May 15-21, 2009

You Could Pop Your
Cork for This Idea

REGULAR readers of The Diary – not to mention regular drinkers, or those who would regularly drink if only they could – might find attractive an idea that has been put to Hector by a concerned reader. It relates to the miserable state of the liquor supply in Bali, where (apparently unknown to revenue collectors in Jakarta, or at least uncared about) lots of people who drink in conformity with their own cultural habits come to spend their money.

The suggestion is that there should be a petition to the national government to regulate alcohol imports, distribution and consumption on a basis that provides Bali with access to required supplies.

Tourists who drink would probably spend a bit more money – and indeed, more of them might come here to spend it – if the national government could only get over the dialogue of the deaf it is having with itself over alcohol. There are several things to be said about this situation. Not quite all of them are rude.

First and foremost, Bali is Indonesia’s only mass tourism destination. Balinese culture has so far managed to survive the alleged onset of western decadence and immorality that apparently exercises the pious minds of public servants and commercial venture managers elsewhere. That is not to say that changes are not occurring in the island’s culture as a result of exposure to foreign influence. But it seems clear that Balinese Hinduism is up to the present more than a match for such external threats. In any case, it is primarily an issue for the Balinese community itself and the island’s provincial-level government.

The idea of such a petition would be to restrict the present sole importer of alcohol into Indonesia, Sarinah, to operations in the rest of Indonesia and to license another operator to manage Bali’s separate requirements. These should be regulated through the provincial government. Arrangements could be made to forward (hopefully growing) excise income to the national government.

Such an arrangement would recognise three important facts that apparently elude officials in Jakarta. These are that Bali has a distinct and unique culture within Indonesia; that the island is effectively the country’s sole mass tourism market; and that the policy of regionalism which the government supports would be advanced (and the country strengthened economically and socially) by devolving real cultural and economic authority to the provinces.

Given the difficulties Bali’s hotel and resort and restaurant sectors have in servicing the demands of customers, it would surely also be in their interest to get behind such a proposal. The Governor’s office and the provincial legislature might also take an interest – in the interests of Bali’s primary economic driver.

Any takers?

Read All About It

AUSTRALIA’S increasingly tabloid press – and we refer to the mindless genre rather than mere page size, since, really, size doesn’t matter – just can’t get enough of poor Schapelle Behind-the-Wire or, it seems, her sister Mercedes On-the-Run. Jakarta based Murdoch press reporter Cindy Wockner has lately brought readers of Rupert’s lesser tomes more on that front.

She tells us that while Corby may have resigned herself to being locked up (not happy but not expecting a miracle release) she could be a step closer to fulfilling her ambition to become a beautician (Wockner uses the term beauty therapist) through an innovative idea to assist female prisoners at Chateau Schapelle, aka Kerobokan jail. Along the way to this dream, she is – in the words of Wockner – “teaching other prisoners the art she studied before her arrest on drug smuggling charges.”

Wockner’s readers learn that Corby and other female prisoners have proposed to jail authorities that they set up a beauty salon on the grounds, where Corby and perhaps some outsiders would teach beauty therapy, provide beauty treatments for prisoners, and perhaps open a small shop to sell handicrafts made by inmates.

The plan was proposed last year. It has won support from the prison doctor. Jail conditions are not ideal at Kerobokan – well, nowhere is ideal if you’ve been locked up because you were naughty, we guess – and keeping inmates occupied is a constant problem in places where they care about such things and have spare taxpayer cash to fund rehab and work programmes. It consistently escapes the attention of most western critics of Indonesian and other prison systems that the plush facilities of the west are not affordable elsewhere. Oddly, too, western received wisdom that criminals are just poor misunderstood victims of society doesn’t wash here either.

Nonetheless, as Mercedes Corby tells Wockner, there is an argument worth having about the need for special efforts to look after female prisoners in Kerobokan, who for cultural reasons cannot use the jail’s recreational facilities – such as they are – and literally have nothing to do.

So learning the snip and clip trade is probably a good thing. Schapelle turns 32 in July. Maybe she’ll get a hairdo for the occasion.

