Thursday, March 31, 2011

HECTOR'S BALI times DIARY, Apr. 1, 2011

Look Behind the
Hovel Door:
Paradise Is Out
To Lunch

Rio Helmi, who takes great photographs and like most nice people has a well developed social conscience, is lending a hand in fundraising for Bali’s street children. An art exhibition opening on April 15 offers two works for auction, proceeds to go to the charity concerned, Yayasan Kasih Peduli Anak in Denpasar (visit virtually at Bali’s street kids are everyone’s concern.
    YKPA provides a caring home, school, and a new life, currently for 24 children. Seventy more children still on the streets have reading and maths classes at the beach and in the slums where they live. YKPA’s work in AIDS and abuse prevention is aimed at giving these children a future other than becoming sex workers or the new generation of Fagin-style characters who force young children to beg for them.
    The launch of Helmi’s exhibition, Urbanities, is at 7pm on Friday, April 15, at Danes Art Verandah in Jl. Hayam Wuruk, Denpasar. Part of the proceeds of the exhibition will go to the foundation, founded by Ibu Putu in 2005, and two large prints will be auctioned at the opening.
    Then on April 27 Helmi opens an exhibition on Bali, The Seen and the Unseen, at the Four Seasons in Jakarta, with a substantial portion of the proceeds going to the Komunitas Anak Alam project that works with impoverished children in the Batur Caldera.
   He’s a busy fellow. On Thursday he interviewed fellow Ubud identity Diana Darling at the latest event organised by Janet de Neefe’s Bar Luna Lit Club, the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival’s year-round primer.

Markisa Time

The markisa vine at The Cage is in overdrive at the moment, producing two, three, four, sometimes up to six drop-down delights a day that are retrieved from the garage driveway to which they plunge, dead parrot-like, at their appointed time and are taken upstairs where they are washed and put in the fruit bowl ready for brunch next day. There’s been a bit of a markisa drought recently, another imbalance brought to us by La Niña, so it’s good they’re back. They’re tastier here than in other places, where they are known as passion fruit.
    We brunch at The Cage, on the basis that if you don’t breakfast until late morning, by then it’s brunch and you can skip lunch. It’s part of the waist management programme. The home-grown markisas – from a vine cutting given to us three years ago by a friendly chap up the hill we stop and chat with on our morning walks – are a great addition to the water melon, pineapple, papaya, mango and bananas upon which we always feast, with yoghurt, before the main brunch course.
    Hector has oatmeal in between the fruit and whatever: as Rabbie Burns might have said, had he thought of it, a man’s a man for a’ that porridge. The Scottish bard, and Hector’s dad, stern culinary traditionalists the pair of them, would abjure the sultanas and honey that accompany the porridge; but, hey, times change and customary practices with them.
    We finish with a strong espresso. Then we feel ready to face the sybaritic trials of the day ...  and dinner long after the sun goes down.

Beat That!

This year’s four-day Bali Spirit Festival, the lovechild of Ubud based native New Yorker Meghan Pappenheim, wound up last Sunday with an eclectic – and big – musical bash featuring the Canadian fusion group Delhi 2 Dublin. They were sponsored by the Canadian embassy in Jakarta, in a cultural expansion that is not only welcome but of which we would wish to see more. Memo embassy: Some Alberta fiddlers would be good sometime. They’re not New Age; but, boy, it’s the best fiddle music in the world.
    The musical finale to four days of yoga-ing and other delights, sponsored by Fiesta condoms and Citibank (there’s an intriguing coupling) among others, was at the ARMA Museum’s World Music Stage. It was described by festival co-founder and music director Ron Webber as a “huge success.” We’re glad to hear it. It doesn’t do to have a “dismal failure.” And it’s good to create an epic dance atmosphere rarely experienced in Bali, as he puts it. That would be the sort of Bali epic dance atmosphere that doesn’t synthesise with the gamelan, of course, and which today, sadly, so frequently features beautiful women in diaphanous tops and thigh-flashing bottoms that sadly reveal  only disappointingly opaque and completely impenetrable Lycra body armour beneath.
    It would have been nice to trot along for a toe-tap, but competing demands kept Hector away. Perhaps Ric Shreves, the Water&Stone man, could give us a rundown. He noted on his Facebook that he was at the festival; he must have been taking a break from Joomla or Drupal or one of the many other incomprehensible things web wizards get up to in their extended working hours.
    Organisers say around 2,000 people attended the musical finale. Delhi 2 Dublin’s music combines instruments such as tabla, dhol, fiddle, electric sitar, Punjabi vox, and electric guitar to create a Celtic-Punjabi fusion with touches of reggae, breakbeat, drum n' bass and hip hop.  It grew from a live collaboration put together in 2006 as a one-off performance piece for a club night in Vancouver, British Columbia.
   Also last Sunday, a panel of cultural experts and spiritual figures endorsed the festival’s call for a stronger culture of service, and encouraged audience members to find inner clarity, strengthen their communities, and use positive gestures of kindness to engage people of all cultures and faiths.
   Good advice.

