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 http://www.baliadvertiser.biz

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Jul. 22, 2015

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Hannigan’s Islands

The delightful Tim Hannigan, former Surabaya English language teacher and scribbler of note around the archipelago, has written another book: A Brief History of Indonesia. Published by Tuttle in Singapore, it will shortly be on the bookshelves everywhere. His earlier effort, Raffles and the British Invasion of Java, caused unseemly ripples on the otherwise imperturbable ponds of British historiography of Empire rendered in the paean style.

It upset the teacups at the Hyacinth Bucket-style riparian delights in which some indulge while still imagining themselves suffused with the sacred afterglow of the British imperium. Though a serious work (written in a lively, readable, style) Hannigan’s Raffles book was a giggle for those others among us who tend to the view that the man memorialized as the far-seeing founder of Singapore was rather more an insubordinate pirate than a self-effacing, objective servant of the Crown.

Since pirates are somewhat in vogue in this context, it was good to hear that Hannigan introduced his new book to the audience at the Penzance Literary Festival at an illustrated talk on Jul. 11 called (from the book’s extended title) Sultans, Spices and Tsunamis. The Cornish port town has piratical connections extending far further back than Gilbert & Sullivan’s pop opera The Pirates of Penzance.

He tells us he can’t make this year’s Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, which is a pity. He has an engagement in Mongolia. Well, no. It’s actually a wedding, though not his own. When we heard this we asked if the happy couple had yet chosen a suitable yurt. They live in an apartment in Ulan Bataar, as any sensible people would. The winters can be nippy. But we learned from Hannigan, who told us he had only relatively recently discovered this for himself, that a yurt is not a yurt at all. It is a ger, pronounced grrrr, surely an appropriate locution for Mongolians who find the foreign fixation with fictitious yurts tedious.

Hannigan is in Bali for book chats at Biku in Seminyak (Jul. 25) and Bar Luna Ubud (Jul.28) and a book signing at Periplus at the airport on Jul. 30. We’ll catch up with him at Biku – where we’ll also catch up with Asri Kerthayasa’s lovely cakes – and if we can, at Bar Luna. We’ll pick up a copy of his latest tome too. And it would be nice to see him at UWRF 2016, if that can be arranged.

Smoke and Mirrors

The dreadful Mail Online, doyen of the virtual tabloids in both its British and Australian versions, proved again with the eruption of Mt Raung in East Java that in some sections of the media fact is spelled “fict”, professionalism and the brain quality that goes with this are superfluous to corporate requirements, and that common sense flew out of the window long ago. Not to be coy about it, its operators are fuckwits.

When atmospheric volcanic dust from the eruption caused a hazard to aviation, Ngurah Rai International Airport was closed. This was not only a sensible precaution but was also required under international civil aviation regulations. It caused dreadful inconvenience to many, including a number of Australians who in the tried and true and thoroughly infantile traditions of portions of that sheltered community, claimed that their singular problems demanded immediate special attention.

The Mail Online, in both its vacuous versions, Brit and antipodean, got out its eggbeaters and presented a fanciful feast of fevered imagination that crossed the boundary into parody. Alongside breathless quotes from the suitably aggrieved (those who plainly had no thought for the technical and safety reasons behind their inconvenience) it ran vision and still photographs from the eruption of Mt Merapi last year, which did indeed blanket Surabaya airport in East Java with a layer of volcanic ash. It passed these off by inference and directly as current images from Bali. It was a disgraceful and depressing display of juvenility.

Volcanic eruptions are commonplace in Indonesia. Disruptions of all kinds naturally follow. We have to live with those. Fortunately we can afford to ignore the Mail Online.

Blokes Only

In the normal course of events we wouldn’t be overjoyed at the thought of a blokes-only evening. You know, footy (in all its forms) and other blokey, sporty things, are agenda items with which it is possible to go only so far. But there are exceptions, and if it’s at Slippery Stone at Kerobokan and has been organized by Chief Diva Christina Iskandar, it is plainly a do that has more going for it than most.

Thus an evening soirée of Greek delights and selected beverages presented by George, Sam and Paul at Slippery Stone’s new Venus Lounge seemed to be invitation we should not refuse. We didn’t make it to the show after all, though. Sadly some god or other – it may have been Hephaestus, the Greek original from whom the Romans conjured Vulcan – had other ideas and something intervened to prevent our attendance. That was a pity, because George, Sam and Paul – and no doubt Christina – wanted us to help bless their new lounge. We’ll drop in sometime. Venus might be in attendance. Old Hep is her hubby, after all, and he may be around these parts for a while.

Barking Again

It’s really not clear why any celebratory noises should be made over the claim by Bali’s animal husbandry authority that more than 5000 dogs have been eliminated. Given the methodology, which is to send death squads into villages and communities and kill any dogs found in the open, vaccinated and sterilized dogs will have been eliminated too, in a further assault – most likely fatal – on vital herd immunity to rabies and reduction in numbers through humane methods.

The head of animal husbandry, Putu Sumantra, says these measures to control and reduce rabies are necessary because the disease is a threat not only to Balinese communities but also to tourist areas. It certainly is, of course, but infection rates vary and are highest in places distant from the south where most of the tourists are. He has a point when he notes that tourists travel within Bali, but frankly that’s not the issue. The Bali government needs to reduce rabies as a threat to the Balinese. They are the people most at risk of being bitten by a suspect dog and then finding there’s little or no supply of essential post-exposure anti-rabies vaccine. It’s not going to achieve this objective in the environment it has created, by failing to maintain the staged rabies reduction program it signed up to in 2010, or blindly ignoring all the data that shows a vaccinated screen of immune dogs prevents human infections and with sterilization programs helps humanely reduce numbers.

An incident at Padang Bai recently shows how badly off-message the government has been. A dog there became suddenly enraged and ran around and bit four people and tried to bite others. Hello, you might think: here is a dog showing classic signs of rabies infection. We had better catch it (and kill it if necessary) so that it can be taken to the authorities for laboratory testing. This is not what occurred. Instead an informal posse formed that chased down the dog, beat it to death, and threw its carcass into the sea. Among the posse were police (a policeman had been bitten by the dog) who you would think might think they should deliver the carcass to the authorities. Rabies is hardly a new phenomenon in Bali after all. It’s been here and spread widely since 2008. Human deaths from the disease are sharply up this year.

The death squads may also be running into trouble. The authorities say they are killing dogs in response to community pressure. There is evidence of growing resistance among Balinese to this policy, along with increased interest in looking after dogs they own or care for in the informal way that is done here.

What sometimes seems to be overlooked by the authorities, who are clearly concerned about Bali’s image as a safe place, is that everyone – even the government’s critics on this issue – is seeking the same solution: a Bali that is free of rabies.

A Reminder

The 2015 Waterman’s Awards will be presented on Aug. 14 at the Padma Resort in Legian. This year the awards have been consolidated and broadened in scope. It will be a great night in a good cause – a cleaner and healthier marine and aquatic environment. See you there.

Hector is on Twitter and tweets @ scratchings. His diary appears in the print and online editions of the Bali Advertiser http://www.baliadvertiser.biz