Friday, November 25, 2011

More Fiasco Than Festival

Another community planning disaster, about 7.5 on the Richter scale, shook the little town of Sanur last week as the Sanur Village Festival, held at Sunrise Beach, played host to five long, hot, unspeakably humid days of frustration, vehicular chaos, roadway gridlock and boiling tempers.

In the past the little festival had been a pleasant enough affair, offering food and drink, local crafts and wares for sale, music and entertainment at night -- a place for tourists and locals alike to meet and meander, take a meal or sip at a tall, cold beer. I had looked forward to returning this year, as had my family, remembering a time when we had enjoyed local flavours, mingled with friends, basked in the cooling breeze off the ocean, and then sat on the grass at night for music and dance presented on a central stage.

But this year was to be different; for we ended up not with a festival, but with a fiasco, long to be remembered, if for anything, as the place one should not have gone.

Why? What had happened between this year and last to turn a pleasant amusement into a nauseating nightmare?

In two words: bad planning.

Or maybe I should say no planning at all.

To begin with, what genius, I wonder -- or what corporate body of genius (since it usually takes more than one person to be this stupid) -- came up with the idea to hold the festival at Sunrise Beach, to which there is only one road of entry and one road of departure? Last year the festival grounds stretched between Grand Bali Beach and Sindhu, an area to which many roads enter, and to which one can easily walk from any avenue of entry. But one road only? To an event that will attract not only the population of Sanur, but of the far flung outlying areas as well?

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, folks. You cannot see the whole picture until you take into account that this single road of entry comes straight off the Bypass. As we all know from daily experience, the Bypass is bad enough when simply left to itself; but funnel all this traffic, bound in both directions, onto a single narrow side way and what you have is the old hopelessly clogged drain effect.

No matter how I try to imagine the decision making process behind this disaster, the thing defies reason.

“Where should we hold the festival this year. It seems to have gone all too smoothly last, don’t you think?”

“Hmm, yes. How about the middle of the Bypass?”

“Oh ya? And what shall we do about traffic control?”

“Well, let me think a second . . . Oh, how about nothing!”

One must consider as well that not all people on the Bypass were bound for the festival. Some were trying to get to work. Some were trying to get home from work. Some were actually in the midst of work, like the truck drivers, the delivery vans, police cars, ambulances and such-like. Ah, but now they were going to the festival, like it or not. There was no place else to go.

Such was my situation on the final Sunday of the disaster. My son had stayed overnight with a friend in Sanur and I was to travel from my house in Biaung to pick him up in the afternoon, a trip which usually takes about 15 minutes one way. This day the round trip required two hours and 15 minutes, most of that passed in increments of half-inches between Padang Galak and Grand Bali Beach. The problem on Sunday was not only the fair. They had added a twist in the form of a parade of marchers and decorated floats. To accommodate this parade, they had closed one side of the Bypass. Not one lane, but one side, you see? Predictably, no contingency plan had been made regarding what must happen with the Bypass traffic.

But the Bali spirit is indomitable. There is always a way. And the way, in this case, was to simply cross the highway divider and head up the road into oncoming traffic. I’ve got to hand it to these Balinese motorists. Nothing will stop them short of debilitating injury or death. And such was the height of my own aggravation by this time that I did in fact join the desperate wrong-way crowd, despite my sober western self, and experienced therefore a period of gleeful schizophrenia wherein I found myself both cursing and congratulating my unlawful actions.

At some point during the ensuing war of opposing traffic, the police awakened, emerged from wherever they had been napping, and began to wave their arms wildly and shout commands at the inventive motorists; with no consequence, however, other than to add a sort of celebration touch to the general clamour.

Come Monday heavy clouds rolled in, rain threatened, and many people, according either to personal experience or word-of-mouth warnings, began to avoid the festival grounds. By mid afternoon the traffic on the Bypass had begun to flow again in its customarily gluey way, and it was clear that the island had survived the trial (although official casualty figures are still pending).

