HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Oct. 28, 2015

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

 

Peace Off

There is a debate under way over Bali’s branding as a destination. It’s probably less tiring to whicker about that than to act firmly to curb the growing list of demerits that stand in the way of Bali being any sort of destination: rampant and uncontrolled development in the crowded south; official and corporate corruption (“Brown Envelope Island” might be a suitable slogan there); public administration that is a sick joke where it’s not simply absent; environmental degradation and woefully inadequate infrastructure; the disastrous failure to apply common sense (not to mention internationally proven remedies) to the business of suppressing rabies. The list is practically endless.

In that regard, a suggestion from former provincial politician Wayan Puspa Negara reported in the local newspaper Bisnis Bali that “Bali: Endless of Unique” would be an apposite slogan seems worthy of critical examination. As Jack Daniels noted in a recent edition of his Bali Update, the syntax is questionable. We might suggest a modest rewording to correct both the grammar and its accuracy. “Bali: End of Unique” would certainly sum up both the current situation and the banal, continuing march towards despoliation that is a feature of today’s “tourist Bali”. There is nothing unique in cheek-by-jowl hotel developments, the proliferation of trinket megastores designed to relieve low-cost package tourists of the last of their money, the winked-at sex trade, or the shockingly inadequate infrastructure through which we expect tourists to struggle and still have a good time.

Bali’s longstanding slogan is Shanti Shanti Shanti (shanti is a Sanskrit word meaning peace). This properly reflects the island’s unique Hindu culture and the uniqueness of Bali within Indonesia and in the world. But that’s the very thing – the vitally important thing – that is now directly under threat from the tsunami of mismanaged, greed-driven, hubris-laden drives for more and more tourists. It’s not the raw numbers that are necessarily the problem, provided the facilities are there to handle a mass-market approach. It’s the vacuous pursuit of more and more paying guests in the absence of infrastructure to support them that is the poison chalice. Kuta-Legian-Seminyak (and now beyond) is unmanageable. It should never take two hours to travel the 15 kilometres from Canggu to Kuta by road. That it regularly does so is testament to the stupidity of putting the cart before the horse and expecting anything to work.

Slogans are only one part of the equation, of course. They are a double-edged sword and open to abuse. One such slogan, a delightful double entendre that thankfully failed to see the light of day is said to have been once offered (by an Englishman, in distempered jest) to the Scottish tourism authorities. It said “Scotland: You’re Welcome to It”. Bali might need some better marketing, but what it needs even more is better, more sensitive (and sensible) Balinese management. Stay unique is good advice.

Whistle-Blower 

Speaking of Scotland, your diarist recently had the benefit of watching a rugby match in which whoever was the victor he had a rare opportunity to come out a winner. The Australia-Scotland quarterfinal in the 2015 World Rugby Cup was a nail-biter from start to finish, perhaps the best edge-of-the-seat game in years. The margin (to the Scots) at half time was one point. The margin at the final whistle was one point (to the Australians). The Wallabies – on recent form more pointedly known colloquially as the Wobblies – got through to the semi-finals and created a situation in which the semis and the final would be completely a southern hemisphere affair, Argentina’s feisty Pumas having just seen off the Irish.

The circumstances of the Australian win were regrettable however. Two minutes before fulltime Scotland were ahead by two points. There was a Scottish infringement in the scrimmage taking place just out from their try-line. It was penalized, as it should have been, by South African referee Craig Joubert. Except that he awarded a penalty kick to the Australians where a scrum would plainly have been more appropriate. The Australians kicked the goal (worth three points) and won the match.

From a scrum, if Joubert had pondered for a second or two more and decided on that course instead of a penalty, the Australians would have been ideally placed to throw the ball well back, to their best backline kicker, for a field goal attempt. If successful that would have earned them three points and won them the match.

Joubert’s hesitation before awarding the penalty kick was telling – he was clearly very undecided about the level of infringement by the Scots – and he left the field at rather more than a brisk canter when he blew the final whistle as the Australian ball from the place kick flew straight and true through the unmissable uprights. It was a sorry end to a great match.

But hey, rant over. One of the Diary’s sides on the field won.

Heads in the Sand

It’s hard to be an optimist, sometimes. Icarus has always served as an exemplar in that regard. It never does to soar to such lofty heights, even on terrific flights of fancy, that your carefully constructed wings of wax are melted by the sun. Cautious optimism has always seemed a better bet even though this policy should be underpinned by the certainty that neither does it pay to be a pessimist, since that would never work.

We did allow ourselves one little flight of fancy recently, however, when we heard that Governor Zainul Majdi of West Nusa Tenggara had come out against a plan to acquire sand from Lombok to fill in Benoa Bay for private profit. His assertion that he and his generation held the environment of Lombok and Sumbawa in trust for future generations sounded really good. We penciled him in as worthy of note among an exclusive – read: very small – group of Indonesian leaders whose visionary capacity stretched beyond immediate benefit.

