8degreesoflatitude

THINGS THAT INTEREST, ENGAGE AND ENRAGE

Category: Indonesian cultures

Straight to the Point

HECTOR’S DIARY

HECTOR IMAGE FOR BLOG

Titbits from his regular diet of worms

 

The Cage, Bali

Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018

 

IT’S magic what you can do these days with a talking smart phone. The other day we had to drive into Denpasar – a strange bit of it with which we are unfamiliar – and it was a dream. All we had to do was follow the dulcet directions of the lovely lady map-reader who apparently inhabits The Diary’s Huawei and speaks to you with perfect diction and in very sound English. Possibly her name is not Joy, but nonetheless a joy she is.

It’s good too that as you inch along in south Bali’s dense traffic, threatened on all sides by even denser drivers, you can also see from your handy interactive map where your next major tailback is going to be. There’s no escaping it, generally, but at least you know it’s there. It’s a bit like how Lieutenant Colonel Custer might have found himself unhappily pre-advised if he’d bothered to send scouts out ahead of his cavalry column as it trotted up the Rosebud. He could have sworn pre-emptively himself, too, then.

Encore du Vin

HAVING a French friend has always been lovely, as we’ve noted before. The French are often much more interesting than Anglos, and that’s not just because the expressive nature of the language and French culture adds to the joie de vivre.

We’re fortunate, as we’ve also noted previously, to have a good friend who lives in the French style at Petulu near Ubud, in a villa in which astonishingly we are welcome visitors. Even her cats speak French, with a meow of course, and in fact they appear to be trilingual. They understand “Non,” “No,” and “Tidak,” though of course, being cats, they pretend they don’t, or that they haven’t heard you, or that plainly you have directed your latest vocalised imperative to someone else. If pressed upon a particular point, each affects insouciance in the face of unwanted instruction that is both typical of the feline community and a joy to watch: “Moi? Sûrement pas!”

Another benefit of long weekends in a French ambience is the availability of wine and cheese and the cultural necessity to consume these victuals in more than micro-measurable quantities well into the evening and in fact well past the time when your calèche has turned into a citrouille (and you’ve given up worrying about that silly glass slipper anyway).

Lost Their Tackle

THE Indonesian agriculture ministry and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have designated four areas in Indonesia for pilot projects to tackle the spread of zoonotic diseases such as rabies, anthrax and avian influenza, and emergent ones, that normally have animal hosts but can infect humans. There’s another zoonotic disease of deep concern, plague, which is endemic in parts of Central Java, including Boyolali, one of the areas nominated for study, and in East Java, but that’s long been under strict control measures – including effective rubbish control and disposal – and fieldwork to keep an eye on infection levels in rodents.

The four areas in the new study are Bengkalis in Riau, Ketapang in West Kalimantan, Boyolali in Central Java and Minahasa in North Sulawesi. “We select areas based on the risks and the state of medical infrastructure and the commitment of regional administrations,” says the FAO’s Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases (ECTAD) Indonesia’s Andri Jatikusumah.

Bali isn’t on the list. It lost its tackle over rabies when, after international efforts following the 2008 outbreak gave it a great start, it all became too hard for the provincial and local governments. It’s not only in Bali where foolish politics, conflicting priorities (all those Kijiangs and Fortuners) and administrative ennui combine to derail all sorts of things. Bureaucracies everywhere have dreadful trouble with dogs that eat their homework.

Cina Bali

WE’VE just read a really interesting feature in The South China Morning Post, about the symbiosis between Chinese and Balinese cultures. We’d recommend it as reading for anyone who is interested in anthropology, as well as the many who fear that Balinese culture will ultimately be swamped by the tsunami of profane banality that is modern day Indonesian money power.

Among other things, it makes the point that Agama Hindu Dharma – Bali’s unique religion and culture – is an accretion of Hindu, Buddhist and animist beliefs. It is a naturally accepting belief system, not a religion that is hidebound by a book. The point in this instance is that the Chinese Indonesian writer who is the subject of the interview felt no sense of being an outsider when she was growing up in Bali. That ridiculous predisposition in the minds of others only came to her notice when she went to Jakarta to study. At home in Bali she was Cina Bali, properly just part of the human landscape. Off the island, she was “Cina!” or worse, “Amoy”, presumptive and frankly threatening accusations of difference. She was not pribumi: she was an outsider.

The Chinese have a very long history in Bali, as do Chinese communities in other parts of Indonesia. But, here, where for all the set nature of Hindu Dharma religious observance and cultural practice, there is a long tradition of accretion, of incorporating symbolism and articles of faith from elsewhere, a formal veneration of ancestors, and wide acceptance of the benefits of otherness. The Chinese presence – around 14,000 people identify as Cina Bali – has become integral to the island’s culture, rather than something temporarily attached to it.

There’s a book in all of that, and one’s apparently in the works. It should be an anthropological feast.

As We Were Saying

AMID some hoopla, the authorities some days ago downgraded the alert status for Mt Agung, noting that while volcanic eruption was still occurring, there was less pressure within the mountain’s core and therefore less risk of a powerful eruption. The mountain answered that, partly in the affirmative, within a matter of hours. It staged an eruption that sent ash 1,500 metres into the air above the 3,000-metre summit. There was light ash fall from Amlapura to Tulamben on Bali’s eastern coast.

