8degreesoflatitude

THINGS THAT INTEREST, ENGAGE AND ENRAGE

Category: Indonesia

Born Free

 

HECTOR’S DIARY

The Cage, Bali

Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017

 

HECTOR IMAGE FOR BLOG

His regular diet of diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

 

THERE is a release, of sorts, in being relieved of the duty to write for a publication. You’re freer to write what you really think, in the patois of your choice, in the absence of a publisher’s preference for the Life Unmolested, and in a timeframe that suits your own elastic concept of deadlines. It’s a bit like being Truman Capote (though only in certain respects) except that he was famous and could deal with deadlines by simply ignoring them.

Those of us at the grafting end of the writer’s writ must obey those who pay. Or else the dosh does not materialise. So when there’s no dosh to be had, and you’re your own proprietor, publisher, editor and virtual printer, deadlines can take a back seat. Though not too far back: it’s sensible to remember Idi Amin’s advice that if you don’t want to vanish with a boot up the bum, you have to give the population something to hum.

As most of you know, Hector is a retired cockatoo. He squawks a lot (the habits of a lifetime are hard to retire and can’t be fobbed off with a gold watch) but only when he wants to, or can be bothered. A lot bothers him, of course. You’ll have noticed that too. He proposes to continue being bothered, because he can, and to do so on a malleable seven-day plan, from wherever his cage is situated. This is his first in that new milieu.

Cease and Desist

SUCH orders are given rather more frequently than might be understood in today’s media world, where genetically mixed American actresses becoming engaged to British princes fifth in line to the throne, and President Trump’s latest twittering insults to people outside the “native” white oligarchy he prefers to favour, are deemed more newsworthy than real events. Cease and desist sometimes has legal utility, though mostly it’s a waste of time (see Trump, above).

It would be nice if we could issue one against Nature, which is giving us a hard time in the central archipelago at present. It’s quite understandable that volcanoes should erupt from time to time – it’s what they do, after all – but it would really be much better if they could manage to stick to a schedule and advertise it. We’ve also had a cyclone, though it hit Central Java, the province of Yogyakarta, and East Java, where it killed 19 people, far harder than Bali and Lombok. It was unusual in forming inside the normal exclusion zone for cyclones (10S-10N, the equatorial belt) and was less powerful than those experienced in true cyclonic areas. They’re not unknown, but are rare. The climate change shamans did rain dances about it, of course.

UPDATE (Dec. 7): The Java cyclone death toll more than doubled to 41 in latest reports on the aftermath, including 25 people killed in a single landslide.

Notional Airline

WE try to love Garuda, which is up there with the high flyers for cabin service. We’ve even renewed our membership of its frequent flyer club, though we more frequently fly with other airlines that charge you less for the privilege of defying gravity.

Garuda is impossible to contact by phone. Its sales office in Kuta won’t even take calls. If you can’t book online – and that’s a mammoth struggle, mostly – you have to actually go to the office. It used to be at Nusa Dua, which is where we went two weeks ago when we needed to book flights to and from Lombok. It was there no longer, however, and the helpful security guard at the entrance to the Bali Collection shopping centre told us it had moved to Jimbaran Square. We worked out that this was actually Benoa Square and went there. There was an office but it was unoccupied. Other helpful security people at the scene told us the real one was at the Kuta Paradiso Hotel, in Kuta. We called Garuda’s customer service number (sic) and they gave us a number to call. It was the Kuta Paradiso Hotel. Um, thanks guys. So we went there and finally managed to buy tickets.

Our flight to Lombok was uneventful. The trolley dollies just managed to get round the packed cabin with the sweet buns and water bottles they were required to hand out. The pilot deserved credit for flying his Boeing 737-800 at what seemed to be just above stall speed, so that the flight time could stretch out to the required 30 minutes. (It’s 18 minutes Ngurah Rai to Lombok International at jet speed, at the most.)

Our flight back to Bali did not take place. Gunung Agung on Bali had spewed ash into the atmosphere in the interim. Lombok’s and Bali’s airports were open on the day we were due to fly – Dec. 1 – but Garuda had cancelled all its Lombok-Bali flights that day. You only found that out when you got to the airport. The melee inside – that is, past the melee of the security screening – was not to be borne, and we didn’t. We left the scene, got a taxi to Senggigi where we stayed overnight, and a boat to Bali next morning. Apparently Garuda’s interest in customer service does not extend to calling in extra staff to deal with reallocated flight requests in such situations. Our next task: to get a refund on our unused return tickets.

