Thursday, September 22, 2011

HECTOR’S DIARY in the Bali Advertiser, September 21, 2011

Literary Moments

On its first reading, 50 years ago, Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage struck your diarist as an immensely clever narrative and its chief character – he is not the hero of the tale by any stretch – Philip Carey as a vaguely annoying young man. At that time your diarist was a vaguely annoying young man himself.
     Now, via the new world of Kindle, a second reading is being attempted.  This is a hard task because in the intervening half century Philip, who is possibly as selfish as Madame Bovary, has turned into an absolute wretch; a crucible of indecision;  a fulcrum of foolishness. Where, before, you could (albeit barely) sympathise with the young man’s obsession with Mildred Rodgers, or at least understand it, now you can’t. The fellow’s an idiot.
    Of course, on that first reading all those years ago, faint echoes remained of the English world of (then) 50 years before that Maugham sought to describe. There was still an essential civility about things in the 1950s. The empire was but newly dead – its corpse barely stiffened, you could say – and there remained some certitude upon which one could fix one’s gaze while hoping for the best.
    This is no longer the case. England is now run by Mildred Rodgers’s.  Wastrels like Philip Carey have disappeared and have been replaced by a “good-thinking” class of very dubious provenance. One supposes Maugham might be rolling in his grave to think of this.
    But never mind, he still tells a good story.

Bank on it (Again)

This year’s Ubud Writers and Readers Festival (October 6-9) was thrown a life-ring on September 1 when PT ANZ Panin Bank – the Indonesian subsidiary of the big Australian bank – fronted up with lots of naming-sponsor money. We can all be glad of that, because the UWRF is now an institution as well as a perennial calendar date and it does a marvellous job of reflecting Indonesian writing to the world as well as bringing international literary interest here.
    ANZ is justly reputed for its support of the cultural and sporting world. It backs Australia’s famed Archibald prize (for portrait art), the Royal Flying Doctor Service and the Australian Open tennis. Its commitment to commensurate levels of sponsorship here, through Panin, is very welcome indeed.
    UWRF director and founder Janet de Neefe said in her September 1 announcement:  “On the eve of launching what we believe is our most enthralling and inspirational programme ever, we take great heart from knowing that ANZ, our newest and most generous sponsor, shares our aim to make a positive difference in people’s lives.”
    Last year’s festival was sponsored by Citibank in a deal promoted as a three-year naming-rights arrangement, though apparently this was on the basis of an unsigned email. Ah well, this is Bali.
    Citibank then ran into a few little difficulties with grand theft within its precincts and revelations that its outsourced credit card debt collection service left rather a lot to be desired, since in one instance it converted a defaulting account into a deceased account.
    Perhaps unsurprisingly, it later pulled the pin on the UWRF. Now that ANZ has filled the breach – in a rather more generous way, we understand – De Neefe and her fellow fiestanistas at Ubud can probably allow themselves two sighs of relief. One for the money and the other for the departure of a sponsor whose public image is perhaps not quite in line with the festival’s preferred position on literature, social responsibility, and several other things.
     De Neefe said:  “This is a happy, happy day for this, our eighth Festival. When our 2010 naming rights sponsor defaulted at almost the eleventh hour, we were devastated, but determined that Indonesia’s premier literary event would go ahead untarnished and proud.”
    ANZ’s local CEO, Joseph Abraham, said of the deal: "We are pleased to support the ANZ Ubud Writers & Readers Festival, rated as one of the world’s top six literary festivals. The festival also enables us to show our support for Bali and the development of Indonesian literature and culture. It is also a great proposition for our customers, especially our retail customers and credit card holders," stated Joseph Abraham, ANZ CEO Indonesia.
    Visit for full details of UWRF2011’s programme of events.

