April 3-9, 2009

A Comic Turn With
Our Fine Turtles

STEPHEN Fry, the British actor and comedian, has been filming turtles in Bali, from a temporary base in Sanur, where he arrived on Saturday last. Good for him. A lot of foreign visitors film turtles while they’re enjoying Bali’s famous opportunities for relaxation. Fry was doing so professionally and doubtless the commercial result will grace various television screens in due course. We do hope that while under water he forswore any of those Lord Melchett skits with which he peppered the fabulous Black Adder series. It would be a shame to put the turtles off their laying.

He was, we understand, somewhat disconsolate on Monday, after Cambridge lost yet another boat race to Oxford in their historic annual rowing meet on the River Thames in London at the weekend. It’s just a lot of rollocks, really, but fun. Your Diarist is an Oxford man, however, and was thus somewhat more chipper at the start of the week. It all went downhill from there, of course; the week, that is, but isn’t that just typical?

Fry Tweets, by the way: as in, he’s on Twitter. It’s something else Hector shares with him, albeit vicariously, having but only recently succumbed to the fad himself. Unusually, Fry also tweets in person, unlike other celebrities – Demi Moore among them, we understand from other twittering – who employ ghosts to scribble for them. Moore did star in the 1990 movie Ghost. Perhaps that’s where she got the idea. Or maybe it’s because she was born in Roswell, New Mexico, where all those scary, early Cold War-era intergalactic aliens were discovered. But we digress.

A lesser known side of the incomparable Fry, who is 51 and thus judged (by some uppity young proto-adults) as too old to Tweet, is that he has been a manic-depressive for years. This aspect of his character – and his courageous fight against the condition – has just featured in a compelling two-part series on Australia Network, the Aussie satellite television service presented through the national broadcaster, the ABC, that is required viewing in Bali (and other places) for people who can’t cope with CNN, don’t want to be badgered by Bloomberg and are bored by the Beeb.

Sultana Wars: Latest

WHILE in Sanur last Sunday – no, we were not catching up with Stephen Fry – a visit to The Pantry, the upmarket deli across the road from Hardy’s in fashionable Jalan Danau Tamblingan, brought forth the discovery of sultanas.

These were not purchased, however. The little packets were on sale for Rp37,000 (let’s just say that’s a very generous mark-up on retail prices at most other outlets, unless you’re in Ubud, where the market is even more captive) and moreover were labeled “per kilo.” This was queried, since the packets weighed in at around 250 grams. The explanation: So sorry, our machine can only label per kilo. That, to be polite, is bovine manure. Or if it is true, they should buy a better computer system and labeler. And at the prices they charge, they could afford both.

Vote 1 for Road Hog

AN interesting take on electioneering, Indonesian style: On the Kusamba bypass on Sunday, in a crowded little section of the highway (the usual cause: two yellow trucks in close convoy and occasionally tandem, struggling through clouds of black exhaust fumes up gentle inclines at 20kmh), chaos was caused and accidents nearly created by a PDI candidate’s plush people-mover and escort pick-up truck, when the people-mover set off its flashing roof lights and let’s-play-policemen siren and pushed past the traffic.

On the wrong side of the road, in the face of oncoming vehicles, and hotly pursued by its escort that looked as if it was manned by a party of pirates rushing off to a fortuitous and unexpected rape and pillage opportunity.

It may be that the van driver couldn’t see. The vehicle was so heavily plastered with PDI symbols and slogans that the windscreen – along with everything else, including the candidate if he was on board – was probably completely obscured. In other democracies, all this would be illegal: the bumf, the scary lights, and the get-out-of-the-way-we’re-important siren.

The mysterious ways of Indonesian voting patterns have long shone a strange light on politics in the archipelago. But in most ballot boxes, that sort of “bugger off, I’m the boss” behavior would lose you votes, not gain them.

Speaking of Bumf

IT’S not only in Bali that election material is blotting out sections of the landscape – and indeed in several places totally obscuring it. On Lombok next door – next rock to the right, you might say – they’re also doing things in style. As in, lack of style. Here’s a photo snapped by a Lombok correspondent anxious to alert the world to the polluting potential of legislative contests. The display is matched by many in Bali, and doubtless elsewhere, but it’s good to see that we’re not alone in our predicament and that the electoral plague is upon us all. Sharing a great distemper provides some kind of consolation.

