Friday, September 24, 2010

THE BALI TIMES DIARY September 24, 2010

Aussies at
Play are a

It’s not something The Diary generally does, but last Friday a two-hour session at the Stadium Café in Kuta paid a dividend. The Diary was there with an Australian friend, who was on his way back to the cares and woes of life in Sin City on one of those overnight red-eye specials Garuda and other airlines run so they can all lob into Sydney’s overcrowded airport at once, in the very early morning.
    There were thus some hours to kill. Plus, he’s a Collingwood supporter. It was therefore a doubly good outing for him since the Pies, who haven’t won an Australian Football League premiership since 1990, beat last year’s champions Geelong in their elimination final in Melbourne and advanced to the grand final (it’s on tomorrow, Saturday, September 25).
    All this may be mysterious to those who are not Australian. It may even seem boring. But Aussies love their sport. This comes from the past, when nothing that mattered happened in Australia or, if occurring elsewhere, affected it very much; and when the primary focus of what in those days passed for foreign policy was preventing powerful allies forgetting that the place even existed.
    Some say that this is still the case, but that’s a symptom of another phenomenon, the post-colonial-cringe cringe. Historically the footy (it was never really the cricket) was the high drama of the week. It was the local antidote to RDS, Relevance Deprivation Syndrome. It’s an unfortunate fact that media tycoons and big businesses looking for PR have made the footy a circus and turned it into a commercial enterprise – why anyone would want to barrack for the biggest sponsor is a puzzle – but that is now the global way.     
    Sometimes the Australian flavour of Kuta at play is all-pervading. This is not necessarily a good thing but it too is clearly a fact of life. The crowd in front of the satellite TV screens in our part of the Stadium bar last Friday was loud and partisan. None more so than The Diary’s friend, who away from football exudes a quiet, professorial air. It was like being in an Australian pub or even in the real stadium at the match, except that no one actually threw any empties. There were even people in their team’s colours. The Diary hasn’t done that since kindergarten.
    But it was fun, in a curious, tribal way. And this was despite the fact that the Stadium Café was unable to supply any peanuts – essential Aussie match-munching food – to go with the tonic waters (not at all a traditional Aussie beverage) we were drinking.
    The Diary’s friend went home happy. But we shan’t be talking this weekend. The Diary’s team, St Kilda, won the other elimination final last weekend and will play the Pies for the flag. And we – the possessive sense is crucial – haven’t won a grand final since 1966.

Russian Gifts

Another friend, this one from Russia, returned from there recently with lovely gifts for The Cage, domicile of The Diary and Distaff: A beautifully crafted Russian doll – the sort that you open up and find another one in, and so ad infinitum – along with a beautifully hand-painted serving spoon, and some music.
    Edo Botkunov, who now calls himself Made Edo Botkunov (The Diary and Distaff are both Wayans, but we won’t go there) and runs a collective of businesses that seeks to serve the Russian tourist market here, is a fine fellow. He also insisted we drink his real Russian vodka when we saw him at our shared Thursday night music spot in Ungasan last week.
    The Diary is fond of Russians, who generally speaking have always had a bad press. They’re not all crude, lewd boors. And none of them are KGB any more. These days the ones that look as if they might be turn out to be working for the other mob.
    Long ago The Diary’s poker skills were vastly improved by a chance encounter with a cheerful Soviet operative who was passing otherwise tedious hours of embarrassing confinement in less than clement conditions (his temporary digs were in a pestiferous patch of Africa) by playing cards. He it was, not a later popular country and western song, that taught your diarist that you must know when to hold them; know when to fold them; know when to walk away; know when to run. These hours of instruction were immensely profitable (and not in worthless Soviet-era roubles) for that same unwilling guest.

