Friday, January 29, 2010

HECTOR'S BALI TIMES DIARY [for Jan. 29, 2010]

A Timely
on the State
of the Aid

IT is an axiom of a free press that nothing and no one is above scrutiny. Certain politicians and high-profile business people do not like this, here in Bali (and the rest of Indonesia) any more than anywhere else. But that’s just tough. However, in the post-modern era in which it is supposed we are living, the protection offered by prominence and supposed good works to certain organisations, political positions, scientific speculations, and even lifestyles, is ubiquitous and deemed to be beyond cavil. It is even permissible (at worst it seems to be seen as merely misguided, never criminal) to break the law, or to behave like an idiot, in pursuit of certain causes, such as the oxymoron of animal liberation (animal rights are not conferred by nature but by human artifice), or saving the forests or the whales.
Among the most protected sectors is the global aid industry, which collectively has been accorded secular sainthood, an unearned and certainly undeserved position that, sadly, is unquestioningly underscored by the global media. It is therefore pleasing to see that the leading British medical journal The Lancet has accused major aid organisations of corporate preening and self-interest that, in the current event of focus, the earthquake in Haiti, has contributed to what it calls bedlam in the effort to help that Caribbean nation.
The Lancet, which noted that exceptional work is done by many in the aid sector, says in an editorial: “International organisations, national governments and non-governmental organisations are rightly mobilising, but also jostling for position, each claiming that they are doing the best for earthquake survivors ... Some agencies even claim that they are ‘spearheading’ the relief effort. In fact, as we only too clearly see, the situation in Haiti is chaotic, devastating, and anything but coordinated.”
The journal goes on to note that large aid agencies can become so obsessed with raising money through their own appeal efforts that competition for funding often leads to truly heroic claims as to the benefits and achievements of themselves, versus, the audience is enjoined to infer, those of others.
Bedlam is an apt description for much of the clamour one hears today from the wildly self-promotional, who range from footballers who can’t string two words together (unless one is a sexual obscenity and the other if “off”) through the self-stars of various electronic media and vacuous little blonde heiresses (aptly classed together), to entertainers and “business leaders” and finally to scientists who are so besotted with their own importance that they believe they can explain why there is no God.
The word comes from the Bethlem (Bethlehem) hospice in England that took its first mental patients into care in the 14th century and became Britain’s first formal mental hospital in 1725.
Madness, though not always of the variety nowadays defined as demanding incarceration, is the collective vogue.

Back at the Chateau

THERE was once a great newspaper in Melbourne, Australia. It was called The Age. It was a newspaper of record (in that it published material as a matter of record whether or not it was publicly palatable or even of interest to more than a very few, thereby providing a public service).
There is still a Melbourne Age, but it is a shadow of its former self, reduced by corporate pressure to turn a profit into a vehicle for presenting flimflam and flummery and promotion of, or at least acquiescense in, populist causes however inconsequential or plain wrong.
Thus it is that in the pages of this no longer august journal we are told (yet again) that Schapelle Corby is gaga, that she is protected (from herself) in Kerobokan by Renae Lawrence of the Bali Nine – who is described as gay even though she looks decidedly grim in the accompanying photo – and that the reporter (Tom Allard, either because it was a non-story and there was nothing else to say or having fallen into the modern error of believing the reporter to be part of the story) can jolly things along by making little jokes.
There was nothing new in the story, not even from the garrulous Mercedes, sister of Schapelle, who generally will talk to anyone as long as they pay her enough.
Guys, give us a break.

Here’s Something Useful

BIKU Restaurant and Ganesha Bookstore at Kerobokan have a fundraising evening set for February 12 to benefit breast cancer care in Bali. Award-winning author Donna Conrad – who will read from her book on surviving and thriving through illness – and Prima Medika Hospital’s Dr I.B. Tjakra Manuaba who will lead a discussion on breast cancer are the stars of the show. Conrad will also sign copies of her book.
Live music is on hand, with vocalist Neli Yo and keyboardist Yuni, and entrance is free. Dinner is available at your own cost and donations will go to Bali women in need of care.
Your diarist cannot be there – he’ll be in Australia for, among other things, an effective prophylactic anti-rabies vaccination course – but you should be. The evening runs from 7pm-10pm, at Biku’s delightful premises in Jl Raya Petitenget, Kerobokan Kelod.

