8degreesoflatitude

THINGS THAT INTEREST, ENGAGE AND ENRAGE

Month: November, 2014

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Nov. 26, 2014

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Singapore Sling-off

It’s been a while since we were in Singapore so we had been quite looking forward to getting back there this month. We had been amusing ourselves with thoughts about minding the platform gap again, but the MRT was full of very pushy people on our two train rides and the whole experience was one of rather less than unalloyed delight.

Traffic also seemed to be much less well behaved than hitherto. The unnecessary and noisy practice of sounding your car horn – for any reason, or none – is gaining a growing toehold in the previously well-mannered and equable city state. Worse, “big car” syndrome is more and more obvious. It is familiar to anyone in Indonesia and many other places where capitalism, bureaucracy and fat-wallet-lawyer are synonyms for bad-mannered. The bumptious practice of the cashed-up mob in such environments is to assume droit de seigneur and to believe it is immutable fact that if you’re in a BMW or a Mercedes and are therefore visibly rich and powerful, lesser mortals have only two options: to swoon at your feet or get run over.

Of course, democracy has never had much of a place in Singapore, what with Raffles being an English provincial imperialist, his successors being chiefly British and (briefly) Japanese officer bureaucrats, and their successors being Lee Kwan Yew, etc. We should not be surprised. Singapore seems, in so many ways not discounting the Gilbert & Sullivan, to be the very model of a modern Venetian republic. The Serenissima was the most successful city state of its thousand-year era, after the nabobs of the day demoted democracy to historical theory, until its last supine grandees capitulated to that well-born Corsican brigand Napoleone Buonaparte in 1797.

Great Australian Bite

We had dinner one evening with an old chum, Ian Mackie of Lasalle Investment Management. He’s a 20-year veteran of Singapore whose interests are many and among which is a chain of coffee-culture shops named Dimbulah. We were at the one at CHIJMES, a cloistered former convent, which  offers an evening dining experience as well. It has just added a burger that is out of this world. The menu is complemented by a nice range of Australian and New Zealand wines. The NZ pinot noir we had was first rate. It came from Central Otago. The burger came from the kitchen and was better than the best.

The coffee comes from Dimbulah Mountain Estate in North Queensland. Dimbulah is a little place on the Atherton Tableland behind Cairns where the altitude knocks a point or two off the tropical temperatures and Arabica coffee trees thrive. It is not to be confused with Dimboola in Victoria, in Australia’s far chillier south. Dimboola grows wheat and its chief claim to fame is the play of the same name written by Jack Hibberd.

Incorrigible Indeed

The Singapore trip – an occasion forced upon us by reason of the visa run you have to do if your KITAS expires while you’ve been away in Australia trying not to – did create one other opportunity. We’ve been trying to get a start on reading an English translation of Jean-Michel Guenassia’s 2011 debut novel The Incorrigible Optimists Club. It is at last available in paperback (Atlantic Books) and the translation by Euan Cameron is very good.

It’s certainly best in many circumstances to be an incorrigible optimist. For example, we are optimistic that we won’t have to miss the 2015 Yak Awards. This year’s otherwise not-to-be-missed and exotically eclectic bash was held on Nov. 14, the very day the bureaucrats had set for our temporary exile from the Island of the Bumf Shufflers.

It was such a shame. Not to be counted among 600 partygoers is bad enough. But to miss yet another chance to see the sibilantly sassy Sydney songbird Edwina Blush in action is surely a sin.

And So to Lombok

We’re not gluttons for punishment, really. But we did have some things to do in Lombok after the visa trip (and Visa trip) to Singapore, so we went straight there. Well, we tried to. We’d booked AirAsia Singapore-Bali with enough time if things had run to schedule to make a change to the domestic terminal at Ngurah Rai and get on a Garuda flight to Praya.

Things didn’t run to schedule. You can never afford to discount the intervention of Murphy’s (or Sodd’s) Laws. We missed our connection and had to get a later flight and pay an additional fee for doing so.

