Saturday, December 19, 2009


On Board,
This is
Capt Gila

THE Yogyakarta air crash, in March 2007, was a shocking event. All air crashes are. But the circumstances of the disaster in Yogyakarta in 2007 made it more shocking than most, because of the expert evidence presented in the aftermath that the Garuda captain in command of the Boeing 737 flight from Jakarta that fateful morning had ignored 15 separate automated cockpit warnings that he was approaching too fast and that his landing speed – on the airport’s short runway – was far too high.
Captain Marwoto Komar landed well outside the operational limits set out in the manual – and outside the limits of common sense, another essential cockpit qualification. His aircraft ran off the end of the runway and immediately caught fire, killing 21 people. Scores were injured.
Even if he were utterly blameless, you’d think that the horror of what he had participated in as captain of the aircraft would have given him pause for thought. Not a bit of it. He took some time off; perhaps to get his captain’s uniform dry-cleaned. Later he was charged with manslaughter and was dismissed by Garuda. The charge was subsequently reduced to criminal negligence. He defended himself by appearing in court in his Garuda uniform – despite having been sacked – and by having his defence lawyers present the usual compendium of inventive excuses you tend to hear from the criminally negligent when their crimes catch up with them.
Marwoto’s instrument of death was not a machine-pistol, though it might just as well have been. His excuse for being the person in charge when 21 people met their untimely deaths in an aircraft he was flying and which he then crashed was tantamount to saying he didn’t know the gun was loaded and that no, he had no idea where the safety catch was.
His argument in the first court hearing was less than persuasive. The district court found him guilty as charged and imposed a two-year jail sentence. That appeared to many people to be little enough in the circumstances.
He immediately appealed and was released on bail. Last week a High Court appeal bench, sitting in Yogyakarta, quashed the charge against him and overturned the verdict and the sentence. The judges said criminal negligence could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt. The bench, in reaching this decision, rejected the expert testimony on which Marwoto had originally been convicted; or at least, seems to have decided that ignoring 15 audible cockpit warnings relating to approach speed did not constitute provable negligence.
Marwoto claimed the aircraft’s flaps – which control descent and airspeed – malfunctioned. No expert evidence has been presented that this was the case. But even if the flaps did fail, it is possible to land a Boeing 737 in most circumstances without them. Not at the sadly deficient and short-field Yogyakarta airport, granted, but diversion to somewhere with a longer runway would have been an option. How failure to apply common sense, as the captain of an aircraft, does not constitute criminal negligence is a mystery.
Never mind. Marwoto now has an obvious career opportunity ahead of him. (It probably won’t be flying; not even Garuda would contemplate letting him anywhere near a real cockpit again, surely?) But he could easily set up a consultancy and put together some useful course modules for would-be airline pilots (a three-part course under the topic heading Go Gila seems apt):
(1) How to Land Your Flying Machine Very, Very Fast Indeed. (2) Why Automated Cockpit Warning Signals Can Be Safely Ignored. (3) Wearing Your Uniform: Handy Tips to Fool People into Thinking That You Know What You’re Doing.
The Yogyakarta crash was the final straw for observers of Indonesian aviation practice overseas. The European Union banned all Indonesian carriers from its airspace. (That ban was recently lifted for four Indonesian carriers, one of them Garuda.)

Tiger Loses Stripes

THE world is an unkind place. Humans are naturally voyeuristic and of course the peccadilloes of others are the basic building blocks of the tabloid media and waiting room magazines. So it is that poor Tiger Woods, who plays really good golf, has unaccountably wrapped his nine-iron around his nether regions and given himself a frightful bruising.
Unsurprisingly, in this cruel, hypocritical and self-serving world, several corporations which have paid him handsomely to be their public face so that they can in turn make even more money, have told him to go away. There is very little that is more nauseating than money-making corporations masking their horror at losing some by taking the high moral ground.
Woods’ inability to manage his natural urges – or to distinguish between the felicity of scoring a birdie on the field of play and the infelicity of doing so elsewhere in the literal other sense – is pathetic (well, maybe) but it is surely not unusual or for that matter of more than merely venal demerit. After all, for many men – and though we’re not supposed to think so, a lot of women – sex is the most powerful driver in your kit. Tiger did what many men dream of doing and many women wish men would.
Woods’ skill as a golfer is beyond compare. His present difficulty, as a man, is sad, but sadly common. Most philanderers are not public figures. They can grub away as they wish without any fears other than of the saucepan that might collect their cranium if the wife finds out. Such is the human condition.
Sadly, too, hubris being what it is, the thought of becoming a bar-room joke is often the worst pain of all. Few of us wish to become the object of music-hall stand-up routines. We should let go of this Tiger’s tale – and allow him to reconstruct the silly mess he seems to have made of his life.

It’s a Saga

SOME people we know, who live in the otherwise peaceful surroundings of rural Ungasan, have a sorry tale to tell about the perils of renovation. It’s not their place that’s the problem – though their own renovasi after buying their modest villa two years ago had its own little difficulties – but the place next door.
It used to be a separate residence, except when the wind blew and the rotted alang-alang roof it sported migrated en masse to their swimming pool. But as part of its conversion into a dream residence – nightmare seems a better word – by some absent (and possibly absent minded) Jakarta people, it now conjoins.
The extensive rebuilding, which seems to be a project contracted out to two little fellows with one hammer, who take it in turns to tap away from time to time but on no discernable schedule, has co-opted their structure. Perhaps our friends’ villa, built to what is loosely described in Bali as “western standard,” is required as a load-bearing support.
For 16 months, while the interior has been gutted, three Jacuzzis installed (well, the new owners are Jakarta people; perhaps that’s why they aren’t bothering to replace the rotted alang-alang roof) and expensive glass erected, the tap-tap-tapping of whoever is the duty hammer man at the time has resonated – and reverberated, since there is now a “common wall” – at will. Siestas are rarely feasible. Having friends to stay is impossible.
But there is a silver lining. Our chums now have (one) brand new exterior sun blind for their trouble. This was provided, following extensive discussions, because the new wall of the now adjoining residence actually butts onto their own and made it impossible for the previous blind, custom made for the space, to fully deploy.
Maybe it will all be over sometime in 2010. Well ... maybe.

Thoughts on the Season

YOUR diarist is not devotional, having decided long ago to leave organised expressions of faith to those who have need of such things. But devotional music remains a passion, and this time of year is a great time to indulge a taste for such things. And it’s so easy nowadays. Last weekend, a pleasant hour was spent listing to ABC Classic FM on live stream on The Diary’s laptop – OK, it should have been diary-writing at the time, but even diarists have to relax now and then – and enjoying Medieval Christian music.
The meter, the timbre, the cadence and the inspirational message of intellectual faith from so long ago that one derives from listening to such music is a treat. Christmas comes but once a year, as the old saying has it. When it does, it is nice to remember times past; both personal – so short a timeframe: in your diarist’s case, one that started only 155 years after verifiable temperature recordings on which we are now supposed to base our fears for the future began – and historical. Antiquity, viewed as it should be, provides a corrective to one’s moral compass. It’s a shame there is such profound ignorance today of both the facts and the lessons of the past.
In the modern Western tradition, Christmas is a secular celebration – of the illusory benefits of the consumer society among other things – that owes very little to its religious origins. But it’s as well to remember that Christmas, celebrating Jesus’ birth, is the old pagan midwinter festival of Europe, rebranded; just as Easter, the most solemn of Christian festivals, occurs, entirely without coincidence, coincidentally with the old northern hemisphere festival of Eostre, marking the new life that Spring brings to cold places that have growing seasons. The Greek god Eostre is also the root of the English word oestrus. Except by traditional misunderstanding and mythology – and faith – it has nothing to do with Wafat Issa.
Happy Christmas anyway; see you in the New Year.

SCRATCHINGS appears at The Bali Times Diary in the print edition of the weekly newspaper every Friday and on the newspaper’s website at The Bali Times is also available as a print product through Newspaper Direct.

Friday, December 11, 2009


They’re Filthy
Rich; And We
Should be
Filthy About

THERE’S something obscene about vast wealth. It’s never earned – as in being a fair return for a fair day’s work – and it’s almost always offensive in terms of the excessive habits and lifestyles it makes possible for those upon whom the fates have smiled in that way.
It’s a global phenomenon. The gross wealth of some Arab oil sheikhs who by happenstance have dynastic control over otherwise worthless patches of sand cries out for correction. The excess of American capitalism and the pretentious vacuity of European “old money” are similarly nausea-inducing.
The defence of philanthropy is often advanced as an excuse for vast wealth: Look, I give away a lot of this. Many rich people do; they are the ones with consciences, and good for them. They might not have the camel’s difficulty in passing through the eye of a needle when their time comes and they find they can’t take it with them.
Indonesia is pretty small beer in the global greed list, even though corruption and illicit enrichment are ingrained elements of the social psyche. But the latest Forbes magazine rich list - it came out last week; an annual emetic – nonetheless presents reading that might enrage, were one disposed to rage, and which certainly disturbs.
In a country where nothing works (that’s right, nothing) and where the vast majority of people scratch by for a year on what the rich might spend on a cheap night out, we see that Indonesia’s 40 richest people have doubled their wealth in 2009. This has chiefly been fuelled by global demand for natural resources. More than a third of the top 40 make most of their money from coal, palm oil or oil and gas. Indonesia now has 12 US dollar billionaires, combined wealth $28 billion, up from seven in 2008.
It would be invidious in a polemic to run the list of the infamously rich. It’s in Forbes magazine if you can afford the cover price, or are sufficiently interested.
But we do note that Aburizal Bakrie, who recently bought himself the Golkar presidency, has benefited from leaving executive politics and returning to business and Bumi Resources as his principal focus. He has regained his billionaire status.