Warning: Travel Advisory

IT was interesting to read in last week’s edition of The Bali Times that the current chairman of the Bali Hotels Association – Frenchman Jean-Charles Le Coz, general manager of the Nikko at Nusa Dua – was driven to irritation by the portrayal in the Australian media of the latest revision of Australia’s official travel advisory for Indonesia, including Bali.
The Diary shares his irritation. Even in a holiday season – Australia basically doesn’t get back to work after Christmas until after Australia Day (January 26) – you would expect the short-straw teams on news desks (the guys who didn’t manage to jag their long break over the Aussie summer and, dammit, still have to turn up at work) to know a little about the background of stories they have to write. It’s not clear how anyone sentient could miss the note in the new advisory that said it was being reissued in relation to Bali’s arrangements for the annual Silent Day (Nyepi, on March 16 this year) or that the overall level of advice had not changed.
These advisories – defined by a helpful friend of The Diary’s as CMAs (cover-my-arses) issued by the authorities so they can say “We told you so” if something nasty emerges from the woodpile – are of course helpful and should certainly be read by any Australian planning to travel to Bali.
The problem nowadays is that no one actually reads anything. You send people simple emails and if they reply at all it is to tell you everything except the answer to the single question you asked. Today, if it’s not in movingly vibrant colours on your big wide screen, it either hasn’t happened or it doesn’t matter. More sadly still, the denizens of the media so often fall into the same trap. This prompts two questions: Who pays them? And why?
Le Coz makes another point which the Australian authorities and others could usefully take on board. It is that terror and administrative arrangements are very different things. If official Australia feel it is necessary to provide advice on Nyepi to travellers who have read and rejected their insistent jeremiads urging them to reconsider travel to Indonesia, it would be better to do so in a document that does not reignite the (statistically fanciful) fear that a psychopathic terrorist will be there to greet them on arrival at their destination.

Sing Us a Song

WHEN in trouble or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout. So goes the old advice to those faced with difficulties in extremis. We don’t think President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Vice President Boediono or Finance Minister Sri Mulyani are in dire straits at all, over the Bank Century bailout or anything much. There’s a politically contrived potage being brewed up by opponents of the administration (Hello Golkar? Hi there PDI. Still smarting?) This owes far more to opportunistic point-scoring than to matters of substance.
The President is thus well advised to tell his critics: Get a life. Apparently, however, he has decided to do this in song. He is a serial offender as a dangdut (song and dance) hopeful. They’ll make a television series about him one day, called The Singing President. His latest album of ditties, his third, carries the hopeful title Ku Yakai Sampai Di Sana (I’m Certain I’ll Get There).
We’re sure he will. In another album or two.

SCRATCHINGS appears, as The Diary in The Bali Times, in the newspaper's weekly print edition, out Fridays, and on the newspaper's website at The Bali Times is also available worldwide through Newspaper Direct.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

HECTOR'S BALI TIMES DIARY [for Jan. 22, 2010]

It’s Been a
Poor Show
from the
World of

AMID all the whickering about global warming and what the dirty industrialised giants are doing to the atmosphere and the icebergs, we hear at last a sensible perspective. Unusually, this comes from an opinion poll. It states quite clearly that poverty is viewed by most people globally as the most serious problem facing the world, well ahead of climate change, terrorism and war.
So much for Copenhagen, then, and all those other soap-box opportunities that have blighted the world since someone noticed it was marginally hotter than they remembered it being – tell that to the Europeans, North Americans and North Asians who have been beset by a very cold and snowy winter – and set up a New Age religious cult to make a noise about it.
It is said that politics is the art of the possible. Those who have worked in politics, if they are realists and objective, define it rather differently; by placing “im” in front of the “possible.” Too often modern politics is about magician’s tricks and the appearance of activity. Real leaders eschew rhetoric and actually do something.
The problem for global politics – and politicians – is that reducing poverty is an even harder task than persuading the climate to vote your way. It is an incremental process. Positive results are recorded, but over a timeframe that does not suit the television news grab or (in places where there are meaningful elections) the electoral cycle.
Beyond strict and extraordinarily finite limits, it is not possible to eradicate poverty – or even to reduce it – by means of concessional or free loans, international grants or any other prophylactic measure. Reducing poverty means creating productive jobs for increasing numbers of people – and that means creating economies that can sustain growth.
It’s interesting that in the GlobeScan poll conducted for the BBC last year, the details of which have just been released and which interviewed 25,000 in 23 countries face-to-face or over the phone or on line, found that 71 percent thought poverty was the most serious problem facing the world. That contrasts with 64 percent who cited the environment, 63 percent rising food and energy costs, and climate change and the world economy 58 percent. How much greater would that figure have been had the pollsters been able to access the truly poverty-stricken? They are mostly out of sight, rarely have a phone within reach, and live such precarious and marginal lives that being “on line” is science fiction.

