HECTOR’S DAIRY Bali Advertiser, Sep. 30, 2015

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Rabid Response

An eight-year-old boy from Batur Tengah in Bangli died of rabies in mid-September, and a woman has died in Buleleng from the disease, the latest victims of the seven-year outbreak of the disease in Bali. Their deaths are yet another tragic reminder that the authorities here long ago dropped the ball over rabies, an entirely preventable disease, after making a good start on combating it in 2009-2010.

Sadder still is that the methodology of their anti-rabies campaign is now focused on killing dogs, including vaccinated ones and family pets, instead of on vaccination, humane reduction of numbers through sterilisation, and firm, well resourced community education. Most sadly of all, rabies has become a bureaucratic battleground, a venue for fractious argument, and the latest environment in which the local bureaucratic view that foreigners should just shut up about problems since these problems (which are sometimes presented as not being problems at all) are nothing to do with them.

The sensitive nature of advocacy is well understood among the foreign cohort here that does that sort of thing. They’re not doing it for money, except in the sense of spending it, since there’s very little money to be made in lending a hand. That applies in animal welfare just as much as it does in education, rural and remote health and village infrastructure, and a lot else.

The particular problems of animal welfare groups are well known. They have national licences that govern their establishment and permit them to work in the field. But the provincial and district administrations are responsible for a range of subsidiary permits and permissions, and these of course can be held up at will or withdrawn at a moment’s notice. As was the case with a sterilization and vaccination day held recently in Gianyar regency and funded by the Bali Animal Welfare Association (BAWA). Public order police shut down the event even though the village concerned had sought that assistance and advised the authorities of this. The nose of the relevant regency factotum was out of joint, apparently.

There’s a rare outbreak of rabies in Penang, an island off the western coast of Malaysia. It is an isolated event involving only a few dogs, and is exactly analogous with Bali’s situation in 2008 since the disease was imported. The authorities there are mass-killing dogs as a result, in the face of protest and advice that this is not the way to go, and yet again in clear breach of effective disease control measures that everyone else knows work very well. Sadly, unless they see sense and work with organisations – including NGOs with runs on the board in terms of animal welfare and health – the result in Penang will be same as in Bali. The disease will spread and people will die.

The bottom line in public health (we’ll keep saying this until someone wakes up) is that rabies is a controllable disease with proper countermeasures and is not a threat in Bali to people who are fully vaccinated against it and who if they are bitten by a suspect animal have the money to obtain the necessary post-exposure booster shots. That excludes the bulk of the Balinese population, for whom such protection is a sick joke. Government clinics often do not have rabies vaccine in stock. Immunoglobulin, the expensive additional necessity in preventing rabies in people who do not have pre-exposure protection, is unobtainable.

It would be wrong to keep silent while the national government looks the other way and the local authorities kill people’s pets and destroy whatever vestiges still exist of the vaccinated dog screen so painstakingly and expensively put in place in 2009-2010. We must again conclude and publicly note that the inmates have escaped and are running the asylum.

A Fond Farewell

Family business has taken The Diary yet again to Western Australia, Bali’s southern suburb. This time it was to farewell the feisty lady whom we long ago dubbed World’s Best Mother-in-Law. It was a sad occasion, of course, as such things always are, but there were lots of laughs as well. The MiL was more dear friend than in-law; moreover, one with a wicked wit which she sometimes allowed herself to let loose on the unsuspecting crowd.

We managed to have a little conversation, she and The Diary, before nature took its inevitable final step. And it was instructive of times past and lovely memories. The MiL, aside from being a gentle jokester when the feeling was upon her, was an inveterate traveller and shopper including in Bali, where she has Balinese friends. She was also responsible for the marriage that has sustained The Diary through three decades. She arrived in Port Moresby in 1982 – The Diary and the would-be Distaff were living there at the time – with a wedding cake and a bridesmaid and it would have been such a shame to waste the cake.

