HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Dec. 23, 2015

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences 

 

A Christmas Story

This week we observe the official birthday – though of course its date is wholly notional – of one of Islam’s leading saints, the nabi Isa al-Mahdi, whom Muslims also honour as the Messiah. In the Christian rite, it is Christmas, the nativity of Jesus, born of a virgin mother. To Christians, Jesus is the Son of God. To Muslims that very notion is anathema. To those of the Jewish faith, Jesus was a rebellious and schismatic rabbi with whom their religious leaders dealt expediently by getting someone else to do away with him. That is a practice that is still with us. Defenestration, actual or metaphorical, has an unrivaled place in political tradition.

Thanks to Mammon and his right-hand man Capital over the last century and a half, fuelled by the rise of rampant consumerism, Christmas has become an occasion for Bacchanalian excess. This secular Christmas has nothing to do with religion, or with faith except for the widespread belief that it’s the one time of the year when you might get something for nothing. Santa and his elves, like the timing of the feast itself, are borrowed at one remove from Old Europe’s pagan rites of midwinter. In the same way, Easter, which marks the death and resurrection of Christ, coopted the pagan spring festival of its original Greek and Roman times.

Neither of these occasions was religious in the terms most people of faith would accept today. Not to put too fine a point on it, they were occasions for a good deal of romping and a whole lot of rumpy-pumpy. And jolly good fun all that must have been. You could say then that the wheel has just about turned full circle, especially, as an instance, in tourist areas of Thailand where to suggest that the elves are merely outré would be to unduly favour understatement as a conversational artifice.

The same invitation to overlay a patina of sexuality on everything – perhaps this is the single most significant success, if such it be, of capital-fuelled consumerism – is seen well beyond the pagoda-strewn landscapes of Old Siam. Elves whose moral influence probably wouldn’t stand scrutiny are a commonplace in Bali’s overeat, overdrink and badly misbehave tourist precincts. They have even been known to appear in certain parts of Lombok, the island of a thousand mosques.

The birthday of the Prophet is a much more important Islamic date. This year, on the lunar Sunni calendar, it’s on Christmas Eve.

All-abuzzZZZZ

We’re spending Christmas in Australia this year, not because we want to but because there are some family matters with which we and other people must deal. It is the first time in ages that we’ve been in the Odd Zone when the customary somnolence of the place, which is hard enough to bear anyway, gives way to six weeks or more of summer holidays and to something that closely approximates catalepsy. To be fair, many continental Europeans do the same sort of thing in August – try getting pain au chocolat of any decent quality in Paris then (it’s difficult: everyone is août, and not just to lunch) – but the Aussies take leisure even more seriously over their own big sleep. Unless it’s cricket or tennis, or they’re murdering prawns on a BBQ or getting zapped by stingers at the beach, forget it. The confluence of Christmas and New Year with the southern summer makes this possible, and it’s no bad thing, unless you want something done.

There are some things we need to get done. But we’ll do these ourselves. Our aim is to get home as quickly as possible. We have to see where the roof has decided to leak this year. Since it has now been raining properly, El Niño notwithstanding, our return might be quite revealing.

Merry Christmas!

Hannigan’s Wake

Well, no, not raconteur and history writer Tim Hannigan’s. He surely has time for a goodly number of books yet, though we did hear from him of the sad event: the death in Malang on Dec. 13 of Benedict Anderson, the Cornell University scholar who became one of the most influential voices in the fields of nationalism and Southeast Asian studies. He was 79.

Anderson is best known for his 1983 book Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Its much-debated thesis is that nationalism is largely a modern concept rooted in language and literacy. Its publisher, Verso, says the book has been translated into more than two-dozen languages.

His early specialization in Indonesia gave us a near-forensic analysis of the 1965 coup – he wrote it with fellow scholar Ruth McVey – and led to him being banned from the country until 1999. The Cornell Paper, as it came to be known, suggested that the coup was not the consequence of an abortive communist uprising but of premeditated action by the army. Such assessments were not encouraged in post-coup Indonesia, and still aren’t. Perhaps Karma played a part in Anderson’s outlasting both General Suharto and his New Order regime.

Hannigan also writes on Indonesia, with a light style and a strong sense of narrative as the essential ingredient in popular reading. His latest is A Brief History of Indonesia (Tuttle, 2015) and it’s very good. His 2012 book on British bureaucrat-imperialist Stamford Raffles – Raffles and the British Invasion of Java (Monsoon Books) – should have earned him that year’s Really Stinky Rafflesia Prize from the British Society of Wholesome Hagiographers. That’s if such an outfit existed, which it probably should. Tiffin ladies?

The Great Game

While we’re in the mood for long shadows and long drinks, we should mention a little Facebook post we saw recently. It had been posted by Patricia Morley Brown on the Ubud Community page and told us this: “
Croquet time again on Monday at Dewangga Bungalows from 9.30. Snack n Chat about 11.00 and there’s talk that there will be birthday cake this week for someone who turns 71. This week’s pics of magazine covers from 1918 and 1920s.”

