Good for a Laugh, But Not When People Are Dying

By Hector

Bali exists, as a modern polity, on heroic claims and Walter Mitty propositions. It is also the world headquarters of the White Elephant Corporation, many of whose defunct premises litter the island. That doesn’t make it a bad place to live – far from it; laughter is the best medicine, after all – but it does get tedious when the “joke” costs lives. Thus, we have an unregulated traffic system that permits uncaring people to own and operate overloaded trucks that anywhere else would be off the road – and their owners in jail most likely – and allows madmen to drive them. Last week six people paid with their lives in the latest example of road conditions in the Kingdom of Killer Trucks.

Thus, we have a tragic comedy of a response to rabies, that so far has killed 101 Balinese – in a horrible and wholly avoidable way – but which, according to the head of the animal husbandry department, Putu Sumantra, who clearly wouldn’t get a job elsewhere and certainly shouldn’t have one here, is now on the point of being controlled. He later changed his story (the work is just beginning) but that’s precious little comfort to people who need their top bureaucrats to be thinking.

The crass impossibility of his original claim – upon which he then dodged further questions by being, according to his staff, “away at a ceremony” for a long time – starkly shows the inadequacy both of himself and the “programme” of which he is putatively in charge. Not even Mitty, or even Maxwell Smart, would expect to be believed in such circumstances. Sumantra, however, would have liked us to believe that in three short weeks his teams, assisted by an animal welfare organisation run by ladies who take afternoon tea, could even by remote possibility have vaccinated 70 percent of the latest estimate of 400,000-plus stray dogs, every one of them adept at making themselves scarce, in every one of the approximately 5,000 local communities in Bali bar two in Tabanan.

Memo Governor Pastika: It’s time to get real.

Sticky Sit

Etgar Keret, the engaging Israeli writer and filmmaker, had a lovely piece in The Tablet the other day – the New York-based online daily magazine. He wrote about lizards – of both the real and the lounge variety – at UWRF HQ (Janet de Neefe’s Indus restaurant at Ubud, where the views are great) and other things, not actually connected with the 2010 festival just ended, or for that matter what it’s supposed to do. Or what most people would suppose a literary festival is supposed to do.

It was a good antidote to the De Neefe Facebook posts of last weekend and later about the piles of praise that had been cascading in since the doors closed on her last cancellation.

Keret spent five days cooling his heels in Bangkok on his way to Bali, because every time he took his Israeli passport to the Indonesian embassy visa section there they told him he wouldn’t be getting a visa (Indonesia does not have diplomatic relations with Israel) and he should go home. Janet’s crew kept telling him to stay put. They must have been having difficulty tracking down the preferred recipient for their brown envelope full of facilitating currency.

Still, all credit to Keret for sticking it out. That’s the Sabra spirit. He may think about it for longer if he gets another invitation. His reward on this occasion apparently was to observe one of those unsuccessful mating games of alcohol-fuelled males (hopes up, prospects down) that can be fascinating if you’ve got nothing better to watch on sticky evenings in faraway places.

There’s a letter on Page 8 this week that puts the writers’ festival in rather better perspective.

Ditz Lit

Now that the annual week of fun pudding and re-heated gravitas has been shoved back in the bain-marie, pending 2011, the Bar Luna Lit Club has reassumed its focus as the centre of Things Lit in Ubud. There was an evening do on Thursday at which, according to the invitation, there was a UWRF Round Table. Someone was reading, apparently. We should be pleased; that appears to be an advance.

The invitation to the evening also advised that there would be a display of “Neal Harrison’s Photo’s of 2010 Festival.” It’s strange that a literary crowd would be ignorant of the proper place and actual purpose of an apostrophe.

See You, Anon

Diarists don’t usually get plaudits. Most people – quite rightly – only bother to bang on at you if you’ve committed some faux pas. They assume, again rightly, that a diarist is meant to entertain and sometimes inform, in a readable way, and think of this as really rather normal and therefore unremarkable.

So it was nice to see, the other day, a feedback item on The Bali Times website from someone who clearly shares the Diary’s view that every Aussie or other idiot who falls foul of Indonesia’s laws is not necessarily worth the expense and trouble of dispatching an SAS snatch squad to rescue.

The fellow – it could have been a fellowess, but we think not – didn’t leave a name. He (or she) preferred the anonymity of Anon. That’s probably sensible, given that anyone suggesting that people who arrive here, find to their complete surprise that their luggage is stuffed full of illegal drugs and claim to have been set up might just be having us all on is instantly set upon by the Schapelle Sidewinder Squad. Diarists get paid (well, in theory) to take flak. Most of them enjoy it anyway.

Anon said, of last week’s Diary: “Hilarious as usual … perhaps the auditions for new episodes of Banged Up Abroad are being held in Oz? It sure seems that way given how many of them continue to show up here firmly believing in the ignorance of local authorities.” By the way, we hear – from Anon – that a great new book is finally out: The Monster That Ate Ubud. Don’t think the authors were invited to the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival either.

The End

Local identity Susi Johnston strongly dislikes a lot of property development hereabouts – and elsewhere, we hear, specifically a wedding-cake excrescence of a “Hindu Temple” construction Michael Made White Wijaya has recently created for some exponent of American tastelessness in Florida – and has been blogging about something called The Seminyak.

This is a property on the beach at Seminyak, between The Legian (a Diary favourite) and that overpriced café whose (Australian) owner recently told us had no plans to move off island (“Why would we leave?”) and which has recently mushroomed in Singapore, and which, like W further up the trash line, has been built in the spray zone on grandfathered Suharto-era dictator-title. In those days the only beach set-back was if you ran into the wrong general.

Susi says of this latest endeavour to crowd in the In Crowd that it is due to open in December but that, rubber time being what it is, this galactic event is more likely to take place in June next year. Ah, well. What’s a target if you can’t miss it?

It’s being built by Tata, a thoroughly reputable construction firm, but it is of course being built in Bali. In a previous life the land was occupied by the Resor Seminyak. Apparently this was later defined as not quite development to a t. Susi says The Seminyak will include a spa. This will be called The Spa. There will be a waterside restaurant. This will be called The Waterside. Susi adds (love her!) that there will be a wedding chapel (yes, another one) and wonders whether this will be called The Chapel.

Off to St Nick’s

Marian Hinchliffe, chief funster down at the Ayana, on those big rocks at the Bukit end of Jimbaran, tells us they’re all set up for Christmas. The resort’s festive season programme is certainly extensive. It’s got everything; even something for the kids.

She’d like you to put the jolly back into Christmas, along with Santa Claus (St Nicholas), with New Year thrown in. Well, The Diary doesn’t object to jollity. It’s a jolly good thing. We don’t do that Western stuff-yourself-silly feasting routine, but the New Year bash at the Rock Bar – the place is our fave for a rave – sounds fun. But memo self: Must remember the dark glasses to ward off those strobe lights.

Christmas is nowadays a secular occasion – globally, all but – that has been re-created as a celebration of consumerism’s Buy Buy World. It is not, primarily, a religious experience, unless (like The Diary) you like that old Elton John song Religion.

Only the truly hardy and committed seem to remember that it actually celebrates the birth of one among the most important of Islam’s 25 named prophets.
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