Month: March, 2018

The Figjam Factor



Titbits from his regular diet of worms


The Cage, Bali

Friday, Mar. 16, 2018


BALI is home to many oddities. We refer in this instance to those found in the expatriate community. Readers will recall that someone by the name of Terry Brockhall chose to defame two former expatriates recently on the basis of his full misunderstanding of a set of circumstances relating to volcano relief fundraising. We noted this, he didn’t like it, and we invited him to get in touch for a chat. We heard nothing, which didn’t surprise us. Sometimes silence is the best policy, after all, when the vino has worn off but the uncomfortable verities remain.

The thing is, though, blowhard rule-benders very rarely learn a lesson they won’t forget in a goldfish’s brain-snap, especially if they’re of the variety that likes to jest about having to look bright eyed and bushy tailed for the boss, ha-ha. Well, not exactly the boss: it’s just someone who feeds him, but you’ll know what we mean. So he was back recently, in the social media, having another gratuitously ungracious and misinformed go on the same issue. The same message in return is warranted. But do get in touch, Terry, if you’d like a chat this time.

Terry has now been joined in the figjam chorus (Google figjam if you must) by another person, also late of Brisbane, faraway on the eastern seaboard of Australia. His name is Chris Osses, a used car salesman who now seems to live in Kalgoorlie. That’s in Western Australia and it’s a place with lots of rocks for lower forms of life to hide under. Apparently he has deep knowledge of the law in Australia and Indonesia. He’s welcome to drop by for a chat too.

Do It Right

THIS might be a moment to say some things about the volunteering sector here, especially in regard to fundraising and effective concentration of effort. The restrictions on foreigners doing good works are frequently ridiculous and the rules – fiscal and otherwise – onerous, but it has to be done right. Among most of the established charities, it is. There are some who don’t, and they’re administratively foolish and legally on shaky ground. They also put their own future funding from donations at risk unless they are fully transparent – with their donors and the authorities – on how the money is spent. It’s a formal accounting process, not the tea money.

This is also a place where when an emergency situation comes to light there’s a race – like a sort of manically disorganised egg and spoon event – to get out there first and be visible doing something. In short, it’s a battle for territory, a narrow view that produces unnecessary discord and shuts off creation of a focused and fully effective operation. Those in need of assistance don’t really care who helps, whether they’re volcano evacuees for whom the government provides only second-grade rice, or animals in distress. The Mt. Agung emergency has not gone away. There was a minor eruption today (Mar. 16) that was but the latest in a long-running series.

Uang Kecil

THE practice of some Balinese whose homes overlook picturesque rice terraces in demanding money from tourists taking photos has recently caused a flurry of self-interest among the Canggu crowd. You’ll be aware that Canggu is selfie-centred, to coin a phrase.

In the to-and-fro that followed someone’s social media complaint that a farmer had tried to sting him for a small consideration – it was probably only Rp.10K or Rp.20K (US$1 or US$2) – there were several comments.

The best we saw came from Ipong Wayan, a name not unknown in Bali’s tourism fuelled economic sectors. He told the complainant in chief, someone called Frederick Dillon, this: “Oyyyy stop this bullshit … come visit my village I will give you free lunch or dinner and cash to go back to your country … please come quickly as this offer is limited (only for cheap people).”

Over the matter of small money, uang kecil, we couldn’t have put it better.

Festival Central


A modern-day seeker after truth…

UBUD’S the place for doing all sorts of things to your mind and your body. It has a reputation as a fine resort for feeding the mind, or bending it, or for bending your body while your chakras are reorganised by your guru of choice. It’s actually as venal as anywhere else, but we don’t talk about that.

It is also Festival Central. This is a fine thing for many reasons, not the least of these being that many of them are the kind of Lost Westerner dreamtime stuff that doesn’t attract hordes of Chinese tourists in big buses. So we note the upcoming annual Bali Spirit Festival (Apr. 2-8) where you can bend it, but not quite like Beckham, and on the alimentary front, Janet DeNeefe’s fourth Ubud Food Festival (Apr. 13-15).

In its latest e-newsletter, UFF suggests that if you’re looking for something nourishing for the mind and the body, then Jam Secrets with Arif Springs and Healthy Eating for Midlife and Beyond with Sam Rice are the answers. Or, as DeNeefe suggests for devotees of freshly baked sourdough bread, Sourdough from Scratch with Starter Lab and Sourdough Pizza with DUMBO could be just what you need.





