Wednesday, August 24, 2011

HECTOR'S DIARY The Bali Advertiser (August 24, 2011)

A Temporary Sea Change

The Cage at Ungasan, from where the Diary is generally contributed, has a delightful sea view. It’s a panorama that is always missed when we are absent and gratefully enjoyed upon return. But this Diary is being written against the soothing backdrop of a very different sea view, equally delightful even though the water is frigid. It is Hector’s childhood summer holiday view, from the little bit of the Scottish borders that is as well the ancestral home. As we write, on a chill summer afternoon, the Fife coast 60 kilometres away across the Firth of Forth is clearly visible and beyond that, distantly blue, are the hills of Angus. And but for the beautiful folds of the Lammermuir Hills, we fancy, we might even have chanced a glimpse of the faraway Grampians.
     All this is of course peripheral to the Bali scene, to which – after a forthcoming sojourn in Budapest – we shall soon return refreshed, rested, made robust by a renewed stock of memories, and anxious to get back into the joys of living in Bali, our chosen home.
     It is 24 years since we were last here, 40 since we departed for a new life in Australia, and half a century since the last of the regular summer holidays spent fossicking about the stones and boulders of little windswept beaches, freezing in the North Sea breakers, mucking about in boats at our little harbour, and drinking in the rustling, rushing spirituality of the forested ravines of our local stream (a burn hereabouts, and utterly unpolluted) wherein lie occasional trout and the chance of an otter sighting. 
    It is peaceful, this little corner, and warms the heart. Lives long ago made new by emigration are generally better than those that might have been lived at home, but the migrant always feels some sense of loss in the leaving – it would be dull and wrong not to – and a rare return, while a joy, is also perversely, a renewal of sadness. You get on with life, of course, and are forever grateful for the opportunities presented by an adopted homeland. But it’s never the same and in gaining much you know in your heart that you have lost a lot.
Lives Celebrated

This visit to the old country was prompted by a family occasion, to which people – siblings and their spouses – came from places scattered around the globe to join their cousins and others in celebrating, with a surviving brother, the lives of another son of the Borders and his wife, our father and mother.
    There was a little ceremony, informal of course and not specifically religious but one with which a Balinese might find particular empathy, to scatter the ashes of father and mother in the sea. A cousin played a lovely lament among the rocks and a toast was drunk – in whisky for the father, champagne for the mother – and some little speeches made.
    Prior to this, a plaque was dedicated to their memory in the local kirk. Later that day a spirited cèilidh was held at which much food and drink was consumed and plenty of loud music played.
     The weekend by chance was that of the annual village flower show. The flowers were nice but the scones were even better. There was a full moon that night and a clear sky rewarded us with a silver pathway across the water from the headland far off to the east right into the wavelets rippling in to the shore beneath the cliff at the bottom of the garden. Nature came to the party too.

A Long Lunch
The celebratory weekend wound up with a long, late lunch at The Creel, a justifiably renowned restaurant in neighbouring Dunbar. It’s down near the harbour, set away in a sunny little side street, and is itself blessed by association with celebrity chef Rick Stein. That’s not why we were there. We went for the assiette of Inverlochy smoked salmon, local dressed white crab meat and prawns served with dressed baby potato salad, spicy tomato and red onion salad.
    Well, that wasn’t all. The main course offered braised belly of pork, iron skillet seared Gigot steak of Borders lamb and roasted breast of chicken served with creamy crushed potatoes, mélange of fresh vegetables, salsa verde and cranberry jus.
    If you had room afterwards (we did) you could choose between classic vanilla bean panna cotta with macerated raspberries and Creel marble slate duo of cheeses with homemade stem ginger and garden vegetable preserve.  Coffee and homemade chocolates followed. Yum!

Two Hectors
The family memorial weekend and several days following were spent at a cousin’s house (though we lodged for the week next door in a weekender rented at mate’s rates for the occasion) and were slightly confusing for two of those present – Hector the diarist and Hector the cat.
    Hector the cat is a fine tabby of considerable vintage. In cat years, senior even to superannuated diarists who hide behind sulphur crested cockatoo masks. An accommodation was attained, however.  Hector the diarist agreed not to spend his day dashing in and out of the cat doors. And Hector the cat (eventually) conceded there was little point in acting the scaredy-cat since Hector the diarist is a lifelong cat softie. 
    There remained a few confusions, however. It can get ugly when cat and cockatoo respond in synch to food calls and the like.
What a Pest

