HECTOR’S DIARY, Bali Advertiser, May 1, 2013

 

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

 

You’ve Got to Have Sole

We gate-crashed a good meeting recently at the immensely comfortable – for superannuated diarists it is also immensely unaffordable – Semara Luxury Villa Resort on the Ungasan cliffs. Well gate-crashed is perhaps too strong a term: Robert Epstone of SoleMen, the man who smiles so much you can’t say no, asked us along. And it’s fair to say, we think, that GM Mandy McDermid didn’t mind.

     Epstone and Bali-resident British nurse Sarah Chapman – she of Little Ani fame – were there to brief McDermid on funding programmes to help alleviate poverty in Bali. They were just back from the Bukit Walk, the annual tramp around the limestone blob – some people do it barefoot – that is also part of the fundraising process.

     There’s a really worthwhile programme in place through which guests at participating properties may opt to donate to aid schemes. Some places do it on a (voluntary) dollar a day basis; others leave it up to guests to decide. It holds huge promise for becoming a greatly growing revenue stream.

     Semara like many establishments is fully into the business of supporting the local community and spending money further afield. These things are not widely publicised. They come from the heart, not the PR budget. And along with many other things, they make you glad to you live in Bali and know so many nice people.

     This year’s SoleMen walk tied in with the ROLE foundation and with Earth Day (April 20). There was a lovely party at ROLE’s Island Sustainability Education Centre in Nusa Dua involving about 450 children from around the Bukit.

 

Back to the Warmth

Adelaide Worcester, who is well remembered here as Australian Vice Consul on her last overseas posting, tells us she’s set for another tropical adventure, this time in Vanuatu. She’s going to Port Vila as Consul and Senior Administrative Officer at the Australian High Commission there and is taking up her post on August 1. It will be a touch of warmth for her and husband Inoeg after a series of bleak winters in the Australian capital. Not quite as warm as Bali is, of course. We remember it being a tad cool on August evenings on Efate’s beautiful lagoons, when feeble vespers of winter far to the south can make a brief visitation and knock the temperature down to, oh, say 17C. But that still beats a frosty -3C Canberra winter morning any day.

     Vanuatu – like Australia a Commonwealth country (hence the delicious British imperial echo in the “high commission” rather than “embassy”) – has an eclectic history. It was once the New Hebrides and enjoyed, though perhaps that’s not quite the word, the uncertain status of being jointly ruled by the British and the French. It was officially a condominium. It was popularly known as the pandemonium. And this was not simply because while it drove on the right in Gallic fashion (in all senses) it applied drive-on-the-left British traffic rules.

     Worcester, Inoeg and Sebastian, now a sturdy toddler, are back in Bali briefly at the moment, with Inoeg’s mum who is visiting from Surabaya. Then it will be back to Canberra for more Bislama lessons and yet another winter chill-thrill until that welcome plane trip to Port Vila in three months’ time.

     The Diary was last in Vanuatu in 2004. It was a nearby place of favoured resort over many years living in Brisbane. We’ve threatened to stage a return during the Worcester years.

 

Off to the Chill

Speaking of tripping, Diary and Distaff are off to Scotland shortly – Hector needs to renew his genetic vows – for a week, followed by a month in Marseille in Provencal France. The city is this year’s EU’s “capital of culture”. There should be plenty to keep us occupied, beyond running on the spot to ward off the unspeakable chills of a Scottish spring and the less than tropical heat of the northern Mediterranean in May and June.

     A side trip to Venice is planned just ahead of the Biennale, to see some friends who live in the former Serenissima. And in Marseille, of course, there’s real bouillabaisse. It should be fun. Hector’s taking his trusty laptop computer along, so expect reports.

 

Scoop de Jour

 Tim Hannigan, whose new book Raffles and the British Invasion of Java is eminently readable for all sorts of reasons – not least in that it thoroughly upsets Victoria Glendinning, the doyenne of Rafflesian hagiography – tells us he had a lovely time at the West Country Writers’ Association’s awards held recently in Torquay (home of the famous but fortunately fictional Basil Fawlty). He won the inaugural biennial John Brooks award, named after a West Country chap who died and left a bequest for same to the WCWA.