Who Flicked Up?

CALL us conspiracy theorists if you like, but there’s something strange about the fact that PLN was told one day, in no uncertain terms, to end the Jakarta blackouts, and the discovery virtually the next that Gilimanuk’s appalling maintenance mismanagement had ensured the plant could not be repaired before “tools” are acquired from overseas. Why? On all the evidence, PLN has enough tools of its own without flying in more from other places.
It would be interesting to get answers from PLN (we never will of course) on these questions:
(1) Why the Bali blackouts that started in October and were to end on December 6, but then were to “end early,” on November 26, because “everything was fixed,” then failed to end on either date; and why we were told on December 3 that PLN was going to give Bali a very special Christmas gift of another month-plus of power cuts (up to January 15)? Do these people have any idea what they’re doing?
(2) How much additional power is required to keep all the lights on in Jakarta so that the leadership cadres in their plush accommodations are not inconvenienced by disquieting thoughts of public unrest?
(3) Where is this extra power coming from?
(4) How much power is currently being supplied to Gilimanuk via the allegedly lightning-prone (Mendacious Excuse No. 365) undersea cable?
(6) What are the qualifications for being appointed Bali spokesman for PLN? Is it a requirement that you must have graduated summa cum laude in post-modern fiction, majoring in farce?
There’s a seventh question. It’s to the national government: Fellas, do you have any actual interest in ending Bali’s immediate power problems?

To the Point

DANCE is such an important part of Balinese – and indeed Sundanese – culture, and of course also a draw for tourists. It is evocative, plainly erotic if not actually sexual and a distinct embellishment of any cultural experience to be had just north of the Austro-Eurasian fault line.
So much of it depends on the feet and specifically on pointed toes.
It was thus a disappointment – well, that and the “modern” interpretation of the traditional musical accompaniment – to see a performance at a Kuta restaurant recently where the dancers’ toes were securely out of sight, contained within little black leather – or possibly synthetic – shoe-socks.
They looked faintly ridiculous pointing their feet in this gear; as did the other dainty little performer who, wearing a rather sheer white dress which would have been significantly alluring, in a wholly cultural way, in other circumstances, was very clearly wearing sturdy black Lycra beneath.

The Lights Are On

BUT as usual, no one is home. How thoughtful of the traffic police to begin enforcing the daylight lights-on rule for motorbikes. It will make it so much easier to see riders behaving like lunatics.
The lights-on rule, which we believe began life in Sweden or one of those benighted Scandinavian places where it’s miserably dark for half the year, is being promoted as a safety measure. A far better safety measure, however, would be to enforce the licence rule (for more than corrupt personal revenue reasons) and to ensure that people can actually ride (or drive) before they are let out on the road.
It would be even better if the police could find a way to notice that, especially around school hours, a large proportion of motorbike riders appear to be people who are far too young to have a licence anyway.
And then there’s the farce of the helmet law. And the fact that many motorcyclists don’t bother with lights even when it’s dark.

Put a Sock in It

WE heard a sad tale the other day. An expatriate woman with a good knowledge of Bahasa Indonesia and a sensible interest in preventive health tried to persuade a group of young people at a bowling alley that, when hiring bowling shoes, they really should heed the requirement – well publicised – to wear socks with them. The general idea being you can really do without acquiring other people’s skin ailments and other complaints.
The answer, from the young crowd who apparently had forgotten that Indonesian culture emphasises politeness and respect for others, not to mention elders, was less than encouraging: You’re an Orang Bule, so f--- off.

Christmas Treat

READERS who will be on the other side of the Wallace Line – in Lombok – over Christmas may want to sample the delicious roast duck traditionally served (by the equally delicious Sakinah Nauderer) at Senggigi’s Asmara Restaurant. It’s an annual treat that, sadly, The Diary will miss out on again this year.
The roast duck is on the menu on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Through to New Year’s Day, if you’re not there on the duck days or water fowl does not appeal, Asmara offers prawn pate, jumbo prawns thermidor and mango ice-cream.
Sakinah tells us Santa has scheduled a call into Asmara at 1.30pm on Christmas Day to astonish junior patrons; or at least those whose mums and dads have said will be there.

Lip Gloss

THE pretty woman, Julia Roberts, lately a comely feature of the landscape in Bali while location shooting for her latest movie, Eat, Pray, Love, has been named the new face of cosmetics firm Lancôme. She will hold this onerous and high profile position for 2010, according to Lancôme boss Youcef Nabi, who said last week, announcing the appointment:
“By her remarkable personality and career, Julia Roberts is an emblematic woman of her time. Her exceptional talent, her radiance and her strong commitments perfectly echo Lancôme’s values. We are convinced she will embody the brand in the most sublime way possible.”
Just thought you should know that.

Silly Farts

SOMETIMES you spot something worth reading in the Jakarta Post – though The Diary much prefers the Jakarta Globe as daily fare – and such was the case recently when we came across a story about two neighbours who ended up in court over a fart.
The men – identified only as OB and HS, perhaps under the privacy provisions of the flatulence suppression regulations, and from Cirebon in Java – had a fight after OB vacated his dwelling to pass wind in the open air, sadly failing to notice that his neighbour HS was seated outside, enjoying the evening’s mildness, only 12 metres away.
As a result of his exposure to this unwanted and noxious emission, it is said, HS attempted to strangle OB. HS’s wife, the apparently fearsome YS, ran to join the fray and is said to have bitten OB on the hand.
After this affray the men decided to sue each other for assault. Apparently they were immune to a suggestion from presiding judge Setiadi that they should instead be sensible and forget about the whole thing.

HECTOR'S DIARY appears in The Bali Times, out ever Friday, and on the newspaper's website at The Bali Times is also available via Newspaper Direct.

Friday, December 04, 2009


How to Swan Around and be Disappointed

THERE’S a British lass around – or there was recently – who says she got to Bali on her way to Australia and was underwhelmed, silly girl; she blogged about it on an English newspaper’s website. And so it is that The Diary is apprised both of her disappointment and of her naive and dismissive assumption that you serve your travelling interests best by not bothering to do any pre-arrival research.
From her we hear that Kuta is an unpleasant surprise; that its pavements are not all they might be; that fast food is everywhere; and that KuDeTa – in which Bali’s prominent business coup d’état man, Kadek Wiranatha, has an interest and a Jaguar-sized parking spot – is not worth the whacking great bill you get at the end of an otherwise thoroughly forgettable experience. The girl was apparently expecting to be immersed in traditional Balinese culture in the midst of the predominantly tawdry sun-sand-and-sin cycle for which KLS (Kuta-Legian-Seminyak) is globally renowned.
The real Bali is easily accessible to anyone with the time to explore and an interest in finding out a few of the crucial details first. It is a wholly absorbing and wonderful place. It is not to be missed: unless, that is, your name is Jo Thompson, you’re on something called the Oz Bus, you’re out of sorts and you’ve got a blog at the London Daily Telegraph that needs to be fed.

Oh, Not Again!

AUSTRALIA Network, the satellite television service run with government money to present an Australian face to the region, serves up some reasonable fare to its viewers. Its news coverage is good. Well, it is if you want to get up really early to catch the breakfast stuff, because its flagship show, News Hour, struggles sometimes at 10pm.
Insiders - or those who may once have been and occasionally wish they still were - like to watch Insiders: it provides a pleasantly political Sunday morning interlude. Some of Australia Network’s drama is a bit gritty. The occasional Kiwi stuff needs subtitles. And as a general rule, you’d think that if much of the dialogue needs to be bleeped out, it might be better not to screen the thing at all.
But these are mere quibbles. There is one irritant of exceptional virulence: the number and frequency of repeats of little cameo spots. These might have been interesting the first time (although often the point is moot) but by the tenth or so rendition they have lost any redeeming qualities they might once have possessed.
If The Diary sees Tobias making his ridiculous matchstick models in Kuala Lumpur on some incomprehensible art scholarship one more time, or Willow, who buys sticky buns and plays the saxophone in Shanghai (and buys and buys; and plays and plays) there is likely to be an explosion.
Similarly, although Maggie Beer’s a dear and Simon Bryant a mild amusement, one more visit by the cook part of The Cook & The Chef to the lustily ersatz Germans of the Adelaide Hills or that truffle farm in Western Australia may bring on sudden, involuntary projectile vomiting.
In the same vein, Simon's asinine astonishment that the climate and vegetation of tropical North Queensland are a teensy bit different from those of Adelaide, where he chefs, is entirely enervating when repeatedly replayed.
Then there’s Global Treasures, a European buy-in by the ABC, which presents politically correct travelogues. The Diary has been to Ha Long Bay in Vietnam. It’s beautiful and should be on everyone’s bucket list. It’s nice to see it again on television; if you can ignore the unctuous voiceover. But even the astonishing limestone formations that produce its exquisite vistas get a bit passé when served up in surfeit.
Guys, buy some new material ... please.