On figures from Feb. 13 from 103 evacuation posts – down 43 from the previous day – there are still 10,890 evacuees registered. More than 6,000 people had left the evacuation camps since the alert status was lowered from IV to III and the exclusion zone was reduced to a four-kilometre radius. Residential numbers high on the volcano show 602 people live within the four-kilometre radius, 986 within five kilometres, and about 17,000 within six kilometres.

But the emergency is not over. This is not the time for anyone to drop any balls.

Festivities

WE had an opportunity while in Ubud to chat with Janet DeNeefe, over sparkling water served at Honeymoon Cottages in Jl. Bisma, about this year’s writers and readers’ festival – it’s in October and is the fifteenth – and the 2018 Ubud Food Festival, which is in April. It was an interesting chat. We’ll come back to the UWRF, at some length, in another forum in a little while. Meanwhile the food festival program is now online. Mouths may now officially water in anticipation.

It’s the Ethics, Stupid!

AS a rule, we avoid too closely associating with the political news that filters out of Australia. It’s generally banal and – unless it’s about something that directly affects you – rather pointless. Scoring political points is for others, trolls and the like, and those for whom partisanship is a way of life.

There are exceptions to this rule, and one such is upon us now, concerning the deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce, who is leader of the junior (but essential) branch of the coalition, the National Party. Joyce has made a sad, sorry, and farcical nonsense of his personal life, bedding and impregnating his staff media adviser and leaving his quarter-century-old marriage as a result. That, essentially, is a private matter. If it requires condign and clamorous judgment from outside the home he’s wrecked, this should come from those whose deepest wish seems to be to force their way into the private lives of others.

What actually matters is the ethical question as it relates to public office and expenditure of public funds. As Simon Longstaff of the Ethics Centre (in Sydney) has noted, it is here that Joyce has disastrously failed. For those offences, which are not those upon which one could litigate, he should go. He probably knows this but (another ethical lapse) has been resisting the concept of leaping off the gravy train.

The barnyard farce of Joyce’s personal life has brought forth an amendment to the ministerial code of conduct, which specifically bans sexual relationships with staff. The real scandal is that a ministerial code of conduct is deemed necessary in the first place. It’s clumsy and dangerous anyway, since it encourages those to whom demerit is a notional concept to take the view that something dodgy is OK if it’s not precisely disallowed in the code.

But the real bottom line is this: If you’re incapable of defining what’s right and what’s wrong, or worse, are unwilling to bother doing so, you’re not fit for any senior office, political or otherwise.

HECTOR IMAGE FOR BLOG

Chin-chin!

Excrescences, Etc.

HECTOR’S DIARY

Titbits from his diet of worms

The Cage, Bali

Monday, Feb. 5, 2018

 

MANY foreigners come to Bali for its unique culture and some choose to live here. The people with whom one wishes to associate are in that cohort. Some may be misguided, but that’s OK. The flowers of Eastern mysticism are as open to misinterpretation as any shamanistic bloom. Bali is a great place to have your chakras fiddled with by itinerant foreign gurus with malleable morals. It’s a sort of “Eat, Love, Prey” thing. The preying is usually mutual, or at any rate consensual.

There are others, of a different class, who are here to gouge a buck and to take advantage of the brown envelope culture. Perhaps some among them occasionally reflect that they are fortunate to be in a place where they can practise their predilections, not all of them necessarily commercial, in an environment in which with the right connections you are rarely caught out. A few are possibly here because they couldn’t behave in their own societies as they can generally manage to here, or because they’d be in jail if they did.

It is this latter cohort that sometimes gets up one’s nose, especially when it involves public assertions (which have no basis in fact) of the selfishly acquisitive practices of others. One particular recent incident has got up ours. Normally you’d just ignore such dog-droppings, and the dogs that drop them. But sometimes you feel that you can’t. So, Terry Brockhall, formerly of Brisbane, Queensland, and presently of Dalung, Bali, this one’s for you, mate.

Perhaps he was drunk or otherwise intellectually incapacitated when last week he posted (on the Bali Expats Facebook group) his intemperate, litigious and profoundly incorrect assessment of what someone who has been at the forefront of obtaining funds to assist the thousands of Balinese volcano evacuees had actually done with the money. A good rule of thumb for civilised existence is to subject your own subjectivity to rigorous analysis before you mouth off.

If Mr Brockhall would like to discuss this with us, he’s welcome to do so. Privately would be best, to avoid further embarrassing himself and his former business associates in Australia, who are surprised that he still lists on LinkedIn a company he left five years ago as his current place of employment. (The Diary hasn’t named the target of his misplaced ire. Her friends and associates know whom it is, and we’ll make sure they see this item.)

The Affliction

IT’S no surprise, though one might wish it were, that the Sharia authorities in Aceh have taken to publicly stripping and whipping transsexual people whom they are sure have angered Allah. It is a surprise, in contrast, and yet another sour one, that Indonesia Air Asia announced last week that its cabin crews on services to the autonomous Neolithic province would in future be all male.

There was another incident, last week, far away and in a different milieu, which was even more alarming. The Manchester Art Museum in Britain removed from display

Hylas and the Nymphs, the widely known painting , by John William Waterhouse. It is one of the most recognisable of the pre-Raphaelite paintings. Postcards of the painting were taken off sale in the shop.

In the painting’s place, a notice went up explaining that a temporary space had been left “to prompt conversations about how we display and interpret artworks in Manchester’s public collection”. Members of the public have stuck Post-it notes around the notice giving their reaction. Most of them are entirely predictable. They were a lot more polite than the Post-it note The Diary would be tempted to stick in the “temporary space.”