It is often said that every cloud has a silver lining. Unfortunately the reverse is also true. We made our way from Bali to Scotland via an overnight stop in Budapest, Hungary – to which we returned afterwards – but, clearly in error, chose to do so via Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. These are the people who hold world ranking as specialists in losing people’s luggage.
    One of our two cases managed to join us in Budapest. The other, at time of writing, was still AWOL. Fortunately none of the items on our Scottish schedule – which included a day in Edinburgh where the International Festival is in full swing and the book festival that runs with it was our primary interest – required anything like a full dress-up.
    Edinburgh’s annual festival is a fixture on the global calendar. It is tempting to consider making it such in our own. This year, aside from a programme of classical music performances that make you weep with delight just from thinking about them, Ravi Shankar was performing.  The book festival speaks for itself. And the concurrent Festival of Spirituality and Peace features two performance events it would have been good to see:
    Tenchi Shinmei: The Ocean, by Ensemble Rivelta, Japanese masters of the Shakuhachi (bamboo vertical flute) and Koto (Japanese lyre), which presented melodies from ancient Japanese to modern Spanish tango. Tenchi Shinmei: The Mountain featured Tokara, one of the most versatile taiko drumming groups to emerge from the mountains of Nagano, which presented powerful and jazzy rhythms and was headed by Art Lee, the only non-Japanese ever to win Grand Champion at the Tokyo International Okaido Championships.
    Still, back on the prosaic front, it would have been nice to have a change of shoes to hand, so to speak. Not to mention a wider selection of socks and underwear, or even a shirt. And we won’t even mention the matter of access to the minor compendium of medicines with which most modern post-middle-agers attempt to regulate, or at least to ward off, the ravages of time.
Shame to Miss It

Well, it is the Rock Bar, so it’s not surprising that music of that nowadays broad genre is frequently heard at that cliff-side location in Jimbaran along with the exquisite (and other) tweeting of the establishment’s well-heeled clientele.
     Nonetheless, and despite the fact that your diarist was enjoying badly behaved music long before punks were born, let alone imagined that they had invented musical invective, the soft punk performances of Superman is Dead are a favourite.
    It is therefore a pity that the only Indonesian band on American Billboard chose to have both its sixteenth birthday and a magical unplugged performance at the Rock Bar at Ayana in our absence.  Their scheduled ticket-only gig was on August 18, the day after Independence Day.

Hector's Diary appears in the Bali Advertiser, published every fortnight, and on the newspaper's website

Sunday, August 21, 2011

HECTOR'S DIARY The Bali Advertiser (August 10, 2011)

Life’s a Breeze in Ubud

We like to drop in on Ubud now and again – it’s such fun to be in a place where nearly everyone else seems to be dropping out – and we were there one weekend recently, staying at Bali Breezes, an establishment not previously experienced but, under the watchful eye of Pak Ketut helped out by Pak Nyoman and Ni Nyoman, is a delightful pension-style accommodation that offers stand-alone villas, some with swimming pools, at very reasonable rates. It was the first time we’d stayed at the Pengosetan end of town and we were pleasantly surprised to find Jl Pengosetan itself a resort for those seeking both retail therapy and comfortable digs.
    Among the nearby pleasures is the ARMA museum and gallery and of course ARMA Café, where the espresso is first class and – on a very cool and blowy afternoon – the potato soup is a must.
    Ubud was buzzing with tourists and (unfortunately) awash with huge buses that would block a German autobahn, never mind an Ubud street. Why such monsters are allowed anywhere near a narrow defile is one of the many mysteries of Balinese public policy.
    But never mind.  The Hectormobile, a venerable Feroza who answers to the name Francesca, or informally Franny, manages to squeeze into – and through – many small spaces that alarm both visiting passengers and Mrs Hector. Having learned to drive in London and honed these skills with exposure to the delights of such European traffic-friendly megacities as Rome and Paris, Hector finds Bali’s traffic problems placed in a very reasonable perspective; we’d  choose Simpang Siur over Trafalgar Square any time and tiny Ubud is a doddle compared with Barcelona on a busy day. Australians who intone “Sheeze!” at our traffic should remember that at home they have the privilege of driving conditions that if they only knew it are the envy of the world.

Oh, Yum!

