HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, July 25, 2012

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences


Oh Yes, It’s Paradise Here

Some days you just want to sit down and cry. It’s not the crowded crassness of mass tourism that does this, or even the mindless self-absorption of the Rave ‘n’ Groove sector; though both can cause intense irritation if you let them. No, it’s the fragile, deadly, outer fringe of Bali’s already marginalised rural life that stings your eyes and makes you feel like a helpless fool.

We heard a dreadful story the other day from a new chum, Englishwoman Sarah Chapman, who now lives here after many years of visiting as a tourist – a common provenance – and who has found a little girl in east Bali who she calls Annie.  She found her via a Balinese friend, Putu Yuni, who read about Annie in the local Bahasa press and told her the story. Yuni also went round her own friends and raised money to buy a mattress and some food for the family, and left the cash residue with them as well.

Rotary Seminyak has come to the party too, we hear, by arranging for Annie to have a full suite of medical assessments. Rotary does such a lot of good work that is often unheralded.

Annie is eight. She weighs – at last report – eight kilos, and that was after a three-week stay in Amlapura hospital. She may be deaf, since Chapman – an experienced nurse – tells us Annie seems not to respond to aural stimulus; she is given to screaming fits and tends to hit out at people. She lives in a hut in the Karangasem district of Sideman with her granny, another elderly woman who is apparently an aunt, an undersized (but otherwise OK) older brother who is 14, her grandfather, and her father, who is mentally ill. Her mother left the home when Annie was six months old, apparently because Annie’s father was violent.

The family basically has no income and care for Annie – whom they love – as best they can. The little girl now has a mattress to sleep on – it was old newspapers before – and a few other things. More help is on the way, courtesy of a small but growing army of people who want to help – including, belatedly, the authorities.

But there are questions here.  Where was the local Banjar on this? Why wasn’t it helping the family? Where were the village authorities? Had they been doing anything? What about the regency social welfare people? Did they care, before the story broke in the local press? What about the provincial authorities and Governor Pastika’s programme to assist the very poor? And for that matter, what about the central government’s duty of care to all Indonesians?

We’ll keep you posted on Annie, who at last report was beginning to progress. If any reader would like to join Annie’s Army, drop Hector a line at reachme61@yahoo.com and we’ll pass the details on.

High Road

And now for some brighter news. We hear from two impeccable Bali-resident sources – Belgian travel and business adviser Marc Jacobs and Australian blogger Vyt Karazija – that the new IB Mantra Highway linking the crowded south with the less crowded east (the road provides travellers with a good idea of the extent of erosion on the Gianyar and Klungkung coasts) is now complete. Well, Jacobs told us 99 percent complete, and all the way to Goa Lawah. It’s long been a work in progress, funded by Australian aid, muddied by the truly Byzantine politics of this island, and doubtless bedevilled by the snafu factor and the ongoing belief hereabouts that making a road is just a matter of slapping a couple of centimetres of blacktop on some crushed rock.

According to Jacobs it’s now just an hour from Sanur to Padang Bai. That would be if the trucks and the motorbikes kept left, presumably. We’ve avoided expeditions to the remote east for several long months, not having a tent in which to camp out while they made the highway, but we’ll take a look soon. We certainly need to check out Vincent’s at Candi Dasa again, and we do hope the Haloumi has been getting through to the restaurant.

Karazija, by the way, was also able to advise us why the traffic signs telling trucks and motorcycles to keep left are universally ignored, on the new highway as elsewhere. We’re greatly indebted to him, because we hadn’t realised that Indonesian traffic signs use subliminal shorthand. Those KEEP LEFT signs actually say “KEEP doing what you’ve always done or you’ll be LEFT behind.”

Airport Alert

The things you see: Angus McCaskill ,the Melbourne travel industry figure who used to double as Willie Ra’re, Bali party guy and drug convict, recently told a Facebook friend who posted a picture of her lunch at Kuta‘s Little Green Cafe (it did look good): “I so miss LGC and their delicious taste sensations… but I’ll be back!”

