Go For It

Hector’s Bali Diary

HectorR

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

June 8, 2016

 

It’s always fun to read Alistair Speirs’ little homilies in NOW! Bali. They seem to carry a reminder of Episcopalian morality, which isn’t strange, really, given that Speirs is from Edinburgh, the Sassenach capital of Scotland. My Auntie Lizzie had something of the same air. She kept polished seashells and the Book of Common Prayer on display and lived in a flat in Leith, the port of Edinburgh. She was thought by my English mother to be slightly exotic, though my Scottish father sensibly seemed not to share this assessment. It was not because she lived in Leith. It was because she had spent 10 years in Australia.

Anyway, we digress. Some of our critics say we do this, as well as commit other sins against their ideas about what you should say in someone else’s country, and don’t like it. But the benefit of writing a diary is that you can write what you please and if people don’t like it they can read something else.

Yes, right, OK then. Back to the point, which is that Speirs’ journal, one among the Melbourne Cup field of glossy publications that circulate here, discusses fine, playful things and offers good thoughts. Much like many others, really. His comes, phoenix-like, from Jakarta, though unlike most airline flights from Soekarno-Hatta, it does so on a regular schedule and on time.

His latest bonne pensée, which hit our in-box on May 25, relates to sustainability in business. That’s sustainability of environmentally impactful things, not necessarily the corporate entities themselves, some of which here seem to have remarkably short lives before expiring for lack of a business plan. These measures, as Speirs notes, with a prompt to those who might still be mulling the point, include recycling water, recycling waste, using solar power, and using the lowest practical wattage in lights that flicker on (or off) at the whim of the monopoly power utility, PLN.

Sustainability encompasses CSR projects too: as he also notes, such things as Ikea’s scheme to put septic tanks into poor housing in Jakarta, and in Bali Coca-Cola Amatil’s and Quicksilver’s beach-cleaning program and Hotel Dynasty’s support for the East Bali Poverty Project.

These all make a difference, certainly; and they partly fill the gaping chasm left by a political and bureaucratic apparatus that prefers to waste money on symbols and trinkets rather than craft and implement a budget for the effective use of limited funds.

They are additional to the great work of many non-governmental organizations here that spend philanthropic and charitable money on all sorts of things: even on the animals, whose integral place in Balinese Hinduism appears to be lost on all but the priesthood and the common people.

The dog meat traders, cheapskate breeders of exotic dogs, keepers of wild creatures in dreadful conditions of deprivation, the provincial and regency dog killers, and even the local veterinarian association, seem to care not a whit.

DIVA Time

Carlotta and Polly Petrie, doyennes of the dress-up scene in Sin City for what we might say are donkeys years, except les girls are certainly not asses, wowed the crowd at Cocoon Beach Club, Double Six, on May 27. They had flown in from Sydney for Christina Iskandar’s latest Bali DIVAS lunch.

The Diary was among those wowed, along with the Distaff, who usually evades such events but relented on this occasion. She has a thing for Sydney, the Distaff. Well, we all do really. What’s not to love about a big, brassy, bawdy broad? A sprinkling of royalty was present. We spotted a few queens in the crowd. The folks down the back chattered loudly through the business bit of the function, as always. It’s always better to hear the sound of your own voice instead of listening to something informative, after all.

Cocoon’s menu for the lunch was lovely. We had the roasted beetroot salad, the green tea stir-fried soba noodles, and the fried banana. We kept the latter as out of sight as we could, and ate it quickly, though without gobbling, lest a sighting should prompt improper thoughts among any passing queens.

We had to concentrate very hard on the beetroot salad since, just after this had been served, a significant failure of couture would otherwise have been right in our face. A passing diva had stopped mid-stride nearby, fished out her mobile phone, and engaged in an animated conversation with it.

She was wearing a see-through mesh dress beneath which was a white lining. The lining was deficient. It ended a tad short either by design – these days nothing surprises – or by error. It offered rather more than just a hint of the two partially occluded and profoundly naked half moons of her trimly taut derriere.

Christina tells us the May 27 event raised Rp100 million for local charities, including the Bali Children Foundation.

Chinese Checkers

It will come as no surprise to anyone that Chinese tourists in Bali spend very little time here – four to six days is about it – and almost no money. What money they do spend is largely kept within the closed circle of organized Chinese tourism. Very little trickles out to the Balinese cash economy. That’s the nature of the emerging mass Chinese tourism market at the moment. Most western package holidaymakers spend around four times as much. It’s partly a function of the good-time societies they come from, but mostly one of the high levels of discretionary cash they have in hand.

A recent survey by Bank Indonesia’s Denpasar office sets out the whys and wherefores of this phenomenon, and it is no surprise that these whys and wherefores have led to questions about why Bali is targeting the Chinese market. The return to Bali at present is, frankly, minimal. The objective is to add value to the transaction in the future. You know, that’s the bit that comes after the present, and which here is rarely considered a viable or worthwhile thing to even bother thinking about.

