Go For It

Hector’s Bali Diary

HectorR

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

June 8, 2016

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DIVA Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chinese Checkers

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

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

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

Flying High

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

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

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

Please Be Ridiculous

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

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

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

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

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

 

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Nov. 25, 2015

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Blacklisted

It’s official. The Diary and Vulcan, god of the underworld and chief patron of volcanic excess, are no longer speaking. Vulcan has been blacklisted. Until further notice, even if we should by chance fly over one of the spectacular mountain vents that lead down to his lair in the underworld, we shall affect an air of lofty distain and total disinterest and shan’t even go “Ooh! Ah!” on a sotto voce basis. This is because we were marooned in Australia at a critical time because of the risk of suspended particulate matter in the air above Bali.

OK, volcanic dust is special in that it is basically glass and its impact can puncture aircraft hulls, make windows instantly opaque, kill jet engines and get into places that require lubricants to which in later maintenance cycles the fused glass dangerously denies entry. In that respect, Vulcan’s damaging offerings are far more immediately a risk, even though less ubiquitously fatal, than all the other detritus, that man-made stuff, which hangs around in the island air every day.

The disruption to The Diary’s travel plans was a nuisance – we accept its necessity: that’s not the point – principally because of two things. First, it meant we couldn’t get to the ROLE Models charity dinner at RIMBA on Nov. 21. This was especially irritating because we like a good bash and Mike O’Leary and ROLE Foundation do a fabulous job of empowering disadvantaged Indonesian women who would otherwise have lives of unfulfilled promise and low economic status. The second irritant was that the delay meant we were out of the country when our temporary resident visa expired. That’s a big no-no because unavoidable absence is not an excuse. You just have to start over with the bureaucratic bun-fight, which is a nuisance.

That personal problem pales into insignificance against the economic cost to Bali (and Lombok) of Mt Rinjani’s activity. While we were cooling our heels in Western Australia we saw a photo of Ngurah Rai’s arrivals area on Facebook. It was empty.

With a Skirl and a Whirl

Alistair Speirs, publisher of Now Jakarta and Now Bali – and of Made Wijaya’s Stranger in Paradise columns – is an Edinburgh laddie. Such is the draw of the kilt in Scottish culture that even mercantile east coast Lowlanders – the only true Sassenachs by the way; forget the English – have bought the idea that even though they have the money to buy trousers they should instead swaddle themselves in wraparound plaid.

Speirs suggests that anyone interested should follow the sound of the pipers (this year from the Perth Highland Pipe Band) to the annual St Andrew’s ball on Nov. 28. It’s organized by the Java St. Andrews Society and will take place at the Sahid Hotel, at a cost of Rp 1.6M a head. He notes: “As is custom with Scottish events, there will be food and drinks aplenty, lots of kilted men, and much Ceilidh dancing (interspersed by the odd yelp of “whhheeeoooshh!!”). The Scots know how to throw a party so don’t miss this one! There will be a lot of fantastic packages for auction – Are you a rugby fan? Do you like Hong Kong? What about a business-class travel and luxury accommodation? You get the idea. At the same time, bid to help some very worthy causes too.”

There’s no word on whether Made Wijaya will be present, though his former name, Michael White, could suggest Scottish roots. The availability of kilts might pique the interest of The Diary’s international cultural attaché, Philly Frisson, who is otherwise an eminently sensible lassie (see below).

International Event

The Diary was privileged recently to attend a wedding celebrated at a lovely winery in the Margaret River district of southwest Western Australia. It was a warm day – which was good for refugees from Bali – and the occasion went along with plenty of zing. The celebrant noted that under current Australian law marriage was between a man and a woman and that this might soon be changed to accommodate couples whose sexual orientation rules out opposite gender status as a determining factor. Cheers to that.

The couple that was being married on this occasion was of the opposite sex. Their families and friends were from around the globe, which was nice. A variety of accents enlivened the event, from the United States and Canada (they’re not the same places, something about which some people apparently need continual reminders), South Africa, Scotland (yes, a kilt was present) and other spots as well as various bits of Australia. It was hot, though the cooling ocean breeze – in WA’s lovely southwest it comes all the way from South Africa incidentally – was a treat. The dancing was spectacular. Seeing a kilt swirling to the difficult demands of a rap beat was something else.

Hoarse Before the Cartel

Regulating maritime traffic to and from and within environmentally sensitive areas is good sense. These arrangements require sensible and fair rules that take account of all factors. In the case of Gili Trawangan, the “party island” off Lombok’s northwest coast, these factors include the fact that a lot of people want to go there. A lot of them want to go there direct from Bali. Whatever the charms of alternative first-arrival points on Lombok’s mainland – Senggigi has obvious attractions; those of tout-cartel capital Bangsal and of Teluk Nara, where dive and accommodation operators have corporate facilities are harder to define – the chief destination of choice is Trawangan. Why irritate people who want to go there by insisting that they first go somewhere else? As a marketing strategy this practice would seem to have several demerits.

