Blots on the Landscape: Noise is Not A Cultural Tradition

By Hector
From Ungasan to Canggu, and from Kuta to Sanur, via much of Denpasar and scattered blots about Ubud, the Blight of Bali grows ever worse. That’s noise we’re talking about. It’s an issue of absolutely central concern. It comes from dogs – you’d think they’d keep a bit quiet at the moment, given the risk of a quick rabies-scare cull – as well as from aberrant motorbikes and other manmade outrages. A letter from correspondent Carl Valiquet in this week’s paper (see page 8) relates a tale of woe about his sleeplessness and a loud (and undoubtedly vulgar) karaoke establishment apparently intent on making everyone’s life a misery in pursuit of big bucks (well, rupiahs with zillions of zeroes, at least).

Valiquet’s problem lies in a Sanur precinct – from where, understandably, he and his wife are moving – and his letter is an essential primer for anyone considering relocation: to anywhere; but especially to anywhere in South Bali.

It’s not just the complete absence of noise-abatement laws, or the lofty lack of interest among those who govern us about the wellbeing of the aural environment. It’s also the similar absence of any meaningful regulation of businesses whose business is to get lots of people through their doors by making loud noises.

Complaints are dismissed with distain and arrogant disinterest. And not just in Sanur. Where this rude behaviour fits into the liturgy of Bali’s delightful culture is rather unclear.

It’s also strange. We mightn’t particularly like the reprise of the Bali Is My Life slogan, just relaunched by Tourism Minister Jero Wacik. But it has one benefit: it is unlikely ever to make any noise. Bali Where’s My Earplugs has the quite wrong ring to it.

Bali Revealed (Again)

There’s a new book out – Secrets of Bali: it’s reviewed in this edition’s Life section by Roy Thompson – that re-reveals the real Bali. That’s the bit that hasn’t been bolly’d out by the bling brigade or reduced to risibility by writers of pap.

It’s written by Jonathan Copeland with the collaboration of Ubud identity Ni Wayan Murni. According to Thompson, it’s the best book about Bali since Fred Eiseman’s 1990 classic. It might need to be, at Rp370K a copy at Times Bookshops, but never mind.

What is a little odd, however, is that one of authorities cited in its pages is Andrew Charles, who was briefly editor of Hello Bali (better known as Hello Bolly) and who used to pen editorial notices wondering why readers never sent him any mail. He was also, famously, irritated by Bali being described as the Island of the Gods. Another citation comes from Rob Goodfellow, an Australian writer of invisible talent.

Perhaps a better read, especially for anyone fixated on Aussie royalty residing in Ubud, would be journalist Deborah Cassrels’ lovely feature in The Weekend Australian magazine out last Saturday. See if you can get hold of a copy. Cassrels is a good lateralist. Few would think to reference the impact of fado – Portuguese folk music – on Indonesian musical tradition. She delightfully retells the story of Jero Asri Kerthyasa, once Jane Gillespie, the Sydney preschool teacher who became Ubud’s premier princess by marriage.

The princess also runs Biku, the lovely Seminyak eatery.

Strategic Move

Your diarist will shortly be taking off for Australia. Hold those cheers, luminous and/or phosphorescent ones, and any among the chatterers who still define argument as having only one point of view: I’ll be back. It’s just a quick trip to look after some necessary business in the Great South Land.

It will be quick because Bali’s the place to be; and also because it’s winter in Terra Incognita and chill winds around the nether regions anywhere really should not be on anyone’s agenda.

This trip, Diary and Distaff are flying with Strategic Airlines, which has recently commenced Perth-Bali services. New players deserve support, and Strategic was also quite a bit cheaper than the other low-cost carriers on Bali’s primary tourist route. We also found them a delight to deal with on bookings. They had no trouble with separate names or with different return dates on one booking.

Sting in the Tale

It’s always notable when Australian politics gets interesting, which they do from time to time, on a cycle not too dissimilar to the elliptical adventures of Halley’s Comet.

In this instance it has become interesting because Prime Minister Kevin Rudd – who, we are advised by another super-endowed brain, the Sydney journalist David Marr, invariably regards himself as the smartest guy in the room (a conversation between Rudd and Marr would be an interesting standoff, then) – has signed off on a Treasury sting that proposes to collect a 40-percent premium in tax from miners judged to have made super profits.

This has led to extraordinary sights: Twiggy Forrest, for example, a very rich man indeed, turning up at a Perth press club meeting looking like one of the workers and annoying the prime minister with a question or two. The shrieks of the big miners, Forrest among them but including the South African head of Rio Tinto, Marius Kloppers, that they’ll all be ruined by this move and may indeed move – and take their money with them – need to be taken with a pinch of salt. We all know they’d really like to be paying no tax at all. That’s why, among other things, the feisty Australian online journal The Punch has invented the Rich Bastards Club for them.

But Rudd is not a popular chap. This is not just because he’s prime minister. It’s a historic fact. His Labor Party, which must go to the polls this year and is discomfited by the sudden presence of an actual opposition, is said to be worried that Kevin 24/7 may turn in a bad result. That’s not the sort of bottom line any collective of parliamentary seat-warmers looks to with equanimity. Suggestions that a tumbrel may soon be sent to take Rudd off to the guillotine can be dismissed, however. Madame Defarge is not quite ready to knit.

There was, though, in this context, a delightful echo a few days ago from Rudd’s famous rise to fame period (in Queensland in the 1990s). The state treasurer (finance minister) of that era, Keith De Lacy, a pleasant dinner companion and fellow bon vivant well known to your diarist, gave out that Rudd was not a good prime minister.

Given that Rudd, when he thought he was running Queensland as head of the state cabinet office, was continually at loggerheads with ministers, Treasurer De Lacy among them, that’s a delicious pay-back that’s been a long time coming.


The St. Regis Bali, that upmarket retreat of the etymologically challenged where until recent times the butlers were Bob or Bertie rather that Wayan or Made, is branching out in another unusual cultural direction. On Monday (June 21) the Yale Whiffenpoofs will be singing for their supper in the Astor Ballroom there.

Certain collegiate proclivities of old-world, east-coast America have always amazed. There’s a sort of undergraduate enthusiasm for curious hobbies. No wonder it remains prime recruitment territory for the CIA. The Skull & Bones club, also a Yale entity, comes to mind. It thought nothing of making an illegal souvenir of Geronimo’s remains after he died bereft and sad in US Army detention in Oklahoma, miles away from his Arizona homeland and 20 years after he capitulated to Washington in the late 1880s, ending the Apache Wars. He was duped (also by old-world, east-coast America) and was detained instead of being repatriated to his people as promised.

The Whiffenpoofs, however, though also curious, only sing a cappella. They do that very well, by the way. On Monday at the St. Regis – where they’re not only singing for their own suppers, but for others’ – they’ll be filling the restricted confines of the Astor Ballroom with two 30-minute sessions of non-discount descant in favour of Guna Tuna Rungu (for deaf and mute children) and Udyana Wiguna. These are two charities recently adopted by St. Regis which both require money for schooling and general living needs of children aged between six and 16.

The Whiffenpoofs will warble after cocktails at 6pm and before something described as a cocktail dinner buffet at 8.15pm. You can drop in for Rp950K net. Of course, you have to book. It’s that sort of place.

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