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A Spicy Date

HECTOR’S DIARY

in the Bali Advertiser

HectorR

Wednesday, Mar. 1, 2017

 

UBUD is the centre of much heritage and tradition in Bali. This remains its principal charm, which is offset only by its other role as a testing ground for the skills – or lack of these – of drivers of huge buses that service the growing Chinese takeaway tourist trade. The narrow streets of Aum Central are believed by package tour operators and entrepreneurial bus companies to be ideally suited to big vehicles.

Fortunately such impediments are only spasmodic. It mightn’t seem that this is the case when you’re caught in one of the regular hour-long crawls around the Monkey Forest-Raya Ubud-Hanoman horror, or the similar stop-start treks up from Lod Tunduh, but it would be churlish and quite wrong to assert that shemozzle is a round-the-clock affair. The roads are generally quite trafficable between midnight and 6am.

Ubud is also Festival Central. It’s home to the Writers and Readers Festival (the 14th, this year, is from Oct. 25-29) and Bali Spirit Festival (Mar. 19-26), and many other celebrations, especially those of the highly favoured navel-gazing variety. Some of these are delightfully boutique affairs where deep and meaningful navel gazing takes on an almost personal perspective. There’s a lot to be said for navel gazing, if this is conducted with an open mind.

Janet DeNeefe’s writers’ festival has gone from strength to strength since its first rendition, which was held as a healing process after the first Bali bombing in 2002. A little while ago it incorporated a culinary element to its programming, which added pedas (spice) to panas (heat). Some wag at the time defined this as fragrant rice meets flagrant lies. The full degustation of the Ubud Food Festival grew from this early appetiser.

This year’s festival is themed Every Flavour is a Story. DeNeefe tells us it is designed to reflect the rich cultural texts that underpin the diverse culinary traditions of the archipelago. Last year’s event attracted around 8000 international visitors, according to the organisers, which naturally provided a spin-off benefit for local traders and accommodation providers. All good.

There are narratives attached to any set of food traditions, of course, and Indonesia’s are richer than many, weaving stories that depict the journey your food has taken from farmer’s plots and livestock owners to the dinner table. UFF, which bills itself as Indonesia’s biggest culinary festival, has invited leading aficionados of the genre to share their insights and kitchen secrets. Leading restaurateurs, food manufacturers, and producers, food writers and gourmands will be on hand to spread the love.

During the three-day event, visitors will be able to join forums, cooking demonstrations, workshops, special events, food markets, musical performances and film showings. Among those down to attend are Tasia and Gracia Seger, known as the Spice Sisters, who recently won a nationwide cooking contest in Australia; Professor Winarno, an expert on tempe; and the “jungle chef” of Papua, Charles Toto, who will introduce unique dishes made from the produce and heritage of Indonesia’s easternmost province.

There’s an international element as well. This year Bo Songvisava and Dylan Jones are down to appear. Their Bo.Lan Restaurant in Bangkok is on the best 50 restaurants in Asia list. They will feature in a special street food event together with Indonesian cooking legend Will Meyrick at his Ubud eatery Hujan Locale.

Also back this year will be the Kitchen Stage presenting Indonesian language cooking demonstrations. Look for appearances by Made Runatha and Made Januar from MOKSA; Chef Made Lugra from The Ayung Resorts; and Made Surjaya from The Standing Stones.

Full details are available at www.ubudfoodfestival.com.

Collectors’ Items

There’s a lot of rubbish in Bali. It is a constant problem that becomes most foully evident when it rains and all the stuff everyone’s dumped out of sight – and sometimes just out of olfactory range – in previously dry watercourses gets flushed out into the sea and ends up on the beaches.

Fighting pollution on the beaches is also a constant problem. Many are recruited to the forces deployed against this threat, by means of regular clean-ups and their commitment to public voluntary service is commendable. It’s true of course that the new mass market tourists, from China, along with the increased Indonesian component and the growing Indian one, are less fretful about rubbish than the western tourists who hitherto have been the preferred market.