Sadly, we have now had to use the eraser. We were mistaken in our assessment. The private profiteer in question, Tomy Winata, tried another tactic when he found himself and his blandishments banished from the Governor’s Palace in Mataram. He took his plans for the exploitative acquisition of massive quantities of West Nusa Tenggara’s environment-in-trust offshore, into the aptly named Alas Strait, where what he wants lies out of sight under water and is protected – if that’s the word – by the much more malleable provisions of national mining regulations. Governor Zainul apparently supports this environmental rape and as a result has lost a large portion of his local hero status. Those who care about the environment and the livelihoods of local fishermen have told him this. They can be counted on to repeat that message at every opportunity.

That’s good news. Ruining one environment so that another one somewhere else may also be ruined might typify the developmental impulse to build undesirable and unnecessary private infrastructure complete with extra kitsch, but that doesn’t make it right. The marine environment of the Alas Strait is worth protecting from all manner of threats. Among these must now be numbered Tomy Winata and Zainul Majdi.

Fragrant Rise

The 2015 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival gets under way today (Oct. 28) with the panache, eclecticism and variety of writers, pundits and performers we have come to expect from Janet DeNeefe’s literary baby, which began life in 2003 as a response to the 2002 Bali bombings and has grown with every annual edition. The UWRF now has a baby sibling, the Ubud Food Festival, which has just announced its dates for 2016. Mark your diaries for May 27-29.

DeNeefe, who operates two restaurants, a bakery and a cooking school in Ubud and who writes about food (her famous foray is a little tome called Fragrant Rice) was recently at the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany, where Indonesia was a special guest and at which she was one of the chefs invited to represent Indonesian cuisine.

This year’s inaugural food festival attracted 6,500 palates seeking temptation. Now that the word has got around, we can be sure there will be more next year. The festival is looking for a fulltime manager whose role would be to coordinate festival staff, look after programming, and handle stakeholders (and of course founders). Applications are open until Nov. 11.

If the job comes with a daily chocolate ration, we might even be tempted to apply.

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 July 24, 2013

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

 

And So to Amed

It’s a great little place, and decidedly easier to access from South Bali since the splendidly named Prof. I.B. Mantra By-Pass was (finally, mostly) duplicated. We hadn’t been to Amed for nearly two years and were keen to see how the place had moved along since then.

     On the trip up we logged a Bukit-Amed trip time of just over 3.5 hours including a stop in Candi Dasa – a sneak look in a realtor’s window, the obligatory distaff rummage through a handy boutique, and a drink and a bite in the sea breeze at Pondok Bambu – and traffic once past Sanur was easy. That is not to say the traffic was calm, far less that it was well behaved. Neither truck   nor motorbike riders can yet read: they all ignore the “trucks and motorbikes keep left” signs. The unduplicated bridge over the Unda River is still a bottleneck. And the infantile desperation of Indonesian drivers (of anything from rattletrap carry-van to souped-up mob limo) to overtake a Bule on the road is as tedious as ever.

     We’d planned to stay at a certain place in Amed but didn’t, since on arrival it looked decidedly derelict. The internet and the camera conspire to lie too often. Following a short reconnaissance, unmolested by anyone either visible or sentient at the premises, we drove on. We ended up booking in at Anda Amed Resort; a much sweeter deal.

     Coming back from Amed – it was a Sunday – was more difficult since everyone who has access to a yellow truck seemed to have lent it to their cousins that weekend, and they clearly couldn’t drive, and the Unda River bridge was reduced to one lane. This was because a truck – a red one as it happens – had decided to overturn itself mid-span.  Two harassed policemen were controlling the traffic (theoretically at least) while their more numerous colleagues enjoyed the facilities of one of those little roadside cafés further along.

 

Sailing On

While at Amed this time, we dined at Sails, the cliff-top establishment at Bunutan, on two occasions.  We’d been there before. This trip, we had the apple, ginger, cinnamon and palm sugar dessert dish the first time. We had to go back for more.

     The restaurant is a magic spot. It was a shame Patrick and Anik were unable to provide mahi-mahi for diners whose taste buds juiced at the thought of the pan-fried fish listed on the menu. Tuna is no substitute. But the place was packed both nights, so clearly business is booming. They’re playing some nice music too. A New Zealand-resident Chilean group has recorded songs from its NZ tour itinerary. Those Andean pipes are truly haunting. Patrick, who is from those other shaky isles, burned us two disks, at Rp20K a pop, money going to the staff fund.