Talk to the Trees

HOW pleasing it is, therefore, to record that the United States and Indonesia have begun discussions on a second debt-for-nature deal to save precious tropical forests. We hear this through the US embassy in Jakarta.
Ambassador Cameron R. Hume said on January 15, announcing the talks, that it was a practical way to work together through the US Tropical Forest Conservation Act (TFCA) to protect important forests and mitigate the effects of climate change.
The first TFCA agreement, signed on June 30, 2009, will reduce Indonesia’s debt payments to the US by nearly US$30 million over eight years. In return, the Government of Indonesia will commit these funds to support grants to protect and restore tropical forests in Sumatra. The agreement was the largest debt-for-nature swap under the TFCA thus far and was made possible through contributions of $20 million by the U.S. Government and a combined donation of $2 million from Conservation International and the Indonesian Biodiversity Foundation (Yayasan Keanekaragaman Hayati Indonesia or KEHATI).
To date, 13 countries have entered into debt-for-nature agreements under the TFCA. Over time, these debt-for-nature programmes will together generate over $218 million to protect tropical forests.

Domesticity Unplugged

HOT on the heels of Roxxy the Sex Robot – typically, an invention of the curious Japanese mind – comes news that South Korean scientists have developed a walking robot maid which can clean your house, put dirty clothes in a washing machine, and heat up food in the microwave.
It has a human-like body with a rotating head – gosh, wish we could do that; it would really help when driving on Bali’s roads - and plus arms, legs and (oddly) six fingers, plus three-dimensional vision to recognise chores that need to be tackled. The Koreans, being boffins devoid of any sense of humour, have called it Mahru-Z. Chief boffin You Bum-Jae of the cognitive robot centre at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology says the robot’s most distinctive strength is its visual ability to observe objects, recognise the tasks that need to be completed, and do them. Mahru-Z recognises people, could do you a nice toasted sandwich, and cleans up your mess. It stands 1.3 metres tall and weighs 55 kilos.
The Diary prefers the fully human interface that comes with the diminutive and pleasingly non-robotic pembantu (housekeeper) who does the daily chores at The Cage. Her name is Wayan and she’s a sweetie.

No Termorrer

GRAEME Dobell’s lovely memoir on Abdurrahman Wahid – it’s in The Interpreter, the online blog of the Lowy Institute, and in The Bali Times this week on the Editorial page, reminding us that Gus Dur was a humorist of considerable note – brings to mind a lovely put-down of Pommy pomposity dating from the killing fields of the western front in World War I. It is possibly apocryphal. But it’s too good not to retell.
Australian impatience with the English upper classes (though the upper class is largely a notional concept nowadays, filthy lucre having finally won pole position) is both legendary and a national trait. It’s surprising it’s not actually taught in schools as part of the core curriculum. Or perhaps it is.
Anyway, this little tale has the local general in command on whatever sector of the front it was deciding to visit the Australian formation newly arrived in the trenches to give them a bit of a spirited rev-up. He duly turned up, resplendent as generals of those days were before they worked out that visible signs of importance tended to make them sniper targets, got on his soapbox, and began his oration:
“Have you come here to die?” he shouted (decorously of course, and with a plum in his mouth no doubt). From somewhere in the back of the ranks came this unscripted response: “Nah. We come 'ere yester-die.”

Without a Clouseau

THE Pink Panther is a classic movie (the original version with Peter Sellers, not the clumsy Steve Martin remake). It is one of those rare productions that implants itself in the mind and periodically gives you a giggle.
The Diary, when pressed, can do a very passable party-time rendition of Peter Sellers’/Inspector Clouseau’s “It is a berm.” Indeed in recent years a facility to identify such objects has become an essential life-preserving skill.
So it was amusing to read the other day that a 66-year-old French man had been jailed in Abu Dhabi after making a bomb joke on an Etihad aircraft on which he foolishly chose to book a ticket from Bangkok to Paris via Abu Dhabi. Evidently he had forgotten that humour has been proscribed in the air, especially now we have no grounds for confidence that the worldwide security apparatus will have identified among our fellow passengers some silly dude who is secretly clad in the very latest fetish wear, exploding jocks.
Pensioner Jean-Louis Lioret was arrested after cabin crew at Abu Dhabi overheard him using the word bomb in an exchange with his co-passenger, his brother Michel Lioret. Michel had asked Jean-Louis to keep a packet on the other seat next to him as it was empty.
His jocular response “I hope it's not a bomb” - which The Diary would like to think was rendered as “I 'ope eet is nert a berm,” while recognising that it was probably just your plain old run-of-the-mill “J'espère que ce n'est pas une bombe” - was overheard and set off alarm bells.
The packet contained cigarettes. These days, of course, that’s nearly as bad.

