8degreesoflatitude

THINGS THAT INTEREST, ENGAGE AND ENRAGE

Category: Australia

Talk to the Ants

HECTOR’S DIARY

HectorR

In the Bali Advertiser

May 24, 2017

 

JEWEL Topsfield, the Australian Fairfax newspaper group’s Indonesian correspondent, wrote a lovely piece recently after an extended interview she had with Prabowo Subianto, who probably likes to think of himself as president-in-waiting. We’ll have to wait until 2019 to find out, but in the meantime he’s an interesting subject.

Some people seem to think that he’s the fifth horseman of the apocalypse. He’s not, of course. He’s a former army general with some unanswered questions on his record and an Indonesian politician, ditto. He’s far from being in a class of his own on those scores. He possesses the same auto-response mechanism as exists in any Indonesian (and people of other countries too) where it is imagined that a slight has been offered. Foreigners are not meant to criticise, and will be glowered at or worse if they do. There are no surprises in that, locally, politically or otherwise. Nor is Indonesia a western liberal democracy. It never will be.

Prabowo doesn’t think Indonesia will ever become a fundamentalist Islamic state, either. Indonesians like music and dancing, he noted. He’s right. The archipelago is very much its own cultural petri dish, whatever the small local contingent of Arabian adherents might think and seek to promote via their hired nasi bungkus mobs. On that point, taking the argument a little further, it seems silly to get all het up about hijabs. My granny would never go out without a head covering, and she was as Christian and English as you could wish to meet. Times, fashions, and social and religious observances change. The human story is one of constant flux.

Prabowo, who has been criticised – largely outside Indonesia – for talking with the unfunny fundamentalists of the FPI, is more interesting still on quite another aspect of his character. He negotiates with ants, citing the example from Islamic texts of King Solomon. The ants in Solomon’s day did a deal with the palace, staying out of it so as not to be crushed by his soldiers’ boots.

Ants are a eusocial species: they form cooperative groups, often in very large numbers, and create caste systems and practise instinctive altruism in the interests of the community. Bees, wasps, termites and some other insect species do the same. Prabowo told Topsfield he wouldn’t have any living creatures harmed on his property – they were talking at his ranch in the hills of West Java – and that he always takes a special interest in the welfare of the ants there. We do the same at The Cage, especially around the infinity edge of our small swimming pool, where many of them live at risk of disruption or worse when it rains and the water level rises. Everything has its place. Human hubris has sadly sidelined this essential fact of life.

There’s Always a SNAG

SOME men just don’t get it. Well, most, probably. The masculine gender seems to have particular difficulty keeping pace with cultural and social advance. This is not just a western thing. It often seems that there are only two races on Planet Earth: Female and Male.

The Shirley Valentine holiday sector is quite large, therefore, as a result of many things, including but not limited to misogyny. Generally, and beneficially, most people keep their private affairs private. But the “holiday fling” has a long history and certainly predates the social liberation of the 1960s, now sadly under threat again from Those Who Think They Know Best.

It’s a mystery why the romantic affairs of others should be so prominently and pruriently a public interest. Surely, that’s what erotic fiction is for; or porn, which of course is illegal in Indonesia, like so many other things that nevertheless go on willy-nilly here?

So our eye was caught by an article in a recent online Seminyak Times post that drew on a story in an Australian newspaper relating to the activities of SNAGs in the more mannered portions of the companion trade here. That’s SNAGs as in Sensitive New Age Gigolos: Kuta cowboys who’ve worked out that it’s nice to shower, to have a capacity to communicate in more than grunts, and to look a little kempt. The Seminyak Times article quoted a SNAG called Steven, of mixed Balinese and Japanese heritage, who says he sees around four clients a month, from the Australian-Japanese-Korean-Russian cohorts of the female traveller market, and that only about half of them want sex as part of the deal.

Well, women have always been more sensible than men about such things. Dinner and a laugh, flirty or otherwise, is often much more fun than a clumsy grapple and some probably unsatisfactory rumpy-pumpy. For men as well, we note, those of the sentient variety, at least. It’s different at beer-goggles time, naturally, but who wants to go there?

Though we repeat: it’s a mystery why private arrangements outside the realms of fiction are of any interest to other people. Being nosey is nasty, and being proscriptively judgmental is a waste of time. So carry on girls – and boys.

It Won’t Go Away

WE’RE used to traffic congestion in Bali. There often seems no reason for the giant tailback in which you find yourself before you have an opportunity to consult the map app in your phone and plot an escape route, if you can. But Slow Motion Melee is a fact of life here.

Some traffic jams are for a good cause, though, such as the one that gridlocked much of Sanur on Sunday, May 7, when there was another mass protest over the plutocratic plan to turn Benoa Bay into Port Excrescence in hot pursuit (surprise!) of capitalist profit. The top-down nature of politics here reflects the culture of the island – as it does throughout Indonesia – but the guys at the top seem to have forgotten the grassroots democracy that has always informed local life. You can be the Big Panjandrum, if you’re in the now modified governing elite, and it’s your turn, or something. But ultimately you must do what the people want, or that they can be persuaded to desire. If you don’t do that, eventually you’ll be out of a job.

There’s no sign that the mass of Balinese want Tomy Winata’s desecration of Benoa Bay to proceed. The demonstrators, their organisations (including ForBALI whose flags are everywhere) and the local communities aren’t going to shut up. They shouldn’t, and more power to them for insisting that they won’t, and for continuing to point out that Bali’s provincial government is on the wrong tram.

On Your Bike

THINGS must be a bit flat at the wink and nod end of the massage trade here. The Diary, while defiantly young at heart and – to the astonishment of many lovely local people – still perfectly capable of standing up and moving around, even at a fast trot if necessary, is nevertheless in no way a spry youth, and has never been a middle-aged lair. We would not, we’d have thought, be in that cohort of temporarily present foreign gentlemen on whom the rub-and-tug ladies would want to waste their marketing time.

So it was a surprise the other day when, strolling down Jl. Danau Tamblingan in Sanur, we were accosted by a man on a motorbike, who executed a perfect stop-on-a-Rp1000 coin manoeuvre and asked if we’d like a massage. “Not on your bike,” was our first, unuttered, response. “Not on your life” was the second, also unexpressed. It doesn’t do to be rude. Neither would we want to obstruct anyone’s business of the day. There’s a market for that sort of thing. We’re just not in it.

We smiled instead and said, “No thank you.” He looked disappointed, poor fellow, but he smiled back and waved – it’s that sort of thing that makes living in Bali such a joy – and rode off in search of more likely quarry.

We reported the incident to the Distaff. She likes a giggle. We’d been on our way to Chic salon to collect her after a coif and had only minutes before left Randy’s, the nice little place on the bendy bit towards the northern end of Tamblingan that we often visit when we’re in Sanur. There, we’d had an individual apple pie and ice cream (Canadian individual size: we’d struggled as always, but it was worth it) and several short espressos. “Where is your wife?” the lovely waitperson had inquired as we sat down. “Hair salon,” was our response. “Ah,” said the waitperson, with a little smile. She knew there’d be orders for several espressos.

HectorR

Hector’s Bali Advertiser Diary is published monthly. He writes a blog diary between times.

A Dog’s Life

HECTOR’S DIARY

HectorR

His regular diet of worms and other non-religious fare

The Cage, Bali

May 13, 2017

 

THERE was a revolting instance of animal cruelty in Denpasar this week, which thanks to quick-thinking and wonderfully caring local people swiftly swamped the social media, where it attracted an immediate chorus of shock and shame. The event and its tragic aftermath – the poor dog that was the victim died not long after being reunited with its distressed local owner – was videoed. We’ve seen the footage. It makes us wish we’d never given away the rhino-hide sjambok that we possessed many years ago, in a previous life, on another continent. (There’s an Indonesian connection, from cambuk, imported into South Africa along with Malay indentured workers in the 1800s.)