 

Monkey Business

We’ve finally made it to Three Monkeys Sanur‎, which we’ve been promising ourselves we’d do as soon as possible. It was a handy way-stop on our return from East Bali. Three Monkeys at Ubud has long been a favourite and we had deemed it essential to check out the Sanur operation.

     It’s very good. The pizzas are delicious and the baklava is not to be missed.

    On that late Sunday afternoon promotional material at the entrance  indicated that the deliciously jazzy Edwina Blush was performing there that evening, on the latest of her regular visits to Bali from Sydney. We’ve missed her again! Clearly we have deeply distressed some spirit or other and it is determined to keep us apart.

 

Late Roast

A recent necessary outing to Kuta – it’s still a Napoleonic Retreat from Moscow job from the Bukit – brought us, on the way home, to the capricious delights of the Grocer & Grind outlet at Jimbaran Corner, where (killing time ahead of a date with masseuse Elvin at Island salon just up the road) we ordered a double macchiato and a slice of lemon and lime cake. The former was available. The latter was not (maaf, habis) so we elected to sample the lemon meringue tart instead. The macchiato arrived. The lemon meringue was a “wait moment” proposition.

     We waited. Outside, where there’s what passes for fresh air and a relative absence of people idly fiddling with their smart phones, while our macchiato also cooled its heels. We had to tell them that part of the order was missing, but as a culturally sympathetic and patient acquaintance later reminded us, these things can happen anywhere; point taken.

     The tart eventually arrived and was delicious. We had amused ourselves while further waiting for sustenance by speculating about the wondrous sign near a jumble of parked motorbikes that bore this legend: “Parking reserved for costumers.”

     Given that most of the bikes there belonged to G&G staff, not customers, this prompted thought. As it was reserved for costumers, perhaps the odd wanita or two among the pretty little things who wait tables at that establishment might not be all they seem.

     Next time we drop in, we’ll go in drag.

 

It Will Toll for Thee

Well, eventually. We refer to the new motorway that runs from Nusa Dua to the Port of Benoa road (not quite Sanur!) and will, so it is said, help reduce traffic congestion in the Kuta-Airport area. We hope it does, when it eventually opens for business, which on the latest reports will be mid-August. It won’t help reduce traffic chaos, of course. Only driver education, effective licensing and strict policing would ever do that.

     Out of interest recently we consulted Google Earth which revealed that we had misnamed the thoroughfare (it’s still waiting for an official moniker, which in this cart-before-the-horse land is no surprise at all). On the basis of (1) the fuss about the mangroves and (2) the inaccessibility to the public of any definitive documentation detailing its construction – or route – we had informally designated it the Mangrove Motorway.

     But Google Earth, courtesy of the latest satellite pass, shows that it runs straight up the guts of Benoa Bay, with a handy little traffic circle midway, about where aircraft on final approach reach go-around point, to take traffic to and from the airport.  On this basis it is now known at The Cage as Wavebreak Way.

     We were reasonably happy with the mangrove option – since it was a fait accompli and the builders of it assure us mangroves grow much better in a forest of concrete pylons – because a mangrove tree to cling on to might be handy should one’s transit be curtailed by some disaster. But now it looks as if we’ll have to pack water-wings.

 

A Different Leap of Faith

Pondok Santi, bungee king AJ Hackett’s former private retreat on Gili Trawangan (memo Aussie media: the Gilis are not “off Bali”; they’re off Lombok) that has converted to up-scale paying guest resort, has gone into the wedding business.

     We learn this not from the operators or owners directly, but from its Facebook page. Thank goodness for FB. Without it you’d never know what was happening on certain little islands that are not off Bali. Pondok Santi’s page is apparently run from Hackett HQ in Cairns, Queensland, since it refers to “Gili Trawanagan”.

     But be that as it may. Cheering news reported is that Pondok Santi has been awarded a certificate of excellence by the online globetrotter geeksite Trip Advisor, having rated number one out of 63 accommodation houses on Gili Trawangan.

 

Anchors Aweigh!

Neil Carl Hempsey, the nautical chap, is deep into organizing the 6th Annual Super Yacht Charity RDV Event. It’s on Friday, August 2, at Vin+ Wine & Beyond, Winery Restaurant and Bar; it’s a new grazing place in Seminyak (Jl Kayu Jati No1, on the Jl Oberoi corner).

     Hempsey says: “We hope that you all enjoyed last year’s event. This year’s event will take a different format with raffles and prizes to be won at the entrance, with the focus being an uninterrupted music and entertainment festival. This year will be bigger and better. So set your calendar for Bali’s biggest charity event of the year.”

     It’s certainly all in a good cause, which makes it worthwhile turning up whether or not you’re into uninterrupted music and entertainment. It would certainly limit deeply meaningful conversation, which some may think might also be a good thing.

Email Hector at hector.mcsquawky@yahoo.com or tweet with him on Twitter @ scratchings