Friday, April 30, 2010

HECTOR'S BALI TIMES DIARY [for Apr. 30, 2010]

Poor Show:
These Guys
Are Just
Not Up
To Scratch

THE street-stall and restaurant strip of Jl Pantai Mengiat in Bualu, Nusa Dua, is a great little precinct. The stallholders and shopkeepers are friendly and don’t push, and there are any number of restaurants to choose from that won’t empty your wallet. It is therefore a favourite place of many, tourists and resident expatriates alike.
Some months ago, the local authorities decided to make the street a no-parking area. That’s fine. It’s not exactly a wide thoroughfare and now that Balinese bus operators have fallen in love with giant charabancs that would fill half of a German autobahn it’s sensible not to park where one or other of them might remove your wing mirror or more.
It’s also true that most of the street’s custom comes either on foot from the hotels in the BTDC’s manicured multi-star hotel area just beyond the security boom gates, or is delivered by a transport driver. But there is, however, nowhere to park if you live here, have your own car, and prefer it that way; unless, that is, you use the generally not over-occupied parking area outside a long-derelict former place of glory where the street’s transport operators hang out.
Some people we know – who are well connected in the local area just by the way – have customarily done this since street parking was banned. But last time they parked there, on their way to a pleasant dinner at Laguna Garden restaurant, they were subjected to an intemperate (and unintelligible in any language) tirade from someone, in an old and depressed car, who when ignored – as you do, as an alternative to taking the wheel-brace to him – uttered further imprecations, executed an appallingly ill-skilled wheel-spin, and screamed backwards into another of the many vacant spaces.
On their return to their vehicle later they found it had been tied to the neighbouring trees with electrical flex, which had been wound around the side mirrors and the wipers. Perhaps the clowns thought these wouldn’t be noticed until, on driving away, they ripped off the mirrors and wipers. These they removed – some other intemperate chap appeared at this point and seemed to be protesting that they were damaging the trees – and they drove home, politely resisting the temptation to offer their interloculators a robust finger. Next day, they found deep scratch marks on the rear of the car.
There are several lessons from this. (Keep the wheel-brace handy is tempting, but will not be adopted as policy.) If the area is reserved only for transport drivers, whoever has authorised this should erect a sign saying so. In the way of things here, a small subscription should then suffice to secure private parking when required. If it has not been thus reserved, and has merely been expropriated under some “We’re Here and You Can Bugger Off” scheme, then the banjars and probably the BTDC should put a stop to it.
And in any event, the street’s restaurant operators should be concerned. Most people, subjected to the sort of bother-boy tactics described above, would indeed bugger off – and spend their dinner money somewhere else.

We’re Fuming

WHAT a delightful little enragement, the non-story about a tobacco company sponsoring a Jakarta concert by an American Idol winner whose engagement with sentience apparently does not extend to bothering to find out who is providing the readies. It precisely sums up the vacuous nature of modern life, really.
Smoking tobacco is foolish, like a lot of elective behaviour. Crossing a Jakarta thoroughfare, or even one in Bali, is a far deadlier threat. But the bottom line in the smoking “debate” (it’s not a debate, it’s a shrilly silly one-way chorus) is that tobacco is a legal product.
James VI of Scotland, who (perhaps unwisely from a four-centuries-on perspective) went on to become, jointly, James I of England) was certainly right when he described tobacco as a noxious weed. It is a native of the Americas, the northern portion of which nowadays produces a lot noxious material, television reality shows among them. But even Good King Jimmy didn’t ban tobacco. And for innumerable budgetary cycles since, national treasuries everywhere have loved it to death.
So governments must grasp the nettle (well, the tobacco plant). If they want to make it illegal, they can legislate to do so, find a way to cope with the social (and in some places electoral) consequences, and look for ways to replace all that lovely revenue.

On Parade

THE annual ANZAC Day commemoration is not one to miss if you’re an Aussie or a Kiwi, even if only by adoption. Thus the dawn service organised by the Australian Consulate-General in Bali is a firm date in one’s diary. It does mean getting up around the time the island’s frenetic night-lifers are finally wrapping up their day in the fractious entertainment precincts of Kuta – but hey, what’s a shooting affray or two, between friends – and being in your best-pressed before dawn, but it’s only once a year.
This year’s service (it was on Sunday, April 25) was sensibly contained under a large marquee, the rains being tardy this season; but in the event the sky remained kindly disposed to celebrants. There was a lot of brass about too. Australian ambassador Bill Farmer – who is about to leave us – was there. His wife, the Rev Elaine Farmer, read the Ode. Governor I Made Mangku Pastika came along. And, as appropriate on such an occasion, there were lots of uniforms around.
The Seraphim Choir sang the hymn O Valiant Hearts beautifully and the Australian and New Zealand national anthems too. They managed the Maori language first rendition of the Kiwi one with consummate skill.
Flag-raising result: This year the New Zealand flag made it to the top of the pole first. Usually it’s the other way round. Flag-raising is so devilishly tricky.
On Wednesday evening there was a pleasant soiree at the Consulate-General to farewell Farmer, who has been Australia’s man in Jakarta since November 2005.

