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HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Oct. 17, 2012

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Bali be Buggered

The ruination of Bali at the hands of mass tourism and its high-end glitterati offshoot is a topic that periodically exercises many minds. Those of us who live here notice it chiefly from the strains it imposes on utterly inadequate public infrastructure. But the other side of the coin is that there are benefits too, mostly in the employment and incomes tourism generates for Balinese and other Indonesians, and these are the primary reason why tourism needs to be encouraged to continue growing.

     Nonetheless, there are significant problems, which are chiefly revealed to the world by observers who write for media elsewhere. Australian scribbler Deborah Cassrels did that most recently in The Weekend Australian of Sept. 29, with a piece that reminded our primary tourist market what a shambolic mess Bali has made of its best income earner.

     Cassrels homed in on the new Mulia at Nusa Dua. It’s an excrescence. How it got past any planner or regulator would be a mystery were it not for the fact that Badung (the regency) routinely gives provincial regulations the middle finger. Mulia has ruined Geger Beach at Nusa Dua in the name of commercial advantage without an apparent thought for the bigger picture (especially the beach and marine environments), the public status of beaches, or other, smaller and long established businesses around it, or for the future except as defined by corporate profit.

     Money talks, as the old saying puts it. And Big Money shouts. As always “consensus” – the quotation marks are essential – is achieved by measuring who has the biggest baseball bat. But on a broader argument, it is rather hard to criticise Balinese landowners for wanting some of the action; the bit not already alienated to Jakarta and Surabaya plutocrats, anyway. Bali’s dilemma is customarily sheeted home to rapacious foreign investors. But it’s the local variety that’s far more predatory and much more of a worry.

      It’s not just Mulia, though its demerits are many. Basically, everyone who can make a play is at it. At Jimbaran Beach, for example, down at the Four Seasons end, a big stone wall has been erected right on the high-water mark, altering the beach and high tide wave dynamics and just waiting for a bad weather episode that will create beach erosion havoc. Still, some fat-wallet tourists will get to enjoy the extra ration of sun lounges for a while.

     At many other places in southern Bali free access to the beach is effectively proscribed by private roads. This does every Balinese an injustice.

     Cassrels was not the only complainant on Sept. 29. Robert Schrader had a piece in the American-focused Huffington Post travel blog the same day, in which among other things he observed:

     “The tourists who visit Bali are the very worst types of tourists in the world: They viciously argue, without removing their Prada sunglasses, over 20 or 30 cents, without realising that employees in even Bali’s most posh resorts are lucky to earn this amount in exchange for an hour of extremely hard work.”

     Allowing for a measure of dyspepsia – poor Robert apparently suffered the indignity of being abandoned by his boyfriend while he was here, though it eludes us why any of his domestic distempers are relevant – we wouldn’t cavil with his argument.

     Bali needs to get its act together, certainly. But frankly, so do tourists.

An Annual Rite

It was fun to be around this year’s Ubud Writers and Readers Festival and especially, for a diarist, at the two cocktail functions we attended. On such occasions we like to pretend we’re an aspidistra, so we can hear the chatter without necessarily having to bore ourselves rigid by taking an actual part in the serious frivolities. But not to be churlish, we also make an appearance from time to time, often in search of another nice red wine, and meet some nice new chums. We met some on this occasion, from Darwin, Alice Springs, Brisbane and Melbourne, a demographic that fairly sums up the ubiquitous Australian nature of the support mechanism for the festival. Expect to see a more visible ongoing presence by the Australia Asia Institute, a government funded body, in the future.

     People sometimes wonder why the Australian presence is so pervasive – not only in terms of the writers’ festival – but simple geography, national interest (on both sides of the Arafura Sea) and the generous level of aid funding available explain that. Many more Australian dollars come here than Australian tourists, after all. And provided this traffic is managed, and conducts itself in a mannered way, it’s a good thing.

     The Australian presence at the festival grows stronger every year, which is no bad thing given the need to create some lasting symbiosis in the Indonesia-Australia relationship. It also helps in the absence of a corporate naming sponsor, though why big business is so short-sighted on this front is a mystery.