Two men on a scooter hooked the dog with a wire lasso in Jl. Teuku Umar in the dark of the pre-dawn morning and dragged it away behind their bike. It was plainly intended for the dog meat trade. They were chased and brought to a halt and eventually agreed to hand over the bloodied dog. Its rescuers comforted the animal while others found the owner. This incident should be instructive both for illegal dog meat hunters and the authorities. Indonesians don’t like it – it’s not just nuisance foreigners who complain.

It is not illegal to eat dog meat in Indonesia. It’s just disgusting. But it is illegal, and subject to criminal sanctions, to practise animal cruelty. It is that area of the law that most urgently needs to be enforced. Governments at all levels need to do that.

Unkind Cut

THE language of the gourmet chef world is a little beyond diarists who live in garrets they call The Cage and who exist on bread and water – well, not quite, but you’ll get our drift. So living vicariously is fun now and then, as a leavening, so to speak, and what better way than to virtually attend the annual Ubud Food Festival? It was held this week.

After the opening night feast on Thursday we saw a note on Facebook that told us the prawns prepared by Locovare (an excellent restaurant, by the way) were decimated. We were intrigued by this intelligence, since decimation was a Roman military method of reducing legions, for fiscal and other administrative reasons, and sometimes for tactical purposes. Every tenth man was removed from the ranks.

We inquired whether nine prawns were served instead of ten. It seems there was no printed menu from which to check this, though Cheflish, an interesting language garnished with misapplied superlatives and drizzled with inventive gourmet-speak, may have given decimated yet another meaning. What that might be eludes us, but presumably it does not refer to the sharp decline in prawn stocks in fisheries around the globe.

Anyway, never mind. The food festival – another initiative of Ubud luminary-in-chief Janet DeNeefe, whose Bali recipe book has just been reprinted, and who is also founder of the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival (Oct. 25-29 this year, don’t miss it) – is an excellent show. Selamat makan!

Chump Towers

IN World War Two the embattled Brits entertained themselves with a wonderful radio comedy show called ITMA (It’s That Man Again). No Names, No Pack Drill, but a clue: It wasn’t Charlie Chaplin; it was a far less funny little fellow with a ridiculously tiny moustache and a Führer complex.

It may be time to reinvent the show, as we trudge unwillingly ever deeper into the swamp that Donald Trump has no intention of draining. He wants to divert its sludge to his own purposes. We know, from a series of earlier incidents it would be nice to forget we’d ever heard about, that Trump is a prize chump. Nearly everyone says so, to amend the sort of comment he likes to make about himself whenever he’s had another brain-snap.

In an interview with The Economist – he could perhaps have got away with it in the Dry Gulch Clarion, which is required reading in the Republican congressional caucus these days – he decided it would be nice if people believed he had invented an economic theory, pump priming, which is 78 years old. This might astonish, if we weren’t all living in that alternative universe where a rapacious property tycoon and low-grade impresario was last year elected the 45th President of the United States. He’s 70 (and will be 71 on Jun. 14).

Perhaps among his yet to be disclosed elements of unquestioned genius is the fact that he invented time travel, scripted Dr Who, and was Galileo’s first tutor. We did hear a rumour recently – it was from the locker room, naturally, where lairs like him like to hang out in the hope that their embellishments will attract acclaim – that he very nearly got into hot water in Athens once. Apparently he’d tried to get into the bath with Mrs Archimedes.

Top Marks

WE heard the other day from a friend, François Richli, a lovely story about the Indonesian health system and how it works efficiently, effectively and cheaply to take care of people who are sick. Two tourists – an American and his Portuguese wife – were visiting Borobudur when the woman was struck down by a bacterial infection. They got themselves to Yogyakarta and went to a local hospital.

There, to the great surprise of the tourist from Donald Trump’s America, where they are busy dismantling affordable health care in the interests of corporate profiteers, the hospital immediately admitted his wife, put her on an IV drip and conducted a series of blood tests to determine whether her condition required treatment with antibiotics. The blood test results were done in 15 minutes and indicated that antibiotics were needed. These were administered and she was able to leave the hospital less than two hours later.

It all cost US$23. Says the grateful American tourist: “I have never experienced such fine health care anywhere and the entire staff were sweet, attentive, extremely capable and oh-so-efficient. I was amazed. Sad that this can’t happen in the USA.”

Blunder Zone

MEANWHILE, from that largish island to our southeast, the one that’s that special biosphere we’re always being reminded about, though sometimes it seems more like a sheltered workshop, we hear that the blunder bus has been about again, causing chaos.

It seems that a consignment of irreplaceable plant specimens imported from France for scientific research was destroyed by the quarantine service – the guys who glare at you and growl “got any fruit mate?” when you’ve finally retrieved your baggage from the arrivals carousel – because an email address didn’t match the documentation. Plainly picking up a phone is something else that’s in the too-hard basket there these days.

An inquiry has been ordered, now that it has been confirmed that the stable door was open, the horse had bolted, and that the lights were on but no one was home.

Say Cheese!

THE Diary’s preference is to ignore most reports on things that’ll kill ya, ya know; those that later research invariably suggests won’t. Life eventually kills you anyway. Enjoy the scenery on the way to your destination seems to be the best rule.

So it was pleasing to read that new research shows consuming cheese, milk and yoghurt – even the dreaded full-fat versions, which some say will strike you down almost on the spot – does not seem to increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

Of course, the researchers could be quite wrong. We’ll ponder that possibility over our next cheese platter or three.

Hector writes a diary in the Bali Advertiser. The next appears on May 24.

Hard Times

HECTOR’S DIARY

HectorR

His regular diet of worms and other non-religious fare

The Cage, Bali, May. 6, 2017

 

IT’S Sigmund Freud’s birthday today. The thought occurred, just at random, that it would be fun to get his, and Zeno the Stoic’s, views on our own times. Unfortunately these proved to be chiefly unprintable. Their shared view, adduced through the ether of time, seems to be that we’ve all gone mad. Freud was more pleased than Zeno about this. There’s more business for psychiatrists these days; Zeno was stoic about most matters.

Of course, it is true that the political class anywhere is not in the least interested in learning any lessons from the past, or in broadening its collective grasp of the fact that there’s rather more to life than place and (in some instances, in the imperfect democracies) re-election. It was also the anniversary of Karl Marx’s birth this week. He was a theorist who, like so many, found that robber barons in disguise suborned his ideas and swiftly turned them to their own murderous advantage. There has never been a Marxist state. There have been plenty which styled themselves communist and weren’t.

A quotation from Das Kapital comes to mind. It’s one of my favourites and it is apposite for the times whichever side of the faux political divide it is that you sit on: “Capital is reckless of the health or length of life of the labourer, unless under compulsion from society.”

This weekend, the French will choose a new president, from a final field of two, one of whom is a banker-bureaucrat and self-assessed socialist and the other a rabid right-wing nationalist. Next month there’s an election in Britain in which the government that was formerly pro-EU but after the narrow (chiefly English) Brexit putsch in last year’s referendum now wants to give it the proper finger (and bugger vision and any chance of European leadership).

In America, the Trump regime, while continuing to claim leadership of the free world (whatever that is) carries on with its preferred business of the day: to destroy the country’s social infrastructure, to pick needless arguments with filthy foreigners, and to deflect reasonable questions about how it actually got into office. There’s more, in other places, of course, but we shouldn’t go on. It’s too tedious.