He’s Back ...

Australian foreign minister and former PM, Kevin Rudd, who is secretly a recidivist member of Peripatetics Anonymous and is known among the politerati as the Occidental Tourist, was back in Bali this week. He didn’t just come for the weather (which now it’s stopped raining quite as much people can do again) but for another performance of his favourite sit-com The VIP Monologues.
    We jest, of course. Foreign ministers are expected to travel, and he was due a Bali break after spending all that time rushing around the Middle East organising the Libyan no-fly zone. (We hear the West Australians were interested in getting one going there, until they discovered it was aircraft and not insects that the FM was buzzing about.)
    No, we jest. Really. He was here to attend the Fourth Bali Regional Ministerial Conference on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crimes (those Initial Capitals are either Important or just Gratuitous Gravitas; we’re Not Sure Which) commonly known as the Bali Process (ditto). The conference, initiated by the Indonesian and Australian governments in 2002, was held on Tuesday and Wednesday at a swish hotel in Nusa Dua. Rudd did a cosy little double act there with Marty Natalegawa, our very own foreign minister. Australia’s immigration minister, Chris Bowen, was along for the ride.
    It’s a serious business, people smuggling, and needs to be stopped. Indonesia could do rather more about that than it has bothered to do in the past.
    Rudd tweets of course, being a thoroughly modern deposed prime minister. He sent a message out into cyberspace on Wednesday that said he’d tried one sentence in Indonesian in his address to the lengthy-named function mentioned above but that no one had understood it and he thought he’d stick to Chinese in future. We twittered back:  Itu tidak masalah. Mereka semua akan memiliki mendapat pesan pula (It doesn’t matter. They’ll all have got the message anyway). Kev was once our local member back in the Special Biosphere, so we feel comfortable offering ex-constituent advice.
    But we do sympathise. So often you speak Indonesian to people here and they look thoroughly confused. It’s partly intonation, pronunciation and cadence of course (broken and heavily accented Indonesian must sound as risible to a native speaker of the language as broken English does to first-language speakers of the world’s lingua franca) but the looks you get are often ones of complete astonishment.
   Everyone knows that foreign devils aren’t supposed to speak the local lingo.
Read it Here

Some readers of Hector’s blog, who have been reading it in The Bali Times where it appeared as The Diary from October 2008 until last week, won’t be seeing it there anymore.  It was interesting that the moment we came to a disagreement all evidence of it disappeared from the newspaper’s website.  The site still links to any number and all manner of former columnists, several of them syndicated overseas personages of dubious local value and one currently in questionable circumstances, so it must have been something we said.
    Not to worry. The best place to catch up with Hector’s Bali times is here.  And it includes the archive. It’s shared on Facebook, Google and Twitter. Enjoy.

April Fools

Today is All Fools’ Day, an annual celebration that like so much else these days has been taken over by the genetically challenged and turned into something it’s not.  There are no April Fools in this week’s Diary, unless readers choose to identify any by vicarious implication.

Hector tweets @scratchings

Friday, March 25, 2011


Ahem! So All
The Crims
Aren’t from
Java After
All, Then

The Bali Times proudly says, at the top of page one in every print edition, that it reveals the real Bali. This is not the Bali of the glossy magazines, the travel brochures, or of hyperbolic travel agents and dodgy realtors. Such entities and people have their place, of course. But reality is ... well, reality.
    It has been the custom not to advertise the several faults of Balinese society. It worries the tourists (or the Balinese think it might) and it could reduce the quantum of those lovely dollars that come pouring in through the door.
    The fiction is thus created, and is enforced by the wall of silence that greets any gainsaying, that Bali is a place of universal love and peace, etc, etc. It can be argued that tourists don’t care (or that they don’t matter since most are here and gone again in a flash) but that’s not the point.
    Bali is unique. It has its own special magic. But as news reporting shows, not every miscreant here who comes to attention – i.e., astonishingly, gets caught – is from Java or someplace else. The temple theft ring (see below) was of Balinese invention, helped along by Italian inventiveness (or stupidity). The prison drug ring just exposed has a similar local provenance.