For Nothing

HALF an hour with that estimable publication, The Economist Style Guide, is always worth it. A Sunday browse – The Diary was awaiting the morning’s oatmeal, which had been delayed by a domestic crisis of no reportable standing – chanced upon this sound advice, sadly necessary for a great many people in the media, especially the ersatz glitzy bit of it, these days:
“Free is an adjective or an adverb (and also a transitive verb), so you cannot have or do anything for free. Either you have it free or you have it for nothing.”
Speaking of glitzy, ersatz media, the volume also points out that Frankenstein was the creator, not the monster. Unfortunately the style guide forgoes an entry for “ignorance.”

SCRATCHINGS appears, as The Diary, in print edition of weekly The Bali Times, out every Friday, and on the newspaper's website at The Bali Times is also available worldwide via Newspaper Direct.

Friday, January 15, 2010

HECTOR'S BALI TIMES DIARY [for Jan. 15, 2010]

An Aussie
With a

CARTOONISTS often get to the nub of an issue with a few deft strokes of their artistic pencil or paintbrush. A cartoon can neatly and with brevity encapsulate a point visually, instead of the 1,000 words the old saw says is needed to tell a story. They can also get it horribly wrong: witness how the crude misrepresentation of the Prophet by a Danish cartoonist caused trouble around the world in 2006. That problem still resonates in a profoundly unhelpful way.
In the same way the recent stabbing death in Melbourne of an Indian graduate student there has resulted in India-wide media frenzy and a cartoon that invites Indian readers to view Australian police as Ku Klux Klan types. This is not only unfair (most Australian police probably could not spell Ku Klux Klan) but also profoundly unhelpful. It is easy – especially in the environment created by earlier obviously racially based assaults on Indian students in Melbourne – to characterise a street crime as somehow race-based. It may have been. But it is not possible to say so definitively until those responsible have been arrested and questioned, and have given their side of the story. Generally speaking, that judgment is made by a court, in a courtroom.
None of that matters, of course, to distant cartoonists seeking an eye-grabbing moment, or to media – in India in this instance – more concerned with headlines than with judgment, or indeed facts. It is therefore something that should not necessarily ruffle the waters of diplomacy, where everyone’s interest is served best by calm reflection even if the ducks on the pond are paddling furiously beneath the surface. That too is as it should be, between two essentially rational countries. India and Australia share a heritage of British justice (that strange construct in which an alleged offender is innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt) and of sound, focused international relations.
Even though the row will blow over – whether or not the unfortunate victim of fatal assault in Melbourne was targeted by racially motivated thugs or just by the ordinary, run-of-the-mill criminal thugs that blight the place – there is one minor smile that we can gain from it.
Indian students have been warned that Australia is a risky destination. It’s true that the warning is unofficial, coming from student associations rather than the government. But nonetheless, it is sadly amusing that Australia, which has built a travel advisory industry out of Australians’ ignorance and unwillingness to take responsibility for their own safety overseas (if a terrorist attacks them it’s their government’s fault), is now the subject of an alert warning of clear and present danger.

In Plain View

AMID all the fretting about South Bali’s overcrowded status, road congestion, and all manner of other ills, we tend to forget that much of our island is not like that at all. When you strip away all the fanciful rhetoric, unless you’re trying to get around Kuta (our advice: don’t try), reach the airport in time to catch your plane (our advice: go a day early and camp at Ngurah Rai overnight if you’re lucky enough to get through the traffic snarl in better than even time), or desire to sample the simple-minded madness of Denpasar’s kamikaze drivers and riders (our advice: it can be fun if you’ve remembered to take your heart pills), things are pretty much OK.
As regular readers of The Diary know, your diarist has a deep affection for Candi Dasa. Well, give or take the flat-to-the-floor driving habits of the Killer Yellow trucks and plutocrat SUVs that occasionally thunder through town, one set of wheels either side of the thick and continuous white line. We were there again this week, with some Australian friends. It rained, but then it does during the rainy season ... um, think that’s why it’s called that ... though not generally for very long. There’s something very restful about gazing at the sea, taking the long view of things: Nusa Penida and Lombok, for example. Unless the intermittent rain wipes them out.

Bank on It

SPEAKING of smiles, it was amusing to read that Little Miss Lift-It, otherwise known as Esti Yuliani or Julie Edmond, now of Kerobokan jail but previously of the late and unlamented business advisory outfit Kantor Kita, had her own bank. The smile is because the story reminds one that Bali – and indeed Indonesia – is a place of heroic dreams and Mitty-like plans.
It is of course immensely galling that people like Yuliani get away with things as they do for so long, and then get away with a slap on the wrist: two years for filching US$2.5 million works out at $3,424 a day before discounting for time off in lieu of the pre-trial confinement.
Yuliani’s former bank – she sold her controlling share in it when she was arrested last year - was of course not a large one (though normal caution should lead one to assume she would have had plans to make it bigger through further application of client funds to her private purposes). The thought occurs, however, that a marketing opportunity was missed when she set it up. The Australian Commonwealth Bank – which operates in Bali with its now trademark Vegemite-on-a-Biscuit logo – used to market itself with a catchy little come-on: Which Bank?
Had Yuliani’s acquisitive eye been on the ball instead of on her curiously non-escrow client accounts, Bank Kita could so easily have spun a nice little line out of this concept: Witch Bank.

