HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Aug. 5, 2015

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Poison Chalice

Three people died from methanol poisoning in Bali recently. They had all been drinking at a bar in Legian. The name of the establishment is fairly well known and cautions against going there have been privately issued by many people to their friends. Naming it publicly is fraught with risk. One of the more curious elements of Indonesian law is that people who should be in jail hanging their heads in shame can make you the criminal for talking about them.

So we’ll just say this: People who adulterate alcoholic drinks with methanol for profit (that’s why they do it; it’s certainly not for mistakenly philanthropic reasons) should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Those whose actions or negligence lead to catastrophic poisoning – methanol can leave you brain damaged and blind if it doesn’t kill you – should be arrested, charged, tried and if found guilty, jailed. It’s just another thing that Bali needs to get really serious about.

Gaining a reputation as cowboy territory does not help the island’s tourism profile. If we become known as a place where nut-heads serve you methanol in bars – and of hotels whose balconies collapse and severely injure people and whose managements then decline to accept any responsibility, apparently even moral responsibility – it’s rather likely to be seen as a demerit rather than a merit. Even in non-effete, non-western tourism markets.

Wake Up

It was good to see the response from the fisheries and forests minister, Siti Nurbaya Bakar, to the international petition raised in the interest of the captive dolphins confined to a small, chlorinated swimming pool at the Wake resort at Keramas. It beggars belief that anyone would subject dolphins to such treatment, especially in the pursuit of profit. So if violations are found (beyond the unbelievable confinement of intelligent, salt-water living mammals in poisonous, potentially blinding chlorinated water) then it would be good if the central government applied its animal protection powers. Such action might resolve the situation speedily, whoever is the enchanted being, a member of a protected species perhaps, who is behind this particular “tourist attraction”.

The resort, we hear, is favoured by Russian tourists, primarily for its off-road macho-man facilities. The dolphins are a side-show. That says something itself, of course, especially in an environment where roubles and vroom go together like a shirtless president and a chesty photo opportunity, but we should not be surprised.

A deeper discussion on Indonesia’s laws as they apply to the apparently hitherto elective matter of animal protection is sorely needed, and not only in the context of the newly announced quest for nature tourism. We look forward to Minister Siti’s direct input. Reform of those inadequate laws, many of which date from the Dutch era and are no longer relevant, is something for which animal welfare organizations have been pressing for ages.

It’s Those Westerners

Speaking of animal welfare advocates, those among them who have been most vocal about how to reduce and eventually eliminate rabies in Bali are back in the provincial government’s sights. Governor Pastika says handling rabies in Bali is not like doing so in western societies where people vaccinate their pets and look after them properly, and where strays are rare. In Bali, he says, we have to kill stray animals because it’s easier to do so and more appropriate in our environment.

He overlooks, as of course he must unless he wants to immediately destroy his whole argument, the experience of India, South Africa and a number of Latin American countries where approved world standard responses have been used to great effect. These are vaccination, humane numbers reduction by sterilization, and effective community education. Last time we looked, most of the places where culling has been rejected as both pointless and a risk of further spreading rabies were hardly examples of well-moneyed leafy suburbs in prosperous European and American cities.

The Governor told a meeting of Bali legislators that animal welfare organizations here should not just shout (he means shout things that he views as unhelpful or irritating) but should help the government by capturing strays, vaccinating and sterilizing them, and caring for them. If that is his view, perhaps he should tell all the little panjandrums further down the line that it is. They might then cease their boneheaded practice of obstructing NGOs doing this good, productive, public spirited work.

Governor Pastika’s line on vaccination is just as skewed, not to say crass. There’s not enough human vaccine in Bali, he says, because the suppliers – the private company BioFarma – have insufficient stock. It’s not that the government won’t buy it; it’s just that it isn’t there to be bought. Anyone who buys that line is unfamiliar with an eight-letter word that is more politely rendered as two words: bovine manure. In fact the government agreed to a contract last year at a unit price it now finds the suppliers have discounted for online buyers and they want it cheaper too. Caveat emptor is a nice old Latin term that fits.

There was another rabies death last week (Jul. 27) in Bangli, the island’s 12th this year. It takes the official human toll from rabies to 160 since the disease broke out in 2008. It is now on the rise again, because the government, its animal husbandry agency, and some district administrations, have dropped the ball. That’s the bottom line. It’s a shocking one.

Takes the Cake

We can report that not only is Tim Hannigan’s latest book on Indonesia first class – it’s A Short History of Indonesia: Sultans, Spices and Tsunamis, and has just been published by Tuttle Singapore – but that the Biku high tea that accompanied his chat about it on Jul. 25 was too. We expected nothing less, of course, of Asri Kerthyasa’s fine establishment; and we were certainly not disappointed, though we did leave afterwards feeling quite full.