Good Works

Those among us who do good works in support of the Balinese community are being very active at the moment. On September 23 Christina Iskandar and others are staging Heartstrings, an artistic showcase by the children of the YPAC centre for the handicapped. It’s at newly refurbished Warisan restaurant in Seminyak.
    The event is sure to be fun – especially since we understand that Bali’s dishiest spruiker, Diana Shearin, is emceeing – and those who fork out Rp450K for the set menu dinner will do so in the knowledge that a portion of those proceeds will go to YPAC. There are other entertainments involved, including an hour-long cocktails and canapés session, further fundraising efforts, and entertainment later by special guest stars Ozlem and Andy, Jasmin Suteja and Lisa Soul and Band.
   Fund-raising of a more energetic kind has been set for September 22-25 with a four-day barefoot walk – the first Bukit Walk for a Sustainable Future. The ROLE Foundation and SoleMen have joined forces to support children and women’s education and Bali’s environment.
    SoleMen Robert Epstone, Daniel Chieppa with his Balinese wife Yatna, and Beat Schmid de Gruneck will walk barefoot a circuit that will take them around the Bukit peninsula. During the event they will visit the Bali Life Foundation orphanage on the Bukit and a non-profit waste management project, Eco Surf Rescue Uluwatu.
    During the walk, ROLE Foundation hopes to attract new students. ROLE has invited unskilled women from the Bukit area to sign-up to its free education programme with courses in literacy and vocational skills training.
    The Bukit Walk for a Sustainable Future starts from ROLE’s Town Leaning Centre in Jl Siligita at Nusa Dua on Thursday, September 22, and passes through Ungasan, Pecatu, Uluwatu, Padang Padang, Dreamland and Jimbaran. The final leg includes Tanjung Benoa and Nusa Dua and ends with a children’s fun day at ROLE’s Eco-Learning Park at Sawangan on Sunday, September 25.
     ROLE was founded by Michael O’Leary in 2007. It is a registered charity in Indonesia.

Set for a Scrum

The rugby world cup is in full swing, which we expect will shortly create some difficulties at The Cage since we are to host an old and dear friend visiting from Australia. No problem there, but this fellow has remained a New Zealand citizen, which is also not a problem unless rugby is involved. We expect some interesting exchanges as the competition progresses.
     In Bali, of course, we have our own rugby completion. The 2011 XP Xclusive Property Bali Rugby Fest is on at the Canggu Club over the weekend (September 24-25) organised by the Bali Rugby Club. As before the competition is in three divisions: Open Men's 10's; Indonesian Men's 7's (Incorporating the Indonesian National 7's championship); and Open Women's 7's.
    It might not quite match the shenanigans in New Zealand, but it’s always fun. Details are available from the Bali Rugby Club.

Diary Date

Don’t forget the Bali Pink Ribbon Walk. The annual trot-out is being held on October 23 to raise awareness of breast cancer. There’s a bazaar, music and entertainment, an auction and raffle, children’s activities – and spa cabins and food stalls provided by leading hotels in the Nusa Dua and Tanjung Benoa areas.
     There’s a modest registration fee for the event, which starts from in front of the BTDC office at Nusa Dua. And you get a free T shirt. Hector’s a starter.
     Details are available from the Bali International Women’s Association. They’re on Facebook and the web.

He Said It

Former Australian prime minister John Howard issued a statement after the death in mid-September of former Liberal minister and long-serving federal MP David Jull, who made a name for himself in many worthy ways during his political career but is mostly remembered, by those who keep a tally of demerits, as the minister who had to resign early in the Howard years for not knowing some of his colleagues were rorting entitlements. It was an embarrassment for the then new PM.
     Here’s what Howard said: "He was a widely liked MP who enjoyed friendships across party divides. Janette and I extend our sympathy to his family and many friends, who will miss him greatly."
    Jull, a bon vivant and well known to Hector in his former political years, was 66. He died of cancer.

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

Thursday, September 08, 2011


These are some thoughts I contributed for a celebration of the life of Jan Fletcher, my friend, held in Brisbane, Queensland, on September 8, 2011.

