The Figjam Factor

HECTOR’S DIARY

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Titbits from his regular diet of worms

 

The Cage, Bali

Friday, Mar. 16, 2018

 

BALI is home to many oddities. We refer in this instance to those found in the expatriate community. Readers will recall that someone by the name of Terry Brockhall chose to defame two former expatriates recently on the basis of his full misunderstanding of a set of circumstances relating to volcano relief fundraising. We noted this, he didn’t like it, and we invited him to get in touch for a chat. We heard nothing, which didn’t surprise us. Sometimes silence is the best policy, after all, when the vino has worn off but the uncomfortable verities remain.

The thing is, though, blowhard rule-benders very rarely learn a lesson they won’t forget in a goldfish’s brain-snap, especially if they’re of the variety that likes to jest about having to look bright eyed and bushy tailed for the boss, ha-ha. Well, not exactly the boss: it’s just someone who feeds him, but you’ll know what we mean. So he was back recently, in the social media, having another gratuitously ungracious and misinformed go on the same issue. The same message in return is warranted. But do get in touch, Terry, if you’d like a chat this time.

Terry has now been joined in the figjam chorus (Google figjam if you must) by another person, also late of Brisbane, faraway on the eastern seaboard of Australia. His name is Chris Osses, a used car salesman who now seems to live in Kalgoorlie. That’s in Western Australia and it’s a place with lots of rocks for lower forms of life to hide under. Apparently he has deep knowledge of the law in Australia and Indonesia. He’s welcome to drop by for a chat too.

Do It Right

THIS might be a moment to say some things about the volunteering sector here, especially in regard to fundraising and effective concentration of effort. The restrictions on foreigners doing good works are frequently ridiculous and the rules – fiscal and otherwise – onerous, but it has to be done right. Among most of the established charities, it is. There are some who don’t, and they’re administratively foolish and legally on shaky ground. They also put their own future funding from donations at risk unless they are fully transparent – with their donors and the authorities – on how the money is spent. It’s a formal accounting process, not the tea money.

This is also a place where when an emergency situation comes to light there’s a race – like a sort of manically disorganised egg and spoon event – to get out there first and be visible doing something. In short, it’s a battle for territory, a narrow view that produces unnecessary discord and shuts off creation of a focused and fully effective operation. Those in need of assistance don’t really care who helps, whether they’re volcano evacuees for whom the government provides only second-grade rice, or animals in distress. The Mt. Agung emergency has not gone away. There was a minor eruption today (Mar. 16) that was but the latest in a long-running series.

Uang Kecil

THE practice of some Balinese whose homes overlook picturesque rice terraces in demanding money from tourists taking photos has recently caused a flurry of self-interest among the Canggu crowd. You’ll be aware that Canggu is selfie-centred, to coin a phrase.

In the to-and-fro that followed someone’s social media complaint that a farmer had tried to sting him for a small consideration – it was probably only Rp.10K or Rp.20K (US$1 or US$2) – there were several comments.

The best we saw came from Ipong Wayan, a name not unknown in Bali’s tourism fuelled economic sectors. He told the complainant in chief, someone called Frederick Dillon, this: “Oyyyy stop this bullshit … come visit my village I will give you free lunch or dinner and cash to go back to your country … please come quickly as this offer is limited (only for cheap people).”

Over the matter of small money, uang kecil, we couldn’t have put it better.

Festival Central

180316 FOR HECTOR'S DIARY

A modern-day seeker after truth…

UBUD’S the place for doing all sorts of things to your mind and your body. It has a reputation as a fine resort for feeding the mind, or bending it, or for bending your body while your chakras are reorganised by your guru of choice. It’s actually as venal as anywhere else, but we don’t talk about that.

It is also Festival Central. This is a fine thing for many reasons, not the least of these being that many of them are the kind of Lost Westerner dreamtime stuff that doesn’t attract hordes of Chinese tourists in big buses. So we note the upcoming annual Bali Spirit Festival (Apr. 2-8) where you can bend it, but not quite like Beckham, and on the alimentary front, Janet DeNeefe’s fourth Ubud Food Festival (Apr. 13-15).

In its latest e-newsletter, UFF suggests that if you’re looking for something nourishing for the mind and the body, then Jam Secrets with Arif Springs and Healthy Eating for Midlife and Beyond with Sam Rice are the answers. Or, as DeNeefe suggests for devotees of freshly baked sourdough bread, Sourdough from Scratch with Starter Lab and Sourdough Pizza with DUMBO could be just what you need.

Yum!

