Tuesday, December 25, 2012

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Dec, 26. 2012

Way Not to Go

It was interesting to read recently in the Bali Daily, the local wraparound masthead of the Jakarta Post newspaper, that university students here are protesting over a national government plan to eliminate teaching of the Balinese language from the school curriculum.  It was worrying, too, because such a plan threatens the unique culture of Bali and undermines the diversity that makes Indonesia the vibrant nation it is. The students are worried – understandably and quite naturally – that committing such an act of cultural vandalism would place the future of the language at risk.
     An alliance of students from the State Hindu Dharma Institute, Dwijendra and Udayana universities and IKIP PGRI teachers college made this point – in Balinese dress – at a demonstration in Denpasar earlier this month. The Bali Daily reported alliance leader I Nyoman Suka Ardiyasa as saying:
     “We fear that one day the Balinese language will be forgotten because students will no longer learn the subject in school, and also an increasing number of people no longer use the language nowadays.”
      The critical interface between common sense and painful farce in policy development is often difficult to detect. But it is always vital to detect it and preferable that this beneficence takes place before someone steps in the do-do, rather than afterwards.
      Removing Balinese language teaching from the curriculum is in line with the Education and Culture Ministry’s most recent policy on a new teaching curriculum, which proposes to amalgamate several different subjects into one.  Unique local content subjects taught only in schools in specific regions will be integrated into “art and culture” classes.
      It would mean that learning the Balinese language – at present this is compulsory in elementary, junior and high schools – would be merged with art and culture, seriously limiting the opportunities for young Balinese to learn their traditional language.
      A 1992 Bali law on language, letters and literature clearly stipulates the need to teach, develop and preserve the Balinese language. The 2003 National Education System Law  provides
that the curriculums of basic and higher education should contain both art and culture and local content subjects.
      According to statistics the number of people who can speak Balinese drops by 1 percent each year on average. As the students say, removing the language’s study from the curriculum will only worsen this invidious decline.
       Bahasa Indonesia, the national language, is universally taught throughout the archipelago – from Sabang to Merauke, to borrow the title of President Sukarno’s 1950 speech on Independence Day that year and that of a very good 1995 travelogue by the British writer John Keay – and is naturally the lingua franca.  But the bottom line is that no language should ever be lost, or put at risk of being so. There’s still time for the national authorities to change their mind. They should do so.

See the Light

Speaking of cultural matters, we had a nice little Christmas and New Year message from the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival which was cheering on two counts: it indicated that the festival is now effectively a 12-month operation – there should be no peace for the wicked, or for organisers of important annual events – and it gave news of what the 2013 festival is shaping up to be.
    The 2013 festival will be the tenth (regrettably referred to by the festival scribbler as the 10-Year Anniversary: perhaps the UWRF should run a workshop on tautology avoidance) and this is of course an important milestone. The theme of the 2013 festival (from Oct. 2-6 – put it in your diaries) is Habis Gelap Terbitlah Terang: Through Darkness to Light. This honours Kartini – Raden Ayu Kartini (1879-1904) – who is one of Indonesia's designated national heroes. Since 1964, she has her own national day each year, on April 21.
     Kartini's concerns were not only in the area of the emancipation of women, but also other problems of her society. Kartini saw that the struggle for women to obtain their freedom, autonomy and legal equality was only a part of a wider movement.
     She married the Regency Chief of Rembang (who already had three wives) against her wishes but to appease her ailing father; her new husband allowed her to establish a school for women in the Rembang Regency Office. Kartini's only child, a boy, was born in September 1904 and she died of post-natal complications four days later, aged 25.
      Inspired by her example the Dutch Van Deventer family established the R.A. Kartini Foundation which later built “Kartini’s Schools” for women in Semarang, Surabaya, Yogyakarta, Malang, Madiun, Cirebon and other places.
     The UWRF says the 2013 theme will “open the floor” – we thought it was rayap that did that but never mind – to many global issues concerning women, education, gender equity, children and the human condition. The sub theme addresses heroes in society: in the banal and ungrammatical language of these times, “people who have, or are, making a difference.”
      The festival’s Indonesian programme has already begun receiving works from Indonesian writers from Java, Sumatra and Sulawesi vying to become one of the 15 designated emerging Indonesian writers to be sponsored participants in the 2013 event. In 2012, a total of 279 writers submitted their works to the selection committee.
      One interesting and sensible provision of the selection process is an independent curatorial board – its members are appointed for one year only to avoid favouritism and bring in new blood.
       Something else that might interest many is a competition to design a poster illustrating the 2013 theme. The winner, whose work will be seen on posters everywhere promoting the festival, and during the festival itself, will also receive more than Rp20 million in travel and prizes. Submissions close on Feb. 7 and details are available on the UWRF website.