No Thanks

The Muse of Mengwi, otherwise known as Susi Johnston, has had it with Ubud apparently. Or at least her friends have. The ones she said on Facebook she’d taken there the other day and who quickly said they needed to leave because it was just like Kuta.
    Well, it isn’t of course. There are no beach touts; and, we fancy, there are rather fewer very friendly massages. There are however lots of oversized buses – allowed back into Bali we hear at the emolument-aided suggestion of one Tommy Suharto, who wanted impossibly big charabancs that are far too big for Bali’s funny little roads to convey victims to and from his noisy and noisome excrescence at Pecatu – and a lot else that’s not to taste.
    Mass tourism does have its downsides. Among these are the greedy and unthinking destruction of the environments that attracted visitors in the first place.

Hey, Roberto

We hear that Roberto Gamba, recently frog-marched to the airport and put on a plane back to Italy as a criminal alien, has been bothering people here who he believes have been characterising him in quite the wrong way.
    That’s strange. The Diary hasn’t heard a peep out of him and we’ve had a word or three to say about his case. We know he’s in Milan, or at least that that’s where he went when he got a sentence that magically matched the time he’d spent awaiting trial - that magically wasn’t reported - on charges relating to the rash of thefts of sacred temple relics that magically commenced in 2006, the year that particular sorry signor came to Bali to set up shop. But we haven’t tried to chase him up. Why would we? Good riddance.
    If he thinks he’s been grievously misrepresented, however, he’s welcome to get in touch.
Bright Spot

What a fabulous night it was last Saturday. No, we didn’t go to a party. We turned out most of the lights – an early contribution to Earth Day, now being promoted as the global Nyepi, which is on April 22 – so we could enjoy the full blue luminescence of the full moon.
    It was, as various breathless advisers told us around the world, the biggest and brightest full moon since 1992. It was wheeled out for our enjoyment by the Soros Cycle. This is not a two-wheel pedalled conveyance. It describes the wobbly orbit of Earth’s natural satellite created by its client position within the gravitational pull of our insignificant little planetary orb.
    So while it was a phenomenon, it was neither unnatural nor a surprise. Except to werewolves, who yet again learned that despite all the legends, a big Purnama is no help at all to any of their lunatic antics.
    Over the Bukit, the light was so bright – and for once, astonishingly, the clouds so scarce – that the frangipani shadows on the terrace were as sharply defined as most noondays and even the sea looked blue at midnight. Truly we live in a beautiful world. 

Sorry, Michael

The Diary long ago learned that it is far better to own up than to stay silent in the hope that no one will notice – even here, where the universal miscreant is “my friend.”
    Two weeks ago, in a little item on the to-die-for benefits of the Conrad Suites at Tanjung Benoa, we said they – and the Conrad resort generally – were well run by David Burchett. Only one reader found time to alert us to this grievous error. And she was the delectable Alicia Budihardja, who happens to be Burchett’s in-house flack.
    No matter. We erred and we should say so. Can’t think how Michael became David, apart from idiocy or inattention. But something must have provided the spark for our little flash-in-the-pan nonsense. It could be that the Conrad’s elegant lobby sports some (shall we say) fairly outré art. The Diary did spend a little time looking at it. It’s very good. Perhaps that’s why: the mind wanders, as we all know; in this instance to other historical exponents of eroticism.
    We rejected Titian (there wasn’t a ladder or a limerick in sight) in favour of Michelangelo. That must be it. In addition to spreading Renaissance proto-gouache around the place liberally, he gave us David. A later Pope cocked it up by attaching that fig leaf.

Set Lunch

The Diary and Distaff have never been to Budapest. The Diary, when he was but a midget ring-binder and chiefly resident in the western promontory of Eurasia, couldn’t go there. The Russians – self-fictionalised as Soviets – were in post-war colonial control of the place and didn’t like Brits unless they were called Donald Maclean, Kim Philby, Guy Burgess or Anthony Blunt.
    A formative view of Budapest, Hungary, the courage of the descendants of the Magyars and of the regressive perfidy of the Soviet system was gained from seeing the bloody result of the Hungarian uprising on television newsreels in 1956. (At least it overshadowed the last feeble twitch of European imperialism the same year, the Suez debacle.)
    So come August we shall be off to Heroes Square to pay homage to those who – along with the Poles the same year, the East Germans in 1953 and the Czechs and Slovaks in 1968 – put the first fatal cracks in Russian-dominated Soviet imperialism.
    Along the way, during our week in Budapest, where we shall be staying in a very plush but walk-up fourth-floor bed and breakfast place right in the middle of the city, we’ve got our daily lunch programme sorted out already. The Distaff has identified an allotment of early afternoon wine tastings with cheese, fruit and other goodies that should see us right, over eight days, for that otherwise empty space between breakfast on the terrace and dinner somewhere or other.
    It will be a treat.