Scrofulous Scribbles

THE volcano drama has brought out the best – that’s as in, the worst – of the foreign scribblers who get paid for dramatizing events by interviewing people (or sometimes themselves) so they can gild the lily and get their names up in lights. This is especially so if they want to have a go at airlines that cancel flights not because volcanic ash is deadly to aircraft and possibly their crews and passengers, but because they’re on a mission to mess with the personal holiday plans of Mr or Ms Aggrieved. Fuckwits are a swiftly growing demographic (see – there’s one immediate benefit of blogging rather than writing for print). They’re ripe for satirising, and should be thus dealt with, as some brazen outlets have done. There was a lovely piece the other day, somewhere or other, which foretold shocking disaster for any Aussie tourists still stranded in Bali when the Bintang ran out.

The other side of that coin is seen in the sterling efforts of expatriates and locals alike in getting essentials such as food and water and basic medicines and health preservatives to the poor Balinese who have been shipped off to evacuation camps because their villages are in the volcano exclusion zone. There’s one camp in particular that we know of, at Kubu on the northeast slopes of Agung, where 110 people are living in appalling conditions. The charities I’m An Angel and Solemen Indonesia and others are helping out there, with donated funds. A food convoy the other day was met with smiles from people who in reality were close to tears of despair. That’s the human story. It’s not about poor Wozzer and Tosser, world travellers, yair, mate, whose sense of Anglosphere entitlement excludes consideration of anything beyond their own convenience.

Serial Affendi 

YES, we know. The shocking issue of dominant male versus submissive woman, the result of residual caveman genes and men’s stupidity, isn’t really something to laugh about. But nonetheless, we’ll keep trying. There really is humour in everything, if you look hard enough.

So we were pleased to see a report in The Straits Times on Nov. 28 about a chap in Singapore whose cerebral cognisance is so severely deficient that even though he was shouted at by his victim after he touched her thigh in a bar, he was not deterred from later touching her breast while her boyfriend had his arm around her.

Take a bow, Affendi Mohamed Noor, 54. You really are a prize chump. The annual Darwin Awards honour idiots who remove themselves from the gene pool by misadventure. There should be a Weinstein Award for those other idiots who apparently live by the motto, “I’ve Got a Prick, So I’ll Be One.”

 

HECTOR IMAGE FOR BLOG

Chin-chin!

Just Cruising

HECTOR’S DIARY

HectorR

In the Bali Advertiser

Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017

 

THE cruise market is big and likely to grow further, so it makes sense for Bali to have the capacity to effectively service this element of the tourism trade. The port of Benoa is the logical place to site the infrastructure required, and it seems that moves to do this are under way.

But people who choose to cruise the archipelago are not necessarily looking for the sort of artificial and determinedly kitsch resorts that dot other parts of the globe. Some may see the proposed Benoa Bay Port Excrescence, a real estate project by tycoon Tomy Winata, as a complementary exercise, but this is not necessarily so. There’s room for some remedial thinking on that score, particularly as the communities around the bay don’t like the idea at all and won’t shut up about it. Neither should they.

At the same time, Bali needs to move in tune with the changing global tourism market. A properly functioning cruise ship terminal fits that matrix and, if it’s built as an extension to the existing commercial port, it should not overly intrude on the rest of the environment. It might make the road traffic even worse, but nobody really seems to care about that.

A meeting on Aug. 1 set a September start date for development of the cruise ship terminal and projected completion by the end of next year. That timeframe’s tight, like most here. Never mind. No one seems to care about things like that either. It will be managed and operated by the state-owned port management company PT. Pelindo III.

There are also plans to develop Celukan Bawang in North Bali for the cruise trade, with work scheduled to commence in December and be complete by March next year. We must hope that the cement dries in time.

Essential Paper

PRESIDENT Joko Widodo, who was in Bali recently, said during his visit that one of the chief issues on his to-do-list, was the distribution of land certificates to the people of Bali. He handed out 5903 land certificates relating to title holdings in all Bali’s eight regencies and in Denpasar. He said 200,000 land certificates would be supplied in Bali this year and that all land on the island would have certificates by 2019.

This should go some way towards stopping the perennial problem of competing claims to ownership and might even – well, we can hope – help self-regulate asking prices. What it will certainly do is help Balinese families create real assets with property market benefits.