There was one outstanding question to which The Diary had always sought an answer. Not about the wedding (the cake was fabulous) but about an incident in Vanuatu a decade later. We were holidaying there, The Diary, the Distaff and the MiL, and one day hired a little sailboat, a catamaran, for a breezy self-sail tour of the Erakor lagoon. The breeze faded to nothing shortly afterwards, leaving us becalmed mid-lagoon. The Diary knew that sooner or later a boat would motor out and retrieve us, but as time passed the feeling grew strongly that the MiL would really like The Diary to get out of the boat into the chest-deep water and push the boat back to base. The Diary did not do this, for Erakor lagoon is where barracuda breed and toes seemed more important than timeliness.

In our last little chat, the day she died, The Diary made a final attempt to secure an answer as to the MiL’s wishes on that long-gone day, helped along by a warmly firm squeeze of the hand. The hint of a wicked smile appeared. So now we know. Farewell, feisty lady. You’re a trouper.

No Sax Please, We’re Closed

We’ve been going to The Jazz Café Ubud since, well, forever, so it was very sad to hear that it closed its doors for the last time on Sep. 19. The last night was quite a party, it seems, and that’s fitting indeed for an Ubud institution and a place where fine musical fare was available in a great jazz atmosphere.

It won’t have been making money, since it was a place where regulars were apt to drop in and sit on a single drink all evening – they were there for the music of course, but such is the focused self interest of many that the commercial viability of the establishments they frequent is at most secondary matter to them. There are other places in Ubud to listen to jazz, but none we know of that comes even close to The Jazz Café.

Musical Chairs

It used to be said, not least by Australians themselves, that Australian politics were both parochial and boring. It has lost the boring part of things – for those who enjoy such shenanigans anyway – in recent years with the development of mid-term party room coups that unseat prime ministers and install in their place a rival contender.

The Labor Party started this curious art form, when it saw off Kevin Rudd and installed Julia Gillard before then uninstalling Gillard and screwing Rudd back into the socket as its preferred light on the hill. It has now spread to the Liberal Party, the larger part of the conservative coalition that has run Australia since the national elections in 2013. Tony Abbott, who was a good opposition leader but for most observers a poor and uncommunicative prime minister, had his Julius Caesar moment on Sep. 14. He was replaced by Malcolm Turnbull, a lawyer and merchant banker, whose social views are less restrictive and far less prescriptive and whose economic advocacy may turn out to be both more palatable and of better effect than that of his predecessor. Time will tell.

It was good to see that Julie Bishop remained foreign minister and Andrew Robb trade minister in the cabinet changes. Political diplomacy requires a mannered and quiet approach.

Feeling Bookish

The 2015 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival kicks off today (Sep. 30). It is a firm fixture in Bali’s festival calendar, puts our island firmly in the international spotlight, and promotes Indonesian writing to a very wide audience indeed. It is an annual event that is not to be missed.

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

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Sep. 16, 2015

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

A Serious Disagreement

In the 1992 movie The Last of the Mohicans there’s a lovely standoff between Hawkeye the frontiersman and the rather regimentally doltish British Major Duncan Heyward in which Hawkeye says, “One day, Major, you and I will have a serious disagreement.” It’s a cameo that stays fixed in the mind, that, and perhaps it has usefully done so, because in recent times – sadly – the pleasantly paced but fixed intent of its delivery has seemed appropriate to life in Bali.

James Fennimore Cooper’s 1832 book – it’s set in the French and Indian War in colonial North America in the 1750s – is the better narrative, naturally, but the movie reflects the original story really rather well and with the required sense of doom. The problem that has brought it to mind is not of course that of rival empires fighting over someone else’s country. It is at once more prosaic and yet more pointed than that. It is a battle between vicious narrow-mindedness and socially aware common sense. It relates to the unconscionable war on dogs that the provincial government is waging, the random acts of maniacal stupidity this has helped spark in people who go around poisoning other people’s pets, and growing Balinese resistance to the idea that their dogs should now be targets because their government is dysfunctional.

The rabies that arrived in Bali in 2008 and then rapidly spread – its vector was not so much the poor infected animal that was smuggled in and then bit other dogs which in turn bit people who died, as that constant factor in administration here, lack of due care and attention – was eventually countered. This was after much advocacy by local and international animal welfare and health agencies, and Indonesian and international human health organizations.