      Janet DeNeefe’s PA, Elizabeth Grant Suttie, gave us a Villa Kitty bookmark. It proclaims “Proud to be a Bali Cat”. We’re happy to have it as a memento. One’s Kindle doesn’t need it, of course, since it cleverly, electronically, bookmarks your current page, but there is yet a place for actual books (thank goodness).

Sanglah Song

We hear good news in relation to the Sanglah-Royal Darwin Hospital link, something that formally came into being while former Northern Territory health minister Kon Vatskalis was in the driving seat. There’s been a change of government in that Australian territory since and Vatskalis is now experiencing the benefits of opposition (there are democratic benefits in this process). But he tells us he’ll be keeping a close eye on the Sanglah connection and that is pleasing.

     The new government in Darwin is strongly committed, but as Vatskalis points out, it is also committed to balancing the budget and fiscal paring is always a risk in such situations. Much is made in Australia of the fact that with the assistance of the link, Sanglah is able to treat many Australians who injure themselves or fall ill while here on holiday. Less is understood – since it is not really headline material in the Odd Zone – about the incremental health gains it promises for Balinese and other Indonesians on the island.

     That’s its real benefit.  And that’s why it’s really important.

A New ROLE

Ayana Resort and Spa at Jimbaran hosted a lovely dinner on Oct. 6 at which trainee chefs and other young local people cooked a spectacular menu list and served guests as the culmination of their sponsored training at the resort.

     It is an initiative of the far-seeing ROLE Foundation.

From the Art

Bali’s unique art and culture continue to fascinate scholars and others, which is great news in an environment in which so-called global culture is trying to get us all in a head-lock. It is a heritage that must be protected at all costs and advanced where possible. So it was good to see the launch of Adrian Vickers’ scholarly new book at the Hotel Griya Santrian in Sanur on Oct. 5.

     Vickers is professor of Southeast Asian Studies and director of the Australian Centre for Asian Art & Archaeology at the University of Sydney. He says of his book, which is titled Balinese Arts: Paintings and Drawings of Bali 1800–2010, that it is the first comprehensive survey of Balinese painting from its origins in the traditional Balinese villages to its present place at the forefront of the Asian art scene.
     He told the Jakarta Post’s dinky little Bali Daily wrap-round: “One of the things that I think was a problem with Balinese arts in the past was that when people published books, they didn’t necessarily choose to exam (sic) a lot. Part of my work over the last four years has been trying to get materials from museums in the Netherlands, private collections in Singapore and the US, where there are a lot of works that have never been seen.”

     It’s a book of considerable importance – not least because its text and glorious illustrations also form an online data base – and one that will look good in the residual print section of the library at The Cage.

We’re Away

It’s not just the unnecessarily maudlin song and dance that’s been made of the tenth anniversary of the 2002 Bali bombings that’s driven us away on yet another Short Essential Break. Though the fact that Bukit Jimbaran would be a virtual no-go zone while leaders (including the “Australian premiere” in the words of the screamer of a headline in a formerly sentient English-language weekly newspaper here) and bulk supplies of tissues were being distributed for the lachrymose crowds expected at GWK was certainly a factor. Oct. 12 was a good day not to be here.

     That’s not because we should now forget the outrage of 2002 or its smaller reprise in 2005. Both were abominations at the hands of murderously deluded terrorists, most of whom are now locked up or are, so to speak, no longer among us. Good riddance to them and their perniciously skewed catechism. We must never forget. But neither should we fixate on past horror.

     Next edition’s Diary will come to you from the splendid wine regions of Western Australia, where we’re going to pop a cork or two.  We’ll be back in Bali at the end of the month.  With Vegemite supplies.  

Our Heroine

Nengah Widiasih, the 19-year-old disabled weightlifter from Kubu, Karangasem, who represented Indonesia at the London Paralympics, deservedly won the Outstanding Achievement award at this year’s YAK Awards.

