April, 24-30, 2009

Garuda Flops Out,
Where Others Fly In

GARUDA’S decision to drop out of Darwin is unwelcome. It demonstrates the continued inability of the national airline to capitalize on its natural advantage. Announcing suspension of the Darwin service from April 24 on the route it has flown for 28 years, it cited the difficulty it faces as a “full-service airline” competing with low-cost carriers.

Those difficulties are understandable, but ceding the field to the competition seems a strange way of expanding business. In fact, it sounds like another lame excuse for non-performance. The Qantas offshoot Jetstar has been gifted the route as solo operator – unless the Darwin-based Air North returns to the sector with its Brazilian compact jets, which we hear is a possibility – and Indonesia’s flag-carrier disappears from view.

Indonesia’s national airline – although “notional” again seems more appropriate in the context – will however make two post-suspension flights to and from Darwin, on May 8 and May 18, to accommodate traffic generated by the Arafura Games.

There’s no doubt that the era of low-fare flying presents full-service airlines with a significant challenge. Qantas has met this in part by creating its own low-fare airline (Jetstar). But Garuda, which has official benefits no longer available to Qantas (such as government ownership) and a lower cost structure, should critically examine its own performance when asked to justify precisely why it has to pull out of a destination immediately in our neighborhood and which it has served continuously for more than enough time to have created a sustainable market presence.

One relative newcomer to the challenge of providing air services that people actually want on the Australia-Bali route – Pacific Blue, the energetic Virgin regional international brand that flies from Australia to Bali from capital cities from Brisbane to Perth, though not from Darwin – is hardly looking backwards either.

Spokesman Colin Lippiatt told The Diary this week: “In recent times we have increased capacity on existing routes and we will soon be adding new direct services to Denpasar from both Sydney and Melbourne. This in itself speaks to the strength of demand we are seeing for air travel between Australia and Bali right now and the confidence we have in the popularity of the destination for Australian travellers.”

Don’t Torture Us, Jeff

CNN, the once ubiquitous 24-hour satellite news channel now challenged by both reality and competition, continues to surprise. A reader tells us he heard leading network talking head Jeff Tubin tell viewers (well, we know there was at least one, don’t we?) on April 17 that “the US does not engage in water-boarding, unlike some countries, like Indonesia…”

Er, Jeff … mate … Read anything out of the Guantanamo embarrassment lately?

Nasty Case of Gastro

THE Diary, on Seminyak-bound trips up Sunset Road, has frequently chuckled when passing the big sign marking the commercial outlet of Gastro kitchen equipment. It’s a visual double-entendre – unintended of course – that temporarily lightens the brain overload you get when driving in Bali, if out of a need for self-preservation you concentrate the mind fully on the fact that for most drivers here the brain is the last gear engaged.

In similar vein, a giggle was forthcoming when we heard that Foul-Mouth Former Celeb Chef Gordon Ramsay’s London “gastropubs” have been accused of serving up readymade, delivered, cheap dishes – and whacking massive mark-ups on them while claiming they are largely cooked in-house. We hear he is also selling his prized Ferrari in a bid to raise cash.

Our joy at this intelligence is spoiled a little by the fact that it appeared in the London Sun newspaper, the Rupert Murdoch blot on the landscape that found commercial success by ignoring the sentient and pandering to the insensate requirements of the Dumkopfs.

In the Firing Line

SEAN Dorney, the veteran Australian correspondent who got thrown out of Fiji by Commodore Tinpot Dictator recently, is no stranger to conflict. He is a veteran also of Papua New Guinea, which once expelled him and once, also, gave him a gong for services rendered – an imperial MBE, since PNG is about the last place left, other than the homeland of Queen Elizabeth II (Happy Birthday for April 21, Ma’am), that still hands out these relics of empire.

Given that April 25 is ANZAC Day – Australia and New Zealand’s national day of remembrance – it seems appropriate to relay a lovely story about Dorney told by one of The Diary’s affable mates from Australian military circles. It was during the Bougainville “troubles.” Dorney was sent to the island from Port Moresby by the ABC and our mate was the Aussie escorting officer. A stand-up to camera in front of something burning at the abandoned copper mine on the island was called for. While this was in progress, two shots whistled overhead, unheard by Dorney. His escort officer (and we think the cameraman, who had some prior experience of shots whistling overhead elsewhere) kept silent.