Attention Please

Robert Epstone, the barefoot British charity entrepreneur who puts both his soles and his soul into his pet project, Sole Men, provided us all with a lesson of another sort the other day. He posted on Facebook that he was attending the birthday party of another charitable Brit in the Sole Men ranks, nurse Sarah Chapman, after being injured in a machete attack he tried to prevent on an elderly woman. There was a photo of Epstone with a nasty pair of machete slices on his upper left arm. It was clearly a spoof, and the “wounds” were prosthetics, but you only saw that if you read on before making a comment.

That’s the danger in the social media these days. Almost everyone seems to be called Peter and they’re forever shouting “wolf” before checking whether what they think they’ve seen is in fact the neighbour’s poodle. Facebook and other platforms are peppered with people who like to fulminate about all the falsehoods they see, and then themselves fail to check the facts before putting finger to cursor, today’s instant and much less sentient equivalent of pen to paper. Ignorance is catching. We should all remember that too.

Sole Men does some great work and Epstone is a great promoter. Their work with the disadvantaged in Bali is a credit to them. Their Facebook is always worth a look-in.

New Look

SPEAKING of websites, the Intercontinental Bali Resort at Jimbaran has a new one. It offers virtual tours of the resort and its facilities – without which these days the competitive tourist dollar may well migrate elsewhere, after all – and the other interactive and phone-friendly bells and whistles that potential guests expect. Its director of public relations and marketing, Dewi Karmawan, must be feeling pretty pleased with the launch of the website, which went live on Jul. 21.

The Intercontinental has always been on The Diary’s favourites list, for its location and range of facilities, especially its dining options and the sunset bar.

Changing Tune

THE east is still determinedly red, for Bali’s tourism sector, with continuing high growth in the number of Mainland Chinese who holiday here. It is a change in the tourism demographic that seems firmly fixed. There are still a lot of Australians about, but they’re no longer the only sausage in the bun.

As more and more Chinese change the face of Bali tourism, so too are their travel itinerary preferences changing. They still travel in groups – though independent and “couple travel” is gaining ground with them, in tune with global travel norms – but anecdotal evidence indicates the groups are getting smaller. They’ll need smaller buses, then, which should help Ubud and other places whose streets are not designed for large vehicles.

The focus still seems to be on shopping. Why Chinese should want to visit Bali to buy things that have probably been made in China is an interesting question. But they are widening their areas of interest. Someone told us the other day they’d seen a (manageably small) party of Chinese emporium prospectors in Jl. Imam Bonjol in Denpasar, some distance from the Kuta shopping horror.

There are some curiosities there, perhaps. Maybe they were looking for bathroom tiles or were going to ooh and ah in Mandarin or Cantonese at those curious sit-upon western toilets.

Don’t Dance

THE Ubud Jazz Festival, held on Aug. 11-12 at the Arma Museum, presented some fine music and associated other entertainment, but it had one downside effect on an element of traditional Balinese culture that people flock to Ubud to see, or should.

The regular (and spectacular) Kecak Rina performance at Arma that would have been held otherwise, on its normal scheduled, was cancelled. It will return, but it seems a shame that it had to be sidelined at all.

Radio Daze

INES Wynn is always worth reading in the Bali Advertiser, and her piece on radio stations in the last edition was especially informative. There’s a lot out there on the wavelengths – chiefly FM of course, since that’s all that young people can listen to on their smart phones.

Wynn related a classic instance of cause and effect. There’s almost no English-language broadcasting here to service the tourist market. The radio stations say they don’t broadcast in English because no English speakers listen to them. But perhaps if they did offer something in the global lingua franca, English speakers would listen, and advertisers would have another money pit to mine.

Shaken (But Not Yet)

FORGIVE us being a tad churlish. You don’t really have to be a professor at Brigham Young University in the U.S. to safely predict that a truly massive earthquake will shatter Bali and other parts of the archipelago at some undetermined point in the future. The Indo-Australasian plate is slipping under the Eurasian plate and has been for eons, with calamitous effect; it will continue to do so whether observed by humans or not.

The risk is not confined to earthquakes, either. Who could forget the 1815 Mt. Tambora eruption on Sumbawa, which killed thousands locally and many others by its effects, including famine and the 1816 “year of no summer” in the northern hemisphere brought about by its volcanic debris in the atmosphere.

