That Other Kuta

HECTOR’S DIARY

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

HectorR

Lombok / Bali

Oct. 26, 2016

 

IT’S quieter and rather less crowded than Kuta Bali, though it has grown a little. There’s something that resembles a main street with an Indomaret supermarket and a few other junior emporiums. The warungs along the beach, those symbols of entry-level Indonesian tourism entrepreneurship, where once you could sit and watch the waves over a cold beer, have been cleared away in the future interests of the rather grand Mandalika development. But Kuta Lombok is great at the moment if you’re not looking for crowded bars packed with people out for a good time.

We weren’t when we spent a lovely week there earlier this month. It’s been a favourite place for a decade and a half, since we first stayed at the then nearly new Novotel Lombok in 2001 on a side trip from Bali. We’ve made a point of returning now and then, when we need some down time.

So, we did basically nothing except sit on the Novotel’s pristine beach in a berugak – think balé (gazebo) – watching the tide coming in or going out and occasionally dipping in for a float. Except we ate, rather more than is our custom, but that was nice too because as part of the Accor chain the Novotel does alimentary things in a delightfully semi-French fashion. It was so good that the Diary didn’t even really mind that the Wi-Fi struggled to reach the beach. The fruit sate sticks for elevenses and the mid-afternoon cakes got there.

In the rooms and the rest of the resort the Wi-Fi’s fine. That modern hazard – being obstructed by off-in-fairyland wanderers holding their smart phones and staring at them – must be dealt with. Just learn the words for “excuse me” in, say, 10 of the most widely spoken languages among Novotel guests, and you’ll generally get by; even if it’s sometimes tempting to use the full suite all at once.

Our morning walk program was a talking point. As in Bali, no one walks anywhere. They hop on their scooters to idle 50 metres up the road. Walking for recreation or in the interests of the arteries appears to be something only mad bules do. Several times lovely people even suggested that perhaps we were jogging.

We dropped in on Senggigi – after Cakranegara for fabric shopping – before the R&R in the south, and had dinner with local identity Peter Duncan and his wife Wiwik Pusparini at Taman restaurant, and stayed overnight in a nice room at Howard Singleton’s beachside establishment The Office, at the Art Market.

Hurry Up and Wait

Our return from Lombok was not without misadventure. We’d flown to Lombok with Wings and that went swimmingly, even if it did include the usual diddling about doing circles over the Wallace Line to make the flight worth making, or perhaps longer. We flew back with Lion, a little tardily, for very late-advised “operational reasons”, that class of excuse that brooks no inquiry. Just to add pedas (spicy) to panas (hot), first we were to fly only three hours late, and then it turned out to be nearly five.

Flight delays were not confined to Lion Air. They resulted from regular closure of Ngurah Rai to all except emergency landings for evenings from Oct. 2 to Dec. 26, as notified by international aviation regulators. The runway needs a bit of work and this is being done, if the contractors bother to turn up. The point is, surely, that since this is a lengthy term of mandatory closure, airlines should have adjusted their schedules accordingly. Well, never mind. This is Indonesia. Once, long ago when Lombok’s airport was still at Selaparang in Mataram, we were also delayed, though not for quite so long, by an apparently unforeseen event at Ngurah Rai. They told us then that the president was on the runway.

Lion had been on our personal No Fly paper since 2013, when the flight crew on one of its Boeing 737-800s selected a dubious preference for the briny over the somewhat firmer properties of tar-macadam and landed in Jimbaran Bay instead.

We think the airline has since then secured the services of flight crews equipped to recognise runways and understand their benefits and who will remember to adjust autopilot parameters in time. But on this occasion it would have been tempting to swim home.

So Sad

The deaths of nine people – three of them children – in the collapse of the suspension bridge linking Nusa Lembongan with its smaller sister island, Ceningan, on Oct. 16 are tragic. What’s also tragic is the sequence of events leading up to the deadly occurrence.

Duty of care is not a term – or a principle for that matter – that resonates in Indonesia. The islands are in Klungkung regency (as is the larger island of Nusa Penida) but the district government’s divan is in Semarapura (also called Klungkung) on Bali’s mainland, where it apparently relies on karma to run things.

It was Full Moon, a sacred time for Balinese Hindus. A large devotional procession was crossing the bridge when its cables snapped and the walkway collapsed into the narrow channel that separates the islands. A sign warning that the bridge was unsafe for large numbers of people at one time had been put up two days beforehand. Either this was not read, or it was read and ignored, as most such notices are.

But if the bridge was unsafe in overloaded conditions – and plainly it was: cables rarely snap without provocation – then the authorities should have ensured it wasn’t overloaded. Bali’s traditional system of village guards (Pecalang) is ideally equipped to manage crowds and ensure compliance. They don’t miss a trick at Nyepi: show a light for an instant after dark on Silent Day and you’re cactus.

Some lateral thinking – actually, any thinking – by the regency government appears to be rather desperately needed. The bridge collapsed once before, in Feb. 2013, in a bit of a fresh breeze.

