Hector’s Bali Diary, Mar. 30, 2016

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

 

Voice of the People

That 29 banjars can get together to protest the proposed corporate vandalism of Benoa Bay and the destruction of its precious mangrove environment is a political problem for the provincial government and the lesser authorities whose fief is Badung regency. This protest, on Mar. 20, wasn’t authorized. It wouldn’t have been. But it was authoritative and it called in all the weight of adat (custom). It was also the second such protest: an earlier one on Feb. 28 involved the village of Benoa and its banjars.

The Mar. 20 protest shut off airport access to the toll way and the traffic circle at the airport road intersection on Bypass Ngurah Rai. The organizers announced the event well ahead of time and apologized for the inconvenience. But most likely few people – beyond the Governor and his Benoa Bay despoiler of choice, Jakarta tycoon Tomy Winata – thought the demonstration was a bad idea. Most people think the bad idea in this instance is wrecking a fragile and precious environment in the interests of rich people getting even richer.

The police were powerless. They are not a constabulary here; they are effectively a paramilitary enforcement squad. But you wouldn’t want to start a war with 29 banjars. They took away two important adat leaders for a compulsory little chat while the non-affray was in progress. A crowd that then gathered outside the police office where this enforced conversation was taking place ensured that the detention period swiftly ended.

What happened on Mar. 20 was an exercise in grass roots democracy. It should provide valuable instruction for those in office. The primary lesson is that the people at all times effectively limit your power to act contrary to their wishes. There’s another lesson too. It is that while economic advance is essential, and should be welcomed, this needs to be achieved by public consensus and sensible planning, not by diktat or fiat or droit de seigneur. (Look that last one up. It’s allegorical in this case, but it’s apt and you might get a giggle.)

Candi Break

We spent Easter at Candi Dasa in East Bali, far from the madding crowd. We felt the need to stare at the ocean for four days. It’s always restless, but it sticks to its game plan and is predictable, at least in the main. The tides always come in and go out twice a day, a Circadian rhythm that for us provides a truly meditative focus from the comfort of a long chair by the pool. The discomfort of a yoga mat is for others in a more malleable state of grace.

We stayed at a favourite place, Pondok Bambu, where no one knows us as anything other than those crazy old Bules who’ve been coming here for years. We hadn’t been there for a while, but neither Nusa Penida nor Lembongan had moved. They remained in full view across the shimmering Badung Strait. Away to the east, Lombok gave us a glimpse of its comely contours now and then. The offshore parking arrangements for the Bali-Lombok ferries were as interesting as ever. Waiting your turn to Ro-Ro at the wharf at Padang Bai a few kilometres down the coast can sometimes be longer than the crossing.

And Pondok Bambu’s breakfast pancakes, enjoyed under the umbrellas by the low wall just above the water, were as tasty as always too. If you have hang around all Easter, it’s a pretty good spot to do so.

Switch Off

It was Earth Hour on Mar. 19, that annual observance through which, by switching off the lights for 60 minutes, we are encouraged to believe that we are saving the planet, or at least that we are helping to do so. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a bit of tokenism. No, really. It’s what the world seems to live on these days.

PLN, the national power utility, joined the chorus. It said Earth Hour was a great idea and consumers of its ephemerally available current should certainly participate. They didn’t quite go so far as to call on us to be upstanding and sing Indonesia Raya at mosque-loudspeaker pitch, but you got the idea.

A hollow laugh would be appropriate at this point. PLN has its own Earth Hours, somewhere, every minute, through its Well That’s a Surprise program of unannounced and inexplicable outages.

We once considered, in a nightmare we vaguely recall, what we might do if we woke up and found we were running PLN. Resignation and a plea to be considered instead for a position more closely aligned with the less fanciful claims in our CV came to mind. A paperclip-counting position in some dustily remote office of government might suit.

Just So We’re Cleare

It’s official. Australia is finally on the free tourist visa list, for visitors who are not intending to extend their stay beyond 30 days. That’s good news. But while the decision has officially been made and announced (accepting that here as indeed anywhere, things can be unannounced as required) it wasn’t immediately in place.

The super-active Clare McAlaney, who saw the announcement on line from the consular people at the Indonesian embassy in Canberra, got on to them for confirmation.

They told her this, on Mar. 21, in an email addressed to “Dear Cleare”:

“The new regulation on free visa to Indonesia for several countries, including Australia, was already signed by the President.

“However, its effective implementation shall wait for the issuance of the implementing regulation from the Ministry of Law and Human Rights.

“Once the new visa regulation is officially effective, it will be publicly announced by Indonesian Embassies/Consulates.”

Apparently some Australians got through immigration at Ngurah Rai International without paying US$35 as soon as the decision was announced. Even though the presidential pen had squiggled, the scrap of paper hadn’t been dug out from under the administrative overburden and no regulation yet existed. They’ll sort it out, eventually. The department of crossed wires must be Indonesia’s busiest bureaucracy.

