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

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Apr. 29, 2015

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

 

An Orwellian Travesty

Putu Sumantra, who is head of Bali’s animal husbandry and livestock service but who keeps providing evidence that he would be better not allowed out with a broom and instructions to sweep the steps, would like the public not to oppose the killing of “feral” dog populations by provincial animal control officers.

He says that the final solution decided on by the Bali authorities in their latest guaranteed to fail response to the seven-year-long rabies outbreak is necessary to eliminate the risk of unvaccinated dogs mingling with the vaccinated crowd and diminishing the level of disease protection. Maybe he’s from Planet Pluto. Perhaps they really do things differently there. Perhaps Governor Made Mangku Pastika is from Pluto too. He’s backing this latest piece of madness.

Sumantra, reported in the Indonesian language Bali Post newspaper, also hinted that he didn’t want people to be influenced by the views of the anti-killing lobby. In the invidious nature of the times, that’s code for “foreign” animal welfare organizations and namby-pamby westerners. He not only wants to shoot the dogs, he’d like to shoot the messengers too.

No matter that global experience shows that rabies control and eventual eradication can be achieved through carefully coordinated and rigorously financially audited vaccination campaigns. Humane reduction of numbers through sterilization and education to improve treatment of dogs that live alongside people in their villages then nurtures a healthy dog population.

This is not some radical activist program. It is the accepted world benchmark mandated by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization. What’s more, it works. There is no reason why it should not work in Bali, except of course that it requires careful coordination, exemplary leadership, and rigorous, responsible management.

There are very few “feral” dogs in Bali, something else the authorities know very well. The Bali dog is an independent spirit but generally has a place, if not a home. Most are not formally “owned”, but the latest research indicates that up to 95 percent informally belong within their community.

There is the beginning of a groundswell of resistance among the Balinese to the promiscuous killing of street dogs. There is sensitivity on that point. This must be why when he announced the commencement of a vaccination campaign in Denpasar (as part of the latest underfunded and under-resourced effort) Sumantra said that dogs without collars would be captured and tested for the virus.

Several of the unpleasant characters in the political novels of George Orwell would be very pleased with Sumantra’s mastery of propaganda and disinformation. Rabies can only be positively identified from brain tissue. To obtain a test sample, you have to kill the dog.

Seven years after an isolated imported case of canine rabies occurred on southern Bukit and no one noticed for an astonishing length of time and the disease broke out from there, it is now endemic to the entire island and people are still dying. It is most prevalent in Buleleng, Bangli and Karangasem.

Flexible Format 

Bali is to host the world’s first International Yoga Day (it’s on Jun. 21) at the invitation of the Indian government. The day was proposed by the Indian prime minister to the United Nations with the goal of promoting universal aspiration of physical and mental wellbeing by way of practising yoga.

The day is planned to feature tutorials presented by influential yoga practitioners, competitions for best practitioner, and an attempt to set a world record for the largest practice of yoga.

We’re a bit rusty, but we might brush up on our five basic positions and drop in at the Bajra Sandhi Monument in Renon on the day. The timing is a tad awkward, though. On Sundays at The Cage, we always celebrate First Coffee at 7am.

Substance, Not Froth

If Muhammad Arwani Thomafi, that chap from the National Development Party who wants to ban beer – and not just from mini-markets, he wants to ban it totally – would like to get his head around a real problem as opposed to an imaginary one, he might care to look at the latest UNESCO report on education.

It shows that in 2012 there were 1,336,000 Indonesian youngsters who weren’t attending primary school, double the figure from 2000. While enrolments doubled in early childhood or pre-primary education, from 24 percent in 2000 to 48 percent in 2012, it’s still far short of the indicative target of 80 percent set in the Education for All goals, launched in 2000.

It contrasts poorly with Malaysia (70 percent), Vietnam (79) and Brunei (92).

Change of Seasons

Four Seasons veteran Uday Rao, who was manager at the Sayan resort, has moved to Jimbaran as general manager of both the seaside property and Sayan. He plans to create new synergies between the two properties to give Four Seasons guests a truly Bali experience.

A resort manager will be appointed at Sayan.  The two-resort GM is not a novel concept. The jovial John O’Sullivan, now in Mexico and still with FS, held a similar position in the past.

There’s another move of interest to record. Marian Carroll, formerly chief spruiker at the Ayana-Rimba resort complex up the hill, has moved to Four Seasons as director of public relations. We look forward to catching up with her in her new hat, at a Ganesha gallery exhibition opening perhaps, or (if we’re really good) the fabulous beachside Sundara. Just for a tonic-water with a lemon twist, of course.

My Hat!

It was good to see the Ubud Food Festival website go live on Apr. 22. There’s nothing to beat fine food or, except in a few circumstances, Ubud as a venue in which to eat it. It’s also a good place to chat about books, but we have to wait until later in the year for the latest incarnation of Janet DeNeefe’s firstborn festival, the writers’ and readers’.

