8degreesoflatitude

THINGS THAT INTEREST, ENGAGE AND ENRAGE

Category: Writing

Born Free

 

HECTOR’S DIARY

The Cage, Bali

Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017

 

HECTOR IMAGE FOR BLOG

His regular diet of diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

 

THERE is a release, of sorts, in being relieved of the duty to write for a publication. You’re freer to write what you really think, in the patois of your choice, in the absence of a publisher’s preference for the Life Unmolested, and in a timeframe that suits your own elastic concept of deadlines. It’s a bit like being Truman Capote (though only in certain respects) except that he was famous and could deal with deadlines by simply ignoring them.

Those of us at the grafting end of the writer’s writ must obey those who pay. Or else the dosh does not materialise. So when there’s no dosh to be had, and you’re your own proprietor, publisher, editor and virtual printer, deadlines can take a back seat. Though not too far back: it’s sensible to remember Idi Amin’s advice that if you don’t want to vanish with a boot up the bum, you have to give the population something to hum.

As most of you know, Hector is a retired cockatoo. He squawks a lot (the habits of a lifetime are hard to retire and can’t be fobbed off with a gold watch) but only when he wants to, or can be bothered. A lot bothers him, of course. You’ll have noticed that too. He proposes to continue being bothered, because he can, and to do so on a malleable seven-day plan, from wherever his cage is situated. This is his first in that new milieu.

Cease and Desist

SUCH orders are given rather more frequently than might be understood in today’s media world, where genetically mixed American actresses becoming engaged to British princes fifth in line to the throne, and President Trump’s latest twittering insults to people outside the “native” white oligarchy he prefers to favour, are deemed more newsworthy than real events. Cease and desist sometimes has legal utility, though mostly it’s a waste of time (see Trump, above).

It would be nice if we could issue one against Nature, which is giving us a hard time in the central archipelago at present. It’s quite understandable that volcanoes should erupt from time to time – it’s what they do, after all – but it would really be much better if they could manage to stick to a schedule and advertise it. We’ve also had a cyclone, though it hit Central Java, the province of Yogyakarta, and East Java, where it killed 19 people, far harder than Bali and Lombok. It was unusual in forming inside the normal exclusion zone for cyclones (10S-10N, the equatorial belt) and was less powerful than those experienced in true cyclonic areas. They’re not unknown, but are rare. The climate change shamans did rain dances about it, of course.

UPDATE (Dec. 7): The Java cyclone death toll more than doubled to 41 in latest reports on the aftermath, including 25 people killed in a single landslide.

Notional Airline

WE try to love Garuda, which is up there with the high flyers for cabin service. We’ve even renewed our membership of its frequent flyer club, though we more frequently fly with other airlines that charge you less for the privilege of defying gravity.

Garuda is impossible to contact by phone. Its sales office in Kuta won’t even take calls. If you can’t book online – and that’s a mammoth struggle, mostly – you have to actually go to the office. It used to be at Nusa Dua, which is where we went two weeks ago when we needed to book flights to and from Lombok. It was there no longer, however, and the helpful security guard at the entrance to the Bali Collection shopping centre told us it had moved to Jimbaran Square. We worked out that this was actually Benoa Square and went there. There was an office but it was unoccupied. Other helpful security people at the scene told us the real one was at the Kuta Paradiso Hotel, in Kuta. We called Garuda’s customer service number (sic) and they gave us a number to call. It was the Kuta Paradiso Hotel. Um, thanks guys. So we went there and finally managed to buy tickets.

Our flight to Lombok was uneventful. The trolley dollies just managed to get round the packed cabin with the sweet buns and water bottles they were required to hand out. The pilot deserved credit for flying his Boeing 737-800 at what seemed to be just above stall speed, so that the flight time could stretch out to the required 30 minutes. (It’s 18 minutes Ngurah Rai to Lombok International at jet speed, at the most.)

Our flight back to Bali did not take place. Gunung Agung on Bali had spewed ash into the atmosphere in the interim. Lombok’s and Bali’s airports were open on the day we were due to fly – Dec. 1 – but Garuda had cancelled all its Lombok-Bali flights that day. You only found that out when you got to the airport. The melee inside – that is, past the melee of the security screening – was not to be borne, and we didn’t. We left the scene, got a taxi to Senggigi where we stayed overnight, and a boat to Bali next morning. Apparently Garuda’s interest in customer service does not extend to calling in extra staff to deal with reallocated flight requests in such situations. Our next task: to get a refund on our unused return tickets.

Scrofulous Scribbles

THE volcano drama has brought out the best – that’s as in, the worst – of the foreign scribblers who get paid for dramatizing events by interviewing people (or sometimes themselves) so they can gild the lily and get their names up in lights. This is especially so if they want to have a go at airlines that cancel flights not because volcanic ash is deadly to aircraft and possibly their crews and passengers, but because they’re on a mission to mess with the personal holiday plans of Mr or Ms Aggrieved. Fuckwits are a swiftly growing demographic (see – there’s one immediate benefit of blogging rather than writing for print). They’re ripe for satirising, and should be thus dealt with, as some brazen outlets have done. There was a lovely piece the other day, somewhere or other, which foretold shocking disaster for any Aussie tourists still stranded in Bali when the Bintang ran out.

The other side of that coin is seen in the sterling efforts of expatriates and locals alike in getting essentials such as food and water and basic medicines and health preservatives to the poor Balinese who have been shipped off to evacuation camps because their villages are in the volcano exclusion zone. There’s one camp in particular that we know of, at Kubu on the northeast slopes of Agung, where 110 people are living in appalling conditions. The charities I’m An Angel and Solemen Indonesia and others are helping out there, with donated funds. A food convoy the other day was met with smiles from people who in reality were close to tears of despair. That’s the human story. It’s not about poor Wozzer and Tosser, world travellers, yair, mate, whose sense of Anglosphere entitlement excludes consideration of anything beyond their own convenience.

Serial Affendi 

YES, we know. The shocking issue of dominant male versus submissive woman, the result of residual caveman genes and men’s stupidity, isn’t really something to laugh about. But nonetheless, we’ll keep trying. There really is humour in everything, if you look hard enough.

So we were pleased to see a report in The Straits Times on Nov. 28 about a chap in Singapore whose cerebral cognisance is so severely deficient that even though he was shouted at by his victim after he touched her thigh in a bar, he was not deterred from later touching her breast while her boyfriend had his arm around her.

Take a bow, Affendi Mohamed Noor, 54. You really are a prize chump. The annual Darwin Awards honour idiots who remove themselves from the gene pool by misadventure. There should be a Weinstein Award for those other idiots who apparently live by the motto, “I’ve Got a Prick, So I’ll Be One.”

 

HECTOR IMAGE FOR BLOG

Chin-chin!

Red Sales in the Sunset

HECTOR’S DIARY

His regular diet of worms and other non-religious fare

HectorR

The Cage, Bali

Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017

 

WE had a little giggle this week when we read that the Minister for National Development Planning, Professor Bambang Brodjonegoro, had wondered why more Australian investment was directed to Mexico than to Indonesia. Mexico, as he pointed out on an invest-with-us road show in Australia, was a long way away. It is. They wear sombreros there too, at least in cartoons, but that’s also totally beside the point.

An interesting article in the Fairfax press reported the issue, and included some commentary from Australian superannuation funds, from which Indonesia would apparently like a hand with projects. We note of course that such investments are indeed part and parcel of the global money round. The key to such investments is their legal security and actuarially based rates of return (ROI). Indonesia is making progress towards some measure of transparency and certainty in these matters, but a cautious superannuation investment fund manager would probably wait a little while. It’s different with company-level investments. They only depend on directors’ confidence levels. Or Chinese investments, which despite the official outbreak of pretend capitalism that the mandarins in Beijing have permitted, are still effectively State (and therefore Party) subscriptions, and hence political. They are all about building the next Chinese empire.

Minister Bambang made a direct pitch for Australian investment in a “new Nusa Dua” in the “eastern islands”. To decode that for the uninitiated, the Nusa Dua development in Bali is the manicured tourism precinct at the southern tip of the island full of international hotels that these days struggle to compete against the low-cost appeal, to the new market, of cheaper products elsewhere; and “eastern islands” means Labuan Bajo in Flores. We’ll return to Flores in a moment.

