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Living with Vulcan

HECTOR’S DIARY

HectorR

Bali Advertiser, Oct. 11, 2017

 

ONCE upon a time, the activity of a volcano in a distant domestic backyard from which one is temporarily absent would have been something relayed at intervals by news reports, or not at all. Its inactivity ahead of anticipated action would have been even harder to detect through the prism of news reportage. Not these days, when both the mainstream and the social media bring you up to the minute information and misinformation. Sorting the wheat from the chaff is more immediate (though there’s a lot more chaff) but there’s no reason to be uninformed.

So it is with the Great Mountain, Gunung Agung. It is more than 70 kilometres from our domestic premises on the Bukit. When we wrote this Diary, from even more distant Portugal, the mountain was grumbling and had been promoted by Indonesia’s excellent alert apparatus to most dangerous threat, as a result of this misbehaviour.

The story, at that point, was the removal by government order of more than 100,000 people whose villages and farms are within the defined danger zone, and the consequences, individual and collective, of this displacement. Relief efforts have brought out the best in people, Indonesians and foreigners alike. But it was not the sort of shock-horror story the western media so loves, since it was actually a good news story. It was a story of swift and effective action by provincial and national governments and agencies, and the outlaying of significant sums of money to assist those in need.

We know of course that other than in exceptional circumstances, or in the glossy magazines, a good news story about Bali is about as likely to be seen as a phoenix or a unicorn. We’ve had the usual tremulous twittering of Australians fearful that their cheap holidays might be at risk. Travel insurance generally covers such tribulations. That’s if you had the wit to get it (and pay for it) in the first place. If you can’t afford insurance, you shouldn’t travel. If you’re so thick that you can’t work out that it matters, you certainly shouldn’t.

There was one particular bit of very yellow journalism that got right up our nose. It did this in quite a major way. Surprisingly it appeared in The Guardian, which is usually among the more sentient of journals. It reported that foreign holidaymakers had fled Bali’s “tourist towns” because of the volcano alert. But this was the case only in Amed, a tiny place that barely qualifies as a village, let alone a town, and which is in the far east of the island virtually in the shadow of Mt Agung. It’s not inside the precautionary evacuation zone, though if the volcano did erupt then road access to and from it might be compromised. Meanwhile it was business as usual everywhere, including in Amed.

The last time Agung erupted, in 1963, there were large numbers of deaths. The official figures from that time probably understate the actual numbers. This time, half a century on, there are better communications and transport infrastructure that works, in the main. There is also an appreciation on the part of governments and authorities that, with a volcano, you can’t just sit around and hope it doesn’t erupt.

In Balinese Hindu mythology, Agung is thought by some to be a portion of Java’s sacred Mt Meru brought to the island by the original settlers. It has a place in the island’s spiritual life and its actions are accorded godly intent. In 1963 its pyroclastic flows (lava) missed the Mother Temple, Pura Besakih on the middle slopes of the mountain, by only metres. This was seen as a sign that the gods wished to demonstrate their angry displeasure but not to destroy the pinnacle of Balinese Hindu observance.

There were two major eruptions in 1963, the first in February and March, and another in May. Most casualties came from lava flows. Cold lahars (mixed slurries of volcanic and other materials generated by heavy rains) killed many others. A lahar – it’s an Indonesian word – can flow very quickly, unlike lava, and very deeply. When it stops it solidifies like concrete. Look at the landscape around Kubu, one of the areas now evacuated, to see the long-term results of that phenomenon.

We don’t pray, being in the None of the Above classification except on our Indonesian official documents, but we do think. And we’re thinking positive thoughts for Bali and its people while we’re away and Agung is being a threat.

A Rare Double

WE were in Lisbon, enjoying 30C days in the middle of the Lusitanian autumn, when this column was given to the electronic pigeon for transmission to the good folk at the Bali Advertiser. The Portuguese capital is a location long desired as a destination on our personal travel schedule, for many reasons but also because it presents an opportunity to perform a rare obeisance.

Some years ago we were in Kochi in India, where among the points of interest locally is the tomb of Vasco da Gama. It’s empty, but so what? He is still felt as a physical presence in the city, where – just in passing in this instance – there is a thriving Christian presence that was already ancient when the Portuguese adventurer “discovered” the India trade for Christ and His profits half a millennium ago.

Old Vasco is something of a figure in Lisbon, too, so we said hello there as well. His other resting place is in the Jerónimos Monastery at Bélem, fortuitously close to the best custard tarts in Lisbon.

