8degreesoflatitude

THINGS THAT INTEREST, ENGAGE AND ENRAGE

Month: March, 2016

Hector’s Bali Diary, Mar. 30, 2016

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

 

Voice of the People

That 29 banjars can get together to protest the proposed corporate vandalism of Benoa Bay and the destruction of its precious mangrove environment is a political problem for the provincial government and the lesser authorities whose fief is Badung regency. This protest, on Mar. 20, wasn’t authorized. It wouldn’t have been. But it was authoritative and it called in all the weight of adat (custom). It was also the second such protest: an earlier one on Feb. 28 involved the village of Benoa and its banjars.

The Mar. 20 protest shut off airport access to the toll way and the traffic circle at the airport road intersection on Bypass Ngurah Rai. The organizers announced the event well ahead of time and apologized for the inconvenience. But most likely few people – beyond the Governor and his Benoa Bay despoiler of choice, Jakarta tycoon Tomy Winata – thought the demonstration was a bad idea. Most people think the bad idea in this instance is wrecking a fragile and precious environment in the interests of rich people getting even richer.

The police were powerless. They are not a constabulary here; they are effectively a paramilitary enforcement squad. But you wouldn’t want to start a war with 29 banjars. They took away two important adat leaders for a compulsory little chat while the non-affray was in progress. A crowd that then gathered outside the police office where this enforced conversation was taking place ensured that the detention period swiftly ended.

What happened on Mar. 20 was an exercise in grass roots democracy. It should provide valuable instruction for those in office. The primary lesson is that the people at all times effectively limit your power to act contrary to their wishes. There’s another lesson too. It is that while economic advance is essential, and should be welcomed, this needs to be achieved by public consensus and sensible planning, not by diktat or fiat or droit de seigneur. (Look that last one up. It’s allegorical in this case, but it’s apt and you might get a giggle.)

Candi Break

We spent Easter at Candi Dasa in East Bali, far from the madding crowd. We felt the need to stare at the ocean for four days. It’s always restless, but it sticks to its game plan and is predictable, at least in the main. The tides always come in and go out twice a day, a Circadian rhythm that for us provides a truly meditative focus from the comfort of a long chair by the pool. The discomfort of a yoga mat is for others in a more malleable state of grace.

We stayed at a favourite place, Pondok Bambu, where no one knows us as anything other than those crazy old Bules who’ve been coming here for years. We hadn’t been there for a while, but neither Nusa Penida nor Lembongan had moved. They remained in full view across the shimmering Badung Strait. Away to the east, Lombok gave us a glimpse of its comely contours now and then. The offshore parking arrangements for the Bali-Lombok ferries were as interesting as ever. Waiting your turn to Ro-Ro at the wharf at Padang Bai a few kilometres down the coast can sometimes be longer than the crossing.

And Pondok Bambu’s breakfast pancakes, enjoyed under the umbrellas by the low wall just above the water, were as tasty as always too. If you have hang around all Easter, it’s a pretty good spot to do so.

Switch Off

It was Earth Hour on Mar. 19, that annual observance through which, by switching off the lights for 60 minutes, we are encouraged to believe that we are saving the planet, or at least that we are helping to do so. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a bit of tokenism. No, really. It’s what the world seems to live on these days.

PLN, the national power utility, joined the chorus. It said Earth Hour was a great idea and consumers of its ephemerally available current should certainly participate. They didn’t quite go so far as to call on us to be upstanding and sing Indonesia Raya at mosque-loudspeaker pitch, but you got the idea.

A hollow laugh would be appropriate at this point. PLN has its own Earth Hours, somewhere, every minute, through its Well That’s a Surprise program of unannounced and inexplicable outages.

We once considered, in a nightmare we vaguely recall, what we might do if we woke up and found we were running PLN. Resignation and a plea to be considered instead for a position more closely aligned with the less fanciful claims in our CV came to mind. A paperclip-counting position in some dustily remote office of government might suit.

Just So We’re Cleare

It’s official. Australia is finally on the free tourist visa list, for visitors who are not intending to extend their stay beyond 30 days. That’s good news. But while the decision has officially been made and announced (accepting that here as indeed anywhere, things can be unannounced as required) it wasn’t immediately in place.

The super-active Clare McAlaney, who saw the announcement on line from the consular people at the Indonesian embassy in Canberra, got on to them for confirmation.

