Dystopian Delights

HECTOR’S DIARY

HectorR

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Bali

Nov. 9, 2016

 

THERE were no visibly ruffled kebayas at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival session featuring American author Lionel Shriver on Oct. 29. No one loudly rattled their worry beads or furiously flounced out. This was in stark contrast to the thought chasm at the Brisbane Writers Festival in September, where an angry ethnic headdress made a public point of walking out of Shriver’s presentation. Someone else then thumped out an anguished memoir that appeared somewhere or other and, in it, claimed that Shriver was stealing other people’s heritage.

Shriver’s crime is to give voice in her novels to imaginary characters whose culture and ethnicity is not her own. In doing do, so the good thinking collective asserts, she and others perpetuate an invidious imperial-colonial imbalance. These days, this warrants condign punishment, such as being shouted at before being sent to Coventry.

The modern white man’s burden is to be continually assailed by charges that might have applied to his great-grandfather (the point is moot). It’s true that much of the world’s body of literature, fictional or otherwise, is in English. But much of it isn’t. There are other global languages, Spanish, French and Portuguese in particular. And if a culture whose native language isn’t one of these or any of their increasingly incomprehensible derivatives wishes to fully develop literature in its own lingua franca, it is perfectly free to do so.

This of course is not the thing to say at a literary festival, unless you want to have your tea poisoned.

But it is hard to see how Shriver and her ilk are the agents of continued bastardry just because they write into their narratives imaginary representatives of other cultures. Fiction, whether grittily realistic, or enervating, or readable, or otherwise, is neither fact nor claims to be. That alone should eliminate angst among the sentient and offset the risk of injury to readers from that modern plague, acquired cultural offence.

It’s true of course that many authors and their cheer squads claim gritty realism as the leitmotiv of their works and the arbiter of their own social relevance. But these days if you’re not socially relevant, you’re nowhere, baby.

Shriver’s presentation concerned her latest book, The Mandibles, a dystopian romp of sorts through the imagined near-future economic and social collapse of America. Mad Max on Mandrax, in a way. She read from the text. It’s unlikely to set the world on fire, though America might. The session was moderated by Gill Westaway, once of the British Council and now of Lombok.

Better than Chocolate

We spent some time at the festival chatting with Ines Wynn, who writes for the Bali Advertiser and lives in a riparian setting with a small menagerie (of dogs and cats) far from the madding crowd, just an easy three-hour round trip away from the nearest supermarket that’s stocked with anything bules might actually want to buy.

In such a setting, one has to plan. It doesn’t do to run out of something essential. We thought of foie gras, not because we suppose Ines likes to keep it in stock, as indeed neither do we, but just par exemple, to break briefly into one of her eight languages. Ines is originally from Belgium, that confection of four languages, several instances of casus belli, multiple competing legislatures and former Heart of Darkness empire that was invented in 1830 as a sort of final post-mortem act in the overlong and competing narratives of the Holy Roman Empire and the Spanish Crown.

Lunch with her, which we took at Kori, just across the road from the gabblers’ headquarters, was much less complex. It was also very tasty and in a quiet environment where the only noise seemed to be coming from our table. We didn’t have any chocolates. It seemed invidious to suggest that we might, since chocolates are perhaps Belgium’s finest exports. No substitutes permitted.

Solemen Indonesia’s Robert Epstone, by the way, had a sort of TED Talk opportunity at the festival, on Oct. 30 rescheduled from earlier in the program, to introduce the lit crowd to the sterling work his charity organisation does.

We couldn’t be there, unfortunately, but Ines tells us Epstone worked his usual magic and passed the virtual hat round to good effect.

Shoot to Thrill

The executioners have been out and about. We’re not referring to the national drug agency, which says it would like to shoot drug dealers without benefit of judicial process, as in Rodrigo Duterte’s new killing fields in the Philippines perhaps, and which hopefully will never get permission to engage in state-sanctioned murder.

It’s Gianyar regency we’re talking about, again, and its cruel and counterproductive dog-culling program. The latest victims were 21 dogs in Batubulan, after a dog bit someone and was later found to have rabies. Just to be clear, we’re not opposed to killing dogs when circumstances dictate that there is no other option, even though it would leave a heavy shadow on our non-Hindu heart.

Instead, as is much of the world that exists outside the blank-stare fiefdoms of the regents of Gianyar and others, we are opposed to the idea of killing dogs because this is easier than implementing an effective vaccination (and re-vaccination) program and humane population control through sterilisation, and because, being cheaper, it won’t interfere with the Essential Additional SUV Acquisition schedule.

There’s plenty of literature available on how to actually suppress rabies rather than just look as you’re doing so. We’ve had rabies in Bali since 2008, at a cost now approaching 200 human lives. That’s ample time to have assimilated the information and to have translated even the difficult bits into Bahasa Indonesia.

