WHIMSY Music to Drive By

Everyone knows I like a jam session. That is, I like it when it’s music that’s involved and it’s not just another Bali traffic snarl.

South Bali’s traffic is now legendary for all the wrong reasons. Anyone who doubts this from afar, not having actually experienced the joys of eight lanes of traffic in a two-lane space, should consult my Other Self – Hector, whose scratchy diaries are posted on this blog as well as meeting with actual printer’s ink – for the full briefing.

But anyway, just for fun I’ve created a “Music to Drive By” playlist on the iPod. It’s chiefly designed to create an atmosphere of inner calm in the cabin of the feisty little Suzuki SX4 we drive here – dear girl, she’d love to really vrooooommmm, but that’s difficult  here – while all around Manic Moments play loudly.


Here’s my list. It’s all classical music. (Though, OK, sometimes I’ll play Jimmy Barnes or Warren Zevon if there’s a real traffic snarl.)

  1.  Elgar’s Elegy, Op. 58
  2. The Planets, Op. 32. IV: Jupiter
  3. The Goldberg Variations BWV 998: Aria
  4. String Quartet No. 2 in D Major: III Notturno
  5. Turandot: Nessun Dorma
  6. The Four Seasons (Vivaldi): L’Inverno (Winter)
  7. The Four Seasons (Vivaldi): La primavera (Spring)
  8. Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major. K467: Andante
  9. The Valkyrie: Ride of the Valkyries
  10. Radetsky March: Op. 228
  11. Messiah. HWV 56: Hallelujah Chorus
  12. Gymnopedie No. 1
  13. Panis Angelicus
  14. Peer Gynt Suite No. 1 Op. 46: In the Hall of the Mountain King
  15. L’Arlesienne Suite No. 1: Prelude
  16. Boléro. M 81
  17. Concierto de Aranjuez for Guitar and Orchestra: II. Adagio
  18. Thaïs: Meditation
  19. Suite No. 1 in G Major for Solo Cello, BMV 1007 I. Prelude
  20. Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in C-Sharp Minor. S. 244

 That’s nearly two hours of music, which should be just about enough to ride out the worst.

 Ride of the Valkyries is in the list just in case Suzy spots a gap in the traffic.

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Sept. 5, 2012

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

It’s a Disgrace

One morning recently we ventured beyond our usual perambulatory perimeter and out onto the Balangan road. The Distaff, from an earlier vantage point, had spotted someone jogging down a track that leads up a hill on the other side of the road and suggested there might be land up there. We decided not to audibly note that there would certainly be land up there. It was for all sorts of reasons one of those risk-of-domestic-thunder mornings and we were not going to encourage an inclement occasion.

We haven’t walked down our little stretch of the Balangan road in years – literally – because it is the domain of scarred, ragged and diseased dogs of provenance unknown and, as everyone always knew would be the case, no one has yet been able to reduce rabies to a negligible risk. It’s much less of a problem to us than to the locals, since we have had the required full course of prophylactic vaccinations. But you’d still need to have the post-exposure needles if one of the dogs bit you, as a precaution, though not, thank goodness, the excessively expensive immunoglobulin.

It was an interesting stroll. In the wet season the roadsides look lush and green and the undergrowth is impenetrable to the passing eye. But it’s been dry for some months now – the odd overnight shower excepted – and the thinning vegetation reveals the real roadside in all its appalling horror. There is endless rubbish, thrown away on each side of the road carelessly or by design, but in either case criminally. The time has long gone where we can all simply say that the locals haven’t got used to plastic yet. The problem is two-fold (leaving aside education which is a very long-term process). First, the local authority – in this case Ungasan Village – does nothing effective about rubbish collection or disposal and clearly couldn’t care less. The second is that local people (along with Indonesians from other islands and some expatriates) can’t be bothered either. One day the tourists, or possibly even people with money to invest, are going to say they won’t be back.

(There was land at the top of the hill, incidentally, just as the Diary had quietly surmised. Nothing indicated that it might be for sale, but it did offer fine views of Tommy Town and Blot Beach. Oh, sorry. We meant to write Dreamland.)

Great News

Kathryn Bruce of Bali Pink Ribbon tells us that due to the overwhelming success of the Bali Pink Ribbon Walks and the encouraging support of many people, construction of the Bali Breast Cancer Support Centre is well under way.  It is being built in the grounds of Prima Medika Hospital in Denpasar and will provide a wide range of programmes, support services and information for all Balinese women living with breast cancer, and their families. The centre, Indonesia’s first, is expected to be operating in November.

Increased awareness of breast cancer among Balinese women has led to many women who suspect they have breast cancer now going to a doctor, where before it was often undiagnosed until very late in the progress of the disease. More than 200 are now diagnosed every year. Early detection and treatment is vital.