Capital Sentence

DONE the crime? Doing the time? Well if you’ve still got the loot, you can do it in comfort in Indonesia’s otherwise horrific jails. We read with interest a story in the Jakarta Globe – great paper – this week that reports the head of the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation, Patra M Zen, as saying prisoners with money live like royalty in Indonesian prisons, enjoying just about anything their hearts desire.
It could be treats as small as a bag of methamphetamine, or an air-conditioned cell decorated according to the occupant’s wishes and furnished with an exercise machine — or even a guest to take that lonely chill off your sheets.
The data collected – by Justice Ministry officials who conducted a surprise inspection of the Pondok Bambu Penitentiary in East Jakarta on Sunday, and who one assumes were not surprised by what they found – does not of course relate directly to Chateau Schapelle (Kerobokan jail), even though similar elective improvements (including a Jacuzzi in one instance) are reported to have been made there by well-moneyed residents.
Plans are afoot to reform Indonesia’s jails. Abolishing the national rule that money can buy you anything would be a great place to start.

Off the Rails

NEWS that the proponents of a high-speed new-technology railway linking Cirebon in West Java with Jakarta’s international airport have plans to suck up hundreds of megawatts of power from the Java-Bali electricity grid should remind Bali of precisely where it rates in Java’s priorities: somewhere well short of a visible radar blip.
We shouldn’t worry too much, however. If the proponents think their US$3 billion 357-kilometre concept will be operating in two years with minimal impact on the environment or the land over which it will pass – apparently in monorail fashion – they’re living in Pipedream, Mittyland. It’s a very crowded address, that one: full of the crowds of wannabes who so engage us with their flights of fancy.

Catch That Bus!

JACK Daniels went on a New Year cruise, we learn from his Bali Update which (along with Daniels, we are invited to assume) claims to have become a Bali institution. The sea air must have got to him. He said the provincial government will have a busway – a la Jakarta’s – up and running by 2007. (He seems to have caught up with his calendar later: by Tuesday it was saying November 2010.)
Readers of The Bali Times (in print and on line) got the story first in last week’s edition of the newspaper. In the print edition, which we’re sure Daniels reads, it appeared on Page 2 with appropriate prominence.

Slipped Disc

THE Diary’s preferred DVD supplier, an establishment in Kuta just across the road from Discovery Mall, is a must for visitors: Mr and Mrs Hec always take their VFRs there. As they did, again, late last week: Such is the pace of the current round of visiting friends and relatives that frequent customer privileges must surely be in the offing.
Unfortunately the establishment was tutup (closed). Apparently it had lately been raided by “the police from Jakarta” – well that was what the helpful pavement-based employee told us – and would reopen in due course, actual date unknown. But Indonesian enterprise knows no bounds. A list of available DVDs was proffered, along with advice that our selection could be delivered to our hotel.

SCRATCHINGS appears as The Diary in The Bali Times, Bali's only English-language newspaper, every Friday and on the newspaper's website at The Bali Times is also available in print through Newspaper Direct.

Friday, January 08, 2010


Farewell To
A Wonderful
Friend of
The World and
Its People

ABDURRAHMAN WAHID, ubiquitously Gus Dur to friend and foe alike, left us on December 30. Anyone’s passing is sad, but that of Gus Dur is sadder than most. He brought so much of immeasurable value to Indonesia, to Islam, and to the world.
He was Indonesia’s first elected president, taking the reins when the Suharto regime finally staggered to its inevitable end. But more than that – much more than that – he was an Islamist (in the true sense of the term) who embraced plurality. He saw no inconsistency at all in promoting the immense values of his religion while at the same time genuinely honouring the place of other faiths.
He was a Suffist scholar and a humanist – we should all be humanists, whatever our personal religious beliefs – who led by quiet example. He argued strongly for his beliefs, but accorded the same rights to others, without declaring these a casus belli. In short, his was an intellect and a modulated conscience of precisely the kind of which the world needs more.
At a time when hotheads rule – on all sides of the drum-beating religious-statist divide that human frailty has brought upon us – and the gun (and its pernicious companion, the bomb) threatens us all, we would do well to ponder the wonderful legacy that Gus Dur has left us.
In Western democracies, politicians like to say that more unites their people than can ever divide them. It is a refrain repeated so often that it has become trite. But it is nevertheless a fundamental truth – and it extends beyond largely artificial national boundaries. Among us all, all the peoples of the Earth, much more unites – leave aside genes and DNA – than divides.