Tim is a good speaker. He has a knack of sitting gnome-like on a tall chair and looking entirely comfortable. This is a remarkable skill. He took the sell-out crowd through the introduction to his book, the only bit of it, he says, that is entirely imagined. It centres on the Hobbits of Flores in pre-history and their lengthy interaction with the fuller-sized humans who colonized the archipelago towards the end of the Hobbit era. The rest of the book can rely on written and narrative record, and does, rather well.

The official book tour included an appearance at Bar Luna literary club in Ubud and a signing assignment at Periplus at the airport. Unofficially, it featured a rare opportunity to catch up with the author over dinner, which was good fun and informative as always. This special meeting of the Raconteurs’ Club took place at Gorgonzola, which is a fixture on our Bukit List.

Direct Action

Those who follow the detail of the Indonesian-Australian relationship know very well that it chugs along much as ever, beyond the headlines and the scare stories, even in the face of the assertion (lately) by the Indonesian attorney-general that shooting convicted criminals is no longer a pressing priority. Apparently only the first few rounds were prioritized. It is now crystal clear that this exercise in judicial murder was for political purposes. We’ll pause briefly to vomit in disgust and then get on with business.

The business in this instance is the Direct Assistance Program administered by the Australian consulate-general in Bali. The 2014-2015 program funding was doubled to Rp 1, 683,000,000 in the Australian budget for that financial year (Australia’s FY runs Jul. 1-Jun. 30). It funded 16 projects, two of them in neighbouring Nusa Tenggara Barat for which the consulate-general also has responsibility. Australia slashed its future foreign aid funding in the 2015-2016 budget in May, but most of the impact is in outlays for future years and the DAP program in Bali-NTB for this financial year remained at its previously doubled level.

Projects funded in 2014-2015 included: Funding sight-restoring cataract surgeries in NTB; buying support tools for patients with disability in Lombok; providing piping to access clean water for a village in Tabanan; supporting a sustainable agriculture project in Buleleng that researched and promoted dry land farming techniques; purchasing toilets to supply to a remote village in East Bali; funding a pop-up co-working space in Gianyar to develop entrepreneurship among young Balinese; working with an Australian volunteer to provide advanced nurse training at Sanglah Hospital; and providing updated IT equipment to a women’s college in Ubud to train young female students in multi-media skills.

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

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Feb. 6, 2013

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences


Shooting Party

The fate of British drug smuggler Lindsay Sandiford is far from settled, despite Governor Pastika’s apparent belief that we should all be relaxed and comfortable with the decision of the judges at her trial in Denpasar in January to ignore the prosecution, and the evidence it presented, and sentence the poor woman to death. Sandiford, a 56-year-old grandmother, is unquestionably gullible and stupid. You would have to be both to agree – in whatever circumstances – to attempt to smuggle nearly five kilograms of cocaine into Bali. But even if you accept that the death penalty is a justified legal sanction (it is not) it is clearly unwarranted in this case. The reason for this is not Indonesian law, which permits the State to kill people by firing squad for a number of offences. It lies, rather, in the judges’ reasons for imposing the death sentence on Sandiford. Among these is the astonishing one that Sandiford harmed the image of Bali by her actions. Hey, everyone! Better not dump rubbish! That definitely harms the image of Bali and apparently, on the Sandiford bench’s model, could attract the death penalty.

The judges heard (or possibly didn’t hear) the prosecution call for a 15-year sentence for Sandiford for being a drug mule. The prosecution did not present any evidence to suggest Sandiford was the ring-leader of the gang. Three other people have been jailed as a result of the failed plan to smuggle cocaine into Bali. Brit expat Rachel Douglas got one year for possession of a small quantity of drugs. Her partner, Julian Ponder, has been sentenced to six years (but could have faced the death penalty). A property developer, Paul Beales, has been jailed for four years. Quite possibly very few people care much about the fate of Sandiford, who committed a stupidly criminal act that, had it evaded detection, would possibly have put a lot of cocaine into street circulation in Bali. Her post-sentence ploy, to sue the British foreign office because it didn’t put enough effort into helping her, is unfortunately commonplace. Ask the Aussies; they’re forever dealing with people who think it’s the government’s job to get them out of trouble.

But shooting a 56-year-old granny would do far more damage to Bali’s image than anything else. As for the Governor, he of all people should understand that the final legal processes are not yet complete. There is no reason to respect the court’s decision, other than as a step in a lengthy process. There will be an appeal. There are further options beyond an appeal. No executions have been carried out in Indonesia since 2008. It is devoutly to be hoped that the judicial killings five years ago turn out to have been the country’s last.

