Silence is No Longer Golden

BOOK REVIEW: GODS AND DEMONS A foreign correspondent’s memoir | Deborah Cassrels

It’s certainly not Scoop, and Deborah Cassrels is hardly Evelyn Waugh. But there are enough fanciful echoes of imagined distant drums in Cassrels’ book, and there’s sufficient colourful reportage, to prompt consideration of the demerits of figjamery.

According to the book cover, it is a foreign correspondent’s memoir that takes the reader behind the tourist veneer of Bali and greater Indonesia. 

Well, blurb is blurb. The real mysteries and genuine delights of the archipelago will remain obscure. Little further illumination has been shone upon the 322 sheets between Cassrels’ hot covers. Indonesians, Balinese especially, will be glad that this is so. They quite like to be excluded from the glaring gaze of western impertinence, though they are very polite and rarely say so publicly.

Instead – though to give the narrative credit, it’s not all breathless – the reader is invited to a pastiche party: streams of consciousness stuck together with insubstantial vignettes. Going along for that ride is a bit like being an extra in Being There

There’s a lot of personal stuff in the book too, as befits the modern fad for laundering your linen in public rather than keeping shtum. There’s not much appetite for discretion in the self-absorbed swamp that western civilisation has become. It gets in the way of Look at Me! 

 It may surprise some readers to hear that abandoned wives who have expatriated themselves to tropical places are apt to look for sexual frisson here and there. But not many, I fancy. What may surprise is that the author has laid out clues as to places and persons – writers’ festivals and good-looking authors with finely chiselled features, e.g. – to pique the inner voyeur.  

It’s moot whether a journalist’s memoir of their time as a foreign correspondent is the right place for wink and nudge personal disclosures, if it’s designed to be taken seriously and isn’t just another I-was-wronged soliloquy.

Still, it was interesting to read Cassrels’ book because we share some of the history that is laid out within its pages. We both worked at Queensland Newspapers in Brisbane, for example, and for the same editor: Chris Mitchell. Though she was consort to Rupert’s princeling, which added some zest to our relationship. 

When I returned to Brisbane in 1983 from three years away in Papua New Guinea and fronted up at the office canteen counter the lovely lady behind it smiled at me and said, “Oh hello! Have you been on holiday?” It’s nice to be missed without having to prompt. There’s something queasily ersatz about enforced recognition. As a question, “Do you know who I am?” holds the seeds of many destructions, including derision.

Cassrels and Mitchell were later arrivals in Brisbane, following the Murdoch takeover of Queensland Newspapers. It was clear to me that I was surplus to the Murdoch circus requirements to be implemented by Mitchell. And Mitchell’s assertion that I was astonishingly well paid (he wasn’t?) didn’t worry me. I’d had a fair run. I’d managed to stay out of the limelight (journalists are supposed to report the news, not make it) and had an iron in another fire that would glow a welcome red well before Mitchell might deem it necessary to don his Black Adder Bishop of Bath and Wells suit and approach me from behind with his own.

Never mind.

And of course, a book should be read by people who don’t know the inside story. Cassrels writes with a light touch and in a way that engages the casual reader, who will be interested to discover what happened after she arrived in Bali in 2009 with a laptop computer and a business card.

FOOTNOTE: Cassrels appears at this year’s virtual Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, on Nov. 3, when she’ll be in conversation with Wayan Juniarta of The Jakarta Post. They’ll be discussing the challenges facing Indonesia, and her book. Visit for the full 2020 UWRF experience.

GODS AND DEMONS Deborah Cassrels. HarperCollins. Published 2020. ISBN 978 0 7333 3890 8 (pbk) 978 1 4607 0913 9 (ebook)

Shibboleths Revealed


His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences


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.


Photo courtesy

160829 MADE WIJAYA .png


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

Blots on the Landscape




His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Bali, Jul. 20, 2016


Where to start? We’ll leave aside (for the moment) certain segments of the bar scene where duty of care, which shouldn’t be an entirely foreign concept, is spelt WTF, and winks and nods at malfeasant bad behaviour, if not actual complicity, are commonplace. They’re blots on the social landscape. The ones at issue in this instance are actual, physical, blots. The latest to come to attention is the groyne built out over the coral reef in front of the new Kempinski hotel at Sawangan on the southern Bukit. The hotel wants to make a playground for its guests.

That this has altered the natural wave break pattern – with possibly incalculable future impacts – and destroyed the reef habitat is of no consequence to people whose interest lies solely in chasing money. Surfers who have been deprived of The Nikko, a great surf break, and the shooed-away local seaweed growers don’t count. They’re not in the 5-plus-star demographic. There’s a petition out on We’ve signed it. It’s unlikely to move the rocks, but at least they’ll know we don’t like them, and why.

Just round the bend – how appropriate – and up around the Jakarta-by-Sea that developers have created with what locally luminous landscaper Made Wijaya dismissively (and quite properly) writes off as New Asian Architecture along the Ngurah Rai Bypass, the row continues over the plan to turn Benoa Bay into Port Excrescence. There was another huge Tolak Reklamsi demonstration on Jul. 10, organized by the local villages and banjars. We’re sure Governor Pastika heard about it. We do wonder what he said about it, though.

In a related move, there’s popular action in Lombok to stop massive sand extraction contracts there from going ahead. Apart from anything else, they seem to be illegal, created under the brown envelope rules that blight Indonesia. Tomy Winata needs all that silicon to fill in the Benoa mangroves and kill a natural, traditional community so he can construct an artificial one.

Shoot! There’s an idea

Apparently it’s not illegal to import unlicensed weaponry into Indonesia if you can get your new killing toys stuffed in the diplomatic bag. This is what members of the presidential security squad did in the USA. A man who assisted with their acquisition has been before the American courts since (perhaps astonishingly, although thankfully) it is unlawful to export guns from the Land of the Second Amendment unless you have a permit.

You can buy them there willy-nilly, as mass shootings by homicidal madmen demonstrate with tedious regularity, because Congress and the National Rifle Association seem to believe it’s still 1791 and that the right to bear arms has more validity than the nakedly bare truth.

But because the Indonesian presidential security squad was able to organize to get their new guns into diplomatic protected baggage, no crime that legal process can adjudicate has been committed at either end of the deal. Here at home, according to reports, administrative measures are under consideration (or at least they were when we wrote this). We don’t think we should wait up for a meaningful result.

Dr. Hannigan, We Presume?

British writer and skilled Indonesia hand Tim Hannigan, whose archival skill at demythologizing Raffles and other Names of Empah will always have a laudable capacity to sabotage the keyboards upon which post-imperial paeanists like to tinkle, wasn’t at last year’s Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. He had a prior engagement in Mongolia, though not among the marmots of the Gobi or indeed the yurts of same, since yurts do not exist, though marmots do, and carry plague. The large tents of the local nomads are called Gers. This is pronounced grrrr in the way one might voice imprecations against massed idiot bike riders who turn right from the left lanes at the numerous traffic lights on Sunset Road and heedlessly cause karmageddon.

Sadly, Hannigan won’t be at this year’s festival either. He will be at Leicester University in England, doing a PhD on the ethical issues of travel literature that’s being funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the M3C (Midlands 3 Cities) doctoral program.

Hannigan recently revised Willard Hanna’s Bali Chronicles, which are due to appear around festival time (UWRF 2016 is Oct. 26-30) as A Brief History of Bali, with a foreword by Adrian Vickers. Never mind, the Diary will have a beer for him on opening night.

His lovely light history, Raffles and the British Invasion of Java, deliciously upset the Hyacinth Bucket-style riparian delights favoured by certain imperial historiographers when it was published in 2012. Come to think of it, we owe him at least a beer for that, if not a G&T. He also wrote A Brief History of Indonesia (2015) and says he hopes to be back in archipelago during the northern summer of 2017. He’s a dab hand at fishing out historical and other anecdotes and Indonesia has a rich lode of those.

