They’re a Scream

HECTOR’S DIARY

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

HectorR

Bali

Aug. 17, 2016

 

If the acquisitive cartel of private interests and public officials that really runs Bali wants to turn the island into Disneyland, it must be conceded (through gritted teeth) that they can. The electoral check on such excess is even more notional here than in other more functional democracies.

We’ve seen in the proposal to bury Benoa Bay under masses of defective concrete and frightful architectural kitsch and turn it into Port Excrescence (a project of PT I’m Gonna Make a Motza) that the environment runs a poor second to the heady thrill of grubbing out another zillion rupiahs. We’ve seen too that the considered consensus views of the villages and banjars that are protesting mean absolutely nothing; at least so far.

Ditto with the despoliation of the reef and surf line in the vicinity of the new Kempinski and Ritz-Carlton hotels under construction on the southern Bukit. There, some curious alchemy conjured up a very dodgy bit of paper featuring a magic official signature.

We now hear, via the Bali Post newspaper, a particularly vacuous thought bubble from the head of the Buleleng chapter of the Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association (PHRI), a gentleman by the name of Dewa Suardipa. He would like to see dolphin cages built in the sea off Lovina so as to “optimise” (as Jack Daniels’ Bali Update reports from the Post on Aug. 8) the attractiveness of dolphin tours promoted to tourists visiting North Bali.

Perhaps these disgraceful prisons for highly intelligent sea creatures could be built near that other future-planner’s delight, the proposed offshore North Bali airport. (We do wonder whether they’ve thought about tsunami barriers, not to mention whether they’d work, but that’s another topic.) That way the hordes of gawkers they would like to attract to see the pernicious results of extraordinary rendition in yet another guise wouldn’t ever actually have to set foot in the real Bali.

They wouldn’t have to interact either with the local boatmen who at present make a modest income from taking small parties of tourists out to see the dolphins in their natural habitat. Maybe these dispossessed persons could be armed with gaff hooks and employed to whistle at the captive dolphins and wave fish at them; by this means, according to Pak Dewa of the Buleleng PHRI, the poor creatures (the dolphins, we mean) could be trained to perform on demand and would soon learn not to be distressed or depressed.

Hey, they could co-opt the deprived dolphins from that sick excuse for an attraction at Keremas to give them lessons. Oh no, that wouldn’t work. They’re still depressed, poor things. How can that be? They get fed fish and can see the sea if they breast the edge of their swimming pool for a wistful look at their home.

It’s so often an Edvard Munche Day in Bali. You know, when you just have to let out a manic scream.

Saurian Point

While we’re on the topic of potty ideas, something from Kupang in Indonesian Timor blipped the radar recently. Crocodiles have presented themselves as a problem for the capital of East Nusa Tenggara. They’ve apparently been doing so since 2011, but it takes a little time for officialdom to notice these things.

Saltwater crocs are endemic to the area, though they seem to have stayed decorously out of sight until five years ago, when suddenly they started eating people. I say, chaps, that’s poor form!

In the Australian city of Darwin, 800 kilometres away to the southeast, the city authorities have built fences behind the popular beach area so that sunbathers and other playful types can lie around in peace, or play ball or whatever, without the statistical risk of being grabbed by a leg and dragged away for an unwanted death roll. In Kupang, the solution is not infrastructure. It’s a croc-capturing competition. The current score-line is Crocs 19 People 0 and the city fathers would like to even things up.

This we learned from a story by Jewel Topsfield, the Fairfax group correspondent in Jakarta, and Amilia Rosa, that appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald and other Fairfax papers in Australia. We silently thanked them when we read the yarn. It’s so nice to get a chortle with your morning cuppa.

The competition, with prize money of Rp5 million per capture, was set to start after Independence Day. We’ll watch that score-line carefully.

Direct Aid

Elizabeth Henzell, who is among the nicest people we know, had a lovely story to tell the other day. She’s not exactly flush with funds. Who is these days, except a Jakarta tycoon? But she does recognise, as many do, that even the poorest expatriate lives better and has more than most Balinese. So she helps beggars, those people (the ones from Karangasem are in the Governor’s sights at the moment as unwanted elements of his preferred touristic streetscape) who wander the streets of Ubud in search of money so they can eat.

On her way through to Villa Kitty at Lodtunduh – which is where her money goes, the NGO being as short of funds as most in the animal welfare area – she made a stop as she often does at the Pertamina petrol station on Jl. Raya Pengosetan. Instead of just handing out money to the little “family” she helps, a “mother” and several children, this time she asked what they’d like to eat. It was something very modest from the food stall just across the street. She took them there and bought them a meal. It would have cost more to have coffee at Starbucks.

Hunger is a pervasive distemper. It saps energy and in the end intellect too. A full tummy is a wonderful tonic. Henzell said of the evening in question: “This was at 9.30pm last night. They were so hungry. I left four children and a very tired mother all sitting in a little circle eating their Bakso. All for Rp 68,000, but who will feed them tomorrow?”

Hopefully someone will have done so. For the moment, we just say this: Elizabeth, we love you.

Truck Off

We hear that at long last the authorities in Bangli regency have cracked down on the profitable extraction of lava gravel in the Lake Batur basin and told the trucks that make a menace of themselves on the narrow roads up and down the mountain to cease and desist. They haven’t, quite, we understand. No surprises there. But the traffic has reduced.

Apparently this late accession to something notionally resembling sound principles of environmental protection followed a word from the UN to the effect that the prized Batur Geo Park would not be goer without an end to extractive vandalism.

One day, perhaps, the island’s authorities will work out that Bali’s environment actually is precious and not just a PR pitch. And that returning it to something resembling nature and – where this is no longer possible – a state of cleanliness means doing something more than just proclaiming the aim of being Clean and Green.

It’s green at the moment, because the dry season is being damp, courtesy of La Niña, and at first glance it’s clean – in parts – because the leafy glades hide all the garbage that at this time of year would normally lie revealed in all its noisome horror.

Sad Departure

Our paths never crossed – we walked a different beat – but Joe Kennedy was a Name, a master of his craft of photography, and that he is now no longer with us is a tragedy. He’d had a motorcycle accident on Jul. 29 and had suffered mild concussion and broken ribs, but was recovering well and was expecting to be discharged from Sanglah General Hospital in Denpasar when a sudden and quite unexpected heart attack carried him off on Aug. 4. This was three days short of his 57th birthday. That’s far too young.

Kennedy was born in Northern Ireland and worked in the oil industry for nearly a quarter of a century before starting a new career as a professional photographer in 2004. He set up Joe Kennedy Photography in 2006 and quickly established himself as a snapper of choice.

His funeral was at the Yasa Setra Mandala Crematorium at Taman Mumbul on Aug. 9. Friends held a wake for him afterwards at Villa Ramadewa in Seminyak.

Flag This

It’s Independence Day (Aug. 7) and we should mark this. A nation’s birthday is always important. Indonesia’s is especially so to the Diary, because it is a wonderful country and because we are almost of an age. (Indonesia Raya is slightly younger.)

The Merah Putih flies at The Cage once a year, for two weeks: the week prior and the week after the big day. It does this from a bamboo pole stuck into a bit of PVC piping nailed precariously to the outside wall of our balé. It is mirrored prettily in our little swimming pool and looks lovely when it’s fluttering in the Bukit breeze.

HectorR

Hector’s Diary appears in the print and on line editions of the Bali Advertiser.

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, 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