HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Oct. 1, 2014

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences


A Zesty Little Soup, Again

This year’s Ubud Writers and Readers Festival kicks off today without the assistance of V.S. Naipaul, the Tolstoy of Trinidad, who withdrew from the program last month apparently dissatisfied with the quantum of perquisites set to come his way. Never mind. There are plenty of other entertainingly literary minds involved in the festival, the eleventh. Most of them aren’t gold pass members of the Figjam Club.

This year’s theme, Saraswati: Wisdom & Knowledge, is an exploration of the wisdom to be gained by creative expression. The festival is fielding more than 150 writers from 25-plus countries, including a great line-up of Indonesian talent. Goenawan Mohamad, intellectual Azyumardi Azra, art patron Agung Rai and Festival favourites Debra Yatim, Ahmad Fuadi and Ketut Yuliarsa are on the list, as well as Sacha Stevenson, the How to act Indonesian YouTube hit sensation.

Made Wijaya will make an appearance. It’s good to see the Seer of Sanur out and about. He’s no stranger to paradise, after all, and he’s always good for a giggle. The festival organizers declare him to be Truman Capote with a machete. Such a shame then that we shan’t actually be present: People tell us we do a great Stephen Fry with a sharp s-s-stick.

Prizewinning Hassan Blasim (Independent Foreign Fiction Prize); Eimear McBride (Baileys Women’s Prize) and Cyrus Mistry (2014 DSC Prize) and the Scottish queen of crime writing and creator of the TV series Wire in the Blood Val McDermid will be sampling the mists of Ubud. Novelist Amitav Ghosh and Pulitzer Prize-finalist Deborah Baker are on the program and will also lead an exclusive post-Festival Komodo Islands cruise.

Also on board are avant-garde Asian fiction writers Can Xue from China and Minae Mizumura from Japan. Former UN Representative in Sudan Mukesh Kapila; frontline journalist Pallavi Aiyar; author of The Wisdom of Whores and Indonesia etc Elizabeth Pisani; and Polish editor and journalist Adam Michnik are providing the human rights and social comment diet. And on the environmental front there’s Keibo Oiwa, Nadya Hutagalung and Willie Smits, among others. It will be a good show.

One of the book launches is especially timely. Darwin, by Tess Lea, captures the essence of Australia’s northern capital. Her Darwin is a hybrid creation: part social history, part anthropological study, part personal memoir. Lea captures the city’s violent beginnings, its battles with the elements, the press of the heat and humidity, its wondrous multiculturalism, its beauty and its policy foibles.

The book launch is free and is at The Elephant, Hotel Taman Indrakila, Jl Raya Sanggingan, from 4.30-6pm tomorrow (Oct. 2). This year is the 40th anniversary of Cyclone Tracy, which all but obliterated Darwin on Christmas Day, 1974.


Resource KA-boom

Meanwhile, a few hundred post-iconic rice field views away to the east from Ubud where foreign navel-gazers have taken over the place to commune with themselves, ruminate over their macrobiotic diets, wicker about saving the world, and imagine they’re experiencing the real Bali, lies Bangli, where suspension of belief takes on another form.

Anthropologist-journalist and long-term Indonesia-watcher Graeme MacRae had a disturbing piece from his blog in the online Indonesia Weekly in mid-September, about the Wild West-style despoliation of Bali. He wrote this:

A few weeks ago, I drove up the Sidemen road, famous since the 1930s as one of the most beautiful in Bali. I would have taken it slowly anyway, to enjoy the views, but I had no choice. Around 200 trucks were coming the other way, down from the mountains, overloaded with sand, gravel and rock.

Where were they coming from? Where were they going to?

They come from quarries on the slopes of the sacred mountain Agung. They are headed where everything else is headed: into the hundreds of hotel, villa and other construction projects. Most are in Bali’s coastal resorts, but some are on rice fields around the sprawling urban area of Denpasar/Kuta.

A few days later, I meet a similar procession coming down the other sacred mountain, Batur. This time I learn a bit more. Every day, from before dawn till after dusk, at least 1500 overloaded trucks grind their way painfully up out of the crater, stopping on the way to offload excess weight.

