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, May 14, 2014

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Intriguing Art

One measure of a country’s social maturity is how it responds to and interacts with those within its society whose culture is a minority expression. Most countries have minority populations. Mostly, let it be said, they do not demonstrate cultural maturity in their dealings with them.

Australia is by any measure an ethnically diverse nation. Even before the great post-World War II migration boom, its settler community included people of many different origins. Among these were large numbers of Chinese. But as with other settler societies within the Anglosphere – the United States, Canada and New Zealand – it is the descendants of the dispossessed aboriginal inhabitants who are most deserving of goodwill and a substantial helping hand.

Without canvassing colonial policy towards Australia’s Aborigines – about which the historical literature is excoriating – it is pleasing to note that today’s policies seek (though imperfectly) to return to Aborigines the self empowerment they lost when British settlers arrived two centuries ago.

Part of the problem is that much of today’s Aboriginal population is not in the same pre-bucolic hunter-gatherer circumstances as Bennelong, who is remembered in the name of a federal electorate in Sydney and whose place in history (as First Dupe, one might say) is assured.

Australia has long passed the point where it would Anglicize the name of its national animal symbol as “kangaroo”. Some sources assert that this means “I don’t know”, an early whitefella having asked a passing local what they called that strange animal. It has passed, too, the point where a future township (in Queensland) would be called Cunnamulla, which means midden.

It’s rather nice to think that while they were being harried out of their ancestral territories by a pack of uncouth and frequently murderous Brits, the Eighteenth and Nineteenth century Aborigines still found time to have a joke at the expense of those who were doing the harrying.

In the two centuries since British settlement and the beginnings of a distinct Australian culture and indeed ethnicity, the Aboriginal source of some of this identity has generally been left out of the narrative. That is a tragedy.

Complete redress remains a distant goal. But the Australians are actually trying rather hard across many areas of human endeavour. One such effort is the world-touring Message Stick exhibition. It portrays indigenous identity in urban Australia.

The art in the exhibition is challenging, in some instances because it itself perpetuates emergent myths about the principles and purposes of earlier policy towards Aborigines. Some is very striking, especially Christian Thompson’s three 2007 Hunting Ground works.

The exhibitions in Indonesia are the show’s last stop before it repatriates itself to the former Terra Australis Incognita. It was at the eclectic Maha Art Gallery in Renon, Denpasar, from May 4-14. New Consul-General Majell Hind did the honours at the opening assisted by Vicky Miller, First Secretary (Cultural) at Australia’s embassy in Jakarta.

 

Write On

Before we leave the Antipodes for other matters, one other thing deserves a mention. It is the Australia-Indonesia Emerging Writers Exchange organized through the Australian Embassy’s arts and cultural program.

Australia’s Luke Ryan took part in the Bali Emerging Writers Festival over the weekend of May 3-4 (it’s a useful spin-off from the annual Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, this year from Oct 1-5). He and his Indonesian counterpart, Ni Ketut Sudiani of Bali, will be at the Emerging Writers’ Festival in Melbourne (May 27-Jun 6) and the National Writers’ Conference (May 31 and Jun 1) where they will discuss the exchange and potential for Australia-Indonesia collaboration.

Ms Sudiani notes that being in Melbourne will provide a completely different experience from her home in Bali. True. For one thing, the city’s climate is apt to give you all four temperate zone seasons in one day.

But it’s a fabulous place. A representative taste of the city’s contribution to Australian culture should include seeing an AFL game at the MCG, a visit to the National Gallery of Victoria, a peek at St Kilda beach (or Brighton for a different ambience) and plenty of coffee and culinary treats in Lygon Street.

Enjoy, Sudiani.

 

ART-ful Plan

Delphine Robbe, the motivating force behind environmental efforts on land and under water in Lombok’s northern Gili islands, is promoting a new project to grow a coral reef off Senggigi on Lombok’s west coast.

There’s novelty in the project, which is similar in concept to the successful Biorock coral regeneration in the Gilis. It is using metal works of Teguh Ostenrik, one of only a few Indonesian artists in that genre who exhibit widely in galleries. He is the founder of the project.