Disaster planning, 21st century style, is somewhat more advanced. It pays to be prepared, though it’s difficult to prepare fully for cataclysm. American research geologist Ron Harris told a seminar on disaster mitigation held in Jakarta recently studies indicated events such as the massive Aceh quake in 2004, which generated the worst tsunamis in the historical record, were possible in Java, Bali, Lombok and Sumbawa, and other parts of the eastern archipelago.

A Richter 9 quake immediately offshore could create tsunamis of up to 20 metres, which could reach the shore in as little as 20 minutes. Nusa Dua and Denpasar were at risk in such a scenario, he said. It’s not a happy thought, especially as high ground is not readily accessible within that timeframe for mass evacuations.

Still, we might get hit by an asteroid first, which would render the question academic.

Happy Birthday!

IT’S Independence Day tomorrow (Aug. 17). Indonesia celebrates 72 years of nationhood this year.

HectorR

Hector appears in the Bali Advertiser every second edition and scribbles between diaries, here at 8degreesoflatitude

 

 

Red Sales in the Sunset

HECTOR’S DIARY

His regular diet of worms and other non-religious fare

HectorR

The Cage, Bali

Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017

 

WE had a little giggle this week when we read that the Minister for National Development Planning, Professor Bambang Brodjonegoro, had wondered why more Australian investment was directed to Mexico than to Indonesia. Mexico, as he pointed out on an invest-with-us road show in Australia, was a long way away. It is. They wear sombreros there too, at least in cartoons, but that’s also totally beside the point.

An interesting article in the Fairfax press reported the issue, and included some commentary from Australian superannuation funds, from which Indonesia would apparently like a hand with projects. We note of course that such investments are indeed part and parcel of the global money round. The key to such investments is their legal security and actuarially based rates of return (ROI). Indonesia is making progress towards some measure of transparency and certainty in these matters, but a cautious superannuation investment fund manager would probably wait a little while. It’s different with company-level investments. They only depend on directors’ confidence levels. Or Chinese investments, which despite the official outbreak of pretend capitalism that the mandarins in Beijing have permitted, are still effectively State (and therefore Party) subscriptions, and hence political. They are all about building the next Chinese empire.

Minister Bambang made a direct pitch for Australian investment in a “new Nusa Dua” in the “eastern islands”. To decode that for the uninitiated, the Nusa Dua development in Bali is the manicured tourism precinct at the southern tip of the island full of international hotels that these days struggle to compete against the low-cost appeal, to the new market, of cheaper products elsewhere; and “eastern islands” means Labuan Bajo in Flores. We’ll return to Flores in a moment.

He also suggested that Australians might consider investing in tourism-related developments in the “new Nusa Dua” and instanced water sports and related fun things as examples of where they might choose to do so. How this might be done effectively and profitably is a conundrum. Indonesia’s restrictions on foreign workers, the country’s prevailing low productivity and skills levels, and the promiscuous practice of local and national regulators in deciding that their noses are out of joint and that they will therefore without notice inspect the paperwork and deport anyone found holding a spanner, is one among many other unresolved questions.

In the early booster stages of economic promotions directed at specific targets, in this case Labuan Bajo in western Flores, near where the real komodos roam on their eponymous island, the chief effect is to raise land values and pour cash into the pockets of title-holders. Often this is a relative thing, which can benefit siblings and more distant relations of those doing the boosting. As someone with whom we spoke recently on these matters noted, perhaps such people are looking to family connections for an opportunity to upgrade from a canoe to a cruiser.

We’ll All be Rooned (Well, No We Won’t)

ROONED is what that eternal Jeremiah, Hanrahan, said would happen, in the lovely poem published in 1921 and written by the Australian bush poet John O’Brien, the pen name of a Roman Catholic priest, Patrick Joseph Hartigan.  “We’ll all be rooned, said Hanrahan” – Hanrahan was a pessimistic man of Irish descent – now has an honoured place in the Australian English lexicon.

Pessimists and their jeremiads are fixed elements in any society, of course, though here in Bali, they are mostly of the imported variety. Foreigners who have lived here for a long time, or who have frequently visited for what to them probably feels like eons, fondly remember times past when the island was a pristine paradise. That is, except for the natives, who were poor and deprived of most of the benefits of modern life, and who, it is said by some, preferred it that way.

