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THINGS THAT INTEREST, ENGAGE AND ENRAGE

Month: March, 2017

PLN’s Best Day

HECTOR’S DIARY

in the Bali Advertiser

HectorR

Wednesday, Mar. 29, 2017

 

IT was Nyepi yesterday (Mar. 28): Bali’s Silent Day. It is celebrated on the first new moon in March – at the same time as Indian Hindus mark their festival of Ugadi – and ushers in the Balinese New Year. It was then 1939 when we were again lawfully allowed to pop the kettle on to make a nice cuppa.

On Nyepi day, as is now well known even by challenged Australian tourists and most Chinese whose package tour operators failed to remind them that they’d be confined to barracks, very little happens in Bali.

The streets are deserted, except for Pecalang patrols checking to see that everyone’s indoors being quiet and contemplating no one’s navel except their own, and any emergency vehicle that’s been let out on duty with an authorised blue flashing light. So the road system copes quite well. Electricity use plummets by 40 per cent, which means PLN can meet demand, also a novel one-day-a-year arrangement.

The airport remains officially operational. It must, as an international airport, so it can function as a landing place for aircraft in distress. Otherwise, only transit flights are permitted over Nyepi and these are not allowed to embark or disembark passengers. Maritime navigation lights also remain on, including for ships at anchor, as international maritime law requires. So anyone with a sea view can find amusement by spotting riding lights and harbour beacons. Designated tourist hotels can keep minimal lighting on for guest safety. Otherwise, clouds permitting, it’s a starry, starry night. Which is lovely.

At The Cage, we keep things quiet. No noise is allowed to escape our perimeter. No light is either. That’s our mark of respect to local regulations and the honoured and honourable requirements of Balinese Hinduism. We’ve lived here for 12 years, but we are still guests in someone else’s homeland, and guests should respect their hosts by behaving themselves.

Religion, though, is not for us: we don’t even observe the strictures of the one that we are forced by Indonesian law to nominate as ours. Years ago we cut to the chase and gave up Lent for Lent. It’s Lent (the 40-day Christian pre-Easter fast) at the moment, just by the way.

These days we stay home for Nyepi. We’ve given up going away, or checking into some tourist accommodation where unruly children and their indifferent parents ruin your day.

Some years ago we booked for Nyepi at a favourite spot (it’s in Candi Dasa) and took our usual room overlooking the pool. We and the other guests were chivvied out of the restaurant by 7.30pm and sent to our rooms where the doors had to be closed and the curtains drawn tightly across the windows lest light or sounds of muted merriment be evident. We sat in the dark on our terrace and were amused by the staff, of which numbers soon turned up at the darkened pool with all the pool toys. They had a rare old time.

Miscreants and Others

BALI’S courts seem to have been processing job lots of foreigners lately, for the usual run-of-the-mill offences like drugs (“I didn’t know it was illegal”) and killing people. We sympathise with the judiciary, which has a tough enough job dealing with Indonesian-speaking criminals without having to cope with idiot visitors who can’t understand what’s being said, or the procedural practices of Indonesian law and the courts, and who probably shouldn’t have been allowed on the planes that brought them here in the first place. Such is life, in the age of mass tourism.

It’s true of course, if you believe the inmates that is, that jails everywhere are full of innocent people. The scope and range of implausible excuses is infinite. Criminal law is an interesting area, but we couldn’t take it. Our fuse is not long enough.

That’s why we took up scribbling for a living (though the living bit is moot these days). As so many assume is their right to tell you, it’s easy to fulminate. You just need an outwardly imperturbable nature and a thick skin. Though to do so sensibly, in the hope of encouraging objective thinking, in yourself or in others, you must be broadly informed. Sadly, Google long ago declared this practice archaic. These days you just cherry pick by cut-and-paste to reinforce only what you want to believe.

In the specific instance of the thrill of the moment, the trials of Briton David Taylor and Australian Sara Connor for the killing of a policeman on Kuta Beach on Aug. 17 last year, it’s appropriate to note that the sentences plainly reflect a very full judicial assessment of all the circumstances.

Taylor, a DJ whose performance name and apparently preferred lifestyle is Nutso but who sensibly shed his dreadlocks and his attitude for his trial, has accepted his six-year sentence. Connor, a mother of two (which some non-Indonesians seem to believe should mediate sentencing policy) was at last report considering counsel’s advice that she should appeal. She got four years. Our advice would be to cop that sweet.

Traditional Dress

SOME people are said to think that Governor Pastika went a bit over the top in his choice of attire when he said cheerio to King Salman of Saudi Arabia at the end of his extended stay. The Governor wore traditional Balinese dress. King Salman wore traditional Saudi dress.

