Born Free

 

HECTOR’S DIARY

The Cage, Bali

Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017

 

HECTOR IMAGE FOR BLOG

His regular diet of diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

 

THERE is a release, of sorts, in being relieved of the duty to write for a publication. You’re freer to write what you really think, in the patois of your choice, in the absence of a publisher’s preference for the Life Unmolested, and in a timeframe that suits your own elastic concept of deadlines. It’s a bit like being Truman Capote (though only in certain respects) except that he was famous and could deal with deadlines by simply ignoring them.

Those of us at the grafting end of the writer’s writ must obey those who pay. Or else the dosh does not materialise. So when there’s no dosh to be had, and you’re your own proprietor, publisher, editor and virtual printer, deadlines can take a back seat. Though not too far back: it’s sensible to remember Idi Amin’s advice that if you don’t want to vanish with a boot up the bum, you have to give the population something to hum.

As most of you know, Hector is a retired cockatoo. He squawks a lot (the habits of a lifetime are hard to retire and can’t be fobbed off with a gold watch) but only when he wants to, or can be bothered. A lot bothers him, of course. You’ll have noticed that too. He proposes to continue being bothered, because he can, and to do so on a malleable seven-day plan, from wherever his cage is situated. This is his first in that new milieu.

Cease and Desist

SUCH orders are given rather more frequently than might be understood in today’s media world, where genetically mixed American actresses becoming engaged to British princes fifth in line to the throne, and President Trump’s latest twittering insults to people outside the “native” white oligarchy he prefers to favour, are deemed more newsworthy than real events. Cease and desist sometimes has legal utility, though mostly it’s a waste of time (see Trump, above).

It would be nice if we could issue one against Nature, which is giving us a hard time in the central archipelago at present. It’s quite understandable that volcanoes should erupt from time to time – it’s what they do, after all – but it would really be much better if they could manage to stick to a schedule and advertise it. We’ve also had a cyclone, though it hit Central Java, the province of Yogyakarta, and East Java, where it killed 19 people, far harder than Bali and Lombok. It was unusual in forming inside the normal exclusion zone for cyclones (10S-10N, the equatorial belt) and was less powerful than those experienced in true cyclonic areas. They’re not unknown, but are rare. The climate change shamans did rain dances about it, of course.

UPDATE (Dec. 7): The Java cyclone death toll more than doubled to 41 in latest reports on the aftermath, including 25 people killed in a single landslide.

Notional Airline

WE try to love Garuda, which is up there with the high flyers for cabin service. We’ve even renewed our membership of its frequent flyer club, though we more frequently fly with other airlines that charge you less for the privilege of defying gravity.

Garuda is impossible to contact by phone. Its sales office in Kuta won’t even take calls. If you can’t book online – and that’s a mammoth struggle, mostly – you have to actually go to the office. It used to be at Nusa Dua, which is where we went two weeks ago when we needed to book flights to and from Lombok. It was there no longer, however, and the helpful security guard at the entrance to the Bali Collection shopping centre told us it had moved to Jimbaran Square. We worked out that this was actually Benoa Square and went there. There was an office but it was unoccupied. Other helpful security people at the scene told us the real one was at the Kuta Paradiso Hotel, in Kuta. We called Garuda’s customer service number (sic) and they gave us a number to call. It was the Kuta Paradiso Hotel. Um, thanks guys. So we went there and finally managed to buy tickets.

Our flight to Lombok was uneventful. The trolley dollies just managed to get round the packed cabin with the sweet buns and water bottles they were required to hand out. The pilot deserved credit for flying his Boeing 737-800 at what seemed to be just above stall speed, so that the flight time could stretch out to the required 30 minutes. (It’s 18 minutes Ngurah Rai to Lombok International at jet speed, at the most.)

Our flight back to Bali did not take place. Gunung Agung on Bali had spewed ash into the atmosphere in the interim. Lombok’s and Bali’s airports were open on the day we were due to fly – Dec. 1 – but Garuda had cancelled all its Lombok-Bali flights that day. You only found that out when you got to the airport. The melee inside – that is, past the melee of the security screening – was not to be borne, and we didn’t. We left the scene, got a taxi to Senggigi where we stayed overnight, and a boat to Bali next morning. Apparently Garuda’s interest in customer service does not extend to calling in extra staff to deal with reallocated flight requests in such situations. Our next task: to get a refund on our unused return tickets.