They told her this, on Mar. 21, in an email addressed to “Dear Cleare”:

“The new regulation on free visa to Indonesia for several countries, including Australia, was already signed by the President.

“However, its effective implementation shall wait for the issuance of the implementing regulation from the Ministry of Law and Human Rights.

“Once the new visa regulation is officially effective, it will be publicly announced by Indonesian Embassies/Consulates.”

Apparently some Australians got through immigration at Ngurah Rai International without paying US$35 as soon as the decision was announced. Even though the presidential pen had squiggled, the scrap of paper hadn’t been dug out from under the administrative overburden and no regulation yet existed. They’ll sort it out, eventually. The department of crossed wires must be Indonesia’s busiest bureaucracy.

Putting on Weight

The annual Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, a fixture since 2002, is breaking new ground with the collation of the UWRF’s bilingual Anthology series, which each year brings together the work of 15 emerging writers from across Indonesia. The writers themselves will launch the published anthology at the 16th festival, which runs from Oct. 26-30.

Festival director Janet DeNeefe tells us that this year UWRF has the largest number of submissions so far, with 894 aspiring writers from throughout Indonesia sending in stories for consideration. Submissions go to an independent curatorial board for selection.

In another move to widen its reach, the festival is collaborating with the Australasian Association of Writing Programs to select an aspiring writer to attend UWRF 2016. Submissions close at the end of May.

A Vital ROLE

The innovative travel outfit Destination Asia has been a supporter of the ROLE Foundation’s Bali WISE Women’s Skills Education program for more than a year now and have signed up to continue this support throughout 2016 as well.

That’s great news for all the women who have taken the opportunity to be part of the Bali WISE program. It highlights the benefits of corporate community support, delivered at a practical level, directly to the advantage of people who would otherwise remain truly disadvantaged.

ROLE founder Mike O’Leary tells us all Bali WISE students go through a six-month intensive school program. This is split into two parts: Three months are spent at ROLE’s Nusa Dua campus to learn English, women’s health, family planning, IT, and business skills. The next three months are spent at hotels for in-field hospitality training. Students’ education, accommodation and transport costs are covered throughout the six months of education.

Destination Asia started business in 1996 as the first destination management company to specialise in Indochina operations and the first Asia based travel business owned by its employees. Its network now spans 11 countries including Indonesia.

It runs on the old fashioned concept of a family business, without outside shareholders or directors, or equity relationships with international travel conglomerates.

So that’s a Woof, then

Bali’s most talkative recluse, Vyt Karazija, was some time ago adopted by an itinerant Bali dog, a feisty little fellow whose name is Lucky. Those of us lucky enough to be on Vyt’s mailing list have ever since enjoyed the Tales of Lucky. A recent post on canine affairs particularly caught our eye.

Karazija wrote: “Last night, Lucky was instructed by one of the people he owns to report to my place for his morning medication. ‘What time?’ he asked. ‘10am,’ he said. This morning, precisely at 10am, Lucky reported at my front door. Amazing dog.”

Hector’s Diary, edited for print publication, appears in the fortnightly publication the Bali Advertiser

 

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Mar. 16, 2016

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Keep them at Bay

Made Wijaya, the go-to Bule for behind-the-friezes analysis of Bali society and what really makes it tick, has some very sensible things to say, in his latest Stranger in Paradise column, about the excrescence Governor Made Mangku Pastika and Jakarta business tycoon Tomy Winata wish to visit upon the precious marine environment of Benoa Bay.

Among them was this, a quote he gave The Sydney Morning Herald, whose Indonesian correspondent Jewel Topsfield has been following the story of the proposed vandalism of the bay:

“The Balinese are fed up and they are finally unifying to express protest against rampant development. Imagine filling in Sydney Harbour — it’s pretty radical. It’s going to become like, heaven forbid, South Florida, with fake waterways and cheesy houses. And the last thing we need is more traffic in South Bali. It’s mindless, environmental vandalism.”

He also noted this, of the massive local demonstrations on Feb. 28, including those authorized by the Benoa village authorities and its constituent banjars, with one of which we have a close personal connection:

“As a guest in this country, I can’t go out marching, as I would like to. As an environmentalist — and as a lover of real, not real estate Balinese culture — I feel obliged to write about these threats to the environment. Some Balinese have suggested that taking on Jakarta developers is like taking on the mafia. The Balinese used to believe that it is better to roll with the punches and just get on with the show, their ceremonial show, rather than wetting their pants over things that can’t be changed. But not any more.”

