Mar. 27-Apr. 2, 2009

Our Week for the Sounds of Silence

BALI offers many things to a tired and jaded world. One of these is Nyepi, the annual Hindu “Silent Day” when everything shuts up. Even the airport closes down, disrupting schedules everywhere. The day is designed for Hindu reflection and also to persuade bad spirits that since there is obviously no one on Bali, they should take themselves off elsewhere and find other people to bother.

This is a lovely idea, if somewhat impractical in terms of today’s world. But Bali’s charm lies in its affection for the spiritual and its happy knack of keeping itself fairly well informed about the world while not being overly desirous of actually joining it.

Nyepi this year was on Thursday (March 26). The “silence” runs from 6am to 6am next day. During this 24-hour period the only people about are the Pecalang, the neighborhood police, who will leap at the chance to fine you fiercely if you’re caught with a light on, or entertaining yourself in any visible or audible way. The tradition varies – there’s one village in the rural area of Tabanan regency The Diary knows of where Nyepi simply means you stay within the village limits; and there may be others who have adopted this more liberal interpretation of what observance of the day demands – but generally speaking, anywhere in Bali is a no-go zone that day.

For tourists and most of the expatriate community, the Nyepi options are to stay in your hotel (if a tourist) or move into one (if a resident expatriate); or to escape to Lombok, where Nyepi is observed by members of the local Hindu minority only within their own homes. In Bali, designated tourist hotels are allowed to keep minimal lighting and services going for their guests. Some beachfront hotels nowadays even let guests use their bit of beach. The Diary would feel uncomfortable doing so, for fear of making a splash: but much less so – indeed not at all – in enjoying the minimalist service and facilities of a chosen establishment. The Diary traditionally favors Pondok Bambu at Candi Dasa. On a clear Nyepi night you can see the lights of Lombok. And nowadays you can use the wireless internet there, too. If you can’t be on the street, at least you can be online.

It’s nice of the bad spirits to agree not to notice the few lights that are on in Bali over Nyepi, however. It reminds Hector of his military days, when on numerous occasions he was able to order his driver to drive over bridges notionally destroyed by enemy action because, on that day’s mission, he had those lovely “OOE” – “Out of Exercise” – decals on the vehicle.

A Significant Footnote

AUSTRALIAN state elections are not normally things that excite much comment (often not even within the state concerned). Parochial politics is best left the parish pump. But last weekend in Queensland, a Significant Footnote in History occurred: Australia elected its first ever female head of government.

Labor, the party of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who is also from Queensland but often looks and sounds as if he’s from Planet Wonk, was running for a fifth term in office. Anna Bligh, as premier, had taken over mid-term from veteran Peter Beattie – he moved to the plum job of Queensland trade commissioner in Los Angeles – and was generally thought to be facing a tough task, even though her party had a more than comfortable majority in the state assembly.

It turned out it wasn’t a time for change after all, the pitch put forward by the Liberal National Party opposition. Labor lost a few seats, but remained comfortably in power. And the lady in red (seen in the photo having her triumph in the tally room on Saturday night) made history as the first woman in Australia to win election as a premier in her own right.

This was an event not before time – long delayed, in fact. Our Lombok mate Peter Duncan, someone else with a lengthy interest in Australian politics, noted on his Facebook that Bligh’s win proved that women are no longer unelectable as leaders in the great south land. There have been three female state premiers – Bligh among them – who got their jobs on succession. Neither of the others – Carmen Lawrence in Western Australia and Joan Kirner in Victoria – subsequently won elections.

The election was significant for few other reasons. But one pleasant outcome was the failure of Pauline Hanson – now thankfully just a faint echo of the great distemper of her recent past and reduced, we hear, to featuring her high-heeled shoes as an electoral come-on – to win a rural seat.

One Hat, One (Dead?) Rabbit?

HOW very interesting it is that the US$600-million Lombok tourism development project that last week was lying on the floor in a crumpled heap, not visibly breathing, has been locally declared “not yet dead.” Belum mati? Well, we hope so.

According to “high-ranking Indonesian officials” – doubtless that’s code for the embarrassed crew of senior politicians and bureaucrats now running around trying to find the resuscitation equipment – they got the three-month extension they needed to complete their homework (blast that dog, it always eats it!) and everything’s still in working order.

We’ll see. It would be great if the project actually did reach fruition. But the fact that the Dubai developer EMAAR has shut its Jakarta office and will administer its Lombok affairs from the UAE does not, on the face of things, look entirely positive. This is particularly so given the deep impact of the global economic crisis on Dubai.