Never mind. It was good to see Lombok again; and some old friends and a patch of weeds we once thought seriously about turning into our Des Res. This trip we stayed at Kebun Villas – just across the road from the Sheraton in Senggigi – which we eventually reached after an interminable taxi ride from the airport.

Still, the glacially-paced taxi ride was a pointed example of the benefits of different styles. The cabbie who took us from the Copthorne King’s in Singapore to Changi Airport that morning had obviously been taught at taxi-driver school that whatever Gweilo passengers might say (“Slow down you idiot!” “Hey! That was a red light!”) if they’re going to the airport they’re always running late.

Resolve to Devolve, Properly

It’s interesting to hear reports – as the Jokowi presidency gets into gear and begins its promised shift towards more meaningful consultation than has been the case before – that Balinese delegates to the Regional Representative Council (DPD) are seeking greater autonomy for the island.

Real provincial powers are no bad thing, in a country of many ethnicities and significant, difficult differences and distances. That is, if they are managed properly; if they codified so that there is a clear division between central government and provincial powers; if they are understood by all parties as subordinate to national policy and judicial check; and if local-level governments understand their own place is at the bottom of the structure rather than the top and that the Great Panjandrum, if he exists at all, resides somewhere other than in a district council office.

Provincial autonomy until now has been a response to separatist pressures, notably in Aceh and Papua. It should instead be a political arrangement, a compact, designed to enhance the national entity. It would among other things do away with the need for a Regional Representative Council, which in Bali’s case is an invidious arrangement since it administratively groups Bali and both West and East Nusa Tenggara. Achieving this would require courage, open minds, and a true commitment to democracy.

Methanol Methodology

There’s a very useful initiative under way in Bali, the Methanol Poisoning Awareness (MPA) campaign. It’s being run by the British Consulate and was launched in October by Governor Made Mangku Pastika and the acting British Ambassador, Rebecca Razavi.

The campaign aims to raise awareness of the danger of methanol in counterfeit alcoholic drinks, and reduce the number of deaths and injuries suffered by foreign and domestic tourists in Indonesia, as a result.

Razavi said at the launch that the campaign underlines the importance of British tourists being aware of the health risks of counterfeit alcohol. In 2013 counterfeit alcohol caused more than 51 deaths and 52 hospital admissions in Indonesia.

The campaign materials are being distributed throughout Bali.

UK visitor arrivals to Indonesia have risen sharply in recent years. In the first quarter of 2014 a total of 48,871 British tourists travelled to Indonesia. In April alone, 19,809 British nationals visited, up 18.2 percent on April 2013. British authorities expect numbers to continue to increase now Garuda is flying to London.

It’s pleasing to report some British-sourced news. Though in this case there is also an Australian connection, albeit at one remove. Razavi was born in Tasmania.

Home Is Where the Art Is

It may pass almost unnoticed by many, but the growing collaboration between the national galleries of Indonesia and Australia is paying huge dividends in terms of sharing artistic expression and exposing art lovers in both countries to new experiences.

The Masters of Modern Indonesian Portraiture exhibition, which has recently had a month-long season at the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra, was a major National Gallery of Indonesia initiative. It was one of three art expositions this year that have demonstrated how diversity can foster unity.

The exhibition showed 35 significant Indonesian art works and offered insight into the rich portrait practice of Indonesia, showcasing key modernist works (1930-1980s) drawn from the National Gallery of Indonesia’s collection along with a selection of works by leading contemporary artists.

It was the first time works from the National Gallery of Indonesia had been shown in Australia. There are plans to ensure it is not the last. It was certainly a rare opportunity for Australian audiences to view the work of eminent modern artists from Indonesia, including masters S. Sudjojono, Hendra Gunawan and Affandi.

