Sunday, March 29, 2009


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Our Week for the Sounds of Silence
BALI offers many things to a tired and jaded world. One of these is Nyepi, the annual Hindu “Silent Day” when everything shuts up. Even the airport closes down, disrupting schedules everywhere. The day is designed for Hindu reflection and also to persuade bad spirits that since there is obviously no one on Bali, they should take themselves off elsewhere and find other people to bother.

This is a lovely idea, if somewhat impractical in terms of today’s world. But Bali’s charm lies in its affection for the spiritual and its happy knack of keeping itself fairly well informed about the world while not being overly desirous of actually joining it.

Nyepi this year was on Thursday (March 26). The “silence” runs from 6am to 6am next day. During this 24-hour period the only people about are the Pecalang, the neighbourhood police, who will leap at the chance to fine you fiercely if you’re caught with a light on, or entertaining yourself in any visible or audible way. The tradition varies – there’s one village in the rural area of Tabanan regency The Diary knows of where Nyepi simply means you stay within the village limits; and there may be others who have adopted this more liberal interpretation of what observance of the day demands – but generally speaking, anywhere in Bali is a no-go zone that day.

For tourists and most of the expatriate community, the Nyepi options are to stay in your hotel (if a tourist) or move into one (if a resident expatriate); or to escape to Lombok, where Nyepi is observed by members of the local Hindu minority only within their own homes. In Bali, designated tourist hotels are allowed to keep minimal lighting and services going for their guests. Some beachfront hotels nowadays even let guests use their bit of beach. The Diary would feel uncomfortable doing so, for fear of making a splash: but much less so – indeed not at all – in enjoying the minimalist service and facilities of a chosen establishment. The Diary traditionally favours Pondok Bambu at Candi Dasa. On a clear Nyepi night you can see the lights of Lombok. And nowadays you can use the wireless internet there too. If you can’t be on the street, at least you can be on line.

It’s nice of the bad spirits to agree not to notice the few lights that are on in Bali over Nyepi, however. It reminds Hector of his military days, when on numerous occasions he was able to order his driver to drive over bridges notionally destroyed by enemy action because, on that day’s mission, he had those lovely “OOE” – “Out of Exercise” – decals on the vehicle.

A Significant Footnote

AUSTRALIAN state elections are not normally things that excite much comment (often not even within the state concerned). Parochial politics is best left the parish pump. But last weekend in Queensland, a Significant Footnote in History occurred: Australia elected its first ever female head of government.

Labor, the party of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd who is also from Queensland but often looks and sounds as if he’s from Planet Wonk, was running for a fifth term in office. Anna Bligh, as Premier, had taken over mid-term from veteran Peter Beattie – he moved to the plum job of Queensland trade commissioner in Los Angeles – and was generally thought to be facing a tough task, even though her party had a more than comfortable majority in the state assembly.

It turned out it wasn’t a time for change after all, the pitch put forward by the Liberal National Party opposition. Labor lost a few seats, but remained comfortably in power. And the lady in red (seen in the photo having her triumph in the tally room on Saturday night) made history as the first woman in Australia to win election as a premier in her own right.

This was an event not before time – long delayed, in fact. Our Lombok mate Peter Duncan, someone else with a lengthy interest in Australian politics, noted on his Facebook that Bligh’s win proved that women are no longer unelectable as leaders in the great south land. There have been three female state premiers – Bligh among them – who got their jobs on succession. Neither of the others – Carmen Lawrence in Western Australia and Joan Kirner in Victoria – subsequently won elections.

The election was significant for few other reasons. But one pleasant outcome was the failure of Pauline Hanson – now thankfully just a faint echo of the great distemper of her recent past and reduced, we hear, to featuring her high heeled shoes as an electoral come-on – to win a rural seat.

One Hat, One (Dead?) Rabbit?
HOW very interesting it is that the US$600 million Lombok tourism development project that last week was lying on the floor in a crumpled heap, not visibly breathing, has been locally declared “not yet dead”. Tidak sudah mati? Well we hope so.

According to “high-ranking Indonesian officials” – doubtless that’s code for the embarrassed crew of senior politicians and bureaucrats now running around trying to find the resuscitation equipment – they got the three month extension they needed to complete their homework (blast that dog, it always eats it!) and everything’s still in working order.