Kathryn notes, in an email to supporters: “Without your hard work, generous spirit and compassion for those with Breast Cancer, the vision to overcome the problems faced by women in Bali for breast screening, education and support would not have become a reality.”

It’s a privilege to help, Kathryn. We’ll even wear pink on your walks.

Lucky Dog

We know him as Mickey, though we’re not entirely sure that’s his name, especially since he never answers to it. He lives in the informal way pet dogs do here as part of our pembantu’s household and we see him every morning as we take our daily walk. He’s a quiet chap, and we like him a lot, because alone among all his local co-specifics he does not bark at us. In truth, he ignores us, affecting a distain that could easily injure one’s pride, if one let it.

But recently he was limping. We asked our lovely pembantu (she thinks we’re quite mad, by the way) why this was so. “Sepeda motor,” she told us, with what we thought might be a wan little smile.  So Mickey, in the words of the awful joke, has joined the ranks of the lucky dogs of Bali. They’re the ones that limp after an altercation with a motorised conveyance. The unlucky ones are dead.

Lately, he seems to have recovered, which is really good news. He is no longer limping, though he still ignores us in his own quiet way.

Annie Update

Little Annie, the eight-year-old from Sideman in Karangasem now being treated in Sanglah Hospital after being found disastrously malnourished and weighing under 7kg, is putting on weight and responding to proper care. That’s wonderful news. Robert Epstone of the charity SoleMen (and Rotary Canggu) told us late last month she is being fed porridge three times a day along with liquid food six times a day, as well as adequate drinking water, and at that time weighed just over 10kg. Annie is also severely challenged developmentally but is already responding positively to the nursing care and is developing trust with the nurses.

Jimbaran resident Sarah Chapman, who with her Balinese friend Yuni Putu found Annie after seeing a story in the local Bahasa press, has been her regular carer. The good chaps at SoleMen Indonesia paid upfront for 24-hour professional care for Annie’s first 15 days at Sanglah, with four shifts a day, and with private donor assistance have allocated an extra Rp11.4 million to cover the period up to October 4. If Annie needs to stay longer in Sanglah before moving to Anak Anak Bali, another Rp30 million may be needed. Here’s a case where some digging into pockets is merited.

Roué Remembered

A fondly recalled echo of the past re-entered the Diary’s life in mid-August, when an obituary in the London Daily Telegraph newspaper recorded the passing of Ian Dunlop, wit, charmer, chancer, fantasist and pretender to the much disputed title of “last of the old Soho characters.” Obituaries are required reading, for they remind or possibly apprise you of all sorts of interesting things.

In the 1960s London your diarist inhabited before sensibly sentencing himself to transportation for life to the antipodes (lest he find himself treading in similar tracks) Dunlop, then in his late thirties, was a growing institution in the low-life Soho of the day. Like many of his class, he had already been many things, including an officer in the Scots Guards, not something easily done.

He came from classic stock. His father served in the British invasion of Tibet in 1904 and his aunt, Marion Wallace-Dunlop, was the first British Suffragette to go on hunger strike after being arrested in July 1909

Dunlop effected a conversational rite that satirised and annoyed the pretentious, especially those of the Left. It was delightful to observe from the periphery of his circle. One sensed it was the last hurrah of an age long gone, but that only gave it added piquancy in a grey old town that sorely needed not only spicing up but also to hold on to its true patricians. He was a rogue, seeing himself as a ladies’ man. His particular interest was the ancient Ceremony of Lowering the Pants at Sunset, his own concoction, you might say, and it was performed upon whoever was his latest conquest in his portfolio of vulnerable ladies let down by feckless or faithless men. Preparations for the ceremony were fascinating rituals in themselves.

Later, in his fifties, Dunlop came to be known as “The Greying Mantis” since, in the best traditions of his kind, he did not call off the chase. But by that time your diarist had long since departed for the land of sheilas, where the ceremonials at first had seemed oddly different. Still, a result’s a result, as they say.

Dunlop lived an extraordinarily long life for someone whose scale of indulgence would have long since seen off a lesser man. He was 83 when he died in July. Perhaps he was indeed the last of the old Soho characters. He was certainly erudite – he wrote a book about an abstruse aspect of music that unfortunately remained unpublished – as well as reprobate in a deliciously old-world way. He never had money but he was much more interesting and challenging than the flashily inarticulate glottal-stop collectives that nowadays constitute celebrity in Britain and the new-age “English colonies” overseas.

One Small Misstep…

It was sad to learn of the death late in August of Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon. He was a modest character, not at all a self-publicist, yet (very literally) a high achiever. Armstrong played a minor part in your diarist’s early journalistic career. The job assigned to the young reporter on moon landing day in 1969 was to sit in front of a tiny black and white TV in the Press Association newsroom in London and take note of Armstrong’s first words. Sadly, they were as scripted. We had been hoping Armstrong would miss the last step on the Moon Lander’s ladder and say something unprintable.