But we all need to sit and think about it. In relation to the emerging Chinese market, it isn’t that the Chinese are customarily mean. Chinese with money spend a lot of it, though that generally stays within the five-star-plus hotel sector. But in a tourist-oriented, relatively high cost tourist destination, a lot of Chinese have very little to spend. They’re cautious with their money and it’s sensible to be so. They are learning consumerism. Some among us harbour the hope that by the time they’ve learnt it, that ruinously pernicious element of human “progress” will have been superseded by something more sensibly sustainable.

Flying High

The Australians are back at the top of the Bali arrivals list. That is, those (the overwhelming majority) who make it here without making idiots of themselves on the plane on the way or while they’re here and getting locked up as a result of their own stupidity.

Latest figures detailed in Bali Update show that in April 380,614 foreign visitors arrived, up more than 21 percent on the April 2015 figure. The four-month Jan.-Apr. cumulative arrivals figure of 1,471,064 was nearly 17 percent higher than a year before. On that trend, we’ll see 4.6 million happy – or unhappy – visitors this year, a record.

In April, 91,250 Australians came here, taking the total tank top and Bintang contingent to 334,529 for the first four months of the year, up nearly 7 percent on 2015 and making up 22.74 percent of the market. Mainland Chinese arrivals were up 34.18 percent in April versus April 2015, at 66,848, and 21.45 percent so far this year, at 315,512, a nearly 30 percent increase. Ni hao. Xièxiè.

Please Be Ridiculous

Since some months ago we sadly had to let go our international cultural attaché, Philly Frisson, we’ve been looking for someone to fill a modified role in that sort of area.

We’ve found her, a lovely lawyer from Brisbane with a sense of humour and a cauterizing tongue. We’ve appointed her Chief Spotter of Risibilities and Verities.

She frequently causes us virtual mirth, which is really good if you live in Bali where so often the only laughs you get are hollow ones. The other day she reminded us of a fundamental rule of life: There is a certain happiness in being silly and ridiculous.

A few of the deep-thinker-sulky-boots sorts around here could usefully take that on board.

Hector’s Diary, edited for newspaper presentation, appears in the fortnightly print and on line editions of the Bali Advertiser

 

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Feb. 17, 2016

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

 

Far Queue Again

The periodic struggle to get vehicles into and out of Ngurah Rai airport was worse than usual on Feb. 5, apparently. We weren’t there, which is probably a good thing. One hour-plus irritation a month already tests our toleration limit. It isn’t that we’re unsympathetic to local rites, religious or otherwise: far from it in fact, and far further than many might think. But of course we’ve only been here 10 years, much less time than many Resident Bules who clearly know a lot better, and that must be why we don’t really see the need to exponentially expand mayhem as a function of Bali life when it’s actually simpler not to.

In normal circumstances the absence of the phrase membentuk antrian tertib (form an orderly queue) from both everyday Bahasa Indonesia and local consciousness – to say nothing of whatever the equivalent might notionally be in Basa Bali – creates road conditions that are interesting. That’s in the old Chinese sense. It’s not just at the airport. The chaotic Mille-Feuille Roundabout on the By-Pass is a case in point. That’s where traffic dashes in, using an anarchic multiplicity of “lanes” from four directions, including the airport and the toll road, while the traffic police look on (in desperation, it sometimes seems, and we sympathise) and drivers ignore everything except their own apparently desperate need to get in front of everyone else. In lighter traffic this can work, as long as you have nerves of steel. And you can jag a dream run round that funny round bit in the middle if you’re there at 4am, though you still need to be watchful for idiots who are doing 80km/h, aren’t looking, and don’t have their lights on. It’s a bit like the flood drains we don’t have here. They’re a waste of space when it’s not raining.

The Feb.5 mess at the airport resulted from roads being closed for local ceremonies. The important Galungan (Feb. 9-11) festivities were coming up. Galungan is second only to Nyepi (Mar. 9 this year) for which the airport is officially closed. We’re told that on Feb. 5 it was taking vehicles an hour or more just to get into or out of the airport. The area resembled a parking lot. Leaving aside the issue of convenience for road users and the tedious matter of missing your flight, an unmovable traffic jam is a security concern in such a vital piece of public infrastructure.

Two things need to be looked at. One is the requirement for the airport operating company, a featherbed state corporation, to bother about its responsibilities beyond collecting money. It should look at the airport’s ridiculous car parking arrangements and the road layout, for a start. The other is for the Bali provincial government and local councils to work with banjars on a plan that will recognise and facilitate both the requirements of adat (custom) and traffic needs. Public thoroughfares are no longer the village pathways that once could be blocked off at no great inconvenience to anyone.