     Hannigan, who is 32 and hails from Penzance, though not quite in pirate fashion, was in Nepal on a travel writing assignment when we last chatted with him. He was in Bali briefly earlier this year on his book launch tour. He used to live in Surabaya where he taught English and is no stranger to our island. It really would be nice to see him back. Around October would be good, when Janet DeNeefe is doing literary things with her writers’ festival in Ubud.

     He’s a great laugh. He gave us several in a private report on the awards lunch; sadly, discretion suggests we should not repeat them here. We can say this, however. It seems customary English provincial hotel cuisine may not have improved by any measurable value in the four decades since we threw up (our hands) in horror and left the country.

    The WCWA was founded in 1951 to foster the love of literature in England’s West Country. Eminent members have included Agatha Christie, Daphne du Maurier, E.V. Thompson, Henry Williamson, Christopher Fry and Victor Bonham-Carter.

    Raffles and the British Invasion of Java was published last year by Singapore’s Monsoon Books. Hannigan’s previous book, Murder in the Hindu Kush: George Hayward and the Great Game, about the life and foreshortened times of the 19th century British explorer, was published by The History Press.

 

Good Returns

Garuda Indonesia will make its long-awaited return to the prospectively lucrative Bali-Brisbane route from August, flying daily with 162-passenger Boeing 737-800NG aircraft. It dropped Australia’s third-largest city from its network in 2008 when its innovative scheme not to make lease payments on its aircraft unaccountably led to the planes’ owners taking their aircraft back.

     Still, that was then and this is now. The new service will fly Jakarta-Bali-Brisbane, neatly corralling both tourist and business traffic. The latter is by no means insubstantial, as Queensland’s state treasurer Tim Nicholls noted recently. “Last financial year, Indonesia was Queensland’s ninth largest merchandise export destination worth almost A$1.2 billion to the state’s economy. This figure has more than doubled in the past 10 years,” he said.

     Since Garuda’s 2008 pull-out Bali-Brisbane has only been possible non-stop on Virgin Australia. Qantas low-cost operator Jetstar flies via Darwin. There was a short-lived additional input from the now defunct Strategic/Air Australia airline.

     Speaking of Darwin, the closest Australian city to Indonesia and a place of growing importance to Bali, it’s good to see that Indonesia AirAsia is returning there soon. It took over the route after Garuda dropped its 18-year-old service during one of its notional airline hissy-fits, but then also pulled the pin. Thankfully the hiatus has proved short-lived.

 

It’s their Mantra

Michael Burchett and Alicia Budihardja – respectively former genial general manager and decorative chief spruiker at Conrad Bali – have both moved on. It seems to be the thing to do nowadays and may indeed possess benefits, provided you don’t fall into the trap of affecting complete amnesia about the past. We’ve never bought that Francis Fukuyama line about the end of history.

     The two Bs chose the relevancy option. Burchett, who moved into consultancy after clearing out his desk at Tanjung Benoa, got the job of managing the launch of The Mantra Nusa Dua, the first South-East Asian venture by the Queensland-based Mantra chain. And Budihardja got the gig of running its corporate and media promotion.

     It’s a welcome addition to the Geger Beach end of Nusa Dua for all sorts of reasons – affordable accommodation for the less than filthy rich being one – and is also a great example of how you can do things properly if you want to.

     Its official opening is on June 1.

     Elsewhere on the Bukit, the new Rima resort being built by the owners of AYANA is coming along. Expect an opening this year. Rima means forest, not that much actual forest exists on the Bukit given that the climate favours more your savannah-style vegetation and that people keep chopping it down anyway, to build more stuff. Still, if stuff’s got to be built – and we suppose it has – then rather AYANA’s environmentally aware operators than some others we could name.

