8degreesoflatitude

THINGS THAT INTEREST, ENGAGE AND ENRAGE

Month: January, 2016

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Jan. 20, 2016

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

 

Modern Times

There’s been an outbreak of nostalgia for the “old Bali” recently, one of those periodic episodes where everyone puts on their rose-tinted glasses and peers back into the past, fondly recalling what they think they remember. Ah, the old days! Things were so much better then.

Fundamentally, that’s tosh. It’s certainly true that the economic value Bali has been able to add to itself and its people over the past 40 years has not been spread with anything like theoretical Marxist (or even Jesuit) perfection. To say nothing of the age-old Hindu culture that could sustain subsistence living for all, at a pinch, but is quite incapable of doing so in a modern monetary economy. It’s thoroughly arguable too that in the ambient social and cultural climate of Indonesia, wealth and its acquisitive benefits will never be universally available. The poor will always be with us. As will the robber baron plutocracy and grasping kleptomaniacs. The poor are nicer people.

The social welfare net that supports the mendicant classes in the western world won’t be replicated here, or anywhere in East Asia. And that’s not only because it’s plain that the overweening expectations about the immutability of that safety net will in the end cause the collapse of democratic capitalism and the western world with it. It’s chiefly because the Eastern ethos is different.

Progress is not always progressive or socially responsible. A 2014 book, by old Bali hand Phil Jarratt and called Bali: Heaven and Hell delineates the divide rather well. Fellow pioneer surfer Steve Palmer, a long-term fixture in Bali’s firmament when he’s not schussing the ski slopes of western Canada and the United States, has a word in it. He remembers the days when reaching the Uluwatu surf breaks meant trekking through miles of cactus-lined cliff paths and that this was something done by relatively few people. Sitting in a traffic jam for hours is certainly a less appealing prospect.

The old Bali is gone. Bits of it may still be seen, like sad little echoes of a past epoch, but we’ve all moved on. Unfortunately the landscape and the environment are less pleasant, both literally and figuratively. Gordon Gecko’s maxim holds sway here now. Greed is good. It’s the Balinese (and their fellow Indonesians who have made the island their home) who must deal with that.

Perhaps Governor Pastika recognizes this and will ditch his Old Curiosity Shopful of ideas that sound good at the time, but fail the test of sentience, like the round-island railway and filling in Benoa Bay for condominiums. He was reported as saying, after Travel + Leisure magazine named Bali as “one of the best islands in the world”, that this would simply ensure millions of tourists swarmed to Bali like ants. Um, a word in your ear, Guv.

Stardust to Stardust

It was very sad to hear on Jan. 10 that British rock singer David Bowie had died of liver cancer. His chameleon character and eclectic musical styles were an adornment to the otherwise frequently vacuous rock culture of his era and his way of handling celebrity was admirable. He declined a knighthood in 2003.

He recorded a last song only two days before his death. It’s a moving and extraordinarily symbolic monument to the place he knew he had in life. It followed release of his last album. These will surely be both his swansong and his epitaph. Perhaps his death and his final album are sad, in the saccharine way that western society seems to have made its leitmotif, but in fact his music and his manner are much better seen as an anthem to acceptance of inevitability. For that, too, he deserves high praise.

He was 69. That’s far too young to comfortably shuffle off this mortal coil. He will be missed, but his talent and music will never be forgotten.

Litter Louts

At Perth international airport there’s a quaintly named Smokers’ Refuge. It’s possibly not unlike a leper colony in its own way. It’s outside the terminal building, as it should be, and is basically in the car park across the road. But there are sun umbrellas to shade you and plenty of bins for your butts. As a place of exile for those among us who still use a usuriously taxed legal product and yet are frowned upon for doing so, it fits the bill quite nicely.

Most of the people who use it seem to be airport or airline staff, and some members of that recently inaugurated and nattily uniformed farce, the Australian Border Force. An occasional traveller drops by, either for a quick restorative draught after arrival or a last puff before having to submit to the artificial air inside the terminal and the long drag in the metal tube that follows.

Littering is a heinous offence in Australia, where in some places you can get stung the equivalent of between Rp5 million and Rp20 million for leaving a cigarette butt on the ground; and rightly so. But apparently this was of little moment to the three ladies in corporate uniforms we saw smoking there while they chatted in their break. They left an empty can of soft drink on a bench, right beside a bin, and the paving beneath them littered with butts. Shocking.

Home is Where the Art is

For reasons which are private and entirely peripheral to the point of this item, we recently had to remove from storage, re-pack and then re-store, numerous items of value, intrinsic and otherwise, which we keep in Australia because there’s no room at The Cage.