According to the gallery’s curator of contemporary art, Clare Gannaway, the aim of the removal was not to censor but to provoke debate. Tell that to the nymphs and wait for the derisive laughter in response. The work usually hangs in a room titled In Pursuit of Beauty, which contains late 19th century paintings showing lots of female flesh.

Perhaps the key to the whole horror of this act of non-censorship lies in Gannaway’s explanation – no doubt it is “feminist” by some empty-headed definition or other – that the room’s title was a bad one, as it was male artists pursuing women’s bodies, and paintings that presented the female body as a passive decorative art form or a femme fatale.

Still, it’s a device that would easily fix the hefty financial call on galleries to acquire, care for, insure and display works of art. They could just put post-it notes around the walls instead. That would be much cheaper and surely would offend no one except those who like to look at paintings and who in such circumstances would naturally no longer visit museums and galleries. The great unwashed, who do not do so anyway, would neither care nor notice: Planet Doh again.

The curiously disingenuous argument from the museum flows from the supposed pandemic of sexual mistreatment of minors. A mob has been raised on this matter and in the manner of such swarms is now out of control. There are perverts in any society. If those who fiddled with little boys and girls had been privately horsewhipped on discovery of their first offence, most would probably not have done it again. Madness is an illness. Perversion is an elective practice.

A friend who saw the report asked: “Has everyone gone quite mad? Is it something in the water?” To which we could only reply: “We have long suspected something of the sort; or random radons.”

Peak Piquancy

THE Ubud Food Festival, Janet DeNeefe’s highly successful annual spin-off from the well established Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, has won star billing from ABC, the Indonesian food company that produces Indonesia’s essential condiments, kecap manis and sambal. Without these, no one’s food from his or her island home would be as piquant as it should be.

According to Dhiren Amin, who is head of marketing, Southeast Asia, at Kraft Heinz ABC, popularising Indonesian cooking and the archipelago’s diverse culinary traditions is a vision ABC shares with UFF, and this was a primary motive in the company becoming a presenting partner at the 2018 festival. And DeNeefe notes: “It’s a brand we all know and love, so it’s a perfect fit for our festival.” We agree. The Diary’s finely tuned taste buds are already in full anticipatory mode.

Corporate sponsorship is essential for any style of festival these days, so ABC’s move is as welcome as its spicy little bottles at the UFF table. The festival is from Apr. 13-15 this year – themed Generasi Inovasi – and will feature nearly 100 speakers, and their culinary delights.

There’s much more here 

Lying Doggo

THE volcano was quiet on Sunday. Literally. For the first time in a long while, no volcanic or resultant seismic activity was noted. Inevitably, this will result in those who believe their economic and political interests lie in assumptions that all is well seeing an opportunity to promote the idea that there is no emergency. To these people, we simply say this: Study the records, such as they are, of the lengthy and occasionally quiescent eruption of Mt Agung in 1963, and do not assume anything. Go with the volcano science, not political science.

Farewell, Friend

SOME who read The Diary will know the name: John McKenzie Keir. He was a fine gentleman, well known in the Australian commercial aviation sector. He was also our friend of more than two decades, and we were greatly saddened to learn, today, that he had left us. He died last Tuesday, the victim, finally, of the leukaemia with which he was diagnosed twenty-two years ago. Latterly other opportunistic agents of fatality had joined the assault upon him, and he succumbed.

Our association came about because his wife and our Companion worked together in the now distant past, and hit it off rather well. They were often rowdy, in a ladylike way, and maintained that practice throughout the years following, during which they occasionally saw each other and misbehaved. Mr Keir and The Diary were sometimes peripheral to these celebrations, as Significant Others are supposed to be.

We last saw him on a flying visit to Brisbane in 2016 – the trip was to attend someone’s political birthday party – and saw a Lions v Swans match at the Gabba by benefit of his ALF fixation and his Lions’ membership. It was a good game on a mild Brisbane autumn afternoon and we all dined pleasantly together afterwards.

We’ll miss the enigmatic smile with which he handled cross-table repartee and his sommelier-standard handling of wine bottles with recalcitrant corks. His funeral is in Brisbane tomorrow. We shall toast him at dinner tonight – we hope in the style and with the panache on which he would surely insist – with warm thoughts for his lovely family.

Chin-chin!

Goodbye and Thanks for All the Words

HECTOR’S DIARY

HECTOR IMAGE FOR BLOG

Tasty and distasteful morsels from his regular diet of worms

 

THE CAGE

Bali

Monday, Jan. 15, 2018

 

WE’VE had to say goodbye to Jewel Topsfield, who has been the Fairfax media correspondent in Indonesia for three years. It’s one of those rotational things: people get posted in, and then they get posted out. Topsfield has returned to Melbourne, from whence she came, and will be replaced in some weeks’ time by her colleague James Massola. His brief will be wider: South East Asia, but Jakarta-based.

Those of us left behind, post-Jewel, might like to recall the old aphorism from the days of the (British) Indian Army: the soldiers never minded what their officers were like; they just wanted them to stay a long time. In that context, Topsfield is a very good “officer”. She was often in Bali – and is a delightful dinner companion, by the way – and reported far more widely than the shit-and-disaster round preferred by the tabloids and TV, providing her readers with a picture of Indonesia as it actually is.

Our personal favourite is the long interview she did with hard-line 2014 presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, at his hill country ranch in West Java, from which she elicited the information that he looks after the ants there, talks to them, and honours and seeks to protect their highly organised eusocial communities. It was a window into the soul of the real man.

