Red Sales in the Sunset

HECTOR’S DIARY

His regular diet of worms and other non-religious fare

HectorR

The Cage, Bali

Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017

 

WE had a little giggle this week when we read that the Minister for National Development Planning, Professor Bambang Brodjonegoro, had wondered why more Australian investment was directed to Mexico than to Indonesia. Mexico, as he pointed out on an invest-with-us road show in Australia, was a long way away. It is. They wear sombreros there too, at least in cartoons, but that’s also totally beside the point.

An interesting article in the Fairfax press reported the issue, and included some commentary from Australian superannuation funds, from which Indonesia would apparently like a hand with projects. We note of course that such investments are indeed part and parcel of the global money round. The key to such investments is their legal security and actuarially based rates of return (ROI). Indonesia is making progress towards some measure of transparency and certainty in these matters, but a cautious superannuation investment fund manager would probably wait a little while. It’s different with company-level investments. They only depend on directors’ confidence levels. Or Chinese investments, which despite the official outbreak of pretend capitalism that the mandarins in Beijing have permitted, are still effectively State (and therefore Party) subscriptions, and hence political. They are all about building the next Chinese empire.

Minister Bambang made a direct pitch for Australian investment in a “new Nusa Dua” in the “eastern islands”. To decode that for the uninitiated, the Nusa Dua development in Bali is the manicured tourism precinct at the southern tip of the island full of international hotels that these days struggle to compete against the low-cost appeal, to the new market, of cheaper products elsewhere; and “eastern islands” means Labuan Bajo in Flores. We’ll return to Flores in a moment.

He also suggested that Australians might consider investing in tourism-related developments in the “new Nusa Dua” and instanced water sports and related fun things as examples of where they might choose to do so. How this might be done effectively and profitably is a conundrum. Indonesia’s restrictions on foreign workers, the country’s prevailing low productivity and skills levels, and the promiscuous practice of local and national regulators in deciding that their noses are out of joint and that they will therefore without notice inspect the paperwork and deport anyone found holding a spanner, is one among many other unresolved questions.

In the early booster stages of economic promotions directed at specific targets, in this case Labuan Bajo in western Flores, near where the real komodos roam on their eponymous island, the chief effect is to raise land values and pour cash into the pockets of title-holders. Often this is a relative thing, which can benefit siblings and more distant relations of those doing the boosting. As someone with whom we spoke recently on these matters noted, perhaps such people are looking to family connections for an opportunity to upgrade from a canoe to a cruiser.

We’ll All be Rooned (Well, No We Won’t)

ROONED is what that eternal Jeremiah, Hanrahan, said would happen, in the lovely poem published in 1921 and written by the Australian bush poet John O’Brien, the pen name of a Roman Catholic priest, Patrick Joseph Hartigan.  “We’ll all be rooned, said Hanrahan” – Hanrahan was a pessimistic man of Irish descent – now has an honoured place in the Australian English lexicon.

Pessimists and their jeremiads are fixed elements in any society, of course, though here in Bali, they are mostly of the imported variety. Foreigners who have lived here for a long time, or who have frequently visited for what to them probably feels like eons, fondly remember times past when the island was a pristine paradise. That is, except for the natives, who were poor and deprived of most of the benefits of modern life, and who, it is said by some, preferred it that way.

According to that primarily self-serving confected legend, Bali’s unique culture is now facing deadly risk. There’s an alternative view of this. This is that Bali’s culture and its unique religion is just as capable as any other of changing with the times. The island is not a Petrie dish and its culture is not an arcane scientific experiment managed by others. The archipelago survived the introduction of the chilli after all – by the Portuguese, who got them from someone else, naturally, centuries ago – and has made it its own. That’s just a small example of how change is welcomed and quietly managed by human societies.

There’s another aphorism that seems apt: The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.

The British writer Tim Hannigan – who describes himself as a pop historian, just by the way – would probably share this view. He writes from a post-colonial perspective. This is sensible, since except for references to that sometimes beneficial but predominantly pernicious plague by politicians everywhere in former empires who want to display their nationalist credentials, the age of European empire has long gone.

Hannigan is in Indonesia at present on a book tour, which will now take him to Jakarta. He was in Bali this week and we caught up with him twice, once at the Periplus bookstore at Samasta in Jimbaran and again over one of Asri Kerthyasa’s fine high teas at Biku in Seminyak.