Yellow Press

THE fascination of the Australian media with Schapelle Corby continues. Melbourne's Herald-Sun newspaper - it's part of the Rupert Empire - had a little story last Friday that reported she looked tired and worn out in the crush of the crowd during "festivities" (their word) at Kerobokan jail and had refused to comment on her appeal for clemency or on her mental health.
The occasion was a little jamboree held to mark the anniversary of Indonesia's penal system. Prison guards and officials played games of table tennis and volleyball with prisoners.
Bali Nine member Matthew Norman played a game of tennis with jail chief Siswanto. But the breathless Aussies took care to report that Corby, 32, tried to avoid the media as she walked from the women's cell block to the jail's visiting area in the company of a Malaysian inmate. With their customary skill in getting to the nub of an issue, they also reported she was “wearing a tight yellow T-shirt.”
It’s so hard to find a non-shrink laundry nowadays.

Choo, Choo!

THE Diary awards its Reader Prize this week to JM (Jack) Daniels, said by some (well, himself) to be a leading Bali “destination manager.” His award is for assiduous study, prior to his weekend tweeting of elements of his weekly email update (out Mondays), of last Friday’s print edition of The Bali Times, wherein was reported Governor Pastika’s Thomas the Tank Engine dream of a railway for Bali.
Good to have you aboard the growing readership train at the Times, Jack. We’re ahead of the times here.

No Spam Thanks

WHILE on the subject of promotional efforts, we note that Janet DeNeefe, doyenne of the Ubud literary scene, restaurateur of some prominence, and lately the name behind yet another literary night sequence, has employed some PR spam merchants to boost her Bar Luna reading experiences.
Spam is only acceptable – though even that is questionable – when in a tin containing suspiciously compressed meat.

We’ll Pass

FROM time to time one gets unsolicited mail. Until recently, much of it has come from Nigeria, where a surprisingly large number of people seem to have great business opportunities to send to you. But – perhaps rather like the way Nigerian criminal gangs have overrun the centre of Johannesburg – some of them may have exchanged the tropical ambience of West Africa for the rather more briskly remunerative climate of the South African Highveld, and there have passed along their entrepreneurial skills to their new chums.
That is why your diarist, though no stranger to the magic of Southern Africa, will not be taking up the kind offer received a few days ago from Mr Zulu Thokozani, who emailed an amazing promise of mutual enrichment.

And No Namaste

NEWS that Bali and Lombok tourism entrepreneurs, among other Indonesian operators, are chasing extra business in South Africa – as reported in our news pages last week – will be widely welcomed.
No more so, perhaps, than among the decidedly entrepreneurial traders of Jl Pantai Mengiat at Nusa Dua, the street of stalls and restaurants just outside the BTDC “safety zone.” (Come on out, folks; it’s great out here.)
The Diary remembers a delightful exchange from some years back when, while Diary and Distaff were partying with some local lads in a street-side arak session, our chums spotted some Indian tourists. “Namaste,” offered one of our multilingual companions. Back came this reply: “Thanks mate, but we’re from South Africa.”
So was Mahatma Gandhi, as we recall.

Hector's Blog appears, as The Bali Times Diary, in the print edition of the newspaper out Fridays and on the newspaper's website at The Bali Times, Bali's leading English-language publication, is available worldwide via NewspaperDirect.

Friday, April 23, 2010

HECTOR'S BALI TIMES DIARY [for Apr. 23, 2010]

