Wake up and smell the Kopi Bali !

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An open letter to the Governor of Bali, I Made Mangku Pastika

Om Swastiastu Bapak Pastika,

Why is Bali, the island of the Gods, on sale?

Why is it being desecrated by unbridled mindless development?

Has Bali lost its way in the maze of international trade and commerce; Or has the ethics of a vibrant ethos been put on sale to the highest bidder/s ?

Every sphere of island life, including the environment, has been infiltrated and contaminated by the pawning of family heirlooms, all for a dollar. And in this disgraceful gold rush, the majority of ordinary Balinese have been ‘overlooked’.

Here is a brief survey of Bali today.

01. Education

School children must buy their textbooks from their teacher.
There is no standardization of textbooks.
In government schools tuition fees are waived for all students till Class 6. But the overheads like uniform books etc. have to be paid for.
Many children drop out after Class 9 (on completing SMP) because their families cannot afford to pay the tuition fees etc. for Classes 10 onwards (SMA). One can see them working in warungs and other businesses at the bottom rung of the workforce.
Unsubstantiated reports reveal that Bali has a shortfall of 9,000 teachers for the Balinese language and Hindu religion.

02. Employment

The minimum wage is often not paid to thousands of Balinese workers. And  interestingly the majority of their employers are ‘Indonesian’.

Basic costs like the increase in price of cooking gas and food grains etc., has created   a piquant situation whereby workers are now spending a higher percentage of their    earnings on food; Added to this is the stark reality that the basic minimum wage (US$ 73.66 to 86.56) is not paid by many commercial establishments in Bali even though there is an existing Law. Many employers in the Tourist industry pay around  US$ 40 – 60 and sometimes add ‘food’ as a perk.

03. Health

Free health service is for a minority. Many Balinese on the lower rung of the ‘social’  ladder have to make do with the ‘local’ doctor. Clean drinking water and basic hygiene is lacking in many rural areas. This has resulted in skin diseases and even leprosy. Furthermore, the burgeoning tourist industry has directly contributed to the increase in HIV/AIDS on the island. In the documentary Cowboysinparadise unprotected sex appears to be the rule rather then the exception.

The continuing Rabies  problem that has killed over a hundred Balinese has yet to be brought under control.

And latest reports reveal that Bird Flu is on its way back to haunt the island.

04. Agriculture

Subsistence rice/other farmers are starving.  Suicides are believed to be common. Their land is slowly being ‘sold/mortgaged’ for villas of vanity. And yet there is no one to help them. They pay water charges to the Subak Authority, the government taxes them and the Banjar takes a slice of the harvest. Who protects the farmer?

05. Environment

Garbage appears to be a problem. Media reports continue to spew out data of the seriousness of the problem including skin diseases, breathing problems, eye and stomach infections and contamination of food etc.

The cutting of trees has caused denudation resulting in the rise in surface temperature, depletion of natural water sources and contamination of underground water.

Plastic and other waste are thrown into sacred rivers, into the sea and/or simply discarded by the roadside. The ubiquitous plastic bottle is now a tourist attraction. The Balinese have become so lazy that they don’t even remove the cellophane packing on sweets before offering the same to the Gods. In this way through religious acts tons of garbage is produced.

All supermarkets and other outlets are promotional centers for the use of plastic bags.

06. Yayasans

Great business and an easy way to deflect cash to ‘other’ projects. Yayasans are proliferating in Bali like cancerous growths. Many have been set up merely to ‘earn’ money and not to provide charity service to the less fortunates. Who checks these NGOs and audits their accounts? Is there a Freedom of Information Act that helps a citizen to view their accounts and activities? Or, is this area (Yayasans) reserved for a privileged few who have the ‘right’ connections?

07. Infrastructure

Congratulations soon Bali will have another airport, rail system, a South-North highway…so even more tourists can travel comfortably across the isle. As for the Balinese, no problem they can give their under age children motorbikes to ride to school; many of whom die under the wheels of vehicles, but who cares? The dollar is most important not the lives and welfare of the citizens.

