Best in Bali



His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Wine country, Western Australia

Nov. 23, 2016


CHRISTINA Iskandar, who is busy expanding the Diva Empire in Australia from her Sydney hometown base, tells us of a lovely little charity revenue stream she’s putting in place. It’s at the invitation of a major greetings card company.

The idea is they’ll put a selection of Best in Bali images on cards and other gift products and 5 per cent of the proceeds of sales will go to nominated Bali charities.

Iskandar has chosen as the first beneficiary of this scheme the Suryani Institute for Mental Health, a non-profit institute established in 2005. It and its sister organisations the Committee Against Sexual Abuse (CASA) and the Bali Elderly Welfare Foundation (Yayasan Wreda Sejahtera) work to create a healthy and happy community in Bali. Through academic, medical, psychiatric, educational and social work, the institute seeks to help the Balinese people become more intelligent, independent, creative, as well as physically, psychologically, socially, and spiritually healthy.

The institute is headed by Professor Luh Ketut Suryani, MD, PhD. Its holistic approach to problem solving and positive advance – which it terms biopsycho-spirit-sociocultural – combines Western mainstream psychiatric/psychological practice with Eastern and Balinese cultural and spiritual knowledge and beliefs.

The Bali Divas themselves have been busy getting ready for a White Christmas ahead of their Divas and Dudes Christmas Charity Lunch on Nov. 25. It’s been a little chill on the island lately, courtesy of the annual wet season, though not that cold! Still, it’s a lovely old song. Thanks, Bing Crosby.

The “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” event is at Merah Putih in Kerobokan, where the fun starts at 12 Noon on Friday. We’ll be getting reports of frivolity and other action, so play up, folks. It’s for a good cause. Proceeds from the charity lunch will go to the Bali Children Foundation and The Refugee Learning Nest.

Bali Children Foundation is a non-profit organisation that provides education opportunities to more than 2300 children from disadvantaged families across Bali. The Refugee Learning Nest is a community-based project in Java that helps refugees through informal educational programs including women’s literacy, tailoring classes, and sporting activities.

The lunch, sponsored by Chandon, will feature a performance by the Bali-based singer Eva Scolaro, who we hear has added footwear designs to her list of skills. She looks good in shoes. There will be the usual raffles and auction items.

Don’t be a Dork

There was a flurry of fevered interest in Australia in the misbehaviour of women at this year’s Melbourne Cup, run on Nov. 1 and won, as usual, by a horse. Apparently media focus on idiot women should not overemphasise their looks, as this perpetuates sexist myths. It’s an interesting point of discussion in Bali, where the loudly drunk and selfishly inclined tourist cohort regularly makes a mess of itself and whichever locality it is that they’ve chosen to disgrace with their presence.

Fine. If you’re drunk as a skunk and passed out in a wheelie bin in a short skirt and with your legs up, because you’re blotto and the remains of your mind thought the bin was a good place to be, you’re not going to look good.

There’s a lot of talk about the glass ceiling these days, and how while some women have managed to crack it, many have yet to do so. This is held to be a sin, and not only against the sisterhood. We agree. Merit and a capacity to commit are the keys to advance.

It’s a shame that efforts to crack the glass ceiling are seen in some quarters as licence to wreck the joint once you’re in there. Not in the business sense: the women we know who have gained access to the glass cage at the top of the corporate bureaucratic ladders are all sensible, thinking people. Some among them might like a drink, and even to misbehave, in all sorts of ways, but they do so in private, where in a free society such things are legitimately enjoyed.

It’s on the party circuit, broadly defined, where bad behaviour occurs publically. It’s true that in many societies, especially the Anglo ones, the bad behaviour of men is apparently expected, still largely accepted, often cheered on (crassly) and frequently overlooked. The stupid boys will be boys rule. Read that line any way you like. This dispensation is not extended to women who drink too much and behave like dorks. Women are supposed to be savvy and sexy and all of that, in whatever body shape they naturally possess, and not to compete with men in the idiot stakes.