     Congratulations, Nengah. You make us all feel proud – and humbled.

Hector’s Diary appears in the fortnightly print edition of the Bali Advertiser and on the newspaper’s website http://www.baliadvertiser.biz. Hector tweets (@scratchings) and is on Facebook (Hector McSquawky). He blogs at http://www.wotthehec.blogspot.com.

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HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Aug. 22, 2012

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Bloody Hell

Your diarist is a blood donor. Well, he’d like to be, although it seems a rather difficult function to perform in Bali. He possesses a blood type that is very rare in this part of the world, and so has registered with the Red Cross blood bank at Sanglah in case they ever need an emergency contribution. It seems only fair to share under such circumstances, after all.

Such an instance arose on a recent weekend and, when alerted to this by a handy Facebook post, a text message was immediately sent to the contact number provided. It said that if needed, an arm with the required type of blood in it could present itself at Sanglah within 90 minutes. A text came back immediately: Please come now.

This feat was duly performed, despite it being national ride around blindly day or something. We eventually found a doctor at the blood bank. He looked at your superannuated diarist in the way most Indonesians do – you can almost see them thinking “Mengapa tidak orang ini mati?” (“Why isn’t this man dead?”). Then he made a delicate inquiry as to the age of the near cadaver that had somehow managed to get itself up the stairs and into the blood room. A-ha! Too old! He seemed to think that this was a relief, despite the ultra-emergency that was being responded to. Sixty is the cut-off point for donors in Indonesia. So it is, but in Australia, where your diarist’s blood managed to healthily regenerate itself over several decades and is still perfectly fine, thank you, it’s 70.

He went off to consult his superior. He returned saying yes it was OK, provided all the vital signs were similarly in the green bit of the dial.  Oh dear. The stress of safely navigating to the middle of Denpasar from the faraway Bukit in the short timeframe required, amid the frenetic crowds of suicidal bods on bikes, dotty drivers of defective cars, and complete madmen at the wheels of smoky yellow trucks, had lifted the blood pressure a tad over the designated limit.

There is still a year or two between your diarist and the western-standard don’t be a donor barrier. But on this performance we must judge it unlikely, unless levitation can be achieved, that he will ever get to Sanglah in possession of a “normal” reading.

Of course, a nice quiet cuppa and a lie-down would probably have fixed the problem. But doctors don’t seem to go in for lateral thinking; and maybe they’d run out of teabags.

Blow-Ins

We were looking at our diary the other day and October is shaping up as a bumper month. Two lots of very old friends are due here on visits – one set for an extended stay – and of course there’s the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival as well, which as it happens is not unrelated.

Plus the Diary has promised Antony Loewenstein – Australian blogger, writer, activist and verbal partisan for something approaching common sense in Israel/Palestine: he can’t make it to HQ Navel Gazing this year – that drink shall be taken on his behalf on the terrace at Indus, Janet DeNeefe’s culinary-literary headquarters. The poor chap says he loves that terrace.  Well we all do, which is precisely why we shan’t mind, at all, dedicating one drink to an absent friend.

He will be in eminent company, albeit vicariously. Australian-born worrywart John Pilger, Timor-Leste’s former president Jose Ramos-Horta, and Australian musician, songwriter, author, screenwriter, composer and occasional film actor Nick Cave will be at the festival, along with (one hopes) a front-up-with-the-dosh naming sponsor.

Lowenstein is most recently in formal print with a chum, Palestinian-American Ahmed Moor, with After Zionism, a tome that argues for a one-state solution to The Question.  The Diary is reading the book – thanks to London publisher Saqi Books’ grasp of new technology and to Amazon Kindle – and may have a public view about it later.

At festival time we’re set to have a quartet of friends with us: Uli Schmetzer and his wife Tiziana (we mentioned them before; we gave them back their pushbikes in Beijing, remember) and Very Old Chum Bob Howarth and his wife Di.

