Best in Bali



His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Wine country, Western Australia

Nov. 23, 2016


CHRISTINA Iskandar, who is busy expanding the Diva Empire in Australia from her Sydney hometown base, tells us of a lovely little charity revenue stream she’s putting in place. It’s at the invitation of a major greetings card company.

The idea is they’ll put a selection of Best in Bali images on cards and other gift products and 5 per cent of the proceeds of sales will go to nominated Bali charities.

Iskandar has chosen as the first beneficiary of this scheme the Suryani Institute for Mental Health, a non-profit institute established in 2005. It and its sister organisations the Committee Against Sexual Abuse (CASA) and the Bali Elderly Welfare Foundation (Yayasan Wreda Sejahtera) work to create a healthy and happy community in Bali. Through academic, medical, psychiatric, educational and social work, the institute seeks to help the Balinese people become more intelligent, independent, creative, as well as physically, psychologically, socially, and spiritually healthy.

The institute is headed by Professor Luh Ketut Suryani, MD, PhD. Its holistic approach to problem solving and positive advance – which it terms biopsycho-spirit-sociocultural – combines Western mainstream psychiatric/psychological practice with Eastern and Balinese cultural and spiritual knowledge and beliefs.

The Bali Divas themselves have been busy getting ready for a White Christmas ahead of their Divas and Dudes Christmas Charity Lunch on Nov. 25. It’s been a little chill on the island lately, courtesy of the annual wet season, though not that cold! Still, it’s a lovely old song. Thanks, Bing Crosby.

The “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” event is at Merah Putih in Kerobokan, where the fun starts at 12 Noon on Friday. We’ll be getting reports of frivolity and other action, so play up, folks. It’s for a good cause. Proceeds from the charity lunch will go to the Bali Children Foundation and The Refugee Learning Nest.

Bali Children Foundation is a non-profit organisation that provides education opportunities to more than 2300 children from disadvantaged families across Bali. The Refugee Learning Nest is a community-based project in Java that helps refugees through informal educational programs including women’s literacy, tailoring classes, and sporting activities.

The lunch, sponsored by Chandon, will feature a performance by the Bali-based singer Eva Scolaro, who we hear has added footwear designs to her list of skills. She looks good in shoes. There will be the usual raffles and auction items.

Don’t be a Dork

There was a flurry of fevered interest in Australia in the misbehaviour of women at this year’s Melbourne Cup, run on Nov. 1 and won, as usual, by a horse. Apparently media focus on idiot women should not overemphasise their looks, as this perpetuates sexist myths. It’s an interesting point of discussion in Bali, where the loudly drunk and selfishly inclined tourist cohort regularly makes a mess of itself and whichever locality it is that they’ve chosen to disgrace with their presence.

Fine. If you’re drunk as a skunk and passed out in a wheelie bin in a short skirt and with your legs up, because you’re blotto and the remains of your mind thought the bin was a good place to be, you’re not going to look good.

There’s a lot of talk about the glass ceiling these days, and how while some women have managed to crack it, many have yet to do so. This is held to be a sin, and not only against the sisterhood. We agree. Merit and a capacity to commit are the keys to advance.

It’s a shame that efforts to crack the glass ceiling are seen in some quarters as licence to wreck the joint once you’re in there. Not in the business sense: the women we know who have gained access to the glass cage at the top of the corporate bureaucratic ladders are all sensible, thinking people. Some among them might like a drink, and even to misbehave, in all sorts of ways, but they do so in private, where in a free society such things are legitimately enjoyed.

It’s on the party circuit, broadly defined, where bad behaviour occurs publically. It’s true that in many societies, especially the Anglo ones, the bad behaviour of men is apparently expected, still largely accepted, often cheered on (crassly) and frequently overlooked. The stupid boys will be boys rule. Read that line any way you like. This dispensation is not extended to women who drink too much and behave like dorks. Women are supposed to be savvy and sexy and all of that, in whatever body shape they naturally possess, and not to compete with men in the idiot stakes.

Fundamentally this is phooey, despite grandma’s sensible advice to always keep yourself nice. People are people. They come in all shapes and sizes and an infinite range of personalities. These days, however, good manners have largely been thrown out of the window in the western world, along with common sense. They have been replaced by the glottal-stop baby talk and short attention span of the Me generation. That’s what people need to think about and correct. It’s not really a gender thing at all, except among men with a fixed and prehistoric belief in their own sex’s supremacy.

Chump Time

That a man whose adult life has been spent losing other people’s money, stiffing business partners, failing to pay creditors, creating a lengthy list of corporate failures, avoiding tax, being a loud-mouth reality TV front-man (“You’re Fired!), running the Miss Universe pageant while ogling the talent, pushing forward the boundaries of shocking kitsch and publicly avowing the delights of pussy-grabbing, can be elected the 45th president of the United States is something that takes American democracy into new territory.

