HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, June 24, 2015

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Mama Mia!

We failed to wear pink for the occasion because – well, just because. But we were present at the June lunch of the indomitable DIVAS, who gathered at Slippery Stone in Jl Batu Belig, Kerobokan, for fun, frivolity, a clear absence of fasting as a practice any girl in her senses would endorse, and to raise money for the women’s empowerment group the ROLE Foundation.

We had promised chief Diva Christina Iskandar that we’d get along to the show, on Jun. 12. This was made easier by an arrangement to appear as Lizzie Love’s handbag. ROLE chief Mike O’Leary presented some interesting facts about his organization and the useful – actually essential – work it does to shift disadvantaged women out of poverty. Eva Scolaro sang some songs, sultry and otherwise, and ended with Mama Mia, that old ABBA staple. That created an amazing scene, at least in the view of superannuated diarists. Crowds of women from dowagers to dinky divas leapt up and began punching the air. It was quite alarming until Lizzie, dear creature, calmed our rising fears. Apparently it’s the done thing.

Lizzie, who didn’t do the punch-the-air thing, was in fetching Flapper-style pink but she had along with her for the show a lovely Sydney friend, Jocelyn Johinke, to whose presence we formed an immediate attraction. Like the Diary, she was wearing the “new pink” which is, well, basically white.

It was all good fun with no disappointments since we never win raffles anyway, and now we know it’s safe to be in the middle of a moderately raucous female crowd we’ll get along to the next one, in September. That’s if Lizzie will extend the handbag option.

Free For All

Well, not quite. But President Joko Widodo has issued a decree that suspends the effect of legislation to the contrary and lists 45 countries whose citizens will be able to visit Indonesia without the financial embarrassment and onerous queuing involved in first paying $US35 for a VOA and then lining up again to get a stamp in their passport.

Apparently the reciprocity rule doesn’t matter any more. If Indonesia wants to exempt certain aliens from paying for tourist visas, it’s no longer germane whether their own countries offer the same privilege to Indonesians. One of the President’s stated aims is to get 10 million tourists a year to Bali by 2019. That’s just four years away. Perhaps he hasn’t realized this, since mathematics is apparently a problem to him. Making the announcement in Denpasar he said that 10 million was nearly double the present 4 million a year.

Then again, maybe the idea is to prove the local theory that the availability of infrastructure to cope with such an influx really doesn’t matter a damn.

There might be a little confusion in the queues though. In the grand tradition of bureaucracies everywhere, which is of course played out in spades in Indonesia, the signs in the arrival hall at Ngurah Rai International are also, shall we say, to be decorous about it, not quite right. Never mind. Just mill around and marvel. That’s what Bali wants its tourists to do anyway, once they get out of the airport. So they can just start a little early.

The U.S., Canada and New Zealand are on the free list. Pointedly, though not surprisingly given the tedious you’ve-got-feet-of-clay two-way exchanges across the Timor Sea that have recommenced lately, Australia is not.

A Note for Scribblers

It popped into our in-box recently from Janet DeNeefe, doyenne of the literary tea set in Ubud and founder of the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. The twelfth rendition of this felicity takes place between Oct. 28 and Nov. 1. Do make a note in your diaries. It’s always worth getting along to the program of events DeNeefe and crew put on for the festival.

Having reached the halfway mark of the year, DeNeefe notes, there are only four short months until the 2015 festival. We’ll leave aside the fact that discounting June (now all but gone) only September is a short month in that timeframe. We know she meant.

More than 150 writers and creatures she calls creatives from Indonesia and beyond “will gather to discuss extraordinary stories and big ideas”. Gabfests are always fun, so we’ll certainly be planning to join the jamboree.

All the latest details, including the names of writers in the fields of fiction, human rights and research, are on the festival website. If you’re writing a book and would like to launch it at UWRF 2015, applications are now open. The Diary’s alter ego is engaged in just such a venture, but it may not be ready in time and in any case its genre might better suit a more outré venue.

Early Bird tickets go on sale in July.

Barking Mad: Latest Update

Some shocking figures have found their way into the local Bahasa press on rabies, which has been a feature of Bali, though not an attraction, since 2008. They show that in 2013 the percentage of dogs vaccinated against rabies – and therefore providing the vital screen between canine rabies and its transmission to humans – was 68 percent, just below the 70 percent level international standards say is necessary for effective herd immunity and suppression of the disease. (In 2010, at the end of the successful campaign led by the animal welfare NGO the government now loves to hate, the figure was 80 percent.)