It’s as well not to ask life if it could get any worse. Tempting fate is a bad idea. And it seems pointless complaining after you’ve put the question that it was rhetorical and not a request.

Have a lovely weekend.

Wine for Two

FROM time to time we get along to the Friday afternoon party that the Legian Beach Hotel puts on for returning guests. It’s not that we are in that class of patron; it’s that general manager Arief Billah and his fine hotel are supporters of the Bali Animal Welfare Association, the leading non-profit charity here that fosters the interests of the island’s deprived dogs. It’s a cause that we wholeheartedly support.

The event yesterday was fun, as they always are, and one day The Diary will manage to pick up the steps required to perform the poco poco, an Indonesian dance that you could easily be excused for thinking was Portuguese. Think line dancing without the cowboy hats and the yee-hahs.

It was wine for two in our case yesterday because some special friends from the Netherlands, who come here every year and do things to benefit the doggies, have returned home after their holiday. We thought we should go along and drink their wine for them.

They were home in time for the Netherlands’ 1945 liberation day anniversary on May 5.

Not Helpful

WE are cleaning house ourselves, possibly temporarily, though that is moot. The Cage is not a palace, far from it in fact, for reasons both of penury and politics. Gross excess is not our bag. But we’ve lost our pembantu (house cleaner) which, if this were the first such instance might be defined as merely unfortunate. Sadly it is not the first, so as Oscar Wilde might observe, it begins to look rather more like a habit.

The problem is one that is often mumbled about here. Home help is at the lower end of the employment scale, naturally, and we recognise this and do not make demands on staff – such as others we know do – that would sit uneasily on our collective conscience.

The rule here is minimum effort. Your cleaner, without constant attention, will flick at the dust with a little feather-duster and move it around, preferably into darker corners where, apparently, employers are not supposed to look. She comes late and, unless apprehended, leaves early. Reasons not to be at work tomorrow are advised at the last moment. Most of these reasons appear on the Balinese calendar of feast days and, with a little forethought, might well be mentioned earlier. We understand that things are done differently here. We’re happy with that, for many reasons. Among them are the very reasons we choose to live here most of the time instead of in Australia, where the authorities insist that you comply with their ridiculous regulations.

But in the employment area, the principle of mutuality seems to be missing. We are apparently privileged to be in a position where we give our cleaner money and she skives off, and then gets antsy when this demerit is mentioned. And eventually buggers off, three days before pay day, with no notice, and the house keys dropped on the coffee table as you are quietly contemplating the wonders of the universe. The concept of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face is widely held, here, to be just the thing.

HectorR

Hector writes a monthly diary in the Bali Advertiser. The latest appears in the current edition (Apr. 26). The next will appear on May 24.

 

Property Bloom

HECTOR’S DIARY

His regular diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

HectorR

The Cage, Bali

Apr. 8, 2017

OK, so in Bali a property boom that will surely be unregulated – if it eventuates anywhere beyond the hype files of realtors – has about as much of a helpful impact as an algal bloom in fragile coral-fringed ocean waters, but we’ll try to be positive. Changes to Indonesia’s property laws that give foreign buyers leasehold rights for 80 years and access to local bank finance are good. They’re fair, for a start, and take account of the market that exists for such deals.

It’s true that Bali’s property market is unlike any other in the country – even Jakarta’s, where it’s underpinned by solidly productive industrial and commercial investment and a growing real economy – but at the same time, practically speaking, there’d be no property boom in Bali were it not for tourism, on which the investment sector of the economy is irrevocably based. So it also makes sense, of a sort, to facilitate private domestic and foreign investment in that job-creating area, as long as this doesn’t squeeze any more myopic local greed out of the souring Balinese lemon. That’s a long-shot option, of course.

Invitations to hop aboard the latest bus to paradise are popping up everywhere. One reached us the other day from Bali & World News and Views, an online thing that is run by Lawrence Bellefontaine, of PT. Bali. He has organised two free seminars in Sanur on Apr. 13 and Apr. 15 at which, he says, he will reveal the wealth to come to anyone who invests in what passes here for bricks and mortar.

There are certain fundamentals in the Bali property market that realtors of all stripes seek to explain away, if they cannot hide them. There’s been, so it is said, a “correction” in the market lately. Real estate is subject to the same range of cyclical factors as any other economic sector, so on the face of it that’s a fair statement.

It overlooks an essential point, however: that markets only work – indeed can only operate – when sellers meet buyers’ expectations. There’s a great deal of property in Bali that has been on the market for a very long time, because sellers put prices on their property that are more than buyers will pay. That’s the correction we need to have. This concept doesn’t suit sellers, of course, but that’s the way the crumbling cookie has always turned to dust.

It doesn’t suit realtors, either. They want to make a profit, and of course they should, for otherwise there’s very little point in being in business. But they’re increasingly unlikely to do so, except at the opportunistic margins, in the unregulated building environment here. A prime villa with sea views – just for example – becomes sub-prime the moment someone builds out that view. That they’re more than likely to do this very soon and compound their offence by building on your wall as well, ignoring regulated requirements for space between properties, makes it worse.

The key to proper property and development management is fair regulation that is enforced. Neither of these factors is present in Bali.

Gut Feeling

FACEBOOK’S capacity for instantly advising you of where friends are and their circumstances of the moment is of course very useful. Some of those old enough to remember the days when if you sailed away from the homeland you were never heard from again are still trying to come to grips with the fact that, these days, there’s nowhere to hide.

A note posted by one of our more peripatetic pals the other day reminded us of this modern benefit. “Breakfast in Bangkok”, his Facebook proclaimed. At the time, we hadn’t had the second morning cup of coffee before which persons possessing natural caution do not approach us. “As long as it’s not dinner in Dhaka, you should be right,” we replied.

Lala Land

IT’S not just this side of the Arafura Sea that you find bureaucratic nonsense under foot wherever you turn. A friend who has recently moved back to Australia from Bali relates a sorry tale of Aussie-style bureaucracy run amok. Having heard the tale in all its risible detail, we shall never again complain about Indonesian rules. Well, OK, we might, but you know what we mean.

Apparently, if you’re applying for a driver’s licence there, and not just renewing one, you must now provide details of your first Australian licence. It’s not clear why that should be the case. Surely the last valid licence would be sufficient.

Difficulties arise, in the Australian way, because state authorities issue driver’s licences and databases do not necessarily match and may in fact not be accurate.

It certainly prompts the thought that even if you are away from Australia for an extended period of time, you should try to renew your driver’s licence on expiry. If you have an address in Australia, that’s simple enough, though of course you need to be there to renew.

On a related matter, new banking rules in Australia mean that even as a long-established customer with a local address, a registered signature, and all the other bumf that you need on file these days, including a tax file number, you cannot now establish, say, a new term deposit (or even add to one) without fronting up at the bank to sign in person.

No doubt the fat controllers fear that retired folk on reduced incomes trying to scratch an extra measly sou out of catatonic depositor interest rates are actually undercover agents of the global money laundering conspiracy.

Barker Beach

We spent a pleasant hour or so the other day at Karang Beach in Sanur, where locals and foreigners alike look after the beach dogs as if they are family. It was lovely to see. They’re friendly beings (the dogs we mean; the people are nice too) and appreciate the food and contact they get. Most are still statistically underweight and have health problems, but they’re better than many, and that’s fabulous.

Sanur benefits from a strong sense of community and the extensive canine health programs that local banjars have embraced. Among other things it has eliminated rabies as threat in the area. They’ve done this via efforts by local and overseas not-for-profit animal welfare agencies, and an innovative project that Udayana University is running as a result. It’s good to see.

