Talk to the Ants

HECTOR’S DIARY

HectorR

In the Bali Advertiser

May 24, 2017

 

JEWEL Topsfield, the Australian Fairfax newspaper group’s Indonesian correspondent, wrote a lovely piece recently after an extended interview she had with Prabowo Subianto, who probably likes to think of himself as president-in-waiting. We’ll have to wait until 2019 to find out, but in the meantime he’s an interesting subject.

Some people seem to think that he’s the fifth horseman of the apocalypse. He’s not, of course. He’s a former army general with some unanswered questions on his record and an Indonesian politician, ditto. He’s far from being in a class of his own on those scores. He possesses the same auto-response mechanism as exists in any Indonesian (and people of other countries too) where it is imagined that a slight has been offered. Foreigners are not meant to criticise, and will be glowered at or worse if they do. There are no surprises in that, locally, politically or otherwise. Nor is Indonesia a western liberal democracy. It never will be.

Prabowo doesn’t think Indonesia will ever become a fundamentalist Islamic state, either. Indonesians like music and dancing, he noted. He’s right. The archipelago is very much its own cultural petri dish, whatever the small local contingent of Arabian adherents might think and seek to promote via their hired nasi bungkus mobs. On that point, taking the argument a little further, it seems silly to get all het up about hijabs. My granny would never go out without a head covering, and she was as Christian and English as you could wish to meet. Times, fashions, and social and religious observances change. The human story is one of constant flux.

Prabowo, who has been criticised – largely outside Indonesia – for talking with the unfunny fundamentalists of the FPI, is more interesting still on quite another aspect of his character. He negotiates with ants, citing the example from Islamic texts of King Solomon. The ants in Solomon’s day did a deal with the palace, staying out of it so as not to be crushed by his soldiers’ boots.

Ants are a eusocial species: they form cooperative groups, often in very large numbers, and create caste systems and practise instinctive altruism in the interests of the community. Bees, wasps, termites and some other insect species do the same. Prabowo told Topsfield he wouldn’t have any living creatures harmed on his property – they were talking at his ranch in the hills of West Java – and that he always takes a special interest in the welfare of the ants there. We do the same at The Cage, especially around the infinity edge of our small swimming pool, where many of them live at risk of disruption or worse when it rains and the water level rises. Everything has its place. Human hubris has sadly sidelined this essential fact of life.

There’s Always a SNAG

SOME men just don’t get it. Well, most, probably. The masculine gender seems to have particular difficulty keeping pace with cultural and social advance. This is not just a western thing. It often seems that there are only two races on Planet Earth: Female and Male.

The Shirley Valentine holiday sector is quite large, therefore, as a result of many things, including but not limited to misogyny. Generally, and beneficially, most people keep their private affairs private. But the “holiday fling” has a long history and certainly predates the social liberation of the 1960s, now sadly under threat again from Those Who Think They Know Best.

It’s a mystery why the romantic affairs of others should be so prominently and pruriently a public interest. Surely, that’s what erotic fiction is for; or porn, which of course is illegal in Indonesia, like so many other things that nevertheless go on willy-nilly here?

So our eye was caught by an article in a recent online Seminyak Times post that drew on a story in an Australian newspaper relating to the activities of SNAGs in the more mannered portions of the companion trade here. That’s SNAGs as in Sensitive New Age Gigolos: Kuta cowboys who’ve worked out that it’s nice to shower, to have a capacity to communicate in more than grunts, and to look a little kempt. The Seminyak Times article quoted a SNAG called Steven, of mixed Balinese and Japanese heritage, who says he sees around four clients a month, from the Australian-Japanese-Korean-Russian cohorts of the female traveller market, and that only about half of them want sex as part of the deal.

Well, women have always been more sensible than men about such things. Dinner and a laugh, flirty or otherwise, is often much more fun than a clumsy grapple and some probably unsatisfactory rumpy-pumpy. For men as well, we note, those of the sentient variety, at least. It’s different at beer-goggles time, naturally, but who wants to go there?

Though we repeat: it’s a mystery why private arrangements outside the realms of fiction are of any interest to other people. Being nosey is nasty, and being proscriptively judgmental is a waste of time. So carry on girls – and boys.