They could have swapped, perhaps, just for the heck of it and the photo opportunities. But the Governor is Balinese. Why shouldn’t he turn out in full ceremonial rig for a ceremonial occasion? Bali’s unique culture deserves protection – and promotion. King Salman seems perfectly content with the notion that Bali is not part of Arabia Felix. Apparently he has the same opinion about the rest of Indonesia. This will disappoint only very few people.

Multilingual Cats

WE spent a lovely weekend recently as house guests at a villa in the Ubud area, an establishment where the two resident cats – kittens, really, and rescue animals at that – are showing remarkable linguistic aptitude. The household is French-speaking. The help is Indonesian. The visitors in this instance were from the Anglo side of the resident foreigner community.

We took along a couple of toys for the cats to play with. They seemed to enjoy them. One of them even went as far as to purr in our presence, a very high honour. But what impressed us most was that they seemed to be equally at home all three languages, as well as being completely fluent, as you’d expect, in their own Meow.

We tried our French on one of them, a lovely little ginger fellow whose name – surprise – is Ginger. In French, that’s “Jzhonzh-air”. He is the one who had purred at us. We think we got a meow in response. But it could have been a meh. Such a put-down! French vowels have so often brought us undone. We were in Paris once and were trying to find the Louvre, and got sent to the pissoir instead.

Ah, Yes, that Rabies Thing

IT won’t go away. It won’t, at least, until Bali’s authorities find some way to get really serious about it, and apply to the reduction and eventual elimination of rabies the established rules and practices that work everywhere else. The island’s new compact with the Japanese city of Kumamotu might help there. It is designed to put in place a controlled and properly administered program of the same sort that was commenced here in 2009, was then handed over to the local authorities, and then fell in a heap.

We know from reports in the local media that rabies-positive dogs have recently bitten people in the Bangli, Tabanan and Jembrana regencies. As usual, there was the absence of ready access to vaccine to cope with. That really is something the health authorities need to get on top of right now. Rabies is a zoonotic disease (human infections are from animal vectors) in the same way as plague is, for example. It is also 100 per cent fatal, unlike plague. But prevalence of zoonotic disease in close proximity to human populations indicates an absence of effort to eradicate it, including by spending the money required to do so. This is not something any local government should permit.

Rabies has been known to be present in Bali since 2008. It is unsafe to assume that any area of the island is free of it. We should remember that it started on the Bukit, not far from that popular draw-card, the GWK cultural park, and will certainly still be present there. It does seem, anecdotally, that infection levels in dogs are now at relatively low levels. That’s a benefit.

But all it takes is one dog. Someone who drives around in a plush government supplied SUV should have a real think about that.

HectorR

Hector’s Diary in the Bali Advertiser appears in every second issue. Follow 8degreesoflatitude.com for more up to the minute material.

 

Lights Out!

HECTOR’S DIARY

HectorR

His diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Bali, Saturday, Mar. 25, 2017

IT’S Nyepi on Tuesday, Bali’s Silent Day. It is celebrated on the first new moon in March, which this year is on Mar. 28, at the same time as Indian Hindus mark their festival of Ugadi. It ushers in the Balinese New Year, so that when we wake up on Mar. 29 from our dark night and can lawfully again pop the kettle on to make a nice cuppa, it will be 1939.

On Nyepi day, as is these days well known even by challenged Australian tourists and most of the Chinese whose package tour operators may or may not have reminded them that they’d be confined to barracks, very little happens in Bali.

The streets are deserted. Only Pecalang patrols are allowed out, to check that everyone is indoors and being quiet, and that no one is contemplating any navel except for their own. Nooky, or even thoughts of same, is prohibited. Also exempt from sanctions against disturbing the peace is any emergency vehicle that has to respond to something, has been authorised to do so, and may therefore beetle about with its blue flashing lights. Bali’s road system therefore copes quite well over Nyepi. Electricity use usually falls by 40 per cent, which means PLN can meet demand. This is also a novel one-day-a-year arrangement.

The airport remains officially operational. It must, as an international airport, so that it can function as a landing place for any aircraft in distress. Otherwise, only transit flights are permitted over Nyepi and these are not allowed to embark or disembark passengers. Maritime navigation lights also remain on, including for ships at anchor, as international maritime law requires. So anyone with a sea view can find amusement by spotting riding lights and harbour beacons. Designated tourist hotels can keep minimal lighting on for guest safety. Otherwise, clouds permitting, it’s a starry, starry night. Which is lovely.

At The Cage, our custom is to keep things quiet. No noise is allowed to escape our perimeter. No light is either. That’s our mark of respect to local regulations and the honoured and honourable requirements of Balinese Hinduism. We’ve lived here for 12 years, but we’re still guests in someone else’s homeland, and guests should always respect their hosts by behaving themselves.