Hector’s Diary appears in the Bali Advertiser newspaper, published every second Wednesday. The newspaper’s website is http://www.baliadvertiser.biz. Hector is on Twitter @scratchings and Facebook (Hector McSquawky).

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, July 25, 2012

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences


Oh Yes, It’s Paradise Here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

High Road

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

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

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

Airport Alert

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

No Jumping

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

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

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

Weaving a Tale

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

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

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

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

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

Ethereal Tip

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

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

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

Blight is Right

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

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

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

Easy, Now…

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

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

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, June 13, 2012

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Stir Slowly, Drink at Leisure

The May edition of the 2012 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival newsletter made it out with a week to go before it was June – it popped into the Diary’s in-box on May 26. And since it was leading off with a bit of a blurb about the Bali Emerging Writers Festival (which had been advertised as scheduled for May 25-27) one assumes deadlines in festival-land are as notional as any on this island.

But never mind. BEWF is beaut, even if acronyms are as prevalent as litter. This year’s was the second and organisers said it presented a more colourful line-up than the inaugural acronym last year. Said UWRF community development manager Kadek Sri Purnami, and we quote verbatim (it’s not our grammar): “We are trying to present as diverse and colourful voices as possible. These young writers, some write with words, some with lights and images, will take the audience into the kaleidoscopic world of contemporary Bali.”

We’re sure it was a blast – and we’re glad about that too. Perhaps the 2012 UWRF Newsletter for June, which apparently should reach us just before it is July, will give us some idea of how it actually went.

The festival took place (May 27-29) at Serambi Arts Antida, the hot Denpasar alternative art space.

Meanwhile, festival founder and fragrant coffee drinker Janet DeNeefe is being as shy as ever about the international programme for this year’s big show, scheduled for October 3-7. A little note in the aforementioned newsletter coyly states: “While the list of international authors for the UWRF 2012 is tightly embargoed, several of the authors on that list were featured at the Sydney Writers Festival, recently concluded.”

We do know of one author invited to participate: Uli Schmetzer, who lives half the year in Venice and half in Australia and the Philippines. He and his lovely Italian wife Tiziana, who cooks the most marvellous pasta, lent us their pushbikes in Beijing 20 years ago (we gave them back) as well as their driver, a redoubtable fellow called Fang who knew but one word of a language other than Mandarin. Unfortunately this was “nyet,” which did not get us very far. Well, only to the nearest bit of the Great Wall.

As to other internationals, well, just for fun, we’ll scribble out a list, blindfold ourselves, and play a literary version of pin the tail on the donkey.

Help the Cause: Buzz Off

As noted above, a diarist’s reading must be very wide. Or else you miss all sorts of things that give you a huge laugh. So we propose to share with you some other advice recently to hand – we found it online and it would be amusing to suggest this resulted from a tip-off – that urges women to select a vibrator that is eco-friendly

It notes – this was a surprise to the Diary – that there are more makes of vibrators on the market than there are models of cars on the roads. Gee, that intelligence hits the spot. It’s a wonder poor old Gaia hasn’t been knocked out of her orbit with all the under-the-counterpane buzzing that must be going on. And it says that choosing a brand, let alone a single product, can be daunting; it kindly offers to help narrow your search.

It suggests you choose a rechargeable vibrator for maximum sensation with minimum ecological footprint. Apparently a typical user can deplete up to four batteries a week on a battery operated vibrator – that’s more than 200 dead batteries a year. (How many extinct libidos, we wonder?)

Oh yes – and we’re thinking that would have to be the Big O – it also says that responsible manufacturing is important for your vibrator (they are sentient as well as sensory?) and suggests you seek out companies that share your values. Perhaps you should just look for one that gives you a nice warm buzz.

Or Otherwise…

A diarist also needs a quick eye, as well as a deep appreciation for delicious double entendres. LinkedIn’s handy People You May Know feature – which as we noted recently unearthed for us poor Angus McCaskill, who is no longer counted among our population – popped up another unknown name the other day. We won’t name the fellow, since he seems to be a Canadian and might therefore respond by saying “Eh?” or else entirely miss the joke.

But he’s the manager of a mining industry outfit whose name might cause an involuntary appreciative intake of breath among any number of distressed gentlewomen hereabouts: Cougar Drilling Solutions.

Fame à un Prix

Those among us who like to follow the risible side of Australian politics – it’s a broad field of study – have been transfixed of late at the thought of supersized Queensland mining magnate Clive Palmer running for parliament, though not for the Whirling Dervish Party, which is such a pity. He’d like to be a Liberal MP instead, which he’d surely find is absolutely no fun at all. Apparently he’s serious about it all but the idea went straight into our Too Silly file, along with some of Palmer’s other titanic ideas.

