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The Sisyphus Factor

HECTOR’S DIARY

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

HectorR

 

Bali, July 6, 2016

The retreat of the resources sector is apparently hitting the accommodation and pembantu sectors in Jakarta, as well as business generally. For a country such as Indonesia, just as for Australia, depressed demand and sinking prices for commodities hit hard. It can have escaped no one’s notice that at the moment the global economy is not quite what it could be.

Bali is less directly affected by global economic factors, except in tourism, since its main industry appears to be creating bureaucratic bumf and impenetrable thickets of regulations that are sometimes enforced and frequently overlooked in return for brown envelopes.

But it is these ever tighter and ever-changing regulations that are impacting on Bali. These affect Indonesians too. Everyone’s tearing out hair in frustration. Toupee makers and retailers could make a killing. That’s if they could acquire the right permits. On that point (and see below for more) a song comes to mind: “There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza…”

Perhaps the provincial government doesn’t care that new and unrealistic demands for possession of a KITAP (an expensive five-year permanent stay visa) for the most basic of expatriate needs, such as vehicle ownership, registration renewals, even a local driver’s licence, are beginning to annoy people, and are making numbers of them have difficulty justifying remaining in paradise; especially since it plainly isn’t. It’s more reminiscent of poor, mythical Sisyphus’s problem with that rock he was condemned forever to roll up a hill (and on which the existentialist Albert Camus forensically intoned in his 1942 philosophical essay).

There’s more, but as this is both a moveable and a continuing feast, there will be time to come back to further comedy later. In the meantime, since the property market is profoundly depressed – in part by unrealistic asking prices, another constant in Mittyland – and because the benefits of bothering to stay are reducing with depressing regularity, the pembantu sector here should also be getting concerned.

Housework is not only an entry-level job in the real economy, but also a lifeline for people with very little money at all. Some evidence that the provincial government understands the principle of attracting residents who will employ such people would be a boon.

Fools’ Rules

We heard a sorry tale the other day. Someone – an Indonesian; as we noted above it happens to them too and far more often than it does to expatriates who complain but have overlooked the fact that here the best policy for foreigners is laugh or leave – went to a government office to apply for permit X. The answer? “Sorry, you must have Letter Y from the police station first. New rules.”

At the police station, they said: “Sorry, you must bring permit X to us before we can issue Letter Y. New rules.” Apparently there was stalemate, as both offices refused to budge because it was not their problem.

Perhaps someone should tell Governor Pastika, who might then tell President Jokowi, that Indonesia is never going to be Raya, except in popular imagination and by political paean, until this sort of bureaucratic idiocy is eliminated.

Singing in the Rain

It’s been raining in Bali quite a lot recently. The comics among us have noted that this must be because it’s the dry season. But lest this inclemency lead to more apocalyptic pronouncements from ignorant scribblers writing in tabloids, virtual and real, in Australia, where anything to bash Bali is apparently regarded as de rigueur, we posted a little Facebook note on Jun. 27 for them, and others, to read.

It said this:

It is raining here in Bali, musim hujan style when it is supposed to be musim kering. This is not because the forest spirits are angry with us, or that Gaia has had to put on a thicker facemask when she’s belting around in the pollution on her scooter. It is, by the look of it, the effect of a strong La Niña swiftly superseding a particularly feisty El Niño. Google it.

Brexit Strategy

We can all sit here in Bali – if we can find an empty seat while Jakarta, Bandung and Surabaya are having their annual holiday jamboree here over the post-Ramadhan Lebaran stand-down, or get through the traffic to where we’d like to plunk our posteriors – and say that Brexit is of peripheral interest only. And on one level, that’s certainly true. But the vote has shaken the post-war order, threatened the unity of the UK, undermined the EU as a visionary concept, and will have given the Putinists (or perhaps the Vladists) in the Kremlin ideas for all sorts of inventive mischief.

The referendum on leaving the European Community was apparently organized – though that hardly seems the right word – to engineer a Remain outcome. Instead the Leavers narrowly won, though not in Scotland or in London or in Northern Ireland. The unintended constitutional and economic consequences were not foreseen, and still can’t be fully discerned: it’s early days in what will surely become known as the Great British Cock-Up.

There’s a lot wrong with the EU. It is run by quarantined bureaucrats, not by elected legislators, and shouldn’t be. Globalization is everyone’s bête noir, though it too shouldn’t be. Instead, the world needs to limit corporate power. It has the political means to do this. It simply needs the will.