It’s a Blast

IN Bali, as in the rest of Indonesia, one gets accustomed to nonsense. For this reason, then, for long-stay visitors – by which classification all resident expatriates should be defined – an absence of nonsense for longer than normal becomes curiously discomfiting. Humans are creatures of habit, after all, as well as beings whose every fibre is enriched by rumour and delicious thoughts of disaster. If nothing goes wrong here for more than – oh, say two days – then clearly something is seriously awry.
We should therefore record our deep gratitude and sense of debt to the American embassy in Jakarta, which on receipt of a nice little note from Governor I Made Mangku Pastika on New Year’s Eve that said, basically, we’ve put tremendous security in place but, look, you know, you can’t be too careful, alerted Americans – and regrettably as a result of this the media, which gets off on looming disaster real or imagined – to the threat of an “immediate terror attack.”
Many things about America – and Americans – are risible. The astonishing fact that the putative Nigerian underpants bomber was on a watch list of Al-Qaeda operatives yet was still able to board a plane in Amsterdam and thankfully fail to fully ignite his undergarments on approach to Detroit is a laugh, in a hollow sort of way. Get Smart should be an instruction, not an invitation to sit through endless re-runs of old television comedies.

The Moon’s My Balloon

THAT Ubud luminosity Janet DeNeefe, who spent Christmas in Australia, returned to Bali just in time to outshine the Blue Moon that lit up the world on New Year’s Eve. We hear she kicked up a storm at her Indus restaurant that evening. (The Diary was having a great time at the Jazz Café. See below.)

DeNeefe, who by now will be beginning to worry about the 2010 Writers and Readers Festival (well, we hope so) had just appeared in that other Jakarta newspaper with a New Year piece that declared Bali to be the ant’s pants in places to be – we agree – yet managed to conflate several disparate issues, including PLN’s inability to organise anything much at all, into one Purnama (full moon).
This passage caught The Diary’s eye: “In bygone days there was no new order, just cosmic order of the niskala, unseen, kind. Is there is a lesson to be learned by imposed blackouts, and do they provide greater wisdom or vision? And while the lights might be off, what shines inside all of us are deeper issues of conservation, saving the planet and quality of life. Could ‘switched off’ be the new switched on?”

Doom and Gloom

WELL, not really. But readers of The Australian, the Odd Zone’s national newspaper, were invited to consider whether Bali was committing commercial and social suicide by failure to manage development, in a thoughtful piece by writer Deborah Cassrels published – as these things tend to be – over the New Year weekend.

It’s hard to argue with Cassrels’ thesis (that everything is so disorganised that virtually no sensible planning ever gets done and that rampant development threatens the island’s environment) or with the inference readers were invited to draw, that developers are in general a pain in the neck and the nether regions. Yet we need a little perspective. It’s true that KLS – Kuta-Legian-Seminyak – is a mess and it’s a complete mystery why anyone would actually want to live there. It’s true, too, that lots of people with more money than sense are buying overpriced blocks of land from robber barons on the waterless Bukit; and that, elsewhere, coastal areas have apparently been conceded as free-fire zones for lookalike get-rich-quickers. It’s certainly true that traffic gridlock is a daily fact of life in much of South Bali and that everybody – it’s not just the Balinese – turns rivers and beaches into garbage tips.

There is, therefore, much for the provincial government and the Green Governor to do. It must be done quickly. It must be done in a rational way and it must be done – consistent with overarching national policies – by the provincial government, which somehow must work out with Jakarta who is actually responsible for what.

But there is a lot more to Bali than just the concrete jungle in the south. There’s the rest of the island, folks. The bit with the other sort of jungle (well, sort of). What’s happened in the south is irreversible. We must all just make the best of it that we can. A few usable roads and even a rudimentary public transport system would help (hint, GG). Mass tourism brings in the dollars, which virtually all Balinese quite naturally want to get hold of. Quality tourism – and we do not mean more wannabe rich and famous tourism – ultimately provides them in far larger quantities. That’s the real imperative.

Idyll Lot

GILI Trawangan, off Lombok, is increasingly an adjunct of Bali, at least so far as its supplies and direct tourist traffic is concerned. So are its less crowded companions, Gilis Meno and Air. Fast boats now link them directly with Bali, leaving the mainland alone to its government’s dream of an impending Middle Eastern tourism boom fuelled by the new airport – under construction in the usual shambolic fashion – and a heroic belief that Arabs rich enough to fly away on hols will forsake the casinos, bars and other fleshpots of the Mediterranean and thoroughly liberal Europe for the shared Islamic heritage of distant Lombok.
According to a travel article just published in Britain, Trawangan could be next Ibiza. It is said to be just like that island in the Spanish Balearic Islands used to be before it wasn’t any longer. Trawangan is the party island, helped along by the fact that its community government won’t have police there and a range of engaging characters, among them Angelo Sanfilippo of Dream Village, who won a deserved mention in the article. It’s a relaxed place where everyone mucks in and gets along.