Sono Offesa

Well, they would be. The book was bad enough but the film version of Eat Pray Love (Mangiare Pregare Ama if you’re an out-of-sorts Italian) with Julia Roberts as memo-to-me: must-find-myself author Elizabeth Gilbert has offended the Italian commentariat, possibly mortally. Although Italians do tend to wave their arms around a lot, so it may not be as bad as it seems.
    The movie, which opened in North America on August 13 and will be seen in Bali – can’t wait to miss it – at this year’s otherwise excellent BALINALE next month, has just opened in Italy and has been widely panned. The daily La Repubblica sonorously intoned: “The only thing missing in Julia’s Rome is the mandolin.”
    The movie’s Italian moment (it’s the eat bit, naturally) has local critics fuming over Julia-as-Elizabeth-as-Julia savouring gelato, pizza and the warm Italian way of life. La Repubblica critic Curzio Maltese wrote: “It rains spaghetti; the Italians are always gesticulating and following foreign girls shouting vulgarities, but then getting engaged to a nice housewife to please their domineering mothers.”
    Another newspaper, Il Messagero, said it didn’t really mind the clichéd portrayal of invasive mothers, nosy landladies and pleasure-loving Italians, but was offended by Roberts’ Spanish co-star Javier Bardem. “Watching the glorious Bardem playing the Latin lover in a film like this really hurts,” it said.
    Vieni fuori di esso. Basta mangiare il gelato più. (Come off it. Just eat more ice cream.)

Slow As...

Rain is nature’s beneficence. It keeps things green. It allows things to grow. It gives naughty little boys puddles to play in. Sometimes, if it’s heavy enough, it can even clean your street (nothing else will around here). But like all benefits, you can have too much of a good thing.
    Climate is such a cyclical thing. Only people who play vastly expensive computer games at public cost think they can control it, influence it in any way, or even understand it. La Niňa and her brother El Niňo have millions of years of experience in ruling the roost in our part of the world.
    Thus it has – again – been predominantly a wet week. Wet weeks go slowly, as a rule, though locally with a benefit. The rudimentary understanding of personal preservation that seems to exist in some elements of Bali’s motorbike riding and vehicle driving community helps slow the traffic too; and reduces its volume marginally as well, since no one really relishes getting drenched.
    Much of Indonesia – and all of Bali and the archipelago east of us – has a monsoon climate. It’s wet for part of the year, then dry for the rest of it. Well, that’s the theory. When we have a year like this one with a “late” wet season – what’s late in the billions of years’ timescale on which Earth’s climate operates, we wonder – it rains at the wrong time: right through the peak tourist season, for example.
    But we should spare a greater thought for the monsoon vegetation. Tourists whose trips to various attractions have been rained off can read a book, fool around with their comely travelling companions if young, or eat a lot if not ... or something. The jati (teak) trees have no such luxury. They are supposed to drop their huge leaves when it stops raining, so that new ones can form properly and their own cycle of life can proceed according to plan, along with that of the squirrels which inhabit them and, we’re sure, are very confused at present about why their annual big-view opportunity has been denied them.
    But it will have to stop raining soon. The next wet season starts in a week or so.

Yeah, Yeah

YeYe’s, the warung above Padang Padang beach on the Bukit, is a popular spot and so it should be: it’s in a prime location whether for late, lazy lunches (it only opens at 1pm so don’t try it for breakfast) or evening dining. It’s also in a place that gets cool breezes straight off the Indian Ocean, before they’ve crossed the trash line, which can be nice on a muggy day.
    Last Sunday evening the breeze was a little willing, however: a touch bracing for those of us fortunate enough to live here with the luxury of thinking that 25C is where wind chill and hypothermia kick in.
    That wasn’t all that was chill. Some of the staff affected the air of those who believe – foolish people – that they’re doing the paying customers a favour just by being there. And the establishment committed a cardinal sin, too. It had a sign up saying it had apple pie. People we know kill for that.
    Unfortunately, like much else that night, it was off.

Hector's Blog appears as The Diary in print edition of The Bali Times, out Fridays, and at The printed paper is available worldwide through NewspaperDirect.