A Bradman Knock

Veteran Australian journalist and notable Friend of Hector, Bob Howarth – Bob and Hector’s helper go back a long way in the media world – celebrated 50 years in journalism recently. He was fortunate to be able to do so at Gibson Saraji’s fine Gorgonzola restaurant and bar on Jl Raya Uluwatu, Bukit Jimbaran. Saraji is a great host and his menu is on the upside of great.
    Howarth, who started as a cadet journalist on the Brisbane Courier-Mail on Dec. 8, 1962 and went on to run newspapers in Papua New Guinea and Hong Kong, has been in Bali for three months working with the Institute for Peace and Democracy at Udayana University’s Jimbaran campus. He’s  had to go away for a spell – something about Christmas on his beloved Moreton Island in Queensland, it seems – but is due back in February to do some more work with institute executive director I Ketut Putra Erawan, who is a very engaging academic indeed.
     The Gorgonzola party, on Dec. 8, was made notable by the presence of several of Howarth’s Indonesian “granddaughters” – sweet (and formidably intelligent) young things he taught at Padjadjaran University in Bandung. It was a fun night.
     Also there for the celebrations was Brit author Tim Hannigan, whose new book Raffles and the British Invasion of Java has caused a few riparian ripples in the otherwise fairly placid waters of British imperial hagiography. He’d been in Bali to do book launches at Biku in Kerobokan (thanks for the excellent afternoon tea, Asri – and we’ll be back to try that new locally made apple cider) and at Janet DeNeefe’s Bar Luna Lit Club in Ubud.
      We know of no plans in this regard, but Hannigan would be a prize catch for this year’s Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. Over to you, Janet.

Wedding Belles

We were honoured to receive an invitation to attend the nuptials arranged at a house just up the road for some connections of our redoubtable pembantu. We missed the tooth-filing – always such fun – but were compensated for this by the opportunity to view the activities of several beautifully and traditionally attired young Balinese women flitting about taking pictures on their iPads and sundry other items of cutting-edge technology.
Not for Prophet

In our Christmas message in the Diary published on Dec. 12 we recalled that Jesus is important to Muslims. We wrote that he was the third most important of Islam’s prophets. This was an error: we should have written fifth.
     The point we were making is that while Muslims do not believe Jesus (Isa) was the son of God, he is revered as the 24th of Islam’s 25 prophets: Muhammad was the last. It is one of a number of interesting and powerful links between two of the great religions of The Book.
     There is no formal hierarchy of prophets in Islam, but as the Holy Qur’an records, there are five who are most important as “prophets with resolution.” Here’s the relevant verse (33.7): “And remember We took from the prophets their covenant: As (We did) from thee (Muhammad): from Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus the son of Mary: We took from them a solemn covenant.”
Hear Hear, Kitty

Facebook sometimes gives you a giggle, especially when friends post little primers on how they think life should be lived. We got one such recently, which advised that real men love cats. Our immediate thought was, well yes, unless they’re New Zealanders, probably. But we scratched that as thoroughly unworthy.
     Nonetheless, the advice is correct. Cats are wonderful animals and much smarter than humans. And anyway, these days it’s all about Meow! Meow! Meow!


A Happy New Year to all and every good wish for 2013.