Among them are two lovely Made Kaek abstracts that caught our eye at an Ubud gallery in 2001 and which (of course) we promptly bought. They adorned our townhouse in Brisbane for four years, before – being greying nomads with absolutely no interest in buying a Winnebago – we moved to Bali. As the Distaff is a Westie (she’ll never be permitted to forget that, poor thing) that’s where we sent our memorabilia, our modest art collection, glassware, cutlery, sundry other household effects and a simply beautiful marble chess table and matching pieces. They were the collectibles of a life together that at that point had reached 26 years. You get less for murder these days, of course, but that too is peripheral to the point.

Both the Made Kaek works had latterly and briefly hung at the matriarchal McMansion, which made visits there even more pleasant than ever. But when we came to repack our stuff for future storage, one of the works had suffered seriously cracked glass. Naturally, Sod’s Law being what it is, this was discovered in the midst of Australia’s summer slumber and only two days before the truck was to come to take it and everything else away to Perth.

Happily, we found Sarah Bowes of Country Road Picture Framers in Busselton, to whose house – after a phone call – we repaired post-haste. She broke into her holiday downtime to replace the glass and re-back the frame.

We cannot thank her enough for her skill, her willingness to accommodate our urgent schedule, and the comfortable cost of the operation that she performed. Take that as a high recommendation.

And There’s the Rub

Getting home is always a blessing. Even if you discover on arrival that your internet isn’t functioning because your ISP has obviously sequestered the substantial megabytes of upload and download that you have paid for and that this requires four telephone calls to restore. Three of these calls mysteriously dropped out mid-conversation. Perhaps the unfortunate lackeys with whom we were conversing couldn’t find a handy friend who had done it.

Never mind. This indelicacy, along with others, was vitiated by a visit to our preferred local salon, Island Spa in Jimbaran, where restorative massages were enjoyed. Well, partly so. During his massage The Diary, perhaps incautiously, said when prompted by the therapist well into the 60-minute session that slightly stronger pressure might be in order. It was very good, since the seat pitch on Jetstar’s Airbus 320s is not septuagenarian friendly, but it cost Rp110K instead of the Rp80K that had been booked. The masseuse was commendably young and highly skilled, but an otherwise unmentioned 30 per cent rise in the tariff was perhaps a little stiff for the additional service rendered.

Still, best not to be churlish. Everyone needs to make a crust. There are significant pluses, also. We have our temporary resident permit process under way, albeit with added irritations, and have restored to working order the Distaff’s CIMB debit card that had very unkindly expired in her absence.

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, Jan. 6, 2016

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

 

A Prime Appointment

Helena Studdert, the new Australian consul-general in Bali, comes to the job by an unusual route. She has already held an ambassadorial post – she was Australia’s envoy to Serbia from 2010-2013 – and has some background in the sometimes fractious field of civil-military affairs, having served most recently as international adviser to the Australian Civil-Military Centre.

These are not often the qualifications one finds in consular appointments, where the job is to look after people rather than foster the often separate interests of diplomatic relations. They aren’t quite mutually exclusive, though, especially in a post such as Bali. Studdert’s appointment, announced by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on Dec. 22, gives additional oomph to Australia’s interests here, where the consulate-general is the country’s third busiest consular mission. This can only be a good thing. It might get a little busier yet, too, with the third and we hope lasting announcement in December that Australia is now on Indonesia’s free visa on arrival list.

Studdert, who has a PhD, takes up her new post this month. She replaces outgoing consul-general Majell Hind, who leaves with the good wishes of everyone who came to know her during her time here.

Australia will open a new consulate-general in Makassar this year.

He’s No Bule!

Tim Hannigan, who gets a regular outing in this column because he’s a good fellow who has lots of interesting things to say, tells us he found a lovely little scribble in his own First Exposure diary of Indonesian travels, from a decade ago. He’d been prompted to delve into the origins of his Indonesian writings by the death in December, in Malang, of the American chronicler Benedict Anderson, whose passing we noted in the Diary of Dec. 23.

Hannigan was in remote eastern Indonesia on his first traveller’s journey here and on one island came across the story of a white man who had lived thereon for 20 years, married a local woman, spoke the local language, and followed the basically animist religious rites of the community. His journalistic interest piqued, he inquired of the locals what was the man’s name. These worthies then looked at each other and said um and ah in their own lingo and after a while reached a collegiate conclusion that his name had been Turis.

Bule, the not altogether offensive word for Europeans more commonly used in Bahasa Indonesia, is less favoured in the archipelagic east. There, such people are tourists and apparently remain so even when fully salted, over two decades, into the local community.

Amen to That

Pope Francis, chief counsellor to the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics and the first Jesuit Pope, had a great message about Jesus’ birth for his global flock on Christmas Day. He said this: “In a society so often intoxicated by consumerism and hedonism, wealth and extravagance, appearances and narcissism, this child calls us to act soberly … in a way that is simple, balanced, consistent, capable of seeing and doing what is essential.”