Friday, September 17, 2010

THE BALI TIMES DIARY September 17, 2010

Don’t Run
Amok: That’s
Reserved for
the Locals

On our neighbouring island, Lombok, two silly expatriates have wound up in jail over foolish and quite unnecessarily out-of-control arguments with the locals. There is a warning in their fate for every foreigner in Indonesia who forgets – even for one heated moment – that their real legal status is best defined as merely “tolerated,” that their actual rights are notional, and that they live here on sufferance.
    That doesn’t mean it is foolish to live here (quite the reverse: especially in Bali where the people have a far finer grasp of the mutuality of neighbourliness). But it does mean you can’t blow your top, even under extreme provocation.
    We might all agree that it’s unlikely anyone’s god, or their ancient prophets, had raucously loud sound systems in mind when they defined the rites in regard to when and where to make obeisance. And Indonesia is the world capital of cacophony, now we are plagued by wonky wiring, bootleg loudspeakers and pirated (and nearly dead) CDs and tapes.
    Many years ago, living in the Middle East, The Diary looked forward to the regular calls of the muezzin, mellifluously sung from atop the neighbouring mosque. These were beautiful; they both defined the hour and encouraged reflection. They were also rendered in manageable decibels and heard above background level only by those nearby whose mosque it was, and any infidels among them.
    It is therefore possible to feel a measure of sympathy for the silly American gentleman living (apparently without benefit of visa, also daft) at Kuta on Lombok’s south coast. It is perhaps understandable that he should have finally cracked, under the strain of untrained voices and execrable Arabic, over continual nocturnal blasts of unnecessarily amplified supplication from the neighbouring Islamic house of prayer. But clearly he should not have been living where he was. There is no excuse for breaking the rules of others’ religions (such as bursting into a mosque wearing shoes where all are meant to go barefoot in the sight of God) or plain bad manners, such as unplugging a devotional moment, however discordant it may have been. A good rule of life is that two wrongs do not make a right.
    The other instance of foolishness across the Wallace Line was that of a German gentleman in Senggigi, reported in last week’s paper, who, enraged that someone had vandalised the statuary at his villa and apparently in a state of spontaneous combustion, swept into his neighbouring village just as Ramadhan prayers were ending and asked – as one does, if thick-headed or incautious – a rhetorical question of those present. Common sense, as well as good manners, should have told him not to ask: “What sort of Muslims are you?”
    The archipelago is the place that brought the word amok into the English language. This was not by chance. It came from observation of the quick temper and propensity to – well, run amok – of the inhabitants of these islands.
    In both recent Lombok instances, unsurprisingly, they did. The villas of the stupid American and the foolish German were vandalised. But it is no surprise, given that both the people and the law effectively regard foreigners merely as necessary excrescences, of utility chiefly as mobile ATMs, that none among the ransacking mobs is apparently in jail for criminal damage.          

Poor Marx

While talking about what was in last week’s paper – a lot of good reading for a start, and some real reportage such as can be found nowhere else in Bali’s English-language media – the risible Kevin Carson rates a mention. He popped up in the Opinion page asserting, from the strange perspective he places on life and the human condition, that competition is theft.
    Authors are allowed to put forward questionable propositions; even ones that are so far away in fairyland that all they really rate is a hollow laugh. There are many who – surprisingly, given the abject failure of his political creed and the uneconomic outcomes at his door – would like to reinterpret Marx in an anarchist bent and invent a moneyless society. In one sense that’s fair enough: Marx was writing from a mid-19th century German standpoint, just as laissez-faire liberals and gross capitalists did from theirs, long ago. Their separate outcomes have proved equally ineffective: the experiment goes on.
    This is not the place for a lecture on politics or economics, far less for a dissertation on the human capacity for inventive and irrational argument. The settler collectives of Ubud and Seminyak have already cornered those markets. But we can say with certainty that, unless our name is Kevin Carson or another among the legions of creative New Age tome-writers who nowadays litter the landscape with batty ideas and are rewarded for their scholarship with undergraduate acclaim, abolishing money and wealth acquisition won’t work.
    Individual monetary reward has proved the most potent energiser yet. Serfs, whatever the genesis or hare-brained justification of their enforced status, and whatever the variety of this condition, are not happy people.

Road Overload

Anyone who wants an introduction to the arcane art of not organising an infrastructure project could usefully examine the Dewa Ruci theory, lately invented by a collective of politicians, local administrators and exclusive bureaucracies. Applying this theory to practice shows that whatever is proposed as a solution to an unmanageable traffic snarl - in this case the developing blot on the landscape known as South Bali - will immediately attract rival proposals and lead nowhere except to endless delay and ever more inventive suggestions about where that slide rule should properly be put.
    The provincial government wants to apply some elements of free-flow to the traffic before the ASEAN summiteers turn up in 2013 and discover that the only things that get anywhere in Bali are pipedreams. Its solution, on which everyone signed off after great exertions by Governor Pastika, is an overpass at Simpang Siur and associated road works at the airport turnoff three kilometres (or one hour at jalan macet time) to the south.
    This will involve shifting the statue of Dewa Ruci – a character from the Mahabharata, not a sacred figure – to new digs nearby, unless the overpass is to be vastly more expensive by virtue of the need to buy back commercial property and dangerous because kinking the overpass around the statue would break every rule of trafficable road construction.
    Now Badung regency which, under Indonesia’s existing policy of devolution and because no one rating more on the political Richter scale wants to publicly cavil at the asinine idiocy exhibited lower down, believes (like every other local administrative entity) that it is empowered to do whatever it wants, wants to re-plan the whole thing. It wants an underpass in a place where the water table is 1.5 metres below ground level. And this is in a country where every tap leaks because no one bothers to install them properly.