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Straight to the Point

HECTOR’S DIARY

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Titbits from his regular diet of worms

 

The Cage, Bali

Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018

 

IT’S magic what you can do these days with a talking smart phone. The other day we had to drive into Denpasar – a strange bit of it with which we are unfamiliar – and it was a dream. All we had to do was follow the dulcet directions of the lovely lady map-reader who apparently inhabits The Diary’s Huawei and speaks to you with perfect diction and in very sound English. Possibly her name is not Joy, but nonetheless a joy she is.

It’s good too that as you inch along in south Bali’s dense traffic, threatened on all sides by even denser drivers, you can also see from your handy interactive map where your next major tailback is going to be. There’s no escaping it, generally, but at least you know it’s there. It’s a bit like how Lieutenant Colonel Custer might have found himself unhappily pre-advised if he’d bothered to send scouts out ahead of his cavalry column as it trotted up the Rosebud. He could have sworn pre-emptively himself, too, then.

Encore du Vin

HAVING a French friend has always been lovely, as we’ve noted before. The French are often much more interesting than Anglos, and that’s not just because the expressive nature of the language and French culture adds to the joie de vivre.

We’re fortunate, as we’ve also noted previously, to have a good friend who lives in the French style at Petulu near Ubud, in a villa in which astonishingly we are welcome visitors. Even her cats speak French, with a meow of course, and in fact they appear to be trilingual. They understand “Non,” “No,” and “Tidak,” though of course, being cats, they pretend they don’t, or that they haven’t heard you, or that plainly you have directed your latest vocalised imperative to someone else. If pressed upon a particular point, each affects insouciance in the face of unwanted instruction that is both typical of the feline community and a joy to watch: “Moi? Sûrement pas!”

Another benefit of long weekends in a French ambience is the availability of wine and cheese and the cultural necessity to consume these victuals in more than micro-measurable quantities well into the evening and in fact well past the time when your calèche has turned into a citrouille (and you’ve given up worrying about that silly glass slipper anyway).

Lost Their Tackle

THE Indonesian agriculture ministry and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have designated four areas in Indonesia for pilot projects to tackle the spread of zoonotic diseases such as rabies, anthrax and avian influenza, and emergent ones, that normally have animal hosts but can infect humans. There’s another zoonotic disease of deep concern, plague, which is endemic in parts of Central Java, including Boyolali, one of the areas nominated for study, and in East Java, but that’s long been under strict control measures – including effective rubbish control and disposal – and fieldwork to keep an eye on infection levels in rodents.

The four areas in the new study are Bengkalis in Riau, Ketapang in West Kalimantan, Boyolali in Central Java and Minahasa in North Sulawesi. “We select areas based on the risks and the state of medical infrastructure and the commitment of regional administrations,” says the FAO’s Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases (ECTAD) Indonesia’s Andri Jatikusumah.

Bali isn’t on the list. It lost its tackle over rabies when, after international efforts following the 2008 outbreak gave it a great start, it all became too hard for the provincial and local governments. It’s not only in Bali where foolish politics, conflicting priorities (all those Kijiangs and Fortuners) and administrative ennui combine to derail all sorts of things. Bureaucracies everywhere have dreadful trouble with dogs that eat their homework.

Cina Bali

WE’VE just read a really interesting feature in The South China Morning Post, about the symbiosis between Chinese and Balinese cultures. We’d recommend it as reading for anyone who is interested in anthropology, as well as the many who fear that Balinese culture will ultimately be swamped by the tsunami of profane banality that is modern day Indonesian money power.

Among other things, it makes the point that Agama Hindu Dharma – Bali’s unique religion and culture – is an accretion of Hindu, Buddhist and animist beliefs. It is a naturally accepting belief system, not a religion that is hidebound by a book. The point in this instance is that the Chinese Indonesian writer who is the subject of the interview felt no sense of being an outsider when she was growing up in Bali. That ridiculous predisposition in the minds of others only came to her notice when she went to Jakarta to study. At home in Bali she was Cina Bali, properly just part of the human landscape. Off the island, she was “Cina!” or worse, “Amoy”, presumptive and frankly threatening accusations of difference. She was not pribumi: she was an outsider.

The Chinese have a very long history in Bali, as do Chinese communities in other parts of Indonesia. But, here, where for all the set nature of Hindu Dharma religious observance and cultural practice, there is a long tradition of accretion, of incorporating symbolism and articles of faith from elsewhere, a formal veneration of ancestors, and wide acceptance of the benefits of otherness. The Chinese presence – around 14,000 people identify as Cina Bali – has become integral to the island’s culture, rather than something temporarily attached to it.