Just Joshing

ALL Fools’ Day has now passed again for the year. We decided not to post a diary on Apr. 1 because of this factor, even though, by many marks, it’s always all-fools’ day around here, as well as around the globe.

The origins of April Fools are obscure, but whether it stems from confusion in 16th century France over the new Gregorian calendar which moved New Year’s Day to Jan. 1, from ancient Roman and Greek spring rites, or even from Holi, the Indian Hindu festival, it’s a day to believe even less than ever of what you might read and see.

HectorR

Hector writes a monthly diary in the Bali Advertiser. The next appears on Apr. 26.

Blocked Roads, Anyone?

HECTOR’S DIARY

HectorR

His regular diet of worms and other delicacies

Bali, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017

 

BALI’S singular contributions to Chaos Theory are well known. They fuel debate, sometimes, but mostly they result only in huffing and puffing that gets no one anywhere, or else create fractious ennui, quite often of the terminal variety.

It’s when experiments such as those with traffic management that have been tried previously – and have been found to fail –are wheeled out again with all the pomp and circumstance that such diversions demand, that it gets, well … funny.

So it is with Kuta’s old-but-now-it’s-new-again one-way traffic mismanagement system, the brainchild of the new police chief. We haven’t yet dared venture into the melee ourselves, though one day we’ll have to, we suppose, but friends who have report that the chaos is far from theoretical.

Say Cheese!

IT’S been a breezy in Bali lately. It’s La Niña, who seems determined this time around to make her presence fully felt. As well as being breezy, it’s been very wet. It usually rains in the wet season, this being its climatic purpose, though in a range of variables that, in these days of Google-supplied expertise, seem to worry the punters something dreadful.

The Cage, of course, is leaking. Bowls of all sorts and sizes have been conscripted to the cause of at least trying to contain the drip-water until the regular hurried tip-outs down the sink regain the liquid volume capacity for the process to continue. Some people claim their houses do not leak. We’d like to believe them, just for the fun of it.

It’s the breezy bit of it that has caught our attention, though.

We had a lovely weekend guest at The Cage, who bitterly complained that as she sat on the edge of the swimming pool teasing the water with her toes and eating cheese on toast, a nasty gust of wind had blown away the fromage du jour from her breakfast, even though she had a tight grip on the multigrain thing it lay upon. She’s from Melbourne, so it’s surprising that fickle weather strikes her as odd.

The growing potholes on the Goat Track Highway to our place are a concern, however, even if it’s torrential rain and raging runoff rather that’s to blame, rather than the overly zealous zephyrs that have been whipping around. Even chucked-in pebbles covered imperfectly by a thin skin of concrete are not usually affected by wind shear at surface level.

Chump Day

IT’S not often that the Oddzone makes the news anywhere else, unless it’s because of bushfires or reports of man-eating wombats. But Donald Chump helped ping the radar recently. He’s sticking resolutely to his serially twittered promises to shake up everything from Mexican imports to the timetable for Armageddon. To the astonishment of many around the world, he is still supported in this grand strategy by a large number of Americans.

It was one of those avoidable train-wreck things. A one-hour comfy chat with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (later identified in the dysfunctional White House’s phone call schedule as the President of Australia and in another reference named Trunbull) ended abruptly after 25 minutes. The Donald, holding forth in the Oval Office and in the presence of his national security adviser (retired gung-ho Marine Corps general Mike Flynn) and his hapless media man, Sean Spicer, who were taking notes, went ape-shit.

That Australia is about the staunchest ally the US has anywhere, and certainly in the critically important Asian region, must have gone out of his mind. Or perhaps it had never managed to break into it.

Then again, perhaps he had been advised that with Australia, American leaders can administer beatings on the basis that these will continue until morale improves, in the certain knowledge that Australia’s own brand of foreigner funk means any protests will either be non-existent or of the pipsqueak variety.

In this rare incidence of immaterial cause and effect, Chump can fulminate about foreigners to domestic affect without any overly embarrassing whickering becoming evident at the other end of the megaphone.

The cause of this episode of egregious trumpeting (and twittering) was the deal Australia did with President Obama under which – as a further sorry example of its lack of moral fibre – Australia would ship people from its detention camps for unauthorised migrants in Nauru and PNG to the USA. Trump characterised this a dumb deal. We’re about as close to agreeing with him, on that, as we’re ever likely to be on anything much at all: though the deal was not so much dumb as disgraceful.

But the trumpet voluntary from the Oval Office gave everyone a much-needed giggle too. We particularly liked The Washington Post’s take on the affray. Dana Millbank, in a lovely opinion piece, gets to the nub of America’s historical difficulties with its fractious ally in the South-West Pacific. He writes: “Vegemite? Mel Gibson? Dual-flush toilets? They totally had it coming Down Under.”

And that’s not all. He went on to note this, complete with Trump-style all-caps for play school emphasis: “There are a lot of bad dudes Down Under, and for years, Australia has been sending them to America. They sent third-rate Air Supply, which has NO TALENT. ‘Lost in Love’? Pathetic. And Mel Gibson — a dope! Olivia Newton-John: highly overrated — and that ‘Grease’ reunion she’s planning will be a TOTAL EMBARRASSMENT. Crocodile Dundee is a true lowlife, and Nemo is a dumb clownfish. SAD!”

Ridicule is such a useful corrective.

Pushing It

THE desire of the established area-based taxi cartels to protect their turf might be understandable – especially in the case of Bali where economic trickle-down effects are very limited – but maintaining them does not make market sense.

Neither does it take into account advances in communications technology. A taxi that can be summoned by instant message, and go directly to a GPS-located address, has value for customers who wish to use such services.

There’s a lot of “tolak” that goes on here. Tolak Reklamasi, which relates to the unacceptability of the notion that rich people can get even richer by building over large parts of Benoa Bay, is sensible. In contrast, Tolak Uber and Grab (the non-cartel taxi options) is protectionism, plain and simple, and does the consumer no good at all.

It’s entirely possible to argue that taxi companies should be regulated – they should – and be properly audited and pay their share of tax. So should Uber and Grab, and any other operators that might emerge in the future. But regulation is not something at which the authorities here are spectacularly brilliant.

In that scenario, an area arrangement makes some kind of sense, as long as it allows for new technology out-of-area contractors also to work. The airport taxi cartel is a particularly difficult option for travellers. Since only airport taxis can operate out of the airport, they can (absent enforced regulation) charge whatever they like. They do.

The recent reported affray at the airport, targeting Uber and Grab and allegedly involving air force police, was disgraceful. Airport security is vital – and the presence of the military in the form of air force police personnel is sensible in that context – but that’s where military involvement should end.

Cartel protection, harassing drivers, and making them do punishment push-ups at the roadside is an appalling tactic. Indonesia has civilian authorities that make, apply and enforce the law.

HectorR

Hector writes a monthly diary in the Bali Advertiser. The next appears on Mar. 1.

Law v Lore

HECTOR’S DIARY

HectorR

His diet of worms and other delicacies

Bali, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017

 

THERE’S a great deal of misinformation about on the issue of Sharia law, particularly in western countries. So when Ubud identity Darsih Gede passed along a handy brief from a long-time friend, an American woman married to an Indonesian Muslim, we thought it would be good to share.

Here it is:

“If you are anyone who feels fear when you hear the words ‘Sharia law,’ or interpret it to mean that something is coming to get you, or will be imposed upon you, I really hope you’re listening.

“Time for a little ‘Sharia Law 101’:

” 1. All Muslims believe in Sharia law.