Hector tweets @scratchings on Twitter. His diary appears in the Bali Advertiser

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Nov. 12, 2014

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

She’s Off Her Face (Book)

Susi Johnston, the long-term American expatriate whose situation in regard to the property she lives in at Mengwi is as disgraceful as it is well known, has dropped off the social medium preferred by gazillions of virtual chatterers. She has deactivated her Facebook. She told us, when we inquired, that she was fed up with her situation (who could blame her?) and was upset by what she sees as abandonment by former friends. It is all very sad.

Her legal argument over title to her villa, which she shared with her late Italian husband, Bruno Piazza, remains unresolved. Some local grub, name known to police, decided that she should have it instead. Johnston’s house has been invaded. She has been threatened with violent harm. Her personal space has been violated. She has been the target of people who have planted illegal products in her home so she would be charged with a crime. But she is the victim and because of this has been a virtual prisoner in her villa for three years. She can’t even find a pembantu willing in the circumstances to be paid (very well) to keep house.

The police have done little except camp at her place 24/7 to “protect” her. In the process they have destroyed her life. The courts have done nothing except shuffle bumf. That’s no surprise but excuse us if we duck around a corner to vomit in disgust. The American consular system apparently cannot help her (or perhaps it will not).

In Johnston’s view the invidious situation of “nominee ownership” of property here means no one is safe unless everyone stands together. Foreigners cannot own freehold residential property in Indonesia. There is apparently still the quaint belief – though this is not a peculiarly Indonesian thing – that if filthy foreigners own land they might dig it up and steal away with it in the night. In fact it is Jakarta and Surabaya money – some of it black – that is the chief agency of land theft and the egregious despoliation that inevitably follows. But the unofficial and legally unsound nominee system which stands in the stead of outright foreign freehold ownership can work quite well if there is goodwill on each side.

Of course, it also enriches a lot of lawyers in Bali, among them practitioners whose acquisitive origins lie elsewhere, via the labyrinthine nature of Indonesian law and the fat brown envelope culture that underpins it.

Haunting Echoes

It would have been lovely to be at the Makassar Jazz Festival on the first weekend in November. Australian singer Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu was performing there, for the first time. He sings in the Gumatj dialect of Yolngu Matha, as did the Aboriginal rock group Yothu Yindi. Greg Moriarty, the Australian ambassador to Indonesia, had the good fortune to be in the audience.

Gurrumul’s music often enlivens The Cage and offers a spiritual lift. Particularly the haunting tracks Wiyathul and Bapa from his debut 2008 album Gurrumul, both of which on a hot, still night, remain capable of dampening an eye even after years of listening to them. He has done a lot of work since 2008, including last year’s collaboration with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. He has immensely strengthened cross-cultural links with the Balanda (the Australian settler community) through his music.

It’s entirely appropriate that Gurrumul should perform in Makassar. His traditional country on northern Australia’s littoral has links with Makassar that stretch back four hundred years, from the time in the 17th century when traders from Sulawesi first made contact. His own language contains modified words from Makassar now used in Bahasa Indonesia.

Moriarty was in South Sulawesi at the start of a visit to eastern Indonesia. Among other things on his schedule was a visit to an Australian-funded water project at Bantimurung that will increase the number of low-income households with access to piped water and sewerage.

He then went on to visit Papua province as part of Australia’s long-term support for economic development in eastern Indonesia.

In Aid of a Better Life

Among the lesser known things that Australian diplomatic and consular missions do is fund low-level self-help projects generally at community level to help local people have a better life. It’s not the sort of thing that often gets noticed. Actually that’s a good thing, because otherwise some whingeing so-and-sos in the Special Biosphere would inevitably assert that “their” government was wasting their money.

The consulate-general in Bali – which also looks after Australian interests in West Nusa Tenggara (Lombok and Sumbawa) – has an active annual program in which development grants go to local not-for-profit organizations to support projects and ideas that would not be possible without that assistance. Grants range from $2,500 to $15,000 (Australian).

It’s a lengthy list (which really deserves wide publicity, despite the caution noted in the first paragraph) but there are three that caught our eye as brightly illuminating both the principle and the practice of local assistance.