The British-Australian lawyer Geoffrey Robertson, writing in The Guardian after the Brexit vote, said this, which is worth pondering:

“Our democracy does not allow, much less require, decision-making by referendum. That role belongs to the representatives of the people and not to the people themselves. Democracy has never meant the tyranny of the simple majority, much less the tyranny of the mob (otherwise, we might still have capital punishment). Democracy entails an elected government, subject to certain checks and balances such as the common law and the courts, and an executive ultimately responsible to parliament, whose members are entitled to vote according to conscience and common sense.”

Among the chumps who came out shouting before thinking after the vote – we exclude the British prime minister, who quietly announced that he would resign, having finally worked out that his miscalculation was political suicide – was the Republican presumptive nominee for POTUS, Donald Trump. Arriving in Scotland the day after the Jun. 24 referendum that rocked the UK and may well trigger further political shocks, and apparently to open the latest of his hotel excrescences in the kingdom, Trump tweeted to the effect that he congratulated the Scots on voting to quit the EU.

Hopefully he is now better informed, though a cautious punter wouldn’t bet on that. But he should certainly now know a thing or two about Scottish humour. It is of the withering sort that would cause a toupee to combust at two hundred paces. The Scots probably invented humour. They needed it to go with the golf. Presumptive Candidate Trump immediately received a barrage of tweets in return. Try this: Scotland voted Remain, you tiny fingered, cheetah faced, ferret wearing shitgibbon. Ouch. There were others, even less kind.

Vin+ Indeed

It’s a trek to Seminyak, for those whose domestic quarters are sited on the breezy, cooler Bukit, but there are occasions when getting out on the Lemming Highway and playing dodgems for 90 minutes to travel 20 kilometres make the journey worthwhile.

So when our favourite Brazilian, Alexsander Martins Paim, general manager at Vin+, asked us along to a friendly four-course wine pairing dinner on Jun. 27 with cuisine by chef Arief Wicaksono, late of Métis, and wines by leading Chilean winemaker Casillero del Diablo, we were far from disposed to decline.

Had we foolishly decided not to attend, we’d have missed out in particular on the 18 Hours Tokusen Wagyu beef, which would have been a crime, and the P125 Dark Chocolate Parfait, which would have been complete idiocy. The wines were paired very well. Our favourite was the 2010 Concha y Toro Terrunyo Carmenere. It went brilliantly with the beef and with the chat around the table with Marian Carroll of Four Seasons and Bali-based British travel writer Samantha Coomber.

Vin+ is also doing a very affordable wine free-flow session from 4pm-8pm daily. The Lemming Highway might be getting more of a workout from the Diary in future.

We’ve marked our diary for Aug. 16, when Vin + has a sundown wine carnival with entertainment, fine food and great bottles of vin very far from ordinaire from around the world.

Save Our Oceans

Waterman’s Week 2016, the idea of Mike O’Leary of ROLE Foundation, is under way as we go to print. It runs from Jul. 1-10. Saving the world’s oceans and their precious marine life forms is not just a good idea. Without viable oceans the global ecology will literally sicken and eventually die, and so will we.

Think about that.

Hector’s Diary appears, edited for newspaper presentation, in the print and on line editions of the Bali Advertiser

Ordure of the Day

Hector’s Bali Diary

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

May 25, 2016

News that Bali’s beaches are the repositories of sewage is hardly novel, and it’s not by any means confined to the Legian beachfront, where the latest discovery by those who should ensure it doesn’t happen has stirred up a noisome furore.

There is hardly a pristine beach or sea swimming area left in Bali or indeed beyond. They have all been colonized to some degree or other by rubbish of very questionable provenance, not to mention the plastic and other detritus that surfs along with the board riders and wraps itself around the limbs of people splashing around on the waterline.

A story reported in  the Indonesian language newspaper NusaBali, said that on May 9 open sewers from Jl. Padma in the heart of Legian were draining black liquid into the sea and giving the popular bathing beach a terrible stink.

When this news broke (reporters really should stick to just reprinting media releases from the proper authorities, shouldn’t they?) there was the usual scurry of activity. Everyone ran for cover or off to find the bit of paper that says, “My friend did it”.

Legian district chief I Made Madya Surya Natha conceded that the problem of untreated sewage flowing on to the beach was a long-standing issue. But then he said that while efforts had been made to build sewage holding areas, heavy rains had caused these to overflow. Ah! When your friend who might have done it cannot be found, blame it on the weather. It’s not at all unreasonable, after all, in a place where torrential tropical rain is known to occur on a regular basis, to fail to provide adequate storm drainage. It’s so much easier that way. You have to maintain infrastructure, or so the notional SOPs go, if you’ve bothered to build it in the first place.