As well as desiring to pay no tax on his mines (paying tax is for wimps and non-whirling dervishes) Palmer wants to build an “unsinkable” modern version of the Titanic that some people – Céline Dion, Kate Winslett and Leonardo DiCaprio prominently among them, one imagines – will clearly remember was also unsinkable but which nevertheless sank on its maiden voyage in 1912 after running full-pelt into an eminently avoidable iceberg. He also wants to build a Zeppelin, though he promises it wouldn’t be a Hindenburg exploding one.

It was therefore fun to find in a recent edition of the fine French satirical newspaper Le Canard enchainé – it had been donated to The Cage by some kind French visitors – a little item by Jean-Luc Porquet, who writes a lovely column aptly named “Peouf!” It was headlined “Trésor national vivant” (“Living National Treasure”).

The piece primarily concerned the discarded Nicolas Sarkozy who was recently unelected as President of the Republic. It was Sarkozy’s titanic political misadventures which principally informed Porquet’s pointed prose. But unfortunately, while Palmer’s Australian national treasure feat may be recognised in France and be of some peripheral utility to satirists having a go at poor M. Sarkozy, his living clay is less well known.

Porquet called him Clive Barker. Perhaps he was thinking of Ronnie, the Brit comic who was nearly as round. But he could just have been joking. He seems to share the widely held view that Clive Palmer is barking mad.

More Sax Please

The delectable Edwina Blush will soon be back in Bali, which is good news for Villa Kitty at Ubud – of which she is an ambassador – and people, like your diarist, who love saxy jazz and the (unfortunately now largely notional) concept of smoky bars and attractively accommodating company.

She’ll be playing a six-week gig here with her Balinese sextet at Three Monkeys Sanur after the June 15 launch in Sydney of her latest album, Sea For Cats. We’ll get along to a session or two. The album’s available from various download sites including iTunes, the Diary’s preferred legal provider. Half the proceeds of sales go to Villa Kitty to provide veterinary care and – as Edwina unblushingly puts it – much needed population control measures (she adds: “Frisky little darlings”).

Villa Kitty is on Facebook, by the way. Founder and Chief Meow Elizabeth Grant Suttie would love to hear from you.

Fiesta Time

El Kabron, the cliff-top watering hole at Bingin on the Bukit where host David Iglesias Megias tempts patrons with all sorts of delights, including Catalan and other Spanish treats, celebrated its first birthday with a great little party on June 10.

It was a good chance to catch up with old friends – though none of them are old in the literal sense – including our Most Favoured Argentine, artist-architect Leticia Balacek, who has recently been in Shanghai. We buttonholed her at the do and asked if, as a result of her Sino experiences, her word was still her Bund. Sorry.

No Kidding

We hear from the delightful Alicia Budihardja, chief spruiker at Conrad Bali where Frenchman Jean-Sebastien Kling is now general manager that the property is going after the kids in a big way. It has launched a new family package that offers free meals and recreational and cultural activities to youngsters while their parents are enjoying the definitely more relaxing and possibly more cerebral aspects of the place.

Kling wants to help parents unwind on an ultimate getaway.  That’s a nice thought. They deserve a break.

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

Bali’s Silent Day: A Time for Contemplating Navels – But Only Your Own

Friday this week (March 23) is Silent Day in Bali – Nyepi, the Balinese Hindu New Year. It is called Silent Day because for 24 hours, from 6am on the nominated day – the date varies, being on a lunar calendar – until 6am the next day, everything stops.

Well, not quite everything. Since Bali is part of today’s interconnected world the airport remains operationally open although no one can begin or end an air trip here over the silent 24 hours.  Transit flights continue and emergency landings are permitted, should that need arise. The seaports also close. All road traffic ceases, unless for emergency purposes.

This is the first Nyepi during our now lengthy residence in Bali that we’ve chosen to spend at home.  (We were living in Lombok in 2007, where Silent Day is silent for the local Hindus only in their own homes.) But the Silent Days of 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 were spent  at tourist accommodation exempted in part by the authorities – and presumably also by the bad spirits that in Hindu tradition are supposed to find Bali in darkness, conclude there is no one here, and move on to work their evil ways elsewhere – from the lights-out-no-noise rules.

These sojourns themselves have provided illuminating moments in our Bali experience, especially in 2010 when, at a small resort bungalow property at Candi Dasa in East Bali, dinner finished at 7pm and the staff chivvied us all back to our rooms (where we could have lights on if the windows were blacked out by curtains). Fine, we thought; these guys are really devout and we should naturally support their beliefs.

