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THINGS THAT INTEREST, ENGAGE AND ENRAGE

Category: Travel

Living with Vulcan

HECTOR’S DIARY

HectorR

Bali Advertiser, Oct. 11, 2017

 

ONCE upon a time, the activity of a volcano in a distant domestic backyard from which one is temporarily absent would have been something relayed at intervals by news reports, or not at all. Its inactivity ahead of anticipated action would have been even harder to detect through the prism of news reportage. Not these days, when both the mainstream and the social media bring you up to the minute information and misinformation. Sorting the wheat from the chaff is more immediate (though there’s a lot more chaff) but there’s no reason to be uninformed.

So it is with the Great Mountain, Gunung Agung. It is more than 70 kilometres from our domestic premises on the Bukit. When we wrote this Diary, from even more distant Portugal, the mountain was grumbling and had been promoted by Indonesia’s excellent alert apparatus to most dangerous threat, as a result of this misbehaviour.

The story, at that point, was the removal by government order of more than 100,000 people whose villages and farms are within the defined danger zone, and the consequences, individual and collective, of this displacement. Relief efforts have brought out the best in people, Indonesians and foreigners alike. But it was not the sort of shock-horror story the western media so loves, since it was actually a good news story. It was a story of swift and effective action by provincial and national governments and agencies, and the outlaying of significant sums of money to assist those in need.

We know of course that other than in exceptional circumstances, or in the glossy magazines, a good news story about Bali is about as likely to be seen as a phoenix or a unicorn. We’ve had the usual tremulous twittering of Australians fearful that their cheap holidays might be at risk. Travel insurance generally covers such tribulations. That’s if you had the wit to get it (and pay for it) in the first place. If you can’t afford insurance, you shouldn’t travel. If you’re so thick that you can’t work out that it matters, you certainly shouldn’t.

There was one particular bit of very yellow journalism that got right up our nose. It did this in quite a major way. Surprisingly it appeared in The Guardian, which is usually among the more sentient of journals. It reported that foreign holidaymakers had fled Bali’s “tourist towns” because of the volcano alert. But this was the case only in Amed, a tiny place that barely qualifies as a village, let alone a town, and which is in the far east of the island virtually in the shadow of Mt Agung. It’s not inside the precautionary evacuation zone, though if the volcano did erupt then road access to and from it might be compromised. Meanwhile it was business as usual everywhere, including in Amed.

The last time Agung erupted, in 1963, there were large numbers of deaths. The official figures from that time probably understate the actual numbers. This time, half a century on, there are better communications and transport infrastructure that works, in the main. There is also an appreciation on the part of governments and authorities that, with a volcano, you can’t just sit around and hope it doesn’t erupt.

In Balinese Hindu mythology, Agung is thought by some to be a portion of Java’s sacred Mt Meru brought to the island by the original settlers. It has a place in the island’s spiritual life and its actions are accorded godly intent. In 1963 its pyroclastic flows (lava) missed the Mother Temple, Pura Besakih on the middle slopes of the mountain, by only metres. This was seen as a sign that the gods wished to demonstrate their angry displeasure but not to destroy the pinnacle of Balinese Hindu observance.

There were two major eruptions in 1963, the first in February and March, and another in May. Most casualties came from lava flows. Cold lahars (mixed slurries of volcanic and other materials generated by heavy rains) killed many others. A lahar – it’s an Indonesian word – can flow very quickly, unlike lava, and very deeply. When it stops it solidifies like concrete. Look at the landscape around Kubu, one of the areas now evacuated, to see the long-term results of that phenomenon.

We don’t pray, being in the None of the Above classification except on our Indonesian official documents, but we do think. And we’re thinking positive thoughts for Bali and its people while we’re away and Agung is being a threat.

A Rare Double

WE were in Lisbon, enjoying 30C days in the middle of the Lusitanian autumn, when this column was given to the electronic pigeon for transmission to the good folk at the Bali Advertiser. The Portuguese capital is a location long desired as a destination on our personal travel schedule, for many reasons but also because it presents an opportunity to perform a rare obeisance.

Some years ago we were in Kochi in India, where among the points of interest locally is the tomb of Vasco da Gama. It’s empty, but so what? He is still felt as a physical presence in the city, where – just in passing in this instance – there is a thriving Christian presence that was already ancient when the Portuguese adventurer “discovered” the India trade for Christ and His profits half a millennium ago.

Old Vasco is something of a figure in Lisbon, too, so we said hello there as well. His other resting place is in the Jerónimos Monastery at Bélem, fortuitously close to the best custard tarts in Lisbon.

The city is big on history, historiography, and monumental statuary. Dom Joāo I, splendidly mounted and holding his sceptre aloft, is near our digs, a pleasant apartment on the steep slopes just below the Castelo de S. Jorge. He was King of Portugal and the Algarve from 1385–1433 and is referred to as “the Good” and sometimes “the Great” in Portugal, or “of Happy Memory”.