We’ll see. It would be great if the project actually did reach fruition. But the fact that the Dubai developer EMAAR has shut its Jakarta office and will administer its Lombok affairs from the UAE does not, on the face of things, look entirely positive. This is particularly so given the deep impact of the global economic crisis on Dubai.

Let’s all hope that rabbit is indeed alive when it’s pulled from the hat down the track.

It’s Tough Saying G’Day
KEVIN Rudd, who by now surely needs no introduction to the worldwide fan club he has attracted since shifting from leafy Norman Park in subtropical Brisbane to the well-heated ambience of The Lodge in frosty Canberra, has been off talking to The Bam. Well, we hope so. He so often talks at you.

In Australia, where RDS (relevance deprivation syndrome) is itself a constant issue, such that they like to think that all manner of things are “an issue”, there was much pre-trip speculation about whether Prime Minister Rudd would talk straight with the new man in the White House. He said he would (of course). But we wondered what the alternatives were. Could he perhaps be thinking of talking discursively? Or elliptically? (That’s fun.) Or on a nudge-nudge, wink-wink basis? Something like: “I know this great pole-dancing place in New York. Fancy some action?”

The real issue for serious world-watchers, and observers of the Land of Oz, where things are usually wizard but aren’t so great just at the present, because of Bernie Madoff and John Howard if you believe Mr. Rudd, is whether President Obama’s renowned language skills extend to understanding Strine, the lingo in the land down under. Actually, it’s easy. Just swallow all the consonants and insert a glottal stop or two, an’ she’ll be roit, mite. We’re sure The Bam, who after all can ask for nasi goreng in passable Bahasa and be perfectly pleasant in several other languages as long as you don’t ask him what he’s going to do about Iran, will have found no trouble in translating Kevvie’s happy “G’Day.”

This issue reminds The Diary of a lovely tale of World War I vintage – it’s probably apocryphal, but who cares – concerning a new Australian battalion moved up to the battle line on the Western Front. The local British blimp in charge thought he’d better go along and give the colonials a bit of a boost with a stirring speech. “Have you come here to die?” he asked, with blimpish aplomb. A voice from the ranks shot back: “Nah. We come ‘ere yesterdie.”

A Meet and Greet with a Difference
NEW Australian Consul-General Lex Bartlem and his boss, Ambassador Bill Farmer, put on a nice little do at the consulate in Denpasar last Friday evening. A real treat was the Australian wine and the catering by The Conrad.

The Diary was present and ran into two old friends – Bartlem himself, from days long ago in Queensland, and another mate, Wayan, who was in charge of Conrad’s catering that night. What a splendid affair.

It doubled as a meet-and-greet and as an occasion to publicly honor two Indonesian members of the Australian Alumni, people who have made a real difference in our community. Dr I Made Nitis and Ms Fanina Yulianthi were recognized with the presentation of certificates as outstanding individuals.

Ambassador Farmer said: “I am delighted to present these awards to two remarkable people who are making significant contributions to the development of Indonesia and to the strong people-to-people links between our two countries.” Hear, Hear to that.

Dr Nitis received the Distinguished Alumni Award for his lifelong achievements and contribution to land farming with innovative research in Bali and eastern Indonesia. His close links with Australia include his work with the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research.

Ms Yulianthi was awarded the Inspirational Alumni Award for her outstanding work with small businesses in Indonesia who strive to enter and operate in the international arena. Ms Yulianthi helps businesses to develop strong networks and conducts entrepreneurship training in remote areas to improve human resources.

Australian Alumni Award ceremonies also took place in Jakarta last month to recognise other outstanding Indonesians who have worked tirelessly in their community or made lifelong achievements and contributions to Indonesia. Nominations for the awards are made by alumni through the Australian Alumni Network, Ozmate, and the finalists are decided by an independent judging panel made up of alumni.

Stella Kloster Joins our Team

THE Diary has a new friend. She is Stella Kloster, of Villa Bolly, Jalan Beling, Banyakvankas (it’s that new area in the green belt just a cork-pop from all the action, she tells us). Stella is a star in her own firmament. This galactic über-zeitgeist is essential in these difficult times, especially when all you’ve got to play with is monopoly money (preferably someone else’s). She’s friends with everyone who has more bling than she does, or more bolly. She’s seen at the scene, wherever that is. Or, indeed, whatever that is. And if she looks a little like Barbie, well, that’s just because. That hair: Fake. That tan: Bottle. That body: Manufactured. That smile: Plastic.

