Friday, May 27, 2011

HECTOR'S BALI times DIARY, May 27, 2011

Back in Bali
With a Bag
Of Fresh

It has, as the old saying puts it, been a little while between drinks. The interregnum was brought about through the intervention of a SEB, a Short Essential Break. Bali regulars will understand the need for such escapes. This one took your diarist away from The Cage (and Bali’s several clemencies) and deposited him in Western Australia, where Odd Zone ennui, a fearful and unavoidable condition, immediately set in. Well, that and the absence of handy internet connections.
    We returned to The Cage, with a fresh supply of Oz newsprint to line it, last Sunday night, with new supplies of liquor that here would break the bank, and cheese and sultanas ... the latter an essential but sadly deficient in supply on the Island of the Dogs, possibly because certain ill-tutored individuals assume raisins are a substitute, though more likely a result of Indonesian stock-control practice (What? We’re out of [fill in your product of choice]? Well, I didn’t know!  Sigh. Better see if we can get some more, I suppose.)
    It’s good to be back, though. We needed to return to ensure The Cage is prepared for the next landing parties of visitors, who are completely convinced that we live in Paradise.

Bugger Off

We picked up a vehicle in Perth on arrival – a kind niece lent her car to us for the duration – and buzzed off southwards, towards the ancestral lands of the Distaff. These lie 300 kilometres away. That distance would be a three-day ordeal around here, but there it’s a doddle. Just over three hours including a coffee stop to make the trip, and not even one vehicle tried to “merge” into the traffic in front of us while maintaining an unsteady 20 km/h or bothering to notice that this would cause people already on the highway to slow down to a crawl to accommodate them.
    We did run into the smoking police. It was at the coffee stop, a little roadhouse-cum-petrol station at about midpoint on our pre-dawn-to-blinding-sunrise trip. We had lit up a smoke (we don’t do that in OP cars) after getting a cuppa and taking it back outside when something hugely censorious (and also huge, plainly unfriendly and wearing an I Eat Nails for Breakfast mine-site working uniform) leaned out of its hefty utility vehicle and growled “Carnt ya see the signs?”
    We hadn’t. But since our informant was as described (very big, of uncertain temper, and most likely impervious to the arguments of others) your Diarist forwent the pleasure of responding “Bugger off” and instead said “Thank you.”

Peppermint Idyll

The south of Western Australia features lovely trees (among them the luxuriant karri on which the area’s former timber industry was based) and like trees everywhere, these are a delight to the senses. Some of them are exotics – northern hemisphere deciduous trees which in autumn blaze with colour ranging from the palest yellows through to the deepest reds and tug heavily on the heartstrings of people whose genes hale from the bit of the globe that points out of the galaxy – but most are native eucalypts, banksias, wattles and others with names impossible to spell.
    The Diary’s favourite is the peppermint, a finely-leafed eucalypt that flies don’t like (a definite bonus in Western Australia).  We sat on several afternoons at a beachside pub with the chill breeze blowing in from Geographe Bay and the sunlight dappling through the canopy of tall trees. The Hahn Super-Dry may have helped (it’s nearly as good as Bintang) but the effect, particularly as the afternoons wore on and the skies assumed the orange-purple hues of an approaching Australian dusk, was like a Chinese painting. And just as good for the soul.

Big Day In

The WA trip was caused by a big event, an annual celebration known as Birthday of the Distaff’s Mum. We shan’t be indecorous and mention the age attained in this year of grace, but it was a Significant Marker on life’s path. And anyway, we love a good party.
    Our arrival was a big secret, and praise is due to all the blabbermouths who this time managed to keep quiet about it. The surprise was complete, and a delight to see. There was a big cake too, which went surprisingly far given the attendance of the Birthday Girl and partner, all of the Three Sisters (and their spouses), an eclectic collection of grandchildren and attachments, an Hon Daughter, and some very old friends including a fine lady who was matron of honour at the Diary and Distaff’s wedding in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, 29 years ago.
    Several drinks were taken.