Scrofulous Scribbles

THE volcano drama has brought out the best – that’s as in, the worst – of the foreign scribblers who get paid for dramatizing events by interviewing people (or sometimes themselves) so they can gild the lily and get their names up in lights. This is especially so if they want to have a go at airlines that cancel flights not because volcanic ash is deadly to aircraft and possibly their crews and passengers, but because they’re on a mission to mess with the personal holiday plans of Mr or Ms Aggrieved. Fuckwits are a swiftly growing demographic (see – there’s one immediate benefit of blogging rather than writing for print). They’re ripe for satirising, and should be thus dealt with, as some brazen outlets have done. There was a lovely piece the other day, somewhere or other, which foretold shocking disaster for any Aussie tourists still stranded in Bali when the Bintang ran out.

The other side of that coin is seen in the sterling efforts of expatriates and locals alike in getting essentials such as food and water and basic medicines and health preservatives to the poor Balinese who have been shipped off to evacuation camps because their villages are in the volcano exclusion zone. There’s one camp in particular that we know of, at Kubu on the northeast slopes of Agung, where 110 people are living in appalling conditions. The charities I’m An Angel and Solemen Indonesia and others are helping out there, with donated funds. A food convoy the other day was met with smiles from people who in reality were close to tears of despair. That’s the human story. It’s not about poor Wozzer and Tosser, world travellers, yair, mate, whose sense of Anglosphere entitlement excludes consideration of anything beyond their own convenience.

Serial Affendi 

YES, we know. The shocking issue of dominant male versus submissive woman, the result of residual caveman genes and men’s stupidity, isn’t really something to laugh about. But nonetheless, we’ll keep trying. There really is humour in everything, if you look hard enough.

So we were pleased to see a report in The Straits Times on Nov. 28 about a chap in Singapore whose cerebral cognisance is so severely deficient that even though he was shouted at by his victim after he touched her thigh in a bar, he was not deterred from later touching her breast while her boyfriend had his arm around her.

Take a bow, Affendi Mohamed Noor, 54. You really are a prize chump. The annual Darwin Awards honour idiots who remove themselves from the gene pool by misadventure. There should be a Weinstein Award for those other idiots who apparently live by the motto, “I’ve Got a Prick, So I’ll Be One.”

 

HECTOR IMAGE FOR BLOG

Chin-chin!

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Nov. 11, 2015

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Eastbourne Option

There is a fine line between farce and tragedy in both the thespian tradition and in real life. This is a worldwide phenomenon, granted, but it does seem especially prevalent in Bali and indeed more broadly throughout Indonesia. Witness the recent travels of President Joko Widodo, who had to go all the way to Washington before he discovered that much of his country was criminally ablaze and making such a nuisance of itself that he had to cut short his trip and dash home to deal with the crisis. He got the dashing home bit done. The rest is a work in progress; or perhaps it isn’t.

The Eastbourne Option is a handy practice for those who don’t have the opportunity to fly to distant places so that they can allow reality to hit home and find that things suddenly seem too much. It comes from that lovely episode in the John Cleese television series Fawlty Towers. When a guest at his terrible Torquay hotel tells Cleese (as owner manager Basil Fawlty) that it is the worst such establishment in Britain, the Major, a permanent paying guest, rounds on the critic and forcefully asserts that this is not true. “No! No! I won’t have that!” he exclaims. He pauses, thinking. Then he adds: “There’s a place at Eastbourne.”

Given the latest rounds of farce that have emanated from the Bali authorities, choosing the Eastbourne option is a way to escape the heightened risk of conniption or terminal tedium over the indecently close relationship between incredible farce and terrible tragedy visited upon their island by those who run Bali.

If you screw your eyes up and concentrate really hard you can momentarily ignore the otherwise inevitable assessment that inexcusable inattention and monumental hubris go together like … well, like rotten peaches and rancid cream.

Sense and Censor Ability

Literature requires dissent. In the absence of this important ingredient you end up with a library of promotional pamphlets that, like most of these glossy paeans to self-delusion, are of no practical use at all. Of course criticism must be objective in whatever genre it is offered. Fiction is often a better way to inform and spark debate than direct, unalloyed history. Sometimes it’s good to change the names to protect the innocent, the guilty, or indeed the author.

