Hard Times



His regular diet of worms and other non-religious fare

The Cage, Bali, May. 6, 2017


IT’S Sigmund Freud’s birthday today. The thought occurred, just at random, that it would be fun to get his, and Zeno the Stoic’s, views on our own times. Unfortunately these proved to be chiefly unprintable. Their shared view, adduced through the ether of time, seems to be that we’ve all gone mad. Freud was more pleased than Zeno about this. There’s more business for psychiatrists these days; Zeno was stoic about most matters.

Of course, it is true that the political class anywhere is not in the least interested in learning any lessons from the past, or in broadening its collective grasp of the fact that there’s rather more to life than place and (in some instances, in the imperfect democracies) re-election. It was also the anniversary of Karl Marx’s birth this week. He was a theorist who, like so many, found that robber barons in disguise suborned his ideas and swiftly turned them to their own murderous advantage. There has never been a Marxist state. There have been plenty which styled themselves communist and weren’t.

A quotation from Das Kapital comes to mind. It’s one of my favourites and it is apposite for the times whichever side of the faux political divide it is that you sit on: “Capital is reckless of the health or length of life of the labourer, unless under compulsion from society.”

This weekend, the French will choose a new president, from a final field of two, one of whom is a banker-bureaucrat and self-assessed socialist and the other a rabid right-wing nationalist. Next month there’s an election in Britain in which the government that was formerly pro-EU but after the narrow (chiefly English) Brexit putsch in last year’s referendum now wants to give it the proper finger (and bugger vision and any chance of European leadership).

In America, the Trump regime, while continuing to claim leadership of the free world (whatever that is) carries on with its preferred business of the day: to destroy the country’s social infrastructure, to pick needless arguments with filthy foreigners, and to deflect reasonable questions about how it actually got into office. There’s more, in other places, of course, but we shouldn’t go on. It’s too tedious.

It’s as well not to ask life if it could get any worse. Tempting fate is a bad idea. And it seems pointless complaining after you’ve put the question that it was rhetorical and not a request.

Have a lovely weekend.

Wine for Two

FROM time to time we get along to the Friday afternoon party that the Legian Beach Hotel puts on for returning guests. It’s not that we are in that class of patron; it’s that general manager Arief Billah and his fine hotel are supporters of the Bali Animal Welfare Association, the leading non-profit charity here that fosters the interests of the island’s deprived dogs. It’s a cause that we wholeheartedly support.

The event yesterday was fun, as they always are, and one day The Diary will manage to pick up the steps required to perform the poco poco, an Indonesian dance that you could easily be excused for thinking was Portuguese. Think line dancing without the cowboy hats and the yee-hahs.

It was wine for two in our case yesterday because some special friends from the Netherlands, who come here every year and do things to benefit the doggies, have returned home after their holiday. We thought we should go along and drink their wine for them.

They were home in time for the Netherlands’ 1945 liberation day anniversary on May 5.

Not Helpful

WE are cleaning house ourselves, possibly temporarily, though that is moot. The Cage is not a palace, far from it in fact, for reasons both of penury and politics. Gross excess is not our bag. But we’ve lost our pembantu (house cleaner) which, if this were the first such instance might be defined as merely unfortunate. Sadly it is not the first, so as Oscar Wilde might observe, it begins to look rather more like a habit.

The problem is one that is often mumbled about here. Home help is at the lower end of the employment scale, naturally, and we recognise this and do not make demands on staff – such as others we know do – that would sit uneasily on our collective conscience.

The rule here is minimum effort. Your cleaner, without constant attention, will flick at the dust with a little feather-duster and move it around, preferably into darker corners where, apparently, employers are not supposed to look. She comes late and, unless apprehended, leaves early. Reasons not to be at work tomorrow are advised at the last moment. Most of these reasons appear on the Balinese calendar of feast days and, with a little forethought, might well be mentioned earlier. We understand that things are done differently here. We’re happy with that, for many reasons. Among them are the very reasons we choose to live here most of the time instead of in Australia, where the authorities insist that you comply with their ridiculous regulations.

