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

by 8 Degrees of Latitude

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