08. Property Development

The property market in Bali is infested with carpetbaggers who hawk land in Bali any which way. Their offices dot the isle like fleas on a dog’s back. They have seduced the Balinese with money and surreptitious deals which has resulted in unplanned, rampaging construction across the isle which interferes with the Subak system, does not adhere to the basic concepts of Asta Kosala Kosali (Balinese architectural code). More importantly the age old Balinese rule that did not allow any building to be built taller then the nearest coconut tree in the area has been dispensed with.

Of course you are aware of the now defunct international hotel that was being built at Padangbai where the whole face of a seafront hill was cut away destroying the ecosystem in the area: and the new Korean project that appears to be coming up in Karangasem (part of the property is in a ‘protected green zone’) !

The ownership of properties, the power of attorney and other twisted land deals are often given protection by Heads of the local community. So no ‘honest’ government officer dares ‘investigate’.

09. Banjar/Desa Adat

The Banjar system and the Desa Adat have failed miserably in containing the rapid dilution of Balinese culture. Very soon Balinese ceremonies will be reduced to theatricals devoid of any spirituality.

The dollar has infiltrated Balinese communities where women vie with one another to spend enormous sums (often borrowed or obtained from sale of land) on offerings (with expensive imported fruit), costly kebayas; while children race around on new motorcycles and/or fiddle with the latest brand of handphone (they too need to keep up with their friends).

The Balinese language as we know it is going out of fashion. It is not cool to speak Balinese. Bahasa Indonesian ‘Jakarta’ street jargon is ‘in’.

The Balinese ‘joint’ family compound/unit is being torn asunder by consumerism. Young married couples are now frequently setting up home away from these units. Apparently they want their privacy and do not want to share their personal wealth with the extended family.

It is said that the Javanese sell Bakso to buy land and the Balinese sell land to buy Bakso.

10. Hinduism

Balinese Hinduism has survived the Dutch, Japanese, Sukarno, Suharto regimes and the horrible terrorists attacks. However, there appears to be an insidious attempt to ‘short circuit’ the Hindu ethos of the isle through the continued process of purchase of land by ‘other’ Indonesians who bring with them their own brand of Islam. The mushrooming of mosques in the West of Bali towards the North, Gilimanuk, the growing number of Muslims flooding the isle, many illegally working in Bali is cause for concern. Now I am not suggesting a communal approach but consider this – If the Balinese continue to be at the receiving end of tourism then they will have to pay the price which is dilution of a culture, infiltration by non-Balinese into all aspects of life on the isle (if this has not happened already) and being relegated to second class citizens.

And this can happen because Bali does not have a say in Jakarta.

  1. Electricity comes from Java.
  2. The Pornography Law 2008 applies to Bali, too, in spite of the resistance put up by Bali’s politicians.
  3. And more importantly a large part of Bali’s revenue goes to Jakarta.

The future existence/survival of the vibrant ethos of Hindu Bali is at stake here and who will come forward to protect it?

And will Bali continue to prostitute itself for the sake of the greater good of Indonesia?

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

Catwalk in Bali

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This week’s column is dedicated to Rabu, a kitten that was rescued from a gutter in March when he was just a few weeks old. His mistress Désirée who worked in the café that I had walked into at Padangbai sometime ago introduced me to him. The small furry creature with warm watery eyes jumped onto my lap and as if on cue went to sleep. Some months later he was dead, crushed under the wheels of a speeding sepeda motor.

He was named Rabu because he was found on Hari Rabu (Wednesday). Rabu came into the life of his mistress at a time when she was confronted with the ever-changing vagaries of life fraught with fragmented relationships coupled with living in a foreign country. He was a true friend that never judged Désirée but accepted her human frailties just as he ate whatever was put on his plate at mealtime.

Désirée was with me in Ubud sampling the Nasi Campur at Indus when she got a telephone call informing her of his death. The tears came thick and fast.

This may sound inappropriate at this juncture but I am not a cat person. I find their nocturnal wanderings and piercing stare disconcerting. It is as if they are able to travel back and forth between the worlds of the living and dead. So when I encountered Rabu and Désirée’s grief I began to wonder whether cats, like dogs also went to heaven.