In Spain he was referred to as “the Bastard”, because that’s what he was, and because he preserved the independence of the Kingdom of Portugal from the Kingdom of Castile. Through his efforts to acquire territories in Africa, he became the first king of Portugal to use the title “Lord of Ceuta”.

Ceuta is now a Spanish enclave on the coast of Morocco. It’s not quite analogous to Gibraltar, which is a bit of Spain the British long ago requisitioned as a spoil of war, though the point may be moot.

Joāo (John, as his English wife Philippa, daughter of John of Gaunt, might have called him, though she of course spoke French like all the posh Poms of the time and possibly called him Jean) deserves his statue: he had his day and won an entry in the record.

Spoiler Alert

IT used to be said that there were eight million stories in the naked city. Well, that’s what that old TV series said, so it must be right. There are also eight million hard-luck stories, a matching phenomenon with which every traveller must surely be familiar.

The Diary prefers to deal with these gently and in a non-judgemental way, while trying not to part with too much currency, especially when travelling on a pauper’s budget. The Distaff, being a girl, is made of far sterner stuff. We were lunching out in Málaga, in Andalusia, one day, enjoying in equal measure the warmth of the Mediterranean autumn and a modest beer and some tapas, when one of the local mendicants chanced to pass.

The tale was extraordinary, which is to say it was unbelievable. But since the immediate supplication was for 50 cents (€0.50, roughly Rp. 6500) to buy a loaf of bread, we were ourselves disposed to dig deeply into our diminishing pocket money and come up with the dosh.

Some might say that this indicates a certain measure of softness in the Diary, but that is not the case. Fifty cents to go away quietly, whether or not temporarily buoyed by thoughts of the brotherhood of man, seems to us to be a bargain triple entry in the fiscal, moral and problem solved ledgers.

Not so the Distaff, dear girl. As the pleas gathered length, speed and descant, she fixed the person uttering this tosh with her trademark killer steely glare and said: “You are spoiling my day. Go away.” This was not a request. It plainly invited no further conversation. It worked like a charm. The holiday budget was preserved.

See You Soon

BARRING accidental arrest en route or major volcanic dyspepsia at home, we’ll be back in Bali just in time to run up the road to Ubud for the 2017 Writers and Readers Festival. Unlike arrest or volcanic unrest, the festival is an event not to be missed.

HectorR

Hector’s Diary in published in the Bali Advertiser every second issue. The next will appear on Nov. 8. Hector blogs here between times, when he’s not holidaying in Europe.

Messing About in Boats

HECTOR’S DIARY

HectorR

His diet of worms and other non-religious fare

Bali, Jan. 4, 2017

 

WE have a lovely friend, a former media colleague who goes by the pen name of The Global Goddess. She has a tough life, poor thing. She’s forever flitting off from Brisbane, her home city, to go to distant places and write about them. Well, someone has to do it, we suppose.

Her most recent gambol was a cruise to Komodo aboard the Al-Iikai, a 37-metre Bugis pinisi fitted out for maximum comfort and operated from Serangan in Benoa Bay. It was, she tells us, a program that gave her plenty of stories about messing about in boats.

The goddess, real name Christine Retschlag, apparently didn’t read Kenneth Grahame’s marvellous fantasy tale Wind in the Willows as a child. But we’re sure that Ratty will forgive her, given her later experiences. Hector, who is one of Ratty’s firmest friends, will pay close attention to her trip reports on her blog and in the travel media.

We’re sure that Ratty – whose ancestral lineage, we remember, traced back to a seafaring rat who had sailed to England from Constantinople long before (though possibly not as early as the Black Death fleets of 1348-49) – will fully understand that the Bali Sea and beyond is a different kettle of fish to the somewhat placid Thames in the golden age of Edwardian England more than a century ago.

The goddess finished her archipelagic sojourn with some lovely down-days at Palms Ceningan, where we hear she adopted surfer-chick hair because she had lost her comb. She’ll have found it eventually in the designer Black Void handbag that she, like all the girls, simply has to tote around.

Before Indonesia, she had been in Canada chatting up polar bears. As a result of this earlier adventure, and when we caught up with her aboard the Al-Iikai at Benoa before she sailed away to joust with dragons, courtesy of Indonesia Island Sail’s Amanda Zsebik, we dubbed her Nanook of the Near North.

That’s no igloo, just the smile.

What a Blast

It’s over now, for another year, thank goodness. But Christmas is worth discussion. It marks the requisitioned and wholly notional birthdate of Jesus the Nazarene, who in the Christian rite is the Messiah, the prince of peace, Son of God, prophet and prince of life, among other things. Nothing in his story seems to mandate explosive exclamation, except perhaps the feeding of the five thousand, which must have been a blast.

So it is curious that in Indonesia it’s apparently an occasion for letting off fireworks. From the noise these infernal objects generate, they must be rather bigger than the two inches (five centimetres) maximum allowed by official order. Never mind, no one here takes any notice of official orders.