Fundamentally this is phooey, despite grandma’s sensible advice to always keep yourself nice. People are people. They come in all shapes and sizes and an infinite range of personalities. These days, however, good manners have largely been thrown out of the window in the western world, along with common sense. They have been replaced by the glottal-stop baby talk and short attention span of the Me generation. That’s what people need to think about and correct. It’s not really a gender thing at all, except among men with a fixed and prehistoric belief in their own sex’s supremacy.

Chump Time

That a man whose adult life has been spent losing other people’s money, stiffing business partners, failing to pay creditors, creating a lengthy list of corporate failures, avoiding tax, being a loud-mouth reality TV front-man (“You’re Fired!), running the Miss Universe pageant while ogling the talent, pushing forward the boundaries of shocking kitsch and publicly avowing the delights of pussy-grabbing, can be elected the 45th president of the United States is something that takes American democracy into new territory.

There are good reasons for American voters to disavow the political practices of establishment candidates and the two-party system (never mind the quality, feel the width) and to choose something that promises to break that matrix. On Nov. 8 they wanted, in sufficient numbers, to belt the Beltway (the popular synonym for Washington’s inner circle).

It’s a bold political experiment. We can only hope the test-tube doesn’t blow up and destroy the joint. It will be an interesting spectacle whatever results. An Australian friend whose considered opinions we greatly value, remarked when we asked him what he thought of the events that it was a bit like jelly wrestling: you know it’s wrong but you watch anyway. The life of a voyeur can be very rewarding.

There were the expected reactions to Donald Trump’s win on Nov. 8. Locally, the rupiah weakened, though this was expected to be only a temporary effect. Global bond markets were spooked. The Brexit Brits were re-enthused, since like them Trump wants to overturn all sorts of apple carts. The British see a fortune to be made in bilateral trade deals. (They’ve managed, oddly, to get the Australian government politically on side in that respect. Perhaps Canberra needs to glance briefly at a world map.)

Trump for his part wants to reinvent American rustbelt industry, which according to him shouldn’t have disappeared to China and other places where cost-effective manufacturing is practised. He’s a bit like Don Quixote, albeit with rather less moral fibre. Though tilting at windmills can be fun, for the spectators at least.

Another friend, this time in America itself, reports an unexpected side effect of Trumpism’s triumph. She’s looking for a new hairdresser in her gentle, liberal New England domain. Her long established snipper, who’s very good and very, very gay, has taken to loudly singing the praises of the White House Apprentice. She said she had not yet allowed this to disturb her coiffeur but that it had seriously ruffled her feathers.

Karma on the Rocks

The sports bar at Echo Beach over which long-term American resident of Bali Mara Wolford raised a stink earlier this year with allegations that her drink was spiked, has closed. That’s good news.

When it found itself criticised after the events Wolford wrote about on her Facebook, it adopted the usual tactic of miscreant businesses in Bali: First, anguished hurt that anyone could possibly think they were to blame; second, inventive and wholly inadequate answers; and third, threats of retribution.

The bar ceased trading this month. We love karma.

Chilling Out

The Diary is in Australia this week, on an SEB: a short essential break. So chilling out is the order of the day. That’s not difficult at all, when you’re in the bit of the Special Biosphere that has cool nights and often none-to-warm days even when late spring is said to have finally arrived.

We’ll be back shortly. The woollies will need washing.


Hector writes a blog at 8degreesoflatitude.


Bali’s Silent Day: A Time for Contemplating Navels – But Only Your Own

Friday this week (March 23) is Silent Day in Bali – Nyepi, the Balinese Hindu New Year. It is called Silent Day because for 24 hours, from 6am on the nominated day – the date varies, being on a lunar calendar – until 6am the next day, everything stops.

Well, not quite everything. Since Bali is part of today’s interconnected world the airport remains operationally open although no one can begin or end an air trip here over the silent 24 hours.  Transit flights continue and emergency landings are permitted, should that need arise. The seaports also close. All road traffic ceases, unless for emergency purposes.

This is the first Nyepi during our now lengthy residence in Bali that we’ve chosen to spend at home.  (We were living in Lombok in 2007, where Silent Day is silent for the local Hindus only in their own homes.) But the Silent Days of 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 were spent  at tourist accommodation exempted in part by the authorities – and presumably also by the bad spirits that in Hindu tradition are supposed to find Bali in darkness, conclude there is no one here, and move on to work their evil ways elsewhere – from the lights-out-no-noise rules.

