HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser Jan. 22, 2014


His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences


Facts Please

The sad deaths of Queensland tourists Noelene and Yvana Bischoff shortly after they began a holiday at Padang Bai need to be explained. It’s always better to get the facts in any circumstances, however tragic. And there is very little that is more tragic than a case in which a mother and daughter die in the circumstances the Bischoffs did.

Their bodies were returned to Brisbane at the request of relatives and were transported there by Virgin Australia. The airline deserves praise for its public spiritedness. Queensland coronial investigators performed autopsies. The results of these and any findings as to the cause of death will doubtless be provided to the authorities in Bali.

It is in the interest of Bali and its critically important tourism industry that the facts are clearly established and published. Unfortunately there is a culture here of obscuring the facts when embarrassment – real or imagined, present or merely feared as a possibility – looms as a factor.

It is seen in the way all sorts of things are handled by the authorities. Questions from foreigners are often viewed as attempts to interfere. But such questions have nothing to do with national standing. It is time Bali got truly used to the concept that its circumstances and administration are legitimate matters of interest to many people.

Most of the people with a deep interest in events and rights to be told the facts are Balinese themselves, or other Indonesians. In a democratic society no one should live in a fog of incomplete information.

If the Bischoffs died of food poisoning, we need to know. If they died of some poison naturally found in some ocean fish, we need to know that too. Not because we all want to run around madly pointing fingers at people (we can leave that to the overseas media, which does it so well). We need to know because Bali needs to be run properly in every respect.

The “drugs” police found in the Bischoffs’ room at their Padang Bai resort and tried to make a song and dance about were the sort of medications travellers bring to Bali and other places – to treat stomach upsets and other conditions it is easy to get here. Noelene Bischoff was a highly qualified nurse. We should assume she was being naturally and reasonably cautious.

Sadly whatever killed her and her daughter Yvana was immediately overwhelming.


Farewell to a Good Farmer

Brett Farmer who has been Australian consul-general in Bali since 2011 following Lex Bartlem’s early departure in 2010 to become ambassador in that place of many delights Beirut (no, that’s not a joke) is in turn taking his leave. He departs on Feb. 5. Farmer has been a steady hand at his Renon fortress and a pleasant companion on several official and unofficial occasions. We shall miss him and wish him good fortune.

The work that Australian consulates do is not well understood, especially among that cohort of impecunious or troubled Aussie travellers, their relatives and the media, who seem to think the list of duties includes getting them out of trouble or safely home. It doesn’t.

Perhaps the consular function is incompletely understood even by some within the Department of Foreign Affairs in Canberra, whose website helpfully lists Facebook and Twitter sites operated by various Australian missions around the world. One listing will pique the Gallic worriers at the Quai d’Orsay in Paris: the “embassy” in the French overseas territory of New Caledonia.

Farmer’s successor had not been officially announced by Canberra at diary deadline time. Suffice to say we look forward to welcoming her in due course.


A Braw Idea

Jock McDaniels, who when he’s being his usual self is known as Jack Daniels or John M Daniels, is organizing Burns’ Night in Bali.  It’s on Jan. 25, the bard’s birthday (in 1759). Entirely by coincidence this is the day before the Australians celebrate the First Fleet’s arrival in 1788 in what was to become Sydney Harbour and India’s Republic Day, which dates from 1950 when the jewel in Britain’s disappearing imperial age removed itself from the crown.

Burns’ Night is a braw idea (and a welcome addition) to the calendar of Curious Bule Feasts that must confound the Balinese, especially as this one will inevitably involve men dressed as lassies. Memo Jock/Jack/John M: eschew the kilt. It can (and possibly should) be worn by pipers and assorted soldiery as an emblem of confected tradition. But it owes its public popularity to the fact that Good Queen Vic, who was otherwise a rather dour Hanoverian, rather liked the thought of favourite ghillie John Brown swinging through the heather.

Disclosure: Hector’s helper is entitled to wear various Stewart tartans and the Crawford, a lovely plaid. He never has except as a tie. Hector’s helper’s dad, may he rest in peace, always believed that the fates had smiled kindly upon him, since the army unit in which he enlisted under age in the Great Depression was a Borders regiment and wore tartan trousers and not the kilt.

We should never forget the genesis of the garment. It began life as an informal wraparound arrangement for blokes who couldn’t afford trousers. It does have its uses though. One of the images of the 1997 British handover of Hong Kong to the Chinese that will remain forever with us is of a Scottish soldier bending forward – back to the crowd of dignitaries present – to lower the Union Flag for the last time.

The fans installed at the request of Mao’s successors to blow half a gale so that the Red Flag fluttered proudly on its ascent may possibly have been double agents. The soldier’s kilt fluttered hip high and bared his backside for the world to see. We hope he got a medal.  They should have minted one specially. Perhaps The Flower of Scotland? It forever settled the question of whether anything is worn under the kilt. And it possibly delivered a powerfully subliminal message to Beijing.