An appeal was launched in Australia to raise funds to help the victims of the collapse.

One Word, Seven Letters, Starts with ‘B’

Elizabeth Henzell of Villa Kitty wrote a dispiriting note on her Facebook on Oct. 16. It speaks for itself so here it is:

“I am so disgusted with humans that feel their need is more than someone else’s! How do they know! Villa Kitty’s tireless admin assistant, Metha, has had her Samsung phone stolen – from Villa Kitty! Who would do that? Who would steal from (a) a yayasan/animal welfare centre or (b) someone who works for a yayasan/animal welfare centre! We have had food stolen, my phone has been stolen, money stolen, medical supplies, by people with NO morals! I am truly sick of it!”

We’re all sick of it, Elizabeth. It’s that other real Bali, the one that doesn’t rate a mention in the feel good fluff stuff.

Happy Snapper

Bali-based British photographer Michael Johnsey, whose faces, sunsets and skyscapes particularly engage The Diary, won deserved acclaim – and 20 per cent of sale prices for the charity Solemen Indonesia – at the opening night of his exhibition Life in Bali, at Bridges in Ubud on Oct. 15.

It was a packed house for the event, he tells us. It’s such a shame we weren’t there. The marathon seven-hour return wait-and-flight to Bali from Lombok the previous evening did terrible things to the schedule at The Cage. Johnsey notes:

“What a great opening event. A packed house. Thank you all at Bridges for making it such a great success. Life In Bali is off to a pretty good start.”

His photographic works are on display at Bridges, so if you’re in Ubud get along there and have a look. It’ll be worth it, we guarantee. We’ll drop in ourselves this week, while we’re in Ubud on literary matters.

Lash Out

Those who apparently desire that Indonesia should become Untustan (untu is camel in Bahasa Indonesia) have been having a field day lately. Aside from public canings for promiscuity and other elective activity defined as sinful in Aceh – caning is a legitimate penalty under Aceh’s Sharia law – Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama has been the target of mobs over his alleged blasphemy against Islam. Blasphemy is an offence under Indonesian law.

The governor, usually known by his Indonesian familiar name Ahok, isn’t a Muslim. He’s a Christian, a Chinese Indonesian, and appears to be doing quite a good job as civic leader of Indonesia’s capital city. There’s more socio-political polemic than inter-religious dispute in his current problems.

A quatrain by the mediaeval Islamic scholar Omar Khayyám comes to mind: “As far as you can avoid it, do not give grief to anyone. Never inflict your rage on another. If you hope for eternal rest, feel the pain yourself; but don’t hurt others.” It’s a shame that this useful aide-memoire is never handed out to the mobs along with the nasi bunkus (wrapped rice).

Last Word

The 2016 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival starts today (Oct. 26) and runs to Oct. 30. Hindu obsequies for the late Made Wijaya (Michael Richard White) will be held at Sanur on Nov. 9.

HectorR

Hector’s Dairy is published in the on line and print editions of the fortnightly newspaper the Bali Advertiser

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Mar. 3, 2016

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences 

 

Don’t Miss Saigon

A few days gazing at the Saigon River from the 16th floor apartment of friends, enjoying the quieter street life of post-Tet Ho Chi Minh City, cruising on the Mekong, and briskly sampling the crispness of the mountain resort city of Dalat, 1500 metres above sea level, is a wonderful tonic. We had awarded ourselves the break, after several months of rather heavy duty, and it certainly paid off.

It really wasn’t planned for this time just because it’s raining in Bali. No, really. You expect it to rain in the wet season and are apt to worry, or at least become disconsolate, if it does not. But it’s true that Saigon – that’s what everyone calls it – is 10 degrees north rather than 8 degrees south and that the seasons are reversed. So it was pleasantly dry and cool in Saigon, and a tad on the brisk side at Dalat. The brisk bit was rather nice. And that’s two more ticks off the bucket list, though they’re both such lovely places, and so ideal for people watching and gourmet munching, that they will almost certainly earn double ticks at least.

Many years ago in New York, we saw the musical Miss Saigon. That was something that could easily have been missed, or so the critics and the audiences said. But Mistress Saigon, the city, has a different magic altogether, and certainly should not be missed.

Dined Out

It was sad to see long-term Bali fixture and computer guru Ric Shreves leave the island for good last month. He’s gone back to the USA – to Portland, Oregon – to some useful things there. And he certainly goes with the good wishes of the Diary, if these should speed his passage and oil the wheels of resettlement.

But it was fitting, we thought, that he should dine himself out, as it were. His last few days here were peppered with eating and drinking – modestly, we know – that should give both him and his friends here something to remember.

He spent 12 years in Bali. That’s a long time by anyone’s measure.

Across the Line

The Diary has Lombok connections, as some people know and one or two may have reasons to remember with an extra frisson. We do hope so. So we’re always interested in news from across the Wallace Line, that notional feature that so many people now crisscross regularly on fast boats from Bali.

