8degreesoflatitude

THINGS THAT INTEREST, ENGAGE AND ENRAGE

Category: Social Development

Property Bloom

HECTOR’S DIARY

His regular diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

HectorR

The Cage, Bali

Apr. 8, 2017

OK, so in Bali a property boom that will surely be unregulated – if it eventuates anywhere beyond the hype files of realtors – has about as much of a helpful impact as an algal bloom in fragile coral-fringed ocean waters, but we’ll try to be positive. Changes to Indonesia’s property laws that give foreign buyers leasehold rights for 80 years and access to local bank finance are good. They’re fair, for a start, and take account of the market that exists for such deals.

It’s true that Bali’s property market is unlike any other in the country – even Jakarta’s, where it’s underpinned by solidly productive industrial and commercial investment and a growing real economy – but at the same time, practically speaking, there’d be no property boom in Bali were it not for tourism, on which the investment sector of the economy is irrevocably based. So it also makes sense, of a sort, to facilitate private domestic and foreign investment in that job-creating area, as long as this doesn’t squeeze any more myopic local greed out of the souring Balinese lemon. That’s a long-shot option, of course.

Invitations to hop aboard the latest bus to paradise are popping up everywhere. One reached us the other day from Bali & World News and Views, an online thing that is run by Lawrence Bellefontaine, of PT. Bali. He has organised two free seminars in Sanur on Apr. 13 and Apr. 15 at which, he says, he will reveal the wealth to come to anyone who invests in what passes here for bricks and mortar.

There are certain fundamentals in the Bali property market that realtors of all stripes seek to explain away, if they cannot hide them. There’s been, so it is said, a “correction” in the market lately. Real estate is subject to the same range of cyclical factors as any other economic sector, so on the face of it that’s a fair statement.

It overlooks an essential point, however: that markets only work – indeed can only operate – when sellers meet buyers’ expectations. There’s a great deal of property in Bali that has been on the market for a very long time, because sellers put prices on their property that are more than buyers will pay. That’s the correction we need to have. This concept doesn’t suit sellers, of course, but that’s the way the crumbling cookie has always turned to dust.

It doesn’t suit realtors, either. They want to make a profit, and of course they should, for otherwise there’s very little point in being in business. But they’re increasingly unlikely to do so, except at the opportunistic margins, in the unregulated building environment here. A prime villa with sea views – just for example – becomes sub-prime the moment someone builds out that view. That they’re more than likely to do this very soon and compound their offence by building on your wall as well, ignoring regulated requirements for space between properties, makes it worse.

The key to proper property and development management is fair regulation that is enforced. Neither of these factors is present in Bali.

Gut Feeling

FACEBOOK’S capacity for instantly advising you of where friends are and their circumstances of the moment is of course very useful. Some of those old enough to remember the days when if you sailed away from the homeland you were never heard from again are still trying to come to grips with the fact that, these days, there’s nowhere to hide.

A note posted by one of our more peripatetic pals the other day reminded us of this modern benefit. “Breakfast in Bangkok”, his Facebook proclaimed. At the time, we hadn’t had the second morning cup of coffee before which persons possessing natural caution do not approach us. “As long as it’s not dinner in Dhaka, you should be right,” we replied.

Lala Land

IT’S not just this side of the Arafura Sea that you find bureaucratic nonsense under foot wherever you turn. A friend who has recently moved back to Australia from Bali relates a sorry tale of Aussie-style bureaucracy run amok. Having heard the tale in all its risible detail, we shall never again complain about Indonesian rules. Well, OK, we might, but you know what we mean.

Apparently, if you’re applying for a driver’s licence there, and not just renewing one, you must now provide details of your first Australian licence. It’s not clear why that should be the case. Surely the last valid licence would be sufficient.

Difficulties arise, in the Australian way, because state authorities issue driver’s licences and databases do not necessarily match and may in fact not be accurate.

It certainly prompts the thought that even if you are away from Australia for an extended period of time, you should try to renew your driver’s licence on expiry. If you have an address in Australia, that’s simple enough, though of course you need to be there to renew.

On a related matter, new banking rules in Australia mean that even as a long-established customer with a local address, a registered signature, and all the other bumf that you need on file these days, including a tax file number, you cannot now establish, say, a new term deposit (or even add to one) without fronting up at the bank to sign in person.

No doubt the fat controllers fear that retired folk on reduced incomes trying to scratch an extra measly sou out of catatonic depositor interest rates are actually undercover agents of the global money laundering conspiracy.

Barker Beach

We spent a pleasant hour or so the other day at Karang Beach in Sanur, where locals and foreigners alike look after the beach dogs as if they are family. It was lovely to see. They’re friendly beings (the dogs we mean; the people are nice too) and appreciate the food and contact they get. Most are still statistically underweight and have health problems, but they’re better than many, and that’s fabulous.

Sanur benefits from a strong sense of community and the extensive canine health programs that local banjars have embraced. Among other things it has eliminated rabies as threat in the area. They’ve done this via efforts by local and overseas not-for-profit animal welfare agencies, and an innovative project that Udayana University is running as a result. It’s good to see.

Just Joshing

ALL Fools’ Day has now passed again for the year. We decided not to post a diary on Apr. 1 because of this factor, even though, by many marks, it’s always all-fools’ day around here, as well as around the globe.