On Your Bike:
Why the Plods
Can’t Stop
Road Hogs

WE’VE all heard some inventive lines from time to time, from people making excuses for not being in position to do the job for which they’re paid. The Diary admits, in this context, that long ago, before adulthood and a sense of responsibility came on board, his dog was known to have eaten the homework on occasion.
In Indonesia, such explanations are a commonplace at all levels. It’s part of the culture. If you have not been able to do something, then the cause of this deficiency is almost invariably down to someone else. One thinks of PLN, for example, where mendacity and prevarication are apparently required disciplines.
Some of these things are important; and not really laughing matters, except that laughter is always the best medicine. But we also get our quota of out-and-out slapstick. So it is with the traffic police on Bali, whose fearless chief proclaims that he cannot pursue large convoys of oversized and probably unlicensed motorbikes ridden by people who apparently believe the open highway is their personal property, because they go so fast that trying to stop them might cause an accident.
More risible still is that this astonishing claim – made the more so because such illegal road use is frequently escorted by a policeman on a motorbike, as frequently seen on the drag strip that bad drivers (and riders) make of the new double carriageway section at the eastern end of the Sanur-Kusamba bypass – was made in the context of an announcement that police would be cracking down on unregistered, oversized motorbikes.
Traffic police chief Cahyono declared – in his terrific announcement that his chaps would actually be going out there to enforce the law – that lone large bikes would be inspected and if unregistered would be confiscated. Three cheers. But unregistered bikes travelling around the island in "official" large convoys, often escorted by police personnel, will be exempt from the tougher certification requirements and the threat of confiscation.
He claims (and apparently he believes this, which is even more of a worry): “If we stop (the bikes) there will be an accident because the big bikes travel quickly which will be dangerous (if they are halted) on the main road, and we'll be blamed for that, too."
Many such bike tours are charity events to fund community service projects. That’s great. It would be even better if someone could think of a quieter and less road-hogging way to raise money.

In the Pink

COMBATING breast cancer is a vital task and events such as the Pink Ribbon Walk, an annual outing for anyone game enough to wear that immodest hue, are a great way to publicise the issue.
Anyone who would like to take part in the event this year - it's a gentle 5 kilometre stroll through the lushly guarded confines of Nusa Dua's star-spangled beachfront area - should certainly do so. You only have to wear pink for five klicks, so if you walk at a brisk pace that's hardly any time at all. And it's in a good cause. Melly St Ange of the Bali International Women's Association (BIWA) is the best contact point for inquiries. BIWA's phone/fax number is 0361 28 6564.
However, we were reminded of the upcoming nature of the event - it's on May 15: make that a date in your diary - by an unjustified exuberance of promotional puffery that popped into the email inbox the other day from the PR chap at Laguna Resort & Spa, Sugeng Purnomo, congratulating everyone involved in organising the walk, and by implication he himself for having achieved great publicity for it.
He'd posted it on one of those free website "news" sites. They’ll publish anything, unedited, even if it's not really in English and goes on and one for what seems like at least five kilometres.

Mass Massage a Hit

BALI is the land of massage. And that’s a good thing too. A nice rub-down can take away all the stress of living in unregulated anarchy (see above). And a beach massage is one of the rites of passage for many foreign visitors to Kuta Beach.
They’re not generally overpriced, unless perhaps you’re Japanese and have already got the T-Shirt. But a couple of weeks ago the 150 masseuses who work the beach at Kuta Beach put on a free mass massage for beachgoers.
We hear that curious (or possibly impecunious) tourists flocked to the scene. One Australian tourist who took up the offer, who gave her name as Erina, said it was her first experience of massage.
“It was very nice,” she said. “It was like going to bed.”

Online Gropers

SPEAKING of a hands-on approach to life and its diversions, it seems a robotic hand has been developed which allows friends and family to hold hands with their loved ones over the internet. The handy little gripper plugs into a computer and communicates with an electronic wristband to allow people talking over the internet to experience the sensation of touch.
It is said that the hand can grip and shake and give the signs for “OK” and “peace” – it would need to get the digits the right way round there or it could spark a cyber war - and is expected to go on sale later this year. It can also pick up the strength of the hand movement and is capable of giving a weak or a firm handshake. That could be useful in some cyber circles.
But the Hong Kong boffins who developed the tool say it is not yet capable of more intricate or delicate movements, ruling it out for anyone wanting to get more intimate and touchy-feely with other people online. Sadly, they add that it is only a matter of time and money before it acquires this capacity.

Get Away!

WHILE we’re on the subject of silly things you can waste your time with, we hear that new research suggests jealousy can actually impair vision. Well, we’ve always known you can get into a blind rage – though it never helps solve the problem that caused the rage in the first place – but apparently jealousy does the same thing.
In a recent study, heterosexual couples of the romantically linked variety sat near each other at individual computers separated by a curtain. The women had to pick out certain landscape and architectural photos that were rotated 90-degrees within images of streams that flashed onto the screen. During the photo session, the participants also had to ignore occasional emotionally unpleasant images that were gruesome or graphic in some way.
Meanwhile, the men were asked to rate the attractiveness of landscapes that appeared on their screens. So far, so good: But then, part of the way through the experiment, the experimenter announced the male partner would rate the attractiveness of other single women.
They pay people to do research like this? There’s a cheaper way. Just visit any bar on a Friday or Saturday night and takes notes.