Howarth, whose journalism career has taken him to lots of places including Papua New Guinea (another shared destination) and Timor Leste, is due here on an Australian aid project education programme. We were in touch recently, about this and that. He drily reported that he was on Moreton Island where, that evening, the westerly wind would blow a dog off a chain. This oversized and perennially windswept sand hill is just across Moreton Bay – though the Diary prefers its mellifluous Aboriginal name, Quandamook – from Brisbane, Queensland, where August is famously a blowy month.  Local lore has it that this is because that’s when the city, Australia’s third largest, stages its annual exhibition (the Ekka).

The Diary felt quite homesick, just for a moment.

We’re Unsurprised

BIMC tells us, in response to an item in the Diary last edition, that Sanglah Hospital’s precipitate ban on other hospitals using its under-performing medical waste incinerator came as a complete surprise. We’re very far from completely surprised to hear this, since the general rule here seems to be that you are told about upcoming disasters, emergencies, snafus and other discombobulations only after the event.

This particularly applies to questions of equipment maintenance, which in Bali is widely practised only after something ceases to function. Preventive is apparently not a word in the local maintenance lexicon, even though it exists in the Bahasa dictionary (it’s pencegah; look it up, guys).

Roland Staehler, marketing chief at BIMC, says that having your own medical waste incinerator is not cost-effective for a small operation and has nothing to do with international standards. We agree. We would merely observe that it’s probably not cost-effective, either, to have a generator at your house, or additional water tanks, or water purifiers, or a lot else. But in the absence – either total or to be expected on the basis of past non-performance – of adequate public infrastructure, the cautious might prefer to outlay a little extra to protect themselves from the promiscuous range of complete surprises you get here.

Staehler adds that BIMC put alternative medical waste disposal arrangements in place immediately. We would never have doubted that for a second. And just so we’re clear: BIMC is our household’s preferred place of quality medical and hospital treatment, should those needs arise.

Far Canal

A dear friend bobbed up in Amsterdam recently, not long after departing Bali. Spotting this (isn’t social media fantastic?) we sent a quick message: Mind the blue roads. Somewhat naturally, this from-left-field response mystified the recipient, especially as her first language is Spanish, not English. She asked: “What?” We replied: “Old story, tell you later.”

So here it is, Leticia. It’s one upon which we have allowed ourselves a quiet giggle over a number of years, though discreetly, since it involves the Distaff.  She it was, in Amsterdam on a business trip and contacted by mobile phone for the daily check-in, who said she wasn’t quite sure where she was (she knew she was in Amsterdam: that much at least was clear, which was a relief) and what were the blue roads on the street map.

From the distant antipodes, all it was possible to advise was that they were probably canals. We forbore to add – though we were sorely tempted – that she shouldn’t try to walk on them unless she first got herself deified.

We Won

No, not that Olympic Games thing, which we happily managed – mostly – to avoid; it was the flag up the pole race that we won. It’s an annual event in the neighbourhood of The Cage, on the breezy Bukit where flags, and lots of the other things, flap madly. Last year we weren’t in residence: we were in Scotland (equally breezy but considerably chillier) for a family occasion. So the Bendera Nasional didn’t get to flutter in honour of Independence Day 2011 atop the makeshift bamboo pole we stick in a piece of poly-pipe tacked onto the outer wall of the bale.

The Merah Putih is the only flag that ever flies at The Cage. We fly it there proudly, once a year, on and around August 17, because – despite everything – we’re proud of Indonesia and feel privileged to be part of its annually licensed contingent of temporary residents.

Usually the kampung across the gully gets its flag up first – it’s bigger and on a proper pole, too – but this year they were tardy. Well, perhaps we were bit ahead of ourselves. Ours went up on August 7: First in, best dressed.

See the Light

Bali-based photographer Yoga Raharja has an exhibition at Tom Hufnagel’s lively JP’s Warung, in Jl Dhyana Pura, Legian, which anyone interested in photography as art should certainly take the time to see. It’s on until September 3. Yoga is from Ungaran, Central Java, and lives in Sanur.

He tells us, inter alia, that his son is also taking photographs. We’ve seen some of them and they’re very good.