But in the employment area, the principle of mutuality seems to be missing. We are apparently privileged to be in a position where we give our cleaner money and she skives off, and then gets antsy when this demerit is mentioned. And eventually buggers off, three days before pay day, with no notice, and the house keys dropped on the coffee table as you are quietly contemplating the wonders of the universe. The concept of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face is widely held, here, to be just the thing.


Hector writes a monthly diary in the Bali Advertiser. The latest appears in the current edition (Apr. 26). The next will appear on May 24.


HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Aug. 8, 2012

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Oh Rats! Another problem

All of a sudden, The Cage has rats.  We are taking steps to eliminate the problem (and the rats) but the incident has prompted further intemperate thought about the vagaries, and difficulties, of life on Pulau Rusak. The rats in question appear to be brown (Norway) rats rather than ratus ratus – that’s the genealogical name, not pidgin Indonesian for hundreds of the beggars; our infestation fortunately seems to be in rather smaller numbers – and as well as trying to eradicate them within the household and its surroundings, we are trying to establish their provenance.

Their initial appearance, unidentified by type at that time, caused some moments of mirth. Having lived in places where plague is endemic – it’s a zoonotic disease that generally affects humans in large numbers only when its animal vector is overstressed, exactly as rabies periodically breaks out and bites people – your diarist’s instant response, aside from acquiring poison, was to fly around madly spraying the whole house against fleas.

This is not a deadly necessity in Bali, or at least it is not known to be. There are two listed foci of wild plague in Indonesia and both are in Central Java, said to be (though this may also be questionable) remnants of the great 1894-1925 China-India pandemic – which actually began in Burma – that spread around the world, fortunately for the most part in controllable outbreaks. A note on that: the last World Health Organization-recorded plague outbreak in Indonesia – it was only minor – was in 1997 and not in Central Java at all. It was at Pasuruan near Surabaya in East Java.

As with rabies, of which Bali was “free” until the current (150 deaths and counting) outbreak surprised everyone by appearing in 2008, it perhaps pays not to be fooled into thinking that absence of reports of a disease equates with actual absence of the pathogen responsible.

But guarding against itinerant rat fleas is still desirable, as well as necessary.  In Bali they can carry murine typhus, a much less deadly but still highly unpleasant disease. Rats are also vectors for a range of other unnecessary distempers. They thrive in filthy environments. We have redoubled our local efforts to get people to deal properly with their household rubbish. A tip: it won’t do to just toss it away in the bushes, or over the wall, and forget about it. The rats won’t.

Burning Question

Speaking of rubbish, readers may remember a story that surfaced in the Bahasa press a little while ago and was duly reported in précis in some of the local English-language media, concerning the problem of medical waste. The official incinerator at Sanglah, something else that’s apparently on the Rusak List, was no longer able to cope with the quantum of contributions from other hospitals, which had therefore been denied access to the facility and presumably were told to dispose of their medical waste as best they could.

One of the hospitals named on the no-more-access list was BIMC at Simpang Siur. Since this establishment – it now has a sister hospital at Nusa Dua, opened in May – promotes itself as an international-standard health facility, it was surprising to learn that it had not hitherto been incinerating its own medical waste in infrastructure furnished at its own expense.

We wanted to do the right thing by them, however, and asked for comment, hoping that we’d hear something positive. We’ve heard nothing yet.

Greener Pastures

Leticia Balacek, architect and artist (and The Diary’s Most Favoured Argentine) has flown the coop. She’s gone to Europe on a new venture – which we sincerely hope will be properly remunerative, since people here go ooh and aah about art and much else but are Scrooge-like when it comes to parting with their money (which despite appearances and assertions to the contrary many of them don’t have, unless it’s someone else’s) – and has left with strict instructions to keep in touch.  It’s not often you meet someone whose vibrancy level consistently exceeds the safe limit; it is tremendous fun when you do; and it’s not a good thing to let friends go.

Balacek’s art, as we’ve noted before, has an attractively naïf quality and would look good in a collection, or even just on a wall. For her exhibition in 2011 that helped promote the then newly opened El Kabron, the fine watering hole on the cliffs at Bingin on the Bukit, she presented among other works Yellow Dog, a delightful ink and wash sketch that precisely captures the ambience of Bali.

Yellow Dog is but one among many, but it’s our pick of the season.