We’re not sure about it being the new Ibiza, but it’s certainly a magic spot; and a fine place to stage a personal idyll.

What a Hoot

THE Diary and party spent New Year’s Eve at the Jazz Café in Ubud. There’s always an eclectic crowd there – even when you’re not counting down the minutes to a new year – and never disappoints. And there’s nothing like jazz and the chance to dance to brighten up your night.

Some minor misbehaviour must be conceded. After the witching hour – which the Jazz Café’s management contrived to mark a tad early: but it would have been churlish to cavil over a mere eight minutes – The Diary’s party returned to its overnight accommodation armed with party hooters, the better to blast passersby with in celebration of 09 becoming 10.

Let There Be Light

PLN, whose plug-pulling skills are second to none, should be leaving the lights on round the clock one week from today. That’s if its promise that Bali’s rolling blackouts that were imposed in October because of its own incompetence and extended by one month-plus from December 10 for ditto and which are now due to end on January 15 proves unusual in that it will be kept.
But don’t hold your breath. And we would advise against selling your candles.

SCRATCHINGS is published as The Diary in The Bali Times every Friday. The Bali Times  is also available as a print product through Newspaper Direct.  

Saturday, January 02, 2010

HECTOR'S BALI TIMES DIARY [for Jan. 2, 2010]

The Law
In a

A NUMBER of things irritate those who do business here, or try to. Among them is the risk of running into a bent lawyer or one of those business advisers whose business, it turns out, is to enrich themselves at their clients’ expense.
Esti Yuliani, better known as Julie Edmond to those she famously ill-advised while passing herself off as a lawyer, is serving a two-year sentence imposed by judge Nyoman Sutama (less time served while awaiting trial) for omitting to mention that the Kantor Kita escrow account she got a business client drop a lazy US$2.5 million into was in fact an open account to which she had access; and then lifting the loot.
(It’s interesting, for contextual comparison, that just before Christmas the same judge Nyoman Sutama in Denpasar District Court sentenced Billabong Indonesia sales and marketing manager I Wayan Suanda to two-and-a-half years in prison, less time already served (he was detained last May) for embezzling company materials. Suanda, with an absent co-defendant – Christopher James, who unsurprisingly is in Australia – had removed pictures and other promotional materials from 34 stores without the permission of another company, CV Bali Balance, with which Billabong is in a commercial dispute after terminating a long-standing business arrangement. It was alleged by CV Bali Balance that Suanda’s actions cost it US$115,000.)
The Bali Times reported on page one of the December 18 edition that one of the bar associations that looks after lawyers here – that grammatical construction is deliberate, by the way, lest anyone miss the point – struck off one of its Bali members for taking $250,000 from a British client and not doing the paperwork for which the money had been provided. Why such embezzlement is not automatically a police matter – and why the gentleman concerned, Rizaldi Watruti (who is either acquisitive or indolent; it’s not entirely clear which), got only a year off instead of being tarred and feathered and told never to darken the doorway of a lawyer’s practice ever again – can only be described as an Indonesian mystery.
Caveat emptor remains the only sensible advice in circumstances where astonishing malfeasance appears to be a regular occurrence rather than an unpleasant exception; the preference is to wink at such instances unless someone makes a lot of noise or sufficient (further) money changes hands to oil the legal and judicial wheels. It’s not only stupid Bules who are the victims. Indonesians do it to themselves regularly. And the perpetrators are not only Indonesians, either. Too many of the expatriates who have set up in business here seem to have done so because they’d be in jail if they tried it in their own countries, or anywhere with an effective criminal investigation and prosecution service, a rock-solid legal system and a judiciary that sees judgment as a jurisprudential outcome and not as an income stream.
It’s true, of course, that in land matters particularly Indonesian law makes a messy porridge of any transaction. Land title is often unclear and can be subject to rival claims years later, and the situation is complicated by the fanciful notion that if foreigners owned freehold title they would dig up the land and take it home. Selling land to foreigners is not specifically an Indonesian problem. It is only relatively recently, for example, that the silly burghers of The Great South Land managed to convince themselves that allowing non-citizens to buy freehold title would not mean they’d wake up one morning to find large parts of their very special biosphere had disappeared.

Author! Author!