According to that primarily self-serving confected legend, Bali’s unique culture is now facing deadly risk. There’s an alternative view of this. This is that Bali’s culture and its unique religion is just as capable as any other of changing with the times. The island is not a Petrie dish and its culture is not an arcane scientific experiment managed by others. The archipelago survived the introduction of the chilli after all – by the Portuguese, who got them from someone else, naturally, centuries ago – and has made it its own. That’s just a small example of how change is welcomed and quietly managed by human societies.

There’s another aphorism that seems apt: The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.

The British writer Tim Hannigan – who describes himself as a pop historian, just by the way – would probably share this view. He writes from a post-colonial perspective. This is sensible, since except for references to that sometimes beneficial but predominantly pernicious plague by politicians everywhere in former empires who want to display their nationalist credentials, the age of European empire has long gone.

Hannigan is in Indonesia at present on a book tour, which will now take him to Jakarta. He was in Bali this week and we caught up with him twice, once at the Periplus bookstore at Samasta in Jimbaran and again over one of Asri Kerthyasa’s fine high teas at Biku in Seminyak.

He wrote some finely tuned polemic in his brilliantly researched book Raffles and the British Invasion of Java, and a very readable A Brief History of Indonesia, among others. He has also edited A Brief History of Bali which is now on the bookstore shelves and is a must read, a revision with additional chapters version of the American Willard Hanna’s original. Hanna’s ended in the 1970s, ancient history now; Hannigan’s mediates Hanna’s Cold War perspective and takes the story on to current time. 

Telephone Cheek

THE leaked transcript of the telephone call between American President Donald Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull shortly after Trump assumed office early this year is interesting. It confirms Trump as a president who doesn’t read his briefs, or perhaps doesn’t even ask for them, and underlines the worrying fact that he’s a real estate shyster whom American voters have elected to an office that is far beyond his moral, ethical and administrative capacities. It shows that a phone conversation with him, leader to leader, isn’t necessarily one that will produce an effective outcome or indeed connect with rational thought.

The call, which was terminated early, by Trump, turned on the Obama era plan proposed by the Australians that the U.S. take as many of Australia’s detainees on offshore foreign islands as its vetting processes would permit. There are (or were at the time) around 1,200 of these poor souls, held in limbo because they had attempted to reach Australia by boat from Indonesia. The call confirmed the depravity (in the correct sense of the word) of Australian policy towards foreign people who have committed no crime. There is no morality in denying human rights to others – whoever they are – and detaining them indefinitely in camps on islands in other countries.

It cannot be justified on the basis that it has “stopped the boats” and people drowning at sea. It is simply a profane political process whose effectiveness (undeniable in the short term) is determined by refusing to recognise the real problem: an unstoppable global population movement. It screams “Australia’s for Australians” and wins votes for doing so. That’s an Australian problem. It mirrors Trump America’s mad Mexican Wall idea.

Turnbull deserves some credit for talking to Trump in a mannered and diplomatic way: for not interjecting “WTF, Donald?” That’s the only creditable element in the event – well, that and the fact that someone had the moral fortitude to leak the transcripts (there were others) to the media. These are sorry days.

HectorR

Hector writes a diary in the Bali Advertiser newspaper. The next will appear on Aug. 16.

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It’s a Scream

HECTOR’S DIARY

HectorR

 His regular diet of worms and other non-religious fare

The Cage, Bali

Wednesday, Jul. 5, 2017

 

THERE are many ways to judge a man’s character. The gender is specific in this case, and the point is pertinent to the activities of the current president of the United States and, in this instance, his Indonesian associates. These people are of course his corporate or commercial associates, not political, although given that the two polities engaged are America and Indonesia, the distinction is moot. Read on.

Donald Trump’s corporate mate in the archipelago, Hary Tanoe, was recently banned from travelling outside Indonesia pending inquiries into aspects of his business and financial affairs. Tanoe is engaged with Trump’s business empire, which isn’t in escrow while he’s in office, as you might expect of anyone with an appropriate view of public service, but is being managed for profit by his family. The Trump empire has two major projects on the go in Indonesia.

One is a theme park near Bogor in West Java – we’ve seen the concept drawings and done a Munch – and the other is the takeover of the property at Tanah Lot in Tabanan previously managed by Pan Pacific and now to be demolished in favour of some Trumpist excrescence.

The Bogor project is now back on track because the government has taken over the stalled project to build a toll road to the area, without which Trump said he wouldn’t proceed. The land value of his holdings has thus increased by extortionate proportions.

