Degrees of Idiocy

HECTOR’S DIARY

HECTOR IMAGE FOR BLOG

His regular diet of worms and other non-religious fare

THE CAGE
Bali
Sunday, Dec. 24, 2017

Degrees of Idiocy

THE President of the Republic, Joko Widodo, familiarised here in the Indonesian way as Jokowi, has just visited Bali. Miraculously, the beaches appeared clear of the middens of muck that despoil them year round, but worse in the monsoon season. He was pictured in the press on a beach walk in which, to everyone’s surprise, not even a loose lolly wrapper could be seen, far less the tonnes of plastic gunge that usually assaults the eye. So that’s good. He’ll have returned to the Istana Negara in Jakarta fully convinced that Bali has absolutely no problems at all.

Another problem we learned Bali does not have, as a result of the presidential peregrination, is that volcano thing. The alert status that has cruelly impacted in a negative way on the island’s desired overburden of tourists has been scrapped by presidential decree. Apparently, when you’re president, you automatically acquire Nobel laureate status in the science of volcanology.

What Gunung Agung thinks about this is not known, at least to the Diary, which does not presume to talk to the gods of anything and especially not those of the underworld. But last time we looked – and that was just on Friday morning and it was up quite close, from a boat sailing from Lombok to Bali (Teluk Amuk, which seems apt) – Mt Agung was having its regular morning spit. That was vapour and ash. As a non-volcanologist, we made the brave assessment that this meant its eruption is still a matter of the moment. Perhaps there had been a hold-up in delivery of the presidential decree.

We’d agree that it’s a nuisance that there’s an ongoing eruption and with it the threat that volcanic ash may any moment get into the atmosphere and bugger about with airline operations. But nature tends to scoff at human discomfort with its activities. Bali has two active volcanoes (the other is Mt Batur). The last time Mt Agung erupted, in 1963, it was disastrous. It must have escaped the president’s attention that its behaviour this time – a lengthy period of intermittent, low-threat activity is the phase we’re in at present – rather worryingly mirrors that of half a century ago.

Splashing Out

THE Diary and The Companion had an early Christmas present this year, a five-day cruise around the southern and northern gilis (islands) of Lombok. We were aboard the Al-Iikai, a fine Sulawesi phinisi operated by Indonesian Island Sail, and securely under the guiding hand of owner Amanda Zsebik. It was fabulous fun. We only had one lumpy day, on passage between the southern and northern gilis, and while that temporarily changed the hue of several on board, it also presented a great opportunity to see how the boat performed in fairly hefty seas. It did so brilliantly. We’d do it all again in a flash.

If you’re thinking of exploring the limpidly placid seas of the archipelago, you could do a lot worse that book an all-mod-cons cruise on the Al-Iikai. The snorkelling opportunities are brilliant. Even The Companion doubled as a marine wildlife on several occasions. She looks good in the guise of a Nautilas floataboutabit. Such creatures always worth spotting from your long-chair on the beach.

Because it’s Christmas

WE won’t bat on about all sorts of things that, up-nostril-wise, have come to our attention since we last scribbled a Diary. Time enough for all of that when the coming New Year hangovers are themselves but a distant unpleasant memory.

Merry Christmas (we can say that, because this is our blog) and Happy New Year!

HECTOR IMAGE FOR BLOG

Chin-chin!

FOOTNOTE: Because of a technical problem with WordPress, now resolved, this Dec.24 Diary first appeared on my stand-by blog at Blogger, headlined There’s Always a Way.

 

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Dec. 24, 2014

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

 

Art with a Frisson

Two books recently given an Australian launch – at the University of Sydney – provide a more profound focus on the real Bali than any number of tourist-oriented creations. The real Bali is of course not found in performances of the Kecap Dance and other (wonderful) expressions of the live art presented for gawkers, moneyed or not, but in the heritage and still-practised and continuously renewed culture and lifestyle of the Balinese themselves. These are not seen in the KLS triangle (Kuta-Legian-Seminyak) or in multi-star international hotels where tourists spend the money that fuels Bali’s economy. They are found in the villages and are revealed to the fully interested and sentient through electively-sourced media, principally books.

Adrian Vickers, whose research at the University of Sydney itself constitutes an important body of work in Asian studies generally and (from our perspective) Bali in particular, has edited a book, Lempad of Bali, just published in Singapore by Editions Didier Millet. He describes it justifiably as probably the most important work yet published on a single Balinese artist. It is a collaborative effort with Bruce Carpenter, the late John Darling, Hedi Hinzler, Kaja McGowan and Soemantri Widagdo.

Vickers writes in his useful Australia in the Asian Century blog: “Gusti Nyoman Lempad was legendary not only as a radically different artist from the 1930s, but also as the architect who created Ubud, and for his longevity. While there are different estimates of his age, at his death in 1978 he was either 116 or 106. Two other books on Lempad have also come out this year. Although neither of these has much scholarly weight, they do illustrate the range of work of Lempad and his school, which mainly consisted of his family.

“I met with a more profound set of insights into Balinese perspectives on life than I had imagined … Lempad was concerned with gender, with attaining wisdom and power, and with moving between the world of the senses and the world beyond. In his art, the three are combined.”

It is the very real eroticism of the ancient Hindu and Buddhist cultures of the archipelago that piques the interest of many today, especially since these influences still inform cultural practice and, one suspects, rather more of daily life than is generally revealed.

Made Wijaya’s new book, Majapahit Style, also launched on the occasion, is attracting critical acclaim and rightly so. Few non-Balinese know more about the island’s true culture than he. In this instance he has cast his net much wider and lays bare the cultural DNA that binds together the many diverse peoples of the archipelago.