But this is not an excuse to continue in the false belief that rubbish is not really a problem. The dengue figures alone prove that, as well as the increase in rats that these days, due to other shortsighted policies, are preyed upon by fewer feral dogs.

There is, too, a lot of rubbish talked about rubbish. Those who might assert that no one cares should study the efforts made by the Denpasar city authorities to implement workable local rubbish collection policies, fund these, and enforce the law concerning them. A very good rule is always credit where credit is due.

Denpasar is a city of more than three-quarters of a million people, in a densely settled and therefore more easily administered area, with a revenue base that is beginning to be workable, and an administration that is keen to create and sustain liveability. Other areas of Bali do not have that civic benefit, the services of broadly educated administrators, or the resources to fund effective waste collection and disposal. That, like so much else here, remains a work in progress.

This element of life in Bali needs to be understood by critics who briefly occupy plush villas and wrinkle their noses at the despoiled environment beyond their privileged walls.

Catch a Chill

The Diary is just back home from a brief visit to that other place, the big island to our south where, to quote from a now venerable pop song, women glow and men plunder (not chunder, just by the way) and Vegemite sandwiches are all the rage. So it’s really good to be home, for all sorts of reasons, not least for the reliability of warmth as a constant factor in Bali’s climate.

Our flit this time took us to the southwest corner of Western Australia. A good friend who lives in Bali’s southern suburb was celebrating an important birthday and we had to be there. It was a lovely show, at a surf lifesaving club on Perth’s fantastic beachfront. It was hot in Perth.

Then we went further south, into the karri forest country that is the ancestral territory of the Distaff, and hit one of those quirks of climate that make life in that part of the world so interesting. Rain’s OK – we’re used to that in Bali. But if we ever want thermometer readings in the teens we can trip up to Kintamani or Bedugul and sample these very briefly before getting back in the car and returning speedily to lower altitude and higher temperatures.

It’s summer in the great southern land. But for some reason, Murphy’s Climatic Law has always followed us on our travels. It’s most unfair.

Water Rites

The unusually heavy rains of this year’s strong La Niña wet season will have partly replenished Bali’s groundwater reserves, which is a good thing. But these reserves have been so heavily plundered by over-use and shockingly absent planning and regulation that it would take several successive La Niña events to make any noticeable difference. The reality of global climate cycles is that nature will not provide that benefit. The girl child’s drought-fixated brother El Niño will inevitably return.

Conservation and responsible use – enforced by both law and the effectiveness of price signals on usage – are the only way to prevent terminal decline. There are of course some things humans can do to build sustainable water resources. They could fix deficient reticulation systems, for example, though that seems to be a bridge too far under water for Bali’s authorities at the moment.

Innovative science can help, where perennial and pervasive losses from leakage and thievery won’t. So it was good to see the IDEP Foundation unveil a recharge solution on Feb. 27 designed to counter Bali’s water crisis. It did so by means of a media launch of its demonstration recharge well under the Bali Water Protection (BWP) scheme started in 2015. It’s part of a longer-term solution to the problem of rapidly depleting aquifers, many of which are being invaded by salt water because of the depletion of the water table. It’s apt that this is the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.

The program calls for a network of 136 recharge wells to be installed across Bali, harvesting water to balance consumption. The Bali Water Protection program involves educational programs in 132 schools located along rivers, and a media campaign aimed at raising public awareness for water preservation in the province. The demonstration well has been funded by Fivelements, a luxury wellness resort, which is showing the way by supporting the concept of the entire pilot program.

As IDEP Executive Director Ade Andreawan says, it is vital that Bali’s business communities offer strong support for the program.

