8degreesoflatitude

THINGS THAT INTEREST, ENGAGE AND ENRAGE

Month: March, 2015

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Apr. 1, 2015

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

In a Word: Tosh

Proposals lately aired that would further limit the number of foreign workers in Indonesia are sensible. As a medium- to long-term strategy they are surely free of any downside. Though that would be in the context of the further development of the nascent ASEAN free market where, as in the European Community, state borders and indeed national citizenship would become progressively less important.

But most foreign workers in Indonesia are not “white”, as economic ministers looking for nationalistic headlines like to suggest. That old pejorative is code for “former colonial oppressors and their running dogs”. Indonesians are not disadvantaged because 70 years of independence has failed to free them from the fiscal drag of the colonial era. Instead, they are not as advantaged as they could be, because their governments have failed for seven decades to build an open, educated society and legislate for the competitive economy that would then have developed.

Nationalistic claptrap offers nothing of value. It produces only deflective, self-serving political rhetoric.  The economy does not run on rhetoric. It runs on money. If Indonesians desire progress, which they sensibly do, the ex-colonial cringe is a tiresome mindset they should have sent to the junkyard long ago.

A real economic imperative facing Indonesia is foreign investment. The national investment board, announcing recently that a “one-stop-shop” would soon open (good luck with all the sub-national impediments, chaps) said it estimated US$23 billion in planned investment was forgone in the five years 2007-2012 because regulatory and administrative holdups, and endemic corruption, chased it away.

So far as employment goes, if there are Indonesian workers who can do the job, no one in their right mind would recruit anyone else (in Indonesia). But what’s needed is an effective middle economy in the huge space between local global-list enterprises and the small-to-micro business sector (both of which work well).

That requires not only coordinated policies that actually work and are implemented, including foreign investment, but also a cultural change: No more “passing” people as qualified because not to do so would be culturally embarrassing (or invidious to the interests of and continued presence in Indonesia of the examiner); a real work ethic inspired from the top (that’s where the bosses work harder than those they employ); an education system that produces young people with well rounded global skills; and a health system that keeps people healthy and therefore productive.

It also requires effective public infrastructure, both physical and human. And last, though certainly not least, it needs government and business environments that are notable for minimal corruption and sound judicial decisions rather than the reverse of this.

“Expats” (a ridiculous word) have a limited role in Indonesia’s efforts to build a truly balanced economy. Foreign workers should be regulated by legislation, but in the context of an environment in which private profit (universally and fairly taxed as a revenue growth stream) is recognized and supported as a generator of wider wealth. Now there’s another vacant space that could and should be filled with objective, forward-thinking debate.

Take a Break

When the diary in Ubud, which is often because it’s a fun place to be – it’s got everything, after all, from spirit festivals to sex therapy (either amateur or professional) – we’re often to be found at Warung Semesta in Jl Monkey Forest. It has very nice coffee, a decent café-style menu, and reliable WiFi. The latter is essential these days since you carry your office with you in your laptop.

It’s attached to the Tegal Sari resort, which specializes in the Japanese tourist market but not exclusively so. As a drop-in spot for shopped-out shoppers, Semesta’s hard to beat, too, as it’s located just round the corner from where Jl Hanoman meets Jl Raya Pengosetan and segues into Jl Monkey Forest. (Hanoman is named after Hanuman, monkey hero of the Ramayana.)

The establishment is very near the monkey forest itself. A little troupe of macaques can sometimes be seen foraging in the mango trees outside or performing trapeze-style on the PLN wires.

Doris, Mate!

Dining über-casual the other night at Warung In-Salt on Jl Pantai Balangan at Ungasan turned into a better experience than ever. Tony Eltherington, aka Doris Day for reasons that are still not fully explained but who is the diary’s favourite mariner for all sorts of reasons his modest approach to achievement forbids him to boast or boost, was also there and in fine style.

He was shore-based at the time but told us he was shortly back off to his floating home, a nicely fitted out former West Australian crayfish boat, for its next tour of duty to the Mentawai Islands and beyond with surfing-diving-fishing fans in tow.

He gave us one of his new corporate T-shirts as a memento. It’s a fetching black and has a logo which – from a distance – resembles that of a particularly sought-after brand of motorbike that goes vroom in an expensively classy way.

Bombast Away!

The risk Bali faces of slipping behind in the race to win market share in the highly competitive international tourism market has lately come to the fore as a topic of official conversation. That this has been primarily in a constructive sense is a significant benefit. Applied analysis beats boring bombast any time, as an indicator of which of the paths thus far less travelled should in fact be chosen.

