8degreesoflatitude

THINGS THAT INTEREST, ENGAGE AND ENRAGE

Category: Politics

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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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.

Waiting for the Last Trump

U.S ELECTION

Sep. 29, 2016

 

Them good ol’ boys were drinking whiskey and rye and singing ‘this’ll be the day that I die’ 

– Don Maclean, ‘American Pie’

161010-donald-trump-is-a-vulgar-pig

Update 10 Oct. 2016: This election sign somewhere in America says it all.

THE 2016 American presidential election pits against each other two candidates for whom I am grateful, as a non-American, that I shan’t have to vote. The Republican-Democrat stranglehold on federal power, a function both of machine politics and the complexity of government, prevents any alternative emerging.

Neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump is an inspiring figure. Both carry what is crudely called baggage. However, the American election is of interest, because the financial, political and military power of the US naturally impacts on the world at large, and which one of them becomes the next president of the USA is of critical importance.

So let’s briefly look at them both, from an outsider’s perspective.

Clinton has been part of the American political machine for more than two decades. She does know how it works (and probably that this is not very well) and she has standing on the world stage. She is a known factor in international diplomacy.

Things over which she may fairly be criticised are openly known; they are things with which other international leaders are familiar. She has fairly set out the international policy directions she would implement in office. They are mainstream positions. They won’t frighten the horses (or the Chinese, or the Iranians). They represent only modifications to the status quo.

She won’t set the world on fire. Most of us would probably say that this was a good thing.

Trump is a complete contrast. He has no public service experience. He says he’ll do deals with foreign nations, as if they were businesses that the Trump imperium either wanted to work with or to see in court – or to welsh on, another Trump SOP. That’s his record.

His pitch to American voters is that he’ll do things differently. And that’s fine, or it would be if Trump’s word were worth even a lawyer’s letter. His persona is vainglorious, his intellect (which is substantial) is focused on personal acquisition, his manners are appalling, his taste is execrable, his political direction is plainly scary, his social morals are questionable if not entirely absent, and his ethics are notional.

He is also risible, and it is on this last point that his real vulnerability exists. His supporters don’t care for policy, so arguing those is a zero sum game. He is more TV personality than leader in waiting (who would ever want to be Trump’s Apprentice?) He is loose with his language, crassly dismissive of all criticism, a sort of personal bonfire of the vanities.

Liberal democracies can deal with such personalities, if they wish, and if they have the energy and can find the courage. Trump is not actually a figure of fun – he is a clear and present danger – but he is vulnerable to ridicule. Most such people are.

And therein lies the beneficence of liberal democracy. We can slag off at our leaders, actual or putative, without risking police action on behalf of the rich and powerfully offended.

There was no tradition of liberal democracy in Germany when Adolf Hitler seized the public stage and later the nation. If a lot of people had laughed at him early in the piece, he might not have become quite the global problem that he later did. But it was left to the music halls of other western democracies and to Charlie Chaplin to make him a figure of fun, too late in the piece to head off disaster.

His fellow fascist, Benito Mussolini, was of course Italian, and Italy had (and still has) its own risible ways of conducting its politics.

Trump is no Hitler. But he might be a Mussolini, if left unchecked and un-laughed at. He probably does want to make the trains run on time. Mussolini managed that, but by means of adjusting the timetables to take account of time spent idle at train stations en route. He had some sensible ideas. Well, one sensible idea.

We haven’t heard a sensible idea from Trump in this election campaign.

We’ve heard that he’d like to build a wall to keep out the Mexicans and deport millions of illegal immigrants who are chiefly doing jobs Americans won’t do.

We’ve heard that he’d like to repatriate American money to create jobs, but no actual working plan that would achieve that.

He’d like to repudiate the architecture of global commerce and put European members of NATO on a pay-for-the-privilege program.

He thinks Russia’s Vladimir Putin is a good ol’ boy and that the irredentist Chinese, except for their success in stealing American jobs, are doing OK on a range of things, presumably including human rights, which anyway functionally fail to rate on the Trump scale of excellent ideas.

Lately, I’ve been criticised (by people I respect immensely) for making fun of Trump on social media and for playing the PC game. I don’t play the PC game. Economically I’m drier than Innaminka in a drought year. I make no apology for that. But neither do I apologise for publicly laughing at Trump, a living caricature, a man of other people’s means, a sociopath.

He is a risible candidate for POTUS. He is 72. There’s nothing wrong with that. I shall shortly achieve that milestone myself. But I don’t possess the sort of questionable and worrying vanity that would persuade me to wear a ginger stoat on my head.

Sorry, but if Trump’s the answer, the question is stupid.

Lost in the Forest

Hector’s Bali Diary, Apr. 13, 2016

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

 

A Hollywood actor, Leonardo DiCaprio, visited Sumatra and said he thought it would be a great idea to protect the rainforest and the orangutans living in it, especially from palm oil plantations. This is an unexceptional statement. It is also an ecologically sensible view to hold, as well as humane and in the wider interests of Indonesians as a whole. He made the statement, let it be noted, while a forestry minder was with him on his fleeting visit.

When what he said became public, the flatfoots set off in pursuit. The immigration department said it would investigate what he’d said and if he had misused his tourist visa to cause a disturbance or to harm the national interest, they’d look at deporting him. Even the orangutans would have had a good laugh at that, especially as DiCaprio had already left by the time they’d tied their shoelaces. Well, we all did, except that our laughter was a little hollow.