“2. No. 1 is true because Sharia law is the religious law governing the members of the Islamic faith; it is formed by what it written in the Quran (Muslim holy book) and in the Hadiths (reports describing the words, actions, or habits of the Islamic prophet Muhammad).

“3. Do not confuse Sharia law with the laws that exist in countries that call themselves ‘Islamic’ or happen to have a Muslim majority: Absolutely not the same thing. For example: the fact that women in Saudi Arabia aren’t allowed to drive has nothing to do with Sharia law or Islam; it has to with men trying to control women under the guise of religion just like they try to do in various ways in the United States.

“4. Part of Sharia law (Al-Baqarah 256, from the Quran) states that ‘There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion.’

“So, to summarise: Sharia law is something that Muslims follow willingly, and no one can force you to become Muslim (aka: someone who believes in Sharia law).

“It would be great if people from other religions wouldn’t attempt to force people to follow their religious leanings by attempting to legislate their views into civil laws that are applied to the masses, especially in a country like the United States, wherein religious freedom is supposed to exist.

“Thanks for listening. ~ A Muslim (aka: someone who believes in Sharia law)

“Note: Please, find a Muslim and ask them questions instead reading articles from Fox News and/or listening to what uninformed people like Newt Gingrich have to say about Islam. They have no idea what they are talking about, ever.”

That’s a message that needs to be heard far more widely than only in the USA, where a tidal surge of untreated dyspepsia has just been converted into bother boots under the big desk in the Oval Office.

Trumped

THERE is something seriously wrong with the newly inaugurated 45th President of the United States. It’s not his policies that worry me in this instance, though many of them seem to be based on a Locker Room-Neocon-Robber Baron belief that the clocks can be turned back to earlier imagined eras of American capitalist supremacy and gross private wealth and some are frankly execrable.

It’s his behaviour. Half a million invisible people were at his inauguration. He lost the popular election by 2.5 million ballots because undocumented aliens and other illegals didn’t vote for him. The CIA loves him to death and he took along his own cheer squad to demonstrate this when he visited Langley. All three of these things are plainly delusional. He has senior people on his staff whose fortitude doesn’t extend to being able to tell him so, and who, moreover, will tell lies for him. That’s a real worry.

Perhaps it wouldn’t matter if he were just another Idi Amin intent on gazumping some poor little country somewhere that no one really cares about, even if they should. And we all understand the political imperative to deliver something that will make the people hum, since, as a lovely old ditty puts it, the alternative is to vanish with a boot up the bum.

But it’s America we’re talking about: the place some people still think of as the leader of the free world.

At this point in the Trump presidency the best policy is still to laugh. It’s his Beer Hall Moment, even though his oratory gets nowhere near the exclamatory splendour achieved by a certain murderous malcontent of Central European origin and late gross notoriety.

A beer hall rant is something the duplicitous Trump might manage. He’d be a sorry failure at a Nuremberg rally.

His trade policy, which during the election campaign was taken by the duped masses to mean he’d bring factories and jobs back from China where successive American governments and multinational corporations had sent them, risks a trade war with China.

This in turn creates risk for other nations rather closer to the locus of China’s acquisitive predispositions than the USA, and, in turn, may prompt political responses that (to take up the point a late Japanese emperor made in his surrender broadcast at the end of World War II) may not develop to our advantage.

His Mexican wall policy is risible, though it’s of less concern globally than other aspects of his Bonfire of the Vanities platform.

We could go on. But we’re not quite ready for Seppuku, our hara-kiri moment, just yet, so we won’t.

Except to have a lovely laugh at a report that a Native American nation in Arizona whose traditional lands include 120 kilometres of Mexican border won’t be allowing the POTUS to erect his ridiculous wall along it.

Mexico is known for Montezuma’s Revenge (think Bali Belly). Perhaps Mr Trump is about to experience Geronimo’s Revenge as well. That thought, at least, gives us a smile.

Not So Bad

WHEN sometimes it may seem that one’s life is a mess, or at the very least, is conflicted, it is useful to have friends in far more interesting places.

An acquaintance who works in West Africa and who seems to spend a deal of time in Burkina Faso advised yesterday that he had just checked in (again) at the Hotel Splendid in Ouagadougou, the country’s capital city.

“Bullet holes have been removed now,” was his laconic situation report. We shot back a note: “Splendid!”

Rice Field View

WE made a brief foray to Ubud this week, to stay with an amusingly lovely French friend who – we discovered – has a fondness for North African music, which is right up our alley. Her house, in the rice fields and just completed, is up an alley too. The Diary’s trusty mini-SUV just made it through, in L for go really slowly, exterior mirrors retracted.

It’s lucky we were staying the night. The little thoroughfare back to the main road might have been a challenge on a rainy evening after a glass or two of red. It was eminently negotiable the next afternoon, by which time enough restorative coffee had been taken. Though we did take the precaution of switching on the iPod’s drive-time playlist to drown out the Distaff’s exclamatory outbreaks.

On the way home through the mayhem of pre-Gong Xi Fa Chai traffic we decided to extend our French experience. We stopped at La Tartine on the bypass at Sanur for refreshments dans le style français. The scrambled feta salad was wonderful (the Distaff had quiche Lorraine) and we were quite unable to resist trying the Unicorn Poop afterwards, as a shared desert. You really can’t beat the French for chocolate cake.

Back to Work

WELL, that’s in the notional sense, since we are retired gentlefolk who live quietly and whose singular mission is to fail to ripple anyone’s pond. But being of Australian provenance, one of us fully and the other by long adoption, we’ve always found it difficult to get back into harness until Australia Day has come and gone, which it now has.

It is celebrated on the same date that India celebrates its Republic Day. Perhaps this secretly inspires Australian non-monarchists, those chaps who are always looking for an excuse to fast-forward a forthcoming inevitability. Patience is not a public virtue in these days of instant crowd-funded issues.

Anyway, this weekend has been set aside for quill sharpening and post-it noting. Focused scribbling has recommenced.

Flaming Feathers

WELCOME to the year of the Red Rooster, aka Fire Rooster. If flaming roosters of our acquaintance – these include the Distaff – can get through it without setting their tail feathers on fire, good luck to them.

The other occupant of The Cage has just managed to survive his Year of the Monkey. It is surely a cruel joke that our zodiacal challenges should be consecutive. Thank goodness there are 12 years between run-ons. Or run-ins.

HectorR

Hector writes a monthly diary in the Bali Advertiser. His next appears on Feb. 1.

Another Round

HECTOR’S DIARY

HectorR

His diet of worms and other tasty morsels

Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017

THE Bali authorities have accepted a proposal from the Japanese city of Kumamoto to help with rabies eradication, a duty they’ve managed to evade for nine years now despite help from local animal welfare charities, foreign governments and the United Nations.

Two months ago Governor Made Mangku Pastika visited Kumamoto, a city of around 1.4 million people that neighbours the slightly larger Fukuoka in Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s home islands. Now a team from Kumamoto has visited Bali for substantive talks on the issue. The Japanese city has successfully controlled rabies in cats – the disease vector there – through humane population control and properly managed vaccination programs.

The Bali plan involves Kumamoto University, which runs an alumni program in Indonesia, and the Kumamotu Indonesia Friendship Association (KIFA). That connection is facilitated through PT Karang Mas Sejathara, one of the operating arms of the Jakarta based corporation MidPlaza, owned by Rudy Suliawan whose wife Yoko is from Kumamotu. Its Bali enterprises include the Ayana and Rimba resort hotels on the Bukit.

A leading veterinarian who owns the Ryunosuke Animal Hospital in Kumamoto (Dr. Tokuda) said after the Jan. 12 meeting in Bali that the best method of eliminating rabies is to capture animals, vaccinate and sterilise them and then release them.

