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

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

 

Art with a Frisson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Out to Score Goals

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

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

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

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

Update: Ambassador Malik presented his credentials on Dec. 18

 

Hey, We’re Eclectic

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

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

 

Their Garden Grows

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

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

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

 

Pouring In

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

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

 

Happy Christmas

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

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

 

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Nov. 12, 2014

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

She’s Off Her Face (Book)

Susi Johnston, the long-term American expatriate whose situation in regard to the property she lives in at Mengwi is as disgraceful as it is well known, has dropped off the social medium preferred by gazillions of virtual chatterers. She has deactivated her Facebook. She told us, when we inquired, that she was fed up with her situation (who could blame her?) and was upset by what she sees as abandonment by former friends. It is all very sad.

Her legal argument over title to her villa, which she shared with her late Italian husband, Bruno Piazza, remains unresolved. Some local grub, name known to police, decided that she should have it instead. Johnston’s house has been invaded. She has been threatened with violent harm. Her personal space has been violated. She has been the target of people who have planted illegal products in her home so she would be charged with a crime. But she is the victim and because of this has been a virtual prisoner in her villa for three years. She can’t even find a pembantu willing in the circumstances to be paid (very well) to keep house.

The police have done little except camp at her place 24/7 to “protect” her. In the process they have destroyed her life. The courts have done nothing except shuffle bumf. That’s no surprise but excuse us if we duck around a corner to vomit in disgust. The American consular system apparently cannot help her (or perhaps it will not).

In Johnston’s view the invidious situation of “nominee ownership” of property here means no one is safe unless everyone stands together. Foreigners cannot own freehold residential property in Indonesia. There is apparently still the quaint belief – though this is not a peculiarly Indonesian thing – that if filthy foreigners own land they might dig it up and steal away with it in the night. In fact it is Jakarta and Surabaya money – some of it black – that is the chief agency of land theft and the egregious despoliation that inevitably follows. But the unofficial and legally unsound nominee system which stands in the stead of outright foreign freehold ownership can work quite well if there is goodwill on each side.

Of course, it also enriches a lot of lawyers in Bali, among them practitioners whose acquisitive origins lie elsewhere, via the labyrinthine nature of Indonesian law and the fat brown envelope culture that underpins it.

Haunting Echoes

It would have been lovely to be at the Makassar Jazz Festival on the first weekend in November. Australian singer Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu was performing there, for the first time. He sings in the Gumatj dialect of Yolngu Matha, as did the Aboriginal rock group Yothu Yindi. Greg Moriarty, the Australian ambassador to Indonesia, had the good fortune to be in the audience.

Gurrumul’s music often enlivens The Cage and offers a spiritual lift. Particularly the haunting tracks Wiyathul and Bapa from his debut 2008 album Gurrumul, both of which on a hot, still night, remain capable of dampening an eye even after years of listening to them. He has done a lot of work since 2008, including last year’s collaboration with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. He has immensely strengthened cross-cultural links with the Balanda (the Australian settler community) through his music.

It’s entirely appropriate that Gurrumul should perform in Makassar. His traditional country on northern Australia’s littoral has links with Makassar that stretch back four hundred years, from the time in the 17th century when traders from Sulawesi first made contact. His own language contains modified words from Makassar now used in Bahasa Indonesia.

Moriarty was in South Sulawesi at the start of a visit to eastern Indonesia. Among other things on his schedule was a visit to an Australian-funded water project at Bantimurung that will increase the number of low-income households with access to piped water and sewerage.

He then went on to visit Papua province as part of Australia’s long-term support for economic development in eastern Indonesia.

In Aid of a Better Life

Among the lesser known things that Australian diplomatic and consular missions do is fund low-level self-help projects generally at community level to help local people have a better life. It’s not the sort of thing that often gets noticed. Actually that’s a good thing, because otherwise some whingeing so-and-sos in the Special Biosphere would inevitably assert that “their” government was wasting their money.