A View With a Room

Lunch at Sundara, Four Seasons Jimbaran’s eclectic beachside swan-around place for the locally well placed, is not to be missed. There’s plenty of outdoors for outdoor types and it’s airy inside with a lovely view of the bay beyond, especially at high tide. We recently ruminated there, on a very pleasantly passable Caesar salad and other delights, in the fine company of chief 4S Bali spruiker Marian Carroll. We made a couple of notes, as you do on such occasions, though the divine mini lemon meringue pie we had for dessert rather got in the way of concentrated effort.

Of primary interest was that the Ganesha art gallery has been reinvented as a multimode arts and cultural space. That’s great news. Of this, GM of Four Seasons Resorts Bali, Uday Rao, says: “We believe it is our responsibility – as well as our honour – to give guests the opportunity to personally meet and learn from Bali’s talented artists, who are hand-picked and invited to share their knowledge and skills. Guests can take a lesson in woodcarving, painting, dancing, making offerings for ceremonies, or weaving fine songket (cloth).”

Officially it’s the Ganesha Cultural Centre. It opens on Jul. 29. We’ll get along there soon enough.

Sundara is also spreading its wings. It is introducing a long brunch. We’ll have a word with Sophie Digby of The Yak about that. She’s a brunch and bubbles girl from way back, and the launch date (Aug. 14) might already be in her diary. It does seem to be a pretty good way to spend a lazy Sunday.

Animal Welfare? What’s That?

News that Thailand, Malaysia and South Korea have moved to seriously tighten up and enforce animal welfare laws may furrow the odd brow here. Isn’t that sort of thing best left to karma? A dog’s life is – well, a dog’s life.

It shouldn’t be. In the Australian state of New South Wales the government has announced greyhound racing will be abolished from July next year, because of rampant cruelty and mistreatment of dogs. There’s a chorus line of unrepentant recidivists now in pursuit of the premier, Mike Baird. He apparently will not be budged; neither should he.

Here in Bali, animal welfare outfits often have a hard time when they try to help animals. It’s not only dogs. Monkeys – intelligently sentient beings – are locked up in cages and made to perform perversely infantile tricks so their “owners” can make money. We won’t even touch on civets forced to shit for a living so people can drink Luwak coffee (ugh!) or the poor dolphins of Keremas, whose unhealthy and woefully inadequate “pool” affords them nothing but pain and – if they look wistfully over the edge – a view of the nearby ocean that is their natural home.

When clear evidence of gross abuse of dogs comes to light, as it has recently in a case where patient and horrendously expensive negotiation that went on for weeks thankfully resulted in a large number of animals being rescued from hell, no one in authority was prepared to do a thing.

Animal welfare laws in Indonesia are antiquated – they date from the Dutch era – and are shockingly inadequate. They are rarely enforced. The example set for Jakarta by Malaysia, Thailand and South Korea cannot be dismissed as yet another instance of western policies that have no relevance to Indonesia Raya.

Make Vroom

It was pleasing to see recently that Rakesh Kapoor, who is equally adept on two wheels or four, has returned to Bali from Jakarta, though not to his former domicile, Tampak Siring in the green rice terraces of Gianyar. He’s popped up as general manager of Seminyak Village Mall


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

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Aug. 5, 2015

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Poison Chalice

Three people died from methanol poisoning in Bali recently. They had all been drinking at a bar in Legian. The name of the establishment is fairly well known and cautions against going there have been privately issued by many people to their friends. Naming it publicly is fraught with risk. One of the more curious elements of Indonesian law is that people who should be in jail hanging their heads in shame can make you the criminal for talking about them.

So we’ll just say this: People who adulterate alcoholic drinks with methanol for profit (that’s why they do it; it’s certainly not for mistakenly philanthropic reasons) should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Those whose actions or negligence lead to catastrophic poisoning – methanol can leave you brain damaged and blind if it doesn’t kill you – should be arrested, charged, tried and if found guilty, jailed. It’s just another thing that Bali needs to get really serious about.

Gaining a reputation as cowboy territory does not help the island’s tourism profile. If we become known as a place where nut-heads serve you methanol in bars – and of hotels whose balconies collapse and severely injure people and whose managements then decline to accept any responsibility, apparently even moral responsibility – it’s rather likely to be seen as a demerit rather than a merit. Even in non-effete, non-western tourism markets.

Wake Up

It was good to see the response from the fisheries and forests minister, Siti Nurbaya Bakar, to the international petition raised in the interest of the captive dolphins confined to a small, chlorinated swimming pool at the Wake resort at Keramas. It beggars belief that anyone would subject dolphins to such treatment, especially in the pursuit of profit. So if violations are found (beyond the unbelievable confinement of intelligent, salt-water living mammals in poisonous, potentially blinding chlorinated water) then it would be good if the central government applied its animal protection powers. Such action might resolve the situation speedily, whoever is the enchanted being, a member of a protected species perhaps, who is behind this particular “tourist attraction”.

The resort, we hear, is favoured by Russian tourists, primarily for its off-road macho-man facilities. The dolphins are a side-show. That says something itself, of course, especially in an environment where roubles and vroom go together like a shirtless president and a chesty photo opportunity, but we should not be surprised.

A deeper discussion on Indonesia’s laws as they apply to the apparently hitherto elective matter of animal protection is sorely needed, and not only in the context of the newly announced quest for nature tourism. We look forward to Minister Siti’s direct input. Reform of those inadequate laws, many of which date from the Dutch era and are no longer relevant, is something for which animal welfare organizations have been pressing for ages.

It’s Those Westerners

Speaking of animal welfare advocates, those among them who have been most vocal about how to reduce and eventually eliminate rabies in Bali are back in the provincial government’s sights. Governor Pastika says handling rabies in Bali is not like doing so in western societies where people vaccinate their pets and look after them properly, and where strays are rare. In Bali, he says, we have to kill stray animals because it’s easier to do so and more appropriate in our environment.

He overlooks, as of course he must unless he wants to immediately destroy his whole argument, the experience of India, South Africa and a number of Latin American countries where approved world standard responses have been used to great effect. These are vaccination, humane numbers reduction by sterilization, and effective community education. Last time we looked, most of the places where culling has been rejected as both pointless and a risk of further spreading rabies were hardly examples of well-moneyed leafy suburbs in prosperous European and American cities.

The Governor told a meeting of Bali legislators that animal welfare organizations here should not just shout (he means shout things that he views as unhelpful or irritating) but should help the government by capturing strays, vaccinating and sterilizing them, and caring for them. If that is his view, perhaps he should tell all the little panjandrums further down the line that it is. They might then cease their boneheaded practice of obstructing NGOs doing this good, productive, public spirited work.

Governor Pastika’s line on vaccination is just as skewed, not to say crass. There’s not enough human vaccine in Bali, he says, because the suppliers – the private company BioFarma – have insufficient stock. It’s not that the government won’t buy it; it’s just that it isn’t there to be bought. Anyone who buys that line is unfamiliar with an eight-letter word that is more politely rendered as two words: bovine manure. In fact the government agreed to a contract last year at a unit price it now finds the suppliers have discounted for online buyers and they want it cheaper too. Caveat emptor is a nice old Latin term that fits.

There was another rabies death last week (Jul. 27) in Bangli, the island’s 12th this year. It takes the official human toll from rabies to 160 since the disease broke out in 2008. It is now on the rise again, because the government, its animal husbandry agency, and some district administrations, have dropped the ball. That’s the bottom line. It’s a shocking one.

Takes the Cake

We can report that not only is Tim Hannigan’s latest book on Indonesia first class – it’s A Short History of Indonesia: Sultans, Spices and Tsunamis, and has just been published by Tuttle Singapore – but that the Biku high tea that accompanied his chat about it on Jul. 25 was too. We expected nothing less, of course, of Asri Kerthyasa’s fine establishment; and we were certainly not disappointed, though we did leave afterwards feeling quite full.