It Won’t Go Away

WE’RE used to traffic congestion in Bali. There often seems no reason for the giant tailback in which you find yourself before you have an opportunity to consult the map app in your phone and plot an escape route, if you can. But Slow Motion Melee is a fact of life here.

Some traffic jams are for a good cause, though, such as the one that gridlocked much of Sanur on Sunday, May 7, when there was another mass protest over the plutocratic plan to turn Benoa Bay into Port Excrescence in hot pursuit (surprise!) of capitalist profit. The top-down nature of politics here reflects the culture of the island – as it does throughout Indonesia – but the guys at the top seem to have forgotten the grassroots democracy that has always informed local life. You can be the Big Panjandrum, if you’re in the now modified governing elite, and it’s your turn, or something. But ultimately you must do what the people want, or that they can be persuaded to desire. If you don’t do that, eventually you’ll be out of a job.

There’s no sign that the mass of Balinese want Tomy Winata’s desecration of Benoa Bay to proceed. The demonstrators, their organisations (including ForBALI whose flags are everywhere) and the local communities aren’t going to shut up. They shouldn’t, and more power to them for insisting that they won’t, and for continuing to point out that Bali’s provincial government is on the wrong tram.

On Your Bike

THINGS must be a bit flat at the wink and nod end of the massage trade here. The Diary, while defiantly young at heart and – to the astonishment of many lovely local people – still perfectly capable of standing up and moving around, even at a fast trot if necessary, is nevertheless in no way a spry youth, and has never been a middle-aged lair. We would not, we’d have thought, be in that cohort of temporarily present foreign gentlemen on whom the rub-and-tug ladies would want to waste their marketing time.

So it was a surprise the other day when, strolling down Jl. Danau Tamblingan in Sanur, we were accosted by a man on a motorbike, who executed a perfect stop-on-a-Rp1000 coin manoeuvre and asked if we’d like a massage. “Not on your bike,” was our first, unuttered, response. “Not on your life” was the second, also unexpressed. It doesn’t do to be rude. Neither would we want to obstruct anyone’s business of the day. There’s a market for that sort of thing. We’re just not in it.

We smiled instead and said, “No thank you.” He looked disappointed, poor fellow, but he smiled back and waved – it’s that sort of thing that makes living in Bali such a joy – and rode off in search of more likely quarry.

We reported the incident to the Distaff. She likes a giggle. We’d been on our way to Chic salon to collect her after a coif and had only minutes before left Randy’s, the nice little place on the bendy bit towards the northern end of Tamblingan that we often visit when we’re in Sanur. There, we’d had an individual apple pie and ice cream (Canadian individual size: we’d struggled as always, but it was worth it) and several short espressos. “Where is your wife?” the lovely waitperson had inquired as we sat down. “Hair salon,” was our response. “Ah,” said the waitperson, with a little smile. She knew there’d be orders for several espressos.

HectorR

Hector’s Bali Advertiser Diary is published monthly. He writes a blog diary between times.

They’re a Scream

HECTOR’S DIARY

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

HectorR

Bali

Aug. 17, 2016

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saurian Point

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

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

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

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

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

Direct Aid

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

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

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

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

Truck Off

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

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

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

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

Sad Departure

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

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

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

Flag This

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

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

HectorR

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

Here’s a Tip

 

Hector’s Bali Diary, Apr. 27, 2016 

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

 

Now that the issue of destroying Benoa Bay so that rich people can get even richer is at the forefront of the public mind, and is the subject as it should be of robust dissention, it’s time to consider another threat to that formerly pristine piece of the global environment.

This is the waste mismanagement facility at Suwung, which for years has been leaching toxic material into the tidal swamps. Mangroves are very good at soaking up foreign substances, but even they have a limit to their tolerance. After a recent row – sadly but the latest in what is likely to be a continuing series – the managers of this excrescence leaped into action and started burying loose garbage under a layer of sand and soil. That helps reduce the stink. It doesn’t stop the leaching, either the insidious sort that you can’t see and can therefore pretend doesn’t exist, or the full Monty of black sludge that, if you own it and can’t be bothered working out what to do with it, you can only hope is never seen by anyone who might complain.

