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.
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.
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.
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.
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 www.thebalitimes.com, out Fridays. The Bali Times is available as a print product
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