It gets worse. In 2014 it was 44 percent. By June this year (without figures from Klungkung regency which is either playing silly beggars or has gone to sleep) it was 36 percent. That’s effectively half the optimum protection level. No wonder we’re seeing a procession of local animal husbandry worthies panicking while they do their repertory performances of Cpl. Jones in Dad’s Army, whose catch-cry was “Don’t Panic! Don’t Panic!”

And that’s not all the bad news, either. In 2013 the risk that a dog might be infected with rabies and thus likely to bite you and cause you to die an unnecessary and horrific death was 4.1 percent. In 2014 this figure had risen to 10.2 percent. In the middle of 2015 it is a shocking 20.8 percent – one in five dogs.

Another of Cpl. Jones’ favourite aphorisms was “They don’t like it up ’em”, and this too is a feature of Bali’s disgraceful failure to counter rabies. Animal husbandry authorities have warned that anyone interfering with their kill-at-will response to the disease they have allowed to become endemic is breaking the law and could be jailed. Animal welfare organizations could face closure if they pursue an activist agenda.

Bali’s authorities might win first prize for idiocy and short sightedness over this. They won’t win anything else, far less the battle to control rabies.

There are also problems with supply of human rabies post-exposure vaccine. It’s basically an argument over money (sigh) but it’s symptomatic of the deficient budgetary processes that are ubiquitous here and the vacuous policy of judging risk as functionally absent until something actually happens.

Indonesia Raya

Britain’s ambassador to Indonesia, Moazzam Malik, told a gathering in Jakarta to celebrate the birthday of Queen Elizabeth II that Indonesia, along with China and India, will dominate the global economy as the 21st century progresses, because of its large population. The proprietors of countless bengkels relying for their livelihood on perforated mufflers and wonky suspensions will be pleased to hear this.

No, seriously, British analysis of global trends clearly identifies population mass as a key driver of economies, and notes that Britain, with a medium population (it’s around 59 million) relies on partnerships or strong cooperation with larger countries. This factor alone argues against the developing tendency in Britain to view with favour an exit from the European Community, though that’s a separate issue in this context.

The Queen’s Birthday is celebrated in June – it’s not her actual birthday – so that the Brits have an outside chance of seeing the grand military parade in London called Trooping the Colour held in conditions rather more clement than the usual shivery temperatures and intermittent drizzle.

Tweet, Tweet 

The Japanese city of Yokohama – it’s Tokyo’s port city – is working with the Indonesian government to help conserve the endangered Bali Starling by donating birds for resettlement in the Bali Barat National Park. It’s the second three-year program. The first began in 2012.

The Bali Starling (Leucopsar Rothschildi) is locally known as the jalak or curik. In 2005 there were only five birds known to be survivors in their natural habitat, the national park in west Bali. Today the population is more than 100, including 40 that have been released in the park.

Hector is on Twitter and tweets @ scratchings. His diary appears in the print and online editions of the Bali Advertiser.

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, May 27, 2015

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Comedy of Horrors

The head of animal husbandry in Badung regency, Made Badra, is reported (by the Jawa Pos newspaper) to have come up with a brilliantly cunning Baldrick-style plan to solve the rabies problem in Bali. These guys must be watching bootleg DVDs of the entire series of The Black Adder, the way they go on. Pak Made in particular seems to have been chatting with the Wise Woman. She was the witch who advised Lord Blackadder, who had a little difficulty with two men and a queen, to kill everyone.

No, that’s unfair. He apparently would like to keep 200,000 dogs in Bali as long as they’re vaccinated and sterilized, and kept as pets, in order to protect the Bali Dog. It’s possible that he was misreported as to the precise detail of his proposal. As head of animal husbandry he would presumably know that sterilized dogs have difficulty reproducing. Given the average lifespan of a dog, on the reported basis of his plan he’d be looking at eliminating the Bali Dog as a distinct species within about 15 years.

The crux of the problem with rabies control in Bali is that no one is in control. There’s not enough vaccine in stock because not enough is being bought. District control programs are administered – though that hardly seems the word – by officials who don’t know how many dogs there are but nonetheless would like to kill lots of them. The health bureaucracy cannot vaccinate people who need anti-rabies shots after they’ve been bitten by village dogs that no one can say have been vaccinated. Look up shemozzle in the dictionary. It’s all the rage here.

