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THINGS THAT INTEREST, ENGAGE AND ENRAGE

Category: Indonesia

True Glue

HECTOR’S DIARY

HectorR

His regular diet of worms and other non-religious fare

The Cage, Bali

Jun. 7, 2017

 

LONG-TIME Indonesia hand Keith Loveard has a fine column in the July edition of GlobeAsia, the Lippo Group business magazine. He wrote it on Pancasila Day (Jun. 1). It’s titled Pacasila and why it matters.

He noted that it was a public holiday but that his children had been to school for a ceremony to mark the day, though a lot of their classmates hadn’t turned up. He wrote: “This appears to be not because of any deep-seated disagreement with the state ideology but because their families couldn’t be bothered…  Their mothers had been complaining on their WhatsApp group that it was a holiday, why should they have to go to school. One mother suggested that the holiday should have been switched to the Friday, instead of the Thursday, so everyone could have yet another long weekend.”

In one sense, that’s fairly typical of the “new Indonesia” of the growing middle classes. It addresses none of the real issues that beset the miskin, the poor on whose backs others are getting rich. The western sickness of selfish advantage has firmly taken root.

But that’s beside the point, in this instance. The Pancasila principles, first enunciated by Bung Sukarno as the leitmotif of newly independent Indonesia, are a glue that can help bind together the disparate peoples and cultural traditions of the archipelago. Without them, as Loveard notes, Indonesia would almost certainly fracture. Balkanisation is a bad idea, fraught with danger and promissory of nothing other than riches in some parts and abject deprivation in most of the others.

Pancasila has become tainted in some eyes by its invitation to practise mind control on one hand, and on another, to deflect the aim of the Islamists.

Loveard writes: “In the nearly three decades in which I have been privileged to observe this remarkable country, there have been many changes. That of greatest concern is the gradual loss of identity. Indonesia has been consumed by Western-style materialism and more recently by a process of Arabisation. While they rush off to the shopping malls that dot the landscape like noxious landmines, Indonesians have increasingly adopted the dress codes – and the intolerance – of Saudi Wahabbism.  This has been accompanied by the profound hypocrisy of those who promote austere beliefs for political ends. The spiritual essence of beliefs rooted in thousands of years of tradition and individual experience is now being dismissed as unholy by those who appear to have a minimal understanding of what religion should be about: the personal search of the individual to make peace with the universe. This has been replaced by an insistence on narrow formality.
It is entirely appropriate that the government should be launching a drive to re-awaken the appreciation of Pancasila as a guiding tool for the maintenance of the nation. Yet is this too late?”

Bali, among many other component parts of Indonesia, must surely be hoping that it is not too late.

Zakat Puasa

WE have our rubbish taken away from The Cage, more or less regularly, by a lovely little fellow and his wreck of a truck. He takes it away to the official dump. He has a number of customers in our area (though sadly most people, Indonesians and foreigners alike, continue to dump their trash over the wall where it’s out of sight and therefore out of mind, or burn it and its poisonous plastic willy-nilly). We pay him the monthly going rate, which isn’t much, and he sometimes forgets, mid-month, that we’ve paid him at all, and needs a smiling reminder that we have.

This month it’s Ramadan, so we gave him a bonus. He was surprised to hear the words “zakat puasa” uttered to him at the house of a Bule; almost as surprised as was the Hajji we ran into in Lombok a year or so ago to whom we said “Salam Hajji”. Bules (“white” and assumed to be practising Christian foreigners) are widely held not to know about such things. It is known that we are People of the Book (though a better transliteration of the Arabic ′Ahl al-Kitāb gives you “people of an earlier revelation”) but in the 21st century a large preponderance of western dhimmis are dummies about that too. Such is the sickening polarisation of the Abrahamic religions these days.

In the wake of the London attack on Jun. 3, and the many heinous events that preceded it, it was good to be able to reflect on the essential community of the human spirit. We know, from our own Muslim friends, that what many Muslims see as the dissolute lifestyle of the west offends them, though they also know that it’s none of their business. Actually, a lot of western dimness offends us too, and we’ve made this point to them, and others, now and then, in conversation.

There is absolute agreement, incidentally, on what to do about terrorists. It’s what the British police did so brilliantly on the evening of Jun. 3. In eight minutes, all three were shot dead. It’s a policy that strikes us as a perfect fit. You can talk to anyone, of whatever view, and seek solutions – except to armed terrorists who have already killed people and are intent on continuing their mad action. They are like rabid dogs that should be put down instantly.