Porn net

Now that the www seems set to get an xxx, to cater for those sad souls who can’t get by without their virtual jollies, perhaps Indonesia’s minister for religiously filtered information, Tifatul Sembiring, can turn his mind to things other than the Sisyphean task of weaning Indonesians off porn. Painfully unfortunate confluence of frontal lobes and brick walls comes to mind on that one, given Indonesia’s world ranking as porn-viewer central.
    It’s a good idea (the dot xxx, not porn) especially since it would provide an automatic filter against under-age access, reduce the opportunities for vile paedophiles, and relieve Tifatul (and meddlers everywhere) of their self-appointed and thoroughly unnecessary duty as our moral guardians.
    To assist the minister in reaching the conclusion that he’d really be better employed doing the bits of his job that matter, as well as brushing up on Democracy 101, here’s a comment from an American computer scientist, George Sadowsky (it's not supportive but it should be read).   
    “I believe that the creation of .xxx would mark the first instance of an action by this board that may directly encourage such filtering,” he said last week.
    “In my judgment, the [American regulatory] board should not be taking actions that encourage filtering or blocking of a domain at the top level. Further, I believe that the filtering of so-called offensive material can provide a convenient excuse for political regimes interested in and intent on limiting civic rights and freedom of speech.”

Hector's Blog appears as The Diary in the weekly print edition of The Bali Times, out Fridays. Print copies of the paper are available worldwide through NewspaperDirect.

Friday, March 18, 2011


Oh Dear, Another
of Julian’s
Little Leaks
Wets the
Washroom Floor

The chief surprise in the latest unnecessary WikiLeaks business – the one that had American ambassador Scott Marciel turning out in his best batik last week for a dressing-down from Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa – is the continued belief among the credulous (in the media in large numbers these days apparently) that officials sent to legations overseas should not write home about what they see and hear.
     One supposes that Indonesian diplomats in foreign capitals take soundings, find out who is tickling which till among the flock they are sent to watch over, report peccadilloes, speculate on political alliances and private motives, all sorts of things. Well, one supposes. If they aren’t, they’re not doing their jobs.
     That President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has gone to water on corruption (and much else) is hardly news. It’s in the papers every day. That his wife may have used political connections in private business is an issue with less of a public profile, granted, but it would be frankly astonishing if in Indonesia like anywhere else that influence wasn’t the best scrip in the portfolio. The situation is not much different in fully formed democracies with corporate sectors and judicial systems that are functionally as well as formally separate from the political process.
     These are other things that the credulous cannot comprehend: that politics are like that; that life is like that. The chief problem with politics is that it stinks – just consult Pericles, not to mention Cato, for the true historical perspective on that.
     The problem with the newly empowered “social media” and with mainstream journalists trying to get aboard that particular train to nowhere is that they have been gulled by snake-oil salesmen such as Julian Assange who sell them elixirs for which there is no actual need.

Canine Ballet

The Diary’s morning walks are back in business. The Distaff has spoken. And anyway, it’s a good plan. So last weekend, off we trudged, around the green, overgrown and rain-swept ridges of Banjar Bakung Sari, Ungasan. The Distaff carried her sturdy (and long) stick, the better to ward off approaching dogs. The Diary was armed with four stout stones, the ordnance that standing orders at The Cage require for morning area patrols. Only two were expended.
    We feel safe – well not safe, exactly, but less than panicked – now that we have had, at some personal expense, the three-shot pre-exposure anti-rabies vaccine. The antibodies thus created, we are assured, provide 100 percent protection as long as upon being bitten by a suspect animal you get the post-exposure vaccine course in full as well.
    If pre-vaccinated, you are spared the expense and bother of a hurried trip overseas to get the immunoglobulin without which, previously unvaccinated, you must apparently risk dying in a disgusting, foam-filled, maddened way. Since immunoglobulin is horrendously expensive and administered on a volume per body weight basis, it costs you a packet to keep your brain intact and in working order, breath in your body, and life as more than just a very uncertain prospect.
    Thus armed, we set off. The tramp around the sodden ridges was for the most part uneventful, except for one lovely little incident that really should be recorded. Near our turnaround point, four – later five – dogs were assembled, risking life and limb as they do hereabouts by relaxing mid-road and affecting astonishing sang-froid in the face of oncoming traffic. They barked fiercely, no doubt trying to persuade us that they were neither pets nor cravens. We advised them to shut up. They did.
    On our return, they had set up again in the middle of the road and – perhaps chastened by their profound failure first time around – looked ready to arm their fangs and advance towards us in a fierce skirmish line.
    The Diary raised both arms, rather in the manner of some maestro about to commence the strings on a particularly tiresome part of Wieniawski’s difficult second violin concerto. He signalled a quadruple movement, allegretto vivace, to his left. The dogs took four steps to their right. He repeated the movement. They took another four steps – into the bush at the side of the road.
    Problem solved. The best bit was that, when we had passed, they all trotted out into the road again and looked our way; plainly they were astonished – by us but mostly at themselves.