He also suggested that Australians might consider investing in tourism-related developments in the “new Nusa Dua” and instanced water sports and related fun things as examples of where they might choose to do so. How this might be done effectively and profitably is a conundrum. Indonesia’s restrictions on foreign workers, the country’s prevailing low productivity and skills levels, and the promiscuous practice of local and national regulators in deciding that their noses are out of joint and that they will therefore without notice inspect the paperwork and deport anyone found holding a spanner, is one among many other unresolved questions.

In the early booster stages of economic promotions directed at specific targets, in this case Labuan Bajo in western Flores, near where the real komodos roam on their eponymous island, the chief effect is to raise land values and pour cash into the pockets of title-holders. Often this is a relative thing, which can benefit siblings and more distant relations of those doing the boosting. As someone with whom we spoke recently on these matters noted, perhaps such people are looking to family connections for an opportunity to upgrade from a canoe to a cruiser.

We’ll All be Rooned (Well, No We Won’t)

ROONED is what that eternal Jeremiah, Hanrahan, said would happen, in the lovely poem published in 1921 and written by the Australian bush poet John O’Brien, the pen name of a Roman Catholic priest, Patrick Joseph Hartigan.  “We’ll all be rooned, said Hanrahan” – Hanrahan was a pessimistic man of Irish descent – now has an honoured place in the Australian English lexicon.

Pessimists and their jeremiads are fixed elements in any society, of course, though here in Bali, they are mostly of the imported variety. Foreigners who have lived here for a long time, or who have frequently visited for what to them probably feels like eons, fondly remember times past when the island was a pristine paradise. That is, except for the natives, who were poor and deprived of most of the benefits of modern life, and who, it is said by some, preferred it that way.

According to that primarily self-serving confected legend, Bali’s unique culture is now facing deadly risk. There’s an alternative view of this. This is that Bali’s culture and its unique religion is just as capable as any other of changing with the times. The island is not a Petrie dish and its culture is not an arcane scientific experiment managed by others. The archipelago survived the introduction of the chilli after all – by the Portuguese, who got them from someone else, naturally, centuries ago – and has made it its own. That’s just a small example of how change is welcomed and quietly managed by human societies.

There’s another aphorism that seems apt: The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.

The British writer Tim Hannigan – who describes himself as a pop historian, just by the way – would probably share this view. He writes from a post-colonial perspective. This is sensible, since except for references to that sometimes beneficial but predominantly pernicious plague by politicians everywhere in former empires who want to display their nationalist credentials, the age of European empire has long gone.

Hannigan is in Indonesia at present on a book tour, which will now take him to Jakarta. He was in Bali this week and we caught up with him twice, once at the Periplus bookstore at Samasta in Jimbaran and again over one of Asri Kerthyasa’s fine high teas at Biku in Seminyak.

He wrote some finely tuned polemic in his brilliantly researched book Raffles and the British Invasion of Java, and a very readable A Brief History of Indonesia, among others. He has also edited A Brief History of Bali which is now on the bookstore shelves and is a must read, a revision with additional chapters version of the American Willard Hanna’s original. Hanna’s ended in the 1970s, ancient history now; Hannigan’s mediates Hanna’s Cold War perspective and takes the story on to current time. 

Telephone Cheek

THE leaked transcript of the telephone call between American President Donald Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull shortly after Trump assumed office early this year is interesting. It confirms Trump as a president who doesn’t read his briefs, or perhaps doesn’t even ask for them, and underlines the worrying fact that he’s a real estate shyster whom American voters have elected to an office that is far beyond his moral, ethical and administrative capacities. It shows that a phone conversation with him, leader to leader, isn’t necessarily one that will produce an effective outcome or indeed connect with rational thought.

The call, which was terminated early, by Trump, turned on the Obama era plan proposed by the Australians that the U.S. take as many of Australia’s detainees on offshore foreign islands as its vetting processes would permit. There are (or were at the time) around 1,200 of these poor souls, held in limbo because they had attempted to reach Australia by boat from Indonesia. The call confirmed the depravity (in the correct sense of the word) of Australian policy towards foreign people who have committed no crime. There is no morality in denying human rights to others – whoever they are – and detaining them indefinitely in camps on islands in other countries.

It cannot be justified on the basis that it has “stopped the boats” and people drowning at sea. It is simply a profane political process whose effectiveness (undeniable in the short term) is determined by refusing to recognise the real problem: an unstoppable global population movement. It screams “Australia’s for Australians” and wins votes for doing so. That’s an Australian problem. It mirrors Trump America’s mad Mexican Wall idea.

Turnbull deserves some credit for talking to Trump in a mannered and diplomatic way: for not interjecting “WTF, Donald?” That’s the only creditable element in the event – well, that and the fact that someone had the moral fortitude to leak the transcripts (there were others) to the media. These are sorry days.

HectorR

Hector writes a diary in the Bali Advertiser newspaper. The next will appear on Aug. 16.

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Hit Parade

HECTOR’S DIARY

HectorR

Bali Advertiser, Jun. 21, 2017

 

IT’S always good fun to read the local Bahasa language press, as well as informative. Some people like to criticise the media – well, no, everyone likes to do that – and that’s no less common in Indonesia than anywhere. One of the things about critics is that they always know how it could have been done better, or that you’ve missed the real story, possibly on purpose. In an earlier life, one of the Diary’s jobs was to write back to critical readers and gently massage their egos while telling them politely to go get a life. It was often a challenge and helped to fuel an addiction to caffeine from which we know we shall never recover.

For those accustomed to western newspaper reading – a dwindling band indeed – there is also the issue here of upside-down stories. Telling the story in the first eight paragraphs is essential for western readers. Most won’t even get that far these days, of course. But Indonesian journalism is far more circuitous. You often find the story in the last eight paragraphs.

So it was interesting early this month to read Radar Bali and other media on the great Akasaka Club drug raid. The police found 19,000 Ecstasy pills when they swept into the premises on the afternoon of Jun. 5. They had previously swept into the premises, on Jl. Teuku Umar in Denpasar, on several occasions to far less effect. But this time it was the real deal. The police chief, Inspector-General Petrus Reinhard Golose, said no one was above the law. This will have come as shocking news to the people who operate the Akasaka Club and those who, on all the evidence, have hitherto been protecting them.

It’s good news for everyone else, though, unless they’re also running drug dens. It’s a sign that Bali is no longer the un-policed bad lands of the drug-wild west, or at least that this is the intention.

One of the fictions that some people here are fond of circulating is that the drug abuse epidemic is a tourist thing, or at least that, like the rubbish used to, it comes from Java. It’s nothing of the sort, of course. It’s an element of modern Indonesian consumer life that, like the poor, will always be with us. But it can be curtailed by effective police intelligence and action, and certainly should be. Pill-poppers are not all low-life adults. Some of them – foreigners and locals alike – are basically still children. That’s where to stop it. This requires parental supervision of offspring as well as official deterrence.

It’s true that the misbehaviour envelope in shaped rather differently in Bali, given the island’s transient overburden of tourists and its unpleasant overlay of a cohort of expatriate residents who are here gouging money because they couldn’t make a buck (or anything else) in their own countries. So cutting out the supply chain, or at least radically reducing it, makes sense.

Bali’s circumstances also make the island a convenient staging post and supply centre for drugs destined for other places in Indonesia. It’s probably always going to be that way. But at least the Akasaka action will signal that open slather – the situation up to now, which everyone who could be bothered to know about knew about – is no longer something that will be just winked at or tolerated.

Four people, including the club manager, have been arrested and police investigations are continuing. Take a bow, General Petrus.

Giddy Aunts and Others

THE Bali DIVAS’ lunch at Cocoon, Seminyak, on Jul. 9, seemed to go off with the verve and pizazz we’ve come to expect of that décolleté collective. We weren’t there but some of our favourite ladies who lunch tell us MC Kerry Ball was on his best and most restrained behaviour. He is reported to have said “oh my giddy aunt” a couple of times, we gather. But that’s an expression that flies well below the social sound barrier. It won’t have shattered any windows.

