HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Jul. 22, 2015

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Hannigan’s Islands

The delightful Tim Hannigan, former Surabaya English language teacher and scribbler of note around the archipelago, has written another book: A Brief History of Indonesia. Published by Tuttle in Singapore, it will shortly be on the bookshelves everywhere. His earlier effort, Raffles and the British Invasion of Java, caused unseemly ripples on the otherwise imperturbable ponds of British historiography of Empire rendered in the paean style.

It upset the teacups at the Hyacinth Bucket-style riparian delights in which some indulge while still imagining themselves suffused with the sacred afterglow of the British imperium. Though a serious work (written in a lively, readable, style) Hannigan’s Raffles book was a giggle for those others among us who tend to the view that the man memorialized as the far-seeing founder of Singapore was rather more an insubordinate pirate than a self-effacing, objective servant of the Crown.

Since pirates are somewhat in vogue in this context, it was good to hear that Hannigan introduced his new book to the audience at the Penzance Literary Festival at an illustrated talk on Jul. 11 called (from the book’s extended title) Sultans, Spices and Tsunamis. The Cornish port town has piratical connections extending far further back than Gilbert & Sullivan’s pop opera The Pirates of Penzance.

He tells us he can’t make this year’s Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, which is a pity. He has an engagement in Mongolia. Well, no. It’s actually a wedding, though not his own. When we heard this we asked if the happy couple had yet chosen a suitable yurt. They live in an apartment in Ulan Bataar, as any sensible people would. The winters can be nippy. But we learned from Hannigan, who told us he had only relatively recently discovered this for himself, that a yurt is not a yurt at all. It is a ger, pronounced grrrr, surely an appropriate locution for Mongolians who find the foreign fixation with fictitious yurts tedious.

Hannigan is in Bali for book chats at Biku in Seminyak (Jul. 25) and Bar Luna Ubud (Jul.28) and a book signing at Periplus at the airport on Jul. 30. We’ll catch up with him at Biku – where we’ll also catch up with Asri Kerthayasa’s lovely cakes – and if we can, at Bar Luna. We’ll pick up a copy of his latest tome too. And it would be nice to see him at UWRF 2016, if that can be arranged.

Smoke and Mirrors

The dreadful Mail Online, doyen of the virtual tabloids in both its British and Australian versions, proved again with the eruption of Mt Raung in East Java that in some sections of the media fact is spelled “fict”, professionalism and the brain quality that goes with this are superfluous to corporate requirements, and that common sense flew out of the window long ago. Not to be coy about it, its operators are fuckwits.

When atmospheric volcanic dust from the eruption caused a hazard to aviation, Ngurah Rai International Airport was closed. This was not only a sensible precaution but was also required under international civil aviation regulations. It caused dreadful inconvenience to many, including a number of Australians who in the tried and true and thoroughly infantile traditions of portions of that sheltered community, claimed that their singular problems demanded immediate special attention.

The Mail Online, in both its vacuous versions, Brit and antipodean, got out its eggbeaters and presented a fanciful feast of fevered imagination that crossed the boundary into parody. Alongside breathless quotes from the suitably aggrieved (those who plainly had no thought for the technical and safety reasons behind their inconvenience) it ran vision and still photographs from the eruption of Mt Merapi last year, which did indeed blanket Surabaya airport in East Java with a layer of volcanic ash. It passed these off by inference and directly as current images from Bali. It was a disgraceful and depressing display of juvenility.

Volcanic eruptions are commonplace in Indonesia. Disruptions of all kinds naturally follow. We have to live with those. Fortunately we can afford to ignore the Mail Online.

Blokes Only

In the normal course of events we wouldn’t be overjoyed at the thought of a blokes-only evening. You know, footy (in all its forms) and other blokey, sporty things, are agenda items with which it is possible to go only so far. But there are exceptions, and if it’s at Slippery Stone at Kerobokan and has been organized by Chief Diva Christina Iskandar, it is plainly a do that has more going for it than most.

Thus an evening soirée of Greek delights and selected beverages presented by George, Sam and Paul at Slippery Stone’s new Venus Lounge seemed to be invitation we should not refuse. We didn’t make it to the show after all, though. Sadly some god or other – it may have been Hephaestus, the Greek original from whom the Romans conjured Vulcan – had other ideas and something intervened to prevent our attendance. That was a pity, because George, Sam and Paul – and no doubt Christina – wanted us to help bless their new lounge. We’ll drop in sometime. Venus might be in attendance. Old Hep is her hubby, after all, and he may be around these parts for a while.