So it was something of a surprise when shortly afterwards the (no longer) on duty crew  arrived at the pool – just outside our little bungalow – with all sorts of pool toys and had a great party.

It reminded us of 2006, when our housekeeper firmly suggested we should disappear to a hotel for the duration and then let on that she and her friends would be having a “quiet party” at our place in our absence.

This year, our present housekeeper seems slightly discomfited by the fact that we’re staying home in the dark. She has several times mentioned that it would be much better for Mr and Mrs to go away. We’ll be having our quiet party, of course, with our headphones and our Kindles, our low-set lanterns and our blind-sided cooktop; we just shan’t be telling anyone that. (We’ll turn the pool filter system off for the day but the main pump’s staying on since it runs the water and the lavatories.)

Times and traditions change, of course. In our own western tradition, you’ve only got to look at Christmas and Easter with any sense of religious or social history to understand that point. And despite claims that Bali Hinduism is strictly keeping to its set-in-stone liturgy and traditions, it’s not.

This year, not for the first time, the local government and Hindu hierarchy have warned against turning the pre-Silent Day tradition of Ogoh-Ogoh – a religious celebration in which young people produce giant representations of demons and other entities which symbolically fight it out in the streets – into an occasion for secular point-scoring.

Ogoh-Ogoh requires that the “good spirits” always win. But “anti-korupsi”, a popular theme nationwide and also of this year’s Ogoh-Ogoh representations, is not a spiritual matter – neither, apparently, is corruption itself – and does not earn a mention in the sacred texts.

Two years’ running, the local government has monstered the radio and television companies into blacking out broadcasts on and to the island over Silent Day. Only people with parabola dishes (those not tied to a particular provider’s satellite service) win on this one. Hey, we’ve got a parabola.

The official island-wide rules for Nyepi are strict. Tourists for example are confined to their accommodation for the duration, and what level of service – and lighting – they get is largely up to the management of the establishment. Early dinners and minimal lighting are inevitably the result, even at plush five-star resorts.

Lack of lighting is not necessarily a problem for local expatriates. Those without generators have been well trained by the state power monopoly company in how to blunder around in the dark.

In recent years the effort to keep strictly to the ancient requirements of Silent Day have been given some prominence outside the Hindu community by global greenies who see it as an exemplar for the world – everyone should turn the lights out, it would be a jolly good thing – and the more lunar-connected among local expatriates.

And totem-fixated greenies and the lunar-connected aside, the push to revitalise Nyepi by returning to ancient precepts is fine, except that in a society as diverse as Bali’s – speaking of the Hindu population only: others, including other Indonesians who are not far short of making up half the island’s population nowadays, have a very limited role in discussing such matters – those ancient precepts are pretty diverse themselves. There are villages, for example, where the local tradition is that life continues as normal over Nyepi – including lighting and cooking and doing all sorts of other normal activities – except that on the day, you remain within the village boundaries.

There are “relaxed” Banjars (these are local community based traditional organisations) and more traditional ones. Ours, on the southern Bukit, is rather traditional. We never really hear from them unless they remember to come and collect the Rp25,000 a month (about $2.80 at the moment) we’re supposedly levied for the privilege of living among them. (It is a privilege and we’re glad we do and happily pay – apparently whenever the beer money runs out.)

We do hear from them at Nyepi, however. They send round a circular that sets out in fine detail what you can do (contemplate your navel is about the extent of it) and what you can’t. You cannot work; you may not use electricity or naked flame; or play games or entertain yourself. And if you do commit any of these offences the village security force (Pecalang) will find out; count on it.

Specifically, this year, when we troubled to read the document fully as we’re staying home for the non-festivities, we learned that while you are encouraged to contemplate your own navel you must on no account consider the merits of anyone else’s: Lust is also on the no-no list.

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser March 21, 2012

Banking on it

Janet DeNeefe, doyenne of dinners and instigator of that annual Ubud fixture, the writers’ and readers’ festival, has been busy lately. That was in Melbourne, where she did a stint demonstrating the cuisine of Bali to residents of that alternatively cold, hot, wet, dry city at the southern extremity of continental Australia. (Only Tasmania, where the Southern Ocean winds truly find an edge and evoke the true ambiance of Europe, is closer to Antarctica. It’s a lovely island; really. The Diary spent two years there long ago.)

But we digress. DeNeefe’s culinary exemplars teased taste buds in suburban Hawthorn – not the Diary’s preferred footy suburb: we barrack for St Kilda – over a series of evenings this month, in aid of promoting Bali and DeNeefe’s latest cookbook.  That’s all to the good. It will have had its spinoff in favour of this year’s UWRF, the eighth, from October 3-7.