Stay Away

The idea of banning enormous charabancs from the middle of Ubud, where the town can’t properly handle either the vehicles or the travel-weary contents they drop off for a wander round the sights, has definite appeal. That’s why, at the behest of the super Sophie Digby (whose latest Yak is just out) your diarist has just joined the cause. It’s one of those Facebook things; harmless fun and, who knows, it might make someone think.
    There was one moment of mild alarm before clicking “join,” however. Whoever it was set up this civic-minded group is inviting people to ban the busses. That’s not a good idea. Many a good cause has been sealed with a kiss. And in the right company (or even the wrong company) they can be fun, too.

Rok On

Regular readers will know that The Diary feels a measure of ambivalence towards that Victorian reinvention, the kilt, in former times a garment worn by Scotsmen who couldn’t afford trousers. This is a view held by surprisingly large numbers of people of Scottish provenance, as well as many (in Scotland and elsewhere) who do not fully subscribe to the view that the late Victorian era was the summit either of British achievement or inspired interpretation of Highland clobber. One alternative view is that it was merely the ascendancy of the Widow Queen’s favourite ghillie as fireside companion.
    Apropos of this, a delve into a Bahasa Indonesia dictionary the other day, in pursuit of a manageable translation of a quite separate English language idiocy, revealed a wonderful “explanatory noun” about the plaid rok (rok is skirt in Bahasa) that Mad Prince Charles, other unemployable British royals and ersatz Scotsmen from everywhere like to affect.
    Here it is: Pakaian nasional berupa rok pendek yang dipakai laki-laki Scotlandia. Should you have a tartan in mind, you’ll have to say: Pola belah ketupat. We are fortunate indeed that there are no kilt shops in Sulawesi Street.
    But the madness is spreading with the renaissance (though that should really read “invention”) of the Celtic world. The islanders of Ushant, the most westerly bit of France and, like the neighbouring mainland, part of Bretagne (Brittany), have just invented their own plaid. Don’t know how you say that in Breton, sorry. In their daytime language, French, it might best be summarised thus: “Un peu de folie, peut-être?”

Hector's Blog appears as The Diary in the weekly print edition of The Bali Times, out Fridays. The Bali Times is available as a print product worldwide through NewspaperDirect.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

THE BALI TIMES DIARY September 10, 2010

Will Their
Easy Money
Now be Just
A Distant

It’s good to see that new Bali police chief Hadiatmoko has given orders that, if followed, which would itself be a novelty, will foreclose on at least one informal police revenue collecting point, the Dreamland turnoff on the Bukit. He has ordered a report on the practice and has promised to make this public. It could make interesting reading, since – even though informal – unofficial revenue collecting is a widespread hobby among what would be the constabulary if Indonesian police were peace officers rather than enforcers and can never have been unnoticed by those higher up the food chain.
    It used to be a firm rule of bureaucracy, as well as politics, that you never start an inquiry whose outcome cannot be known. In recent times, happily for diarists in search of snippets that will cause them and their readers to fall about the floor laughing, this sensible caution has gone out of the window in pursuit of something erroneously called “openness.”  
    But what did surprise The Diary was the insubstantial nature of the levies apparently required of passing surfer-foreigners on motorbikes who, when flagged down by the plods, found their perfectly valid licences to be invalid and their wallets invited to make a donation to ensure their problem went away. On the few occasions when The Diary has fallen into the hands of unofficial police revenue collectors (it’s a lottery: you don’t have to have done anything wrong) the sum required to make the problem go away has been substantially in excess of a mere Rp25-50K.
    Perhaps, on the unofficial donation tariff which the feisty Hadiatmoko is apparently about to outlaw, older Bules who look as if they might bite are charged a special premium.