We recommend getting along to Yoga’s show. It includes a photograph, of a Hindu ceremony on a beach, that is not only thoroughly spiritual in its composition but effects an ambience in its toning of which J.M.W. Turner, the 18th and 19th century English painter whose stunningly colourful portrayal of skies owed something at least to an Indonesian connection – the eruption of Mt Tambora in Sumbawa in 1815 – might well have been very proud.

Hector’s Diary appears in the Bali Advertiser newspaper, published every second Wednesday. The newspaper’s website is http://www.baliadvertiser.biz. Hector is on Twitter @scratchings and Facebook (Hector McSquawky).

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HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser March 21, 2012

Banking on it

Janet DeNeefe, doyenne of dinners and instigator of that annual Ubud fixture, the writers’ and readers’ festival, has been busy lately. That was in Melbourne, where she did a stint demonstrating the cuisine of Bali to residents of that alternatively cold, hot, wet, dry city at the southern extremity of continental Australia. (Only Tasmania, where the Southern Ocean winds truly find an edge and evoke the true ambiance of Europe, is closer to Antarctica. It’s a lovely island; really. The Diary spent two years there long ago.)

But we digress. DeNeefe’s culinary exemplars teased taste buds in suburban Hawthorn – not the Diary’s preferred footy suburb: we barrack for St Kilda – over a series of evenings this month, in aid of promoting Bali and DeNeefe’s latest cookbook.  That’s all to the good. It will have had its spinoff in favour of this year’s UWRF, the eighth, from October 3-7.

DeNeefe said of her Melbourne culinary enterprise: “I want to highlight the majesty of Indonesian food in all its glory. I will be featuring dishes from all over the archipelago, spotlighting elegant curries, golden seafood broths, wok-tossed greens, banana-leaf specials, sambals and an array of traditional and contemporary desserts.”

Her food nights were staged at Wantilan Balinese Restaurant. Hopefully DeNeefe found some elegant curry-eaters to sample her elegant curries.

This year’s festival theme, announced with a flourish this month, is This Earth of Mankind: Bumi Manusia, from the title of a work by Pramoedya Ananta Toer, regarded as one of Indonesia’s greatest contemporary writers. It was the first book in Pramoedya’s historical fiction trilogy, The Buru Quartet, first published in 1980. Pramoedya died in 2005.

The story is set at the end of the Dutch colonial rule and was written while Pramoedya was a political prisoner on the island prison of Buru in eastern Indonesia. His life there was one of deprivation, hard labour and physical cruelty. Denied even the most rudimentary writing implements, he got around this obstacle by narrating the work to his fellow prisoners, who shared it around the prison. The work was maintained and kept until eventually Pramoedya was allowed to write.

The narrator in the book, Minke, wishes to be a writer. He is told: “Write always about humanity, humanity’s life, not humanity’s death. Yes, whether it’s animals, ogres, gods, or ghosts that you present, there’s nothing more difficult to understand than humanity. That’s why there is no end to the telling of stories on this earth.”

That’s sound advice. Here’s some more, from another Pramoedya work:

“It is really surprising sometimes how a prohibition seems to exist solely in order to be violated. And when I disobeyed I felt that what I did was pleasurable. For children such as I at that time – oh, how many prohibitions and restrictions were heaped on our heads! Yes, it was as though the whole world was watching us, bent on forbidding whatever we did and whatever we wanted. Inevitably we children felt that this world was really intended only for adults.”

Pramoedya is referring to children. But the prohibition on prohibition that he implies should be mandatory is no less valid more widely, and should be insisted on for governments whose grasp of democracy extends only to acceptance of their own official truth.

Last year’s UWRF was sponsored by leading Australian bank ANZ, which owns Panin Bank locally.  Hopefully the 2012 festival will benefit from that sponsorship, renewed.

Nyepi Non-Silence

Silent Day, the annual 6am-6am Balinese Hindu seclusion that shuts the island down, falls on a Friday this year (it’s on March 23). Because Friday is the Muslim day of prayer, the authorities have agreed that Muslims may leave their houses to walk to prayers at the nearest mosque. This is a fair concession and should be applauded for several reasons.