But Stella just loves to yak and has agreed to keep Hector informed of what’s going down in her little bling and bolly world, that bit of Bali she and her friends live in that is wholly unconnected with the actual island, its culture and its ethos. It will be essential reading. Watch for her bubbly reports, from time to time, as the fancy takes her, in future editions of The Diary.

Friday, March 20, 2009


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HE’S GOT WHAT IT TAKES: Australia’s Environment Minister, former Midnight Oil front-man Peter Garrett, swallows the mike at last weekend’s big Australian rock concert to raise money for the country’s bushfire and flood victims. The Melbourne concert – there was one in Sydney too, held simultaneously – had been hit by torrential rain, but this stopped for Garrett’s performance. No word on whether he also sang the Australian national anthem, though it would have been appropriate: It’s all about a land of drought and flooding rains...

Wanted: An Act to Get Together
THE saddest comment so far in the collapse of the US$600 million tourism development project on Lombok – from which Dubai’s state-owned developer in chief, Emaar, withdrew last week – comes from Sumaryanto Widayatin, a special advisor to the Public Works Ministry, who blamed unprofessionalism for the tangled negotiations.
“I think it’s because the Ministry of Finance was worried about selling the land cheaply to Emaar,” he said, noting that every large project in Indonesia attracted officials who had their hands out. He added this stinging question: “Where in Indonesia do we not have the problem of corruption?”

Emaar’s Indonesian operation is said to have closed its Jakarta office. The Jakarta Globe newspaper reported the corporation’s Indonesian human resources manager, Elly Savitri, as saying: “Emaar has pulled out of its operations in Indonesia because the government cannot comply with the terms of the agreement with our joint venture company. There have been too many delays on the realization of the project and the company just could not wait any more.”

Here is an object lesson in just how important it is for Indonesian officialdom to get its act together. The first task is to sort out jurisdictional issues. Big overseas developers want to talk to one principal – not a mendicant collective of competing minor administrators as is mandated under the fire-and-forget method of regionalism employed here for political reasons. If they can’t get a straight answer – or at the very least, one centralized bribe point – they’ll take their money elsewhere.

Cancellation of the project is an enormous setback for Lombok and a black mark against Indonesia. The project was announced with a fanfare – Indonesia does fanfares very well – by Vice President Jusuf Kalla in May 2007. Emaar has since spent US$4.2 million on consultancy fees on master plans. That’s a drop in the bucket, of course, but it’s still money down the drain. Kalla is reported to have tried to shut the stable door after the horse had bolted – another Indonesian key performance indicator, sadly – by calling a meeting of ministries on Wednesday this week in a bid to save the project.

Equally sourly, there is a Bali connection (or perhaps that should read “disconnection”). The joint venture was between Emaar and the state-owned Bali Tourism Development Corporation. It envisioned development of 1,200 hectares along seven kilometres of natural beachfront that would have transformed Lombok’s famed Kuta and Tanjung An Indian Ocean beaches over the next 12 years into a world-class resort and residential community consisting of thousands of luxury villas, eight hotels and two 18-hole golf courses.

Elly said the agreement stipulated that the government would provide a detailed master plan by last November to support infrastructure including an international airport, an access road to the property and finalizations of land acquisitions. The finalizations, however, never materialized.

A raft of government agencies failed to complete their part of the bargain and asked for an extension until this month. When Indonesian officials asked for another extension until June, Emaar called off its investment.

It should be noted that the decision came at an opportune moment for Emaar. Dubai is in a mess as a result of the global economic crisis and Emaar’s 2008 profit, announced last month, was 15 per cent down on the previous year. But that’s not an excuse for local failure. It should be instructive for the Indonesian side and the people of Lombok who now have no jobs to look forward to. If that act had been got together earlier, foreclosure by Emaar might not have been an option.

We’re Very Well Read
ON to happier things. The conventional wisdom from the cyber side of the information industry is that newspapers are either dead or dying. That’s not the case. The New York Times may have massive debts (US$1 billion at the latest call and US$50 million in repayments due in November) and “big media” everywhere may be under pressure, but the nimble minded (like The Bali Times) not only go with the flow but build on that advantage. For example, our website records a quarter of a million hits every month (the number is growing) and much of this interest comes from foreign places. We’ve even got our own Facebook page to make it easy for readers to keep in touch. You can find it on The Bali Times website or through Facebook.

We look forward to seeing you there.

