Lights Out!

HECTOR’S DIARY

HectorR

His diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Bali, Saturday, Mar. 25, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gaijin Light

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hey! Great Idea!

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

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

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

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

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

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