The origins of April Fools are obscure, but whether it stems from confusion in 16th century France over the new Gregorian calendar which moved New Year’s Day to Jan. 1, from ancient Roman and Greek spring rites, or even from Holi, the Indian Hindu festival, it’s a day to believe even less than ever of what you might read and see.

HectorR

Hector writes a monthly diary in the Bali Advertiser. The next appears on Apr. 26.

PLN’s Best Day

HECTOR’S DIARY

in the Bali Advertiser

HectorR

Wednesday, Mar. 29, 2017

 

IT was Nyepi yesterday (Mar. 28): Bali’s Silent Day. It is celebrated on the first new moon in March – at the same time as Indian Hindus mark their festival of Ugadi – and ushers in the Balinese New Year. It was then 1939 when we were again lawfully allowed to pop the kettle on to make a nice cuppa.

On Nyepi day, as is now well known even by challenged Australian tourists and most Chinese whose package tour operators failed to remind them that they’d be confined to barracks, very little happens in Bali.

The streets are deserted, except for Pecalang patrols checking to see that everyone’s indoors being quiet and contemplating no one’s navel except their own, and any emergency vehicle that’s been let out on duty with an authorised blue flashing light. So the road system copes quite well. Electricity use plummets by 40 per cent, which means PLN can meet demand, also a novel one-day-a-year arrangement.

The airport remains officially operational. It must, as an international airport, so it can function as a landing place for aircraft in distress. Otherwise, only transit flights are permitted over Nyepi and these are not allowed to embark or disembark passengers. Maritime navigation lights also remain on, including for ships at anchor, as international maritime law requires. So anyone with a sea view can find amusement by spotting riding lights and harbour beacons. Designated tourist hotels can keep minimal lighting on for guest safety. Otherwise, clouds permitting, it’s a starry, starry night. Which is lovely.

At The Cage, we keep things quiet. No noise is allowed to escape our perimeter. No light is either. That’s our mark of respect to local regulations and the honoured and honourable requirements of Balinese Hinduism. We’ve lived here for 12 years, but we are still guests in someone else’s homeland, and guests should respect their hosts by behaving themselves.

Religion, though, is not for us: we don’t even observe the strictures of the one that we are forced by Indonesian law to nominate as ours. Years ago we cut to the chase and gave up Lent for Lent. It’s Lent (the 40-day Christian pre-Easter fast) at the moment, just by the way.

These days we stay home for Nyepi. We’ve given up going away, or checking into some tourist accommodation where unruly children and their indifferent parents ruin your day.

Some years ago we booked for Nyepi at a favourite spot (it’s in Candi Dasa) and took our usual room overlooking the pool. We and the other guests were chivvied out of the restaurant by 7.30pm and sent to our rooms where the doors had to be closed and the curtains drawn tightly across the windows lest light or sounds of muted merriment be evident. We sat in the dark on our terrace and were amused by the staff, of which numbers soon turned up at the darkened pool with all the pool toys. They had a rare old time.

Miscreants and Others

BALI’S courts seem to have been processing job lots of foreigners lately, for the usual run-of-the-mill offences like drugs (“I didn’t know it was illegal”) and killing people. We sympathise with the judiciary, which has a tough enough job dealing with Indonesian-speaking criminals without having to cope with idiot visitors who can’t understand what’s being said, or the procedural practices of Indonesian law and the courts, and who probably shouldn’t have been allowed on the planes that brought them here in the first place. Such is life, in the age of mass tourism.

It’s true of course, if you believe the inmates that is, that jails everywhere are full of innocent people. The scope and range of implausible excuses is infinite. Criminal law is an interesting area, but we couldn’t take it. Our fuse is not long enough.

That’s why we took up scribbling for a living (though the living bit is moot these days). As so many assume is their right to tell you, it’s easy to fulminate. You just need an outwardly imperturbable nature and a thick skin. Though to do so sensibly, in the hope of encouraging objective thinking, in yourself or in others, you must be broadly informed. Sadly, Google long ago declared this practice archaic. These days you just cherry pick by cut-and-paste to reinforce only what you want to believe.

In the specific instance of the thrill of the moment, the trials of Briton David Taylor and Australian Sara Connor for the killing of a policeman on Kuta Beach on Aug. 17 last year, it’s appropriate to note that the sentences plainly reflect a very full judicial assessment of all the circumstances.

Taylor, a DJ whose performance name and apparently preferred lifestyle is Nutso but who sensibly shed his dreadlocks and his attitude for his trial, has accepted his six-year sentence. Connor, a mother of two (which some non-Indonesians seem to believe should mediate sentencing policy) was at last report considering counsel’s advice that she should appeal. She got four years. Our advice would be to cop that sweet.

Traditional Dress

SOME people are said to think that Governor Pastika went a bit over the top in his choice of attire when he said cheerio to King Salman of Saudi Arabia at the end of his extended stay. The Governor wore traditional Balinese dress. King Salman wore traditional Saudi dress.

They could have swapped, perhaps, just for the heck of it and the photo opportunities. But the Governor is Balinese. Why shouldn’t he turn out in full ceremonial rig for a ceremonial occasion? Bali’s unique culture deserves protection – and promotion. King Salman seems perfectly content with the notion that Bali is not part of Arabia Felix. Apparently he has the same opinion about the rest of Indonesia. This will disappoint only very few people.