Tim is a good speaker. He has a knack of sitting gnome-like on a tall chair and looking entirely comfortable. This is a remarkable skill. He took the sell-out crowd through the introduction to his book, the only bit of it, he says, that is entirely imagined. It centres on the Hobbits of Flores in pre-history and their lengthy interaction with the fuller-sized humans who colonized the archipelago towards the end of the Hobbit era. The rest of the book can rely on written and narrative record, and does, rather well.

The official book tour included an appearance at Bar Luna literary club in Ubud and a signing assignment at Periplus at the airport. Unofficially, it featured a rare opportunity to catch up with the author over dinner, which was good fun and informative as always. This special meeting of the Raconteurs’ Club took place at Gorgonzola, which is a fixture on our Bukit List.

Direct Action

Those who follow the detail of the Indonesian-Australian relationship know very well that it chugs along much as ever, beyond the headlines and the scare stories, even in the face of the assertion (lately) by the Indonesian attorney-general that shooting convicted criminals is no longer a pressing priority. Apparently only the first few rounds were prioritized. It is now crystal clear that this exercise in judicial murder was for political purposes. We’ll pause briefly to vomit in disgust and then get on with business.

The business in this instance is the Direct Assistance Program administered by the Australian consulate-general in Bali. The 2014-2015 program funding was doubled to Rp 1, 683,000,000 in the Australian budget for that financial year (Australia’s FY runs Jul. 1-Jun. 30). It funded 16 projects, two of them in neighbouring Nusa Tenggara Barat for which the consulate-general also has responsibility. Australia slashed its future foreign aid funding in the 2015-2016 budget in May, but most of the impact is in outlays for future years and the DAP program in Bali-NTB for this financial year remained at its previously doubled level.

Projects funded in 2014-2015 included: Funding sight-restoring cataract surgeries in NTB; buying support tools for patients with disability in Lombok; providing piping to access clean water for a village in Tabanan; supporting a sustainable agriculture project in Buleleng that researched and promoted dry land farming techniques; purchasing toilets to supply to a remote village in East Bali; funding a pop-up co-working space in Gianyar to develop entrepreneurship among young Balinese; working with an Australian volunteer to provide advanced nurse training at Sanglah Hospital; and providing updated IT equipment to a women’s college in Ubud to train young female students in multi-media skills.

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

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Nov. 27, 2013

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences


Get Smart! Get Agent 99

It may all have blown over by the time this edition of the Diary appears. (Well, no it won’t, even though it certainly should have.) The piquant sauce de jour these days is the spy scandal that has embroiled Indonesia and Australia. A quick point: It was Kevin wot dun it, the Nambour Kid, saviour of the universe and serial winner of the motor-mouth prize.

This is not to be unkind to the former Australian prime minister. It’s just that, well, he is the former Australian prime minister. He’s not even in parliament any longer. He decided since being re-elected on Sept. 7 as the member for Griffith – disclosure: the seat, in Brisbane, was once the Diary’s domicile for the purpose of scribbling gratuitous advice on ballot papers – that since the Australian people had belled him out it was all too much and he’d be better off saving the world from someplace else.

Nor is this to say that the present incumbent, Tony Abbott, wouldn’t have signed off on the same scam if he’d been in the big office at the time. But let’s not forget that 2009 was a particularly complex phrase in the long narrative of the world. The Bali bombings of 2002 and 2005, the Australian embassy bombing in Jakarta in 2004, the Marriott attack in 2003 and the Marriott and Ritz-Carlton bombings in 2009, created difficult circumstances. Indonesia was facing down – very creditably, it should be noted – a significant domestic terrorism threat.

Traditionally, governments don’t comment on intelligence matters. This isn’t because they haven’t got any – it just looks like that sometimes. It wasn’t very smart to eavesdrop on President SBY – heck, it wasn’t even Maxwell Smart (lady Agent 99 was so much smarter) – but, well, that’s why democracies nurture journalists: to keep the bastards honest. Though journalists don’t always write everything they know either, for all sorts of reasons; legal, chiefly, or corporate or political, or sometimes for self-preservation.

It would be invidious to speculate on the real reasons the Australians and Americans bugged the presidential hand phone. Suffice to say it probably wasn’t to find out what SBY says when the chauffeur turns up late; or that it was even about the president himself at all.

The real villain in this piece is Edward Snowden, the latest “heroic” leaker, a man who like so many others these days is without honour. Without his imbecilic cyber incontinence this silly situation would not have arisen. If he didn’t like what he was doing he should have resigned and gone away. The world only needs one Julian Assange. And even that’s debatable.


Watch Out

An incident in Seminyak the other day serves as a timely reminder that the crowded tourism-oriented parts of South Bali are not necessarily crime-free safe areas, despite claims to that effect by various figures in authority who would obviously like it to be thought that everything here on the Island of the Dogs is just hunky-dory. It’s not a bit like Dodge City, really it isn’t. No, really.

We hear that a knife-wielding bandit assaulted an expat man in broad daylight outside a convenience store in Jl Oberoi, plainly intent on robbery. His intended target did the sensible thing and ran away. What’s more, he ran straight to the local banjar and told them the story. Apparently they caught the miscreant.

We hope he was simply handed over to the police. There was a dreadful case reported in another area – not all that far away – some months ago when a man stole Rp800K from a local warung and ran. A mob caught him, stripped him naked to humiliate him, and then beat him to death. They threw his body into a ditch. It was said at the time that the police did not regard it as an incident worth investigating since the robber had been caught and the crime had therefore been solved.

Murder is apparently not murder in a wide range of circumstances.


Grub Alert

A Canadian woman who lives in Ubud reported on Facebook recently that an Indonesian man had molested her in the street as she was going home after dinner in the evening. He groped one of her breasts and then left the scene, doubtless to boast of his triumph to any of his friends who, similarly mentally defective, would utter the Balinese or Indonesian equivalents of “Phwaar!” and think him a good chap rather than the mental midget he plainly is.

There are, of course, badly behaved idiots and low-life grubs in every society. An overly large proportion of those who come to public attention are men. This is distinctly displeasing to many of us who are represented by the little arrow on the gender signs you see around nowadays, instead of that friendly plus. It is especially irritating to the majority of men who are tired of being implicated in what is apparently seen as a global rape collective.

This is not to downplay the serious nature of assault and especially that by random men on passing women. We often wish we had not disposed of our lovely riding crop, once used as a friendly guide to various mounts upon which we have cantered. In circumstances such as that just reported in Ubud it would have been good to have been in the area and to have had it to hand. Pak Groper would still be in a very sorry state if that had been the case.

But that said, it’s a pity that what is primarily a male sickness from elsewhere – lack of respect for the persons of women (as opposed to their social and economic status, which remains a burdensome problem in many places) and of their absolute right not to be molested – is gaining a foothold in other cultures that really should know better. Perhaps the man involved in this incident has some sensible friends or family who have pointed out the demerits of being a grub. We can but hope.

It would be a shame if incidents like this – to say nothing of the one reported in the first item – caused further damage to Bali’s reputation as a place to have a holiday. Such things can no longer be safely ignored because they can be made to disappear.

Nowadays there is nowhere to hide. Everywhere is in the international spotlight, even Bali.


Where There’s a Will…

Now on to happier things: This gave us a lovely giggle when we saw it on the Ubud Community page on Facebook – a conversation between a man and a land buyer. Thank you to Ani Somia for posting it and her Dad for, well, sending at least one acquisitive land-grabber off with a flea in his ear.  

Ani’s post put it this way (it’s verbatim here for the full flavour): 

Some conversation between my father n the broker who requested our land to be rented due to a huge hotel is being building nearby our house in Ubud.

Buyer: Excusme bapak we are interested to rent out or buy your land. We hv some cash for you n we giving good price.

My dad: Oh ampura. Aka excusme sir. The land is not belong to me but it’s inherited. Could u please ask my father first?

Buyer: Yes bapak for sure we will. Where is your father now?

 My dad: He is in the grave yard died 50 years ago!

Me go inside my room n giggling then I cant help laughing hahahahaha proud of you dad!!