Meow Moments

Some people say it’s strange that a cockatoo should be a cat person. But this assumption springs from a fundamental misunderstanding about what drives cat-bird relations. Finely plumed cockatoos (or if older, formerly finely plumed) and decorous felines in fact have a lot in common. We both rule the roost, for one thing.
     Hector has many feline friends. Locally he’s a Facebook friend of El Tigron, who allows Ric Shreves and Nalisa Sitabut to live in his house and do all the grunt work down at Water&Stone. And on his recent Perth weekend – a reward for spending nearly a week in country WA – Hector made friends with three very fine felines.
     Reggie is a venerable Siamese who lives in a nice pad at Claremont with Balinese touches. He is a chocolate point and 18 years old and reminded Hector of his long-gone companion, Jasper, who enlivened the post-war UK experience by bailing up the gas meter man (“Madam, please call your cat off,” the poor chap said to Hec’s mum when we found him cornered in the scullery) and bringing home a hefty two-pound prime steak from the nearby (rationed) butcher. He also took us all for walks on his pale blue lead, which matched his eyes. Like Reggie, he favoured sunny spots on sofas.
     Sundae is a tortoiseshell, also of elegant vintage. Her favourite pursuits are climbing onto the roof of her house in leafy Wembley and pinching stools and other seating appliances from humans silly enough to vacate them.
    And Mya (for Myanmar) is a young Burmese whose energetic focus on catching and terrorising a mock mouse on a string was quite exhausting to watch.
    While in country WA, we paid our respects to another long-time feline friend, Thomas, who has been sleeping beneath a shady conifer in the garden for some time now.  We probably won’t be there again, so a last goodbye needed to be said.

Good Gear

The Diary will be back in full Bali mode next week. But just for the record there’s an interesting an enterprising event on this weekend – it started today – called the Bali Emerging Writers Festival. It’s a spin-off from the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, an innovation that is very welcome. We’ll be checking with Janet De Neefe and Melissa Delaney afterwards, to see how it went.

Hector tweets @Scratchings and join him on Facebook: Hector McSquawky

Thursday, May 05, 2011

HECTOR'S BALI times DIARY, May 6, 2011

Beware the
Best Efforts

Rabies is a significant risk to people in Bali, arguably even while they’re sitting quietly on the porch at home minding their own business. That’s a cogent reason for strict measures to control stray dog numbers while at the same time vaccinating the required percentage (70%) of the island’s canine population to control the spread of the virus.
    You should not, however, have to consider that there is any associated risk of being hit by a strychnine dart aimed (well, misaimed in true Keystone Kops style) by your local animal control officer.  Such was the unpleasant fate, though, of a young Klungkung woman who, sitting upon her porch at her house in the village of Semaagung during the hot noonday hours and apparently watching the dog cull taking place, was struck in the shoulder by the said dart.
     Not unreasonably, she collapsed. The dart, from a blowpipe wielded (apparently without due care and attention) by an animal control officer, was carrying enough strychnine to kill a dog within 15 minutes. The woman was taken to hospital where she made a full recovery and was allowed home after a day or so.
     We expect that the next time the blowpipe brigade comes around she’ll decide that discretion is the better part of valour and take cover.
     The tally from the April 25 operation:  three dead dogs.

Shoot First, Dissemble Later

Osama bin Laden was an evil man and, by any reasonable definition of justice, a mass murderer. The search for him, and the operation that finally found him, was justified, as was the technical invasion of a sovereign state (Pakistan) to achieve that.
    It was a firefight. It was reasonable to assume Bin Laden would be armed if resistance was encountered. In the circumstances as described, requiring split-second decision, an assumption that he could be armed was also reasonable: in any circumstances short of a hands-up-I-surrender situation, it would be a tough call to gainsay a "shoot" decision.
    Yet apparently he wasn't armed when shot dead. He was hiding in a room with his youngest wife, we now gather; she apparently showed more spirit than he and rushed at the invading BlackOps operative. She was shot in the leg for her trouble, we also gather, from the confusion of information the Americans have released. Yet Bin Laden continued to "resist," according to information prised out of the White House on Tuesday this week. Was he about to throw a chair? Did he ask to leave the room? Did he burst into tears, like most self-deceivers and bullies do when their behaviour catches up with them?
    No one should weep for him, given the death and destruction his wantonly poisoned mind visited upon the world, but the Americans now have questions to answer about the manner and the circumstances of Bin Laden's death that will again provide embarrassment, risk turning into yet another own goal, and undermine the political and strategic benefits of removing him from the scene.