An internationally supported disease eradication campaign created a vaccinated screen of immune dogs. That’s the international benchmark process. It works everywhere else. It is said, by Bali’s governor and others in the hierarchy, that it doesn’t work.

Sadly, given the resurgence of rabies this year (14 deaths to the end of August and counting, versus only one in 2013 and two last year) the only counter to that insane claim is that it has indeed not worked here. It hasn’t, because the government has been negligent or it has lost the plot – or both of these things – and has panicked and gone back to mass-culling dogs. So much then for the vaccinated screen of animals that forms the vital barrier between rabies and people who might otherwise get bitten by a rabid dog and die. The death squads don’t discriminate. They just sweep in and collar everything in sight: whether the unfortunate animals are wearing collars or not.

Tabanan regency is now arming its squads with air rifles – heavier compressed-air-powered weapons than your regular little popgun – because netting and then poisoning dogs with strychnine has proved problematical. According to the Tabanan animal husbandry agency, the dogs are smart and run away when they see men with nets approaching them. Using poison darts is apparently also a difficulty; the catchers and killers keep injuring themselves, with their poison darts among other things. Presumably it has been decided that shooting yourself in the foot with a high-velocity pellet is less likely to be deadly than injecting yourself with strychnine.

One day, perhaps, someone in the hierarchy will read the literature, examine the evidence, study the case reports from other places where common sense prevails, and mutter, “Uh-oh.” What might happen then, of course, is still a big question.

Screening Soon 

While we have movies on the mind, it’s good to note that the ninth Bali International Film Festival (the BALINALE) is on from Sep. 24-30. This year’s festival features 100 films from 26 countries, up from 60 last year, and includes a lively outdoor screening program showing a great collection of short films by Indonesian and foreign directors. Workshop and seminar programs will run alongside the screening schedule.

The festival was established in 2007 by American Bali fixture Deborah Gabinetti, the year she also set up the Bali Taksu Indonesia Foundation to support education, community and arts programs. This year’s event is at the Lippo Centre in Jl Kartika, Kuta, which should make the Jakarta contingent feel comfortably at home. Films showing this year were chosen by a selection committee headed by anthropologist, author and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Lawrence Blair.

BALINALE is recognized internationally for the quality and diversity of its programming. It has been affiliated with the Motion Picture Association, Asia Pacific Screen Awards (Brisbane, Australia), ASEAN International Film Festival & Awards (Kuching, Malaysia), Asian Film Commissions Network (20 member countries) and in supporting American Film Showcase and Sundance Institute’s Film Forward Tour in Indonesia.

Full details are available on the festival website.

Hail to the Chief

It was cheering to hear from Bali’s new chief of police General Sugeng Priyanto that police programs already put in place by his predecessor, General Ronny Sompie, would continue. This is in many ways a profound departure from past practice, where the new man sweeps in and moves all the deckchairs before he’s got his feet under the big desk. A little continuity can go a long way.

General Sugeng was sworn in to his new post at a ceremony at national police headquarters in Jakarta on Sep. 7. He was previously head of the international relations division. General Ronny Sompie left Bali on Aug. 10. He is now director-general of immigration.

Putting on the Ritz

You might be forgiven for thinking that Bali will soon have as many hotels as it has motor cars, given the rate at which they are springing up everywhere, in every class from mini through compact and family up to limousine, under the strictly non-enforced rules of the moratorium on new ones that was long ago announced and then instantly forgotten.

New hotels are not necessarily bad, on an island that depends for its modern economy on holidaymakers. There’s that pesky infrastructure issue, of course, best illustrated by water shortages, inadequate power, tailgated traffic from Anywhere to Everywhere Else, and the comedy routine of hugely oversized package tour buses impaled on sharp corners in narrow little streets. A proper public development plan would assist, but you can’t have everything, especially if no one takes any notice anyway and just hands over the next bulging brown envelope instead.

So it’s good news that the Ritz Carlton stable – one hesitates to call so plush a collective a chain – has opened a Ritz Carlton Reserve property at Ubud called the Mandapa. It’s on the Ayung River, has 35 suites and 25 private pools, overlooks the jungle in the river valley, blends traditional architecture and modern luxury, and offers four restaurants and the sort of spiritual, wellness, health and detox programs for which today’s well-heeled tourists yearn and which are the signature products of the crowded little town that has declared itself Bali’s spiritual capital.

