HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Oct. 14, 2015

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

 

Mynah Triumph

Like the reports relating to the death of Mark Twain – which the gentleman concerned noted were greatly exaggerated – claims that the endangered Bali Starling is again on the verge of extinction in its natural habitat may lack several crucial grades of veracity. It has been claimed that the program to rebuild the bird population in the West Bali National Park has been seriously compromised by poachers. That of course would be no surprise if it were true, Bali and indeed the whole of Indonesia being a place where many social precepts are promiscuously ignored and laws are broken ubiquitously if there’s money in it. In these areas of malfeasance it is very far from being alone, that is true. It is in its attempts to reduce malfeasance, and its real official interest in doing so, that its performance is noticeably risible.

But in this instance, happily, it appears not to be the case. The reported reduction in breeding numbers is based on observation and it has been pointed out that the introduced pairs may simply be in parts of the park where they are not observed by human eyes. Apparently the Bali Starling is as smart as the Bali Dog, which to the chagrin of officials who wish to kill it sensibly runs away when it sees men with nets approaching.

The Bali Starling is indeed a unique bird, not least because it is not a starling at all, but a mynah: Leucopsar rothschildi, locally known as Jalak Bali. It is found in captivity in zoos around the world (there is an introduced population on Nusa Penida too) but of course it should be encouraged to repopulate its natural West Bali environment. The Yokohama Zoo in Japan is working with Bali’s wildlife authorities to re-establish a viable breeding population in the national park.

Dropping the Ball

The 2015 Rugby World Cup competition has turned up a number of surprises. Japan beat South Africa for one thing, in an early group match. It was a fluke, though very instructive of the fact that you must never drop the ball until the final whistle blows. The South Africans were mortified (their coach felt it necessary to apologize to his nation) but they were beaten fairly, in the closing minutes, by some very inventive play and by Japanese determination, a factor that should never be discounted.

The best surprise, however, was that the host nation, England, was eliminated from the Cup before it got out of its group round of matches. Two disastrous losses at Twickenham, its home ground in London, to Wales and Australia, sent it home – or would have done so if it hadn’t already been home – early and shamefully. For the rest of us, of course, it was rather less than an event of such stunning calamity that it required a period of national mourning. It was much more a belly laugh occasion. The words of Sergeant Major Williams in the British TV sitcom It Ain’t Half Hot Mum sprang to mind: Oh dear. How sad. Never mind. It also produced a collector’s item range of memes on social media.

The Diary is a rugby fan, a legacy of an undistinguished school-years experience in which, beneficially for other reasons related to acquiring life skills, we learned while playing in the No. 10 spot – fly-half – the importance of being able to dodge the nuggety bits, the built-of-bricks blokes in the scrum. Off the field these fellows are often very nice chaps, and we are friendly with two of these – they missed out on mauling us on the field by a small matter of geography and two decades – with whom in recent weeks we have shared a few laughs.

One is a very fortunate fellow indeed, whose life circumstances have given him the opportunity to be in England for the Cup. We’d have given our eye teeth to be there too – it’s easy and cheap to get them made and implanted in Bali, after all – except that our own life circumstances required our presence elsewhere. He sent us a very nice photo of the England team bus. The caption with it pointed out to any prospective buyers of this conveyance that it was a bargain because it had only been used twice.

Takes its Toll

Among the many delights of living in Bali is that development policy (yes, it does sound like an oxymoron when you put it like that) seems to consist of flights of fancy. The Governor’s famous round-island slow train delighted us some years ago, and still gets an outing now and then. The latest project to bring a smile to the dial is the toll road proposal that would provide a fast traffic link from the crowded south to the unserviced north and which would wind through the mountains from Tabanan regency to Buleleng.

It’s true that this would be a boon to the north, if it wishes to be overwhelmed by tourists like the south. It’s odds on that it does, since the ubiquitous rule here is to acquire in haste (if someone else pays for it) and forget about repenting at leisure because the future does not yet exist and is therefore something for other people to worry about.

The Rp 35 trillion 125-km toll road would have the additional benefit (apparently) of being the longest in Indonesia, beating the Cipali toll road in West Java by nine crucial kilometres. It would be interesting to see the figures on which the proposed developer, Waskita Toll Road, is basing its commercial return and due diligence.

Behave Yourselves

Seriously, that’s sound advice. Or so it seems. In Aceh, where the Wahhabi shadows hang especially heavily in the air, police have apprehended women who were seen hugging, for reasons that according to some reports include suspected lesbianism. In Jakarta, “world city”, the authorities have placed a midnight curfew on entertainment places. In Bali, police have said they plan to charge a wedding coordinator with blasphemy after a same-sex ceremony was performed at the local focus of valuable pink dollar tourism, the Four Seasons at Sayan, just up the hill from Ubud, where in the name of self-awareness and mental freedom all sorts of Tantric and other sensual experiences may be had. That olfactory unpleasantness in the air is hypocrisy. They do it so well here. Amazingly, this odour is often suppressed temporarily by the aerosol application of magical pocket money.