There’s a book in all of that, and one’s apparently in the works. It should be an anthropological feast.

As We Were Saying

AMID some hoopla, the authorities some days ago downgraded the alert status for Mt Agung, noting that while volcanic eruption was still occurring, there was less pressure within the mountain’s core and therefore less risk of a powerful eruption. The mountain answered that, partly in the affirmative, within a matter of hours. It staged an eruption that sent ash 1,500 metres into the air above the 3,000-metre summit. There was light ash fall from Amlapura to Tulamben on Bali’s eastern coast.

On figures from Feb. 13 from 103 evacuation posts – down 43 from the previous day – there are still 10,890 evacuees registered. More than 6,000 people had left the evacuation camps since the alert status was lowered from IV to III and the exclusion zone was reduced to a four-kilometre radius. Residential numbers high on the volcano show 602 people live within the four-kilometre radius, 986 within five kilometres, and about 17,000 within six kilometres.

But the emergency is not over. This is not the time for anyone to drop any balls.

Festivities

WE had an opportunity while in Ubud to chat with Janet DeNeefe, over sparkling water served at Honeymoon Cottages in Jl. Bisma, about this year’s writers and readers’ festival – it’s in October and is the fifteenth – and the 2018 Ubud Food Festival, which is in April. It was an interesting chat. We’ll come back to the UWRF, at some length, in another forum in a little while. Meanwhile the food festival program is now online. Mouths may now officially water in anticipation.

It’s the Ethics, Stupid!

AS a rule, we avoid too closely associating with the political news that filters out of Australia. It’s generally banal and – unless it’s about something that directly affects you – rather pointless. Scoring political points is for others, trolls and the like, and those for whom partisanship is a way of life.

There are exceptions to this rule, and one such is upon us now, concerning the deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce, who is leader of the junior (but essential) branch of the coalition, the National Party. Joyce has made a sad, sorry, and farcical nonsense of his personal life, bedding and impregnating his staff media adviser and leaving his quarter-century-old marriage as a result. That, essentially, is a private matter. If it requires condign and clamorous judgment from outside the home he’s wrecked, this should come from those whose deepest wish seems to be to force their way into the private lives of others.

What actually matters is the ethical question as it relates to public office and expenditure of public funds. As Simon Longstaff of the Ethics Centre (in Sydney) has noted, it is here that Joyce has disastrously failed. For those offences, which are not those upon which one could litigate, he should go. He probably knows this but (another ethical lapse) has been resisting the concept of leaping off the gravy train.

The barnyard farce of Joyce’s personal life has brought forth an amendment to the ministerial code of conduct, which specifically bans sexual relationships with staff. The real scandal is that a ministerial code of conduct is deemed necessary in the first place. It’s clumsy and dangerous anyway, since it encourages those to whom demerit is a notional concept to take the view that something dodgy is OK if it’s not precisely disallowed in the code.

But the real bottom line is this: If you’re incapable of defining what’s right and what’s wrong, or worse, are unwilling to bother doing so, you’re not fit for any senior office, political or otherwise.

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Chin-chin!

Excrescences, Etc.

HECTOR’S DIARY

Titbits from his diet of worms

The Cage, Bali

Monday, Feb. 5, 2018

 

MANY foreigners come to Bali for its unique culture and some choose to live here. The people with whom one wishes to associate are in that cohort. Some may be misguided, but that’s OK. The flowers of Eastern mysticism are as open to misinterpretation as any shamanistic bloom. Bali is a great place to have your chakras fiddled with by itinerant foreign gurus with malleable morals. It’s a sort of “Eat, Love, Prey” thing. The preying is usually mutual, or at any rate consensual.

There are others, of a different class, who are here to gouge a buck and to take advantage of the brown envelope culture. Perhaps some among them occasionally reflect that they are fortunate to be in a place where they can practise their predilections, not all of them necessarily commercial, in an environment in which with the right connections you are rarely caught out. A few are possibly here because they couldn’t behave in their own societies as they can generally manage to here, or because they’d be in jail if they did.

It is this latter cohort that sometimes gets up one’s nose, especially when it involves public assertions (which have no basis in fact) of the selfishly acquisitive practices of others. One particular recent incident has got up ours. Normally you’d just ignore such dog-droppings, and the dogs that drop them. But sometimes you feel that you can’t. So, Terry Brockhall, formerly of Brisbane, Queensland, and presently of Dalung, Bali, this one’s for you, mate.