Of the successful program in Kumamoto, he said this: “Everyone worked hard so we could vaccinate and sterilize 1800 cats each week, allowing us to finish our work in two years. I am convinced that Bali could do the same.”

Well, so it could. It just needs to work at it.

Rabies broke out here in 2008 and is still a deadly threat. Rabid dogs have recently bitten a number of people in Sukawati in Gianyar and Kediri in Tabanan.

Police News

THREE men who until recently were employed as bouncers at La Favela in Seminyak, where a Ukrainian tourist who queried his bill was beaten so severely that he lost an eye, are having to explain themselves to police. This of itself is an advance in law enforcement in Bali.

Police have suggested bars and other places in need of on site security should employ properly trained personnel and not just whomever the locally franchised gang sends along. This too would enhance both public safety and civility.

Meanwhile, traffic police have reorganised the road system in Kuta in an attempt to regulate the area’s chronic gridlock. They’ve even made a map of the changes, which will start with a “socialisation” phase – here’s a map, look at it – and move to enforcement and traffic fines later.

Whether the new scheme will work is moot. Nothing much has in the past. Motorbikes traditionally ignore all the road rules anyway. Taxis cruising for fares at 10kmh have never yet been driven by anyone who would think for an instant that they should move over so non-touting traffic can move on. We’ll see.

The Lunar New Year (Jan. 28) should provide an early test of the gridlock reduction plan.

All Froth, No Lager

THE 45th President of the United States is now in office. President Trump is due the respect of the office he holds (protesting political opponents to note) and the democratic courtesy of a little time to show that he has policies and not just rhetoric to bring to the table.

His opponents must debate him in substance, though in the absence of substance to debate that can be difficult. They should do so with courtesy. Violent demonstrations are invidious and unhelpful. He will of course have his own political difficulties to overcome, given that the working class white population that voted for him doesn’t – now it understands what he was saying in the campaign – want him to take away their free health care, among other things.

It must be said that his inaugural speech did nothing to advance an argument that he has policies that will work. It had more of the echo of a Munich beer hall oration than anything else. And that is a worry.

He chose a song made famous by Frank Sinatra as the tune for his first dance at the inauguration ball: “My Way”. His daughter Nancy Sinatra, who wasn’t at the bash, tweeted that he should perhaps have remembered what its first line says. It says “And now the end is near.”

She later deleted the tweet, possibly a wise thing to do in a country as gun-fixated as America. But it was a delicious line and it gave us a very welcome grin on a bleak day.

Crumbs

SPEAKING of grins, the enigmatic “A”, who crafts the delightful weekly Eat Live Travel newsletter from Medan in Sumatra was at her peak – or possibly pique – in her latest. When it dropped into the in-box at The Cage and we read it, we had a fit of the giggles and had to break for coffee. But no biscuit: Read on to find out why.

Among other things, an article in The Guardian had caught her eye. It was headlined: Jakarta: The unlikely capital city of sex and swinging.

She particularly liked this one for its razor-sharp insights, such as this: “Morality is almost always linked to sexual behaviour, not corruption, say, or mendacity in public office.”

The icing on the cake was apparently supplied by Twitter comments from bamboozled expat Jakarta residents, such as: ‘This makes me see Jakarta in a whole new light”, etc.

She concluded: “Uh-huh. Show me a corner of the earth where people are not knobbing on the sly and I’ll give you a biscuit.”

Well, the Diary likes a challenge, and biscuits, especially ones with oats in them. But finding such a place to cite and thereby winning a welcome crumb might be asking too much.

Oh Clock Off!

THE Diary’s Australian-based Collector of Idiocies made a lovely point the other day. It was that, time-wise, it was either 3am or three in the morning. It wasn’t 3am in the morning. Someone incautious and functionally illiterate – that’s a big field these days – had come to her attention.

She’s been having trouble sleeping, apparently, as well as with the cricket, on both of which points we can certainly sympathise.

It does sound like something people who are challenged might say, perhaps on returning home from a night out on their first-year anniversary.

But in this instance, it seems, it came from a reporter on a television news show at 7am. She notes with a scowl: “They all do it.” And that’s true, sadly. It’s worse in the land of mangled vowels and incomprehensible nouns. As Afferbeck Lauder would say: No more gnus, calm bear klyter.

We’ll just say this, of our favourite CI. She’s the most entertaining that we’ve ever had on the team.

HectorR

Hector also writes a monthly diary in the Bali Advertiser. The next appears on Feb. 1

Little Ripples

 

HectorR

HECTOR’S DIARY

His regular diet of worms and other tasty morsels

Bali, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017

 

WHERE Indonesia and Australia are concerned, you can always count on something unexpected to suddenly ripple the waters. It’s a bit the same as an Indonesian volcano: it’s quiet until it goes boom.

In Australia, it’s mostly a careless minor politician or some media “celebrity” who clumsily drops a pebble in the pond, or very occasionally a former prime minister. In Indonesia, it’s just as likely to be a military personage drawing himself to attention by banging a big nationalist drum.

That these little interruptions flow chiefly from ignorance is no comfort. The reverse, in fact, since Indonesia has been functionally independent for 72 years and formally for 68, and was politically and materially supported by Australia in its resistance to post-World War II Dutch efforts to resuscitate their dead colonial dreams.

By the end of the Japanese war Australia had become the least imperially minded member of the Anglosphere. Except for isolated attempts at ridiculous recidivism on the right of Australian national politics, this welcome and natural process has continued.

The latest little political difficulties involve an invidious inscription allegedly seen by a Kopassus officer who was attending a language course in Perth and the raising of the West Papuan flag at a protest in Melbourne.

Neither incident is really worth wasting time on further discussion. Posturing is painful and counterproductive, especially when it becomes fodder for insensate commentary in the blinkered depths of the social media pool.

Tiger Tales

THE sudden imposition of new regulations on the Australian low-cost airline Tiger, which is owned by Virgin Australia, seems to have come straight from the Because We Can clause officialdom likes to cite now and then.

If this were a place where you could have confidence in regulatory policy even if a particular set of regulations disadvantaged you or others, then it would be easy to accept changes. They shouldn’t be sudden, they should be discussed – socialised is the term they use here – and they should of course be facilitative rather than the reverse.

Someone must have had an “oh, doh!” moment, because the Indonesians later gave Tiger permission to fly 2000 passengers out of Bali back to Australia over the weekend.

Tiger was forced to cancel Australia-Bali flights virtually at a moment’s notice. They seem to have been told their scheduled operations here had been transferred from the office that handles scheduled airline services to the one that regulates charter operations and requires much more complex, flight by flight, arrangements. Go figure.

The airline’s scheduled services will resume, we assume, at some point. That’s if Tigerair Australia and its parent airline company can be bothered continuing to scratch for profit when local low-cost players want the lion’s, or in this case the tiger’s, share of the market.

That might be the ultimate twist in the tail, so to speak.

Goon Show

THE shocking events at a Seminyak glitter strip venue the other day, when security guards restrained a protesting Russian partygoer by bashing him so severely that he has lost an eye, demonstrate very clearly how far down the road to perdition Bali has gone in its quest for the tourist dollar.

There is still time to retreat from the precipice, and to regain some of the island’s past reputation as a place where you can have fun – and even be a little naughty – without risking life and limb. But swift action is needed.

Properly trained security personnel can deal with such events easily. A quick knee in the groin and a half-Nelson arm twist will effectively and temporarily disable anyone who has had the temerity to query their bill.

