Tuesday, December 27, 2011

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Dec 28, 2011

A Beautiful Mind

Only the brightest get to Balliol, the cream of Oxford colleges. Christopher Hitchens, the British polemicist whose writing and advocacy put him at the forefront of political, social, religious and scientific debate, and who died in December (far too early at 62) was one of them and is a figure who will be sadly missed. His atheism angered many critics – one cannot imagine why, since if there is any existence after death Hitchens will now have proved himself wrong, though in common with all who have gone before he won’t be back to tell us about it – and his politics many others.
     Christopher Buckley, a friend and argument-foil of 30 years, wrote in a blog note on The Atlantic magazine site (Hitchens wrote for the magazine for years after moving to America in the late 1970s, saying later he jumped the pond because Britain was “like Weimar without the sex”) that Hitchens was “a feast of reason and a flow of soul, and, if the author of God Is Not Great did not himself believe in the concept of soul, he sure had one, and it was a great soul.”
     The television channel Al Jazeera posted some memorable quotes from Hitchens as part of its reportage of his death, including this one: “[George W. Bush] is lucky to be governor of Texas. He is unusually incurious, abnormally unintelligent, amazingly inarticulate, fantastically uncultured, extraordinarily uneducated, and apparently quite proud of all these things.”
      Hitchens said this in 1999, a year before Bush became US President. In 2003 Hitchens was a staunch supporter of the US-led invasion of Iraq.  He later railed against waterboarding, a torture technique favoured – until rightly banned – by the US military.
      He wrote 17 books, including The Trial of Henry Kissinger, God is Not Great, and a memoir, Hitch-22 (he was Hitch to his friends). His final publication of a collection of his essays, Arguably, was released this year.          
     It was perhaps apt – it is certainly poignant – that in the month of Hitchens’ death astronomers confirmed the existence of an Earth-like planet in the “habitable zone” around a star not unlike our own. The planet, Kepler 22-b, lies about 600 light-years away, is about 2.4 times the size of Earth, and has a temperature of about 22C (despite global warmists’ alarms, Earth’s mean surface temperature is still around 15C,where it’s been during the whole galactic nanosecond since homo sapiens discovered how to measure it).
     Kepler 22-b – named for the space telescope that is busy spotting distant parts of the neighbourhood – is the closest confirmed planet yet to one like Earth: a planet on which it is conceivable that advanced intelligent life could occur; such as, say, a life of Hitch.

Sun Don’t Shine

We tweet on Twitter (@Scratchings if you’re interested) to a select few who have chosen to follow Hector’s ephemeral flight paths and were thus pleased to see the other day that something called the Bali Sun – though its website and Twitter page call it Bali The Sun – had elected to follow us. It’s nice to have followers. No former leader writer should be without them.
     That day, there were only two tweets on its Twitter page. Both said it was an on-line tourist papper (sic). It’s “about us” page on its website was similarly uninformative. The single entry there said its popularity was 5 percent. It didn’t say what it was 5 percent popular with, but we couldn’t ask because the website doesn’t say who’s in charge.
     It is said that if you can’t say anything nice then don’t say anything at all. But diarists couldn’t possibly survive under such restrictive rules of engagement. A far better rule is that if something pops its head up above the parapet, shoot at it.
     Perhaps the Bali Sun will shine one day. But it will need to put a few more additions (oops, silly, we must mean editions) up on its site before any illuminating flashes of light reach us from the heavens.
     Speaking of illuminating moments, the other day we inadvertently bought a week-old copy of another local newspaper, the Bali Times. We’d parked outside a Circle K so the Distaff could negotiate some laundry next door and thought we’d better drop in to buy something at the convenience store, just to show goodwill. It was two days after the new edition should have been on the shelves, but sadly we weren’t paying attention and forked out Rp10K for an old fish-and-chip wrapper instead of a new one.
     It wasn’t all wasted effort, though. The Times, which continues to assert that it reveals the real Bali all the way from distant Ireland, turns out to be still on its inexplicable vendetta against the British novelist Will Self, whom, granted, some regard as tendentious and tedious, not to mention far too far up himself. Some time ago it reported “Man Throws Self off Cliff,” which surprised us no end because we had no idea he was even on the island. In the edition of the paper we just inadvertently bought is a story with this headline:  “Man Sets Self Alight Outside State Palace.” (He must have recovered from his Uluwatu plunge and gone to Jakarta.)
     Clearly someone’s out to get poor Will. We didn’t think his densely fantastical piece de resistance, Great Apes, was that bad. But should he be planning further Indonesian trips, he might consider doing so under an assumed name. We’d considered proposing Safe, since that suggests a measure of surety against unfortunate incident. But no, that wouldn’t do. The Bali Times would just report that robbers had blown him up.