He said he hoped the environmental agency (BLH) would investigate and provide a long-term solution. (See above re building and maintaining required infrastructure.)

Beach Follies

We were at Pantai Bengiat at Nusa Dua one recent Saturday – it’s our weekend office quite often and we like it because it’s operated by the local cooperative, which tries really hard to look after visitors – and had an opportunity to observe the new demographics of Bali tourism. Our sojourn was punctuated by loud Chinese frivolity. We think these particular Chinese were from Taiwan, on the basis of the women’s nearly daring choice of beach attire and the class of juvenile bonhomie exhibited by the males of the party.

Brazilians were also present, speaking their incomprehensible variant of Portuguese; as well as, we thought, some Romanians.

It was an eclectic crowd, though the crowd was hardly a crowd. There was a brisk onshore breeze, which may have put off some. We briefly ventured into the sea for a splash, trying unsuccessfully to avoid being snared by passing plastic rubbish.

Goodabaya

Surabaya is Indonesia’s second largest city. It is a place with a significant non-Muslim population, an industrial centre, and a city where foreign business people, many of them highly sought-after Chinese with money to burn, visit to develop enterprises.

The city authorities have decided to ban the production, sale and consumption of alcohol. Muslims are forbidden alcohol – it is haram – and that’s fair enough, though many seem to overlook this behavioural proscription. Drinking intoxicating liquor is not compulsory anywhere. You don’t have to drink, or for that matter get plastered when you do.

It is a policy decision of amazing dull-headedness. Neither Surabaya nor East Java is Aceh. And this isn’t the Seventh Century.

No way, José

That’s not his name, of course. It’s Rodrigo Duterte, who has just been elected president of the Philippines. He has promised to reintroduce the death penalty for a range of crimes including drugs, rape, murder and robbery. At his first press conference after winning election in landslide on May 9, he said he favoured hanging to a firing squad because he did not want to waste bullets, and because he believed snapping a spine with a noose was more humane. Last year he said that he would like to see public hangings.

There are those who would tell you that it is wrong to overlook the varied ethnic, cultural and social imperatives in other countries, or the implied electoral endorsement of a “landslide” election win, when criticizing their policies. As a general principle, that’s sound. It is invidious, however, when what is being proposed is a return to Late Neolithic policies.

The death penalty was abolished in the Philippines in 2006, during the presidency of Gloria Arroyo.

Well Done, Champ

Sweania Betzeba Delisa, Bali’s up and coming young triathlete who is sponsored by the Rotary eClub and Solemen, won the under-18 title in the first 2016 race series of the Rottnest Island Surferfest in Western Australia on May 14-15. Rotary eClub sponsored her WA visit just completed.

The event includes a long swim. The ocean water there is not tropically warm. In fact the Diary wouldn’t touch it without several thermal layers between it and absolutely anything that matters, or used to. So congratulations, Sweania, and welcome back to warm water. The second race in the Rottnest series is in November.

The Surferfest series, with events also held in Victoria, is said to be over triathlon courses that are the toughest in Australia.

Sweania’s Perth trip was not all work, though. After the business bit was done, it included some downtime in the city and a visit to the Perth Zoo where she met her first kangaroo. That’s always a treat for visitors to Australia.

Faith, Hope and Clarity

We heard a lovely little story from a friend in Brisbane the other day. She’d been doing reading groups at her daughter’s school that morning and had been sitting chatting with some of the students. They were talking about animals, the next writing job on their list.

As she reports, the conversation went like this:

Child 1: I like bears.

Child 2: Did you know Jesus can run at 70km per hour?

Me: 70km per hour? That’s very fast. Are you sure?

Child 1: They’re furry.

Child 2: Yes, Jesus can run at 70km an hour.

Me: Look I know he could probably run fast, but 70km/h?

Child 2: Yes!

Me: I’d believe 15km/h but not 70.

Child 3: Bob would know! He skipped year 1! He’s smart.

Me: I’ve got no doubt Bob would know, but Jesus could not run at 70km/h.

Child 2: CHEETAHS not Jesus.

Overloaded? No!

The report on the capsize of a Bali to Java ferry earlier this year that resulted in the deaths of four people says the boat was overloaded by more than double its payload limit.

This is not just yet another example of the cavalier approach to rules and regulations, or sensible cautions, which pepper the avoidable disaster calendar here every year. It is nothing short of criminal.

One’s passage through life might be subject to fate, or karma if you prefer. But Indonesia’s creakingly supine bureaucracy should at least look as if it’s trying to do its job. Any bets on when it might start applying itself to what it’s paid to do, other than shutting the stable doors after the horses have bolted?