Down in the caldera, amid what is left of a rich but delicate ecosystem of wild grasses and orchids which feed off volcanic ash among spectacular fields of black lava, lies one of the far outposts of the global resource economy.

Piles of black gravel line the narrow road around the caldera floor. Alongside it are makeshift shelters under which men and women shovel gravel through large sieves into piles of finer sand. When the sieving is done, they flag down a truck and load it by hand. Signs invite trucks into a hinterland of even narrower dirt tracks where more piles are waiting. Each hamlet the trucks pass through shares in the boom by levying its own little toll.

There’s a lot more to MacRae’s piece than that, of course. But it exactly describes the dilemma that faces Bali, one that is rooted in over-development, incapable administration, local lawlessness and unmet (and impossible) expectations.

Never mind that Agung and Batur are sacred. Forget that Batur is UN heritage listed. Overlook the fact that the scene of its despoliation is slap bang in the middle of a brand new Geopark.

Batur is in the Panjandrumistan of Bangli (we know it more formally as Kabupaten Bangli and more familiarly as the regency of the same name). Like so many other little district council areas in Indonesia, it runs at its own pace – with regal distain and glacial slowness unless acquisition of money has piqued interest – and operates by its own set of impenetrably circular rules.

MacRae’s “Wild West” description is colourful. But it’s inaccurate. The Sioux, the Cheyenne, the Crow, the Ute, the Apache, the Navaho and all the other nations that made up the indigenous humanity of the American West didn’t despoil their country themselves. Outsiders came in and did it for them.

Here in Bali, the indigenous population is busily wrecking the joint do-it-yourself-style.


Oh Yes, We Know it Well

A smile briefly creased the lips the other day when Jack Daniels’ inestimable Bali Update told us this, in relation to the proposed pedestrian underpass at the airport traffic circle to enable people to visit the park wherein one of the many monumental remembrances of local hero I Gusti Ngurah Rai stands, Ozymandias-style, surveying its domain:

“The statue and the surrounding park area are deemed suitable for public recreation but are made inaccessible to the public by four lanes of heavy traffic that continually circle the area.”

We’ve often thought that the chaotic traffic there is caused precisely by vehicles that continually circle the area. They might perhaps be trying to change lanes, though that’s unlikely. In Bali you just barge in. They’re probably just trapped, poor things.

The plan to build the Rp 3.7 billion underpass is in doubt because the Ministry of Public Works in Jakarta, the formal owner of the non-monumental infrastructure involved, has yet to say it’s OK.


Homeward Bound

For two decades long ago Britain’s longest-published weekly journal of affairs and politics, The Spectator, had a wonderful columnist whose name was Jeffrey Bernard. He was among the last of the Soho Set, a roué in the full sense of the term. He was a dreadful sot and as a result was frequently absent in the latter part of his 21 years with the magazine. “Jeffrey Bernard is unwell” became a line one looked for whenever one bought a copy of the magazine and searched for his column. Quite understandably it was called Low Life. He liked a rant and did it well. He ceased ranting in 1997, aged only 55.

Nominated in one newspaper obituary as his own Boswell, he ranted so well that Keith Waterhouse wrote a play about him and Peter O’Toole starred in a made-for-TV movie filmed at the Old Vic in London.

There have been times over the past four months when Hector has entertained the passing fancy that he too could be unwell. It does carry a certain cachet, after all, being vicariously included in such errantly distinguished company as Bernard’s. But we resisted the temptation. There are many we would have disappointed by non-appearance, we reasoned, the legions of Advertiser readers who turn to Hector’s Diary and utter their fortnightly imprecation: “What on earth is he on about this time?”

We’re due to be home in Bali by the time the next Advertiser hits the streets. It’s been a very long time between drinks.

Hector tweets @scratchings on Twitter


HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Mar. 6, 2013


His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences


Wrinkle Wars

Bali’s latest entrant in the medical tourism sector is set, says principal Louise Cogan, to catch the next big wave in the industry that will propel the island to equal rank with Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. Cocoon Medical Spa at Legian – it’s on Sunset Road – opened in February with discount specials. And Cogan tells us that while we’re five to seven years behind Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Phuket, we should be up there with them by the end of the decade.