She wrote at the weekend, in her farewell piece, that she had fallen in love with Indonesia, but didn’t really know when, except that it was early in the day. We all feel like that, those of us in the foreign community here for whom the value of humanity in all its rich kaleidoscopic intensity stands far above the business of making a buck. We don’t know, either, when our own cathartic moment was, but it was a very long time ago.

Topsfield relates one anecdote, about her taxi getting caught in floods in Jakarta and her taxi driver getting the giggles as the water crept higher and higher up the car. She said she couldn’t imagine an Australian taxi driver showing such comedic insouciance in such circumstances. We’ll have to pick her up on that, though otherwise her point is insightful. It was a long time ago, so she’s excused, but in floods in Brisbane in 1969 a Yellow Cab got washed into a fast-flowing creek. When rescuers reached it, the driver and his passengers were happily singing the Beatles’ latest hit song, Yellow Submarine.

Thanks for spending some time with us, Jewel.

Wholly Smoke and Mirrors

STATISTICIANS are very useful people. They tell us all sorts of things that would otherwise escape our attention. From the latest data delve by Bappenas, the office of national statistics, we see that cigarette consumption is the second largest contributor to poverty in Indonesia. Tobacco products are relatively cheap here, in contrast to many countries where governments have created huge revenue streams from horrific excise levels on cigarettes.

Smoking rates are declining globally – tobacco is credited with a range of health demerits that would put to shame all four horsemen of the apocalypse, and that oversold message is getting through – but in Indonesia, the smoking demographic is different.

It was interesting that the chief contributor to poverty in Indonesia, according to the statisticians, is rice consumption. Taken together, these two statistics point to costly policy failure by government, as much as anything else. Statisticians rarely measure such meaningful data.

’Tis the Season for Galoshes

THE monsoon is particularly strong in the archipelago this year, and it’s been very wet, as we noted last week. This has given us opportunities for laughter – on the old “if you know a better shell-hole, go to it” line from the Western Front in World War I – as well as a lot of practice at mopping. The Cage never leaks unless it’s raining.

One day recently we felt compelled to pen a little ditty offering advice to the Companion ahead of another maritime excursion to the shops. It went like this:

Get your galoshes, I said to my Squeeze,

It might be as well.

For this rain is heaven,

But we’re going to hell.

Grand Old Oprah

THERE’S something about celebrities. We have one as President of the United States at the moment, though in his case we should place celebrity in inverted commas and add a parenthetical notation (self-proclaimed). Now there’s another one apparently waiting to wait in the wings, in the person of television star Oprah, buoyed by her acquisition of a Golden Goose award.

It’s true that American politics is broken. It shares this condition with other Western democracies – including Australia’s – where the principles that have long underpinned representative legislatures are being stripped away by political chicanery, creeping official controls on people’s lives, and the perversion of democratic freedoms.

The answer in the American context wasn’t Hillary – the Democratic Party must take the rap for that miscalculation – but it most certainly wasn’t Trump, and it wouldn’t be Oprah. It will be found – eventually – in a revival of popular (not populist) principle. Perhaps we need Trump to show us the danger and rank incivility of political incontinence writ large. He may yet be there for two terms, kept in office by those he continues to dupe and others whose interests, some secret, that he really serves even if he doesn’t know it; though there seems to be a rising risk that he will tweet us all off in the interim. We’ll have to see.

In this context, it’s interesting that American governance seems to be on the cusp of beneficial reform – or at least be brought back into the paddock where Old Rationality used to prosper on true public service – by an observable upswing in female interest in politics. The neo-cons and the oligarchs and patriarchs won’t like this, since women are consultative and consensual, definitely not into dick contests, and can generally spot a shyster or a nutcase very quickly. Neither will the so-called heartland of Middle America, where the “No chicks” demographic rules, the one that helped undermine Hillary Clinton’s appallingly bad 2016 campaign. So it may be a long haul. But – Wagons roll!

Fingerprints? Check!

ONE of the delights of being a temporary resident of Indonesia, for Indonesian purposes, is the annual check on your fingerprints as part of your twelve-month visa extension. This requirement is not because the immigration authorities believe that fingerprints change. Well, we don’t think this is the reason, but you never know. It’s because their data storage capacity is too small to store all the data they need. And they need lots of it, several times over.

Well, that and the bureaucratic impossibility of anyone actually finding out how to access data to check. It’s that sort of place. Recordkeeping is high on the list of essentials, but finding records afterwards is apparently a problem.

Still, at least it’s now an electronic digit on the pad affair. There’s no more nasty ink that won’t come off for absolutely ever.

Distaff Dystopia

THE delectable science of sentient flirting has been under siege ever since information technology gave us the human equivalent of the infinite number of monkeys on an infinite number of keyboards that might by chance recreate all the works of Shakespeare. At least in the old days you could ignore the locker room louts. Now they take selfies and tweet about their self-proclaimed prowess. But hey, we’re not talking about the President of the United States here.

Instead, we’re referencing French actor Catherine Deneuve and the 99 other French women who have caused a storm by suggesting that the #metoo campaign – the offspring of Harvey Weinstein, the disgusting (and now unloved, since the open secret is no longer even secret) Hollywood mogul, and others who abuse women as if by right – could result in the rise of a New Puritanism. It’s a complex debate that we’ve blogged about here, wearing our other hat.

It’s an issue in Indonesia too, and very broadly so, though in a different setting and context. The winked-at debasement and marginalisation of women must stop, everywhere. Now would be good.