The usual cohort of Mea Culpa penitents, primarily of the imported variety, has appeared in the wake of this. They point out that waste management and disposal is a huge problem in South Bali because development responds to unplanned front-end demand by growing in an undisciplined manner since what planning rules do exist are ubiquitously ignored. In the fundamentalist Gaia liturgy, the cause is Selfish Greed, the secular original sin. Some of those who have woken up and found to their surprise that they’re living in a concrete jungle have even taken to arguing that the Balinese didn’t want development in the first place. Tell that to all the jobseekers.

Public policy is always a compromise. This immutable fact will forever fail to engage the activist mind. This is especially so in relation to the built environment and the issues of managing urban and industrial landscapes. It’s not clear that such esoteric matters win much airtime in the bureaucracy or at the political level. They should. But then Bali is littered with things that should be “shoulds” and “musts” that are viewed as anything but.

All that toing and froing aside, it is surely beyond dispute that high levels of leached toxins should never find their way into the waters of Benoa Bay. Its hydrography is already compromised and its mangroves depleted. It needs more mangroves, not less, to deal over time with toxic wastes from Suwung as well as with riverine refuse (another issue). Its tidal flows should be left unmolested.

None of this will ultimately be achievable without closing Suwung – and installing effective leaching ponds in the interim – and foreclosing on the creation of artificial islands in the bay.

Ni Hao

Along with the news that Chinese investors have been offered an open door in North Bali comes intelligence to the effect that Chinese brides may be looking for local bridesmaids. Apparently it’s the going thing to recruit such personages in the locality in which your nuptials are to take place. It saves on airfares and helps head off family or dynastic argument over who should be in the line-up.

The entrepreneurial sorts here will be quick into that action, for sure. One of the requirements for Chinese bridesmaids is that they should be pretty. There’s no shortage of that class of talent in Bali. In the piece we read on the emerging phenomenon, it was also said that Chinese brides require respect and decorum at their ceremonies. In many places – though not in Balinese society – these are qualities that these days are more remarked by their absence.

The Chinese tourist market is burgeoning here. Perhaps in time the theory that respect and decorum has more than just notional or historical value will percolate down to the tour bus brigade and into the supermarkets they’re delivered to for their snatch-and-grab raids on the way to their accommodation.

We live in hope.

Raw Deal

Still on tourism, the announcement of a lift in European visitors – in January and February: it takes a little time for the backroom boys to press go on the computerized data – has sparked comment. The tourism lobby here suggests it indicates that Europe, while still economically and in other ways comatose, has rediscovered its innate interest in Bali as a holiday spot.

It is famously said that there are lies, damned lies, and statistics. Raw statistics – which is what we’re dealing with in this instance – are neither lies nor damned lies (unless someone’s fiddled the figures) but they raw, untreated, have not been extrapolated for analysis, and apart from being pretty figures, are therefore pretty useless.

The data we’re looking at counts European Community passports seen at Ngurah Rai and stamped accordingly by a passport officer. It doesn’t account for actual intended length of stay, or repeat arrivals, or most importantly the place of embarkation.

A European Union passport holder may not have flown in direct from Europe on the hunt for the famous local rites that provide parties, Bintang, hair-braiding, a tattoo, and if such be your thing, a bit of nooky. Many such travel documents reside long-term, with their holders, in other parts of Southeast Asia, Northeast Asia, and Australasia.

In that last regard, Bali is a visa-run destination of choice in its own right for foreign passport holders in Australia who have visas that require them to leave and return from time to time.

Around Again

The Bali administration has launched a fresh program to vaccinate 400,000 dogs against rabies, with continuing support from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

The seventh mass dog vaccination kicked off at Munggu in Badung regency on Mar. 18. In the three-month campaign the authorities plan to target 716 villages, according to a statement from the FAO.

As before, vaccinated dogs will be given a special collar to ease identification by a special team of dogcatchers and vaccinators. Animal health director at the agriculture ministry, I Ketut Diarmita, says the program will run more efficiently than in previous years.

That would be welcome. Previous campaigns have died of confusion or ennui (or from siphon disease, which is fatal to public funds). When this has happened in the past, the killer squads go out again and eliminate dogs indiscriminately, even those with vaccination collars.

On official figures up to March, rabies has killed 164 people in Bali since 2008.