Dorney, told later, asked his escort why he hadn’t told him (“Didn’t want to put you off”), then laid into the ale at the Aussie-run hotel he was staying at. Later – much later – the phone rang and it was the ABC seeking a live cross with their man on the spot. Uh-oh, thought our military chap. But what a trouper Dorney was! Up he sprang, from full sprawl position, and gave a first-class, no glitches, on air report. Call over, he resumed full sprawl.

Dorney’s father, by the way, won a DSO as a World War II medical officer.

Heartthrob Alert

JULIA Roberts, who has parlayed her EQ (eye quotient) into Hollywood über-bankability over an extended screen career, is going round again in the naïf-turns-seer role she plays so well – and this time in Bali. According to the Hollywood newssheet Variety, she and actor Richard Jenkins have signed to film Elizabeth Gilbert’s international bestseller, Eat, Pray, Love.

The Paramount movie, to be directed by Ryan Murphy and produced by Brad Pitt, will put into visual form the story of the recently divorced author’s search for self-discovery during a journey that takes her to Italy and India and finally (best of all) to Bali. Roberts will portray Gilbert, while Jenkins will appear as a Texan spiritual seeker Roberts/Gilbert meets in an Indian ashram. The Bali portion of the story takes place in Ubud – surely the epicenter of the seeking-guru set – where Roberts/Gilbert finds love, healing and the mentoring of an aging Balinese guru.

We hear filming is scheduled to begin later this year. But the real question is: Who will get the role of leg-double for the lovely Julia this time?

Away With the Fairies

JUST a reminder that the Bali Spirit Festival – in Ubud (of course) – offers the chance for a six-day communion involving music, dance, yoga and a whole lot else to anyone with nothing better to do between April 28 and May 3.

The festival schedule and everything else you could possibly want for a fulfilling experience is available at www.balispiritfestival.com. Do have fun, now. Sadly, there’s no word whether Julia Roberts will be flying in for some pre-movie fieldwork.

Sun Sets on a Personal Empire

THE British writer J.G. Ballard is most famous for his novel Empire of the Sun, in which he vividly portrayed his childhood in a Japanese internment camp in Shanghai during World War II. It was a novel that brought the East Asian element of that gigantic conflict into new light and helped underline the crucial importance of children’s memories of great events in the complex process of defining narrative history.

In these days of facile and often self-serving analysis, too many writers are described as giants on the world’s literary scene. But Ballard deserves the accolade. And it is therefore doubly sad to record his passing on Sunday last at his quiet riverside home in the country west of London, where he had lived since the 1960s. He was 78 and had been suffering prostate cancer.

In a career spanning for than half a century, Ballard became a cult figure for a series of dystopian science fiction novels such as The Drowned World. One of his most controversial works was Crash, a novel about people who are sexually aroused by car accidents. It was later turned into a film directed by David Cronenberg.

Japan’s militarism and expansionary imperialism brought misery to millions and is a dark spot on that nation’s record. But history will one day record – with a measure of equanimity brought by time and perspective – that it was the single most important factor in ending the age of European imperialism, certainly in Asia and most likely globally.

Ballard wrote in his memoirs that his early, often violent, experiences – “I remember a lot of the casual brutality and beatings-up that went on, but at the same time we children were playing a hundred and one games” – meant that in many ways his entire fiction was the dissection of a deep pathology that he had witnessed in Shanghai and later in the post-World War II world that had been irrevocably changed by that conflict.

His agent, Margaret Hanbury, said of him: “His acute and visionary observation of contemporary life was distilled into a number of brilliant, powerful novels.” Empire of the Sun, which Steven Spielberg adapted into a Hollywood film, was by most accounts the best. It was based on his privileged childhood with his expatriate parents in China and, following the entry of Japan into the global conflict in 1941 and the Japanese occupation of the international concession in Shanghai, his experiences as an internee.

Got Something to Tell Us?

WE’RE sure you have, and Hector would love to hear from you. To make this easier, we’ve set him up with his own email address: diary@thebalitimes.com. Feel free to tell tales there, or pass on useful little snippets of information that otherwise might not see the light of day.

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

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