Capital Capers

HECTOR’S DIARY

His diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

HectorR

The Cage, Bali

Apr. 22, 2017

 

IT’S a shame that Basuki Tjahaya Purnama (Ahok) lost Wednesday’s ballot for mayor of Jakarta. He has shown a commitment to civic service that’s rare anywhere, but rarer still in Indonesia, where winning office is so often a licence to snooze between fulminations. It’s even more of a shame that he was defeated with the rowdy assistance of the zealots of the Islamic Defenders Front, the FPI, and under the shadow of an inventive blasphemy charge that had still to be adjudicated in court.

But it is only Jakarta, the mayor is only the governor of the capital city province, and the world as Indonesia knows it won’t end because General Prabowo Subianto’s good friend will be in office in that municipality from October. Neither, fundamentally, does it matter that Ahok is a Christian and his successful opponent is Muslim. He won the vote in the ballot office in the Jakarta district where the FPI has its headquarters. He can get a smile, and take heart, from that, as can we all. Most Indonesians are Muslim. Most would most like their leaders just to get on with their day jobs and go to mosque on Friday like they all do.

So it’s a time for cool heads rather than screaming and shouting and running around the burning deck. The deck isn’t burning, for one thing. The new mayor may think that he has won some national role, but the citizens of his shambles of a city will mark him (once he takes office and has to actually deliver anything) on far more prosaic matters. Service delivery, infrastructure improvement, and other measures of local governance have very little to do with Indonesia Raya, ex-general Prabowo’s favourite tin drum; or with fundamental interpretations of Islam, the FPI’s fixation.

Ahok won’t go to jail for his non-offence in quoting from the Qur’an in a political context. The charge has achieved its objective: he lost the election. The boys with the beards and the bother boots didn’t want a Christian in charge.

It’s not Armageddon, but it is, as many have said, a sorry day for Indonesian democracy. Two steps back after one stumble forward isn’t progress.

Wake Up, Little Susi

THERE’S a lovely pop song from the 1950s that sprang to mind this week, when maritime minister Susi Pujiastuti told the Japanese that Southeast Asia’s leading economic power needed the borrow their superseded maritime radar systems on a permanent, non-returnable basis. The key lines go like this:

Wake up little Susie, Wake up

Wake up little Susie, Wake up 

We’ve both been sound asleep

Wake up little Suzie and weep

The movie’s over it’s four o’clock 

and we’re in trouble deep

There’s no doubt at all that Minister Susi is right when she notes that Indonesia needs maritime radar to properly administer and keep the waterways of the archipelagic nation safe. But she needs to wake up (so do a lot of other people). There are many things that are beyond the sensible financial scope of Indonesia’s central government. Expensively unnecessary military hardware falls into that category, along with other toys, and a lot of brown envelopes. Maritime safety does not. It is a question of priorities.

The somnolently boring mendicant movie is indeed over. It’s late, but it’s still not too late for Indonesia’s government to wake up and work it out.

Bless You

WE saw a note the other day from a Facebook friend who had just commenced a camping trip in the New Mexico high country, along the lovely upper reaches of the Rio Grande, and posted a photo to show it. It looked beautiful. It would be great to tramp through that area, and we sent along a cheery greeting and an inquiry as to whether the party had plenty of DEET.

Something must have gone missing in the translation. By return post we were informed that pollen wasn’t a problem this early in the season. That was good to know. But it was sneezes of a different sort that had concerned us. DEET is a very effective anti-flea agent in insect repellents. New Mexico – like Arizona next door, where they even have bumper stickers proclaiming “The Land of the Flea and the Home of the Plague”, plus Colorado and California – is the most affected part of the western USA where, as the health leaflets put it, plague occurs naturally. Every year.

It probably got to the New World with the flea-ridden Spanish conquistadors from plague-ridden Europe centuries ago, though most plague ships of that era were Mary Celestes in the making, but officially it arrived during the 1898-1910 pandemic, the gift that Burma gave to the 20th century.