This year’s Ubud Writers and Readers Festival (Oct. 28-Nov. 1) was royally interfered with because – Shock! Horror! – its long published program contained elements that would discuss the events of 1965 and the mass murders that were its disgraceful central feature. When the chief of police of Gianyar made the shocking discovery that people at literary festivals might be talking about these things, he decided such rumination might encourage the communist tendency.

Where he has been since misapplied Marxism collapsed on a global scale, and even in China, is an interesting question. So too is why he failed to reference the fact that Indonesia’s expensive guest appearance at the Frankfurt Book Fair this year focused on the very same horrors. Though it should be noted that after the event some legislators in Jakarta have also spotted the fact that they hadn’t been paying attention either. They do the “horse bolted, shut stable door” routine so well here.

Another casualty of the newly reprised practice of suppressing dissent was a discussion of the plutocratic proposal to vandalise Benoa Bay for commercial interests. The Gianyar police chief said this decision was nothing to do with him.

Cursors! They’re on to Us

The useful Bali Crime Reports page on Facebook notes that Bali Police HQ is getting edgy about social media. Given rising street crime about which the police do nothing and the appearance in the media of reports on really important police activity like nabbing people who aren’t married to each other because having unmarried sex is illegal, or arresting the odd mangku for suggesting someone’s practising black magic, that’s perhaps not surprising.

As a note on the page suggests, the police probably didn’t expect their own social media bulletins to be translated into English and posted elsewhere where foreigners might read them. Bad scene! Bad for Bali’s image! They’ve apparently reduced their own social media posting in response and set up a supervisory system.

A bulletin from POLRI (police central) explains (and we quote verbatim):

“This supervision is meant to find out how prepared Bali police at all levels are, to enact the Development of Opinions to Facilitate Public Safety Which Are Conducive In Relation To Negative Effects On Opinions in Social (media) Society.”

In shorthand: Here’s a broom. Sweep that embarrassing stuff under the carpet.

Get on a ROLE

OK, now for some positive thoughts. Do you enjoy fine dining and great entertainment? Are you a supporter of women’s empowerment? Would you like to build links with like-minded individuals? If that’s a yes to any or all of these questions, then the ROLE Models Charity Dinner on Nov. 21 may be just the thing for you.

The ROLE Foundation’s work with disadvantaged women is a great example of the productive value of voluntary charity efforts in Bali and beyond. It’s not work that gets much exposure – certainly not as much as it deserves – but it’s practical benefits are priceless. ROLE educates and finds work for women from Bali and other islands who would otherwise miss out on life’s most basic opportunities. It’s all about breaking the poverty cycle.

The event is at RIMBA in the scenic AYANA Resort complex at Jimbaran. Service at the four-course dinner is by ROLE RIMBA trainees; there is a reception before dinner from 6pm, entertainment throughout, and a rooftop after party. Tickets are Rp1.3M and they’re selling fast, we hear. Bookings can be made at RIMBA, AYANA or through ROLE. Unique auction prizes can be seen here.

See you there! We’re not going to miss the occasion.

Vulcan Redux

We shan’t miss the ROLE Models Dinner if Vulcan permits, at least. We’re currently in Australia and due back home in Bali in a day or so. So it’s been a bit disturbing to watch the resurgence of volcanic activity in the region, this time from Vulcan’s otherwise minor franchise outlet at Mt Baru Jari in the crater of Lombok’s lofty Rinjani.

The Mt Raung eruption in East Java – we can see that culprit from The Cage on the Bukit – caused significant chaos in Bali’s airborne arrivals and departures system earlier this year. To coin a phrase, it wasn’t fun while it lasted. Let’s hope Mt Baru Jari’s little effluence is short-lived, both for air traffic purposes and for the health and wellbeing of Lombok’s people.

Visa Follies

For those who might still be wondering why Australia (which last year sent 1,128,533 paying guests to Indonesia, overwhelmingly to Bali) is one of only four countries now left off the list for free 30-day tourist visas, here’s a handy brief. Officially, only countries that reciprocate are entitled to free visa status, but of the 90 nations that are now graced with that favour, only 18 return the compliment. The three other countries on the frown list are Andorra (it’s a little patch of ground in the Pyrenees surrounded by France and Spain), Brazil and Libya.