We dined one Ubud night at Café des Artistes in Jl Bisma. It’s not to be missed, and not only because of its commodious off-street parking. The cheese and fruit platter from the dessert menu as an entree shared by three was a delight, especially since it included Bali’s own sharp little black grapes. The party then went on to delicious steaks (in two cases) and a spicy grilled chicken breast for the third diner. A half-litre carafe of house Shiraz helped out.
     The restaurant was very busy and this was good, because it provided a fine field of view of the eclectic mix of patrons – locally based and visitors – and their habits. The art of surreptitious observation is a fine skill to acquire. It makes dining out, for example, such conversational fun.
     This practice occasionally gets Hector into trouble; though never with those whose astonishing behaviour and manners becomes the subject of comment. Corrective imprecations are sometimes heard from Mrs Hector, but these are generally ignored. This leads to further trouble of course, but sport is, well, sport, and cannot be denied.

Monkey’s Uncle

There was an amusing little incident one lunchtime when Hector, who had elected to remain at home at Bali Breeze with his laptop computer rather than shuffle round the shops, arrived at the designated eating point ahead of the shopping party.
    Advising the attentive waitperson (a decorous and smiling young woman) at the Three Monkeys in Jl Monkey Forest – where else? – that he was joining two ladies for lunch and would look for them among the tables, she propelled him towards one nearby at which sat a delicious young lady and said: “This one?”
    She was Russian, possibly, so may not have understood the smiling “I’m so sorry” offered in apology by your embarrassed scribe. But perhaps the body language told the story.
    The shopping party arrived shortly thereafter, thankfully, meaning that Hector could cease pretending to commune with the Koi in the restaurant’s decorative fishpond and turn his full attention to the business of the moment.   Which turned out to be a nicely minted spinach ravioli.

Eat Up, Help Out

We’ll have to miss two not-to-be-missed events (being off-island is a reasonable excuse but it’s a shame) – a UNICEF fundraiser on August 13 at the Westin at Nusa Dua, of which the Bali Advertiser is a sponsor, and the ROLE dinner at the Ayana on August 11.
    Bali’s plush international hotels are seen by some at the “radical” end of the observer market as somehow being blots on the landscape. This is of course rubbish. They all run very good social and community development programmes (and employ many Balinese who mightn’t otherwise have jobs) and deserve public acknowledgement for this.
    The Westin event, Spirit of a Champion, features a performance of Wushu, Barongsai (the Chinese Lion Dance), Pencak Silat as well as Capoeira. It’s at the Nusa Indah Hall at the Bali International Convention Centre. An introduction class to Wushu will be available on the afternoon before the show.
     This event is in conjunction with the UNICEF Check Out for Children fundraising programme that the Westin and other Starwood hotels and resorts are supporting. Starwood has been working for 16 years to raise funds for the world’s most vulnerable children – Titin Rohayati at the Westin Nusa Dua tells us more than $7 million Australian (approaching US$8 million at today’s exchange rates) has been raised since the programme began.
    The money is garnered through a staff fundraising competition between Starwood Hotels in the Asia Pacific region which began in 2003. Last year Starwood staff in the Asia Pacific region raised more than US$132,000 in the UNICEF Check out for Children Challenge. Under the programme the money to date has been used to immunise thousands of children against the major childhood diseases: diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, polio, measles, childhood tuberculosis and hepatitis B.
    Now the programme is focusing on helping UNICEF education projects throughout the Asia Pacific. The impact of a child’s education is long-lasting because children of educated mothers are 50 percent more likely to survive beyond their fifth birthdays than those whose mothers didn’t get a chance to go to school. Money raised will help UNICEF build and improve school facilities; provide quality teacher training in impoverished areas and essential school supplies;  help children return to schools after emergencies with “School-in-a-box” kits; provide teaching programmes for ethnic minority areas; and communicate awareness of gender and health issues in schools.
     Tickets for the show cost Rp50.000 and the introduction to Wushu class plus the show costs Rp75,000. They are available through the Westin (call 08113802975 or 0361 77 1906 ext 6420 or email
     The Ayana event on August 11 is a charity dinner – it’s dubbed ROLE Models – that follows a 10-week hospitality training course in partnership with the ROLE Foundation undertaken by seven disadvantaged students who have no formal schooling and most of whom were illiterate before they joined ROLE's vocational training programme.
    They are now learning basic serving skills from AYANA's senior managers and trainers, with the aim of eventually securing long-term employment in the hotel industry. Their training includes setting tables, pouring drinks, serving meals, taking orders and clearing plates.
    At the August 11 event they will serve “real” guests for the first time, supported by AYANA's trainers. The menu at the Rp500,000 a head dinner sounds inviting: Muara fish salad with pickled roots sour sauce; Keluwak beef soup with ginger and chilli; grilled chicken with red curry sauce, vegetables and pandan rice; and crispy banana fritter with mungbean Javanese ice cream.
    All proceeds from the dinner go to the ROLE Foundation. Check out their website at

Ah So

News that All Nippon Airlines (ANA) and AirAsia have signed up to a cooperative deal that next year will bring AirAsia Japan into regional skies is good to hear. The new airline proposes to fly both internally in Japan and to regional destinations and might, in the fullness of time, produce a lift in the number of Japanese travellers to our shores.
    They’ve been scarcer of late than they should be, for all sorts of reasons, not all of them connected with the withdrawal of Japan Air Lines from the Bali route. But they’re fun, as well as well mannered, and they add a lot of value to the dining experience at Japanese restaurants here. 