There are good reasons for American voters to disavow the political practices of establishment candidates and the two-party system (never mind the quality, feel the width) and to choose something that promises to break that matrix. On Nov. 8 they wanted, in sufficient numbers, to belt the Beltway (the popular synonym for Washington’s inner circle).

It’s a bold political experiment. We can only hope the test-tube doesn’t blow up and destroy the joint. It will be an interesting spectacle whatever results. An Australian friend whose considered opinions we greatly value, remarked when we asked him what he thought of the events that it was a bit like jelly wrestling: you know it’s wrong but you watch anyway. The life of a voyeur can be very rewarding.

There were the expected reactions to Donald Trump’s win on Nov. 8. Locally, the rupiah weakened, though this was expected to be only a temporary effect. Global bond markets were spooked. The Brexit Brits were re-enthused, since like them Trump wants to overturn all sorts of apple carts. The British see a fortune to be made in bilateral trade deals. (They’ve managed, oddly, to get the Australian government politically on side in that respect. Perhaps Canberra needs to glance briefly at a world map.)

Trump for his part wants to reinvent American rustbelt industry, which according to him shouldn’t have disappeared to China and other places where cost-effective manufacturing is practised. He’s a bit like Don Quixote, albeit with rather less moral fibre. Though tilting at windmills can be fun, for the spectators at least.

Another friend, this time in America itself, reports an unexpected side effect of Trumpism’s triumph. She’s looking for a new hairdresser in her gentle, liberal New England domain. Her long established snipper, who’s very good and very, very gay, has taken to loudly singing the praises of the White House Apprentice. She said she had not yet allowed this to disturb her coiffeur but that it had seriously ruffled her feathers.

Karma on the Rocks

The sports bar at Echo Beach over which long-term American resident of Bali Mara Wolford raised a stink earlier this year with allegations that her drink was spiked, has closed. That’s good news.

When it found itself criticised after the events Wolford wrote about on her Facebook, it adopted the usual tactic of miscreant businesses in Bali: First, anguished hurt that anyone could possibly think they were to blame; second, inventive and wholly inadequate answers; and third, threats of retribution.

The bar ceased trading this month. We love karma.

Chilling Out

The Diary is in Australia this week, on an SEB: a short essential break. So chilling out is the order of the day. That’s not difficult at all, when you’re in the bit of the Special Biosphere that has cool nights and often none-to-warm days even when late spring is said to have finally arrived.

We’ll be back shortly. The woollies will need washing.


Hector writes a blog at 8degreesoflatitude.


Dystopian Delights



His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences


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.”


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, April 18, 2012

That’s the Spirit

Meghan Pappenheim, who will now be enjoying some well-earned downtime after the 2012 BaliSpirit Festival held at Ubud – where else? – from March 28 to April 1, tells us her moment of pure joy at this year’s event was taking part in Indra Widjanarko’s yoga class for kids. “Pure happiness for a split second,” she reports. There’s a photo on the festival site that might give a clue as to why the happiness was for a split second. Meghan’s a good sport. Oh, and a good sort.

She tells us too that the other amazing thing she took away from the festival was how international it was. She says that in the night concert area she found herself surrounded by full-pass holders who had flown to Bali for the event from 13 countries – one of them Germany, from where the man in question had visited Bali for every festival since its inception.

The global reach of BaliSpirit is certainly remarkable. One of Meghan’s night concert companions had come from Iran. The others were from India, Mexico, Slovakia, Brazil, Spain, the USA, Canada, Australia, China, the Philippines and France.

BaliSpirit is not just the five-day event itself. It has a strong outreach and community building aspect as well, which every year is augmented incrementally. Says Meghan: “Aside from the thousands we raised with our partners for local initiatives, I don’t believe we’ve ever had this kind of backing and programming input from local community organisations before.”

Way to go!

Get Real 1

If anyone wants a take on the unreality that drives Bali’s Wayan Mitty real estate sector, they need look no further than the chairman of the Real Estate Indonesia (REI) Bali branch, Dewa Putu Selawa, who said in late March that property prices had already increased by 15 percent since earlier in the month because of the government’s announcement of rising fuel prices.  He meant, of course, asking prices.

For good measure, he added that many property owners had withdrawn their properties from sale. Doubtless, as the unfortunate (and entirely blameless, naturally) victims of the twin epidemics of unreal expectation and rampant greed that afflict our island, they did so in pursuit of further excuse to ask for an astronomical price in the hope that some mug would pay it.

The fuel price rise did not eventuate, even though ending a US$14 billion a year subsidy on highly pollutant low-grade petrol is clearly a good idea on budgetary and environmental grounds. This was absolutely no surprise, given that the national government – unless energised by antediluvian misogynists into pursuing mini-skirted women in the astonishing belief that female knees are pornographic – has all the courage of a craven. And little grip on reality, except in relation to who might still be persuaded to vote for it in 2014.