And what about my experience at the festival itself -- aside from the traffic and the heat and the sweat and the honking and the swearing and the sitting and the waiting and the wilting? Well, I really can’t say. I was too exhausted by the time I got there to notice.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Comment on Bogor

A anonymous (of course) comment is received in response to the previous post regarding a Supreme Court order to reopen the Yasmin church in Bogor.  The comment reads "What came first, the chicken or the egg?"  Although the comment is cryptic, I'm guessing that the author meant to express a sort of "who started it" sentiment.  My answer would be that the question is moot.  What we deal with in the present are present realities as they coincide not only with an eternal notion of justice but with application of the rule of law.  Both the order of the State, handed down by the high law, and the true spirit of Islam are violated in the Bogor mayor's defiance.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Bogor Mayor Called to Account Over Defiance of Court Order

Encouraging this last week was the news out of Bogor, Java, as reported in the Jakarta Post, the Jakarta Globe and elsewhere, that both private parties and democratic political entities have begun to exert pressure on the mayor of that place to desist in his defiance of a Supreme Court order and reopen the CKI Yasmin church.

Mayor Diani Budiarto has stubbornly disregarded the order since its issuance early this year. Now at long last a formal inquiry has been set in motion by major political parties, including the party that contributed most significantly to Budiarto’s election -- the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) -- wherein the mayor will be called to account for his recalcitrance.

PDI-P Chairman, Untung W. Maryono, accused the mayor of mocking the rule of law by refusing to reopen the church, saying that “In his disobedience of the law, I see indications of defiance on the part of the mayor against keeping religious harmony.”

In a separate statement, Ruhut Sitompul, Lawmaker with the Democratic Party, said that the Bogor Legislative Council would be instructed to join in the effort to uphold the law. “We should work together to eliminate human rights violations,” he said, “especially those against religious freedoms. The mayor must be ousted.”

Start counting, Mr. Mayor.

In the meantime, parishioners at the Yasmin church have continued to hold services on the sidewalk outside their locked-down place of worship, while Muslim extremists have sought to interrupt, menace or expel the Christians, often leading to conflict and necessitating a police presence to keep the two groups separate. It is the latter group (not the rule of law) that has apparently exerted the greatest effect on Mayor Budiarto, convincing him that intolerant demands of the few are of greater importance than the prevailing laws and inclusive religious ideology of the Indonesian Nation.

’I’m just trying to keep the peace,’ the mayor claims, ’to maintain security in a community that doesn’t want the church here anyway.’

Yes? Is the community of Bogor, then, the voice of Indonesia? How about if the tables were turned? What if a mosque were closed, rather than a church? Still merely interested in maintaining security? At all costs? What happened to Pancasila -- Unity in Diversity -- the motto by which the Indonesian nation stands?

There is more here, I think, of the disingenuous than of the defence of the peace.

But it’s nothing new. Similar characters and intolerant factions have kicked against the ideal of justice throughout the ages. Once upon a time in America a man named George Wallace, Governor of Alabama, sought to defy the law of the land and the will of the majority, not to mention the direct order of the President, by barring a black student from registering at the University of Alabama. Wallace said that he felt the people of the State of Alabama expected it of him.

Was that the real reason, then? Or was George Wallace merely offended by the presence of black people on principle, the way some Muslim extremists are offended by the presence of Christians? What threat does this Christian minority pose? Is it to Islam, or the State, or the City; or is it to some weak and empty chamber in the heart of extremist fear and paranoia that can only be filled with blind hatred and violence?

We’ve had enough. This is the phrase that will ever arise in the mouths of the patient, silent majority. We have fought long and hard, through trial and loss, blood and triumph to forge societies that are just and fair, safe and secure, wherein each individual may pursue his inalienable right, as the American Declaration has it, to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We are slow to act because we had hoped we had arrived; we are patient because we understand that a certain amount of human ignorance is eternal; but when we are tried to the limit and tired at last of the ogre, the bully and the outlaw, we will stand and reaffirm our hard-won vision of government by tolerance, friendship, fairness and equality.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Night to Remember

Recently I was the unlikely guest of Rob Peetoom at the gala opening of his new Seminyak salon, along with festivities afterward at the Metis restaurant. I say unlikely because there is nothing I can lay claim to that would recommend my presence at such an auspicious event. On the other hand, my wife is an important person -- just ask her -- and it was she who received the invitation, along with the offer to bring a guest. Given that two of her friends backed out at the last minute, she dressed me up as a guest and took me instead.