He wrote some finely tuned polemic in his brilliantly researched book Raffles and the British Invasion of Java, and a very readable A Brief History of Indonesia, among others. He has also edited A Brief History of Bali which is now on the bookstore shelves and is a must read, a revision with additional chapters version of the American Willard Hanna’s original. Hanna’s ended in the 1970s, ancient history now; Hannigan’s mediates Hanna’s Cold War perspective and takes the story on to current time. 

Telephone Cheek

THE leaked transcript of the telephone call between American President Donald Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull shortly after Trump assumed office early this year is interesting. It confirms Trump as a president who doesn’t read his briefs, or perhaps doesn’t even ask for them, and underlines the worrying fact that he’s a real estate shyster whom American voters have elected to an office that is far beyond his moral, ethical and administrative capacities. It shows that a phone conversation with him, leader to leader, isn’t necessarily one that will produce an effective outcome or indeed connect with rational thought.

The call, which was terminated early, by Trump, turned on the Obama era plan proposed by the Australians that the U.S. take as many of Australia’s detainees on offshore foreign islands as its vetting processes would permit. There are (or were at the time) around 1,200 of these poor souls, held in limbo because they had attempted to reach Australia by boat from Indonesia. The call confirmed the depravity (in the correct sense of the word) of Australian policy towards foreign people who have committed no crime. There is no morality in denying human rights to others – whoever they are – and detaining them indefinitely in camps on islands in other countries.

It cannot be justified on the basis that it has “stopped the boats” and people drowning at sea. It is simply a profane political process whose effectiveness (undeniable in the short term) is determined by refusing to recognise the real problem: an unstoppable global population movement. It screams “Australia’s for Australians” and wins votes for doing so. That’s an Australian problem. It mirrors Trump America’s mad Mexican Wall idea.

Turnbull deserves some credit for talking to Trump in a mannered and diplomatic way: for not interjecting “WTF, Donald?” That’s the only creditable element in the event – well, that and the fact that someone had the moral fortitude to leak the transcripts (there were others) to the media. These are sorry days.

HectorR

Hector writes a diary in the Bali Advertiser newspaper. The next will appear on Aug. 16.

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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

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, December 11, 2013

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Our Changing Face

New figures that show the rapid growth of domestic investment in Bali’s tourism sector and the skyrocketing numbers of domestic tourists here are very interesting for future-watchers. They show without a shadow of doubt that the characters of Bali’s leading industries – tourism and the related commercial and residential property sector – are changing in ways that ultimately might not suit Australian and European residents or holidaymakers.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Nothing in human history has ever been set in stone forever: Just ask Ozymandias, the real-life Barney Rubble of antiquity. Communities that readily adjust to change thrive. Those that fail to do so find at first that they are losing influence, then impetus; they become curiosities; and then they become extinct.

Bali’s exposure to tourism in meaningful mass-market formats is of relatively recent date.  The island has managed this impact remarkably well, at the human interface level, by parlaying a natural friendliness into an international reputation for being a nice place. It has done this in fact with consummate skill since the Balinese have no real interest in anyone else’s culture (see next item). It’s the money that matters – and that’s fair enough.

Statistics reported in the Jakarta Post’s Bali Daily wraparound on Nov. 29 show that 80 percent of commercial or high-value residential and resort property transactions in Bali are now by Indonesians and that foreign tourists make up only 30 percent of the total visitor footprint. Cheap airfares and low-cost accommodation heftily boost growth in the tourism sector but have also brought substantial change to it.

There will always be a navel-gazing niche market in Bali – centred on Ubud, where people organize ecstatic dances and other shamanistic things for the find-yourself set – but the bulk of tourism in Bali is the sort of stuff you can find anywhere. Booze and pick-up parties (for either gender) and pay-by-the-hour sex for those (ditto) who can’t score even at a party cater for a broad market. The family holiday is still the major sector but increasingly mum arrives wearing a jilbab and stays in it for the duration. And that too is fair enough.

Off the Wall

Made Wijaya, whose public invective has been of only a whispered or rumoured nature lately for those not numbered among his favoured courtiers, offered a rare public utterance the other day that had a bit more value than usual. He popped up on the Sanur Group page on Facebook to tell us this: “If you don’t know [scatological expletive deleted] because your Bali runs from the Arena to the Golden Snail, better to shut up and talk about the price of beer. I mean that in a caring way.”