So it was somewhat strange to read recently that the West Nusa Tenggara tourism and culture department, the naval base in Lombok and Mataram Water Police are reportedly working together to limit the access to Trawangan of fast boats from Padang Bai and Benoa. Local navy commander Colonel Rachmat Djunaidy is said to believe that these boats cause environmental damage and coral reef erosion. It’s in the interests of the tourism industry and the Trawangan community to protect vital natural assets, of course, and if there is a particular problem then rules need to be set – or applied if they already exist – to minimize damage.

The colonel, though, apparently has a better idea. A bit of heavy-footed stomping. He will work with the bureaucrats and the water police to “curb these fast boats and redirect them to the three local ports of Bangsal, Teluk Nara and Senggigi.” Perhaps he has boat turn-back strategy in mind. Or perhaps he just doesn’t want to get hoarse in a shouting match with a cartel that would like to get a bit of the action (or possibly all of it).

Time for Another Good Yak

This year’s Yak Awards could be a frightful scene if The Diary gets along to them in the gear Sophie Digby, Chief Yakker, seems to suggest should be dusted off for the occasion. We look shocking in lamé and leopard print.

The event is on Dec. 4 at Il Lido, Kerobokan, and celebrates among other things the fact that Studio 54 is coming to town as well as Santa Claus.

It may just have been a glitch – many virtual calendars don’t seem to do UTC+08 if an event is in Indonesia, and this one is listed to start at 6pm UTC+07, which is Jakarta time. Sophie will sort it out, we expect.

Voting for the awards is under way as well as ticket sales – they’re Rp 650K at various outlets or Rp 850K at the door. Dress code for the evening is Studio 54 – Elton, Cher, Jackson, Warhol, Jagger, Minnelli, or Shirley Mclaine. We could do Warhol, possibly. That would suit 15 minutes of infamy.

All A-Buzz

These things don’t usually spark Hector’s interest, but the otherwise unremarkable visit of Charles and Camilla to New Zealand and Australia earlier this month brought this little Sydney incident to attention, as reported by Rick Morton in The Australian:

“Hundreds of community organization members, politicians and other dignitaries were invited to a garden party at Government House where [NSW] Governor David Hurley declared himself ‘Bee-One, the chief beekeeper’ and insisted the royal couple try the first harvest of honey from the grounds. ‘We thank you for giving your time and visiting Australia,’ he said. ‘Post the rugby World Cup, we understand you had to visit New Zealand first.’”

We had another little line from Philly Frisson about that. She suggested the Royal Taster had then stepped up manfully (oops, person-fully).

Hector tweets @ scratchings on Twitter. His diary is published in the print and online editions of the Bali Advertiser.

 

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Apr. 30

 

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences 

 

A Shocking Disgrace

Someone made a video of quarantine officials killing 31 dogs by cruelly amateurish injection at Gilimanuk on Apr. 15 (it looked like strychnine from the way the dogs died). It doesn’t matter that the video was made by someone who had planned to illegally ship dogs to Bali and didn’t care enough to pay to save his own animals.

What do matter are two issues that have returned to the debating table. First, that because of the nature of social media these days, the inhumanity of what occurred has been seen around the world. Bali’s carefully nurtured folkloric and touristic image as the Island of the Gods has been damaged – yet again – by the clownish actions of the authorities.

Second, the action was justified by reference to regulations that prohibit transhipment of dogs and some other mammals as an anti-rabies measure. Those regulations are in place legitimately and should be observed by everyone, but again that’s not the point.

But rabies is not epidemic on Bali. If the report we saw in the Jakarta Post is accurate in quoting a quarantine officer at Gilimanuk as saying it is, the gentleman and the newspaper are profoundly misinformed.

However, the disease is now endemic. This is because of six years of government action and inaction, that deadly duo, and prevarication.

First, it failed to respond in time when the first human cases occurred in 2008. In time-honoured fashion it then (a) engaged in hideous and counterproductive culling campaigns alongside international and NGO action to vaccinate free-living dogs and reduce their numbers by sterilization programs; (b) indulged in the usual siphoning off of funds to line official pockets; and (c) became embarrassed and then angry when people told them they weren’t doing things the right way and when its sorry succession of “rabies free” target dates could not be met.

It’s true that long held practices and beliefs here relating to animals and their care require significant education to overcome. Perhaps the government should attend classes too if it insists on writing the reports on rabies control that go to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the American based World Society for the Protection of Animals.

Rigorous accuracy in formal reporting is an essential bureaucratic skill.

 

Mugger Menace

The perpetrator probably doesn’t care, if in fact he knows, that the elderly expat lady he pulled off a motorbike and mugged and severely bashed in Jl Drupadi in Seminyak on Apr. 10 is still in a coma in hospital and very ill indeed. Muggers are not misfits. That’s a cosy western fiction. They’re vile little criminals.

