Thursday, December 13, 2007

People who life in Bali.....

Sitting with a friend, a German furniture manufacturer of some reputation here in Bali, a few days back and he was bemoaning the lack of precision in the country. The problem, it seems, comes from the Indonesian adherence to the centimetre as a the smallest unit of distance. The ‘Centi’ as it’s called here is the standard applied to all building and manufacturing processes. In much of the rest of the world (the USA aside, they’re still somewhere in the middle of the British Empire circa 1776, with inches and yards for gods sake) the millimetre is the defining unit, thus allowing for a level of precision that using centis prevents. I guess that explains the gaps in buildings all over the island. Indonesian architects may build fine multi storey malls and towers in Jakarta, the equal of any in Asia, but here in Bali, the builders and architects seem unable to make walls satisfactorily meet floors. Visit the newish Discovery Mall in Tuban (the link is worth a read..if their building skills are as good as their English, or their web design...), which just feels like its falling to pieces, and tell me it ain’t so.

However that said, I’m mightily impressed by the new footpaths that have been going down around the Kuta area over the past two years. They are well built, the stones fit snugly and they seem to be very disabled friendly, which is quite a step forward. In particular they all feature those yellow plastic middle tiles designed to aide blind folks navigate the streets.

However the footpath building spree seems to have ended, as most of the footpaths in the busy areas have been done and now, disabled or blind you can walk the streets of Kuta with increased confidence…..

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Monday, December 10, 2007

To the far side of town / where the thin men stalk the streets / and the sane stay underground

So here we are in the midst of the UN climate talks in Bali, most of which is being held some 20km away from where I’m writing, at the gilded ghetto (that’s what it’s actually often called) of Nusa Dua.

It’s actually not been as bad as we all thought it might have been. 10,000, mostly lower level, functionaries, their spouses, and, by all accounts a swarm of the next generation of snake oil merchants, carbon credit merchants..mostly out of NYC it PC012155seems. The Americans may be the environmental bad boys but they are not adverse to making money out of Kyoto.

Lots of places one may have though would be rather over populated are quite quiet (see Ku de Ta on left last week), although the Queen's Tandoor was pumping a couple of nights back.

The traffic has been the usual quagmire but apart from the odd bus full of spouses being dragged up to the silver shops or the monkey forest, screaming past on the bypass at 90 kmh with flashing police escort as all and sundry dive out of the way, not that much worse than before. Oh and there are guys in cheap plastic shades (all aged circa 17) standing on each corner with submachine guns, almost like Singapore. As Brigid pointed out, if one was to want to execute a very, very important person, a sniper shot to each of these guys first, as obvious as they are (and I really don’t think the guys arranging this are smart enough to have thought about hidden gunmen RI its all about the obvious bravado) would allow an aspiring assassin free reign.

There are Indonesian navy patrol boats off shore too. I guess there is some concern about Al-Qaeda trained Sea Turtles on suicide missions.

My favourite comment so far is from the lady from Uganda who commented on how orderly and well behaved the traffic in Bali was. I’ve made a note to keep out of East Africa.

It’s a conference of contradictions to be sure.

Firstly there is the venue. Nusa Dua, built by the World Bank, in collusion with the Suharto family and assorted buddies has a bit of a taint to it in this part of the world, what with villages having being forced out without compensation, reefs being dynamited and the like. It's a part of Bali's often dark, and still unresolved (or admitted) past. It seems like an odd place for the World to come together to sort out its problems. That coupled with the fact that locals, unless they work there, are really not that welcome within its walled 60 acres (nor would they likely wish to..its a ghastly, horrendously overpriced, sterile sort of place with little soul populated by garish they-could-be-anywhere chain hotels).

Secondly the idea that over 100 jets needed to be parked in the region seems at odds to the whole concept of climate control..haven’t these people heard of plane pooling……

I’m not at all sure about any of this.

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Sunday, December 09, 2007

Pardon the way that I stare / There's nothing else to compare

It felt like a cross between a National party convention and a Fellini movie. But, ten, not having been to one perhaps that’s what all National party conventions feel like.

I’m talking about the annual Rotary Club of Bali Christmas party to which we were invited last night. We were invited by our friends, S & K, whom we like a lot (although K is the sort of guy I don’t talk politics with..he’s my hard right wing buddy who mused last night that the leftie "wingnut" media makes up all the bad news, Iran needs taking out, and GWB is on a hell of a that point I moved the subject towards their recent African vacation).

The Bull But mostly we laughed. There were, naturally, the speeches and the charity auctions, and raffles (first prize, two tickets to Jakarta on, ummm, Mandala Airlines, and a section of floral nylon sheets), oh and there was a Santa who arrived on a large painted paper maché bull. All good.

And I can deal with the jolly ex-pat Hotelliers..most were rather pleasant and fun. Although too many years in the expat world does funny things to one, and you will never get me in one of those rayon pseudo batik shirts so beloved of aging gents in this part of the work. That I swear.

The whole thought of Rotary or Lions or any of those sorts of blokey (regardless of the actual sex of the devotee) “good works” fellowships make me cringe. They really do have an aura of National Party-ness about them (as do the shirts).

As the night went on we were introduced to a series (two or three, its hard to tell, one looks much the same of the next if I’m honest) shows from Divas.

The Diva concept is a hard one to properly explain to a non-Indonesian resident. You could throw the oft used “all round entertainer” term around but it doesn’t do the “Diva” justice. Imagine Oprah Winfrey with huge hair, overblown, almost grotesque makeup, a pawing public who wants to know your every move (to whom you are happy to have your publicist feed all sorts of personal trivia, giving you an almost goddess status amongst many), a starring role in a series of shockingly awful soaps, the odd movie and a parallel career as a singer of gruesome clichéd pop pap complete with huge live Saturday night shows, all singing and dancing like, and you almost come close.

So, we were, lucky us, treated to three Diva sequences. Only second level Divas mind, as the A list would be unlikely to deign to treat the good folks of the Bali Rotary Club to their Xmas presence. They are strictly Jakarta AAA and Bali is only for the beachside villa and odd open air throng of adoring thousands.

The second Diva (or perhaps it was a second set from the first) opened her show by telling us she was performing for free..and offered to auction herself. Exactly what that meant I didn’t get to find out. But, as she launched into an extended version of Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You, complete with a radio mike as she wandered into the audience looking for singalong, there were few takers. That was probably partially because as she got closer, and the makeup hid fewer flaws, our Diva looked increasingly rough (ok call me sexist, but it was the women in our group who first called that).

Over the next hour or two Diva one, two and three treated us to quite a selection…Feelings is a goodie, no? Never heard that one before, or Simply The Best, or a couple of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s bigger hits…although the aura of Suharto gives anything from Evita a resonance in RI.

The invite threatened a magician but he didn’t show and no-one asked where he was. In Indonesia you don’t complain, a local friend of ours tell us. However the listed dancing troupe most surely did show and took the evening to another level.

Personally, whilst I got a buzz from the two Come Dancing refugees waltzing (or something to do with their feet) out of step with each other whilst dressed as Senorita and Bullfighter, I though the plate dancing (!), and the Can-Can dancers who repeatedly lifted their skirts for extended periods, and bent forward, spreading their legs in slender G-Strings, had a certain something and certainly the local lads in the audience (and their wives too) seemed to agree, with a roar of glee each time (there were a few).

I’d always though the Can-can was about titillation, but like the spirit of Christmas here (the staff at Ace Hardware wearing reindeer antlers for example), some things are reinterpreted in ways we don’t always expect.

Wonder how that anti-porn bill is doing in the legislature at the mo….

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