No Jumping

The things you don’t see. On July 11 we noted the presence on Gili Trawangan of a revitalised AJ Hackett private retreat, Pondok Santi, now open to paying guests, and said AJ had a bungee operation in Bali.

Oops: For has, read had. A little e-billet-doux from Nigel Hobbs in Cairns, Australia, where he markets Hackett’s operations, told us the Kuta venue was closed last year as the land lease was not being renewed. Apparently the landowner wanted to build a resort on it. So Kuta is down one unique tourist attraction and up yet another resort property.

So, we’re sorry about that. If only we were into leaps of faith we might have joined up all the developmental dots and noticed that Hackett’s big plunger was no more.

Weaving a Tale

Textile-inclined bookworms  at this year’s Ubud Writers and Readers Festival  (October 3-7, don’t miss it) will have a chance to add another five days to their experience and join a tour of traditional weavers that UWRF and local not-for-profit outfit Threads of Life have organised.

Ubud-based Threads of Life uses culture and conservation to alleviate poverty in rural Indonesia. The heirloom-quality textiles and baskets are made with local materials and natural dyes. With the proceeds from the Threads of Life gallery, they help weavers to form independent cooperatives and to manage their resources sustainably.

The five-day sojourn takes in homes, studios and cooperatives in the Seraya area on Bali’s dry north-eastern tip, the lush rice fields of Sideman and the ancient village of Tenganan Pegeringsingan. Participants will be based at the rather-better-than-basic Alila Manggis, near Candi Dasa.

That all sounds fun and could be a powerful restorative agent following the diet of pious platitudes likely to be served up at the writers’ festival itself by veteran scribbler John Pilger, the Australian-born journalist who has made a stellar career out of bashing PHIABs (People He’s Identified As Bastards) and who is the headline attraction this year.

Incidentally, Janet DeNeefe who – when she’s not being determinedly insouciant about which well-moneyed corporation might agree to part with substantial readies and be tagged as this year’s UWRF naming sponsor – is officer in charge of coffee etc at a number of Ubud destinations for degustation, had a swish knees-up at Casa Luna on July 22 in honour of the establishment’s 20th birthday. Guests enjoyed fruits of the vine and canapés from 5pm-11pm.

Ethereal Tip

Australia Network, the visual voice of Oz in the region and rated required watching by the Diary, has joined the iPhone App revolution. Now, wherever you are on regional terra firma, you can get news updates and all that other gizmo stuff out of the ether as well as programme information; and you can fool around on Facebook and make a twit of yourself tweeting on the go.

It also links you to AussieFunk. No, we’re only joking: we mean the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s emergency information service, which is a sensible must for travellers and overseas residents alike. The free application is available via iPhone download and at the itunes online store.

Seriously, it’s good news. Perhaps we should get ourselves an iPhone.

Blight is Right

Poor old Blighty! The London Olympics are upon us and the Misty Isles’ summer (that’s the northern hemisphere summer, which is what happens when the important bit of the world is having its winter) is being its usual self: abominable.  We’re indebted – yet again – to James Jeffrey’s admirable Strewth diary in The Australian newspaper, which recently found time to report what one exasperated Brit said about it in the pages of the Guardian, a British newspaper for the meddling classes.

Charlie Brooker’s tirade – published on July 16 – ended thus:  “It’s got to the point where pulling back the curtains each morning feels like waking up in jail. No, worse: like waking up inside a monochrome Czechoslovakian cartoon about waking up in jail. The outdoor world is illuminated by a weak, grey, diseased form of light that has fatally exhausted itself crawling through the gloomy stratospheric miasma before perishing feebly on your retinas.”

Well, that’s tough on the Brits, but it’s oddly comforting. It precisely describes the sort of weather that drove your diarist to desert hearth and home way back in 1969.