Silence is Golden


Titbits from his regular diet of worms


The Cage, Bali

Wednesday, Mar. 7, 2018


IT’S Nyepi in ten days (Saturday, Mar. 17), the annual day of silence in Bali, by the island’s traditional Hindu Dharma religious and customary rites. This requires a twenty-four-hour period in which no work is performed, no noise is heard, and no lights are seen. It is a sacred time for Hindus and demands respect and observance from everyone on the island.

There are benefits from the day for everyone. There’s no traffic, so the road system copes very well with the load it is required to carry. The airport is closed, so the tourist sluice is temporarily dry. There is no lighting (except that required by international regulations at the airport and the ports) so the night sky is fully visible. If it’s not cloudy, the stars are magic.

Here at The Cage, we are not Hindus. Neither are we Jewish (you’ll never see us holding a scroll and bashing our heads against the Western Wall in al-Quds) nor Christian (we don’t fast during Lent) though we are “Kristen” for Indonesian bureaucracy’s benefit, nor Muslim (we never kill goats for Eid al-Adha). So we shan’t be engaging in twenty-four hours of quiet spiritual reflection, which is the formal requirement of Balinese Hindus for Nyepi. But no noise will be heard beyond our property boundary, no visible light will show, and we won’t be having a party.

We might, if it is ends up being too hard for the island’s ISPs to switch off their signals as they are under pressure to do, quietly use our Internet connection. We may even listen (quietly) to some music. We shall certainly eat, bathe, and do all the other things in the normal daily routine of well-mannered unbelievers. In the evening, we shall marvel at the stars. That’s what we do every year.

Last year the silence of Nyepi in our little bit of our banjar was broken only once. This was by the Pecalang patrol that motored loudly down our track in the middle of the evening, flashing their torches to see if anyone was illegally illuminated, and the neighbourhood dogs, which quite understandably made a dreadful racket about this disturbance.

Nyepi observance varies according to local tradition. In one place we know of, the restriction used to be only that you should not leave your village. Some of the observance is informal, too. We generally stay home these days, but one year we went to Candi Dasa and stayed at a small resort within that “Obyek Wisata”. We and all the other guests were chivvied out of the restaurant by 7.30pm and sent stumbling off in the dark to our bungalows where no light should be shown. We sat quietly on our terrace thereafter and enjoyed the partying of the hotel staff, who observed the holiest night of the Balinese year by purloining all the pool toys and splashing around noisily in the big pool for hours.

Cover Up, There’s a Dear

WE do love a good rant, as regular readers will know. And this time, we’ve got two to report – one from our favourite feisty American surfer-ecologist Mara Wolford, and the other from a lovely little to-and-fro on a Bali expat Facebook page.

Marvellous Mara’s is about surfboards and the unreliability of friends: see “Hang Ten”, below. The other is about dressing appropriately in the immediate vicinity of temples. In the old days, when respect was an obligation you owed to others instead of a right you demand from others, there might have been fewer problems. But (not to put too fine a point on it) appropriate dress for such occasions involves managing to put on something that doesn’t show everyone quite so much of your bum, even if you do come from a land down under where (as Men at Work sang in one version of their fine paean to the antipodes) women glow and men plunder.

The glutinous maximus may be the strongest muscle in the human body, but it is seldom able to prevent heavy buttock droop, particularly in those whose diet chiefly comes from FastFoodInc, purveyors of grossness to Their Majesties The Common Herd. It’s predominantly a western thing – although locally the backsides of some motorbike riders seem to be expanding – and thus is another visual pollutant courtesy of the age of mass tourism.

Body shape should not be dissed of course. We are all what we are. It would be impolite and disrespectful to comment subjectively. It should be said, though, of the apparently endless range of such endowments, that self-respect needs to get a look-in too. Near nudity is fine on beaches – if local laws permit and you’re not from the growing cohort of full burka bathing enthusiasts – but you’re not paying attention if you think going shopping covered in less than most people put on as underwear is anywhere near acceptable.

We’re not prudes. Though we do remember the lesson drummed into us in our formative post-pubescence, in a world now long gone: the shorter the skirt, the lower the price.

It’s Unarchipelagic

SPEAKING of burkas, which is a difficult thing to do if swaddled in one, it was interesting to read the other day that the State Islamic University in Yogyakarta has banned the garment from its campus. Yogya is a special region of Indonesia in many ways, not least because by custom its hereditary Sultan is always the head of government. It’s an example of how Indonesia can manage its diversity. Aceh is another, though that compact, more recent, had particular religious-political and economic reasons behind it after the long insurrection, and is showing some less than pleasant results.