National Flag Day

We’ll miss Independence Day this year, which is a pity, because we like to be here for Indonesia’s official birthday and also to win the informal competition in our street to see who gets the flag up first. We’ve won two years running, with a bright and clean Merah Putih (it only comes out once a year) firmly tied to a nice straight bit of bamboo pole that resides for the period in a custom-made cradle, a length of grey PVC piping that was probably souvenired from somewhere by our handyman, known to us from his sterling performance on our behalf as Mr Maybe.
    On August 17 we’ll be in Scotland where, in these devolved pre-Disunited Kingdom days, the fine white saltire of the St Andrew’s Cross is everywhere seen fluttering proudly on its field of dark blue.

Hector's Diary appears in the Bali Advertiser, out fortnightly, and on the newspaper's website

Thursday, August 04, 2011

HECTOR'S DIARY The Bali Advertiser (July 27, 2011)

Doing Without the Wicked Witch Bank

We hear from the organisers of the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival – it’s on October 5-9 this year – that everything’s going ahead even though Citibank is no longer the major cash sponsor. (It seems Citibank may have overspent on their own credit card; let’s hope they have a convincing repayment plan to put to their outsourced delinquent accounts collectors.) That’s good, as we’ve noted before. The litfest should be supported by everyone; it’s a really great idea.
    So, according to a statement UWRF put out recently, the 2011 bash will be better than ever, with even more Indonesian writer participation. Last year founder and chief eminence Janet DeNeefe announced with a flourish that Citibank was the festival’s three-year naming sponsor (apparently on the basis of an unsigned email from someone at the bank). This year she’s been banging on some fairly deaf doors as a result of Citibank’s little accident on the way to a collection.
    More than 110 writers from more than 20 countries are on the books for a starting place this year, on the theme Cultivate the Land Within. Confirmed authors include Alexander McCall Smith, Alice Sebold, Alberto Manquel, DBC Pierre, Junot Diaz, Paul Kelly, Tim Flannery, Alex Miller, Izzeldin Abuelaish, Andrea Hirata, Tariq Ali, Glen David Gold, Benjamin Law, Putu Wijaya, Juan Gabriel Vasquez, Corinne Grant, Peta Mathias, the Cambodian Space Project – and the Diary’s personal favourite, Trinity the naked traveller.
     Programme director Melissa Delaney says the full list of writers will be announced in August. These and other details are available, or will be, on the festival website at, and via Facebook and Twitter.
     DeNeefe says that despite Citibank’s withdrawal UWRF will present yet another world‐class dynamic event and that “overwhelming support from readers and writers alike” has given a huge surge of optimism to the festival team. That’s good. But it’s no substitute for a business plan you can actually bank on.

Spirited Effort

While on the subject of Ubud and festivals, make a note in your diaries: Next year’s BaliSpirit Festival — billed by the spirited Meghan Pappenheim and others as South East Asia’s premier
yoga, dance, and live music event – will be held from March 28-April 1.
    The five-day-and-night event, now entering its fifth year, offers more than 100 workshops, convenes dozens of top international yoga and dance instructors and world class musicians, and attracts several hundred guests from all over the world.
     Among those presenters scheduled to appear at the 2012 BaliSpirit Festival are renowned figures
in their fields such as Danny Paradise (Ashtanga Yoga and Shamanism); Vinn Marti (Soul Motion Dance); Mark Whitwell (Heart of Yoga); and Carlos Pomeda (Meditation/Tantra Yoga).
     “We offer something for everybody, and every year the festival atmosphere only gets better,” says Pappenheim, the festival’s co-founder and producer. “I believe it’s the magic and beauty of Bali that enhances the festival experience.”
     When we spoke to Pappenheim last week she was in Singapore – the Diary loves the New Serenissima: all the traffic stays in its clearly marked lanes and stops at red lights – where no doubt there are opportunities to promote the festival. She says the 2012 festival will feature Indonesian and Balinese culture and art; world music concerts and collaborations; workshops for many interests – and a new bamboo reforestation project among other programmes for the socially aware.