Eat Up

The 2016 Ubud Food Festival – it’s Janet DeNeefe’s writers’ festival spinoff (yes, we’re sure there will be fragrant rice somewhere in the mix) – will be tempting a lot of tummies and taste buds on May 27, 28 and 29.

DeNeefe, who sent us a note about it on Apr. 19, says there’s a great lineup of talent. This includes Indonesian culinary icons Sisca Soewitomo, William Wongso, Mandif Warokka, Petty Elliott, Bara Pattaridjawane and Bondan Winarno, award-winning cocktail-guru Raka Ambarawan, celebrated pastry chef Dedy Sutan, local raw food masters chef Arif Springs (Taksu) and chef Made Runatha (MOKSA), New York-trained sate king Agung Nugroho, and budding local agricultural star Tri Sutrisna.

From overseas, we’ll see Margarita Fores, the 2016 “Asia’s Best Female Chef” winner; Australian tapas legend Frank Camorra; Singapore’s Julien Royer (he’s supported by Cascades Restaurant); Jamie Oliver’s seafood sustainability champion Bart Van Olphen; high profile food photographer Petrina Tinslay; and found-and-foraged chef Jessie McTavish.

Local talent includes Kevin Cherkas of Cuca; Eelke Plasmeijer of award-winning Locavore; pastry icon Will Goldfarb of Room4Dessert; head chef of CasCades Restaurant Nic Vanderbeeken, Mozaic’s modern maestro Chris Salans; Bisma Eight head chef Duncan McCance; sushi master Yuki Tagami; culinary expert Diana Von Cranach; and French sommelier Antoine Olivain of Bridges.

The three-day program includes free Think, Talk, Taste sessions at Taman Kuliner, the festival hub; day and night markets; live music; film screenings; yoga (almost nothing happens in Ubud unless you flex); Kopi Korner; and a Festival Bar that will stay open late (which in Ubud seems to mean “after 10pm”); Special Events, where chefs will put their best plate forward for your personal tasting pleasure.

For those with the energy or kilojoules to work off as a result, there are food tours and workshops. Festival tickets are now on sale.

Farewell

It was sad to see on Apr. 17 that Gerard Delhaes, one of Lombok’s more quietly visible expats, had died. He was in his early seventies, which from the perspective of many in his age cohort, is far too young to shuffle off.

We must all do so eventually, of course. This fact of life begins to become a conscious response to successive birthdays at some point after the hubris of invincible youth is sensibly foregone. But it is nonetheless difficult to deal with friends’ departures. They are always untimely.

Hector’s Diary appears in the fortnightly newspaper the Bali Advertiser.

Hector’s Bali Diary, Mar. 30, 2016

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

 

Voice of the People

That 29 banjars can get together to protest the proposed corporate vandalism of Benoa Bay and the destruction of its precious mangrove environment is a political problem for the provincial government and the lesser authorities whose fief is Badung regency. This protest, on Mar. 20, wasn’t authorized. It wouldn’t have been. But it was authoritative and it called in all the weight of adat (custom). It was also the second such protest: an earlier one on Feb. 28 involved the village of Benoa and its banjars.

The Mar. 20 protest shut off airport access to the toll way and the traffic circle at the airport road intersection on Bypass Ngurah Rai. The organizers announced the event well ahead of time and apologized for the inconvenience. But most likely few people – beyond the Governor and his Benoa Bay despoiler of choice, Jakarta tycoon Tomy Winata – thought the demonstration was a bad idea. Most people think the bad idea in this instance is wrecking a fragile and precious environment in the interests of rich people getting even richer.

The police were powerless. They are not a constabulary here; they are effectively a paramilitary enforcement squad. But you wouldn’t want to start a war with 29 banjars. They took away two important adat leaders for a compulsory little chat while the non-affray was in progress. A crowd that then gathered outside the police office where this enforced conversation was taking place ensured that the detention period swiftly ended.

What happened on Mar. 20 was an exercise in grass roots democracy. It should provide valuable instruction for those in office. The primary lesson is that the people at all times effectively limit your power to act contrary to their wishes. There’s another lesson too. It is that while economic advance is essential, and should be welcomed, this needs to be achieved by public consensus and sensible planning, not by diktat or fiat or droit de seigneur. (Look that last one up. It’s allegorical in this case, but it’s apt and you might get a giggle.)