Muddy Waters

Something even nastier than piles of festering rubbish seems to be lurking in the precious Benoa Harbour mangroves that Bali’s provincial government and others are being so cavalier about. It beggars belief that anyone would think a political answer to mangrove destruction in pursuit of (otherwise reasonable) road improvements is to licence a commercial operator to build something euphemistically called an eco resort in the remaining mangrove area. It’s something so far out in left field that it brings to mind the Vietnam War era assertion by a US officer that American forces had to destroy a town in order to save it. To put the Benoa Harbour mangrove situation in the kindest possible light, we might simply say that a crucial element of perspective has been lost. Welcome to Wally World. Mangroves are critically important breeding areas for marine life – fish and crustaceans, which people later eat – and essential to coastal protection from storms, tidal surges and even (though we hope this never happens) tsunamis. Apparently destruction of the marine littoral can be overlooked, as the Mulia’s unauthorised wave-break wall at Geger Beach at Nusa Dua was until someone made a noise about it.

The local Friends of the Earth – known here as WAHLI – have been vocal about the Benoa Harbour mangroves. WAHLI’s activist but otherwise inoffensive leader Wayan Suardana, more widely known by his familiar name Gendo, was beaten up at his Denpasar office last November by hired thugs, none of whom (and don’t wait up) have actually been apprehended. WAHLI is suing Governor Pastika over his authorisation of the mangrove eco-resort project.    

So Good to be Bad

Alliance Française does great work in promoting French language and culture. This is to be encouraged, especially nowadays when we are all under threat from global Americanisation. So it’s a shame the Diary couldn’t make the showing of a lovely film in Denpasar  – it was part of the Alliance Française Ciné Club programme – which tells the story of a kind person’s transformation from nice to bad. You might say French humour is parfait.  No, that’s not a dessert, perfect or otherwise. In this case the humour was in one of a number of films screened in a “transformation” series. The movie Ugly Melanie tells the story of a girl who is too nice to be true: so kind and helpful that everyone knows it, even the neighbour’s dog.

But because she is so nice, people take advantage of her. Eventually, she gets fed up with this. Well, merde, wouldn’t anyone? So one day Melanie decides to change, following yet another humiliation at the hands of her cousin Aurore. From now on she will take revenge on those who have made her life hell. Of such things are dreams made.

Gives You the Brits

Hot on the heels of news that more Chinese than ever are likely to be landing en masse at Ngurah Rai International this year, courtesy of new charter flights direct from the Middle Kingdom, we hear hints that a few more Brits than usual might be planning Bali breaks too. It’s their weather, apparently. Though it’s something of a mystery why this should suddenly be an issue in 2013 when sensible ex-Brits (such as your diarist) decamped as far back as 1969 because of exactly the same inclement conjunction of drizzle and chill. It does take some people a little while to catch on, of course.

Last year the UK had its second wettest year on record. New travel industry research indicates many Brits have decided 2013 might be just as bad, if not worse, and – like Cliff Richard in that song half a century ago – they’re all going on a summer holiday. Most will be going to the Costa Lotta, the Costa Blotto and sundry other customary nearby haunts of the cloth-cap brigade – who can’t get by without their cuppas and fish and chips – but we suppose a few might look further afield.  Stand by for the Glums.

Dog-Whistle Days

Deborah Cassrels, the well-connected Aussie scribbler-about-Bali, had a piece in The Weekend Australian recently about how expats in plush Canggu villas are being targeted by terrible thieves. We’re sure it’s a problem for them. If you stand out in the crowd – and it’s easy to do that if you live in a pad that would accommodate several Indonesian extended families and still have room to spare – you make yourself a target. That’s not to defend low-life types (from anywhere) who break into houses and rob people with violence. The police should deter such activity, or at least try to catch the miscreants after the event. But it is to say that people who live in Expatostan are probably their own worst enemies. If instead you live in a local community, establish reliably mutual neighbourly relationships and don’t flaunt your wealth – even if it is only relative wealth – you’re following sensible rules. And memo Deb (and others in the Australia media): “Rich” Balinese and other Indonesians get robbed too.

On a Lighter Note

Well, all that’s been a bit of a downer, so here’s something cheerier. Someone, perhaps a chap with nothing better to do, has compiled a list of strange questions asked at job interviews. One caught our eye: What songs best describe your work ethic? It was asked at a Google job interview, which figures. We came up with three that suit our style: Manic Monday by The Bangles and two Billy Joel classics – Ain’t No Crime (“Nine o’clock coming without any warning and you gotta get your ass out the door“) and Big Shot (“But now you just don’t remember all the things you said and you’re not sure that you want to know”).

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