Barking Again

It’s really not clear why any celebratory noises should be made over the claim by Bali’s animal husbandry authority that more than 5000 dogs have been eliminated. Given the methodology, which is to send death squads into villages and communities and kill any dogs found in the open, vaccinated and sterilized dogs will have been eliminated too, in a further assault – most likely fatal – on vital herd immunity to rabies and reduction in numbers through humane methods.

The head of animal husbandry, Putu Sumantra, says these measures to control and reduce rabies are necessary because the disease is a threat not only to Balinese communities but also to tourist areas. It certainly is, of course, but infection rates vary and are highest in places distant from the south where most of the tourists are. He has a point when he notes that tourists travel within Bali, but frankly that’s not the issue. The Bali government needs to reduce rabies as a threat to the Balinese. They are the people most at risk of being bitten by a suspect dog and then finding there’s little or no supply of essential post-exposure anti-rabies vaccine. It’s not going to achieve this objective in the environment it has created, by failing to maintain the staged rabies reduction program it signed up to in 2010, or blindly ignoring all the data that shows a vaccinated screen of immune dogs prevents human infections and with sterilization programs helps humanely reduce numbers.

An incident at Padang Bai recently shows how badly off-message the government has been. A dog there became suddenly enraged and ran around and bit four people and tried to bite others. Hello, you might think: here is a dog showing classic signs of rabies infection. We had better catch it (and kill it if necessary) so that it can be taken to the authorities for laboratory testing. This is not what occurred. Instead an informal posse formed that chased down the dog, beat it to death, and threw its carcass into the sea. Among the posse were police (a policeman had been bitten by the dog) who you would think might think they should deliver the carcass to the authorities. Rabies is hardly a new phenomenon in Bali after all. It’s been here and spread widely since 2008. Human deaths from the disease are sharply up this year.

The death squads may also be running into trouble. The authorities say they are killing dogs in response to community pressure. There is evidence of growing resistance among Balinese to this policy, along with increased interest in looking after dogs they own or care for in the informal way that is done here.

What sometimes seems to be overlooked by the authorities, who are clearly concerned about Bali’s image as a safe place, is that everyone – even the government’s critics on this issue – is seeking the same solution: a Bali that is free of rabies.

A Reminder

The 2015 Waterman’s Awards will be presented on Aug. 14 at the Padma Resort in Legian. This year the awards have been consolidated and broadened in scope. It will be a great night in a good cause – a cleaner and healthier marine and aquatic environment. See you there.

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

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Nov. 26, 2014

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Singapore Sling-off

It’s been a while since we were in Singapore so we had been quite looking forward to getting back there this month. We had been amusing ourselves with thoughts about minding the platform gap again, but the MRT was full of very pushy people on our two train rides and the whole experience was one of rather less than unalloyed delight.

Traffic also seemed to be much less well behaved than hitherto. The unnecessary and noisy practice of sounding your car horn – for any reason, or none – is gaining a growing toehold in the previously well-mannered and equable city state. Worse, “big car” syndrome is more and more obvious. It is familiar to anyone in Indonesia and many other places where capitalism, bureaucracy and fat-wallet-lawyer are synonyms for bad-mannered. The bumptious practice of the cashed-up mob in such environments is to assume droit de seigneur and to believe it is immutable fact that if you’re in a BMW or a Mercedes and are therefore visibly rich and powerful, lesser mortals have only two options: to swoon at your feet or get run over.

Of course, democracy has never had much of a place in Singapore, what with Raffles being an English provincial imperialist, his successors being chiefly British and (briefly) Japanese officer bureaucrats, and their successors being Lee Kwan Yew, etc. We should not be surprised. Singapore seems, in so many ways not discounting the Gilbert & Sullivan, to be the very model of a modern Venetian republic. The Serenissima was the most successful city state of its thousand-year era, after the nabobs of the day demoted democracy to historical theory, until its last supine grandees capitulated to that well-born Corsican brigand Napoleone Buonaparte in 1797.

Great Australian Bite

We had dinner one evening with an old chum, Ian Mackie of Lasalle Investment Management. He’s a 20-year veteran of Singapore whose interests are many and among which is a chain of coffee-culture shops named Dimbulah. We were at the one at CHIJMES, a cloistered former convent, which  offers an evening dining experience as well. It has just added a burger that is out of this world. The menu is complemented by a nice range of Australian and New Zealand wines. The NZ pinot noir we had was first rate. It came from Central Otago. The burger came from the kitchen and was better than the best.

The coffee comes from Dimbulah Mountain Estate in North Queensland. Dimbulah is a little place on the Atherton Tableland behind Cairns where the altitude knocks a point or two off the tropical temperatures and Arabica coffee trees thrive. It is not to be confused with Dimboola in Victoria, in Australia’s far chillier south. Dimboola grows wheat and its chief claim to fame is the play of the same name written by Jack Hibberd.