Life’s a Beach

THE delectable Devina Hindom, a fixture in the marketing communications efforts of the Ritz-Carlton-now-Ayana at Jimbaran for seven years, has changed her sea-view perspective. At Ayana, unless you’re at the Rock Bar – yum – or the Spa or that jetty thing where your food must surely come with real sea salt, the ocean perspective from atop its substantial cliff is rather lofty.
Hindom, who latterly has been number two to communications director Marian Hinchliffe, has moved on to the new Alila Soori, near Tanah Lot in Tabanan, where the sea view tends to be the surf and not Madagascar. She started there, we understand, on December 1, as a new part of the small but perfectly formed executive team. And we wish her all the best.
Her new property is much smaller, more intimate in a very svelte way, and, we’re sure, a lot of fun for people whose shoes are not scuffed, down at the heel or not worn at all.
Alila does not advertise its wares to the common herd. But it does Tweet them nowadays – The Diary had an item on that a little while ago – by employing contracted marketing twits to do so. It’s a growing thing. Whole swathes of expensive rooming houses have adopted the practice. They still expect the media to swoon over the glossy puffery they occasionally send out in lieu of advertising, of course.

And So to Bed

NEWS that a South Korean court has revoked a law under which men could be jailed for tricking women into bed with false promises of marriage is certainly cheering. Jurists and the law should stay well away from the bedchamber.
That’s not to say the firm belief of many women that all men are bastards is necessarily over-cautious as an approach to life. Trickery is ubiquitous where that thing we all think about but if sensible never write about is concerned.
The South Korean constitutional court was responding to petitions from two men imprisoned for the offence. It passes understanding that in any free society anyone should be in jail for breach of promise or, more accurately, for successfully pressing a case for unmarried sexual congress.
The court ruled that the 56-year-old law placed unnecessary restrictions on individual rights and ignored a woman's right to make her own decisions about who to have sex with.
It also said it forced “traditional, male-chauvinistic morals” on women by protecting only those of that gender the law deemed had “no penchant for debauchery” and that the law had also been exploited by women who used it to blackmail men - threatening to sue after sex, claiming they had only gone to bed with the men after they had proposed.
There you go. No matter whose slippers are hotly kicked under the bed, life is not only a cabaret: it’s also a two-way street.

Well-Deserved Honour

INDONESIAN jurist and Islamic scholar Siti Musdah Mulia has been named Woman of the Year in the annual award made by the Aosta region of Italy since 1998. It recognises recipients as women who have really made a difference in their own communities and hence to the world.
Mulia is no stranger to controversy – though she advocates a moderate view of Islam than is far more cerebral and much less newsworthy than others that attract the attention of the west and, sadly, some of its politicians – but this makes her more worthy of recognition.
In 2007 she said of the Malaysian style headscarf she chooses to wear that she wore it because she was comfortable doing so and not because it was mandated by Sharia rules or anything else. Mulia views Islam as a faith and a way of life that embraces diversity and encompasses pluralism. So it does, of course, as the truly sentient have always understood.
The 2009 award was made in Italy last Friday night. There were 36 candidates for the honour.

Thanks, Guys

THE Australian Consulate-General, which does these things very well, organised a get-together on Thursday night for 60-70 guests, most of them the 20 AusAID volunteers currently working around Bali and representatives of the community organisations with which they work. It was to mark International Volunteers Day, which is on Saturday.
The volunteers work in a range of fields, including education, environmental management and health services. The event was to support and show appreciation of the work done by volunteers in the community and to underline their importance in the close Indonesia-Australia relationship.
Hear, hear. Unsung heroes are almost always the best.

Charity Work

IN most mythology and tradition, angels are charity workers. So it is unsurprising that a jewellery exhibition at Celuk, organised by designer Irwan of California, opened last Friday and proposing to share some of its proceeds with charity, should have been titled Paintings by Angels.
Among the many works on show and for sale at the exhibition – which runs until January 14 – is a necklace, named Blessings Upon the World, formed from chrysacolla and 24 carat gold plate on sterling silver.
To mark the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, proceeds from the exhibition will support the continued advocacy on children’s rights by UNICEF Indonesia.
You can see it all at Jl Jagaraga 66, Celuk, Sukawati, daily from 9am-5pm.

SCRATCHINGS appears, as THE DIARY, in The Bali Times every Friday and on the newspaper's website at The Bali Times is also available through Newspaper Direct.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


Trap for the unwary: Normally The Bali Times avoids advertising in its editorial space – being a real newspaper, we do that sort of thing – but Hatten Wines’ new labels rate an exception to this otherwise firm rule. Here are the three new casks. You’d be flat out spotting the difference in the muted light preferred by retailers of such beverages. You mightn’t spot the reversed accent on the rosé either, though that could be a benefit.

No More Whining, Now. Just Drink Up

THERE seems to be movement on the wine front in Bali. This is a felicity, since when you’re sitting in the dark courtesy of PLN’s world-beating ineffectiveness you can generally manage to hang on to a glass and even to refill it, as long as you keep the container within arm’s reach.
There has been another little outbreak of Aga Redness. The Diary happened upon four of Hatten’s new take-a-stab-at-what’s-within lookalike casks at Gourmet Garage at Jimbaran, the entire stock on display, and having examined them closely to ensure they were indeed reds rather than whites or that pink in-between stuff, grabbed them for the cellar. (The Diary has also learned the lesson: If what you want is there, in minuscule quantity, grab it: First in, best dressed.)
Antipathy to the local drop, a perennial distemper, is unfair. Aga Red in particular is a very passable table wine. It is also snobbishly foolish, unless you’re so far up yourself that paying the equivalent of US$50-plus for a very ordinary imported wine gets you off. The local stuff is cheaper (and will always be) and drinkable. It is also, stock control and distribution woes permitting, readily available. And even for those who fancy themselves sommeliers, it is surely better to look on the bright side and enjoy being where you are rather than someplace else.
That lovely scene in one of the Fawlty Towers episodes – when someone had told Fawlty that his hotel, in Torquay, was the worst in England – springs to mind. Fawlty’s long-term resident guest, The Major, like many superannuated middle-ranking military types a thickly pedantic bore, stepped forward, angered at this slight. “No, no, no! I won’t have that,” he cried. Fawlty smiled his favourite deprecating smile and responded, “Thank you, Major.” There was a short pause while the major pondered. Then he said: “There’s a place at Eastbourne.” There’s another bright spot on the horizon too. At least one local company in South Bali is now offering alcohol, including spirits, at reasonable prices. You have to buy in bulk – but hey, that’s what big cupboards are for, isn’t it?

Not Zapped Yet

THERE was a flurry of excitement last week when PLN’s capo di capo (big boss), Fahmi Mochtar, said he might soon be out of a job. He made this comment, to the Jakarta press, fresh – though that might not be the word – from a marathon nine-and-a-half hour meeting with Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Hatta Rajasa, and the ministers for state owned enterprises and energy.
“I may not be being interviewed by you next month,” he told reporters. “As head of the company, who has a duty to the people, I am ready to be replaced at any time.” His immediate political boss, State Owned Enterprises Minister Mustafa Abubakar, said later there were no immediate plans to unplug Mochtar.
The sour note for Bali in this is that Mochtar’s future – such as it is – hangs on Jakarta’s latest series of unplanned blackouts, brought about by PLN’s nonchalant approach to its core business. Bali can be in the dark forever, apparently, without anyone in Jakarta noticing (or caring).
If we must have state-owned enterprises (and it’s a big if) the sooner they are broken up into more readily managed and regionally responsive monopolies the better. If there were a PLN Bali, you can bet its boss would not have been sitting down without suffering exquisite pain for a very long time. And that he’d actually be doing something to fix the cause of his discomfort.

Equilibrium Atremble
NORMALLY nothing much disturbs The Cage; not even the squawks of fragile egos. But last weekend was somehow different. Scotland beat the Wallabies for the first time in 27 years, an event that created a dilemma for your diarist. Thirty-five years a green-and-golder, the ancestral ties are merely notional where almost anything (in the sporting arena) happens to the poor, benighted folk of Britain. Except if it’s Scotland. But a double tot or so of whisky saved the day: when you’re seeing double, it’s much easier to barrack for both sides. Mrs Hec is not a rugby girl. But she too had a little episode at the weekend. A pleasantly shared Indian meal – at Queen’s of India in Kuta, the one where you don’t get dosa (you have to go to Seminyak for that), was momentarily disturbed by the sudden presence of a young and untutored fellow, old enough to know better, who was leaving with his mum and dad and apparently wanted to sit on a small ornamental elephant positioned at the unoccupied end of our table, exclaim “Yeehah!” and then to inspect our dinner very closely on his way.
Mrs Hec fixed him with her trademark gimlet glare and intoned (quite loudly): “Go away.” Quite right too: Parents may have all the trouble with their children they like, but total strangers shouldn’t have to put up with the ill-mannered results.

Oh, Um, Er ...

