HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, June 12, 2013

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

 

A Quirk a Day

The best part about writing a diary is that you can be as quirky as you like. It is thought, or used to be thought before energy drinks laced with high-octane caffeine came along and fried everyone’s brains, that an apple a day keeps the doctor away. We like apples, but a quirk is a far better preventative.

      So it’s great fun being temporarily based in Marseille. It’s not Paris; this means no one’s actually rude to you just because they can be, or possibly because the climate is nearly as bad as Britain’s. Foreigners who hire cars in Marseille are warned that Provencal drivers are mad. Well, yes, they are. But they’re not nearly as mad as drivers are in Bali, so it’s been a bit of a rest-cure really. If you had to sum up driving conditions in Marseille and the rest of Provence in one sentence, you could say this: They are indeed all mad, but they stay in lane.

     Quirks there are, aplenty, in this part of the world. At Cassis, for example, the car park in which we deposited our hired conveyance while we trotted off in search of a quayside luncheon, provided toilet facilities. We thought to sample these facilities on our return to the car ahead of what might be a lengthy drive. To utilise the privy, however, one had to visit the caisse (pay station) to obtain permission and then return with your parking ticket duly authorised. Armed with this the door to relief could be comfortingly opened.

     Since achieving this would have meant queuing up to talk to the one harassed gent behind the glass screen and stating the nature of one’s business in very poor French amid a milling and quite possibly sniggering crowd, we forwent the opportunity and drove home, humming little tunes that had nothing to do with tinkling streams.

     We made it. But like Waterloo (we didn’t hum that Abba song either) it was a damn close-run thing.

     It was a day for minor embarrassment. At lunch a well turned-out French woman who had been dining at a table next to us was leaving and accidentally brushed the Distaff’s chair. She apologised with a smile and excused herself by saying (we think) that lunch must have fattened her up. Her demeanour underwent an inclement change when the Distaff, no doubt distracted by the foreign tongue and the delights upon her own plate, replied brightly, “Oui!”

A Regal Luncheon

Les Saintes Maries de la Mer, at the mouth of the River Rhone in France’s Mediterranean south, is a spot any traveller to Provence should visit. So of course we did, driving a chunky, boxy little Fiat 500 whose Italian designers have cunningly removed all possible spatial-awareness guides to drivers, making it entirely a guessing game as to how many millimetres remain between your vehicle and the nearest obstruction. Still, it’s well equipped and runs the iPod through the quality sound system, so Geoffrey Gurrumul has now played the Rhone Delta.

     Foreign travel is always a delight. We lunch a lot on such expeditions, because acquiring new tastes and sensations is essential (or reacquainting oneself with them for that matter: a break from rendang sapi is no bad thing) and it’s good to experience how other people live.

     So at Les Saintes Maries de la Mer, we found a delightful little tapas bar and restaurant off the main tourist strip, in a quiet little street back from the beach. The street was named Rue Capitaine Fouque, apparently after a local hero. Your diarist, having always taken the view that dark humour is best in a tight spot and being a Blackadder fan to boot, inwardly speculated that it might have been named in honour of the last known utterance of the gentleman concerned; as in the manner of Captain Blackadder’s enigmatic statement, on his failure to avoid having to lead his men over the top in a final suicide mission on the Western Front in 1917, that he thought it rhymed with clacking bell.

     The establishment was called Ambience Tapas and provided a snug little courtyard at the back, out of the rather stern breeze, where you could sit and nibble in the dappled shade provided by the plane trees and a see-through shade cloth overhead. We did and it was divine. The strawberry soup was particularly so. The tempura mussels ran the soup a very close second. The aubergine baked in honey was magnificent. The vin ordinaire was very, very far from being in the least respect ordinary.

