, Hotel Taman Indrakila, Jl Raya Sanggingan, from 4.30-6pm tomorrow (Oct. 2). This year is the 40th anniversary of Cyclone Tracy, which all but obliterated Darwin on Christmas Day, 1974.

 

Resource KA-boom

Meanwhile, a few hundred post-iconic rice field views away to the east from Ubud where foreign navel-gazers have taken over the place to commune with themselves, ruminate over their macrobiotic diets, wicker about saving the world, and imagine they’re experiencing the real Bali, lies Bangli, where suspension of belief takes on another form.

Anthropologist-journalist and long-term Indonesia-watcher Graeme MacRae had a disturbing piece from his blog in the online Indonesia Weekly in mid-September, about the Wild West-style despoliation of Bali. He wrote this:

A few weeks ago, I drove up the Sidemen road, famous since the 1930s as one of the most beautiful in Bali. I would have taken it slowly anyway, to enjoy the views, but I had no choice. Around 200 trucks were coming the other way, down from the mountains, overloaded with sand, gravel and rock.

Where were they coming from? Where were they going to?

They come from quarries on the slopes of the sacred mountain Agung. They are headed where everything else is headed: into the hundreds of hotel, villa and other construction projects. Most are in Bali’s coastal resorts, but some are on rice fields around the sprawling urban area of Denpasar/Kuta.

A few days later, I meet a similar procession coming down the other sacred mountain, Batur. This time I learn a bit more. Every day, from before dawn till after dusk, at least 1500 overloaded trucks grind their way painfully up out of the crater, stopping on the way to offload excess weight.

Down in the caldera, amid what is left of a rich but delicate ecosystem of wild grasses and orchids which feed off volcanic ash among spectacular fields of black lava, lies one of the far outposts of the global resource economy.

Piles of black gravel line the narrow road around the caldera floor. Alongside it are makeshift shelters under which men and women shovel gravel through large sieves into piles of finer sand. When the sieving is done, they flag down a truck and load it by hand. Signs invite trucks into a hinterland of even narrower dirt tracks where more piles are waiting. Each hamlet the trucks pass through shares in the boom by levying its own little toll.

There’s a lot more to MacRae’s piece than that, of course. But it exactly describes the dilemma that faces Bali, one that is rooted in over-development, incapable administration, local lawlessness and unmet (and impossible) expectations.

Never mind that Agung and Batur are sacred. Forget that Batur is UN heritage listed. Overlook the fact that the scene of its despoliation is slap bang in the middle of a brand new Geopark.

Batur is in the Panjandrumistan of Bangli (we know it more formally as Kabupaten Bangli and more familiarly as the regency of the same name). Like so many other little district council areas in Indonesia, it runs at its own pace – with regal distain and glacial slowness unless acquisition of money has piqued interest – and operates by its own set of impenetrably circular rules.

MacRae’s “Wild West” description is colourful. But it’s inaccurate. The Sioux, the Cheyenne, the Crow, the Ute, the Apache, the Navaho and all the other nations that made up the indigenous humanity of the American West didn’t despoil their country themselves. Outsiders came in and did it for them.

Here in Bali, the indigenous population is busily wrecking the joint do-it-yourself-style.

 

Oh Yes, We Know it Well

A smile briefly creased the lips the other day when Jack Daniels’ inestimable Bali Update told us this, in relation to the proposed pedestrian underpass at the airport traffic circle to enable people to visit the park wherein one of the many monumental remembrances of local hero I Gusti Ngurah Rai stands, Ozymandias-style, surveying its domain:

“The statue and the surrounding park area are deemed suitable for public recreation but are made inaccessible to the public by four lanes of heavy traffic that continually circle the area.”

We’ve often thought that the chaotic traffic there is caused precisely by vehicles that continually circle the area. They might perhaps be trying to change lanes, though that’s unlikely. In Bali you just barge in. They’re probably just trapped, poor things.