Jumping Again

A LITTLE while ago The Diary noted the sad demise of Hector’s (no relation), a TexMex eatery at that time only lately established on Yellow Truck Hill at Ungasan. So there’s some good news for anyone who likes it when their jalapenos really get hopping: it has reopened.
So, incidentally, has the nightly “jalan macet” at Ungasan crossroads, with the seasonal return of the surfer crowd to the unbeatable waves at Uluwatu. As traffic jams go it’s a pretty minor affair: like peak hour in Canberra, or possibly Dublin. Twenty minutes sees it done.
But it’s worth watching for its amusement factor. There are several new watering holes along Raya Uluwatu at the crossroads where you can sit to enjoy the sight of a Bali traffic jam you’re not actually part of.

Limp Effort

THE Diary has a voyeuristic eye – well, you need something to amuse yourself with in trying times, such as life – and because of this was momentarily attracted by a come-on headline on an item on the ABC Online website the other day. It said: French letter arrives 220 years late.
Long ago certain accoutrements of licentious private entertainments were popularly known, in the English speaking world, as French letters. In those much more sheltered, cover-the-table-legs-dear-we-don’t-want-you-getting-excited days, these were generally obtained in circumstances of great embarrassment from either unsympathetic or amused pharmacists, although they were then known as chemists.
To offset ennui (a French word, how appropriate) The Diary actually read the story. It had nothing to do with perished rubber at all. It actually was a French letter, apparently sent to Saix instead of Seix in 1790.
The civic authorities in Saix found it 10 years ago during a clean-up of the archives at the hôtel de ville but - being French – were apparently less than energised by their discovery. Now, however, an official delegation from Saix has made the 200 kilometre trip across southern France to Seix to deliver the misplaced missive to their counterparts there.
We hope it wasn’t a party invitation. The vin would be very ordinaire by now.

Hector's Blob appears, as The Diary, in The Bali Times, out in print every Friday. The Bali Times is at Print editions are also available worldwide through NewspaperDirect.

Friday, April 16, 2010

HECTOR'S BALI TIMES DIARY [for Apr. 16, 2010]

Susan says:
Centre of
The Bali

IT’S really good (well, at a pinch) to see that Australia’s national newspaper – a Rupert Murdoch production unsurprisingly called The Australian and edited by a chap for whom your diarist once laboured, he (your diarist) thought mightily – has published a great come-on for Bali. It appeared last weekend from the cyber pen of Susan Kurosawa, doyenne of Australian travel writers.
It was a sponsored piece, as so much (too much) travel writing in the mainstream media is these days, in that Kurosawa was the guest of Space at Bali, some villas at Seminyak that were the brainchild of Swiss-born Roger Haumueller and which, we hear, opened last year. Unsurprisingly therefore, something of a focus was placed upon that no doubt fine establishment and on the tiny and vastly overcrowded bit of Bali surrounding it, aka Seminyak.
This would be tiresome, were one to allow oneself to be tired by the in-your-face mewling of the Yakkers of this world. It is certainly tedious, however, because for every deep-pocket villa in Seminyak there is an equal – and much more valuable and authentic – Bali experience to be found in the 99.9 percent of the island that is too far (Ubud excepted, if by chauffeured limousine) from the shops and refreshment places for sponsored visitors to reach, unless by way of a once-over-lightly listing of a lot of locations (Tanah Lot among them) that, once mentioned, can be forgotten.
Seminyak, of course, is prime Tottie Territory (Scrubber Land is further south). It is there, apparently, that one can safely ignore the fact that you’re in Bali at all, and pretend that you’re having such fun, ha, ha, ha, on the Costa Lotta, or the Costa Blotto, or some other smudge on the landscape.
The thrust of Kurosawa’s piece – beyond giving Space at Bali and other freebie providers something to shove in their PR file – is that Seminyak is the place to be seen in. This may indeed be true. The herd instinct is very strong.
But there’s rather more to Bali than Seminyak. There’s Bali, for instance.

A Dangerous Road

VETERAN filmmaker Garin Nugroho believes there’s an awful lot of rubbish on television. Few among the sentient would argue with this thesis. It is a worldwide phenomenon. Soap operas (sinetron in Indonesia), so-called reality shows, and the febrile nonsense of the “entertainment” world are all around, all after the market share that now comes from attracting the vacuous and the bored. It’s not a good look.
Nugroho, who was speaking at a seminar in Yogyakarta last weekend, says the way to deal with this is to get the national television service TVRI to provide quality programming that reflects the pluralism and multiculturalism of Indonesia and to take offending private TV stations off the air.
He is profoundly and dangerously wrong. Except perhaps in the biggest cities, and even then only among a minority, Indonesians seem to be much more robust than effete westerners in determinedly keeping a grip on reality. They might like to sit down and watch pap, but there’s no evidence that many of them are being poisoned by it.
The dangers that lie in prohibition (who decides what to prohibit?) and proscription (ditto) should be crystal clear to anyone, but especially to a filmmaker who has managed to both entertain and inform through his work. People need guidance – everyone does – but not through regulation.
Society’s task is to ensure that doors are open and to equip young people to walk through them so that, using their own inquiring intellects, they can make their own choices. This must involve all of a society’s elements, including the providers of popular TV programming, competing for mind-time. “Guiding” people by doing the equivalent of burning books has never worked and never will. As history shows, it leads to nasty defiles.
Nugroho might be better off making a new film. He could call it Sebuah Jalan Berbahaya (A Dangerous Road).