Upon arrival we found ourselves instantly swimming in a soup of rapidly wilting expatriates highlighted with a peppering of stunningly beautiful Indonesian women. Designer dresses were the theme of the night, all carefully engineered to be much too stifling for this hot and humid Seminyak night. For some reason everyone was being held outside a single gate, which intermittently peeked open to receive two and three of our enormous company at a time, while the rest, either unlucky or unimportant, pushed forward, gasping and sweating, clawing the unfair, dispassionate air.

I remember someone mentioning once that there are 70,000 expatriates on the island of Bali. I know it now for a fact, for they were all on the sidewalk outside Rob Peetoom‘s salon.

The gate opened again -- just a tad, mind you -- and the ravishing young Italian woman standing next to me (partly on me, actually), resplendent in airy white chenille, stiletto heels and carefully conspicuous jewellery, shoved me deftly against the wall with an unusually powerful left arm and thus made her entry to inner court, along with three friends linked together like sausages fried nearly to perfection.

Eventually all 70,000 of us made it inside. There we commenced to matriculate, shoulder to shoulder, pelvis to rear, and to breast up to the bar where free champagne was being served. People were hot, a bit wet and stringy, and so they gulped the first glass and asked for more. While I waited for seconds, a man stepped up behind me and put his hand on my shoulder. Then the hand slipped up to my neck. He said nothing, but just smiled, fingers gently kneading my neck. I decided I wasn’t very thirsty after all.

Why do people always think I’m gay? My second wife said it was because I walk like a giraffe. But what is it about a giraffe, or the way that he walks, that’s gay? And if giraffe’s are all so gay, how do they procreate and make more?

Paris Hilton was to be present at the party afterward. Everyone knew it, and the name was on every tongue, whispered in steady repeated cadence ---- Paris Hilton, Paris Hilton, Paris Hilton. Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Bettlejuice.

Honestly, I don‘t know who Paris Hilton is. I mean, I know the name and the fortune that goes with the name; but who is she otherwise? What has she done? Why is she so famous? Has she ever had her picture on a bubblegum card?

The Rob Peetoom salon is a fine salon. I was able to see it inch by inch, in the finest detail, as we shuffled painstakingly through the premises. At the back of the place we found a patio and some breathing room. People had matriculated back this way in order to light up cigarettes, and my wife and I did the same. Limpid pools shimmering in hues of indigo and magenta breathed contented sighs between polished Dutch colonial pillars in an effortless blend of nature and architecture, gazing onto the rich green tapestry of the abutting rice field. But where was the ashtray? This, rather than Paris Hilton, became the whispered subject of the moment. Ultimately, most people reckoned that that was what the rice field was for.

We headed early to the party at the Metis in order to avoid another frustrating winking gate scenario. And in fact Paris Hilton did show up. How she made her entry -- whether it was through a tunnel, a secret door, or down the chimney -- I do not know.

“Get a picture, get a picture!” my wife urged excitedly.

Raising the camera above several shoulders and heads, I snapped a photo.

“Got it!” I said, handing the camera to my wife.

She stared at the screen, frowning.

“That’s not Paris Hilton.”

“Oh?” Who is it then?”

“I don’t know! It’s nobody.”

It seems I may as well have taken a picture of myself. I tried again, but this time came up with a pair of large breasts. No head, no body; just the breasts.

“Never mind,” my wife decided, waving a hand in dismissal. She had lost interest. She might have enjoyed sitting down for a private chat, but if Paris wasn’t receiving private guests, my wife wasn’t receiving Paris.

Two women I had been more or less noticing all evening now caught my eye again as they floated our way in a cloud of admirers lit lightning-like with camera flashes, making the group as a whole seem like a little self-contained storm front. Both of the women were Indonesian, and apparently quite beautiful. One wore a red dress, the other was in green, and both dresses displayed dark sweat marks in all the wrong places. They looked like movie stars to me. Indonesian soap opera movie stars. I couldn’t help wondering if they had made a few internet movies on the side (having read that that sort of thing was going around).

