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.
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.
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 www.thebalitimes.com. The Bali Times is also available in print through Newspaper Direct.