Oh Yes, Rabies

WE allowed ourselves a hollow laugh – we briefly considered a mad bark, but reminded ourselves in the nick of time of the old adage that discretion is the better part of valour – when we read that Bali’s deputy governor, Ketut Sudikerta, told a meeting of Indonesian and American academics in Denpasar on May 30: “Rabies continues to be a problem for all of us. I hope that all the academics can seek a solution and devise concrete steps to combat rabies based on careful study and research.”

He can’t be challenged on his first assertion. Rabies certainly continues to be a problem in Bali. His wish that academics can seek a solution and devise concrete steps to combat rabies based on careful study and research deserves another classification.

After rabies was identified here in 2008 – that’s nine years ago, in case anyone’s still bothering to count anything – a pilot rabies suppression program using globally proven methodology was implemented by the government in partnership with a locally based animal welfare charity. It was successful through stage one of the program. Then it was handed over to the government. And then it went nowhere.

It isn’t done, here, to point out such demerits. There are sensitivities (see “mad bark”, above) as well as matters such as community education. There are also around 160 people (on official figures of doubtful veracity) who are no longer with us today because they’ve died of rabies, either quietly or furiously, depending on which symptomatic variety of that preventable disease they’ve had the misfortune to contract. People, and dogs, are still dying of rabies, though not at the peak levels of earlier years. None of them have been foreign tourists, or Indonesians with enough money to fly away and get proper post-exposure treatment immediately.

Dogs are the rabies reservoir here. Any dog can get rabies (some people seem to think it’s only certain breeds or cross-breeds) and indeed, any mammal. That’s why humans are at risk. We’ve noted before that nowhere in Bali can safely be regarded as free of rabies, including right in the middle of crowded tourist areas. It only takes one rabid dog to kill people. Just saying.

Perhaps the academics from Udayana and the University of Minnesota, enthused by the deputy governor’s clear grasp of the direction and effort that Bali needs to make to eradicate rabies as a statistical risk, will choose to revisit and recommend the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and World Health Organization’s proven methodology. Bali has tried these approaches, as the deputy governor and others will remember. It’s very effective in the field, if those doing the legwork are also effective.

Splash Out

IT’S World Oceans Day on Jun. 8, celebrated unofficially on that date since its original proposal in 1992 by Canada’s International Centre for Ocean Development (ICOD) and the Ocean Institute of Canada (OIC) at the Rio Earth Summit. Locally, the ROLE Foundation has taken a leading role in efforts to reverse damage to Bali’s marine environment caused by lack of waste management on the island.

As ROLE founder Mike O’Leary notes, the informal nature of waste collection has led to mountains of illegal landfills, burning waste and just dumping it in the ocean. ROLE is building Bali’s first Zero Waste to Ocean Education and Demonstration Centre on the southern Bukit near Nusa Dua, to educate and encourage tourists and locals to be environmentally responsible with waste.

On Jun. 8 it’s organised an event with speakers, a debate on the topic “By 2050, there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish”, drinks, networking opportunities and more. It will also kick off the Clean Oceans Diveathon – a reef clean up by scuba dive centres. An online auction associated with the event closes at 6pm (Jun. 8). Visit the bidding site here.

The Zero Waste to Ocean Education Centre is at Jl. Celagi Nunggul 101, Sawangan (Nusa Dua).

HectorR

Hector also writes a monthly diary in the Bali Advertiser. The next will appear on Jun. 21.

Beggaring Belief

 

HECTOR’S DIARY

HectorR

His regular diet of worms and other (usually) non-religious fare

The Cage, Bali

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

 

FAITH is a personal compact between a person and his or her deity. The faithful, of any ilk, should be honoured for their commitment to a life beyond secular concerns and for the higher calling that this condition imposes. Those who study their religious texts and who seek to live within the strictures these impose, are honourable people.

In the secular west – fundamentally these days a godless society – these things, and the various deities in whom a great many people believe, are often scoffed at or made the topic of comedic intervention. That is wrong, when the objective is only to get a cheap laugh. It’s possible – or it should be so in a rational society – to debate the existence of God. It’s plain rude just to slag off at people who believe, if you yourself don’t.

The three Abrahamic religions, each of which sprang from the Levant or its contiguous desert interior without any intervention from Europeans until after their invention (a seminal fact that Europeans should note and really should try very hard to comprehend) share syncretic theologies, a melange of mythologies, and, in the Old Testament, a common liturgical origin. Yet each has historically been at war with the others (and often with themselves) forever, philosophically if not actually.

