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

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