     It is early in the season so the little place was not crowded. And apart from us, the crowd – scant as it was – was entirely local, which is how we like it. We had a chance chat over lunch with fellow diner, guitar king Antonico Reyes, son of the legendary flamenco guitarist Jose Reyes and author of several prime Gypsy Kings tracks, whose group is called the Gypsy Reyes. The Distaff strongly desired his fingernails. The Diary thought Reyes possibly coveted the Distaff’s boots. It was that sort of day. Reyes and his group were playing that night and we would have stayed (free tickets were in the wind) but couldn’t. We’ll have to see if we can get him to Bali.

Beeline to Aix

It is impossible to visit the Midi and not go to Aix-en-Provence. It is far better, from the Diary’s perspective, when deciding what to keep in your schedule and what to drop out, to go for Aix rather than Avignon. It might have less papal history, but there’s less of a song and dance about it too. One can easily have too much of a good thing.

Sur le Pont d’Avignon / L’on y danse, l’on y danse / Sur le Pont d’Avignon / L’on y danse tous en rond

(On the bridge of Avignon / We all dance there, we all dance there / On the bridge of Avignon / We all dance there in a ring)

    We’ve modified the old ditty to our purpose, since our digs in Marseille afford as well as a beach panorama a fine view of one of the local roundabouts. These essential traffic regulators and their sensible rules are of course ubiquitously ignored in Bali by people on motorbikes and frequently by those driving vehicles.

    Our version goes like this:

Sur la rond-pointe Bonneveine / L’on y danse, l’on y danse / Sur la rond-pointe Bonneveine / L’on y danse tous en rond

    Hector’s helper had noted on his Facebook that the trip to Aix-en-Provence had revealed many university students but no Marie Bee lookalikes. He got a swift note back from Bee, a graduate of Aix and nowadays one of the brighter luminosities of Ubud, to say that she had indeed been there – just a few days prior. Ah well, next time.

Same Old Bali

It’s good to see that in our absence Bali continues being … well, Bali. The place just wouldn’t be the same without continuous performances of that favourite soap opera Farce of the Day. So news that the Buleleng regency wants the new coal-fired steam power plant at Celukan Bawang closed because its Chinese builders and their local operating arm haven’t acquired licences and operating permits as required by Buleleng is cheering indeed.

    Regent Putu Agus Suradyana is lately reported to have issued a formal warning to the companies – this was on Apr 19 apparently: so much for timely disclosure of official local government business – listing five reasons why the project should be stopped. He’s miffed that the operators have failed to create a company profile (and apparently that they haven’t kept him informed). We can discount these as the usual blowhard guff that emanates from regents who confuse the grandiloquence of their titles with the prosaic (and unfortunately also notional) public utility of their office.

     He may have a point with complaints that no detailed environmental impact plan has been presented (don’t give a Chinese company a building contract would be a suitable prophylatic against that condition); lack of a detailed layout for the plant (ditto); lack of an accurate time schedule for completion of the project (Come on! This is Bali!); and failure to obtain all necessary permits from the central and regional government. Needless to say, local landowners are also miffed that they didn’t get as much for the land required for the project as they had persuaded themselves they deserved.

     So it’s business as usual all round. If the Buleleng Regent is so concerned about how things are done, he should do us all a favour and protest at the confusing mishmash of regulations that confronts anyone trying to do anything potentially productive; he should press for a national-provincial (and enforceable) environmental planning law; and he should recognise that in matters such as energy policy and power plants, local government councils have only a minor role.

Hector’s Diary appears in the Bali Advertiser newspaper. He tweets @ scratchings.

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Dec. 12, 2012

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

What a Stinker

Sir Stamford Raffles is a footnote in history for having identified a swampy and malarial island at the bottom of the Malay Peninsula as the site of the future New Serenissima (Venice) nowadays known as Singapore. He is due that credit. He’s also a footnote in the bibliography of flora, having had his name attached to perhaps the most unpleasantly pungent plant on earth, the Rafflesia, characterised by Swedish scientist Eric Mjoberg in 1928 as possessing “a penetrating smell more repulsive than any buffalo carcass in an advanced stage of decomposition.”  It’s also known as the corpse flower, and is thus nicely emblematic of a dead empire.