Multilingual Cats

WE spent a lovely weekend recently as house guests at a villa in the Ubud area, an establishment where the two resident cats – kittens, really, and rescue animals at that – are showing remarkable linguistic aptitude. The household is French-speaking. The help is Indonesian. The visitors in this instance were from the Anglo side of the resident foreigner community.

We took along a couple of toys for the cats to play with. They seemed to enjoy them. One of them even went as far as to purr in our presence, a very high honour. But what impressed us most was that they seemed to be equally at home all three languages, as well as being completely fluent, as you’d expect, in their own Meow.

We tried our French on one of them, a lovely little ginger fellow whose name – surprise – is Ginger. In French, that’s “Jzhonzh-air”. He is the one who had purred at us. We think we got a meow in response. But it could have been a meh. Such a put-down! French vowels have so often brought us undone. We were in Paris once and were trying to find the Louvre, and got sent to the pissoir instead.

Ah, Yes, that Rabies Thing

IT won’t go away. It won’t, at least, until Bali’s authorities find some way to get really serious about it, and apply to the reduction and eventual elimination of rabies the established rules and practices that work everywhere else. The island’s new compact with the Japanese city of Kumamotu might help there. It is designed to put in place a controlled and properly administered program of the same sort that was commenced here in 2009, was then handed over to the local authorities, and then fell in a heap.

We know from reports in the local media that rabies-positive dogs have recently bitten people in the Bangli, Tabanan and Jembrana regencies. As usual, there was the absence of ready access to vaccine to cope with. That really is something the health authorities need to get on top of right now. Rabies is a zoonotic disease (human infections are from animal vectors) in the same way as plague is, for example. It is also 100 per cent fatal, unlike plague. But prevalence of zoonotic disease in close proximity to human populations indicates an absence of effort to eradicate it, including by spending the money required to do so. This is not something any local government should permit.

Rabies has been known to be present in Bali since 2008. It is unsafe to assume that any area of the island is free of it. We should remember that it started on the Bukit, not far from that popular draw-card, the GWK cultural park, and will certainly still be present there. It does seem, anecdotally, that infection levels in dogs are now at relatively low levels. That’s a benefit.

But all it takes is one dog. Someone who drives around in a plush government supplied SUV should have a real think about that.

HectorR

Hector’s Diary in the Bali Advertiser appears in every second issue. Follow 8degreesoflatitude.com for more up to the minute material.

 

Gaia Waives the Rules

 Hector’s Bali Diary

HectorR

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

June 22, 2016

 

This seemed to be the consensus among the worriers, at least, those who observe ephemeral climatic events as a message from someone or other (and of course, themselves) about the dangers of human environmental iniquity.

But climate is cyclical as well as seasonal, warming and cooling in response to all sorts of things, even sunspots. That’s why people were able to grow grapes and make wine in England in the early Middle Ages and then a couple of centuries later could ice-skate on the Thames every winter. It’s why millions of years ago there was a natural episode of global warming – we call it the Carboniferous Period – that produced worldwide rainforests that later turned into the coal with which we are now polluting the atmosphere

The problem today is that you can’t say these things without being buried under a chorus of criticism because you’re denying global warming, or worse, are possibly one of those ghastly dinosaurs who hold that man has no influence on the atmosphere and the climates that result.

For the record, we are not among that challenged cohort.

We do need to stop polluting both the atmosphere and the planet’s surface, stop breeding millions of mouths we cannot adequately feed, and stop chasing economic growth as the be all and end all of human progress.

So, to the point at issue: The recent high tides and big ocean swells that hit Bali were unusual, though far from unknown. The coincidence of lunar cycle high water, the continuing effects of a powerful El Niño event, storms in the Indian Ocean and big Antarctic lows generating huge swells was spectacular. Tragically, as always with such events, there were human casualties. Despoilers of the beaches for profit found that indeed they had built upon the sand. Silly, shortsighted chumps will always collide with karma. It was the same in faraway Sydney.

The moral is that the ocean is for fish and the beach is to visit. We are a terrestrial species. Perhaps, eventually, Governor Pastika and Benoa Bay non-environmentalist Tomy Winata will note this and grasp the good sense of Tolak Reklamasi. Both should be familiar with that term by now.

Make a Splash

Waterman’s Week 2016, which is coming up in July, has many events at many venues designed to honour the marine environment and raise awareness of its human-made problems.

There’s fun to be had that’s not too energetic, as well. One of the sponsors of the week, Island Mermaids, is staging a Miss Mermaid Bali 2016 Photo Shoot Contest. So if you’ve ever dreamed of being a mermaid (and are female and over 13) this is your chance to become one of the mythical creatures and help save the oceans too.

The idea is that mermaids need clean oceans. Well, no one would argue with that. Doing so would certainly set the Sirens off. All funds raised from the contest will go to the new Zero Waste to Oceans Education and Demonstration Centre being built by ROLE Foundation at Nusa Dua.

Details are available at www.island-mermaids.com.

Tea and Sympathy

Ross Fitzgerald, professor of history and erotic writer, has just enjoyed a short sojourn in Bali. He was here with his wife Lyndal Moor and stayed at Puri Saraswati near the royal palace in Ubud.

He and the Diary repaired to The Melting Pot on the Queen’s Birthday Australian holiday (Jun. 13) via a nice light lunch at a nearby warung, to watch the Melbourne-Collingwood AFL match that day. Fitzgerald was a very disappointed man; his team Collingwood got thumped by 46 points. The Diary didn’t care. We get our own doses of disappointment from St Kilda.

