February 12-18, 2010

What’s in a Name (1)? Well, a Nice Little Row, For One Thing

MANY of the entrepreneurial types you see around Bali – and in Lombok, similarly enthused by the prospect of selling something to a bule – have given themselves “English” names. Sunglass sellers are among these, most ubiquitously; though buying a set of ready-to-fracture frames from John (or Matthew, Mark or Luke) is no more a good idea than buying them from Wayan, Made, Nyoman or Kadek. Or for that matter from any of the poor migrant workers from Java and elsewhere in Indonesia who try – desperately – to scratch a marginal living from itinerant selling.

Similarly, should your fancy turn that way, you may avail yourselves of massage services – not necessarily of a questionable  variety – from an assortment of ladies who will tell you their names are Sara (or Sarah), Sally, Anna, Lily and so forth.

So, outrage in many quarters notwithstanding, some measure of objectivity needs to be retained in the delicious little row over the practice of that place for plutocrats, the St. Regis, to “encourage” its butlers to adopt names with which its well-heeled guests may feel more comfortable. It is, in short, more of a risibility than a risk; it says far more about the shallow proclivities of St. Regis, its American corporate bosses, its management and its guests (apparently) than it does about the sanguinity with which Indonesians interested in earning a living view the business of coping with the strange habits of Westerners.

To illustrate the real point – which isn’t the asinine policy of presenting butlers as thespian characters but the difficulty the St. Regis apparently has with falling revenues worldwide – we made strenuous efforts, as the publisher of the original story about Nusa Dua’s sudden crop of Edgars, Edwards and others, to give the hotel and its corporate controllers their say.

They didn’t want to say, apparently. Communications from the news desk of The Bali Times were met with ethereal silence. It is good to see, therefore, that common sense (and something resembling a grip on cultural awareness) has come to the St. Regis, with its decision, disclosed this week in the teeth of a growing row, to junk the whole silly idea. And good to see that its management now concedes that corporate presence needs to conform to the locality in which it is present.

We seriously doubt that many of its guests at its Bali property will be in any way disturbed by their canapés and bubbly being served by the hand of someone whose name plate says he is another Wayan. And if any of them were to be, our advice would be: You’re in the wrong country; go somewhere else.

What’s in a Name (2)

WE hear that 300 islands in East Nusa Tenggara which are yet to be blessed with an official moniker may soon be wiped from the map due to conflicts regarding their names.

Ricard Djami, head of the provincial secretariat administrative office in Kupang, says residents differ over the right names for unnamed islands.  “Some want islands named after their ancestors, but others want them named after certain animals,” he said last week. Probably he said this with a sigh. “These differences slow down the process of naming the islands.”

Wonder if St. Regis could help resolve the difficulty? Canapé Cay has a certain ring to it. Or Bloody Mary Reef.

Statue of Limitations

IT wasn’t quite a Warhol moment – the idea lasted more than 15 minutes, after all – but Indonesia’s most publicised adopted son, US President Barack Obama, apparently isn’t acceptable for fully public display in statue form in Jakarta. The 10-year-old “Barry” Obama, complete with outstretched hand and passing butterfly, is being moved from a Menteng park to the close confines of his former primary school in the area.

A Facebook group – Turunkan Patung Barack Obama di Taman Menteng (Take Down the Barack Obama Statue in Menteng Park), which last time we looked had 56,541 members – has claimed victory. Critics had said that a public park should be for a real Indonesian hero, not someone who says he’d love a really good nasi goreng.

In the time-honoured Indonesian tradition there is also a lawsuit floating around, filed on January 22 against the city administration. We hear this may stay in place because it has already been filed. Or perhaps it’s because platoons of lawyers were expecting to get fat fees out of the argument and won’t let go.

The Diary always felt the idea was something of a misjudgement. But perhaps it had some merit. Hector spent (nearly) four of his formative years living in Nicosia, Cyprus, and is astonished that no one has suggested that this involuntary, though immensely enjoyable, childhood event should be commemorated in post-modern kitsch.