Entertainment was by Sydney drag queen Polly Petrie and a friend, Marzi Panne. We’re told that Polly mislaid his eyelashes at one point, but you expect a bit of ungluing on lively occasions such as these and we’re sure he recovered his customary discomposure quickly. It’s the sort of thing for which giddy aunts, and drag queens, are renowned.

Debbie Amelsvoort tells us it was a fabulous day full of fun, laughs and – most importantly, as she puts it – incredible generosity from divas at the do. That’s what it’s all about, after all. The event was to raise funds for the village of Songan, at Kintamani, where a landslide in February killed 12 people, including two children.

The money will go towards long term improved education opportunities in Songan.

Well done, ladies. Christina Iskandar can feel justifiably proud of the DIVA enterprise she started and which now has an international dimension. A Gold Coast DIVAS do was held on May 26, cementing the Queensland holiday resort city into the DIVAS’ Australian charity catchment, which also includes Sydney and Melbourne.

No Show

WHAT a shame President Joko Widodo was unable to open the 39th Annual Bali Arts Festival on Saturday, Jun. 10, due to other commitments, that always- utilitarian spanner in the works. It must have been chucked in at the eleventh hour. News that the presidential abort button had been pushed became public knowledge on Jun. 10. Maybe he couldn’t find his udeng. He sent minister Puan Maharani instead.

It must have been by coincidence that around the same time the presidential office released a lovely little map of the archipelago showing all the places where he’d dropped in – and apparently left a pin, Google Maps style – on his unscheduled blusukan visits.

It brought to mind a song written by Australian Geoff Mack in 1959 and later made famous by Johnny Cash, among others. I’ve been everywhere, man.

Top Aussie

A NAME that most Indonesians probably wouldn’t naturally associate with Australia, if they heard it at all, since it’s not Brett or Bruce and doesn’t come with a Bintang singlet, a stubby-holder, and a sharp (or slow) drawl, got an honourable mention in the 2017 Australian Queen’s Birthday Honours List released on the official make-believe birthday of Her Maj (her real one’s on Apr. 21) on Jun. 12: Professor Mohamed Hassan Kadra. He got an AO (Officer of the Order of Australia) for distinguished service to medicine in the field of urology as a surgeon, clinician and mentor, to rural and remote medical education, and to literature as an author and playwright.

Professor Kadra is a leading Sydney urologist, but his interests are far wider, including in an enterprise that trains people in IT in other countries where their circumstances might not otherwise give them that opportunity.

Most media interest centred on the AC (Companion of the Order) given to the actor Cate Blanchett, but veteran economist Ross Garnaut also got a very well deserved AC, the highest award now that the Aussies have again dropped that daft Knight of Australia thing. The AK – it’s a gong, not a gun, and there aren’t quite 47 of them – was resurrected as a “captain’s call” by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and quietly pushed off the track and back into the ditch by his successor, Malcolm Turnbull.

Leading lawyer and death penalty abolitionist Julian McMahon, who is locally of Bali Nine fame, also got an AC, and former Labor Party minister Robert Tickner got an AO for distinguished service to the community through leadership roles with the Australian Red Cross, and to the Parliament of Australia.

The full list is here for anyone who’s interested.

Candi Dasher

REGULAR Diary readers will know that the Diary has a soft spot for Candi Dasa, and this scribble comes to you from that fine little seaside town in Karangasem. We’re having a break there again, this time at Sea Breeze at Mendiri Beach in Sengkidu. Wearing another of our hats, we have some serious writing to do. And lovely views of Nusa Penida and the Lombok Strait (rippling Wallace Line included), delicious ice creams just up the road, and a selection of fine little eating places handily close by, are helping tremendously with that project.

We’ll drop in at Vincent’s in Candi Dasa itself at some point, quite possibly on one of their live jazz nights, for another go at the Haloumi.

HectorR

Hector’s Diary in the Bali Advertiser appears every fourth Wednesday. The next is due on   Jul. 19. He writes an occasional intermezzo diary here at 8degreesoflatitude.com between times.

Dystopian Delights

HECTOR’S DIARY

HectorR

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Bali

Nov. 9, 2016

 

THERE were no visibly ruffled kebayas at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival session featuring American author Lionel Shriver on Oct. 29. No one loudly rattled their worry beads or furiously flounced out. This was in stark contrast to the thought chasm at the Brisbane Writers Festival in September, where an angry ethnic headdress made a public point of walking out of Shriver’s presentation. Someone else then thumped out an anguished memoir that appeared somewhere or other and, in it, claimed that Shriver was stealing other people’s heritage.

Shriver’s crime is to give voice in her novels to imaginary characters whose culture and ethnicity is not her own. In doing do, so the good thinking collective asserts, she and others perpetuate an invidious imperial-colonial imbalance. These days, this warrants condign punishment, such as being shouted at before being sent to Coventry.

The modern white man’s burden is to be continually assailed by charges that might have applied to his great-grandfather (the point is moot). It’s true that much of the world’s body of literature, fictional or otherwise, is in English. But much of it isn’t. There are other global languages, Spanish, French and Portuguese in particular. And if a culture whose native language isn’t one of these or any of their increasingly incomprehensible derivatives wishes to fully develop literature in its own lingua franca, it is perfectly free to do so.

This of course is not the thing to say at a literary festival, unless you want to have your tea poisoned.

But it is hard to see how Shriver and her ilk are the agents of continued bastardry just because they write into their narratives imaginary representatives of other cultures. Fiction, whether grittily realistic, or enervating, or readable, or otherwise, is neither fact nor claims to be. That alone should eliminate angst among the sentient and offset the risk of injury to readers from that modern plague, acquired cultural offence.

It’s true of course that many authors and their cheer squads claim gritty realism as the leitmotiv of their works and the arbiter of their own social relevance. But these days if you’re not socially relevant, you’re nowhere, baby.

Shriver’s presentation concerned her latest book, The Mandibles, a dystopian romp of sorts through the imagined near-future economic and social collapse of America. Mad Max on Mandrax, in a way. She read from the text. It’s unlikely to set the world on fire, though America might. The session was moderated by Gill Westaway, once of the British Council and now of Lombok.

Better than Chocolate

We spent some time at the festival chatting with Ines Wynn, who writes for the Bali Advertiser and lives in a riparian setting with a small menagerie (of dogs and cats) far from the madding crowd, just an easy three-hour round trip away from the nearest supermarket that’s stocked with anything bules might actually want to buy.

In such a setting, one has to plan. It doesn’t do to run out of something essential. We thought of foie gras, not because we suppose Ines likes to keep it in stock, as indeed neither do we, but just par exemple, to break briefly into one of her eight languages. Ines is originally from Belgium, that confection of four languages, several instances of casus belli, multiple competing legislatures and former Heart of Darkness empire that was invented in 1830 as a sort of final post-mortem act in the overlong and competing narratives of the Holy Roman Empire and the Spanish Crown.

Lunch with her, which we took at Kori, just across the road from the gabblers’ headquarters, was much less complex. It was also very tasty and in a quiet environment where the only noise seemed to be coming from our table. We didn’t have any chocolates. It seemed invidious to suggest that we might, since chocolates are perhaps Belgium’s finest exports. No substitutes permitted.

Solemen Indonesia’s Robert Epstone, by the way, had a sort of TED Talk opportunity at the festival, on Oct. 30 rescheduled from earlier in the program, to introduce the lit crowd to the sterling work his charity organisation does.

We couldn’t be there, unfortunately, but Ines tells us Epstone worked his usual magic and passed the virtual hat round to good effect.

Shoot to Thrill

The executioners have been out and about. We’re not referring to the national drug agency, which says it would like to shoot drug dealers without benefit of judicial process, as in Rodrigo Duterte’s new killing fields in the Philippines perhaps, and which hopefully will never get permission to engage in state-sanctioned murder.

