Goodbye and Thanks for All the Words

HECTOR’S DIARY

HECTOR IMAGE FOR BLOG

Tasty and distasteful morsels from his regular diet of worms

 

THE CAGE

Bali

Monday, Jan. 15, 2018

 

WE’VE had to say goodbye to Jewel Topsfield, who has been the Fairfax media correspondent in Indonesia for three years. It’s one of those rotational things: people get posted in, and then they get posted out. Topsfield has returned to Melbourne, from whence she came, and will be replaced in some weeks’ time by her colleague James Massola. His brief will be wider: South East Asia, but Jakarta-based.

Those of us left behind, post-Jewel, might like to recall the old aphorism from the days of the (British) Indian Army: the soldiers never minded what their officers were like; they just wanted them to stay a long time. In that context, Topsfield is a very good “officer”. She was often in Bali – and is a delightful dinner companion, by the way – and reported far more widely than the shit-and-disaster round preferred by the tabloids and TV, providing her readers with a picture of Indonesia as it actually is.

Our personal favourite is the long interview she did with hard-line 2014 presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, at his hill country ranch in West Java, from which she elicited the information that he looks after the ants there, talks to them, and honours and seeks to protect their highly organised eusocial communities. It was a window into the soul of the real man.

She wrote at the weekend, in her farewell piece, that she had fallen in love with Indonesia, but didn’t really know when, except that it was early in the day. We all feel like that, those of us in the foreign community here for whom the value of humanity in all its rich kaleidoscopic intensity stands far above the business of making a buck. We don’t know, either, when our own cathartic moment was, but it was a very long time ago.

Topsfield relates one anecdote, about her taxi getting caught in floods in Jakarta and her taxi driver getting the giggles as the water crept higher and higher up the car. She said she couldn’t imagine an Australian taxi driver showing such comedic insouciance in such circumstances. We’ll have to pick her up on that, though otherwise her point is insightful. It was a long time ago, so she’s excused, but in floods in Brisbane in 1969 a Yellow Cab got washed into a fast-flowing creek. When rescuers reached it, the driver and his passengers were happily singing the Beatles’ latest hit song, Yellow Submarine.

Thanks for spending some time with us, Jewel.

Wholly Smoke and Mirrors

STATISTICIANS are very useful people. They tell us all sorts of things that would otherwise escape our attention. From the latest data delve by Bappenas, the office of national statistics, we see that cigarette consumption is the second largest contributor to poverty in Indonesia. Tobacco products are relatively cheap here, in contrast to many countries where governments have created huge revenue streams from horrific excise levels on cigarettes.

Smoking rates are declining globally – tobacco is credited with a range of health demerits that would put to shame all four horsemen of the apocalypse, and that oversold message is getting through – but in Indonesia, the smoking demographic is different.

It was interesting that the chief contributor to poverty in Indonesia, according to the statisticians, is rice consumption. Taken together, these two statistics point to costly policy failure by government, as much as anything else. Statisticians rarely measure such meaningful data.

’Tis the Season for Galoshes

THE monsoon is particularly strong in the archipelago this year, and it’s been very wet, as we noted last week. This has given us opportunities for laughter – on the old “if you know a better shell-hole, go to it” line from the Western Front in World War I – as well as a lot of practice at mopping. The Cage never leaks unless it’s raining.

One day recently we felt compelled to pen a little ditty offering advice to the Companion ahead of another maritime excursion to the shops. It went like this:

Get your galoshes, I said to my Squeeze,

It might be as well.

For this rain is heaven,

But we’re going to hell.

Grand Old Oprah

THERE’S something about celebrities. We have one as President of the United States at the moment, though in his case we should place celebrity in inverted commas and add a parenthetical notation (self-proclaimed). Now there’s another one apparently waiting to wait in the wings, in the person of television star Oprah, buoyed by her acquisition of a Golden Goose award.

It’s true that American politics is broken. It shares this condition with other Western democracies – including Australia’s – where the principles that have long underpinned representative legislatures are being stripped away by political chicanery, creeping official controls on people’s lives, and the perversion of democratic freedoms.

The answer in the American context wasn’t Hillary – the Democratic Party must take the rap for that miscalculation – but it most certainly wasn’t Trump, and it wouldn’t be Oprah. It will be found – eventually – in a revival of popular (not populist) principle. Perhaps we need Trump to show us the danger and rank incivility of political incontinence writ large. He may yet be there for two terms, kept in office by those he continues to dupe and others whose interests, some secret, that he really serves even if he doesn’t know it; though there seems to be a rising risk that he will tweet us all off in the interim. We’ll have to see.