That’s a shame. There’s a lovely little spot right on the Green Line (which divides the city between Turkish North Cyprus and Greek Cypriot Cyprus Cyprus, a geographical addendum whose worrisome birth post-dated Hector’s period of official residence by two decades) that would admirably augment the options available to local pigeons.

Or, if the people objected to a public commemoration, then the fine Venetian quadrangle of what may by now be the former Terra Santa College, in Hector’s day the domain of particularly fierce Capuchin monk-teachers, would do very nicely.

Life in a Bubble

IN recent weeks business matters in Denpasar have taken The Diary several times into the fun and games of Jl Imam Bonjol. Most tourists probably never get the chance to enjoy that particular celebration of Indonesian traffic. It is not for the faint-hearted. There has been a rewarding compensation lately, though. At one particularly fine traffic jam, aka intersection, there’s been a chap selling bubbles.

He darts in and out of the stalled vehicular mass, carrying his wares and cheerily blowing little soapy bubbles into the fumes. Not sure if he ever sells anything. But it has caused Hector to go on his way chirruping that lovely old song: I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles.

Fine Fare

SADLY, it seems, Hector’s (no relation) Tex-Mex eatery on Jl Raya Uluwatu at Ungasan has closed its doors.  The premises is shuttered and the sign has fallen over; though oddly, it was still illuminated last time we passed by. Perhaps the beans just wouldn’t jump.

But a little way up the road, just over the manic crossroads where you can continue to Pecatu, turn left to Bali Cliff or Nusa Dua, or right to Balangan – or not, as the traffic gods, grossly oversized tourist buses and Killer Yellow trucks dictate – we’ve found Waroeng Ungasan, spelled thus, in the attractive older style.

It is run by Wayan (are we surprised?), who offers her own style of home cooking in a nice low-cost and comfortable ambience. The place has Wi-Fi too, a boon to local residents when their own ISPs decide to take the day off. The menu is eclectic and includes ayam goreng lalapan, described this way in what must be that newly emerging language, BalEngTxt (Balinese-English-Text): Fried chicken served with a Balinese vegetable salad of thin sliced raw cabbage, green bean, cucumber, tomato oh yeah sambal setan (evil hot) but ask 4 the mild if ur a chicken.

Sounds fun. But The Diary had the mie goreng. It was very nice.

Turning Turtle

SOMETIMES you read a story that really warms the heart. So it was recently when ABC Online – essential reading for those with any interest in the Odd Zone – posted a report that police had cordoned off an entire beachside road in the Queensland city of Redcliffe to accommodate a turtle rescue. (Redcliffe is just north of the state capital, Brisbane – that big place that Garuda still can’t manage to fly to from Bali.)

It seems that masses of little loggerhead turtles, newly hatched in the dark of the evening, had taken a wrong turn and headed along the highway instead of into the ocean. So local residents and staff from the nearby Australia Zoo, which but for a misguided stingray would still be the domain of the quintessential Aussie, the “Crikey!” man, Steve Irwin, turned out in force for the lengthy operation necessary to gather them up and send on their way in the proper direction.

Dead Letter

IN The Diary last week we ran an item headed We Get a Rev-Up. It related to a letter from Dewi Hadi of Tuban, who was taking The Diary to task over what she believed was unfair treatment of Schapelle Corby and her sister Mercedes.

It was a well-written letter, received early in the week and judged – properly – to be a missive the newspaper should publish. The diary, also written early in the week, said it appeared in the letters column in that edition. Then the Fates intervened. A mass of comment on another issue – the St. Regis butlers who masquerade as Edgar and such (is there a Jeeves?) and which is the subject of this week’s lead item  – was similarly judged worthy of publication; in the production phase of the weekly graft and grind, other letters were then left out of the edition, including Ms Hadi’s.

It appears this week, late but still eminently readable. And we’ve given ourselves a rev-up about it.

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