 

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

HECTOR’S DIARY, Bali Advertiser, Jan. 9, 2013

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

In the Pink Again

There was a pleasant little soiree just before Christmas, at the plush new Marriott property The Stones at Legian, in favour of the worthwhile Bali Pink Ribbon cause. General manager Peter Brampton and his crew put on a great show for the crowd. Everything was pink: the complimentary mocktails and even many of the canapés, and certainly the staff.

We managed to catch up with Gaye Warren, originator of the Bali Pink Ribbon Walks – this year’s is on April 28; put it in your diaries – for a quick briefing on how things are going with their plans for a breast cancer advisory service for Balinese women.

She tells us: “After nearly four years of fundraising, thanks to the dedication of my Pink Team, I am delighted that we have raised enough funds to open our breast cancer support centre in Jl. Dewi Sri, off Sunset Road in Kuta, to be called Pink Ribbon House. It will be open to all those affected by breast cancer and their families, both Balinese and expatriate. Our medical advisers will endeavour to give free monthly seminars on women’s health at the centre.  We shall also be offering therapeutic courses and counselling by volunteers including breast cancer survivors.

“All being well, we hope to open when the centre is more or less equipped by the end of January. However, we are still in urgent need of office equipment, up to date computers, etc. We shall also be planning a future fund raiser sometime in 2013 for a second-hand minibus to provide transportation to the centre for women from outside Denpasar.”

They’re looking for an experienced office manager to run the new centre and take on some of their workload. And all this is in addition to the new breast cancer screening facility at Prima Medika Hospital in Denpasar, in which Pink Ribbon has been a major player.

Gaye, who is herself a breast cancer survivor, has had a gruelling time lately. During her lengthy absence in the UK in 2012 the redoubtable Kathryn Bruce held the fort in her place. Gaye says of Kathryn: “I couldn’t possibly manage without her.”

The Stones (one of Marriott’s upmarket Autograph Collection) opened late last year. It’s a great property.

Missing Link

It is to be hoped that Garuda will make it back to Darwin, as forecast, now it is apparently no longer just the notional airline. Proposals to resume the service from Bali to Australia’s “northern capital” this year have surfaced following a visit to Jakarta by Northern Territory Chief Minister Terry Mills, who took office last year following an election that saw the long-ruling Labor Party tossed into opposition.

The north Australia connection is important to Bali and the eastern archipelago, and of course to Indonesia as a whole. Darwin implicitly understands the realities of living in the tropics, which most Australians do not. The city – it’s very small: 128,100 people on 2011 figures – is well serviced and makes a useful study centre for many Indonesian purposes; not least for storm drain technology that can deal properly with tropical intensity rain.

The new government in Darwin has said it wants to continue and to expand the scope of the lifesaving connection between Royal Darwin Hospital and Sanglah in Denpasar (so see next item). This was an important and far-seeing initiative of the Territory’s former Labor government.  We will look with interest at performance versus promise on that front.

Renewed air links are a boon. When Garuda dropped the ball – and Brisbane and Darwin – some years ago after it discovered to its horror that the corporations that owned its aircraft actually would like lease payments to be made, it did itself and the Australian connection immense damage. It had been flying to Darwin from Bali for 18 years. AirAsia took up the route but discontinued it because it couldn’t make it pay. That’s the commercial reality and AirAsia is (properly) ruthless in that regard. If it doesn’t make commercial sense, it won’t do it. Bali-Phuket was junked for the same reason, as were the Kuala Lumpur-Europe routes.

The Qantas low-cost carrier Jetstar flies Bali-Darwin with services that originate from or fly on to other Australian cities, picking up payload as a result. Garuda has announced plans to fly Jakarta-Bali-Brisbane from later this year.

Nice Try, Fail

Sanglah General Hospital, Bali’s leading public hospital, will have to try again to win formally recognisable international accreditation. A year-long effort to obtain certification from the Joint Commission International (JCI) did not meet with success, since Sanglah failed on several significant tests: quality of the building, the hospital’s ability to control infection and the fit-out of bathroom facilities.