HectorR

Hector’s Diary in the Bali Advertiser is published monthly, in every second edition

That Other Kuta

HECTOR’S DIARY

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

HectorR

Lombok / Bali

Oct. 26, 2016

 

IT’S quieter and rather less crowded than Kuta Bali, though it has grown a little. There’s something that resembles a main street with an Indomaret supermarket and a few other junior emporiums. The warungs along the beach, those symbols of entry-level Indonesian tourism entrepreneurship, where once you could sit and watch the waves over a cold beer, have been cleared away in the future interests of the rather grand Mandalika development. But Kuta Lombok is great at the moment if you’re not looking for crowded bars packed with people out for a good time.

We weren’t when we spent a lovely week there earlier this month. It’s been a favourite place for a decade and a half, since we first stayed at the then nearly new Novotel Lombok in 2001 on a side trip from Bali. We’ve made a point of returning now and then, when we need some down time.

So, we did basically nothing except sit on the Novotel’s pristine beach in a berugak – think balé (gazebo) – watching the tide coming in or going out and occasionally dipping in for a float. Except we ate, rather more than is our custom, but that was nice too because as part of the Accor chain the Novotel does alimentary things in a delightfully semi-French fashion. It was so good that the Diary didn’t even really mind that the Wi-Fi struggled to reach the beach. The fruit sate sticks for elevenses and the mid-afternoon cakes got there.

In the rooms and the rest of the resort the Wi-Fi’s fine. That modern hazard – being obstructed by off-in-fairyland wanderers holding their smart phones and staring at them – must be dealt with. Just learn the words for “excuse me” in, say, 10 of the most widely spoken languages among Novotel guests, and you’ll generally get by; even if it’s sometimes tempting to use the full suite all at once.

Our morning walk program was a talking point. As in Bali, no one walks anywhere. They hop on their scooters to idle 50 metres up the road. Walking for recreation or in the interests of the arteries appears to be something only mad bules do. Several times lovely people even suggested that perhaps we were jogging.

We dropped in on Senggigi – after Cakranegara for fabric shopping – before the R&R in the south, and had dinner with local identity Peter Duncan and his wife Wiwik Pusparini at Taman restaurant, and stayed overnight in a nice room at Howard Singleton’s beachside establishment The Office, at the Art Market.

Hurry Up and Wait

Our return from Lombok was not without misadventure. We’d flown to Lombok with Wings and that went swimmingly, even if it did include the usual diddling about doing circles over the Wallace Line to make the flight worth making, or perhaps longer. We flew back with Lion, a little tardily, for very late-advised “operational reasons”, that class of excuse that brooks no inquiry. Just to add pedas (spicy) to panas (hot), first we were to fly only three hours late, and then it turned out to be nearly five.

Flight delays were not confined to Lion Air. They resulted from regular closure of Ngurah Rai to all except emergency landings for evenings from Oct. 2 to Dec. 26, as notified by international aviation regulators. The runway needs a bit of work and this is being done, if the contractors bother to turn up. The point is, surely, that since this is a lengthy term of mandatory closure, airlines should have adjusted their schedules accordingly. Well, never mind. This is Indonesia. Once, long ago when Lombok’s airport was still at Selaparang in Mataram, we were also delayed, though not for quite so long, by an apparently unforeseen event at Ngurah Rai. They told us then that the president was on the runway.

Lion had been on our personal No Fly paper since 2013, when the flight crew on one of its Boeing 737-800s selected a dubious preference for the briny over the somewhat firmer properties of tar-macadam and landed in Jimbaran Bay instead.

We think the airline has since then secured the services of flight crews equipped to recognise runways and understand their benefits and who will remember to adjust autopilot parameters in time. But on this occasion it would have been tempting to swim home.

So Sad

The deaths of nine people – three of them children – in the collapse of the suspension bridge linking Nusa Lembongan with its smaller sister island, Ceningan, on Oct. 16 are tragic. What’s also tragic is the sequence of events leading up to the deadly occurrence.

Duty of care is not a term – or a principle for that matter – that resonates in Indonesia. The islands are in Klungkung regency (as is the larger island of Nusa Penida) but the district government’s divan is in Semarapura (also called Klungkung) on Bali’s mainland, where it apparently relies on karma to run things.