But in between groans, and speculation about the very large rat we’d seen running along the top of the wall behind the bar, we had another chat about his candidacy for the Senate from the state of NSW for the Australian Sex Party. We’ve mentioned that before. There’s an outside chance that we could soon be chums with Senator Fitzgerald. The Sex Party’s not all about, um, that. It has some very progressively sensible social policies too.

Fitzgerald told us he had recently debated the Rev. Fred Nile, a NSW state MP of, shall we say, rather rigid Christian views, at a little soiree organized by The Sydney Institute which is run by another old friend, Gerard Henderson. It would have been fun to be there.

He told us another tale. On his Garuda flight up from Sydney the happy arrival video they screen included advice that you’d have to pay $US 35 for a visa on arrival. Um. That was scrapped a while ago. Perhaps the world’s best airline for cabin service would like to update its AV primers? They should also have a chat with their cabin staff. Those on Fitzgerald’s flight didn’t know either.

Ramandhan Special

The official thuggery visited upon a poor food seller in Semarang, Central Java, who dared to keep her little stall open during Ramadhan fasting hours, is a prize example of many things. The woman has debts she needs to pay, and apparently customers who wish to eat, presumably not being required by their religion to fast.

The incident caused a furore. President Joko Widodo, familiarly called Jokowi, gave the woman Rp10 million to compensate her for the food that overbearing religious instructors and heavy handed public order police had stolen from her. Regional police chiefs have now received advice that they should not allow this sort of vigilante action.

There’s a verse in the Holy Quran that seems apposite.

“Their [acceptance] of guidance is not your responsibility. It is Allah who awards guidance whom He wills. And whatever wealth you give away (as charity donation) goes to your own benefit. It is not appropriate for you to spend but for Allah’s pleasure alone. And whatever you spend of your wealth, [its reward] will be paid back to you in full and you shall not be treated unjustly.” (Al-Baqarah 2:272).

Festival Time

Among the panoply of festivals and celebrations that these days grace Bali – or otherwise, depending on individual taste – is the annual Bali Arts Festival, the doyen of the stable, which has been around now for 38 years.

This year’s, now under way, was officially opened on Jun. 10. President Jokowi dropped in for the show and the street parade of thousands of Bali artists. The annual month-long festival showcases Bali’s traditional arts. It coincides with the school holidays, which gives the kids something to do in their down time. That’s always a good idea.

The President made a speech. He began with greetings in Balinese, to loud cheers from the crowd. And then he said this, which is worth absorbing:

“I feel very happy this afternoon that I can be here, on the Island of the Gods, Bali. For me, the Bali Arts Festival is not merely a people’s party or an arts festival. It is an event that has not only cultural and educational functions, but also a function as a driving force for the economy, especially the Bali community.”

Indeed. Indonesia has a rich and hugely diverse cultural heritage. This deserves protection from those who would turn its cities into lookalike Legolands. And properly appreciated, facilitated and managed, it is itself an economic driver.

Up the Poll

Some may have noticed that Australia is having a federal election on Jul. 2. It’s a rare double-dissolution election for the House of Representatives and the full Senate. If you’re a registered Australian voter here you can cast a pre-poll vote in person at the consulate-general in Renon up to Friday, Jul. 1. You won’t be able to vote there on polling day itself.

You’ll need to show your Australian passport or your current Australian driver’s licence to get into the consulate to vote. They won’t let you in without it. The consulate is open Monday to Friday from 8am to 4pm.

Applications for postal votes, which are an alternative way of avoiding a fine for not being ticked off on the bean-counters’ defaulters’ list, close on Jun. 29 via the Australian Electoral Commission website.

Harley Man

Former Bali boy Ric Shreves, now firmly established in Portland, Oregon and working for a worldwide charity doing things that have recently seen him in Turkana, Kenya (that’s a little different from Bali) has acquired a new toy.

It’s a rather tough-looking Harley Davidson hog: Happy riding, Ric.

Surf to Save

The Bali Animal Welfare Association recently got a wonderful offer from visiting American surfer Tommy Michael – he would organize a fun surfing school, Surf2Save, and direct the proceeds to BAWA. The event, on June 4 at one of the Bukit’s famed surf beaches, went so well that BAWA is looking for someone to run another.

Michael’s inaugural event was strongly supported by the local surfing community, which has always been very community minded. He’s now returned to Costa Rica, where he lives and does similar things for local charities there.

Hector’s Diary, edited for newspaper publication, appears online and in print in the fortnightly Bali Advertiser.

Go For It

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

 

Keystone Kops

Hector’s Bali Diary, May 11, 2016

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

 

Exactly what went wrong on May 2, when the police arrived in strength at a location to arrest a French citizen, a man publicly known to be seriously mentally disturbed, needs to be fully explained. It hadn’t been explained in any satisfactory form, let alone fully, when this edition of the Diary hit deadline (update: or since).

The police were armed, as such posses generally are, and properly so in the circumstances. It was later stated that they had been issued with rubber bullets. This is a misnomer. A “rubber bullet” is a disabling round, not an eraser-soft object. They can certainly kill, though this is not the object of their use. A policeman was fatally stabbed. Live (lethal) rounds were then fired. The offender was then slain in circumstances that were both desolate and unnecessary. He was said to have been shot 14 times, including according to reports with final bullet through the head as he lay on the ground – by that time more than likely mortally wounded, but certainly immobilised – surrounded by his executioners.