On top of this, the Badung animal husbandry chief has a shot at animal welfare organizations that, he says, really should do more than just shout and scream if they want to help. We know of one such organization that right from the start of the crisis in 2008 actually did rather a lot more than just run around like a headless chook. It reduced rabies in dogs by a huge quantum in the first stage of a vaccination campaign it organized with international support. Then it ran into a poisonous thicket of provincial posturing and little local jealousies – these were not in Badung regency; that needs to be noted – and has since been monstrously hindered by inventive licensing and permit restrictions in doing its day job, let alone the government’s.

We say again: world best practice shows that controlling rabies and eventually eliminating it as a threat to human and animal populations is achieved by vaccinating (and regularly re-vaccinating) domestic and informally owned dogs to create an effective vaccinated screen. Dogs are territorial and will see off interlopers and hence keep potentially rabid animals away.

What part of “Oh I see” do the authorities here not understand?

Two Gems

The Diary dined in excellent company at the new Jemme Restaurant in Jl. Petitenget at Kerobokan on May 9, its opening night after significant renovations. It was busy and at times a little noisy – but, hey, there’s nothing wrong with a little chatter and clatter – and the food hit the spot. It’s a gem. There’s a very decent wine list and a menu that suits all tastes. Our advice: Do drop in.

Another gem was along for the occasion. Eva Scolaro, Perth jazz singer and now Bali resident, sang for everyone’s supper. She’s doing regular spots there. And we hear she’ll be performing at the next DIVA do, on Jun. 12 at Slippery Stone at Kerobokan.

In an entirely different style, we looked in at Hog Wild’s soft opening in Jl. Batu Belig on May 14. It’s the former Naughty Nuri’s and the charity outfit SoleMen had a benefit there. The grub’s good. So was Ceremco, the Dutch illusionist who has now been reading minds in Bali for two years.

We’d seen him not long before at the Europe on Screen film festival at Pan Pacific Nirvana. He specializes in two different genres – kids’ magic (which was certainly working magically for the kids at Hog Wild) and hypnosis, psychological magic and self-help for adults.

Chaos Theory: Proved

We’ve had a lovely taste of the chaos the European and post-Ramadan high season will cause on Bali’s roads this year. The long weekend recently brought South Bali’s major arterial roads to a standstill. It’s reported that on the Friday evening of the long weekend it was taking up to two hours to make the trip from Seminyak to Kuta. That’s 6.4 kilometres via Sunset Road. Traffic was stalled for kilometres on the Ngurah Rai Bypass and all the connecting roads were jammed.

Vehicle traffic from Java via the Ketapang-Gilimanuk ferry link rose by 37 percent. More than 3500 vehicles entered Bali from Gilimanuk on the Thursday before the long weekend alone. Since the Denpasar-Gilimanuk road would be flat out properly handling 10 percent of its regular traffic and alternatives to this – a toll road option – are still in the department of pretty pictures, nothing’s going to change on that arterial route soon.

In South Bali, the traffic situation at peak times has returned to the jam-packed inch-forward profile for which it was famous before the Nusa Dua-Benoa toll road was built. Given rock-bottom airfares aimed at domestic tourists and the Chinese invasion (they drive around in large parties in Leviathan-sized charabancs, as is their wont) the future looks bleak.

It’s a Squeeze

A telling illustration of the bind Bali has got itself into over tourism and infrastructure comes to light in new figures released by the statistics bureau that show a disastrous 2011-2015 decline in room occupancy rates of classified hotels (the ones with stars basically).

They’re worth running your eye over even if you’re not directly involved in the hotel sector, since they demonstrate with stark clarity why retail outlets and other services that depend on high throughput of human customers are also struggling.

In January 2011 the occupancy rate was 64.66 percent. In 2012 it was 62.01; in 2013, it fell to 57.57, then to 52.85 in 2014 and 47.23 in 2015. For the month of February the rates were 62.23 (2011); 55.52 (2012); 58.05 (2013); 52.76 (2014); and 47.59 (2015). Similarly sharp falls in occupancy rates occurred in all but two months of each year between 2011 and 2015. March in particular stands out. In Mar. 2011 the occupancy rate was 63.16 percent. In Mar. 2015 it was 43.24 percent. August and September are the only months in the series in which the 2015 occupancy rates are higher than they were in 2011. (The 2014 and 2015 figures are provisional.)