Jeroo, a Balinese woman who often does my laundry, was appalled when she heard about Rabu’s death. She promptly instructed me to find out about the fate of his remains as Balinese consider the cat as a creature that signifies wealth. Therefore if a cat dies at anyone’s hands the offender must seek forgiveness by burying the cat under a tree in a small ceremony with offerings placed on the grave. It is believed that the tree would bear succulent fruit.

On making the call I was told that the motorcyclist had carried away Rabu’s body to perform the compulsory ceremony. This is as per the standing orders of the Desa Adat.

The cat is called Kucing in Indonesian and Meong in Balinese. Jeroo told me that at feeding time the cat is summoned in Balinese with the words Pis Meong. Pis means money. So in essence the death of a cat in Bali denotes bad luck – impending loss of wealth.

Many years ago archaeologists discovered a cat cemetery in Beni-Hassan, Egypt, with 300,000 cat mummies. The Egyptian Goddess of love, Bastet, had the head of a cat. In the time of the Pharaohs, to be convicted of killing a cat usually meant a death sentence for the culprit.

In the medieval ages cats were seen as a personification of Lucifer and therefore were burnt alive. Their screams were purported to be that of the Devil. It is said that Devil worshippers revered the cat and usually kissed it under the tail i.e. on the anus. They also used them in animal sacrifices. Black cats in particular were associated with witches. Some historians claim that the persecution of the cat drastically brought down its numbers thereby increasing the population of rats; the result being the onset of the plague that decimated the population in Europe.

The mark of ‘M’ on the Tabby cat’s forehead is believed by some to be the initial of Mother Mary who blessed it for comforting her baby son Jesus Christ. According to some followers of Islam the ‘M’ stands for Mohammed, the Prophet, who had a deep affection for cats. To substantiate the claim of some of his devout followers for his fondness for cats I quote from the net – “Prophet Mohammed apparently loved cats and rather than disturb his sleeping cat, Muezza, he once cut off a sleeve of his robe which she was sleeping on when the call to prayer sounded. It is also said that the reason he loved cats was that one saved his life from a snake that had crawled into his sleeve. Legend says that Prophet Mohammed blessed cats with the ability to land on their feet. One of his writings tells that he had a vision of a woman punished in Hell for starving her cat to death.”

And then we have the legend of the sacred cat of Burma.

Centuries ago, in a valley nestled the temple of Lao-Tsun. 100 yellow-eyed white cats with long silken coats guarded it. This was the abode of the golden goddess with sapphire blue eyes who watched over the transformation of souls. Whenever the head monk Mun-ha knelt in prayer his faithful companion, Sinh the beautiful temple cat sat by his side. The legend has it that on a fateful moonlit night when Mun-ha was in deep meditation the temple was attacked by marauders. Mun-ha was killed. At the time of his death Sinh placed his paws on the master’s robes and looked towards the golden goddess. Instantly his face, ears, legs and tail became a velvety brown colour of rich earth, but his four paws that rested on his master remained perfect white, a symbol of purity. The colour of Sinh’s eyes became that of the golden goddess – sapphire blue. The following day the temple glowed with the transformation of the 99 white cats. Sinh, the 100th cat, never moved from his place and stared at the spot where his master was slain. Exactly seven days later Sinh died. And on his death carried his master’s soul to heaven.

Cats and their association with humans can be traced back thousands of years. For example, the Cahokians’ god of the earth was depicted as a cat-headed snake.

The many legends, myths and religious connections with cats makes me wonder whether I have been wrong all along about these felines who always behave like they are bestowing a favour on humankind by accompanying us through the journey of our mortal life. Have they been sent by the Gods to keep tabs on us?

All I can conclude at this stage is the fact that Rabu brought me closer to understanding another living and loving creature on this isle. And for this I am thankful to that furry little feline who now lies buried under some tree in Padangbai.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

We want you safe in Paradise.