It was a sickening spectacle, a videoed object lesson in precisely how not to set about enforcing the law. The Indonesian authorities should be thoroughly ashamed of these events. They wish their country to be respected. Bombast and bullets won’t earn respect. A foreign citizen is dead in shocking circumstances. Any element of legitimate self-defence fled the field when an ill-disciplined and panicky squad of uniformed killers opened fire. Leadership, fire control and every principle of policing was absent.

The man concerned was a mentally disturbed menace. This was very widely known. He could and certainly should have been detained, put in a straitjacket, and been taken away by the men in the white coats long before the incident in which he killed a policeman and then met his own death. His whereabouts were hardly secret. A little work by the police would have found him; and a little planning would have produced an arrest operation that did not immediately descend into fatal farce.

The French authorities deserve full explanations of all the circumstances that led to these events, and not just those that immediately came to public notice via social media. The police and the national authorities must provide these explanations. It’s in Bali’s interest that they do so too. Public executions are not what tourists come here to see.

Aussie Break

We’ve just spent a week on Australia’s eastern seaboard, the Diary’s home territory and somewhere that resonates deep in our psyche. It was an unscheduled trip. An old friend, a former politician, had a Big 60 birthday and we were invited to join around 300 of his nearest and dearest for the party. So who could resist? The trip also provided an opportunity to attend to some urgent business that had suddenly arisen and which needed to be placed on the agenda swiftly.

Time was tight and some of the things we’d normally have on our to-do list had to be forgone, but we’ll certainly be back in fairly short order. It’s less than six hours to and from Brisbane, where the sun rises gently from an ocean horizon, which we find is a better, less glary way to run your day than that fiery sunset plunge into the briny that you get in Bali’s southern suburb, Perth.

But it’s great to be home again on our favourite smaller island.

We flew with Jetstar. We do not record this so that critics such as those who like to pretend that they don’t bother to read the Diary, but who plainly do, can bleat again about the ethics of providing free publicity in return for special benefits. We’ve never done that. We pay our own way.

We mention Jetstar only in order to remark that the Boeing 787 is a great aircraft. If you pay for “forward” seating in economy you get to turn left when you board the plane, which reminds you of earlier, plusher, days on other (full service) airlines, for example such as Qantas, Jetstar’s big bwother (or is that thister?) when you were headed for Business Class.

It also reduces the quota of squalling infants and badly behaved toddlers travelling under the notional control of their uncaring, incompetent, or exhausted parents (poor devils) who blight other parts of the cabin.

Bovine Manure

Some things make you laugh. Others give you instant nausea. Sometimes, in a rare confluence of the risible and the reprehensible, you get a sick laugh. So it is with the recent comment of the religious affairs minister that corruption cannot be blamed on the corruptors but on their wives.

Lukman Hakim Saifuddin says that the sins of avarice and greed by which, he concedes, self-important males enrich themselves, flow not from their own grasping malfeasance but from a desire to compensate their wives and families for the long hours and absences that their high service to the nation demand.

There’s a word for that: Bullshit.

Top Marx

We were browsing recently and reminded ourselves of an 1844 quotation from Karl Marx that sums up his philosophy rather well. It seemed apt in the light of the item above, even though it was not directly relevant. Here it is:

“What Is Human Becomes Animal: It is true that labour produces for the rich wonderful things — but for the worker it produces privation. It produces palaces — but for the worker, hovels. It produces beauty — but for the worker, deformity. It replaces labour by machines — but some of the workers it throws back to a barbarous type of labour, and the other workers it turns into machines. It produces intelligence — but for the worker idiocy, cretinism.

The direct relationship of labour to its produce is the relationship of the worker to the objects of his production. The relationship of the man of means to the objects of production and to production itself is only a consequence of this first relationship — and confirms it.

When we ask, then, what is the essential relationship of labour, we are asking about the relationship of the worker to production. As a result, therefore, man (the worker) no longer feels himself to be freely active in any but his animal functions — eating, drinking, procreating, or at most in his dwelling and in dressing-up, etc. And in his human functions he no longer feels himself to be anything but an animal. What is animal becomes human and what is human becomes animal.”

Um, yes. Top Marx. Wonder if anyone thought about that on May Day?

Big Day Out

Bali charity Solemen (the link here is to a film by Adithio Noviello, who has also made visual media for the Bali Animal Welfare Association) was the brainchild of philanthropist Robert Epstone and does a great job helping those who cannot help themselves. And so it is with their regular monthly Fun Days for children. In March, for example, Solemen visited Waterbom in Kuta, which is rightly regarded as a fantasyland for children, as well as for adults who are kids at heart.

Solebuddies of all ages visited Waterbom from Denpasar, Klungkung, Sanur and Ubud. Every child came with their unique situation and conditions, from cerebral palsy to Down Syndrome, but such things were pushed into the background on the day and the focus was on fun and frivolity.

Solemen’s Fun Days are made possible by the help and support of generous businesses and individuals. The March Fun Day was sponsored by Waterbom; Zappaz, which provided a delicious lunch; the Bali Dynasty, which supplied towels; and Paradise Property, which supplied transport.