Hector's Diary appears in the fortnightly print edition of the Bali Advertiser and on the newspaper's website www.baliadvertiser.biz. Hector tweets (@scratchings) and is on Facebook (Hector McSquawky).

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Dec. 12, 2012

What a Stinker

Sir Stamford Raffles is a footnote in history for having identified a swampy and malarial island at the bottom of the Malay Peninsula as the site of the future New Serenissima (Venice) nowadays known as Singapore. He is due that credit. He’s also a footnote in the bibliography of flora, having had his name attached to perhaps the most unpleasantly pungent plant on earth, the Rafflesia, characterised by Swedish scientist Eric Mjoberg in 1928 as possessing “a penetrating smell more repulsive than any buffalo carcass in an advanced stage of decomposition.”  It’s also known as the corpse flower, and is thus nicely emblematic of a dead empire.
     There was a bit of a stink about Raffles at the recent Singapore Literary Festival, where British authors Tim Hannigan (Raffles and the Invasion of Java) and Victoria Glendinning (Raffles and the Golden Opportunity) faced off in a firmly feisty manner.
     Hannigan was in Bali this month to promote his new book, which had its official Indonesian launch earlier in Jakarta – the Big Durian, a competitor for pungency perhaps – and then its Bali introduction at Periplus at Mal Bali Galeria, Kuta, on Dec. 1. Apparently the Periplus function was conducted entirely in Indonesian and Hannigan’s fine Java-accented Bahasa attracted good reviews.
     He conducted later speaking engagements, first at Biku in Kerobokan’s well-heeled Jl Petitinget and then at Bar Luna in Ubud, in a mix of languages. We were at Biku – no one should miss an opportunity for afternoon tea at Asri Kerthyasa’s bijou establishment – on Dec. 4 to catch up. Hannigan and your diarist formerly laboured together on Another Publication hereabouts, on a proprietor’s promise of possibly being favoured with a quick smell of a notionally oily rag.
     Hannigan’s secular hagiographies are worth reading. We enjoyed his first book (George Hayward and the Great Game). Hayward came a cropper while the Brits and the Russians were chest-thumping in Central Asia in the 19th century. Raffles, whose origins were relatively humble in the snooty (not to say snotty) Britain of his day, ended up ruined financially, perhaps because he was from the wrong side of the tracks.
     Check out Monsoon Books for Hannigan’s work. It’s worth it.

Pull the Other Plug

PLN, which makes congenital dysfunction seem like a desirable improvement to aim for, has hit new heights with its unannounced introduction of an innovative Bule Billing Plan. Last month’s bill – which failed to take account, as they always do, of serial blackouts and frequent delivery of 80V instead of the standard 220V – was away being paid, by your diarist, two days after it reached The Cage.
     Not long after the chariot had departed on this happy mission, two chirpy little chaps from the world’s worst public utility turned up at the gate to disconnect the power for non-payment. Fortunately our redoubtable pembantu was on the ball and sent them on their way with whatever is the local equivalent of a flea in the ear. That might be “sebuah loak di telinga,” but we’re not really sure.
     But it is good news, in a way, we suppose. It does seem that PLN has stumbled upon an accounting system that actually tells them whose bill is whose. Maybe, though, they should rework the bit about cutting people off before they’ve had a chance to pay.
    And while they’re at it, they might look at methods of delivering secure power, consistently, at the right voltage.  Repeatedly stubbing your toe while blundering around in the half-dark, courtesy of PLN’s brown-out policy, is not a desirable thing. It prompts intemperate thought and it’s not something that will be fixed by changing the wallpaper.  On that score, proposals to set up a Bali “subsidiary” of PLN on the Batam model should be viewed with caution.

Apple of Her Eye

The intriguing Marie Bee, who writes for the French monthly journal La Gazette de Bali (avec brio) from the deep recesses of the Ubud environment, was much excited in her latest published dispatch at having seen a reticulated python with two penises. She clearly didn’t major in ophiology at her university in Aix en Provence. These curious tandem arrangements are not altogether unusual among the descendants of the poor creature divinely sentenced to slither on his belly forever for getting Eve to bite that apple.
     Be that as it may, the Bee piece is a nice buzz, especially since it prompts agreeable speculation that a snake might possibly be able to comply with a pejorative suggestion that it go away and perform what would otherwise be an anatomical impracticality.