She’s Our Hero

Robin Lim, who operates the Bumi Sehat foundation that provides health care and maternity and prenatal care to women in Bali who might otherwise not get it, was deservedly named CNN Hero of the Year 2011 this month, selected from among 10 finalists. She got US$250,000 for her win, having already received $50,000 for making it onto the finalists’ list.
     Lim is truly a hero.  She said at the awards (in Los Angeles on December 11): “Every baby's first breath on Earth could be one of peace and love. Every mother should be healthy and strong. Every birth could be safe and loving. But our world is not there yet.”
     Hear! Hear!

Kindling Thought

We had a lovely dinner party recently. Two people we got to know from their business activities but who are now friends – he’s a real estate broker, she is manicurist to the Distaff – joined us at The Cage for a western meal with Asian flavours, judged sufficiently Halal for mild Muslims, with background music by iPod, Hector’s  latest toy. He’s very proud of the playlists he has managed to create from a mix of iTunes and burned CDs and is in danger of becoming quite boring about it all.
     Amid the evening ambience – The Cage sports a sort of deep crimson light-pool at night, courtesy of some table lamps that inevitably propel one’s thoughts towards the more classy among Parisian and Chinese brothels (Hector is not at all unhappy about this) – talk turned among other things to the developing world of ebooks and specifically to the Kindles now on the inventory at our house.
     It will be great when a far larger body of literature in Bahasa Indonesia is available in electronic books, especially since bookshops in Bali are seriously deficient at the sentient end of literature’s envelope.
     The Diary is at present rereading (though perhaps that should be e-reading) James Joyce’s 1922 novel Ulysses, a long-time favourite as well as the spark for that grand old pub-crawl, Bloomsday. (It’s on June 16 every year, but you need to keep in training year round.)
     It is particularly memorable for Joyce’s use of some lines from William Butler Yeats’ 1892 poem Who Goes with Fergus? They include these two lines, sage advice in any vicissitude:

      And no more turn aside and brood
     Upon love’s bitter mystery

Santa in Seminyak

We expect Santa is now taking his customary well-earned rest after the oh-so-busy pre-Christmas period he and the reindeer, not to mention the elves, have to endure each year. One of the many spots he dropped in on in Bali in the lead-up to Present Day was The Cornerstore in Jl Oberoi at Seminyak.
     That was on Saturday, December 17. Informant Sean Cosgrove told us the red-suited gent would be there from 9am to noon. We do hope the sleigh didn’t get held up in the traditional traffic jam that gridlocks Kuta-Legian-Seminyak on a permanent basis.

Animal Capers

Someone kindly alerted us to a list of the most popular dog names this year – OK, it was in New York, which is one very self-absorbed apple – which lists Bella as No. 1. Presumably that’s for lady dogs. The Diary’s personal favourite was way down the list, at No. 49. We don’t have a dog, but we’re always calling “Oreo.”
     Guess there’ll be a new list next year.
     That’ll be 2012, which from January 23 is the Year of the Dragon.  We’re just leaving the Year of the Rabbit, in which some among us have found that we have been the bunnies. It can only get better.
     Happy New Year!