The forests minister has a much more sanguine approach to criticism, thank goodness. She said she’d like to work with DiCaprio on advocating sensible forest management policies and an approach to clearance that doesn’t just knock down all the trees and fail to ask questions afterwards. She did say, too, that DiCaprio might have been better briefing himself properly via her department, before hitting Twitter. And we’d agree. The modern fad for vacuity has created an instant tradition that holds that high-profile actors are repositories of great wisdom. Like many traditions, old and young, its central thesis is very much open to question.

A Greenpeace study, released late last year, lays bare the shocking maladministration of Indonesian landholdings and the corporate-governmental nexus that presides over this shemozzle at the big end of the business. Of course, environmentalists are as apt to over-egg their puddings as any other set of advocates, but there’s plenty of evidence that they’re not far off the mark on this one.

And Another Thing

In that classic protest anthem American Pie, singer Don McLean memorably tells us … “Bad news on the doorstep, I couldn’t take one more step”. That was just before he took his Chevy to the levee only to find that the levee was dry. Many of us have been in that situation.

At Renon, where the Governor dispenses governance, and at Dalung, where the Regent of Badung sits on his council, something of the same feeling must be becoming apparent. The row over the proposed destruction of Benoa Bay and its mangroves shows no sign of going away. Neither should it. A piece of official paper that purports to delist the bay as a natural environment, and which is then used to justify its total obliteration, is a weak and highly litigious excuse for environmental banditry. That’s if you don’t view it instead as a shocking obscenity.

Two embarrassing mass demonstrations – conducted with civility in the face of provocation, let it be noted – and continuing action to disrupt pre-project work, indicate that the local people aren’t going to shut up about it. The beautiful thing is that they’re going about their campaign using adat (custom law and practice). This is both proper and presents an argument the Balinese authorities would be foolish to ignore. Hindu ceremonies are being held at important temples – including on Nusa Penida, where there is a very important temple – and there was one on Serangan Island (site of an earlier despoliation) on Apr. 10.

It isn’t only the Balinese who are voicing objection. Other Indonesians are too. ForBALI is an alliance consisting of student groups, non-governmental organizations, musicians, artists and others concerned about Bali’s environment and who believe the Benoa project is part of an irresponsible environmental policy. They have a petition out on Make a Change.

So we’ll just underline the point. The people aren’t going to walk away from this.

Update: Indonesia’s Hindu high priests ruled on Apr. 9 that Benoa Bay is a sacred area.

It’s a Scream

There’s no denying that Christina Iskandar and the Bali DIVAs do it in style, or that they do so with considerable verve. The ladies raise a lot of money for worthy causes and usually come up with greats gigs at which to do this.

So we’ve made a firm booking with them to be at the next show, on May 27, 12 Noon as always, at Cocoon, Seminyak. That’s not because Iskandar has recently spent an inordinately lengthy time in Sydney and we want to get all the gossip. Although, of course, we do: A diarist devoid of gossip is like a carriage without a horse. It’s because the headline act she’s stitched up for May 27 is Carlotta, the DIVA of all DIVAs, the original Les Girl and an icon of the Sydney entertainment scene.

Not to be missed. Neither is the special guest star, Polly Petrie, who for more than 20 years has been giving new drag queens a chance to showcase their talents at her weekly Sydney revues.

Tickets are Rp650K and went on sale on Apr. 7.

The Big Cheese

Steve Palmer, Bukit resident, surfer and now formally former Bali business icon having fully handed over the reins at Surfer Girl, posted a photo on Facebook recently that really caught our eye. It wasn’t one of miraculously deep and crisp powder snow in the Rockies and other places, where he has been snowboarding. We’d seen plenty of those and wished we were there. This one was from Carmel, the Californian seaside town where action film actor Clint Eastwood made punks’ days for a while as mayor.

It showed the packed interior of an emporium called The Cheese Shop. It looked absolutely divine. Some photos are almost olfactory. This one certainly was, and Bali-resident cheese fans live in a very challenged environment, as we know.

We posted a note to him: “Steve – the Cheese Shop photo! How could you!” He was in no way contrite. He posted back: “The aroma when entering this shop was divine … and the samplings were spectacular.”

There was nothing for it. A one-word response was clearly indicated. “Bastard!”

Latex-Faire

Bringing in condom supplies for free distribution to the HIV/AIDS community in Bali seems like a sensible and generous thing to do. On official figures, one in four sex workers on the island is HIV positive. Handing out free protection is a significant help in curbing the spread of the disease.

Leaving aside idiocies such as regulations that list condoms as pornographic material – pornography is a banned import – there are certain forms to observe when travelling here. There are very few laissez-faire customs boundaries anywhere. The quantity of products you can bring with you is limited and a common factor is “commercial quantities”. It’s frankly strange that Kim Gates, head of the Northern Territory AIDS and Hepatitis Council, didn’t know this. She claims she was scared and surprised when she was detained on arrival back in March when quantities of latex (720 condoms) were found in her luggage and judged to be beyond reasonable bounds. It would be worse if (like many a numbskull tourist) she didn’t care; and it is curious that she apparently failed to read her customs declaration form.

It’s perfectly permissible to have a giggle at some of the things some countries have a problem with at their border crossings; and even to speculate about their sanity, if you wish. Though it’s often better to do that privately. Thick heads are so often paired with thin skins. It is, however, common sense to abide by the regulations. Don’t try to take an apple into Western Australia, for example.

The most sensible advice came from the Consul for Information, Social and Cultural Affairs at the Indonesian Consulate-General in Darwin, Ardian Nugroho. He said they were happy to provide letters for people taking large quantities of donated products to Indonesia, to show to immigration authorities on arrival.

Groan…

This is so bad that it’s very good. A meme site of our acquaintance called The Northern Drunken Monkey (well, how could we resist?) offered it the other day.