Trying Hard

You do try, really, to put a positive note into your Bali commentaries. No, really. It’s a great place with many more positives than negatives, if you look for them. You must just remember to discount bureaucracy as any sort of starter for the tick list.

So it is with the new system for screening incoming checked baggage at Ngurah Rai’s international terminal. That’s now done before it appears on the carousel for collection. And that’s fine. It’s a better way of doing things than the melee-making x-ray screening point that used to create chaos at the exit from the baggage hall.

Except that it isn’t. They’ve simply shifted the focus of the chaos. It now takes place out of sight while passengers work on their hypertension waiting at carousels that go round and round bereft of baggage for far too long and carries only a forlorn makeshift sign on a piece of red board that says delays are for baggage inspection and customs reasons. The sign apologises for the delays. Are these delays permanent? If so, it would be better to put up a permanent sign.

It can certainly be said, as a general defence against criticism, that airports worldwide are significantly challenged when it comes to producing customer interface congeniality. Brisbane Airport’s massive clearance queues for arriving passengers were a disgrace early on Apr. 27, for example. Though that’s not an airport management issue. It’s another Border Farce. The Aussies are good at those.

But if Bali’s airport wishes to retain its apparent position as one of the best around (we’d love to analyse the questionnaires on which that rating was delivered, but never mind) then someone at Angkasa Pura I should forget about gazing at the gold stars for a moment and trot out to look at the shemozzle.

They might also look at the contract performance on the resurfacing of the runway. This essential work has been interfering with flight schedules in exactly the way it was promised it wouldn’t.

Hector’s Diary is published edited for newspaper production in the fortnightly Bali Advertiser.

 

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, Jan. 20, 2016

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

 

Modern Times

There’s been an outbreak of nostalgia for the “old Bali” recently, one of those periodic episodes where everyone puts on their rose-tinted glasses and peers back into the past, fondly recalling what they think they remember. Ah, the old days! Things were so much better then.

Fundamentally, that’s tosh. It’s certainly true that the economic value Bali has been able to add to itself and its people over the past 40 years has not been spread with anything like theoretical Marxist (or even Jesuit) perfection. To say nothing of the age-old Hindu culture that could sustain subsistence living for all, at a pinch, but is quite incapable of doing so in a modern monetary economy. It’s thoroughly arguable too that in the ambient social and cultural climate of Indonesia, wealth and its acquisitive benefits will never be universally available. The poor will always be with us. As will the robber baron plutocracy and grasping kleptomaniacs. The poor are nicer people.

The social welfare net that supports the mendicant classes in the western world won’t be replicated here, or anywhere in East Asia. And that’s not only because it’s plain that the overweening expectations about the immutability of that safety net will in the end cause the collapse of democratic capitalism and the western world with it. It’s chiefly because the Eastern ethos is different.

Progress is not always progressive or socially responsible. A 2014 book, by old Bali hand Phil Jarratt and called Bali: Heaven and Hell delineates the divide rather well. Fellow pioneer surfer Steve Palmer, a long-term fixture in Bali’s firmament when he’s not schussing the ski slopes of western Canada and the United States, has a word in it. He remembers the days when reaching the Uluwatu surf breaks meant trekking through miles of cactus-lined cliff paths and that this was something done by relatively few people. Sitting in a traffic jam for hours is certainly a less appealing prospect.

The old Bali is gone. Bits of it may still be seen, like sad little echoes of a past epoch, but we’ve all moved on. Unfortunately the landscape and the environment are less pleasant, both literally and figuratively. Gordon Gecko’s maxim holds sway here now. Greed is good. It’s the Balinese (and their fellow Indonesians who have made the island their home) who must deal with that.

Perhaps Governor Pastika recognizes this and will ditch his Old Curiosity Shopful of ideas that sound good at the time, but fail the test of sentience, like the round-island railway and filling in Benoa Bay for condominiums. He was reported as saying, after Travel + Leisure magazine named Bali as “one of the best islands in the world”, that this would simply ensure millions of tourists swarmed to Bali like ants. Um, a word in your ear, Guv.

Stardust to Stardust

It was very sad to hear on Jan. 10 that British rock singer David Bowie had died of liver cancer. His chameleon character and eclectic musical styles were an adornment to the otherwise frequently vacuous rock culture of his era and his way of handling celebrity was admirable. He declined a knighthood in 2003.

He recorded a last song only two days before his death. It’s a moving and extraordinarily symbolic monument to the place he knew he had in life. It followed release of his last album. These will surely be both his swansong and his epitaph. Perhaps his death and his final album are sad, in the saccharine way that western society seems to have made its leitmotif, but in fact his music and his manner are much better seen as an anthem to acceptance of inevitability. For that, too, he deserves high praise.

He was 69. That’s far too young to comfortably shuffle off this mortal coil. He will be missed, but his talent and music will never be forgotten.

Litter Louts

At Perth international airport there’s a quaintly named Smokers’ Refuge. It’s possibly not unlike a leper colony in its own way. It’s outside the terminal building, as it should be, and is basically in the car park across the road. But there are sun umbrellas to shade you and plenty of bins for your butts. As a place of exile for those among us who still use a usuriously taxed legal product and yet are frowned upon for doing so, it fits the bill quite nicely.

Most of the people who use it seem to be airport or airline staff, and some members of that recently inaugurated and nattily uniformed farce, the Australian Border Force. An occasional traveller drops by, either for a quick restorative draught after arrival or a last puff before having to submit to the artificial air inside the terminal and the long drag in the metal tube that follows.

