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 cafĂ© 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 exposĂ© 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

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