Many expats know a lot about Bali well beyond those limits. True, none of them are world famous for jumping ship and swimming ashore through the phosphorescent surf decades ago to find that their shining presence has been eagerly awaited for eons by locals keen to see them set up shop as a landscape gardener.

The more modest among them do not regard themselves as legends even in their own lunchtimes. But be that as it may, many do actually agree with Wijaya on a lot of things. This shouldn’t surprise him, though apparently it does.

His advice in this particular instance is chiefly sound: He proffered it in this form:

“Last night at a popular beachside pizzaria (sic) I listened to a nice affable expat telling his Balinese girlfriend how ‘Australia has become like America and Bali has become like Australia’.  Now, while agreeing that certain corners of South Bali/Nusa Lembongan have become Boganville, there is a lesson to be learned here by those wishing to ‘integrate into Balinese society’. Advice: Do be warned that the radical Kuta Rightwing Nationalist movement has today launched a new logo ‘Love Indonesia or Leave it’ and soon will be hunting down sexpat bores on horseback. And note: Balinese only fake interest in our worldviews.”

Now that is a considered worldview. Bogans, bar owners, predatory business types and terminologically inexact real estate promoters should take special care to note it. But there are two other points that should also be noted, which Wijaya as usual ignores as irrelevant to the gospel according to Made.

One is that strong-arm “rightwing nationalist” movements anywhere, including in Kuta, are in fact the Bogans of their own communities. The second is that while the Balinese may not give a deleted scatological expletive about Australians or any other foreigners, they’re in the process of finding out that the Wegotalldamoney tribe from Java cares even less about them or their island home.

So Sad

It was very sad to hear that Kerry Prendergast, the Australian-born artist and singer who was a fixture in the Bali firmament, had died suddenly at a Sanur hotel on Nov. 25. She had been giving a singing performance. This was shortly after she returned with her husband Pranoto from two months in Western Australia, her home.

They had been showing their art in Perth – including in King’s Park, a favourite spot of the Diary’s – and were due to go back to WA in January for another show.

It is often said that only the good die young. No, that’s not Billy Joel (though his 1977 anthem to lust is very good). It’s the Greek historian Herodotus, writing in 445 BCE. Kerry Prendergast was only in her middle 50s. That’s far too young.

On Dec. 1 there was a gathering at Pranato’s Gallery at Teges Goa Gajah, Ubud, in her memory. Her art stays with us all as a mark of a life lived fully and well. It’s often said that you are not truly gone until everyone who knew you, or of you, has also departed. So she’ll be with her family and the rest of us in a very tangible sense for a long time yet.

Go, Socrates!

This is not about Socrate Georgiades of the delightful monthly Francophone journal La Gazette de Bali that is required reading at The Cage. It’s about the other one, the very ancient Greek. Specifically it is about his reported views, unquestionably soundly based, on the children of his day in Athens. This was that “children nowadays are tyrants. They contradict their parents, gobble their food, and tyrannise their teachers”.

A tweet about this fundamental truth on Twitter recently – it came from the U.S., where children are even more badly behaved – brought a riposte from Susi Johnston, who muses from Mengwi on many matters. Susi, who was once an American child herself though we’re sure a very well behaved one, said that was exactly what many Balinese parents were saying these days.

Those who read the adduced views of Socrates learn much. Plato’s Republic has many benefits. There was no fast food in ancient Greece, for starters.

Takes the Cake

We dropped by Biku tea lounge in Seminyak the other day – well virtually, via its Facebook page; it’s quicker than driving there from the windswept southern extremities where we live – and found a nice little message posted by fan Heidi Parkie.

Clearly Heidi is not one for controversy even though she’s from Lancashire in England, where they love an argument. She made this simple point: Marble cake makes everything better. Absolutely no one could disagree.

Biku, which recently celebrated its fifth birthday, is a Diary destination of choice. Asri Kerthyasa’s eclectic establishment began life virtually marooned in the rice fields. Today it is slap-bang in the middle of the ever-expanding urban sprawl.

But like its marble cake, it cannot be missed. Next time we trek up that way we’ll leave the packed lunch behind and starve ourselves for Biku instead.

Sting in the Tail

Every year ABC TV’s Insiders program, the essential weekly political centrefold show hosted by veteran scribe Barrie Cassidy and seen here on Australia Network, names its Matt Price Moment. The final Insiders show of 2013 – the silly season is now in full swing Down Under – went to air on Dec. 1.