It’s Gianyar regency we’re talking about, again, and its cruel and counterproductive dog-culling program. The latest victims were 21 dogs in Batubulan, after a dog bit someone and was later found to have rabies. Just to be clear, we’re not opposed to killing dogs when circumstances dictate that there is no other option, even though it would leave a heavy shadow on our non-Hindu heart.

Instead, as is much of the world that exists outside the blank-stare fiefdoms of the regents of Gianyar and others, we are opposed to the idea of killing dogs because this is easier than implementing an effective vaccination (and re-vaccination) program and humane population control through sterilisation, and because, being cheaper, it won’t interfere with the Essential Additional SUV Acquisition schedule.

There’s plenty of literature available on how to actually suppress rabies rather than just look as you’re doing so. We’ve had rabies in Bali since 2008, at a cost now approaching 200 human lives. That’s ample time to have assimilated the information and to have translated even the difficult bits into Bahasa Indonesia.

A Fine Award

Puri Mas resorts and spa in Lombok has a new and very fine feather in its cap. It’s just been voted Best Luxury Boutique Hotel in Indonesia at an awards presentation in Doha, Qatar. GM Sara Sanders, who was in the Puri Mas contingent at the St Regis Doha to collect the gong, says this: “Congratulations to Marcel De Rijk and all the amazing staff in Puri Mas. Well deserved.”

Puri Mas has always been a great place – in two places: right on the beach at Manggis north of Senggigi and inland at Kerangandan, where owner and long-term Lombok resident and ballroom dancer De Rijk maintains his residence. The resort truly is a jewel in the crown of Lombok tourism.

Get. A. Life.

It is not a criminal offence to be gay in Indonesia. (That’s a good thing in the other, older, sense of the word, because there’s plenty here that gives you a laugh, even if it’s a horse one.) But, seriously, it’s not a crime.

So the disgraceful hue and cry that was reported last month, involving the police and other guardians of self-assessed moral requirements in Manado, North Sulawesi, was a very sorry spectacle. Two gay men were hunted down and arrested because they had displayed their affection for each other in a Facebook post.

Social media is not a public space. It’s certainly true that public demonstration of affection is not what one does here. It is culturally inappropriate. Tourists of all stripes please note, especially the half-clothed young bucks and does of western provenance whose displays of plainly sexual intent are blots on the landscape in Kuta and other goodtime places.

In the Manado incident, there was no cause for public disquiet. It’s no business of the police what private individuals choose – unwisely or otherwise – to post on their social platforms. “Our team tracked down the locations of the two men thanks to information from netizens, and on Oct. 11 we found the two in Bahu, Manado,” North Sulawesi Police Spokesman Marzuki wrote in a statement.

What a circus. The police should have told “concerned netizens” to go away instead of responding with a farcical witch-hunt. That way, police spokesman Marzuki wouldn’t have had to look as if he’s with the Keystone Kops.

The silly business even reached Jakarta, where IT ministry spokesman Noor Iza was quoted as saying: “Facebook is very concerned about inappropriate content, including LGBT.”

Um, no, Facebook is rather more rainbow minded than Indonesian regulator-enforcers like to think.

End Game

The US election will be all over bar the continued shouting by the time this appears in print, but American scribbler Richard Boughton, who very sensibly lives in Bali, posted a plaintive note on his Facebook on Nov. 2 to which we can relate, both in his specific and our own more general circumstances.

He wrote: “I can’t believe how much time I wasted last night arguing with Trump supporters on Facebook. Not that I don’t have time to waste. But I could have wasted it in so many more pleasant ways. Sleeping, for instance. Or pigging out on junk food. Or picking a scab off my leg.”

HectorR

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

Shibboleths Revealed

HECTOR’S DIARY

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

HectorR

Bali, Aug. 31. 2016

Expatria, the spreading collection of dots that peppers the map of Bali like kibbutzim, as if it were the beginnings of an overbearing expropriation, had an unpleasant frisson of ferment recently over the tragic death of a policeman in an affray at Kuta Beach. Though it was less over the death, it seemed, than it was about a thoughtful and kindly plan to raise money so that the policeman’s bereaved family would not end up in ruinous poverty.

The issue, for those whose plan this was, was not one of guilt or innocence, or even of the circumstances. These are properly matters for the police investigation, the prosecutors, the defence lawyers, the defendants, and the judiciary. Everyone else is supernumerary to these arrangements, or should be. Some among the cohort of thicker, self-centred, expatriates here would benefit from understanding that.

The thing is, you see, it’s very difficult to argue with people whose set views define their untutored assumptions about imperfect justice and shambolic public officialdom in Indonesia. Nowhere is perfect. Mistakes are made everywhere. That, inter alia, is one of the most pressing arguments against the death penalty. No decision should ever be made that cannot be changed or reversed.

When a blather-load of shibboleths is trotted out by the disaffected, as it so sadly was in the instance of the death of sub-inspector Wayan Sudarsa, they throw up smokescreens that hide the blindingly obvious. They also obscure from view – until it’s too late – the rocks that always litter the path of public discussion.

We did check, of course, but as expected we found that none among those offering policing, investigatory or legal opinions had any standing in these matters. So basically, they should have shut up. They didn’t like being told this, naturally. In Expatria, the loud-mouthed man is king. Or thinks he is. It was an unedifying though salutary episode.

The funding appeal is going well, by the way. If you’d like to contribute, visit this link.

It’s a Giggle

The Distaff, dear thing, is a serious lass, particularly when she feels herself under siege by the asinine crowd, that informal collective of the cerebrally challenged or seriously up themselves who ignore common sense and as result blunder blindly and inevitably into the mire. Sometimes one joins her in wishing it were quicksand. Her intolerance of idiocy is among her most attractive features.

The Diary as a consequence seeks from time to time to make her laugh, or at least giggle (she does a good giggle now and then, when encouraged to lighten up). At last resort, we’re content with a smile, and if the environment is particularly dire at the time, we’ll even settle for a wan one. Beggars, they say, cannot be choosers.

So one evening recently, when we were dining at Vincent’s, the Candi Dasa eatery that offers nice music, and delicious fare including haloumi in various preparations, we decided to give her a laugh. She’s had a hard day, poor thing. Our method is to say something of quite extraordinary stupidity. On this occasion it worked a treat. Inquiry had been made as to what had chiefly constituted the compote that underlay the salad that accompanied the Diary’s pastry-baked haloumi.

We ventured the thought, accompanied by a perfectly straight face, that it might be crushed quinoa beans. The effect of this intelligence was electric. The Distaff dissolved into hysterics for some considerable time, with successive recurrent bouts.

It was plainly a triumph. Hysteria is the very apogee of cause and effect in discourse with the Distaff; it is the Holy Grail, so to speak. There was further reward. As we left the restaurant a little later a lovely young woman who was dining a deux at a neighbouring table gave the Diary a perfectly wonderful smile. She clearly appreciated, and wanted to applaud, the fact that an old codger could still administer a powerful dose of levity to his dinner companion. Laughter, after all, is the best medicine.

Coo! Ta!

Perth, the world’s most isolated capital city, is a step closer to getting its own Ku De Ta to further cement its position as Bali’s southern suburb. The KDT brand has been granted a conditional liquor licence for its proposed premises on the redeveloped waterfront in Perth’s central business district.

Jo Hocking, a name familiar to many in Bali and Cambodia (the latter briefly, we understand) asked a question on a post on The Beat Daily’s Facebook the other day, in relation to this intelligence. She asked: “No dancing in bikinis though?” We can suppose not, the fun police being extremely active in Hibernation Central.

This is no bad thing. If we want dancing bikinis in our face while we’re sipping the latest designer mojito (we don’t, the point is polemical) there are plenty of pole-dancing and other establishments where gratuitous exposure of flesh is available to view at the market price.

In this instance not only the boringly prescriptive and omnipresent fun police are in the way, but also Perth’s chilly winters and fresh summer breezes. There are many ways, after all, in which lissom young ladies can choose to stand out in the crowd.

Check, Lit.

The Diary is limbering up for the delights of Bali’s annual literary feast, Janet DeNeefe’s Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, which this year is on Oct. 26-30. The line-up includes Erica Jong, Lionel Shriver, Dewi Lestari, Hanya YanigaharaHelon Habila, Kamila Shamsie, Amit Chaudhuri, Eka Kurniawan, Jill Dawson, and Ariel Leve.