A Mexican magician tells the audience he will disappear on the count of 3. He says, ‘uno, dos…” He disappeared without a tres.

Hector’s Diary, edited for print publication, appears in the fortnightly publication the Bali Advertiser

 

 

 

The Great Performer

BOOK REVIEW

KEATING by Kerry O’Brien. 2015. Allen & Unwin, Sydney. ISBN 978 1 76011 1625.

 

Many Australian journalists have a Keating tale to tell. Not all of them are denizens present or past of the parliamentary press gallery in Canberra, though naturally that was the former treasurer’s and prime minister’s chief stamping ground.

It was a privilege to be on the receiving end of a Keating harangue. He was – is – a driven man, certain of his verities, adamant that his blueprints were the only way to go. And in truth, he was perhaps the best reforming treasurer Australia has ever had; as prime minister he was less spectacular and came to a sticky end, but he deserved the gig when he was finally to persuade the Labor caucus that it was time to chisel away the ancient, concrete-hard chewy by which Bob Hawke had fixed himself to the leader’s chair.

Those of us who only had visiting rights to the Canberra gallery – the visiting fireman trips we used to make for special occasions, such as one or other of Keating’s budgets – and therefore a closer acquaintance with the world outside the febrile Capital Hill environment were less often in his sights.

But there’s one incident that I treasure. It was when he was prime minister, during the 1993 federal election campaign in which he saw off the hapless Hewson, and he had been having trouble with the editorials in The Courier-Mail. (This was when The Courier-Mail was a responsible broadsheet newspaper.)

The editorials had been asking questions about the sustainability of the Keating matrix for market-based superannuation. The question in chief was what would happen to people’s super when the market crashed, in, say, 25 years.

(In fact the editorial writer’s timeframe was slightly out of sync. The market crashed well short of the quarter century and we’re all still paying the price now.)

Keating arrived at The Courier-Mail’s offices one day, at very short notice. A group was hastily gathered together to listen to the prime ministerial lecture (I called it the Wigging Group when then chief executive John Cowley rang me up to say I’d better be there, since I’d been writing the editorials.)

We sat in a sort of acolyte semicircle in the boardroom annex and were harangued non-stop for 45 minutes. Towards the end, Keating fixed us with a trademark Question Time stare and said, “Do you agree with me now?”

No one from mahogany row or the loftiest peaks of the editorial domain said a word. But he knew it was me who had been writing the disgraceful things that so signally failed to acknowledge the future paradise of which he so lyrically spoke. So I stepped up to the plate. “No,” I said.

He looked displeased – well, he would, and one of his minders made a note to this or that effect – and shortly after he left, escorted back to the big glass doors and his white limo by a shambling, informally disorganized crocodile of executives. Cowley said to me in a stage whisper – we were two back in the crocodile, possibly just out of earshot – “He doesn’t like your editorials…”

It is a priceless vignette from my life as a scribe: a never to be forgotten moment.

Kerry O’Brien’s book naturally covers a much wider field of anecdote and policymaking. It is an engaging read, especially perhaps for readers who know both the protagonist and his interlocutor. It’s drawn from a wide reading of Keating’s archives and other sources, and is in Q&A style.

O’Brien sets the scene for each new chapter, and asks the questions. Keating responds, often at length, sometimes less so. He is engagingly honest in much of what he says, sometimes brutally. In some of his responses, he is a little more opaque. He is devastating on Bob Hawke, reasonably dismissive of Peter Walsh, kinder to many than one might expect or even think is warranted, and amusingly direct on some of the international leaders he corralled into his prototype APEC.

A picture emerges of the Keating you thought you knew – and are delighted to find that it is the Keating you actually did know. He was always an inclusive, pleasant host – in my case only rarely, since I was Brisbane based and only occasionally within a thread-length of the Zegna suit – and a genuinely nice man.

He was (still is) the consummate politician. He was a killer in Question Time, but he always valued the forms and principles of parliament. He was never a warrior in the class sense, or a hater. You do what you think is right, or what you must, but away from the battle, you’re a normal person.

Well, perhaps a slightly abnormal one. Not so many modern politicians embrace fine arts and ancient clockwork in quite the way that Keating does.

O’Brien’s book, and the photographic collection it contains, reveal the political animal, but also allow us glimpses of the man behind the carefully constructed public image.

Keating’s legacy lies in the open Australia that he created – financially, the finest of his political elements – and in the invitation that he has left on the table, for us all, to view Australia outside the parochial prism that politics and constrained public empathies continue to mandate.

Hector’s Bali Diary, Mar. 30, 2016

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

 

Voice of the People

That 29 banjars can get together to protest the proposed corporate vandalism of Benoa Bay and the destruction of its precious mangrove environment is a political problem for the provincial government and the lesser authorities whose fief is Badung regency. This protest, on Mar. 20, wasn’t authorized. It wouldn’t have been. But it was authoritative and it called in all the weight of adat (custom). It was also the second such protest: an earlier one on Feb. 28 involved the village of Benoa and its banjars.

The Mar. 20 protest shut off airport access to the toll way and the traffic circle at the airport road intersection on Bypass Ngurah Rai. The organizers announced the event well ahead of time and apologized for the inconvenience. But most likely few people – beyond the Governor and his Benoa Bay despoiler of choice, Jakarta tycoon Tomy Winata – thought the demonstration was a bad idea. Most people think the bad idea in this instance is wrecking a fragile and precious environment in the interests of rich people getting even richer.