Perhaps he was drunk or otherwise intellectually incapacitated when last week he posted (on the Bali Expats Facebook group) his intemperate, litigious and profoundly incorrect assessment of what someone who has been at the forefront of obtaining funds to assist the thousands of Balinese volcano evacuees had actually done with the money. A good rule of thumb for civilised existence is to subject your own subjectivity to rigorous analysis before you mouth off.

If Mr Brockhall would like to discuss this with us, he’s welcome to do so. Privately would be best, to avoid further embarrassing himself and his former business associates in Australia, who are surprised that he still lists on LinkedIn a company he left five years ago as his current place of employment. (The Diary hasn’t named the target of his misplaced ire. Her friends and associates know whom it is, and we’ll make sure they see this item.)

The Affliction

IT’S no surprise, though one might wish it were, that the Sharia authorities in Aceh have taken to publicly stripping and whipping transsexual people whom they are sure have angered Allah. It is a surprise, in contrast, and yet another sour one, that Indonesia Air Asia announced last week that its cabin crews on services to the autonomous Neolithic province would in future be all male.

There was another incident, last week, far away and in a different milieu, which was even more alarming. The Manchester Art Museum in Britain removed from display

Hylas and the Nymphs, the widely known painting , by John William Waterhouse. It is one of the most recognisable of the pre-Raphaelite paintings. Postcards of the painting were taken off sale in the shop.

In the painting’s place, a notice went up explaining that a temporary space had been left “to prompt conversations about how we display and interpret artworks in Manchester’s public collection”. Members of the public have stuck Post-it notes around the notice giving their reaction. Most of them are entirely predictable. They were a lot more polite than the Post-it note The Diary would be tempted to stick in the “temporary space.”

According to the gallery’s curator of contemporary art, Clare Gannaway, the aim of the removal was not to censor but to provoke debate. Tell that to the nymphs and wait for the derisive laughter in response. The work usually hangs in a room titled In Pursuit of Beauty, which contains late 19th century paintings showing lots of female flesh.

Perhaps the key to the whole horror of this act of non-censorship lies in Gannaway’s explanation – no doubt it is “feminist” by some empty-headed definition or other – that the room’s title was a bad one, as it was male artists pursuing women’s bodies, and paintings that presented the female body as a passive decorative art form or a femme fatale.

Still, it’s a device that would easily fix the hefty financial call on galleries to acquire, care for, insure and display works of art. They could just put post-it notes around the walls instead. That would be much cheaper and surely would offend no one except those who like to look at paintings and who in such circumstances would naturally no longer visit museums and galleries. The great unwashed, who do not do so anyway, would neither care nor notice: Planet Doh again.

The curiously disingenuous argument from the museum flows from the supposed pandemic of sexual mistreatment of minors. A mob has been raised on this matter and in the manner of such swarms is now out of control. There are perverts in any society. If those who fiddled with little boys and girls had been privately horsewhipped on discovery of their first offence, most would probably not have done it again. Madness is an illness. Perversion is an elective practice.

A friend who saw the report asked: “Has everyone gone quite mad? Is it something in the water?” To which we could only reply: “We have long suspected something of the sort; or random radons.”

Peak Piquancy

THE Ubud Food Festival, Janet DeNeefe’s highly successful annual spin-off from the well established Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, has won star billing from ABC, the Indonesian food company that produces Indonesia’s essential condiments, kecap manis and sambal. Without these, no one’s food from his or her island home would be as piquant as it should be.

According to Dhiren Amin, who is head of marketing, Southeast Asia, at Kraft Heinz ABC, popularising Indonesian cooking and the archipelago’s diverse culinary traditions is a vision ABC shares with UFF, and this was a primary motive in the company becoming a presenting partner at the 2018 festival. And DeNeefe notes: “It’s a brand we all know and love, so it’s a perfect fit for our festival.” We agree. The Diary’s finely tuned taste buds are already in full anticipatory mode.

Corporate sponsorship is essential for any style of festival these days, so ABC’s move is as welcome as its spicy little bottles at the UFF table. The festival is from Apr. 13-15 this year – themed Generasi Inovasi – and will feature nearly 100 speakers, and their culinary delights.

There’s much more here 

Lying Doggo

THE volcano was quiet on Sunday. Literally. For the first time in a long while, no volcanic or resultant seismic activity was noted. Inevitably, this will result in those who believe their economic and political interests lie in assumptions that all is well seeing an opportunity to promote the idea that there is no emergency. To these people, we simply say this: Study the records, such as they are, of the lengthy and occasionally quiescent eruption of Mt Agung in 1963, and do not assume anything. Go with the volcano science, not political science.