HECTOR IMAGE FOR BLOG

Chin-chin!

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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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.

A Dog’s Life

HECTOR’S DIARY

HectorR

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Bali

Sep. 28, 2016

 

THE criminal epidemic of dog-snatching and random killing that afflicts Bali shows no sign of ending; nor is there any indication that the authorities will do anything other than continue to silently applaud the cull and ignore the rest. Such are the vicissitudes of life here, if you’re a dog.

It is one of a number of things that stains Bali’s preferred image as a place where spirituality rules, karma is understood to be good as well as bad, and people by a huge majority are not the sort that steal, kill things, or dissemble.

The dog question comes home to you at intervals. There are street dogs in our own neighbourhood on the Bukit, where we walk of a morning, who know us and who like a cheery greeting and a gentle inquiry after their health, which sadly is generally pretty bad. They’ve worked out that we aren’t suddenly going to produce sticks and beat them to death. They are distant and wary but peaceable souls who mainly wait around in their chosen location for food scraps, some water, and a smile and a quiet, friendly word.

Two friends of ours in Denpasar enjoyed for many months the pleasurable company of one such creature, a feisty little fellow known at one of his adopted homes as Sparky and at the other, neighbouring, one as Lucky. He had vicariously become a friend of ours too. The tales of his way with what he evidently thought was carelessly left-around footwear, and other useful and chewable household contents, kept us endlessly amused. He would come and go as he pleased, and lived on the street, but never ventured far.

Now he has disappeared. Gone, to what fate is unknown. His two households are distraught. We say this with no surprise, but we say it with rancour: he undoubtedly fell victim to the Bastards, that class of soulless humans who have no thought for anything other than their own inhumanity or their personal profit.

Drink Up

There’s been a flurry of reignited interest in the potty proposal by certain hardline Muslim legislators in Jakarta to place a blanket ban on alcohol throughout their preferred vision of Indonesia Raya. The only thing new about the proposal is that it surfaced in a story in the UK Daily Telegraph in mid-September. The draft laws have been in the legislature for a while. It’s moot whether they will eventually emerge from that palace of nightmarish dreams with their working bits intact, or even attached. (Our guess is that they’ll quite properly get poured down the sink.)

It goes without saying that such a ban applied to Bali, which is largely Hindu and liberal, at least in archipelagic terms, would be disastrous. President Joko Widodo must know that there’s rather more to diversity than just turning up in locally traditional rig for a visiting fireman speech or some event or other. He must know too that making Bali officially dry would wreck the tourist trade.

To the extent that rationality governs politics – and that quantum is arguable everywhere; it’s not just in Indonesia that the doh factor dumbfounds – it would seem, even in the face of unconstitutional zealotry, that someone sensible should speak up. In this instance, alcohol and sex are certainly congruous. Neither drinking nor naughty nooky will ever be abolished by legislation. Each practice may offend some, be against the religious strictures of others, or may indeed be silly if taken to excess. But driving things underground has never done anything but make them worse, and turn whole populations into even more people whom the police can arrest as lawbreakers.

Even in Aceh, where autonomy has given the province Sharia law, people drink. Some of them are also said to add the rather nice locally grown pot to their coffee to give it extra pizazz. Here in Bali, locus of a definably non-Abrahamic religion, strictures that are the equivalents of haram in Islam are differently focused and decidedly more liberal. In other parts of the country there are substantial indigenous Christian communities. The archipelago is a rainbow nation.

The mullahs and other Muslim proselytisers need to understand that. That is, of course, unless their purpose is to wreck the joint.

Diversity Diva

Christina Iskandar, Bali Diva, has been a fixture in Bali since, well, a decade after the late Made Wijaya came ashore and found to no one’s surprise, least of all his own, that he became a sort of diva himself. So it’s a change of climate for us as well as for Iskandar now that she’s back in her old hometown, Sydney, for the foreseeable future, short visits to Bali aside. That is, she tells us, until her children no longer need her. Um, don’t think that’s ever going to happen. Mums are very special people.

She wrote recently that Bali had her at banana japel as soon as she landed here in August 1983. Some of us are rather later arrivals, but anyone with any sort of grasp of Bali’s special charms has been instantly snaffled by the banana japel.

It’s very hard to leave the place of your choice after a long, long time, and we sympathise particularly since we’ve done that twice ourselves – though not from Bali, whose magic consistently outguns the witch’s brew of demerits that it also serves up.

Iskandar wrote what she called the ultimate love letter to her true home. It appeared on Facebook, as so much does these days. It’s a lovely read, straight from the heart.

The Bali Divas, which she started and whose élan is only exceeded by their economic impact in the fundraising market, are now only one of a number of diva collectives, in Australia (with one much further afield, in New York) that are all dedicated to fine fizzy drinks of a certain sort and fiscal improvement of a very beneficial Bali kind.

We’ll miss the Iskandar imprimatur on fun affrays, though she’ll be popping in now and then to check up on us. We look forward to that. The next Bali Diva lunch is in November.

Soap Opera

One of the Diary’s globetrotting collective, the engaging surfer-soap maker-social insurrectionist Mara Wolford who is at the moment in Homeland USA, tells a lovely story about her encounter with Customs at Los Angeles airport. (We’ve always loved its airport code, by the way. LAX seems so appropriate to southern California’s sunny climate and relaxed Latin American Spanish.)