       Says Cogan, who has spent the past 10 years in medical tourism in Asia and who also says Cocoon Medical Spa offers treatments, products, technology and training that are the best in the world: “The development of world class centres like BIMC and Siloam Hospital will increase patients’ perceptions of medical quality which will see a boom in medical tourism.”

      According to Cogan perceptions of Bali as a medical tourism destination are growing and the local industry will grow with it as people see that they can now get quality medical care here. “This will see both an enormous influx of tourists who would normally have gone to KL or Singapore, and secondly keep residents in Indonesia, rather than them going abroad for medical treatments,” she tells us.

  Cocoon Medical Spa is very different to any other clinic or hospital in Asia, says Cogan. It offers non-invasive cosmetic, anti-ageing and wellness treatments in “a beautiful haven” of Balinese calm. “My initial aim was to have a beautiful international standard cosmetic centre that offers comprehensive treatments at Bali prices,” she says

     Like any industry, the skin-fix sector regularly needs a facelift. What Cogan is promising is more of a total (non-invasive) makeover. It mightn’t do much for superannuated diarists, but we know a lot of people who will be very keen to try a bit of comfy cocooning.

I Say, Old Fruit!

There’s an election on, for Governor that is, and as anyone knows, at election time a candidate is likely to say all sorts of things. Governor Pastika, who is running for a second term with a different set of political collaborators (the fluidity of Indonesian politics is a joy to behold) now says he’d like us all to eat local fruit. Now that’s a good idea. We eat it all the time here at The Cage.

      But it needs to be leavened with fruit from elsewhere; it’s a foreigner kind of thing. And, you know, foreigners are the ones in the big hotels who will be forced to select from Pastika’s table d’hôte. This seems not to have occurred to The Guv, who predictably has turned to regulation as his mechanism of choice. According to reports, new rules are to be brought in to compel hotels to use local fruit and to ban imports.

       The a la carte, as usual, has been placed before the horse. Foreign tourists might like to come here and eat local fruit – in fact they’d be mad to miss out on that opportunity – but they want quality. Small brown shrivelled things that might once have been some other colour, and blobs blotted with spots and blemishes that are possibly harmless but you wouldn’t know until you found they weren’t, are not an attractive component of an expensive five-star breakfast buffet.

       It would be really good if local growers could benefit economically from becoming trusted suppliers to the food supply chain. That means consistent quality. It means certainty of supply. These are but two among the multitude of things that overcrowd the too-hard basket in Bali.

Spectators All

There has been a measure of jollity at The Cage recently that exceeded even our usual high-laugh diet. (We do a great maniacal guffaw; it is, or it should be, admired by all who have to deal with the daily nonsense of life in these parts.) Its cause was not the surprisingly active monsoon, which this year has apparently been intent on drowning you or blowing you away every time you set foot outside. The reason was the gathering together of three old media types from Queensland under two neighbouring roofs, ours and the villa next door.

      Two of us are resident – though one only temporarily, working on a project at the Institute for Peace and Democracy just a manic 15-minute drive away – and one flew in from the Sunshine State for a 10-day break. It was raining when he left there and raining when he got back, so he felt remarkably at home here.

       He brought with him a copy of the latest Spectator, the Australian edition, which was instantly devoured by your diarist, starved as he is of stuff to read that’s on an actual printed page. What a delight! English prose of English rose standard; grammatical construction; piquancy in every piece; and a finely honed non-PC view of Australian politics – though that’s not surprising given its Australian editor Tom Switzer, also known to The Diary, is a gentleman who might in some circumstances advance the theory that the world is flat and then invite you to a Tea Party.

      Speaking of The Spectator, which has been the Diary’s weekly rant of choice since Noah was last to be heard complaining about the mess the animals had made of the ark, its English edition retains the services of a delightful antediluvian called Taki. He is a columnist who is so non-PC that even his laptop won’t talk to him.