Jan and I developed a close working relationship in the Queensland Opposition Office between 1998 and 2002, when I left the building. She was an indispensible part of the operation there, truly the keeper of the keys – and of all sorts of documents including policy documents that we should probably all have memorised minutely and hadn’t. Jan had all the answers and if – and this was rare – she didn’t, she’d say so. She was in every sense the most valuable colleague you could have.
     I didn’t know much about Jan’s personal life. I did come across her husband Ian from time to time. He seemed to be playing the role of corporate spouse on most of those occasions and I sympathised, having had years of experience of the same phenomenon after my wife, Lea Crombie, left daily journalism and joined the arcane world of corporate relations. It can be trying, attempting to look interested and yet not too interested, lest those among whom you are circulating in a sort of tolerated way begin to think you might know more than you should! Emma (Jan's daughter) I knew by repute. She was one subject on which Jan would never be silent.
    All of us have our favourite memories of Jan. Mine flow from a delightful corporate practice that we developed, she and I, which involved visiting a number of wining and dining establishments in Albert Street (in Brisbane's CBD). We would repair to one or other of these from time to time – not too frequently, since you ask! – and set about the business of intensive policy discussion.
    When we left these little soirees we were each convinced that we had solved all the world’s problems, not to mention those of the Queensland opposition. It was always a nasty shock to discover on returning to the office we hadn’t, or that someone, known or – worse – unknown, had in our absence created new ones.
    Those little excursions were a great time of laughter and fun, as well as for serious chatting. They weren’t all beer and skittles. In fact, I don’t think we ever had a beer. As well as a workplace and a political conviction, Jan and I shared a deep love for that nicely matured fermented grape juice you used to find in good quality bottles with corks in them. I think we would have benefited from the modern practice of screw-tops.
    Jan was my friend. No – IS my friend. Times change; people move on; sometimes, sadly, they pass away. But the good ones are never forgotten.

Jan Fletcher died, of cervical cancer, on August 30.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

HECTOR'S DIARY in the Bali Advertiser, September 7, 2011

Put Budapest on Your Liszt

Hungary’s capital city, the city of Liszt and Theodore Herzl, is a great place to visit. There’s not a lot of money around, but it’s surprisingly well served by public transport and, give or take a former communist scowl or two from people still employed (in most cases astonishingly) in the oversized state enterprise sector. And it’s peopled largely by citizens who like to smile.
    They have good reason to, even if the week we spent there was hideously hot, as inland south-eastern Europe can be in summer. The coffee houses are full of locals, the restaurants – apart from in the tourist rip-off strip – likewise, and there is a surprising amount of visible history around even if the Russians, Americans and British competed heavily with the retreating Germans during the bloody endgame of World War II to obliterate the former co-capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
    Portions of the city were rebuilt in period style. Others were given over to communist-era blocks of flats that offend the eye as well as the conscience. But the city centre and the Danube littoral have a pleasant ambience that is very far from the sterility of Vienna, say, or other western European cities. Budapest isn’t a western European city in either geographic placement or mindset. And that’s what makes it such a lovely place to take a break.
    There’s even an Indonesian Trade Promotion Office for anyone with business on their mind.

Hussars and Horse’s Doovers

It was St Stephen’s Day while we were in Budapest, named for the king (Istvan) who formally embraced Christianity in the eleventh century and whose day, August 20, was the Saint’s day until the 17th century. On August 20 Hungary celebrates its national pride with some military overtones – flypasts and the like, and a display of military hardware past and present at Heroes Square where the six Magyar chieftains who brought their people from central Asia to the Hungarian plains in the ninth century look on with the impassive nature of the statues they are. Above them sits the mythical Turun, the huge bird that legend says guided the Magyar people – Huns – to their new home.
     The best bit, from the Diary’s perspective, was when on our morning walk that day, sitting at an Andrassy Street coffee house having a mid-perambulation restorative caffeine shot, a marching band (of comely young ladies twirling sticks and doing little jigs), a band playing Germanic marching music, some veterans in similarly highly Germanic uniforms, and a half troop of Hussars trotted past on their way to Heroes square.
     Despite the historic connotations of the event, it was accompanied by every modern convenience. An ambulance idled along behind the mounted hussars, lest one should fall and injure himself (or herself – there were two lady hussars present).
    And bringing up the rear were two wash-and-wipe appliances of the city sanitation department, tasked with removing any unfortunate equine deposits.
     We drank our coffee quickly and followed them up the avenue. The tail-end sweepers were kept very busy.

Home Base

Budapest has the full range of accommodation options that you’d expect of any major city, but we chose to stay at a lovely up-market (and up five flights of stairs) B&B called the Kapital Inn. It was just off Andrassy Street in the central city area. Paris has a close match for Andrassy. It’s called the Champs Elysees.
    The Kapital was capital for many reasons – including the breakfast omelettes provided by Albert, its excellent host – and was conveniently close to a metro station. The Diary prefers to amble, since this provides much rich street-scene material and access to the frequent coffee houses, but the metro was useful on many occasions when Budapest’s unusual August heat became a tad de trop.
    Albert’s establishment is truly a home away from home for visitors. It rates six Hector stars.

Eat, Drink and...