Like Wijaya, Hector is a guest and can’t go out protest marching. But that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t like to.

Hats Off to Them

We enjoyed a nice night out on Mar. 4, at the Fairmont Sanur where the ROLE Foundation and Bali WISE had a hat party to celebrate International Women’s Day. The traffic was horrendous – six changes at the traffic lights at the end of the tollway to get onto Bypass Ngurah Rai to Sanur, for all the usual incomprehensible reasons – but eventually we got there, parked (in the wrong place) and walked along the beach path to the Fairmont.

It was easy to spot ROLE founder Mike O’Leary in the crowd. His hat had big bananas on it. He looked nonplused when we greeted him thus: “Mr. Cavendish, I presume”. But when you’re the big banana on the night, you’ve naturally enough got a lot of things on your mind, so we forgave him.

We did not wear a hat. We look shocking in headgear of any sort. Neither did we win the raffle, but that too is the standard script. The Distaff took a hat with her but decided to leave it in the car. Fellow guests at our table were Amanda Csebik, of Indonesian Island Sail, who was hatless, and Muriel Ydo, formerly of ROLE, who had brought along a severe but really rather fetching 20-year veteran of her hatbox and put it on now and then. Deborah Cassrels, a fellow scribe we’ve known for more than two decades, joined us from her table after dessert and we all had a lovely chat.

O’Leary says the night, which featured a silent auction with some lovely options, was a great success. The dance displays were interesting, especially the samba, though it really wasn’t clear exactly what that had to do with empowering women. The feathers looked ticklish, which prompted a hastily erased thought. Many in the 100-strong crowd got out there and boogied. We stayed at our table and tried to make ourselves heard above the racket.

The Fairmont is a lovely property. We’ll have to go back in a quieter time.

Oh Buoy!

When that shallow magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck the seabed south of Sumatra on Mar. 2, both the Indonesian and Australian authorities issued tsunami warnings. A wave did not eventuate and the warnings were later cancelled.

But none of the tsunami detection buoys expensively arrayed in the Indian Ocean off Sumatra after the 2004 Aceh disaster were working. Apparently their solar panels and other useful bits had been stolen by enterprising thieves who if apprehended – fat chance – would probably only concede, and that grudgingly, that they might just possibly be public nuisances.

Foreigners are frequently advised, sometimes forcefully, to remember that cultural differences exist between Indonesia and places where law enforcement agencies are properly resourced, their performance is regularly monitored, their reporting is timely and accurate within agreed tolerances, and their actual enforcement of laws is generally speaking OK. That’s always been a very thin argument, worthy of a hollow laugh, in a country whose ringmasters insist on its, and their, dignity being beyond dispute, but never mind.

In situations where petty thievery and supine enforcement endangers lives, however, no laughter is appropriate, hollow or otherwise. There is a point at which rampant venality becomes more dangerous joke than cultural proclivity.

The latest ferry sinking is another case in point. This one capsized on Mar. 4 in the narrow strait separating Java from Bali, fortunately with only low loss of life (there were five fatalities). Inquiries were made as a result of the accident. Doubtless some primary cause will eventually surface and may even be disclosed.

But no one would be surprised if the boat was overloaded when it left Gilimanuk for Banyuwangi, a 30-minute trip excusing the hours then spent floating around waiting to dock.

Please Explain 1

One of Klungkung Regency’s minor panjandrums got an unwelcome hurry-up the other day. Governor Pastika dropped in to ask awkward questions about, shall we say, some unauthorised fundraising for phantom projects. Perhaps it came as a surprise to the fellow that private enterprise wallet-stuffing on government time is frowned upon at the Governor’s office in Renon.

If so, that’s a very welcome little shaft of light from the heavens. Klungkung isn’t the only place on the island where nefarious is understood to spell opportunity, as an unrelated corruption probe in Badung sourly demonstrates, but it’s a start. The Balinese who exist lower down the food chain than wallet-stuffing panjandrums (that’s most of them) will possibly be pleased that the Governor has actually required something to be done about it.

Klungkung is Bali’s smallest mainland regency, though its regent’s realms include Nusa Penida, Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan across the Badung Strait. Its bureaucracy likes to do nothing much about a lot. A case in point is rabies, which is of course not really a problem at all as long as anyone who could actually help eradicate it, or at least reduce it by world recognized vaccination and humane sterilization based dog population controls, is kept out of Klungkung.