Boys from Brazil

Some tourists deserve to be targeted. The ones who drive like madmen either because they actually are gila or because, from the examples they see around them, they think that’s how you should drive here.
    The police could do more about regulating local driving and motorbike-riding practices (a good starting point would be “something”) but at least local people – and long-term foreign residents – know roughly what to expect.
    Most short-termers don’t, naturally enough. The sensible ones know this and react and behave accordingly. With excess caution is a good rule. But when you’re a testosterone-charged bullyboy, you are by definition not sensible. You are an idiot.
    There was a tragic accident the weekend before last near Uluwatu. Such things are a commonplace of course, so much so that it didn’t make the local Bahasa media. The Diary heard about it much later from some Australian surfer friends of the victims.
    They were a young woman named Made – she was not yet 30, The Diary is told – and her daughter, known as Cindy, 11. Made was killed instantly; Cindy is in intensive care.
    Their nemesis was a carful of Brazilian boyos flying home, heedless of caution, insensitive to the sanctity of the lives of others, oblivious to the bends in the road, from Kuta after an all-night session in party town. It was around 7am and Made, by repute a very careful and cautious motorbike rider, and Cindy were on their way somewhere or other, a little mum-and-daughter duo inoffensively going about their business.
    The word from the tragic and unnecessary wreckage was that the boyos were uncooperative with the police. They’d apparently come here to party, bitch about the high price of warung food, and ignore surf etiquette by stealing other people’s waves around the breaks at Uluwatu. It was not part of their programme to waste time talking to inconvenient police who back home their rich daddies would just pay off.
    One of them finally had the guts to own up to being the driver.
    Here’s a photograph of Made as her many friends will remember her. It’s from a friend’s Facebook:

 Hector did not know Made; and sheds a tear because now he never will.

Mind the Dogs

They say that organising festivals is like a walk in the park. That's if you don't mind the resulting disorganisation and can accept it as all part of the local colour; the ambience of the event. And it is this factor - the delicious alchemy produced by the confluence of Murphy's Law, Sod's, and those of Unintended Consequences and sundry others - that came to The Diary's mind when in an idle moment last weekend the foraging cursor lit upon the Schedule of Special Events posted on their website by the good folk at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, whose 2010 short working week in the global spotlight is October 6-10.
    For Rp250K, also delineated on the website as A$32 and being roughly approximate (in the currency against which the rupiah is generally quoted) to US$27, you can Jalan Jalan With the Poets on Friday, October 8, on a tiny trek through Janet de Neefe's local Garden of Eden from her Casa Luna restaurant (that’s not the other, unconnected and apparently frowned upon, one in Sanur) to Sari Organik.
    We're sure it will be fun, particularly since the little ramble is being led by local Irish expatriate John O'Sullivan, who when he's not being a perambulatory poet is in charge of the Four Seasons hotels at Jimbaran and Ubud. Lionel Fogarty, a robust Australian, and other gabblers are on the manifest.
    They say wear walking shoes and a hat and carry water. We'd suggest carrying a stout stick too, since Ubud's dogs, rabid or otherwise, also like to make a breakfast of everything.
    The special events schedule is devoid of any mention of Israeli writer Etgar Keret, by the way, which is a shame since he's said to be coming such a long way under difficult circumstances.

Saying Hi

An old mate – he really is: he’s five days older than your Diarist – plans to drop by on Sunday for a late brunch at The Cage. He’s staying in Ubud for a break and, traffic and driver willing, will find us with the kettle on in the wilds of Ungasan. It could be a long brunch. We have more than five years of gossip and scandal and reminiscence to catch up on.
    Ross Fitzgerald, Australian historian, author and commentator and long-standing chum (we share a deep affection for coffee and Australian Rules football; customarily we order the same brew but barrack for different teams) is a lively companion, an assiduous scholar, a keen observer of the peripherals of life as well as the things that matter, and a first-class bloke.
    He’s also an alcoholic. Last Christmas Day, when he turned 65, it was 40 years since he touched a drink. He’s written a book about it, called My Name is Ross: An Alcoholic’s Journey (published by New South in Australia). It is a tour de force in every sense.