The first and most important reason is that it recognises that Bali is not exclusively Hindu. It has never been so, of course, but in the distant past the numbers who followed other religions were tiny. Not so nowadays.

The importance of the day to practising Hindus (and to local communities who traditionally mark the day in significantly varied ways) cannot be gainsaid, should never be, and must be protected by law.  But it is time symbolic restrictions were confined to traditional practices: there is no reason to black-out broadcasting for example.

And there’s a further issue, given the precedent set for Friday prayers: If Nyepi falls on a Sunday, Christians should be granted the same concession.

Not so Mobil

Once, as they say, is a misfortune. Twice looks likely to set a trend. And thrice definitively establishes this. Diary and Distaff have now three times tried to buy a car – a mobil in these parts – from the Suzuki distributor here, PT Indo Bali. On each occasion, deal done except for the final signature, these fine sellers of motor vehicles have dealt themselves out of the game by failing to provide a test-drive vehicle, finding an eleventh-hour reason to demand more money, or refusing to hold the nominated vehicle pending final payment.

We had been unwilling this time to venture into the premises on Imam Bonjol in Denpasar where these reluctant salespeople are to be found. But our attempt to acquire our chosen vehicle from a new dealer on the by-pass at Jimbaran failed when that was too hard for them too and they flick-passed us onto PT Indo Bali.

It’s a shame, because Suzukis are fine vehicles. But we’ve had it. We’ll buy another make from some outfit that actually closes deals.

Open Arms

We hear that a new watering hole has opened in Banjar Anyar, on the northern extremity of the KLS traffic snarl. It’s the Plumbers Arms, which is trading without benefit of the singular or plural possessive in the ungrammatical way of the modern world. It is billed as an English pub and is the latest venture by that peripatetic Anglo-Australian couple, Nigel and Jacky Ames, who do all sorts of other things around Bali and in the Gilis off Lombok.

We wish them good fortune with the new enterprise. Presumably they’re chilling that awful English beer. We would have inquired about that, except we did ask about the opening and heard nothing back. Perhaps all that hot froth got in the way.

Mangoland Rules!

There’s an election in the Australian state of Queensland on Saturday (March 24). This is a matter of decidedly finite importance to anyone outside Queensland – the north-eastern third of the Australian continent – unless they are former residents; or perhaps for readers of lately published satirical novels.

Ross Fitzgerald, a professorial type well known to Hector – he’s also a frequent Bali sojourner and will be here again in June – has written a book, Fools’ Paradise: Life in an Altered State, which is about an election in the fictional state of Mangoland. For those who do not know, Queensland produces a lot of mangoes.

Fitzgerald, who wrote the book with Trevor Jordan, is a historian and Mangoland aka Queensland is a rich field for anyone interested in examining the venalities of politics. It’s a readable yarn, except that – irritatingly – it uses discrete (meaning severally) for discreet (which among other things means don’t get caught).  Never mind; this is after all the post-literate age.

The book – dedicated thus, “For all the fools we have known, including ourselves” – is published by Arcadia, an imprint of Melbourne publisher Australian Scholarly Books. Fitzgerald has written several books, including Under the Influence: A History of Alcohol in Australia.

Corked Out

A kind friend, possibly mindful of the conditions endured by drinkers of alcohol in these parts – it is Haram to the majority of Indonesians after all – sent Hector this little thought the other day: “Nobody has ever come up with a great idea after a second bottle of water.”

Quite so; it’s no wonder all those earnest seminars and conferences, locally and globally, seem to have difficulty fixing anything other than the date of their next gabfest.  But our problem in Bali is of a different kind. Given the price of the fermented product of the grape hereabouts, few people can come up with a second bottle of wine.

Hector’s Diary appears in the print edition of the fortnightly Bali Advertiser, out every second Wednesday, Hector tweets @scratchings and is on Facebook (Hector McSquawky).