Way to go!


Wheel of Fortune

Rotary clubs are always a hive of action and Rotary Club of Bali Seminyak is no exception. Coffee drinker Barb Mackenzie tells us – via the RCBS Facebook page – of one seasonally worthy cause that surely deserves support. Rotarian John Glass told the club’s Nov. 13 meeting (held as always at Warisan, a fine watering place) that the Seeds of Hope Children’s Home in Dalung, between Denpasar and Canggu, is looking for Christmas presents for the live-in orphans at the home.

Sixty-seven children aged from 10 months to 18 years live at the home, which has a special Christmas party planned for Dec. 22. It’s suggested that appropriate gifts valued at around Rp200K (US$20) could be given to a specific child on the day. The kids like music, board games, CDs, arts and crafts, sports equipment and toiletries.

The home is also looking for a volunteer Santa on Dec. 22 if anyone fancies wearing a hot white beard. We’d do it ourselves except that our frequently preferred stubble – a Jimmy Barnes-style three-day growth – is probably not quite what Santa’s helpers are looking for. It’s the right colour, but perhaps that’s not enough.

Guest speaker at the RCBS meeting on Nov.13 was India’s consul-general in Bali, Amarejeet Singh Takhi. He’s India’s first consul-general here and took up his post in January 2012. He reminded his many listeners – the lunch was well attended – that Indonesia and India have trade and cultural links that go back two millennia.

Hector tweets @scratchings

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Nov. 13, 2013

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Skulduggery and Other Local Habits

The benefits that accompany living in Bali – or anywhere in Indonesia – far outweigh the demerits of doing so. The culture is inclusive, at least on a superficial level that satisfies most tastes; the people readily return a smile to anyone who doesn’t look as if they’re about to get up them for the rent; and unless you’re a real bonehead it’s generally difficult to spark outright anger.

That’s in the sub-stratospheric zone where most foreigners live. Anyone will be your friend if you put money in their pocket; a little money, and your own. That’s how the system works and it can work for anyone.

But – and as usual it’s a big but – there are one-way rules that apply to foreigner-local interaction. Bule is the colloquial word for foreigners. It is analogous with foreigners calling the natives “natives”, which is not done these days and of course should never have been done. No matter. Only a foolishly thick-headed Bule would cavil. It’s what the natives do and because it’s their country they can do as they choose. Foreigners who object to being objectified in this way can always go home.

It is in this general ambience that one considers several matters of current interest. The irritation over media reports that Australia (and the USA) “spy” on Indonesia is one instance. It’s a pejorative term, spy, and conjures up all sorts of cloak-and-dagger scenarios. The reality in this instance is rather more prosaic. It is alleged that electronic eavesdropping has yielded secure telephone numbers and other information that might be useful in an emergency. In retaliation for this, it is further reported, Indonesia may reconsider its cooperation with Australia regarding efforts to stamp out criminal people-smuggling that Jakarta has winked at for years and in which it is now showing an interest only because of significant inducements, political and otherwise, to do so.

Everyone “spies” in the overblown context in which that term is being bandied about. Indonesia certainly does, though to what effect one wouldn’t know. The ersatz confrontation that has been fuelled by headlines and sound bites is an embarrassment. It is a chance for the media and others to disinter several shibboleths that have long since passed their use-by date. It’s a pity that it emerged just ahead of the annual democracy forum, this year held in Nusa Dua on Nov. 7 and 8 and attended by Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop among others.

Here in Bali, at the provincial and district level, other departures from common sense are observed. Rampant overdevelopment and threats to precious natural environments continue, in the process lining lots of official pockets. The new southern Bukit road linking the Uluwatu area with Nusa Dua – a prime tourism asset if it is used with appropriate regulation – is complete except for a short section of “jalan liar” (liar means wild but some may prefer to read the word in English) that unaccountably curbs transiting traffic. A pocket or two, quite possibly official, remain to be lined, it seems.

At Ubud, BAWA, the expat-funded animal welfare organization that fired up and then ran the island’s vital initial response to the rabies outbreak in 2008 that is ongoing and has killed at least 150 people, has had its veterinary clinic closed and its other operations severely curtailed by government diktat. That it is carrying on business – and that its professional services are well regarded and sought elsewhere in the neighbourhood – testifies to its public spirited determination.

It’s not yet clear what brought about this particularly egregious example of why Bali really shouldn’t bite off its nose to spite its face. Except that we can say without fear of contradiction that bull-headed self-interest and latent avarice undoubtedly played a part.

A Handy Volume

It was nice to see Tim Hannigan’s book Raffles and the British Invasion of Java win critical notice in the Bali Advertiser’s Toko Buku column (Oct. 30). The Hannigan tome is nicely revisionist – as all history should be when reassessed with the benefit of analysis, research and other cerebral effort rather than just a nostalgic after-glow – and places Raffles in what seems to be the proper context now that the British Empire has joined the dodo, and Monty Python’s parrot, in the shades of past existence and is no more.

The book is especially valuable for its colonic effect on the rump residual of imperial hagiographers, who seem to believe the sun should never have been allowed to set upon the global realms of the Queen Empress and her brief successors. Well, history is a narrative and so is much fiction, so perhaps we should not be overly churlish. The problem always is that, like Hyacinth Bucket’s riparian delights, imperial adventures are nearly always Not Quite as Planned.

Lottie Nevin, who recently relocated from Indonesia to Spain – to Andalucía no less, where even after half a millennium a movingly Moorish ambience hangs heavily over the landscape – tells us of an incident in which a copy of a rival Raffles volume nearly ended up in her Jakarta living room. It remained in the carrier’s bag, it seems, when upon the question of whether she had yet obtained a copy of The Fine Tome she said that she had read Hannigan’s book and it was good.

Diarists love to hear such titbits of gossip, particularly when they present the bonus of an opportunity to chuckle. Nevin, who is no stranger to Bali, has a delightfully readable blog at

Quick Fix

One of those car park exchanges that might excite a police stakeout team on Willie Ra’re alert recently took place at Dijon, the Simpang Siur emporium-complex that is the resort of many who seek the finer victuals of life, or a decent iced tea or chummy latte, or who perhaps are simply transiting the area on their way to the offices behind.

These days, if you wander down the lane past the café and the shop, you’ll find The Yak and its stable-mates in close proximity to the premises from which publicity diva Sarah-Jane Scrase and the mega-laundry man, Kian Liung, are now producing another glossy, The Source Quarterly. We see from Facebook that it is among the latest products to grace the shelves at Gramedia. It’s always good to see publications in print, especially new ones, even if most of us these days read things on line.

The car park exchange of which we speak was perfectly legit. If bringing in coffee capsules otherwise unobtainable here in Fun Central is legit, that is. We think it is. Well arguably. But then we use a similar product that owing to inexplicable local absence requires regular courier resupply, the better to ingest our overdoses of caffeine.

On this occasion Hector was meeting someone, a lovely lady, to hand over a supply of capsules newly arrived from Australia that would temporarily at least make it possible for her friends to avoid saying disturbing things such as, “you’ve only got five left”.

Don’t you hate that! Here at The Cage we attempt a regime of at least triple redundancy. Running out of essentials like wine, whisky, cigarettes or coffee in the dead of night is truly brow-furrowing. It can quite take the shine off life.

Our exchange this time went unnoticed. We had a yak and a giggle, a tea and a coffee, and then did the car-boot to car-boot bag switch without difficulties intervening.

Free Flow

Janet DeNeefe’s Indus restaurant at Jl Raya Sanggingan in Ubud was 15 years old on Nov. 3. While this is not a cosmic event on the scale of, say, Earth colliding with Mars next July, nonetheless it is worth noting in the local firmament.

Indus is a popular restaurant name. There is any number of eponymous dining opportunities around the globe. It is also a major and still predominantly free-flowing river that is checked only by over-use of its resources and the Mandala dam, an impoundment with whose design and construction your diarist had a passing technical connection far too many years ago.

