All Aboard the Pipedream Express for Your Trip of a Lifetime

By Hector

Unless something was lost in the translation – like evidence of an appreciation of the engineering involved, the planning and community consultation that will have to be done, and a few other commonsense agenda items – Governor I Made Mangku Pastika has now promised Bali a train that will chug all round the island, following the roads and depositing locals and tourists alike at their destinations of choice, in 2015.

It seems he’s done this on the basis of having signed a memorandum of understanding (the magic MoU without which any thoroughly modern major leader cannot even eat his breakfast) with the state railway company. Earlier, of course, the Japanese had signalled their interest in participating in the Bali Choo-Choo Project.

Governor Pastika is a sensible fellow. He saw off the taxi rabble the other week by telling them he’d be happy to chat whenever they came up with a reasonable argument. Since he meant one that did not involve shutting down Bali’s only worthwhile taxi company so that all the other dysfunctional ones could have free reign and shut down competition which might otherwise mean having to improve services and train their drivers, we can assume they won’t be back any time soon.

Logic would indicate therefore that he might know a timeframe of five years to get a 500-kilometre railway up and running in crowded and adat-ruled Bali – even his preferred “slow train” around the littoral limits of the island – is (not to be unkind) ever so slightly on the heroic side of wondrously optimistic. It would – or should – also indicate that his public belief that such a railway could defray land acquisition costs and argument by following the road system and all its ridiculous little kinks and defiles (no wonder he’s thinking of a slow train) is also heroic.

What gauge of track is it proposed to run on? It would need to be a very narrow gauge indeed to manage right-angle turns. How are the trains to be powered? If the railway line is located within the COCOOTZ (that’s the Careering Out-of-Control Overturning Overloaded Truck Zone) on or near any road, what about public liability? Not to mention safety.

The Diary did a double-take when the story emerged in the hiatus between Christmas and New Year. Perhaps the governor’s office had put it aside for April 1 and inadvertently released it early.

Seeing Stars

The Diary is a Capricorn, one of that class of person whose childhoods were made a misery by the proximity of their birthdays to Christmas and thus being with depressing frequency the recipients of seasonal gifts “for your birthday as well.” It marks you, you know, that kind of thing. It almost makes it possible to envy a Leo.

In later stages of life’s cycle one tends to overlook birthdays, or laugh them off as inconsequential things. Or you start counting backwards. But this season was a little more fraught than most and the reason for this became plain when – via the estimable Jonathan Cainer, who contributes the weekly horoscopes interested readers may find on Page 15 – it was discovered that Mars and Saturn were about to create a right-angle smack bang in the middle of Capricorn’s little bit of the heavens.

Goodness, no wonder things have been a bit iffy lately. It makes you want to retire to the bedchamber and cover your head with the can’t-see-me blanket until it’s all over. But that wouldn’t work. Capricorns are never pessimists (we’re positive people, people) but we are realists. Someone or something would be sure to spot the big lump in the bed and then it would all be over anyway.

Better to face your daemons with a whisky in your hand and look them straight in the eye. Pip-Pip!

Cursed Indeed

Hugo Rifkind, a reasonable thinker, noted in The Times (of London) on December 21 that the curse of modern life is the impatience that comes with being within reach of information all the time. The Diary only read an extract of his article – via the New Statesman, our favourite English-language leftwing journal (Le Monde does La Gauche rather better) – because nowadays you have to pay to access the full horror of the former Thunderer. The Diary, having once been a Rupert Murdoch wage slave, sees no reason to return any of the man’s money.

Rifkind, spinning a tale drawn from the exceptional cold and snow that afflicted his misty little islands off the north-west coast of Europe just before Christmas, wrote that it is not the cold, the hard floors or the prospect of a lost holiday that anybody particularly seems to mind when travel delays occur. It is the waiting born of a lack of information that is exasperating.

He noted: “People crave information because it gives them the illusion of control. But knowing exactly how long one is going to be stuck at an airport does nothing to change the fact that the individual is stuck there. Yesterday [Dec. 20], Lord Judge allowed the use of Twitter in court – proof that it is becoming almost unthinkable in modern life that people should have to wait for anything. The downside is that people are getting worse at coping on the rare occasions that they have to.”

Well, we agree; on both counts. There are quite enough twits in courts everywhere without allowing electronic versions in there as well.

Levantine Treat

A friend not long out of Bali spent Christmas at Byblos, in the northern stretch of Lebanon not far from where the Mediterranean’s Levantine coast becomes briefly Syrian before turning into Turkey. He was there, he said, with his iPad, and planned to do some reading.

It’s a magic spot, and not just because the fabled eastern Mediterranean is at one’s doorstep (though a tad chill for dipping into at this time of the year). The Levant has always fascinated anyone with a sense of history, and Byblos, though now a forgotten corner to most people, more than most. It’s certainly a great place for bibliophiles.

It was a bastion of the Hellenised Middle East of the Ancient World and – though He is not recorded as ever having been there while he walked upon the Earth; it’s a bit of a trudge from Judea – has an important place in the story of Jesus Christ, known to most Indonesians as Isa al Mahdi. It was a centre of learning with a magnificent set of libraries and it gave its name to the Bible.

We would have disturbed our friend and his Christmas peace had we been along for the trip. But yes, it would have been a treat to be there among the better lettered spirits.


Our newly more accessible neighbour Darwin, capital of Australia’s Northern Territory and just a little over two hours away by AirAsia (nightly) or Jetstar, was apparently all but deserted over Christmas and the New Year. The ABC, Australia’s national broadcaster, screened a lovely little news report just before Christmas that showed what passes for queues at Darwin’s airport (some of them seemed to be about four people long – oh joy) and included the intelligence that no one from the airport or the airlines was available for comment because they’d all disappeared on holidays.

As Northern Territory Chief Minister Paul Henderson told the camera, it’s a long Top End tradition to vacate the place over Australia’s long Christmas-New Year-Summer Holiday break. One such evacuee who has been spending some time in Bali is the territory’s health minister, Kon Vatskalis, who as well as relaxing – as he should – was pushing forward an innovative health plan we’ll be hearing more of soon.

Henderson himself is heading this way. He’s coming to Bali for a week’s break mid-month. Have a good one, Paul. We hope Darwin’s traditional Big Wet, another reason for quitting the place in December-January-February, is not still having a holiday in Bali when you get here.

Jack, You’re a Dork

The tragic deaths of a young French couple shortly after they checked into their small (and on the evidence fatally dysfunctional) holiday hotel in Banjar, Buleleng, over Christmas remind us all of the fragility of life and demonstrate the power of love: the man apparently died when he tried to save his wife who (it appears) had been electrocuted in the shower.

So we didn’t need the disgustingly inappropriate and demeaning illustration that went out with Jack Daniels’ “report” on the incident in his weekly Bali Update on December 28. A photo of two sets of feet poking out from the end of a blanket is not funny in the circumstances. It is a gross slur for which he should thoroughly ashamed. 

It’s Janet

Just for the record, The Diary’s most mentioned name in 2010 was Ubud culinary delight and literary entrepreneur Janet de Neefe, with 14. Governor I Made Mangku Pastika was second, with 11 mentions. He may do better this year of course, as we keep you up to speed with the Pipedream Express and other luminous examples of government by bright idea.
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