Under Bali’s unplanned planning rules, new hotels are still being built and opened. Existing hotels are discounting room rates to attract custom, or are being squeezed by the online bookings sector. We hear a suggestion that most hotels even at the top star-rated level are effectively getting only Rp300,000 a night per room. If this is so – it’s unlikely any hotel general manager is going to be saying so publicly – then the situation is unsustainable in the long term without massive new numbers of visitors.

Eat Up!

Penelope Williams, whose unique Bali Asli restaurant is at Gelumpang, near Amlapura in un-crowded East Bali, and who featured as a foodie at the 2014 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, is on the program at the first Ubud Food Festival on Jun. 5-7. She is giving a cooking demonstration on Jun. 7.

Williams, who was formerly executive chef at Alila Manggis, has a stellar CV and came to Bali from 12 years in Sydney, Australia, says her aim is to promote Balinese cuisine and culture without exploiting it or Bali’s people. The menu offers authentic Balinese food using a traditional Balinese style kitchen. They cook on wood-fired, mud brick stoves, which Williams says allows the real flavours of Bali to shine. Most of Bali Asli’s ingredients are either grown in its own or a neighbour’s garden or bought from the local market. There’s a cooking school too.

She has a refreshingly open approach to life and its vagaries. On the Bali Asli website there’s this lovely entry: “On Trip Advisor …. Among the few critics is an expat who has lived in Bali for several years. She describes the restaurant as a place for naive tourists and her advice is to get far less expensive but good Balinese food at a local warung.”

Well, we’re another expat who has lived in Bali for several years and eats at local warungs. And Bali Asli is on our non-naive-tourist must-visit list.

Hector tweets @ scratchings on Twitter. His diary is published in the Bali Advertiser print and online editions http://www.baliadvertiser.biz

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Mar. 18, 2015

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Gone to the Dogs

The resurgence of rabies in Bali is yet another of those avoidable things that the chaps in charge of the asylum could have avoided if they could have been bothered, or if they hadn’t blown the budget on lots of other things. Yet it’s in an emergency such as this – brought about by seven years of feeble official failure to address a dire public health risk in a consistent, planned, properly administered way – that leadership is required.

Instead, in the time-honoured fashion, our leaders are being proper little dukes of Plaza-Toro about rabies. They’re leading from the back. Governor Pastika, who has no trouble ignoring the weight of popular opinion when it comes to things like filling in Benoa Bay because the environment is far less important than plutocrats making even more money, has called on people to kill stray dogs because, he says, that’s what the people tell him they’d like to do.

No matter, then, that all the literature – and global experience – shows very plainly that suppressing rabies is achieved through vaccination programs that create herd immunity in the canine population (70 per cent is the benchmark figure) and humane reduction of numbers by sterilization. No matter that the scientific record shows indiscriminate killing of dogs helps to spread the disease, because dogs in the vaccinated screen population are eliminated. No matter that it is the government’s job to educate people about effective rabies control and eliminate it as a threat to the broad community. (That 70 per cent screen again.)

Pogroms such as that recently visited upon the small band of dogs that customarily inhabited Kuta beach are certainly not unusual. The Kuta killing spree was noticed only because of where it took place and because it followed an Australian tourist child being bitten, though not by a rabid dog. It horrified tourists (some of whom were not effete, do-gooder westerners, by the way) and painted a picture of Bali that certainly does not conform to the requirements of Tumpek Kandang, a Hindu rite observed every 210 days (the latest was on Mar. 7) that is a symbolic offering for all animals living in the world. The non-symbolic pre-Tumpek Kandang offering to the dogs of Kuta beach consisted of bashings and then, in the dead of night, some other inhuman final solution.

The issue will not go away, however much Bali’s administrators would like it to and in spite of the impenetrable thickets of incomplete (or completely erroneous) data that hide the facts. It recently got an airing in the Asia edition of The International New York Times, in a piece by its Jakarta-based correspondent Joe Cochrane. It might be true that Bali has run out of money for vaccine, as the Governor says. The immediate questions then should be: Why? And what are you doing to get more money for vaccine? These questions are unlikely to be asked by anyone who would be listened to; and, if they were, the truthful answers (if forthcoming, which would require a miracle) would be Don’t Know and Nothing.

A man died of rabies in Bangli recently. Last year, according to official figures, either one or several people died of the disease elsewhere in Bali. Anecdotally, the real 2014 figure would seem to be rather higher.

Do It! Do It!