The police were powerless. They are not a constabulary here; they are effectively a paramilitary enforcement squad. But you wouldn’t want to start a war with 29 banjars. They took away two important adat leaders for a compulsory little chat while the non-affray was in progress. A crowd that then gathered outside the police office where this enforced conversation was taking place ensured that the detention period swiftly ended.

What happened on Mar. 20 was an exercise in grass roots democracy. It should provide valuable instruction for those in office. The primary lesson is that the people at all times effectively limit your power to act contrary to their wishes. There’s another lesson too. It is that while economic advance is essential, and should be welcomed, this needs to be achieved by public consensus and sensible planning, not by diktat or fiat or droit de seigneur. (Look that last one up. It’s allegorical in this case, but it’s apt and you might get a giggle.)

Candi Break

We spent Easter at Candi Dasa in East Bali, far from the madding crowd. We felt the need to stare at the ocean for four days. It’s always restless, but it sticks to its game plan and is predictable, at least in the main. The tides always come in and go out twice a day, a Circadian rhythm that for us provides a truly meditative focus from the comfort of a long chair by the pool. The discomfort of a yoga mat is for others in a more malleable state of grace.

We stayed at a favourite place, Pondok Bambu, where no one knows us as anything other than those crazy old Bules who’ve been coming here for years. We hadn’t been there for a while, but neither Nusa Penida nor Lembongan had moved. They remained in full view across the shimmering Badung Strait. Away to the east, Lombok gave us a glimpse of its comely contours now and then. The offshore parking arrangements for the Bali-Lombok ferries were as interesting as ever. Waiting your turn to Ro-Ro at the wharf at Padang Bai a few kilometres down the coast can sometimes be longer than the crossing.

And Pondok Bambu’s breakfast pancakes, enjoyed under the umbrellas by the low wall just above the water, were as tasty as always too. If you have hang around all Easter, it’s a pretty good spot to do so.

Switch Off

It was Earth Hour on Mar. 19, that annual observance through which, by switching off the lights for 60 minutes, we are encouraged to believe that we are saving the planet, or at least that we are helping to do so. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a bit of tokenism. No, really. It’s what the world seems to live on these days.

PLN, the national power utility, joined the chorus. It said Earth Hour was a great idea and consumers of its ephemerally available current should certainly participate. They didn’t quite go so far as to call on us to be upstanding and sing Indonesia Raya at mosque-loudspeaker pitch, but you got the idea.

A hollow laugh would be appropriate at this point. PLN has its own Earth Hours, somewhere, every minute, through its Well That’s a Surprise program of unannounced and inexplicable outages.

We once considered, in a nightmare we vaguely recall, what we might do if we woke up and found we were running PLN. Resignation and a plea to be considered instead for a position more closely aligned with the less fanciful claims in our CV came to mind. A paperclip-counting position in some dustily remote office of government might suit.

Just So We’re Cleare

It’s official. Australia is finally on the free tourist visa list, for visitors who are not intending to extend their stay beyond 30 days. That’s good news. But while the decision has officially been made and announced (accepting that here as indeed anywhere, things can be unannounced as required) it wasn’t immediately in place.

The super-active Clare McAlaney, who saw the announcement on line from the consular people at the Indonesian embassy in Canberra, got on to them for confirmation.

They told her this, on Mar. 21, in an email addressed to “Dear Cleare”:

“The new regulation on free visa to Indonesia for several countries, including Australia, was already signed by the President.

“However, its effective implementation shall wait for the issuance of the implementing regulation from the Ministry of Law and Human Rights.

“Once the new visa regulation is officially effective, it will be publicly announced by Indonesian Embassies/Consulates.”

Apparently some Australians got through immigration at Ngurah Rai International without paying US$35 as soon as the decision was announced. Even though the presidential pen had squiggled, the scrap of paper hadn’t been dug out from under the administrative overburden and no regulation yet existed. They’ll sort it out, eventually. The department of crossed wires must be Indonesia’s busiest bureaucracy.

Putting on Weight

The annual Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, a fixture since 2002, is breaking new ground with the collation of the UWRF’s bilingual Anthology series, which each year brings together the work of 15 emerging writers from across Indonesia. The writers themselves will launch the published anthology at the 16th festival, which runs from Oct. 26-30.

Festival director Janet DeNeefe tells us that this year UWRF has the largest number of submissions so far, with 894 aspiring writers from throughout Indonesia sending in stories for consideration. Submissions go to an independent curatorial board for selection.

In another move to widen its reach, the festival is collaborating with the Australasian Association of Writing Programs to select an aspiring writer to attend UWRF 2016. Submissions close at the end of May.

A Vital ROLE

The innovative travel outfit Destination Asia has been a supporter of the ROLE Foundation’s Bali WISE Women’s Skills Education program for more than a year now and have signed up to continue this support throughout 2016 as well.

That’s great news for all the women who have taken the opportunity to be part of the Bali WISE program. It highlights the benefits of corporate community support, delivered at a practical level, directly to the advantage of people who would otherwise remain truly disadvantaged.

ROLE founder Mike O’Leary tells us all Bali WISE students go through a six-month intensive school program. This is split into two parts: Three months are spent at ROLE’s Nusa Dua campus to learn English, women’s health, family planning, IT, and business skills. The next three months are spent at hotels for in-field hospitality training. Students’ education, accommodation and transport costs are covered throughout the six months of education.

Destination Asia started business in 1996 as the first destination management company to specialise in Indochina operations and the first Asia based travel business owned by its employees. Its network now spans 11 countries including Indonesia.

It runs on the old fashioned concept of a family business, without outside shareholders or directors, or equity relationships with international travel conglomerates.