Twelfth Man

We’re looking forward to our annual Ubud meeting with old friend Ross Fitzgerald, which this year will be on Jun. 13, the Queen’s Birthday holiday in much of Australia. It’s also the official opening of the skiing season in the Australian Alps, but we won’t go there. We’ll be chatting with Fitzgerald,  a Sydneysider these days but a Melbourne boy at heart, over coffee at an establishment that is screening the AFL match in which Collingwood, his team, is playing Melbourne at the MCG.

But that’s not the extra frisson. What will give the conversation a buzz is that Fitzgerald is lead candidate on the Senate ticket for NSW in the Jul. 2 national elections for the Australian Sex Party. This a political party, not one of those indecorous affrays that take place regularly in the Glitter and Gutter Strip favoured by Aussie tourists out for a good time, yair.

Fitzgerald is a professor of history, a four-decade-plus veteran of Alcoholics Anonymous about which he wrote a book, and latterly the author of fictional tales featuring erotic material.

The Australian Sex Party is not a single-issue outfit. It promotes a more liberal view of sexual policy than mainstream political parties do, and no doubt gives the rabid right a nasty turn now and then (good), but it also espouses sensible reforms in euthanasia, recreational drug use, refugee policy, and other things.

It’s a double dissolution election on Jul. 2 so all 12 Senate seats in each state are up for grabs. We’ve suggested to Fitzgerald that he could end up being Twelfth Man. They play cricket at the MCG too.

Oh Deer

Police have arrested a man in Jembrana for looking after deer. The animals had apparently wandered away from the national park nearby and decided they liked his garden. Instead of shooing them away, or worse, he decided to make them feel at home.

It would probably have been difficult for him to establish their regular address, after all.

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

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Feb. 17, 2016

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

 

Far Queue Again

The periodic struggle to get vehicles into and out of Ngurah Rai airport was worse than usual on Feb. 5, apparently. We weren’t there, which is probably a good thing. One hour-plus irritation a month already tests our toleration limit. It isn’t that we’re unsympathetic to local rites, religious or otherwise: far from it in fact, and far further than many might think. But of course we’ve only been here 10 years, much less time than many Resident Bules who clearly know a lot better, and that must be why we don’t really see the need to exponentially expand mayhem as a function of Bali life when it’s actually simpler not to.

In normal circumstances the absence of the phrase membentuk antrian tertib (form an orderly queue) from both everyday Bahasa Indonesia and local consciousness – to say nothing of whatever the equivalent might notionally be in Basa Bali – creates road conditions that are interesting. That’s in the old Chinese sense. It’s not just at the airport. The chaotic Mille-Feuille Roundabout on the By-Pass is a case in point. That’s where traffic dashes in, using an anarchic multiplicity of “lanes” from four directions, including the airport and the toll road, while the traffic police look on (in desperation, it sometimes seems, and we sympathise) and drivers ignore everything except their own apparently desperate need to get in front of everyone else. In lighter traffic this can work, as long as you have nerves of steel. And you can jag a dream run round that funny round bit in the middle if you’re there at 4am, though you still need to be watchful for idiots who are doing 80km/h, aren’t looking, and don’t have their lights on. It’s a bit like the flood drains we don’t have here. They’re a waste of space when it’s not raining.

The Feb.5 mess at the airport resulted from roads being closed for local ceremonies. The important Galungan (Feb. 9-11) festivities were coming up. Galungan is second only to Nyepi (Mar. 9 this year) for which the airport is officially closed. We’re told that on Feb. 5 it was taking vehicles an hour or more just to get into or out of the airport. The area resembled a parking lot. Leaving aside the issue of convenience for road users and the tedious matter of missing your flight, an unmovable traffic jam is a security concern in such a vital piece of public infrastructure.

Two things need to be looked at. One is the requirement for the airport operating company, a featherbed state corporation, to bother about its responsibilities beyond collecting money. It should look at the airport’s ridiculous car parking arrangements and the road layout, for a start. The other is for the Bali provincial government and local councils to work with banjars on a plan that will recognise and facilitate both the requirements of adat (custom) and traffic needs. Public thoroughfares are no longer the village pathways that once could be blocked off at no great inconvenience to anyone.

Hindu ceremonies are a crucial element of life in Bali. They must be protected and encouraged. They are the very essence of Bali and they’ll remain so even when Hindus become a minority in some areas, and even island wide, which ultimately seems inevitable.