Candi Break

We spent Easter at Candi Dasa in East Bali, far from the madding crowd. We felt the need to stare at the ocean for four days. It’s always restless, but it sticks to its game plan and is predictable, at least in the main. The tides always come in and go out twice a day, a Circadian rhythm that for us provides a truly meditative focus from the comfort of a long chair by the pool. The discomfort of a yoga mat is for others in a more malleable state of grace.

We stayed at a favourite place, Pondok Bambu, where no one knows us as anything other than those crazy old Bules who’ve been coming here for years. We hadn’t been there for a while, but neither Nusa Penida nor Lembongan had moved. They remained in full view across the shimmering Badung Strait. Away to the east, Lombok gave us a glimpse of its comely contours now and then. The offshore parking arrangements for the Bali-Lombok ferries were as interesting as ever. Waiting your turn to Ro-Ro at the wharf at Padang Bai a few kilometres down the coast can sometimes be longer than the crossing.

And Pondok Bambu’s breakfast pancakes, enjoyed under the umbrellas by the low wall just above the water, were as tasty as always too. If you have hang around all Easter, it’s a pretty good spot to do so.

Switch Off

It was Earth Hour on Mar. 19, that annual observance through which, by switching off the lights for 60 minutes, we are encouraged to believe that we are saving the planet, or at least that we are helping to do so. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a bit of tokenism. No, really. It’s what the world seems to live on these days.

PLN, the national power utility, joined the chorus. It said Earth Hour was a great idea and consumers of its ephemerally available current should certainly participate. They didn’t quite go so far as to call on us to be upstanding and sing Indonesia Raya at mosque-loudspeaker pitch, but you got the idea.

A hollow laugh would be appropriate at this point. PLN has its own Earth Hours, somewhere, every minute, through its Well That’s a Surprise program of unannounced and inexplicable outages.

We once considered, in a nightmare we vaguely recall, what we might do if we woke up and found we were running PLN. Resignation and a plea to be considered instead for a position more closely aligned with the less fanciful claims in our CV came to mind. A paperclip-counting position in some dustily remote office of government might suit.

Just So We’re Cleare

It’s official. Australia is finally on the free tourist visa list, for visitors who are not intending to extend their stay beyond 30 days. That’s good news. But while the decision has officially been made and announced (accepting that here as indeed anywhere, things can be unannounced as required) it wasn’t immediately in place.

The super-active Clare McAlaney, who saw the announcement on line from the consular people at the Indonesian embassy in Canberra, got on to them for confirmation.

They told her this, on Mar. 21, in an email addressed to “Dear Cleare”:

“The new regulation on free visa to Indonesia for several countries, including Australia, was already signed by the President.

“However, its effective implementation shall wait for the issuance of the implementing regulation from the Ministry of Law and Human Rights.

“Once the new visa regulation is officially effective, it will be publicly announced by Indonesian Embassies/Consulates.”

Apparently some Australians got through immigration at Ngurah Rai International without paying US$35 as soon as the decision was announced. Even though the presidential pen had squiggled, the scrap of paper hadn’t been dug out from under the administrative overburden and no regulation yet existed. They’ll sort it out, eventually. The department of crossed wires must be Indonesia’s busiest bureaucracy.

Putting on Weight

The annual Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, a fixture since 2002, is breaking new ground with the collation of the UWRF’s bilingual Anthology series, which each year brings together the work of 15 emerging writers from across Indonesia. The writers themselves will launch the published anthology at the 16th festival, which runs from Oct. 26-30.

Festival director Janet DeNeefe tells us that this year UWRF has the largest number of submissions so far, with 894 aspiring writers from throughout Indonesia sending in stories for consideration. Submissions go to an independent curatorial board for selection.

In another move to widen its reach, the festival is collaborating with the Australasian Association of Writing Programs to select an aspiring writer to attend UWRF 2016. Submissions close at the end of May.

A Vital ROLE

The innovative travel outfit Destination Asia has been a supporter of the ROLE Foundation’s Bali WISE Women’s Skills Education program for more than a year now and have signed up to continue this support throughout 2016 as well.

That’s great news for all the women who have taken the opportunity to be part of the Bali WISE program. It highlights the benefits of corporate community support, delivered at a practical level, directly to the advantage of people who would otherwise remain truly disadvantaged.