Fleas on prairie dogs (burrowing rodents) are its chief host. But dogs and cats can get it, along with bears, squirrels, rabbits, and sundry other creatures, including people; and other ground dwelling rodents are natural carriers. But perhaps Taos County is too elevated for prairie dogs. Plague is generally a summer disease. There were four human cases in New Mexico last year.

HectorR

Hector writes a diary in the Bali Advertiser. The next appears on Apr. 26.

That Other Kuta

HECTOR’S DIARY

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

HectorR

Lombok / Bali

Oct. 26, 2016

 

IT’S quieter and rather less crowded than Kuta Bali, though it has grown a little. There’s something that resembles a main street with an Indomaret supermarket and a few other junior emporiums. The warungs along the beach, those symbols of entry-level Indonesian tourism entrepreneurship, where once you could sit and watch the waves over a cold beer, have been cleared away in the future interests of the rather grand Mandalika development. But Kuta Lombok is great at the moment if you’re not looking for crowded bars packed with people out for a good time.

We weren’t when we spent a lovely week there earlier this month. It’s been a favourite place for a decade and a half, since we first stayed at the then nearly new Novotel Lombok in 2001 on a side trip from Bali. We’ve made a point of returning now and then, when we need some down time.

So, we did basically nothing except sit on the Novotel’s pristine beach in a berugak – think balé (gazebo) – watching the tide coming in or going out and occasionally dipping in for a float. Except we ate, rather more than is our custom, but that was nice too because as part of the Accor chain the Novotel does alimentary things in a delightfully semi-French fashion. It was so good that the Diary didn’t even really mind that the Wi-Fi struggled to reach the beach. The fruit sate sticks for elevenses and the mid-afternoon cakes got there.

In the rooms and the rest of the resort the Wi-Fi’s fine. That modern hazard – being obstructed by off-in-fairyland wanderers holding their smart phones and staring at them – must be dealt with. Just learn the words for “excuse me” in, say, 10 of the most widely spoken languages among Novotel guests, and you’ll generally get by; even if it’s sometimes tempting to use the full suite all at once.

Our morning walk program was a talking point. As in Bali, no one walks anywhere. They hop on their scooters to idle 50 metres up the road. Walking for recreation or in the interests of the arteries appears to be something only mad bules do. Several times lovely people even suggested that perhaps we were jogging.

We dropped in on Senggigi – after Cakranegara for fabric shopping – before the R&R in the south, and had dinner with local identity Peter Duncan and his wife Wiwik Pusparini at Taman restaurant, and stayed overnight in a nice room at Howard Singleton’s beachside establishment The Office, at the Art Market.

Hurry Up and Wait

Our return from Lombok was not without misadventure. We’d flown to Lombok with Wings and that went swimmingly, even if it did include the usual diddling about doing circles over the Wallace Line to make the flight worth making, or perhaps longer. We flew back with Lion, a little tardily, for very late-advised “operational reasons”, that class of excuse that brooks no inquiry. Just to add pedas (spicy) to panas (hot), first we were to fly only three hours late, and then it turned out to be nearly five.

Flight delays were not confined to Lion Air. They resulted from regular closure of Ngurah Rai to all except emergency landings for evenings from Oct. 2 to Dec. 26, as notified by international aviation regulators. The runway needs a bit of work and this is being done, if the contractors bother to turn up. The point is, surely, that since this is a lengthy term of mandatory closure, airlines should have adjusted their schedules accordingly. Well, never mind. This is Indonesia. Once, long ago when Lombok’s airport was still at Selaparang in Mataram, we were also delayed, though not for quite so long, by an apparently unforeseen event at Ngurah Rai. They told us then that the president was on the runway.

Lion had been on our personal No Fly paper since 2013, when the flight crew on one of its Boeing 737-800s selected a dubious preference for the briny over the somewhat firmer properties of tar-macadam and landed in Jimbaran Bay instead.

We think the airline has since then secured the services of flight crews equipped to recognise runways and understand their benefits and who will remember to adjust autopilot parameters in time. But on this occasion it would have been tempting to swim home.

So Sad

The deaths of nine people – three of them children – in the collapse of the suspension bridge linking Nusa Lembongan with its smaller sister island, Ceningan, on Oct. 16 are tragic. What’s also tragic is the sequence of events leading up to the deadly occurrence.