JCI, which has been operating as a global standard-testing organisation since 1994 and is represented in more than 90 countries, sets rigorous standards of clinical care and managerial functions in acute care hospitals. It provides international accreditation, education and advisory services.

Sanglah’s chief director, Dr Wayan Sutarga, says only 36 of 1218 separate JCI standards of service rate a fail at the hospital and 24 are non-medical in nature. He says therefore that it can be said that Sanglah General Hospital is “almost excellent.” Unfortunately that’s somewhat similar to hanging out a plaque above your office, as some Indians used to do in the old days, proclaiming oneself as B.A. (Oxon) (Failed).

JCI will be back in three months. Dr Sutarga and his team need to be ready for excellence then.

Not that Rich

Governor Pastika has taken pains recently to reveal his salary and benefits. They are not excessive. He gets Rp 8,598,200 in take-home pay a month. He disclosed his emoluments, and those of his deputy, following a report published recently by the Indonesian Forum for Budget Transparency (FITRA), which set out salary levels among various provincial and regional heads in Indonesia.

On the face of it, it seems they got something a little wrong. It may be that the monthly office expenses got confused with salaries, since FITRA said Pastika was taking home Rp 176,660,994 a month.

Local newspaper NusaBali also reported the FITRA survey as indicating that the regent and vice regent of Badung were among Indonesia’s best-paid regional officials, receiving monthly salaries of Rp 129,596,905 and Rp 122,876,905 respectively. Those figures are probably wrong too. But Badung is certainly Bali’s wealthiest district. Many refer to it, not without reason, by another name: Rip-Off Central.

In the Way

While the regent of Badung is busy collecting money from developers, he might like to spare a thought for the seaweed farmers of Nusa Dua whose 30-year-old industry is just about dead. The farmers want the government to change the regulations to make it easier for farmers to remain viable producers in areas such as Geger Beach, where the massive Mulia development has delivered the coup de grace to the little people.

Seaweed farmers can no longer dry their seaweed on the beach but must take it inland, reducing production (and incomes). They were promised jobs with hotels in the area but many, unqualified for such work, have not been employed.

Today, only 30 families still farm seaweed at Nusa Dua. There used to be 100. Their situation would make an interesting study for delegates at the 2013 International Seaweed Symposium, the 21st and the first hosted by Indonesia. (We love irony here at the Diary.) Sixty countries are down to attend and delegates are set to discuss the latest research and industry conditions in the seaweed world.

Um, Yes

We dined on the evening of New Year’s Day at Trattoria near Padang Padang on the Bukit’s Labuan Sait coast. The menu’s great – there’s a lovely Japanese selection too – and the ambience captures the locality and its culture while managing to blend in the origins of the Italian style of informal dining.

It was raining heavily on the Bukit that evening and because the front restaurant was full – outside dining being off – we were directed to the other dining area, just a few steps away across a rainy terrace. A delightfully lissom and well appointed young woman with a lovely smile and an umbrella took us there.

We ordered, though with difficulty. This was because all the staff appeared to hold master’s degrees in eye-contact avoidance. They also seemed not to understand their own language. We had to ask for roti to go with the pre-pizza salad, but we only got it after the happy fellow we were trying to order with had a brainwave and said, “You want bread!”

When we left, it was still raining kucings and anjings. But that was OK; we made use of an umbrella provided for diners who might otherwise get drenched. At the parking area, however, the attendant was determinedly sheltering from the ambient inclemency. He showed no interest in waving us out of the car park with the usual combination of magic wand, whistle and shouts of “terus”. Further, it was abundantly clear that he had no intention of getting himself wet in an effort to retrieve his employer’s umbrella.

So to make the point, your Diarist trudged through the rain after the Distaff was safely sheltered in the car, to return it to the idle little gent. (“Gent” was not the actual word that was upon your Diarist’s lips, sotto voce, but the Bali Advertiser has rules that proscribe profanity.)

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

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).