Let’s all hope that rabbit is indeed alive when it’s pulled from the hat down the track.

It’s Tough Saying G’Day

KEVIN Rudd, who by now surely needs no introduction to the worldwide fan club he has attracted since shifting from leafy Norman Park in subtropical Brisbane to the well-heated ambience of The Lodge in frosty Canberra, has been off talking to The Bam. Well, we hope so. He so often talks at you.

In Australia, where RDS (relevance deprivation syndrome) is itself a constant issue, such that they like to think that all manner of things are “an issue,” there was much pre-trip speculation about whether Prime Minister Rudd would talk straight with the new man in the White House. He said he would (of course). But we wondered what the alternatives were. Could he perhaps be thinking of talking discursively? Or elliptically? (That’s fun.) Or on a nudge-nudge, wink-wink basis? Something like: “I know this great pole-dancing place in New York. Fancy some action?”

The real issue for serious world-watchers, and observers of the Land of Oz, where things are usually wizard but aren’t so great just at the present, because of Bernie Madoff and John Howard if you believe Mr. Rudd, is whether President Obama’s renowned language skills extend to understanding Strine, the lingo in the land down under. Actually, it’s easy. Just swallow all the consonants and insert a glottal stop or two, an’ she’ll be roit, mite. We’re sure The Bam, who after all can ask for nasi goreng in passable Bahasa and be perfectly pleasant in several other languages as long as you don’t ask him what he’s going to do about Iran, will have found no trouble in translating Kevvie’s happy “G’Day.”

This issue reminds The Diary of a lovely tale of World War I vintage – it’s probably apocryphal, but who cares – concerning a new Australian battalion moved up to the battle line on the Western Front. The local British blimp in charge thought he’d better go along and give the colonials a bit of a boost with a stirring speech. “Have you come here to die?” he asked, with blimpish aplomb. A voice from the ranks shot back: “Nah. We come ‘ere yesterdie.”

A Meet-and-Greet with a Difference

NEW Australian Consul General Lex Bartlem and his boss, Ambassador Bill Farmer, put on a nice little do at the consulate in Denpasar last Friday evening. A real treat was the Australian wine and the catering by The Conrad.

The Diary was present and ran into two old friends – Bartlem himself, from days long ago in Queensland, and another mate, Wayan, who was in charge of Conrad’s catering that night. What a splendid affair.

It doubled as a meet-and-greet and as an occasion to publicly honor two Indonesian members of the Australian Alumni, people who have made a real difference in our community. Dr. I Made Nitis and Ms Fanina Yulianthi were recognized with the presentation of certificates as outstanding individuals (photos at left).

Ambassador Farmer said: “I am delighted to present these awards to two remarkable people who are making significant contributions to the development of Indonesia and to the strong people-to-people links between our two countries.” Hear, Hear to that.

Dr. Nitis received the Distinguished Alumni Award for his lifelong achievements and contribution to land farming with innovative research in Bali and eastern Indonesia. His close links with Australia include his work with the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research.

Ms Yulianthi was awarded the Inspirational Alumni Award for her outstanding work with small businesses in Indonesia who strive to enter and operate in the international arena. Ms Yulianthi helps businesses to develop strong networks and conducts entrepreneurship training in remote areas to improve human resources.

Australian Alumni Award ceremonies also took place in Jakarta last month to recognize other outstanding Indonesians who have worked tirelessly in their community or made lifelong achievements and contributions to Indonesia. Nominations for the awards are made by alumni through the Australian Alumni Network, Ozmate, and the finalists are decided by an independent judging panel made up of alumni.

Stella Kloster Joins Our Team

THE Diary has a new friend. She is Stella Kloster, of Villa Bolly, Jalan Beling, Banyakvankas (it’s that new area in the green belt just a cork-pop from all the action, she tells us). Stella is a star in her own firmament. This galactic über-zeitgeist is essential in these difficult times, especially when all you’ve got to play with is monopoly money (preferably someone else’s). She’s friends with everyone who has more bling than she does, or more bolly. She’s seen at the scene, wherever that is. Or, indeed, whatever that is. And if she looks a little like Barbie, well, that’s just because. That hair: Fake. That tan: Bottle. That body: Manufactured. That smile: Plastic.

But Stella just loves to yak and has agreed to keep Hector informed of what’s going down in her little bling and bolly world, that bit of Bali she and her friends live in that is wholly unconnected with the actual island, its culture and its ethos. It will be essential reading. Watch for her bubbly reports, from time to time, as the fancy takes her, in future editions of The Diary.

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