8degreesoflatitude

THINGS THAT INTEREST, ENGAGE AND ENRAGE

Month: October, 2015

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Oct. 28, 2015

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

 

Peace Off

There is a debate under way over Bali’s branding as a destination. It’s probably less tiring to whicker about that than to act firmly to curb the growing list of demerits that stand in the way of Bali being any sort of destination: rampant and uncontrolled development in the crowded south; official and corporate corruption (“Brown Envelope Island” might be a suitable slogan there); public administration that is a sick joke where it’s not simply absent; environmental degradation and woefully inadequate infrastructure; the disastrous failure to apply common sense (not to mention internationally proven remedies) to the business of suppressing rabies. The list is practically endless.

In that regard, a suggestion from former provincial politician Wayan Puspa Negara reported in the local newspaper Bisnis Bali that “Bali: Endless of Unique” would be an apposite slogan seems worthy of critical examination. As Jack Daniels noted in a recent edition of his Bali Update, the syntax is questionable. We might suggest a modest rewording to correct both the grammar and its accuracy. “Bali: End of Unique” would certainly sum up both the current situation and the banal, continuing march towards despoliation that is a feature of today’s “tourist Bali”. There is nothing unique in cheek-by-jowl hotel developments, the proliferation of trinket megastores designed to relieve low-cost package tourists of the last of their money, the winked-at sex trade, or the shockingly inadequate infrastructure through which we expect tourists to struggle and still have a good time.

Bali’s longstanding slogan is Shanti Shanti Shanti (shanti is a Sanskrit word meaning peace). This properly reflects the island’s unique Hindu culture and the uniqueness of Bali within Indonesia and in the world. But that’s the very thing – the vitally important thing – that is now directly under threat from the tsunami of mismanaged, greed-driven, hubris-laden drives for more and more tourists. It’s not the raw numbers that are necessarily the problem, provided the facilities are there to handle a mass-market approach. It’s the vacuous pursuit of more and more paying guests in the absence of infrastructure to support them that is the poison chalice. Kuta-Legian-Seminyak (and now beyond) is unmanageable. It should never take two hours to travel the 15 kilometres from Canggu to Kuta by road. That it regularly does so is testament to the stupidity of putting the cart before the horse and expecting anything to work.

Slogans are only one part of the equation, of course. They are a double-edged sword and open to abuse. One such slogan, a delightful double entendre that thankfully failed to see the light of day is said to have been once offered (by an Englishman, in distempered jest) to the Scottish tourism authorities. It said “Scotland: You’re Welcome to It”. Bali might need some better marketing, but what it needs even more is better, more sensitive (and sensible) Balinese management. Stay unique is good advice.

Whistle-Blower 

Speaking of Scotland, your diarist recently had the benefit of watching a rugby match in which whoever was the victor he had a rare opportunity to come out a winner. The Australia-Scotland quarterfinal in the 2015 World Rugby Cup was a nail-biter from start to finish, perhaps the best edge-of-the-seat game in years. The margin (to the Scots) at half time was one point. The margin at the final whistle was one point (to the Australians). The Wallabies – on recent form more pointedly known colloquially as the Wobblies – got through to the semi-finals and created a situation in which the semis and the final would be completely a southern hemisphere affair, Argentina’s feisty Pumas having just seen off the Irish.

The circumstances of the Australian win were regrettable however. Two minutes before fulltime Scotland were ahead by two points. There was a Scottish infringement in the scrimmage taking place just out from their try-line. It was penalized, as it should have been, by South African referee Craig Joubert. Except that he awarded a penalty kick to the Australians where a scrum would plainly have been more appropriate. The Australians kicked the goal (worth three points) and won the match.

From a scrum, if Joubert had pondered for a second or two more and decided on that course instead of a penalty, the Australians would have been ideally placed to throw the ball well back, to their best backline kicker, for a field goal attempt. If successful that would have earned them three points and won them the match.

Joubert’s hesitation before awarding the penalty kick was telling – he was clearly very undecided about the level of infringement by the Scots – and he left the field at rather more than a brisk canter when he blew the final whistle as the Australian ball from the place kick flew straight and true through the unmissable uprights. It was a sorry end to a great match.

But hey, rant over. One of the Diary’s sides on the field won.

Heads in the Sand

It’s hard to be an optimist, sometimes. Icarus has always served as an exemplar in that regard. It never does to soar to such lofty heights, even on terrific flights of fancy, that your carefully constructed wings of wax are melted by the sun. Cautious optimism has always seemed a better bet even though this policy should be underpinned by the certainty that neither does it pay to be a pessimist, since that would never work.