Once upon a time, your diarist played rugby. That’s the original Rugby Union version, not Rugby League which was invented to keep English labourers out of the ale houses of a weekend and then migrated to that working class haven, Australia. We played fly-half (No 10) until one too many “forget the scrum-half, get the next bloke” tactical plays by opposing sides encouraged the view that squash might be a safer sport.
     But love of the game lingers (you never really lose it) so we browse a number of rugby sites – the Wallabies, the Queensland Reds and Scotland are favourites, along with an historical affinity with the Springboks – including a Facebook page maintained by the Bali Rugby Club.
     There, the other day, we noticed a post by BRC president Nick Mesritz, who shapes surfboards for a living and is from the land of the magical Haka. It quoted All Black prop Owen Franks on his upcoming pre-season training: “The training programmes are brutal and lonely – the onus is on the individual to be responsible for their fitness and follow an aerobic and strength programme that will include sprint repeats, hill work, gym work and agility sessions.”
     We could suggest that’s not unlike the daily fitness regime here at The Cage. But we’d be straying a little too far from the literal truth.
All Abuzz

Brisbane in Queensland is a fine place to formerly call home. It’s Australia’s third largest capital city (population 2 million-plus) so it comes with all mod cons, and since it sits happily on 27 S its winters, while locally remarkable, barely pass even the fringe chill test. It’s a great place for Garuda to fly to from Bali – again, after its five-year bottom-line disappearing act – and those additional services from later next year will widen opportunities to stage brief returns, something The Diary has missed.
     But we’ve kept in touch, among other things by way of the vibrant Brisbane Institute, a body that commenced operations some years ago under the benevolent editorial gaze of your diarist. Thus we learned recently that with the appointment of its first Chief Digital Officer, the city joined New York as one of the few conurbations in the world to have its own local government digital champion. It’s part of the Brisbane City Council’s ambition to position Brisbane as Australia’s new world city.
      The Queensland capital, while still the butt of jealous jokes from effete southerners, has always been in the lead on technology. It had the first computer in the southern hemisphere, in 1962. In those pre-nano days, the monster had to arrive by ship.

Ties That Bind

Hector’s helper – the chap who’s not just a virtual cockatoo – spends a little time on Facebook, as some of his closer acquaintances have been known to note, on occasion testily. One of these, the Distaff, was recently further underwhelmed at finding herself newly in his profile picture. She won’t have a bar of Facebook, Herself.
     It’s a nice photo, one from the files from 1994, and it was placed there because while Facebook allows one to proclaim a marital state, it won’t allow any visual or verbal reference to the name of that propinquity unless they are also an FB user. When dealing with the many unknowns of cyberspace, there are sensible reasons to provide concrete evidence of the presence of a Significant Other.
     What’s really interesting, however, is that while selecting files for a series of down the years photos for possible profile use, the eye fell upon another, from 1996, only two years later. The Distaff had completely changed: she’d been to the gym or something, was clad in an outfit of a very outré hue, and had changed her hairstyle. But Hector’s helper, non-fashion statement that he remains, was still carrying the same old kilos and wearing the same blazer and tie.

Feasting Note

On Dec. 25, as every year, we mark the Christian anniversary of the birth of one of Islam’s important prophets, Isa al Mahdi, the Messiah. The birthday is notional, naturally, since the early Christians merely co-opted existing pagan feasts. Easter (from the Greek pagan god Oestre) was the old Northern Hemisphere Spring fertility celebration.  The midwinter stave-off-starvation feast became Christmas, marking the birth of Jesus. But myths and the complex liturgies that religious scholars spin from them are what make the world and its belief systems go round, after all.
     So Merry Christmas! We’ll save the “Happy New Year!” for the next edition.