Off the Boyle

SPEAKING of hairdos, Britain’s latest bad-hair lady, late-emerging singing superstar Susan Boyle, stirred up an ant’s nest when she said no, she’d rather not go to Washington to attend a dinner (put on by the press) at which The Prez, The Bam, was guest of honour. Susan, who shot to fame in a British TV talent quest, is evidently a sensible girl. The Diary can think of few things less worth doing than having a US$200-a-head dinner with a pack of Obama worshippers – particularly since they included not only boringly opinionated pundits but also luminous beings from the world of entertainment such as Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Eva Longoria Parker, Ashton Kutcher, Alicia Keys, Jimmy Fallon, Samuel L. Jackson and Jon Bon Jovi.

President Obama is in a tough job. He’s already attracting criticism for some policy decisions and his unique approach to the problems of his office. He deserves some sympathy – but songbird Susan was far better staying away because she had to wash her hair.

They Hung Out for a Win

THE former British icon store Marks & Spencer has changed its pricing policy on larger-size bras following a Facebook campaign by a group calling itself Busts 4 Justice. Nearly 13,000 people signed an online protest against its policy of charging customers more for oversized bras.

The campaign was started by Beckie Williams, a comely 26-year-old who wears a 30G bra (what this actually means is a mystery to your diarist, whose now historic interest in the garments began and ended with whether what was in them was available at the time and how easy they were to unclip) and was fed up with being charged the equivalent of Rp30, 000 extra on bras bigger than a DD cup. According to Busts 4 Justice this policy was criminally unfair.

A spokesman for Marks & Spencer was quoted as saying: “Basically we boobed.”

Post-Colonial Blarney Alert

WHILE Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the 81-year-old Colombian doyen of Latin American literature says he is still too busy writing to talk to the media, Australian former enfant terrible of post-modern storytelling, Richard Flanagan, 48 this year, is happy to chat. And he’s coming to Bali to do so, at an Ubud Writers and Readers Festival literary dinner on June 6.

Flanagan is a tree-hugger – he’s from Tasmania, after all, where there’s not a lot else with which to reassure yourself you’re relevant – and from the long tradition of Irish-Australian antipathy to anything colonial or imperial. Such people dislike the Brits even more than the Brits dislike themselves.

Although his writing is sometimes as dense as the wonderful and unique cool temperate rainforest of his island home, Flanagan is masterly in his craft. He is sure to bring some lively colour to the June 6 event. His work – his debut novel in 1997, Death of a River Guide, is particularly compelling – is a two-fingered salute to the imperial origins of modern Australia and the Brits he met and didn’t like as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. He’s very good at that modern bane, fictionalising history. His latest book, Wanting, published in 2008 and shortlisted for this year’s Miles Franklin Award, is yet another rendition of colonial oppression. His 2002 novel, Gould’s Book of Fish, won the Commonwealth Writers Prize that year.

This year’s festival is from Oct. 7-11. Visit the UWRF website at for information.

Oh the Shame!

WE hear disturbing news that those ever-cautious Aussie border controllers – you’ll know them if you ever go there, because they’ll take you to a darkened room and ask you at least 200 questions about whether you have any peanuts on your person or foreign laxatives in your luggage – have taken a set against that most Australian of icons, Vegemite.

Or so it seems. Ubud foodie and festival girl Janet DeNeefe tells us a friend of hers tried to take a jar of Vegemite into the Godzone the other day. This criminally negligent act evidently excited a beagle of the anti-food patrol or something. The contraband was taken away for destruction. Well, that’s what they said. We reckon it ended up on someone’s savoury cracker at little lunch.

Vegemite, while now at home in the big bickie tin owned by the US conglomerate Kraft, has been “proudly made in Australia since 1923” and is famous for its original advertising pitch that it put a rose on every cheek.

Apparently that blush should now be one of embarrassment.

Fast Food for Thought

THE American fast-food giant McDonald’s is hoping to offer PhDs, after receiving approval to award its own nationally recognised qualifications in Britain, according to the company’s “chief people officer.” We don’t know whether he cleared it with the Big Mac first, but David Fairhurst told the London Financial Times newspaper the company’s new power to award qualifications made it “a university in its own right.” He said the company wanted to award qualifications equivalent to university degrees.

They’ll offer fries with that, naturally.

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