State reform minister Yuddy Christiano recently said that despite Bali’s popularity there were still areas that required improvement, among them measures to avoid the slightest risk of not providing the best service. That’s a fair point. It depends on the view of the tourists concerned what service can be defined as best. But most people want things that work efficiently and on schedule.

Over to Bali tourism head Anak Agung Gede Putra Yuniarta, who points out that the key to maintaining visitor levels and providing a better experience in spite of rising costs lies in creativity and services.

His list of must-do’s includes creating tour packages that show visitors more of Bali and encourage repeat business, enough electricity, road infrastructure that gets tourists to and from their ooh and aah places without giving them a headache or a conniption, and improving the environment of tourism sites.

He also notes that domestic tourists these days can visit Singapore and Malaysia and spend less doing so than if they came to Bali.

In this context, efforts to build up the nascent Indian tourism trade would be boosted by direct flights to Bali and free visas. Figures for January and February this year show 17,400 Indian tourists visited, up 47.5% on the same months last year.

It seems Indian tourists are impressed with the artistry and customs of Balinese Hinduism and yoga is a modern cultural connection. There was a conference in Nusa Dua on Mar. 26-28 from which further Indian media promotion was expected.

Free visas are certainly an issue. The government last year expanded the list of countries for which VOA charges would be removed and this year announced a further expansion, to 40 countries. Australia was on the first list but then wasn’t, the reason given being that it did not offer a reciprocal privilege to Indonesian travellers. Yes, well, perhaps someone was finding a plausible excuse after removing his foot from his mouth.

Now a court has ruled that free visas must be reciprocal or that they are otherwise illegal (apparently this is the intent of existing legislation). This is a further embarrassment for tourism minister tourism minister Arief Yahya. A significant number of countries on Jakarta’s fanfare of free visa felicities do not offer reciprocity. The dogs have been eating his homework yet again.

That’s the Spirit

The Bali Spirit Festival got under way in Ubud yesterday (Mar. 31) and runs until Sunday (Apr. 5). It’s in its eighth year. Like other song-and-dance shows on the calendar it may face problems in the future as the demographic of Bali tourism changes and Bali – inevitably – with this. But that shouldn’t worry inspirer-guru of the Global Celebration of Yoga, Dance & Music Meghan Pappenheim this year, or the happy-clapping collective which organizers said was expected to number 6000 and come from more than 50 countries.

There’s all the usual material at the festival’s two venues, one for the day-long workshops and the Agung Rai Museum of Art Open Stage for nightly world music concerts. Both venues also feature markets focusing on health and wellness through organic and healthy foods, crafts, clothing and merchandise.

But there was one item listed in an electronic promo that came our way about which we would be less than ecstatic if it was anything to do with us. It was something called Estatic Dance. Perhaps you stand rooted to the spot and fiddle with your cursor?

Hector tweets @scratchings. His diary appears in the print and online editions of the Bali Advertiser http://www.baliadvertiser.biz

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Mar. 18, 2015

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Gone to the Dogs

The resurgence of rabies in Bali is yet another of those avoidable things that the chaps in charge of the asylum could have avoided if they could have been bothered, or if they hadn’t blown the budget on lots of other things. Yet it’s in an emergency such as this – brought about by seven years of feeble official failure to address a dire public health risk in a consistent, planned, properly administered way – that leadership is required.

Instead, in the time-honoured fashion, our leaders are being proper little dukes of Plaza-Toro about rabies. They’re leading from the back. Governor Pastika, who has no trouble ignoring the weight of popular opinion when it comes to things like filling in Benoa Bay because the environment is far less important than plutocrats making even more money, has called on people to kill stray dogs because, he says, that’s what the people tell him they’d like to do.

No matter, then, that all the literature – and global experience – shows very plainly that suppressing rabies is achieved through vaccination programs that create herd immunity in the canine population (70 per cent is the benchmark figure) and humane reduction of numbers by sterilization. No matter that the scientific record shows indiscriminate killing of dogs helps to spread the disease, because dogs in the vaccinated screen population are eliminated. No matter that it is the government’s job to educate people about effective rabies control and eliminate it as a threat to the broad community. (That 70 per cent screen again.)