Going Home

The Hindus of Bali set their dead, in ashes, afloat upon the sea, on an auspicious date often long after the event. It is a lovely custom. It is not as strange as some might suppose. Among many others, the Norsemen who peopled so much of post-Roman Britannia, the northern portion of which later became Scotland, set theirs adrift in boats, with flames to take them to Valhalla.
    The Diary’s heritage is Scots, of the Lowland variety (the true Sassenach and proud of it). And despite a lifetime spent elsewhere, Scotland remains ingrained in the soul. To this day the salty smell of North Sea kelp and sea-wrack, half a century remembered, is as strong as ever. You just have to dream to go home.
    So later this year we’re looking forward to a little family ceremony that will be held on a chill, windswept, pebbly beach, where the ashes of two of our number – no one is ever no longer present – will finally be offered to the breeze and the waves to find whatever home awaits them. It was – it is – a favourite spot.
    The Diary chiefly remembers it as one among a number of special places in which summer holidays were enjoyed and for its little burn (stream) wherein, if one were lucky, a trout could be found to tickle and be taken home for supper. Dad showed us how to do it, being himself an absent son of the land.
    It is remembered too for the hectare of raspberries on the laird’s estate just upstream. Rich pickings could be obtained there at the cost only of Mum’s disapproval (this was generally best avoided since she had driven ambulances in the London Blitz) for having smeared indelible berry-juice upon one’s mouth and hands and, unless very careful, upon one’s clothes as well. We were fortunate with those raspberries: our cousin was the Baillie’s boy.
    We shall look for the wild garlic too, that grows in sheltered little spots and scents the air in season and which Dad, a Depression-era tenant farmer’s son, carried with him in his own dreams across the world and through an honourable and in its own way astonishing military career.

No Way

A little while ago – well, six weeks ago actually – The Bali Times told the president of the Bali Peace Park Association, Nick Way, that it would like to record at the beginning of each month progress on the association’s long publicised objective of erecting a peace park/memorial garden on the former Sari Club site in Legian by October 2011.
    We thought readers should know how much money the association had raised to date, what land had been purchased and when construction would start.
    Last Sunday evening we got a response from faraway Perth. And we’d like to share it with you. It said: “Thank you for your inquiry. At this point there is nothing the Bali Peace Park Association wishes to disclose to the media.”
    So here’s our first update on the project:
    Funds raised: Won’t say.
    Land purchased: Won’t say.
    Construction start: Won’t say.
    We say: It all looks very iffy to us.

Be There

Bali’s Pink Ribbon Walk this year is in October, not May as has been the case before, bringing it into line with Breast Cancer Awareness Month around the world. Organisers Gaye Warren and Amanda O’Connor have even bigger plans for the 2011 event, the third.
    They’re backed by the Nusa Dua hotels association – Himpunan Humas Perhotelan Bali or HHPB – and the Bali Tourism Development Corporation, whose president director I Made Mandra is a big supporter.
    Bali Pink Ribbon Walk, under the auspices of the Bali International Women’s Association, raises funds for breast cancer awareness among Balinese women and to help provide breast screening and other assistance. Its website is worth keeping an eye on:
    So make a note in your diaries: Saturday, October 22. We hear there are plans for a gala evening the night before which should help Jakarta and other participants from far away make a weekend of it.

