HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Jan. 20, 2016

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

 

Modern Times

There’s been an outbreak of nostalgia for the “old Bali” recently, one of those periodic episodes where everyone puts on their rose-tinted glasses and peers back into the past, fondly recalling what they think they remember. Ah, the old days! Things were so much better then.

Fundamentally, that’s tosh. It’s certainly true that the economic value Bali has been able to add to itself and its people over the past 40 years has not been spread with anything like theoretical Marxist (or even Jesuit) perfection. To say nothing of the age-old Hindu culture that could sustain subsistence living for all, at a pinch, but is quite incapable of doing so in a modern monetary economy. It’s thoroughly arguable too that in the ambient social and cultural climate of Indonesia, wealth and its acquisitive benefits will never be universally available. The poor will always be with us. As will the robber baron plutocracy and grasping kleptomaniacs. The poor are nicer people.

The social welfare net that supports the mendicant classes in the western world won’t be replicated here, or anywhere in East Asia. And that’s not only because it’s plain that the overweening expectations about the immutability of that safety net will in the end cause the collapse of democratic capitalism and the western world with it. It’s chiefly because the Eastern ethos is different.

Progress is not always progressive or socially responsible. A 2014 book, by old Bali hand Phil Jarratt and called Bali: Heaven and Hell delineates the divide rather well. Fellow pioneer surfer Steve Palmer, a long-term fixture in Bali’s firmament when he’s not schussing the ski slopes of western Canada and the United States, has a word in it. He remembers the days when reaching the Uluwatu surf breaks meant trekking through miles of cactus-lined cliff paths and that this was something done by relatively few people. Sitting in a traffic jam for hours is certainly a less appealing prospect.

The old Bali is gone. Bits of it may still be seen, like sad little echoes of a past epoch, but we’ve all moved on. Unfortunately the landscape and the environment are less pleasant, both literally and figuratively. Gordon Gecko’s maxim holds sway here now. Greed is good. It’s the Balinese (and their fellow Indonesians who have made the island their home) who must deal with that.

Perhaps Governor Pastika recognizes this and will ditch his Old Curiosity Shopful of ideas that sound good at the time, but fail the test of sentience, like the round-island railway and filling in Benoa Bay for condominiums. He was reported as saying, after Travel + Leisure magazine named Bali as “one of the best islands in the world”, that this would simply ensure millions of tourists swarmed to Bali like ants. Um, a word in your ear, Guv.

Stardust to Stardust

It was very sad to hear on Jan. 10 that British rock singer David Bowie had died of liver cancer. His chameleon character and eclectic musical styles were an adornment to the otherwise frequently vacuous rock culture of his era and his way of handling celebrity was admirable. He declined a knighthood in 2003.

He recorded a last song only two days before his death. It’s a moving and extraordinarily symbolic monument to the place he knew he had in life. It followed release of his last album. These will surely be both his swansong and his epitaph. Perhaps his death and his final album are sad, in the saccharine way that western society seems to have made its leitmotif, but in fact his music and his manner are much better seen as an anthem to acceptance of inevitability. For that, too, he deserves high praise.

He was 69. That’s far too young to comfortably shuffle off this mortal coil. He will be missed, but his talent and music will never be forgotten.

Litter Louts

At Perth international airport there’s a quaintly named Smokers’ Refuge. It’s possibly not unlike a leper colony in its own way. It’s outside the terminal building, as it should be, and is basically in the car park across the road. But there are sun umbrellas to shade you and plenty of bins for your butts. As a place of exile for those among us who still use a usuriously taxed legal product and yet are frowned upon for doing so, it fits the bill quite nicely.

Most of the people who use it seem to be airport or airline staff, and some members of that recently inaugurated and nattily uniformed farce, the Australian Border Force. An occasional traveller drops by, either for a quick restorative draught after arrival or a last puff before having to submit to the artificial air inside the terminal and the long drag in the metal tube that follows.

Littering is a heinous offence in Australia, where in some places you can get stung the equivalent of between Rp5 million and Rp20 million for leaving a cigarette butt on the ground; and rightly so. But apparently this was of little moment to the three ladies in corporate uniforms we saw smoking there while they chatted in their break. They left an empty can of soft drink on a bench, right beside a bin, and the paving beneath them littered with butts. Shocking.

Home is Where the Art is

For reasons which are private and entirely peripheral to the point of this item, we recently had to remove from storage, re-pack and then re-store, numerous items of value, intrinsic and otherwise, which we keep in Australia because there’s no room at The Cage.