Please Explain 2

Badung Regency has declared South Kuta – the area that encompasses Tuban, Jimbaran and the Bukit peninsula – a red zone for rabies. They’ve done this, they say, on the basis of the many dogs in the area, not necessarily because of cases of canine rabies.

Why this should still be necessary eight years after the rabies outbreak began (on the Bukit where the authorities failed dismally to contain it) is problematic, or would perhaps seem so to people unversed in how things are done here. The thing being, of course, that things are only rarely done here. The subtext to the announcement, early in this month, is an excuse to kill more dogs in the arcane belief that this will reduce the rabies threat.

The issue is education, so that people learn and are helped to take care of their animals – including village dogs which have always been informally, collectively owned – and effective vaccination and sterilisation programs. Killing dogs is cruel and unnecessary. It is also profoundly counterproductive when they have been immunised against rabies and are thus an essential part of the defence against the invariably fatal disease. All this takes money and effort, and a clear sense of purpose.

It’s something you might think the local veterinarian association would be active in advocating, even if only because vets are supposed to be bound by a version of the Hippocratic oath that applies to human medicine. Do no harm.

We noted this, in relation to the ongoing rabies emergency, in the Diary of Dec. 9, 2015:

“Where is the provincial government in all of this? What is it doing to educate people about their responsibility for animals in their care? Nothing. It’s off finding further excuses for indolence. Where is the Association of Veterinarians Indonesia (PDHI) of Bali? Perhaps its chairman, veterinary doctor Made Restiani, would like to tell us when the PDHI will be back from being out to lunch.”

Apparently, it’s an astonishingly long lunch.

Hector tweets @scratchings on Twitter. His diary appears in the print and on line editions of the Bali Advertiser.

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Mar. 3, 2016

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences 

 

Don’t Miss Saigon

A few days gazing at the Saigon River from the 16th floor apartment of friends, enjoying the quieter street life of post-Tet Ho Chi Minh City, cruising on the Mekong, and briskly sampling the crispness of the mountain resort city of Dalat, 1500 metres above sea level, is a wonderful tonic. We had awarded ourselves the break, after several months of rather heavy duty, and it certainly paid off.

It really wasn’t planned for this time just because it’s raining in Bali. No, really. You expect it to rain in the wet season and are apt to worry, or at least become disconsolate, if it does not. But it’s true that Saigon – that’s what everyone calls it – is 10 degrees north rather than 8 degrees south and that the seasons are reversed. So it was pleasantly dry and cool in Saigon, and a tad on the brisk side at Dalat. The brisk bit was rather nice. And that’s two more ticks off the bucket list, though they’re both such lovely places, and so ideal for people watching and gourmet munching, that they will almost certainly earn double ticks at least.

Many years ago in New York, we saw the musical Miss Saigon. That was something that could easily have been missed, or so the critics and the audiences said. But Mistress Saigon, the city, has a different magic altogether, and certainly should not be missed.

Dined Out

It was sad to see long-term Bali fixture and computer guru Ric Shreves leave the island for good last month. He’s gone back to the USA – to Portland, Oregon – to some useful things there. And he certainly goes with the good wishes of the Diary, if these should speed his passage and oil the wheels of resettlement.

But it was fitting, we thought, that he should dine himself out, as it were. His last few days here were peppered with eating and drinking – modestly, we know – that should give both him and his friends here something to remember.

He spent 12 years in Bali. That’s a long time by anyone’s measure.

Across the Line

The Diary has Lombok connections, as some people know and one or two may have reasons to remember with an extra frisson. We do hope so. So we’re always interested in news from across the Wallace Line, that notional feature that so many people now crisscross regularly on fast boats from Bali.

When we lived in Lombok we had the privilege of residing high on a hill just above the beach a little south of Sengiggi, with a fabulous view of Mt Agung, the lights of distant Amlapura, the islands of Nusa Penida and Lembongan, and the little rocky islets off Candi Dasa. It was almost like being home, even if home was across the water.

It was fun sometimes too, to imagine the Wallace Line out there in mid-strait, the notional point at which Australasian flora and fauna finally cease and the Asian ecosystem takes over completely. On full moon nights in particular, the mid-strait eddies looked suitably, if fancifully and perhaps spookily, appropriate.