Rudd Alert

AS a general rule – a sensible one – convicted prisoners do not feature in the media with a frequency rivalling the similarly astounding spotlighting of Lil’ Aussie Icon Kylie Minogue or other denizens of that global blight, Planet Dangdut. That’s good. Their special pleadings are irritating; and not just because they are for the most part entirely self-serving.
Neither do they – generally – feature in the one-liners favoured by political leaders. Prima facie, then, it was something of a surprise to hear last weekend that that other ’lil Aussie icon, PM Kevin Rudd, had backed Schapelle Corby’s plea for clemency directed to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
This intelligence came via a spokesman for Australia’s foreign minister Stephen Smith, who said Canberra would support any application by Corby for clemency and that the minister had made this clear to her Queensland-based family. The statement would not have been made without benefit of a little twinkle of the green light from the PM’s office.
Corby's plea, lodged recently, seeks to have her drug trafficking sentence reduced or quashed on the basis of mental illness. The plea to SBY came as prison authorities in Bali and Jakarta said a recent letter purporting to be an order to transfer Corby, 32, to a jail outside Bali, was a fake. The fanciful existence of the movement order had formed the central part of yet another special plea for Corby from her biographer, Kathryn Bonella, in the Australian tittle-tattle magazine Woman’s Day.
It will not have escaped the attention of the Indonesian authorities that this is an election year in Australia, or that Queensland is PM Rudd’s home state.

His Faith Astounds

RICHARD Dawkins is an engaging writer. He argues his case for God’s inexistence with a faith he cannot deny, having persuaded himself that his finite knowledge of science (however extensive that finite is) proves that which by its very nature cannot be proved.
His is a great intellect. And whether you can accept what he says is irrelevant – for the most part – to the joy of reading an intellectual argument that truly challenges the mind.
But he has come unstuck – as many who are fixedly faithful to their preferred belief system do – by descending into risibility with his latest venture on to the public stage. He is reported as wishing to arrest the Pope, for His Holiness’ less than honest approach to the sickening issue of sexual abuse committed by priests in the Catholic Church. (He later strenuously asserted that he had been misquoted, that he had only said he supported moves to deny the Pope access to Britain, and that he had been interviewed out of the blue by the Murdoch press. What a chump.)
Perhaps in the light of all of this he should change his name to Dorkins. It has a mathematical link with another term for him that might be appropriate in these circumstances. We’d never print it, but it too has seven letters. It begins with an “f” and ends in “wit.”

Bob and Two Veg

DESA Seni, the alternative thinkers’ establishment at Canggu, had an evening not to be missed (though The Diary did due to late notice and a prior engagement) on Tuesday.
It was a free vegetarian buffet and an engaging lecture – also free – by Bobsy. Howard Klein of Desa Seni tells us Bobsy is the owner of Life Café in Hong Kong – the first organic food and health café in that very special Chinese metropolis. He is also the publisher of The Positive News, a newspaper that apparently only publishes material of that limited and less than utilitarian genre.
Klein adds: “He is also one of the founders of the Save the Human foundation. He is articulate, passionate and full of ideas and knowledge. It will definitely be an interesting evening. He has just done similar things in Beirut and Dubai.”
We’re sure it was a happy occasion.

Hector's Blog appears, as The Diary, in The Bali Times, the island's English-language weekly newspaper, out Fridays, and on the newspaper's website at The Bali Times is available worldwide through Newspaper Direct.