A Fine Award

Puri Mas resorts and spa in Lombok has a new and very fine feather in its cap. It’s just been voted Best Luxury Boutique Hotel in Indonesia at an awards presentation in Doha, Qatar. GM Sara Sanders, who was in the Puri Mas contingent at the St Regis Doha to collect the gong, says this: “Congratulations to Marcel De Rijk and all the amazing staff in Puri Mas. Well deserved.”

Puri Mas has always been a great place – in two places: right on the beach at Manggis north of Senggigi and inland at Kerangandan, where owner and long-term Lombok resident and ballroom dancer De Rijk maintains his residence. The resort truly is a jewel in the crown of Lombok tourism.

Get. A. Life.

It is not a criminal offence to be gay in Indonesia. (That’s a good thing in the other, older, sense of the word, because there’s plenty here that gives you a laugh, even if it’s a horse one.) But, seriously, it’s not a crime.

So the disgraceful hue and cry that was reported last month, involving the police and other guardians of self-assessed moral requirements in Manado, North Sulawesi, was a very sorry spectacle. Two gay men were hunted down and arrested because they had displayed their affection for each other in a Facebook post.

Social media is not a public space. It’s certainly true that public demonstration of affection is not what one does here. It is culturally inappropriate. Tourists of all stripes please note, especially the half-clothed young bucks and does of western provenance whose displays of plainly sexual intent are blots on the landscape in Kuta and other goodtime places.

In the Manado incident, there was no cause for public disquiet. It’s no business of the police what private individuals choose – unwisely or otherwise – to post on their social platforms. “Our team tracked down the locations of the two men thanks to information from netizens, and on Oct. 11 we found the two in Bahu, Manado,” North Sulawesi Police Spokesman Marzuki wrote in a statement.

What a circus. The police should have told “concerned netizens” to go away instead of responding with a farcical witch-hunt. That way, police spokesman Marzuki wouldn’t have had to look as if he’s with the Keystone Kops.

The silly business even reached Jakarta, where IT ministry spokesman Noor Iza was quoted as saying: “Facebook is very concerned about inappropriate content, including LGBT.”

Um, no, Facebook is rather more rainbow minded than Indonesian regulator-enforcers like to think.

End Game

The US election will be all over bar the continued shouting by the time this appears in print, but American scribbler Richard Boughton, who very sensibly lives in Bali, posted a plaintive note on his Facebook on Nov. 2 to which we can relate, both in his specific and our own more general circumstances.

He wrote: “I can’t believe how much time I wasted last night arguing with Trump supporters on Facebook. Not that I don’t have time to waste. But I could have wasted it in so many more pleasant ways. Sleeping, for instance. Or pigging out on junk food. Or picking a scab off my leg.”

HectorR

Hector’s Diary appears, edited for newspaper publication, in the print and on line editions of the fortnightly Bali Advertiser

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Nov. 11, 2015

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Eastbourne Option

There is a fine line between farce and tragedy in both the thespian tradition and in real life. This is a worldwide phenomenon, granted, but it does seem especially prevalent in Bali and indeed more broadly throughout Indonesia. Witness the recent travels of President Joko Widodo, who had to go all the way to Washington before he discovered that much of his country was criminally ablaze and making such a nuisance of itself that he had to cut short his trip and dash home to deal with the crisis. He got the dashing home bit done. The rest is a work in progress; or perhaps it isn’t.

The Eastbourne Option is a handy practice for those who don’t have the opportunity to fly to distant places so that they can allow reality to hit home and find that things suddenly seem too much. It comes from that lovely episode in the John Cleese television series Fawlty Towers. When a guest at his terrible Torquay hotel tells Cleese (as owner manager Basil Fawlty) that it is the worst such establishment in Britain, the Major, a permanent paying guest, rounds on the critic and forcefully asserts that this is not true. “No! No! I won’t have that!” he exclaims. He pauses, thinking. Then he adds: “There’s a place at Eastbourne.”

Given the latest rounds of farce that have emanated from the Bali authorities, choosing the Eastbourne option is a way to escape the heightened risk of conniption or terminal tedium over the indecently close relationship between incredible farce and terrible tragedy visited upon their island by those who run Bali.

If you screw your eyes up and concentrate really hard you can momentarily ignore the otherwise inevitable assessment that inexcusable inattention and monumental hubris go together like … well, like rotten peaches and rancid cream.

Sense and Censor Ability

Literature requires dissent. In the absence of this important ingredient you end up with a library of promotional pamphlets that, like most of these glossy paeans to self-delusion, are of no practical use at all. Of course criticism must be objective in whatever genre it is offered. Fiction is often a better way to inform and spark debate than direct, unalloyed history. Sometimes it’s good to change the names to protect the innocent, the guilty, or indeed the author.

This year’s Ubud Writers and Readers Festival (Oct. 28-Nov. 1) was royally interfered with because – Shock! Horror! – its long published program contained elements that would discuss the events of 1965 and the mass murders that were its disgraceful central feature. When the chief of police of Gianyar made the shocking discovery that people at literary festivals might be talking about these things, he decided such rumination might encourage the communist tendency.