ROLE founder Mike O’Leary tells us all Bali WISE students go through a six-month intensive school program. This is split into two parts: Three months are spent at ROLE’s Nusa Dua campus to learn English, women’s health, family planning, IT, and business skills. The next three months are spent at hotels for in-field hospitality training. Students’ education, accommodation and transport costs are covered throughout the six months of education.

Destination Asia started business in 1996 as the first destination management company to specialise in Indochina operations and the first Asia based travel business owned by its employees. Its network now spans 11 countries including Indonesia.

It runs on the old fashioned concept of a family business, without outside shareholders or directors, or equity relationships with international travel conglomerates.

So that’s a Woof, then

Bali’s most talkative recluse, Vyt Karazija, was some time ago adopted by an itinerant Bali dog, a feisty little fellow whose name is Lucky. Those of us lucky enough to be on Vyt’s mailing list have ever since enjoyed the Tales of Lucky. A recent post on canine affairs particularly caught our eye.

Karazija wrote: “Last night, Lucky was instructed by one of the people he owns to report to my place for his morning medication. ‘What time?’ he asked. ‘10am,’ he said. This morning, precisely at 10am, Lucky reported at my front door. Amazing dog.”

Hector’s Diary, edited for print publication, appears in the fortnightly publication the Bali Advertiser

 

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Oct. 28, 2015

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

 

Peace Off

There is a debate under way over Bali’s branding as a destination. It’s probably less tiring to whicker about that than to act firmly to curb the growing list of demerits that stand in the way of Bali being any sort of destination: rampant and uncontrolled development in the crowded south; official and corporate corruption (“Brown Envelope Island” might be a suitable slogan there); public administration that is a sick joke where it’s not simply absent; environmental degradation and woefully inadequate infrastructure; the disastrous failure to apply common sense (not to mention internationally proven remedies) to the business of suppressing rabies. The list is practically endless.

In that regard, a suggestion from former provincial politician Wayan Puspa Negara reported in the local newspaper Bisnis Bali that “Bali: Endless of Unique” would be an apposite slogan seems worthy of critical examination. As Jack Daniels noted in a recent edition of his Bali Update, the syntax is questionable. We might suggest a modest rewording to correct both the grammar and its accuracy. “Bali: End of Unique” would certainly sum up both the current situation and the banal, continuing march towards despoliation that is a feature of today’s “tourist Bali”. There is nothing unique in cheek-by-jowl hotel developments, the proliferation of trinket megastores designed to relieve low-cost package tourists of the last of their money, the winked-at sex trade, or the shockingly inadequate infrastructure through which we expect tourists to struggle and still have a good time.

Bali’s longstanding slogan is Shanti Shanti Shanti (shanti is a Sanskrit word meaning peace). This properly reflects the island’s unique Hindu culture and the uniqueness of Bali within Indonesia and in the world. But that’s the very thing – the vitally important thing – that is now directly under threat from the tsunami of mismanaged, greed-driven, hubris-laden drives for more and more tourists. It’s not the raw numbers that are necessarily the problem, provided the facilities are there to handle a mass-market approach. It’s the vacuous pursuit of more and more paying guests in the absence of infrastructure to support them that is the poison chalice. Kuta-Legian-Seminyak (and now beyond) is unmanageable. It should never take two hours to travel the 15 kilometres from Canggu to Kuta by road. That it regularly does so is testament to the stupidity of putting the cart before the horse and expecting anything to work.

Slogans are only one part of the equation, of course. They are a double-edged sword and open to abuse. One such slogan, a delightful double entendre that thankfully failed to see the light of day is said to have been once offered (by an Englishman, in distempered jest) to the Scottish tourism authorities. It said “Scotland: You’re Welcome to It”. Bali might need some better marketing, but what it needs even more is better, more sensitive (and sensible) Balinese management. Stay unique is good advice.

Whistle-Blower 

Speaking of Scotland, your diarist recently had the benefit of watching a rugby match in which whoever was the victor he had a rare opportunity to come out a winner. The Australia-Scotland quarterfinal in the 2015 World Rugby Cup was a nail-biter from start to finish, perhaps the best edge-of-the-seat game in years. The margin (to the Scots) at half time was one point. The margin at the final whistle was one point (to the Australians). The Wallabies – on recent form more pointedly known colloquially as the Wobblies – got through to the semi-finals and created a situation in which the semis and the final would be completely a southern hemisphere affair, Argentina’s feisty Pumas having just seen off the Irish.