Incorrigible Indeed

The Singapore trip – an occasion forced upon us by reason of the visa run you have to do if your KITAS expires while you’ve been away in Australia trying not to – did create one other opportunity. We’ve been trying to get a start on reading an English translation of Jean-Michel Guenassia’s 2011 debut novel The Incorrigible Optimists Club. It is at last available in paperback (Atlantic Books) and the translation by Euan Cameron is very good.

It’s certainly best in many circumstances to be an incorrigible optimist. For example, we are optimistic that we won’t have to miss the 2015 Yak Awards. This year’s otherwise not-to-be-missed and exotically eclectic bash was held on Nov. 14, the very day the bureaucrats had set for our temporary exile from the Island of the Bumf Shufflers.

It was such a shame. Not to be counted among 600 partygoers is bad enough. But to miss yet another chance to see the sibilantly sassy Sydney songbird Edwina Blush in action is surely a sin.

And So to Lombok

We’re not gluttons for punishment, really. But we did have some things to do in Lombok after the visa trip (and Visa trip) to Singapore, so we went straight there. Well, we tried to. We’d booked AirAsia Singapore-Bali with enough time if things had run to schedule to make a change to the domestic terminal at Ngurah Rai and get on a Garuda flight to Praya.

Things didn’t run to schedule. You can never afford to discount the intervention of Murphy’s (or Sodd’s) Laws. We missed our connection and had to get a later flight and pay an additional fee for doing so.

Never mind. It was good to see Lombok again; and some old friends and a patch of weeds we once thought seriously about turning into our Des Res. This trip we stayed at Kebun Villas – just across the road from the Sheraton in Senggigi – which we eventually reached after an interminable taxi ride from the airport.

Still, the glacially-paced taxi ride was a pointed example of the benefits of different styles. The cabbie who took us from the Copthorne King’s in Singapore to Changi Airport that morning had obviously been taught at taxi-driver school that whatever Gweilo passengers might say (“Slow down you idiot!” “Hey! That was a red light!”) if they’re going to the airport they’re always running late.

Resolve to Devolve, Properly

It’s interesting to hear reports – as the Jokowi presidency gets into gear and begins its promised shift towards more meaningful consultation than has been the case before – that Balinese delegates to the Regional Representative Council (DPD) are seeking greater autonomy for the island.

Real provincial powers are no bad thing, in a country of many ethnicities and significant, difficult differences and distances. That is, if they are managed properly; if they codified so that there is a clear division between central government and provincial powers; if they are understood by all parties as subordinate to national policy and judicial check; and if local-level governments understand their own place is at the bottom of the structure rather than the top and that the Great Panjandrum, if he exists at all, resides somewhere other than in a district council office.

Provincial autonomy until now has been a response to separatist pressures, notably in Aceh and Papua. It should instead be a political arrangement, a compact, designed to enhance the national entity. It would among other things do away with the need for a Regional Representative Council, which in Bali’s case is an invidious arrangement since it administratively groups Bali and both West and East Nusa Tenggara. Achieving this would require courage, open minds, and a true commitment to democracy.

Methanol Methodology

There’s a very useful initiative under way in Bali, the Methanol Poisoning Awareness (MPA) campaign. It’s being run by the British Consulate and was launched in October by Governor Made Mangku Pastika and the acting British Ambassador, Rebecca Razavi.

The campaign aims to raise awareness of the danger of methanol in counterfeit alcoholic drinks, and reduce the number of deaths and injuries suffered by foreign and domestic tourists in Indonesia, as a result.

Razavi said at the launch that the campaign underlines the importance of British tourists being aware of the health risks of counterfeit alcohol. In 2013 counterfeit alcohol caused more than 51 deaths and 52 hospital admissions in Indonesia.

The campaign materials are being distributed throughout Bali.

UK visitor arrivals to Indonesia have risen sharply in recent years. In the first quarter of 2014 a total of 48,871 British tourists travelled to Indonesia. In April alone, 19,809 British nationals visited, up 18.2 percent on April 2013. British authorities expect numbers to continue to increase now Garuda is flying to London.

It’s pleasing to report some British-sourced news. Though in this case there is also an Australian connection, albeit at one remove. Razavi was born in Tasmania.

Home Is Where the Art Is

It may pass almost unnoticed by many, but the growing collaboration between the national galleries of Indonesia and Australia is paying huge dividends in terms of sharing artistic expression and exposing art lovers in both countries to new experiences.