Friday, April 09, 2010

HECTOR'S BALI TIMES DIARY [for Apr. 9, 2010]

Save Us
From the

CONVERSATION turns to such matters occasionally. The occasion most recently was a nice little dinner in Kuta with some friends – Australians – who were astonished, and not pleasantly, by the passing parade of ugly mugs exiting their hotel within a nasal twang or two of our table, outside in the balmy evening air.
Readers will recall – and The Diary hopes they do so with glee – the little cameo painted recently by columnist Vyt Karazija in The Bali Times drawn from his unfortunate experience when by chance he found himself at a bar in the Kuta lanes also occupied by some spectacularly low-life variants of the Aussie animal. It had to do with streaking and hot motorcycle seats. The word picture was great fun, but the incident itself is symptomatic of a deep malaise.
There are, of course, plenty of well-mannered Australians. Some of them live in Bali. Others among them visit us and manage not expose almost all of their persons unless in the privacy of their bathrooms or (at a pinch) around a pool. In short, they are normal people. Well, they were, before Australia apparently decided to normalise grossness and inflict it on the world.
Anyway, back to the pleasant dinner and the unpleasant vista. From the hotel, as we watch, there issues a continuous stream of Aussies, evidently for the most part enervated by having to drag themselves along. Many are in Bintang singlets; some (too many) are even carrying a stubby of the product out with them. It was a parade of the short, the fat, and the ugly. With an occasional mutant giant – size XXXXL – thrown in. It was not the sort of sight that went at all well with the lamb masala.
There were braids – that passé tourist gig – and tattoos, real or fake, some of them in quite unlikely places. There were hemlines up to hip level (and necklines to navel) on barely post-pubescent girls whose mothers (if not they themselves) should know better. And there was that ubiquitous Aussie shuffle-scuffle: as if actually walking is too much of an effort.
Bali is a holiday island. Tourists are always welcome. Youthful exuberance is fine. It’s when the flush of youth has gone and the mindless exuberance remains – or worse, has morphed into flabby, can’t-be-bothered ennui – that it all gets tiresome.
The arrival of cheap airfares is a benefit to Bali. But there’s a downside: it brings in a flood of those who should really stay home.

Sex on the Beach

THEY say it’s a drink. Well, it must be. It’s on a lot of bar menus, along with Orgasms and all the other insensible accoutrements of life in the Post-Mannered Age. But it’s not particularly advisable in the flesh, so to speak, unless one really is on a desert island.
A Diary spy who jogs regularly – poor fellow – was enjoying a regular trot along the strand at Canggu the other day when, he tells us, he all but ran over a couple of randy specimens apparently hugely enjoying the thoughtless pretence that they were at Sandy Bottom or some other licentious spot.
That they were thus engaged within sight of the Batu Bolong temple demonstrates their complete unconsciousness in relation to the culture of the island and its people (not to mention the law).
Shame our fellow only jogs and doesn’t go for four-wheel drives along the beach. He’d have done us all a favour if he’d run over them in an SUV.

The Bukit’s Kicking

DOWN in the dry limestone country that functions as the Bukit, the blob at the bottom of Bali, all sorts of things are happening. This is especially so in the GWK/Ungasan Simpang area, a new focus of energetic local efforts to get a share of the passing growing-dollar traffic. There’s a new pharmacy (a Guardian) next to the long-established Circle K at the little line of shops opposite the entrance to Puri Gading. A bit beyond that, on the other side of the road, is a new spa.
Further up Yellow Truck Hill is a new Pepito outlet, an “express” version of the Tuban supermarket. And atop the hill, at Maniac Crossroads (Bali Cliff left, Balangan right, Oblivion straight on), the locally owned Nirmala supermarket is making strenuous efforts to join the ranks of establishments you’d like to shop at. It is expanding, has opened up the aisles – you can now get your trolley down them without involuntarily destocking the shelves as you go – and is selling a range of expat-oriented food and consumables not generally seen in local establishments.
Since this is The Diary’s neighbourhood supermarket this is good news indeed.

Towering Intellects

IT is interesting to read (we caught it in the Bahasa press) that the legislators of the rural regency of Bangli awarded themselves a trip to Batam to see how that go-ahead – and well moneyed – regency manages to regulate communication towers. Apparently they do this by regulation. Now that’s a good idea. It’s certainly better than having no regulations at all, or just a supply of brown envelopes to pay off the necessary bureaucrat.
The regulations themselves, in Batam, not only require a transparent approval process but also an annual permit renewal. Presumably these regulations are available in Bahasa – they do speak it in Batam – and could be provided without the need to fly off and look at them there, or at the towers for that matter.
Nonetheless, it is good to hear that Bangli, hitherto famous for a definably cowboy approach to government, is interested in (one) regulations; (two) possibly creating and enforcing same; and (three) by definition apparently has some view of the environment that does not involve obscuring it with promiscuously placed rusting metal.
Batam, of course, is a vibrant centre of industry and commerce. It is also – on a clear day – within sight of Singapore. They do things differently there, too.