Common sense and fine judicial and spiritual judgment is the hallmark of the Jesuits. Even those not of the faith – or indeed not of any faith – can relate to the Pope’s words on this occasion and on this topic. It’s a message the consumerist West should listen to especially carefully. There is really no reason for empathy overload, one of the new psychiatric ailments that is said to be afflicting those who can afford to spend their time and money on elective counseling and through this find justification in not caring quite as much as they might that others are less fortunate than themselves.

Red Litter Day

How lovely it was to see – on Facebook on Dec. 26 – that Coco supermarkets had rushed in to clean up the mess when photos emerged of one of their trucks stopped in Ubud near a watercourse, dumping trash. Perhaps there’s a lesson in that for all the defaulters who, for reasons of ennui or avarice, can’t be bothered disposing of rubbish in the required manner. That includes managements as well as workers, just to make that point.

If this practice spreads, Bali’s little rivers might one day be relatively free of the disgusting debris that defiles them and which then, when it rains properly, is expelled into the sea. In the fiction of the island, it used to be said (though no one ever believed that particular fable) that all the awful beach rubbish came from Java. They do such a lovely line in terminological inexactitude here.

Coco’s deserves credit for acting swiftly when the littering habits of that particular delivery truck’s crew were publicized on social media. These days, nowhere is immune from observation and recording by people whose cell phones take photos and videos. That’s a lesson that should be swiftly absorbed, as apparently it has been by Coco’s management.

It would be nice if the provincial government made more of an effort to return Bali to something approximating its natural beauty than just making up pretty slogans and hoping someone else will pick up the slack. Bali Clean and Green should be a planned objective, not just a PR pitch on a wish list.

Tim Tam Time

The Diary, courtesy of its Australian sojourn, has been enjoying original Tim Tams. And not just the occasional one: just the day before Christmas, for example, we enjoyed three of them, one after the other, no breaks, except of the delicious choc-covered biscuit between our teeth. Out of their packet, cool and crisp from the fridge and well before their use-by date is even a twinkle in Old Father Time’s eye.

An original Tim Tam in mint condition has been a rare treat for more than a decade now. They’re unobtainable in Indonesia, unless you’re prepared to list as mint condition a fused mess caused by faulty refrigeration and the Lucifer-like temperatures you tend to find in local stores, even the ones with the premium prices. In Indonesia, too, Arnott’s seem to experiment almost weekly with some new sticky confection they call Tim Tams, but which are as related to the original as, say, the urban gangs of modern Metro America are to the robber barons who forced King John’s hand with that Magna Carta deal back in 1215.

The Tim Tams we’ve been eating remind us of the Stress Diet a very lovely friend alerted us to in Brisbane years ago, when we were permanently on each other’s tryst list. Perhaps memory has played cruelly with a few details, but it went something like this:

Breakfast: Cup of coffee, one Tim Tam. Elevenses: Cup of coffee, two Tim Tams. Lunch: Cup of coffee, three Tim Tams. Afternoon tea: Forget the coffee and eat the rest of the Tim Tams.

It’s always worked for us. Of course, you have to find the Tim Tams first.

Early Monkey

As Georgie is reported to have advised, in the Rod Stewart song that records his untimely passing on a New York boulevard at the hands of a New Jersey gang with just one aim, you’ve got to get in fast or it’s too late. Georgie was of course speaking of that elusive faculty, youth; most of the sentient among us remember it as that golden time we enjoyed in the brief interlude between childhood and growing up. But getting in fast, or at least first, is sound advice nonetheless.

It was fun therefore to see a little promo doing the rounds recently from the Aman chain, which has three plush establishments in Bali at which the well heeled can kick up a little decorous dust. In this case the dust – suitably mediated, we’re sure – relates to 2016 being the Year of the Monkey. As we noted in the diary of Dec. 23, this is good year for us, since we are of the simian persuasion in the Chinese Zodiac.

Aman advises its potential guests that the island of Bali presents the opportunity to experience cultural adventure, a vibrant natural landscape and three unique Aman destinations. The principal monkey business is set for the lush terraces of its Ubud property, where Amandari will be welcoming guests to usher in the Year of the Monkey with a celebratory dining experience, traditional music and dance performances.

This Monkey year – it commences on Feb. 4 – is the Year of the Red Monkey, which might pique the interest of any genuine communists still extant in China.

Splashing Out

San Diego zoo in California gave its polar bears a great present on Christmas Days – 26 tons of real snow provided for them to play in. And what fun they had. It made us wonder if the execrable dolphin jailers at WAKE at Keramas had thought to give their poor wild captives some real seawater as a treat. They might have liked that.

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