So that’s a Woof, then

Bali’s most talkative recluse, Vyt Karazija, was some time ago adopted by an itinerant Bali dog, a feisty little fellow whose name is Lucky. Those of us lucky enough to be on Vyt’s mailing list have ever since enjoyed the Tales of Lucky. A recent post on canine affairs particularly caught our eye.

Karazija wrote: “Last night, Lucky was instructed by one of the people he owns to report to my place for his morning medication. ‘What time?’ he asked. ‘10am,’ he said. This morning, precisely at 10am, Lucky reported at my front door. Amazing dog.”

Hector’s Diary, edited for print publication, appears in the fortnightly publication the Bali Advertiser

 

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Mar. 16, 2016

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Keep them at Bay

Made Wijaya, the go-to Bule for behind-the-friezes analysis of Bali society and what really makes it tick, has some very sensible things to say, in his latest Stranger in Paradise column, about the excrescence Governor Made Mangku Pastika and Jakarta business tycoon Tomy Winata wish to visit upon the precious marine environment of Benoa Bay.

Among them was this, a quote he gave The Sydney Morning Herald, whose Indonesian correspondent Jewel Topsfield has been following the story of the proposed vandalism of the bay:

“The Balinese are fed up and they are finally unifying to express protest against rampant development. Imagine filling in Sydney Harbour — it’s pretty radical. It’s going to become like, heaven forbid, South Florida, with fake waterways and cheesy houses. And the last thing we need is more traffic in South Bali. It’s mindless, environmental vandalism.”

He also noted this, of the massive local demonstrations on Feb. 28, including those authorized by the Benoa village authorities and its constituent banjars, with one of which we have a close personal connection:

“As a guest in this country, I can’t go out marching, as I would like to. As an environmentalist — and as a lover of real, not real estate Balinese culture — I feel obliged to write about these threats to the environment. Some Balinese have suggested that taking on Jakarta developers is like taking on the mafia. The Balinese used to believe that it is better to roll with the punches and just get on with the show, their ceremonial show, rather than wetting their pants over things that can’t be changed. But not any more.”

Like Wijaya, Hector is a guest and can’t go out protest marching. But that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t like to.

Hats Off to Them

We enjoyed a nice night out on Mar. 4, at the Fairmont Sanur where the ROLE Foundation and Bali WISE had a hat party to celebrate International Women’s Day. The traffic was horrendous – six changes at the traffic lights at the end of the tollway to get onto Bypass Ngurah Rai to Sanur, for all the usual incomprehensible reasons – but eventually we got there, parked (in the wrong place) and walked along the beach path to the Fairmont.

It was easy to spot ROLE founder Mike O’Leary in the crowd. His hat had big bananas on it. He looked nonplused when we greeted him thus: “Mr. Cavendish, I presume”. But when you’re the big banana on the night, you’ve naturally enough got a lot of things on your mind, so we forgave him.

We did not wear a hat. We look shocking in headgear of any sort. Neither did we win the raffle, but that too is the standard script. The Distaff took a hat with her but decided to leave it in the car. Fellow guests at our table were Amanda Csebik, of Indonesian Island Sail, who was hatless, and Muriel Ydo, formerly of ROLE, who had brought along a severe but really rather fetching 20-year veteran of her hatbox and put it on now and then. Deborah Cassrels, a fellow scribe we’ve known for more than two decades, joined us from her table after dessert and we all had a lovely chat.

O’Leary says the night, which featured a silent auction with some lovely options, was a great success. The dance displays were interesting, especially the samba, though it really wasn’t clear exactly what that had to do with empowering women. The feathers looked ticklish, which prompted a hastily erased thought. Many in the 100-strong crowd got out there and boogied. We stayed at our table and tried to make ourselves heard above the racket.

The Fairmont is a lovely property. We’ll have to go back in a quieter time.

Oh Buoy!

When that shallow magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck the seabed south of Sumatra on Mar. 2, both the Indonesian and Australian authorities issued tsunami warnings. A wave did not eventuate and the warnings were later cancelled.

But none of the tsunami detection buoys expensively arrayed in the Indian Ocean off Sumatra after the 2004 Aceh disaster were working. Apparently their solar panels and other useful bits had been stolen by enterprising thieves who if apprehended – fat chance – would probably only concede, and that grudgingly, that they might just possibly be public nuisances.

Foreigners are frequently advised, sometimes forcefully, to remember that cultural differences exist between Indonesia and places where law enforcement agencies are properly resourced, their performance is regularly monitored, their reporting is timely and accurate within agreed tolerances, and their actual enforcement of laws is generally speaking OK. That’s always been a very thin argument, worthy of a hollow laugh, in a country whose ringmasters insist on its, and their, dignity being beyond dispute, but never mind.

In situations where petty thievery and supine enforcement endangers lives, however, no laughter is appropriate, hollow or otherwise. There is a point at which rampant venality becomes more dangerous joke than cultural proclivity.

The latest ferry sinking is another case in point. This one capsized on Mar. 4 in the narrow strait separating Java from Bali, fortunately with only low loss of life (there were five fatalities). Inquiries were made as a result of the accident. Doubtless some primary cause will eventually surface and may even be disclosed.

But no one would be surprised if the boat was overloaded when it left Gilimanuk for Banyuwangi, a 30-minute trip excusing the hours then spent floating around waiting to dock.

Please Explain 1

One of Klungkung Regency’s minor panjandrums got an unwelcome hurry-up the other day. Governor Pastika dropped in to ask awkward questions about, shall we say, some unauthorised fundraising for phantom projects. Perhaps it came as a surprise to the fellow that private enterprise wallet-stuffing on government time is frowned upon at the Governor’s office in Renon.