Wolford tells it like this: “All my carry-on tested positive for a powdered substance US Customs didn’t feel like describing to me with much precision. They asked me what I do for a living. I said I dug in the dirt and scribbled. They asked me if I handled nitrate fertilizer. No, all organic fertilizers. They asked if I handled ethylene (think illegal drug manufacture – yikes, no). What were they finding? Swab after swab was run through the computer.

“Then it dawned on me: was what they had found highly alkaline? Yes, they said. When I explained I had shipped 15 kilos of 99 per cent pure NaOH in the Indonesian mail, from Bali to Sumatra, they looked at me as if I was mad as a hatter. I explained one of the kilo bags had exploded all over my stuff, but I had contained the ecological fallout under emergency circumstances and used the remainder of the lye to make soap. The officer immediately started to repack my gear. ‘That is so outrageous. You can’t make that shit up,’ he said.”

Here Comes Another One

We’ll spare you the marketing hyperbole, but we do want to note that the Bukit is about to have another example of late icon Made Wijaya’s pet hate, “New Asian” architecture, foisted upon its otherwise beautiful cliff faces. This time it’s two new venues planned for Alila Villas Uluwatu, where a partnership with something called the OMNIA Dayclub and Japanese restaurant Sake No Hana is scheduled to open in the third quarter of 2017.

We’ve seen the architectural impressions. We’ll stop right there. Still, it’s all not until the latter part of next year, is it? That’ll give everyone plenty of time to ramp up the road infrastructure and utility services to cope with burgeoning traffic and numbers. Won’t it?

Best Avoided

When you’re travelling, you need to be careful. We’ve seen a pizza menu from a restaurant in the fine republic of Croatia, where Bali fixture Diana Shearin has lately been, though she was not the informant. We alerted her, in case she should find other questionable things on menus. This is it: Quattro Stagioni – cheese, ham, mushrooms, tunfish (tuna), smallpox.

The same sort of dangers lurk here in Bali, such as the infamous craque monsieur the Diary once found on the room service menu in a hotel that really should have known better.

HectorR

Hector’s Diary appears in the on line and print editions of the Bali Advertiser

No Nooky Nonsense, Please

HECTOR’S DIARY

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

HectorR

Bali

Sep. 14, 2016

 

THE view that the state should legislate morality and sexual conduct is hardly novel. Those who think they know better are ubiquitous. They appear in all societies, proselytising a prescriptive view of how their fellow citizens should behave. This is foolish or worse. You cannot mandate faith, or for that matter morality. Anyone is free to believe that their views carry the mandate of their deity. Anyone is free to declare that they do not believe this to be the case.

It is never sensible to place a religious or political preference in juxtaposition to moral issues. The point is that there is a wide expanse of blue water – it’s dangerously rough water too – between criminal law and elective conduct. The business of social legislation should be to free people to make their own decisions.

So the judicial review of the criminal code as it relates to sexual conduct now under way in the Constitutional Court, while it has some benefits in the broad sense, is treading on dangerous ground when it canvasses laws to prevent sexual relations outside marriage. These things are better left to individual decisions. If not, they simply turn more people into criminals (under flawed and fundamentally unworkable sanctions).

It is perfectly possible to argue that Indonesia’s legal system is too liberal and that it represents responses to moral and ethical behavioural questions that do not accord with the country’s cultural traditions and practices. It’s also easy to do that, since it invites the gullible to bang the nationalist drum on account of the often-misstated view that Indonesia’s social problems and others date back to and are caused by the Dutch era.

That is a cop-out mechanism, a variant of the my-friend-did-it response. It is a facile and popular political pursuit, a banal one that should be in most instances ignored (and chiefly is, by the people those mandated by visionary affliction or self-importance seek to control).

We’ve just celebrated the 71st anniversary of independence. Indonesia’s problems, which are also often misstated or exaggerated, date not from colonial oppression but from two (arguably three) generations of domestic inattention to national codification, reform and progress. Morality and ethics should not be co-opted into law by religious cohorts in a country where the constitution affords recognition to five religions.

The overwhelming majority of Indonesians are Muslim, but there are substantial minorities of Christians and others, and in Bali – uniquely – of Hindus, who may well be socially conservative but whose views on sexuality are often different to those required of adherents to the Quran.

There is a general concept of morality and ethical behaviour in Indonesia that ignores religious boundaries and yet is – understandably and, again arguably, beneficially – out of whack with the views that prevail in what is increasingly understood to be the decadent West. But inculcating appropriate values is the job of parental leadership and education, not the state or (outside the faithful flock of adherents) the religious community.

Justice Patrialis Akbar said this during the Constitutional Court hearings: “Our freedom is limited by moralistic values as well as religious values. This is what the declaration of human rights doesn’t have. It’s totally different (from Indonesia’s concept of human rights) because we’re not a secular country; this country acknowledges religion.” He said the Constitutional Court was an institution “guided by the light of God.”

His judicial colleague Justice Aswanto said this: “I was a bit annoyed with what the government said, [that we should] let people commit zinah (adultery or casual sex) and not regard them as criminals. It’s a little bit annoying. I believe casual sex is a crime.”

Stand by for invidiously expanded operations by the No Nooky Patrol.

(For more on prescriptive proscription, see the Sep. 12 post below, headlined Drink Up.) 

On the Other Hand

There’s been a welcome resurgence of Australian student interest in Indonesia, courtesy of the New Colombo Plan that has been assiduously cultivated by Canberra. Indonesian language studies have basically disappeared from Australian schools, displaced by a newly defined need to learn Mandarin because China is viewed as critical to Australia’s trade future.