At Tanah Lot, where the Nirwana property has members with purchased rights to holiday accommodation whose entitlements are now under question because of the buyout, the issue is different. Trump’s proposed redevelopment requires more land, but local landowners are apparently holding out for better prices. The workforce at the property has been paid out – by what quantum is unknown – and the entire superstructure is to be demolished.

It is also unknown how Trump and Tanoe will deal with the issue of compensation for strata title owners. The precedent set by Trump in a similar instance, with his golf resort in Florida, doesn’t bode well. Basically, there, the members were screwed. That’s how Trump does business.

Which brings us back to the cautionary point: character. A quote attributed in 1972 to the magazine founder Malcolm S. Forbes is apposite. He said, “You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.” An aphorism published in 1948 by the novelist Paul Eldridge goes along the same lines: “A man’s character is most evident by how he treats those who are not in a position either to retaliate or reciprocate.”

Trump’s known business practices fail the “nice” test, and his personal behaviour breaches many of those implicit in the two quotations above. In Indonesia, some in the national business elite (and here in Bali in both the local and the expatriate business community) have a very well developed grasp of how to benefit themselves at the expense, if necessary, of anyone who gets between them and a buck (or a rupiah).

The Four Corners program on Australia’s national broadcaster the ABC this week screened an exposé of Trump and Tanoe’s business connections here. It didn’t say anything much that’s new, but it did collate the available material rather well and it was certainly compelling viewing. More character studies are indicated. 

Feisty Gal

MARA Wolford, who makes organic soaps and surfs a lot – she’s in the Mentawais at the moment – posted on her Facebook this week an item reprising the incident a year ago in a Bali bar that fortunately ended as well as it could have, but which could so easily have not.

Her drink was spiked. She’s sure it was Rohypnol, nowadays the spiking agent of choice of low-life men who can’t get consciously consensual sex from a woman their poisonously defective little minds have told them they fancy, or can’t be bothered trying to;  or whom, as she notes, have marked her as a robbery target. If it’s sex, it’s chiefly a power thing, not lust, and it’s a disgraceful element of male stupidity, sexual power, and arrogance. Those who do that sort of thing richly deserve a session with a sjambok. We do wish we’d never given ours away.

Wolford puts it this way:

“One year ago today, people I didn’t even know tried to kill me. They either wanted my diamond earrings or they wanted to gang rape me for several days, it’s up in the air. Two drinks double-dosed with Rohypnol nearly did me in. Dear friends, a strong constitution and a bit of divine intervention saved me. I made this event public, with 21,000 shares on FB. Mostly, I got called a dumb bitch for not knowing better. One thing I do know is that the last thing I am is a dumb bitch. Trusting, perhaps. Willing to believe in best intentions, certainly.

“I was absolutely furious that a man would feel the need to render me physically helpless in order to take from me what he couldn’t allow me to decide to offer, or not. I don’t know what kind spineless cretin would do that, and I don’t know what kind of world we live in when that is considered normal behaviour that I am expected to know to protect myself from.”

The bar in question was subsequently shut down by the police and – Wolford notes – another upside is that drink spiking has dropped off in Bali since the publicity about her case in Canggu last year. That’s great.

Dumb bitch, she isn’t. Feisty gal, she certainly is.

It’s such a shame that Rohypnol became the “date rape drug” in the hands of low-life losers. We used to use it back in the day as a travel pill, when it was legally obtainable. The Distaff, who did a lot more solo international business travel than the Diary, swore by it as her tailored sleeping pill. Quartered, a pill gave her two hours of sleep; halved, four hours; and the full monty, eight. It was just the job, she always said, if you had to leap off your plane at your destination fresh as a daisy and ready for work. Or, occasionally, play. 

Oh, Come On!

THE annual Walkley Awards may mean very little to anyone outside Australia – or even outside the Australia media – but they are locally valuable as recognition of excellence in journalism. Until now they have included an award for foreign reporting.

Given that global distempers now visit everyone’s lounge room via the gigantic flat-screen TV, when the footy’s not on, that’s good. Those who inform from dangerous places (or even just interesting ones) deserve recognition. And we know, by many means ranging from pub talk to blogs and even official government advice, that according to Australians the outside world is an alien and unquiet space.