If so, that’s a very welcome little shaft of light from the heavens. Klungkung isn’t the only place on the island where nefarious is understood to spell opportunity, as an unrelated corruption probe in Badung sourly demonstrates, but it’s a start. The Balinese who exist lower down the food chain than wallet-stuffing panjandrums (that’s most of them) will possibly be pleased that the Governor has actually required something to be done about it.

Klungkung is Bali’s smallest mainland regency, though its regent’s realms include Nusa Penida, Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan across the Badung Strait. Its bureaucracy likes to do nothing much about a lot. A case in point is rabies, which is of course not really a problem at all as long as anyone who could actually help eradicate it, or at least reduce it by world recognized vaccination and humane sterilization based dog population controls, is kept out of Klungkung.

Please Explain 2

Badung Regency has declared South Kuta – the area that encompasses Tuban, Jimbaran and the Bukit peninsula – a red zone for rabies. They’ve done this, they say, on the basis of the many dogs in the area, not necessarily because of cases of canine rabies.

Why this should still be necessary eight years after the rabies outbreak began (on the Bukit where the authorities failed dismally to contain it) is problematic, or would perhaps seem so to people unversed in how things are done here. The thing being, of course, that things are only rarely done here. The subtext to the announcement, early in this month, is an excuse to kill more dogs in the arcane belief that this will reduce the rabies threat.

The issue is education, so that people learn and are helped to take care of their animals – including village dogs which have always been informally, collectively owned – and effective vaccination and sterilisation programs. Killing dogs is cruel and unnecessary. It is also profoundly counterproductive when they have been immunised against rabies and are thus an essential part of the defence against the invariably fatal disease. All this takes money and effort, and a clear sense of purpose.

It’s something you might think the local veterinarian association would be active in advocating, even if only because vets are supposed to be bound by a version of the Hippocratic oath that applies to human medicine. Do no harm.

We noted this, in relation to the ongoing rabies emergency, in the Diary of Dec. 9, 2015:

“Where is the provincial government in all of this? What is it doing to educate people about their responsibility for animals in their care? Nothing. It’s off finding further excuses for indolence. Where is the Association of Veterinarians Indonesia (PDHI) of Bali? Perhaps its chairman, veterinary doctor Made Restiani, would like to tell us when the PDHI will be back from being out to lunch.”

Apparently, it’s an astonishingly long lunch.

Hector tweets @scratchings on Twitter. His diary appears 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.

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Feb. 17, 2016

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

 

Far Queue Again

The periodic struggle to get vehicles into and out of Ngurah Rai airport was worse than usual on Feb. 5, apparently. We weren’t there, which is probably a good thing. One hour-plus irritation a month already tests our toleration limit. It isn’t that we’re unsympathetic to local rites, religious or otherwise: far from it in fact, and far further than many might think. But of course we’ve only been here 10 years, much less time than many Resident Bules who clearly know a lot better, and that must be why we don’t really see the need to exponentially expand mayhem as a function of Bali life when it’s actually simpler not to.

In normal circumstances the absence of the phrase membentuk antrian tertib (form an orderly queue) from both everyday Bahasa Indonesia and local consciousness – to say nothing of whatever the equivalent might notionally be in Basa Bali – creates road conditions that are interesting. That’s in the old Chinese sense. It’s not just at the airport. The chaotic Mille-Feuille Roundabout on the By-Pass is a case in point. That’s where traffic dashes in, using an anarchic multiplicity of “lanes” from four directions, including the airport and the toll road, while the traffic police look on (in desperation, it sometimes seems, and we sympathise) and drivers ignore everything except their own apparently desperate need to get in front of everyone else. In lighter traffic this can work, as long as you have nerves of steel. And you can jag a dream run round that funny round bit in the middle if you’re there at 4am, though you still need to be watchful for idiots who are doing 80km/h, aren’t looking, and don’t have their lights on. It’s a bit like the flood drains we don’t have here. They’re a waste of space when it’s not raining.

The Feb.5 mess at the airport resulted from roads being closed for local ceremonies. The important Galungan (Feb. 9-11) festivities were coming up. Galungan is second only to Nyepi (Mar. 9 this year) for which the airport is officially closed. We’re told that on Feb. 5 it was taking vehicles an hour or more just to get into or out of the airport. The area resembled a parking lot. Leaving aside the issue of convenience for road users and the tedious matter of missing your flight, an unmovable traffic jam is a security concern in such a vital piece of public infrastructure.

Two things need to be looked at. One is the requirement for the airport operating company, a featherbed state corporation, to bother about its responsibilities beyond collecting money. It should look at the airport’s ridiculous car parking arrangements and the road layout, for a start. The other is for the Bali provincial government and local councils to work with banjars on a plan that will recognise and facilitate both the requirements of adat (custom) and traffic needs. Public thoroughfares are no longer the village pathways that once could be blocked off at no great inconvenience to anyone.

Hindu ceremonies are a crucial element of life in Bali. They must be protected and encouraged. They are the very essence of Bali and they’ll remain so even when Hindus become a minority in some areas, and even island wide, which ultimately seems inevitable.

Drink Up

We went with a lovely friend the other evening to the Nusa Dua Beach Hotel in search of dinner. The desire had been expressed for the sort of meat and three veg dinner that is traditional in certain cultures and which can be difficult to find here. We went where we went because the lovely friend thought that’s where she might have been once, when such fare was apparently on offer.

It wasn’t the place and there were no roast dinners – the Diary was not at all displeased – and we dined at the resort’s beachside Tamarind restaurant. The food was very good indeed, the intricacies of true medium-rare steak were clearly understood, a further bonus; and the Californian red zinfandel (a Berringer) was a very nice drop.