Ahead of that not to be missed beneficence, there’s another lit glit occasion that has caught our eye. It’s the latest in Jade Richardson‘s Write of Passage courses, this one in Ubud on Sep. 14-18 (in the newspaper version of the Diary, the dates are earlier – a late change beat our deadline there).

Richardson has been in Denmark for a while – the one in Western Australia, where the complexities and machinations of Shakespeare’s Hamlet are, we understand, rather outdone by those of the local Yoga collective – but is now back where she should be, in Bali. We’ll have to see about lunch.

She bills the workshop as a rare chance to join one of the world’s best journeys for writers in its heartland of beautiful, magical Bali: “an empowering journey for those longing to find their voice, on the brink of a new work, or seeking a creative push into the beautiful ride of loving the writing.”

Well, that certainly sounds more fun than a double-decaf soy lite latte no sugar, so we’ve made a note to follow the action. Hector’s amanuensis has a book of his own in the works between diaries and dealings with Expatria (see above) though it may not be of the genre that Richardson’s aspiring writers would view as empowering.

Richardson is an investigative journalist, photographer, editor, writing coach and speaker whose work appears in major newspapers, magazines and anthologies. She draws on her own career and studies with authors, teachers and wisdom keepers to provide a creative writing process that she claims, with reason, is like no other.

You can see more here and book for the Sep. 14-18 course by emailing here.

Noah! Not My Place!

We had to giggle when the unusually extreme summer floods that have been ravaging Louisiana in the USA decided to destroy the home of Tony Perkins, president of an anti-gay religious lobbying group, the Family Research Council. Among the many idiocies Perkins has publicly uttered in his career as a Christian fundamentalist of fundamental dysfunction is a claim that god sends natural disasters to punish an increasingly gay-friendly world.

He called in to his own radio show to describe the flood as one of “biblical proportions”, though apparently without irony. We suspect that irony, as with a grip on the powerful proclivities of karma or the avoirdupois of schadenfreude, is something else in which he is dysfunctional.

This particular deluge was not because of the gays, he said. It was an “incredible, encouraging spiritual exercise to take you to the next level in your walk with an almighty and gracious God who does all things well.”

Should have built an Ark, Bro.

Made Wijaya, RIP

The man of many parts, all of them colourful, gave us all a shock when he caught the last train to the coast on Aug. 28. We’ll miss him. Yes, even those who number in the legion of Those of Whom He Disapproved. Among the many tributes that appeared when news came of his death in Sydney is this little scribble, from the pen of yours truly.

MADE WIJAYA PHOTO: www.naplesgarden.org

Photo courtesy http://www.naplesgarden.org

160829 MADE WIJAYA .png

HectorR

Hector’s Diary also appears in the on line and print editions of the 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, Oct. 28, 2015

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

 

Peace Off

There is a debate under way over Bali’s branding as a destination. It’s probably less tiring to whicker about that than to act firmly to curb the growing list of demerits that stand in the way of Bali being any sort of destination: rampant and uncontrolled development in the crowded south; official and corporate corruption (“Brown Envelope Island” might be a suitable slogan there); public administration that is a sick joke where it’s not simply absent; environmental degradation and woefully inadequate infrastructure; the disastrous failure to apply common sense (not to mention internationally proven remedies) to the business of suppressing rabies. The list is practically endless.

In that regard, a suggestion from former provincial politician Wayan Puspa Negara reported in the local newspaper Bisnis Bali that “Bali: Endless of Unique” would be an apposite slogan seems worthy of critical examination. As Jack Daniels noted in a recent edition of his Bali Update, the syntax is questionable. We might suggest a modest rewording to correct both the grammar and its accuracy. “Bali: End of Unique” would certainly sum up both the current situation and the banal, continuing march towards despoliation that is a feature of today’s “tourist Bali”. There is nothing unique in cheek-by-jowl hotel developments, the proliferation of trinket megastores designed to relieve low-cost package tourists of the last of their money, the winked-at sex trade, or the shockingly inadequate infrastructure through which we expect tourists to struggle and still have a good time.

Bali’s longstanding slogan is Shanti Shanti Shanti (shanti is a Sanskrit word meaning peace). This properly reflects the island’s unique Hindu culture and the uniqueness of Bali within Indonesia and in the world. But that’s the very thing – the vitally important thing – that is now directly under threat from the tsunami of mismanaged, greed-driven, hubris-laden drives for more and more tourists. It’s not the raw numbers that are necessarily the problem, provided the facilities are there to handle a mass-market approach. It’s the vacuous pursuit of more and more paying guests in the absence of infrastructure to support them that is the poison chalice. Kuta-Legian-Seminyak (and now beyond) is unmanageable. It should never take two hours to travel the 15 kilometres from Canggu to Kuta by road. That it regularly does so is testament to the stupidity of putting the cart before the horse and expecting anything to work.

Slogans are only one part of the equation, of course. They are a double-edged sword and open to abuse. One such slogan, a delightful double entendre that thankfully failed to see the light of day is said to have been once offered (by an Englishman, in distempered jest) to the Scottish tourism authorities. It said “Scotland: You’re Welcome to It”. Bali might need some better marketing, but what it needs even more is better, more sensitive (and sensible) Balinese management. Stay unique is good advice.

Whistle-Blower 

Speaking of Scotland, your diarist recently had the benefit of watching a rugby match in which whoever was the victor he had a rare opportunity to come out a winner. The Australia-Scotland quarterfinal in the 2015 World Rugby Cup was a nail-biter from start to finish, perhaps the best edge-of-the-seat game in years. The margin (to the Scots) at half time was one point. The margin at the final whistle was one point (to the Australians). The Wallabies – on recent form more pointedly known colloquially as the Wobblies – got through to the semi-finals and created a situation in which the semis and the final would be completely a southern hemisphere affair, Argentina’s feisty Pumas having just seen off the Irish.

The circumstances of the Australian win were regrettable however. Two minutes before fulltime Scotland were ahead by two points. There was a Scottish infringement in the scrimmage taking place just out from their try-line. It was penalized, as it should have been, by South African referee Craig Joubert. Except that he awarded a penalty kick to the Australians where a scrum would plainly have been more appropriate. The Australians kicked the goal (worth three points) and won the match.

From a scrum, if Joubert had pondered for a second or two more and decided on that course instead of a penalty, the Australians would have been ideally placed to throw the ball well back, to their best backline kicker, for a field goal attempt. If successful that would have earned them three points and won them the match.

Joubert’s hesitation before awarding the penalty kick was telling – he was clearly very undecided about the level of infringement by the Scots – and he left the field at rather more than a brisk canter when he blew the final whistle as the Australian ball from the place kick flew straight and true through the unmissable uprights. It was a sorry end to a great match.

But hey, rant over. One of the Diary’s sides on the field won.

Heads in the Sand

It’s hard to be an optimist, sometimes. Icarus has always served as an exemplar in that regard. It never does to soar to such lofty heights, even on terrific flights of fancy, that your carefully constructed wings of wax are melted by the sun. Cautious optimism has always seemed a better bet even though this policy should be underpinned by the certainty that neither does it pay to be a pessimist, since that would never work.

We did allow ourselves one little flight of fancy recently, however, when we heard that Governor Zainul Majdi of West Nusa Tenggara had come out against a plan to acquire sand from Lombok to fill in Benoa Bay for private profit. His assertion that he and his generation held the environment of Lombok and Sumbawa in trust for future generations sounded really good. We penciled him in as worthy of note among an exclusive – read: very small – group of Indonesian leaders whose visionary capacity stretched beyond immediate benefit.

Sadly, we have now had to use the eraser. We were mistaken in our assessment. The private profiteer in question, Tomy Winata, tried another tactic when he found himself and his blandishments banished from the Governor’s Palace in Mataram. He took his plans for the exploitative acquisition of massive quantities of West Nusa Tenggara’s environment-in-trust offshore, into the aptly named Alas Strait, where what he wants lies out of sight under water and is protected – if that’s the word – by the much more malleable provisions of national mining regulations. Governor Zainul apparently supports this environmental rape and as a result has lost a large portion of his local hero status. Those who care about the environment and the livelihoods of local fishermen have told him this. They can be counted on to repeat that message at every opportunity.