Elsewhere in this week’s paper is a selection of comments we’ve received on our feedback site. They’re worth reading, both as an example of what interests our wider readership and as a pointer to the authorities over what needs to be done with, for example, filthy beaches. Hector’s pick of the week is more down market (he has a curious mind). He likes the comment posted by Edi, responding to a story reporting that police had broken up a prostitution ring (that particular one was in Sanur, which has always seemed to your Diarist to be somewhere rather less than a den of iniquity): “No problem! There’s 200 others still going.”

Well, as they say, it’s a business doing pleasure with you. You just can’t beat private enterprise.

Another Ramsay Brush with the Law
HERE in Bali we are (mostly, unless we tune into vacuous TV shows) mercifully saved the painful business of watching and listening to celebrity chefs, such as for example Britain’s Gordon [expletive deleted] Ramsay. We did host his younger brother Ron in 2007 (photo), when he spent 10 months as a guest of the state in Kerobokan – Hi Schapelle! How’s it going? – after being found in possession of 100 grams of heroin.

No doubt like many miscreants here – Hi again Schapelle – he forgot he had the stuff on him, or had forgotten it’s actually illegal to possess drugs. Funny old world, isn’t it? Why can’t the law just apply to everyone other than me?

This time however it’s Brother Gordon who’s in trouble, though thankfully not here. He’s in court in Britain over unpaid debts said to flow partly from the sharp dive in discretionary spending forced upon his customers by the embarrassingly inclement financial climate. Well, that and the cuisine apparently. François Simon, the feared food critic of the French national newspaper Le Figaro, did rather memorably describe Ramsay’s Trianon restaurant (at Versailles, where haut couture goes for couture) as “boring, pompous and very expensive.” He added: “Quite frankly, if I go to Versailles, I’d prefer to go to a local bistro.” Expletive deleted.

Ramsay is busy disposing of some of his signature restaurants. It’s a sign of the times. Yesterday caviar and foie gras; today corned beef and lumpit pudding.

Well, What an Idea!
WHEN you’re out driving on Bali’s roads, you see amazing things. A wobbly motorbike is probably not wobbling because the rider can’t ride – although, of course, the rider can’t actually ride – but because he or she is busy texting on a mobile phone. Similarly a more than usually wayward car will likely have a driver similarly engaged.

What then would our police authorities make of a new blitz on phone-driving in New York, where police have just issued a whopping 9,016 tickets during a 24-hour crackdown on phoning-while-driving. The normal daily tally is around 500, which at US$120 a pop creates useful revenue for the city. (It does all go into official coffers there, of course, another vital difference.)

New York’s taxi drivers are held to an even higher standard. They can receive a US$200 summons from the Taxi and Limousine Commission for using even a hands-free phone while driving.

More on Sultanas
LAST week’s little bleat about sultanas – as in absence of – needs to be put into perspective: an opportunistic wander through the new Casa delicatessen at Seminyak (it was on the way to afternoon tea at The Legian) brought forth a packet of same that retailed at Rp 22,000. They are being doled out on a strict ration basis by the lovely Ungasan lass who looks after Hector’s breakfasts.

The item did bring forth an inquiry from an Ubud reader, who tells us the Bintang supermarket there sells them at Rp 52,000 a pop. Transport costs over the 45 kilometres from Sultana Central to Ubud must be amazing.

Another Old Bird Going Strong
WE heard this week some cheerful news of Pinky the Cockatoo, the bright bird who entertained British wartime leader Winston Churchill during his long sojourn in Florida after the war and his rejection at the polls by the British people.

Pinky is now 67 (she has three years on Hector), but is still entertaining the crowds at the bird sanctuary, since renamed. The operators have no plans to retire this avian veteran, who may live to be 100, like many clean-living cockatoos, and say one reason for her extreme good health is the fact that she rides a bicycle every morning. (Hector: Hrrmph!)

It was while he was taking his electorally enforced sabbatical in America that Churchill wrote and gave his famous “Iron Curtain” speech at the beginning of the Cold War. It would not surprise us to hear that Pinky had a hand in that too.

It Must be Those Lion Ayes
PERHAPS it was just for PR? The Indonesian aviation authorities last week ordered Lion Air’s MD-90 twin jet aircraft to stay on the ground following a series of mishaps. It’s embarrassing when you’re trying to convince the Europeans to lift their ban on Indonesian airlines flying in European airspace, after all.

But a Diary spy reports seeing two rear-engine twin-jets that looked suspiciously like MD-90s – operated only by Lion in Indonesia – in the air near Ngurah Rai International Airport over the weekend.