And this year’s Moment is a classic. Tony Abbott (now prime minister but at the time opposition leader in the 2013 election campaign) at a press conference: “No one, no matter how smart, no matter how well educated, no matter however experienced, is the suppository of all wisdom.”

At least that’s one Abbott statement with which no one could possibly argue.

The Moment is in memory of journalist Matt Price, a lovely character from Western Australia who had a fine grasp of the completely ridiculous and hideously risible. This served him well because he worked in the press gallery at Parliament House in Canberra. Legislatures everywhere are places where you need to overdose on humour just to get by. He would have loved that one. Price died of a brain tumour in 2007, aged 46.

Hector tweets @scratchings

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Dec. 12, 2012

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

What a Stinker

Sir Stamford Raffles is a footnote in history for having identified a swampy and malarial island at the bottom of the Malay Peninsula as the site of the future New Serenissima (Venice) nowadays known as Singapore. He is due that credit. He’s also a footnote in the bibliography of flora, having had his name attached to perhaps the most unpleasantly pungent plant on earth, the Rafflesia, characterised by Swedish scientist Eric Mjoberg in 1928 as possessing “a penetrating smell more repulsive than any buffalo carcass in an advanced stage of decomposition.”  It’s also known as the corpse flower, and is thus nicely emblematic of a dead empire.

There was a bit of a stink about Raffles at the recent Singapore Literary Festival, where British authors Tim Hannigan (Raffles and the Invasion of Java) and Victoria Glendinning (Raffles and the Golden Opportunity) faced off in a firmly feisty manner.

Hannigan was in Bali this month to promote his new book, which had its official Indonesian launch earlier in Jakarta – the Big Durian, a competitor for pungency perhaps – and then its Bali introduction at Periplus at Mal Bali Galeria, Kuta, on Dec. 1. Apparently the Periplus function was conducted entirely in Indonesian and Hannigan’s fine Java-accented Bahasa attracted good reviews.

He conducted later speaking engagements, first at Biku in Kerobokan’s well-heeled Jl Petitinget and then at Bar Luna in Ubud, in a mix of languages. We were at Biku – no one should miss an opportunity for afternoon tea at Asri Kerthyasa’s bijou establishment – on Dec. 4 to catch up. Hannigan and your diarist formerly laboured together on Another Publication hereabouts, on a proprietor’s promise of possibly being favoured with a quick smell of a notionally oily rag.

Hannigan’s secular hagiographies are worth reading. We enjoyed his first book (George Hayward and the Great Game). Hayward came a cropper while the Brits and the Russians were chest-thumping in Central Asia in the 19th century. Raffles, whose origins were relatively humble in the snooty (not to say snotty) Britain of his day, ended up ruined financially, perhaps because he was from the wrong side of the tracks.

Check out Monsoon Books for Hannigan’s work. It’s worth it.

Pull the Other Plug

PLN, which makes congenital dysfunction seem like a desirable improvement to aim for, has hit new heights with its unannounced introduction of an innovative Bule Billing Plan. Last month’s bill – which failed to take account, as they always do, of serial blackouts and frequent delivery of 80V instead of the standard 220V – was away being paid, by your diarist, two days after it reached The Cage.

Not long after the chariot had departed on this happy mission, two chirpy little chaps from the world’s worst public utility turned up at the gate to disconnect the power for non-payment. Fortunately our redoubtable pembantu was on the ball and sent them on their way with whatever is the local equivalent of a flea in the ear. That might be “sebuah loak di telinga,” but we’re not really sure.

But it is good news, in a way, we suppose. It does seem that PLN has stumbled upon an accounting system that actually tells them whose bill is whose. Maybe, though, they should rework the bit about cutting people off before they’ve had a chance to pay.

And while they’re at it, they might look at methods of delivering secure power, consistently, at the right voltage.  Repeatedly stubbing your toe while blundering around in the half-dark, courtesy of PLN’s brown-out policy, is not a desirable thing. It prompts intemperate thought and it’s not something that will be fixed by changing the wallpaper.  On that score, proposals to set up a Bali “subsidiary” of PLN on the Batam model should be viewed with caution.