Farewell, Friend

SOME who read The Diary will know the name: John McKenzie Keir. He was a fine gentleman, well known in the Australian commercial aviation sector. He was also our friend of more than two decades, and we were greatly saddened to learn, today, that he had left us. He died last Tuesday, the victim, finally, of the leukaemia with which he was diagnosed twenty-two years ago. Latterly other opportunistic agents of fatality had joined the assault upon him, and he succumbed.

Our association came about because his wife and our Companion worked together in the now distant past, and hit it off rather well. They were often rowdy, in a ladylike way, and maintained that practice throughout the years following, during which they occasionally saw each other and misbehaved. Mr Keir and The Diary were sometimes peripheral to these celebrations, as Significant Others are supposed to be.

We last saw him on a flying visit to Brisbane in 2016 – the trip was to attend someone’s political birthday party – and saw a Lions v Swans match at the Gabba by benefit of his ALF fixation and his Lions’ membership. It was a good game on a mild Brisbane autumn afternoon and we all dined pleasantly together afterwards.

We’ll miss the enigmatic smile with which he handled cross-table repartee and his sommelier-standard handling of wine bottles with recalcitrant corks. His funeral is in Brisbane tomorrow. We shall toast him at dinner tonight – we hope in the style and with the panache on which he would surely insist – with warm thoughts for his lovely family.

Chin-chin!

Janet’s World

HECTOR’S DIARY

 

 

Titbits from his regular diet of worms

 

THE CAGE

Bali

Monday, Jan. 29, 2018

 

 

THAT’S Bali, of course, Janet DeNeefe’s home for more than thirty years. But like most Australians who live overseas or spend a great deal of time beyond the moat, she retains an umbilical link to her original homeland. So it was pleasing, though no surprise, to see her featured recently in Australia Unlimited, a web-based Austrade (i.e., official) site where good-thinking Aussies are given exposure.

DeNeefe, who trained as an art teacher before first coming to Bali in 1975 and returning forever the next year, runs restaurants and a guesthouse in Ubud, the little hill town now known as guru central, and started the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival after the 2002 Bali bombings to contribute to the healing process. She’s written two books about Bali cuisine. This year’s UWRF, from Oct. 24-28, will be the fifteenth, though, sadly, we need to note that this may be volcano permitting. The fat lady has yet to sing. More recently DeNeefe added the standalone Ubud Food Festival to her stable. It’s from Apr. 13-15 this year and the full program will be out in mid-February.

In the nine-item Q&A on Australia Unlimited, she says Bali’s a magical place and she’s lucky to have made a life here. It’s hard to argue with the theory that Bali is magic. DeNeefe has some very sensible advice for foreigners who come here to live and work: get with the culture.

Trumpet Voluntary

DONALD Trump made a good speech at the annual Davos gabfest, just over for another year. It was rational, it had a theme and held to it (his speechwriter must have been pleased) and it was not delivered as if he were addressing a campaign crowd in, say, Allentown, PA. That is not to say it was a good speech in the other sense. He proclaimed that America First did not mean America Alone, and then laid out linked economic and security proposals that functionally ensured the U.S. voice will be a singular one, especially where China is concerned.

Economically, it was an unreconstructed capitalist speech. The bulk of the world – sensibly – has long ago shifted focus back towards some sort of planned economy, having finally realised that uncontrolled capitalists and egregious oligarchs don’t actually give a toss about anyone except themselves and their offshore untaxed wealth. Creating more billionaires isn’t economic progress; it’s a function of social failure.

In terms of global security, everyone from the Chinese down thinks that the nutbar in Pyongyang should be corralled into something resembling common sense. How to do that without having a nuclear war is the central issue. America’s sheriff-exceptionalist predilections won’t help there. They won’t help with Iran either, where the regime (while unpleasant) is principally concerned with regional issues – the Gulf, primarily – and not with the sort of global power play that so worries certain Americans with leader of the free world syndrome.

The full text of the speech is here. It’s worth reading.

All A-Flutter

THE happy folk at Ausflag, the outfit that keeps coming up with alternatives to the national flag that Australia has had since 1901, chose Australia Day (Jan. 26) to produce yet another. If you’re on a hiding to nothing, as executive director Harold Scruby surely knows by now, another biff around the ears doesn’t matter. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who in his republican days was a director of Ausflag, knows that too.