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The peak tourist season in Bali is July-August. But this year according to friends in the travel trade the season is expected to commence in June! This is heartening news for those who depend on tourism for their livelihood. However, along with the hordes of tourists lurks the spectre of adventurous and sometimes foolhardy people who wilfully disregard the warning signs put up by lifeguards thus ending in watery graves off the sun soaked beaches.

Padangbai – Some days ago a man drowned in full view of onlookers and family members but no one could save the poor soul as he was caught in treacherous currents. Apparently there are no signboards in place warning swimmers of the currents in the lagoon. No red flags or Lifeguards.

Kuta beach – On hearing the tragic news in Padangbai I thought it necessary to speak to Lifeguards on Kuta beach to try and understand how such mishaps occur and what should be done to prevent reoccurrences.

My trusted cold drinks vendor Nyoman took me to a few Lifeguards on watch not far from his stand that is opposite Macdonald’s. I met Ketut Arthayasa and Made Ernawan two strapping young lads dressed in yellow and red gear.

When I spoke about the drowning in Blue Lagoon they apologised for the tragedy and assured me that if they had been present it would not have occurred. Ketut told me that a fortnight ago he and his colleagues rescued 6 men and one woman from drowning. Though he was happy that precious lives were saved, Ketut was angry that the people who he rescued had paid scant regard to the red flag that signals rip tides, warning people not to swim in the waters around.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the flags here’s what they represent:
– The red flag signifies dangerous currents and warns swimmers to keep away from that area. But surfers are allowed to surf in these waters.
– The area between the red and yellow flags is safe for swimmers. No surfer is supposed to be surfing here for obvious reasons.

While we sat chatting we could see swimmers and surfers doing exactly what they are not supposed to be doing. Ketut shrugged his shoulders and said that the guards could not possibly handle so many people as they are not law enforcement personnel but Lifeguards. Sadly whenever a drowning occurs they are blamed for not preventing it. The two things he carries around are his walky-talky and whistle. The first item is used to keep in contact with the control room and the other to call in errant swimmers and surfers, who very often never heed the calls.

After a brief exchange of words with Made and Ketut I visited the office/control room of the Lifeguard and met Made Suparka, Chief instructor, Baliwista Badung. He was most helpful and over a cup of Bali kofi he told me all about his team and the equipment that was urgently needed.

01. The total number of Lifeguards for Canngu/Kuta/Uluwatu/Nusa Dua is 110. Whereas the required number is 200.
02. Once a year Australian Lifeguard instructors conduct a 15-day course for them. Made would prefer this is done twice a year.
03. There are 6 posts spread across Kuta to 66 road. Some do not have look out towers. Look out towers must be installed at all posts.
04. Binoculars should be provided to all posts.
05. Of the two jet skis that they possess, one needs urgent repairs. In fact, they require one Jet ski for every post.
06. The Lifeguard ambulance is 7 years old and often breaks down. It is the sole medical emergency vehicle for Canngu/Kuta/Uluwatu/Nusa Dua! They urgently need at least four such vehicles – one for each area.
07. Surfers should be fined for straying into areas designated for swimmers as people have been injured in the past. Also surfers should be fined and/or their surfboards confiscated if they did not return to shore by 7 pm. when the Lifeguards remove the flags and go off duty for the day.
08. The Lifeguards should be taught a smattering of Japanese/Korean/French/Spanish etc. Words like – danger, don’t swim in this area etc. This is necessary as in the past tragedies could have been prevented if the guards had made themselves understood to the foreign tourists.
09. Swimmers and Surfers should enter the water only between 7 am and 7pm. as the Lifeguards are on duty during this period.
10. The solitary rubber boat or dinghy is woefully inadequate. There should be a minimum of four such boats: One for each area – Canggu, Kuta, Uluwatu and Nusa Dua.

Made’s 10 point program is reflective of the need of the hour. It must be viewed as a constructive suggestion that will help in creating a world-class tourist island destination. The safety of all tourists visiting the isle is of paramount importance in this very important year of – Visit Indonesia. Therefore, these suggestions could also be applied across Bali in consultation with tour operators/government officials etc.