WHAT a delight it is to read that the Bali Prosecutor’s office, and evidently the Bali Prosecutor himself, possess laid-back, relaxed attitudes to their jobs. It fits so well with the ambience of administration in Bali, where near enough is always good enough and often miles away.
The prosecutor wants to investigate the Karangasem regent over an inflated-price land deal that, prima facie, was very cosy indeed for the chaps who got the dosh. There’s a report on the matter in this week’s news pages.
Under the law on protected species (leaders), such actions need the concurrence of the President. Hence a letter went off to the Istana Negara in Jakarta on November 17 requesting the seal of approval.
Unfortunately, due we are told to a clerical error, the letter asked SBY to authorise an investigation into the Bangli regent. Now this may be desirable too – we don’t know – but it would seem rather vital that requests of this nature are thoroughly checked by the officials preparing the correspondence. It would help, too, if the Prosecutor himself could manage to read the things he has to sign before affixing his squiggle.
The phone call to the Istana Negara when the error was eventually spotted would have been interesting: “For ‘A’, read ‘B’.”

Immutable Law

THE Diary is a smoker (there ... we’ve said it) and – let it also be said – one of the reasons that made Bali so attractive a living environment versus the not-quite-ancestral homeland is that, here, elective behaviour is for the most part left unmolested by Those Who Know Best and who, in the Odd Zone and other meddlesome places, tirelessly and tediously tell you so.
A giggle was forthcoming, therefore, the other day when we read a blog by Tony Eastley – he fronts the ABC Radio news programme AM – complaining that smokers have stolen all the best spots at Australian pubs and restaurants.
They have to sit outside, you see, so that the demon smoke does not distress others (and spark litigation from persons who believe that life owes them a substantial compensation payout).
Tony likes to drink and dine al fresco, too, it seems. Well tough: He and his ilk almost won their war – clearly a case of close but no cigar – and now have to live with the result.
Seasoned analysts of human affairs must understand the law of unintended consequences. Briefly, it states that you can never win.
SCRATCHINGS appears as The Bali Times Diary in the print edition of the newspaper, out every Friday. The newspaper's website is at The Bali Times is available in print wherever you are through Newspaper Direct.

Friday, November 20, 2009


That’s the spirit: The new warung on the Sari Club site this week. See Warung Hantu, below.

The Joys of Sulawesi Street

THE Diary spent much of last Saturday on bag-carrying duty in Sulawesi Street, the Denpasar precinct where silk, cotton, linen and all sorts of other fabrics are to be found in the hands of many traders, some useful, some less so. It was an interesting experience, though not nearly as much fun as dinner later (at Zanzibar on the beach at Double Six) where the merits – and demerits – of that wonderful mobile communication device, the PickleBerry, formed part of the round-the-table discussion.
Sulawesi Street is bizarre, as well as a bazaar in the more traditional sense. The traders themselves are an eclectic bunch. Some are very helpful and – like everywhere – respond to courtesy. There are many bargains to be had and plenty of smiles to be found. The persistence of the touts is tedious: we all know everyone needs to make a buck, but touts – especially in Indonesia – do not seem to understand they are slightly more likely to make one if they avoid irritating the ordure out of potential customers. In the mellifluous lingua franca of Indonesia, as the simplest of primers will tell you, “tidak” means “no.” It is not some arcane codeword that means “keep trying and I’ll give in eventually.”
Among its many entertainments is the fact that it is sited directly opposite the Badung Market car park exit, where the driving skills (sic) that are a ubiquitous element of Indonesia are prominently displayed. The Diary was deeply engaged at one point by the single-minded purposefulness of a motorbike rider who stopped in the middle of the ultra-narrow street, made narrower still by the apparent belief of car parking attendants that you can squeeze an SUV into a push-bike space, to make a mobile phone call.
It seemed to take him an age to realise that the reason he could not hear his friend on the other end was that the drivers of several dozen blocked vehicles behind were tooting him rather urgently and very loudly.

Warung Hantu

KADEK Wiranatha, the nightspot man, Jaguar enthusiast and failed airline entrepreneur, has apparently signed off on a cosy little interim deal at the Sari Club site in Legian, where a dimly lit warung now offers fare to the passing trade. We won’t be going there, but we thought readers should see a photo of Pak Kadek’s latest insult to the spirits of the many people – a lot of them his countrymen – who died on that spot on October 12, 2002. (See photo at top.)
Wiranatha, who also publishes an advertising fortnightly (apparently for the expatriate community, or so it says), obtained a 30-year lease on the site from its Jakarta owner earlier this year and in August announced both this significant investment in money-grubbing and that he would be implanting yet another restaurant-bar-entertainment venue in the area.
He said, when the inevitable chorus of protests was raised (including from the Governor, whom Pak Kadek clearly views as just another impediment to his profit line), that he didn’t care what people thought – he’s not in the news business, then, if he believes this to be startlingly new intelligence – or that there were existing plans for a memorial garden and reflection centre on the site.
The sorry saga of the Sari site, it needs to be said, largely results from the fact that the Australian advocates of the memorial plan would have difficulty running a chook raffle.
For those who don’t know: hantu is the Bahasa word for ghost.

Latex Faire

APPARENTLY it is to be National Condom Week early in December. It is a sad commentary on modern life that we need “national weeks” of this and that, and an international array of special days and the like, to remind us that it is sensible to be sensible.
Such is the modern condition. It is the ruling dynamic of post-modern human existence: the unavoidable and sour dichotomy found in the solitary, sad fact that the more we know – the more knowledge that passes into human hands – the more profoundly ignorant we become.
Never mind. Human frailty produces all sorts of entertainment, including risibility. Here’s one laugh: While we are all supposed to be wearing latex in December (The Diary assumes that like most things in Indonesia, such a decree is compulsory but will be universally ignored), we can have a giggle about an actress, Julia Perez (widely known as Jupe), who has agreed to be condom ambassador for the National AIDS Commission.
She was apparently chosen because she is considered an authority on sex. Hmm. Not sure we’d want that on our CV.

Terminal Droop

IF state power utility PLN was in the business of running a brothel, it would have gone out of business a long time ago. But it’s not, of course, since the sex industry globally is a profoundly enterprising sector and PLN and enterprise are mutually exclusive. PLN is a government monopoly that manages to combine the benefits of this condition – no competition and a national budget to subsidise its incompetence – with a singular lack of interest in the rights of its consumers, or indeed in supplying the product it is mandated to provide.
Leaving aside its treatment of Bali (about which there is more below), it is a public utility that has institutionalised the oxymoron: it is neither public (being a secretive and closed organisation that says as little as possible, and if letting anything out of the bag at all, makes sure it is merely a mendacious cat) nor of quantifiable utility.
So it was interesting to read a report a few days ago that its director, Murtaqi Syamsudin, had said PLN would give a 10 percent “compensation” – a rebate off bills in other words – to the thousands of consumers in Jakarta and surroundings that it has disadvantaged through blackouts.
The promise came along with that other promise, the repetitive one we hear consistently from PLN: they really are trying to fix their problems and desperately want to keep the lights on.
Talk is cheap. PLN’s uncertain, ephemeral and variable voltage electricity is not. And of course, it’s about to get more expensive.

Not Well Connected

THE farcical saga of Bali’s rolling blackouts continues. PLN publishes lists of them, but these are fictional. It says it won’t unfairly blot out the evenings of consumers but will ensure there’s a reasonable gap (in any area) between one three-hour-plus candlelight experience and the next.
So why did the Ungasan area have one of PLN’s little de-lights on Sunday and another two days later? Residents are beginning to suspect that the kepala desa (village head) is not well connected at all; well, it’s either that or like them he’s had enough and has told PLN where it can stick itself.
There seems little point in publishing a roster if no one at PLN bothers to read it.

Heroine’s Return

JANET DeNeefe, Ubud luminary, hotelier, restaurateur and literary festival person, has just come back to the world’s best “city” – ranked thus by some travel oriented outfit – from Paris. We hear that several centimetres may need to come off the new girth before she can reassume her preferred level of svelte decorativeness, as a result of a dearth of mie goreng in the city of love and the consequent need to consume vast quantities of violently over-kilojouled Frog fare.
Husband Ketut did not make the trip.

Guide-led Economy

INDONESIA apparently needs one tourist guide for every 200 tourists. Gosh, if the successive reruns of “Visit Indonesia Year” – we’re up to three and counting – actually ever work, there will soon be more tourist guides than public servants. And there are far too many of them.
We gain this information from I Nyoman Kandia, chairman of the central executive of the Indonesian Tourist Guides Association (HPI is its Indonesian acronym).
He said in Pontianak last week that Indonesia needs around 35,000 tourist guides in light of the target of attracting 7 million foreign tourists in 2010. There were 12,000 at present and for only 2 million tourists they needed around 10,000 guides. Most of them are in Bali.