That’s good news. Ruining one environment so that another one somewhere else may also be ruined might typify the developmental impulse to build undesirable and unnecessary private infrastructure complete with extra kitsch, but that doesn’t make it right. The marine environment of the Alas Strait is worth protecting from all manner of threats. Among these must now be numbered Tomy Winata and Zainul Majdi.

Fragrant Rise

The 2015 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival gets under way today (Oct. 28) with the panache, eclecticism and variety of writers, pundits and performers we have come to expect from Janet DeNeefe’s literary baby, which began life in 2003 as a response to the 2002 Bali bombings and has grown with every annual edition. The UWRF now has a baby sibling, the Ubud Food Festival, which has just announced its dates for 2016. Mark your diaries for May 27-29.

DeNeefe, who operates two restaurants, a bakery and a cooking school in Ubud and who writes about food (her famous foray is a little tome called Fragrant Rice) was recently at the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany, where Indonesia was a special guest and at which she was one of the chefs invited to represent Indonesian cuisine.

This year’s inaugural food festival attracted 6,500 palates seeking temptation. Now that the word has got around, we can be sure there will be more next year. The festival is looking for a fulltime manager whose role would be to coordinate festival staff, look after programming, and handle stakeholders (and of course founders). Applications are open until Nov. 11.

If the job comes with a daily chocolate ration, we might even be tempted to apply.

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, Nov. 26, 2014

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Singapore Sling-off

It’s been a while since we were in Singapore so we had been quite looking forward to getting back there this month. We had been amusing ourselves with thoughts about minding the platform gap again, but the MRT was full of very pushy people on our two train rides and the whole experience was one of rather less than unalloyed delight.

Traffic also seemed to be much less well behaved than hitherto. The unnecessary and noisy practice of sounding your car horn – for any reason, or none – is gaining a growing toehold in the previously well-mannered and equable city state. Worse, “big car” syndrome is more and more obvious. It is familiar to anyone in Indonesia and many other places where capitalism, bureaucracy and fat-wallet-lawyer are synonyms for bad-mannered. The bumptious practice of the cashed-up mob in such environments is to assume droit de seigneur and to believe it is immutable fact that if you’re in a BMW or a Mercedes and are therefore visibly rich and powerful, lesser mortals have only two options: to swoon at your feet or get run over.

Of course, democracy has never had much of a place in Singapore, what with Raffles being an English provincial imperialist, his successors being chiefly British and (briefly) Japanese officer bureaucrats, and their successors being Lee Kwan Yew, etc. We should not be surprised. Singapore seems, in so many ways not discounting the Gilbert & Sullivan, to be the very model of a modern Venetian republic. The Serenissima was the most successful city state of its thousand-year era, after the nabobs of the day demoted democracy to historical theory, until its last supine grandees capitulated to that well-born Corsican brigand Napoleone Buonaparte in 1797.

Great Australian Bite

We had dinner one evening with an old chum, Ian Mackie of Lasalle Investment Management. He’s a 20-year veteran of Singapore whose interests are many and among which is a chain of coffee-culture shops named Dimbulah. We were at the one at CHIJMES, a cloistered former convent, which  offers an evening dining experience as well. It has just added a burger that is out of this world. The menu is complemented by a nice range of Australian and New Zealand wines. The NZ pinot noir we had was first rate. It came from Central Otago. The burger came from the kitchen and was better than the best.

The coffee comes from Dimbulah Mountain Estate in North Queensland. Dimbulah is a little place on the Atherton Tableland behind Cairns where the altitude knocks a point or two off the tropical temperatures and Arabica coffee trees thrive. It is not to be confused with Dimboola in Victoria, in Australia’s far chillier south. Dimboola grows wheat and its chief claim to fame is the play of the same name written by Jack Hibberd.

Incorrigible Indeed

The Singapore trip – an occasion forced upon us by reason of the visa run you have to do if your KITAS expires while you’ve been away in Australia trying not to – did create one other opportunity. We’ve been trying to get a start on reading an English translation of Jean-Michel Guenassia’s 2011 debut novel The Incorrigible Optimists Club. It is at last available in paperback (Atlantic Books) and the translation by Euan Cameron is very good.

It’s certainly best in many circumstances to be an incorrigible optimist. For example, we are optimistic that we won’t have to miss the 2015 Yak Awards. This year’s otherwise not-to-be-missed and exotically eclectic bash was held on Nov. 14, the very day the bureaucrats had set for our temporary exile from the Island of the Bumf Shufflers.

It was such a shame. Not to be counted among 600 partygoers is bad enough. But to miss yet another chance to see the sibilantly sassy Sydney songbird Edwina Blush in action is surely a sin.

And So to Lombok

We’re not gluttons for punishment, really. But we did have some things to do in Lombok after the visa trip (and Visa trip) to Singapore, so we went straight there. Well, we tried to. We’d booked AirAsia Singapore-Bali with enough time if things had run to schedule to make a change to the domestic terminal at Ngurah Rai and get on a Garuda flight to Praya.

Things didn’t run to schedule. You can never afford to discount the intervention of Murphy’s (or Sodd’s) Laws. We missed our connection and had to get a later flight and pay an additional fee for doing so.

Never mind. It was good to see Lombok again; and some old friends and a patch of weeds we once thought seriously about turning into our Des Res. This trip we stayed at Kebun Villas – just across the road from the Sheraton in Senggigi – which we eventually reached after an interminable taxi ride from the airport.

Still, the glacially-paced taxi ride was a pointed example of the benefits of different styles. The cabbie who took us from the Copthorne King’s in Singapore to Changi Airport that morning had obviously been taught at taxi-driver school that whatever Gweilo passengers might say (“Slow down you idiot!” “Hey! That was a red light!”) if they’re going to the airport they’re always running late.

Resolve to Devolve, Properly

It’s interesting to hear reports – as the Jokowi presidency gets into gear and begins its promised shift towards more meaningful consultation than has been the case before – that Balinese delegates to the Regional Representative Council (DPD) are seeking greater autonomy for the island.

Real provincial powers are no bad thing, in a country of many ethnicities and significant, difficult differences and distances. That is, if they are managed properly; if they codified so that there is a clear division between central government and provincial powers; if they are understood by all parties as subordinate to national policy and judicial check; and if local-level governments understand their own place is at the bottom of the structure rather than the top and that the Great Panjandrum, if he exists at all, resides somewhere other than in a district council office.

Provincial autonomy until now has been a response to separatist pressures, notably in Aceh and Papua. It should instead be a political arrangement, a compact, designed to enhance the national entity. It would among other things do away with the need for a Regional Representative Council, which in Bali’s case is an invidious arrangement since it administratively groups Bali and both West and East Nusa Tenggara. Achieving this would require courage, open minds, and a true commitment to democracy.

Methanol Methodology

There’s a very useful initiative under way in Bali, the Methanol Poisoning Awareness (MPA) campaign. It’s being run by the British Consulate and was launched in October by Governor Made Mangku Pastika and the acting British Ambassador, Rebecca Razavi.

The campaign aims to raise awareness of the danger of methanol in counterfeit alcoholic drinks, and reduce the number of deaths and injuries suffered by foreign and domestic tourists in Indonesia, as a result.

Razavi said at the launch that the campaign underlines the importance of British tourists being aware of the health risks of counterfeit alcohol. In 2013 counterfeit alcohol caused more than 51 deaths and 52 hospital admissions in Indonesia.

The campaign materials are being distributed throughout Bali.

UK visitor arrivals to Indonesia have risen sharply in recent years. In the first quarter of 2014 a total of 48,871 British tourists travelled to Indonesia. In April alone, 19,809 British nationals visited, up 18.2 percent on April 2013. British authorities expect numbers to continue to increase now Garuda is flying to London.