Pogroms such as that recently visited upon the small band of dogs that customarily inhabited Kuta beach are certainly not unusual. The Kuta killing spree was noticed only because of where it took place and because it followed an Australian tourist child being bitten, though not by a rabid dog. It horrified tourists (some of whom were not effete, do-gooder westerners, by the way) and painted a picture of Bali that certainly does not conform to the requirements of Tumpek Kandang, a Hindu rite observed every 210 days (the latest was on Mar. 7) that is a symbolic offering for all animals living in the world. The non-symbolic pre-Tumpek Kandang offering to the dogs of Kuta beach consisted of bashings and then, in the dead of night, some other inhuman final solution.

The issue will not go away, however much Bali’s administrators would like it to and in spite of the impenetrable thickets of incomplete (or completely erroneous) data that hide the facts. It recently got an airing in the Asia edition of The International New York Times, in a piece by its Jakarta-based correspondent Joe Cochrane. It might be true that Bali has run out of money for vaccine, as the Governor says. The immediate questions then should be: Why? And what are you doing to get more money for vaccine? These questions are unlikely to be asked by anyone who would be listened to; and, if they were, the truthful answers (if forthcoming, which would require a miracle) would be Don’t Know and Nothing.

A man died of rabies in Bangli recently. Last year, according to official figures, either one or several people died of the disease elsewhere in Bali. Anecdotally, the real 2014 figure would seem to be rather higher.

Do It! Do It!

Among the many voluntary organizations here doing great fundraising work to assist the social advance of the Balinese people is one that regularly does lunch. Its members are the Divas, which must be an acronym for some obscure phrasal noun relating to Ladies Who Dress Up. Because dress up they do and we’re glad that this is so. It is tedious to gaze forever at designer-torn denim, long or short (often very short) and with incautious little garments above that would surely flutter away in a half-decent breeze and which are of a size that would completely fail to shame a doily into thinking that it was the runt of the litter.

But we digress. The Divas’ next do, at Slippery Stone in Jl. Batu Belig, Kerobokan, on Mar. 27, is an event at which, so chief Diva Christina Iskandar and the tickets tell us, we are promised that they will do it Greek style. If we can lasso a loose Diva – that is, ahem, for clarity and decorum, one not already spoken for in terms of a lunchtime handbag, if indeed they allow handbags – we might even go along ourselves. It would be worth spending Rp350K (in a good cause and in pursuit of fine comestibles) to see the show.

From memory, doing it Greek style involves throwing lots of plates and breaking them. Staging such an affray might not please Slippery Stone. It’s an up-market establishment, but it possibly has a prudential budget for crockery. And anyway, now we think of it, plate-breaking seems to be a wedding ritual, like that other dangerous pursuit, this one Italian, of pinning money to the bride while taking great care not to eyeball – or worse, inadvertently brush against – anything remotely adjacent to an erogenous zone.

The March event, aside from collecting lots of money as per their standard practice, will reward the Divas with an appearance by songstress Eva Scolaro, from Perth, who also emcees and hosts and does photographic modelling. She’s no stranger to Bali and has also performed in Jakarta.

Junk It!

It’s good to see that Bali’s provincial government will be working with the villages to manage and hopefully reduce the mountain of waste that threatens to overwhelm the island (and that’s not only in the tourist areas; plastic is a problem everywhere). Some might say they’re a bit late off the starting block, but never mind. There’s evidence of a spring in the step and that’s really pleasing.

The principal message at the start of this program might usefully be: If you throw it away, it’s still your responsibility. That recognition is something best instilled in children, so that by the time they’re adults they will know instinctively that dumping evil-smelling waste containing material that won’t disappear for up to a quarter of a million years and will poison the planet in the meantime is a really stupid thing to do.

The charity organization ROLE Foundation has a great Eco Kids Program, which kicked off for 2015 this month with an awareness visit to the Sanur Independent School and a hosted visit by 40 students from a private school in Bogor, West Java.

ROLE asks a very good question. Will our children inherit a world of grey skies, brown oceans full of junk with no marine life left, and land with no trees or wildlife? It has a very good answer: Not if our Eco Kids Program has anything to do with it.

On Not Giving a Toss, Etc

Elizabeth Pisani, whose lengthy time and travels in Indonesia produced both the readable travelogue Indonesia Etc and a book promoting safe sex that caused a frisson when it was released because it was called The Wisdom of Whores – a commodity, incidentally, that should never be ignored – has popped her cork again, this time in an Australian online magazine, The Starfish.