E is for Environment

Yes, we know. It’s another of our repeated themes. It’s just that the natural environment, in this instance the marine littoral one, is quite important and should wherever possible be protected. So it was interesting to see that Tangerang regency in Banten (on the western boundary of the Big Durian, aka Ibu Kota Negara) is turning a prime asset, a 20-hectare mangrove forest at Tanjung Pasir, into a marine and culinary tourism destination.

This is so much better than digging up the protective and life-giving mangroves. They provide habitats for all manner of marine creatures and also protect against erosion and – unless it’s a catastrophically big wave, which is fortunately quite rare – can mitigate the inundation risk from tsunamis. Drawing people to the area is a good idea, since this will increase the village economy and give visitors something better to do than hang around shopping malls all weekend. A breath of fresh air is a wonderful tonic.

Our chaps here are not really into listening, or particularly good at learning lessons if by any chance they do tune in. But there is a lesson to be learned from Tangerang in how a natural asset like Benoa Bay, for example, could benefit many instead of just a few.

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

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Sep. 2, 2015

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Heading for the Hills

Last year an unavoidable detention in Australia – its cause was medical, not custodial, in case any among the Diary’s more liverish readers might snigger and wonder – meant we were not among the 126, 000-plus attendees reported to have crowded Bali’s cultural capital for the eleventh Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. There might have been a bit of creative mathematics in that figure (people attending multiple events and so forth) but never mind. A good number’s a good number. Nothing shall stand in the way of our getting to the twelfth (acts of the deity excepted) to be held from Oct. 28-Nov. 1. The line-up for UWRF 2015 is very fine indeed.

This intelligence reached us in the customary way, in a virtual billet-doux from festival founder and director Janet DeNeefe. There are 160 names, including leading authors from around the world, thinkers, artists, advocates and social commentators from more than 26 countries. All of this makes for a very big word fest. More than 200 separate events are on the schedule.

The headline act is American Michael Chabon, whose book The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay won the Pulitzer Prize; award-winning British foreign correspondent Christina Lamb; Tony and Maureen Wheeler who founded the Lonely Planet series; and Moshin Hamid, the celebrated Pakistani author of How to get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia.

Also in the line-up are Nigerian-born Chigozie Obioma, whose debut novel The Fishermen was recently long-listed for the Man Booker Prize; 2015 Miles Franklin Award winner Sofie Laguna; and Emily Bitto, winner of the 2015 Stella Prize for her debut novel The Strays. Other names worth noting are philanthropist Mpho Tutu, daughter of South African anti-apartheid churchman and activist Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Indonesian campaigner for Papuan social justice Andreas Harsono. Not to forget Australian academic Adrian Vickers, whose masterly contribution to and editing of the recent Lempad of Bali book flowed directly from his longstanding interest and expertise in Indonesian cultural history.

The theme of the festival this year is “17,000 Islands of Imagination”. Full details are on the UWRF website.

Murder Aforethought

One crucial element of Chaos Theory is that if something isn’t going to work, however hard you beat your head against a brick wall and however much advice you reject out of hand, you just keep at it. This murderously farcical nonsense is in full play in Bali over rabies and how (not) to deal with it. The provincial and local governments know best. Just don’t ask how. And if by any chance you hold the view that in fact they are talking out of an aperture remote from and somewhat south of their mouth, they’ll bash your ears forever until you run away to hide from the noise.

Never mind that Jakarta has given up on trying to get them to understand, or that the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization is wringing its hands in despair, or that animal welfare groups – overseas as well as in Bali – are roundly criticised for actually caring. Execution teams are fanning out across the island armed with strychnine darts to bring painful, sometimes cruelly lingering and completely unnecessary deaths to thousands of Bali dogs. Quite where karma fits into this dystopian picture is something for others far more qualified to say than the Diary. We’ve only read the world literature and standard practice on eradicating rabies, after all. It’s not as if we’ve wasted all the money on other things and have convinced ourselves, by applying the vacuous calculus of the Great Panjandrum equation, that up is down, black is white, and that anyway, we’re in charge so everyone else can just shut up.