There’s one event at the food festival (which runs from Jun. 5-7) that as well as serving delicious edibles also serves as an allegory for the little town that’s growing like Topsy in which it will take place. It’s on Jun. 7 and it’s a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.

In Lewis Carroll’s wonderful tale, Alice in Wonderland, such an event takes place. (It’s in chapter seven if you want to refresh your memory). In it, Alice approaches a large table set under the tree outside the March Hare’s house and finds the Mad Hatter and the March Hare taking tea. They rest their elbows on a sleeping Dormouse who sits between them. They tell Alice that there is no room for her at the table, but Alice sits anyway.

(Well, as you would…)

The March Hare then offers Alice wine, but there is none. She tells the March Hare that his conduct is uncivil, to which he rejoins that it was uncivil of her to sit down without being invited. The Mad Hatter enters the conversation, saying that Alice’s hair “wants cutting.” Alice says he is rude and he responds with a riddle: “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” Alice attempts to answer the riddle, which begins a big argument about semantics.

There is silence after this until the Mad Hatter asks the March Hare the time. But the March Hare’s watch, which measures the day of the month, is broken, and the Mad Hatter becomes angry. He blames the March Hare for getting crumbs on the watch when the March Hare was spreading butter on it. The March Hare dips the watch in his tea, dejectedly remarking that “It was the best butter.”

The food festival grew out the culinary elements of earlier writers’ shows, prompted by feedback from people who said they’d like to sample much more of the spicy bits (pedas as opposed to panas) and in bigger portions.

The festival’s Mad Hatter’s Tea Party sounds fun, though hopefully it will be better organized than its original namesake. Well, we’re sure it will be. It will feature fare from Janice Wong, Asia’s leading pastry chef, and Angelita Wijaya in a long table setting. Apparently you should wear your favourite hat.

The festival website has all the details of the three-day event.

Flash Outfit

Sharp-eyed Aussie sheila Marian Carroll, mentioned above in quite another context, reports a traffic event on the Ngurah Rai Bypass recently that is even more astonishing than most. She was bowling down the highway in broad daylight when she passed a man on a motorbike who had chosen to stand out from the rest of buzzing, ducking and weaving crowd by riding stark naked.

Something boggles. We hope it’s the mind. Carroll didn’t say whether she’d seen that the naked man was being pursued by an angry fully-clothed one. Possibly then it was just a matter of choice to bolt in the buff, and not an emergency escape from the consequences of being caught embarrassingly in flagrante.

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

 

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Mar. 4, 2015

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

A Bit of a Blow

As spectacle or entertainment, Hector’s latest World Tour of Australia was very far from being the big draw Billy Connolly achieved with his fabulous World Tour of Scotland. We rarely attracted more than a couple of gawkers with nothing better to do or a censorious frown from some local anti-smoker if we were spotted communing with that dreadful drug tobacco. It was quite a relief to get home to Bali so we could light up with the rest of them as and where we pleased.

The Aussie break was fun however and it took in the east coast this time as well as the west. It was a treat (no, really) to be back in Queensland, even if only for a week. The other two weeks were spent in the west as usual. It is pleasing too that our proud record as travellers remains intact. Invariably some disaster, climatic or climactic, coincides with or closely follows a visit by us to just about anywhere.

We skipped out of Queensland just ahead of cyclone Marcia, a category five storm that put the world’s best cyclone-proof buildings to the test on landfall and then gifted absolute torrents of rain to river systems over a wide swath of the state. It was the sort of rain that by quantity and intensity would sweep Denpasar into the sea and which is fortunately never seen in these parts.

That’s the thing, you see. When it rains, water falls from the sky, sometimes in quite substantial quantities. When it’s windy, leaves and twigs, then branches, move around. These natural phenomena and others – such as the counter to the wet suit, drought – are collectively called weather, and it happens all the time, everywhere on earth. The weather is capricious and climate no less so.

But there are identifiable seasons, upon which it is possibly to make some plans. It should therefore surprise no one – especially the meteorological service – when the rainy season produces rain or serious low pressure areas in the seasonal monsoon trough that throw brisk winds at the islands for a little while.

It’s simpler in equatorial latitudes (10 degrees south to 10 degrees north) since the seasonal variation is chiefly whether it is wet or dry or night or day. We don’t generally have to worry about bothersome things like four seasonal changes a year, or the natural vagaries that these cycles bring with them.

Except, that is, now and then when – as in this case – a big monsoonal low over the ocean between here and northern Australia brings us very bad weather. So it was not altogether unusual that Bali, Lombok and the Gilis got a bit of a blow (and sheeting rain) in our absence at the height of the wet season.

Roofs in bad repair and walls without decent footings can fly away in a half-decent breeze. Trees topple when suddenly confronted by saturated ground and breezes that reach above zephyr level. Roads flood when Mother Nature demonstrates (by their absence) the benefits of storm drainage, cambered pavements and sufficient bitumen to avoid masses of potholes. Watercourses filled with mountains of rubbish dumped willy-nilly in the ubiquitous practice of this island first pond (causing local flooding) and then burst through the detritus and carry it to the sea, which then deposits it on the beaches.