Yak On

It hardly seems possible that a month has passed since the last little MinYak cantered into the in-box. But it must be, because another one arrived this week, carrying fresh tales from the land of glitter and somewhere called Baliwood. Not sure that works: Bollywood is already taken, of course, by all those chaps who run the western world’s call centres, but Bolly’s not a bad set of bubbles if you like that sort of thing.
    Neither champagne nor the sparkling wine that’s not champagne because of ridiculous European Community naming rules appears on Hector’s favoured drinks list. Those little zesty bubbles don’t go very well with a beak.  That’s a shame, because the latest MinYak has a Q&A with Carol Duval-Leroy, president of Champagne Duval-Leroy.
    She has some views on how to manage enterprises and people that would be required reading for several of our local bizbods, both indigenous and expatriate. If they could read, of course.
    The finals of this year’s Yak open tennis are on this weekend. The organisers promise fun and frivolity.  We might manage a look-in. It’s no trouble breaking out of the Bukit Bubble, or breaking into the Canggu one for that matter. It’s the 90-minute, 20-kilometre crawl between the two that puts you off.

Strait Swap

It’s interesting to see the Jakarta Globe is now printing Singapore’s Straits Times in Indonesia under a masthead partnership. The ST is not quite the mouthpiece for the modern incarnation of the Serene Republic (Singapore is the Venice of our era in so many ways) that some of its critics assert, but it is very cosily consanguineous in the peculiar political circumstances of the city state. Officially controlled democracy has much appeal to big business, as it does to politicians, since it deflects the embarrassments that spring from promiscuous public argument.
    Commercially, Singapore is the linchpin of ASEAN. Its financial strength, infrastructure and social capital give it clout far beyond its weight. Already it is effectively the power in situ in Indonesia’s nearby islands and pre-eminently in Batam, from where on a clear day (ha!) you can see Singapore’s skyline. So an opportunity to read the print edition of the Straits Times on the day of publication – even here in relatively distant Bali – is almost a local business essential.

Common Sense

It was cheering to hear that errant New Zealander turned Aussie Angus McCaskill, who copped a seven-year jail term for being caught with a sizeably small quantity of illegal drugs in a sting at a Tuban supermarket, may get a sentence cut to one year and thus soon be away on the compulsory deportation flight home.
    The courts here hand out very heavy sentences for drug offences – and rightly so when the circumstances demand – in accordance with national law but often not in accordance with common sense.
    McCaskill, who began life in Aotearoa as Willie Ra’re, foolishly sniffed his way around Bali’s wannabe party scene, apparently in the belief that this was where it’s at. It isn’t, of course. But seven years for being a personal-user idiot was never fair; neither was it justified except on a fulsome misreading, by the judges, of their duty to make judicious decisions.
    It was the same with that silly girl Schapelle Corby, whose boogie-board cover was found to contain more than four kilos of marijuana when she popped in for a holiday break in 2004 and, lordy, she didn’t know how on earth it could have got there, and with her family and others created a noisy conspiracy theory that pissed everyone off, especially the judges. Twenty years for being a screaming idiot’s a little tough, unless of course the extra time was for having a topless sister and a loud mother. There appear to be sensible moves under way to apply a retrospective common sense rule to her case.
    The Australian contingent in Kerobokan keeps growing. Michael Sacatides, kick-boxing instructor, has just joined up for 18 years for forgetting to wonder why some guy in Bangkok he hardly knew wanted to lend him a suitcase for his Bali trip.