Of course, proprietors of such venues need to possess a socially balanced brain themselves, or be forced to act as if they have, and must spend money on actually doing things properly. That’s another side of Bali’s tourism and regulatory environments. It applies (or should do) to entertainment venues everywhere, especially in the Kuta-Legian-Seminyak-Canggu riot quarter.

The authorities and the police must be proactive. That’s a polite way of saying they really should get off their bums and do something. We know; that’s a difficulty. Goon squads, empowered quasi-official thugs, mobs amok, and fire-and-forget non-thinking is the usual form here.

The latest event was the second publicised one at the venue recently. In the first incident, two Indonesian customers were criminally bashed by security.

For the record, the venue is La Favela, in the thoroughfare colloquially known as Oberoi Street. A favela is a Brazilian slum. Just saying.

Prodigal Return

WE hadn’t been to North Bali for the best part of a decade until last weekend, when we spent two lovely days at Villa Patria on the slopes behind Lovina.

It really is a magic place, set 355 metres above sea level but only some six kilometres from the coast. There’s only one guest villa, plus a lumbung, and the owners live on site with first-class staff running the show.

The food is rather on the yummy side, so if you don’t want to venture out to sample that of others, dinner at home is a good idea. The tariff includes breakfast.

The little resort is set in lovely gardens, with a swimming pool, and high quality massage is available on call. Think of it as a home away from home. We’ll be back.

It’s a bit of a trek from the south of Bali. But if your travel plans can accommodate a 3.5-hour car trip each way – and the magnificent lakes and mountains and plenty of places to stop for a coffee in cool Baturiti or Bedugul – it’s an easy ride.

More Sad Farewells

RIO Helmi, the Ubud-based photographer and writer, wrote a wonderful obituary for Linda Garland, the bamboo lady, who has died in Australia after a long battle with cancer, at the age of only 68. It’s definitely worth reading.

There are many adornments to the expat scene here – there are many others in the resident foreign community who adorn only their preferred views of themselves, in the manner of the self-promotional everywhere, but that’s for another time – and Garland was several dozen laurel wreaths more worthy than most.

Her work here over many decades was immensely practical in terms of the inspirational and income earning opportunities it gave to the Balinese. Helmi’s piece describes all that, at length and much better than we can here.

Another old Bali hand has left us, too. Quirky photographer Pierre Poretti died at home in Switzerland, of a stroke. His art was magnificent and it, and he, will be sorely missed.

What a Shower

THE Australian feminist fulminator Helen Razer is always good. She’s exactly the Diary’s kind of social Marxist. Her summation in a piece she published this week about the greed-and-envy-fuelled collapse of the selfish capitalist dream helped our morning coffee go down with an extra zing on Friday.

It’s the sort of argument that fuels real discussion about things that actually matter. In such a setting, over a table, say, with prime Arabica to hand, we’d probably say this:

Have you read A Short History of Stupid? We found it a wonderful to-and-fro on many issues. Razer wrote it in counterpoint with Bernard Keene, who is exactly not the Diary’s kind of social libertarian.

The argument she puts in her piece is basically sound about the revolting Trump and his neocon mates and Bonfire of the Vanities cheer squads. They can all forever get golden showers from infinite numbers of Russian hookers before anyone should care about the moral and ethical depravity of their private personalities and behaviour.

It’s the moral and ethical depravity of their policies (if discernible) and politics that sicken us.

But the Diary has enough of old journeyman journalist in the veins (Razer does not) to get a good giggle out of the risible idiocy of populist celebrity “leaders” who think debate is about massaging their own egos, or having others do that for them; who apparently think the serial indiscretions that litter their private lives can possibly escape scrutiny in the global porn shop they’ve created and from which they grossly profit; who wouldn’t know a decent social (or economic or health or national security) policy if any of these happened by chance to tickle their coccyx while some fake-bosomed slag was teasing their private parts with perfumed tissues; and who are so functionally useless except in their own interest that they couldn’t boil an egg.

Today (Jan. 14) is T -6, by the way.

Great Going

ONE of the Diary’s favourite R&R places, the Novotel Lombok Resort and Villas at Mandalika beach in the island’s south, has another deserved gong in its collection of awards.

The resort, part of the Accor chain, was named The World’s Best Halal Beach Resort 2016 at the World Halal Tourism Awards during International Travel Week in Abu Dhabi late last year.

WHTA estimates that about 1.9 million votes from 116 countries were lodged in the 2016 awards, over 16 categories and among 383 candidate properties. You can see all winners in all categories here.

Lombok is carving out a niche for itself in tourist and travel opportunities for Muslims, part of which naturally includes Halal food and a rather less raunchy entertainment picture. Even the sexy dancers aren’t, really.

Except in the northern Gilis – Trawangan, Meno and Air – which these days most visitors access direct from Bali by fast boat – the sun-sand-and-sin western tourist demographic is conspicuously absent, at least in large, noisy numbers.

Some people think that’s a good thing.

Hector also writes a monthly diary in the Bali Advertiser newspaper. The next appears on Feb. 1

A Warrant Officer and a Gentleman

 

OVER New Year I heard a sad piece of news. Bill Cunneen had died. The name may mean little to most people. It means the world to me.

He was some 12 years my senior, of a respectable enough vintage to shuffle off. But it’s always hard to take when someone you know and value – even if as in this case, you haven’t seen him for years and were not in touch – departs Gaia for destinations unknown.

I knew Bill through the Australian Army, in which when I met him he served as a photographer. He was a Warrant Officer Class 2 then, nearly four decades ago. He had served in Korea as a private in the infantry and in Vietnam as an army photographer. We wore the same cap badge, but that was where the similarities began and ended. He was already a legend. I wasn’t and never would be.

But Bill once gave me the greatest and most valued compliment I’ve ever received in a military setting (the Australian one in this instance). I’ve never forgotten it, the circumstances in which he said it, and the pride I felt when he did.

For some time, back in the day, I combined my journalistic career with a part-time one, in a similar role, in the Australian Army. I was a reservist, recruited as an officer for my specific skills and made a captain.

Bill was a regular soldier, in every sense of that term. He’d earned his rank.

As far as I was concerned, he far outranked me. But on duty he called me sir. That’s the form. You respect the rank, not (necessarily) the person.

In 1979 we worked together for that’s year’s training exercise, K79 (Kangaroo 79). I’m not sure at this distance whether it was the Kamarians, Musorians, or the un-definable Orangeland that we were opposing. It didn’t matter, though, because in those days all our enemies were notional.

(I do remember that the Kamarians, who lived upon an upturned Tasmania somewhere in the Solo Sea, I think, and were for a time regular enemies until being surpassed as a threat by the fiendish Musorians, eventually acquired a lovely flag. This had been invented in part by another regular soldier of my long acquaintance, Ross Eastgate, a Duntroon graduate. The flag was dubbed Duck l’Orange, since its heraldic motif was a black duck on an orange field.)

In 1979 I had been given the task of running bits of the exercise media centre, since the reserve formation for which I was then part-time toiling was also engaged – and because they needed better people than me up at the pretend sharp end.

I did my best, turning up in uniform every day and trying very hard to be serious about the whole thing. Bill knew that I was a choco (a reservist). And my own policy was that I while I might be sir, I wouldn’t order so much as a coffee until I’d checked with him. We mucked in well together. His military professionalism was unshakeable.

At the end of the exercise he found a quiet moment and place to tell me this: “I thought you were just another wanker, sir, but you’re not.”

That’s the best, and the most valued, accolade that I ever got in uniform, anywhere, with or without a loaded weapon to hand.

Rest in Peace, Bill.

….