Her name is Valeria. She is Italian and has lived in Bali for 30 years with her husband and son. They are not rich, except in the relative sense in which Balinese and other Indonesians view foreigners. Fate has dealt them a cruel blow. They have no medical insurance and € 170,000 is now needed to fly her home to Italy for critical care at state expense. (Mugger to note: This is equivalent to Rp 2.7 billion. Did she have anything like that in her purse?).

An appeal for funds was started by friends. Money raised so far has been spent on daily medical bills. If you can, donate here:

http://www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/help-save-valeria/161690

It’s unwise to resist a mugger or any violent person. But in situations such as that which cruelly afflicted Valeria, instinct tends to prevail. On that score, we note that in another mugging incident recently – not the one in which a French woman was similarly robbed in Kuta as she rode her motorbike – the perpetrator got a painful lesson. The 15-year-old girl he attempted to rob chased him down and put her karate skills to work.

Perhaps the police will notice that motorcycle banditry is getting a bit out of hand again and do something. It’s not just foreign women who are targeted after all. Local women are just as much at risk.

The police are not usually visible unless they’re flashing their lights to push through the traffic because they’re late for tea, or are traffic police out collecting lunch money from the day’s preferred cohort of motorized miscreants. And public safety on the streets is anyway better left to local communities to organize.

In Bali that means the banjars. The Basangkasa banjar in Seminyak operates a security system using local village guards. It’s paid for by the local ATMs, the foreigners who live there, but that’s just the way things are here. It keeps Jl Oberoi and part of Jl Drupadi on the “safe zone” list. Few muggers would want to risk mixing it with the Pecalang.

It’s an idea that could be adopted widely.

 

He Came Bearing Gifts

Diary and Distaff had a lovely lunch on Easter Sunday with an old friend, Robin Osborne, who was transiting Bali on his way to Kupang. We went to the Jimbaran Beach Club, just along from the fish cafés, and ate and drank lightly and watched the tide come in and go out while we talked of many things.

There was rather a lot to talk about. We hadn’t seen him since 1983 in Port Moresby when we were all jobbing for the yellow press. He was at our wedding there in 1982. We agreed it would be unwise to wait another three decades for Reunion II, the flesh being mortal and the march of time inexorable.

Osborne is no stranger to Indonesia or to Bali. He was until fairly recently with the Northern Territory health department where another Bali fan, Kon Vatskalis, was the health minister who pushed forward the Royal Darwin Hospital-Sanglah link.

One of Osborne’s missions on this trip was to look for rare Lombok weaves, in which he has a collector’s interest. He went to Lombok in search of same and stayed at Villa Sayang at Lingsar north of Mataram. In Bali he also visited Ubud where the navel-gazers are always worth watching.

He left us with a fine bottle of Taylor’s very drinkable red and the new book by Damon Galgut, Arctic Summer, which has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Its central character is the English novelist Morgan Forster (E.M. Forster). The Diary reads anything – even the labels on tins of baked beans – but Forster, although a writer who richly deserves his place in the Pantheon, had never seemed attractive as a subject. He was a repressed homosexual in the manner of his time, a womanish, waspish man.

Fortunately the world (largely) has moved on from conformist, proscriptive Victorian-Edwardian ill-humour and rudely intrusive desires to regulate the sexuality of others. And the book is tremendous. It was instantly devoured.

 

We’ve Been to Dubai Too

Though it might surprise Made Wijaya and his Jakarta based publisher Alistair Speirs to hear this, the Diary and the Stranger do share a view rather more often than either of them apparently believes.

Wijaya had a lovely line in his Stranger in Paradise column in Now Bali’s April edition that made a neat point and is certainly worth repeating. He was, he wrote, on his way to a Barong ceremony at Pura Dalem Tunon on the beach near the Ramada Bali Bintang at Tuban.

Tripping as lightly as he could over the 200 non-heritage metres required to reach the temple from the hotel on Jl Kartika Plaza, he had just passed a lone Batak singing Tie a Yellow Ribbon, widely believed locally to be a favourite with tourists, when his gimlet eye for cultural excrescence fell upon a large vacant space walled in by New Architecture.

He wrote:  “We walked on the new dimly lit beach promenade, past a big empty restaurant called The Wharf (how do they come with these dumb names in a sea of rich local culture I think; hoteliers must just close their eyes and think of Dubai).”

Wijaya’s far from subliminal suggestion that the de-Bali-ing of Bali culture is a serious mistake and a clear danger to the island’s appeal is very much to the point. It’s true that it mightn’t worry the new tourists from Indonesia’s big cities, China and other smog-shrouded East Asian places, where crass is the new black.

Few visitors seeking unique cultural experiences would want to waste their money on a facsimile of the Big Durian, however.

 

Load of Rubbish

Three tonnes (3,000kg) of rubbish was collected from five kilometres of beaches at Seminyak, Kuta, Legian, Kedonganan and Jimbaran on Easter Saturday, as part of the 2014 Earth Day global program. Earth Day itself was on Apr. 22,

Six hundred residents and tourists took part in the clean-up, which was sponsored by Coca-Cola Amatil, Quiksilver and Garuda Indonesia.

 

Hector tweets @scratchings on Twitter