As a general rule, the closer people approach, the better you can see them; but this was not the case with the two movies stars. Rather, the closer they approached, the hazier they became, a disorienting effect of facial makeup which seemed to have been applied with a putty knife. Shadows and highlights became blotches and smears. Who were they really, I wondered, beneath the meticulous disguise? They could have been Lindsey Lohan and Kim Kardashian for all I knew. Given the heat and general drippiness in the atmosphere, I figured I could find out if I waited around long enough for the makeup to kind of slough down to chin and dress front, but my wife had other plans, and  escorted me to the dance floor.

The evening gently deteriorated to dancing and mingling amidst a unanimous effusion of auxiliary sweat, and at last we all headed out to our far flung homes -- and Paris to the far flung corners of the earth.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

What Do You Do Here?

“What do you do here?”

This is generally the eighth in line of the questions I am asked during the polite though somewhat unsettling, curiously thorough process of everyday Indonesian interrogation.

Apa kabar (how are you) comes first, as is the case in most languages and cultures. In America this is sufficient, perhaps even excessive. The question itself has taken time for the asking, and thus has been an interruption of schedule. In Indonesia, however, there is much more to come.

How are you, Where do you come from, How long will you stay, Are you married, What does your wife do, How many children do you have, How old are your children?

The first seven inquiries are fairly simply addressed. It is the eighth that I and my interrogators get stuck on. What do you do here? It seems to border on the existential. It’s a philosophical puzzle, a conundrum, like ’What is the meaning of life?’ or ‘What is the sound of one hand clapping?’

Firstly, one must rightly interpret the question. One must determine exactly what is being asked. Are we talking about a justification for my presence in terms of occupation (gainful employment), or does the question pertain to my existence alone -- why are you here and not elsewhere, or anywhere for that matter?

The most natural conclusion, as well as the one most likely to be accurate, is to presume the first case. The question seeks to determine something specific about my employment, business, financial status, property, possessions and so on. In other words, it is a typically Indonesian question regarding typically Indonesian concerns and seeks a typically predictable answer -- I‘m a doctor, an hotelier, a landowner, a school teacher, an exporter, an architect, a drug dealer -- something by which I may be pinned down and pigeonholed. Only then can the questioner be satisfied, having collected reasonable, albeit abbreviated data regarding my country of origin, marital status, family status and employment status. It wouldn’t bother me in the least if I were actually doing something here. The problem is that I am not. And the trouble, therefore, is with my answer.


To which the usual response is:


“I’m retired.”


Being retired is clearly unacceptable. The word is not in the Indonesian vocabulary. It is no more than a sound, like “Woof” or “Quack.”

“But my wife works,” I say, throwing out a bone for the perplexed interrogator’s relief.

“Ohhh! So you have business together!”

“Well, it depends on her mood.”


“Sometimes she has a headache or needs to wash her hair.”

Humour does not help the situation. I have merely become stupid as well as suspicious.

Now this is what gets me. One spends his entire working life waiting for that day to arrive when he can finally say “I’m done, I’ve finished,” and then happily retire to a life of repose in his country manor, or on the island of Bali, or at least in a low-income housing project in Pittsburgh or LA; and yet the expectation of gainful employment persists, not only in the minds of those who ask after the matter, but in one’s own mind as well, perhaps even more acutely so. Little do we know, while working, how soothing it is to be defined. Little do we anticipate that the occupation we had long dreamed off -- specifically, nothing -- will be a matter of personal discomfiture, even shame. Theoretically, we have earned the privilege of rest; realistically, we shall never do so.

What am I doing here? What is my function? Does lying almost perfectly motionless on a chaise lounge count? How about reading the newspaper at Luhtu’s? How about flirting with the waitress in the bar?

“What did you do today?” my wife will ask, in that particular sort of way that sounds more like an accusation than an inquiry.

Rare is the occasion wherein I can think of a satisfactory answer -- for I know, you see, what is really being asked. And so I might say instead:

“I’m retired.”