There was a bit of a stink about Raffles at the recent Singapore Literary Festival, where British authors Tim Hannigan (Raffles and the Invasion of Java) and Victoria Glendinning (Raffles and the Golden Opportunity) faced off in a firmly feisty manner.

Hannigan was in Bali this month to promote his new book, which had its official Indonesian launch earlier in Jakarta – the Big Durian, a competitor for pungency perhaps – and then its Bali introduction at Periplus at Mal Bali Galeria, Kuta, on Dec. 1. Apparently the Periplus function was conducted entirely in Indonesian and Hannigan’s fine Java-accented Bahasa attracted good reviews.

He conducted later speaking engagements, first at Biku in Kerobokan’s well-heeled Jl Petitinget and then at Bar Luna in Ubud, in a mix of languages. We were at Biku – no one should miss an opportunity for afternoon tea at Asri Kerthyasa’s bijou establishment – on Dec. 4 to catch up. Hannigan and your diarist formerly laboured together on Another Publication hereabouts, on a proprietor’s promise of possibly being favoured with a quick smell of a notionally oily rag.

Hannigan’s secular hagiographies are worth reading. We enjoyed his first book (George Hayward and the Great Game). Hayward came a cropper while the Brits and the Russians were chest-thumping in Central Asia in the 19th century. Raffles, whose origins were relatively humble in the snooty (not to say snotty) Britain of his day, ended up ruined financially, perhaps because he was from the wrong side of the tracks.

Check out Monsoon Books for Hannigan’s work. It’s worth it.

Pull the Other Plug

PLN, which makes congenital dysfunction seem like a desirable improvement to aim for, has hit new heights with its unannounced introduction of an innovative Bule Billing Plan. Last month’s bill – which failed to take account, as they always do, of serial blackouts and frequent delivery of 80V instead of the standard 220V – was away being paid, by your diarist, two days after it reached The Cage.

Not long after the chariot had departed on this happy mission, two chirpy little chaps from the world’s worst public utility turned up at the gate to disconnect the power for non-payment. Fortunately our redoubtable pembantu was on the ball and sent them on their way with whatever is the local equivalent of a flea in the ear. That might be “sebuah loak di telinga,” but we’re not really sure.

But it is good news, in a way, we suppose. It does seem that PLN has stumbled upon an accounting system that actually tells them whose bill is whose. Maybe, though, they should rework the bit about cutting people off before they’ve had a chance to pay.

And while they’re at it, they might look at methods of delivering secure power, consistently, at the right voltage.  Repeatedly stubbing your toe while blundering around in the half-dark, courtesy of PLN’s brown-out policy, is not a desirable thing. It prompts intemperate thought and it’s not something that will be fixed by changing the wallpaper.  On that score, proposals to set up a Bali “subsidiary” of PLN on the Batam model should be viewed with caution.

Apple of Her Eye

The intriguing Marie Bee, who writes for the French monthly journal La Gazette de Bali (avec brio) from the deep recesses of the Ubud environment, was much excited in her latest published dispatch at having seen a reticulated python with two penises. She clearly didn’t major in ophiology at her university in Aix en Provence. These curious tandem arrangements are not altogether unusual among the descendants of the poor creature divinely sentenced to slither on his belly forever for getting Eve to bite that apple.

Be that as it may, the Bee piece is a nice buzz, especially since it prompts agreeable speculation that a snake might possibly be able to comply with a pejorative suggestion that it go away and perform what would otherwise be an anatomical impracticality.

Scrummy

Once upon a time, your diarist played rugby. That’s the original Rugby Union version, not Rugby League which was invented to keep English labourers out of the ale houses of a weekend and then migrated to that working class haven, Australia. We played fly-half (No 10) until one too many “forget the scrum-half, get the next bloke” tactical plays by opposing sides encouraged the view that squash might be a safer sport.