The Masters of Modern Indonesian Portraiture exhibition, which has recently had a month-long season at the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra, was a major National Gallery of Indonesia initiative. It was one of three art expositions this year that have demonstrated how diversity can foster unity.

The exhibition showed 35 significant Indonesian art works and offered insight into the rich portrait practice of Indonesia, showcasing key modernist works (1930-1980s) drawn from the National Gallery of Indonesia’s collection along with a selection of works by leading contemporary artists.

It was the first time works from the National Gallery of Indonesia had been shown in Australia. There are plans to ensure it is not the last. It was certainly a rare opportunity for Australian audiences to view the work of eminent modern artists from Indonesia, including masters S. Sudjojono, Hendra Gunawan and Affandi.

Hector tweets @scratchings on Twitter. His diary appears in the Bali Advertiser

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Nov. 13, 2013

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Skulduggery and Other Local Habits

The benefits that accompany living in Bali – or anywhere in Indonesia – far outweigh the demerits of doing so. The culture is inclusive, at least on a superficial level that satisfies most tastes; the people readily return a smile to anyone who doesn’t look as if they’re about to get up them for the rent; and unless you’re a real bonehead it’s generally difficult to spark outright anger.

That’s in the sub-stratospheric zone where most foreigners live. Anyone will be your friend if you put money in their pocket; a little money, and your own. That’s how the system works and it can work for anyone.

But – and as usual it’s a big but – there are one-way rules that apply to foreigner-local interaction. Bule is the colloquial word for foreigners. It is analogous with foreigners calling the natives “natives”, which is not done these days and of course should never have been done. No matter. Only a foolishly thick-headed Bule would cavil. It’s what the natives do and because it’s their country they can do as they choose. Foreigners who object to being objectified in this way can always go home.

It is in this general ambience that one considers several matters of current interest. The irritation over media reports that Australia (and the USA) “spy” on Indonesia is one instance. It’s a pejorative term, spy, and conjures up all sorts of cloak-and-dagger scenarios. The reality in this instance is rather more prosaic. It is alleged that electronic eavesdropping has yielded secure telephone numbers and other information that might be useful in an emergency. In retaliation for this, it is further reported, Indonesia may reconsider its cooperation with Australia regarding efforts to stamp out criminal people-smuggling that Jakarta has winked at for years and in which it is now showing an interest only because of significant inducements, political and otherwise, to do so.

Everyone “spies” in the overblown context in which that term is being bandied about. Indonesia certainly does, though to what effect one wouldn’t know. The ersatz confrontation that has been fuelled by headlines and sound bites is an embarrassment. It is a chance for the media and others to disinter several shibboleths that have long since passed their use-by date. It’s a pity that it emerged just ahead of the annual democracy forum, this year held in Nusa Dua on Nov. 7 and 8 and attended by Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop among others.

Here in Bali, at the provincial and district level, other departures from common sense are observed. Rampant overdevelopment and threats to precious natural environments continue, in the process lining lots of official pockets. The new southern Bukit road linking the Uluwatu area with Nusa Dua – a prime tourism asset if it is used with appropriate regulation – is complete except for a short section of “jalan liar” (liar means wild but some may prefer to read the word in English) that unaccountably curbs transiting traffic. A pocket or two, quite possibly official, remain to be lined, it seems.

At Ubud, BAWA, the expat-funded animal welfare organization that fired up and then ran the island’s vital initial response to the rabies outbreak in 2008 that is ongoing and has killed at least 150 people, has had its veterinary clinic closed and its other operations severely curtailed by government diktat. That it is carrying on business – and that its professional services are well regarded and sought elsewhere in the neighbourhood – testifies to its public spirited determination.

It’s not yet clear what brought about this particularly egregious example of why Bali really shouldn’t bite off its nose to spite its face. Except that we can say without fear of contradiction that bull-headed self-interest and latent avarice undoubtedly played a part.

A Handy Volume

It was nice to see Tim Hannigan’s book Raffles and the British Invasion of Java win critical notice in the Bali Advertiser’s Toko Buku column (Oct. 30). The Hannigan tome is nicely revisionist – as all history should be when reassessed with the benefit of analysis, research and other cerebral effort rather than just a nostalgic after-glow – and places Raffles in what seems to be the proper context now that the British Empire has joined the dodo, and Monty Python’s parrot, in the shades of past existence and is no more.

The book is especially valuable for its colonic effect on the rump residual of imperial hagiographers, who seem to believe the sun should never have been allowed to set upon the global realms of the Queen Empress and her brief successors. Well, history is a narrative and so is much fiction, so perhaps we should not be overly churlish. The problem always is that, like Hyacinth Bucket’s riparian delights, imperial adventures are nearly always Not Quite as Planned.