The Walkley organisers have announced that they’re dropping the international category from the awards. It’s one of four categories cut as part of a review of the awards. It’s an odd decision, because while it’s certainly true that journalism is rapidly changing, so too is the impact of international affairs on Australia. These certainly need to be covered with an Australian perspective, and (reasonably) to be recognised in the country’s premier media awards. Doubtless, as the organisers say, international coverage can still be nominated within other categories. But given the parochialism that thrives in Australia, to its detriment, it might be hard for carnage in Aleppo to beat best pumpkin at the Bega Show for a gong.

We’ve added our voice to the chorus suggesting that the Walkley people should change their mind.

Training Runs

WELL, not runs, really. We mean our morning walks on the Outanback Track, the rudimentary road that notionally links The Cage with the rest of the limestone Bukit. It’s a rough trot, our “road”, and steep in parts. There are two nasty inclines on the outbound leg, which we’ve pinned on our smart phone map as Little Dragarse and Big Dragarse. After a glass or three of premium Aga Red the evening before, as is our custom, they’re … difficult.

We’re trying to get walking-fit for a forthcoming European sojourn that will take us on footpaths and other public utilities of the sort that are rare in Bali, and at rather more length than the modest 2400 metres that form our usual morning gasp.

Never mind. It’s worth it. We think.

HectorR

Hector writes a diary in the Bali Advertiser. The next appears on Jul. 19.

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Statuary Declaration

HECTOR’S DIARY

His regular diet of worms and other non-religious fare

HectorR

Candi Dasa, Bali

Wednesday, Jun. 28, 2017

 

TEN days in the blissful zephyrs, beside the azure briny you get in the better parts of the archipelago, can do you a power of good. Such a break provides time to read books – or re-read them – instead of wading through 24/7 news reportage and grim analysis suggesting that Armageddon is next week, and all sorts of other things that would turn your hair grey if you had any left. We tore ours out long ago.

We read, among other things, Us, a novel that dissects marital and other human disorders, by David Nicholls; The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai (which we should have read ages ago); and a fast-paced and thoroughly predictable American crime novella written in the “this is a film script” mode so popular in the pulp fiction market these days. It was called Beyond Suspicion and was by someone named James Grippando, of whom we hadn’t heard.

The environment suited reading. We were at Sea Breeze at Mendira, a lovely spot and much to be recommended, where we breakfasted daily in the al fresco fashion beside the pool and then retreated to long chairs under umbrellas to contemplate the sea view, or the universe, or anything else to hand. There is statuary present that falls into the latter category and which several times brought to mind a Florentine garden, or possibly – traversing Italy at upper thigh level (it’s so much more fun than lower down) – one of the more outré among the Venetian renaissance master Titian’s supposedly recorded thoughts as he was mixing rose madder while his model reclined on a ladder.

There are several stone maidens who might easily be Titian’s models around one of the pools at Sea Breeze, in very decorative states of dishabille. Their daily task is to continuously pour water from the bowls they carry back into the pool. This makes a lovely tinkling sound, which is probably designed to be cooling. Among the more mature within earshot, however, it is a frequent prompt to revisit the facilities.

Tidy Town

CANDI Dasa has always impressed us as a place where the words Bali and rotting rubbish do not necessarily go together. The place is an example that many others could follow and should, perhaps especially those in the crowded south where the bonds and discipline of traditional settlement have weakened, injuring civic pride and sensibility.

Mendira, in Sengkidu a little towards the Pertamina fuel facility at Tanah Ampo, and Padang Bai, has really got the business down pat. Our morning walk route has been a joy: four kilometres of it because it’s flat and there are properly made roads to walk along, with space to get properly onto the verges if something with more than two wheels comes along. We’ve barely seen a carelessly discarded lolly wrapper, far less stinking piles of over-stuffed plastic garbage bags. It’s been great to be able to gaze at the lovely banyan trees as we pass them at a brisk trot without having to worry about stepping in anything.

Haloumi Heaven

NO visit to Candi Dasa can be regarded as complete unless it includes Vincent’s, the eatery and jazz bar named for that fellow Don McLean sang about, the guy who painted irises and other things and then cut his ear off before topping himself. Many artists are troubled, but relatively few go all the way with Vincent van Gough.

There’s live jazz at Vincent’s every Thursday evening.

On our visit this time we dined at the bar. It’s near the door, where smoking is still permitted, and close enough to get the full flavour of the jazz action. There’s no smoking in the main restaurant area, which is a good thing, and while the garden area at the back is great, it doesn’t suit on live jazz nights or if it’s raining.