New Virgin

Pacific Blue, the overseas operating livery of Australia’s Virgin Blue airline, will soon be a thing of the past. Virgin Blue already is, having become Virgin Australia in a massive rebranding exercise this week. By year’s end, Virgin Australia aircraft will be flying the Bali routes from the Great South Land.
    The airline’s rebranding completes its growing up process. Launched – in Brisbane, with a great party – in 2000 as a fun show (with serious commercial intent) and utilising the penchant for bent language in the Australia patois – its aircraft were red and a redhead is called “Blue” or “Bluey” – it has now emerged as an adult operation, with a strong pitch for the business market, the bit up the pointy end that requires bigger seats, silver service, serious trolleydollying and excessive ego-stroking.

Tweet with Hector @scratchings and join him on Facebook: Hector McSquawky


Sunday, May 01, 2011

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

Lombok’s Still
There;  We
Checked it Out
On a Three-Day
Flying Visit

Better late than never, they say. And so it is with this week’s Diary, delayed by Hector’s schedule, no longer driven by determinants other than his own. It was disrupted by the need to go to Lombok. It’s always a pleasure to visit Bali’s sister island just to the east. The contrast is interesting. The barely perceptible bump as you transit the Wallace Line is fun – especially in a Wings Air ATR72-500 in cloud at 5,000ft on the 60 nautical mile flight between Ngurah Rai (Denpasar) and Selaparang (Mataram). And especially when to make the flight last the advertised 30 minutes your plane flies out into the middle of the Lombok Strait and describes a couple of s-l-o-w  figures of eight to while away the time.
    Never mind. You get there in the end, even if Wings Air pilots seem to like to land at near cruising speed and then hang out every anchor possible to stop before the end of the short Selaparang runway. That’s what life in Indonesia is all about: adrenalin. (Coming back three days later our ATR72-500 pilot demonstrated similar thrill capacity by landing a long up the strip, missing the otherwise easily attainable taxiway turnout  and having to turn around and trundle back to it, all the while under the baleful glare of a big jet waiting to take off .)
    Ngurah Rai’s domestic terminal is still testing the limits of chaos theory, by the way. On our return from Lombok on Sunday passengers were playing guess-which-carousel in the luggage collection area because the information screens were blank.

Senggigi Swings

It would be inaccurate to describe Senggigi, focal point of Lombok’s mainland tourism (the Gillis run their own race) as a centre of anything much. It’s pretty small beer if compared with other tourist centres elsewhere. Kuta (Bali) would swallow it whole and not even blink. Of course, Senggigi would swallow Kuta (Lombok) whole, ditto. That gives an idea of the relativities involved.
    Nonetheless, the little joint was jumping the three nights we were in and around the strip looking for dinner. Some of the light bulbs have been changed and there are one or two new shingles hanging up outside diners-deluxe and otherwise. At Square, a long-time favourite, the Distaff swore that before she arrived at our table (she had diverted to check out the facilities) your Diarist was being assessed by the management for girl receptivity. That seems highly unlikely (they wouldn’t want a cardiac arrest on their hands, surely?) but then again, three decades of direct experience have amply demonstrated that the Distaff is rarely wrong. Fortunately, then, she arrived in the nick of time and saved your Diarist acute embarrassment and a nasty bout of irritation.
    We shan’t be going back to another old favourite, De Quake, in a hurry. The lamb was anything but and, for the Diary’s money, the goat from which chunks had been sawn before being improperly dealt with was an older one than even your Diarist. The Distaff’s fish was off and they threw us out early because the staff wanted to play cards. It’s sad, because we were at De Quake’s opening in 2007, its waterside premises are first-class, and its corporate connection with the American owned upmarket Qunci mini-resorts chain had been promising.
    Our third eatery was of course Asmara Restaurant, where, we happily report, the delightful Sakinah Nauderer is still serving up the finest Teutonic cuisine. The meatballs were delicious.