Hector's Diary appears in the fortnightly print edition of the Bali Advertiser and on the newspaper's website www.baliadvertiser.biz

On Twitter: @Scratchings. On Facebook: Hector McSquawky

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

HECTOR'S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Dec. 14, 2011

Pep Talk Required

When Pepito Express opened on Jl Raya Uluwatu near GWK on the Bukit a couple of years ago, the occupants of The Cage along with many other nearby residents rushed its doors. Inside there was not only a good range of products often otherwise unobtainable in Bali shops, but also aisles down which one could progress without first having to become bulimic to fit. It was a treat.
     Sadly, and no doubt in search of immediate feet through the door rather than a steady build-up of high-spending local consumers, things have changed. The place has become a calling point for huge buses which disgorge crowds of confused and apparently impecunious Taiwanese and Korean tourists (they never seem to understand the marked price or have the right money). The aisles have been stuffed with convenience foods (seaweed snacks seem to loom large) and there is no longer room to wheel your trolley down them with even the vague hope that you might find a regular Oreo as well as your normal range of western consumer products.
     One evening recently when The Diary and Distaff called in on a substantial resupply mission the place was impossible. The aisles had assumed trade store dimensions (and the assorted obstacle courses of cardboard cartons that goes with this genre of shopping); the staff apparently had better things to do than look after customers; and the salad shelves were full of listlessly limp post-greens.
     We may just have hit them on a particularly bad night, but the result of this un-Pepito-like experience was that the facilities of our formerly favourite emporium much further away, Lotus on the bypass at Jimbaran, suddenly looked rather attractive again.

Leap Before You Look

One of the more engaging of the local habits is the practice of walking out into the traffic and signalling a sort of pelan-pelan (slowly-slowly) instruction to oncoming drivers and riders. It’s a way of getting across an otherwise virtually gridlocked road, certainly.
     In many ways it is not dissimilar to the happy habit in Hanoi, Vietnam, where pedestrians wishing to cross the most frenetic of roads (and worse, intersections) simply plunge into the mayhem and walk steadily and on a fixed course in their chosen direction. They are confident the ubiquitous motorcycles will miss them. The buses sometimes don’t, though that’s another matter.
     But (that essential codicil!) you have to know what you’re doing. It helps, too, to know where you’re going.  If you are unsure of either of these things, and especially if unsure of both, do not attempt to tempt the traffic.
     Near Ungasan crossroads the other day there was a lovely little incident. A chap in a vehicle – a Bule of course; no fists would have been raised otherwise – who was (un)happily crawling along at 10kmh in the lengthy line of traffic behind yet another defective and overloaded yellow truck, was horribly surprised when a passing local gent suddenly leaped from the footpath (sic), put up his hand, and walked out straight in front of him. The vehicle’s driver slammed on the anchors: It’s so much easier than finding out the idiot you’ve just nudged happens to have 5,000 cousins in the immediate vicinity.
     In true Bali fashion, the incident was locally viewed as entirely the fault of the Bule.  After all, if he hadn’t been on the island, he wouldn’t have been involved.

Jingle Belles

The Diary got a lovely invitation from jewellery designer Tricia Kim – we go back such a long way, she and we, all the way back to the 2009 Yak awards where we ran into each other upon the steps at the then new Cocoon and didn’t know each other from a bar of soap, something now pleasantly rectified – to attend the launch of her 2012 collection on December 7.
     It would have been delightful to be there, for Tricia’s svelte and energetic company through a relaxing afternoon, the new collection of course, and the afternoon tea including cupcakes (can’t resist them) and sandwiches along with mojitos. A complimentary mani-pedi available on a first come, first served basis would have been good too. The claws could do with a buffing.
     And then there was the venue: Di Astana Villa at Kerobokan (it’s in Jl Batu Belig on the way down to the beach there).
     Unfortunately we were in Ubud on other duties at the time and couldn’t make it. But we’ll catch up with the collection later.