DeNeefe said of her Melbourne culinary enterprise: “I want to highlight the majesty of Indonesian food in all its glory. I will be featuring dishes from all over the archipelago, spotlighting elegant curries, golden seafood broths, wok-tossed greens, banana-leaf specials, sambals and an array of traditional and contemporary desserts.”

Her food nights were staged at Wantilan Balinese Restaurant. Hopefully DeNeefe found some elegant curry-eaters to sample her elegant curries.

This year’s festival theme, announced with a flourish this month, is This Earth of Mankind: Bumi Manusia, from the title of a work by Pramoedya Ananta Toer, regarded as one of Indonesia’s greatest contemporary writers. It was the first book in Pramoedya’s historical fiction trilogy, The Buru Quartet, first published in 1980. Pramoedya died in 2005.

The story is set at the end of the Dutch colonial rule and was written while Pramoedya was a political prisoner on the island prison of Buru in eastern Indonesia. His life there was one of deprivation, hard labour and physical cruelty. Denied even the most rudimentary writing implements, he got around this obstacle by narrating the work to his fellow prisoners, who shared it around the prison. The work was maintained and kept until eventually Pramoedya was allowed to write.

The narrator in the book, Minke, wishes to be a writer. He is told: “Write always about humanity, humanity’s life, not humanity’s death. Yes, whether it’s animals, ogres, gods, or ghosts that you present, there’s nothing more difficult to understand than humanity. That’s why there is no end to the telling of stories on this earth.”

That’s sound advice. Here’s some more, from another Pramoedya work:

“It is really surprising sometimes how a prohibition seems to exist solely in order to be violated. And when I disobeyed I felt that what I did was pleasurable. For children such as I at that time – oh, how many prohibitions and restrictions were heaped on our heads! Yes, it was as though the whole world was watching us, bent on forbidding whatever we did and whatever we wanted. Inevitably we children felt that this world was really intended only for adults.”

Pramoedya is referring to children. But the prohibition on prohibition that he implies should be mandatory is no less valid more widely, and should be insisted on for governments whose grasp of democracy extends only to acceptance of their own official truth.

Last year’s UWRF was sponsored by leading Australian bank ANZ, which owns Panin Bank locally.  Hopefully the 2012 festival will benefit from that sponsorship, renewed.

Nyepi Non-Silence

Silent Day, the annual 6am-6am Balinese Hindu seclusion that shuts the island down, falls on a Friday this year (it’s on March 23). Because Friday is the Muslim day of prayer, the authorities have agreed that Muslims may leave their houses to walk to prayers at the nearest mosque. This is a fair concession and should be applauded for several reasons.

The first and most important reason is that it recognises that Bali is not exclusively Hindu. It has never been so, of course, but in the distant past the numbers who followed other religions were tiny. Not so nowadays.

The importance of the day to practising Hindus (and to local communities who traditionally mark the day in significantly varied ways) cannot be gainsaid, should never be, and must be protected by law.  But it is time symbolic restrictions were confined to traditional practices: there is no reason to black-out broadcasting for example.

And there’s a further issue, given the precedent set for Friday prayers: If Nyepi falls on a Sunday, Christians should be granted the same concession.

Not so Mobil

Once, as they say, is a misfortune. Twice looks likely to set a trend. And thrice definitively establishes this. Diary and Distaff have now three times tried to buy a car – a mobil in these parts – from the Suzuki distributor here, PT Indo Bali. On each occasion, deal done except for the final signature, these fine sellers of motor vehicles have dealt themselves out of the game by failing to provide a test-drive vehicle, finding an eleventh-hour reason to demand more money, or refusing to hold the nominated vehicle pending final payment.

We had been unwilling this time to venture into the premises on Imam Bonjol in Denpasar where these reluctant salespeople are to be found. But our attempt to acquire our chosen vehicle from a new dealer on the by-pass at Jimbaran failed when that was too hard for them too and they flick-passed us onto PT Indo Bali.

It’s a shame, because Suzukis are fine vehicles. But we’ve had it. We’ll buy another make from some outfit that actually closes deals.

Open Arms

We hear that a new watering hole has opened in Banjar Anyar, on the northern extremity of the KLS traffic snarl. It’s the Plumbers Arms, which is trading without benefit of the singular or plural possessive in the ungrammatical way of the modern world. It is billed as an English pub and is the latest venture by that peripatetic Anglo-Australian couple, Nigel and Jacky Ames, who do all sorts of other things around Bali and in the Gilis off Lombok.

We wish them good fortune with the new enterprise. Presumably they’re chilling that awful English beer. We would have inquired about that, except we did ask about the opening and heard nothing back. Perhaps all that hot froth got in the way.

Mangoland Rules!