Hindu ceremonies are a crucial element of life in Bali. They must be protected and encouraged. They are the very essence of Bali and they’ll remain so even when Hindus become a minority in some areas, and even island wide, which ultimately seems inevitable.

Drink Up

We went with a lovely friend the other evening to the Nusa Dua Beach Hotel in search of dinner. The desire had been expressed for the sort of meat and three veg dinner that is traditional in certain cultures and which can be difficult to find here. We went where we went because the lovely friend thought that’s where she might have been once, when such fare was apparently on offer.

It wasn’t the place and there were no roast dinners – the Diary was not at all displeased – and we dined at the resort’s beachside Tamarind restaurant. The food was very good indeed, the intricacies of true medium-rare steak were clearly understood, a further bonus; and the Californian red zinfandel (a Berringer) was a very nice drop.

We had a drink before dining. That was a slightly more enervating process. It was Happy Hour, they told us, on the standard two-for-one plan. The waiter brought two drinks menus. The Diary pointed out that there were three of us at the table. Oh yes, um, OK. A third menu eventually arrived, with an expression that bordered a tad too closely on exasperation. We then ordered “one large Bintang two glass” (the usual Diary and Distaff deal) and the lovely friend asked for a Gordon’s gin and tonic. The waiter tried to give the Distaff the large Bintang and the two glasses. Maybe the Diary really is invisible. Or perhaps the training sessions there mandate that when two women and one man are ordering, the man is a Non-Presence; or is just along for the rides.

We chatted and drank our drinks, enjoying the tropic ambience and browsing through the dinner menu. Then we called for our Happy Hour second round. Oh no, they tried to say, Happy Hour ends at 7pm. But we ordered before 7pm, the Distaff and lovely friend advised. The Diary remained silent, since he was apparently invisible. A manager appeared and tried to reinforce the too-late rule. He eventually conceded defeat and scurried off to get the bevies. The gin wasn’t Gordon’s. This was noticed. What a surprise! It got sent back.

Desert Island Slipped Discs

Very little is more ignorant than breathless tabloid TV and the Australian sector of this disinformation industry is probably well up there with the worst. It’s often well meaning, Aussies being, you know, good blokes. Unless they’ve inadvertently trodden on their bonnets and got bees in them, but that can happen to anyone. So we were not surprised to see a promo for an item on the Seven Network’s Today Tonight show about Aussie couple that had gone to Bali and built a jungle resort on a deserted island.

Suna and Joe Cavanagh, of Perth, have built Castaway resort on Lembongan, towards the rugged western end of the island where the Indian Ocean swells crash spectacularly into the low rocky cliffs. The resort, which is locally managed, looks fabulous and is on the Diary’s list for an unannounced visit. It’s on the sheltered coast away from the rollers.

Lembongan is a beautiful spot. But it is not deserted – the Islanders alone number around 5000 – and neither is it by any measure jungle. Still, as Suna Cavanagh advised fans on Facebook, that’s TV.

Rule of Lore

No doubt it will be appealed all the way to the Court of Final Shemozzle, but the recent decision of the Indonesian Supreme Court to uphold a ruling in a lower court last year to award use of the global IKEA trade name to a furniture outfit in Surabaya is worth a belly laugh, albeit it a hollow one. In a majority decision – there was one dissenting judge, apparently the sentient one – the Supreme Court said that since IKEA had not used its trade name in Indonesia for three years it had forfeited its right to do so. There’s no need to pause for applause. It’s just how they do things here.

The law the judges (minus the dissenter) decided in their wisdom to apply is designed to regulate the bottom-feeders, those who in the usual fashion here have mortgaged their companies to the White Elephant franchise and gone out of business. Foreigners do this too – we’re not making an invidiously focused point.

But the Swedish company IKEA is a global operation. It hasn’t gone out of business. Its Indonesian operations might need a makeover – if so, it’s far from alone in overlooking that imperative – but its global brand name is extant. Its headquarters are in Leiden, The Netherlands, not in Surabaya, East Java, where Intan Khatulistiwa Esa Abadi plies its trade.

Life of George

These things happen, but it can be a little embarrassing when they do. A chap we know who calls himself Richard got a note the other day from George Wright, national secretary of the Australian Labor Party. That wasn’t unusual. George writes to Richard regularly, about this and that and sundry other things.

There was a twist, however, in this instance. The missive that the virtual postman dropped into the virtual mailbox was a little apology, on which George, bless him, had tried to put the best spin possible. A recent message he’d sent, it said, had addressed Richard as Riley, and he was writing to say he knew Richard was Richard and wasn’t Riley at all, and he was sorry about all this. He signed himself off as “George (not Riley)”. We thought that was a nice touch.

Automated mail programs can be painful. They make you think of all sorts of things with which to complete a distempered exhortation that begins “R for…”

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