Putting on Weight

The annual Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, a fixture since 2002, is breaking new ground with the collation of the UWRF’s bilingual Anthology series, which each year brings together the work of 15 emerging writers from across Indonesia. The writers themselves will launch the published anthology at the 16th festival, which runs from Oct. 26-30.

Festival director Janet DeNeefe tells us that this year UWRF has the largest number of submissions so far, with 894 aspiring writers from throughout Indonesia sending in stories for consideration. Submissions go to an independent curatorial board for selection.

In another move to widen its reach, the festival is collaborating with the Australasian Association of Writing Programs to select an aspiring writer to attend UWRF 2016. Submissions close at the end of May.

A Vital ROLE

The innovative travel outfit Destination Asia has been a supporter of the ROLE Foundation’s Bali WISE Women’s Skills Education program for more than a year now and have signed up to continue this support throughout 2016 as well.

That’s great news for all the women who have taken the opportunity to be part of the Bali WISE program. It highlights the benefits of corporate community support, delivered at a practical level, directly to the advantage of people who would otherwise remain truly disadvantaged.

ROLE founder Mike O’Leary tells us all Bali WISE students go through a six-month intensive school program. This is split into two parts: Three months are spent at ROLE’s Nusa Dua campus to learn English, women’s health, family planning, IT, and business skills. The next three months are spent at hotels for in-field hospitality training. Students’ education, accommodation and transport costs are covered throughout the six months of education.

Destination Asia started business in 1996 as the first destination management company to specialise in Indochina operations and the first Asia based travel business owned by its employees. Its network now spans 11 countries including Indonesia.

It runs on the old fashioned concept of a family business, without outside shareholders or directors, or equity relationships with international travel conglomerates.

So that’s a Woof, then

Bali’s most talkative recluse, Vyt Karazija, was some time ago adopted by an itinerant Bali dog, a feisty little fellow whose name is Lucky. Those of us lucky enough to be on Vyt’s mailing list have ever since enjoyed the Tales of Lucky. A recent post on canine affairs particularly caught our eye.

Karazija wrote: “Last night, Lucky was instructed by one of the people he owns to report to my place for his morning medication. ‘What time?’ he asked. ‘10am,’ he said. This morning, precisely at 10am, Lucky reported at my front door. Amazing dog.”

Hector’s Diary, edited for print publication, appears in the fortnightly publication the Bali Advertiser

 

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, Apr. 1, 2015

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

In a Word: Tosh

Proposals lately aired that would further limit the number of foreign workers in Indonesia are sensible. As a medium- to long-term strategy they are surely free of any downside. Though that would be in the context of the further development of the nascent ASEAN free market where, as in the European Community, state borders and indeed national citizenship would become progressively less important.

But most foreign workers in Indonesia are not “white”, as economic ministers looking for nationalistic headlines like to suggest. That old pejorative is code for “former colonial oppressors and their running dogs”. Indonesians are not disadvantaged because 70 years of independence has failed to free them from the fiscal drag of the colonial era. Instead, they are not as advantaged as they could be, because their governments have failed for seven decades to build an open, educated society and legislate for the competitive economy that would then have developed.

Nationalistic claptrap offers nothing of value. It produces only deflective, self-serving political rhetoric.  The economy does not run on rhetoric. It runs on money. If Indonesians desire progress, which they sensibly do, the ex-colonial cringe is a tiresome mindset they should have sent to the junkyard long ago.

A real economic imperative facing Indonesia is foreign investment. The national investment board, announcing recently that a “one-stop-shop” would soon open (good luck with all the sub-national impediments, chaps) said it estimated US$23 billion in planned investment was forgone in the five years 2007-2012 because regulatory and administrative holdups, and endemic corruption, chased it away.

So far as employment goes, if there are Indonesian workers who can do the job, no one in their right mind would recruit anyone else (in Indonesia). But what’s needed is an effective middle economy in the huge space between local global-list enterprises and the small-to-micro business sector (both of which work well).

That requires not only coordinated policies that actually work and are implemented, including foreign investment, but also a cultural change: No more “passing” people as qualified because not to do so would be culturally embarrassing (or invidious to the interests of and continued presence in Indonesia of the examiner); a real work ethic inspired from the top (that’s where the bosses work harder than those they employ); an education system that produces young people with well rounded global skills; and a health system that keeps people healthy and therefore productive.

It also requires effective public infrastructure, both physical and human. And last, though certainly not least, it needs government and business environments that are notable for minimal corruption and sound judicial decisions rather than the reverse of this.

“Expats” (a ridiculous word) have a limited role in Indonesia’s efforts to build a truly balanced economy. Foreign workers should be regulated by legislation, but in the context of an environment in which private profit (universally and fairly taxed as a revenue growth stream) is recognized and supported as a generator of wider wealth. Now there’s another vacant space that could and should be filled with objective, forward-thinking debate.

