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.

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Apr. 29, 2015

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

 

An Orwellian Travesty

Putu Sumantra, who is head of Bali’s animal husbandry and livestock service but who keeps providing evidence that he would be better not allowed out with a broom and instructions to sweep the steps, would like the public not to oppose the killing of “feral” dog populations by provincial animal control officers.

He says that the final solution decided on by the Bali authorities in their latest guaranteed to fail response to the seven-year-long rabies outbreak is necessary to eliminate the risk of unvaccinated dogs mingling with the vaccinated crowd and diminishing the level of disease protection. Maybe he’s from Planet Pluto. Perhaps they really do things differently there. Perhaps Governor Made Mangku Pastika is from Pluto too. He’s backing this latest piece of madness.

Sumantra, reported in the Indonesian language Bali Post newspaper, also hinted that he didn’t want people to be influenced by the views of the anti-killing lobby. In the invidious nature of the times, that’s code for “foreign” animal welfare organizations and namby-pamby westerners. He not only wants to shoot the dogs, he’d like to shoot the messengers too.

No matter that global experience shows that rabies control and eventual eradication can be achieved through carefully coordinated and rigorously financially audited vaccination campaigns. Humane reduction of numbers through sterilization and education to improve treatment of dogs that live alongside people in their villages then nurtures a healthy dog population.

This is not some radical activist program. It is the accepted world benchmark mandated by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization. What’s more, it works. There is no reason why it should not work in Bali, except of course that it requires careful coordination, exemplary leadership, and rigorous, responsible management.

There are very few “feral” dogs in Bali, something else the authorities know very well. The Bali dog is an independent spirit but generally has a place, if not a home. Most are not formally “owned”, but the latest research indicates that up to 95 percent informally belong within their community.

There is the beginning of a groundswell of resistance among the Balinese to the promiscuous killing of street dogs. There is sensitivity on that point. This must be why when he announced the commencement of a vaccination campaign in Denpasar (as part of the latest underfunded and under-resourced effort) Sumantra said that dogs without collars would be captured and tested for the virus.

Several of the unpleasant characters in the political novels of George Orwell would be very pleased with Sumantra’s mastery of propaganda and disinformation. Rabies can only be positively identified from brain tissue. To obtain a test sample, you have to kill the dog.

Seven years after an isolated imported case of canine rabies occurred on southern Bukit and no one noticed for an astonishing length of time and the disease broke out from there, it is now endemic to the entire island and people are still dying. It is most prevalent in Buleleng, Bangli and Karangasem.

Flexible Format 

Bali is to host the world’s first International Yoga Day (it’s on Jun. 21) at the invitation of the Indian government. The day was proposed by the Indian prime minister to the United Nations with the goal of promoting universal aspiration of physical and mental wellbeing by way of practising yoga.

The day is planned to feature tutorials presented by influential yoga practitioners, competitions for best practitioner, and an attempt to set a world record for the largest practice of yoga.

We’re a bit rusty, but we might brush up on our five basic positions and drop in at the Bajra Sandhi Monument in Renon on the day. The timing is a tad awkward, though. On Sundays at The Cage, we always celebrate First Coffee at 7am.

Substance, Not Froth

If Muhammad Arwani Thomafi, that chap from the National Development Party who wants to ban beer – and not just from mini-markets, he wants to ban it totally – would like to get his head around a real problem as opposed to an imaginary one, he might care to look at the latest UNESCO report on education.

It shows that in 2012 there were 1,336,000 Indonesian youngsters who weren’t attending primary school, double the figure from 2000. While enrolments doubled in early childhood or pre-primary education, from 24 percent in 2000 to 48 percent in 2012, it’s still far short of the indicative target of 80 percent set in the Education for All goals, launched in 2000.

It contrasts poorly with Malaysia (70 percent), Vietnam (79) and Brunei (92).

Change of Seasons

Four Seasons veteran Uday Rao, who was manager at the Sayan resort, has moved to Jimbaran as general manager of both the seaside property and Sayan. He plans to create new synergies between the two properties to give Four Seasons guests a truly Bali experience.

A resort manager will be appointed at Sayan.  The two-resort GM is not a novel concept. The jovial John O’Sullivan, now in Mexico and still with FS, held a similar position in the past.

There’s another move of interest to record. Marian Carroll, formerly chief spruiker at the Ayana-Rimba resort complex up the hill, has moved to Four Seasons as director of public relations. We look forward to catching up with her in her new hat, at a Ganesha gallery exhibition opening perhaps, or (if we’re really good) the fabulous beachside Sundara. Just for a tonic-water with a lemon twist, of course.

My Hat!

It was good to see the Ubud Food Festival website go live on Apr. 22. There’s nothing to beat fine food or, except in a few circumstances, Ubud as a venue in which to eat it. It’s also a good place to chat about books, but we have to wait until later in the year for the latest incarnation of Janet DeNeefe’s firstborn festival, the writers’ and readers’.

There’s one event at the food festival (which runs from Jun. 5-7) that as well as serving delicious edibles also serves as an allegory for the little town that’s growing like Topsy in which it will take place. It’s on Jun. 7 and it’s a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.

In Lewis Carroll’s wonderful tale, Alice in Wonderland, such an event takes place. (It’s in chapter seven if you want to refresh your memory). In it, Alice approaches a large table set under the tree outside the March Hare’s house and finds the Mad Hatter and the March Hare taking tea. They rest their elbows on a sleeping Dormouse who sits between them. They tell Alice that there is no room for her at the table, but Alice sits anyway.

(Well, as you would…)

The March Hare then offers Alice wine, but there is none. She tells the March Hare that his conduct is uncivil, to which he rejoins that it was uncivil of her to sit down without being invited. The Mad Hatter enters the conversation, saying that Alice’s hair “wants cutting.” Alice says he is rude and he responds with a riddle: “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” Alice attempts to answer the riddle, which begins a big argument about semantics.

There is silence after this until the Mad Hatter asks the March Hare the time. But the March Hare’s watch, which measures the day of the month, is broken, and the Mad Hatter becomes angry. He blames the March Hare for getting crumbs on the watch when the March Hare was spreading butter on it. The March Hare dips the watch in his tea, dejectedly remarking that “It was the best butter.”

The food festival grew out the culinary elements of earlier writers’ shows, prompted by feedback from people who said they’d like to sample much more of the spicy bits (pedas as opposed to panas) and in bigger portions.

The festival’s Mad Hatter’s Tea Party sounds fun, though hopefully it will be better organized than its original namesake. Well, we’re sure it will be. It will feature fare from Janice Wong, Asia’s leading pastry chef, and Angelita Wijaya in a long table setting. Apparently you should wear your favourite hat.

The festival website has all the details of the three-day event.

Flash Outfit

Sharp-eyed Aussie sheila Marian Carroll, mentioned above in quite another context, reports a traffic event on the Ngurah Rai Bypass recently that is even more astonishing than most. She was bowling down the highway in broad daylight when she passed a man on a motorbike who had chosen to stand out from the rest of buzzing, ducking and weaving crowd by riding stark naked.

Something boggles. We hope it’s the mind. Carroll didn’t say whether she’d seen that the naked man was being pursued by an angry fully-clothed one. Possibly then it was just a matter of choice to bolt in the buff, and not an emergency escape from the consequences of being caught embarrassingly in flagrante.

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