In this context, it’s interesting that American governance seems to be on the cusp of beneficial reform – or at least be brought back into the paddock where Old Rationality used to prosper on true public service – by an observable upswing in female interest in politics. The neo-cons and the oligarchs and patriarchs won’t like this, since women are consultative and consensual, definitely not into dick contests, and can generally spot a shyster or a nutcase very quickly. Neither will the so-called heartland of Middle America, where the “No chicks” demographic rules, the one that helped undermine Hillary Clinton’s appallingly bad 2016 campaign. So it may be a long haul. But – Wagons roll!

Fingerprints? Check!

ONE of the delights of being a temporary resident of Indonesia, for Indonesian purposes, is the annual check on your fingerprints as part of your twelve-month visa extension. This requirement is not because the immigration authorities believe that fingerprints change. Well, we don’t think this is the reason, but you never know. It’s because their data storage capacity is too small to store all the data they need. And they need lots of it, several times over.

Well, that and the bureaucratic impossibility of anyone actually finding out how to access data to check. It’s that sort of place. Recordkeeping is high on the list of essentials, but finding records afterwards is apparently a problem.

Still, at least it’s now an electronic digit on the pad affair. There’s no more nasty ink that won’t come off for absolutely ever.

Distaff Dystopia

THE delectable science of sentient flirting has been under siege ever since information technology gave us the human equivalent of the infinite number of monkeys on an infinite number of keyboards that might by chance recreate all the works of Shakespeare. At least in the old days you could ignore the locker room louts. Now they take selfies and tweet about their self-proclaimed prowess. But hey, we’re not talking about the President of the United States here.

Instead, we’re referencing French actor Catherine Deneuve and the 99 other French women who have caused a storm by suggesting that the #metoo campaign – the offspring of Harvey Weinstein, the disgusting (and now unloved, since the open secret is no longer even secret) Hollywood mogul, and others who abuse women as if by right – could result in the rise of a New Puritanism. It’s a complex debate that we’ve blogged about here, wearing our other hat.

It’s an issue in Indonesia too, and very broadly so, though in a different setting and context. The winked-at debasement and marginalisation of women must stop, everywhere. Now would be good.

HECTOR IMAGE FOR BLOG

Chin-chin!

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Feb. 18, 2015

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

No Time and High Tide

It’s always fun to read stories in the local press that relate to statistical information. The power of presentational representation (some people call that PR) is a skill that should never be undervalued in Indonesia. Thus we had a little smile when we read that Bali’s Department of Marine Affairs and Fisheries reported seaweed production in the regencies of Badung, Klungkung and Buleleng fell last year by 42 per cent on the 2013 figure. Official statistics show seaweed production was reduced from 145,597 tons to 84,320 tons.

A representative of the department, I Made Gunaja, said conversion of seaweed farms into tourist attractions had caused dramatic reductions in production at Pandawa and Kutuh beaches on the Bukit. Hello? How can that be? Who would have expected that to happen if you shooed off the seaweed farmers because their way of life and subsistence income was superfluous to Bali’s modern requirements to turn secret beaches and other lovely natural spots into resorts for the newly rich and wannabe famous?

The departmental spokesman added this hopeful line to his spin cycle:  “Because the land is used for tourists, the seaweed farmers are now switching professions to join the tourism sector.” It’s good to hear that all these displaced persons, casualties of the national struggle for plutocrat enrichment, are getting professional jobs in the tourism-related sector. Executive Manager, Leaf-Sweeping, with the prospect of eventual promotion to bag-carrier, sounds an absolutely ideal new career path.

Part of the problem, according to Dr Spin, is the weather. Apparently it has been inclemently unkind recently to the sort of seaweed that has populated the marine environment in the area forever. So they’re proposing to plant red seaweed, which the department asserts could promise a much bigger crop and which is supposedly rather more resistant to climate cycles (and possibly jet-skis, though Dr Spin didn’t say this).

It would be interesting to read the findings of the EIS on introducing red seaweed into the environment apparently vacated by the green variety and its harvesters. Did we just hear a hollow laugh?

Her Kitchen Rules

Janet DeNeefe of Fragrant Rice fame has added a food festival to her list of Ubud-centred Bali things. She says the idea flowed from feedback from patrons of the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival that suggested they’d enjoy the added benefit of exploration in the diverse culinary landscapes of Indonesia. Last year’s UWRF in Bali’s self-styled culinary and cultural capital included a Kitchen Program.

The first Ubud Food Festival is the result. From June 5-7 DeNeefe and others will run a three-day culinary extravaganza. She promises a festival that will bring together Indonesia’s and Southeast Asia’s most celebrated chefs, restaurateurs, producers and food professionals to serve up a program rich in food mythology, authenticity and taste.