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

Friday, March 11, 2011


A Mirror
To Bali’s
Place in
the Global

One of our favourite academics, I Nyoman Darma Putra, has just published an interesting work that chronicles – and critically examines – Bali’s movement to modernity in the twentieth century. A Literary Mirror, published by the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies at Leiden University, is the first English-language work to comprehensively analyse Indonesian-language literature from Bali from a literary and cultural viewpoint.
    It covers the period from 1920 to 2000, and thus precisely captures the period in which Bali and the Balinese became exposed to Europeans who wanted to be with them in ways other than as colonial controllers and enforcers.
    As such it is an extremely rich field for research into the ways Balinese view their culture and how they respond to external cultural forces. Darma’s work complements the large number of existing studies of Bali and its history, anthropology, traditional literature, and the performing arts.
    A Literary Mirror should be an invaluable resource for those researching twentieth-century Balinese authors who wrote in Indonesian. Until now, such writers have received very little attention in the existing literature. An appendix gives short biographical details of many significant writers and lists their work.
    Darma Putra has several other scholarly books under his belt on a variety of literary and cultural topics, in Indonesian, including Tonggak Baru Sastra Bali Modern (2000; 2010), Wanita Bali Tempo Doeloe Perspektif Masa Kini (2003; 2007) and Bali Dalam Kuasa Politik (2008).
    Today he teaches Indonesian literature in the Faculty of Arts at Udayana University, following three years at the University of Queensland in Brisbane where (from 2007-2010) he was a postdoctoral research fellow at the School of Languages and Comparative Cultural Studies.
    Darma Putra, with whom the Diary has an ephemeral connection, was at the opening last Thursday evening of Ganesha Gallery’s latest exhibition at the Four Seasons Jimbaran, at which another Diary favourite, the artist Made Kaek, was one of the twin attractions (the other was the East Java artist Edy Able).
    Unfortunately the Diary missed the show, Darma Putra and Kaek, and GM John O’Sullivan’s fine free wine, courtesy of printer’s devils, the evil spirits of the publishing world who are adept at interfering with deadlines.

Suite Delight

We enjoyed afternoon tea at the Conrad Suites on Nyepi Day, since we were inmates for the duration. It was a happy occasion and the offerings, which came upon a three-tiered plate, were very nice indeed.
    The Diary chose maté as the infusion of choice – a nicely aromatic brew, a diuretic from the Argentine pampas that in our case is an affection acquired more years ago than are decently remembered – but decided to forgo the dulce de leche, a grievously dangerous Argentine delicacy, in favour of controlling the waistline and staying out of intensive care.
    It’s not entirely clear to the Diary why two Argentine delights should be on the Conrad menu in Bali, though doubtless general manager Michael Burchett could explain it all very simply, but we were glad they were. They brought to mind an incident – also more years ago than are decently remembered – when on return to Australia from a long holiday in South America we brought back five kilos of tinned dulce de leche for a sadly deprived Argentine friend.
    The Aerolineas Argentinas flights in those days went only to and from Auckland in New Zealand, and on deplaning there to transfer to a Kiwi flight onwards to Sydney, a little canine chap in a smart Quarantine coat became wildly interested in one of our suitcases. It contained the contraband, but was a newly purchased hide portmanteau fresh (so to speak) from Buenos Aires, and we were able to persuade his minder that it must be the cowhide that had got his little charge’s nose twitching.
    A further thought occurred to your Diarist as he and the Distaff munched through the triple-decker tea plate. This was an apt allegory for his career: you start at the top and work your way down.

Oh, Knickers

It does you good to look at the press in other places from time to time. There is madness upon the world (and we do not refer to Moamar Khadafy or any of the other mentally challenged dictators that blight the globe). It was brought to mind in this instance by a story we saw in the London Daily Telegraph, which reported that transgender prisoners – defined apparently as men who might only think they are women, or would like to be but haven’t had the dangly bits cut off yet – are to be allowed to have padded bras and wear makeup.
    We think that’s fine; we’re all in favour of people being what they want to be, as long as it’s legal. Cross-dressing might be odd, even risible, but it’s harmless. The astonishing thing is that the British bureaucracy – led in this instance by the Home Secretary, Kenneth Clark, who up to now has seemed to be such a sensible fellow – is apparently determined to make the UK’s prisons into even more of a national holiday camp service.
    We’re all in favour of rehabilitation too. But it would be sensible to start that process from the other end of the deal. People are in prison because they have broken the law. That must mean, surely, that they have put themselves beyond the Pale? They are serving sentences for all sorts of offences that normal people – that term is used deliberately – would not contemplate committing. Rehabilitation would better start with an offender’s contrition and self-motivated re-education, not with featherbedding (or a padded bra).
    Why they should be permitted to vote, to be called Mr (or Ms or Miss) by their jailers, or be provided at public expense with any more than safe and secure housing, nutritious sustenance and health and medical care, is one among a wide range of significant questions that the leaders of the liberal West have long given up trying to answer. They see their job nowadays as keeping the whining classes happy and as part of this have adopted the squalid policy of viewing transgressors as the victims.