The consulate-general in Bali – which also looks after Australian interests in West Nusa Tenggara (Lombok and Sumbawa) – has an active annual program in which development grants go to local not-for-profit organizations to support projects and ideas that would not be possible without that assistance. Grants range from $2,500 to $15,000 (Australian).

It’s a lengthy list (which really deserves wide publicity, despite the caution noted in the first paragraph) but there are three that caught our eye as brightly illuminating both the principle and the practice of local assistance.

One is Dria-Raba, a government school for the blind in Denpasar. The Australians provided musical instruments and the fit-out for a music room. Like most government schools in Indonesia Dria-Raba needs to find the bulk of its funding from elsewhere than the public purse. Because of its special needs it is heavily reliant on volunteers.

In East Bali the Direct Aid Program funded the building of three early childhood learning centres. This enabled women employed at the new East Bali Cashews factory to continue to work as their children could be looked after during the day.

In Ubud, where several organizations are trying to get on top of the growing pile of garbage created by tourism and development, the Australians funded building of an environmental waste management facility (it’s a Rotary Club Ubud project) at the Monkey Forest whose product also feeds the monkeys, eliminating the expensive need to purchase feed.

 

Salam, Shalom

There’s an interesting book launch at Bar Luna, Ubud, on Sunday (Nov. 16): Sons of Abraham: A Candid Conversation about the Issues that Divide and Unite Muslims and Jews by Rabbi Marc Schneier and Imam Shamsi Ali.

Rabbi Schneier, president of The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, is the eighteenth generation of a distinguished rabbinical dynasty. He grew up deeply suspicious of Muslims, believing them all to be anti-Semitic (though that would be difficult for many Muslims who, being Arab, are Semites themselves). Imam Shamsi Ali, Imam of the Jamaica Muslim Center in New York, spent his childhood in a small Indonesian village, studied in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and believed that all Jews wanted to destroy Muslims. Coming from positions of mutual mistrust, it seemed unthinkable that these orthodox religious leaders would ever see eye to eye.

But in Sons of Abraham (Random House) – and the Bahasa Indonesia version Anak-Anak Ibrahim (Noura Book Publishing) – Rabbi Schneier and Imam Ali tell the story of how they became friends. They offer a candid look at the contentious theological and political issues that so often divide Muslims and Jews and clarify erroneous ideas that extremists in each religion use to justify harmful behaviour.

Ah, Souls

Another warning about overdevelopment has surfaced, this time in Bali Discovery and the online Surf Life journal. It reports that the Bali chapter of the Association of Tourism Intellectuals (this is not necessarily an oxymoron) is alarmed that accommodation development in Bali is following an unclear path. As a deflective  euphemism, that’s almost up there with the Japanese Emperor advising his people in a national radio broadcast in August 1945 that he was surrendering because the war had developed in ways not necessarily to Japan’s advantage.

Association chairman Putu Anom said that while new starred hotels were once confined to a specific area, these days inexpensive city hotels stood side-by-side with them, resulting in unhealthy price competition. Well, there’s always a protectionist argument that can be advanced, even if it should be ignored. It’s certainly true that Bali’s greed-first policy is creating an ever-spreading rash of significantly sub-iconic blots on the landscape.

The Surf Life piece had a photo captioned to indicate the particular blot on the landscape depicted was another hotel. It isn’t. It’s actually worse. Someone with a ready supply of facilitation funds is wrecking the cliff just east of the Banyan Tree on the southern Bukit to create a jet-ski centre where Generation Vroom can disturb the peace, frighten the local fish, and damage the coral.

Killer at Large

A nine-year-old girl from Kubu in Karangasem, East Bali, has died of rabies. This is a shocking and unnecessary tragedy. It is also a bleak indictment of the Bali authorities’ condign failure, now of six years’ duration, to act effectively to control the outbreak to prevent the disease becoming endemic. It’s not that they’ve been short of advice, expert assistance, or funds, after all.

Hector tweets @scratchings on Twitter. His diary appears in the Bali Advertiser newspaper and online at baliadvertiser.biz