No Reading

Make a note in your diary: No reading (or writing) on September 25. That’s because it will be Saraswati Day. The name comes from saras – meaning flow – and wati, which means a woman. The goddess Saraswati is the symbol of knowledge, which flows like a river and is alluring, like a beautiful woman. (The Diary goes for a sense of humour in a wati above all else, incidentally. Physical beauty is but a visual stimulus.)
    There are many mysteries in the Hindu religion and its rites, whether here in Bali or in India, where the forms, substance and a number of the rites themselves are differently expressed. Elizabeth Gilbert is an expert on neither, by the way. A wandering wati of a certain age and distressed status in search of a way to justify a substantial publisher’s advance rarely has answers to anything. So give that movie a miss.
    Anyway, back to mysteries: quite why one should celebrate knowledge by not reading or writing is a puzzle, at least to the Western mind. It does give the kids a day off school, though. The Diary was a youngster once and can see the allure of that.
    But seriously, Saraswati Day is among the most colourful of Bali’s panoply of ceremonial events. On the day, offerings are made to the lontar (palm-leaf scripts), books and shrines. Schools and other educational establishments hold ceremonies to worship and thank Saraswati for her blessing; they offer a prayer that knowledge and the arts will continue to develop and grow.
    Teachers and students forgo their uniforms and wear bright and colourful ceremonial clothes. Children bring fruit and traditional cakes to school for offerings at the temple. Ceremonies and prayers are also held at the temples in family compounds, villages and businesses from morning to noon.
    Worth seeing; just don’t write about it (on the day).

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

Friday, September 03, 2010

THE BALI TIMES DIARY September 3, 2010

The Neighbours
Are Doing
Quite Nicely,
Very Much

Some parts of this week’s diary were penned (though perhaps these days it should be “cursored”) at De Quake, one of the fine waterside eating places in Senggigi in Lombok. They do a nice lunch and they have wifi. It couldn’t be better, really. There’s a roof, so the fact that it rained on Sunday afternoon was not a problem. And The Diary sat upstairs to avoid the field of view becoming crowded with insistent little fellows anxious to sell you bootleg DVDs and all sort of other impedimenta. It became temporarily overcrowded with tourists of French provenance. They always assume that any neighbouring Anglo is incapable of understanding their lingo and Sunday’s multiplicity of heureux fêtards was, as is the nature of the French, noisily indiscreet. But The Diary, itself the soul of discretion, silently outlasted the lot of them.
    Our neighbouring island is an interesting place. It’s even interesting that the local government – of West Nusa Tenggara, of which Lombok is a part and Mataram the capital – seemingly takes the view that it can entice large numbers of recreational revellers from the Arab lands away from the fleshpots of Europe to enjoy themselves on holidays that will further the cause of Islamicising Lombok and beyond. That’s if the Wahhabi money from Saudi Arabia keeps coming in and the authorities can stop people stealing the runway lights at the new airport for long enough to land a plane. And if they can manage not to crack the runway on landing, they might even get to take off again.
    On Lombok’s west coast – where it really is one of the best places to see Bali (it’s just across the Strait) – things are marginally different. That’s where the island’s substantial Hindu community is concentrated. It’s where the bulk of the tourists go – pre-eminently to the Gilis, of which more in a moment – and it’s where party-time is available on call.
    Senggigi was not exactly buzzing, but there were enough tourists around to pique the interest of the street sellers. The Diary bought some lovely ikat while dining street-side one night; or rather the Distaff did – The Diary kept munching on the sensibly small smoked marlin plate that had been ordered as a main course.
    The beach resorts in and out of town seem to be doing well. There are some new players around, apparently financed by Singaporean money (Silk Air flies the city-state’s flag to Lombok, a long-standing commitment that delivers welcome dollars to Lombok’s embryonic economy), and established resorts also seem to be having a high old season.
    The Diary chose to stay at Puri Bunga, which is operated by Lombok Hotels Association chairman Marcel Navest. The tariff there is on the reasonable side of good. And waitress Novi, who despite her Ramadhan fasting always managed to serve infidels breakfast with a smile, would be our pick for employee of the month.

‘High’ Seas

There are some mutterings on the mainland of Lombok about the focus international visitors put on the Gilis, the three islands off the north-west coast that offer a different experience. One might wonder at the vacuity of visitors who travel from Bali to the Gilis, spend whatever time they have there within cooee of Lombok itself, and never set foot on the island proper.
    The fast boats are the attraction, apparently. The ones that don’t deposit you unexpectedly on some bleak East Bali beach when the waves get a little nasty and they start taking on water, that is. The dark theory among some of the Lombok crowd is that these are particularly popular because luggage isn’t scanned and all sorts of goodies that would otherwise be dangerously detectable travel free from interference.
    Needless to say, the Gilis are at high-season overflow level at the moment.