Misconceptions about Indonesia are rife, something to which many Australians living here can personally attest from their own interactions at home. It’s about much more than trade, which in 2015 (in $A terms) ran out at $5,537 million in Australian exports to Indonesia and $5,619 million in imports, primarily in commodities. Australian exports to Indonesia represented 2.2 per cent of total Australian exports (Indonesia is the country’s 10th ranked export destination). Imports from Indonesia were 2 per cent of the national total and the country is Australia’s 12th ranked source of imports.

Cultural understanding and people to people links are critical to any relationship. It’s heartening to see that these facets of the two-way link have received a boost from the New Colombo Plan. This is not headline stuff: it’s basic building. The results may always be intangible. But it is unarguable that Australians need to know more about Indonesia. It’s telling, perhaps, that Indonesians seem to be more informed about Australia than vice versa.

There’s an interesting article by journalist Latika Bourke in The Sydney Morning Herald that’s really worth reading. It’s not on her usual beat, but she was last year’s Elizabeth O’Neill Journalism Award winner and she’s interviewed Australian students who have chosen to study at Indonesian institutions rather than the traditional Anglosphere icons. That these young people will eventually return home with a deep understanding of the cultural and social mores of Indonesia is immensely valuable.

Much more needs to be done, and many more Australians need to equip themselves with knowledge of their big neighbour, but this is a start.

If nothing else, it underpins the point that Australian defence writer Ross Eastgate (a former army officer) made recently: that Australia is the last European colony in Asia. Intellectual decolonisation of Anglo / European Australia might be a difficult social concept, but it is an outcome that must be achieved.

A Sad Farewell

Made Wijaya’s sad unscheduled departure on Aug. 28 missed the print edition of the Diary last edition, a function of that publishing imperative the deadline, a sadly apt term in these circumstances.

His friends – and they are rightly legion – have said many nice things about him. Rio Helmi, photographer and many other things and a fixture in the Bali firmament, wrote a lovely tribute, and then later another well deserved paean.

Wijaya made the Australian press. He also got notice in the engaging Garden Drum, an eclectic Sydney based on line magazine devoted to horticultural culture that (disclosure) is run by Catherine Stewart, cousin of Hector’s amanuensis.

It is probably at best an open secret that Wijaya, Michael White, was not a fan of Hector or his Diary. That may well be understandable, but we shall miss him and his indelible contributions to Bali.

We’re sure he will have swiftly settled into his new paradise and that he has already rearranged the pot plants.

Glittering Afternoon

We had lunch in Ubud the other day with writer and yoga exponent Jade Richardson, at Le Moulin crêperie, the local provider of Parisian ambience with éclat. For once we were there before the talent and this, by clumsy coincidence, provided its own reverse éclat. When we stood up to welcome our guest, in the cool greenery of the back deck, our chair departed noisily over the edge.

Déjeuner à deux is always fun, especially in decorative and discursive company. Though we might wish we hadn’t made quite such an impression. Never mind. The jambon beurre was very good. Our companion had a crêpe. It would have seemed improper not to order at least one for the party.

Richardson this week is in the midst of the latest of her Write of Passage series for aspiring writers in Ubud, and shortly will be overseeing another, multi-faceted, immersion course for writers here.

Widow’s Mite

When we last checked, on newspaper deadline for this edition, the appeal for funds to support the widow and family of slain police officer Wayan Sudarsa had reached US$7,900 (Rp100 million).

The objective is to reach US$20,000. This is not an issue of the criminal law. That case will reach the courts in the fullness of time and be adjudicated there. It is one of assisting a widow and mother who otherwise will face financial hardship because of a tragic event in which she was not involved and over which she had no influence.

So let’s do it, people. Dig deep.

HectorR

Hector’s Diary also appears in the print and on line editions of the Bali Advertiser

The Sisyphus Factor

HECTOR’S DIARY

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

HectorR

 

Bali, July 6, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fools’ Rules

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

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

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

Singing in the Rain

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

It said this:

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

Brexit Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vin+ Indeed

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

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

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

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

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

Save Our Oceans

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

Think about that.

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

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Mar. 3, 2016

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences 

 

Don’t Miss Saigon

A few days gazing at the Saigon River from the 16th floor apartment of friends, enjoying the quieter street life of post-Tet Ho Chi Minh City, cruising on the Mekong, and briskly sampling the crispness of the mountain resort city of Dalat, 1500 metres above sea level, is a wonderful tonic. We had awarded ourselves the break, after several months of rather heavy duty, and it certainly paid off.

It really wasn’t planned for this time just because it’s raining in Bali. No, really. You expect it to rain in the wet season and are apt to worry, or at least become disconsolate, if it does not. But it’s true that Saigon – that’s what everyone calls it – is 10 degrees north rather than 8 degrees south and that the seasons are reversed. So it was pleasantly dry and cool in Saigon, and a tad on the brisk side at Dalat. The brisk bit was rather nice. And that’s two more ticks off the bucket list, though they’re both such lovely places, and so ideal for people watching and gourmet munching, that they will almost certainly earn double ticks at least.

Many years ago in New York, we saw the musical Miss Saigon. That was something that could easily have been missed, or so the critics and the audiences said. But Mistress Saigon, the city, has a different magic altogether, and certainly should not be missed.

Dined Out

It was sad to see long-term Bali fixture and computer guru Ric Shreves leave the island for good last month. He’s gone back to the USA – to Portland, Oregon – to some useful things there. And he certainly goes with the good wishes of the Diary, if these should speed his passage and oil the wheels of resettlement.