There’s an election in the Australian state of Queensland on Saturday (March 24). This is a matter of decidedly finite importance to anyone outside Queensland – the north-eastern third of the Australian continent – unless they are former residents; or perhaps for readers of lately published satirical novels.

Ross Fitzgerald, a professorial type well known to Hector – he’s also a frequent Bali sojourner and will be here again in June – has written a book, Fools’ Paradise: Life in an Altered State, which is about an election in the fictional state of Mangoland. For those who do not know, Queensland produces a lot of mangoes.

Fitzgerald, who wrote the book with Trevor Jordan, is a historian and Mangoland aka Queensland is a rich field for anyone interested in examining the venalities of politics. It’s a readable yarn, except that – irritatingly – it uses discrete (meaning severally) for discreet (which among other things means don’t get caught).  Never mind; this is after all the post-literate age.

The book – dedicated thus, “For all the fools we have known, including ourselves” – is published by Arcadia, an imprint of Melbourne publisher Australian Scholarly Books. Fitzgerald has written several books, including Under the Influence: A History of Alcohol in Australia.

Corked Out

A kind friend, possibly mindful of the conditions endured by drinkers of alcohol in these parts – it is Haram to the majority of Indonesians after all – sent Hector this little thought the other day: “Nobody has ever come up with a great idea after a second bottle of water.”

Quite so; it’s no wonder all those earnest seminars and conferences, locally and globally, seem to have difficulty fixing anything other than the date of their next gabfest.  But our problem in Bali is of a different kind. Given the price of the fermented product of the grape hereabouts, few people can come up with a second bottle of wine.

Hector’s Diary appears in the print edition of the fortnightly Bali Advertiser, out every second Wednesday, Hector tweets @scratchings and is on Facebook (Hector McSquawky).

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, March 7, 2012

Dolts Rule

It’s always fun visiting the Odd Zone; it’s the very best of your diarist’s former domiciles, for all sorts of reasons, most of them a cause for wry smiles or irritated grimaces. There’s the traffic, for one thing. It largely obeys the road rules and even stays in lane; what’s more, at traffic lights if there are, say, three lanes of traffic marked, none of the vehicles present attempts to create eight lanes. It’s very confusing for drivers accustomed to Bali’s road system (sic) and driver behaviour.

But the very worst of the Australian experience, for those citizens of the Odd Zone who have exchanged You’re Being Watched resident status for the significantly better benefits of Frequent Visitor, is the bureaucracy in general and the customs and quarantine and airport security you encounter in particular.

On our way back to Bali from Perth the weekend before last, for example, the Diary and Distaff lost some valuable soft cheeses – the finest products of Western Australia no less – on the risible grounds that they were “gels” and thus suspected of being potentially explosive.

We all value airport security and agree that mad shoe bombers and others of incomprehensibly suicidal intent should be detected and diverted from their proposed criminal acts. But a little common sense wouldn’t go astray among those whose daily duties arm them with bureaucratic instructions that an imbecile would instantly recognise as stupid.

If the two Aussie border control heroes who fished around in our cooler bag had exercised common sense when they detected brie and haloumi (we had to insist they dropped it down the disposal chute while we watched – we’re not in the business of providing free gourmet foods to anyone) they’d also have confiscated the prime soft Tasmanian blue with which we were also armed.

But they didn’t.  For that oversight they and their over-prescriptive masters should be shoe-ins for a Dumbo award.

There’s a serious side to this.  Frequent visitors have plenty of other places they can choose to go instead, where you’re much less likely to get cheesed off by doltish buffoons on food patrol.

Bit of a Stumble

It’s not always as much fun as it should be returning to Bali. This time The Diary stepped on a hidden road-level metal guardrail on alighting from the bus from the plane to the terminal and overstretched a hamstring.  Perhaps it is there to deter bus drivers from motoring up the terminal steps. But the embarrassing limp that resulted has not been a Favourite Moment.

In the terminal, we ran into some nattily dressed customs and excise officers who, while presumably present to clamp down on the informal system of paying under the counter for extra alcohol above the one-litre limit attempted to extort even more. Unfortunately for them they had to deal with the Distaff, who was not in the best of moods. We paid, but not on the basis of their aberrant and singularly profitable mathematical concept.


By happenstance, the day after our return from the Odd Zone (Western Division) the Perth online newspaper WA Today ran an article headlined “Where the bloody hell are all the tourists?” Coarse language (along with bad grammar) is only one irritating element of life as it is lived in the continent of kangaroos.

We tweeted that, suggesting that perhaps all the tourists were in Bali. They’re not, of course – for some strange reason Aussies are also travelling elsewhere overseas on cheap holidays – but one of the reasons they’re not packing Western Australia’s many attractions is the cost of doing so. We sympathise with WA’s tourism marketers and agree there are a great many reasons to be a tourist on their patch, among them the beaches and the wineries. And beaches might be a mass market chance, except that most Australians already live within reach of perfectly adequate alternatives to flying 3000 kilometres to sit on one in WA.

