Friday, March 10, 2006

How can you lie back and think of England / When you Don’t Even Know who’s in the Team

The flight from Bali to Singapore this week, Garuda 840 to be precise, was easily one of the more bizarre I’ve taken. Not the actual flying bit, mind you, but the vista presented on board the plane itself.

Somehow we ended up in Little Odessa.

Large groups of Russians in Bali on holiday are not unusual at all and you often see a chartered Tu-154 or whatever it is, parked at the end of the tarmac waiting for its passengers to finish their tropical respite and Bintangs before heading back to their dreary (I assume..I’ve not been there) northern winter again. There are also plentiful stories of high level Russian businessmen and politicians flying whole plane loads of working girls in for their holiday entertainment, which may explain why there always seems to be two Russian aircraft on the tarmac at any given time.

I’ve walked into restaurants to find the whole place reserved under various Slavic names, and I’m told that the hotels find Russian guests to be well paying, polite and generally agreeable. And the working girls contribute to the poolside somewhat. They add to the colour and flavour of this island I guess.

I’m generally fairly nonchalant about flying; I’ve done so much in recent years. Get on, read, listen to music (this time Billy Bragg did the trick mostly), decline the food, get off. Its all pretty much habit and I tend to rather ignore most other people on the aircraft. However, as a rule, I don’t expect swarms of low level Russian gangsters on the plane, with their young trophy wives and little Boris and Ivana in tow. I’ve usually flown Singapore Air on this route and this is the first time on the Indonesian national carrier so maybe it’s the routine here but, whatever, it provided a bit of a humorous distraction to the flight.

Heavy, cheap, leather jackets are rather unusual in Bali anytime of the year and don’t exactly blend but even more so during the steaming intense humidity of the tail end of the rainy season. I imagined we must’ve been witnessing the return leg of a package tour for a Muscovite “social” club or something similar. My favourite was the largish guy, in his mid forties with a worn, somewhat grizzled face, pudding bowl haircut, cheap pinstripe suit, and black shirt with white braces and a wide white leather tie. Mrs Whitetielov was about 23, in a very brief black mini dress, very low-cut with a push up bra; high, clear, porn-star shoes and a two year old on arm. They handed each and every flight attendant a copy of their personal calendar complete with a picture of junior, dressed in a Santa outfit standing beside a Jeroboam of some sort of unknown “champagne”.

I guess you had to be there. I’m glad I was.

Singapore was, as Singapore is. I have a love / hate thing with the city, having been there some 12 times in the past 18 months for god’s sake. Generally the love thing lasts a few days before ebbing and the ebb is propelled by the appalling service virtually everywhere, the humourlessness and soullessness of the place and the commercially driven facelessness of so much of it, and probably a few more ..lessnesses I can’t think of right now. The positives, well, I’ve mentioned the technology and the food before. Oh yes, the food…its worth another mention, it really is. In New Zealand we have the ingredients but we do so little with them. Food, outside the interesting little ethnic places, is, throughout New Zealand, dull and overpriced almost without exception when you put it next to the food almost anywhere in Asia. Then again, it could be worse….you could be in London.

But, as Brigid said, there is something missing. I’m hoping to be in Jakarta next week which is a city I really love. There is something very much the same about the two cities but, as Brigid said so well, Satan would find something to smile about in Jakarta, but not Singapore. I know which I prefer.

And talking of small nations punching above their weight, this whole Dubai ports thing absolutely perplexes me. There is a story here but it’s about the cronyism and corruption of the Bush regime; about the Carlyse Group and the Bush family links to the traditional Middle Eastern power structures; about Halliburton looking like they will get the contract to administer this in the US. It’s not about the security of the United States or alleged holes in such from the sale of their ports to an Arab consortium, a theory so wrought with holes I can’t take it seriously.

What perplexes me most is the exhibited xenophobia on the part of, not only the US right, from whom you would expect this, but the self proclaimed Liberals who are also screaming security threat loudly. Whilst it’s an obvious way to get at Bush, and anything that knocks another ding in the armour of that prick has its merits, this time I have to want to say stop (not that anyone will listen of course).

Sadly this has more to do with the fact that this company is Arab and Muslim owned than any real threat to anything. If this company were taking over similar ports in the UK, or Europe, where the threat from terror is as real there would be none of this nonsense. I hate to use the word racist because I don’t know where xenophobia, driven by 9/11 and endless TV broadcasts of suicide bombers in Iraq and Palestine, ends, and the R word starts. But simply put this is an irrational fear of all things Arab. Forget about the fact that the term Arab applies to a vast swathe of people across thousands of miles; forget about the fact that the US is probably less at threat from a country like Dubai than any other country in the world; forget about the fact that these business people, hugely successful that they are, are hardly, in any rational terms, allow their multi billion dollar company to be used and potentially destroyed to further a terror attack on the USA.

No, the only fact that seems to matter is the racial grouping of the owners of the company.

If there is any further indication of how far Osama has affected the psyche of America and played upon the global naiveté of its people, then this is it. He must be, wherever or whoever he is, rubbing his hands together in glee at the US response to this.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Oh Dear if there was ever any doubt that George Walker Bush is probably intellectually incapable of even delivering your mail (although Daddy would probably pay Cheney to do it), this quote should lay it to rest:

“On my trip to Islamabad, I will meet with President Musharraf to discuss Pakistan’s vital cooperation in the war on terror and our efforts to foster economic and political development so we can reduce the appeal of radical Islam. I believe that a prosperous, democratic Pakistan will be a steadfast partner for America, a peaceful neighbour for India, and a force for freedom and moderation in the Arab world.”