Coffee Must Be Enjoyed; But it Must Not Break The Bank

By Hector

PEOPLE talk a lot of crap about coffee. It’s all over the internet and elsewhere. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s gift of some fine Kopi Luwak on his Australian visit last week brought forth further alimentary ruminations on the qualities of the product and its production process. Because of its provenance, the gift was referred to the Australian quarantine authorities, which is no surprise – the Aussies, after all, look askance even at lollies brought into the special biosphere by unwary sweet-toothed visitors – although it was something of a diplomatic wince that, on better advice, might have been avoided.

Now there appear to be mutterings of impending discontent in that other special biosphere, Ubud, where an apparent proposal to establish another outpost of the Starbucks empire has the little town’s querulous expatriate community in a fever, at least according to leading luminary Janet DeNeefe, who even wrote about it in that other Jakarta newspaper (the one that’s not the Jakarta Globe). DeNeefe, who just happened to be patronising her own establishment in the little burg – where we presume her coffee comes free – and eavesdropping on some paying customers, which is something we might all do but would keep quiet about, is opposed to a Starbucks presence. It would destroy the ambience of Ubud, she asserts.

The Diary is a coffee freak: the more the merrier; or, at least, the more awake. There is nothing to beat a genuine espresso (preferred with an “s” rather than an “x”). Sometimes a cappuccino is nice – provided it is not crappuccino: those busy little civets should mind their own expensive business – and less frequently a latté. Most coffee is overpriced, but that’s the penalty of addiction. A Starbucks coffee is to be avoided on all grounds. A recent visit to their establishment at the Bali Collection at Nusa Dua – made only to avoid yet another embarrassing where-do-I-look tour of the ladies’ underwear department at the Sogo store there (but that’s another story) – confirmed the validity of this policy. The equivalent of US$10 a cup is beyond the pale; which not at all by the way was the beige-like tone and taste of the product purchased.

Called to Account

COLUMNIST Vyt Karazija reminds us this week – on Page 9 – that it’s often better to do nothing rather than to injure yourself in the process of taking action. And that’s sound advice, at least for those whose lives proceed at a slow and regulated pace; especially in Indonesia, where getting anything done at all is a major operation. Take the little business of banking as an example. Even “fee-free” accounts always seem to end up costing you money, because bankers are adepts when it comes to the special alchemy of managing (and mismanaging) other people’s money. Nonetheless, for the most part it is fairly plain sailing.

There is one bank here, however, which has irritated Diarist and Distaff into taking action, however injurious it might turn out to be. It is BII, lately (and perhaps appropriately) an acquisition of the Malaysian operator Maybank (may not?). It’s a long story and one that – we thought – was quietly approaching its inevitable conclusion when last week the last straw broke the camel’s back and we tried to close the account.

We did this because, in the process of depositing a very sizeable sum in cash, in foreign notes, the teller rejected one banknote as “broken.” Given the state of Indonesian banknotes that issue from tellers, of the human and artificial kind, this assertion was surprising. The offending note was undamaged in the critical area – the watermark – and, with one minimalist nick out of one edge, would be legal tender in its own land and in the hands of any moneychanger.

They wouldn’t shift. And because – for reasons that have forever remained both inexplicable and unexplained – the bank’s internet banking service had failed to recognise either login or password at least a year earlier, it was finally time to call it quits.

Ah yes, so sorry, but this is a special account. You cannot close it. What’s that? No reasonable explanation was forthcoming. It had, we think, something to do with the account having been opened in Lombok. We could go there to close it, they said. Yeah, right. Otherwise we could leave a token sum in the account and over three months the bank’s own fees would deprive us of that measly sum and automatically euthanize it.

The idea of starving bankers of oxygen has some appeal. A pillow or two, judiciously applied, could be a cathartic experience.

Five Years of News

OUR many readers – that legion here and overseas who buy the paper because they actually want to read it and not because it’s a free advertising sheet – will have noticed the banner above the masthead in last week’s edition. It recorded a milestone in Bali publishing: The Bali Times was five years old last week.

Over those years, since 2003, Bali has changed in many significant ways. These changes have been reported – and where appropriate, reflected on – in a measured manner in our pages. We are not a tabloid in any sense of the term. Neither does The Bali Times shrink from reporting the bad along with the good. If Bali is a paradise – and it is – then we all have to work to keep it so. This discomfits some, who are used to ruling their little roosts with zero accountability; and irritates others, who by default had been allowed to co-opt Bali as some sort of personal navel-gazing fief.

So here’s to the next five years of honest reporting – and all the others to follow.

Good Lord

IN many ways Britain’s House of Lords – the United Kingdom’s unelected upper chamber of parliament – has long resembled the sort of institution devised by Roman emperors to enforce their power. Caligula made his horse a consul (a sort of super-lord). And when so-called life peerages began to seep into the previously hereditary ranks of the Lords, long ago, it rapidly became a repository for deserving party hacks and contributory businessmen.

So in terms of use-by dates, the House of Lords has certainly had its day. Plans by the British government to abolish it entirely and replace it with an elected senate are therefore unsurprising and one would have thought unarguable. Who could, after all, argue for a wholly appointed upper house in a parliamentary democracy?

The beleaguered Labour government of Gordon Brown apparently plans to take the proposal to the electors in Britain’s general election expected to be held on May 6. The changes are being handled by the justice secretary, Jack Straw – he was foreign secretary under the late and increasingly unlamented Tony Blair regime – and were confirmed recently by the astonishingly named Lord Adonis, the transport secretary.

Writer’s Cramp

THERE’S a sad little post on the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival website, posted on February 22, and saying plaintively: “Dear webmaster, I’d like to find out how to join this coming event in October. My director, Derek Robertson is interested to be part of this October event. Please advise how to join!! His latest book titled the Story of Iguana Don

which published last year in November. I’ve tried to contact Ms. Janet, but I have not received any respond.” It was signed “Ellis” and gave a phone number. Robertson is director of the Bayi Gemes Playgroup in Jakarta.

We don’t know whether poor Ellis and her query have been addressed as yet by the powers that be on Planet Gabble. But The Diary can attest to the fact that Ms Janet is very even-handed in her approach to queries from lower life forms: We never hear from her either.

This year’s festival is on from October 6-10, further details to be advised. UWRF is seeking support staff for the event by the way, if anyone’s interested. The details are on their website.

Good One, Squire!

OUR old friend MW2 (Michael Made White Wijaya) has notched up another triumph on the road to immortality. He has been written up by Esquire, the magazine for the nearly sentient. Well, the Indonesian version of it, at least. Still, you have to start somewhere.

The Bule With The Udeng, who also features from time to time in the jottings of visiting foreign media firepersons who have Googled “Bali” before leaving for the exotic East, does of course have an interesting life story (although it has now been retold many times). His unrivalled grasp of the Balinese language seems to be of greater utility than his appreciation of the syntax and grammar of his native tongue, in which, by repute, he remains colloquially fluent. And he owns a landscape gardening business.

There, now you have the full story.

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