The plan to build the Rp 3.7 billion underpass is in doubt because the Ministry of Public Works in Jakarta, the formal owner of the non-monumental infrastructure involved, has yet to say it’s OK.

 

Homeward Bound

For two decades long ago Britain’s longest-published weekly journal of affairs and politics, The Spectator, had a wonderful columnist whose name was Jeffrey Bernard. He was among the last of the Soho Set, a roué in the full sense of the term. He was a dreadful sot and as a result was frequently absent in the latter part of his 21 years with the magazine. “Jeffrey Bernard is unwell” became a line one looked for whenever one bought a copy of the magazine and searched for his column. Quite understandably it was called Low Life. He liked a rant and did it well. He ceased ranting in 1997, aged only 55.

Nominated in one newspaper obituary as his own Boswell, he ranted so well that Keith Waterhouse wrote a play about him and Peter O’Toole starred in a made-for-TV movie filmed at the Old Vic in London.

There have been times over the past four months when Hector has entertained the passing fancy that he too could be unwell. It does carry a certain cachet, after all, being vicariously included in such errantly distinguished company as Bernard’s. But we resisted the temptation. There are many we would have disappointed by non-appearance, we reasoned, the legions of Advertiser readers who turn to Hector’s Diary and utter their fortnightly imprecation: “What on earth is he on about this time?”

We’re due to be home in Bali by the time the next Advertiser hits the streets. It’s been a very long time between drinks.

Hector tweets @scratchings on Twitter

 

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Sep. 17, 2014

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

In the Picture

Myuran Sukumaran, the British-born Australian who has been on death row in Kerobokan Jail for eight years awaiting a firing squad for his leading part in the infamous 2005 Bali Nine drug smuggling case, has been on show in Melbourne. Well, his art has, at an exhibition at the Matthew Sleeth Studio in inner suburban Brunswick on Sept. 6.

Sukumaran, who says his art has helped give him a sense of self-control in prison, has worked hard to rehabilitate himself while his various appeals against his death sentence have worked their way through the Indonesian court system. His final plea for clemency now rests unanswered in the presidential office, where in the near-dead-duck closing stages of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s term not even the paperwork can be bothered to shuffle. The famous last words of the 19th century Australian criminal Ned Kelly, “Such is life”, come to mind. They are both a parable of Sukumaran’s own sorry record and an allegorical reference for SBY’s presidency.

Some people say criminals such as Sukumaran and the leading lights of the Bali Nine gang deserve no sympathy. But an eye for eye is neither a moral precept nor a sensible social response. Further, judicial killing is still killing. Two wrongs will never make a right. Policymakers everywhere should remember that.

One of the aims of a corrective prison system is to rehabilitate inmates. Sukumaran established the prisoner art scheme in Kerobokan. He has talent, as his work shows, and has plainly responded well to mentoring by Australian artists Ben Quilty – whose portrait of the painter Margaret Olley won the Archibald Prize in 2011 and who was the official Australian war artist in Afghanistan – and visual artist Sleeth. Both have been working with the Kerobokan art group for two years.

The 20 Sukumaran works shown in Melbourne were all for sale, at prices several floors above bargain basement. They are eye-catching – and conscience-gripping – works which among other things feature portraits of SBY and Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa and his Australian counterpart, Julie Bishop. Funds raised from sales of his paintings went to support the Kerobokan art project.

That project is ongoing with the support of local interests – and the indomitable Lizzie Love. Good show!

Seal of Approval

BIMC Hospital at Nusa Dua has won Australian Council on Healthcare Standards (ACHS) accreditation, the first hospital in Indonesia to receive recognition that its standards meet those set within Australia by the country’s leading independent authority on health care. The award was made in July after three assessors form Australia and Hong Kong spent three days reviewing the care and standards at BIMC Nusa Dua and commended the team on the quality of care and service.

This year BIMC linked with the Lippo Group and its Siloam hospitals in a major move to bring western standard health and hospital care within reach of more and more Indonesians. BIMC Nusa Dua is targeting the broadening market in medical tourism with a suite of specialties. These include cosmetic medicine, state of the art orthopaedic treatments and a dialysis centre that can cater for tourists who require regular sessions.