In the old days of the Raj (see above) it marked the boundary between the incomprehensible cultures of the Indian sub-continent and the frankly murderous ones of Central Asia. In his evocative 1953 novel The Lotus and the Wind – it has been on the Diary’s five-year re-read list for half a century – John Masters illuminates that divide in a way that, once read, is never forgotten. It is a geopolitical and cultural rift the western world still fails to comprehend.

All of which is by the by. Happy Birthday, Indus.

Hector tweets @scratchings

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser Sept. 4, 2013


His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences


Ugly and Over It

Australian tourists get a bad rap in Bali. In some ways that’s understandable. The appalling behaviour of some of them in the more licentious parts of the tourist strip and (to be brutally honest) the astonishingly gauche naivety of a lot of them rather grates. But not all Australians are like that. We’re not all like that, rather. The Diary is a citizen of the Special Biosphere; an elective one having been born elsewhere. We didn’t like the bother-boots immigration official all those years ago who reluctantly observed the requirements of the visa and stamped the Pommy passport, but we got over it. Perhaps he did too, the silly duffer.

      So criticism needs to be measured on the basis of the observed misbehaviour of the Doh brigade in Kuta and Legian. There’s not a lot worse than a crowd of beer-bellies in vests of a certain brand – or any brand – toting gulp-as-you-go beer bottles down the street; or for that matter their uncontrolled infants and pre-teens having screaming hissy-fits. But that’s the mass market for you. Neither is it only Australians who lurch around drunk and half naked in public. Other westerners do this too.

      That said, as an interesting discussion on the Australians in Indonesia LinkedIn group recently showed, there’s reason to feel discommoded. In the old days – ah, the old days, in the Republic of Nostalgia – there were certainly scruffy surfers and seekers after truth and certain other substances. But there were not nearly as many, and they weren’t all crammed into a Patpong of pubs getting slammed and eying off the rent-girls, real or fake, or trying to injure themselves on gazillions of rented scooters.

      The huge growth in tourism has benefited large numbers of Balinese and the other Indonesians who have moved here to get a piece of the action. It’s moot whether what has resulted is an example of the law of unintended consequences, though that law is about the only constant in Bali. Cheap air fares and an oversupply of low-cost holiday accommodation practically guarantees high uptake, especially when for many Australians it’s far cheaper to get a passport and an international air ticket to Bali than it is to holiday at home.

      We now all know about the Australian rite of passage called Schoolies Week. It’s a staggered affair – no, that’s not a pun – with dates that vary from state to state. We mostly get West Australian school-leavers, off the leash in very large numbers, in November.

     It’s such fun. Luckily most of them stay in Fleshpot Central and leave the bulk of the island to the rest of us, who like a bit of peace and quiet; and good manners.


Change, Please

The way you hear it, everyone’s on their beam-ends in Bali. They’re all scratching for the last rupiah; they’re all on the very edge of the precipice of privation; and they’re all quite unable to find a couple of spare rupes to rub together; that is unless they’re lawyers, in which case they’ve probably already got everyone’s last rupiah. And that discounts the real poor – the unfortunate rakyat miskin who have seriously missed out on Bali’s boom times and for whose interests we should all look out.

     We understand this situation. It is not dissimilar to our own circumstances, give or take a western perception or two about what actually constitutes deprivation. No one (here, there or indeed anywhere) seems to give a toss about the circumstances of those trying to live on the earnings of retirement savings rendered catatonic by low interest rates and the taxing proclivities of governments, which everywhere claim seizure rights over people’s funds.

     So we keep small change around the place to pay bills – such as for example laundry bills – in the exact amount due. At last report, Rp 100 and Rp 200 coins were still legal tender. Products and services (e.g., laundry services) are even priced in these ludicrously small amounts.

     It was therefore a surprise recently to learn that the local laundry we use – because so far it hasn’t lost too many of our things or returned too much in a tattered, faded or colour-changed condition – would really rather not bother with the very small change. Rp 500 was the smallest denomination they would take.

     Well tough. They’ve now got the message that either they take the money we give them or we’ll take our business elsewhere.


Water Woes

PDAM – the government water monopoly whose acronym should surely be PDAMN – is far from a curious public institution. It goes about its business as it likes, which effectively means it frequently doesn’t bother. In that respect it is depressingly normal, in the way that sheltered bureaucratic workplaces in Indonesia and other places often are.

     Its lack of any distinguishing features, as a public bureaucracy, should not however shield it from criticism voiced by concerned non-recipients of its sole product, water. The Cage is situated on the Bukit, which suffers from being at the end of a long, rickety and thoroughly overwhelmed reticulation system. Here, we frequently pay for “hair” – as an Italian neighbour told us once in an excess of over-aspiration – because when there’s no water in the pitiful bit of pipe that reaches our location, the air pumped into it to keep it “open” makes everyone’s pay-by-the-click meters whiz round even faster.

     We’re fortunate to have a 5000-litre in-ground tank into which PDAM water trickles from time to time. For a little while recently we were getting water overnight – not a lot but just enough – that kept the tank more or less topped up. We knew it wouldn’t last. And sure enough this beneficent regime was soon replaced by a lengthy drought.

     Oddly, or perhaps not oddly, the new Big Dry followed closely upon the supercalifragilisticexpialidocious day that PDAM finally got around to repairing the broken main nearby. They have probably wasted their time. Some clumsy truck will run over it again. It is more or less slap-bang in the middle of the trafficable part of the track that passes for a road, after all.

      PDAM is keeping up with some aspects of technology. It has a website page on which you can leave feedback. But oddly (again) this never seems to appear. Perhaps we should not be too disheartened. It does point to the possibility that someone might be reading the messages received. 


Jailhouse Rock

Tricia Kim, Nagacia jewellery designer and indisputably our favourite New York Korean chick, got on to us recently about an event with a very good aim: a charity night organised by IDEP, the NGO that delivers training, community programs and media related to sustainable development through permaculture and community-based disaster management, to help fund a permaculture garden at Kerobokan Prison.

     Convicts are generally in jail for offences that warrant their removal from open society, but – Surprise! No! Really? – this neither deprives them of their human rights nor strips them of their humanity.

     There was to be dancing (not at the jail – the fundraiser was at La Finca at Hotel Tugu and was supported by Canggu Rotary) and an auction of artwork donated by the Prison Art Education Program. The bash was on Aug. 29 and the toe-tap and wallet-rummage crowd paid Rp 300K to get in with 10 percent of bar takings also going into the kitty.

     We’ll catch up with the result next time.  


Taking Us for a Ride

The FPI is a fundamentalist movement that promotes a hard-line version of Islam and is entitled to do so, since Indonesia is a democratic country that constitutionally recognises several religions and guarantees freedom of political expression. Its leader, the über-repressive Rizieq Syihab, was recently here with some of his supporters to persuade Bali to ban the Miss World Pageant. We don’t know exactly what he was told by the Bali authorities, who are not Muslim, but we’re hoping it went something like this: “Back on your camel Rizieq. We’ve already got them to drop their bikinis and that’s as far as we’re going.”

     Having succeeded in getting the hump (though he will have recorded it as a triumph of advocacy) he returned to Jakarta, rather quicker than if he had chosen to travel by large non-indigenous ruminant.

     And it was there that the FPI staged another of its risible public relations failures. It rode around Jakarta’s thoroughfares, attempting to raise the mob as it does, in expensive American Jeeps. The capital’s twitterfreaks had a field day and good for them. Most Indonesians have a very clear view of the pernicious extent of the FPI’s agenda.

     For some reason this event brought to The Diary’s mind the alluring lyrics of a seriously seductive 1974 pop-rock song, Midnight at the Oasis. Specifically these lyrics:

But you won’t need no harem, honey

When I’m by your side

And you won’t need no camel, no no

When I take you for a ride



Hector tweets @scratchings


HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser Aug. 21, 2013

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences


Dancing on an Ethereal Stage

It is always tragic when someone young and full of life is taken from us by that inevitable final caller, death. It is doubly so when the person concerned has been among the brightest talents around. So it is with Bali’s internationally acclaimed contemporary dancer and choreography, Nyoman Sura, who has died aged 37.