One is Dria-Raba, a government school for the blind in Denpasar. The Australians provided musical instruments and the fit-out for a music room. Like most government schools in Indonesia Dria-Raba needs to find the bulk of its funding from elsewhere than the public purse. Because of its special needs it is heavily reliant on volunteers.

In East Bali the Direct Aid Program funded the building of three early childhood learning centres. This enabled women employed at the new East Bali Cashews factory to continue to work as their children could be looked after during the day.

In Ubud, where several organizations are trying to get on top of the growing pile of garbage created by tourism and development, the Australians funded building of an environmental waste management facility (it’s a Rotary Club Ubud project) at the Monkey Forest whose product also feeds the monkeys, eliminating the expensive need to purchase feed.

 

Salam, Shalom

There’s an interesting book launch at Bar Luna, Ubud, on Sunday (Nov. 16): Sons of Abraham: A Candid Conversation about the Issues that Divide and Unite Muslims and Jews by Rabbi Marc Schneier and Imam Shamsi Ali.

Rabbi Schneier, president of The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, is the eighteenth generation of a distinguished rabbinical dynasty. He grew up deeply suspicious of Muslims, believing them all to be anti-Semitic (though that would be difficult for many Muslims who, being Arab, are Semites themselves). Imam Shamsi Ali, Imam of the Jamaica Muslim Center in New York, spent his childhood in a small Indonesian village, studied in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and believed that all Jews wanted to destroy Muslims. Coming from positions of mutual mistrust, it seemed unthinkable that these orthodox religious leaders would ever see eye to eye.

But in Sons of Abraham (Random House) – and the Bahasa Indonesia version Anak-Anak Ibrahim (Noura Book Publishing) – Rabbi Schneier and Imam Ali tell the story of how they became friends. They offer a candid look at the contentious theological and political issues that so often divide Muslims and Jews and clarify erroneous ideas that extremists in each religion use to justify harmful behaviour.

Ah, Souls

Another warning about overdevelopment has surfaced, this time in Bali Discovery and the online Surf Life journal. It reports that the Bali chapter of the Association of Tourism Intellectuals (this is not necessarily an oxymoron) is alarmed that accommodation development in Bali is following an unclear path. As a deflective  euphemism, that’s almost up there with the Japanese Emperor advising his people in a national radio broadcast in August 1945 that he was surrendering because the war had developed in ways not necessarily to Japan’s advantage.

Association chairman Putu Anom said that while new starred hotels were once confined to a specific area, these days inexpensive city hotels stood side-by-side with them, resulting in unhealthy price competition. Well, there’s always a protectionist argument that can be advanced, even if it should be ignored. It’s certainly true that Bali’s greed-first policy is creating an ever-spreading rash of significantly sub-iconic blots on the landscape.

The Surf Life piece had a photo captioned to indicate the particular blot on the landscape depicted was another hotel. It isn’t. It’s actually worse. Someone with a ready supply of facilitation funds is wrecking the cliff just east of the Banyan Tree on the southern Bukit to create a jet-ski centre where Generation Vroom can disturb the peace, frighten the local fish, and damage the coral.

Killer at Large

A nine-year-old girl from Kubu in Karangasem, East Bali, has died of rabies. This is a shocking and unnecessary tragedy. It is also a bleak indictment of the Bali authorities’ condign failure, now of six years’ duration, to act effectively to control the outbreak to prevent the disease becoming endemic. It’s not that they’ve been short of advice, expert assistance, or funds, after all.

Hector tweets @scratchings on Twitter. His diary appears in the Bali Advertiser newspaper and online at baliadvertiser.biz

He’ll Always be a Winner

WAYNE GOSS 1951-2014

Queensland Premier 1989-1996

The time: Early 1990s. Place: Sanctuary Cove, Queensland, developed by the entrepreneurial Mike Gore as Australia’s first “integrated resort property” under its own, unique state act of parliament. Occasion: An outdoor concert by John Farnham in his Age of Reason years.