More on Annie

Robert Epstone of Rotary Seminyak and – more importantly in this instance – the charity group Sole Men has given us a cheering update on little Annie, of Sideman in Karangasem regency. We reported in the last edition on this poor little mite, aged eight and at that time weighing 8kg, who was found living distressed, disastrously malnourished and at serious health risk and was immediately assisted by Jimbaran resident Sarah Chapman and her Balinese friend Yuni Putu.

Epstone’s group took on responsibility for raising funds to help Annie as an individual case and got her into Semarapura Hospital for full assessment, which indicates she’ll need long-term rehabilitation – the works, in fact – since her family lives in abject poverty and Annie herself has significant medical and developmental problems.

Epstone told Seminyak Rotarians in an update after his own visit to Annie:  “I have to say that yesterday was one of the most distressing days I have experienced – I have never seen a human being as close to being an animal as Annie who is the very sweetest little person totally damaged by her situation caused by poverty, ignorance and superstition in the community up where she lives. Thankfully due to veritable Angels like Sarah Chapman and her friend Yuni, little Annie may now stand a possible chance of rehabilitation but only with a great deal of time, work, therapy and no doubt ongoing costs involved as well as a HUGE amount of TLC.”

Anyone who would like to help Annie or her family is welcome to drop Hector an email at reachme61@yahoo.com and we’ll put you in touch with Chapman and Epstone. If you’re on Facebook, you may want to friend Indonesia Sole Men.

By the way, Sole Men have their fourth Barefoot Walk coming up in September, a major element of their fundraising and awareness-raising effort. They’re looking for sponsors. In July they distributed copies of their Child Protection and Safety book – partly sponsored by Rotary Seminyak – to children, parents and teachers at schools, orphanages and villages around Bali during medical checks and health presentations.

A Sad Loss

Jack Daniels, of Bali Discovery Tours and Bali Update, lost a very good friend recently and has The Diary’s deepest sympathy. He wrote a lovely piece about him, so touchingly that it made us sad we hadn’t known him too. Bobby was a Labrador, but according to Daniels, was probably the best editorial assistant he’ll ever have. Among his many self-selected office jobs was to ensure that piles of newspapers did not fly away in the breeze. He was very good at lying on them, Daniels writes – and even under them, if the leaf-through-and-discard process was under way.

Apparently Bobby was a dog of several significant other talents too. He was often to be seen following the gardener around with a bucket or some other implement he deemed essential to the task at hand.

No pets reside at The Cage. One of us is a cat person, the other is a dog person, and this domestic political schism – now of three decades’ standing – has never been resolved and indeed may never be so. But we have neighbour pets whose days, we hope, are enlivened by our visits.

Here’s Cheers

We hear some good news from Voyager Estate, the winery in Western Australia’s Margaret River region that offers attractive Cape Dutch architecture and magnificent roses along with a wide range of very superior plonk.

After extensive planning and renovations, they have opened their new Wine Room, saying it offers a completely different wine experience in Margaret River. Their email magazine e.magnum (neat!) tells us it’s all about the discovery and celebration of wine, whether you’re a wine aficionado,  are keen to learn more, or just enjoy tasting and comparing wines.

We must make a date with sommelier Claire Tonon on our next visit to the wine country, scheduled for October when – we hope – the chills of southern WA’s unusually cold winter will be long gone.

And Jeers

The wicked price of alcohol in Bali has always had a capacity to astonish anyone who comprehends that tourism is an essential element of the island’s economy. There are the mark-ups, of course, which tend to rise in concert with the level of class drink-serving establishments award themselves. But then there’s the availability, licensing and excise and other duties components to be put in the mix.

It’s a hefty cocktail, and one that periodically gives everyone a headache. At the latest industry grumblefest about it, Rizki Handayani, director of MICE and special interest promotion at the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy, promised to follow up on the input with related agencies at the ministry and other institutions, including the Trade Ministry. “This is valuable information to be shared with the minister,” Handayani said.

Is anyone holding their breath on an outcome?

Hector’s Diary appears in the Bali Advertiser newspaper, out fortnightly (and online at http://www.baliadvertiser.biz) and also on his blog http://wotthehec.blogspot.com. Hector is on Twitter @scratchings and Facebook (Hector McSquawky)

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).