We played croquet once. In about 1954 from memory, when we were just short of 10 and lodging temporarily, en famille, with an uncle in the Misty Isles who was the vicar of a lovely, leafy rural parish.

One Step Back … and One Forward

It’s sad to hear that the excellent organic garden at Sawangan near Nusa Dua and operated by Mike O’Leary’s ROLE Foundation has fallen victim to a land dispute, one of the more pernicious of the many social distempers endemic to Bali. ROLE is also seeking funding for new premises in Siligita. We’ll keep an eye on that. See them at http://www.rolefoundation.org.

On a much happier note, we hear that the non-profit charity Yayasan Solemen and a local company, Indosole LLC, along with the Bali Dynasty Resort, were busy in November giving a helping hand to the villagers of Waribang in Sanur. Indosole handed out rice and 50 pairs of adult footwear made from recycled tyres. Solemen distributed 111 towels and 50 bed sheets donated by the Bali Dynasty and transported to the village by Mark Tuck, founder and principal of Paradise Property Group.

The villagers of Waribang make their living by collecting plastic bottles to trade in for cash, which earns them Rp 3000 (about 21 US cents) per kilo. That’s something to think about while you’re enjoying your Christmas feast.

Solemen, whose leading hot-foot is the entrepreneurial Robert Epstone, regularly distributes food and clothing to needy villages around Bali and organize medical aid, physiotherapy and nutrition assistance.

If you’d like to help, visit www.solemen.org.

Write Stuff

Another Bali connection, the enigmatically alluring Jade Richardson who blogs with zest as the Passionfruit Cowgirl, has a gig going in the New Year that might interest any formative scribblers who are in Western Australia during the Long Sleep. It’s the latest in her Write of Passage workshops and the first one in Perth (though it’s actually in the port city of Fremantle, a good place to be in January when the searing heat of the Australian summer might otherwise be upon one).

Gentle Jade asks this question: Could this be the journey that changes everything? She tells us that this is her favourite workshop for aspiring writers and is designed for those seeking profound insight to their work in stories, a powerful shift in writing, and an understanding of creative energy.

The workshop is on Jan. 5, 6 and 8. Details are at www.heartbookwriting.com or you can email her at jade.gently@gmail.com.

Cheers to the Monkey

When the clock ticks over to 2016 the Diary will be in a very good mood. For shortly after that it will be the Year of the Monkey. We have plans for plenty of simian pursuits, a treat we award ourselves every 12 years.

See you next year!

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

 

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Feb. 4, 2015

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

 

A Tale of Two Statues

The new style of Bali’s fixation with monumental ornamentation, as seen in the grossly huge and garishly illuminated nightly by circus-style flashing lights “monkey mountain” that has been erected at the junction of Prof Ida Bagus Mantra Bypass and I Gusti Ngurah Rai Bypass just south of Tohpati, is certainly a distraction to drivers. That’s about the kindest thing you could say about it.

It’s true that after a while it fails to totally shock – the brain is adept at repressing all manners of vast unpleasantness – but we can personally attest that for the first several times this visionary excrescence comes suddenly into view one is auto-prompted to utter loudly a crudely pejorative four-letter word before asking (audibly or otherwise, and rhetorically of course) “What on earth is that?”

Fortunately the future of world-class Balinese stone craftsmanship is in safe hands in other areas. Gianyar regency sculptor Ongky Wijana, for instance, has recently completed a work that will honour the mining heritage of the little town of Laxey in the Isle of Man, one among the Queen’s possessions that has never been incorporated into the United Kingdom.

Wijana’s wife Hannah Black, an art editor and designer, is from the Isle of Man, which is in the Irish Sea roughly equidistant from the Irish and Scottish coasts and a little further from the nearest bits of England and Wales. That’s the connection. He has spent quite a lot of time there (he tells us he loves the weather; but he is a very polite gentleman) and got the commission after he was spotted practising his art amid the chill gales of winter as a good way of keeping warm.

It was a nearly year-long task – thankfully this was performed warmly in Bali – to create the statue from a 5000kg block of stone from Ireland and four pieces of Welsh slate. The finished work left Bali in early January and is due to be unveiled at Laxey on May 23.

A Hundred Shades of Grey

We’re not sure of the actual numbers (we were having far too much fun to count heads) but it’s in the nature of seventieth birthday parties to produce fields of grey wherever the eye might fall. And this was the case at The Santosa in Senggigi, Lombok, on Jan. 17, when former leading South Australian and federal Labor politician Peter Duncan had his big bash.

We flew over for the occasion and caught up with some old friends, including Barbara Cahyadi of the Lombok Guide who, because she’s a she, can legitimately crawl away and dye. She didn’t look grey at all. But then she’s nowhere near seventy either. Septuagenarian status in this context is a privilege shared only by itinerant scribblers and former politicians.