Where he has been since misapplied Marxism collapsed on a global scale, and even in China, is an interesting question. So too is why he failed to reference the fact that Indonesia’s expensive guest appearance at the Frankfurt Book Fair this year focused on the very same horrors. Though it should be noted that after the event some legislators in Jakarta have also spotted the fact that they hadn’t been paying attention either. They do the “horse bolted, shut stable door” routine so well here.

Another casualty of the newly reprised practice of suppressing dissent was a discussion of the plutocratic proposal to vandalise Benoa Bay for commercial interests. The Gianyar police chief said this decision was nothing to do with him.

Cursors! They’re on to Us

The useful Bali Crime Reports page on Facebook notes that Bali Police HQ is getting edgy about social media. Given rising street crime about which the police do nothing and the appearance in the media of reports on really important police activity like nabbing people who aren’t married to each other because having unmarried sex is illegal, or arresting the odd mangku for suggesting someone’s practising black magic, that’s perhaps not surprising.

As a note on the page suggests, the police probably didn’t expect their own social media bulletins to be translated into English and posted elsewhere where foreigners might read them. Bad scene! Bad for Bali’s image! They’ve apparently reduced their own social media posting in response and set up a supervisory system.

A bulletin from POLRI (police central) explains (and we quote verbatim):

“This supervision is meant to find out how prepared Bali police at all levels are, to enact the Development of Opinions to Facilitate Public Safety Which Are Conducive In Relation To Negative Effects On Opinions in Social (media) Society.”

In shorthand: Here’s a broom. Sweep that embarrassing stuff under the carpet.

Get on a ROLE

OK, now for some positive thoughts. Do you enjoy fine dining and great entertainment? Are you a supporter of women’s empowerment? Would you like to build links with like-minded individuals? If that’s a yes to any or all of these questions, then the ROLE Models Charity Dinner on Nov. 21 may be just the thing for you.

The ROLE Foundation’s work with disadvantaged women is a great example of the productive value of voluntary charity efforts in Bali and beyond. It’s not work that gets much exposure – certainly not as much as it deserves – but it’s practical benefits are priceless. ROLE educates and finds work for women from Bali and other islands who would otherwise miss out on life’s most basic opportunities. It’s all about breaking the poverty cycle.

The event is at RIMBA in the scenic AYANA Resort complex at Jimbaran. Service at the four-course dinner is by ROLE RIMBA trainees; there is a reception before dinner from 6pm, entertainment throughout, and a rooftop after party. Tickets are Rp1.3M and they’re selling fast, we hear. Bookings can be made at RIMBA, AYANA or through ROLE. Unique auction prizes can be seen here.

See you there! We’re not going to miss the occasion.

Vulcan Redux

We shan’t miss the ROLE Models Dinner if Vulcan permits, at least. We’re currently in Australia and due back home in Bali in a day or so. So it’s been a bit disturbing to watch the resurgence of volcanic activity in the region, this time from Vulcan’s otherwise minor franchise outlet at Mt Baru Jari in the crater of Lombok’s lofty Rinjani.

The Mt Raung eruption in East Java – we can see that culprit from The Cage on the Bukit – caused significant chaos in Bali’s airborne arrivals and departures system earlier this year. To coin a phrase, it wasn’t fun while it lasted. Let’s hope Mt Baru Jari’s little effluence is short-lived, both for air traffic purposes and for the health and wellbeing of Lombok’s people.

Visa Follies

For those who might still be wondering why Australia (which last year sent 1,128,533 paying guests to Indonesia, overwhelmingly to Bali) is one of only four countries now left off the list for free 30-day tourist visas, here’s a handy brief. Officially, only countries that reciprocate are entitled to free visa status, but of the 90 nations that are now graced with that favour, only 18 return the compliment. The three other countries on the frown list are Andorra (it’s a little patch of ground in the Pyrenees surrounded by France and Spain), Brazil and Libya.

Leaving aside ASEAN states, for which reciprocal free visa entry naturally applies, most of the favoured nations have presumably said something comfortable like “we’ll think about it” or cited the universal mirror response (“we’re looking into it”) when they’ve been asked about reciprocal rights for Indonesian tourists. Australia’s strict entry requirements are well known – from many perspectives they are highly arguable, but that’s beside the point – and Indonesian tourists are probably less likely to choose Australia over other destinations anyway, even if they could.

The free visa denial is plainly political. It flows from a desire to make a point of astonishing banality. It’s a bit like having Sukhoi fighter-bombers fly cover for chartered aircraft transporting Australian prisoners. It’s overkill. They do that so well here too. Just for the record.

One Horse Race

Australia’s iconic Melbourne Cup horse race, held every year on the first Tuesday in November, really was the race that stops a nation this year. A 100-1 outsider was first past the post. Its jockey became the first woman to ride a Melbourne Cup winner. And the horse’s strapper – carer, basically – is the jockey’s brother. He has Down syndrome and demonstrates that people with that condition are fully functional individuals (and often great fun). It’s a story that has it all. It would make a fabulous movie.

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