My wife is a native speaker of Indonesian. She is fluent in English as well. I offer the two cases as proof that the word ‘retired’ does not exist in the Indonesian vocabulary. It has no meaning for the Indonesian mind.

But wait! I work for this paper, right? I wrote the very words that are being read.

“And what do they pay you for that?” is her barrister-like rejoinder.

The fact is I cannot receive pay in Indonesia because of my status on visa as a retired foreigner. And so the answer to the question is . . . Well, you guessed it.


Friday, November 4, 2011

Blogger Beware

Those who blog -- as well as many who don’t -- will know that the blogger has a feature available to him wherein he may append various “tags” -- non-hierarchical keywords or terms -- to an entry he has written. Once associated with a particular entry, these tags go into the bottomless pit of the Google database where they wait to be nudged by a user of the search engine, at which point they wake up and convey the user back to the blog.

Let us say that you are writing about Hinduism in Bali. Upon finishing your entry you might add tag words such as “Bali,” “Hinduism,” and “religion,” providing each word as a general guide. It’s really a pretty nifty way of facilitating the web surfer/researcher, streamlining and focusing, cutting corners which would otherwise encumber. Tags may even lead you around lengthy introductions such as this one, or at least save you from getting lodged on a sandbar you had not intended to visit in the first place.

In addition, many bloggers utilize a web tracking program. This allows the blogger to see how many “hits” his blog has received, and where these visits came from. (If you thought you were perfectly anonymous, think again).

Looking recently at the data on my web tracker, I discovered that my blog entry on “sex with cows” (which concerned a Balinese man caught in the act of sexual intercourse with a cow) had placed #5 on the record of Google visits for entries so tagged.

I was surprised, to say the least. Who knew that cow sex would be a subject of such keen interest? Moreover, I felt proud. Surely placing #5 put me toward the top of the bottomless pit, and should therefore be a rare achievement and testimony to my gifts as a writer.

However . . . well, clearly a sober man is inclined to wonder, after the initial glow of fame fades away, how many blog entries, worldwide, there can have been on sex with cows. Perhaps five? Which of course would put mine dead last.

Then again, perhaps I had been merely unaware of a lively interest out there in sex with cows. I began to imagine hundreds, maybe thousands of sleepless men, sitting alone in darkened rooms, laptops open, screens ablaze with graphic, unsettling images of unclothed cows in all manner of position and pose.

One visitor from Pakistan hit this entry in my blog thirty-seven times. In a row. I make no personal judgment either of the man or of Pakistan, but merely mention the occurrence.

Another of my blog entries that has done well, as a Google destination anyway, is one entitled “Mean Spirited Women” (and tagged the same). This placed as high at one point as #1 in Google. Honestly, the actual content of this blog entry does not warrant the attention. It was simply something had I dashed off some three years ago when I happened to be angry at my wife. I wrote, therefore, that she was a mean-spirited woman, and philosophized that most women are.

Of course it’s not true. She is in fact a sweetheart, and t’was I who was in the wrong. Okay, honey?

Nonetheless, what shall we conclude from these statistics? How has it happened that so many people have typed in the words “mean spirited women”? Or can there be a fetish at play here as well?

Wanted: Attractive female

Age: Negotiable

Must be mean spirited

In any case, I merely pose the question, and will allow the reader to draw his own conclusions.

Lastly, I’d like to say something about the “comments” I receive. Entries in my blog have often been associated with multiple sclerosis (which is a disease that I have -- or had, at least, until it was flash-baked out of me by the searing, laser-like Balinese sun). Subjects addressed included such topics as brain damage, neural deterioration, profound fatigue, cognitive difficulties, and so on. They have not been wildly popular entries, where the Google database is concerned, but they have attracted an astounding amount of spam. A good deal of this spam has been of a sexual nature, advertising everything from cheap Viagra to hot Russian blondes. What one has to wonder is whether there is something about MS that has aroused the spammer, or has he been somehow inspired to believe that this sort of thing arouses the MS sufferer in particular?

Frankly, I find it discouraging, and an insult to my efforts and good intentions. But what are you going to do? It’s a sick world, folks. If you want to know more on the subject, just start a blog.