But love of the game lingers (you never really lose it) so we browse a number of rugby sites – the Wallabies, the Queensland Reds and Scotland are favourites, along with an historical affinity with the Springboks – including a Facebook page maintained by the Bali Rugby Club.

There, the other day, we noticed a post by BRC president Nick Mesritz, who shapes surfboards for a living and is from the land of the magical Haka. It quoted All Black prop Owen Franks on his upcoming pre-season training: “The training programmes are brutal and lonely – the onus is on the individual to be responsible for their fitness and follow an aerobic and strength programme that will include sprint repeats, hill work, gym work and agility sessions.”

We could suggest that’s not unlike the daily fitness regime here at The Cage. But we’d be straying a little too far from the literal truth.

All Abuzz

Brisbane in Queensland is a fine place to formerly call home. It’s Australia’s third largest capital city (population 2 million-plus) so it comes with all mod cons, and since it sits happily on 27 S its winters, while locally remarkable, barely pass even the fringe chill test. It’s a great place for Garuda to fly to from Bali – again, after its five-year bottom-line disappearing act – and those additional services from later next year will widen opportunities to stage brief returns, something The Diary has missed.

But we’ve kept in touch, among other things by way of the vibrant Brisbane Institute, a body that commenced operations some years ago under the benevolent editorial gaze of your diarist. Thus we learned recently that with the appointment of its first Chief Digital Officer, the city joined New York as one of the few conurbations in the world to have its own local government digital champion. It’s part of the Brisbane City Council’s ambition to position Brisbane as Australia’s new world city.

The Queensland capital, while still the butt of jealous jokes from effete southerners, has always been in the lead on technology. It had the first computer in the southern hemisphere, in 1962. In those pre-nano days, the monster had to arrive by ship.

Ties That Bind

Hector’s helper – the chap who’s not just a virtual cockatoo – spends a little time on Facebook, as some of his closer acquaintances have been known to note, on occasion testily. One of these, the Distaff, was recently further underwhelmed at finding herself newly in his profile picture. She won’t have a bar of Facebook, Herself.

It’s a nice photo, one from the files from 1994, and it was placed there because while Facebook allows one to proclaim a marital state, it won’t allow any visual or verbal reference to the name of that propinquity unless they are also an FB user. When dealing with the many unknowns of cyberspace, there are sensible reasons to provide concrete evidence of the presence of a Significant Other.

What’s really interesting, however, is that while selecting files for a series of down the years photos for possible profile use, the eye fell upon another, from 1996, only two years later. The Distaff had completely changed: she’d been to the gym or something, was clad in an outfit of a very outré hue, and had changed her hairstyle. But Hector’s helper, non-fashion statement that he remains, was still carrying the same old kilos and wearing the same blazer and tie.

Feasting Note

On Dec. 25, as every year, we mark the Christian anniversary of the birth of  one of Islam’s important prophets, Isa al Mahdi, the Messiah. The birthday is notional, naturally, since the early Christians merely co-opted existing pagan feasts. Easter (from the Greek pagan god Oestre) was the old Northern Hemisphere Spring fertility celebration.  The midwinter stave-off-starvation feast became Christmas, marking the birth of Jesus. But myths and the complex liturgies that religious scholars spin from them are what make the world and its belief systems go round, after all.

So Merry Christmas! We’ll save the “Happy New Year!” for the next edition.

Hector’s Diary appears in the fortnightly print edition of the Bali Advertiser. Hector tweets @Scratchings and is on Facebook (Hector McSquawky).