The burka is primarily desert dress, its origin flowing (pun intended) from the need to cover up against the super-fierce heat of the dry-climate sun. It has acquired religious significance since, even though the Prophet, when he said that Arabian women should cover up, was only saying they should put an end to their Neolithic practice of going about bare-breasted. In an Indonesian context, where (somewhat naturally) traditional modes of dress are not Arabian, though they often include head-coverings, the burka is Unarchipelagic. It’s good to see that someone’s found the fortitude to act upon that fact.

Barnyard Barnaby

SINCE we’re on matters of prurience, an area of life that apparently fixates many, a word about the former deputy prime minister of Australia, now backbencher, Barnaby Joyce. He was never a household name as leader of the coalition National Party, until his private predilection for unzipping became public property. His disgraceful conduct in having an affair with his media adviser, and her pregnancy, showed him to be unfit for high office. He’s now made it worse by promoting speculation that the baby may not be his. In effect he has slut-shamed his lover and – much worse – created a situation in which an as yet unborn child is already invidiously a figure of public notoriety. In short, he’s a shit: he’s Barnyard Barnaby, the Hayseed Hemlifter.

Generally speaking, the sex lives of others are private matters. They engage only those people, except for vicarious moral, ethical and financial obligation to the established partners of the participants if the sex is (as it is put) illicit. But such sex and longer love affairs happen in every society, for many more reasons than base lust. (And while we’re about it, let’s be honest and award base lust a place in our humanity.)

The “one and only” rule created by the control systems societies put in place for religious and patriarchal reasons is widely observed in its breach, and by a large plurality. It was ever thus, since legislating for what the fun police tell us is morality is a waste of time and an infringement of liberties of much greater value. We just gossip about others more widely and publicly these days, here on Planet Banal.

Of course, it is delicious if a defaulter is discovered who has made a political career out of stern patriarchal moral imperatives. Feet of clay discovered in such luminaries make their entire existence farcical. But that’s less about the sexual aspect of an affair than it is about their character. That handy old rubric – let he who is without sin cast the first stone – is what is best applied to one’s desire to comment on the behaviour of others. How people deal with breach of trust, sexual or otherwise, within their own relationships, including whether they even regard it as such, is something for them, not for public discourse.

Hang Ten

DOING so might encourage the others, to reprise the old aphorism. Our feisty friend Mara Wolford, now back in Bali from a spell in the United States of Trumpism, reports having gone to look for surf boards in Kuta, and at a brace of boards an old, and now presumably former, friend has stored for her. Hers had been taken out of their covers and left unprotected in the full glare and flow of the weather, and were functionally ruined. The fare in the shops wasn’t much better, apparently: roughly built, horrifically decorated, etc.: The sort of thing, or so we gathered from reading Mara’s magnificent mouthful about it all, that a girl just wouldn’t surf on.

We are not surfers, though we deeply respect people who are. We wonder how they can stay on their feet, how they pick a wave that will carry them shoreward so they can paddle out again, and we still have no real idea what a wipeout is. But we do understand quality, and how, in mass-market Bali, that is more than ever what you find very difficult to get. Hrmph.


The Landlord Line


Titbits from his regular diet of worms


The Cage, Bali

Saturday, Mar. 3, 2018


A FRIEND who is in the poor but thoroughly sensible expat cohort ignored by the hyped media that surrounds the other chief cohorts – the party expat and the good works expat – has just enjoyed another round of that Balinese sport, renting a “villa”. His story is an object lesson in a number of things, including landlord venality.

This last demerit is by no means exclusive to Bali, though it finds some of its loftiest expression here, because of course, to many, all foreigners are rich and shouldn’t  be here except as handy ATMs, and are fair game.

Our friend had earlier done the right thing: his lease would be up in several months, so he had advised his landlord that he’d like to renew for a further year at the same cost as his current contract. He heard nothing until the week before expiry, when he was informed that the house would be available, but at a much higher rent.

This was unacceptable, our friend told his landlord, and in any case, in his situation, unaffordable. He began searching for a rooming house to lodge within at a price he could afford. This proved difficult, especially morally and ethically (these commodities are in short supply in Bali too, by the way). One place he found, while speaking Indonesian, was not available until the operator discovered that he was talking to a foreigner, not a local.

At that point he got a call from his landlord who agreed to rent the house to him for a further year at the existing rental, but with no renovations (read: repairs). That’s partially happy news, since our friend now has a place to live – and after all, the rainy season is sure to end soon and so a leaking roof and area flooding aren’t long-term problems, or so the landlord probably thinks – but it’s the sort of smash-and-grab behaviour that leaves a sour taste in the mouth and the name Rachman echoing in the brain of anyone old enough to remember 1950s-1960s London slum landlordism.