That’s a rather cursive way to get into a matter of current concern in Indonesia, but it’s necessary to set the parameters of debate and to avoid stepping unnecessarily on possibly angry toes. Of course, the problem is far wider than just the archipelago. Islam’s sectarian schism leaves the former fatal fractures within Christianity for dead, so to speak.

In Indonesia, where, except for Aceh, Islam has traditionally adopted a Southeast Asian rather than an Arabian face over the half a millennium of its establishment here, a more fundamentalist mind-set is taking root. That cannot be denied. Neither can its future risk to the integrity of Indonesia if it flourishes.

The proselytes of Indonesian Islamic fundamentalism assert that theology is the driver of their intentions. It’s perfectly possible to encourage deeper religiosity in the faithful, and to prescribe firmer and more restrictive patterns of social behaviour for them, from a philosophical standpoint. It’s when the boys with the bother boots take to the streets that problems emerge. There’s very little that’s philosophical about a mob armed with sharpened sticks and intent on enforcing their own interpretations of Ramadan rules, after all. These actions may be clothed in Islamic cloth, but their purpose is political – it is to manoeuvre government policy – and thus is plainly secular.

There’s an interesting article in The Diplomat, written by Benedict Rodgers – for context: he’s East Asia team leader for the human rights organisation Christian Solidarity Worldwide – that illustrates the point. He instances a broken long-term friendship between two fifteen-tear-old girls at a Jakarta high school, one Christian, the other Muslim. Rodgers reports that the Christian girl got a phone call from her Muslim friend telling her: “We can no longer be friends. My God does not allow me to be friends with people like you.” It sounds almost apocryphal, or would if the messages that are coming out of the mosques weren’t couched in similarly simplistic and fundamentally threatening terms.

There’s much more than this to Rodgers’ article, which is very readable. He cites the conviction and imprisonment of now former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok), a Christian Chinese-Indonesian, for blasphemy; and Aceh, church burning, death threats and other signals of restrictive intent. He warns that Indonesia could become Pakistan.

That’s a bit dire, and Rodgers says so himself in the article. Indonesian culture is very far from those of the sub-continent and (like anywhere else) Pakistan is what it is because of its own cultural mix, not someone else’s. But it’s understandable that other Islamic sects, moderate Sunnis (the great majority) and other religious communities should feel deep concern.

The real risk, and the real warning that needs to echo through the rainbow archipelago, is that doltish insistence on Islamic exclusivity will ultimately risk fracturing Indonesia. Political figures whose vision fails to extend beyond the next convenient deal and endless machinations to buy votes should consider that. Seriously.

That said, there is some brighter news. Rizieq Shihab, head of the Islamic Defenders Front (the FPI), faces arrest when he returns from Saudi Arabia if he fails to answer his third summons from police – he ignored the first two, of course – to answer questions about alleged breaches of the anti-pornography law. He wanted the porn laws and he influenced their scope. What an interesting case this will be.

It’s That Man Again

THE unedifying spectacle of Donald Trump shoving through the throng and shouldering lesser leaders out of the way to get to the front of the photo opportunity at the NATO summit last week, and then posing, Mussolini-like, complete with superior grin, is further evidence that real-estate shysters and reality TV hosts do not necessarily make good leaders.

They said of No. 45 that he probably needed time to become presidential. Time was not the only thing he needed, as events and growing awareness that they’ve been duped among many who voted for him last November now show. Some character would have helped. H.L. Mencken, who in the 1920s predicted that profane and populist politics meant that America would one day have an imbecile for its president, would be rolling his eyes if he were not rolling in his grave.

Trump still has a cheer squad, of course, not all of it confined to America where he’s making things grate again. We saw an Asia-based Australian observer’s view this week that suggested his hard line on NATO funding and self-reliance had paid off, because German Chancellor Angela Merkel had said publicly that America’s allies needed to do more.

They do. You get what you pay for. But the obverse of that coin, for “the leader of the free world” (whatever that is) and his country, is a proportionate reduction in America’s clout within NATO. That mightn’t be quite what the master of the universe is looking for, but it would be no bad thing, since the Custer gene remains ascendant.