Well, practically anything, really. Budapest is a city where sybarites of any class and every disposition never need to suffer deprivation syndrome.  The Diary doesn’t do low-life, except in the Jeffrey Bernard sense, but that’s available for those who do.  We do food though, and there’s plenty of that. Nothing much beats a cinnamon ice cream and an espresso as a late-night walk home treat, either.
    We went one day to the Faust Borpince cellars under the Hilton Hotel on Castle Hill on the Buda side of the Danube, for a decorous wine tasting and some little Hungarian savoury scones. It was a perfect substitute for lunch.
    The cellar is a proper wine cave underground in the UNESCO World Heritage-listed remains of the Dominican monastery that once was on the site. Around 80 Hungarian wines are available for tasting along with some 30 Palinkas (distilled spirits).
     We left the spirits alone because we had to walk home to the Pest side afterwards.

Side Trip

We treated ourselves to a long lunch in Vienna one day. It’s a two-hour-fifty-minute train trip each way – though without any border crossing formalities since both Austria and Hungary are Schengen states – which makes it a very long lunch indeed.
    But it was definitely worth it. We found a lovely little Beisl in Stiftgasse in the Museum district which offered both a great menu and wine list and a cool, leafy arbour in which to spend a few hours eating and drinking. And it was only a two-stop trip on the Metro back to Wesbahnhof for the Railjet train back to Budapest afterwards.
    If you’re in Vienna, drop in at Amerlingbeisl. The food was so good we quite forgot to have a strudel.

Take a Bath

It’s a must-do in Budapest, where a tradition of communal bathing on the Turkish model long ago emerged as one of the better gifts of the Ottoman experience. It’s not for everyone – and especially for people whose home is Bali and for whom discreet massage and spa treatment is an established personal tradition – but it is immensely popular with Hungarians and most tourists.
     We visited the Széchenyi baths in the Városliget park at the end of Andrassy, just past Heroes Square. There are others you may visit, but Széchenyi is best for couples since mixed bathing is always available there. At other places there’s a roster most days.
     It was crowded (it was a hot day) but the thermal pool we chose, the 39C cauldron, had plenty of spare water space for newcomers. The recommended 20 minutes maximum was all we wanted, however.

Transports of Delight

Visitors from Indonesia would be amazed at the range of public transport available in Budapest, and at the smooth and on-schedule way it runs. There’s a Metro system – Budapest pioneered this in continental Europe – that is being expanded, an extensive light rail (tram) network, and trolley-buses and buses as well as a suburban railway network. Around 60 percent of people use public transport in Budapest.
     What also caught our eye, as well as our fancy, was the way traffic stops at pedestrian crossings (try that in Bali!) and gives way at intersections.  It stops at red lights and doesn’t go again until the lights are green. And drivers manage to stay in lane. And all this even on narrow side streets. Next time a legislative committee is looking at transport regulations, it could usefully schedule a trip to Budapest to see how it can be done.

Prodigal’s Return

Our remaining lost luggage – one of two suitcases that fell victim to the incompetent vagaries of Paris CDG airport or some other travel demon – finally found a way to be reunited with us on our last day in Scotland by which time, with Budapest the next stop, the warm clothing it contained was rather redundant.
    Well, we say it found us. Actually we found it, since we had to drive to Edinburgh airport to get it. This was irritating because we had provided full address and telephone details for delivery. It was also irritating to find that the case had been opened, though in the absence of an official sticker to this effect we think not by customs. Some items were missing and others were broken because whoever opened it didn’t bother to re-connect the internal straps.
    Two lessons from this: Do not give lost luggage at Budapest airport the access code to get into your case; and, if at all possible, even on a longer trip, travel with carry-on baggage only.

Welcome Home

We like travelling but it’s always good to get home, and it was especially the case this trip because on September 1 Ganesha Gallery at Four Seasons Jimbaran opened a new exhibition of works by Balinese painter Wayan Kun Adnyana, entitled Body Theatre.
     The Bangli-born painter explores the immense capacity for cross-fertilisation of cultures provided by Bali’s unique role as a crucible in which ancient Hindu religious and social precepts blend with imported Western values.
     He’s been on the art scene since 1966 and has published numerous articles and books and organised several major exhibitions. His work displays a deep knowledge of human anatomy.
     The exhibition is on until October 3.

Hector's Diary appears in the Bali Advertiser's fortnightly print edition and on the newspaper's website