Rover’s Return

THERE is a delightful sequel to last week’s item on the presence in London, on the eve of Remembrance Day, of Australia’s first Victoria Cross winner since the Vietnam War four decades ago. Our mention of SAS Trooper Mark Donaldson’s meeting with Queen Elizabeth at Windsor Castle brought a note from a reader in Australia, who told us one of Donaldson’s comrades in Afghanistan – where he won his gong earlier this year – has returned to duty in the war zone.
We don’t know the chap’s name, of course, and even if we did, for security reasons we wouldn’t publish it. But he is said to have hurriedly decamped when Taliban RPGs – rocket-propelled grenades – started pasting Donaldson’s patrol.
So it is cheering to hear that Explosive Detector Dog X, who probably missed his dinkum Aussie Army dinners while he was AWOL in the hills of Uruzgan Province, is now back on base and hard at work.
We’d love to know what he told his CO, though.
SCRATCHINGS is published, as The Bali Times Diary, in the weekly print edition of the newspaper on Fridays. The Bali Times is available anywhere through Newspaper Direct. The newspaper's website is at

Friday, November 13, 2009


Well Briefed

THE new health minister, Endang Rahayu Sedyaningsih, is not without her critics. Politics is an unforgiving environment in any culture. And it’s not all that unusual for ministers – here or indeed anywhere – to be less than perfectly briefed on matters within their portfolios, especially if these are complex policy areas.
But it is extraordinary that Endang could come to Bali for a medical conference – it was held in Jimbaran, newly re-declared a red zone after a further rabies case in Kedonganan – and express ignorance about the presence of the disease on this island.
Where had she been since her appointment on October 24? And more importantly, what had she been reading? Not much in the way of briefing papers presumably – or for that matter, even the newspapers.
We recommend she takes out a subscription to The Bali Times – or buys it via Newspaper Direct, which readers in a great many places around the world can do – where she will quickly find a means of informing herself about the rabies situation here.
She said when queried about rabies that she would ask her officials. Maybe they need to be reading The Bali Times too.

Direct Mail

THE Alila chain, one of those upmarket retreats for Wudbees and Wannabees who like to trip around the globe expensively, pretending they’re having a cultural experience among the natives, doesn’t advertise its wares to the common herd. It doesn’t even think of them as wares: that would be much too down-market.
But we hear that, locally and in the Maldives at least, it has embraced the new world of “social media.” That’s the bit where you get all sorts of “information” from highly subjective – and frequently misinformed – sources and are encouraged to delude yourself that they’re telling you the facts.
Two Bali outfits – water&stone and ClearWhiteSpace – have been appointed, and we quote, to “manage the social media marketing for Alila’s two-product line, Alila Hotels and Alila Villas, and across two markets, Bali and the Maldives.” We are further advised that “water&stone and ClearWhiteSpace are charged with profile creation, channel management and social media monitoring and engagement.”
What this means, when you cut through the guff, is that they’ll Tweet marketing dross at you. It sounds like a great lurk. Perhaps they’ll throw in the free eye surgery that should soon be necessary.

Get Smart

JACK Daniels is a Twit. Well, lots of us are nowadays. It should be Tweeter, or possibly Twitterer, but Twit is shorter, more eye-catching, and in many cases (not in Jack’s case) soundly apt.
The Diary had some traffic with Jack on Twitter recently, after The Man Who Updates Himself had posted a sweet little tweet about a sign he said he had seen on his neighbour’s gate, saying “Salesmen Welcome. Dog Food is Expensive.” Hector, who says he doesn’t twitter (cockatoos screech after all), posted back: “You won’t be going there, then, Jack.”
Things then went downhill. Jack said he kept mace (spray) for journalists. Hec suggested pepper spray was a cheaper option. Jack said he’d really rather Taser them, but a Taser needed to be recharged and PLN was an ineffective source of power. He said Hec should not deny him freedom to lavish upon him the very best of ill winds. And on that, quite so: we’re all for freedom of screech here at The Bali Times.
Might it be that Jack’s distemper had arisen from last week’s Diary item that referred unkindly to cruel winds in the comfort zone. Surely he can’t have thought that the barb was aimed at him?

Yoo-hoo! It’s Me!

THE cult of vanity, so much a part of the YouTube Generation, is not very sensible. Aside from unpleasant hubris – there’s something distastefully odd about people who are convinced total strangers would actually be interested in seeing their mug – it can also be disadvantageous.
We note this point because, last weekend, we read a news report on a little toe rag in Britain who didn’t like the mug shot police asked a local newspaper run of him as part of a public appeal to track him down – they would like to talk to him about a burglary – and sent along a better likeness. He was standing in front of a police van.
South Wales Police had given the media a photo of Matthew Maynard, 23, as part of a crackdown on crime in Swansea. They have now thanked him for helping them in their appeal, saying: “Everyone in Swansea will know what he looks like now.” We’ll spare you the photo. He looks like any number of young thickheads of British provenance. It wouldn’t do to spark a flurry of fake sightings in Kuta.

Sound Advice

LEIGH Sales, who fronts the Australian TV current affairs show Lateline (unfortunately not seen on the Australia Network satellite service), has some very good advice for people who chair panels at writers’ festivals or bookshops. It should be required reading in certain parts of Ubud.
She wrote recently on her ABC blog – it’s called wellreadhead, Sales being attractively thus endowed – that she gives a standard spiel at the beginning of every event: “We’ll have time for questions at the end. And let me emphasise that we want questions, not statements. If you stand up and make a statement, I will cut you off and publicly humiliate you.”
She says it usually gets a laugh; until they realise she means it.
Sales writes: “There’s always at least one person per event who uses the occasion to pontificate instead of just asking a question. At any event for a book about refugees, for example, I can all but guarantee a sixtyish bloke in a flowing shirt, leather sandals and a silver bangle will leap to his feet and rail about the evils of the Howard government – even if the book is about North African asylum-seekers to Europe.”
She adds one anecdote that engaged The Diary’s attention, its genesis being an assault on sensibility from motor-mouth audience members at a Sydney Institute function (the institute and its executive director rank highly on Hector’s list of commonsense sources). It’s worth repeating in full:
“One of the funniest examples I’ve seen of somebody being cut off was at the Sydney Institute. Several people in a row had stood up and made statements. When it came time for the next question, the executive director, Gerard Henderson, gave a very sharply worded instruction that the audience was invited to ask questions, not deliver lectures. He then called on a woman who took to her feet. ‘When I was a young girl ...’ she began. ‘That is NOT a promising start!’ Henderson cried.”
We sympathise. There are similarly self-obsessed folk around here who salivate at the sight of a soapbox.

Gong Day

AUSTRALIA’S newest Victoria Cross winner – and the first to be awarded the Victoria Cross for Australia, the separate but equal denomination of the highest award for military bravery instituted by Queen Victoria during the Crimean War of 1854-57 – met the present Queen this week, at Windsor Castle.
The occasion was the annual gathering of the Victoria Cross and George Cross Association, held the day before Remembrance Day (Nov. 11). Special Air Service (SAS) Trooper Mark Donaldson, VC, won his award in Afghanistan (he rescued his patrol’s wounded Afghan interpreter by dashing hundreds of metres over open ground under intense and well-aimed fire).
By tradition, VC winners of whatever rank are saluted by everyone from the Commander-in-Chief – in Australia the Governor-General – down.
Among holders of the civilian equivalent, the George Cross, is one national state. Malta, then a British territory, was given the honour in 1942 for enduring the intense World War II aerial siege and Blitz-style bombing of the island by the Italians and Germans. Its red and white flag has the insignia of the George Cross in the top left-hand corner.

Unlucky for Some

TODAY is Black Friday (Friday the 13th). It is said by some who study such things that it gained its disquieting moniker from the fact that it was on a Friday the 13th that one of the more unpleasant of the medieval popes proscribed the Knights Templar and rounded them up. Many of them were later burned at the stake for heresy; or possibly banking.

SCRATCHINGS FROM THE CAGE FLOOR appears, as The Bali Times Diary, in the weekly print edition of The Bali Times, the island's only English-language newspaper, every Friday. The Bali Times is also at The print edition is also available globally through Newspaper Direct.

Friday, November 06, 2009


Brighten Your Day, Get Into That Cell!

CELL PHONE: Just the job for brightening your day ... or that cell. The new Samsung Corby hand phone, now being advertised in Bali, should find a ready market at Kerobokan Jail, Des Res of the richly infamous.

Cruel winds in the Comfort Zone

APPARENTLY there are people out there who think that Hector is a particularly crusty old curmudgeon, with insufficient knowledge of anything much, and certainly not enough to pen critical comment of secular, self-appointed deities who nowadays blight life at every turn. Last week’s little flurry of distressed correspondence [to The Bali Times] points delightfully to the discomfiting nature of criticism to such people and their acolytes when previously unchallenged comfort zones have been cruelly disturbed.
There is a view, it seems, that a public newspaper – mark that word: newspaper – is not the place to say such things: Much better to gather around the back of the bike shed and mutter, then? Well, it’s not of course. Bike-shed muttering is best avoided under any circumstances.
In this edition of Bali’s only real English-language newspaper, you can among many other things read the thoughts of veteran Indonesian observer Max Lane – so fluent in Indonesian that he actually translates complex texts fully, taking nuance and changing usage into account, in other words doing it properly, for a living – on what he sees as the real imperatives facing Bali.
These are not the sort of thoughts one finds given space in a tabloid. But then The Bali Times is a tabloid neither in content nor in context; or in fact. We are not for big photos and disingenuous short text. Neither are we authors and photographers, nor for that matter that curious modern amalgam of the two, author-photographers. We are not self-publishing self-publicists, either.
In this edition – as in every edition – readers of The Bali Times are presented with real news, of and about the island on which they live, of a size and scope that nothing else published in English even tries to approach. We have fun doing this, just as a bulk of our readers – those who appreciate that value can be found in others, even if their views differ from their own – enjoy reading the paper.
Hector may be a curmudgeon. He hates trendy, after all. He also abjures self-abuse and he has never worked for a "tabloid" newspaper.