Is anyone ever going to do anything about that? It is the top concern of tourists, after all. Not to mention, one would have thought, a serious matter of national pride.

Raw Deal

Lion Air, which has grown like Topsy on the basis of some inventive business planning and the world’s largest ever single order for aircraft from both Boeing and Airbus, achieved another corporate triumph this month when it suddenly cancelled all flights from Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta Airport on the evening of Feb. 18.

It blamed technical repair issues affecting three of its 93 aircraft for the resulting chaos, which left passengers stranded throughout its network and caused a riot at Soekarno-Hatta. As usual, no information was available to stranded passengers.

Two days later it said it didn’t have enough cash on hand to pay passenger refunds. Airport operator Angkasa Pura had to front up with the money. Lion is politically well connected. Its political connections will probably want to know why it appears to be so inefficient that running a chook raffle would probably be beyond it.

At least, they should want to know. Indonesia doesn’t like to be embarrassed, as a number of people have found cause to note in recent days.

Quality Troupe

Russia’s honorary consul in Bali, Chairul Nuku Hamka, believes his honorary country’s citizens are the highest “quality” tourists that holiday here. He bases this assessment on the fact that unlike tourists from other countries, Russians have a tendency to consume more premium goods and services. He quotes a recent statistic that suggests two Russian tourists spend as much as 10 Germans. “They stay at five-star hotels for high prices,” he says.

There’s some dislocated logic on the loose there. Spending a lot of money isn’t a true mark of quality. In some circumstances it may indicate stupidity, for example, or unfamiliarity with local conditions. In the case of many Russian tourists (not only in Bali) it’s also plainly a situation in which black money is being offloaded, often with the assistance of comely and willing younger ladies who have, in a manner of speaking, come along for the ride.

Hamka does note that while the potential for Russian tourism to Bali is huge (it’s certainly a principal feature of the changing dynamics of tourism here) several sizeable rocks lie on the path of progress. One is direct flights from Russian cities to Bali. Garuda has had flights to four cities in Russia on the books since 2011 but has still to win licenses to operate them. The other is the distaste with which much of the world views the Vladimir Putin regime’s conduct in what Russians historically have called the Near Abroad. Ukraine, which Tsar Vlad is menacing, is among those places.

Trade and other embargoes on Russia as a result have led to the collapse of the rouble. Russian tourist numbers to Bali have declined as a result, from 93,622 in 2013 to 88,777 in 2014. Russia is on Indonesia’s new “free visa” list but that’s all still in the works.

A Run Up the Ladder

Ngurah Rai International Airport has been ranked as the 60th best airport worldwide in the Montreal, Canada, based Airports Council International’s 2014 Airport Service Quality Awards. It jumped 152 places from its 2012 ranking of 212, jumping nearly 152 spots from its previous ranking of 212 in 2012.

The awards determine which airports offer the best passenger service. To obtain its results the ACI surveyed 550,000 airport users (including airlines and their ground staff, flight and cabin crews) and asked them to rate their satisfaction with 34 key service indicators including airport access, check-in, security, airport facilities, food and beverage, and retail.

The responses to each annual survey are used to issue a score out of five to the airport and subsequently determine the top worldwide performing airports as well as areas of improvement for each of the 365 airports that are ranked. Ngurah Rai airport received a score of 4.2 out of 5, a significant leap from its previous score of 2.9 in 2012.

Each year ACI gives recommendations to participating airports based on the results of that year’s survey. From the 2014 survey it recommended Ngurah Rai add extra luggage trolleys, increase the number of seats in the waiting rooms, improve the quality and cleanliness of waiting rooms, and increase the number of toilets. Ngurah Rai general manager Herry AY Sikado says: “We will use the current success achieved by the airport as further encouragement to make continuous improvements.”

Well, we shall watch with interest, then. And count the trolleys and the chairs.

Masks and Salsa

ROLE Foundation, which does sterling work to promote women’s issues in Bali and to help disadvantaged women create sustainable, income-earning businesses, also offers people fun-fun-fun. And so it should. The world’s a sorry little galactic rock much of the time, so any excuse to have a good time is worth serious consideration, in a serious cause. ROLE works for a sustainable future for islands, oceans, and communities through skills education and healthy environmental practices.

On Friday (Mar. 6), to mark 2015 International Women’s Day, the fun guys at ROLE are putting on a Masquerade Party. It’s at the Sanur Paradise Plaza from 7pm. The line-up includes live music from Tabasco Jam, a Salsa dancing competition and participation with great prizes, and a mask competition. Local women artisans will be there too.

There’s still time to get tickets (they’re RP500K each) in cash from events@baliwise.org (or call 0812-8285-2057) or online at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/2015-international-womens-day-tickets-15567176845.

International Women’s Day is on Sunday (Mar. 8).

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