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.
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.
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.