Royal Occasion

It seems Diarist and Distaff must be among the mere handful of global citizens who did not watch the British royal wedding last Friday (it started at 5pm Indonesian central time). We were staying at Holiday Resort, where old chum Stefan Leu is general manager, and when we met him for a brief say-hi at 4.40pm – we were on our way out – he pleaded pressure of business and disappeared (we met him again next day for a much longer chat).
    It turns out that the business that was pressing was getting into the lounge chair in front of the TV in time for the nuptials. Ah well, the whole world loves a spectacle. Or so it seems. Someone we met on Saturday who had been in Jakarta airport at the bewitching hour reported wall-to-wall Indonesians glued to the TVs in the terminal.

Not a Klui

As reported, we stayed at Holiday Resort on Lombok this time. It’s a well-run establishment and the refurbished bathrooms are pretty good. The hotel’s employees are super-friendly, the beach traders in the area are pleasant (and pleasantly manageable) and the facilities – if you overlook the usurious rates for connecting to Wi-Fi – are all you’d ask for at below super-stellar level. We’re glad we stayed there.
    We mightn’t have. When the need to visit Lombok – it was business related – emerged we had attempted to connect with the plush new Jeeva Klui at Malimbu, a little further up West Lombok’s spectacular coast. Unfortunately, it seems, they just can’t be bothered to reply to emails.
    The establishment bills itself as just upon the Wallace Line. Just below the Plimsoll line would seem a more appropriate pitch.

That’s the Spirit

This year’s BaliSpirit Festival drew 6,000 attendees, according to figures just released by organiser-in-chief Meghan Pappenheim. It also raised US$15,000 for a local HIV/AIDS prevention programme that many see as being most directly relevant to those most at risk, which in Bali nowadays is senior school students and young adults, and sex workers. It long ago ceased to be an affliction of homosexuals and intravenous drug injectors and thus worthy of being ignored by people whose consciences are unaffected by fatalities among the undeserving.
    In another sign of the times, BaliSpirit’s Facebook was viewed by 250,000 people in March and its website recorded 115,000 visits.
    International attendees at the event, held the Purnati Centre for the Arts and ARMA Resort at Ubud, included record numbers of Australians, Americans, Canadians and Germans – and Indonesian visitors were also a record.

On Your Big Bike

The arrogance of posses of big bikers is legendary, in Bali no less than anywhere. Here their threatening road-hogging convoy tactics are outweighed only by the official arrogance of police escorts (often found “escorting” bands of big-bikers on their little outings, for a fee of course) and the mindlessness of truck and bus drivers who sweep all before them (literally if you’re not super-cautious). It’s part of the Rafferty’s rules that substitute for common sense here.
    So it was interesting to see that a group of motorcyclists had a run-in with Governor Made Mangku Pastika, who was returning from a weekend visit to Buleleng in a private vehicle.  It wasn’t an official visit because if it had been he’d have had a police escort and the bikers would probably have been monstered themselves instead. We read about the incident in Indonesian press early last week, and it was amply covered in The Beat Daily, the email news briefing put out by The Beat Magazine. Naturally when the bikers discovered to their horror that they had beaten up on the Guv, major grovelling took place.
    If it results in these highway bother-boys mending their ways – and in the police regulating their rides rather than abetting their bad behaviour – then that’s all to the good. Bike clubs raise a lot of money for charity. They provide an outlet for testosterone-challenged boys of all ages. But they are a pest when they’re on the open road apparently doing auditions for a remake of The Wild One. That the Governor has now told them this may be a promising start on their road to rehabilitation.
    Not sure it was a newspaper lead story a week after the non-event, as the Bali Times seems to believe, but these are sorts of decisions that apparently get made when you’re revealing the real Bali from somewhere in Ireland.

Classic Occasion

This year’s Yak Tennis Classic open tournament kicked off at the weekend at Canggu and runs to May 7. Entry is free to all spectators and there are some eatable and drinkable treats as well. The action takes place at the Canggu Tennis Centre, part of the Canggu Club and just across the road from the plush central premises of that establishment. Weekday matches commence at 3pm and weekends at 10am.
Tweet with Hector @Scratchings and join him on Facebook at Hector McSquawky.