The city is big on history, historiography, and monumental statuary. Dom Joāo I, splendidly mounted and holding his sceptre aloft, is near our digs, a pleasant apartment on the steep slopes just below the Castelo de S. Jorge. He was King of Portugal and the Algarve from 1385–1433 and is referred to as “the Good” and sometimes “the Great” in Portugal, or “of Happy Memory”.

In Spain he was referred to as “the Bastard”, because that’s what he was, and because he preserved the independence of the Kingdom of Portugal from the Kingdom of Castile. Through his efforts to acquire territories in Africa, he became the first king of Portugal to use the title “Lord of Ceuta”.

Ceuta is now a Spanish enclave on the coast of Morocco. It’s not quite analogous to Gibraltar, which is a bit of Spain the British long ago requisitioned as a spoil of war, though the point may be moot.

Joāo (John, as his English wife Philippa, daughter of John of Gaunt, might have called him, though she of course spoke French like all the posh Poms of the time and possibly called him Jean) deserves his statue: he had his day and won an entry in the record.

Spoiler Alert

IT used to be said that there were eight million stories in the naked city. Well, that’s what that old TV series said, so it must be right. There are also eight million hard-luck stories, a matching phenomenon with which every traveller must surely be familiar.

The Diary prefers to deal with these gently and in a non-judgemental way, while trying not to part with too much currency, especially when travelling on a pauper’s budget. The Distaff, being a girl, is made of far sterner stuff. We were lunching out in Málaga, in Andalusia, one day, enjoying in equal measure the warmth of the Mediterranean autumn and a modest beer and some tapas, when one of the local mendicants chanced to pass.

The tale was extraordinary, which is to say it was unbelievable. But since the immediate supplication was for 50 cents (€0.50, roughly Rp. 6500) to buy a loaf of bread, we were ourselves disposed to dig deeply into our diminishing pocket money and come up with the dosh.

Some might say that this indicates a certain measure of softness in the Diary, but that is not the case. Fifty cents to go away quietly, whether or not temporarily buoyed by thoughts of the brotherhood of man, seems to us to be a bargain triple entry in the fiscal, moral and problem solved ledgers.

Not so the Distaff, dear girl. As the pleas gathered length, speed and descant, she fixed the person uttering this tosh with her trademark killer steely glare and said: “You are spoiling my day. Go away.” This was not a request. It plainly invited no further conversation. It worked like a charm. The holiday budget was preserved.

See You Soon

BARRING accidental arrest en route or major volcanic dyspepsia at home, we’ll be back in Bali just in time to run up the road to Ubud for the 2017 Writers and Readers Festival. Unlike arrest or volcanic unrest, the festival is an event not to be missed.

HectorR

Hector’s Diary in published in the Bali Advertiser every second issue. The next will appear on Nov. 8. Hector blogs here between times, when he’s not holidaying in Europe.

Here’s a Tip

 

Hector’s Bali Diary, Apr. 27, 2016 

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

 

Now that the issue of destroying Benoa Bay so that rich people can get even richer is at the forefront of the public mind, and is the subject as it should be of robust dissention, it’s time to consider another threat to that formerly pristine piece of the global environment.

This is the waste mismanagement facility at Suwung, which for years has been leaching toxic material into the tidal swamps. Mangroves are very good at soaking up foreign substances, but even they have a limit to their tolerance. After a recent row – sadly but the latest in what is likely to be a continuing series – the managers of this excrescence leaped into action and started burying loose garbage under a layer of sand and soil. That helps reduce the stink. It doesn’t stop the leaching, either the insidious sort that you can’t see and can therefore pretend doesn’t exist, or the full Monty of black sludge that, if you own it and can’t be bothered working out what to do with it, you can only hope is never seen by anyone who might complain.

The usual cohort of Mea Culpa penitents, primarily of the imported variety, has appeared in the wake of this. They point out that waste management and disposal is a huge problem in South Bali because development responds to unplanned front-end demand by growing in an undisciplined manner since what planning rules do exist are ubiquitously ignored. In the fundamentalist Gaia liturgy, the cause is Selfish Greed, the secular original sin. Some of those who have woken up and found to their surprise that they’re living in a concrete jungle have even taken to arguing that the Balinese didn’t want development in the first place. Tell that to all the jobseekers.