     Sura, who was born in the Denpasar village of Kesiman in 1976, was destined by the fates to be an interpretative dancer who dazzled at the very edge of the performance envelope. He failed the entrance exam for an accountancy degree course at Udayana University. So instead he fell back on his childhood attraction to traditional dance and enrolled at the Indonesian Institute of Fine Arts (ISI).

     In 1995, when he was 19, he was awarded Best Choreographer in a Java-Bali dance competition. When he graduated from ISI the next year he remained at the campus but on the faculty. He taught dance and movement.

     An exponent of both traditional and contemporary dance, he later studied at ISI Surakarta (Solo). But he remained committed to Bali traditional dance as his works Sri Tanjung (2009) and Ritus Legong (2002) amply demonstrate.

     He broke very new ground in 2002, however, when he danced nude at the premier of his work Waktu Itu (That Time) in Medan, North Sumatra. He caused a stir nationally, especially among the prudish, institutional and otherwise, but said the dance portrayed man’s transitions from birth to life to death and that being naked reflected the state of man at the end of life when he must face God free of all earthly accessories.

     It is the artist’s lot to be outré. The truly “out there” are dreadfully missed when they leave us.

     Sura is reported to have died of pancreatic cancer, a vicious disease.

     Jack Daniels of Bali Discovery and the weekly online briefing Bali Update wrote a very moving eulogy. It’s on the Web (posted on Aug. 12). You should read it.


Silent Night

There was supposed to be an item in the print edition of the diary this time, about jazz singer Edwina Blush’s benefit night for Villa Kitty, the Ubud establishment that does so much for our neglected feline friends.

     Sadly, it had to be pulled just after we’d sent the column along to the Bali Advertiser, for reasons that will shortly become shrilly clear.

     Faced with the difficulty of finding a venue in a rush since other things had complicated the long-settled option, the energetic Edwina did a deal with Rouge, an establishment in Jl Bisma, to stage a night primarily of performance poetry there on the planned date, Aug. 29.

    This plan too bit the dust swiftly. Unbeknown to Ms Blush (and for that matter the Diary) the exotic settlers who inhabit that part of Jl Bisma don’t like the joint. It plays music, you see, being a place of entertainment, and this discommodes the ambiance, or rattles the rattan, or disturbs the peace, or interrupts the evening navel-gazing; or possibly all these things.

    A solution involving the Jazz Café and Sept. 2 has been found. This extravaganza is billed as The Cat Fight Continues (love it!) and the dress code is said to be cat/combat. Slink along and you’ll find things meowing nicely. The view at the Jazz Café is that anyone who thinks Bali is NIMBY-Land is off with the fairies. We agree.

     Blush has two other gigs planned before she heads back to Sydney in early September. The details are below. But first, you should read the original item, for the full flavour of the moment:            


Sultry Night


Edwina Blush, the seriously sexy Sydney songstress known for bringing out the blushes of many who attend her sultry jazz sessions inadequately briefed, so to speak, is on a mission in Ubud on Aug. 29. She’s performing on behalf of Villa Kitty, the Lodtundah cat refuge for which she is an ambassador, at a benefit being staged at Rouge in Jl Bisma.

      So here’s the drill: Donation on arrival plus any contributions to “kitty” during the night that Blush and crew can squeeze out of you; raffles, door prizes, and auctions; prizes for best dressed (Dress code: Kitty Rouge).

      And the line-up’s definitely not to be missed: Edwina Blush, jazz cabaret vocalist and performance poet; Skid More, comedian; Alexa Bauer; and Mr Richard H Simorangkir, Rouge house pianist.

     Blush performed earlier this month in Ubud. We’ll do our damndest to get along to the Aug. 29 “cat” show, though. So far we’ve managed to miss all her Bali gigs. Can’t have her thinking we’re pussies.

     There’s a sad aspect to this one, by the way. Marcus Page, the Ubud identity who died unexpectedly this month, was a fervent supporter of Villa Kitty and will be missed, by Villa Kitty Ibu-in-Chief Elizabeth Henzell and many others.

     Besides the Jazz Café on Sept. 2, Blush is performing at Il Giardino in Ubud on Sept. 4 and staging her final Bali session of 2013 on Sept. 5 at Oazia in Kerobokan. This will feature an eight-piece band with a full horn section.

    Blow it! Can’t make the 2nd or the 5th, but we’ll get to Il Giardino by hook or by crook.


A Sad Mishap

It’s been a bad time for untimely deaths. New Zealand-born Australian surfing legend Allan Byrne – he of the iconic Byrning Spears board brand – died on Aug. 8 of injuries resulting from a motorbike accident on Aug. 2. He was treated at a Jimbaran hospital (for a broken arm) but later collapsed and at another hospital was diagnosed with a skull fracture.

     He had been in Bali for the Rip Curl surf championships.


Virtually Certain

We know we’re getting the big APEC jamboree in October. The Bigwigs have already said they’re going to close the airport for extended periods so they can gad about on it and have a gaggle at everyone else’s expense. What we weren’t certain of (actually we still aren’t) is whether Bali will host the annual World Internet Forum (IGF), which is – Was? May be? – scheduled for Nusa Dua on Oct. 22-25.

      There had been, it seems, a “period of uncertainty” over the fate of this particular gabfest, a hiatus that the top flack at the communication and information ministry, Gatot S. Dewa Broto, recently felt confident enough to say was at an end.

      Apparently “several obstacles” had puzzlingly stood in the way of getting the show on the road. These had to do with money. The IGF is budgeted to cost around Rp22 billion – a snip at only US$2.2 million after all – but funding components from Indonesia had been, shall we say, sadly though somewhat familiarly sub-par. IGF organizers raked up Rp9 billion, the communications ministry chipped in Rp2.5 billion, and other Indonesian stakeholders divvied up a dribble. Luckily Google and other interested private concerns have dropped in enough dollars to patch us back into the world.

       Thus Minister Tifatul Sembiring, who is most often seen in his self-appointed role as Censor of the Nation, was able to advise at the eleventh hour that the dog that ran away with his homework had been collared and the paperwork retrieved.

       He said this: “Right now, myself and the ranks of the ministry of communications and information  technology will take whatever action is necessary to immediately complete a Host Country Agreement signed by Indonesia and the UN, as this the most important foundation of the implementation of the IGF 2013.”  In this pronouncement he proved yet again the theory that, for a politician, 46 words will always beat four (“OK. We’ve fixed it.”)

       It’s not entirely clear why 2,500 hot-wired itinerants have to come to Bali to discuss the virtual world they inhabit. Surely if what they say works, works, they could do it all on Skype or something. Never mind. There may be a bonus. Internet speeds here would give any geek a conniption. They may be able to advise how to lift that sorry performance. That would be really good.


Oh, I See…

Lion Air, which made a splash in the world news in April when one of its (many) new Boeing 737-800s “landed” rather spectacularly short of the runway at Ngurah Rai airport, frightening the fish in Jimbaran Bay, seems to have a novel PR campaign under way.

     This month another of its lovely new jets ran into some cows while landing at Gorontalo in Sulawesi. We don’t know why there were cows on the runway (elsewhere the mind might boggle over this question, but not in Indonesia). We do know, though, that pilots of large passenger aircraft are generally thought to have a duty of care to the human souls strapped into the seats behind the flight deck that extends to taking care to avoid significant visible obstacles while landing.

      Apparently, the pilots reported seeing dogs on the runway.

      One thing you can count on in Indonesia is a laugh; sometimes it’s a hollow one, but beggars can’t be choosers. This particular little chuckle reminded us of the 1990s Irish TV comedy Father Ted.  On one occasion in that ecclesiastical funfest naive novitiate Fr Dougal McGuile, spotting a herd of cattle grazing in a paddock some distance away, mused aloud that they seemed very small.