In relation to Australia’s immediate interest in the apparent presidential policy of preferring to shoot convicted drug criminals now because later the law might change to prevent this obscenity, she said:

“Jokowi really doesn’t give a toss about Australia. He does care about restoring his badly-bruised image as a decisive leader in the eyes of the Indonesian electorate. And it turns out that killing foreign drug dealers is quite a good way of doing that, at least among the 97 per cent of Indonesians who live outside Bali and profit very little from their southern neighbour.”

In the matter of bruising politics, British Indonesia-watcher and author Tim Hannigan (his book Raffles and the British Invasion of Java is a fine antidote to the obsequious tomes of some post-imperial hagiographers) presciently wrote in a piece for Asia House, the London think-tank, just before the presidential election in July 2014:

“Ultimately, Indonesia’s chronic tendency towards coalitions and political marriages of convenience, first manifested way back in 1955 and repeated the moment the country was allowed full electoral freedom in 1999, means that its democracy, in a strange way, guides itself – away from either destructive extremes or from meaningful progress, depending on your perspective and level of cynicism. This is why neither worst fears nor greatest hopes ever seem really to come to pass, and in the end it may not really make much difference who wins.”

Hannigan has a new book due out later this year, titled A Brief History of Indonesia (Tuttle). He promises to visit Bali thereafter, which will be fun.

Lights Out

Nyepi, Bali’s annual Silent Day, is on Saturday (Mar. 21). Mark it as you will. With a discreetly small torch is one way.

Hector is on Twitter @scratchings. His diary appears in the print and online editions of the Bali Advertiser http://www.baliadvertiser.biz

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Mar. 4, 2015

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

A Bit of a Blow

As spectacle or entertainment, Hector’s latest World Tour of Australia was very far from being the big draw Billy Connolly achieved with his fabulous World Tour of Scotland. We rarely attracted more than a couple of gawkers with nothing better to do or a censorious frown from some local anti-smoker if we were spotted communing with that dreadful drug tobacco. It was quite a relief to get home to Bali so we could light up with the rest of them as and where we pleased.

The Aussie break was fun however and it took in the east coast this time as well as the west. It was a treat (no, really) to be back in Queensland, even if only for a week. The other two weeks were spent in the west as usual. It is pleasing too that our proud record as travellers remains intact. Invariably some disaster, climatic or climactic, coincides with or closely follows a visit by us to just about anywhere.

We skipped out of Queensland just ahead of cyclone Marcia, a category five storm that put the world’s best cyclone-proof buildings to the test on landfall and then gifted absolute torrents of rain to river systems over a wide swath of the state. It was the sort of rain that by quantity and intensity would sweep Denpasar into the sea and which is fortunately never seen in these parts.

That’s the thing, you see. When it rains, water falls from the sky, sometimes in quite substantial quantities. When it’s windy, leaves and twigs, then branches, move around. These natural phenomena and others – such as the counter to the wet suit, drought – are collectively called weather, and it happens all the time, everywhere on earth. The weather is capricious and climate no less so.

But there are identifiable seasons, upon which it is possibly to make some plans. It should therefore surprise no one – especially the meteorological service – when the rainy season produces rain or serious low pressure areas in the seasonal monsoon trough that throw brisk winds at the islands for a little while.

It’s simpler in equatorial latitudes (10 degrees south to 10 degrees north) since the seasonal variation is chiefly whether it is wet or dry or night or day. We don’t generally have to worry about bothersome things like four seasonal changes a year, or the natural vagaries that these cycles bring with them.

Except, that is, now and then when – as in this case – a big monsoonal low over the ocean between here and northern Australia brings us very bad weather. So it was not altogether unusual that Bali, Lombok and the Gilis got a bit of a blow (and sheeting rain) in our absence at the height of the wet season.

Roofs in bad repair and walls without decent footings can fly away in a half-decent breeze. Trees topple when suddenly confronted by saturated ground and breezes that reach above zephyr level. Roads flood when Mother Nature demonstrates (by their absence) the benefits of storm drainage, cambered pavements and sufficient bitumen to avoid masses of potholes. Watercourses filled with mountains of rubbish dumped willy-nilly in the ubiquitous practice of this island first pond (causing local flooding) and then burst through the detritus and carry it to the sea, which then deposits it on the beaches.

Is anyone ever going to do anything about that? It is the top concern of tourists, after all. Not to mention, one would have thought, a serious matter of national pride.

Raw Deal

Lion Air, which has grown like Topsy on the basis of some inventive business planning and the world’s largest ever single order for aircraft from both Boeing and Airbus, achieved another corporate triumph this month when it suddenly cancelled all flights from Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta Airport on the evening of Feb. 18.