Sent Home 

SCHAPELLE Corby, 39, the Australian woman who was convicted of drug trafficking in Bali in 2005 and spent nine years behind bars before being paroled three years ago, was deported from Indonesia on May 27. Immigration authorities put her on a plane to Australia. That is all.

HectorR

Hector writes a diary in the Bali Advertiser. It appears monthly. The current diary was published on May 24 and the next will appear on Jun. 21.

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.

A Ridiculous Travesty

Bali, May 9, 2017

THERE are several things that can be said about the two-year jail sentence meted out to Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaya Purnama (Ahok) for his astoundingly correct but politically incautious observation that matters of religion are often subject to varying interpretations.

One is that no one sentient would argue with his point. But he knew, or he should have known, that he was dealing with the wall-eyed crowd from the Islamic Defenders Front, the FPI, which apparently believes rational thought is a pernicious disease found only in kafirs who ignorantly and unwisely follow other, haram, religions.

Another is that Ahok, who is not a good politician (that’s not necessarily a bad thing) and who has a habit of tripping over wires more cautious beings would see in plain sight, was setting himself for a fall. He is a Christian of Indonesian Chinese ethnicity and Jakarta, like most places in the crowded bits of Indonesia, is predominantly a Muslim city.

Anywhere else his faith and ethnicity would be at most a talking point. In Indonesia, where the full sunlight of daytime still has to fall on many things, including good governance and a true sense of participatory national feeling (beyond regional and often obtuse pejoratives) Ahok was foolish to disturb the mediaeval shadows that still inform much Indonesian discourse and significant elements of its culture.

That said, it passes belief that a court would sentence a leading public official to two years in jail for making a general statement with which even a scholarly Islamic cleric would have difficulty arguing. Muslims believe that the Qur’an is literally the word of God. The supporting liturgy with which Islam has equipped itself over the 1,400 years since Mohammad received the word explains and (arguably) sets in context the revelations of the Qur’an. The Hadiths can be interpreted. The Qur’an cannot: It simply is.

Non-Muslims – and even Muslims themselves if they wish to stick a toe into headstrong waters – are equally entitled to suggest that rationality deserves a place in Islamic thinking. But these are things for scholarly debate, not for political argument. That much is common sense, for one thing, as well as polite.

That such politeness is generally not reciprocated, sent in the other direction – from those who repeat the unarguable word of God from the minarets and then apply this deist fiat to political dispatch boxes now found in many a mosque – is by the way. The nuance of the Christian New Testament, where an eye for an eye is sensibly replaced by two wrongs not making a right, is absent from the Qur’an. That is, unless you read it with an eye that suggests things may have changed, not to mention word usage, over nearly a millennium and a half.

Perhaps other, less hide-bound, jurists than the panel that sat on the bench at Ahok’s trial will amend the judgement of that court on appeal. They certainly should. It is for expert jurists to determine whether Indonesia’s blasphemy laws were broken by the otherwise inoffensive comment the governor of Jakarta made to lower economic status electors whose votes were being sought by his opponents. The fact that Indonesia has blasphemy laws – it’s not unique in this: such laws exist, for example, in the overwhelmingly Catholic Republic of Ireland among other places – is beside the point, though it sits rather oddly with the Pancasila principles and rather a lot of modern life.

So those who would like to see Indonesia become Raya (Greater Indonesia) should today be considering the appalling damage that has been done to their cause by the judges of the Jakarta court who decided to jail Ahok on a trumped up political charge of blasphemy.

Among those who should be worrying about great things, as opposed to banal political manoeuvres, however useful these may be to themselves, is former army general Prabowo Subianto. His political pal beat Ahok in last month’s gubernatorial election with the significant assistance of the blasphemy charge, and will become governor in October.

It worked as a political tactic. For that, it required neither moral judgement nor an ethical base. In fact, the absence of these benefits was a decided plus.

But it has seriously dented Indonesia’s claim to be a leading light in Southeast Asia on the basis of its moral authority and its economy. If Prabowo’s vision for Indonesia Raya includes dressing up political manoeuvres in mediaeval misapprehensions, then his vision won’t be seen as great by many people at all, except for a bunch of fundamentalists who insist that Islam is Indonesia’s only way, and who happily blaspheme other religious beliefs (free of penalty) to maintain this flat-footed, fat-headed proposition and their place near the centre of power.

It may well be true that the real target of these shenanigans is President Joko Widodo and that Ahok is simply collateral damage on the way to Prabowo’s great Indonesia, which he will almost certainly campaign on for the next presidential elections.