When we lived in Lombok we had the privilege of residing high on a hill just above the beach a little south of Sengiggi, with a fabulous view of Mt Agung, the lights of distant Amlapura, the islands of Nusa Penida and Lembongan, and the little rocky islets off Candi Dasa. It was almost like being home, even if home was across the water.

It was fun sometimes too, to imagine the Wallace Line out there in mid-strait, the notional point at which Australasian flora and fauna finally cease and the Asian ecosystem takes over completely. On full moon nights in particular, the mid-strait eddies looked suitably, if fancifully and perhaps spookily, appropriate.

Another West Lombok hill-dweller with a fantastic view, Mark Heyward, told us recently of an artistic occasion at The Studio, a Sunday Session on Feb. 28 at Bukit Batu Layar, where artworks by Jakarta-based Sasak artist Saepul Bahri and Lombok resident Terry Renton were on show and original songs and performances pieces were provided by Ari Juliant and Heyward himself.

It would have been fun to be there. But we were in Vietnam instead.

Um, Yes … Well, Actually, No

Much is made, by westerners whose days are spent in detecting invidious cultural insensitivity in the attitudes of other westerners, of the need to comprehend essential differences between societies.

The hairy and wild-eyed, metaphorically speaking, exist on both sides of that divide. They are not to be borne, merely noted.

Below the thin but hot air of the truly manic stratosphere, however, there do exist occasions for comment that are invidious only on the Craven Scale. That’s the one where you say nothing for fear of upsetting not the horses, which anyway are predominantly a sensible species, but the occasional ass.

There have been two such outbreaks recently. One concerned the presence in social media of emoticons reflecting the wishes of people who are (dare we utter this?) gay, lesbian, transgender and other things not prescribed in literature which fails to post-date Neolithic ignorance. The other was a plan by the social affairs minister to eradicate prostitution in Indonesia by 2019.

On the Huh – What’s That Scale, the 1-10 measure that most suits rating the business of monumental stupidity, the outlawing of non-patriarchal emoticons rates only 1. It’s a mere midge-bite on the posterior of progress. Phone and Internet providers in Indonesia don’t want to upset the government and those who are (dare we utter this?) gay, lesbian, transgender or other things, won’t be too much discommoded.

However, the ministerial plan to eradicate prostitution by 2019 is a proposal of such monumental stupidity as to rate a 9 on the H-WT Scale. A 9 causes severe mirth, with dangerous belly laughs near the epicenter, and seriously undermines the respect that ministers and others in high places would otherwise be accorded.

A good universal rule for those who wish to be taken seriously is to avoid demonstrating that they are completely detached from reality.

With a Twist

We saw a priceless little meme recently, which featured a young woman in a position of extreme contortion on the floor, trying to reach the telephone from which a voice was saying “Yoga Help Line. How may we assist you?”

It made us giggle because we’re like that, and it also brought to mind the 2016 Bali Spirit Festival, due to take place in Ubud from Mar. 29-Apr. 3.

It’s a yoga thing, among other pastimes. Yoga is something that is said by its aficionados to get you past ego. That’s can’t be bad, though it has always escaped us why you need to physically contort yourself to achieve common sense. Never mind.

In a recent blog post on its website, the festival reminds us thus: “We all have one, that thing deep within that constantly begs to be satisfied. It is our ego, that place that houses our sense of self-esteem and self-importance. While recognising our own ego’s role in situations can be great, the act of its existence can really hinder our ability to live a happy and healthy life.”

How complex that all sounds. We’ve always managed with a nice glass of wine and some music to taste – Dvorak, perhaps, or if we’re feeling especially syrupy, Handel’s Water Music.

But as Deepak Chopra reminds us – something the Bali Spirit Festival’s blog post did too – “We must go beyond the constant clamour of ego, beyond the tools of logic and reason, to the still, calm place within us: the realm of the soul.”

The Diary, being now of somewhat mature age, might have to make that journey via the hospital were he to attempt a return to the manipulative delights of yoga, which briefly formed an ephemeral moment in his youth.

Nyepi Duties

We were back home in Bali well before Nyepi (Silent Day, Mar. 9). It wouldn’t do to miss it, since it is central to Balinese Hindu rites and customs and surely part and parcel of the reasons you live on the island. It’s also fun because it’s the only day of the year when PLN is willingly assisted by the whole population in the task of turning the lights out, a function that is widely believed to be the power utility’s secret core objective.

This year we’ll be turning out the lights at the villa of some friends, neighbours who are absent from Bali, so that we can dog-sit our favourite retriever while the staff is away. It will be a pleasant duty. Cindy will play ball, we know. That’s what she does. It’s only if you don’t throw the ball away again when she brings it back that you get a severe glance.

Our villas are so close that we can keep an eye on ours, at least while it’s light, and theirs is higher up the hill so that we’ll be able to see all the lights that are not there, in panorama as it were, as well as all the residual lighting that must remain on. There’s a fine view of the airport from their swimming pool (another neighbour’s garden greenery blocks that view from ours). That might be fun.

Hector tweets @scratchings on Twitter. His diary appears in the print and on line editions of the Bali Advertiser.