The circumstances of the Australian win were regrettable however. Two minutes before fulltime Scotland were ahead by two points. There was a Scottish infringement in the scrimmage taking place just out from their try-line. It was penalized, as it should have been, by South African referee Craig Joubert. Except that he awarded a penalty kick to the Australians where a scrum would plainly have been more appropriate. The Australians kicked the goal (worth three points) and won the match.

From a scrum, if Joubert had pondered for a second or two more and decided on that course instead of a penalty, the Australians would have been ideally placed to throw the ball well back, to their best backline kicker, for a field goal attempt. If successful that would have earned them three points and won them the match.

Joubert’s hesitation before awarding the penalty kick was telling – he was clearly very undecided about the level of infringement by the Scots – and he left the field at rather more than a brisk canter when he blew the final whistle as the Australian ball from the place kick flew straight and true through the unmissable uprights. It was a sorry end to a great match.

But hey, rant over. One of the Diary’s sides on the field won.

Heads in the Sand

It’s hard to be an optimist, sometimes. Icarus has always served as an exemplar in that regard. It never does to soar to such lofty heights, even on terrific flights of fancy, that your carefully constructed wings of wax are melted by the sun. Cautious optimism has always seemed a better bet even though this policy should be underpinned by the certainty that neither does it pay to be a pessimist, since that would never work.

We did allow ourselves one little flight of fancy recently, however, when we heard that Governor Zainul Majdi of West Nusa Tenggara had come out against a plan to acquire sand from Lombok to fill in Benoa Bay for private profit. His assertion that he and his generation held the environment of Lombok and Sumbawa in trust for future generations sounded really good. We penciled him in as worthy of note among an exclusive – read: very small – group of Indonesian leaders whose visionary capacity stretched beyond immediate benefit.

Sadly, we have now had to use the eraser. We were mistaken in our assessment. The private profiteer in question, Tomy Winata, tried another tactic when he found himself and his blandishments banished from the Governor’s Palace in Mataram. He took his plans for the exploitative acquisition of massive quantities of West Nusa Tenggara’s environment-in-trust offshore, into the aptly named Alas Strait, where what he wants lies out of sight under water and is protected – if that’s the word – by the much more malleable provisions of national mining regulations. Governor Zainul apparently supports this environmental rape and as a result has lost a large portion of his local hero status. Those who care about the environment and the livelihoods of local fishermen have told him this. They can be counted on to repeat that message at every opportunity.

That’s good news. Ruining one environment so that another one somewhere else may also be ruined might typify the developmental impulse to build undesirable and unnecessary private infrastructure complete with extra kitsch, but that doesn’t make it right. The marine environment of the Alas Strait is worth protecting from all manner of threats. Among these must now be numbered Tomy Winata and Zainul Majdi.

Fragrant Rise

The 2015 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival gets under way today (Oct. 28) with the panache, eclecticism and variety of writers, pundits and performers we have come to expect from Janet DeNeefe’s literary baby, which began life in 2003 as a response to the 2002 Bali bombings and has grown with every annual edition. The UWRF now has a baby sibling, the Ubud Food Festival, which has just announced its dates for 2016. Mark your diaries for May 27-29.

DeNeefe, who operates two restaurants, a bakery and a cooking school in Ubud and who writes about food (her famous foray is a little tome called Fragrant Rice) was recently at the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany, where Indonesia was a special guest and at which she was one of the chefs invited to represent Indonesian cuisine.

This year’s inaugural food festival attracted 6,500 palates seeking temptation. Now that the word has got around, we can be sure there will be more next year. The festival is looking for a fulltime manager whose role would be to coordinate festival staff, look after programming, and handle stakeholders (and of course founders). Applications are open until Nov. 11.

If the job comes with a daily chocolate ration, we might even be tempted to apply.

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, Oct. 14, 2015

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

 

Mynah Triumph

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

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

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

Dropping the Ball

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

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

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

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

Takes its Toll

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

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

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

Behave Yourselves

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

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

Sands of Time

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

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

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

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