Bad Moody’s

Many Indonesians, especially those in top bureaucratic and corporate positions where a major part of the job description is explaining why the fact that you’ve squandered all the loot doesn’t mean you’re bankrupt, will feel some sympathy for the Greeks, who have expressed anger at ratings agency Moody’s decision this week to downgrade the country’s debt. It is, we gather from the furious squawks emanating from Attica, completely unjustified.
    It is thus, we gather, because the Greek authorities are right at this very moment arranging for a new and even more massive bailout to throw into the black hole of social unreality and economic irresponsibility. The extra dosh will be coming from the European Union – Greece is a member – for political reasons (no one wants another basket-case within that fractious and improbable collective) and the IMF because, well, that’s what the IMF does.
    Political economy is such a fraught discipline, isn’t it? No wonder the Athens SI (the Socrates Index) has hit an all-time high. It measures the market in hemlock futures.

Back in the Box

We happily report that Hector’s helper, who last week missed out on Jack Daniels’ Bali Update, got his weekly fix as usual on Monday night. So it can only have been a glitch, one of those cyber oddities that so blight one’s life nowadays.
    We were intrigued to read in this week’s collector’s edition that North Bali grape growers, fed up with declining yields, diving prices and driving rain, are ripping out their vines and leaving the industry in droves, or whatever it is that constitutes an appropriate collective noun for them: a wrath of grape growers, perhaps.
    They aren’t. Some of them, sensible fellows that they are, are busy revitalising and renewing their growth stock.

On a Box Brownie

Down on latitude 38 south, in the city of four seasons in a day and public mood swings to match – we speak of Melbourne – the light on Ubud’s culinary hill, Janet de Neefe, has been posing for the camera again.
    Something to do with a book, we hear.

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


Friday, March 04, 2011


A Rare Treat
Indeed Atop
the Cliffs
at Reinhold’s

We dined last Monday, on a rainy and blustery La Niňa evening, in the decorous environment of Ju-Ma-Na at the Banyan Tree Ungasan. It was a delightful soiree for two arranged so that some Bavarian culinary delights could be sampled at the resort’s signature – and generally vaguely Moroccan – restaurant.
    Host Reinhold Johann was there with his wife Petra, though dining separately; in honour, we heard, of their fifteenth wedding anniversary. They drank water (sensible people) but we indulged in a very nice bottle of Le Merlot (De la Chapelle), a warm Languedoc label. It was the least expensive on the list, the fates for once having been kind enough to organise for desire and budget to coincide.
    The table setting was nicely done – they had placed us in a corner and given us a name-sign that bore no relation to the actual names of the Diary and Distaff but of which they were very proud and we really didn’t mind being incognito – and the staff super-attentive. The Diary’s Campari tonic was a real tonic: it’s so difficult to get a good one in these days of miser-serves and mass-produced sprite-water.
    Michelin double-winner Hubert Obendorfer from the renowned Kingfisher Restaurant and his team were visiting from their sub-alpine establishment in Bavaria. There, a rich cuisine is a natural barrier to the bracing climate and a perfect accompaniment to the generous southern German girth. Obendorfer and his lederhosen and dirndl crew provided a five-course set menu. They were at Ju-Ma-Na from February 24 to 28 to give house guests – and walk-in custom – a rare treat.
    The five courses came along with two appetisers – one a nice peach sorbet served midway through the degustation – and featured Lake Batur tilapia, a freshwater fish that is an Indonesian staple but is not to everyone’s taste. The tilapia sausage, the third course that followed a rather nice potato and leek veloute which also featured tilapia, perhaps benefited from being treated in a Bavarian way. The point is moot. But the braised wagyu was superb. And so was the delightful curd mousse dessert.
    What a lovely homecoming treat it was.
Desert Flower