Religion, though, is not for us: we don’t even observe the strictures of the one that we are forced by Indonesian law to nominate as ours. Years ago we cut to the chase and gave up Lent for Lent. It’s Lent (the 40-day Christian pre-Easter fast) at the moment, just by the way.

These days we stay home for Nyepi. We’ve given up going away, or checking into some tourist accommodation where unruly children and their indifferent or plainly dysfunctional parents can so easily ruin your day.

Some years ago we booked for Nyepi at a favourite spot (it’s in Candi Dasa) and took our usual room overlooking the pool. We and the other guests were chivvied out of the restaurant by 7.30pm and sent to our rooms where the doors had to be closed and the curtains drawn tightly across the windows lest light or sounds of muted merriment be evident. We sat in the dark on our terrace and were amused by the staff, of which numbers soon turned up at the darkened pool with all the pool toys. They had a rare old time.

Gaijin Light

AS a rule, the Japan Times is a good newspaper to read. It provides an easy window into some of the deeper meanings of the country it reflects in print. This is very useful for regional readers. It’s in English, which helps if the mysteries of the Japanese language, its historic character script, or even its modern Roman script transliteration, are beyond you, as they are for us. We can say hello and goodbye, and thank you, and ask for a beer. This covers the chief essentials, even during Sakura, the annual cherry blossom festival in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Sometimes, however, the Japan Times allows its liberal gaijin predilections to show. That’s fair enough, but analysing politics is difficult anywhere and especially so in opaque Japan.

Fortunately, we have an immensely valuable sounding board in someone of our long acquaintance whose immersion in things Japanese, including the language and therefore its deeper national nuances, is historic and very sound. It was to him we turned when we read an opinion piece the other day that attempted to draw link-lines through a contrived dot-pattern: between rising nationalism, private efforts to reintroduce the concept of Japan Redux into the education system, and politicised invitations to enmesh Prime Minister Abe and his wife into the murkier elements of supposed recidivism. It also reinforced the view of some foreign observers that Osaka, the venue of the matters under discussion, is a beacon of liberalism rather than Japan’s singularly self-interested business centre.

There is another view, to which (for context) The Diary adheres. This is that it is well past time Japan changed its post-war, foreign-imposed pacifist constitution and allowed itself to legislate and fund effective defence and other security policies, and that in the new global security situation it should do so sooner rather than later. Such moves make sense seven decades after the end of the Pacific War in an environment in which Japan is a democracy that is fully integrated into the global economy.

The modern Japanese monarchy is constitutional. The domestic political apparatus is far less likely to fall into the hands of autocrats than are those of neighbouring – or even distant – powers. And the Americans should be encouraged to retreat in good order, rather than by tweet, from the post-1945 global hegemony they assumed by default and have since invidiously enshrined as their national ethos.

It should be clear even to them that it has not developed in a way that is completely beneficial to America or, in this instance, Japan, or to others whose foreign and defence policies rely on an American umbrella being unfurled without question whenever there’s the threat of inclement weather.

In the era of emergent Chinese hegemony, it is not only Japan that needs to make such adjustments.

Hey! Great Idea!

FROM our Giggles to Go file: The operators of Bali’s Jasa Marga Mandara Tol, the mangrove motorway over the shallows of Benoa Bay, have come up with a plan to bolster revenues in a way that will defray the shortfall in proposed vehicular toll income and allow to service their financial obligations.

They would like to offer their road, which allows traffic to get around the Kuta traffic bottleneck, as a place where people can take wedding photos or make videos of the same. Um, yes. What a lovely thought.

It’s just a tad impractical, though. Perhaps this factor hasn’t been fully thought through. This would not be a surprise. They did after all recently suggest that the 12-kilometre motorway would benefit from being equipped with a rest area at about the halfway point on the 15-minute (in the left lane at the legal 80kmh speed limit) run from Nusa Dua to the Sesetan intersection south of Sanur and vice versa.

You can do it quicker, of course, but you have to weave around the trucks and the tourist buses hogging the right line because none of the drivers seem able to read the signs that tell drivers to Lajur Kiri (keep left).

They’ve gone as far as working out a scale of fees for stopping the traffic: Rp.15 million (US$1,100) for a still photo opportunity and Rp.30 million ($2,200) for a video session. The problem is that annual toll revenues (Rp.142 billion, around US$10.6 million) are falling a little short of the Rp.160 billion ($12 million) a year the operators need to service their debts.

Hector writes a monthly diary in the Bali Advertiser newspaper. The next appears on Mar. 29.

Statues of Liberty

HECTOR’S DIARY

HectorR

Bali, Saturday, Mar. 11, 2017 

IT was so nice to hear that our high profile regal Arabian visitor – Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, King of Saudi Arabia, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, and Head of the House of Saud – liked Bali so much that he extended his stay. He’s due to leave tomorrow, it seems.