But that makes it even more dangerous, as well as worse, more venal, and thoroughly banal. In a word: It’s the Trump card.

Bali Daze

HECTOR’S DIARY

HectorR

in the Bali Advertiser

Wednesday, Apr. 26, 2017

THEY do things differently there. That used to be something people said of the past, as in its being a foreign country. In the tried and true practice of Bali, however, doing things differently is something those who rule the island prefer to do in the present. The past is historic and mythical. The future hasn’t yet arrived and is therefore notional and can take care of itself.

Those among with long memories (that is, more than the preceding 12 months) will recall earlier schemes where attachment to reality somehow failed to find its way into the master plan. The round-island railway comes to mind. There are others, but we won’t go on. It is proposed to construct an offshore airport near Singaraja on the north coast, where the submerged landform goes gazompa in a steeply downward direction as soon as the narrow coral fringe of coastal water ends. The scheme got another airing recently. We’d love to see the engineering plans (not the pretty public relations guff; that’s useless).

As usual, the timeframe for development is hysterical. And we’ll ignore the economics, since everyone else is. But these are of no moment. This is Bali. What might be of interest are two elements of the engineering required for the offshore airport and its onshore supporting infrastructure – including the lengthy Jasa Marga toll road proposed to link the south and the north through geologically unstable landforms and forests of unalienable adat ownership.

The runways, taxiways and standing areas for big aircraft require thousands of tonnes of concrete of a thickness that would mystify most Indonesian civil engineers. Keeping that afloat would be a challenge. And then there’s the question of how to engineer the thing to avoid its destruction by a standard-risk 10-metre tsunami.

Way to Go

THE innovative Program Dharma animal health project being run by Udayana University  with support from the international organisation IFAW and locally the Bali Animal Welfare Association is showing great results, which deserve notice. A pilot program in 28 banjars in Sanur (Denpasar) has reduced the rabies threat there to an observed zero incidence, supported community engagement that’s a great model for the government to follow and implement island wide, and improved health in the local dog population.

All of this has been done without unnecessary killing of street and beach dogs, whose right to exist – and to coexist with the human population – is unquestionable, or should be. By keeping itinerant dogs healthy, including by vaccinating them against rabies so that the protective screen against the disease remains effective, and getting banjars (local precincts) involved in caring for them, an integral part of Bali’s heritage can be preserved. There are signs that the authorities at provincial and regency level are at last recognising this.

There’s no shortage of assistance available from foreign sources, including financially. An equally innovative Japanese program, from Kumamoto in Kyushu, is in place. Kumamoto eliminated rabies in cats – the disease vector there – by focused effort and effective administration.

Go Divas!

170426 SYDNEY DIVAS

From left: Sydney Divas committee members Sharon Kelly, Christina Iskandar, Maria Antico, Jackie Brown and Amanda Molyneux at the Apr. 1 event.

CHRISTINA Iskandar, Sydney wife-mother-grandmother and former Bali fixture, isn’t someone to let the grass grow under her feet. The first-ever Sydney Divas charity lunch, on Apr. 1 at the Royal Motor Yacht Club, Point Piper, which we can safely say wouldn’t have happened without her, raised a very substantial sum for the Bali Children Foundation. The money is sufficient to help the children of an entire village, an outcome that is truly wonderful news. We wish we could have been there for the inaugural event, but Sydney is already in our travel plans for a little later this year – 2017 is a big year for really important birthdays – and dollar-deprived diarists are compelled to budget.

Iskandar’s now internationalised Divas, who started the money-raising round here in Bali a while ago – and whose local lunchtime affrays are always worth attending for their ambience and to check for fashion foibles – have given new meaning to charitable enterprise in Bali. The Australian connection was always there, but now Iskandar’s back in her old hometown, it’s stronger than ever.

There are many worthwhile charity causes here, but the Bali Children Foundation, run by Margaret Barry, is right at the centre of the discretionary dollar target.

A Gold Coast Divas charity lunch is to be held on May 26. It’s at Edgewater Dining, a tapas bar and restaurant on the Isle of Capri in the Nerang River, one of The Diary’s long-established stamping grounds.

Soft Cells

THERE is, as the old saying puts it, one born every minute. Apparently quite a few of them then visit Bali for holidays. We instance, in this case, a gentleman from Australia who complained to police that he had been unkindly robbed in a Kuta alley by a lady boy who had offered him a one-minute massage in that informal salon.