Easy, Now…

Suggestions that Tantric practices were first thought up by Buddhists – this ephemera surfaced recently in the chatterverse – prompt the thought that, properly considered, this could have led to someone writing the Calmer Sutra.

Hector’s Diary appears in the Bali Advertiser, published fortnightly. Hector is on Twitter (@scratchings) and Facebook (Hector McSquawky).

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, May 16, 2012

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

What Rubbish!

When we heard that “the authorities” – the quotation marks are possibly essential – had suddenly demolished a number of rather well known and heavily patronised watering holes favoured by the Bling-and-Bolly and Boys-and-Girls-Behaving-Badly sets on the beach at Batu Belig, a wreck and rampage event held on May 7, an unkind thought crossed our mind. It was that “They” (the quote marks and capital T are definitely essential) had mistaken the real task upon which a modicum of concentration is required.

It occurred to us that a far-sighted official – Find that man! Give him a medal! – must somehow have become aware of the real problem on Bali’s beaches and directed the troops to clean up the rubbish, but that a critical wire or two had got crossed while the order was being passed down the line. There is a precedent for this, though sadly it too is a joke. An order “Pass the word forward, we’re going to advance,” given to British infantry on the Western Front in World War I was duly passed forward but got lost on the way. It became “Pass three-and-four-pence, we’re going to a dance.”

It is asserted that Karma Kandara, La Barca and other outré establishments were operating without the necessary permissions and permits. They may have been.  We don’t know. But that’s not unusual hereabouts, particularly when if you do pay up you’ve often no idea who is actually going to pocket the dosh.

Oh, THAT Target

Meanwhile – surely to no one’s surprise – environmental specialists are at loggerheads over how the Bali government’s commitment to a plastic free Bali in 2013 can be achieved. The short answer is it can’t be. The real political game is finding some smoke and mirrors with which to claim it has been, or very nearly so.  This little shadow play has now produced a statement – from provincial environment agency chief AA Gede Alit – to the effect that 2013 is just the target for the initial commitment.

Dr Wayan Arthana – of the Centre for Environmental Research (PPLH), which is hardly an impartial player but never mind in this instance – says there is no clear plan to achieve this. He is apparently shocked to learn this, which in turn is shocking. We’re on Planet Bali, where clear plans are never part of the picture. It’s true that Bali has a big waste problem. But even 10,000 cubic metres of waste a day is not insuperable. At the moment more than half is left untreated and scattered around the island. The 10 to 12 percent of it that is plastic could certainly be managed under the right programmes.

Arthana is pessimistic about the target date. “I think it will not be achieved,” he says. Gosh, if betting were legal here he’d make a brilliantly successful bookie.  It’s hard not to be pessimistic about the entire project, frankly. A study by graduates from Reading University in Britain found various impediments in the way, including the behaviour of people who it seems – in the comfortable do-nothing fictions that govern life here – “do not realise” that plastic is harmful to the environment.

Ooh, Yummy

Alila Villas Soori, on the Tabanan coast and somewhere we really must get one day, has a culinary treat in store for guests in June. Michelin chef Tom Kerridge, whose Hand and Flower public house, at Marlow on a picturesque Wind in the Willows-style stretch of the River Thames in England is Britain’s only two-star Michelin-rated pub, will be creating haute cuisine – some of it hot too, no doubt – in-house on his first ever Asian tour.

He is said by some to be the finest chef in Britain today. As far as we know, he’s not one of the rude ones, which is truly a blessing. Kerridge had a hard childhood, a time upon which he reminisced in February in the London Daily Telegraph newspaper. He recalled they were so poor – his divorced mum worked nine to five and then after hours on the till in a pub to make ends meet – that their usual Sunday Roast (a British tradition) was cheap sausage meat from a supermarket rather than prime beef or chicken from the butcher.

He said: “I look back on that meal with really fond memories because it shows my mum didn’t give up. She worked hard to help me get where I am. Now she comes to visit me at the pub, where we’ve just won our second Michelin star, and I get to treat her instead.”

What a lovely fellow.