Hector's Diary appears in the fortnightly print edition of the Bali Advertiser and on the newspaper's website www.baliadvertiser.biz. Hector tweets @scratchings and is on Facebook (Hector McSquawky). The lovely people at the brilliant Yak Magazine have a link to this blog at www.yakmag.com.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Nov. 28, 2012

By Jiminy, a GM

Ayana Resort and Spa, etc, which sits decorously back from the cliff at Jimbaran to which the iconic Rock Bar clings – and to which it is sometimes possible to gain access, if you have the inclinator – finally has a chief man at the helm. It’s been 10 months since Charles de Foucault departed for Mauritius where the ambience, not unlike some of the Caribbean islands also formerly ruled by the Brits, is a kind of eclectic Faux Français. It’s the sort of place where patrons can be heard intoning “Merde, I’d kill for a beer.” Unless they’re South Africans, in which case some of them might say, ”Shit, ek wil doodmaak vir 'n bier,” and completely fail to make themselves understood.
     The new man is Ed Linsley, who was selected in a process personally led by Horst Schulze, founder and chief executive of Capella Hotel Group.  Linsley has more than 22 years’ experience in hotels and resorts – 21 of them with the Four Seasons group – and was resort manager at 4S Bali Jimbaran (once home to the entertainingly enigmatic John O’Sullivan, who these days wears a sombrero having decamped to a plush 4S resort in Mexico) before going to Vietnam last year as general manager of The Nam Hai Resort.
      Linsley says he was drawn back to Bali by its people and the opportunity to join the Capella Hotel Group. He rides Harley-Davidsons and he’s from Pennsylvania. Ground Hog Days could be fun.

The Good, the Bad, and the Plain Ugly

The Bali-based Institute for Peace and Democracy has been busy lately, talking to delegations from Egypt and Myanmar and selling Indonesia’s proud record of democratic advance achieved by digging the military out of politics and business, and overseeing completion of its monumental premises on the Jimbaran campus of Udayana University.
    The institute is a project that carries the personal imprimaturs of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, and is supported through various elements of Australia’s foreign aid programme and those of other nations.  We’ll be hearing much more about it in the near future.
     The IPD was closely involved in the recent Bali Peace Forum, a recurring international gabfest that this time, and among many other (more valuable) things, provided yet another opportunity for Iran’s chief curiosity, President Ahmadinejad, to have a free shot at the Great Satan and sundry other lesser devils.
     For ordinary mortals, or at least those of them who were trying to use the roads between Kuta and Nusa Dua while troupes of rude police were shooing traffic out of the way so VVIPs and VIPs could get wherever it was they were going before their tea got cold, the forum was chiefly notable, as such things invariably are, for its disruption of normal life.
     It’s not over yet. Next year, when the APEC jamboree hits town with lots of HIPs (Hugely Important Persons) along with the VVIPs and the ordinary VIPs, it’ll be even worse. Note to self: Ensure you are away from Bali in November 2013.

She’s a Champ

Christina Iskandar, luminary of note on the glitter circuit (conscience division), has lost a lot of weight. This was deliberate – a girl likes to look trim, after all, though the Diary has never minded chunky if it comes along with brains, conversation and character – and this feat has also resulted in more than Rp 200 million in funds for YPAC, the children’s home at Jimbaran.
     She told the world proudly via Facebook:  “We did it! Over 200 million raised for YPAC & new van very soon for the kids, a 20 kilo weight loss for me & a new lease on life... a huge thanks to the dedicated supportive amazing bunch of friends that attended this event for such a worthy cause you are all stars, thank you Motion Fitness Team and all the sponsors.”
     Well done, Christina.