The Diary’s newly-appointed international cultural attaché, Philly Frisson, attended the launch. She tells us: “Not sure that I should quip! [Oh go on, don’t be a spoilsport – Hec] … but Wijaya was in his element at his old university and sold out of his books to an enthusiastic crowd. Vickers had everyone fascinated and quite agog with the exquisite and highly erotic Lempad drawings. Those frisky, risqué Balinese … they leave the Kama Sutra for dead with their dexterity and imagination.”

 

Out to Score Goals

The new British ambassador to Indonesia, Moazzam Malik, was in Surabaya on Dec. 11-13 as part of his round of provincial introductory calls. We certainly look forward to seeing him in Bali. He is still officially ambassador-designate since in the arcane form of legation-based diplomacy, he hasn’t yet formally presented his credentials. [See below – Hec.]

No matter. He’s clearly got straight down to business. In Surabaya – which is close enough to mention, we feel, since it is only about 45 minutes by air and just a horror of a day-and-a-night trek by road and ferry from here – Malik joined East Java Governor Soekarwo for Friday prayers and discussion; met the Mayor of Surabaya, Tri Rismaharini, a very feisty lady; visited Airlangga University; and joined an informal gathering of the Surabaya-based Big Reds, the Liverpool FC fan club. Despite being a Londoner, Malik is a Liverpool fan. Bali’s strong contingent of Liverpool supporters are doubtless also hoping that their team’s season improves.

In Surabaya, Malik announced that a new British Council learning centre  will open there in March 2015. In April, a “pop-up” British Embassy will also open. It will provide a full range of services. Surabaya has an interesting place in immediate post-World War II British history. It is where in 1946 some of the British troops sent to help re-impose Dutch colonial rule refused to advance on independence fighters’ positions. They argued, mutinously but with a fine grasp of historical determinism, that they hadn’t just finished fighting World War II so they could prop up the old order. Malik, whose background is in international aid and development and who is an active tweeter, is also ambassador to Timor-Leste and ASEAN.

There’s another new ambassadorial appointment to note: Paul Grigson is moving from the very senior position of head of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s SE Asia division in Canberra to take over from veteran diplomat Greg Moriarty in Jakarta. Grigson, who in an earlier life was a journalist, was Australia’s ambassador to Thailand 2008-10 and Burma 2003-04.

Update: Ambassador Malik presented his credentials on Dec. 18

 

Hey, We’re Eclectic

It’s really very nice of Rock Bar at the Ayana to host a special party for Eve Eve, Dec. 30. It’s our birthday. We don’t mind at all being Eve on the evening in question if it gets us a drink and some hot music. DJ Mr Best is flying in to pump out the decibels for the event. He’s offering an eclectic mix of House, Rock & Roll, R&B and Hip Hop to celebrate the year that was and set you up for 2015, which everyone hopes will be better.

Mr Best is said by Ayana’s decoratively efficient PR team to be the go-to man for A-list clients including Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Lauren Conrad, and Lenny Kravitz as well as the Emmy Awards and Golden Globe After Parties. We’re sure they’re right. He provides music, after all, not advice on dress sense, good taste and acceptable manners.

 

Their Garden Grows

Wiwik Pusparini’s and Peter Duncan’s Taman Restaurant in Senggigi, Lombok, is now not only home to a very decent menu, wine list and fine coffee – as well as a shop where you can buy bread and treats and pies and cakes, yum – but also to an accommodation house that is rapidly taking shape behind the premises. Sixteen rooms are under construction, with eight more to follow. They are aimed at budget travellers who want access to things such as universal power points (no more plug-in-plug-in-plug messiness) and a standard of service and accoutrements, including a swimming pool, that will reward guests for choosing to stay there.

Duncan, who has lived in Lombok since 2003, has a Big Birthday coming up, on Jan. 1. The Big Seven Zero looms. Like The Diary and others (including Ross Fitzgerald, the Australian historian, author of scholarly works, the autobiographical My Name is Ross – about alcoholism – and some interesting novels) he is a pre-Boomer. He’s the baby of the bunch. Fitzgerald is the senior of our trio, having chosen to arrive on Christmas Day. As noted above, the Diary’s attainment of septuagenarian status is on Eve Eve. Fitzgerald usually comes to Bali once a year, in the dry season, with his wife Lyndal Moor, an accomplished ceramicist. They are Ubud fans.

We should get together – the Diary will raise this with Duncan, a former minister in both the South Australian and Australian federal parliaments, at his big birthday bash set for Jan. 17 in Senggigi – to form the Pre Boomers’ Club and get some balance back into the ageist debate. Those retiring Boomer youngsters get all the attention.

 

Pouring In

Latest figures (they’re for October) show that Bali continues to shoehorn more and more tourists into its oversupply of private hotels and undersupply of public infrastructure. Bali accounted for more than 40 per cent of Indonesia’s international arrivals in October. The Central Statistics Agency (BPS) recorded 808,767 overseas visitors to Indonesia during the month, 12.3 per cent more than in October 2013.

This takes the total for the first 10 months of 2014 to 7.75 million, 8.7 per cent up month on month. Ngurah Rai recorded the highest increase in international arrivals, up 27.3 per cent to 339,200.  Jakarta’s main gateway, Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, went the other way. It recorded a decline of 7.4 per cent.

 

Happy Christmas

Rotary Club of Bali Kartika has a Christmas event on Dec. 27 featuring Angklung Daeng Udjo, the Bali Community Choir, a Fire Dance performance, Sing-a-Song and Dancing. It’s from 7pm to 10pm at Gereja Fransiskus Xaverius in Jl Kartika Plaza, Kuta. Season’s greetings – and we’ll be back when the logic of manmade mathematics has ticked us over to 2015.

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

 

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).