ONE of the benefits of a week off (from diary writing among other things) is that you can do things you otherwise put aside for lack of time. So it is that a lengthy book review in the British journal The Spectator – like most things, read on line in Bali – caught The Diary’s eye. It was written by Ferdinand Mount, who was reviewing a book by Frank Kermode (he’s 90 not out, good on him) on E.M. Forster, the English Edwardian author.
Forster wrote A Passage to India and Howard’s End, most notably; though in a long career he penned a lot more than that. Kermode has made a life’s work of dissecting Forster. He has done this so exhaustively that he must be the only person not exhausted by his effort. Mount writes that as he read Kermode’s latest causerie, he came to the conclusion that he liked Forster a lot. So does The Diary.
It’s true that Forster is a curiously enervating writer, but read deeply he is very far from bland and in fact is a much more penetrating inquisitor and prompter of questions than most. Besides, he must be all right. Anyone cauterised for literary demerit by Virginia Woolf – whether or not played for hours by the annoying Nicole Kidman in a false nose – is surely to be praised.
That he was a moneyed homosexual with fantasies about being roughed up by lower class lads is beside the point. Sadly, these days he is read much less widely than he should be. This is because he presents arguments that require effort to fully appreciate and leaves the functional side of sexual congress where it should be left, unless you’re writing pornography: to the reader’s imagination.

Sponsored Fun

READERS will have noticed that our pre-Christmas edition was sponsored by Oceans 27, the beachside entertainment venue in Kuta. The Diary got an invitation – well, vicariously by Facebook, at least – but did not attend the Russian Bikini Pool Party put on by our sponsors for the young and disgracefully undressed on December 19. Superannuated cockatoos look very scary in pink bikinis.
We hear it was a good bash, as all such parties should be. Thoroughly tasteless, gauche, loud, ill-mannered ... all the things that your diarist remembers (well vaguely; read on) from the flush of youth.
Young people always think that theirs is the time of innovation; that no one (especially their parents) can ever have had this much fun. It is part of the insouciant insolence and ignorance of youth. But this is not the case and never has been. Eventually most of us grow out of it; it can be a shock, that process. It is not confined to party animal misbehaviour. Winston Churchill, an indifferent scholar but a powerful intellect, once said that when he was 16 he had been embarrassed by his parents’ ignorance, but at 21 had been amazed at how much they had learned in the past five years.
The Diary had one youthful episode of exceptional note (in the party context). It was in London, where you have to play hard just to keep warm. The details are understandably vague, though it must have been an excellent affray. There’s a whole week missing from the record.

Too Precious

JOURNALISTS - among whom your diarist publicly counts himself, having long ago given up his quest for greater respectability by telling people he plays piano in a brothel – should not be too precious. They dish it out (or they should) so they must be able to take it, too.
The case of Jakarta woman Luna Maya’s Twitter outbursts – if you can get past the deliciously whacky inference to be drawn from the lady’s first name – is one instance of this rule. One of Indonesia’s journalists’ associations has reported her to police. Journalists prattle on forever about defending free speech. How, then, can they possibly use a repressive, ridiculous and offensive law – the defamation provisions of the Electronic Transaction and Information Law – to attempt to punish someone who expresses a view of journalists that is not something you’d want to put on your name card?
Luna’s opinion may be loony (well, it is). Albeit she appeared to be targeting “infotainment” journalists – that natural oxymoron – about whose utility we might all profitably ponder. Perhaps prostitutes and murderers will now also complain that they have been profoundly and (thanks to ridiculous legislation) criminally insulted.
Journalism is not for the faint-hearted, or for those who cannot see the hypocrisy of protesting on the one hand against repressive laws and seeking to use them, on the other, when their pompous little egos have been dented. Freedom of speech means having to put up with the ravings of all manner of twits.

Christmas Ritual

A LITTLE while ago The Diary attended – and came sixth in – a Bloody Mary making competition at the St Regis Resort & Spa, Nusa Dua. It was an evening arranged by Geetha Warrier, the property’s comely communicator. The reward (apart from dinner afterwards and the fame of finishing far higher up the list than usual where demonstrations requiring practical application are concerned) was two vouchers for a Bloody Mary Inspired Ritual at Remède Spa.
The vouchers were redeemed on Christmas Day. The Diary and Mrs Diary enjoyed 180 minutes of the finest pampering, in a wonderful ambience. It involved various preparations including tomato, pineapple, wasabi and parsley, administered firmly by superbly qualified therapists who understood that “strong” means strong and whose skills were unquestionable.
It was a far cry from the usual – very pleasant and more than adequate – Bali-style pampering places generally patronised by the less than obscenely over-moneyed, and a very nice Christmas present.

THE DIARY is published in the weekly print edition of The Bali Times on Fridays and appears on the newspaper's website at The Bali Times is also available in print through Newspaper Direct.