We did allow ourselves one little flight of fancy recently, however, when we heard that Governor Zainul Majdi of West Nusa Tenggara had come out against a plan to acquire sand from Lombok to fill in Benoa Bay for private profit. His assertion that he and his generation held the environment of Lombok and Sumbawa in trust for future generations sounded really good. We penciled him in as worthy of note among an exclusive – read: very small – group of Indonesian leaders whose visionary capacity stretched beyond immediate benefit.

Sadly, we have now had to use the eraser. We were mistaken in our assessment. The private profiteer in question, Tomy Winata, tried another tactic when he found himself and his blandishments banished from the Governor’s Palace in Mataram. He took his plans for the exploitative acquisition of massive quantities of West Nusa Tenggara’s environment-in-trust offshore, into the aptly named Alas Strait, where what he wants lies out of sight under water and is protected – if that’s the word – by the much more malleable provisions of national mining regulations. Governor Zainul apparently supports this environmental rape and as a result has lost a large portion of his local hero status. Those who care about the environment and the livelihoods of local fishermen have told him this. They can be counted on to repeat that message at every opportunity.

That’s good news. Ruining one environment so that another one somewhere else may also be ruined might typify the developmental impulse to build undesirable and unnecessary private infrastructure complete with extra kitsch, but that doesn’t make it right. The marine environment of the Alas Strait is worth protecting from all manner of threats. Among these must now be numbered Tomy Winata and Zainul Majdi.

Fragrant Rise

The 2015 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival gets under way today (Oct. 28) with the panache, eclecticism and variety of writers, pundits and performers we have come to expect from Janet DeNeefe’s literary baby, which began life in 2003 as a response to the 2002 Bali bombings and has grown with every annual edition. The UWRF now has a baby sibling, the Ubud Food Festival, which has just announced its dates for 2016. Mark your diaries for May 27-29.

DeNeefe, who operates two restaurants, a bakery and a cooking school in Ubud and who writes about food (her famous foray is a little tome called Fragrant Rice) was recently at the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany, where Indonesia was a special guest and at which she was one of the chefs invited to represent Indonesian cuisine.

This year’s inaugural food festival attracted 6,500 palates seeking temptation. Now that the word has got around, we can be sure there will be more next year. The festival is looking for a fulltime manager whose role would be to coordinate festival staff, look after programming, and handle stakeholders (and of course founders). Applications are open until Nov. 11.

If the job comes with a daily chocolate ration, we might even be tempted to apply.

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

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Oct. 14, 2015

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

 

Mynah Triumph

Like the reports relating to the death of Mark Twain – which the gentleman concerned noted were greatly exaggerated – claims that the endangered Bali Starling is again on the verge of extinction in its natural habitat may lack several crucial grades of veracity. It has been claimed that the program to rebuild the bird population in the West Bali National Park has been seriously compromised by poachers. That of course would be no surprise if it were true, Bali and indeed the whole of Indonesia being a place where many social precepts are promiscuously ignored and laws are broken ubiquitously if there’s money in it. In these areas of malfeasance it is very far from being alone, that is true. It is in its attempts to reduce malfeasance, and its real official interest in doing so, that its performance is noticeably risible.

But in this instance, happily, it appears not to be the case. The reported reduction in breeding numbers is based on observation and it has been pointed out that the introduced pairs may simply be in parts of the park where they are not observed by human eyes. Apparently the Bali Starling is as smart as the Bali Dog, which to the chagrin of officials who wish to kill it sensibly runs away when it sees men with nets approaching.

The Bali Starling is indeed a unique bird, not least because it is not a starling at all, but a mynah: Leucopsar rothschildi, locally known as Jalak Bali. It is found in captivity in zoos around the world (there is an introduced population on Nusa Penida too) but of course it should be encouraged to repopulate its natural West Bali environment. The Yokohama Zoo in Japan is working with Bali’s wildlife authorities to re-establish a viable breeding population in the national park.

Dropping the Ball

The 2015 Rugby World Cup competition has turned up a number of surprises. Japan beat South Africa for one thing, in an early group match. It was a fluke, though very instructive of the fact that you must never drop the ball until the final whistle blows. The South Africans were mortified (their coach felt it necessary to apologize to his nation) but they were beaten fairly, in the closing minutes, by some very inventive play and by Japanese determination, a factor that should never be discounted.