Duty of care is not a term – or a principle for that matter – that resonates in Indonesia. The islands are in Klungkung regency (as is the larger island of Nusa Penida) but the district government’s divan is in Semarapura (also called Klungkung) on Bali’s mainland, where it apparently relies on karma to run things.

It was Full Moon, a sacred time for Balinese Hindus. A large devotional procession was crossing the bridge when its cables snapped and the walkway collapsed into the narrow channel that separates the islands. A sign warning that the bridge was unsafe for large numbers of people at one time had been put up two days beforehand. Either this was not read, or it was read and ignored, as most such notices are.

But if the bridge was unsafe in overloaded conditions – and plainly it was: cables rarely snap without provocation – then the authorities should have ensured it wasn’t overloaded. Bali’s traditional system of village guards (Pecalang) is ideally equipped to manage crowds and ensure compliance. They don’t miss a trick at Nyepi: show a light for an instant after dark on Silent Day and you’re cactus.

Some lateral thinking – actually, any thinking – by the regency government appears to be rather desperately needed. The bridge collapsed once before, in Feb. 2013, in a bit of a fresh breeze.

An appeal was launched in Australia to raise funds to help the victims of the collapse.

One Word, Seven Letters, Starts with ‘B’

Elizabeth Henzell of Villa Kitty wrote a dispiriting note on her Facebook on Oct. 16. It speaks for itself so here it is:

“I am so disgusted with humans that feel their need is more than someone else’s! How do they know! Villa Kitty’s tireless admin assistant, Metha, has had her Samsung phone stolen – from Villa Kitty! Who would do that? Who would steal from (a) a yayasan/animal welfare centre or (b) someone who works for a yayasan/animal welfare centre! We have had food stolen, my phone has been stolen, money stolen, medical supplies, by people with NO morals! I am truly sick of it!”

We’re all sick of it, Elizabeth. It’s that other real Bali, the one that doesn’t rate a mention in the feel good fluff stuff.

Happy Snapper

Bali-based British photographer Michael Johnsey, whose faces, sunsets and skyscapes particularly engage The Diary, won deserved acclaim – and 20 per cent of sale prices for the charity Solemen Indonesia – at the opening night of his exhibition Life in Bali, at Bridges in Ubud on Oct. 15.

It was a packed house for the event, he tells us. It’s such a shame we weren’t there. The marathon seven-hour return wait-and-flight to Bali from Lombok the previous evening did terrible things to the schedule at The Cage. Johnsey notes:

“What a great opening event. A packed house. Thank you all at Bridges for making it such a great success. Life In Bali is off to a pretty good start.”

His photographic works are on display at Bridges, so if you’re in Ubud get along there and have a look. It’ll be worth it, we guarantee. We’ll drop in ourselves this week, while we’re in Ubud on literary matters.

Lash Out

Those who apparently desire that Indonesia should become Untustan (untu is camel in Bahasa Indonesia) have been having a field day lately. Aside from public canings for promiscuity and other elective activity defined as sinful in Aceh – caning is a legitimate penalty under Aceh’s Sharia law – Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama has been the target of mobs over his alleged blasphemy against Islam. Blasphemy is an offence under Indonesian law.

The governor, usually known by his Indonesian familiar name Ahok, isn’t a Muslim. He’s a Christian, a Chinese Indonesian, and appears to be doing quite a good job as civic leader of Indonesia’s capital city. There’s more socio-political polemic than inter-religious dispute in his current problems.

A quatrain by the mediaeval Islamic scholar Omar Khayyám comes to mind: “As far as you can avoid it, do not give grief to anyone. Never inflict your rage on another. If you hope for eternal rest, feel the pain yourself; but don’t hurt others.” It’s a shame that this useful aide-memoire is never handed out to the mobs along with the nasi bunkus (wrapped rice).

Last Word

The 2016 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival starts today (Oct. 26) and runs to Oct. 30. Hindu obsequies for the late Made Wijaya (Michael Richard White) will be held at Sanur on Nov. 9.

HectorR

Hector’s Dairy is published in the on line and print editions of the fortnightly newspaper the Bali Advertiser