In the Club

THE traditional antipathy of Australians to perceived British class distinctions, these days mostly misplaced, got another airing the other day, with a post on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s handy little blog The Drum by political correspondent Mark Colvin.
It related to the fact that lame-duck Labour prime minister Gordon Brown (a Scotsman, shame on him) could still snatch an undeserved victory from the jaws of otherwise inevitable defeat in the general election in the UK on May 6 because opposition leader David Cameron (not a Scot despite the name) went to Eton and then to Oxford, where he was a member of the awful undergraduate club parodied by the novelist Evelyn Waugh in his book Decline and Fall (first published 80 years ago when such things mattered).
Who wins or loses the UK election is largely a matter of academic interest outside the bounds of that polity. What irritated The Diary was Colvin’s gratuitous reference to his own Oxford sojourn, via a comment that he, like Waugh’s unfortunate tragic hero, would not have been allowed to become a member of that club. Of course he wouldn’t. He was a fatuous colonial (and apparently still is).

That’s the Spirit

BY all accounts this year’s BaliSpirit Festival, which ended this week, was a great occasion. We’re sure having a didgeridoo along to the party made all the difference. It’s easy of course to pooh-pooh events such as the festival; to characterise them as yet another ephemeral resort of the sad and confused. But that’s not only churlish; it also fails to take account of the fact that the world really has changed.
There’s a lot of rot talked about new age this and millennium that, but even a cursory look at the multimedia around today shows that the concerns that so beset us once, no longer do (or at least less so), and that the great push is now for community – across cultures, across borders – and that this has fundamentally changed the world.
And if people feel they need to find themselves, what better place to find yourself than in Bali?

Dear Desi

THE Diary lives on Tweet Deck, the vehicle of choice for cyber citizens with too much time on their hands, or sad lives. Thus we can report that Jakarta columnist Desi Anwar – she appears in print in the Jakarta Globe, which is where we read her – put in a special plea on Sunday evening. She was returning to the capital after a lovely weekend in Ubud and wished, oh how she wished, that her plane would leave on time.
We’re sure it did. No one would dare gainsay Desi.

Hector's Blog appears as The Diary in The Bali Times, Bali's leading English-language newspaper, out Fridays, and on the newspaper's website at The Bali Times is available worldwide via Newspaper Direct.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

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

Get You
In the

LAST week’s page one story in The Bali Times on the licensed thievery of the excise branch – which is whacking everyone with a huge increase in excise on alcohol to “make up for revenue lost” by dropping the luxury tax on same from April 1 (such an appropriate date, as it turns out) is a timely reminder that government and its attendant, acquisitive, bureaucracy will always get you in the end.
This is by no means exclusively an Indonesian phenomenon. Governments everywhere do it. They make a big song and dance – the universally applied Dangdut Law – about giving people relief from taxation, then get on with the sleight of hand involved in gouging back the revenue they’ve “returned” to the people.
The underhand excise manoeuvre is particular madness where Bali is concerned. This is the preferred resort for the bulk of Indonesia’s foreign tourists – they come here for a relaxing holiday, which for most of them with discretionary dollars to spend means having a drink as well (or at least the opportunity to have one). It’s true that consuming alcohol is haram in Islam – forbidden. And that’s fine. Drinking has not yet been made compulsory in any society known to The Diary. And people’s social arrangements and their religion are strictly for them to observe, as they feel necessary or even obliged.
Alcohol abuse is also a problem, which any sentient society – not to mention sensible individual – will seek to limit. It may displease the ulema that people drink; it may – because consuming alcohol is not a Muslim practice and most Indonesians are Muslim – escape the immediate notice of Indonesian bureaucrats that non-Muslims do drink; and alcohol should of course be taxed like any other consumable, as well as kept out of the hands of young people.
But public policy needs to be sensible. Making Bali one of the most expensive places on the global tourism beat in which to get a drink is mindless stupidity. If the national government is concerned about protecting the revenue – and it should be: over the full gamut of revenue, not just in high-profile sting-the-foreigners areas – then it should acquire the mental rigour needed to grasp reality.
If more tourists come here they will drink more (as in the quantum consumed, not as individuals) and therefore contribute more to revenue. If, in contrast, Indonesia’s national excise regime effectively says “if you drink here we’ll make sure it costs you an arm and leg”, they may use those arms (to make a vulgar gesture with their fingers) and those legs – to walk away to more accommodating destinations.