We had a drink before dining. That was a slightly more enervating process. It was Happy Hour, they told us, on the standard two-for-one plan. The waiter brought two drinks menus. The Diary pointed out that there were three of us at the table. Oh yes, um, OK. A third menu eventually arrived, with an expression that bordered a tad too closely on exasperation. We then ordered “one large Bintang two glass” (the usual Diary and Distaff deal) and the lovely friend asked for a Gordon’s gin and tonic. The waiter tried to give the Distaff the large Bintang and the two glasses. Maybe the Diary really is invisible. Or perhaps the training sessions there mandate that when two women and one man are ordering, the man is a Non-Presence; or is just along for the rides.

We chatted and drank our drinks, enjoying the tropic ambience and browsing through the dinner menu. Then we called for our Happy Hour second round. Oh no, they tried to say, Happy Hour ends at 7pm. But we ordered before 7pm, the Distaff and lovely friend advised. The Diary remained silent, since he was apparently invisible. A manager appeared and tried to reinforce the too-late rule. He eventually conceded defeat and scurried off to get the bevies. The gin wasn’t Gordon’s. This was noticed. What a surprise! It got sent back.

Desert Island Slipped Discs

Very little is more ignorant than breathless tabloid TV and the Australian sector of this disinformation industry is probably well up there with the worst. It’s often well meaning, Aussies being, you know, good blokes. Unless they’ve inadvertently trodden on their bonnets and got bees in them, but that can happen to anyone. So we were not surprised to see a promo for an item on the Seven Network’s Today Tonight show about Aussie couple that had gone to Bali and built a jungle resort on a deserted island.

Suna and Joe Cavanagh, of Perth, have built Castaway resort on Lembongan, towards the rugged western end of the island where the Indian Ocean swells crash spectacularly into the low rocky cliffs. The resort, which is locally managed, looks fabulous and is on the Diary’s list for an unannounced visit. It’s on the sheltered coast away from the rollers.

Lembongan is a beautiful spot. But it is not deserted – the Islanders alone number around 5000 – and neither is it by any measure jungle. Still, as Suna Cavanagh advised fans on Facebook, that’s TV.

Rule of Lore

No doubt it will be appealed all the way to the Court of Final Shemozzle, but the recent decision of the Indonesian Supreme Court to uphold a ruling in a lower court last year to award use of the global IKEA trade name to a furniture outfit in Surabaya is worth a belly laugh, albeit it a hollow one. In a majority decision – there was one dissenting judge, apparently the sentient one – the Supreme Court said that since IKEA had not used its trade name in Indonesia for three years it had forfeited its right to do so. There’s no need to pause for applause. It’s just how they do things here.

The law the judges (minus the dissenter) decided in their wisdom to apply is designed to regulate the bottom-feeders, those who in the usual fashion here have mortgaged their companies to the White Elephant franchise and gone out of business. Foreigners do this too – we’re not making an invidiously focused point.

But the Swedish company IKEA is a global operation. It hasn’t gone out of business. Its Indonesian operations might need a makeover – if so, it’s far from alone in overlooking that imperative – but its global brand name is extant. Its headquarters are in Leiden, The Netherlands, not in Surabaya, East Java, where Intan Khatulistiwa Esa Abadi plies its trade.

Life of George

These things happen, but it can be a little embarrassing when they do. A chap we know who calls himself Richard got a note the other day from George Wright, national secretary of the Australian Labor Party. That wasn’t unusual. George writes to Richard regularly, about this and that and sundry other things.

There was a twist, however, in this instance. The missive that the virtual postman dropped into the virtual mailbox was a little apology, on which George, bless him, had tried to put the best spin possible. A recent message he’d sent, it said, had addressed Richard as Riley, and he was writing to say he knew Richard was Richard and wasn’t Riley at all, and he was sorry about all this. He signed himself off as “George (not Riley)”. We thought that was a nice touch.

Automated mail programs can be painful. They make you think of all sorts of things with which to complete a distempered exhortation that begins “R for…”

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

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Dec. 9, 2015

 

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences 

 

You Could Cry

Animal fan Rhonda Lepsch has for two years run a great operation called Jet Set Petz – the name came from the jet ski operation in which she’s involved at Tanjung Benoa near Nusa Dua – but it will soon be no more. It will close on Dec. 15 and its useful Facebook page will disappear. This would be sad in any circumstances, since Jet Set Petz estimates it has saved or otherwise cared for 400 dogs in the area. What makes its closure shocking is that it has been brought about by the blind indifference to anything but immediate benefit and money-grubbing that so blights Bali today.

Lepsch lost a loved pet dog at the end of November, either poisoned or taken by dog meat traders. It was too much for her. Who could blame her for deciding that since her neighbours in Tanjung Benoa declared themselves uninterested in doing anything much at all, they were not worth bothering about? You could cry, really. Bali is the island of spiritual wholesomeness, or so the Balinese keep saying. Increasingly the evidence points in the other direction.

Lepsch says she knows of no rabies cases in Tanjung Benoa over the past two years that she’s been running the program. The dogs of the locality are healthy. So now they are the target of dog meat thieves and mean little people who poison other people’s pets because … well, because they can, because they have no conscience, and because no one in authority can be bothered getting out of their air-con to stop them.

Official policy, such as it is, now mandates mass killing of dogs to reduce rabies. It doesn’t work, of course, but it looks busy and it’s cheaper than doing the hard yards that would actually work, such as resuming the planned and implemented vaccination programs they abandoned when all the money ran away, and the sterilization schemes that were meant to run alongside it to humanely reduce dog numbers.