Australia is a monarchy, or more accurately is a crowned republic. Its head of state is the governor-general but its sovereign is the Queen of the United Kingdom (as well as concurrently Queen of Australia and other places; the poor woman wears many crowns). The Australian flag is perfectly sound. Its origin as a defaced British blue ensign is immaterial a century later, when the empire of which Australia was part is no more. Just to note: defaced is not an insult; it describes its heraldic status.

Canada, also a crowned republic, has a striking and simple flag that does not carry a reference in its upper left quarter to the country’s long ago British colonial birth. It also avoids in any way looking as if it might be some sort of corporate banner. This is the way forward for Australia, when eventually it is more widely understood that the British flag in the corner of its own is arcane and misplaced. For that reason the latest Ausflag offering is worthy of consideration: it retains the essential identifying elements of the existing flag – the Southern Cross and the seven-point Star representing the six (still sovereign) states plus the federal and territory elements – while dispensing with the Union Flag.

We’ve probably told this story before – it’s a good one and always worth a giggle – about an occasion many years ago in the U.K. on family matters, when The Diary was driving a party of British relatives to a funeral in England. They were Scottish relatives so humour was present. For some ecclesiastical or other reason the churches that day were flying the Union Flag. The Diary mentioned, on passing one that was more prominently fluttering in the breeze than most, that there before us was a large corner of the Australian flag. There was a moment’s silence. And then there were loud guffaws.

That wouldn’t happen with this one:

Look Mum … No bars

Volcano Casualty

THE drone that the excellent Indonesian volcanology boffins had been using to provide essential photography of the crater of Mt. Agung in eruption, and to collect gas emissions from it for analysis, crashed on operations last week. That’s a great pity, since its missions provided opportunities for real-time analysis of the eruptive state of the mountain.

The accident demonstrates the dangerous conditions that exist around the summit, which isn’t a place for people to hang around, or even to fleetingly visit. The Stromboli-type eruption on Jan. 19 showed that very plainly.

Well Deserved

MARGARET Barry, the Australian philanthropist who is the public expat face of the Bali Children Foundation, was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in the Australia Day Honours List published last Friday. It’s well deserved recognition of her work over 15 years to educate Balinese children so that they can prosper in their lives and help others by doing so. Barry notes that the BCF is a venture in which many people help, unsung.

Veteran scribbler Mungo MacCallum wrote this week that he wondered whether an Australian honours system was appropriate. He’s always been a contrarian. He did make a good point that the OAM is widely, if unfairly, viewed as the also-rans list. An additional grade within the ranks might help fix that problem.

But the answer to his question of course is yes. As a scribbler, though, he most likely takes The Diary’s view of gongs, which is similar to that of Groucho Marx about clubs that might invite him to become a member. Writers are best when they adopt the obverse of the old argument that it’s better to be inside the tent, pissing out, rather than outside, pissing in. An establishment writer is a walking oxymoron.

Chin-chin!

Degrees of Idiocy

HECTOR’S DIARY

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His regular diet of worms and other non-religious fare

THE CAGE
Bali
Sunday, Dec. 24, 2017

Degrees of Idiocy

THE President of the Republic, Joko Widodo, familiarised here in the Indonesian way as Jokowi, has just visited Bali. Miraculously, the beaches appeared clear of the middens of muck that despoil them year round, but worse in the monsoon season. He was pictured in the press on a beach walk in which, to everyone’s surprise, not even a loose lolly wrapper could be seen, far less the tonnes of plastic gunge that usually assaults the eye. So that’s good. He’ll have returned to the Istana Negara in Jakarta fully convinced that Bali has absolutely no problems at all.

Another problem we learned Bali does not have, as a result of the presidential peregrination, is that volcano thing. The alert status that has cruelly impacted in a negative way on the island’s desired overburden of tourists has been scrapped by presidential decree. Apparently, when you’re president, you automatically acquire Nobel laureate status in the science of volcanology.

What Gunung Agung thinks about this is not known, at least to the Diary, which does not presume to talk to the gods of anything and especially not those of the underworld. But last time we looked – and that was just on Friday morning and it was up quite close, from a boat sailing from Lombok to Bali (Teluk Amuk, which seems apt) – Mt Agung was having its regular morning spit. That was vapour and ash. As a non-volcanologist, we made the brave assessment that this meant its eruption is still a matter of the moment. Perhaps there had been a hold-up in delivery of the presidential decree.