Executive chairman of BIMC Siloam, Craig Beveridge, said of ACHS accreditation that “[It] sends a clear message to the community that BIMC Nusa Dua, its management and staff, are committed to excellence in health care with a strong and continuous focus on safety, quality and performance. I would like to commend all involved.”

Beveridge is justifiably proud of his establishment’s achievement. He says this: “We believe our patients deserve the best. Going through the process challenged us to find better ways to serve our patients, and it is a constant reminder that our responsibility is to strive to continuously improve the quality of care we provide.”

As the leading independent authority on the measurement and implementation of quality improvement systems for Australian health care facilities, the ACHS provides assessment of the development of health care standards through consultation with industry by which quality of care may be assessed and a survey of health care organizations on a voluntary basis using these standards. This is done by peer review.

It also has an Australian national education program to help in preparing for accreditation; offers advice and consultation on health care programs; has information services on quality in health care; and offers electronic assessment tools to assist in recording data.

There is a rigorous process of external peer review to meet world class standards for patient care; performance outcomes that provide data for benchmarking throughout the health care system; and measures to improve outcomes of care and respect for the individual.

It also puts BIMC prominently on the marketing map. That’s no bad thing.

Throwing Petrol on the Fire

It’s surprisingly difficult to get arrested in Indonesia for crimes such as corruption or bare-faced incitement to murder. But try “defaming” someone with clout, real or imagined, and you can swiftly end up in the pokey. That’s what happened to an unfortunate young woman student at Yogyakarta’s Gadjah Mada University after she ran into an intemperate queue at a petrol station – a queue formed in the crucible of the government’s unsustainable subsidy scheme – and bleated about it in a social media post.

She said that Yogyakarta was poor, stupid and uncultured and suggested friends in Jakarta and Bandung should avoid the place. Her post on Path went viral, in the patois of the text message age, and numbers of self-elected luminaries decided to be really, really pissed off about it. She was first subjected to online bullying (we get some ourselves from time to time: we find that a virtual knee in the goolies deters further assault) and then a precious group – oops, sorry, pressure group – called Jati Sura reported her to police for defamation. Astonishingly, defamation is a criminal offence in Indonesia. Pricking balloons and puncturing egos is a threat to the state, it seems.

The young woman apologized in the grovelling way one has to do that here and the little storm blew itself out without upsetting too many teacups. But it’s such a shame that there appears to be no provision for someone with rank in the police to stamp on such silly overreactions before yet another seriously embarrassing comedic opportunity is generated.

Silly Question

Speaking of social media, Ubud fixture Annie Canham had this to say on Facebook the other day: “Just a question … why are there now so many dog rescue people, shelters, beach feeders, sterilisation groups and more…but from my personal observations they don’t seem to be connected at all … seems crazy … why can’t they be one united group, sharing facilities, drugs, equipment food and most of all donations…”

She got an answer (of sorts) from someone called Nyoman Sugirawan, who said Canham surely knew the answer and why was she asking it again.

There are of course many reasons for separate efforts, including differences of emphasis (and intellectual value). But the general point is a good one. As we’ve noted before several times, there are more than enough needy dogs around to occupy any number of animal welfare groups. It would make sense to work together in a planned and organized way, in a spirit of mutual recognition. Turf wars are tedious.

Back Home to a Curate’s Egg

Blogger extraordinaire Vyt Karazija returned to Bali earlier this month – and to a more regular diet of social media posts – with two bits of intelligence to hand. In the manner of the apocryphal curate’s egg, some of this was bad and some of it good. On the demerit side of the oeuf, he found that after a spell in Melbourne using an Australian SIM card in his Telkomsel phone his Indonesian SIM wouldn’t work and that several other cyber difficulties also apparent.

On the merit side, he tells us the much valued and essential Multiple Exit Re-entry Permit is now valid for the full 12 months of your KITAS instead of the bureaucratic nightmare 11 months that has been the unbelievable practice until now.