On a Winner

Garuda seems to have picked its moment – and its scheduling spot – in Lombok. It flies Denpasar-Mataram-Denpasar once daily, at the locally unfriendly times of 7.15pm out of Ngurah Rai and 8.15pm out of Selaparang.
    Its flights are full, because they are neatly timed to take international arrivals to Lombok the same day and extract returning holidaymakers from there in time to connect with mainly night-time flights out of Bali.
    The “full service” is a bit of a joke. The cabin crew have time to hand out a fruit tea (in economy) and to momentarily flick shut the “them-and-us curtain” between cattle class to the rear and executive splendour forward.
    It’s a pity though that they don’t seem to have time to clean the cabin between trips. The Diary and party, travelling in the same seats both ways, three days apart, found a plastic wrapper in the seat pocket on the return trip that the party had left there on the outward journey. And by the time we got back on board to return to Bali the bulkhead video screens – on which one is enjoined to closely attend to the safety demonstration – had given up the ghost too.
    Another problem – it’s a perennial one – is tour parties. Our flight back had what seemed like at least a thousand Chinese, none of whom apparently could manage to sit in the right seat, or indeed, sit down.    
She Loves Us

While in Lombok, The Diary received a cheery email from a happy reader named Heidi who lives on that side of the Wallace Line. It’s always nice to get a compliment, though (see below) it doesn’t do to let them go to your head.
    Here’s her little billet-doux:
    “Hi Hector. I was just in Starbucks at the airport in Bali on my way back home to Lombok. I had the great fortune to find a copy of The Bali Times in their reading bin.
    “Let me say I am an Aussie girl living in Lombok and one of my greatest joys when in Bali is to get a copy. The very best of compliments to you for a most professional newspaper; it is a rare find indeed.
    “Long live The Bali Times ... it is truly a shining beacon to us, possibly gila, expats who have chosen to take a path less travelled.”
    Thank you, Heidi. Keep up the good reading.

Here Jack, Catch!

The Jakarta Globe had an article recently in which the newspaper discovered that there are a few things wrong with Bali. They’re not wrong, of course, in making that assessment or in publishing their recent illumination on such matters. And it is only right that a national reading audience should get the real picture.
    What was rather more surprising was the fact that Jack Daniels of Bali Discovery Tours – a travel agent, one of the endemic oversupply of same on this island – chose to cut-and-paste the piece, co-opting it as a promotion for his weekly email update. From this we learned that Daniels had single-handedly already revealed the dark side of Bali. The Globe was just playing catch-up.
    Good promotion, Jack; it’s just not exactly accurate. But it’s great to see you’re catching up too. Just ease up a little on the blow-hard bit, there’s a good chap.

Right Priorities

The most telling comment to come from news that Governor I Made Mangku Pastika and his deputy A.A. Ngurah Puspayoga have refused to accept the new cars set to be provided for them in the current provincial budget – on the sensible argument that there are better things on which to spend scarce money – was made by the vice chairman of the special legislative committee for the budget, Ketut Adnyana. We report the story in the news pages in this edition.
    Apparently, Adnyana was astounded by the novelty of such a gubernatorial caveat. He said in response that the Governor’s and vice-governor’s vehicles often have trouble keeping up with the motorcades of the political glitterati when they come to town for high-speed car chases escorted by phalanxes of police armed with offensively loud whoopee sirens and very bad manners. Well, if that’s the case, perhaps in the cause of political harmony they could just try going a little more slowly; or even stay within the speed limits. Further, said Adnyana, the Governor’s modest official limousine was often outranked by the plush carriages preferred by district heads.
    There’s a grand old Australian slang term, now quite properly in use throughout the English-speaking world, which amply covers this pathetic excuse for a policy position. It is “bullshit.” The Governor and his deputy have done all Balinese a favour – especially the poorer, pedestrian, ones most at risk of being run over by politicians, plutocrats and lawyers in their disgustingly expensive motor vehicles – as well as everyone who pays tax on the island, and the budget, by foreclosing on such nonsense. There are indeed worthier things on which to spend money.
    And as for the regents with their ramshackle budgets and shambolic administrations, any testicular-vehicular boy-toys in their possession are an unconscionable disgrace.

Hector's Blog is published as The Bali Times Diary in the print edition of the newspaper, out Fridays. The Bali Times, Bali's only English language newspaper, is at Print editions are available worldwide through NewspaperDirect.