Its tastes and sensations will be eclectic, ranging (in her words) from coffee to chocolate and tempe to turmeric. The UFF will include a range of free and ticketed events spanning cooking demonstrations, master-classes, panel discussions, night markets, farmers’ markets, food tours, wine tastings and film screenings.

We must get along to it.

Lost in the Myth

It’s something of a comfort to learn that the trade minister in the new Jokowi Cabinet, Rahmat Gobel, decided to ban the import of used clothes because they could spread HIV. Most of President Widodo’s ministers had seemed, up to that point, to be a serious-minded bunch, even if some of them were there for political rather than qualified reasons. The mirth was missing.

Pak Rahmat has bravely returned us to the comedy routine. There’s nothing quite like a torrent of tosh to get the belly-laughs going. So we all owe him a favour for lighting up our day. Far be it from us to suggest that his feeling for farce is in fact connected with appalling ignorance and morbid misconception.

We can safely leave that to Ayu Octariani of the Indonesia AIDS Coalition (IAC). She put the situation into its correct perspective. She said the minister’s statement was regrettable and reflected a lack of awareness in Indonesia regarding HIV and what it can lead to (AIDS) if not treated with appropriate drugs and qualified medical care.

She also said this: “Let’s not talk about educating the public just yet. Even in the cabinet, which consists of educated people, there’s still a misconception about HIV/AIDS.”

Indeed there is.

Phew – Made It!

When we sent this diary column in on deadline, we were in Brisbane, in the Australian state of Queensland, a place that is remarkable for many things, including having been abandoned yet again by serial schedule-changer Five Star Garuda.

In Queensland, as some may know, they’ve just had another of those “the voters have spoken – the bastards” elections. Attending scenes of chaos, political or otherwise, has been our lifelong work and it was amusing to be back in the thick of it, briefly. We were due to have a chat with the Diary’s international cultural attaché, Philly Frisson, on these and other matters, but other matters intervened. We’ll catch up later with the dear girl.

Being allowed into Queensland, though, was a damn close run thing, because the government just given its marching orders (despite winning the popular vote by a margin of nearly four percent) had enacted astonishingly anti-democratic bikie laws during its first (and as it turned out, only) term. Among the rules imposed by this inventive legislation, as noted in the Diary of Feb. 4, was a provision that any gathering is illegal if two or more members of bikie gangs are present.

We were carrying two lovely Bali “German-style” bike helmets for a friend who collects such cultural items to decorate his bar. Fortunately, though we of course declared the presence of more than one possibly bikie helmet to the seriously-minded lads and lassies of Customs and Border Protection at Brisbane Airport, we were told that whatever Queensland laws might suggest, they were not regarded under federal law as evidence of criminal intent.

Celebrity Support

Paris Hilton, whose favourite colour is pink and who recently holidayed in Bali yet again, is a fan of the efforts the Bali Animal Welfare Association makes on behalf of the island’s disadvantaged dogs and other animals.

She told her global fan club this in words and pictures on her Facebook page, which is essential reading for diarists who like to keep abreast of what the international glitterati does between breakfast and dinner. (What it does between dinner and breakfast is its own affair.)

On her latest Bali break, Hilton also found time to chat with the glitter-obsessed macaques of Ubud’s Monkey Forest. Good on her!

Evil Weed

It was very nice of Kerry Ball to invite us along to the Alan Bates Stop Smoking seminar held at Petitenget Restaurant & Bar on Feb. 7. We couldn’t attend since we had just the day before taken our personal pollution program off the island temporarily. But we do agree that people should be encouraged to stop smoking, if they are smokers who wish to stop doing so.

Bates claims to have helped thousands of people around the world give up the pernicious weed first identified as such by King James VI of Scotland – he was also King James I of England, something the untutored crowd south of that particular border are apt to forget – not long after Sir Walter Raleigh returned from the Americas with his first packet of Indian Rough. He wrote a famous treatise about it, in 1604, entitled A Counterblaste to Tobacco.

As Bates notes and as experience suggests, nicotine addiction is both a physical and a behavioural thing. Willpower can do the job if you really want to stop. But you have to really want to stop.

Being told you’re a social excrescence and a rude person of immense stupidity, constantly, is not as much of an inducement to cease smoking as some of the anti lobby apparently would like to believe. But smoking rates are falling sharply in many parts of the world. In Australia, where the Diary is temporarily hiding away behind bushes or toilet blocks to snatch a quick draught, only 13 per cent of people now smoke.

It’s a dying habit, as they say.

Four Play is Such Fun

Putri Wedasari, who used to make noise as an account executive for OZ Radio 101.2 Bali, has changed her style. She now heads Four Play Communication, an agency that operates within her skill sets of marketing and strategic communications, the latter being the field in which she obtained her master’s degree last year.

She lists Zumba dance among her recreational interests. That sounds like just the thing for a young lady on the move.

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