Among the guests, pressed in among the throng, were Premier Wayne Goss and his wife Roisin. They were standing just in front of me. Queensland’s First Foot-tapper was discreetly rattling out the beat as Farnham performed. The Premier was enjoying himself.

He knew – because we were well acquainted and had already exchanged the customary smile-and-nod greetings we reserved for public occasions – that immediately behind him stood the chief leader writer of The Courier-Mail, also foot-tapping. Possibly he was pleased that it was not the chief gossip columnist. But – the delicious moment has stayed with me for more than  20 years – he did seem to memo himself that for once The Courier-Mail was keeping perfect time.

He was there in his official capacity. I was there unofficially, as I so often was, as chief handbag to the then chief spruiker for Sanctuary Cove. Doubtless The Courier-Mail’s chief gossip columnist was somewhere in the crowd.

It is one among many personal Wayne Goss anecdotes in my memory bank.

So it was very sad to hear today that Goss, 34th Premier of Queensland and the first Labor premier in 32 years had died of a brain tumour at only 63. That’s far too young for anyone to go, and it’s especially sad when it is someone who not only led the third most populous state in Australia but was also a very nice man.

Goss came to power when the atrophy and moral turpitude of the Joh Bjelke-Petersen era finally proved too much even for Queensland’s astonishingly conservative electorate. By 1989 Bjelke-Petersen had gone (he left office in 1987) and most of his corrupt cronies had gone with him, but his successors Mike Ahern and Russell Cooper had failed to wipe away the stain.

But he didn’t win in 1989 because – to borrow an aphorism from a little earlier in Labor history – even the drover’s dog would have tossed the incumbents out. He won as well as he did because he had a program the voters accepted as correct, because he had demonstrated that he knew what he was doing, and because he was a nice man.

Goss probably never knew this (I didn’t tell him) but he was the second of the only two Labor leaders I’ve ever voted for. My natural political homeland is on the other side of the light on the hill, a now sparsely populated country where the anti-busybody constituency rejects the concept of government being big brother, big sister, or big anything.

The other was Gough Whitlam. He got my vote in 1972 because no one in their right mind could possibly have voted for poor, ineffectual, Billy McMahon or his dysfunctional coalition (I’d have voted for Gorton) and Labor presented a vision. It really was time. Goss got my vote in 1989 because the Nationals, frankly, had disgraced themselves and wouldn’t face reality, and Queensland would benefit from a change in its political colour.

This is not an obituary. Others have written very ably about the Goss legacy and his time in office. But I think I owe him a personal farewell. His most attractive feature – apart from his withering anger when appropriate – was his modesty. Nowadays we tend to use the word humility. It sounds rather Uriah Heep-ish. Modesty is a better term.

Goss had this quality in (modest) spades. He never pretended to know things he didn’t, or bang on about them. There’s a lesson there for others, including one other in particular who once ran Goss’ office.

One other anecdote comes to mind to illustrate the point. After one of the Goss Government budgets – it was late in term I think – and at the end of the arcane media “lock up” that accompanied this annual function, the assembled media had a final question.

Treasurer Keith De Lacy and his media advisor – my friend Ron Watson – had long departed, as had the Treasury boffins. It was a technical question, actually of no great impact, but Goss was plainly stumped for an answer.

He looked, poor chap, rather as one imagines a rabbit might look when confronted with a sudden, unexpected spotlight. Then he spotted me (I’d been in the lock-up too, writing the next morning’s editorial) and he evinced immediate relief.

“Richard, can you explain it?” he said brightly, or possibly hopefully.

Fortunately, I could. I did. The chooks shuffled off satisfied.

Vale Wayne Goss. You’ll always be a winner.

Wayne Goss died today, Nov. 10, 2014, of a brain tumour. He was first diagnosed with brain cancer 17 years ago.