January 8-14, 2010

Farewell To a Wonderful Friend of The World and Its People.

ABDURRAHMAN WAHID, ubiquitously Gus Dur to friend and foe alike, left us on December 30. Anyone’s passing is sad, but that of Gus Dur is sadder than most. He brought so much of immeasurable value to Indonesia, to Islam, and to the world.

He was Indonesia’s first elected president, taking the reins when the Suharto regime finally staggered to its inevitable end. But more than that – much more than that – he was an Islamist (in the true sense of the term) who embraced plurality. He saw no inconsistency at all in promoting the immense values of his religion while at the same time genuinely honouring the place of other faiths.

He was a Suffist scholar and a humanist – we should all be humanists, whatever our personal religious beliefs – who led by quiet example. He argued strongly for his beliefs, but accorded the same rights to others, without declaring these a casus belli. In short, his was an intellect and a modulated conscience of precisely the kind of which the world needs more.

At a time when hotheads rule – on all sides of the drum-beating religious-statist divide that human frailty has brought upon us – and the gun (and its pernicious companion, the bomb) threatens us all, we would do well to ponder the wonderful legacy that Gus Dur has left us.

In Western democracies, politicians like to say that more unites their people than can ever divide them. It is a refrain repeated so often that it has become trite. But it is nevertheless a fundamental truth – and it extends beyond largely artificial national boundaries. Among us all, all the peoples of the Earth, much more unites – leave aside genes and DNA – than divides.

It’s a Blast

IN Bali, as in the rest of Indonesia, one gets accustomed to nonsense. For this reason, then, for long-stay visitors – by which classification all resident expatriates should be defined – an absence of nonsense for longer than normal becomes curiously discomfiting. Humans are creatures of habit, after all, as well as beings whose every fibre is enriched by rumour and delicious thoughts of disaster. If nothing goes wrong here for more than – oh, say two days – then clearly something is seriously awry.

We should therefore record our deep gratitude and sense of debt to the American embassy in Jakarta, which on receipt of a nice little note from Governor I Made Mangku Pastika on New Year’s Eve that said, basically, we’ve put tremendous security in place but, look, you know, you can’t be too careful, alerted Americans – and regrettably as a result of this the media, which gets off on looming disaster real or imagined – to the threat of an “immediate terror attack.”

Many things about America – and Americans – are risible. The astonishing fact that the putative Nigerian underpants bomber was on a watch list of Al-Qaeda operatives yet was still able to board a plane in Amsterdam and thankfully fail to fully ignite his undergarments on approach to Detroit is a laugh, in a hollow sort of way. Get Smart should be an instruction, not an invitation to sit through endless re-runs of old television comedies.

The Moon’s My Balloon

THAT Ubud luminosity Janet DeNeefe, who spent Christmas in Australia, returned to Bali just in time to outshine the Blue Moon that lit up the world on New Year’s Eve. We hear she kicked up a storm at her Indus restaurant that evening. (The Diary was having a great time at the Jazz Café. See below.)

DeNeefe, who by now will be beginning to worry about the 2010 Writers and Readers Festival (well, we hope so) had just appeared in that other Jakarta newspaper with a New Year piece that declared Bali to be the ant’s pants in places to be – we agree – yet managed to conflate several disparate issues, including PLN’s inability to organise anything much at all, into one Purnama (full moon).

This passage caught The Diary’s eye: “In bygone days there was no new order, just cosmic order of the niskala, unseen, kind. Is there is a lesson to be learned by imposed blackouts, and do they provide greater wisdom or vision? And while the lights might be off, what shines inside all of us are deeper issues of conservation, saving the planet and quality of life. Could ‘switched off’ be the new switched on?”

Click!

Doom and Gloom

WELL, not really. But readers of The Australian, the Odd Zone’s national newspaper, were invited to consider whether Bali was committing commercial and social suicide by failure to manage development, in a thoughtful piece by writer Deborah Cassrels published – as these things tend to be – over the New Year weekend.

It’s hard to argue with Cassrels’ thesis (that everything is so disorganised that virtually no sensible planning ever gets done and that rampant development threatens the island’s environment) or with the inference readers were invited to draw, that developers are in general a pain in the neck and the nether regions. Yet we need a little perspective. It’s true that KLS – Kuta-Legian-Seminyak – is a mess and it’s a complete mystery why anyone would actually want to live there. It’s true, too, that lots of people with more money than sense are buying overpriced blocks of land from robber barons on the waterless Bukit; and that, elsewhere, coastal areas have apparently been conceded as free-fire zones for lookalike get-rich-quickers. It’s certainly true that traffic gridlock is a daily fact of life in much of South Bali and that everybody – it’s not just the Balinese – turns rivers and beaches into garbage tips.

There is, therefore, much for the provincial government and the Green Governor to do. It must be done quickly. It must be done in a rational way and it must be done – consistent with overarching national policies – by the provincial government, which somehow must work out with Jakarta who is actually responsible for what.

But there is a lot more to Bali than just the concrete jungle in the south. There’s the rest of the island, folks. The bit with the other sort of jungle (well, sort of). What’s happened in the south is irreversible. We must all just make the best of it that we can. A few usable roads and even a rudimentary public transport system would help (hint, GG). Mass tourism brings in the dollars, which virtually all Balinese quite naturally want to get hold of. Quality tourism – and we do not mean more wannabe rich and famous tourism – ultimately provides them in far larger quantities. That’s the real imperative.

Idyll Lot

GILI Trawangan, off Lombok, is increasingly an adjunct of Bali, at least so far as its supplies and direct tourist traffic is concerned. So are its less crowded companions, Gilis Meno and Air. Fast boats now link them directly with Bali, leaving the mainland alone to its government’s dream of an impending Middle Eastern tourism boom fuelled by the new airport – under construction in the usual shambolic fashion – and a heroic belief that Arabs rich enough to fly away on hols will forsake the casinos, bars and other fleshpots of the Mediterranean and thoroughly liberal Europe for the shared Islamic heritage of distant Lombok.

According to a travel article just published in Britain, Trawangan could be next Ibiza. It is said to be just like that island in the Spanish Balearic Islands used to be before it wasn’t any longer. Trawangan is the party island, helped along by the fact that its community government won’t have police there and a range of engaging characters, among them Angelo Sanfilippo of Dream Village, who won a deserved mention in the article. It’s a relaxed place where everyone mucks in and gets along.

We’re not sure about it being the new Ibiza, but it’s certainly a magic spot; and a fine place to stage a personal idyll.

What a Hoot

THE Diary and party spent New Year’s Eve at the Jazz Café in Ubud. There’s always an eclectic crowd there – even when you’re not counting down the minutes to a new year – and never disappoints. And there’s nothing like jazz and the chance to dance to brighten up your night.

Some minor misbehaviour must be conceded. After the witching hour – which the Jazz Café’s management contrived to mark a tad early: but it would have been churlish to cavil over a mere eight minutes – The Diary’s party returned to its overnight accommodation armed with party hooters, the better to blast passersby with in celebration of 09 becoming 10.

Let There Be Light

PLN, whose plug-pulling skills are second to none, should be leaving the lights on round the clock one week from today. That’s if its promise that Bali’s rolling blackouts that were imposed in October because of its own incompetence and extended by one month-plus from December 10 for ditto and which are now due to end on January 15 proves unusual in that it will be kept.

But don’t hold your breath. And we would advise against selling your candles.

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