Friday, March 13, 2009


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WHAT’S THIS? Had someone forgotten to brief the US Secretary of State on what she might be required to eat at that big Brussels NATO banquet last week? British Foreign Secretary David Miliband (on Clinton’s right) and his Turkish counterpart don’t seem worried though. (Photo AFP/Getty Images)

The War of Hector’s Sultanas
HISTORY buffs among the Diary’s readership will know all about the War of Jenkins’ Ear. It was an unnecessary little 18th century spat between the British and the Spanish with the ostensible cause being the barbarous fate of the aural equipment of a British sea captain whose ship was boarded by Spanish coastguards and whose ear was then sliced off.

A far greater threat to peace exists in the continued inexplicable absence of sultanas on Bali, at least anywhere Hector can find them. The poor fellow has been reduced to putting dried raisins in his morning oatmeal. It’s just not the same.

We know, of course, that the world is about to fall in a screaming heap. Or at least, that’s what we’re being told by all those guys who were on road traffic duty and claim they didn’t see or hear the bus until it ran them over. Should we, necessarily, feel that it is safe to believe them now they claim they can both see and hear and make elementary deductions?

We know that the laws of Indonesian supply and demand are not really laws at all, but simply a theory (though even that is questionable, since a theory must possess some form and result from cerebral activity). But exactly what is so difficult about organizing a regular resupply, in line with retail demand, of sultanas for the few of us here who actually eat the things? It’s not as if Lotus and all those other importers have to charter fleets of supersized freighters to bring them in. It’s just a few packets, guys, on a regular basis, in accordance with your stock ordering processes.

You do have a stock ordering process? It does work on an inventory basis? It factors in supply time? Someone notices when the pile’s getting a bit low?

No, didn’t think so.

Beam Me Up, Scotto!
SCOTLAND, ancestral home of the ancient McSquawky clan of which your Diarist is a proud member, has always been left off the map when it comes to its central role in world affairs. And rugby, but we won’t go there.

It was thus with great interest that we spotted, the other day, a report citing a Spanish historian’s view that Christopher Columbus was not who we think he was. He was in fact Pedro Scotto, scion of a family of Genovese shopkeepers whose ancestral roots were in Scotland.

According to Alfonso Ensenat de Villalonga (who, poor fellow, clearly does not have Scottish antecedents, at least on the paternal side), Scotto wished to hide his origins and stole his now popularized name from a pirate when he sailed off into the sunset in 1492 to find Cipango (Japan) and ran into America instead. He was apparently blond with blue eyes. Nothing is said about whether he wore a kilt, but then that’s somewhere else you wouldn’t want to go.

It may all just be stale porridge, of course, and we should not forget that the single solo effort at colonizing that the Scots made was their spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to take the benefits of an oatmeal diet to the Spanish and Amerindians at Darien in modern day Panama. Those of the colonists who didn’t die of the pox (or the porridge) quickly breathed their last from Spanish antipathy or yellow fever.

But there are numerous rivers and other geographical entities, several cities, one Canadian province and even one country in the Americas which could find themselves seriously embarrassed if as a result of historical revisionism they need to change their names.

Scotto, Ohio, doesn’t have quite the same ring – or the literary or cinematic appeal for that matter – as Columbus. Would you rush out to buy a book titled Goodbye Scotto? Or bother seeing the movie? And what about Washington, seat of Good King Barack? It would look a little odd as Washington DS. Some unkind souls might even want to make that D a B.

The Bam’s Cookies Crumble

AT the risk of turning this week’s Diary into a solely culinary feast, we must mention one more consumable that’s under fire. It’s a gimmicky snack bearing a caricature of President Barack Obama making a peace sign (always good to remember to get the fingers the right way round). The Indonesian Consumer Foundation wants them banned because they are defamatory (do they taste any good?) and, since they come with a small plastic object loosely labelled a toy, because children might incautiously eat them.

“Obamas” first hit the streets in Bandung. They sell for Rp 500 a pack.

Trying to Beat a Raw Deal
LION Air, the Indonesian budget carrier, is selling a one-way trip from Singapore to Bali for only US$5.80 for travel between Jun. 1 and Sept. 30, according to its website. What they don’t tell you is that a whole host of “fees” is added to your transaction that rather dramatically increases the price.