It blamed technical repair issues affecting three of its 93 aircraft for the resulting chaos, which left passengers stranded throughout its network and caused a riot at Soekarno-Hatta. As usual, no information was available to stranded passengers.

Two days later it said it didn’t have enough cash on hand to pay passenger refunds. Airport operator Angkasa Pura had to front up with the money. Lion is politically well connected. Its political connections will probably want to know why it appears to be so inefficient that running a chook raffle would probably be beyond it.

At least, they should want to know. Indonesia doesn’t like to be embarrassed, as a number of people have found cause to note in recent days.

Quality Troupe

Russia’s honorary consul in Bali, Chairul Nuku Hamka, believes his honorary country’s citizens are the highest “quality” tourists that holiday here. He bases this assessment on the fact that unlike tourists from other countries, Russians have a tendency to consume more premium goods and services. He quotes a recent statistic that suggests two Russian tourists spend as much as 10 Germans. “They stay at five-star hotels for high prices,” he says.

There’s some dislocated logic on the loose there. Spending a lot of money isn’t a true mark of quality. In some circumstances it may indicate stupidity, for example, or unfamiliarity with local conditions. In the case of many Russian tourists (not only in Bali) it’s also plainly a situation in which black money is being offloaded, often with the assistance of comely and willing younger ladies who have, in a manner of speaking, come along for the ride.

Hamka does note that while the potential for Russian tourism to Bali is huge (it’s certainly a principal feature of the changing dynamics of tourism here) several sizeable rocks lie on the path of progress. One is direct flights from Russian cities to Bali. Garuda has had flights to four cities in Russia on the books since 2011 but has still to win licenses to operate them. The other is the distaste with which much of the world views the Vladimir Putin regime’s conduct in what Russians historically have called the Near Abroad. Ukraine, which Tsar Vlad is menacing, is among those places.

Trade and other embargoes on Russia as a result have led to the collapse of the rouble. Russian tourist numbers to Bali have declined as a result, from 93,622 in 2013 to 88,777 in 2014. Russia is on Indonesia’s new “free visa” list but that’s all still in the works.

A Run Up the Ladder

Ngurah Rai International Airport has been ranked as the 60th best airport worldwide in the Montreal, Canada, based Airports Council International’s 2014 Airport Service Quality Awards. It jumped 152 places from its 2012 ranking of 212, jumping nearly 152 spots from its previous ranking of 212 in 2012.

The awards determine which airports offer the best passenger service. To obtain its results the ACI surveyed 550,000 airport users (including airlines and their ground staff, flight and cabin crews) and asked them to rate their satisfaction with 34 key service indicators including airport access, check-in, security, airport facilities, food and beverage, and retail.

The responses to each annual survey are used to issue a score out of five to the airport and subsequently determine the top worldwide performing airports as well as areas of improvement for each of the 365 airports that are ranked. Ngurah Rai airport received a score of 4.2 out of 5, a significant leap from its previous score of 2.9 in 2012.

Each year ACI gives recommendations to participating airports based on the results of that year’s survey. From the 2014 survey it recommended Ngurah Rai add extra luggage trolleys, increase the number of seats in the waiting rooms, improve the quality and cleanliness of waiting rooms, and increase the number of toilets. Ngurah Rai general manager Herry AY Sikado says: “We will use the current success achieved by the airport as further encouragement to make continuous improvements.”

Well, we shall watch with interest, then. And count the trolleys and the chairs.

Masks and Salsa

ROLE Foundation, which does sterling work to promote women’s issues in Bali and to help disadvantaged women create sustainable, income-earning businesses, also offers people fun-fun-fun. And so it should. The world’s a sorry little galactic rock much of the time, so any excuse to have a good time is worth serious consideration, in a serious cause. ROLE works for a sustainable future for islands, oceans, and communities through skills education and healthy environmental practices.

On Friday (Mar. 6), to mark 2015 International Women’s Day, the fun guys at ROLE are putting on a Masquerade Party. It’s at the Sanur Paradise Plaza from 7pm. The line-up includes live music from Tabasco Jam, a Salsa dancing competition and participation with great prizes, and a mask competition. Local women artisans will be there too.

There’s still time to get tickets (they’re RP500K each) in cash from events@baliwise.org (or call 0812-8285-2057) or online at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/2015-international-womens-day-tickets-15567176845.

International Women’s Day is on Sunday (Mar. 8).

Hector tweets @scratchings on Twitter. His diary appears in the print and online editions of the Bali Advertiser http://www.baliadvertiser.biz.