Sorry, But We Really Do Need to Rage About Rabies

Rabies is a frightful disease best dealt with, should it appear, with draconian measures. Before the present outbreak caught everyone by surprise – including the local authorities and the first victims of it, who went to their graves never knowing what had killed them so horribly – Bali was officially a rabies-free area.

Whether it was or not is moot. Like many of nature’s ways of committing indiscriminate mass murder, rabies can lie dormant, or at least quiescent and unnoticed, for lengthy periods before breaking out to cause misery and untimely death. There are very few places on the planet where it can be safely said that rabies is not present, or potentially so, or where continuous vigilance is an optional extra. Bali is not one of them.

The fact that there have been no identified human cases for a statutory number of years neither confers protection nor indicates absence. Rabies manifests itself with readily identifiable symptoms – not for nothing is it known in French as La Rage and in the now disused English term as hydrophobia – and even if health-post personnel are not educated to recognise them, any veterinarian or doctor worthy of a certificate to practice certainly should.

Thus responses such as those of the authorities (run in circles, scream and shout), the animal welfare lobby (don’t be nasty to all those poor dogs) and now the Bali Hotels Association (apply World Health Organisation procedures and don’t scare the horses, aka international tourists) are foolish and intensely annoying.

We can still stop rabies. If anyone had thought (in time) to establish an effective quarantine zone on the Bukit in 2008, enforced it, and destroyed all potential animal carriers of the virus in that area, we wouldn’t now have an island-wide problem. In that context, all we have to deal with is a far bigger problem than should have been the case.

Let’s Rock

It hardly seems possible that it’s a year since the Rock Bar at the Ayana started serving drinks on the cliff just above the waves at Jimbaran, and entertaining the crowd (and the crews of the Java boats at anchor just offshore) with loud live music.

But it is. Proof of this passage of time was to hand last Thursday, when Rock Baristas were invited to a party. Ayana general manager Charles de Foucault made a short speech – they’re the best – in his delightfully accented English and pointed out that the success of the Rock Bar could be seen by the fact that they had already needed to extend it (it’s a sort of Rock Bar II a little further along).

As on all such occasions, The Crowd was there. It included Cindy Wockner, who works out of Jakarta as the Sydney Daily Telegraph/News Limited’s Indonesia correspondent (Cindy is another former colleague, so it was good to catch up), other journalists of importance and a few hangers-on, such as The Diary.

We still didn’t see the alphabet-soup girl, Susi Johnson, however, even though she’d left us a note on Hector’s Blog, where The Bali Times Diary is posted. She said the reason we hadn’t managed to spot her at the Yakkers three weeks ago was that she had been wearing black eye makeup for the first time in 20 years, new specs, a multi-hued dress apparently of such effusion that even Jacob would have been jealous and heels high enough to escape a Seminyak flood.

We’d have looked for her at the Rock Bar, of course, armed with this intelligence, if we hadn’t been having too much fun. But of course we were having too much fun. The Rock Bar’s that sort of place. And the music’s good too – Third Eye Blind played at the party – even if those flashing strobe lights are a bit too much for people who would rather concentrate on the colour of the wine.     

A Fond Farewell

In the grand old days of the British Raj, for which it seems some Indonesians rather pine on a what-if basis – what if the British rather than the Dutch had been their late and unlamented colonial masters: might they now have a country that works? – it used to be said of Indian troops that they didn’t really care whether their (British) officers were good or bad. They just liked them to stay with them for a very long time.

Expatriate communities feel something of the same imperative where the official local flag-carrier of their own country is concerned. That’s why the honorary consul is such a good idea, if the place is entirely peripheral to the core interests of the country concerned. The home government appoints one of its national flock resident there – or even a citizen of the country itself – to perform these duties and appear on the handshake circuit.

Where Australia is concerned, as with other regional countries, Bali’s unique position within Indonesia and the international travel market makes fulltime official consular representation a must and a suitable appointment essential. This means a career foreign service officer and that means they come and go. Thus we are losing Lex Bartlem, Australia’s consul-general here since January 2009 and now, far ahead of the usual schedule, heading out to a new appointment.

Bartlem made the announcement of his hitherto unscheduled departure – though he could not say where to because the appointment has yet to be announced by Canberra – at a soiree in honour of departing consul Sean Turner (he’s been with us for three years and was in Jakarta for three before that) and to welcome new consul Annette Morris at the Consulate General on Tuesday night.

An old friend of Bartlem’s at the gathering, a long-term Bali resident who worked with him years ago when (surprise!) both were somewhat younger, said a few words of thanks to a modest chap who would never think to blow his own trumpet. 
   
Dry Run for Chaos

The unbelievable shemozzle that enveloped Sunset Road, the Ngurah Rai Bypass, and the circus that is Dewa Ruci in Kuta last Friday afternoon may have had some educational value. Those recovering from the ordeal might find that thought therapeutic.

Police had closed off the through access from Sunset to the Bypass heading towards the airport and Nusa Dua, forcing all such traffic heading in that direction to go up the road towards Sanur before making a u-turn a kilometre along the way to head back in their necessary direction.

It was brought about by an emergency – though people stuck in their vehicles for 45 minutes inching along towards Sanur and then forcing their way into the traffic trying to get from Sanur didn’t know this at the time – and may thus have been unavoidable. A fire at a spa in the mangrove swamp further south along the Bypass had resulted in the fire brigade being called from far and wide and their appliances required priority. It also brought flocks of gawkers who got in the way of everything and should have been moved on.

But what was truly unbelievable was the response of the police, who showed devotion to stupidity far beyond their usual call. Dewa Ruci was overrun with them, though most seemed to be standing around. Up the road towards Sanur, where traffic – doubtless including tourists in transport that was never going to get them to the airport on time – was trying to make the u-turn, was one lonely motorcycle policeman, blowing his little whistle like mad and waving through the traffic that actually wanted to go that way.

Well, that traffic was going that way whether he liked it or not, of course. That’s what road verges (and for motorbikes, shop forecourts) are for in Bali. The little chap needed help: a couple of his colleagues from back at Dewa Ruci would have done, provided they had their whistles with them, without which an Indonesian traffic cop is incapable of any activity.

They could have formed a u-turn squad and organised a regulated reverse-direction point that would have worked. But evidently that would have been too hard. Or too much trouble. Or no one thought of it.

The Diary – caught up in this fun show (a two-and-a-half-hour stop-start drive from Denpasar to Ungasan is a delight) – found it a useful dry run for the chaos Governor Pastika has promised us when they take away that big statue and start building that flyover.

Big Book Date

There’s soon to be a really interesting panel discussion on the future of books. This is a seminal question for bibliophiles everywhere and eminently suitable fare for a literary festival. The panel will discuss the developments in electronic publishing that are revolutionising the way books are sold and read. After all, it is not since Gutenberg – half a millennium ago – that such a profound change in the dissemination of knowledge has occurred.

Panellists will discuss what effect this is having on authors and how electronic publishing will alter the nature of fictional and non-fictional texts if (when) the physical book passes into history. It will try to answer how classics will be identified and reputations made in a radically fractured reading constituency. 

Not to be missed? You’re right. So it’s a shame that the event is at the Edinburgh Book Festival (which is on this month) and is light years away from the land of fragrant rice.

diary@thebalitimes.com

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