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Hector’s Bali Diary

HectorR

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

June 8, 2016

 

It’s always fun to read Alistair Speirs’ little homilies in NOW! Bali. They seem to carry a reminder of Episcopalian morality, which isn’t strange, really, given that Speirs is from Edinburgh, the Sassenach capital of Scotland. My Auntie Lizzie had something of the same air. She kept polished seashells and the Book of Common Prayer on display and lived in a flat in Leith, the port of Edinburgh. She was thought by my English mother to be slightly exotic, though my Scottish father sensibly seemed not to share this assessment. It was not because she lived in Leith. It was because she had spent 10 years in Australia.

Anyway, we digress. Some of our critics say we do this, as well as commit other sins against their ideas about what you should say in someone else’s country, and don’t like it. But the benefit of writing a diary is that you can write what you please and if people don’t like it they can read something else.

Yes, right, OK then. Back to the point, which is that Speirs’ journal, one among the Melbourne Cup field of glossy publications that circulate here, discusses fine, playful things and offers good thoughts. Much like many others, really. His comes, phoenix-like, from Jakarta, though unlike most airline flights from Soekarno-Hatta, it does so on a regular schedule and on time.

His latest bonne pensée, which hit our in-box on May 25, relates to sustainability in business. That’s sustainability of environmentally impactful things, not necessarily the corporate entities themselves, some of which here seem to have remarkably short lives before expiring for lack of a business plan. These measures, as Speirs notes, with a prompt to those who might still be mulling the point, include recycling water, recycling waste, using solar power, and using the lowest practical wattage in lights that flicker on (or off) at the whim of the monopoly power utility, PLN.

Sustainability encompasses CSR projects too: as he also notes, such things as Ikea’s scheme to put septic tanks into poor housing in Jakarta, and in Bali Coca-Cola Amatil’s and Quicksilver’s beach-cleaning program and Hotel Dynasty’s support for the East Bali Poverty Project.

These all make a difference, certainly; and they partly fill the gaping chasm left by a political and bureaucratic apparatus that prefers to waste money on symbols and trinkets rather than craft and implement a budget for the effective use of limited funds.

They are additional to the great work of many non-governmental organizations here that spend philanthropic and charitable money on all sorts of things: even on the animals, whose integral place in Balinese Hinduism appears to be lost on all but the priesthood and the common people.

The dog meat traders, cheapskate breeders of exotic dogs, keepers of wild creatures in dreadful conditions of deprivation, the provincial and regency dog killers, and even the local veterinarian association, seem to care not a whit.

DIVA Time

Carlotta and Polly Petrie, doyennes of the dress-up scene in Sin City for what we might say are donkeys years, except les girls are certainly not asses, wowed the crowd at Cocoon Beach Club, Double Six, on May 27. They had flown in from Sydney for Christina Iskandar’s latest Bali DIVAS lunch.

The Diary was among those wowed, along with the Distaff, who usually evades such events but relented on this occasion. She has a thing for Sydney, the Distaff. Well, we all do really. What’s not to love about a big, brassy, bawdy broad? A sprinkling of royalty was present. We spotted a few queens in the crowd. The folks down the back chattered loudly through the business bit of the function, as always. It’s always better to hear the sound of your own voice instead of listening to something informative, after all.

Cocoon’s menu for the lunch was lovely. We had the roasted beetroot salad, the green tea stir-fried soba noodles, and the fried banana. We kept the latter as out of sight as we could, and ate it quickly, though without gobbling, lest a sighting should prompt improper thoughts among any passing queens.

We had to concentrate very hard on the beetroot salad since, just after this had been served, a significant failure of couture would otherwise have been right in our face. A passing diva had stopped mid-stride nearby, fished out her mobile phone, and engaged in an animated conversation with it.

She was wearing a see-through mesh dress beneath which was a white lining. The lining was deficient. It ended a tad short either by design – these days nothing surprises – or by error. It offered rather more than just a hint of the two partially occluded and profoundly naked half moons of her trimly taut derriere.

Christina tells us the May 27 event raised Rp100 million for local charities, including the Bali Children Foundation.

Chinese Checkers

It will come as no surprise to anyone that Chinese tourists in Bali spend very little time here – four to six days is about it – and almost no money. What money they do spend is largely kept within the closed circle of organized Chinese tourism. Very little trickles out to the Balinese cash economy. That’s the nature of the emerging mass Chinese tourism market at the moment. Most western package holidaymakers spend around four times as much. It’s partly a function of the good-time societies they come from, but mostly one of the high levels of discretionary cash they have in hand.

A recent survey by Bank Indonesia’s Denpasar office sets out the whys and wherefores of this phenomenon, and it is no surprise that these whys and wherefores have led to questions about why Bali is targeting the Chinese market. The return to Bali at present is, frankly, minimal. The objective is to add value to the transaction in the future. You know, that’s the bit that comes after the present, and which here is rarely considered a viable or worthwhile thing to even bother thinking about.

But we all need to sit and think about it. In relation to the emerging Chinese market, it isn’t that the Chinese are customarily mean. Chinese with money spend a lot of it, though that generally stays within the five-star-plus hotel sector. But in a tourist-oriented, relatively high cost tourist destination, a lot of Chinese have very little to spend. They’re cautious with their money and it’s sensible to be so. They are learning consumerism. Some among us harbour the hope that by the time they’ve learnt it, that ruinously pernicious element of human “progress” will have been superseded by something more sensibly sustainable.

Flying High

The Australians are back at the top of the Bali arrivals list. That is, those (the overwhelming majority) who make it here without making idiots of themselves on the plane on the way or while they’re here and getting locked up as a result of their own stupidity.

Latest figures detailed in Bali Update show that in April 380,614 foreign visitors arrived, up more than 21 percent on the April 2015 figure. The four-month Jan.-Apr. cumulative arrivals figure of 1,471,064 was nearly 17 percent higher than a year before. On that trend, we’ll see 4.6 million happy – or unhappy – visitors this year, a record.

In April, 91,250 Australians came here, taking the total tank top and Bintang contingent to 334,529 for the first four months of the year, up nearly 7 percent on 2015 and making up 22.74 percent of the market. Mainland Chinese arrivals were up 34.18 percent in April versus April 2015, at 66,848, and 21.45 percent so far this year, at 315,512, a nearly 30 percent increase. Ni hao. Xièxiè.

Please Be Ridiculous

Since some months ago we sadly had to let go our international cultural attaché, Philly Frisson, we’ve been looking for someone to fill a modified role in that sort of area.

We’ve found her, a lovely lawyer from Brisbane with a sense of humour and a cauterizing tongue. We’ve appointed her Chief Spotter of Risibilities and Verities.

She frequently causes us virtual mirth, which is really good if you live in Bali where so often the only laughs you get are hollow ones. The other day she reminded us of a fundamental rule of life: There is a certain happiness in being silly and ridiculous.

A few of the deep-thinker-sulky-boots sorts around here could usefully take that on board.

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

 

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