Burns’ Night – with doggerel (Rabbie’s favourite dish) and haggis plus trimmings (and whisky, Jock; it’s not whiskey!) – is at the Bali Dynasty Hotel in Kuta on the night in question. Haggis isn’t our bag. It’s not even our sheep’s stomach. But aye, we cuid go the neeps and tatties.

Jock’s taking bookings and has all the details.


Cultural Flowering

Taman Restaurant in Senggigi, Lombok, which is operated by the delightful Wiwik Pusparini and the intriguingly enigmatic Peter Duncan, is lending a hand to a headlong charge to bring literary culture to the village. This is good news even for people – such as the Diary – who nowadays travel with their entire library in their Kindles or other e-readers.

The restaurant was the venue on Jan. 11 for the launch of local author Derek Pugh’s book, Turn Left at the Devil Tree. Taman and the Lombok Writers’ Guild (memo certain Bali literary persons: note the possessive) put on the book launch along with a wine tasting, wines by Plaga.

Duncan and others tell us Senggigi is experiencing something of a mini-boom at the moment. That’s good to see. Hopefully it’s related in part to the Jetstar service from Perth to Lombok that took off last year.


Happy Ending

Followers of the Rhonda and Ketut romance – surely among the most successful product promotions ever even if only for its reinvention of the vastly overrated Kuta Cowboy – will be pleased to hear that it apparently has a happy ending. These might be two a penny in these parts, but some are better than others.

We learn this from the latest ad in the Safe Driving Rewards campaign for Australian vehicle insurer AAMI. The advertisement, from big Aussie agency Badjar Ogilvy, features Rhonda and Ketut apparently answering the question of whether she will choose Ketut or high school heartthrob Trent Toogood. It follows an earlier “Who’s Right for Rhonda?” campaign.

The story line is trite but trippy. Rhonda returns to the empty hall of her school reunion where Ketut had last been seen arriving after Rhonda has gone the grapple with Tentacle Trent. But Trent is a fickle fellow. Later he is snapped to attention by the fulsome charms of Rhonda’s female friend.

Rhonda was introduced to promote AAMI’s Safe Driver Rewards in October 2011. Her trip to Bali and meeting Ketut went to air the following March. The romantic tension between the two characters caught the Australian public’s attention (prurience beats politics every time) and the ad became an internet sensation. A Facebook page was dedicated to Rhonda and Ketut and of course the t-shirt sector made a killing.

Hector tweets @scratchings

HECTOR’S DIARY (in the Bali Advertiser, Aug. 7, 2013)

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences 

Jam Session

The Ubud Jazz Festival (Friday and Saturday, Aug. 9-10 at ARMA) is one among many annual events that crowd the calendar there. And since jazz is among the more useful creations of human ingenuity, it’s well worth the trouble. Jazz is a fundamentally anarchic art form that demonstrates that people are not cattle who can be prodded into doing what they’re told. Fundamentalists of all stripes should note this.

While listening to some lovely anarchic music on the iPod recently – we were driving towards a delightful lunchtime appointment with our favourite Ubud-based scribbler-savant, Marie Bee, for which we were frightfully late – we found ourselves in a jam session of our own.

This one was not musical. It was so humdrum and normal that no one even bothered to toot their horns. It was but the latest example of the lack of capacity hereabouts to understand a very simple equation: ROB + VNS + ISB = TFC. That’s where ROB is Ridiculous Oversized Bus, VNS is Very Narrow Street, and ISB is Impossible Sharp Bend. The answer is TFC, as we all know; where T is Total, C is Chaos, and the middle letter is unprintable.

Ubud, You Know

The jazz festival’s website blurb, by the way, is a great example of how trite travelogue and pop history these days combine to give you hollow laughs, if not soulful sighs laden with ennui and exasperation. It is headed Welcome to Ubud and says this:

     Ubud is a remarkable town in the middle of the island of Bali, Indonesia. For more than a century, it has been the island’s preeminent centre for fine arts, dance and music. While it once was a haven for scruffy backpackers, cosmic seekers, artists and bohemians, Ubud is now a hot spot for literati, glitterati, art collectors and connoisseurs. Famous names walk its busy sidewalks every day. Elegant five star hotels and sprawling mansions now stand on its outskirts, overlooking the most prized views in Bali. Nonetheless, Ubud is still popular with backpackers, mystics and all the finest fringe elements of global society. Ubud is not “ruined”. Its character is too strong to be destroyed. It still draws people who add something; people who are actively involved in art, nature, anthropology, music, dance, architecture, environmentalism, “alternative modalities,” and more.

We go to Ubud for the music and the food – and, if Janet DeNeefe lets us, for the literature.

A Nice Drop

We sampled Plaga Wines’ newly introduced cabernet sauvignon recently, at an affray held at The Deck at the Semara Resort & Spa, Seminyak. It’s a very nice drop of wine. Well, it would be: Plaga’s range of quaffable products blends Chilean and West Australian grapes, which to our mind gives you a basically unbeatable southern hemisphere double.