Take a Break

When the diary in Ubud, which is often because it’s a fun place to be – it’s got everything, after all, from spirit festivals to sex therapy (either amateur or professional) – we’re often to be found at Warung Semesta in Jl Monkey Forest. It has very nice coffee, a decent café-style menu, and reliable WiFi. The latter is essential these days since you carry your office with you in your laptop.

It’s attached to the Tegal Sari resort, which specializes in the Japanese tourist market but not exclusively so. As a drop-in spot for shopped-out shoppers, Semesta’s hard to beat, too, as it’s located just round the corner from where Jl Hanoman meets Jl Raya Pengosetan and segues into Jl Monkey Forest. (Hanoman is named after Hanuman, monkey hero of the Ramayana.)

The establishment is very near the monkey forest itself. A little troupe of macaques can sometimes be seen foraging in the mango trees outside or performing trapeze-style on the PLN wires.

Doris, Mate!

Dining über-casual the other night at Warung In-Salt on Jl Pantai Balangan at Ungasan turned into a better experience than ever. Tony Eltherington, aka Doris Day for reasons that are still not fully explained but who is the diary’s favourite mariner for all sorts of reasons his modest approach to achievement forbids him to boast or boost, was also there and in fine style.

He was shore-based at the time but told us he was shortly back off to his floating home, a nicely fitted out former West Australian crayfish boat, for its next tour of duty to the Mentawai Islands and beyond with surfing-diving-fishing fans in tow.

He gave us one of his new corporate T-shirts as a memento. It’s a fetching black and has a logo which – from a distance – resembles that of a particularly sought-after brand of motorbike that goes vroom in an expensively classy way.

Bombast Away!

The risk Bali faces of slipping behind in the race to win market share in the highly competitive international tourism market has lately come to the fore as a topic of official conversation. That this has been primarily in a constructive sense is a significant benefit. Applied analysis beats boring bombast any time, as an indicator of which of the paths thus far less travelled should in fact be chosen.

State reform minister Yuddy Christiano recently said that despite Bali’s popularity there were still areas that required improvement, among them measures to avoid the slightest risk of not providing the best service. That’s a fair point. It depends on the view of the tourists concerned what service can be defined as best. But most people want things that work efficiently and on schedule.

Over to Bali tourism head Anak Agung Gede Putra Yuniarta, who points out that the key to maintaining visitor levels and providing a better experience in spite of rising costs lies in creativity and services.

His list of must-do’s includes creating tour packages that show visitors more of Bali and encourage repeat business, enough electricity, road infrastructure that gets tourists to and from their ooh and aah places without giving them a headache or a conniption, and improving the environment of tourism sites.

He also notes that domestic tourists these days can visit Singapore and Malaysia and spend less doing so than if they came to Bali.

In this context, efforts to build up the nascent Indian tourism trade would be boosted by direct flights to Bali and free visas. Figures for January and February this year show 17,400 Indian tourists visited, up 47.5% on the same months last year.

It seems Indian tourists are impressed with the artistry and customs of Balinese Hinduism and yoga is a modern cultural connection. There was a conference in Nusa Dua on Mar. 26-28 from which further Indian media promotion was expected.

Free visas are certainly an issue. The government last year expanded the list of countries for which VOA charges would be removed and this year announced a further expansion, to 40 countries. Australia was on the first list but then wasn’t, the reason given being that it did not offer a reciprocal privilege to Indonesian travellers. Yes, well, perhaps someone was finding a plausible excuse after removing his foot from his mouth.

Now a court has ruled that free visas must be reciprocal or that they are otherwise illegal (apparently this is the intent of existing legislation). This is a further embarrassment for tourism minister tourism minister Arief Yahya. A significant number of countries on Jakarta’s fanfare of free visa felicities do not offer reciprocity. The dogs have been eating his homework yet again.

That’s the Spirit

The Bali Spirit Festival got under way in Ubud yesterday (Mar. 31) and runs until Sunday (Apr. 5). It’s in its eighth year. Like other song-and-dance shows on the calendar it may face problems in the future as the demographic of Bali tourism changes and Bali – inevitably – with this. But that shouldn’t worry inspirer-guru of the Global Celebration of Yoga, Dance & Music Meghan Pappenheim this year, or the happy-clapping collective which organizers said was expected to number 6000 and come from more than 50 countries.

There’s all the usual material at the festival’s two venues, one for the day-long workshops and the Agung Rai Museum of Art Open Stage for nightly world music concerts. Both venues also feature markets focusing on health and wellness through organic and healthy foods, crafts, clothing and merchandise.

But there was one item listed in an electronic promo that came our way about which we would be less than ecstatic if it was anything to do with us. It was something called Estatic Dance. Perhaps you stand rooted to the spot and fiddle with your cursor?

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