As we so often find it necessary to state, lest we be accused of western uppity-ness or colonial recidivism, it is for Indonesia to govern itself and administer its society as it wishes. That’s not the issue (we have to say that fairly often too). But the government needs to work out with the Botherers, who are legion and are found everywhere in various forms, whether it wants to maintain the national objective to keep Indonesia as a practising part of the 21st century. If they don’t want to do this, they should say so.

Sands of Time

We read in the very useful Lombok Guide that Tomy Winata’s search for galactic quantities of sand to fill in Benoa Bay for his Excrescence-sur-Mer project has resurfaced, though in a sub-surface way. Having been knocked back by West Nusa Tenggara Governor Zainul Majdi on his plan to strip an East Lombok beach of its natural mineral covering, on very sensible environmental and social grounds, Mr Winata is now proposing to dredge what he wants up from the sea floor in the same general area. This application is under the mining regulations and (at last report) had the support of the Governor whose remit in that area of administration is minimal.

It’s still a very bad idea, both for Lombok – whose environment as Governor Zainul has previously said is held in trust for future generations – and for Bali, which needs more dreadful kitsch and loudly selfish rich like a hole in the head. Benoa Bay is also an environment that, as with every other one (Sumatran and Kalimantan forests for example) should be treated with respect. It’s true that Benoa long ago ceased to be the pristine, mangrove fringed tidal inlet that nature intended. It is now part of the built environment. Like a garden, however, it can be beautiful and retain its natural usefulness to the wider environment.

Protecting the mangroves instead of digging them up and dumping huge quantities of sand in their place would be a good way to do this. Commercial reasons are rarely sufficient argument to destroy something of irreplaceable, inestimable value.

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, June 24, 2015

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Mama Mia!

We failed to wear pink for the occasion because – well, just because. But we were present at the June lunch of the indomitable DIVAS, who gathered at Slippery Stone in Jl Batu Belig, Kerobokan, for fun, frivolity, a clear absence of fasting as a practice any girl in her senses would endorse, and to raise money for the women’s empowerment group the ROLE Foundation.

We had promised chief Diva Christina Iskandar that we’d get along to the show, on Jun. 12. This was made easier by an arrangement to appear as Lizzie Love’s handbag. ROLE chief Mike O’Leary presented some interesting facts about his organization and the useful – actually essential – work it does to shift disadvantaged women out of poverty. Eva Scolaro sang some songs, sultry and otherwise, and ended with Mama Mia, that old ABBA staple. That created an amazing scene, at least in the view of superannuated diarists. Crowds of women from dowagers to dinky divas leapt up and began punching the air. It was quite alarming until Lizzie, dear creature, calmed our rising fears. Apparently it’s the done thing.

Lizzie, who didn’t do the punch-the-air thing, was in fetching Flapper-style pink but she had along with her for the show a lovely Sydney friend, Jocelyn Johinke, to whose presence we formed an immediate attraction. Like the Diary, she was wearing the “new pink” which is, well, basically white.

It was all good fun with no disappointments since we never win raffles anyway, and now we know it’s safe to be in the middle of a moderately raucous female crowd we’ll get along to the next one, in September. That’s if Lizzie will extend the handbag option.

Free For All

Well, not quite. But President Joko Widodo has issued a decree that suspends the effect of legislation to the contrary and lists 45 countries whose citizens will be able to visit Indonesia without the financial embarrassment and onerous queuing involved in first paying $US35 for a VOA and then lining up again to get a stamp in their passport.

Apparently the reciprocity rule doesn’t matter any more. If Indonesia wants to exempt certain aliens from paying for tourist visas, it’s no longer germane whether their own countries offer the same privilege to Indonesians. One of the President’s stated aims is to get 10 million tourists a year to Bali by 2019. That’s just four years away. Perhaps he hasn’t realized this, since mathematics is apparently a problem to him. Making the announcement in Denpasar he said that 10 million was nearly double the present 4 million a year.

Then again, maybe the idea is to prove the local theory that the availability of infrastructure to cope with such an influx really doesn’t matter a damn.

There might be a little confusion in the queues though. In the grand tradition of bureaucracies everywhere, which is of course played out in spades in Indonesia, the signs in the arrival hall at Ngurah Rai International are also, shall we say, to be decorous about it, not quite right. Never mind. Just mill around and marvel. That’s what Bali wants its tourists to do anyway, once they get out of the airport. So they can just start a little early.