It’s pleasing to report some British-sourced news. Though in this case there is also an Australian connection, albeit at one remove. Razavi was born in Tasmania.

Home Is Where the Art Is

It may pass almost unnoticed by many, but the growing collaboration between the national galleries of Indonesia and Australia is paying huge dividends in terms of sharing artistic expression and exposing art lovers in both countries to new experiences.

The Masters of Modern Indonesian Portraiture exhibition, which has recently had a month-long season at the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra, was a major National Gallery of Indonesia initiative. It was one of three art expositions this year that have demonstrated how diversity can foster unity.

The exhibition showed 35 significant Indonesian art works and offered insight into the rich portrait practice of Indonesia, showcasing key modernist works (1930-1980s) drawn from the National Gallery of Indonesia’s collection along with a selection of works by leading contemporary artists.

It was the first time works from the National Gallery of Indonesia had been shown in Australia. There are plans to ensure it is not the last. It was certainly a rare opportunity for Australian audiences to view the work of eminent modern artists from Indonesia, including masters S. Sudjojono, Hendra Gunawan and Affandi.

Hector tweets @scratchings on Twitter. His diary appears in the Bali Advertiser

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Oct. 15, 2014

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Probability Prabowo

People seem to be somewhat exercised over the coalition that failed presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto has fashioned in the national legislature. Why this should be so is an interesting question. Indonesia is far from alone in being a democratic entity in which rival political constituencies vie for supremacy between the executive head of state and the popular assembly, sometimes with questionable people at one or the other helm. It has been a function of republican governance from ancient Rome to modern Washington.

Prabowo seeks to undermine and effectively sideline the power of the incoming president, who to his apparently still extant surprise is not himself. It’s certain that Joko Widodo will have his work cut out to lead from the Istana Negara while the Prabowo faction holds sway in the legislature.

This is not entirely novel anywhere, including in Indonesia. What makes the situation unique here is that party politics is fluid, and fully dysfunctional, rather than fully formed and in working order. Political parties have labels and compete for attention in the public space, but on the basis of their leading members’ personalities and personal desires rather than hard-worked policy. They all sing the same song, but it is a discordant one, sung in a thousand self absorbed voices. Everyone’s heard it countless times, the useless anthem Saya Pertama.

In this fractious melange, bit players come to the fore. Such as the Islamic Defenders Front, or PKI; it’s an outfit that specializes in being beside itself with rage and which literally gets away with murder. The PKI isn’t lawfully registered but no one will confront it. It doesn’t represent mainstream Indonesian opinion, but all it has to do – figuratively speaking – is drop its pants in public and everyone swoons. It parades its goon squads wherever it wants and thumbs its nose at the constitution, the law, public order and common sense, and has never heard of human rights. In this it has been aided and abetted by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (who leaves office on Oct. 20), who can only be a closet sympathizer or else feel compelled to push the funk button every time a thick-headed fundamentalist mouths his way into view.

Its latest campaign is to unseat the Indonesian Chinese Christian governor-designate of Jakarta – Jokowi’s former deputy, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known by his diminutive, Pak Ahok – because it says Muslims shouldn’t be governed by an infidel. Never mind Pancasila, then. Forget about the plurality that was the foundation stone of Indonesia’s independence and the recognized religions enshrined in the constitution. Overlook the fact that people need services, good governance and incorruptibility rather more than episodic repertory performances by Rent-a-Mob. The FPI seems to want to shift Indonesia two or three time zones to the west, where its mind-set, preferred dress codes, misogyny and bully-boy tactics are all the rage. It doesn’t matter to them that Indonesians, overwhelmingly and very sensibly, have no such desire.

At the formal political level, however, Indonesians should not yet be too alarmed by Prabowo’s indistinct grasp of democratic principle or the astonishing luminosity that he seems to believe attaches to his self-proclaimed stellar position. All politics are compromise. The precipitate decision to de-legislate direct elections at local level, a bill SBY supinely signed into law on Oct. 7, is a foolish step too far. Even generals have to keep the troops happy.

A Fine Send-Off

This year’s Ubud Writers and Readers Festival has come and gone – the first in seven years that the Diary has had to miss – and it was sent on its way in fine style on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 4 and 5, by some great Australian music.

The Oct. 5 closing extravaganza featured musicians ALPHAMAMA (Anita Meiruntu) and Ben Walsh. We’re really sad to have missed that. Meiruntu’s original music and passion constantly pushes the boundaries of creative expression. She’s popular in Indonesia, where she has recently toured.

Walsh is one of Australia’s most accomplished percussionists, performers and composers. He has been touring professionally since he was 18 and has made music for dance performances, the circus and film. At the UWRF closing show he performed with a number of local percussionists. By all accounts it was an explosion of creativity.

The Saturday and Sunday performances at Ubud’s ARMA Museum were supported by the Australian Embassy Jakarta as part of its Arts and Cultural Program 2014. Ambassador Greg Moriarty said of Sunday’s finale: “The talent and musical depths of both artists showcase the best of what contemporary Australia can offer and I hope the musical collaborations created during this festival will further strengthen the cultural understanding and creative connections between our two countries.”

On the Saturday there was a performance of Ontosoroh by Australian dancer and choreographer Ade Suharto and Indonesian vocalist and composer Peni Candra Rini. Suharto and Rini have been working closely over the past two years to create Ontosoroh, which tells the story of the heroic female lead Nyai Ontosoroh in the Indonesian literary classic, This Earth of Mankind, by Pramoedyah Ananta Toer.

This Australian-Indonesian collaboration explores feminine strength and the struggle for freedom.

The embassy’s Arts and Cultural Program 2014, which began in March and ends next month, includes music, visual art exhibitions, dance, literature, textiles, sport and a science and innovation seminar series. The program also includes arts residencies and exchanges involving artists from both countries.

Cliff-Top Fantasia

The lovely people at AYANA and RIMBA, whose fireworks displays so often entertain us gratis at The Cage where they light up our horizon and shortly thereafter set the local dogs barking when the sound waves hit, have introduced a new cliff-top venue, SKY.

It opened on Oct. 10 with the sort of swell party we’ve come to expect from those in charge of the plush acres on the Jimbaran end of the Bukit. Opening night was themed Kahyangan, White Beauty at Sky. The venue caters for up to 80 people on the cliff-edge deck, up to 2,000 on the lawn, offers an amphitheatre seating up to 80, and was designed by St. Legere International. It is being marketed as a great spot for weddings and special events – and comes complete with a special panoramic seat on which you can get yourself photographed with the cliff-top vista in the background.

The opening featured the full repertoire of son et lumiere – yes, including fireworks – for which the property is renowned and was MC’d by Denada, the well-known former rapper and Dangdut singer.

Sinking Fund

Celia Gregory, the British underwater sculptor and the Diary’s favourite mermaid, tells us of an interesting crowd-funding scheme for her Marine Foundation’s living sculptures in the sea program. They’re chasing GBP 4,000 (that’s around Rp 78.5 million) to pay for a film being made on Aspara, their most recent sculpture.

Apsara will be sunk into her underwater home in Jemaluk Bay at Amed, East Bali, on Oct. 22 where three village communities with the help of Reef Check Indonesia and CORAL are working to establish effective marine management and become guardians to their coral garden and fish nursery preserving its well-being for future generations.

Gregory says the art work is inspired by the Apsaras, ancient Hindu spirits who are very beautiful and wonderful dancers that in many ways have qualities similar to the Greek fables of the sirens and mermaids. The sculpture has been designed to provide a hiding place for fish and a solid surface for corals and sea creatures to settle. The Sinking of the Apsara into the underwater coral and fish garden is seen as a unique creative opportunity to make an inspirational and uplifting short film.

It would also help promote Amed and Bali, which is a worthwhile project in itself.

When we checked on Oct. 7, our deadline day, the funding site was saying they’d raised GBP1,128, which is 28 per cent of their target. The campaign closes on Oct. 30.