Happy Appointment

In yet another sign of the indelibly beneficial links between Indonesia and Australia, Murdoch University in Perth, Western Australia, has just appointed Indonesia’s ambassador in Canberra, Primo Alui Joelianto, as an honorary professor. The appointment recognises the ambassador’s personal commitment to Indonesia-Australia relations and support’s Murdoch’s mission in Indonesian studies, Bahasa Indonesia, and a strong research capacity.
    Joelianto gave a lecture at the university on July 21 to mark his appointment. His topic was Indonesia’s Foreign Policy and Australia-Indonesia Bilateral Relations. He certainly brought some formidable intellect and knowledge to that task – before his Canberra appointment, in 2009, he was director general Asia Pacific and Africa in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He was previously director of East Asia and Pacific Affairs.
    Murdoch University’s professor of South East Asian studies, Professor David T Hill, heads the university’s Centre for Asian Studies and is on the board of the Australia-Indonesia Institute. Earlier this year the university hosted a workshop on the future of Indonesian studies in Australian universities.

It’s B(ad)

The Diary has a lovely young friend who lives in Jakarta and keeps us up to speed with events in the Big Durian that actually affect real people rather than just the elite. You know, the sort of stuff that generally fails to rate a mention from the politically rich and religiously powerful whose views are sought on a whole lot of things and which are reported ad nauseam. We met on Facebook and now commune regularly via instant message but – other than on webcam – have yet to meet face to face.
    All of which is by the way, except that she recently travelled home to Lampung in Sumatra for her brother’s wedding and tried – as we had agreed – to make contact from there.  Her first go was hardly a success. Her text said:  “Service here is b”.
    The full but regrettably truncated word was “bad” and the veracity of her report completely self-explanatory.

Alila Delight

Alila Villas Soori on the Tabanan coast, the plush boutique resort which benefits from the public relations skills of the delightful Devina Hindom, had a wine dinner on July 23 which it would have been lovely to attend. The Diary, however, is determinedly self-drive (we prefer to have our own accidents) and while a round trip might have been feasible with just OJ in the middle, it would be suicidal to attempt it accompanied by the inevitable results of exposure to real wine. So we didn’t go.
    Should we come into a more than modest inheritance and have the sort of cash required, we might try it sometime, though. Chef Ashton Hall’s ingredient-driven cuisine, a prime al fresco dining ambience at Cotta restaurant, and a decorous real wine or three would really be rather nice.
    Alila has another treat available. Its current artist in residence, Gregory Burns, has an exhibition of paintings at the resort until August 3 and is also offering classes for anyone who fancies adding gifted amateur to their CV.

Just a Thought

We’re in the middle of some enervating annual bureaucracy here at The Cage, a chore that sometimes detracts from enjoyment of the Bukit views and ocean seascape that are among the many delightful features of our des res. It so happened that this coincided with the unsought arrival in the in-box of some promotional puffery from a property developer in Malaysia.
    It was spruiking expatriate housing – apparently in Kuching, Sarawak, which would not be our primary choice as a place in which to while away a genteel retirement – but was interesting for its enumeration of the benefits of the MM2H programme run by the government of Malaysia. It stands for Malaysia My Second Home.
    Hey, those guys actually want expatriates to go to live there! You can buy freehold property in your own name. You automatically get multiple exit re-entry permits with your annual visa (and automatic permanent residence after five years). You don’t need a nominee. You can take your household goods and chattels with you free of import duty. And a quality global standard internet connection costs you about a third of what you pay here for a service that drops out at will and otherwise runs like a dead donkey. 
    Still, it’s not Bali.

Europe Calls

By the time you’re reading the next Hector’s Diary we’ll be in Europe. We’re going to Scotland on family business (the clan’s got to get it together sometime) and then on to Budapest to check on the summer flow level in the Danube. (That is, as it relates to the by-product of the fermented grape juice available in the city’s many wine bars.)
     But don’t be alarmed. We’re not doing a runner and we do know, unlike others lately scratched from our address book, that you have to be here to write about Bali. It’s not a permanent relocation. And we’ll be looking forward to getting home.

Holy Month

The Diary is blessed to have many Muslim friends. With Ramadan starting on August 1, we say to them all: Kul ’am wa enta bi-khair (May every year find you in good health).

The Diary appears in the Bali Advertiser in print and in the e-paper. Visit  Hector blogs here and is on Facebook (Hector McSquawky) and Twitter (@Scratchings).