And that’s not all that Alila Villas Soori has on its schedule next month. Its latest Artist in Residence is Raymond Wiger, a master sculptor in the art of wire mesh, who will show a collection there in June including some pieces inspired by and resulting from his residence at the resort.

Scat, Cat

We heard this story from Villa Kitty, the rapidly overcrowding refuge for deprived felines in Ubud. Apparently at Champlung Sari, a resort property in Monkey Forest Road, unwanted or nuisance kittens – the product of breeding age cats left unsterilized by unthinking owners or the ubiquitous stray animals – are cleared from the property by the cheapest method possible. Someone tosses them over the wall into a dirty little watercourse that fights its way through the garbage to get where gravity would otherwise like it to go.

Villa Kitty tells us a couple staying at the resort recently were upset at seeing a kitten thrown over the wall in this manner and one phoned them up in high distress. Further inquiry elicited the information from the management that the guests had evidently failed to see the kitten then climb back over the wall.

Is this a joke? Sadly it is not. But animal lovers and anyone with an elementary sense of decency might like to get their essential Ubud experience at some other accommodation.

A Ra’re Treat

Hector’s ghost-writer was browsing through his LinkedIn site recently when the ever-helpful People You Might Know feature popped out the name of Angus McCaskill. Well, we don’t know Angus and neither did we know his alter ego, the faux-Maori Willie Ra’re, when he was hanging around the party scene snorting cocaine. That is, we didn’t know him except vicariously as a result of the public notoriety he acquired on being arrested, charged, tried and sentenced to jail on a drug charge. We shared this condition – though ours was legitimate lack of knowledge – with a great many people who, after his sad denouement in a supermarket, suddenly seemed not to know him either.

McCaskill went home to Australia last August after serving a year in Kerobokan jail. He had originally been sentenced to seven years in one of those over-reactive challenges to common sense that the courts here seem to like so much.

He said at the time he was a changed man and that he had used his year in the slammer to reconnect with the non-narcotics-enhanced side of life. We wish him well.

LinkedIn tells us he is now business development manager at a Melbourne-based leisure, travel and tourism outfit called DealsOnDeals and also lists him as owner at the Wall Street Group of Companies. Now that might give us the Willies; not to mention the Gekkos.

Eat Up

Ubud, as befits its status as the centre of myriad universes, many of them very strange places indeed, has plenty of spots where, your head filled with pipedreams, you can also stuff your face. That’s as it should be, even if it’s only a mungbean you’re after. So one more won’t matter and it’s no surprise that Kuta fixture Dijon has wandered up the road to open a café. It’s in tastefully eclectic Jalan Raya Sanggingan, just across the road from a favourite Diary spot, the Beji resort.

Dijon Café officially commenced business on April 29, with all the pomp and circumstance people seem to view as de rigueur when opening a new emporium (of whatever variety) here. It was open – perhaps this was unofficially, or maybe it was just softly – when we were staying in the area last December.

It’s not very far from Mozaic, which keeps getting noticed – the Diary chiefly notices it for its prices – and Naughty Nuri’s, which being extremely tiny is always overflowing with the I-Must-Be-Seen crowd. So it will be good if Dijon cuts the mustard.

Vacant Lot

The April issue of the Bali Peace Park Association’s e-newsletter popped into our in-box right on deadline – ours, not theirs, it now being May – with some fascinating thoughts on fundraising, land acquisition, and building completion. It records that Man-With-the-Udeng Made Wijaya, whose landscaping firm did the drawings for the Sari site development, told them building the park facilities would take six months. Then it says they’re on schedule for October, the tenth anniversary of the first bombings. It’s May, so they now have five months. But they haven’t acquired the site – and there’s not a brick in sight.

We’ll read more. Watch this vacant space.

Hector’s Diary appears in the print edition of the Bali Advertiser, published every second Wednesday, and on his Blog at http://wotthehec.blogspot.com. Hector is on Twitter (@scratchings) and Facebook (Hector McSquawky).