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, June 27, 2012

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Raking it In

The lively Beat Daily, the online news update produced by the chaps behind the bi-weekly entertainment glossy, had an interesting item recently, sourced from the local Bahasa press, though not – read on – the Bali Post: the 2012 Top 10 corporate rich kids on the block, those earning between Rp100 billion and Rp1 trillion. It bears noting that this is corporate, not personal, wealth, lest anyone starts to get jealous, or overly socialistic, or is tempted to formulate invidious comparisons.

In any case, there is nothing wrong with having a lot of money, provided it has been acquired lawfully and is made fully available to comply with whatever tax law applies in the jurisdiction in which it is enjoyed. Though one might add that therein lies the rub.

It is no surprise that Kadek Wiranatha and his brother Gede Wiratha, the local success story writ large, again top the list. They own the Bounty Group and a diverse portfolio of companies operating taxis, food exports and property (and the newspaper in which this diary appears).

Also no surprise to the Diary is that the Ramayana group, headed by Putu Gde John Poets and owner among other things of Pepito supermarkets and the Mini Mart chain, comes in at No. 2. Given the mark-up on Nescafé Classic instant coffee at Pepito outlets – nearly 27 percent on the price of the product at other retailers and even more than that at, for example, Hypermarket – it’s no surprise they rake in the local shekels by the shovel-load. It’s a bit rich because Nescafé Classic, while modestly aromatic and fully satisfying, is hardly a premium brand; it’s just your regular kitchen jar of instant partial nirvana.

Wayan Kari’s Waka group was third; Ida Bagus Putra’s Santrian group fourth; and then in descending order Hadi Wirawan’s Suzuki empire, Ubud royal Cokde Tjok Oka Artha (Tjampuhan), Tomy Raka,  Kelompok Usaha Keluarga,  the Bali Post group, and Anak Agung Sukadhana (his AAA Kusemas group operates mines, petrol stations and a laundry business).

Such a Shame

Serambi Arts Antida, the great alternative art space in Denpasar, has closed its doors. Apparently the two joint owners of the premises had different ideas about how to capitalise on it. One wanted to sell the property and no compromise could be found.

It opened in 2010 and among other things hosted this year’s Bali Emerging Writers Festival – in late May – which is a spin-off from the annual Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. Organiser Antida Darsana used Facebook to tell everyone who’s going to miss the space created for artists, musicians and students how much he regretted “that a valuable space for creativity, art, and culture cannot be maintained in Denpasar.”
He added: “We will surely rise again to continue our idealism to develop arts and culture in Bali. We may, for the moment, be homeless, but we have not lost our spirit.”

Alternative arts need far-seeing sponsors. Are there any local fat-wallets around – the recent Rich List might point to a name or two – whose skill in acquiring billions of rupiah for their businesses could be turned (in a very minor way after all) to useful philanthropic effect?

Onya, Sonya

The excellent Strewth diary in The Australian – both it and the newspaper, which (disclosure) we should note is run by Hector’s former colleague Chris Mitchell, are required reading for those with an Aussie bent, albeit online if you live outside the Odd Zone – had a lovely little item the other day. It was headed Transporting Type and is worth reproducing unabridged, without further comment:

At an inner Sydney gig on Sunday night, musician Kim Sanders – a practitioner of world music, if you’ll allow the term – had just finished wowing the audience with a piece of Sufi music on his ney, a type of Turkish flute. It was beautiful, bordering on the ethereal, and when he stopped, there was a sense the audience was still suspended in mid-air, held by the coils of the ney’s voice. Careful not to break the mood, Sanders introduced the next piece in almost a whisper. One of his own compositions he explained, inspired by a poem whose intensity, longing and passion had moved his heart and his imagination profoundly. He’d read it only once, he explained, as it was written on the back of a passing bus – the 473, no less. He proceeded to recite it in its entirety: “Sonya, Sonya, let me onya.” Which makes haiku look long-winded in comparison. Sanders got a great tune out of it.