Lottie Nevin, who recently relocated from Indonesia to Spain – to Andalucía no less, where even after half a millennium a movingly Moorish ambience hangs heavily over the landscape – tells us of an incident in which a copy of a rival Raffles volume nearly ended up in her Jakarta living room. It remained in the carrier’s bag, it seems, when upon the question of whether she had yet obtained a copy of The Fine Tome she said that she had read Hannigan’s book and it was good.

Diarists love to hear such titbits of gossip, particularly when they present the bonus of an opportunity to chuckle. Nevin, who is no stranger to Bali, has a delightfully readable blog at http://lottienevin.com/.

Quick Fix

One of those car park exchanges that might excite a police stakeout team on Willie Ra’re alert recently took place at Dijon, the Simpang Siur emporium-complex that is the resort of many who seek the finer victuals of life, or a decent iced tea or chummy latte, or who perhaps are simply transiting the area on their way to the offices behind.

These days, if you wander down the lane past the café and the shop, you’ll find The Yak and its stable-mates in close proximity to the premises from which publicity diva Sarah-Jane Scrase and the mega-laundry man, Kian Liung, are now producing another glossy, The Source Quarterly. We see from Facebook that it is among the latest products to grace the shelves at Gramedia. It’s always good to see publications in print, especially new ones, even if most of us these days read things on line.

The car park exchange of which we speak was perfectly legit. If bringing in coffee capsules otherwise unobtainable here in Fun Central is legit, that is. We think it is. Well arguably. But then we use a similar product that owing to inexplicable local absence requires regular courier resupply, the better to ingest our overdoses of caffeine.

On this occasion Hector was meeting someone, a lovely lady, to hand over a supply of capsules newly arrived from Australia that would temporarily at least make it possible for her friends to avoid saying disturbing things such as, “you’ve only got five left”.

Don’t you hate that! Here at The Cage we attempt a regime of at least triple redundancy. Running out of essentials like wine, whisky, cigarettes or coffee in the dead of night is truly brow-furrowing. It can quite take the shine off life.

Our exchange this time went unnoticed. We had a yak and a giggle, a tea and a coffee, and then did the car-boot to car-boot bag switch without difficulties intervening.

Free Flow

Janet DeNeefe’s Indus restaurant at Jl Raya Sanggingan in Ubud was 15 years old on Nov. 3. While this is not a cosmic event on the scale of, say, Earth colliding with Mars next July, nonetheless it is worth noting in the local firmament.

Indus is a popular restaurant name. There is any number of eponymous dining opportunities around the globe. It is also a major and still predominantly free-flowing river that is checked only by over-use of its resources and the Mandala dam, an impoundment with whose design and construction your diarist had a passing technical connection far too many years ago.

In the old days of the Raj (see above) it marked the boundary between the incomprehensible cultures of the Indian sub-continent and the frankly murderous ones of Central Asia. In his evocative 1953 novel The Lotus and the Wind – it has been on the Diary’s five-year re-read list for half a century – John Masters illuminates that divide in a way that, once read, is never forgotten. It is a geopolitical and cultural rift the western world still fails to comprehend.

All of which is by the by. Happy Birthday, Indus.

Hector tweets @scratchings

Raffles Revealed, in a Javanese context

Indonesians are apt to say they wish their former colonisers had been the British instead of the Dutch. It is a comment anyone who lives in the country, and who talks to ordinary people, hears at least once, if not repeatedly.

The argument goes that if the British had run what later became Indonesia there would be larger quantities of workable infrastructure, better education, less corruption, and a parliamentary system that at least holds out some hope for the future of enabling legislation.

Indonesians point to the success of India, Malaysia and Singapore which, since long before the post-imperialists in faraway London gave up the game, have gone ahead well. It’s an attractive argument, but it’s completely superficial one in the Indonesian political context.

It does not withstand scrutiny. India is a contiguous whole with (for the most part) geography and a landscape that accommodates things like roads and railways. In much of India, right up to independence in 1947 British rule was indirect through local rulers heading minor dynasties of very great longevity. There was a sense of collective “Indianness” that predated British (and other European) colonialism and which thrived throughout lengthy imperial times. Malaysia is a multiethnic nation comprising Malays, Indians and Chinese. It has far fewer people than Indonesia and different problems that are home-grown and in no way analogous to those of Indonesia. Singapore is an artificial construct, a Chinese city, best seen as a highly successful, but fundamentally anachronistic city-state on the Venetian model.