Apple of Her Eye

The intriguing Marie Bee, who writes for the French monthly journal La Gazette de Bali (avec brio) from the deep recesses of the Ubud environment, was much excited in her latest published dispatch at having seen a reticulated python with two penises. She clearly didn’t major in ophiology at her university in Aix en Provence. These curious tandem arrangements are not altogether unusual among the descendants of the poor creature divinely sentenced to slither on his belly forever for getting Eve to bite that apple.

Be that as it may, the Bee piece is a nice buzz, especially since it prompts agreeable speculation that a snake might possibly be able to comply with a pejorative suggestion that it go away and perform what would otherwise be an anatomical impracticality.

Scrummy

Once upon a time, your diarist played rugby. That’s the original Rugby Union version, not Rugby League which was invented to keep English labourers out of the ale houses of a weekend and then migrated to that working class haven, Australia. We played fly-half (No 10) until one too many “forget the scrum-half, get the next bloke” tactical plays by opposing sides encouraged the view that squash might be a safer sport.

But love of the game lingers (you never really lose it) so we browse a number of rugby sites – the Wallabies, the Queensland Reds and Scotland are favourites, along with an historical affinity with the Springboks – including a Facebook page maintained by the Bali Rugby Club.

There, the other day, we noticed a post by BRC president Nick Mesritz, who shapes surfboards for a living and is from the land of the magical Haka. It quoted All Black prop Owen Franks on his upcoming pre-season training: “The training programmes are brutal and lonely – the onus is on the individual to be responsible for their fitness and follow an aerobic and strength programme that will include sprint repeats, hill work, gym work and agility sessions.”

We could suggest that’s not unlike the daily fitness regime here at The Cage. But we’d be straying a little too far from the literal truth.

All Abuzz

Brisbane in Queensland is a fine place to formerly call home. It’s Australia’s third largest capital city (population 2 million-plus) so it comes with all mod cons, and since it sits happily on 27 S its winters, while locally remarkable, barely pass even the fringe chill test. It’s a great place for Garuda to fly to from Bali – again, after its five-year bottom-line disappearing act – and those additional services from later next year will widen opportunities to stage brief returns, something The Diary has missed.

But we’ve kept in touch, among other things by way of the vibrant Brisbane Institute, a body that commenced operations some years ago under the benevolent editorial gaze of your diarist. Thus we learned recently that with the appointment of its first Chief Digital Officer, the city joined New York as one of the few conurbations in the world to have its own local government digital champion. It’s part of the Brisbane City Council’s ambition to position Brisbane as Australia’s new world city.

The Queensland capital, while still the butt of jealous jokes from effete southerners, has always been in the lead on technology. It had the first computer in the southern hemisphere, in 1962. In those pre-nano days, the monster had to arrive by ship.

Ties That Bind

Hector’s helper – the chap who’s not just a virtual cockatoo – spends a little time on Facebook, as some of his closer acquaintances have been known to note, on occasion testily. One of these, the Distaff, was recently further underwhelmed at finding herself newly in his profile picture. She won’t have a bar of Facebook, Herself.

It’s a nice photo, one from the files from 1994, and it was placed there because while Facebook allows one to proclaim a marital state, it won’t allow any visual or verbal reference to the name of that propinquity unless they are also an FB user. When dealing with the many unknowns of cyberspace, there are sensible reasons to provide concrete evidence of the presence of a Significant Other.

What’s really interesting, however, is that while selecting files for a series of down the years photos for possible profile use, the eye fell upon another, from 1996, only two years later. The Distaff had completely changed: she’d been to the gym or something, was clad in an outfit of a very outré hue, and had changed her hairstyle. But Hector’s helper, non-fashion statement that he remains, was still carrying the same old kilos and wearing the same blazer and tie.

Feasting Note

On Dec. 25, as every year, we mark the Christian anniversary of the birth of  one of Islam’s important prophets, Isa al Mahdi, the Messiah. The birthday is notional, naturally, since the early Christians merely co-opted existing pagan feasts. Easter (from the Greek pagan god Oestre) was the old Northern Hemisphere Spring fertility celebration.  The midwinter stave-off-starvation feast became Christmas, marking the birth of Jesus. But myths and the complex liturgies that religious scholars spin from them are what make the world and its belief systems go round, after all.

So Merry Christmas! We’ll save the “Happy New Year!” for the next edition.

Hector’s Diary appears in the fortnightly print edition of the Bali Advertiser. Hector tweets @Scratchings and is on Facebook (Hector McSquawky).