It was also good to hear that the Balinese authorities refused to cover any of the rather outré statuary of traditional and religious significance to Bali Hindus, in rather the same way as the folks who look after the palace in Bogor placed Adam and Eve-style foliage in front of the lovely nude statues in the gardens there.

They had heard suggestions that they should organise something of the same kind of visual obstruction. This would act as a prophylactic against offence among the Saudi royals, who in the manner of most occupants of their hot, dry, desert country, go around in full Casper the Ghost rig and don’t dig the naked gig.

For Arabs, in Arabia, it’s a sensible precaution against sunburn, and this was indeed its original function. It may even be useful when riding camels, which are difficult beasts at best. But Islam mandates modesty (something the decadent West has given up for dead). Moral turpitude is frowned upon (ditto). And it is most especially a practice publicly disavowed by the strict rules of Wahhabi Islam.

King Salman is said now to view Indonesia as his second home. It rained a little while he was here, which must have been a novelty, and was perhaps an attraction. Speaking of novelties, if the king and his party managed to catch more than a blurred glimpse of other traffic while flat-footing it around in big limos escorted by police outriders and get-off-the-road-now loudspeaker trucks, they might have seen women riding motorbikes or even driving cars.

High-Placed Leak

JOHN Donne (who we might remember has been dead a little while now) reminds us never to ask for whom the bell tolls, because it tolls for thee.

Bill Leak, controversial Australian cartoonist, has now joined him in the lists of those who are no longer with us. It’s unlikely that he will be remembered as much as some who people the supposed pantheon, or as long, or as fondly, or with as much good reason.

Nonetheless, we are all of us nothing without the benefit of free speech. Another, greater, brain, Voltaire, makes that point rather firmly.

One great risk of free speech is that it nurtures public hyperbole, especially among those who in earlier ages would have been confined to being pamphleteers and activists within many mobs. We have to live with that, of course, which is one of the points Voltaire was on about.

But measured appreciation and objective conclusion, of Leak in this instance, need not be obsequious, and indeed shouldn’t be. Let those who love him sing the paeans. He’s dead, which is sad in the human sense (the bell eventually will toll for us all). He has passed into the afterlife from which, to the benefit of everyone who abhors clumsy and stupid racism, he can produce no more execrable cartoons.

Kuta Capers

NO, we’re not talking about those small pickled berries that season your food, especially if you dine at The Cage. We’re referring to the traffic in Gridlock Central in the place that certain sorts of tourists have ensured is known globally as a fun show. It’s also Cooter Central, but we won’t go there.

We’ve been avoiding Kuta for a while, to allow the police to work out that their new (old) traffic management system, involving a lot of one-way streets that take you everywhere except where you want to go, wouldn’t actually work. They’ve done that now, which is good. They really had no option, since the local banjars (precincts) wouldn’t have a bar of it, no one was in the least interested in being “socialised” by the cops about their new recipe for chaos, and paying traffic fines is viewed as a sort of optional extra in Bali.

This week, however, we had to venture in. There was a lot of traffic – especially at the airport traffic circle, where as usual the three notional traffic lanes entering it had been converted into six-and-a-half by the impressive insouciance of the locals – but it all worked, on the old model.

You just keep moving, slowly, and insinuate yourself into the melee. It takes nerves of steel (or in the Distaff’s case, in the passenger seat, an episode of closing your eyes and thinking of England) but it’s effective. We have heavily tinted windows in the car so mostly the locals don’t know they’ve been beaten into the last cubic centimetre of available space by a filthy foreign “tourist”. If by chance they do, they tend to look surprised, which is delightful. Road rage is not a factor here, a great benefit.

Further on, the always-interesting turn across the traffic to access one of Kuta’s more spectacular road shemozzles and get to our destination, was as much fun as ever.

On our return, because of the traffic, we drove north to get back onto Sunset Road rather than retracing our route that would have necessitated one of the manic traffic-snarl U-turns that they do here.

The police, fresh from their triumphant failure to change the pattern of chaos on Kuta’s roads, are engaged in a campaign to enforce the road rules. Perhaps they know what these are. That’s an interesting theory. The Highway Patrol car we had seen earlier, parked on the airport traffic circle, had evidently been left there by a policeman who didn’t.

At the four-way junction with Sunset Road, on our way back, the traffic police were about, waving their arms and blowing their whistles. That particular intersection is interesting because the only way traffic turning right (onto Sunset) can get through in more than four long changes of the lights is to get into the other-way lane. One assumes this would transgress certain of the traffic laws. No matter. The policemen with the whistles and the waving arms didn’t seem to care. They never do.

Hector writes a diary in the Bali Advertiser. It appears monthly.