Littering is a heinous offence in Australia, where in some places you can get stung the equivalent of between Rp5 million and Rp20 million for leaving a cigarette butt on the ground; and rightly so. But apparently this was of little moment to the three ladies in corporate uniforms we saw smoking there while they chatted in their break. They left an empty can of soft drink on a bench, right beside a bin, and the paving beneath them littered with butts. Shocking.

Home is Where the Art is

For reasons which are private and entirely peripheral to the point of this item, we recently had to remove from storage, re-pack and then re-store, numerous items of value, intrinsic and otherwise, which we keep in Australia because there’s no room at The Cage.

Among them are two lovely Made Kaek abstracts that caught our eye at an Ubud gallery in 2001 and which (of course) we promptly bought. They adorned our townhouse in Brisbane for four years, before – being greying nomads with absolutely no interest in buying a Winnebago – we moved to Bali. As the Distaff is a Westie (she’ll never be permitted to forget that, poor thing) that’s where we sent our memorabilia, our modest art collection, glassware, cutlery, sundry other household effects and a simply beautiful marble chess table and matching pieces. They were the collectibles of a life together that at that point had reached 26 years. You get less for murder these days, of course, but that too is peripheral to the point.

Both the Made Kaek works had latterly and briefly hung at the matriarchal McMansion, which made visits there even more pleasant than ever. But when we came to repack our stuff for future storage, one of the works had suffered seriously cracked glass. Naturally, Sod’s Law being what it is, this was discovered in the midst of Australia’s summer slumber and only two days before the truck was to come to take it and everything else away to Perth.

Happily, we found Sarah Bowes of Country Road Picture Framers in Busselton, to whose house – after a phone call – we repaired post-haste. She broke into her holiday downtime to replace the glass and re-back the frame.

We cannot thank her enough for her skill, her willingness to accommodate our urgent schedule, and the comfortable cost of the operation that she performed. Take that as a high recommendation.

And There’s the Rub

Getting home is always a blessing. Even if you discover on arrival that your internet isn’t functioning because your ISP has obviously sequestered the substantial megabytes of upload and download that you have paid for and that this requires four telephone calls to restore. Three of these calls mysteriously dropped out mid-conversation. Perhaps the unfortunate lackeys with whom we were conversing couldn’t find a handy friend who had done it.

Never mind. This indelicacy, along with others, was vitiated by a visit to our preferred local salon, Island Spa in Jimbaran, where restorative massages were enjoyed. Well, partly so. During his massage The Diary, perhaps incautiously, said when prompted by the therapist well into the 60-minute session that slightly stronger pressure might be in order. It was very good, since the seat pitch on Jetstar’s Airbus 320s is not septuagenarian friendly, but it cost Rp110K instead of the Rp80K that had been booked. The masseuse was commendably young and highly skilled, but an otherwise unmentioned 30 per cent rise in the tariff was perhaps a little stiff for the additional service rendered.

Still, best not to be churlish. Everyone needs to make a crust. There are significant pluses, also. We have our temporary resident permit process under way, albeit with added irritations, and have restored to working order the Distaff’s CIMB debit card that had very unkindly expired in her absence.

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

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, May 27, 2015

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Comedy of Horrors

The head of animal husbandry in Badung regency, Made Badra, is reported (by the Jawa Pos newspaper) to have come up with a brilliantly cunning Baldrick-style plan to solve the rabies problem in Bali. These guys must be watching bootleg DVDs of the entire series of The Black Adder, the way they go on. Pak Made in particular seems to have been chatting with the Wise Woman. She was the witch who advised Lord Blackadder, who had a little difficulty with two men and a queen, to kill everyone.

No, that’s unfair. He apparently would like to keep 200,000 dogs in Bali as long as they’re vaccinated and sterilized, and kept as pets, in order to protect the Bali Dog. It’s possible that he was misreported as to the precise detail of his proposal. As head of animal husbandry he would presumably know that sterilized dogs have difficulty reproducing. Given the average lifespan of a dog, on the reported basis of his plan he’d be looking at eliminating the Bali Dog as a distinct species within about 15 years.

The crux of the problem with rabies control in Bali is that no one is in control. There’s not enough vaccine in stock because not enough is being bought. District control programs are administered – though that hardly seems the word – by officials who don’t know how many dogs there are but nonetheless would like to kill lots of them. The health bureaucracy cannot vaccinate people who need anti-rabies shots after they’ve been bitten by village dogs that no one can say have been vaccinated. Look up shemozzle in the dictionary. It’s all the rage here.

On top of this, the Badung animal husbandry chief has a shot at animal welfare organizations that, he says, really should do more than just shout and scream if they want to help. We know of one such organization that right from the start of the crisis in 2008 actually did rather a lot more than just run around like a headless chook. It reduced rabies in dogs by a huge quantum in the first stage of a vaccination campaign it organized with international support. Then it ran into a poisonous thicket of provincial posturing and little local jealousies – these were not in Badung regency; that needs to be noted – and has since been monstrously hindered by inventive licensing and permit restrictions in doing its day job, let alone the government’s.

We say again: world best practice shows that controlling rabies and eventually eliminating it as a threat to human and animal populations is achieved by vaccinating (and regularly re-vaccinating) domestic and informally owned dogs to create an effective vaccinated screen. Dogs are territorial and will see off interlopers and hence keep potentially rabid animals away.