We’d agree that it’s a nuisance that there’s an ongoing eruption and with it the threat that volcanic ash may any moment get into the atmosphere and bugger about with airline operations. But nature tends to scoff at human discomfort with its activities. Bali has two active volcanoes (the other is Mt Batur). The last time Mt Agung erupted, in 1963, it was disastrous. It must have escaped the president’s attention that its behaviour this time – a lengthy period of intermittent, low-threat activity is the phase we’re in at present – rather worryingly mirrors that of half a century ago.

Splashing Out

THE Diary and The Companion had an early Christmas present this year, a five-day cruise around the southern and northern gilis (islands) of Lombok. We were aboard the Al-Iikai, a fine Sulawesi phinisi operated by Indonesian Island Sail, and securely under the guiding hand of owner Amanda Zsebik. It was fabulous fun. We only had one lumpy day, on passage between the southern and northern gilis, and while that temporarily changed the hue of several on board, it also presented a great opportunity to see how the boat performed in fairly hefty seas. It did so brilliantly. We’d do it all again in a flash.

If you’re thinking of exploring the limpidly placid seas of the archipelago, you could do a lot worse that book an all-mod-cons cruise on the Al-Iikai. The snorkelling opportunities are brilliant. Even The Companion doubled as a marine wildlife on several occasions. She looks good in the guise of a Nautilas floataboutabit. Such creatures always worth spotting from your long-chair on the beach.

Because it’s Christmas

WE won’t bat on about all sorts of things that, up-nostril-wise, have come to our attention since we last scribbled a Diary. Time enough for all of that when the coming New Year hangovers are themselves but a distant unpleasant memory.

Merry Christmas (we can say that, because this is our blog) and Happy New Year!

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Chin-chin!

FOOTNOTE: Because of a technical problem with WordPress, now resolved, this Dec.24 Diary first appeared on my stand-by blog at Blogger, headlined There’s Always a Way.

 

Living with Vulcan

HECTOR’S DIARY

HectorR

Bali Advertiser, Oct. 11, 2017

 

ONCE upon a time, the activity of a volcano in a distant domestic backyard from which one is temporarily absent would have been something relayed at intervals by news reports, or not at all. Its inactivity ahead of anticipated action would have been even harder to detect through the prism of news reportage. Not these days, when both the mainstream and the social media bring you up to the minute information and misinformation. Sorting the wheat from the chaff is more immediate (though there’s a lot more chaff) but there’s no reason to be uninformed.

So it is with the Great Mountain, Gunung Agung. It is more than 70 kilometres from our domestic premises on the Bukit. When we wrote this Diary, from even more distant Portugal, the mountain was grumbling and had been promoted by Indonesia’s excellent alert apparatus to most dangerous threat, as a result of this misbehaviour.

The story, at that point, was the removal by government order of more than 100,000 people whose villages and farms are within the defined danger zone, and the consequences, individual and collective, of this displacement. Relief efforts have brought out the best in people, Indonesians and foreigners alike. But it was not the sort of shock-horror story the western media so loves, since it was actually a good news story. It was a story of swift and effective action by provincial and national governments and agencies, and the outlaying of significant sums of money to assist those in need.

We know of course that other than in exceptional circumstances, or in the glossy magazines, a good news story about Bali is about as likely to be seen as a phoenix or a unicorn. We’ve had the usual tremulous twittering of Australians fearful that their cheap holidays might be at risk. Travel insurance generally covers such tribulations. That’s if you had the wit to get it (and pay for it) in the first place. If you can’t afford insurance, you shouldn’t travel. If you’re so thick that you can’t work out that it matters, you certainly shouldn’t.

There was one particular bit of very yellow journalism that got right up our nose. It did this in quite a major way. Surprisingly it appeared in The Guardian, which is usually among the more sentient of journals. It reported that foreign holidaymakers had fled Bali’s “tourist towns” because of the volcano alert. But this was the case only in Amed, a tiny place that barely qualifies as a village, let alone a town, and which is in the far east of the island virtually in the shadow of Mt Agung. It’s not inside the precautionary evacuation zone, though if the volcano did erupt then road access to and from it might be compromised. Meanwhile it was business as usual everywhere, including in Amed.

The last time Agung erupted, in 1963, there were large numbers of deaths. The official figures from that time probably understate the actual numbers. This time, half a century on, there are better communications and transport infrastructure that works, in the main. There is also an appreciation on the part of governments and authorities that, with a volcano, you can’t just sit around and hope it doesn’t erupt.