We have no view on the sexuality of others, or of their morals, provided they involve only consensual activity and harm no one. It has long been our belief that people are people, and that their peccadilloes are best left to their own decision. For example, the fact that American Vice-President Mike Pence might perhaps feel sexually uncomfortable if he was alone in a dining room with one of Betty Crocker’s fine confections, gives us nary a frisson of fear – as long as he’s never let anywhere near anything that actually matters.

Similarly, if idiotic tourists want to get drunk and imagine that they’re going to find nirvana in an alley way with a lady who owns an Adam’s apple, that’s their own affair. The “lady” in question shouldn’t steal the poor sap’s wallet, of course; and, despite the best efforts of the nightclub circuit here, exposing yourself in public is still frowned upon. But, well, whatever.

Changing Times

LIPPO Group’s takeover of BIMC is now complete, following the 2013 sale of the Nusa Dua and Kuta facilities by BIMC’s Australian principal Craig Beveridge (for Rp208 billion, around US$23 million at current exchange rates). In a rebranding this week (Apr. 26), the flagship facility at Nusa Dua becomes BIMC Siloam Nusa Dua. It’s formally a brand merger, but it also redirects the hospital’s operations towards local people – a positive direction to be warmly welcomed – while keeping a focus on tourist and foreign resident health care.

The hospital, which opened in 2012, has Australian Council on Healthcare Standards International (ACHSI) recognition. In March this year it added crucial Indonesian accreditation from KARS (the national hospital accreditation committee).

BIMC Director I A Made Ratih Komala Dewi, a medical doctor, says of the changes: “Now is the time for BIMC Siloam Nusa Dua to begin providing affordable, quality healthcare to the local market – essentially all of Bali’s communities now have greater access to all hospitals in the group including this fine facility.”

She adds that the merger will generate a positive market reaction once awareness and trust are built. “We are expecting a 40 per cent conversion rate of total patients from local communities. To support the awareness of the brand merger, BIMC Siloam will open a local polyclinic in Badung regency with more affordable prices without compromising healthcare quality.”

BIMC marketing manager Windarini Fransiska says: “We believe the rebrand isn’t just a logo, it’s an experience and one that’s shaped by every doctor, nurse, and associate who delivers it and with this all our stakeholders are on board.”

The BIMC Siloam polyclinic will accept patients (KTP, KITAS holders and those with local insurance) from Monday to Saturday. Specialists practising in the BIMC polyclinic include internal medicine specialists, ENT specialists, paediatricians, dentists, anaesthesiologists, obstetricians and gynaecologists, cardiologists, neurologists, general and orthopaedic surgeons, and surgical oncologists.

BIMC Siloam Nusa Dua is holding an open house on Apr. 28-29 and May 5-6 so the public can see its facilities and inquire about its services.

For Your Diaries

RAMADHAN, the Islamic month of fasting, starts on May 26 this year (at sunset) and runs to Jun. 24.

HectorR

Hector’s Bali Advertiser diary is published monthly. The next will appear on May 24. He writes a blog diary as well, between times.

Capital Capers

HECTOR’S DIARY

His diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

HectorR

The Cage, Bali

Apr. 22, 2017

 

IT’S a shame that Basuki Tjahaya Purnama (Ahok) lost Wednesday’s ballot for mayor of Jakarta. He has shown a commitment to civic service that’s rare anywhere, but rarer still in Indonesia, where winning office is so often a licence to snooze between fulminations. It’s even more of a shame that he was defeated with the rowdy assistance of the zealots of the Islamic Defenders Front, the FPI, and under the shadow of an inventive blasphemy charge that had still to be adjudicated in court.

But it is only Jakarta, the mayor is only the governor of the capital city province, and the world as Indonesia knows it won’t end because General Prabowo Subianto’s good friend will be in office in that municipality from October. Neither, fundamentally, does it matter that Ahok is a Christian and his successful opponent is Muslim. He won the vote in the ballot office in the Jakarta district where the FPI has its headquarters. He can get a smile, and take heart, from that, as can we all. Most Indonesians are Muslim. Most would most like their leaders just to get on with their day jobs and go to mosque on Friday like they all do.

So it’s a time for cool heads rather than screaming and shouting and running around the burning deck. The deck isn’t burning, for one thing. The new mayor may think that he has won some national role, but the citizens of his shambles of a city will mark him (once he takes office and has to actually deliver anything) on far more prosaic matters. Service delivery, infrastructure improvement, and other measures of local governance have very little to do with Indonesia Raya, ex-general Prabowo’s favourite tin drum; or with fundamental interpretations of Islam, the FPI’s fixation.