Public policy is always a compromise. This immutable fact will forever fail to engage the activist mind. This is especially so in relation to the built environment and the issues of managing urban and industrial landscapes. It’s not clear that such esoteric matters win much airtime in the bureaucracy or at the political level. They should. But then Bali is littered with things that should be “shoulds” and “musts” that are viewed as anything but.

All that toing and froing aside, it is surely beyond dispute that high levels of leached toxins should never find their way into the waters of Benoa Bay. Its hydrography is already compromised and its mangroves depleted. It needs more mangroves, not less, to deal over time with toxic wastes from Suwung as well as with riverine refuse (another issue). Its tidal flows should be left unmolested.

None of this will ultimately be achievable without closing Suwung – and installing effective leaching ponds in the interim – and foreclosing on the creation of artificial islands in the bay.

Ni Hao

Along with the news that Chinese investors have been offered an open door in North Bali comes intelligence to the effect that Chinese brides may be looking for local bridesmaids. Apparently it’s the going thing to recruit such personages in the locality in which your nuptials are to take place. It saves on airfares and helps head off family or dynastic argument over who should be in the line-up.

The entrepreneurial sorts here will be quick into that action, for sure. One of the requirements for Chinese bridesmaids is that they should be pretty. There’s no shortage of that class of talent in Bali. In the piece we read on the emerging phenomenon, it was also said that Chinese brides require respect and decorum at their ceremonies. In many places – though not in Balinese society – these are qualities that these days are more remarked by their absence.

The Chinese tourist market is burgeoning here. Perhaps in time the theory that respect and decorum has more than just notional or historical value will percolate down to the tour bus brigade and into the supermarkets they’re delivered to for their snatch-and-grab raids on the way to their accommodation.

We live in hope.

Raw Deal

Still on tourism, the announcement of a lift in European visitors – in January and February: it takes a little time for the backroom boys to press go on the computerized data – has sparked comment. The tourism lobby here suggests it indicates that Europe, while still economically and in other ways comatose, has rediscovered its innate interest in Bali as a holiday spot.

It is famously said that there are lies, damned lies, and statistics. Raw statistics – which is what we’re dealing with in this instance – are neither lies nor damned lies (unless someone’s fiddled the figures) but they raw, untreated, have not been extrapolated for analysis, and apart from being pretty figures, are therefore pretty useless.

The data we’re looking at counts European Community passports seen at Ngurah Rai and stamped accordingly by a passport officer. It doesn’t account for actual intended length of stay, or repeat arrivals, or most importantly the place of embarkation.

A European Union passport holder may not have flown in direct from Europe on the hunt for the famous local rites that provide parties, Bintang, hair-braiding, a tattoo, and if such be your thing, a bit of nooky. Many such travel documents reside long-term, with their holders, in other parts of Southeast Asia, Northeast Asia, and Australasia.

In that last regard, Bali is a visa-run destination of choice in its own right for foreign passport holders in Australia who have visas that require them to leave and return from time to time.

Around Again

The Bali administration has launched a fresh program to vaccinate 400,000 dogs against rabies, with continuing support from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

The seventh mass dog vaccination kicked off at Munggu in Badung regency on Mar. 18. In the three-month campaign the authorities plan to target 716 villages, according to a statement from the FAO.

As before, vaccinated dogs will be given a special collar to ease identification by a special team of dogcatchers and vaccinators. Animal health director at the agriculture ministry, I Ketut Diarmita, says the program will run more efficiently than in previous years.

That would be welcome. Previous campaigns have died of confusion or ennui (or from siphon disease, which is fatal to public funds). When this has happened in the past, the killer squads go out again and eliminate dogs indiscriminately, even those with vaccination collars.

On official figures up to March, rabies has killed 164 people in Bali since 2008.

Eat Up

The 2016 Ubud Food Festival – it’s Janet DeNeefe’s writers’ festival spinoff (yes, we’re sure there will be fragrant rice somewhere in the mix) – will be tempting a lot of tummies and taste buds on May 27, 28 and 29.

DeNeefe, who sent us a note about it on Apr. 19, says there’s a great lineup of talent. This includes Indonesian culinary icons Sisca Soewitomo, William Wongso, Mandif Warokka, Petty Elliott, Bara Pattaridjawane and Bondan Winarno, award-winning cocktail-guru Raka Ambarawan, celebrated pastry chef Dedy Sutan, local raw food masters chef Arif Springs (Taksu) and chef Made Runatha (MOKSA), New York-trained sate king Agung Nugroho, and budding local agricultural star Tri Sutrisna.