      It’s OK to laugh when all you’re doing is watching a sit-com.  When you’re on a plane whose pilots are apparently as challenged as a fictional nincompoop, it’s a little more serious.


Get Along!

Mike O’Leary from the ROLE Foundation is expecting a good turn-out for his latest fundraiser, Blues for the Blue, at Tapeo Gastrobar, Kuta Beachwalk, on Aug. 31. It’s in aid of efforts to deal with the 5,000 to 20,000 tons of solid waste and unknown tonnage of liquid waste dumped illegally in Bali every day. As he notes, the people who are responsible for waste management here seem unable to act.

     The Island Sustainability Education Centre is working on long-term solutions to give Balinese and other Indonesians who really care the know-how, skills and assistance to meet this challenge.

     The inaugural Bali Waterman’s awards will honour water sportspeople and adventurers. It’s Rp300K to get into the gig, of which San Miguel Light is a Gold Sponsor.



On Aug. 8 – the date was darkly apposite: Hiroshima day was Aug. 6 and Nagasaki day Aug. 9 – the good folk at The Guardian in Britain twittered: “Fukushima leaks: Japan PM steps in.”

     We do hope his minders made sure he was wearing his yellow wellies.

Hector tweets @scratchings


HECTOR’S DIARY (in the Bali Advertiser, Aug. 7, 2013)

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences 

Jam Session

The Ubud Jazz Festival (Friday and Saturday, Aug. 9-10 at ARMA) is one among many annual events that crowd the calendar there. And since jazz is among the more useful creations of human ingenuity, it’s well worth the trouble. Jazz is a fundamentally anarchic art form that demonstrates that people are not cattle who can be prodded into doing what they’re told. Fundamentalists of all stripes should note this.

While listening to some lovely anarchic music on the iPod recently – we were driving towards a delightful lunchtime appointment with our favourite Ubud-based scribbler-savant, Marie Bee, for which we were frightfully late – we found ourselves in a jam session of our own.

This one was not musical. It was so humdrum and normal that no one even bothered to toot their horns. It was but the latest example of the lack of capacity hereabouts to understand a very simple equation: ROB + VNS + ISB = TFC. That’s where ROB is Ridiculous Oversized Bus, VNS is Very Narrow Street, and ISB is Impossible Sharp Bend. The answer is TFC, as we all know; where T is Total, C is Chaos, and the middle letter is unprintable.

Ubud, You Know

The jazz festival’s website blurb, by the way, is a great example of how trite travelogue and pop history these days combine to give you hollow laughs, if not soulful sighs laden with ennui and exasperation. It is headed Welcome to Ubud and says this:

     Ubud is a remarkable town in the middle of the island of Bali, Indonesia. For more than a century, it has been the island’s preeminent centre for fine arts, dance and music. While it once was a haven for scruffy backpackers, cosmic seekers, artists and bohemians, Ubud is now a hot spot for literati, glitterati, art collectors and connoisseurs. Famous names walk its busy sidewalks every day. Elegant five star hotels and sprawling mansions now stand on its outskirts, overlooking the most prized views in Bali. Nonetheless, Ubud is still popular with backpackers, mystics and all the finest fringe elements of global society. Ubud is not “ruined”. Its character is too strong to be destroyed. It still draws people who add something; people who are actively involved in art, nature, anthropology, music, dance, architecture, environmentalism, “alternative modalities,” and more.

We go to Ubud for the music and the food – and, if Janet DeNeefe lets us, for the literature.

A Nice Drop

We sampled Plaga Wines’ newly introduced cabernet sauvignon recently, at an affray held at The Deck at the Semara Resort & Spa, Seminyak. It’s a very nice drop of wine. Well, it would be: Plaga’s range of quaffable products blends Chilean and West Australian grapes, which to our mind gives you a basically unbeatable southern hemisphere double.

Plaga’s pitch is to produce quality affordable wine for your table in Bali, a quest in which it deserves wholehearted support. The price of imported wine here is horrendous and largely unaffordable, unless you’re paying with someone else’s credit card. Plaga is one of a number of new (or improved) players in the field and we certainly wish them all good fortune. We’ll be adding Plaga’s cab sav to our modest cave at The Cage.

There’s something about wine that is quite irresistible, as the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda famously noted (Plaga’s Facebook page recently posted it as a neat reminder): “I had a fling with beer, a passionate affair with Cognac, but the love of my glass is wine.”

Many of us have travelled that particular life-path. The Diary admits to a continuing infatuation with whisky (as well as its attractive cousin whiskey) but we think wine long ago came to terms with the occasional lapses that inevitably follow.

We caught up at The Deck do with Alexsander Martins Paim, F&B director at the Semara Seminyak, and Marian Carroll of Ayana at Jimbaran. Carroll was just in from a business trip to Japan that (as they do) had ended with the modern hell of an overnight long-distance flight, but she looked trim, taut and terrific.

Fine Dining

We were back recently at a favourite grazing spot, variously known as Warung Chilli or Rice & Noodles and sometimes just as the noodle house. It’s at Taman Griya between Jimbaran and Nusa Dua. We like it because the food is great. It’s basically Japanese–Balinese fusion, reflecting the provenance of the family that runs the place. The chicken katsu-don and udon noodle soup are fabulous.

There are other reasons to like the place. It doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is: it’s a local eating-house. Its staff all know what they’re doing. They know what you’ve ordered. And they bring it to you with commendable speed. Plus it’s cheap. A winner on all counts, really.

Here, Kitty

Blogger-about-Bali Vyt Karazija, who like many among the fine and fearless is also to be found on Facebook (we share that and St Kilda as favourite lost causes) had a lovely tale the other day about the cat which came by his Legian digs. He tells it this way:

     So a cat wanders into the villa. The only way in is over a 3 metre wall. With monumental insouciance, he stares into the lounge area, climbs a tree, explores the garden and responds to my “Shoo!” and “Get the hell out of here” with utter disdain.
Finally in his own time he leaves by scaling the wall again.
Then I hear running water, and it takes 5 minutes to track down the source. The outdoor shower is running full-bore and I turn it off. But the only way to control that shower is with a lever that hangs straight down in the “off” position, and must be pushed 90 degrees to the right to get water flow. You need hands to move it; paws don’t cut it. There is no way a cat going up a wall can possibly turn that tap.
And yet the damn cat turned on the tap as it left. I am starting to develop a healthy respect for that cat’s ability to achieve engineering impossibilities.
No wonder the ancient Egyptians worshipped them. Maybe cats were the ones who built the pyramids.

Of course they were. We told him: “Get with the program, Vyt. Or the Loud Meow will want to know why.”

Very Important imPediments

We are, we suppose, glad in a way that Bali is to host the 2013 APEC CEO Summit. It will focus the world output of 10-second grabs and sound-bites on our beautiful little island for a nano-second and may even encourage some among the global media to go off and find stories they haven’t been spoon-fed by the PR machines. Plus we’ve got the Dewa Ruci underpass and that new aquatic playground, the Sanur-Nusa Dua toll road, as lasting memorials to the great jamboree.

The VIP lads and lasses are only going to be here for a day or so. But neither we nor those who manage the world’s airline schedules are going to miss the impact of their fleeting presence, since it will seriously disrupt that other time-delayed wonder, the Work-In-Progress International Airport.

This is because to accommodate the very important travel schedules of these honoured jests (oops, guests), the airport will be closed to normal traffic for significant portions of four days: Oct. 5 and 6 (from 10am both days until 4pm on Oct. 5 and 8pm on Oct. 6) and Oct. 8 and 9 (again from 10am both days until 8pm on Oct. 8 and 4pm on Oct. 9). That’s six hours or 10 hours a day, not counting Indonesia’s gift to the world, jam karet (rubber time).

It hasn’t been explained why this is necessary. It isn’t, of course. Other places manage to do these things with minimal disruption.

Hard Yards, Great Result

Sole Men, the charity group inspired by entrepreneur Robert Epstone, has done it again, this time with the help of the Hard Rock Hotel at Kuta, which takes its community service obligations very seriously indeed.