Drink Up

We went with a lovely friend the other evening to the Nusa Dua Beach Hotel in search of dinner. The desire had been expressed for the sort of meat and three veg dinner that is traditional in certain cultures and which can be difficult to find here. We went where we went because the lovely friend thought that’s where she might have been once, when such fare was apparently on offer.

It wasn’t the place and there were no roast dinners – the Diary was not at all displeased – and we dined at the resort’s beachside Tamarind restaurant. The food was very good indeed, the intricacies of true medium-rare steak were clearly understood, a further bonus; and the Californian red zinfandel (a Berringer) was a very nice drop.

We had a drink before dining. That was a slightly more enervating process. It was Happy Hour, they told us, on the standard two-for-one plan. The waiter brought two drinks menus. The Diary pointed out that there were three of us at the table. Oh yes, um, OK. A third menu eventually arrived, with an expression that bordered a tad too closely on exasperation. We then ordered “one large Bintang two glass” (the usual Diary and Distaff deal) and the lovely friend asked for a Gordon’s gin and tonic. The waiter tried to give the Distaff the large Bintang and the two glasses. Maybe the Diary really is invisible. Or perhaps the training sessions there mandate that when two women and one man are ordering, the man is a Non-Presence; or is just along for the rides.

We chatted and drank our drinks, enjoying the tropic ambience and browsing through the dinner menu. Then we called for our Happy Hour second round. Oh no, they tried to say, Happy Hour ends at 7pm. But we ordered before 7pm, the Distaff and lovely friend advised. The Diary remained silent, since he was apparently invisible. A manager appeared and tried to reinforce the too-late rule. He eventually conceded defeat and scurried off to get the bevies. The gin wasn’t Gordon’s. This was noticed. What a surprise! It got sent back.

Desert Island Slipped Discs

Very little is more ignorant than breathless tabloid TV and the Australian sector of this disinformation industry is probably well up there with the worst. It’s often well meaning, Aussies being, you know, good blokes. Unless they’ve inadvertently trodden on their bonnets and got bees in them, but that can happen to anyone. So we were not surprised to see a promo for an item on the Seven Network’s Today Tonight show about Aussie couple that had gone to Bali and built a jungle resort on a deserted island.

Suna and Joe Cavanagh, of Perth, have built Castaway resort on Lembongan, towards the rugged western end of the island where the Indian Ocean swells crash spectacularly into the low rocky cliffs. The resort, which is locally managed, looks fabulous and is on the Diary’s list for an unannounced visit. It’s on the sheltered coast away from the rollers.

Lembongan is a beautiful spot. But it is not deserted – the Islanders alone number around 5000 – and neither is it by any measure jungle. Still, as Suna Cavanagh advised fans on Facebook, that’s TV.

Rule of Lore

No doubt it will be appealed all the way to the Court of Final Shemozzle, but the recent decision of the Indonesian Supreme Court to uphold a ruling in a lower court last year to award use of the global IKEA trade name to a furniture outfit in Surabaya is worth a belly laugh, albeit it a hollow one. In a majority decision – there was one dissenting judge, apparently the sentient one – the Supreme Court said that since IKEA had not used its trade name in Indonesia for three years it had forfeited its right to do so. There’s no need to pause for applause. It’s just how they do things here.

The law the judges (minus the dissenter) decided in their wisdom to apply is designed to regulate the bottom-feeders, those who in the usual fashion here have mortgaged their companies to the White Elephant franchise and gone out of business. Foreigners do this too – we’re not making an invidiously focused point.

But the Swedish company IKEA is a global operation. It hasn’t gone out of business. Its Indonesian operations might need a makeover – if so, it’s far from alone in overlooking that imperative – but its global brand name is extant. Its headquarters are in Leiden, The Netherlands, not in Surabaya, East Java, where Intan Khatulistiwa Esa Abadi plies its trade.

Life of George

These things happen, but it can be a little embarrassing when they do. A chap we know who calls himself Richard got a note the other day from George Wright, national secretary of the Australian Labor Party. That wasn’t unusual. George writes to Richard regularly, about this and that and sundry other things.

There was a twist, however, in this instance. The missive that the virtual postman dropped into the virtual mailbox was a little apology, on which George, bless him, had tried to put the best spin possible. A recent message he’d sent, it said, had addressed Richard as Riley, and he was writing to say he knew Richard was Richard and wasn’t Riley at all, and he was sorry about all this. He signed himself off as “George (not Riley)”. We thought that was a nice touch.

Automated mail programs can be painful. They make you think of all sorts of things with which to complete a distempered exhortation that begins “R for…”

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