No Need to Duck

Sakinah Nauderer, the decorative and delightfully enigmatic proprietor of Senggigi’s Asmara Restaurant – a place of fine resort when in Lombok – tells us her Christmas plans this year include no more rubbery local ducks. Imported turkey will fill that role (and a lot of tummies) this season.
     She plans a Christmas Brunch Buffet on the day itself, starting from 12 noon, and at 1.30pm the children’s gospel choir from Ampenan will entertain guests with appropriate vocals. This Christmas treat costs Rp175K for adults and Rp50K for children aged six to 12. If you’re under six, you don’t pay at all. There’s a lucky draw after the turkey and the choir.
     Here’s the menu: Welcome drink and bruchetta; creamy lobster soup; stuffed turkey with gravy and cranberry sauce (prawns are available for non-turkey-eaters); spiced red cabbage; cauliflower and broccoli cheese; potato croquettes and roast potatoes. Desserts on offer are cheesecake, apple pie and chocolate cake with whipped cream. There’s coffee and tea to follow if by then you’re not as stuffed as your turkey.

Cook Up

Janet DeNeefe’s new book collecting recipes and photos of Bali and just published by Pan Macmillan Australia has been snapped up by a keen cook in Australia who – naturally enough – read about it in The Diary. He tells us he’ll be trying out his personal top choice from the menus when next he arranges a candlelight dinner.
     After our original item in The Diary last issue, DeNeefe told us copies of her book (Bali: The Food of my Island Home) were a little scarce hereabouts. They were “still in Surabaya.” We sympathise. So much that should be cleared through the wharves and customs in no time flat instead finds itself in limbo as a result of that pernicious and endemic disease, Surabaya Syndrome.

Hill Town Daze

We took some very special visitors to Ubud recently – The Diary’s sister and her husband, who spent a week with us just out of the UK via Bangkok on their way to two months in Australia. The Diary is a Wayan – so is the Distaff, which occasionally creates problems of precedence – and the Brit Sis is a Made. All this was made clear over a gin and tonic or three.
    Ubud was its usual self: spiritual, quaint, eclectic and jammed with huge charabancs quite unsuitable for the little town’s streets. We stayed at Beji Ubud Resort at Sanggingan, where sadly, this time, the internet connection was rather below par; we dined one night at Café des Artistes, refreshed ourselves at The Three Monkeys (de rigueur for diarists who die for pumpkin ravioli and who are now looking forward to trying out the new T3M at Sanur) and did a few other eating and musical things, including the new-look Jazz Café. Oh yes, and we made sure we walked right past Naughty Nuri’s. We like a little elbow room with our eating experience rather more than we like the in-crowd.
    Sister Made was on her way to see our other sister (she’s a Nyoman; there’s a Ketut brother who lives in the USA) who long ago made the chilly choice to reside in Canberra, the country’s notional capital 600 metres above sea level  in the frankly frigid Southern Tablelands. The Diary worked in that fair city for some years, on a FIFO basis, and was always glad his office was in Parliament House. It always has a plentiful supply of hot air.
     The travelling sister’s Australian itinerary does include more sensible parts of the country, including tropical – and thus truly warm – Queensland.

Merry Christmas

Christmas has long since been a global retail opportunity, a celebration of consumerism and a far cry indeed from its origins in the Christian faith and its belief that Jesus Christ was born in a cow byre in Bethlehem. Nonetheless, amid all the commercial pap, it does serve to remind you that charity and goodwill, along with forgiveness, are essential elements of life.
    So Merry Christmas to all. 

Hector's Diary appears in the Bali Advertiser print edition published every two weeks and on the newspaper's website www.baliadvertiser.biz

You can follow Hector on Twitter @Scratchings and join him on his Facebook (Hector McSquawky)