You win some, you lose some.

Lit., Glit and Otherwise

Next edition’s Diary will appear on the opening day of Janet DeNeefe’s annual lit-glit festival in Ubud. This year, unfortunately, a date with another event in Australia and some further time necessarily to be spent in the Special Biosphere afterwards will deprive us of an opportunity to be present to ooh and aah with the in-crowd.

We got a little note from DeNeefe in our mailbox on Sep. 10, telling us that at three weeks out there was plenty of excitement building in Ubud for the Oct. 1-5 Festival. All the details of the 200 events at 54 venues were on line and the program book was making its way from Jakarta to Bali. Hopefully this was not by camel train.

Hector tweets @scratchings on Twitter

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Sep. 3, 2014

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

  

Welcome to Bali, Far Queue

We keep hearing about the new model management at Ngurah Rai International Airport. About this beneficence we can only say that it will be good if the promissory notes it is issuing and that denote improved service have actual as opposed to notional value. It’s not clear that anyone should risk turning blue in the face while holding their breath awaiting these developments, however.

There are so many things. The rude entrapment of departing passengers in a maze of duty free shops is but one. You can’t get from passport control to anywhere you’d want to be without running the gauntlet of shop girls desperate to separate you from your money. Far more important and even more irritating is the security check shemozzle before you even get into the airport building. It’s a circus.

That’s when you’re trying to leave the Bali. It’s worse when you’re trying to arrive, especially if you’re a visa-on-arrival passenger. It’s an insult that anyone should have to stand in a horrendous queue to buy a visa and then join the tail end of another melee to get a passport officer to stamp it. It can sometimes take four hours. Welcome to Bali – Not.

It should be noted that staffing of passport control desks is a function not of the airport authority but of the government, but surely someone must have noticed that if there are 2000 incoming passengers from planes that all seem to have managed to land at once, four passport officers at the desks is hardly enough. Rosters, anyone? Perhaps the airport authority might mention this to someone, somewhere (possibly even in the Istana Negara) if it would like to encourage passengers to continue to arrive in line with their revenue forecasts. Perhaps it has. If so, this would be nice to know.

If you survive this tedious circuit of paper-shuffling, Indonesian style (why give one person a simple job when you can give it to four and complicate it beyond measure?) and the next queue for the baggage scanning, and make it to the exit, the rapacious taxi monopoly is then waiting for you. Or not. If it’s after midnight because you’ve been held up in the queue to get in, that particular piratical crew might well have gone home.

 

Give ’Em a Wave

ROLE Foundation Bali put on a Waterman’s’ Benefit Night on Aug. 30. We’d have been there but for the displacement factor: we’re still in Australia at the moment. The Grand Prize was indeed grand. Padang Padang 8″2′ Doris Gun Surf Board + 13 Night Surf Boat Trip on Doris’ Ship ‘The Raja Elang’, Mentawai, Sumatra Organizer Sean Cosgrove billed it thus: Padang Padang 8″2′ Doris Gun Surf Board + 13 Night Surf Boat Trip on Doris’ Ship ‘The Raja Elang’, Mentawai, Sumatra.

Doris is of course Tony Eltherington, a good bloke indeed and a man you can rely on to lend a hand in any circumstances, however difficult. He is memorialized in many places, including at InSalt, the little surfers’ warung on the Balangan road at Ungasan, where a burger has been named after him. InSalt is the nearest local eatery to The Cage. The Doris Day burger is OK. The mie goreng is too. And the music is cool.

The raffle prizes at the Aug. 30 show – the Doris special included – were all top-notch. The money raised was to benefit the Soul Surf Project, a non-profit organisation that helps underprivileged orphans in Bali experience the thrill of surfing by providing lessons as a means to grow awareness of the environment to keep the sea and beaches clean. Party-goers performed a public service as well as enjoying themselves.

It was at Old Man’s, Batu Bolong. Along with awards, great prizes and an auction, there were live sets by Hydrant and the Mangrooves. 