Aside from the Haloumi, there was a special unscheduled treat on this occasion. A visiting troupe of jazz performers from Yokohama (where they are well known it seems) turned up with their instruments and played a very lively set, complete with a lissom performance dancer whose interpretation of Balinese dance was … interesting. It was all a delight. Also delightful was the broad smile that lit up the oboist’s face when after the performance we waylaid him as he returned to his seat and said “Domo arigato”. It wasn’t quite a Midnight Diner moment, but it came close. And it was nice to say thank you.

Coffee and Ice Cream

WELL, what could be nicer, especially if you’re on a seaside break? Mendira House, conveniently en route to Lu Putu’s desirable garden restaurant from our hotel (it’s a 13-minute walk: we timed it) is open from 8am to 8pm. Its coffee is not to be passed up, its ice creams are divine, and the gift shop is full of stuff you’d buy as a tourist – though we aren’t of course – and a handy source of bric-a-brac you might pack in your bag to take to relatives when you next travel.

Lu Putu has great food; it’s home cooked by Lu Putu herself. It also has a lovely, quiet garden restaurant area we’d recommend to anyone who wants the real deal.

There are many gems in the Candi Dasa area. These are two you shouldn’t miss.

Jailhouse Blues

FOUR prisoners left Kerobokan Jail recently on self-awarded tickets of leave, via a drainage tunnel that took them conveniently underground and out of sight the fifteen metres to the street outside. Two were recaptured in Timor Leste, whence they had fled. The headline act of the foursome, an Australian of questionable human value and of clearly criminal character by the name of Shaun Davidson, was still on the run when we scribbled this diary. A Singaporean convict was also still on the run. Davidson had only seven months of his sentence left to serve and the theory was that he didn’t want to return to Australia. The police there are keen to chat with him about skipping bail and the drugs charges on which he had of course obtained bail in the first place.

The incident provided another of those welcome comedic breaks you get here. The prison governor said the prisoner concerned had recently grown a beard and a moustache, perhaps to alter his appearance. No shit Shakespeare! The chief of police said it was thought an international crime syndicate had had a hand in the escape. By this we assume he means they had outside help, as opposed to inside assistance. A torch had been found in the tunnel, close to where there was access to the street. It must have been the light at the end of the tunnel.

Kerobokan is vastly overcrowded. It was built for around 300 inmates but these days it houses 1,300. Only 10 guards are on duty at any one time, because of staffing restriction, and none of them was in the watchtower that overlooks the spot where the escapees would have emerged and where he might otherwise have been able to point his trusty weapon in their general direction and shout “Surprise!”

#44 … The Man

THE expatriate bit of Bali does agog very well, being celebrity-fixated. And so it was when Barack Obama and family arrived here for a little downtime at the Four Seasons Sayan. The Ubud hinterland is good for the soul, and of course Four Seasons provides very comfortable digs for those whose wallets stretch that far.

He also dropped by a Bukit haunt that’s on The Diary’s Most Favoured List, El Kabron on the cliff at Bingin. It was an unscheduled and brief visit, we hear, but it’s the best place to sample Catalan cuisine and hospitality that we know of in Bali.

We didn’t join in the “I saw Barry” parade. He’s the former president of the USA, speaks quietly and with consideration, tweets rather nicely, has a functional family, and deserves to be left alone. These are all qualities his successor in office, #45, does not possess. Ah well, that’s Electoral College democracy for you. How sad. Never mind. Carry On.

Old Friends

ONE among these told us recently she’d missed us at a reunion of journalists and photographers and held, amidst much reminiscing, at the Pig ’n Whistle in West End, Brisbane. It would have been nice to be there.

Our informant tells us there were 60 or so Formers present, and much grey hair. Time waits for no man, as it is said, while the hair changes colour or falls out. It reminded us that in three months it would be 21 years since we left a note for Rupert on our desk saying, “Gone to the Dark Side”, or words to that effect.

We didn’t add, although we might easily have done so, a line to the effect that a rude letter would follow. Judging by what has taken place in the print media world since we furled our News Ltd quill and took off, we think we made the right decision in a timely fashion.

HectorR

Hector also writes a diary in the Bali Advertiser. The current rendition was published on Jun. 21. The next will appear on Jul. 19.

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.