In the city of Denpasar and in the regencies of Gianyar, Bangli and Tabanan, as well as in other parts of the island, teams from animal husbandry – that’s the outfit that’s supposedly responsible for animal management and welfare – are darting dogs willy-nilly as part of the government’s counterproductive anti-rabies campaign. Alongside this there’s a growing record of dogs being stolen – the disgusting dog-meat trade and rampant pet theft are clearly factors in this – and of associated beatings to death of dogs in public places. It’s a great tourism image, that.

Pets are being slain in front of weeping little children. Village communities that the government has failed to bother to educate about rabies or anything much else are signing up to culling programs they clearly do not understand will increase their exposure to rabies, not reduce it. We hear suggestions that the provincial authorities would like to coopt non-profit animal welfare agencies into their strategy. In the upside-down world of Bali administration, that would make them part of the problem rather than the solution. That’s the way things are done here. It might work, as a concept at least, if the Governor and other luminaries could work out that the smoggy blue bit up there is the sky and the litter-strewn vistas below are the land. But don’t wait up for that to happen.

There is a problem. There’s no doubt that rabies is on the rise again. But there’s another problem too. It is the provincial government and its blindness.

Splash Out

We had a fun evening at the 2016 Waterman’s Awards night, held at the Padma Resort in Legian on Aug. 14. This was despite not bidding high enough in the silent auction to score a plush holiday break in Goa and some glitches in the presentation and continuity (“run-sheet problems,” we said to ourselves sotto voce at several points). Those demerits aside it was a good show. It was particularly pleasing to see longstanding local benefactor and Surfer Girl proprietor Steve Palmer pick up the major award of the evening, the lifetime inspiration award. A good friend of the Diary, Delphine Robbe of Gili Eco Trust, picked up Water Lady of the Year.

Events like these are always works in progress. The Waterman’s is the brainchild of ROLE Foundation chief Mike O’Leary, who deserves credit for the initiative. We look forward to the 2016 awards.

That Sinking Feeling

News that Dubai’s grandiose interference with the hydrography of its bit of the Arabian Gulf has come to grief in the shape of artificial islands that are sinking into the sandy base of that chiefly enclosed but fiercely tidal waterway may or may not have caused a sinking feeling in the corporate court of Tomy Winata, self-made billionaire tycoon and friend of Sumatra’s tigers.

We’re betting “may not” since the practice here is to ignore the actuarial risk of what might happen tomorrow in favour of dollars (or any convenient convertible currency) today. Come on! Benoa Bay is nothing like the Arabian Gulf. It’s just a little, formerly beautiful, mangrove-swathed inlet. The Shatt al-Arab doesn’t empty the remains of Mesopotamia into it. It is the sludge pond only for a few of Bali’s little rivers and the filthy rubbish that clogs and despoils them. But artificial islands and shifting sands do not as a rule go together like peaches and cream, or for that matter like enormous horseless carriages and the mega-vroom that makes them go in a suitably rich boy-toy fashion.

Moreover, it’s a place that might make a mint for someone if it is eventually turned into an artificial eyesore. This outcome is the central objective of Pak Winata’s plan to build Excresence-sur-Mer. He will be long gone from the scene of that environmental crime before it turns into Excresence-sous-Mer.

It’s That Girl Again

Schapelle Corby, whose criminal notoriety was glibly turned into victim-celebrity by her family and the tabloid and lowbrow-glossy western media, is reported to be planning a baby. The reportage is third hand and gossipy, as much of that sort of dross tends to be. She did look rather wan in the photo of her that we saw. It was taken at the beach where the putative father of her apparently conceivable future baby has a business. She is not expectant, it seems, so her listless pallor cannot have been morning sickness. Perhaps it was ennui or irritation.

Nothing about this has anything to do with anyone other than Corby, high-profile Australian parolee, and the person who might one day impregnate her. It certainly has nothing to do with her sister Mercedes, one-time Ralph Magazine boob-barer and motor mouth for hire. In the report we saw she seemed to be attempting to reinvent herself in some sort of mother-superior role.

Give. Us. A. Break.

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