Things are not necessarily better elsewhere, but in most places there is some recourse to mediation, if necessary through the courts. Here, you’d think, with the prevalence of karma as a guiding principle of life, being a slum landlord wouldn’t be what you’d want to be.

It’s true of course that local people rent accommodation that is even less salubrious than a broken down “villa” rented to a poor foreigner for the cost-of-living equivalent of squillions. But it’s also true that couldn’t-care-less local property owners make the local equivalent of a motza from foreigners.

Apparently, here in paradise on the Island of the Gods, it’s as easy as anywhere to ignore your conscience if there’s profit involved.

Road Rage

THE roads are a mess in south Bali. There’s no argument about that, especially while the underpass is being constructed at the airport traffic circle in time for the IMF conference scheduled for Nusa Dua in October this year. As a recipe for chaos, that’s unbeatable. Even the police agree, and suggest finding alternative routes. In theory that’s great, except that there isn’t really any alternative to sitting in a tailback of up to an hour, or going far out of your way to sit in another monster parking lot waiting to get through the card-swipe gates at the southern end of the Mandara-over-the-water-way.

But it affects everyone equally. And you get used to being pushed out of the way by enormous tourist buses full of Chinese, or trucks driven by madmen, in even more confined spaces than usual. The rules of the animal kingdom prevail as always: if it’s bigger than you, flee!

Road rage is seldom seen here. That’s always been one of the pleasures – no really – of driving in Bali. But there was an incident the other day on the bypass south of the airport shemozzle that’s worth reporting. Partial reporting, at least: There was a denouement that deservedly pained the perpetrator and cheered the local drivers he had also monstered, which we shan’t report.

We drive a Suzuki X-4. We call her Suzi (very original, we know) and we chose her because she is engineered – and powered – to propel her weight with the required torque, unlike most of the underpowered conveyances that help gum up the works here. When she needs to zip, she zips, and when she needs to zoom she just about shouts “Yeehah!” and leaves everything in her wake, even a lawyer’s BMW.

It wasn’t a lawyer’s BMW that gave us trouble, however. It was another Suzuki, a smaller car, driven by a guy who was either on bad uppers or had just been dissed by his girlfriend. We’d zipped through the airport traffic circle slo-mo, being awake. Pak Tidur behind us didn’t like this. Being beaten into the last available cubic centimetre of space by a Bule is no fun any more. Apparently.

He pursued us, desperate to get past and prove … something. That he’s an idiot, probably. Who knows? Since we were in the outside lane (a notional proposition near the airport traffic circle given that motor bikes use the opposite lanes as their personal space) we could not move over so he could get off on his personal power. He could, though, via a series of illegal manoeuvres that had his little black Suzuki on two wheels at times and drivers braking and shouting all over the place. He caused two motorbikes in the left lane to decamp into the mangroves, then jigged in front of us, also on two wheels, spilling another motorbike onto the median strip, and braked, one space further forward in the tailback than he would otherwise have been.

The traffic was stalled, waiting for the lights at the Benoa Square intersection, half a kilometre ahead. We got out of our car and asked the motorcyclist on the median strip if he was OK. He was. His bike wasn’t all that well. We then approached the little black car in front, watched with close attention by the drivers of other vehicles in the tailback. We could see them thinking, “What’s that old Bule doing?”

We tapped upon the driver’s side window and motioned “window down”. The occupant complied and shouted “Bule c–t!” To which we replied, “And you’re a limp-dick.” Sadly, he was a Balinese driver, not some off-island Indonesian with bad manners and no local road sense. He seemed to be some sort of junior gangster, snappily dressed in an expensive white shirt, tight black pants, shiny shoes and glittering with gold. Perhaps he was thirty. But anyway, from an old Bule’s perspective he was a young man.

He sat in insolent silence in his car. We told him he had been driving dangerously, that he could easily have killed three motorcyclists, and that he was a fuckwit. (These are not the sorts of things you generally tell Indonesian drivers. It was leading edge stuff.)

He said again, “Bule c–t!” The bit we shan’t report then followed, to thumbs-ups and loud acclaim from the locals. Since the traffic was then beginning to move we returned to our vehicle and zoomed away.

Some days are diamonds.


IT’S possible that we are now on the Facebook geeks’ list of undesirables, since an incident the other day. One of their silly prompt-questions popped up and we answered it. We’ll paraphrase, but what the question asked was what would we wish for if a genie materialised from a bottle. For Facebook to stop playing silly kindergarten games was our answer. Oddly, it didn’t appear on the timeline.

Though we missed an opportunity. Instead of being dismissive, as one is sometimes tempted to be with small, errant children, we could have been more adult in our response. “A cool djinn and tonic, thanks,” would have fitted the bill perfectly.