Good Chums

CORDIAL relations have been established between Hector of The Cage and James of Jembrana – goodness, it sounds like something out of Rob Roy when you put it like that – as a result, curiously, of a shared sense of wonderment that That Book, about which they are making That Film, should be thought worthy of much attention at all.
Reader James writes: “I was beginning to think I was the only person in the world who could not see why the book was such an apparent raving success and film-worthy. It was quite a relief to read in your column that there is at least one other person who ponders its worthiness. I found it weird to wander through summary descriptions of the orgasmic delights of Italian gelato, wrestle with descriptions of chants and mantras and learn that her boyfriend had a vasectomy and she got a urinary infection.”
Well, James, we sympathise; although we do like gelato. These days, in order to become a celebrity author, all you have to do is to write about yourself. Once upon a time people left such maundering to their private diaries, and kept them under lock and key lest anyone should actually read them.
In the past, in those halcyon days when private quests for relevance were sensibly kept private, for fear of embarrassment, and grammar and syntax and plain good taste were thought important, novelists created whole plots around the horrid circumstances that were apt to unfold when private diaries were by mischance discovered. Today we live in the Age of Prurience where Ignoramus is king.
James adds, by the way, in his welcome and thoughtful missive: “While on the topic of the filming, the Governor was “embarrassed” by the monetary demands of the locals: I wonder if he gets embarrassed at the monetary demands made on arriving and departing tourists? I think they spend more money per annum than a film company.”

Still Looking

FRIENDS from a place where there are bookshops at more than very scattered intervals and which offer more than big picture-and-little text coffee table dross from the universal self-publisher Figjam and opportunistic rush-reprints of Eat, Pray, Love, left The Diary a present the other day, when they went home after a lovely Bali break.
It was their copy of Dan Brown’s latest fanciful excursion into the world of myth and mayhem that we are encouraged to believe exists in the various sects of Christianity and the mobs of enforcers, liturgical and otherwise, that are said to have held such sway within that community of faith; and still do, if you believe people like Dan Brown.
The Lost Symbol, which must be something unaccountably overlooked in the exhaustively febrile pages of The Da Vinci Code and that other hysterical tale about papal chamberlains who in an excess of faith and self-belief painfully brand themselves between committing vile murders, has joined the hardback section in The Diary’s modest library.
The Alexandria Quartet it’s not (got that anyway). But it’s welcome nonetheless. It will fun to read in the circumstances in which PLN requires you to feed your mind these days – by flickering candlelight. So atmospheric!

So There! Too!

A FELLOW of The Diary’s acquaintance – a valued professional acquaintance in fact – has been having a little problem lately (well, for several eons, according to him) with a succession of noisy roosters his Balinese neighbour at Canggu keeps in cages for cock-fighting, one among the many formally illegal activities that thrive here by reason of custom and official ennui.
But he tells us he no longer feels quite so alone in his distress, having read of the troubles one Dan Harper, occasional columnist for the Santa Cruz Sentinel in the USA, experiences with pets in his neighbourhood. Dan lives in California, where pampering has been mandated as a human right – one extended to pets of the house nowadays – and where, inevitably, the unforeseen costs of this collective stupidity must be paid.
Dan, who we think may be a little desperate, as well as – in the American fashion – a little ill-informed (he referred to the yapping dogs in the “little kingdom of Bali”), wrote on November 1 that if you want to love your neighbours, you'd better love their pets. He notes that this is in fact rather hard, since some them (the pets, but he subliminally, we’re sure, he means the neighbours too) are pretty hard to take.
They make a lot of noise, you see. Though none of them, apparently, are roosters. But our friend this side of the ocean would surely sympathise with the sentiment: unsolicited 4am alarm wake-ups are a universal bane.

Timely Change

EVER one for a genuine cultural experience, as an antidote to the un-genuine, of which there is an oversupply, The Diary dropped into the Four Seasons at Jimbaran on Thursday evening for the opening of Timeless Change, Ganesha Gallery’s latest exhibition. Adriaan and Runi Palar are an engaging couple and the astonishing mix of painting and jewellery that their collaborative art produces is certainly worth the long walk from the upper lot, where Gallery visitors are required to park if self-drivers.
John O’Sullivan’s crew at the Four Seasons also turn on a good circulation of passable wines by the glass, too, on these occasions. Another reason to skip sundowners elsewhere!
HECTOR'S DIARY appears, as Scratchings From the Cage, as The Bali Times Diary in the print edition of the newspaper every Friday. The Bali Times is at

Friday, October 30, 2009


Oh What a Lovely Week

A WEEK spent supporting the burgeoning VFR (visiting friends and relatives) tourism sector is never wasted, particularly if it gets you away from your usual beat to lovely places like Candi Dasa and Ubud. Such was The Diary’s lucky lot last week: three days beside the sea at Candi Dasa – those cool ozone-loaded breezes are a tonic – and a planned three days at Universe Central, aka Ubud. Those three days turned into two, because of something that arose at home; but never mind: that was the plan and it was a good one.
The Diary, when in Candi, chooses to stay at the delightful Pondok Bambu. It has wifi, as Mrs Diary is apt to ruefully observe. It also has a view of Nusa Penida and of Lombok – in the latter case, if you crane your neck over the sea wall and Indonesia’s proclivity for dense haze doesn’t blank it out (it did last week) – and is attractively central to the little town’s restaurant row.
The town was not overloaded with visitors. It is the low season, after all, that doldrums period between the end of the European vacation season and the influx of Christmas-New Year revellers. But that made it easy to get a table for dinner where and when one wanted, a bonus at any time of the year. A visit to Vincent’s, where much that was on the menu was actually available, was scheduled, plus another to a little place along the road where, at the finest Formica table and in the somnolent presence of the resident cat, one can dine for very little indeed.

Cheap at Half the Price

OUR friends borrowed The Diary’s ancient conveyance – brave souls – one day in Candi and did a quick tour into Amlapura, the neighbouring (and lovely) little “county seat” of Karangasem. Well, it wasn’t quite as quick as they had planned. They were slightly delayed by a nice chat with a friendly policeman. They had stopped with the front wheels just over the white line – this is the only traffic rule ever enforced in Bali and Lombok, and perhaps in the rest of Indonesia too – and paid the price for their misdeed.
A policeman appeared from nowhere, scenting prey. There was a bonus, however. It seems the going rate for Bules who breach the wheels over the white rule in Amlapura (and fail to produce an international driver’s permit) is only Rp 100,000 (around $US10). They say the cost of living is always cheaper in the country. At least, that’s the sum our friends were deprived of, before the friendly polisi got out in the middle of the road with his whistle and his air of invincibility and stopped all the other traffic so they could drive away.

A Not Unpleasant Drive

RELOCATING from Candi Dasa to Ubud was less of a pain than it could have been. Journey time 1hr 30min, distance travelled 49km. “Trip speed” around 30km/h. The road from Candi to Ubud, via Semarapura and Gianyar, is not too bad. It even has painted white lines on a lot of it, and fewer potholes than you might ever imagine possible. Give or take a “killer yellow” truck or two, and scattered representatives of their companions in crime, “rampant reds”, “belching blues” and “gremlin greens,” it was a not unpleasant drive.
It does give you an idea, though, of how rapidly and comprehensively southern Bali is becoming one large built-up area. There are some rice fields to be seen – between Candi and Semarapura and once you’re well into the outer Ubud zone of influence, otherwise marked by its plethora of art galleries. But for the most part the drive is through a succession of contiguous communities. The architecture is always a delight – well, nearly all of it – and of course there are always the visible building standards to chat about as you meander along.

Julia-Free Zone

THE Diary approached Ubud with caution (this is a general rule when entering the territory of the Chosen), emphasised on this trip by the actuarial risk of a Julia sighting. One does not wish to be impeded by Hollywood faddists out for autographs, after all. Thankfully, in two days (and several repetitive circuits of the Hanoman-Monkey Forest-Raya Ubud shopping streets, grr), not a single such sighting was recorded. We did, though, receive reports that Ms Roberts had other fish to fry at that time, apparently after first learning to catch them, in connection with her starring role in that movie thing about that book thing.
One night, the VFR party dined at The Three Monkeys, that pleasant little bistro-cum-patisserie in Jl Monkey Forest, and experienced something that led to discussion about the necessity of changing the establishment’s name to something more appropriate. Three Monkeys and a Rat was the final choice.
Fortunately, it was a singular experience in more than just the metaphorical sense. Just one little rattus rattus, very black and swift, which scampered from the adjacent rice field to the kitchen and – we think – took up residence behind the refrigerator. The café cat took little interest. The kitchen door (unfortunately just behind our table) was later shut with a slam and we heard some clattering: but they may only have been tossing the salad, of course.
The door opened later and rattus rattus decamped, to the amusement of a couple of gentlemen at an adjacent table – possibly they were on leave passes from the local branch of the Four Seasons chain and were spending some of their very welcome pink dollars – who raised a decorously twinned set of eyebrows in our direction.
The Diary had remained silent about the rodent exodus until after it was over, because one of our companions, a lovely lady who has travelled widely but clearly in protected environments, had seen the animal on its inward course and didn’t like it. Since its outward course took it directly under our table and beneath our feet, it seemed that discretion was the better part of clamour.
The spinach pesto lasagne was delicious, by the way. There was no ratatouille on the menu.