      He recently found cause to complain about a further disastrous lapse in standards. He wrote: “Travel is now an exercise in being among slobs. Tracksuits, trainers, loud dirty children, fat people drinking out of bottles with wires hanging from their ears, they are the best excuse I know for paying through the nose and flying private.”

      We sympathise. Nowadays, sadly, it’s even worse up the pointy end of the plane.

Inside Job

Among the reading material that is de rigueur at The Cage is the online journal Inside Indonesia. It is 30 years old this year, a milestone which it recently noted was probably unforeseen by founders Pat Walsh and John Waddingham when they published its first edition in November 1983, with Max Lane in the editor’s chair. Since then 111 quarterly editions of Inside Indonesia have been published and, since going completely online in 2007, new articles also appear weekly.

     Its mission remains the same as always: a commitment to raising awareness about the diversity of Indonesian society and the struggles of Indonesians who wish to achieve greater democracy, human rights, gender and racial equality, tolerance and environmental sustainability. Inside Indonesia may sometimes not be comfortable browsing material, but that’s OK – there’s more than enough PR pap around to satisfy the needs of those who prefer to Mogadon themselves – because it runs high-quality articles by experts, researchers and practitioners in the field that are always worth reading.

     Indonesia is vastly different today from 30 years ago. In 1983 the autocratic New Order was at its height. Today, albeit in a flawed fashion, democracy has taken root and Indonesians are benefiting from greater freedom, higher disposable incomes, and an expanding service sector. Once, Inside Indonesia arrived at a subscriber’s Indonesian address in an unmarked brown envelope. Today it drops into inboxes everywhere, free from the malicious attentions of any thought police.

Go Green and Clean Up

The Irish lobby, the global collective that seems to imagine it’s still digging spuds in the Emerald Isle – or feels it should be and we’d all be the better for it if it was – has staged another coup. Fortunately it’s yet another forgettable one. On March 17, in honour of Ireland’s chief patron saint, St Patrick, the Pyramids of Giza outside Cairo and the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, will “go green.”

    Patrick, actually Patricius since he was a Latin-speaking Romano-Briton and if indeed Patricius was his name, first went to Ireland as a boy sometime in the fifth century CE when pagan pirates captured him and took him there as a slave. He later escaped, went back to Blighty, became a Christian missionary and returned to Ireland as a bishop many years later. Legend credits him with banishing snakes from Ireland and promoting the shamrock (a clover) as a public emblem.

     His saint’s day is an honoured occasion in Ireland and beyond, and quite properly so. Though why we should all be enjoined to drink green beer on the day and why various global landmarks should be temporarily turned a similarly bilious shade, is a separate and quite impenetrable issue. The Irish tourism board gets a kick out of it. But Bloomsday – a literary, secular and profoundly profane celebration on June 16 each year – is far better entertainment.

     Wonder if Bali will go green – or even clean and green – for St Pat’s Day this year? It’s only five days after Nyepi.

Hello? Hello?

The Red Cross Blood Donation Centre at Sanglah Hospital in Denpasar wants foreigners living here or visiting to donate blood, especially the rare rhesus negative type. Rh negative is rare anyway and all but exclusively found in Europeans. But it is in demand from hospitals throughout Indonesia which face a chronic shortage of the type for emergency use and of ready sources of it.

The director of the Red Cross Blood Donor Unit at Sanglah (PMI – Palang Merah Indonesia), Dr AAG Sudewa, says foreigners in Bali who have this rare blood type should donate whenever possible. Well, Dr Sudewa, The Diary is O Rh neg and has tried to do just that. Alas, it was to no avail since first we failed the Indonesian donor age test (it’s 60 and we negotiated a dispensation validating the western standard, 70) and a trip to the middle of Denpasar from the Bukit would drive up the blood pressure of a saint, or possibly a cadaver.

We’ll try again, though. We do like to be helpful.

Hector’s Diary is published in the Bali Advertiser in print and online at http://www.baliadvertiser.biz. Hector tweets @scratchings and is on Facebook (Hector McSquawky)