But that’s not the point. What is the point is that Asian low-cost airlines are offering dirt-cheap tickets to boost travel during the northern hemisphere summer holidays amid the global economic downturn. In short, it is desperation time.

They’re all at it. Singapore-based Tiger Airways, which flies to destinations in Southeast Asia, Australia and China, announced summer fares starting at about US$16 including taxes. The carrier, which is 49 per cent owned by Singapore Airlines, said it would offer its “biggest ever network of seats” and was adding new destinations for its summer schedule from Mar. 29 to Oct. 24. Jetstar Asia, the Qantas even-less-service affiliate that also flies out of Singapore, has extended to Aug. 16 a promotion to beat the cheapest price offered by rivals. Malaysian budget airline AirAsia’s “take me away” promotion offers among other deals a one-way flight from Singapore to Bangkok from US$43 dollars, inclusive of taxes, for travel from Mar. 23 to Sept. 11. (A return flight to Bangkok on Singapore Airlines costs US$337.) AirAsia is also offering a number of tickets starting from US26c for travel within Malaysia.

Good deals, of course, for anyone who can spare the time. But however you dress them up, they’re desperation deals.

Come On! Get Offended!

IT SEEMS the trend towards being gratuitously offended by others who do not share your beliefs or moral or social precepts – something at which Islamic activists have become very good in recent years – has spread to the normally quiescent world of Buddhism.

Surely it’s calmer to think of Karma? But apparently not, since Buddhists in Jakarta have demonstrated against the Buddha Bar there (photo). It’s one of a number worldwide: The Diary vaguely remembers a riotous night at the original one in Paris many, many hangovers ago. They want the Jakarta outlet closed.

It’s quite crass, of course, like a lot of places where wannabes gather to primp and preen and deconstruct decorum. Like all its copies around the world it has a statue of The Buddha that hovers over its big-spending customers. It may be that this presence exerts some moral force on them not to duck out the back door when they get the bill. That is surely a good thing.

But crass or not, it’s harmless. It’s also elective. If you don’t like the concept (or the prices) you can decide not to go there. The Jakarta outfit, which apparently is owned by daughters of former president Megawati Sukarnoputri and former Jakarta governor Sutiyoso, attracts clientele from the city’s Muslim majority. Not unreasonably, since they are reasonable people, these customers seem to have no particular problem partying in their Jilbabs under the watchful eye of an image of someone else’s god.

We’ll just have to hope the self-appointed Battlers for Buddha in Jakarta don’t hear about Bali, where the image of The Buddha is widely used for commercial purposes by, among many others, the pricey Bali Buddha health food stores at Ubud and Kerobokan and Buddha’s Belly restaurant on Sunset Road at Kuta.

It Could be Worse
THE Diary likes to read David Rothkopf, who blogs at He is always good for a giggle. In a lengthy post at the weekend on the list of woes facing the world and the uncoordinated response to them currently in vogue, and specifically the amazing capacity of the American media to miss the point of the stories it is covering, he added this little gem:

Similarly, Britney Spears relaunches her career with her ‘Circus’ tour, opening in Louisiana. The press focuses on the fact that the entire extravaganza is lip-synced. But it could be worse. It might not have been lip-synced. And it could have been in a town closer to where you live.

What Twit had THAT Bright Idea?
WHILE on the subject of twittery, we were interested to see the other days that Twitter cofounder and CEO Ev Williams was part of the group-think gabfest by “young business leaders” on the economic crisis gathered at the White House at the request of President Obama.

Williams – Ev, as he likes to be known in the chummy first-name world of young bizwizardry – noted on his Twitter: “[This] must mean they're really out of ideas.” His advice on how to turn a profit in America would have been invaluable. With six million members and 700 percent-plus growth, Twitter makes no money in the U.S.

Happy Birthday to Us
THE Bali Times is four years old today. So we’ll forget all about how Friday the 13th is supposed to be unlucky because that’s the day a more seriously conflicted than usual Medieval Pope rounded up and tortured the crusading Knights Templar, who had deeply offended the Church by making all the money, and we’ll have a party instead. The Diary is much younger, having been with you only since the middle of last year. But it plans to be around for a little while too. Unless the sultana drought turns out to be permanent, that is.

Friday, March 06, 2009


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Our New Wizard of Oz

THE Diary bids a belated welcome to Australia’s new Consul-General in Bali, Lex Bartlem, whose appointment was announced by the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs on Dec. 10, an item of noteworthy news that was entirely missed by The Dairy at the time. We have remedied this lapse – in the absence of any media distribution list from the Minister that we can find – by subscribing to his RSS feed. Nothing that the Minister wants to get out there will escape us now. Much that he would prefer didn’t get out will doubtless continue to elude discovery.