Ahok won’t go to jail for his non-offence in quoting from the Qur’an in a political context. The charge has achieved its objective: he lost the election. The boys with the beards and the bother boots didn’t want a Christian in charge.

It’s not Armageddon, but it is, as many have said, a sorry day for Indonesian democracy. Two steps back after one stumble forward isn’t progress.

Wake Up, Little Susi

THERE’S a lovely pop song from the 1950s that sprang to mind this week, when maritime minister Susi Pujiastuti told the Japanese that Southeast Asia’s leading economic power needed the borrow their superseded maritime radar systems on a permanent, non-returnable basis. The key lines go like this:

Wake up little Susie, Wake up

Wake up little Susie, Wake up 

We’ve both been sound asleep

Wake up little Suzie and weep

The movie’s over it’s four o’clock 

and we’re in trouble deep

There’s no doubt at all that Minister Susi is right when she notes that Indonesia needs maritime radar to properly administer and keep the waterways of the archipelagic nation safe. But she needs to wake up (so do a lot of other people). There are many things that are beyond the sensible financial scope of Indonesia’s central government. Expensively unnecessary military hardware falls into that category, along with other toys, and a lot of brown envelopes. Maritime safety does not. It is a question of priorities.

The somnolently boring mendicant movie is indeed over. It’s late, but it’s still not too late for Indonesia’s government to wake up and work it out.

Bless You

WE saw a note the other day from a Facebook friend who had just commenced a camping trip in the New Mexico high country, along the lovely upper reaches of the Rio Grande, and posted a photo to show it. It looked beautiful. It would be great to tramp through that area, and we sent along a cheery greeting and an inquiry as to whether the party had plenty of DEET.

Something must have gone missing in the translation. By return post we were informed that pollen wasn’t a problem this early in the season. That was good to know. But it was sneezes of a different sort that had concerned us. DEET is a very effective anti-flea agent in insect repellents. New Mexico – like Arizona next door, where they even have bumper stickers proclaiming “The Land of the Flea and the Home of the Plague”, plus Colorado and California – is the most affected part of the western USA where, as the health leaflets put it, plague occurs naturally. Every year.

It probably got to the New World with the flea-ridden Spanish conquistadors from plague-ridden Europe centuries ago, though most plague ships of that era were Mary Celestes in the making, but officially it arrived during the 1898-1910 pandemic, the gift that Burma gave to the 20th century.

Fleas on prairie dogs (burrowing rodents) are its chief host. But dogs and cats can get it, along with bears, squirrels, rabbits, and sundry other creatures, including people; and other ground dwelling rodents are natural carriers. But perhaps Taos County is too elevated for prairie dogs. Plague is generally a summer disease. There were four human cases in New Mexico last year.

HectorR

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

PLN’s Best Day

HECTOR’S DIARY

in the Bali Advertiser

HectorR

Wednesday, Mar. 29, 2017

 

IT was Nyepi yesterday (Mar. 28): Bali’s Silent Day. It is celebrated on the first new moon in March – at the same time as Indian Hindus mark their festival of Ugadi – and ushers in the Balinese New Year. It was then 1939 when we were again lawfully allowed to pop the kettle on to make a nice cuppa.

On Nyepi day, as is now well known even by challenged Australian tourists and most Chinese whose package tour operators failed to remind them that they’d be confined to barracks, very little happens in Bali.

The streets are deserted, except for Pecalang patrols checking to see that everyone’s indoors being quiet and contemplating no one’s navel except their own, and any emergency vehicle that’s been let out on duty with an authorised blue flashing light. So the road system copes quite well. Electricity use plummets by 40 per cent, which means PLN can meet demand, also a novel one-day-a-year arrangement.

The airport remains officially operational. It must, as an international airport, so it can function as a landing place for 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, we 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 are still guests in someone else’s homeland, and guests should 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 parents 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.

Miscreants and Others

BALI’S courts seem to have been processing job lots of foreigners lately, for the usual run-of-the-mill offences like drugs (“I didn’t know it was illegal”) and killing people. We sympathise with the judiciary, which has a tough enough job dealing with Indonesian-speaking criminals without having to cope with idiot visitors who can’t understand what’s being said, or the procedural practices of Indonesian law and the courts, and who probably shouldn’t have been allowed on the planes that brought them here in the first place. Such is life, in the age of mass tourism.