But it was fitting, we thought, that he should dine himself out, as it were. His last few days here were peppered with eating and drinking – modestly, we know – that should give both him and his friends here something to remember.

He spent 12 years in Bali. That’s a long time by anyone’s measure.

Across the Line

The Diary has Lombok connections, as some people know and one or two may have reasons to remember with an extra frisson. We do hope so. So we’re always interested in news from across the Wallace Line, that notional feature that so many people now crisscross regularly on fast boats from Bali.

When we lived in Lombok we had the privilege of residing high on a hill just above the beach a little south of Sengiggi, with a fabulous view of Mt Agung, the lights of distant Amlapura, the islands of Nusa Penida and Lembongan, and the little rocky islets off Candi Dasa. It was almost like being home, even if home was across the water.

It was fun sometimes too, to imagine the Wallace Line out there in mid-strait, the notional point at which Australasian flora and fauna finally cease and the Asian ecosystem takes over completely. On full moon nights in particular, the mid-strait eddies looked suitably, if fancifully and perhaps spookily, appropriate.

Another West Lombok hill-dweller with a fantastic view, Mark Heyward, told us recently of an artistic occasion at The Studio, a Sunday Session on Feb. 28 at Bukit Batu Layar, where artworks by Jakarta-based Sasak artist Saepul Bahri and Lombok resident Terry Renton were on show and original songs and performances pieces were provided by Ari Juliant and Heyward himself.

It would have been fun to be there. But we were in Vietnam instead.

Um, Yes … Well, Actually, No

Much is made, by westerners whose days are spent in detecting invidious cultural insensitivity in the attitudes of other westerners, of the need to comprehend essential differences between societies.

The hairy and wild-eyed, metaphorically speaking, exist on both sides of that divide. They are not to be borne, merely noted.

Below the thin but hot air of the truly manic stratosphere, however, there do exist occasions for comment that are invidious only on the Craven Scale. That’s the one where you say nothing for fear of upsetting not the horses, which anyway are predominantly a sensible species, but the occasional ass.

There have been two such outbreaks recently. One concerned the presence in social media of emoticons reflecting the wishes of people who are (dare we utter this?) gay, lesbian, transgender and other things not prescribed in literature which fails to post-date Neolithic ignorance. The other was a plan by the social affairs minister to eradicate prostitution in Indonesia by 2019.

On the Huh – What’s That Scale, the 1-10 measure that most suits rating the business of monumental stupidity, the outlawing of non-patriarchal emoticons rates only 1. It’s a mere midge-bite on the posterior of progress. Phone and Internet providers in Indonesia don’t want to upset the government and those who are (dare we utter this?) gay, lesbian, transgender or other things, won’t be too much discommoded.

However, the ministerial plan to eradicate prostitution by 2019 is a proposal of such monumental stupidity as to rate a 9 on the H-WT Scale. A 9 causes severe mirth, with dangerous belly laughs near the epicenter, and seriously undermines the respect that ministers and others in high places would otherwise be accorded.

A good universal rule for those who wish to be taken seriously is to avoid demonstrating that they are completely detached from reality.

With a Twist

We saw a priceless little meme recently, which featured a young woman in a position of extreme contortion on the floor, trying to reach the telephone from which a voice was saying “Yoga Help Line. How may we assist you?”

It made us giggle because we’re like that, and it also brought to mind the 2016 Bali Spirit Festival, due to take place in Ubud from Mar. 29-Apr. 3.

It’s a yoga thing, among other pastimes. Yoga is something that is said by its aficionados to get you past ego. That’s can’t be bad, though it has always escaped us why you need to physically contort yourself to achieve common sense. Never mind.

In a recent blog post on its website, the festival reminds us thus: “We all have one, that thing deep within that constantly begs to be satisfied. It is our ego, that place that houses our sense of self-esteem and self-importance. While recognising our own ego’s role in situations can be great, the act of its existence can really hinder our ability to live a happy and healthy life.”

How complex that all sounds. We’ve always managed with a nice glass of wine and some music to taste – Dvorak, perhaps, or if we’re feeling especially syrupy, Handel’s Water Music.

But as Deepak Chopra reminds us – something the Bali Spirit Festival’s blog post did too – “We must go beyond the constant clamour of ego, beyond the tools of logic and reason, to the still, calm place within us: the realm of the soul.”

The Diary, being now of somewhat mature age, might have to make that journey via the hospital were he to attempt a return to the manipulative delights of yoga, which briefly formed an ephemeral moment in his youth.

Nyepi Duties

We were back home in Bali well before Nyepi (Silent Day, Mar. 9). It wouldn’t do to miss it, since it is central to Balinese Hindu rites and customs and surely part and parcel of the reasons you live on the island. It’s also fun because it’s the only day of the year when PLN is willingly assisted by the whole population in the task of turning the lights out, a function that is widely believed to be the power utility’s secret core objective.

This year we’ll be turning out the lights at the villa of some friends, neighbours who are absent from Bali, so that we can dog-sit our favourite retriever while the staff is away. It will be a pleasant duty. Cindy will play ball, we know. That’s what she does. It’s only if you don’t throw the ball away again when she brings it back that you get a severe glance.

Our villas are so close that we can keep an eye on ours, at least while it’s light, and theirs is higher up the hill so that we’ll be able to see all the lights that are not there, in panorama as it were, as well as all the residual lighting that must remain on. There’s a fine view of the airport from their swimming pool (another neighbour’s garden greenery blocks that view from ours). That might be fun.

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