Leaving aside ASEAN states, for which reciprocal free visa entry naturally applies, most of the favoured nations have presumably said something comfortable like “we’ll think about it” or cited the universal mirror response (“we’re looking into it”) when they’ve been asked about reciprocal rights for Indonesian tourists. Australia’s strict entry requirements are well known – from many perspectives they are highly arguable, but that’s beside the point – and Indonesian tourists are probably less likely to choose Australia over other destinations anyway, even if they could.

The free visa denial is plainly political. It flows from a desire to make a point of astonishing banality. It’s a bit like having Sukhoi fighter-bombers fly cover for chartered aircraft transporting Australian prisoners. It’s overkill. They do that so well here too. Just for the record.

One Horse Race

Australia’s iconic Melbourne Cup horse race, held every year on the first Tuesday in November, really was the race that stops a nation this year. A 100-1 outsider was first past the post. Its jockey became the first woman to ride a Melbourne Cup winner. And the horse’s strapper – carer, basically – is the jockey’s brother. He has Down syndrome and demonstrates that people with that condition are fully functional individuals (and often great fun). It’s a story that has it all. It would make a fabulous movie.

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

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Aug. 19, 2015

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Let’s Make a Mess of It

We do try very hard – really we do – to find little political or bureaucratic triumphs to lighten the load of otherwise observing serial dysfunction and give us something positive to write about that has emerged from government. But it’s hard. Since Australian beef imports were slashed – someone had heard the stirring beat of that nationalist drum again and had convinced himself that Indonesia Raya was self-sufficient in that variety of essential protein – local prices have shot up by 180 percent because (and we won’t even bother pausing for effect) supplies were now short. The government has said it will import 50,000 tons of Australian beef to meet the shortfall, or perhaps to fill in the gap in its mind.

We’ll move along to the next little upset apple cart. This is the invidious effect of steep rises in tariff charges on imported wine and spirits, which (to no one’s surprise except the sentient) have caused a conniption in the drinks industry – it’s worth rather more than a snip at US$300 million (Rp Something plus far too many zeroes) – especially coming on top of this year’s ban on beer sales through mini markets. From Jul. 23, importers have been paying 90 percent of import consignment value on wine and 150 percent on spirits. The industry says this will lead to retail price rises of between 15-100 percent. It fears, somewhat naturally, that this may have a negative impact on sales.

It is true of course that observant Muslims are forbidden alcohol – it is haram – and that premium wines and spirits are only ever so rarely found in your average Indonesian household whose occupants, if they have jobs, earn derisory wages that are flat out putting nasi bungkus on the meja. Cheap hooch is widely available and – as we have just seen again in Bali in a separate criminally stupid or criminal profiteering case – is highly likely to have been adulterated with methanol or other dangerous substances. Most Indonesians are unlikely to be affected by prohibition-style, speakeasy-level prices for imported drinks they will never consume.

But there is another aspect to the alcohol issue that should worry a great many people. It is that the drive to suppress consumption is coming from the hardline Islamist push in the legislature and the government. Consuming alcohol is not prohibited for many people who profess Indonesia’s other religious faiths. It is a commodity that the tourism sector must provide to meet the expectations of their markets. There are plenty of other places for tourists – or rich Indonesian elites – to go if they want a drink at a reasonable price with their holiday dinners, after all. This factor is critical to Bali, where tourism is the single most important economic driver. It’s quite clear that Islamic legislators in Jakarta – a world city in which alcohol fuels the metropolitan entertainment sector – have given little thought for the deeper ramifications of their campaign.

Drinking is not compulsory. It is elective behaviour of the sort that sensible, secular states permit (properly regulated) on the basis that people should be free to choose to indulge in lawful, pleasurable activities and ought to be facilitated in these pursuits. Too often when fanatics get into the act all sorts of things are proscribed because it is suspected that somewhere, someone might be having a good time.

Island Faces

There’s a lovely photographic exhibition at Lestari Art Space in J. Drupadi, Seminyak, called The Island’s Faces and featuring an eclectic range of local dials. The photographs are the work of Ayu Swarie. They have been acclaimed by many as emblematic of our island and won deserved applause from the crowd at the opening on Aug. 7.