Where is the provincial government in all of this? What is it doing to educate people about their responsibility for animals in their care? Nothing. It’s off finding further excuses for indolence. Where is the Association of Veterinarians Indonesia (PDHI) of Bali? Perhaps its chairman, veterinary doctor Made Restiani, would like to tell us when the PDHI will be back from being out to lunch.

Bali’s spirited dogs would like to know, just as much as we would.

Dharma and Karma

Balinese Hinduism is different from the Indian variety. It is heavily influenced by syncretic elements from Buddhism and other faiths. But it shares many common points with its Indian originator and certainly emphasizes the same influence of Karma on human actions. So it was interesting to read the other day a scholarly outline of Hindu responsibilities for animals, their health and welfare, and their place in the world. It’s on the web at this URL if you’d like to read it, which you should: hinduwebsite.com/hinduism/essays/animals.asp.

Among other things, it makes this point: Hinduism is a compassionate religion that treats all living organisms as aspects of god with souls of their own. Hindu scriptures encourage the devout to treat all animals with respect, not to harm them, and not to subject them to cruelty or to kill them. Sacrificing animals for religious purposes is seen in Indian Hinduism as a prehistoric rite that no longer has a place in society.

There is, you might say, food for thought in that.

Many religions formulate the same Karmic rule, unfortunately too often observed in its breach. Among these, Christians are reminded in their scripture that you reap what you sow. Karma’s a tonic, or possibly a poison. Or to put it even more plainly, if you’re a right berk, one day you’ll pay.

Pack ’Em In

It’s good to see that La Gazette de Bali, the monthly newspaper for the Francophone community, is right behind the longstanding efforts of Tabanan-based PT EnviroPallets to reduce the footprint of non-reusable packaging and the plastic that is its chief component. La Gazette is required reading at The Cage. It’s always interesting, runs lots of material you mightn’t otherwise see, and is especially useful as a foil to the English-language dominance of information (not only in Bali).

So it was slightly odd to read a three-year-old Jakarta story recycled on one of the virtual print platforms serving the local Anglosphere that might easily have been misunderstood as suggesting EnviroPallets is a new venture. We hadn’t seen the piece ourselves and were alerted to its presence by that inveterate reader of everything, Philly Frisson, The Diary’s international cultural attaché and a girl who loves a giggle.

Speaking of oddities, we were amused to read elsewhere, in the Googlish print media, the reported view of the local weather bureau that it’s been hot because the temperatures have been high and dry because it hasn’t rained. Ah, the delightful perils of instant on line translation. Still, one needs to smile, especially when the flying ants that always presage big rain are apparently still in hiding and refusing to come out to play.

Don’t Bank on It

We had a chat the other day with Susi Johnston, who remains as feisty as you’d expect a graduate cum laude of Bali’s school of hard knocks to be. The issue was land law and property ownership – it’s her specialty of course, in her case because of a criminally unfair situation – and a daylong seminar held in Kuta on Nov. 28 attended by 120 to hear about the thorny matter of foreign-owned property.

Some good came from it, though nothing of immediate substance. Among things in the pipeline are possible moves to create a Hak Pakai title available for people who are in Bali only to live – retirees for example – and it’s clear that the authorities desire at least to try to clear up the mess here. Not using a nominee would be sensible. Using a Jakarta lawyer might be a good idea. These ideas will upset the perfumed, flash shirt and shiny pointed shoes brigade here. Oh dear, how sad, never mind.

A Good Result

Mike O’Leary of ROLE Foundation tells us the 2015 ROLE Models Charity Dinner on Nov. 21 brought in around Rp 300 million to boost funds that ROLE outlays on its groundbreaking Bali WISE effort to educate and empower marginalized Indonesian women. The event was attended by 180 and held at Rimba, hosted by Ayana Resort and Spa.

Bali WISE gives students from Bali and other Indonesian islands skills education so that they may secure a worthwhile job with a fair wage to support themselves and their families. The program, which depends on corporate support from the business and hotel sector, has been running for nearly a decade. So far 762 students have graduated, 90 per cent of them finding jobs afterwards.

The 180 guests at the function, who turned out in a colourful collection of Across the Archipelago traditional attire, were welcomed with cocktails at Rimba’s Orchid Tea Lounge before a five-star dinner was served in the ballroom. The Bali WISE student choir and well-known Indonesian performer Lisa Soul entertained the crowd. A silent auction offered prizes donated by sponsors and attracted enthusiastic bidders. The after party was at Unique, the property’s scenic rooftop bar.

O’Leary tells us the evening beat its fundraising target. If you’d like to learn more about ROLE or lend a hand, browse www.rolefoundation.org

Fatally Unplugged

The Indonesia Air Asia Airbus A320 that crashed into the Java Sea on December 28 last year, less than halfway into a two-hour flight from Surabaya to Singapore, had a flight control computer that had malfunctioned 23 times over 12 months and four times during the fatal flight.

How that problem can have been left uncorrected in the normal maintenance cycle is for others to say. Whatever is now said, the Diary says this: From our point of view the accident resulted from inexcusable negligence; it indicates a corporate attitude to a duty of care on a par with its fatally cavalier attitude to aircraft airworthiness; and Indonesia Air Asia is now on our no-fly list. We’d rather walk, thanks.

The Indonesian crash investigation report, released on Dec. 1, found that crew action caused a loss of control and the stalling of the aircraft. All 162 people on board were killed. The report said flight crew action resulted in inability to control the aircraft. The situation caused a prolonged stall condition that was beyond the capability of the flight crew to recover.

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