Another West Lombok hill-dweller with a fantastic view, Mark Heyward, told us recently of an artistic occasion at The Studio, a Sunday Session on Feb. 28 at Bukit Batu Layar, where artworks by Jakarta-based Sasak artist Saepul Bahri and Lombok resident Terry Renton were on show and original songs and performances pieces were provided by Ari Juliant and Heyward himself.

It would have been fun to be there. But we were in Vietnam instead.

Um, Yes … Well, Actually, No

Much is made, by westerners whose days are spent in detecting invidious cultural insensitivity in the attitudes of other westerners, of the need to comprehend essential differences between societies.

The hairy and wild-eyed, metaphorically speaking, exist on both sides of that divide. They are not to be borne, merely noted.

Below the thin but hot air of the truly manic stratosphere, however, there do exist occasions for comment that are invidious only on the Craven Scale. That’s the one where you say nothing for fear of upsetting not the horses, which anyway are predominantly a sensible species, but the occasional ass.

There have been two such outbreaks recently. One concerned the presence in social media of emoticons reflecting the wishes of people who are (dare we utter this?) gay, lesbian, transgender and other things not prescribed in literature which fails to post-date Neolithic ignorance. The other was a plan by the social affairs minister to eradicate prostitution in Indonesia by 2019.

On the Huh – What’s That Scale, the 1-10 measure that most suits rating the business of monumental stupidity, the outlawing of non-patriarchal emoticons rates only 1. It’s a mere midge-bite on the posterior of progress. Phone and Internet providers in Indonesia don’t want to upset the government and those who are (dare we utter this?) gay, lesbian, transgender or other things, won’t be too much discommoded.

However, the ministerial plan to eradicate prostitution by 2019 is a proposal of such monumental stupidity as to rate a 9 on the H-WT Scale. A 9 causes severe mirth, with dangerous belly laughs near the epicenter, and seriously undermines the respect that ministers and others in high places would otherwise be accorded.

A good universal rule for those who wish to be taken seriously is to avoid demonstrating that they are completely detached from reality.

With a Twist

We saw a priceless little meme recently, which featured a young woman in a position of extreme contortion on the floor, trying to reach the telephone from which a voice was saying “Yoga Help Line. How may we assist you?”

It made us giggle because we’re like that, and it also brought to mind the 2016 Bali Spirit Festival, due to take place in Ubud from Mar. 29-Apr. 3.

It’s a yoga thing, among other pastimes. Yoga is something that is said by its aficionados to get you past ego. That’s can’t be bad, though it has always escaped us why you need to physically contort yourself to achieve common sense. Never mind.

In a recent blog post on its website, the festival reminds us thus: “We all have one, that thing deep within that constantly begs to be satisfied. It is our ego, that place that houses our sense of self-esteem and self-importance. While recognising our own ego’s role in situations can be great, the act of its existence can really hinder our ability to live a happy and healthy life.”

How complex that all sounds. We’ve always managed with a nice glass of wine and some music to taste – Dvorak, perhaps, or if we’re feeling especially syrupy, Handel’s Water Music.

But as Deepak Chopra reminds us – something the Bali Spirit Festival’s blog post did too – “We must go beyond the constant clamour of ego, beyond the tools of logic and reason, to the still, calm place within us: the realm of the soul.”

The Diary, being now of somewhat mature age, might have to make that journey via the hospital were he to attempt a return to the manipulative delights of yoga, which briefly formed an ephemeral moment in his youth.

Nyepi Duties

We were back home in Bali well before Nyepi (Silent Day, Mar. 9). It wouldn’t do to miss it, since it is central to Balinese Hindu rites and customs and surely part and parcel of the reasons you live on the island. It’s also fun because it’s the only day of the year when PLN is willingly assisted by the whole population in the task of turning the lights out, a function that is widely believed to be the power utility’s secret core objective.

This year we’ll be turning out the lights at the villa of some friends, neighbours who are absent from Bali, so that we can dog-sit our favourite retriever while the staff is away. It will be a pleasant duty. Cindy will play ball, we know. That’s what she does. It’s only if you don’t throw the ball away again when she brings it back that you get a severe glance.

Our villas are so close that we can keep an eye on ours, at least while it’s light, and theirs is higher up the hill so that we’ll be able to see all the lights that are not there, in panorama as it were, as well as all the residual lighting that must remain on. There’s a fine view of the airport from their swimming pool (another neighbour’s garden greenery blocks that view from ours). That might be fun.

Hector tweets @scratchings on Twitter. His diary appears in the print and on line editions of the Bali Advertiser.