In Balinese Hindu mythology, Agung is thought by some to be a portion of Java’s sacred Mt Meru brought to the island by the original settlers. It has a place in the island’s spiritual life and its actions are accorded godly intent. In 1963 its pyroclastic flows (lava) missed the Mother Temple, Pura Besakih on the middle slopes of the mountain, by only metres. This was seen as a sign that the gods wished to demonstrate their angry displeasure but not to destroy the pinnacle of Balinese Hindu observance.

There were two major eruptions in 1963, the first in February and March, and another in May. Most casualties came from lava flows. Cold lahars (mixed slurries of volcanic and other materials generated by heavy rains) killed many others. A lahar – it’s an Indonesian word – can flow very quickly, unlike lava, and very deeply. When it stops it solidifies like concrete. Look at the landscape around Kubu, one of the areas now evacuated, to see the long-term results of that phenomenon.

We don’t pray, being in the None of the Above classification except on our Indonesian official documents, but we do think. And we’re thinking positive thoughts for Bali and its people while we’re away and Agung is being a threat.

A Rare Double

WE were in Lisbon, enjoying 30C days in the middle of the Lusitanian autumn, when this column was given to the electronic pigeon for transmission to the good folk at the Bali Advertiser. The Portuguese capital is a location long desired as a destination on our personal travel schedule, for many reasons but also because it presents an opportunity to perform a rare obeisance.

Some years ago we were in Kochi in India, where among the points of interest locally is the tomb of Vasco da Gama. It’s empty, but so what? He is still felt as a physical presence in the city, where – just in passing in this instance – there is a thriving Christian presence that was already ancient when the Portuguese adventurer “discovered” the India trade for Christ and His profits half a millennium ago.

Old Vasco is something of a figure in Lisbon, too, so we said hello there as well. His other resting place is in the Jerónimos Monastery at Bélem, fortuitously close to the best custard tarts in Lisbon.

The city is big on history, historiography, and monumental statuary. Dom Joāo I, splendidly mounted and holding his sceptre aloft, is near our digs, a pleasant apartment on the steep slopes just below the Castelo de S. Jorge. He was King of Portugal and the Algarve from 1385–1433 and is referred to as “the Good” and sometimes “the Great” in Portugal, or “of Happy Memory”.

In Spain he was referred to as “the Bastard”, because that’s what he was, and because he preserved the independence of the Kingdom of Portugal from the Kingdom of Castile. Through his efforts to acquire territories in Africa, he became the first king of Portugal to use the title “Lord of Ceuta”.

Ceuta is now a Spanish enclave on the coast of Morocco. It’s not quite analogous to Gibraltar, which is a bit of Spain the British long ago requisitioned as a spoil of war, though the point may be moot.

Joāo (John, as his English wife Philippa, daughter of John of Gaunt, might have called him, though she of course spoke French like all the posh Poms of the time and possibly called him Jean) deserves his statue: he had his day and won an entry in the record.

Spoiler Alert

IT used to be said that there were eight million stories in the naked city. Well, that’s what that old TV series said, so it must be right. There are also eight million hard-luck stories, a matching phenomenon with which every traveller must surely be familiar.

The Diary prefers to deal with these gently and in a non-judgemental way, while trying not to part with too much currency, especially when travelling on a pauper’s budget. The Distaff, being a girl, is made of far sterner stuff. We were lunching out in Málaga, in Andalusia, one day, enjoying in equal measure the warmth of the Mediterranean autumn and a modest beer and some tapas, when one of the local mendicants chanced to pass.

The tale was extraordinary, which is to say it was unbelievable. But since the immediate supplication was for 50 cents (€0.50, roughly Rp. 6500) to buy a loaf of bread, we were ourselves disposed to dig deeply into our diminishing pocket money and come up with the dosh.

Some might say that this indicates a certain measure of softness in the Diary, but that is not the case. Fifty cents to go away quietly, whether or not temporarily buoyed by thoughts of the brotherhood of man, seems to us to be a bargain triple entry in the fiscal, moral and problem solved ledgers.

Not so the Distaff, dear girl. As the pleas gathered length, speed and descant, she fixed the person uttering this tosh with her trademark killer steely glare and said: “You are spoiling my day. Go away.” This was not a request. It plainly invited no further conversation. It worked like a charm. The holiday budget was preserved.

See You Soon

BARRING accidental arrest en route or major volcanic dyspepsia at home, we’ll be back in Bali just in time to run up the road to Ubud for the 2017 Writers and Readers Festival. Unlike arrest or volcanic unrest, the festival is an event not to be missed.

HectorR

Hector’s Diary in published in the Bali Advertiser every second issue. The next will appear on Nov. 8. Hector blogs here between times, when he’s not holidaying in Europe.