Fifty Shades of Bleh

It was amusing to see veteran British publisher Christopher MacLehose on Australia Network’s eminently watchable One-Plus-One programme recently. He was courteously perplexed as to how show host Jane Hutcheon could possibly refer to the blockbuster sex-romp novel Fifty Shades of Grey as a literary work. He said she was the first person he had heard make such a claim.
     (We hear from friends, anecdotally, that the expatriate husbands of Vietnam are passing the book around theirs and other’s expatriate wives for serious study, apparently with mutually satisfying results. That alone supports MacLehose’s reflective assessment of the book’s true value and titillating purpose.)
     MacLehose, a patrician Scot who reads in French – his wife is from l’Hexagone, as French people with an interest in cartography sometimes call their hexagonal patrie – made a late career change from mainstream publishing into publisher of foreign works in translation. He gave the world The Millennium Trilogy, a true work of literature.
     Originally written in Swedish by the late Stieg Larsson, the trilogy – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest – had been rejected by a series of publisher’s houses. Apparently this was because the author was Swedish (and so not an English language writer and therefore difficult to sell) and being unfortunately dead was not going to be writing any more books, which precluded creation of further career-enhancing income streams for publishers’ marketing people.
     Planet Earth has long been made a better place by farsighted Scotsmen (and women).

Fine Fare

Australia Network is always good value. On its summer schedule is a new Australian drama series, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. This is a period piece, set in Melbourne in the 1920s. The network suggests you should get yourself ready to sashay into the city’s back lanes as Phryne Fisher sleuths her way through jazz clubs and other shady spots armed with a pearl-handled pistol and a dagger-sharp wit.
    It sounds fun. The 13-part series will be on the viewing schedule at The Cage. It starts on Dec. 3 (at 9.30pm Bali time). Monday will be a stay-home night for the following three months.

And More Saxy Jazz

Sin City singer Edwina Blush is a regular feature of the saxier parts of Bali, as well as an ambassador for Villa Kitty cat refuge at Ubud, and we look forward to seeing her here again in the flesh –attractive portions of it at least – when next her schedule allows.
     She’s been keeping in form for her much desired reappearance here by playing cabaret style at the Camelot Lounge in Marrickville, Sydney (on Nov. 28) with a pared down quartet and guests. The finely named Blush (she doesn’t, but others have been known to) says of the show: “Refuse to run with the pack, take the cat to the beach, comfort a surf widow, have an affair with your barista and surf a tidal wave of love in the quirky comforts of the Camelot Lounge.” It would have been fun to be there, but we didn’t have enough Qantas points to spare for the trip.
     Blush launched her latest album, Sea for Cats, in June. She describes it as a lush retro cocktail with an over-proof kick and a hint of kitsch indulgence. Clearly, it should be listened to even though The Cage hasn’t done kitsch since ... well, forever. But Edwina says it’s saxy, so of course it must be. The album is available on iTunes or through the Edwina Blush website shop.

So Very Sad

Little Ani, the eight-year-old severely malnourished and physically challenged girl rescued from distressing conditions in Sideman in Karangasem earlier this year by Jimbaran-resident British nurse Sarah Chapman and her Balinese friend Yuni Putu, has died. She had been playing happily at her new home, YPAC, on the morning of Nov. 17 but later that day had to be taken to Sanglah Hospital with serious breathing difficulties. In spite of truly heroic efforts by the Sanglah team, she died a few hours later.
     Ani had become quite a Facebook presence – through a page called Friends of Ani – and touched the hearts of everyone who had contact with her actually or through the social media. Losing her is a tragedy, when she had been gaining much needed weight, was beginning the process of socialisation in an adequate setting, and was waiting for essential surgical correction of her cleft palate. It is particularly hard on her immediate carers and on people such as Robert Epstone of the charity Sole Men, who made strenuous efforts to win Ani a new (and proper) life.
     But Ani, like all who pass away, will live on in the hearts of those who were her family and friends. Her last months were full of fun and love. She was only eight, and could not speak, but she taught many people the real meaning of humanity.
     There’s a proposal to build a hospice in her name and in her memory.

Hector's Diary appears in the fortnightly print edition of the Bali Advertiser, out every second Wednesday, and on the newspaper's website www.baliadvertiser.biz. Hector tweets @scratchings and is on Facebook (Hector McSquawky).