From overseas, we’ll see Margarita Fores, the 2016 “Asia’s Best Female Chef” winner; Australian tapas legend Frank Camorra; Singapore’s Julien Royer (he’s supported by Cascades Restaurant); Jamie Oliver’s seafood sustainability champion Bart Van Olphen; high profile food photographer Petrina Tinslay; and found-and-foraged chef Jessie McTavish.

Local talent includes Kevin Cherkas of Cuca; Eelke Plasmeijer of award-winning Locavore; pastry icon Will Goldfarb of Room4Dessert; head chef of CasCades Restaurant Nic Vanderbeeken, Mozaic’s modern maestro Chris Salans; Bisma Eight head chef Duncan McCance; sushi master Yuki Tagami; culinary expert Diana Von Cranach; and French sommelier Antoine Olivain of Bridges.

The three-day program includes free Think, Talk, Taste sessions at Taman Kuliner, the festival hub; day and night markets; live music; film screenings; yoga (almost nothing happens in Ubud unless you flex); Kopi Korner; and a Festival Bar that will stay open late (which in Ubud seems to mean “after 10pm”); Special Events, where chefs will put their best plate forward for your personal tasting pleasure.

For those with the energy or kilojoules to work off as a result, there are food tours and workshops. Festival tickets are now on sale.

Farewell

It was sad to see on Apr. 17 that Gerard Delhaes, one of Lombok’s more quietly visible expats, had died. He was in his early seventies, which from the perspective of many in his age cohort, is far too young to shuffle off.

We must all do so eventually, of course. This fact of life begins to become a conscious response to successive birthdays at some point after the hubris of invincible youth is sensibly foregone. But it is nonetheless difficult to deal with friends’ departures. They are always untimely.

Hector’s Diary appears in the fortnightly newspaper the Bali Advertiser.

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, May 13, 2015

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

The Full Farce of the Law

Sometimes a diarist in the Pancasila Archipelago finds himself wishing he were Archie Clark-Kerr, the British ambassador in wartime Moscow famous for finding himself grateful for any little shafts of light that came his way from heaven. He memorialized one such rarity in 1943 in a rather outré note he typed himself. It reported to the Foreign Office in London the arrival in the beleaguered Soviet capital of a new Turkish envoy called Mustapha Kunt.

There are precious few shafts of light from heaven or anywhere else around here at the moment. Instead, clouds of judicial and political imprudence (readers may wish to regard the ‘r’ as silent) darken the scene.

Susi Johnston, the long-time American resident of Bali whose home was serially invaded by thugs plainly connected with a bid by a woman who was not the nominee to acquire the property at Johnston’s expense, has had many days in court. None of them have been productive of anything except unintelligible bumf and rulings more suited to fictional Ruritania than to factional Indonesia, which aspires to leadership in South-East Asia.

The nominee system is of course outside the law. Lots of lawyers are driving expensively shiny black motor cars on the back of this winked-at illegality. The new Minister of Land Law (who is also director-general of the department) is conducting an audit of foreign-owned residential property to ensure that none continues to be held under this acquisitive fiction, on pain of confiscation to the financial detriment of any foreigners who haven’t regularized their titles prior to seizure. Possibly a lot more lawyers are planning to acquire expensively shiny black motor cars given this latest opportunity to charge outrageous fees to achieve nil result.

That aside, Johnston’s experience with home invasions and ex-nominees is highly instructive. A panel of judges in Denpasar District Court recently heard a criminal case brought by the police against three miscreants alleged to have thrice smashed up Johnston’s home at Mengwi, removed its contents to a handily waiting truck, and terrorized her for two years in the home she and her late husband built.

The judges – two of whom then immediately departed Denpasar for judicial posts elsewhere in Indonesia – found all three not guilty of any crime. They are, therefore, innocent, at least in the judicial meaning of that word. Most of us would be happy, granted, if we were in fact innocent of the charges on which we had been arraigned in court. Some of us might even celebrate that fact, judiciously, a little later, outside the precincts of the court in question.

Not these three however, who attended on the day the judges’ decision was to be handed down and sentences (if any) were to be meted out. They were supported by a group of male persons whom some have described as thugs. We were not in court and can make no assessment ourselves of their thuggish nature. They did however engage in scenes of fist-pumping and shouted approbation when their three friends were cleared, took group selfies, and threatened a female journalist covering the case.  Anywhere else this disgraceful display would have been seen as contempt of court worthy of reprimand if not penalty.