What part of “Oh I see” do the authorities here not understand?

Two Gems

The Diary dined in excellent company at the new Jemme Restaurant in Jl. Petitenget at Kerobokan on May 9, its opening night after significant renovations. It was busy and at times a little noisy – but, hey, there’s nothing wrong with a little chatter and clatter – and the food hit the spot. It’s a gem. There’s a very decent wine list and a menu that suits all tastes. Our advice: Do drop in.

Another gem was along for the occasion. Eva Scolaro, Perth jazz singer and now Bali resident, sang for everyone’s supper. She’s doing regular spots there. And we hear she’ll be performing at the next DIVA do, on Jun. 12 at Slippery Stone at Kerobokan.

In an entirely different style, we looked in at Hog Wild’s soft opening in Jl. Batu Belig on May 14. It’s the former Naughty Nuri’s and the charity outfit SoleMen had a benefit there. The grub’s good. So was Ceremco, the Dutch illusionist who has now been reading minds in Bali for two years.

We’d seen him not long before at the Europe on Screen film festival at Pan Pacific Nirvana. He specializes in two different genres – kids’ magic (which was certainly working magically for the kids at Hog Wild) and hypnosis, psychological magic and self-help for adults.

Chaos Theory: Proved

We’ve had a lovely taste of the chaos the European and post-Ramadan high season will cause on Bali’s roads this year. The long weekend recently brought South Bali’s major arterial roads to a standstill. It’s reported that on the Friday evening of the long weekend it was taking up to two hours to make the trip from Seminyak to Kuta. That’s 6.4 kilometres via Sunset Road. Traffic was stalled for kilometres on the Ngurah Rai Bypass and all the connecting roads were jammed.

Vehicle traffic from Java via the Ketapang-Gilimanuk ferry link rose by 37 percent. More than 3500 vehicles entered Bali from Gilimanuk on the Thursday before the long weekend alone. Since the Denpasar-Gilimanuk road would be flat out properly handling 10 percent of its regular traffic and alternatives to this – a toll road option – are still in the department of pretty pictures, nothing’s going to change on that arterial route soon.

In South Bali, the traffic situation at peak times has returned to the jam-packed inch-forward profile for which it was famous before the Nusa Dua-Benoa toll road was built. Given rock-bottom airfares aimed at domestic tourists and the Chinese invasion (they drive around in large parties in Leviathan-sized charabancs, as is their wont) the future looks bleak.

It’s a Squeeze

A telling illustration of the bind Bali has got itself into over tourism and infrastructure comes to light in new figures released by the statistics bureau that show a disastrous 2011-2015 decline in room occupancy rates of classified hotels (the ones with stars basically).

They’re worth running your eye over even if you’re not directly involved in the hotel sector, since they demonstrate with stark clarity why retail outlets and other services that depend on high throughput of human customers are also struggling.

In January 2011 the occupancy rate was 64.66 percent. In 2012 it was 62.01; in 2013, it fell to 57.57, then to 52.85 in 2014 and 47.23 in 2015. For the month of February the rates were 62.23 (2011); 55.52 (2012); 58.05 (2013); 52.76 (2014); and 47.59 (2015). Similarly sharp falls in occupancy rates occurred in all but two months of each year between 2011 and 2015. March in particular stands out. In Mar. 2011 the occupancy rate was 63.16 percent. In Mar. 2015 it was 43.24 percent. August and September are the only months in the series in which the 2015 occupancy rates are higher than they were in 2011. (The 2014 and 2015 figures are provisional.)

Under Bali’s unplanned planning rules, new hotels are still being built and opened. Existing hotels are discounting room rates to attract custom, or are being squeezed by the online bookings sector. We hear a suggestion that most hotels even at the top star-rated level are effectively getting only Rp300,000 a night per room. If this is so – it’s unlikely any hotel general manager is going to be saying so publicly – then the situation is unsustainable in the long term without massive new numbers of visitors.

Eat Up!

Penelope Williams, whose unique Bali Asli restaurant is at Gelumpang, near Amlapura in un-crowded East Bali, and who featured as a foodie at the 2014 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, is on the program at the first Ubud Food Festival on Jun. 5-7. She is giving a cooking demonstration on Jun. 7.

Williams, who was formerly executive chef at Alila Manggis, has a stellar CV and came to Bali from 12 years in Sydney, Australia, says her aim is to promote Balinese cuisine and culture without exploiting it or Bali’s people. The menu offers authentic Balinese food using a traditional Balinese style kitchen. They cook on wood-fired, mud brick stoves, which Williams says allows the real flavours of Bali to shine. Most of Bali Asli’s ingredients are either grown in its own or a neighbour’s garden or bought from the local market. There’s a cooking school too.

She has a refreshingly open approach to life and its vagaries. On the Bali Asli website there’s this lovely entry: “On Trip Advisor …. Among the few critics is an expat who has lived in Bali for several years. She describes the restaurant as a place for naive tourists and her advice is to get far less expensive but good Balinese food at a local warung.”

Well, we’re another expat who has lived in Bali for several years and eats at local warungs. And Bali Asli is on our non-naive-tourist must-visit list.

Hector tweets @ scratchings on Twitter. His diary is published in the Bali Advertiser print and online editions http://www.baliadvertiser.biz