Indonesia, by contrast, has no significant archipelago-wide national history beyond the liturgy of its independence struggle. It is still developing that narrative and the mythology to go with it. Dutch settlement – except in Java and parts of Sumatra – was not extensive and grew from little trading posts into a late-start imperial administration. Indonesia is a nation of thousands of islands and hugely diverse populations. It might suit the governing class (primarily from Java) to propose the concept of Indonesia as some sort of modern day reincarnation of Majapahit but Indonesians from elsewhere than Java – where most Indonesians live – see that as a problem, not as a solution.

All of which is a long and circuitous route into a discussion of a new book about Stamford Raffles, memorialised (ad nauseam) as the founder of Singapore. Raffles and the British Invasion of Java, by British writer Tim Hannigan brings Raffles to life in an engaging – though hardly attractive – way by focusing on another of his adventures.

There is a large body of literature on the British Empire. The imperial song is sung in many diverse ways and is heavily scored by paeanists, who like to hammer away at their keyboards, now fortissimo, now andante, occasionally adagio (the Imperial British were strong but gentle, you see) . Hannigan is not among those who believe the British Empire deserves a paean of praise. He prefers a different narrative, a more reflective – and reflexive – nuance.

This came to light in his eminently readable first book Murder in the Hindu Kush: George Hayward and the Great Game. Hayward was a casualty of the long-running standoff between Britain and Russia in Central Asia in the 19th century – known then and now as the Great Game, for thus it was.

Hannigan’s book captures something of the spirit of the novels by John Masters – notably in The Lotus and the Wind, a work of fiction that would bring a tear to the eye of the most resolute anti-imperialist – as to the almost cosmic appeal of the wild lands between the Indus and the Oxus. Afghanistan is in there, right in the middle. So is Kashmir. And for that matter, so is Ladakh, the Himalayan focus of intense Indian-Chinese rivalry.

In his new book about Raffles, Hannigan develops a narrative markedly sharper than that preferred by many imperial hagiographers. Raffles, he finds, was not a Nice Chap. Arguably too, excusing Singapore’s interest in him as a sort of transnational hero, he was not even a success.  His invasion of Java was performed while he was working for John Company, the British East India Company. The territory on which he landed, near Batavia (now Jakarta) was nominally Dutch but was controlled by the Netherlands East Indies Company, confusingly also known as John Company.

Both commercial companies – in Britain and Holland – had grown into quasi-corporate state administrations, proving the political theory that the most applicable natural law in any endeavour is that of unintended consequences. The British company was by far the greater success, but it was well on the road to eventual ruin by the time Raffles landed troops in Java in 1811.

(Its final denouement was to come 46 years later, with the so-called Indian Mutiny of 1857, when the Bengal Presidency erupted in an orgy of violence finally suppressed by the British months later with the assistance of Company troops from the Madras and Bombay presidencies. The Mutiny ushered in 90 years of imperial British rule.)

As Hannigan notes in his book, Raffles had his own plans for Java that were not those of either his commercial employers in Calcutta or of the British government in London. He was a maverick, then; less a man of vision than one of impetuous disorder.

The Java landing was a by-product of the Napoleonic Wars. The French had subsumed the Netherlands and Java was thus notionally enemy territory. British policy – such as it was, and filtered via the East India Company to boot – did not envisage occupation of Java. The idea was to seize the centres of indigenous government and hand the island over to the natives. Raffles had other ideas. He apparently wished primarily to become famous. He achieved this objective in part by becoming his own plagiaristic hagiographer.

Hannigan’s book provides a perspective on Raffles that is magnificently different from that served up by other popular writers on the theme, such as Victoria Glendinning, who is surely the Hyacinth Bouquet of the genre. She seems to prefer riparian delights to dealing with real life.

Glendinning has also just produced a book about Raffles. It’s called Raffles and The Golden Opportunity. It misses one: Raffles’ politicking with the sultan of Palembang (in Sumatra) who he wished to have murder the Dutch community there. There was a lovely stand-off at the Singapore Writers Festival in November over that omission and other missing links. Hannigan’s book was the best seller at the festival. Enough said.

Hannigan has been criticised – most notably in an unfavourable review by New Zealand journalist Duncan Graham published in the Jakarta Post newspaper – for some lapses. He wasn’t writing a formal history and did not intend therefore to fully footnote the book, but he had planned “notes on chapters” giving explanations and suggested further reading and this did not eventuate.

Graham, an old Asia hand, writes of Raffles’ failure in Java:

     “There have to be explanations beyond ability, leadership, foresight and intellect — so said the curmudgeons trampled or ignored by this high achiever — and Hannigan has helped give these belittlers the chance to hack away at the image in the provocatively titled Raffles and the British Invasion of Java.