If all this leaves a foul taste in your mouth, then while it may not take the taste away, be assured it is a sensation that is fully shared by your diarist – and by anyone else, anywhere, who would prefer not to have to regard the law as a complete farce.

Bright Ideas Department

Perhaps President Joko Widodo is under even more pressure to perform to someone else’s prescription than has been evident thus far. He has now appeared publicly in populist mode promoting a threat to revoke the licences of private hospitals that refuse to treat people on their government issued health cards.

He’s missing the point. No hospital worthy of licensing would turn away an emergency case, but private hospitals are not bits of the health infrastructure that government doesn’t have to bother funding. “Socialisme” is, well, rather passé. Just ask China.

A more reasonable view is that private hospitals should participate in and support government programs to provide health care for the poor. The President would most likely find the private hospital sector keen to play a role in raising the standard of health of the population.

This would necessarily come at a price. The government could (and arguably it should) support private hospital programs for health card holders by allowing them to access the affordable medication, consumables and other incentives that are afforded to public hospitals.

Shot in the Dark

A lot of people have said quite a lot about the executions of six convicted drug traffickers at Nusa Kambangan Island in Central Java on Apr. 29. More will be said in coming months as the law of unintended consequences catches up with President Widodo. The executions – and those which preceded them as well as any that may follow – will not stop trafficking.

The drug problem that the President says he will stop by ignoring his commitment to human rights and instead having people routinely shot dead just after midnight is a modern phenomenon of cities and tourist centres found around the globe. And while international trafficking is a serious problem, the real problem and the real criminal organizers of it are home-grown.

It will not be countered by risible circuses demonstrating state power, such as the deployment of Sukhoi fighters to Bali to fly cover for the chartered aircraft transporting Bali Nine prisoners Myuran Sukumaran, who became an artist in jail, and Andrew Chan, who took holy orders while incarcerated, to their place of death. Or by the contingents of armed police that were also, astonishingly, deemed necessary.

Transporting two convicts can be done, with the assistance of handcuffs if necessary, by police and prison officers. Barnum & Bailey three-ring circuses are superfluous. Both men had become model prisoners who had contributed to rehabilitation programs at Kerobokan that are a tribute both to them and to the prison authorities.

We’re aware of certain darker elements in Sukumaran’s post-conviction behaviour that are not to his credit, but that’s rather beside the point now and in any case predated his obvious rehabilitation. Neither he nor Chan was going to attempt to escape. The Australian SAS was not going to swoop from the sky and snatch them away.

The President’s predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and members of the new government from the vice-president down seem to have understood this very well. They offered advice that it was possible to look at things on a case by case basis – and at the execution orders when these were slipped across the presidential desk for signature. They advised that Indonesia’s real interests would be better served by pulling back from the “kill everyone” formula. Even Prabowo Subianto, Jokowi’s strongman rival last year when the President was running on a human rights ticket, said so.

There is now a revitalized push among Indonesians to abolish capital punishment. It’s unlikely to go anywhere fast; but things are moving – and that’s forward, not backwards.

Ah, Daylight!

And now for some light relief: the Bali program of the 2015 Europe on Screen festival in Indonesia. This was at Pan Pacific Nirwana at Tanah Lot on May 2-3. It’s a great location to watch a movie. The waves rolling into the beach almost seem part of the film set.

The film on May 3 was Daglicht (Daylight) made by Eyeworks in the Netherlands in 2013 and directed by Diederik van Rooijen. It was adapted from the 2008 book by Marion Pauw that won the Golden Noose Dutch Crime award. The film stars Angela Schijf and is a little noir (it also has a different ending). But it deals in a compelling way with autism and the plot keeps you on your toes. The English subtitling was very good. Perhaps for Indonesian screenings subtitling should also be in Bahasa.

We had a chat with producer Judith Hees about films in the works. That was another highlight of the evening. Eyeworks, whose main work is in TV, made the series What Really Happens in Bali. We didn’t chat about that.

The film on May 2 was the British production Rush (2013) portraying the merciless 1970s rivalry between Formula One rivals James Hunt and Niki Lauda. The Europe on Screen Bali program was supported by the charity SoleMen, whose best foot forward Robert Epstone was present. He was shoeless but in fine form as always.

Hector tweets @ scratchings on Twitter. His diary appears in the print and online editions of the Bali Advertiser http://www.baliadvertiser.biz