Plaga’s pitch is to produce quality affordable wine for your table in Bali, a quest in which it deserves wholehearted support. The price of imported wine here is horrendous and largely unaffordable, unless you’re paying with someone else’s credit card. Plaga is one of a number of new (or improved) players in the field and we certainly wish them all good fortune. We’ll be adding Plaga’s cab sav to our modest cave at The Cage.

There’s something about wine that is quite irresistible, as the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda famously noted (Plaga’s Facebook page recently posted it as a neat reminder): “I had a fling with beer, a passionate affair with Cognac, but the love of my glass is wine.”

Many of us have travelled that particular life-path. The Diary admits to a continuing infatuation with whisky (as well as its attractive cousin whiskey) but we think wine long ago came to terms with the occasional lapses that inevitably follow.

We caught up at The Deck do with Alexsander Martins Paim, F&B director at the Semara Seminyak, and Marian Carroll of Ayana at Jimbaran. Carroll was just in from a business trip to Japan that (as they do) had ended with the modern hell of an overnight long-distance flight, but she looked trim, taut and terrific.

Fine Dining

We were back recently at a favourite grazing spot, variously known as Warung Chilli or Rice & Noodles and sometimes just as the noodle house. It’s at Taman Griya between Jimbaran and Nusa Dua. We like it because the food is great. It’s basically Japanese–Balinese fusion, reflecting the provenance of the family that runs the place. The chicken katsu-don and udon noodle soup are fabulous.

There are other reasons to like the place. It doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is: it’s a local eating-house. Its staff all know what they’re doing. They know what you’ve ordered. And they bring it to you with commendable speed. Plus it’s cheap. A winner on all counts, really.

Here, Kitty

Blogger-about-Bali Vyt Karazija, who like many among the fine and fearless is also to be found on Facebook (we share that and St Kilda as favourite lost causes) had a lovely tale the other day about the cat which came by his Legian digs. He tells it this way:

     So a cat wanders into the villa. The only way in is over a 3 metre wall. With monumental insouciance, he stares into the lounge area, climbs a tree, explores the garden and responds to my “Shoo!” and “Get the hell out of here” with utter disdain.
Finally in his own time he leaves by scaling the wall again.
Then I hear running water, and it takes 5 minutes to track down the source. The outdoor shower is running full-bore and I turn it off. But the only way to control that shower is with a lever that hangs straight down in the “off” position, and must be pushed 90 degrees to the right to get water flow. You need hands to move it; paws don’t cut it. There is no way a cat going up a wall can possibly turn that tap.
And yet the damn cat turned on the tap as it left. I am starting to develop a healthy respect for that cat’s ability to achieve engineering impossibilities.
No wonder the ancient Egyptians worshipped them. Maybe cats were the ones who built the pyramids.

Of course they were. We told him: “Get with the program, Vyt. Or the Loud Meow will want to know why.”

Very Important imPediments

We are, we suppose, glad in a way that Bali is to host the 2013 APEC CEO Summit. It will focus the world output of 10-second grabs and sound-bites on our beautiful little island for a nano-second and may even encourage some among the global media to go off and find stories they haven’t been spoon-fed by the PR machines. Plus we’ve got the Dewa Ruci underpass and that new aquatic playground, the Sanur-Nusa Dua toll road, as lasting memorials to the great jamboree.

The VIP lads and lasses are only going to be here for a day or so. But neither we nor those who manage the world’s airline schedules are going to miss the impact of their fleeting presence, since it will seriously disrupt that other time-delayed wonder, the Work-In-Progress International Airport.

This is because to accommodate the very important travel schedules of these honoured jests (oops, guests), the airport will be closed to normal traffic for significant portions of four days: Oct. 5 and 6 (from 10am both days until 4pm on Oct. 5 and 8pm on Oct. 6) and Oct. 8 and 9 (again from 10am both days until 8pm on Oct. 8 and 4pm on Oct. 9). That’s six hours or 10 hours a day, not counting Indonesia’s gift to the world, jam karet (rubber time).

It hasn’t been explained why this is necessary. It isn’t, of course. Other places manage to do these things with minimal disruption.

Hard Yards, Great Result

Sole Men, the charity group inspired by entrepreneur Robert Epstone, has done it again, this time with the help of the Hard Rock Hotel at Kuta, which takes its community service obligations very seriously indeed.

Over the last weekend of July they had a rave (if people still do that; it could be so yesterday for all we know) over two nights including body painting by Yaari, sexy dancing by outrageous Go Go Dancers, with MC Dee on hand and lots of live music headed by Indonesian super-group Superman is Dead.

Other sponsors were Heineken Beer and Plaga wines. Money raised – it was still being counted when the Diary hit deadline – will go towards proper housing for two poor Denpasar families who are supporting their seven severely disabled children.

Epstone tells us builder Nevhouses has said it will build two dwellings on land Sole Men are acquiring in Denpasar. As he says, given this level of support from all over, you can’t lose.

Hector may be contacted at hector.mcquawky@yahoo.com. He tweets @scratchings.