The Diary could not be present on opening night because of a prior engagement (see below). But the exhibition runs through to mid-September and we’re not going to miss it. The works are for sale.

Beach Style

A good friend, filmmaker and photographer Adithio Noviello, and his bride Adita Dwi Putrianti chose a sunset beach setting for their wedding on Aug. 7. It was a lovely occasion, especially because it was a celebrated with Muslim rites in front of a gathering whose own religious beliefs encompassed Islam, Balinese Hindu, Buddhist, Judaism, Christianity of various sects, and a goodly component of those whose religious practice exists only as an entry on their ID cards. It seemed a delightful allegory of the real world, the one that exists away from Those Who Like to Bother You.

It’s always a pleasure to hear Arabic spoken or sung at religious occasions and, in the old days before loudspeakers took over from the solitary muezzin who intoned from the minaret, the call to prayer was a mellifluous affair. It’s also rather nice to hear Qur’anic Arabic that’s not being spoken or sung by a native speaker of the language. In that respect, it shares qualities with the Latin one used to hear in Christian churches: unintelligible to most and quaintly pronounced.

We said this, at the party at the Holiday Inn Baruna Bali at Tuban, to a fellow guest whose provenance is Jewish, and added that when such occasions bless the ear it is for us very much like listening to Hebrew. Shalom Aliechem.

Noviello recently produced a short film on the under-threat Bali Dog – it was launched at a function at the Mercure Bali in Sanur the week before his wedding – and auctioned the centerpiece work from his brilliant exhibition of still photographs in aid of BAWA, the Bali Animal Welfare Association. One of his other photographs now resides at The Cage, courtesy of the charge-card facility at the show.

From Vulcan’s Lair

Our favourite local blogger, Vyt Karazija, had a lovely take on Mt Raung’s lengthy effluence in nearby East Java that has lately caused distress to airports, airlines, and especially airline passengers who have no idea of the dangerous properties of volcanic dust except that it must be someone else’s fault. That episode had abated at the time of writing – though one should never wholly trust Vulcan not to return to bother us again shortly – but it gave all sorts of people an opportunity to fulminate.

Karazija fulminates quietly, in his own erudite way. He noted on his Facebook one day that his newly cleaned motorbike had acquired a dull sheen of dust – debu in the local parlance – and he became quite lyrical about this. He wrote that it was wondrous that minute particles of Inner Earth had been expelled by pyrotechnic flux and had floated free for the first time in four billion years, seeing the Sun and all the other wonders available above the crust. It was pleasing, he noted, that some of these microscopic and newly free entities had chosen to grace his motorbike.

This is sort of poetic prose that can bring a tear to eye of an old diarist, someone from the dark side who has seen the English language mangled by many for whom it is their native tongue and who unaccountably have been paid to write in that language. We did have a briefly lachrymose moment. But Karazija, while he is light with the virtual equivalent of a pen, is also a practical man. The rare dust that had blessed his bike, he finally decided, might actually be debu from the rampant construction and deconstruction, licensed or otherwise, that takes place round the clock in South Bali.

Then again, we ourselves mused, it could merely have been particulate-laden smog, that other constant in the atmosphere above the murdered landscape of Denpasar, Badung and parts of Gianyar and Tababan. We daily see that dreadful pall – beneficially, this is from a distance – from The Cage in our still mainly wooded and freshly aired bit of the Bukit.

See You in Sanur

The tenth Sanur Festival will be held from Aug. 26-30. Its theme is “Decade”, which is accurate at least, if not a natural crowd-puller of a slogan. Along with the usual mix of such events, including kite flying, a food festival, fun runs (on Aug.23), beach cleanups, turtle hatchling releases, a photographic competition and other entertainments, this year’s festival includes nightly showings of films from the 2015 Bali International Film Festival, which itself takes place from Sep. 24-30. For those more actively inclined there are Village cycling tours; and the Sanur Open golf tournament will be held at Bali Beach golf course on Aug. 29-30.

Sanur Festival chairman Ida Bagus Gede Sidharta Putra makes a good point. “If we do not have a flagship tourism activity, Bali tourism will stagnate and slowly it could be abandoned by tourists.”

Festival details are on the festival website.

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