Over the last weekend of July they had a rave (if people still do that; it could be so yesterday for all we know) over two nights including body painting by Yaari, sexy dancing by outrageous Go Go Dancers, with MC Dee on hand and lots of live music headed by Indonesian super-group Superman is Dead.

Other sponsors were Heineken Beer and Plaga wines. Money raised – it was still being counted when the Diary hit deadline – will go towards proper housing for two poor Denpasar families who are supporting their seven severely disabled children.

Epstone tells us builder Nevhouses has said it will build two dwellings on land Sole Men are acquiring in Denpasar. As he says, given this level of support from all over, you can’t lose.

Hector may be contacted at He tweets @scratchings.

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, June 12, 2013

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences


A Quirk a Day

The best part about writing a diary is that you can be as quirky as you like. It is thought, or used to be thought before energy drinks laced with high-octane caffeine came along and fried everyone’s brains, that an apple a day keeps the doctor away. We like apples, but a quirk is a far better preventative.

      So it’s great fun being temporarily based in Marseille. It’s not Paris; this means no one’s actually rude to you just because they can be, or possibly because the climate is nearly as bad as Britain’s. Foreigners who hire cars in Marseille are warned that Provencal drivers are mad. Well, yes, they are. But they’re not nearly as mad as drivers are in Bali, so it’s been a bit of a rest-cure really. If you had to sum up driving conditions in Marseille and the rest of Provence in one sentence, you could say this: They are indeed all mad, but they stay in lane.

     Quirks there are, aplenty, in this part of the world. At Cassis, for example, the car park in which we deposited our hired conveyance while we trotted off in search of a quayside luncheon, provided toilet facilities. We thought to sample these facilities on our return to the car ahead of what might be a lengthy drive. To utilise the privy, however, one had to visit the caisse (pay station) to obtain permission and then return with your parking ticket duly authorised. Armed with this the door to relief could be comfortingly opened.

     Since achieving this would have meant queuing up to talk to the one harassed gent behind the glass screen and stating the nature of one’s business in very poor French amid a milling and quite possibly sniggering crowd, we forwent the opportunity and drove home, humming little tunes that had nothing to do with tinkling streams.

     We made it. But like Waterloo (we didn’t hum that Abba song either) it was a damn close-run thing.

     It was a day for minor embarrassment. At lunch a well turned-out French woman who had been dining at a table next to us was leaving and accidentally brushed the Distaff’s chair. She apologised with a smile and excused herself by saying (we think) that lunch must have fattened her up. Her demeanour underwent an inclement change when the Distaff, no doubt distracted by the foreign tongue and the delights upon her own plate, replied brightly, “Oui!”

A Regal Luncheon

Les Saintes Maries de la Mer, at the mouth of the River Rhone in France’s Mediterranean south, is a spot any traveller to Provence should visit. So of course we did, driving a chunky, boxy little Fiat 500 whose Italian designers have cunningly removed all possible spatial-awareness guides to drivers, making it entirely a guessing game as to how many millimetres remain between your vehicle and the nearest obstruction. Still, it’s well equipped and runs the iPod through the quality sound system, so Geoffrey Gurrumul has now played the Rhone Delta.

     Foreign travel is always a delight. We lunch a lot on such expeditions, because acquiring new tastes and sensations is essential (or reacquainting oneself with them for that matter: a break from rendang sapi is no bad thing) and it’s good to experience how other people live.

     So at Les Saintes Maries de la Mer, we found a delightful little tapas bar and restaurant off the main tourist strip, in a quiet little street back from the beach. The street was named Rue Capitaine Fouque, apparently after a local hero. Your diarist, having always taken the view that dark humour is best in a tight spot and being a Blackadder fan to boot, inwardly speculated that it might have been named in honour of the last known utterance of the gentleman concerned; as in the manner of Captain Blackadder’s enigmatic statement, on his failure to avoid having to lead his men over the top in a final suicide mission on the Western Front in 1917, that he thought it rhymed with clacking bell.

     The establishment was called Ambience Tapas and provided a snug little courtyard at the back, out of the rather stern breeze, where you could sit and nibble in the dappled shade provided by the plane trees and a see-through shade cloth overhead. We did and it was divine. The strawberry soup was particularly so. The tempura mussels ran the soup a very close second. The aubergine baked in honey was magnificent. The vin ordinaire was very, very far from being in the least respect ordinary.

     It is early in the season so the little place was not crowded. And apart from us, the crowd – scant as it was – was entirely local, which is how we like it. We had a chance chat over lunch with fellow diner, guitar king Antonico Reyes, son of the legendary flamenco guitarist Jose Reyes and author of several prime Gypsy Kings tracks, whose group is called the Gypsy Reyes. The Distaff strongly desired his fingernails. The Diary thought Reyes possibly coveted the Distaff’s boots. It was that sort of day. Reyes and his group were playing that night and we would have stayed (free tickets were in the wind) but couldn’t. We’ll have to see if we can get him to Bali.

Beeline to Aix

It is impossible to visit the Midi and not go to Aix-en-Provence. It is far better, from the Diary’s perspective, when deciding what to keep in your schedule and what to drop out, to go for Aix rather than Avignon. It might have less papal history, but there’s less of a song and dance about it too. One can easily have too much of a good thing.

Sur le Pont d’Avignon / L’on y danse, l’on y danse / Sur le Pont d’Avignon / L’on y danse tous en rond

(On the bridge of Avignon / We all dance there, we all dance there / On the bridge of Avignon / We all dance there in a ring)

    We’ve modified the old ditty to our purpose, since our digs in Marseille afford as well as a beach panorama a fine view of one of the local roundabouts. These essential traffic regulators and their sensible rules are of course ubiquitously ignored in Bali by people on motorbikes and frequently by those driving vehicles.

    Our version goes like this:

Sur la rond-pointe Bonneveine / L’on y danse, l’on y danse / Sur la rond-pointe Bonneveine / L’on y danse tous en rond

    Hector’s helper had noted on his Facebook that the trip to Aix-en-Provence had revealed many university students but no Marie Bee lookalikes. He got a swift note back from Bee, a graduate of Aix and nowadays one of the brighter luminosities of Ubud, to say that she had indeed been there – just a few days prior. Ah well, next time.

Same Old Bali

It’s good to see that in our absence Bali continues being … well, Bali. The place just wouldn’t be the same without continuous performances of that favourite soap opera Farce of the Day. So news that the Buleleng regency wants the new coal-fired steam power plant at Celukan Bawang closed because its Chinese builders and their local operating arm haven’t acquired licences and operating permits as required by Buleleng is cheering indeed.

    Regent Putu Agus Suradyana is lately reported to have issued a formal warning to the companies – this was on Apr 19 apparently: so much for timely disclosure of official local government business – listing five reasons why the project should be stopped. He’s miffed that the operators have failed to create a company profile (and apparently that they haven’t kept him informed). We can discount these as the usual blowhard guff that emanates from regents who confuse the grandiloquence of their titles with the prosaic (and unfortunately also notional) public utility of their office.

     He may have a point with complaints that no detailed environmental impact plan has been presented (don’t give a Chinese company a building contract would be a suitable prophylatic against that condition); lack of a detailed layout for the plant (ditto); lack of an accurate time schedule for completion of the project (Come on! This is Bali!); and failure to obtain all necessary permits from the central and regional government. Needless to say, local landowners are also miffed that they didn’t get as much for the land required for the project as they had persuaded themselves they deserved.

     So it’s business as usual all round. If the Buleleng Regent is so concerned about how things are done, he should do us all a favour and protest at the confusing mishmash of regulations that confronts anyone trying to do anything potentially productive; he should press for a national-provincial (and enforceable) environmental planning law; and he should recognise that in matters such as energy policy and power plants, local government councils have only a minor role.

Hector’s Diary appears in the Bali Advertiser newspaper. He tweets @ scratchings.