Other tourism options are largely for niche markets. It’s a tough business, as Bali itself is finding out.  Pursuing quantum figures in tourism is fine if you’re only looking – in the Australian context and here – for the Yeh ‘n’ Neh crowd and big sales of “I Drink Beer and Have the Belly to Prove It” vests.

The Diary looks forward to regular trips to WA where, in the south-west particularly, there are many establishments offering prime potable products. On our recent visit to home territory we dined and drank at both Voyager (whose Girt by Sea pinot noir is fabulous and not only for its name, which comes from a memorably ridiculous line in the Australian national anthem) and Wise, a personal favourite because it looks over an expanse of generally calm north-facing ocean and has a Provencal air. Voyager affects a Cape Dutch architectural style (quite well) and has lovely roses – and perhaps the biggest flag in Australia apart from the double-decker bus-sized flutterer atop Parliament House in Canberra.

Quality Counts

On the question of looking for quality rather than quantity (and the higher per visitor spend that results) it’s cheering to hear that Bali proposes to shift its focus that way. We’re under siege here, after all, though not solely from foreign tourists: all those chaps who bring their cars with them on holiday from Jakarta and Bandung and Surabaya, and their road manners and driving skills too, are a nuisance.

It’s long overdue, even if we’re pitching for three million foreign tourists to write another record. Bali’s infrastructure – not just the roads and the pathetic power system – is literally cracking under the strain of the tourist load. Provincial second assistant secretary Ketut Wija recently pronounced upon this at a planning meeting on economic development held appropriately enough in Lombok (which should be taking a larger portion of the tourist load, except that Bali keeps putting rocks in the road of that endeavour) when he said: “We no longer will prioritise the quantity of tourist arrivals, but will now place the emphasis on quality of those visitors.”

Wija said Bali – an island of only 5632 square kilometres, 0.2 percent of Indonesian national territory – has between five and six million visitors annually. It is also a magnet for Indonesians from other islands seeking work, with about 400,000 arriving to settle each year.

Skippy’s a Winner

The Diary’s side trip on the Australian tour – mentioned in the Diary last issue – was by Qantas flying Perth-Canberra-Perth.  We’re now a mere bronze QFlyer (the halcyon days of pointy-end platinum status are long gone) but a happy confluence of an accommodating friend at head office and unoccupied seats in business class resulted in upgrades both ways. It was delightful to have space to stretch the legs, food to match the ambiance and actual metal cutlery to eat it with, and an unobstructed view out of the window.

Both flights were into the gloaming and then the night, affording the Diary an opportunity also long forgone to feast the eyes on the amazing light-hues off to the south in the stratospheric distance and to imagine all that ice-waste far away beyond the Southern Ocean. It stirs the Muse, that sort of thing.

Another stirring element of the flight was a dangerous confection, the work not of the Devil but of Maggie Beer, who may be one of his culinary agents but is certainly an Australian icon. Her burnt fig and honey ice cream is to die for, though one naturally hopes not immediately.

The Purser on the flight agreed, when we beckoned him over and said: “Maggie Beer is a bad, bad woman.” A big smile lit up his face and he replied: “Oh I know, I know. But I’m lucky. I live only 30 minutes up the road from her shop.”

It’s a Riot

It is the lot of the unlucky diarist to be elsewhere when something happens. We had to watch the unfolding drama of the Kerobokan prison riot through the imperfect prism of Australian television.  Matt Brown was measured – and by far the best – on ABC. The commercial stations were their usual breathlessly uniformed selves.  And that’s such a shame because most Australians get what passes for their news from tabloid TV.

The Kerobokan insurrection was hardly unexpected. It beggars belief that the custodial authorities are not provided with sufficient funds to properly house all those that their companions in crime, the police and the judicial system, insist on jailing.

A solution is more prison space so that at least the basics of human existence can be practised in clink. There are some useful human rights rules the government could read up on, in that regard, too.

Oh All Right Then

Last issue’s guarded reference to Titian and ladders – it was in the context of the Renaissance exhibition at the Australian National Gallery – brought a rash of requests to expand upon it. So OK, we were wrong to attempt to be decorous. Here’s the limerick in question:

While Titian was mixing Rose Madder

His model reclined on a ladder.

The position to Titian

Suggested coition,

So he ran up the ladder an’ ‘ad ‘er.

Hector’s Diary appears in the Bali Advertiser’s print edition, out every second Wednesday, and on the newspaper’s website http://www.baliadvertiser.biz. Hector is on Twitter (@scratchings) and on Facebook (Hector McSquawky).