     “However, the man, like his imposing statue in Singapore, is not easily toppled. Not because some evidence against Raffles lacks substance, but because the author strains to hate when he should have let the facts do their work.”

Yet that analysis is itself self-serving and flawed. Graham characterises Hannigan as an ex-Cornish chef and one-time Surabaya chalkie and says dismissively of him that felling tall timbers requires more than a blunt blade. He questions whether Hannigan actually did the research he says he did on the Raffles papers in the archives of the India Office in London. He would like people to think, apparently, that he (Hannigan) is some sort of untutored ring-in amateur whose assumptions cannot be trusted.

This is unworthy. Hannigan is not a history scholar and makes no pretence that he is. But he writes a good yarn and he reads William Dalrymple (everyone should). He understands that while some Brits now living in reduced circumstances may find comfort in the warm glow of recovered memories (miss-memories) of their imperial past, that’s no reason to gild any lilies.

Raffles was probably not a scoundrel. But he is not an idol, either… unless one with feet of clay.

Raffles and the British Invasion of Java is published by Monsoon Books, Singapore – www.monsoonbooks.com.sg. ISBN (paperback) 978-981-4358-85-9 (ebook) 978-981-4358-86-6.

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Dec. 12, 2012

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

What a Stinker

Sir Stamford Raffles is a footnote in history for having identified a swampy and malarial island at the bottom of the Malay Peninsula as the site of the future New Serenissima (Venice) nowadays known as Singapore. He is due that credit. He’s also a footnote in the bibliography of flora, having had his name attached to perhaps the most unpleasantly pungent plant on earth, the Rafflesia, characterised by Swedish scientist Eric Mjoberg in 1928 as possessing “a penetrating smell more repulsive than any buffalo carcass in an advanced stage of decomposition.”  It’s also known as the corpse flower, and is thus nicely emblematic of a dead empire.

There was a bit of a stink about Raffles at the recent Singapore Literary Festival, where British authors Tim Hannigan (Raffles and the Invasion of Java) and Victoria Glendinning (Raffles and the Golden Opportunity) faced off in a firmly feisty manner.

Hannigan was in Bali this month to promote his new book, which had its official Indonesian launch earlier in Jakarta – the Big Durian, a competitor for pungency perhaps – and then its Bali introduction at Periplus at Mal Bali Galeria, Kuta, on Dec. 1. Apparently the Periplus function was conducted entirely in Indonesian and Hannigan’s fine Java-accented Bahasa attracted good reviews.

He conducted later speaking engagements, first at Biku in Kerobokan’s well-heeled Jl Petitinget and then at Bar Luna in Ubud, in a mix of languages. We were at Biku – no one should miss an opportunity for afternoon tea at Asri Kerthyasa’s bijou establishment – on Dec. 4 to catch up. Hannigan and your diarist formerly laboured together on Another Publication hereabouts, on a proprietor’s promise of possibly being favoured with a quick smell of a notionally oily rag.

Hannigan’s secular hagiographies are worth reading. We enjoyed his first book (George Hayward and the Great Game). Hayward came a cropper while the Brits and the Russians were chest-thumping in Central Asia in the 19th century. Raffles, whose origins were relatively humble in the snooty (not to say snotty) Britain of his day, ended up ruined financially, perhaps because he was from the wrong side of the tracks.

Check out Monsoon Books for Hannigan’s work. It’s worth it.

Pull the Other Plug

PLN, which makes congenital dysfunction seem like a desirable improvement to aim for, has hit new heights with its unannounced introduction of an innovative Bule Billing Plan. Last month’s bill – which failed to take account, as they always do, of serial blackouts and frequent delivery of 80V instead of the standard 220V – was away being paid, by your diarist, two days after it reached The Cage.

Not long after the chariot had departed on this happy mission, two chirpy little chaps from the world’s worst public utility turned up at the gate to disconnect the power for non-payment. Fortunately our redoubtable pembantu was on the ball and sent them on their way with whatever is the local equivalent of a flea in the ear. That might be “sebuah loak di telinga,” but we’re not really sure.

But it is good news, in a way, we suppose. It does seem that PLN has stumbled upon an accounting system that actually tells them whose bill is whose. Maybe, though, they should rework the bit about cutting people off before they’ve had a chance to pay.

And while they’re at it, they might look at methods of delivering secure power, consistently, at the right voltage.  Repeatedly stubbing your toe while blundering around in the half-dark, courtesy of PLN’s brown-out policy, is not a desirable thing. It prompts intemperate thought and it’s not something that will be fixed by changing the wallpaper.  On that score, proposals to set up a Bali “subsidiary” of PLN on the Batam model should be viewed with caution.