Among them are two lovely Made Kaek abstracts that caught our eye at an Ubud gallery in 2001 and which (of course) we promptly bought. They adorned our townhouse in Brisbane for four years, before – being greying nomads with absolutely no interest in buying a Winnebago – we moved to Bali. As the Distaff is a Westie (she’ll never be permitted to forget that, poor thing) that’s where we sent our memorabilia, our modest art collection, glassware, cutlery, sundry other household effects and a simply beautiful marble chess table and matching pieces. They were the collectibles of a life together that at that point had reached 26 years. You get less for murder these days, of course, but that too is peripheral to the point.

Both the Made Kaek works had latterly and briefly hung at the matriarchal McMansion, which made visits there even more pleasant than ever. But when we came to repack our stuff for future storage, one of the works had suffered seriously cracked glass. Naturally, Sod’s Law being what it is, this was discovered in the midst of Australia’s summer slumber and only two days before the truck was to come to take it and everything else away to Perth.

Happily, we found Sarah Bowes of Country Road Picture Framers in Busselton, to whose house – after a phone call – we repaired post-haste. She broke into her holiday downtime to replace the glass and re-back the frame.

We cannot thank her enough for her skill, her willingness to accommodate our urgent schedule, and the comfortable cost of the operation that she performed. Take that as a high recommendation.

And There’s the Rub

Getting home is always a blessing. Even if you discover on arrival that your internet isn’t functioning because your ISP has obviously sequestered the substantial megabytes of upload and download that you have paid for and that this requires four telephone calls to restore. Three of these calls mysteriously dropped out mid-conversation. Perhaps the unfortunate lackeys with whom we were conversing couldn’t find a handy friend who had done it.

Never mind. This indelicacy, along with others, was vitiated by a visit to our preferred local salon, Island Spa in Jimbaran, where restorative massages were enjoyed. Well, partly so. During his massage The Diary, perhaps incautiously, said when prompted by the therapist well into the 60-minute session that slightly stronger pressure might be in order. It was very good, since the seat pitch on Jetstar’s Airbus 320s is not septuagenarian friendly, but it cost Rp110K instead of the Rp80K that had been booked. The masseuse was commendably young and highly skilled, but an otherwise unmentioned 30 per cent rise in the tariff was perhaps a little stiff for the additional service rendered.

Still, best not to be churlish. Everyone needs to make a crust. There are significant pluses, also. We have our temporary resident permit process under way, albeit with added irritations, and have restored to working order the Distaff’s CIMB debit card that had very unkindly expired in her absence.

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, Sep. 3, 2014

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

  

Welcome to Bali, Far Queue

We keep hearing about the new model management at Ngurah Rai International Airport. About this beneficence we can only say that it will be good if the promissory notes it is issuing and that denote improved service have actual as opposed to notional value. It’s not clear that anyone should risk turning blue in the face while holding their breath awaiting these developments, however.

There are so many things. The rude entrapment of departing passengers in a maze of duty free shops is but one. You can’t get from passport control to anywhere you’d want to be without running the gauntlet of shop girls desperate to separate you from your money. Far more important and even more irritating is the security check shemozzle before you even get into the airport building. It’s a circus.

That’s when you’re trying to leave the Bali. It’s worse when you’re trying to arrive, especially if you’re a visa-on-arrival passenger. It’s an insult that anyone should have to stand in a horrendous queue to buy a visa and then join the tail end of another melee to get a passport officer to stamp it. It can sometimes take four hours. Welcome to Bali – Not.

It should be noted that staffing of passport control desks is a function not of the airport authority but of the government, but surely someone must have noticed that if there are 2000 incoming passengers from planes that all seem to have managed to land at once, four passport officers at the desks is hardly enough. Rosters, anyone? Perhaps the airport authority might mention this to someone, somewhere (possibly even in the Istana Negara) if it would like to encourage passengers to continue to arrive in line with their revenue forecasts. Perhaps it has. If so, this would be nice to know.

If you survive this tedious circuit of paper-shuffling, Indonesian style (why give one person a simple job when you can give it to four and complicate it beyond measure?) and the next queue for the baggage scanning, and make it to the exit, the rapacious taxi monopoly is then waiting for you. Or not. If it’s after midnight because you’ve been held up in the queue to get in, that particular piratical crew might well have gone home.

 

Give ’Em a Wave

ROLE Foundation Bali put on a Waterman’s’ Benefit Night on Aug. 30. We’d have been there but for the displacement factor: we’re still in Australia at the moment. The Grand Prize was indeed grand. Padang Padang 8″2′ Doris Gun Surf Board + 13 Night Surf Boat Trip on Doris’ Ship ‘The Raja Elang’, Mentawai, Sumatra Organizer Sean Cosgrove billed it thus: Padang Padang 8″2′ Doris Gun Surf Board + 13 Night Surf Boat Trip on Doris’ Ship ‘The Raja Elang’, Mentawai, Sumatra.