The U.S., Canada and New Zealand are on the free list. Pointedly, though not surprisingly given the tedious you’ve-got-feet-of-clay two-way exchanges across the Timor Sea that have recommenced lately, Australia is not.

A Note for Scribblers

It popped into our in-box recently from Janet DeNeefe, doyenne of the literary tea set in Ubud and founder of the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. The twelfth rendition of this felicity takes place between Oct. 28 and Nov. 1. Do make a note in your diaries. It’s always worth getting along to the program of events DeNeefe and crew put on for the festival.

Having reached the halfway mark of the year, DeNeefe notes, there are only four short months until the 2015 festival. We’ll leave aside the fact that discounting June (now all but gone) only September is a short month in that timeframe. We know she meant.

More than 150 writers and creatures she calls creatives from Indonesia and beyond “will gather to discuss extraordinary stories and big ideas”. Gabfests are always fun, so we’ll certainly be planning to join the jamboree.

All the latest details, including the names of writers in the fields of fiction, human rights and research, are on the festival website. If you’re writing a book and would like to launch it at UWRF 2015, applications are now open. The Diary’s alter ego is engaged in just such a venture, but it may not be ready in time and in any case its genre might better suit a more outré venue.

Early Bird tickets go on sale in July.

Barking Mad: Latest Update

Some shocking figures have found their way into the local Bahasa press on rabies, which has been a feature of Bali, though not an attraction, since 2008. They show that in 2013 the percentage of dogs vaccinated against rabies – and therefore providing the vital screen between canine rabies and its transmission to humans – was 68 percent, just below the 70 percent level international standards say is necessary for effective herd immunity and suppression of the disease. (In 2010, at the end of the successful campaign led by the animal welfare NGO the government now loves to hate, the figure was 80 percent.)

It gets worse. In 2014 it was 44 percent. By June this year (without figures from Klungkung regency which is either playing silly beggars or has gone to sleep) it was 36 percent. That’s effectively half the optimum protection level. No wonder we’re seeing a procession of local animal husbandry worthies panicking while they do their repertory performances of Cpl. Jones in Dad’s Army, whose catch-cry was “Don’t Panic! Don’t Panic!”

And that’s not all the bad news, either. In 2013 the risk that a dog might be infected with rabies and thus likely to bite you and cause you to die an unnecessary and horrific death was 4.1 percent. In 2014 this figure had risen to 10.2 percent. In the middle of 2015 it is a shocking 20.8 percent – one in five dogs.

Another of Cpl. Jones’ favourite aphorisms was “They don’t like it up ’em”, and this too is a feature of Bali’s disgraceful failure to counter rabies. Animal husbandry authorities have warned that anyone interfering with their kill-at-will response to the disease they have allowed to become endemic is breaking the law and could be jailed. Animal welfare organizations could face closure if they pursue an activist agenda.

Bali’s authorities might win first prize for idiocy and short sightedness over this. They won’t win anything else, far less the battle to control rabies.

There are also problems with supply of human rabies post-exposure vaccine. It’s basically an argument over money (sigh) but it’s symptomatic of the deficient budgetary processes that are ubiquitous here and the vacuous policy of judging risk as functionally absent until something actually happens.

Indonesia Raya

Britain’s ambassador to Indonesia, Moazzam Malik, told a gathering in Jakarta to celebrate the birthday of Queen Elizabeth II that Indonesia, along with China and India, will dominate the global economy as the 21st century progresses, because of its large population. The proprietors of countless bengkels relying for their livelihood on perforated mufflers and wonky suspensions will be pleased to hear this.

No, seriously, British analysis of global trends clearly identifies population mass as a key driver of economies, and notes that Britain, with a medium population (it’s around 59 million) relies on partnerships or strong cooperation with larger countries. This factor alone argues against the developing tendency in Britain to view with favour an exit from the European Community, though that’s a separate issue in this context.

The Queen’s Birthday is celebrated in June – it’s not her actual birthday – so that the Brits have an outside chance of seeing the grand military parade in London called Trooping the Colour held in conditions rather more clement than the usual shivery temperatures and intermittent drizzle.

Tweet, Tweet 

The Japanese city of Yokohama – it’s Tokyo’s port city – is working with the Indonesian government to help conserve the endangered Bali Starling by donating birds for resettlement in the Bali Barat National Park. It’s the second three-year program. The first began in 2012.

The Bali Starling (Leucopsar Rothschildi) is locally known as the jalak or curik. In 2005 there were only five birds known to be survivors in their natural habitat, the national park in west Bali. Today the population is more than 100, including 40 that have been released in the park.

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