Get a Wriggle On

THE duplication of the Sanur-Kusamba bypass is a major project by any stretch. It is being funded by Australian aid, an example of the very practical benefits that flow to Indonesia from the fruitful and mutually creative relationship betwixt Jakarta and Canberra. From The Diary’s perspective, anything that can speed up the business of travelling from the maniac South to the peaceful East of Bali is a great idea.
There is an unwritten law that before you can have order you must have chaos, however. And this plague is upon us in relation to the splendidly named Prof IB Mantra By-Pass, the proper name of this nascent thoroughfare. The original single carriageway is a poor, potholed creature along much of its length, a function of Indonesian road engineering and construction practice. The new, temporary diversions to the under-construction duplication, to facilitate necessary associated works on the existing carriageway, upset the trucks (sometimes almost literally), cloud everyone in unnecessary – though unavoidable – dust, and create additional windows of opportunity for motorbikes and their careless riders to wreck even more havoc than otherwise would be the case on unhappy vehicular traffic of an inherently more stable nature.
But we should not be churlish. The new duplication appears to be under construction with a proper road base. This may limit pothole opportunities later; for a while, anyway. If they’ve managed to sort out the bits where the bridge joints link the terra firma road to the thrillingly suspended variant of the same, we’ll all be smiling. Perhaps as a present to us all, the traffic police – once the new highway is open – will get out there and ensure that the “truk/bus/sepeda motor jalur kiri” (trucks, buses and motorcycles keep left ) rule is accorded more than theoretical or notional status. They would do something useful too if they encouraged the sensible practice of overtaking only on the right. Who knows? That way the traffic might even flow.
One day the highway will be finished. We suppose.

Plus 15 Percent Cheek

ANOTHER outing to Candi Dasa presented The Diary with a dilemma last weekend. The party – there’s always a party – dined one night at Balissa restaurant, an establishment not hitherto tried. The fare was nice enough and the staff were pleasant (a regular Bali bonus, something commented on by the Australian guests in the party as such a contrast to how things are at home).
But when the bill came it was 15 percent above what it should have been based on the items selected and consumed from the menu. A waiter was summoned. Where does it say on the menu that the prices are not tax-included but tax extra? Ah, well, he said, it doesn’t. But no one else had ever complained.
More fool them. Part of the dining experience should be no nasty surprises at the end of the meal. Honesty is a very good policy. Either you build the tax into your pricing or you say, prior to your customers eating or drinking anything, that they’re up for a fiscal sting in the bill.
The Diary won’t be going back to Balissa. And won’t be recommending it to any visitors, either.

Lilliput Found

WHILE at Candi Dasa, and armed with the intelligence gained from reading last week’s front-page lead story, The Diary and party used a pair of ancient binoculars to gaze upon the wonder of the moment, the half-size cruise ship port decorously built – apparently to half-scale – in the scenic splendour of the environment created by the Pertamina depot in Amuk Bay.
Speculation is pointless, of course (ask any stock investor in these days of post-crunch fiscal distemper), but it is fun nonetheless. Conversation around the seaside table at our resort of choice kept returning to this issue. Who had looked at the plans? Why did they – seemingly – miss the “half-scale” note that must surely have been upon them? Why, since the modest project had been under way since 2006, had no one correlated the known size of cruise liners and the somewhat foreshortened nature of the wharf at which it was proposed they tie up? Why had this significant disability remained unnoticed until – it seems – some passing cruise liner chap observed, audibly, that his boats couldn’t use it. And, most speculative of all, who among the many luminaries who have sought to gain kudos from Bali getting Southeast Asia’s largest cruise port (make that smallest) said what to whom when this unbelievable default was discovered.
There are many wonders of the modern world. We nominate Port Lilliput, Karangasem, as the latest listing.

Dig It

YOU don’t have to be Australian to really love the didgeridoo (nowadays also spelt dijeridu). It just helps, that’s all. So the participation in this year’s Bali Spirit Festival of the renowned Australian ensemble Ganga Giri is good news indeed. They played last November at Echo Beach, the preferred place of local resort for the “Canggu and Others” crowd. Their Spirit visit is funded by the Australia-Indonesia Institute. The festival, a must in most people’s programmes, especially anyone interested in the practical as opposed to the theoretical side of promoting Bali, opened on Wednesday. Ganga Giri are doing workshops while they’re in Ubud.
Readers may remember a mention in January in The Diary of a great didgeridoo-guitar combo – a solo effort by an unnamed Aussie strummer – at Ayana’s cliff-face Rock Bar at Jimbaran. Time flies in so many ways. The Rock Bar celebrated its first birthday this week, with a bit of a bash for the select few on Wednesday. Sadly, other duties kept The Diary away from that affray. It’s such a great place to get off your face.

Earth Hour

MEMO PLN: Guys, last week’s quip about Earth Hour was meant as a joke. But thanks for the thought. It was really great to have the lights turned out – involuntarily – for something approximately well over an inconvenient hour, at Ungasan on Sunday evening. But then we did note – with the normal caution one applies to anything to do with the world’s most dysfunctional power utility – that if PLN was to be recruited to the cause, someone would need to tell them what day it was.
It appears that no one did. Earth Hour was the day before.

HECTOR'S BLOG appears, as The Diary in The Bali Times, out Fridays, and online on the newspaper's website at The Bali Times is available worldwide through NewspaperDirect.