Be Good Sports

UBUD is awash with moneyed expatriates and others who insist on helping the locals retain their culture. They actually need no help in that direction, of course, Balinese culture being among the most resilient likely to be experienced anywhere by do-gooders and others in search of a mission.
So here’s an idea. The soccer field in the middle of town is in a dreadful state. Discretionary funds to repair and maintain it – in a state in which it would be feasible to play a game with genuine on-field skill in addition to enthusiasm – are not generally available in places such as Ubud, where most people live for a year on what many of their putative benefactors might spend on a good dinner.
Giving the kids somewhere to develop their sporting skills and a place to foregather for youthful exuberance would not take a lot of time, effort – or money. Talking to the local authorities about just such a plan would be a worthwhile project.

Rock On

AYANA’S Rock Bar – that svelte little cliff-face spot where they play live music most nights and where rappelling skills are de rigueur for those who wish to be noticed – hosted the break-up party for the Balinale last Sunday evening. As soirees go, it went, and very pleasantly.
Nearby Dava, Ayana’s signature restaurant, is staging an Italian wine experience on November 7, by the way: wines by Marchesi Antinori, attendance by fat wallets (the night will cost you Rp 1 million a head).
Chef de Cuisine William Gumport – already revealed by The Diary as a tall white hat to be reckoned with – has created a five-course menu to match the wines selected for the occasion. Antinori began making wine in 1385. The firm’s Jacopo Pandolfini will be in attendance on the night to introduce the rather later vintages now on offer. Contact the Ayana for bookings.

Prison is Hell

KATHRYN Bonella, the Australian writer who brought you Schapelle Corby in book form, has written an exposé of Kerobokan Jail, the lady’s long-term leasehold property in Bali. From it we are reminded that conditions in Indonesian jails – well, Kerobokan, anyway – are somewhat less than ideal.
The Diary does not subscribe to the theory that one should be (a) overly concerned if lawbreakers are forced to live without some of the benefits of freedom or of the modern (effete, western) life; or (b) feel much disposed to raise a hue and cry about it. We prefer the consular approach: if foreign prisoners are dealt with in accordance with Indonesian law and exist in confinement in no worse a condition than local prisoners, then that meets the requirements of the duty of care.
But others take a different view, obviously. Bonella’s book will be widely read and rightly so. She told The Diary this week: “After writing the book with Schapelle Corby, I was intrigued by Kerobokan Prison, the drugs, sex and gambling and how people coped with living in such a crazy and dangerous place.”

Teeing Off

GOLFERS will tee off in a great cause from 1pm tomorrow – when the annual Rotary Club of Nusa Dua’s charity match for its cleft lip surgery programme gets under way at the Bali Golf & Country Club.
Players, who pay US$125 (Rp1.25 million) entry for the afternoon contest, will vie for a range of prizes. The event finishes with an awards dinner at the Country Club.

SCRATCHINGS appears every Friday, as The Bali Times Diary, in The Bali Times, Bali's only English-language newspaper. The newspaper's website is at

Saturday, October 24, 2009


MY HAT, What a Picture!: Michael White in his Made Wijaya Outfit.

TOP: MANY HATS: AirAsia Chief Tony Fernandes is noted as being in tune with the market.

How to be a Pain in the Udeng

OUR old friend Michael Made White Wijaya (MW2 for short) got himself in a bit of a stew at the weekend. He didn’t like our report on the ceremonies to mark the seventh anniversary of the terrorist outrages of 2002. He didn’t like the Balinale. He didn’t like the Julia Roberts film crew, or apparently the film the pretty woman and others are visiting upon us. And naturally, being MW2, he told us so – in the style (we use the term advisedly) to which he has become accustomed and to which most of his remaining readers surely must have become inured.
We were not surprised. But then we were far from disappointed. It’s good to see that the self-proclaimed Leading Conscience of Bali reads The Bali Times. It is, after all, the only newspaper here that publishes real Bali news, in English, every week. We understand, too, that English or a facsimile of it is one of the languages in which White Wijaya allegedly conducts his life, in his own fashion. That fashion seems to be to prove that he is indeed a stranger in paradise; but that’s his bag.
And he’s entitled to his view, of course. It’s just that when you are constantly informed that there is only one view, and that that one is his own view, it becomes a little tedious. We do understand, though. When you’ve lived here since 1973 (when you colourfully “jumped ship” and swam ashore) and have been a legend in your own udeng ever since, it must be difficult to keep up with the times.
Doubtless when he got here he was a novelty; instantly luminous, or at least phosphorescent. Some would suggest he still is, though perhaps not in the way he would like to think. In the intervening 36 years he has been joined on our island by an increasing number of “local experts” (let it be said that many of them can be trying too) and now has to compete for air time.
This must be galling. But it is not a problem that will be solved by promoting oneself as in some way Balinese; by publishing self-promotional photos in a range of situations that demonstrate that good taste and yourself are apt to be mutually exclusive; by affecting a presence on the camp edge of the party scene; or by being rude about – and to – people who cross your path and whose views, unaccountably no doubt, are not by this involuntary act of consanguinity instantly adjusted to your own.
MW2 has many critics. There is no doubt that, along with others of lengthy establishment in the expatriate quarter, he affects an air not far removed from the foolish predilection of Sun Kings and others to presume L’Etat c’est Moi. Such people add colour to one’s daily life, as long as one is not taken in by them. Each to his own is a good view: Provided, of course, those who so assiduously promote themselves do so with some connection to actualité.

It’s All Go

GALAXIES may be about to collide up Ubud way, we hear, home of the Stellar Cluster. And we don’t just mean that MW2 (see his other list of pet hates, above) doesn’t like the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival either. Janet DeNeefe, who apparently eats, prays and loves in the area, posted this little warning note to Hollywood star Julia Roberts on her Facebook the other day: move ova Julia.....eatin' prayin' and lervin' is my department in ubud... (It’s so cheering to see literary activists scribbling in today’s ungrammatical and misspelled txt style.)
Never mind, Julia. Have a happy birthday on the 28th. Bali’s a great place to celebrate good times.

Soft in the Head

IS there a traffic law (hah!) that permits temple-bound folk to ride their motorcycles in their ceremonial udeng (headdress) instead of helmets? If there is, it should be scrapped. And the police could try enforcing the helmet rule generally, too, instead of just using it an unofficial income stream. As we report in this edition, nine people died on Bali’s roads over last week’s three-day Galungan festival, one of them a 15-year-old. What a tragic waste.
They weren’t all wearing udeng rather than helmets, of course. But Balinese attitudes to road safety – along with the similarly cavalier approaches to road behaviour everywhere else in Indonesia – need correction. The informal udeng rule for temple travel is just one example of collective stupidity. A fellow we know tells us he asked his houseman the other day why Balinese don’t put on their udeng on arrival at the temple or wherever. He got the usual answer: it’s too much trouble.
It seems to be in the bulky list of things in the too-hard basket at the Malaise Department, which plainly has overall control of public policy in Bali. (It extends to dealing properly with rabies, not without coincidence.)
But it only takes a few seconds to wrap an udeng around your head: just as it takes only a few seconds to become another road statistic.

A Good Result

IT’S good to see a friend win a well-deserved accolade. AirAsia Group CEO Tony Fernandes has just received the 2009 Frost & Sullivan Excellence in Leadership Award.
The award was presented for exemplary leadership and presented at the recent GIL 2009: Asia Pacific, A Growth, Innovation and Leadership Congress in Kuala Lumpur. Frost & Sullivan, a US-based consulting firm, makes the award annually.
AirAsia, which chose Bali as one of eight regional hubs in South-East Asia, flies 80 Airbus A320 aircraft on 113 routes to nearly 60 destinations in Asia and has a staff of 6,500. Its Indonesian arm, AirAsia Indonesia, flies from Bali to Perth.
Fernandes also heads the rapidly expanding Tune Group, which includes Tune Hotels, a no-frills chain soon to open in Bali.

Phoenix Rising

WE like to keep an eye on the activities of Balisiders, those whose business is so often elsewhere and for whom, it can seem, Bali is a sort of weekend retreat; in the manner of a house in the country. And an inspiration: as batik is to John Hardy’s Kawung Collection jewellery, for example.
So we were interested to get a note via Facebook (if Lenin were still around, he would surely number it among his useful tools) advising that on Saturday last John Hardy’s head designer and creative director, Guy Bedarida, would be in Scottsdale, Arizona (it’s basically “Greater Phoenix”) for a special event. He was the star of a presentation at the Neiman Marcus store there “to present unique pieces of John Hardy jewellery” and his inspirations of the 2009 Fall Collection.
Don’t know if John H got to the gig. We didn’t.