Old Friends

We had old friend Ross Fitzgerald to lunch at The Cage recently. He was staying in Ubud – he and his wife Lyndal Moor have been Bali visitors for 20 years or more and always stay in the attractively royal ambiance of the Pura Saraswati hotel right in the middle of town – and drove all the way down to the Bukit (and back) for a bite and chat. It takes a true friend to do that, given today’s traffic conditions.

Fitzgerald is a professor of history and author or co-author of 35 books, the most recent being Fool’s Paradise, a fictional rendition of political events in the Australian state of Queensland that was long in the making because when first written it was met with horror by publishers who didn’t want to be sued by the non-fictional moulds from which Fitzgerald formed his characters.

Among the several tales told over lunch – they mainly concerned mutual colleagues and friends – was one lovely little story. He had to get back to Ubud early because he was giving a talk to a group of Indonesians (only men and from Bali and Java chiefly) who had recognised that they were addicted to alcohol.

One of Fitzgerald’s books is My Name is Ross, the story of how he beat potentially lethal alcoholism. He hasn’t touched a drop in more than 40 years and still attends meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous regularly.

He was giving his talk, he said, because Indonesians here don’t attend AA meetings, or not in significant numbers, and the chap who organised the meeting got the idea from reading a review of Fitzgerald’s book written some time ago by none other than your diarist. It was in Another Newspaper.

We’re sure the talk went well. Fitzgerald is an amusing raconteur.

All A-buzz

Marie Bee, who writes for the French-language monthly journal La Gazette de Bali and continuously demonstrates that she made very good use of her university days in Aix-en-Provence, is not a person on whom it would be wise to waste a fallacy.

So it was interesting to read in the June edition of La Gazette, in her Ubud column, that she had been to Anand Krishna’s ashram there and found a lingam in residence. The busy little Bee pointed out immediately, lest Francophone readers get quite the wrong idea, that it is not there in the sexual sense that so fixates people today – lingam massage being billed as the art of penis worship – but in its original meaning: the creative power.

Cleaning Up

World Ocean Day on June 8 got a welcome boost worth US$10,000 – that’s around Rp90 million give or take an exchange slip or two – from Blue Season Bali’s effort on the day that helped clean up the Sanur beach and raised funds through a fun scheme (though perhaps not entirely novel in Indonesia) under which people could bribe their way out of jail. The jail operated at the evening BBQ and was guarded by a local police officer who played the role of jailer. Guests paid for their “friends” to be thrown into jail and they then had to raise money to “bribe” the jailer to be released.

Captain Who?

We were planning to end this edition’s diary with a little joke, just to give readers a giggle. We had one all set – don’t worry, it won’t date – when the thought occurred that there was a real joke we should tell instead. It concerns Captain Emad, real name Ali al-Abassi, the well known Iraqi people smuggler who when he arrived on one of the boats from Indonesia that he’d organised fooled the gullible Aussies into believing he was an asylum seeker. They gave him a visa (of course) and, not to gild the lily, a measure of public assistance.

But – shock, horror – the poor dears are now thinking of cancelling his refugee visa after he was outed by the ABC TV current affairs show Four Corners as still, shall we say, somewhat active in the illegal business of putting desperate people on leaky boats to Australia, land of plenty.

The day after the programme aired he left Australia, the plods conspicuously not in pursuit. Oddly, though, he was already a person of interest. Police had raided his home some time before armed with a drug warrant.

But we can tell them that well before the Four Corners exposé, he was seen in Senggigi, Lombok, with a group of fawning Iranians who seemed all to be hoping to pin little kangaroo badges on themselves soon, and that this was reported. Our source was not official and the sighting was reported through civilian contractor channels, not direct to the authorities. But we are confident the circumstances were as described. It is also clear no one in authority in Australia bothered to check effectively.

Hector’s Diary appears in the print edition of the Bali Advertiser, published every second Wednesday, and on his Blog at http://wotthehec.blogspot.com. Hector is on Twitter (@scratchings) and Facebook (Hector McSquawky).