Among the many voluntary organizations here doing great fundraising work to assist the social advance of the Balinese people is one that regularly does lunch. Its members are the Divas, which must be an acronym for some obscure phrasal noun relating to Ladies Who Dress Up. Because dress up they do and we’re glad that this is so. It is tedious to gaze forever at designer-torn denim, long or short (often very short) and with incautious little garments above that would surely flutter away in a half-decent breeze and which are of a size that would completely fail to shame a doily into thinking that it was the runt of the litter.

But we digress. The Divas’ next do, at Slippery Stone in Jl. Batu Belig, Kerobokan, on Mar. 27, is an event at which, so chief Diva Christina Iskandar and the tickets tell us, we are promised that they will do it Greek style. If we can lasso a loose Diva – that is, ahem, for clarity and decorum, one not already spoken for in terms of a lunchtime handbag, if indeed they allow handbags – we might even go along ourselves. It would be worth spending Rp350K (in a good cause and in pursuit of fine comestibles) to see the show.

From memory, doing it Greek style involves throwing lots of plates and breaking them. Staging such an affray might not please Slippery Stone. It’s an up-market establishment, but it possibly has a prudential budget for crockery. And anyway, now we think of it, plate-breaking seems to be a wedding ritual, like that other dangerous pursuit, this one Italian, of pinning money to the bride while taking great care not to eyeball – or worse, inadvertently brush against – anything remotely adjacent to an erogenous zone.

The March event, aside from collecting lots of money as per their standard practice, will reward the Divas with an appearance by songstress Eva Scolaro, from Perth, who also emcees and hosts and does photographic modelling. She’s no stranger to Bali and has also performed in Jakarta.

Junk It!

It’s good to see that Bali’s provincial government will be working with the villages to manage and hopefully reduce the mountain of waste that threatens to overwhelm the island (and that’s not only in the tourist areas; plastic is a problem everywhere). Some might say they’re a bit late off the starting block, but never mind. There’s evidence of a spring in the step and that’s really pleasing.

The principal message at the start of this program might usefully be: If you throw it away, it’s still your responsibility. That recognition is something best instilled in children, so that by the time they’re adults they will know instinctively that dumping evil-smelling waste containing material that won’t disappear for up to a quarter of a million years and will poison the planet in the meantime is a really stupid thing to do.

The charity organization ROLE Foundation has a great Eco Kids Program, which kicked off for 2015 this month with an awareness visit to the Sanur Independent School and a hosted visit by 40 students from a private school in Bogor, West Java.

ROLE asks a very good question. Will our children inherit a world of grey skies, brown oceans full of junk with no marine life left, and land with no trees or wildlife? It has a very good answer: Not if our Eco Kids Program has anything to do with it.

On Not Giving a Toss, Etc

Elizabeth Pisani, whose lengthy time and travels in Indonesia produced both the readable travelogue Indonesia Etc and a book promoting safe sex that caused a frisson when it was released because it was called The Wisdom of Whores – a commodity, incidentally, that should never be ignored – has popped her cork again, this time in an Australian online magazine, The Starfish.

In relation to Australia’s immediate interest in the apparent presidential policy of preferring to shoot convicted drug criminals now because later the law might change to prevent this obscenity, she said:

“Jokowi really doesn’t give a toss about Australia. He does care about restoring his badly-bruised image as a decisive leader in the eyes of the Indonesian electorate. And it turns out that killing foreign drug dealers is quite a good way of doing that, at least among the 97 per cent of Indonesians who live outside Bali and profit very little from their southern neighbour.”

In the matter of bruising politics, British Indonesia-watcher and author Tim Hannigan (his book Raffles and the British Invasion of Java is a fine antidote to the obsequious tomes of some post-imperial hagiographers) presciently wrote in a piece for Asia House, the London think-tank, just before the presidential election in July 2014:

“Ultimately, Indonesia’s chronic tendency towards coalitions and political marriages of convenience, first manifested way back in 1955 and repeated the moment the country was allowed full electoral freedom in 1999, means that its democracy, in a strange way, guides itself – away from either destructive extremes or from meaningful progress, depending on your perspective and level of cynicism. This is why neither worst fears nor greatest hopes ever seem really to come to pass, and in the end it may not really make much difference who wins.”

Hannigan has a new book due out later this year, titled A Brief History of Indonesia (Tuttle). He promises to visit Bali thereafter, which will be fun.

Lights Out

Nyepi, Bali’s annual Silent Day, is on Saturday (Mar. 21). Mark it as you will. With a discreetly small torch is one way.

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