It was Full Moon, a sacred time for Balinese Hindus. A large devotional procession was crossing the bridge when its cables snapped and the walkway collapsed into the narrow channel that separates the islands. A sign warning that the bridge was unsafe for large numbers of people at one time had been put up two days beforehand. Either this was not read, or it was read and ignored, as most such notices are.

But if the bridge was unsafe in overloaded conditions – and plainly it was: cables rarely snap without provocation – then the authorities should have ensured it wasn’t overloaded. Bali’s traditional system of village guards (Pecalang) is ideally equipped to manage crowds and ensure compliance. They don’t miss a trick at Nyepi: show a light for an instant after dark on Silent Day and you’re cactus.

Some lateral thinking – actually, any thinking – by the regency government appears to be rather desperately needed. The bridge collapsed once before, in Feb. 2013, in a bit of a fresh breeze.

An appeal was launched in Australia to raise funds to help the victims of the collapse.

One Word, Seven Letters, Starts with ‘B’

Elizabeth Henzell of Villa Kitty wrote a dispiriting note on her Facebook on Oct. 16. It speaks for itself so here it is:

“I am so disgusted with humans that feel their need is more than someone else’s! How do they know! Villa Kitty’s tireless admin assistant, Metha, has had her Samsung phone stolen – from Villa Kitty! Who would do that? Who would steal from (a) a yayasan/animal welfare centre or (b) someone who works for a yayasan/animal welfare centre! We have had food stolen, my phone has been stolen, money stolen, medical supplies, by people with NO morals! I am truly sick of it!”

We’re all sick of it, Elizabeth. It’s that other real Bali, the one that doesn’t rate a mention in the feel good fluff stuff.

Happy Snapper

Bali-based British photographer Michael Johnsey, whose faces, sunsets and skyscapes particularly engage The Diary, won deserved acclaim – and 20 per cent of sale prices for the charity Solemen Indonesia – at the opening night of his exhibition Life in Bali, at Bridges in Ubud on Oct. 15.

It was a packed house for the event, he tells us. It’s such a shame we weren’t there. The marathon seven-hour return wait-and-flight to Bali from Lombok the previous evening did terrible things to the schedule at The Cage. Johnsey notes:

“What a great opening event. A packed house. Thank you all at Bridges for making it such a great success. Life In Bali is off to a pretty good start.”

His photographic works are on display at Bridges, so if you’re in Ubud get along there and have a look. It’ll be worth it, we guarantee. We’ll drop in ourselves this week, while we’re in Ubud on literary matters.

Lash Out

Those who apparently desire that Indonesia should become Untustan (untu is camel in Bahasa Indonesia) have been having a field day lately. Aside from public canings for promiscuity and other elective activity defined as sinful in Aceh – caning is a legitimate penalty under Aceh’s Sharia law – Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama has been the target of mobs over his alleged blasphemy against Islam. Blasphemy is an offence under Indonesian law.

The governor, usually known by his Indonesian familiar name Ahok, isn’t a Muslim. He’s a Christian, a Chinese Indonesian, and appears to be doing quite a good job as civic leader of Indonesia’s capital city. There’s more socio-political polemic than inter-religious dispute in his current problems.

A quatrain by the mediaeval Islamic scholar Omar Khayyám comes to mind: “As far as you can avoid it, do not give grief to anyone. Never inflict your rage on another. If you hope for eternal rest, feel the pain yourself; but don’t hurt others.” It’s a shame that this useful aide-memoire is never handed out to the mobs along with the nasi bunkus (wrapped rice).

Last Word

The 2016 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival starts today (Oct. 26) and runs to Oct. 30. Hindu obsequies for the late Made Wijaya (Michael Richard White) will be held at Sanur on Nov. 9.

HectorR

Hector’s Dairy is published in the on line and print editions of the fortnightly newspaper the Bali Advertiser