Bartlem – pictured here in his official mug shot – is a Queenslander (this is good news for desiccated parrots of consanguineous provenance) and, apparently, a fan of Jamie Cullum, who performed at the St Regis grand opening last Saturday night. He’s also a fan of The Bali Times and has arranged a home subscription. We’re pleased he likes the concept of reading the best news he’ll get all week in one handy package.

He comes to us from a senior administration job in Canberra and speaks Spanish. This linguistic qualification may help him around the tapas bars that are beginning to dot the landscape in Bling and Bolly land. He was also once consul-general in Paris.

The new man, who took up his post in January, succeeded former wizard Bruce Cowled, who had been in Bali since 2005 and oversaw the move of the consulate into new, purpose-built secure premises in Denpasar.

The consulate has a busy workload: It’s estimated that more than 300,000 Australians visited Bali in 2008 – they must all have read the official advice to reconsider their need to travel and rejected it – and has a key role in overseeing the substantial aid Australia provides to Bali (A$10.5 million to fund health and education initiatives alone as a living memorial to the 92 Australians who died in the 2002 and 2005 bombings) and to Lombok and the islands beyond. Bali itself is a key focus of Australia’s overall relationship with Indonesia.

The Australians here provide consular assistance to Canadians in Bali, under an agreement that sees Australian consular interests in the Caribbean and other places looked after by Canada. Informally, Bartlem’s responsibilities also include errant New Zealanders.

The Dog Ate Their Homework
WE hear a sorry tale of administrative incompetence in the national tourism area that will surely – even though it is still early in the year – win the 2009 Most Amazing Snafu award.

It seems a media expedition was arranged (we use the term advisedly) with Singapore Airlines to take an Australian press party to East Kalimantan on a promotional tour of the international traveller attractions of that naturally well-endowed part of Indonesia. Unfortunately the Indonesian part of the trip had to be cancelled the night before departure from Sydney because no one had actually done any work on it.

Instead, Singapore Airlines pleaded with the party to go to Singapore for the three days of intense exposure to the delights of the modern-day Most Serene Republic it had arranged as part of the deal (the city-state is one of the many “Venices of the East”, though in Singapore’s case this is more a tribute to its re-creation of the ancient economic and political clout of Venice than because of canals). Then it was straight back home.

Music Man Gets the Point(s)

CROONER Jamie Cullum, who in February 2007 shaved off all his body hair (last week’s item), apparently wowed the crowd at the St Regis show, though since The Diary wasn’t present we cannot make a judgment on whether regrowth is significant. But a spy who was there reports Cullum was a big hit with the exclusive (as in small) crowd. We understand he got Starwood points for the show, in lieu of a fee. Hotel points are always useful, we guess.

Among the guests was the perennially visible Jack Daniels of Bali Update fame. The St Regis is a great property and deserves to prosper as a new star in Bali’s firmament. It’s a shame that like everyone else, it will spend its first year officially launched on a desperate and most likely unfulfilled quest for guests. No one in the five-star group is realistically looking at more than minimal bookings (20 per cent occupancy is the new black) as the full horror of the global economic crisis takes centre stage.

Things will improve eventually. First prize for optimism on that front must go to Culture and Tourism Minister Jero Wacik, who also attended the St Regis bash and who apparently believes 2 million visitors will grace our shores in 2009. He claims Bali is unaffected by the global downturn.

Stop Thief! It’s Prayer Time
GENERALLY speaking, in Indonesia as elsewhere, one’s religion is one’s own affair. But in East Java, it has become a police matter. The provincial police chief, Brigadier-General Anton Bachrul Alam, has announced that he requires his Muslim officers to improve their image by being seen as religiously observant.

To this end he has given an instruction that they should perform five daily prayers while on duty. Upon hearing the call to prayer policemen are instructed to leave their desks and head to the nearest mosque or musholla (prayer room).

If they are dealing with a male member of the public at the time and that person is a Muslim then he is to be invited along; if he is non-Muslim he is to be asked to wait.

East Java police are also expected to learn to read the Koran in off-duty time, so that they able to recite the 30 juz, or parts, which Muslims normally do during Ramadhan. Those who are already proficient at this are asked to read aloud the 30 juz in their offices after morning prayers.