Incidentally, as campaigning peaks ahead of the elections on April 9, party flags are spreading like an uncontrolled infestation of noxious weeds. One chap we know, who had been away from home for four days, was driving back to his Des Res on the Bukit this week and almost got lost at his local this-is-an-intersection-let’s-ignore-the-traffic-lights fun spot. He says he couldn’t see it for the forest of flags that had sprouted there since he left.

My Emails are Read!

NEWS that the Chinese are spying on everyone’s emails – well, and their websites and all the other guff that goes around – is actually cheering intelligence. It means that someone is reading our emails and may even be reacting to them. This can only be a good thing. It leaves us feeling less lonely for a start; and certainly much less ignored. And there’s an additional bonus. It might finally convince the Chinese that absolutely no one is a threat to them in any way at all other than in terms of cyber-babble overload.

There might be a further benefit. Perhaps Beijing’s gigabyte boffins can tell The Diary why its private email addresses have been penetrated by people who appear to have formed the wholly erroneous view that we are even remotely interested in things dumb blondes allegedly do with animals (or in dumb blondes for that matter).

Governments are always alarmed at allegations of spying, of course, cyber or otherwise. It’s a great chance to appear important. And they must “be” something, we guess. Alarmed is at least indicative of a greater application to duty than silence. We note that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jakarta bravely claims its computer network is safe from hackers. Such touching faith deserves applause, in much the same way as General Custer won praise from the foolhardy for rejecting those Gatling guns when he was going off to get butchered by Crazy Horse.

For our part, we are sure that the Chinese, if they really are spying on governments and private organizations in 103 countries, including Indonesia, as the honest toilers at the internet-based research group Information Warfare Monitor assert, will have found a Bahasa speaker or two to sort out the terigu from the ampas gergaji (that’s the wheat from the chaff, except Bahasa doesn’t really do chaff in the natural product sense; ampas gergaji is sawdust).

According to Foreign Ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah, however, the ministry’s official network is designed to quickly monitor intrusions. Presumably, if an intrusion is monitored, all sorts of people in the ministry’s employ then run around shouting “Intruder! Intruder!” Well, it would liven up the lunch break.

It is in fact very doubtful that any Indonesian government IT system is as secure as is claimed. A Culture and Tourism Ministry official recently told The Bali Times to email him on his Yahoo address since the ministry email system, like its IT network, was never operational. On the other hand, that’s a protective measure in itself. After all, if it’s mati, it won’t be telling any tales at all.

Travel Warning

HERE’S something we’ve seen around recently. It’s a really useful sticker that puts the Aussie travel warning in its proper perspective. It was on the back of a motorcyclist’s helmet. It showed a map of Indonesia with “Travel Warning” above it and “Dangerously Beautiful” underneath.

Perhaps Stephen Smith, who as Australia’s foreign minister has ultimate political responsibility for his country’s continued travel advisory suggesting Australians, unlike Americans and Canadians, still need to reconsider their need to travel here, should have a look at it.

Maybe he could arrange for it to be issued to all the official travelers he keeps sending here, apparently after reading and rejecting his own advice.

Stella’s All-A-Fluster

HAVING introduced our new ephemeral contributor Stella Kloster to you last week, we didn’t expect to hear from her again quite so soon. Her motto is Ennui Forever. But she got back on to us this week, all of a fluster over the fact that those beastly people at The Onion (that essential non-dietary cerebral supplement obtainable on the web at www.theonion.com) have listed the six Most Popular Barbies. In a horrendous oversight, the list does not include Media Star Barbie.

But putting aside such pettiness, she says, she believes readers of The Diary should know that in order of precedence – Stella goes weak at the knees just at the mention of the word – the most popular Barbies are: High Holidays Barbie (30 percent of the vote – it’s so good to see Barbie still has reality firmly in her sights); Former Child Star Barbie (25 percent – well, a girl’s gotta dream); Obsessive-Compulsive Outfit-Changing Barbie (15 percent – but décolleté is just so difficult, isn’t it?); Whatever Responsible View of Women Currently Exists Barbie (11 percent); Reece Witherspoon (10 percent); and Employable Barbie (9 percent – but we think this voting figure has been grossly inflated).

The Diary’s most popular Barbie comes with a Bintang, steak, sausages and a nice salad, by the way. Oh, and onion rings.

You can catch up with Hector at http://wotthehec.blogspot.com and Tweet with him at Scratchings on Twitter

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