Go here if you’d like to help: indiegogo.com/projects/apsara-spirits-of-the-sea

Get Walking

Just a reminder that this year’s Bali Pink Ribbon Walk against breast cancer is on Oct. 25. It’s in the walk-friendly environment of the Nusa Dua tourism precinct, the manicured bit behind the security gates. It’s a great cause and the Diary’s one day of the year for wearing pink. Full details are on the web at balipinkribbon.com. The Bali Advertiser is a sponsor.

Hector tweets @scratchings on Twitter

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Oct. 1, 2014

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

 

A Zesty Little Soup, Again

This year’s Ubud Writers and Readers Festival kicks off today without the assistance of V.S. Naipaul, the Tolstoy of Trinidad, who withdrew from the program last month apparently dissatisfied with the quantum of perquisites set to come his way. Never mind. There are plenty of other entertainingly literary minds involved in the festival, the eleventh. Most of them aren’t gold pass members of the Figjam Club.

This year’s theme, Saraswati: Wisdom & Knowledge, is an exploration of the wisdom to be gained by creative expression. The festival is fielding more than 150 writers from 25-plus countries, including a great line-up of Indonesian talent. Goenawan Mohamad, intellectual Azyumardi Azra, art patron Agung Rai and Festival favourites Debra Yatim, Ahmad Fuadi and Ketut Yuliarsa are on the list, as well as Sacha Stevenson, the How to act Indonesian YouTube hit sensation.

Made Wijaya will make an appearance. It’s good to see the Seer of Sanur out and about. He’s no stranger to paradise, after all, and he’s always good for a giggle. The festival organizers declare him to be Truman Capote with a machete. Such a shame then that we shan’t actually be present: People tell us we do a great Stephen Fry with a sharp s-s-stick.

Prizewinning Hassan Blasim (Independent Foreign Fiction Prize); Eimear McBride (Baileys Women’s Prize) and Cyrus Mistry (2014 DSC Prize) and the Scottish queen of crime writing and creator of the TV series Wire in the Blood Val McDermid will be sampling the mists of Ubud. Novelist Amitav Ghosh and Pulitzer Prize-finalist Deborah Baker are on the program and will also lead an exclusive post-Festival Komodo Islands cruise.

Also on board are avant-garde Asian fiction writers Can Xue from China and Minae Mizumura from Japan. Former UN Representative in Sudan Mukesh Kapila; frontline journalist Pallavi Aiyar; author of The Wisdom of Whores and Indonesia etc Elizabeth Pisani; and Polish editor and journalist Adam Michnik are providing the human rights and social comment diet. And on the environmental front there’s Keibo Oiwa, Nadya Hutagalung and Willie Smits, among others. It will be a good show.

One of the book launches is especially timely. Darwin, by Tess Lea, captures the essence of Australia’s northern capital. Her Darwin is a hybrid creation: part social history, part anthropological study, part personal memoir. Lea captures the city’s violent beginnings, its battles with the elements, the press of the heat and humidity, its wondrous multiculturalism, its beauty and its policy foibles.

The book launch is free and is at The Elephant, Hotel Taman Indrakila, Jl Raya Sanggingan, from 4.30-6pm tomorrow (Oct. 2). This year is the 40th anniversary of Cyclone Tracy, which all but obliterated Darwin on Christmas Day, 1974.

 

Resource KA-boom

Meanwhile, a few hundred post-iconic rice field views away to the east from Ubud where foreign navel-gazers have taken over the place to commune with themselves, ruminate over their macrobiotic diets, wicker about saving the world, and imagine they’re experiencing the real Bali, lies Bangli, where suspension of belief takes on another form.

Anthropologist-journalist and long-term Indonesia-watcher Graeme MacRae had a disturbing piece from his blog in the online Indonesia Weekly in mid-September, about the Wild West-style despoliation of Bali. He wrote this:

A few weeks ago, I drove up the Sidemen road, famous since the 1930s as one of the most beautiful in Bali. I would have taken it slowly anyway, to enjoy the views, but I had no choice. Around 200 trucks were coming the other way, down from the mountains, overloaded with sand, gravel and rock.

Where were they coming from? Where were they going to?

They come from quarries on the slopes of the sacred mountain Agung. They are headed where everything else is headed: into the hundreds of hotel, villa and other construction projects. Most are in Bali’s coastal resorts, but some are on rice fields around the sprawling urban area of Denpasar/Kuta.

A few days later, I meet a similar procession coming down the other sacred mountain, Batur. This time I learn a bit more. Every day, from before dawn till after dusk, at least 1500 overloaded trucks grind their way painfully up out of the crater, stopping on the way to offload excess weight.

Down in the caldera, amid what is left of a rich but delicate ecosystem of wild grasses and orchids which feed off volcanic ash among spectacular fields of black lava, lies one of the far outposts of the global resource economy.

Piles of black gravel line the narrow road around the caldera floor. Alongside it are makeshift shelters under which men and women shovel gravel through large sieves into piles of finer sand. When the sieving is done, they flag down a truck and load it by hand. Signs invite trucks into a hinterland of even narrower dirt tracks where more piles are waiting. Each hamlet the trucks pass through shares in the boom by levying its own little toll.

There’s a lot more to MacRae’s piece than that, of course. But it exactly describes the dilemma that faces Bali, one that is rooted in over-development, incapable administration, local lawlessness and unmet (and impossible) expectations.

Never mind that Agung and Batur are sacred. Forget that Batur is UN heritage listed. Overlook the fact that the scene of its despoliation is slap bang in the middle of a brand new Geopark.

Batur is in the Panjandrumistan of Bangli (we know it more formally as Kabupaten Bangli and more familiarly as the regency of the same name). Like so many other little district council areas in Indonesia, it runs at its own pace – with regal distain and glacial slowness unless acquisition of money has piqued interest – and operates by its own set of impenetrably circular rules.

MacRae’s “Wild West” description is colourful. But it’s inaccurate. The Sioux, the Cheyenne, the Crow, the Ute, the Apache, the Navaho and all the other nations that made up the indigenous humanity of the American West didn’t despoil their country themselves. Outsiders came in and did it for them.

Here in Bali, the indigenous population is busily wrecking the joint do-it-yourself-style.

 

Oh Yes, We Know it Well

A smile briefly creased the lips the other day when Jack Daniels’ inestimable Bali Update told us this, in relation to the proposed pedestrian underpass at the airport traffic circle to enable people to visit the park wherein one of the many monumental remembrances of local hero I Gusti Ngurah Rai stands, Ozymandias-style, surveying its domain:

“The statue and the surrounding park area are deemed suitable for public recreation but are made inaccessible to the public by four lanes of heavy traffic that continually circle the area.”

We’ve often thought that the chaotic traffic there is caused precisely by vehicles that continually circle the area. They might perhaps be trying to change lanes, though that’s unlikely. In Bali you just barge in. They’re probably just trapped, poor things.

The plan to build the Rp 3.7 billion underpass is in doubt because the Ministry of Public Works in Jakarta, the formal owner of the non-monumental infrastructure involved, has yet to say it’s OK.

 

Homeward Bound

For two decades long ago Britain’s longest-published weekly journal of affairs and politics, The Spectator, had a wonderful columnist whose name was Jeffrey Bernard. He was among the last of the Soho Set, a roué in the full sense of the term. He was a dreadful sot and as a result was frequently absent in the latter part of his 21 years with the magazine. “Jeffrey Bernard is unwell” became a line one looked for whenever one bought a copy of the magazine and searched for his column. Quite understandably it was called Low Life. He liked a rant and did it well. He ceased ranting in 1997, aged only 55.

Nominated in one newspaper obituary as his own Boswell, he ranted so well that Keith Waterhouse wrote a play about him and Peter O’Toole starred in a made-for-TV movie filmed at the Old Vic in London.

There have been times over the past four months when Hector has entertained the passing fancy that he too could be unwell. It does carry a certain cachet, after all, being vicariously included in such errantly distinguished company as Bernard’s. But we resisted the temptation. There are many we would have disappointed by non-appearance, we reasoned, the legions of Advertiser readers who turn to Hector’s Diary and utter their fortnightly imprecation: “What on earth is he on about this time?”

We’re due to be home in Bali by the time the next Advertiser hits the streets. It’s been a very long time between drinks.

Hector tweets @scratchings on Twitter