Doris is of course Tony Eltherington, a good bloke indeed and a man you can rely on to lend a hand in any circumstances, however difficult. He is memorialized in many places, including at InSalt, the little surfers’ warung on the Balangan road at Ungasan, where a burger has been named after him. InSalt is the nearest local eatery to The Cage. The Doris Day burger is OK. The mie goreng is too. And the music is cool.

The raffle prizes at the Aug. 30 show – the Doris special included – were all top-notch. The money raised was to benefit the Soul Surf Project, a non-profit organisation that helps underprivileged orphans in Bali experience the thrill of surfing by providing lessons as a means to grow awareness of the environment to keep the sea and beaches clean. Party-goers performed a public service as well as enjoying themselves.

It was at Old Man’s, Batu Bolong. Along with awards, great prizes and an auction, there were live sets by Hydrant and the Mangrooves. 

 

Hanging with an Old Friend

Made Kaek is an artist of exceptional talent, something that was happily revealed to The Diary and Distaff nearly a decade and a half ago on an early holiday trip to Bali. This discovery resulted in the purchase of two of his 2001 works which then travelled to Queensland, Australia, where they hung, much loved by ourselves and frequently admired by friends, in our house in Brisbane.

When four years later we subjected our lives to a sea change and shifted domicile to share Western Australia and Bali on a sort of extended and largely informal fly-in fly-out basis, the Made Kaek paintings went into storage along with the rest of our art. Nomads don’t generally travel with a collection in their baggage.

Now, however, with the retirement of some other works at the premises, they have found another wall to hang on, at the place in Busselton (it’s conveniently close to many fine wineries) that functions as our Australian home. Among the works now adorning the walls are the two Made Kaek pieces.

Since 2001 Made Kaek’s work has developed in style and presentation, and in some ways genre. This has taken it beyond his earlier form. He regularly produces work that one would covet were it not a sin to do so, in all three religions of the Book and most others. And buy, if one’s wallet were as flush as it was in former times.

There’s a school of thought – it seems to owe some of its genesis to the irritating post-colonial counter-cringe that gets underfoot in Bali and the rest of Indonesia, as it does in so many places – that suggests contemporary Balinese artists face a challenge in defining the relationship between their traditional cultural heritages and being a modern artist. According to the Balinese anthropologist Degung Santika (surely writing tongue in cheek) this is probably part of the “burden” of being Balinese.

It’s true that outsiders often expect the Balinese to conform to stereotypes that don’t fit their individual characters. It’s true too that in the West most of the exhibitions of non-Western artists are in ethnological museums rather than museums of modern art. But these are Western problems, “outsider” problems, not Balinese ones.

Made Kaek and other modern Balinese artists rise above their cultural roots but continue to acknowledge their heritage. Made Kaek’s art might owe as much to New York City’s graffiti artists as it does to Balinese ritual and religion, but modern art is trans-cultural, globalized, and increasingly anarchic. He does his very well indeed.

 

Heading for a Crunch

Speaking of the art of anarchy, the continuing expansion of condotels in Bali provides a prime example (unfortunately not pretty) of the wilful way in which developers and governments – at all levels – ignore both reality and their own future fiscal security. Planning laws are a joke, where they aren’t just a mess. Regents, doubtless citing the panjandrum clause that apparently makes them and their local districts functionally independent of the province within which their little bailiwick is located, approve hotels and other accommodation houses with gay abandon.

Governors, whose spatial planning regulations are routinely ignored, climb on the bandwagon and back mad schemes such as the filling in of more bits of Benoa Harbour to build more tourist-attracting facilities. At central government level, environmental laws are more notional than national.

In Bali, focus of most of Indonesia’s high-throughput tourism trade, the inability of existing or “planned future” infrastructure to match demand is plain to see, even by Blind Freddy. Oversupply of visitor accommodation is foolish. It is a way to lose money and markets. Not in the immediate future, of course; though that is exactly where planning falls apart in Bali. No one thinks beyond the current calendar or visualizes over the horizon.

Recent reports indicate that there are 5000 Condotel units already operating in Bali with another 8000 entering the market over the next few years.  A study by Cushman & Wakefield Indonesia points to coming pressures on value of properties. It’s true that everything has its price. The problem is an oversupplied market sets prices below return levels for investors.

A timely warning on another aspect of Bali’s one-egg-in-one-basket dollar economy – tourism – again makes the point that the push for more and more tourists is counterproductive since it will devalue the product.

The chairman of the Indonesian Tourism Association (GIPI), Ida Bagus Ngurah Wijaya, said recently that Bali’s past success was no guarantee of continued performance. He fears that Bali’s reputation may be on the downturn because of the emphasis over the past three to four years on becoming a bargain destination.

He has a point. Premium and bargain are generally terms that are mutually exclusive.

Hector tweets @scratchings on Twitter