A recent study by Knight Frank and Elite Havens showed that Bali has the highest rate of land price increases in Indonesia (up by an average 34 percent last year against 8-16 percent in other parts of Indonesia). Selawa explains it this way: “The property business is very sensitive to rumours and discourse. Many businessmen cancelled the sale of their properties because the prices would again increase when the fuel price is hiked. They were waiting to get the highest profit.”

A fuel price rise of 33 percent would increase costs, naturally, by some quantum. That would be after the price rise took effect and impacted on transportation costs, not before. We’re talking about profiteering here.

Get Real 2

It’s not only the big end of town that needs to take a reality check. We heard an amusing little tale the other day – well, it’s irritating really, but you’ve got to laugh – that hits one of the nails of Bali’s development dilemma squarely on the head. We won’t name names, because that would be invidious and in any case the problem is so widespread as to be unremarkable.

There’s a nice little restaurant we go to where the land upon which it stands has been leased for 20 years from the local – Balinese – owner. The land has been leased by an Indonesian, so the usual fleece-the-filthy-foreigner rule hardly applies. But in the nature of things here, and of course elsewhere in the country, such arrangements come along with unrelated, unscheduled and entirely promiscuous calls upon the pocket: the landowner needs money, for this, that, or some other purpose; the fridge is on the blink; the beer has run out; someone is ill perhaps; or maybe that remarkable aunt in Jauh Sekali (it is nearly always far enough away to discourage direct inquiry) has experienced a further bout of repeated death and there’s yet another funeral to be paid for. If you live here, you’ll know the score.

Anyway, on this occasion, we hear, the landowner was after some money (a not insubstantial sum apparently) and was culturally distressed when the readies were not ready to be handed over; that of course means the cash was not available immediately. He then visited the establishment and engaged in that other customary local practice – looking miffed, shouting loudly, and banging any available flat surface.

Apprised of the fact (again) that the casual, unbudgeted and off-contract sum he demanded was indeed not yet to hand, he said he would never lease his land again and would not be renewing the current 20-year lease (it has about 19 years to run). Fine, replied our restaurant proprietor, a lovely chap from Sumatra. That was his privilege. But in the meantime, for the rest of the lease period, he didn’t want to see the other fellow’s ugly mug anywhere near the place. Got that?

Here’s to Your Health

The new BIMC Hospital at Nusa Dua opens its doors on May 5, an event that will certainly please anyone on the Bukit who needs international-standard medical care and doesn’t want to risk a potential two-hour road trip to BIMC’s other facility at Simpang Siur. It will be especially useful for those whose blood pressure is apt to rise to crisis level if stuck in traffic on what would normally be a 25-minute, 12-kilometre trip if everyone stayed in lane and obeyed the other road rules, or gave a tinker’s cuss about anyone else on the road.

That’s far from the only benefit of the new hospital, of course. It includes a 24-hour accident and emergency centre, a 24-hour medical centre, cosmetic medicine and dental centres, and – good news indeed – a dialysis centre which should make it possible for tourists who require regular dialysis to consider holidaying at Nusa Dua or nearby.

BIMC Nusa Dua plans an open day on May 5 to introduce residents and visitors to the new facility, housed in purpose-built accommodation in the BTCD enclave just across the road from Bali Collection. The complex was built by a Perth-based Australian firm that specialises in hospital construction and fitted out with state of the art interiors and infrastructure by a South African company.

Best Endeavours

Applications have been invited for the Endeavour Awards for 2013. This Australian government scholarship programme provides opportunities for Indonesians to undertake study, research and professional development in Australia.

Announcing the awards on April 2, Australian ambassador Greg Moriarty said: “Twenty-six Indonesians were awarded Endeavour scholarships in 2011 and we look forward to receiving more Indonesian applications to participate in this internationally competitive, merit based scholarship programme.”

Applications close on June 30. Details are available at

Why, Thank You

Diarists and other scribblers generally only hear from readers who have a gripe. This is not necessarily a problem. Often it gives you a good laugh, as for example not so long ago when a self-elected lunar luminary of long standing in these parts told Hector’s helper – it was in response to a polite inquiry – “Eat shit and die you twerp.”

How much more pleasant it was to receive feedback recently from reader Nurul J. Darmawan, who posted this note on Hector’s Facebook wall in response to the item in last edition’s Diary headed True to Herself:

“Hi Hector … reading your article really impressed me. What you said about Facebook is true in our lives. You’re right: we need late in life more real than virtual life. Facebook is where I find friends to add insight in my life. Your articles are very insightful and give an input to many people such as me. Bravo Hector’s Diary!”

And Again

Hector also tweets (some people say he twitters, but cockatoos don’t do that) and was recently followed – you do that on Twitter – by one Frank Seth, from Idaho, who advised: “I’m an undiscovered American watercolour artist. Have been painting over 53-plus years. Maybe this will be my year? I want to keep on painting as long as I can do it.”

Good on you, Frank.

Hector’s Diary appears in the fortnightly print edition of the Bali Advertiser, out every second Wednesday and on Hector’s Blog at Hector is on Twitter (@scratchings) and Facebook (Hector McSquawky).