It’s true of course, if you believe the inmates that is, that jails everywhere are full of innocent people. The scope and range of implausible excuses is infinite. Criminal law is an interesting area, but we couldn’t take it. Our fuse is not long enough.

That’s why we took up scribbling for a living (though the living bit is moot these days). As so many assume is their right to tell you, it’s easy to fulminate. You just need an outwardly imperturbable nature and a thick skin. Though to do so sensibly, in the hope of encouraging objective thinking, in yourself or in others, you must be broadly informed. Sadly, Google long ago declared this practice archaic. These days you just cherry pick by cut-and-paste to reinforce only what you want to believe.

In the specific instance of the thrill of the moment, the trials of Briton David Taylor and Australian Sara Connor for the killing of a policeman on Kuta Beach on Aug. 17 last year, it’s appropriate to note that the sentences plainly reflect a very full judicial assessment of all the circumstances.

Taylor, a DJ whose performance name and apparently preferred lifestyle is Nutso but who sensibly shed his dreadlocks and his attitude for his trial, has accepted his six-year sentence. Connor, a mother of two (which some non-Indonesians seem to believe should mediate sentencing policy) was at last report considering counsel’s advice that she should appeal. She got four years. Our advice would be to cop that sweet.

Traditional Dress

SOME people are said to think that Governor Pastika went a bit over the top in his choice of attire when he said cheerio to King Salman of Saudi Arabia at the end of his extended stay. The Governor wore traditional Balinese dress. King Salman wore traditional Saudi dress.

They could have swapped, perhaps, just for the heck of it and the photo opportunities. But the Governor is Balinese. Why shouldn’t he turn out in full ceremonial rig for a ceremonial occasion? Bali’s unique culture deserves protection – and promotion. King Salman seems perfectly content with the notion that Bali is not part of Arabia Felix. Apparently he has the same opinion about the rest of Indonesia. This will disappoint only very few people.

Multilingual Cats

WE spent a lovely weekend recently as house guests at a villa in the Ubud area, an establishment where the two resident cats – kittens, really, and rescue animals at that – are showing remarkable linguistic aptitude. The household is French-speaking. The help is Indonesian. The visitors in this instance were from the Anglo side of the resident foreigner community.

We took along a couple of toys for the cats to play with. They seemed to enjoy them. One of them even went as far as to purr in our presence, a very high honour. But what impressed us most was that they seemed to be equally at home all three languages, as well as being completely fluent, as you’d expect, in their own Meow.

We tried our French on one of them, a lovely little ginger fellow whose name – surprise – is Ginger. In French, that’s “Jzhonzh-air”. He is the one who had purred at us. We think we got a meow in response. But it could have been a meh. Such a put-down! French vowels have so often brought us undone. We were in Paris once and were trying to find the Louvre, and got sent to the pissoir instead.

Ah, Yes, that Rabies Thing

IT won’t go away. It won’t, at least, until Bali’s authorities find some way to get really serious about it, and apply to the reduction and eventual elimination of rabies the established rules and practices that work everywhere else. The island’s new compact with the Japanese city of Kumamotu might help there. It is designed to put in place a controlled and properly administered program of the same sort that was commenced here in 2009, was then handed over to the local authorities, and then fell in a heap.

We know from reports in the local media that rabies-positive dogs have recently bitten people in the Bangli, Tabanan and Jembrana regencies. As usual, there was the absence of ready access to vaccine to cope with. That really is something the health authorities need to get on top of right now. Rabies is a zoonotic disease (human infections are from animal vectors) in the same way as plague is, for example. It is also 100 per cent fatal, unlike plague. But prevalence of zoonotic disease in close proximity to human populations indicates an absence of effort to eradicate it, including by spending the money required to do so. This is not something any local government should permit.

Rabies has been known to be present in Bali since 2008. It is unsafe to assume that any area of the island is free of it. We should remember that it started on the Bukit, not far from that popular draw-card, the GWK cultural park, and will certainly still be present there. It does seem, anecdotally, that infection levels in dogs are now at relatively low levels. That’s a benefit.

But all it takes is one dog. Someone who drives around in a plush government supplied SUV should have a real think about that.

HectorR

Hector’s Diary in the Bali Advertiser appears in every second issue. Follow 8degreesoflatitude.com for more up to the minute material.

 

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.

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.