Woof, Woof!

THIS year’s Bali Night cocktails do at the Rialto in Melbourne, Australia, held last Friday night (last week’s Diary not) raised a little over Aus$37,000 for the Bali Street Dogs Fund.
Indefatigable organiser Sue Warren tells us this figure isn’t final (some things that didn’t sell at auction on the night are still in play), and although down around $10,000 on last year, they’re very pleased. Given Australia’s little local difficulties with the economy – government propaganda to the contrary notwithstanding – and Victoria’s own urgent imperatives, it’s certainly a creditable result.
The Bali Street Dogs Fund helps BAWA – the Bali Animal Welfare Association – with its desexing and (now) anti-rabies campaigns. We expect Janice Girardi of BAWA is pleased, too, then.

Come Dancing

THEY like to make a song and dance of things in Ubud, in some cases, literally. And it’s true that people come to Bali for all sorts of reasons. Jen Richardson, of that hill town that so many view as the centre of the universe, is hoping some of them have come to learn modern dance, because from October 27 to November 14 there’s a chance to learn the ins and outs of jive and other styles with Jen’s son Davis, a dance teacher who is here for a month.
Apparently Jen & Son are particularly looking for “leads” (traditionally males but these days either gender is acceptable apparently) since these are somewhat rare here. If you’re interested, call Jen on 0813 3729 0712.

Call Back Later

THE things you see. The famous first-name style of Bali (Pak Hec at your service) occasionally gives you a laugh. There’s an advertisement running – somewhere or other, in one of those advertising-only rags that prove the veracity of advertising by claiming to be newspapers – for the Bali Geckos Australian Rules Football team.
They are always looking for new players of any standard, apparently. Perhaps St Kilda, who play well anywhere except within earshot of the grand final siren, could help out. But what caught our eye was that those interested were asked to call President Lincoln.
Hmm. Think he was detained at the theatre some little time back.

SCRATCHINGS FROM THE CAGE FLOOR appears as The Bali Times Diary in the weekly edition of Bali's only English-language newspaper, published every Friday. The Bali Times is at

Thursday, October 15, 2009


QUICK EXIT: Wole Soyinka BIG ENTRY: Barack Obama

Yes, We Have No Bananas (Well, Not at Your Price)

BALINESE culture, religious practice and tradition emphasises shared responsibility anchored in the concept that someone else’s pain is your pain and someone else’s joy is your joy. It’s a lovely idea, and for the most part – this is what sets Bali apart from much of the rapacious world – it works.
How then should we view the rampant profiteering at local markets that went on in the lead-up to Galungan (Oct. 14 with holidays the days either side)? Were market-goers in search of bananas – crucial for ceremonies – bamboo (ditto) and other necessary votive products supposed to be happy to share the joy of sellers in their significant grab for extra money at their expense?
It’s not something that impacts on expatriates or indeed on the non-Hindu population of the island. Neither is it unusual in a global setting. Prices always go up, everywhere, whenever merchants spot a captive market in search of must-buy items. Anand Krishna’s thoughtful piece in last week’s edition of The Bali Times discussed that issue rather well, in the context of a communal culture.
But the bottom line is that profiteering is just another way of seeking advantage. It does not sit well with the image of Bali as a place of harmony and good thinking. Conscience is such a malleable creature, isn’t it?

Peace Off

THE decision of the Nobel Peace Prize organisers to award it this year to Barack Obama demonstrates with stark – and disturbing – clarity the vacuous state of European politics and the increasing irrelevance of the remote north-western peninsula of Eurasia.
It was a clearly political decision, made for reasons that would only make sense to a crowd plainly pained by relevance deprivation syndrome. The poverty of the Nobel committee’s position is revealed in the fact that nominations for this year’s peace prize closed just two weeks after the Inauguration on January 20. It’s not a question of whether Barack’s a good guy, or even whether he’s not. He has caused no peace – yet. He is embroiled in American politics and – the “good thinkers” of the American left notwithstanding – is compelled by circumstances to proceed and behave much as he has.
He is not St Barry (something his barrackers in Indonesia would do well to remember, incidentally). It is profoundly unclear whether he has any answers to America’s deep problems, far less those of the world. He won the good press he did, prior to his election in 2008, largely because he was not George W. Bush. That in itself is a demonstration of the vacuity with which global politics is conducted these days. And now he is in office, with actual decisions to make rather than political messages to spin, things are rather different from those heady days on the campaign trail.
None of this is Obama’s fault. He was running for office. People do that in democracies. Idiots – we use the term deliberately – who convinced themselves that the Obama Age would instantly usher in an era of peace and social understanding are poor fools besotted by the messiah complex.
Sadly, it seems, we must count the Nobel committee among them. Equally sadly, they have embarrassed not only themselves but also President Obama, whose shoes have hardly had time to scuff the carpet under the desk in the Oval Office.

In a Lather

THE 2009 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival has come and gone. Now we have the delights of communing with actress Julia Roberts to deal with, while she’s here cycling through the Monkey Forest at Ubud for her new movie Eat, Pray, Love. Shooting was scheduled to start this week.
We hear some other shooting may be called for in Walter Spies’ lovely little hill town – metaphorically of course – in the wash-up of the Festival. We loved the photographed cancellations to the programme posted on the UWRF Facebook. Perhaps one of the events was cancelled because no one could find the venue: it was said to be in Hanoman Road.
Organising people is never easy, especially those whose untidy lives are lived in the arts area. Snafus happen. But they do need to be minimised. When great minds gather, we gather, the object is to be seen as well as heard. Star attraction Wole Soyinka, who nearly turned round at Singapore on his way in, self-perplexed over the time it was taking the Indonesians to stamp his visa on an incomplete application, then left last Saturday night instead of on Monday morning because the flight arrangements had been messed up.
That said, UWRF is an essential entry on Bali’s international calendar. This year’s festival brought together some great talent. And a lot of fun was had by a lot of people. That’s good.

All Go

DOWN Nusa Dua way, things are clicking. And it’s not just the light switches when PLN occasionally remembers that its job is to provide electricity. The Diary was there the other day – for a Balinese wedding reception which was immense fun – and spotted a new Japanese restaurant on Jl Raya Nusa Dua Selatan, just by the entrance to the manicured BTDC hotels and golf club precinct.
It is built in a style reminiscent of a Japanese country inn. When we called in, attracted by its ironwood timberwork and low lighting, it was having its “soft opening”. The grand one had been set for some time after Galungan, we gather. It looks a picture; and the menu is attractive.
Mushasi is now on The Diary’s lengthening list of Dining Places to Be Visited.

Eat Up

BALI has two entries in the list of Asia's top 10 restaurants in the latest issue of The Miele Guide, another of those interminable cycles of self-congratulation with which the glossy sector of the international and local media so concerns itself.
Mozaic and Ku De Ta ranked sixth and ninth in the second edition of The Miele Guide, which was launched recently – with all the desired bells and whistles and in the presence, assumed to be desirable, of the A List names deemed suitable for the plush ambience of The Fullerton Hotel in Singapore.
According to The Miele Guide, Asia’s two best restaurants are still L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon in Hong Kong and Iggy's in Singapore. This year, though, in another circular movement, they swapped places, with L'Atelier claiming pole position for the bragging race.
It would be nice to ignore these sorts of awards. But marketing being what it is, you can’t.

Gotta Giggle

WE all need a little laugh now and again. Newspaper readers are no different in that respect. Neither, for that matter, are newspaper diarists. The perils of becoming humourless, fixated on seriousness, of turning into yet another foot soldier in the regiments of Ernests and Ernestines who blight their lives and those of others by fixating on issues because this makes them feel important, are plain enough. Life gives you lines on your face. It’s better to make them laugh lines.
For this reason The Diary was happy to see a little tale the other day – it surfaced in the local Indonesian language media – about the septuagenarian grandpa caught in flagrante (well, nearly) in an Amlapura brothel. Gosh, The Diary has been to Amlapura many times – it’s a lovely little town – and has never yet seen a house of ill repute.
It seems the police decided on this particular day to pay a visit to a certain establishment. As you might imagine, persons on the premises for the activities offered therein fled helter-skelter. But one old chap stayed put. He was finally persuaded to emerge from behind a locked door, along with his companion in victimless crime. He had with him a condom, apparently coloured orange (for added zest, no doubt). It was, he told the law enforcers gathered at the lintel, unused.

Donkey Vote

IN poor, benighted Gaza, where Arab politics and Israeli bastardry have combined to create hell on earth, the zoos are doing it tough too. Many of the exotic animals have died – the result either of the violence associated with acts of war or of the general deprivation Israel’s blockade has produced – and among them, the zebras.
But one zoo, we hear, has come up with a novel way to present local school children with the famously striped horse-like creature of the African veldt. They’ve painted donkeys in zebra stripes – very well too, it seems – and trot these out when visitors come to experience the wild creatures of Elsewhere. Apparently not only the children are fooled. Some of their teachers make asses of themselves as well.

Hector's Diary appears, as Scratchings From the Cage Floor - The Bali Times Diary, in the print edition of the newspaper every Friday. The Bali Times is at