There’s a serious point in this. Christmas is a Christian religious feast. For Muslims, it is the birthday of the Messiah (Mahdi), Isa – Jesus – who ranks behind only Muhammad as a prophet of Allah.

It is the secular West that has turned Christmas into an occasion for consumer excess. But even there, and in the little pockets of bad behaviour its acolytes occupy around the globe, pyrotechnics don’t figure in the events of the season.

A Sari Tale

The other day we came across a delightful Jakarta-based blog (www.eatlivetravel.com) that had somehow previously escaped our notice. We really should get out more. It comes with an emailed newsletter, to which we have now subscribed. Interesting takes on current events are always good value, whether they are serious or of the ROFL class. Hereabouts they’re often of the ROFLMAO variant.

What caught our eye particularly in the newsletter we saw on Dec. 17 was a spin-off from the awful Ahok saga. It involved Sari Roti, a bread maker, whose products were seen in apparently invidious proximity to the governor of Jakarta in the context of his legal difficulties with the FMP (the Fanatical Muslim Push). Sari Roti’s stock value had fallen as a result (no, we’re not kidding).

No one can have missed the fact that Governor Ahok is on trial for blasphemy on the grounds that he misquoted the Qur’an and is therefore a kafir of the worst order. He’s a Christian, of course, and an Indonesian of Chinese ethnicity. Neither of these qualities is favoured as a political option by the chaps with the placards and the turban fetish.

It’s a sorry tale all round, and not one to laugh about. Except that sometimes if you don’t laugh, you cry.

It Just Piles Up

Photos that surfaced on Facebook just before Christmas, of the disgraceful piles of garbage washed up on Double Six beach at Legian, after seasonal rains flushed out the poisonous detritus that clogs every watercourse you can think of, are an object lesson in the poverty of public policy in Bali.

They show how fiddling around at the edges, or hoping someone else will front up with the money and the means to do something for you while funding your latest vehicle fetish, is a cop-out, a disease risk and a PR disaster all rolled into one.

They were taken by surfing identity Tim Hain on Dec. 24. He noted that he was feeling a little delicate as a result of the ASC Tour awards party held at Canggu the previous evening, but what really made him feel sick was the sight that greeted him on Double Six beach on his morning walk.

It’s true that there are some good waste management initiatives in an increasing number of localities in Bali, organised at local community level. Craig Glenister of the Alasari resort in Tabanan mentioned the one that’s up and running in his area. Fair enough.

But it’s not enough. Just for example, in the Bukit area that houses The Cage (from whence Hector scribbles) a local contractor is paid by some residents to properly dispose of their rubbish. Others couldn’t care less – it’s not the money – and continue with the sorry custom of just tossing garbage away. Sometimes they set fire to it and the noxious plastic it contains. But mostly they just forget about it. Everywhere you go there’s a smelly bag of diseased rubbish lying in the scrub or by the road.

The local free-range dogs, a pariah class created by public apathy and indolence, the rats and the dengue mosquitoes, are guaranteed a continuous feast as a result.

A Sound Point

Helen Mirren is a great actor. And anyone who has seen the long-ago guest spot she did as a much younger one on a British TV talk show – when interviewer Michael Parkinson asked her with a particularly gauche grin if her “attributes” got in the way of her winning offers of serious roles – will understand also that she is a highly intelligent woman with whom one should not trifle.

So when she observed that by general agreement 2016 was a shit of a year, as she did recently, it was very hard to argue. You don’t even have to have read the library-load of end-of-year reviews to work that out. She wasn’t making a partisan political point. That’s a tiresome practice of some actors, who seem to believe that a good publicist, a photogenic presence and an ability to take direction on a film set invests them with special knowledge, but it’s not hers.

Neither was she speaking in personal terms. She has a broader mind than that. She can see that things happen that aren’t good, even if they don’t directly affect you; and she is not so consumed with Self in the modern fashion that nothing else seems to matter. In short, she’s a breath of fresh air

See below for Hector’s view on The Year It Would Be Nice to Rewind.

Monkey of a Year

The Monkey is most likely exhausted, or near as, since his year is nearly over. The Diary, a Monkey of the class of 1944, certainly is. In the Chinese Zodiac, everyone’s once-in-a-dozen years mazurka is not a treat but a challenge. And 2016 was not a good year for anyone.

The year of the Fire Rooster starts on Jan. 28. We look forward to it. The next Monkey year is in 2028. Perhaps we’ll see you for that party.

President-elect Donald Trump’s next celestial challenge is in 2018, by the way. He’s a Fire Dog. But he gets his box of matches a year early, on Jan. 20, when he is inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States. He’ll probably tweet about that.

This column appears in the Bali Advertiser, out Jan. 4. The newspaper publishes Hector’s Diary in every second edition. It is a fortnightly print and on line publication.

 

 

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.