Among the novelties is the name – ART-ificial Reef Park Lombok. Look it up on Facebook and if you’ve a mind to, join its growing list of fans.

 

Pink’s the Go

Anti-breast cancer campaigners Bali Pink Ribbon organized a breast screening road show this month, in which free screening is offered to Balinese women at various locations around Bali. This is essential preventive health work and a very valuable effort.

Bali Pink Ribbon founder Gaye Warren tells us Bali Pink Ribbon is working with volunteer doctors and nurses from FeM Surgery Singapore and led by Dr Felicia Tan. Two mobile ultrasound units were sent to Bali for the road show, on loan from Philips Singapore.

BPR volunteer doctors and nurses led by Dr Dian Ekawati from Prima Medika Hospital in Denpasar also took part. Prof. Tjakra Manuaba, head of oncology at Prima Medika and medical adviser to Bali Pink Ribbon, led a seminar at the Badung breast screening road show.

The annual Bali Pink Ribbon Walk is on Oct. 25 and will be held as usual in the Nusa Dua tourism precinct. It’s always fun and the money raised is essential to help keep breast cancer education programs and screening going.

Free screening will be available at the Oct. 25 walk and a three-day screening road show will follow.

On Oct. 17 BPR has an “In the Pink” lunch and fashion show planned. It’s in our diary, as is the walk. Advance purchase walk tickets are available from Pink Ribbon House, Bali Pink Ribbon Breast Cancer Support Centre, Jl. Dewi Sri IV/ No.1, Kuta. It’s off Sunset Road. Or check their website: balipinkribbon.com

 

Late Notice

There’s no stopping Nigel Mason, viewed by many as the undisputed king of adventure tourism in Bali. He celebrated turning 70 last month in spectacular style with a dazzling party at his Bali Adventure Tours Company’s headquarters at Ubud on Apr. 13.

According to Diana Shearin, of the aptly named DISH public relations outfit and who helped with the fiddly bits, Mason pulled out all stops with an evening of non-stop entertainment, decadent cocktails and an enormous buffet for 400-plus guests.

Mason’s Balinese wife of 31 years, Yanie, and their two sons Jian and Shan were present, as was Mason’s daughter Katia, who lives in Australia.

The proceedings were helped along by Australian comedian Kevin Bloody Wilson and a troupe of lissom young ladies who had delightfully forgotten (as so many do these days) that you’re supposed to wear something over your scanties. Still, this isn’t Aceh.

Shame we missed it. It’s also a shame that an accident in cyberspace prevented the appearance of our original brilliant report on the affray in last edition’s diary. The Great Cursor sent it to a galaxy far, far away. Or we hit the wrong button or something.

 

Won’t Work

Blogger Vyt Karazija posted a great little video on Facebook recently, relating to education about not dumping trash in waterways. He suggested – entirely reasonably – that it should be screened frequently on Bali television channels.

He’d found it while trawling Facebook, which despite its many demerits is a very useful social medium. The clip features a red truck dumping trash into a river near a sign that proclaims “No Dumping”.

So of course we had to rain on Vyt’s parade. We pointed out that while it was indeed a good idea, it just wouldn’t work. Most red truck drivers would simply assume the rule couldn’t possibly apply to them. And drivers of all the other trucks, the green, yellow and blue ones, could say without fear of contradiction that they don’t dump anything from red ones, so what’s the problem?

 

Swell Party

We dropped into the Legian Beach Hotel on Friday, May 9, to help celebrate the opening of the new Ole Beach Bar there. The LBH is a grand local success story. It celebrates its 40th birthday this year and is doing so with the assistance of its significant cadre of return guests, some of whom have been holidaying there for decades.

General Manager Arif Billah, who hails from Lombok, is rightly proud of his staff and the hotel’s place in Bali’s tourism sector.

The drinks at Ole Beach Bar are great too.

 

Hector tweets @scratchings on Twitter