The Perth International Art Festival’s film programme this year was very good indeed. There were many movies screened that would not pass the FPI test or those apparently mooted among these regressive insurgents’ bureaucratic friends in Jakarta (thereby automatically making them worth seeing) and this reinforced the view that Bali’s own annual celebration of film, Balinale, is a must-not-miss event on the annual calendar.
    We went one hot evening last week to the pine-treed campus of Edith Cowan University – it’s at Joondalup on Perth’s northern extremities – to see Desert Flower, which deals with the outrageous, horrendous and indeed scandalous topic of female genital mutilation.
    This practice, found in many primitive societies but in this instance in Somalia, is sometimes called female circumcision. It shouldn’t be. There are medical and health as well as social and religious reasons for male circumcision, but the so-called female variety is shamelessly designed to rob women of sexual pleasure and to reinforce undeserved male domination. It is a vile abomination, is not required by any Koranic reference, and should be stamped out forthwith.
    The film, made in 2009 as an adaptation of a 1998 autobiography, is very good in telling the story of Waris Dirie, a Somali woman mutilated at the age of three who fled rather than be sold off in a forced marriage at 13 and, having escaped a fate that would surely have been worse than death, ended up as a stunning model on the international catwalks.
    But it is a confronting narrative, so much so that the Diary, normally silent at public screenings, uttered audible and strong imprecations at (at least) one point, to the surprise no doubt of the lady – hitherto unmet – in the seat alongside. She did, though, seem to agree.
    The screening was outdoors, the ambience scented by the surrounding pine trees, and was attended by a well-mannered crowd. Many, like the Diary and party, had first dined al fresco at tables by the lake, watched by the curious ducks upon the water and, one fancies, the shade of Edith Cowan, Australia’s first female government minister after whom the university is named and whose former Perth cottage now resides on the campus.
    This week’s ILAND column, incidentally, has some advice for myopic censors of film. It’s on Page 9.

Chilling Out

Most people would say that they come to Bali for its warm weather among other things. It was therefore fun to arrive home last Sunday night to conditions that struck one as a tad chill. They weren’t, of course; such things are relative.
    But when you are returning from a sojourn in summery Western Australia, where the days were in the high thirties and beyond and the sun – ubiquitously present from rise to set throughout our stay – had a very nasty bite indeed, it’s good to chill out.
    It was a bumpy ride home in the back of the bus (an AirAsia Airbus) but oh so good to be enveloped on arrival by the very special ambience of Bali, including – strangely perhaps – its no-rules road rules. And some cool breezes and sharp, chill showers.

Dropping Out

It must just be a glitch. Bali Update, Jack Daniels’ little e-missive that is apparently his chief claim to fame, did not pop into the in-box this week at the email address Hector’s helper uses to collect ephemera. Perhaps the thrill of being 13 – the Diary remembers this as being a particularly unappealing and spotty stage on life’s pathway – resulted in an oversight, though that seems unlikely. And we don’t remember hitting “unsubscribe” out of ennui, irritation or any other ailment.
    No matter. Jack’s little updates are online, which is anyway where we generally read them. We make them a must, for all sorts of reasons. It’s always interesting to see what has attracted the attention of Bali’s ministry of truth, an apt descriptor indeed for anyone literate enough to have read Orwell (and, even better, to have understood him).
    It was cheering to read of the party for primates (simian, not prelates) held at Ubud and to see yet another plug for the Bali triathlon, with which Daniels, an unlikely athlete, is apparently involved, and which will flash past us in four months. And of course that thirteenth birthday bash. Hope there was lots of lemon pop.

Lights Out

Nyepi is generally passed at a small pension in Candi Dasa, one of the several “Obyek Wisata” around the island where, by some curious alchemy the workings of which are completely mysterious to ordinary mortals, the spirits – bad and otherwise – seemingly agree not to notice the lights left on for tourists over Silent Day (or rather, Silent Night).
    This year, however, courtesy of a generous New Year gift from Michael Burchett and his team of funsters at the Conrad at Tanjung Benoa, we shall Ssshhh ourselves within the boundaries of that plush establishment. This hard yakka (hard work, for those among you sadly less than completely au fait with the full richness of the Australian vernacular) will be performed on March 5 and 6 at or near to a Conrad suite. Such places do not normally appear in the schedules of folk whose days are passed in genteel poverty with big salaries and expense accounts long foregone, so it’s a treat.
    We haven’t asked (grace and favour recipients are best noticed by their reticence) but perhaps there will be wifi. Apparently we shan’t be able to do any plane-spotting, our favourite relaxation, Bali’s international airport by gubernatorial decree having excised itself from global aviation for the duration.

Hector's Blog appears as The Diary in the weekly print edition of The Bali Times and on the newspaper's website Print editions are available worldwide via NewspaperDirect.