If there is no mosque attached to a police station, policemen are asked to go the nearest public mosque. The general says this would be a good way of mixing with the people and building trust, and also that those who pray in a jamaah, or group, get 27 times more bonus points from God than those who pray alone.

Non-Muslim police have been told to gather together and pray for 10 minutes (presumably five times a day, like their Muslim colleagues) or to do whatever it is that non-Muslims do on such occasions.

Hopping Across the Strait
WE hear things are hopping on the other side of the strait, where Asmara restaurant is brightening up evenings in Lombok’s Senggigi for tourists and locals alike with regular music nights.

Sakinah Nauderer, of Asmara, tells us a recent night was especially tuneful, with a mix of guitar music, some great sax (surely no evening out can be judged a total success without that) and some French vocals. And it’s all local talent too.

This week’s soul food was mellow jazz, by the way, served up on Wednesday.

Opportunities for regular foot-tapping are yet another good reason for visitors to Bali to make the time to hop over to That Other Island, where on the west coast – facing Bali and with great views of Mt Agung – there is a substantial Hindu community. Quite a bit like home really.

Why the Media’s All A-Twitter
LAST week’s crash of a Turkish airliner at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport in Holland brought into sharp focus the new dynamics of news reporting and the catch-up role the established media has to play in this new environment. It is something close to the heart pills of editors everywhere (and the occasional ex-editor diarist).

The story was broken by one Jonathan Nip, who lives near the airport and was one of the first to tweet about it (why isn’t it twit, we wonder?). After dealing with the immediate scene, he noted: “Still no more info. Can’t find any info on the net.”

As a writer in the London Daily Telegraph observed, it is the last part of that tweet that’s interesting, because it underlines the shifting dynamic of breaking news. Here was an eyewitness to an event who was able to broadcast the latest information far quicker than traditional broadcasters could. The internet, which Nip usually relies on for news and facts, was being outpaced by his own direct experiences, which he in turn was sharing with the world via the medium of Twitter.

Brian Gets a Life

THE Welsh town of Aberystwyth – a quiet little place that generally eludes notice because it does not have the longest placename in that vowel-challenged British principality and it is far from being the least pronounceable – made a name for itself 30 years ago when local church leaders banned the Monty Python film Life of Brian because it was sacrilegious. Well, it was. It was also very funny.

Now Aberystwyth is back in the news – for finally overturning the ban that made it a laughing stock. It will screen the film on March 28 with two of the cast in attendance. Well three really, since in a curious twist of sacrilegious fate Aberystwyth’s mayor, Susan Jones-Davies, played Brian’s girlfriend in the movie.

Comic turns Michael Palin and Terry Jones are expected to attend the screening. Sadly, veteran Python Graham Chapman, who played Brian, cannot be present. He ceased to be in 1989.

The 1979 comedy (see photo) tells the story of a Jewish man who is mistaken for Jesus and crucified. It is now viewed as a classic of English satirical film and includes oft-quoted lines such as Brian's mother's quip about her son: “He's not the messiah - he's a very naughty boy.” It also features the jaunty song Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, sung by Eric Idle as he and Brian are nailed to crosses at the end.

Come On, Be a Square
KEEN observers of the esoteric will doubtless have recorded that Tuesday this week was Square Root Day. Thought you might! The Diary certainly did. Yahoo has its uses.
This special day for mathematical buffs is fairly rare. It occurs only nine times each century. Tuesday was Square Root Day because the date – in the American month-first form 3/3/09 and for normal people (day first, silly) also 3/3/09 – produces the square root of nine (that’s three for the mathematically challenged).

Naturally, this event was most significantly celebrated in California, the American state that produces the world’s largest crop of nuts. A teacher there, Ron Gordon of Redwood City, got so excited about that he started a contest to spread his infection to other people. “These days are like calendar comets, you wait and wait and wait for them, then they brighten up your day — and poof — they're gone,” he said. He started a contest designed to get people excited about the event.

He infected his daughter. She set up a Facebook page – one of six or so dedicated to the holiday – to encourage celebrations. Hundreds of people signed up and revealed their party plans: cutting root vegetables into squares, making food in the shape of a square root symbol, that sort of thing. The winner got US$339. Duh!

The next opportunity to party is seven years away – April 4, 2016. The last one was five years ago, Feb. 2, 2004. Significantly, this coincided with Groundhog Day.