These sojourns themselves have provided illuminating moments in our Bali experience, especially in 2010 when, at a small resort bungalow property at Candi Dasa in East Bali, dinner finished at 7pm and the staff chivvied us all back to our rooms (where we could have lights on if the windows were blacked out by curtains). Fine, we thought; these guys are really devout and we should naturally support their beliefs.

So it was something of a surprise when shortly afterwards the (no longer) on duty crew  arrived at the pool – just outside our little bungalow – with all sorts of pool toys and had a great party.

It reminded us of 2006, when our housekeeper firmly suggested we should disappear to a hotel for the duration and then let on that she and her friends would be having a “quiet party” at our place in our absence.

This year, our present housekeeper seems slightly discomfited by the fact that we’re staying home in the dark. She has several times mentioned that it would be much better for Mr and Mrs to go away. We’ll be having our quiet party, of course, with our headphones and our Kindles, our low-set lanterns and our blind-sided cooktop; we just shan’t be telling anyone that. (We’ll turn the pool filter system off for the day but the main pump’s staying on since it runs the water and the lavatories.)

Times and traditions change, of course. In our own western tradition, you’ve only got to look at Christmas and Easter with any sense of religious or social history to understand that point. And despite claims that Bali Hinduism is strictly keeping to its set-in-stone liturgy and traditions, it’s not.

This year, not for the first time, the local government and Hindu hierarchy have warned against turning the pre-Silent Day tradition of Ogoh-Ogoh – a religious celebration in which young people produce giant representations of demons and other entities which symbolically fight it out in the streets – into an occasion for secular point-scoring.

Ogoh-Ogoh requires that the “good spirits” always win. But “anti-korupsi”, a popular theme nationwide and also of this year’s Ogoh-Ogoh representations, is not a spiritual matter – neither, apparently, is corruption itself – and does not earn a mention in the sacred texts.

Two years’ running, the local government has monstered the radio and television companies into blacking out broadcasts on and to the island over Silent Day. Only people with parabola dishes (those not tied to a particular provider’s satellite service) win on this one. Hey, we’ve got a parabola.

The official island-wide rules for Nyepi are strict. Tourists for example are confined to their accommodation for the duration, and what level of service – and lighting – they get is largely up to the management of the establishment. Early dinners and minimal lighting are inevitably the result, even at plush five-star resorts.

Lack of lighting is not necessarily a problem for local expatriates. Those without generators have been well trained by the state power monopoly company in how to blunder around in the dark.

In recent years the effort to keep strictly to the ancient requirements of Silent Day have been given some prominence outside the Hindu community by global greenies who see it as an exemplar for the world – everyone should turn the lights out, it would be a jolly good thing – and the more lunar-connected among local expatriates.

And totem-fixated greenies and the lunar-connected aside, the push to revitalise Nyepi by returning to ancient precepts is fine, except that in a society as diverse as Bali’s – speaking of the Hindu population only: others, including other Indonesians who are not far short of making up half the island’s population nowadays, have a very limited role in discussing such matters – those ancient precepts are pretty diverse themselves. There are villages, for example, where the local tradition is that life continues as normal over Nyepi – including lighting and cooking and doing all sorts of other normal activities – except that on the day, you remain within the village boundaries.

There are “relaxed” Banjars (these are local community based traditional organisations) and more traditional ones. Ours, on the southern Bukit, is rather traditional. We never really hear from them unless they remember to come and collect the Rp25,000 a month (about $2.80 at the moment) we’re supposedly levied for the privilege of living among them. (It is a privilege and we’re glad we do and happily pay – apparently whenever the beer money runs out.)

We do hear from them at Nyepi, however. They send round a circular that sets out in fine detail what you can do (contemplate your navel is about the extent of it) and what you can’t. You cannot work; you may not use electricity or naked flame; or play games or entertain yourself. And if you do commit any of these offences the village security force (Pecalang) will find out; count on it.

Specifically, this year, when we troubled to read the document fully as we’re staying home for the non-festivities, we learned that while you are encouraged to contemplate your own navel you must on no account consider the merits of anyone else’s: Lust is also on the no-no list.