The best surprise, however, was that the host nation, England, was eliminated from the Cup before it got out of its group round of matches. Two disastrous losses at Twickenham, its home ground in London, to Wales and Australia, sent it home – or would have done so if it hadn’t already been home – early and shamefully. For the rest of us, of course, it was rather less than an event of such stunning calamity that it required a period of national mourning. It was much more a belly laugh occasion. The words of Sergeant Major Williams in the British TV sitcom It Ain’t Half Hot Mum sprang to mind: Oh dear. How sad. Never mind. It also produced a collector’s item range of memes on social media.

The Diary is a rugby fan, a legacy of an undistinguished school-years experience in which, beneficially for other reasons related to acquiring life skills, we learned while playing in the No. 10 spot – fly-half – the importance of being able to dodge the nuggety bits, the built-of-bricks blokes in the scrum. Off the field these fellows are often very nice chaps, and we are friendly with two of these – they missed out on mauling us on the field by a small matter of geography and two decades – with whom in recent weeks we have shared a few laughs.

One is a very fortunate fellow indeed, whose life circumstances have given him the opportunity to be in England for the Cup. We’d have given our eye teeth to be there too – it’s easy and cheap to get them made and implanted in Bali, after all – except that our own life circumstances required our presence elsewhere. He sent us a very nice photo of the England team bus. The caption with it pointed out to any prospective buyers of this conveyance that it was a bargain because it had only been used twice.

Takes its Toll

Among the many delights of living in Bali is that development policy (yes, it does sound like an oxymoron when you put it like that) seems to consist of flights of fancy. The Governor’s famous round-island slow train delighted us some years ago, and still gets an outing now and then. The latest project to bring a smile to the dial is the toll road proposal that would provide a fast traffic link from the crowded south to the unserviced north and which would wind through the mountains from Tabanan regency to Buleleng.

It’s true that this would be a boon to the north, if it wishes to be overwhelmed by tourists like the south. It’s odds on that it does, since the ubiquitous rule here is to acquire in haste (if someone else pays for it) and forget about repenting at leisure because the future does not yet exist and is therefore something for other people to worry about.

The Rp 35 trillion 125-km toll road would have the additional benefit (apparently) of being the longest in Indonesia, beating the Cipali toll road in West Java by nine crucial kilometres. It would be interesting to see the figures on which the proposed developer, Waskita Toll Road, is basing its commercial return and due diligence.

Behave Yourselves

Seriously, that’s sound advice. Or so it seems. In Aceh, where the Wahhabi shadows hang especially heavily in the air, police have apprehended women who were seen hugging, for reasons that according to some reports include suspected lesbianism. In Jakarta, “world city”, the authorities have placed a midnight curfew on entertainment places. In Bali, police have said they plan to charge a wedding coordinator with blasphemy after a same-sex ceremony was performed at the local focus of valuable pink dollar tourism, the Four Seasons at Sayan, just up the hill from Ubud, where in the name of self-awareness and mental freedom all sorts of Tantric and other sensual experiences may be had. That olfactory unpleasantness in the air is hypocrisy. They do it so well here. Amazingly, this odour is often suppressed temporarily by the aerosol application of magical pocket money.

As we so often find it necessary to state, lest we be accused of western uppity-ness or colonial recidivism, it is for Indonesia to govern itself and administer its society as it wishes. That’s not the issue (we have to say that fairly often too). But the government needs to work out with the Botherers, who are legion and are found everywhere in various forms, whether it wants to maintain the national objective to keep Indonesia as a practising part of the 21st century. If they don’t want to do this, they should say so.

Sands of Time

We read in the very useful Lombok Guide that Tomy Winata’s search for galactic quantities of sand to fill in Benoa Bay for his Excrescence-sur-Mer project has resurfaced, though in a sub-surface way. Having been knocked back by West Nusa Tenggara Governor Zainul Majdi on his plan to strip an East Lombok beach of its natural mineral covering, on very sensible environmental and social grounds, Mr Winata is now proposing to dredge what he wants up from the sea floor in the same general area. This application is under the mining regulations and (at last report) had the support of the Governor whose remit in that area of administration is minimal.

It’s still a very bad idea, both for Lombok – whose environment as Governor Zainul has previously said is held in trust for future generations – and for Bali, which needs more dreadful kitsch and loudly selfish rich like a hole in the head. Benoa Bay is also an environment that, as with every other one (Sumatran and Kalimantan forests for example) should be treated with respect. It’s true that Benoa long ago ceased to be the pristine, mangrove fringed tidal inlet that nature intended. It is now part of the built environment. Like a garden, however, it can be beautiful and retain its natural usefulness to the wider environment.

Protecting the mangroves instead of digging them up and dumping huge quantities of sand in their place would be a good way to do this. Commercial reasons are rarely sufficient argument to destroy something of irreplaceable, inestimable value.

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