Duncan says it was not his idea, and we believe him, but The Santosa had erected a very visible backdrop behind the music stage that loudly (in the visual sense) congratulated “Mr Peter Owner of Taman Restaurant” on his birthday, which was on Jan. 1. It displayed a photographic representation of the present Mr Peter and another of the former political artist as a young man. Well, a very much younger man. This is why we keep our family album under virtual lock and key.

Duncan wore white for the night. His lovely wife Wiwik Pusparini had given him the outfit for his birthday. It was the evening’s one disappointment. Duncan had hinted earlier that he might, in his opening remarks, say that this was a great moment to appear in his birthday suit. Sadly, he flaked on that.

He did make an excellent point in his little address, however. He noted that if he’d held his big bash in Queensland, Australia, all his guests would have risked arrest. Among them were two members of bikie gangs. The Queensland government has outlawed any gathering at which more than one bikie is present. They like their paranoia by the shovelful in Bananaland.

Hang on a Tic!

The endemic political Tourette’s syndrome and OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) that afflict Indonesia can be entertaining. Or they would be if they weren’t simply revealing ubiquitous dysfunction and the fact that those creating it would rather play silly games than do any serious work.

The real Tourette’s, a debilitating and limiting neurological condition, and OCB, an anxiety disorder, are involuntary medical conditions. The non-medical and characteristically self-inflicted political variants of these sad conditions are not. They are elective and risible.

It needs to be noted that while Indonesia has pervasive exposure to these syndromes – most lately demonstrated in the Keystone Kops tit-for-tat farce involving the national police and the anti-corruption commission which would be hilarious if it weren’t so dangerous – they are not unique to the archipelago. They are prevalent in many places, globally, including within the Australian political class.

Last year the government announced that five countries would get visa-free entry for short-term visitors. These countries were Australia, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia.

In 2014 Australian arrivals to Bali, totalled 991,024, which was 26.3 percent of all visitors. Among the countries awarded free visa status from 2015, China last year sent us 586,197 tourists, a more than 50 percent increase; South Korea 106,774 (to Sep.), making it our sixth largest market; Japan, once our biggest market, fell to fourth place with not much hope of any marked improvement in the short term; and Russian arrivals fell 10 percent (to Sep.) due to unfortunate circumstances at home and the collapse of the rouble. Malaysia, which is on the ASEAN free visa list, was our third-largest market in 2014 with 224,962 arrivals.

Now Australia has been dumped from the list of those countries whose travelling citizenry is to be excused the tedious business of being tickled for US$35 on arrival. Officially this is because the free visa arrangements require reciprocity (and that would certainly be sensible on the basis of a short-stay holiday and a return ticket, should anyone in Canberra feel interested enough to notice). But since Australia was on the original list and now isn’t, it seems safe to assume that the move is political.

In the words of Coordinating Maritime Affairs Minister Indroyono Soesilo: “For Australians, the visa on arrival is enough.” Perhaps he means that US$34,685,840 is nice pocket-money.

But what Indonesia has just said to its potential one-million-plus-a-year Australian tourists, its largest market, is, “Welcome to Bali. Sod off.”  What needs to be understood in Jakarta and Denpasar is that there are now many other places in the region which offer Australian tourists holiday experiences with free visas, less expense, less inconvenience, and better facilities. As blogger of note Vyt Karazija observed, it’s that shoot first, shout later thing: Ready! Fire! Aim!

Move Along Now…

No doubt Bali will give its famous blank stare response to the recent decision of the Supreme Court of India to uphold a ban on cock-fighting in the Hindu state of Andhra Pradesh. An action to overturn the ban on cultural grounds was opposed by Humane Society International, which told the court: “These cruel practices are against the law and should not be conducted under the garb of tradition. These events are nothing but gambling events.”

In Bali, cock-fighting is ubiquitous. Only the blind or the beneficially suborned would suggest gambling is not. Blood sacrifice is integral to both Balinese and Indian Hindu rites but the question is whether a religious validation of cruelty extends to death sports for gain. Animal activists are working (in the case of the Bali Animal Welfare Association, with IFAW, the International Fund for Animal Welfare) to educate communities in animal welfare and animal rights.

Interesting Thought

Waiting for a delayed flight can have benefits, not the least of them the chance to drink even more coffee. So it was when we flew back from Lombok to Bali on Jan. 18 after a weekend visit for a party (see above) and two lovely nights at Sudamala Suites and Villas on the beach at Mangsit north of Senggigi.

The benefit in this case came at our second coffee stop, after we discovered by the sort of osmosis required to obtain accurate information from anyone in Indonesia, that our Wings Air flight would be leaving 90 minutes late.

We were at the Dante’s outlet in the departure area and had switched off the smart phone to conserve its pathetic battery capacity. In an effort to delay terminal boredom, the eye wandered around the establishment’s many promotional billboards and found a reward.

One of these colourful eye-catchers was offering Brazilian Lemon. We wondered, briefly and indelicately, if that was a lemon with the zest shaved off.

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