Wiiliam (BILL) James CUNNEEN

Korea (Pte) 30 July 1952 to 8 November 1952 3rd Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment 6 January 1953 to 19 January 1953 3rd Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment, Royal Australian Infantry Corps. Vietnam (WO2) Headquarters, Australian Army Force Vietnam 16/02/1966 to 21/03/1967. Headquarters, Australian Force Vietnam (Army Component) 01/10/1970 to 20/02/1972. Royal Australian Army Educational Corps.

His funeral is in Sydney on Saturday (Jan. 7)

Messing About in Boats

HECTOR’S DIARY

HectorR

His diet of worms and other non-religious fare

Bali, Jan. 4, 2017

 

WE have a lovely friend, a former media colleague who goes by the pen name of The Global Goddess. She has a tough life, poor thing. She’s forever flitting off from Brisbane, her home city, to go to distant places and write about them. Well, someone has to do it, we suppose.

Her most recent gambol was a cruise to Komodo aboard the Al-Iikai, a 37-metre Bugis pinisi fitted out for maximum comfort and operated from Serangan in Benoa Bay. It was, she tells us, a program that gave her plenty of stories about messing about in boats.

The goddess, real name Christine Retschlag, apparently didn’t read Kenneth Grahame’s marvellous fantasy tale Wind in the Willows as a child. But we’re sure that Ratty will forgive her, given her later experiences. Hector, who is one of Ratty’s firmest friends, will pay close attention to her trip reports on her blog and in the travel media.

We’re sure that Ratty – whose ancestral lineage, we remember, traced back to a seafaring rat who had sailed to England from Constantinople long before (though possibly not as early as the Black Death fleets of 1348-49) – will fully understand that the Bali Sea and beyond is a different kettle of fish to the somewhat placid Thames in the golden age of Edwardian England more than a century ago.

The goddess finished her archipelagic sojourn with some lovely down-days at Palms Ceningan, where we hear she adopted surfer-chick hair because she had lost her comb. She’ll have found it eventually in the designer Black Void handbag that she, like all the girls, simply has to tote around.

Before Indonesia, she had been in Canada chatting up polar bears. As a result of this earlier adventure, and when we caught up with her aboard the Al-Iikai at Benoa before she sailed away to joust with dragons, courtesy of Indonesia Island Sail’s Amanda Zsebik, we dubbed her Nanook of the Near North.

That’s no igloo, just the smile.

What a Blast

It’s over now, for another year, thank goodness. But Christmas is worth discussion. It marks the requisitioned and wholly notional birthdate of Jesus the Nazarene, who in the Christian rite is the Messiah, the prince of peace, Son of God, prophet and prince of life, among other things. Nothing in his story seems to mandate explosive exclamation, except perhaps the feeding of the five thousand, which must have been a blast.

So it is curious that in Indonesia it’s apparently an occasion for letting off fireworks. From the noise these infernal objects generate, they must be rather bigger than the two inches (five centimetres) maximum allowed by official order. Never mind, no one here takes any notice of official orders.

There’s a serious point in this. Christmas is a Christian religious feast. For Muslims, it is the birthday of the Messiah (Mahdi), Isa – Jesus – who ranks behind only Muhammad as a prophet of Allah.

It is the secular West that has turned Christmas into an occasion for consumer excess. But even there, and in the little pockets of bad behaviour its acolytes occupy around the globe, pyrotechnics don’t figure in the events of the season.

A Sari Tale

The other day we came across a delightful Jakarta-based blog (www.eatlivetravel.com) that had somehow previously escaped our notice. We really should get out more. It comes with an emailed newsletter, to which we have now subscribed. Interesting takes on current events are always good value, whether they are serious or of the ROFL class. Hereabouts they’re often of the ROFLMAO variant.

What caught our eye particularly in the newsletter we saw on Dec. 17 was a spin-off from the awful Ahok saga. It involved Sari Roti, a bread maker, whose products were seen in apparently invidious proximity to the governor of Jakarta in the context of his legal difficulties with the FMP (the Fanatical Muslim Push). Sari Roti’s stock value had fallen as a result (no, we’re not kidding).

No one can have missed the fact that Governor Ahok is on trial for blasphemy on the grounds that he misquoted the Qur’an and is therefore a kafir of the worst order. He’s a Christian, of course, and an Indonesian of Chinese ethnicity. Neither of these qualities is favoured as a political option by the chaps with the placards and the turban fetish.

It’s a sorry tale all round, and not one to laugh about. Except that sometimes if you don’t laugh, you cry.

It Just Piles Up

Photos that surfaced on Facebook just before Christmas, of the disgraceful piles of garbage washed up on Double Six beach at Legian, after seasonal rains flushed out the poisonous detritus that clogs every watercourse you can think of, are an object lesson in the poverty of public policy in Bali.

They show how fiddling around at the edges, or hoping someone else will front up with the money and the means to do something for you while funding your latest vehicle fetish, is a cop-out, a disease risk and a PR disaster all rolled into one.

They were taken by surfing identity Tim Hain on Dec. 24. He noted that he was feeling a little delicate as a result of the ASC Tour awards party held at Canggu the previous evening, but what really made him feel sick was the sight that greeted him on Double Six beach on his morning walk.

It’s true that there are some good waste management initiatives in an increasing number of localities in Bali, organised at local community level. Craig Glenister of the Alasari resort in Tabanan mentioned the one that’s up and running in his area. Fair enough.

But it’s not enough. Just for example, in the Bukit area that houses The Cage (from whence Hector scribbles) a local contractor is paid by some residents to properly dispose of their rubbish. Others couldn’t care less – it’s not the money – and continue with the sorry custom of just tossing garbage away. Sometimes they set fire to it and the noxious plastic it contains. But mostly they just forget about it. Everywhere you go there’s a smelly bag of diseased rubbish lying in the scrub or by the road.

The local free-range dogs, a pariah class created by public apathy and indolence, the rats and the dengue mosquitoes, are guaranteed a continuous feast as a result.

A Sound Point

Helen Mirren is a great actor. And anyone who has seen the long-ago guest spot she did as a much younger one on a British TV talk show – when interviewer Michael Parkinson asked her with a particularly gauche grin if her “attributes” got in the way of her winning offers of serious roles – will understand also that she is a highly intelligent woman with whom one should not trifle.

So when she observed that by general agreement 2016 was a shit of a year, as she did recently, it was very hard to argue. You don’t even have to have read the library-load of end-of-year reviews to work that out. She wasn’t making a partisan political point. That’s a tiresome practice of some actors, who seem to believe that a good publicist, a photogenic presence and an ability to take direction on a film set invests them with special knowledge, but it’s not hers.

Neither was she speaking in personal terms. She has a broader mind than that. She can see that things happen that aren’t good, even if they don’t directly affect you; and she is not so consumed with Self in the modern fashion that nothing else seems to matter. In short, she’s a breath of fresh air

See below for Hector’s view on The Year It Would Be Nice to Rewind.

Monkey of a Year

The Monkey is most likely exhausted, or near as, since his year is nearly over. The Diary, a Monkey of the class of 1944, certainly is. In the Chinese Zodiac, everyone’s once-in-a-dozen years mazurka is not a treat but a challenge. And 2016 was not a good year for anyone.

The year of the Fire Rooster starts on Jan. 28. We look forward to it. The next Monkey year is in 2028. Perhaps we’ll see you for that party.

President-elect Donald Trump’s next celestial challenge is in 2018, by the way. He’s a Fire Dog. But he gets his box of matches a year early, on Jan. 20, when he is inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States. He’ll probably tweet about that.

This column appears in the Bali Advertiser, out Jan. 4. The newspaper publishes Hector’s Diary in every second edition. It is a fortnightly print and on line publication.