Apple of Her Eye

The intriguing Marie Bee, who writes for the French monthly journal La Gazette de Bali (avec brio) from the deep recesses of the Ubud environment, was much excited in her latest published dispatch at having seen a reticulated python with two penises. She clearly didn’t major in ophiology at her university in Aix en Provence. These curious tandem arrangements are not altogether unusual among the descendants of the poor creature divinely sentenced to slither on his belly forever for getting Eve to bite that apple.

Be that as it may, the Bee piece is a nice buzz, especially since it prompts agreeable speculation that a snake might possibly be able to comply with a pejorative suggestion that it go away and perform what would otherwise be an anatomical impracticality.

Scrummy

Once upon a time, your diarist played rugby. That’s the original Rugby Union version, not Rugby League which was invented to keep English labourers out of the ale houses of a weekend and then migrated to that working class haven, Australia. We played fly-half (No 10) until one too many “forget the scrum-half, get the next bloke” tactical plays by opposing sides encouraged the view that squash might be a safer sport.

But love of the game lingers (you never really lose it) so we browse a number of rugby sites – the Wallabies, the Queensland Reds and Scotland are favourites, along with an historical affinity with the Springboks – including a Facebook page maintained by the Bali Rugby Club.

There, the other day, we noticed a post by BRC president Nick Mesritz, who shapes surfboards for a living and is from the land of the magical Haka. It quoted All Black prop Owen Franks on his upcoming pre-season training: “The training programmes are brutal and lonely – the onus is on the individual to be responsible for their fitness and follow an aerobic and strength programme that will include sprint repeats, hill work, gym work and agility sessions.”

We could suggest that’s not unlike the daily fitness regime here at The Cage. But we’d be straying a little too far from the literal truth.

All Abuzz

Brisbane in Queensland is a fine place to formerly call home. It’s Australia’s third largest capital city (population 2 million-plus) so it comes with all mod cons, and since it sits happily on 27 S its winters, while locally remarkable, barely pass even the fringe chill test. It’s a great place for Garuda to fly to from Bali – again, after its five-year bottom-line disappearing act – and those additional services from later next year will widen opportunities to stage brief returns, something The Diary has missed.

But we’ve kept in touch, among other things by way of the vibrant Brisbane Institute, a body that commenced operations some years ago under the benevolent editorial gaze of your diarist. Thus we learned recently that with the appointment of its first Chief Digital Officer, the city joined New York as one of the few conurbations in the world to have its own local government digital champion. It’s part of the Brisbane City Council’s ambition to position Brisbane as Australia’s new world city.

The Queensland capital, while still the butt of jealous jokes from effete southerners, has always been in the lead on technology. It had the first computer in the southern hemisphere, in 1962. In those pre-nano days, the monster had to arrive by ship.

Ties That Bind

Hector’s helper – the chap who’s not just a virtual cockatoo – spends a little time on Facebook, as some of his closer acquaintances have been known to note, on occasion testily. One of these, the Distaff, was recently further underwhelmed at finding herself newly in his profile picture. She won’t have a bar of Facebook, Herself.

It’s a nice photo, one from the files from 1994, and it was placed there because while Facebook allows one to proclaim a marital state, it won’t allow any visual or verbal reference to the name of that propinquity unless they are also an FB user. When dealing with the many unknowns of cyberspace, there are sensible reasons to provide concrete evidence of the presence of a Significant Other.

What’s really interesting, however, is that while selecting files for a series of down the years photos for possible profile use, the eye fell upon another, from 1996, only two years later. The Distaff had completely changed: she’d been to the gym or something, was clad in an outfit of a very outré hue, and had changed her hairstyle. But Hector’s helper, non-fashion statement that he remains, was still carrying the same old kilos and wearing the same blazer and tie.

Feasting Note

On Dec. 25, as every year, we mark the Christian anniversary of the birth of  one of Islam’s important prophets, Isa al Mahdi, the Messiah. The birthday is notional, naturally, since the early Christians merely co-opted existing pagan feasts. Easter (from the Greek pagan god Oestre) was the old Northern Hemisphere Spring fertility celebration.  The midwinter stave-off-starvation feast became Christmas, marking the birth of Jesus. But myths and the complex liturgies that religious scholars spin from them are what make the world and its belief systems go round, after all.

So Merry Christmas! We’ll save the “Happy New Year!” for the next edition.

Hector’s Diary appears in the fortnightly print edition of the Bali Advertiser. Hector tweets @Scratchings and is on Facebook (Hector McSquawky).