 

Hanging with an Old Friend

Made Kaek is an artist of exceptional talent, something that was happily revealed to The Diary and Distaff nearly a decade and a half ago on an early holiday trip to Bali. This discovery resulted in the purchase of two of his 2001 works which then travelled to Queensland, Australia, where they hung, much loved by ourselves and frequently admired by friends, in our house in Brisbane.

When four years later we subjected our lives to a sea change and shifted domicile to share Western Australia and Bali on a sort of extended and largely informal fly-in fly-out basis, the Made Kaek paintings went into storage along with the rest of our art. Nomads don’t generally travel with a collection in their baggage.

Now, however, with the retirement of some other works at the premises, they have found another wall to hang on, at the place in Busselton (it’s conveniently close to many fine wineries) that functions as our Australian home. Among the works now adorning the walls are the two Made Kaek pieces.

Since 2001 Made Kaek’s work has developed in style and presentation, and in some ways genre. This has taken it beyond his earlier form. He regularly produces work that one would covet were it not a sin to do so, in all three religions of the Book and most others. And buy, if one’s wallet were as flush as it was in former times.

There’s a school of thought – it seems to owe some of its genesis to the irritating post-colonial counter-cringe that gets underfoot in Bali and the rest of Indonesia, as it does in so many places – that suggests contemporary Balinese artists face a challenge in defining the relationship between their traditional cultural heritages and being a modern artist. According to the Balinese anthropologist Degung Santika (surely writing tongue in cheek) this is probably part of the “burden” of being Balinese.

It’s true that outsiders often expect the Balinese to conform to stereotypes that don’t fit their individual characters. It’s true too that in the West most of the exhibitions of non-Western artists are in ethnological museums rather than museums of modern art. But these are Western problems, “outsider” problems, not Balinese ones.

Made Kaek and other modern Balinese artists rise above their cultural roots but continue to acknowledge their heritage. Made Kaek’s art might owe as much to New York City’s graffiti artists as it does to Balinese ritual and religion, but modern art is trans-cultural, globalized, and increasingly anarchic. He does his very well indeed.

 

Heading for a Crunch

Speaking of the art of anarchy, the continuing expansion of condotels in Bali provides a prime example (unfortunately not pretty) of the wilful way in which developers and governments – at all levels – ignore both reality and their own future fiscal security. Planning laws are a joke, where they aren’t just a mess. Regents, doubtless citing the panjandrum clause that apparently makes them and their local districts functionally independent of the province within which their little bailiwick is located, approve hotels and other accommodation houses with gay abandon.

Governors, whose spatial planning regulations are routinely ignored, climb on the bandwagon and back mad schemes such as the filling in of more bits of Benoa Harbour to build more tourist-attracting facilities. At central government level, environmental laws are more notional than national.

In Bali, focus of most of Indonesia’s high-throughput tourism trade, the inability of existing or “planned future” infrastructure to match demand is plain to see, even by Blind Freddy. Oversupply of visitor accommodation is foolish. It is a way to lose money and markets. Not in the immediate future, of course; though that is exactly where planning falls apart in Bali. No one thinks beyond the current calendar or visualizes over the horizon.

Recent reports indicate that there are 5000 Condotel units already operating in Bali with another 8000 entering the market over the next few years.  A study by Cushman & Wakefield Indonesia points to coming pressures on value of properties. It’s true that everything has its price. The problem is an oversupplied market sets prices below return levels for investors.

A timely warning on another aspect of Bali’s one-egg-in-one-basket dollar economy – tourism – again makes the point that the push for more and more tourists is counterproductive since it will devalue the product.

The chairman of the Indonesian Tourism Association (GIPI), Ida Bagus Ngurah Wijaya, said recently that Bali’s past success was no guarantee of continued performance. He fears that Bali’s reputation may be on the downturn because of the emphasis over the past three to four years on becoming a bargain destination.

He has a point. Premium and bargain are generally terms that are mutually exclusive.

Hector tweets @scratchings on Twitter