In the past, I have witnessed tourists arguing with hapless Lifeguards about swimming in a particular area. On more than one occasion the people who rent out the surfboards encourage the tourists who are usually novice surfers to surf in dangerous waters disregarding the flags. These people must be educated in safety measures and then if they do not heed the lessons, they should be penalised and if need be their licence should be cancelled.

It has been suggested by my drinks vendor, Nyoman, that every tourist on the beach be given a multi-lingual pamphlet of the dos and donts of swimming and surfing. And more importantly the telephone number to call in the event of an emergency – +62-361-755660.

To the above suggestions I would like to add that all surfers should pay Rph 5000/- to the control room prior to surfing. This would help in raising much-needed funds for equipment.

We must never forget that the Lifeguards are on the beach to save lives. We should give them all the equipment and support to make them 100% effective.

At the end of the day when all have returned home to roost and the restless dark waters brush against the shore let us remember all who have drowned and pray for their souls – whether they are tourists or Balinese.

In the words of Made Supraka, “We want you safe. So let us do our job”.

Note: According to Made the best months for surfing are July/August and for swimming March/April.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

Bali – death on the roads

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img_7543Road kill is an animal run over and killed by a motor vehicle.

Here in Bali road kill is the ever-growing number of youngsters on motorcycles mowed down by other vehicles. In a previous issue of The Bali Times Managing Editor, William Furney, wrote passionately about the rising death toll on the roads – the unfortunate victims being motorcyclists who were and are and will continue to be (albeit tragically) the primary cause of most fatal traffic accidents unless some drastic positive action is taken not only by government but more importantly by us, the people.

The question that immediately comes to mind on reading the disturbing statistics is – if all life is sacred on the isle how come we disregard the dangers of reckless and underage driving?

I suppose it is easy to comment on the prevailing situation mindless of the predicament the Balinese have to face:

There is no credible mass transport system (MTS).

The homes of many are scattered in the rural areas and access is usually narrow roads. Therefore, even a mass transport system may not be the answer.

Absence of a comprehensive transportation system (school buses) for children.

So the only alternative the Balinese have:

Hire/purchase of motorcycles with an average price tag of rph 13 million + bank charges/interest.

Invariably, more than one vehicle is acquired by each family thus putting a financial burden on them.

School children are forced to drive themselves to school.

Some months ago, Kadek a 27-year-old married woman living in Padangbai narrated the grisly incident of a teenager who had died in a road accident at the turn off to Padangbai on the coastal road. The young girl on a motorcycle drove across the turn off oblivious to an oncoming truck. Her head came under the wheels of the vehicle. Her mother who rushed to the spot on hearing the news had to remove her remains from the asphalt – remains being the operative word here.

Kadek told me that the crossing is very dangerous as there are no traffic lights or proper street lighting, added to this the speeding vehicles and reckless driving by motorcyclists makes it a death trap.

I met a traffic cop and asked him about the reason for frequent recurring road accidents. He spoke to me on condition of anonymity, which I have to honor. This is what he had to say.

“Bapak we polisi are under constant pressure to maintain discipline on the roads. But this is not easy. How can we stop a family of four riding on a vehicle and going to the temple for ceremony? You tell me? Most of the time even my 13-year-old son drives himself to school, as there is neither school bus nor a proper bus service. The sepeda motor is the only transport. I know as a polisi it’s my duty to penalise these offenders. Children as young as 11 are driving to school and to the market – How can we stop this? My answer to this would be to instil road sense into our youngsters to teach them in school and colleges about road signs, road safety, obeying traffic rules and more. We could have a policewoman visit schools and colleges to lecture on this matter. I believe that such education will surely prevent future accidents on the road. I have witnessed a few bloody accidents myself and as a parent it makes me very worried about my own family. Not all of us can afford cars. I have this message to give to the readers of The Bali Times – we must together work to vigorously teach our children about road safety. After all we polisi are also human beings with families and we should not be made to look bad just because of these accidents. The government is trying to solve the problem of transport but this takes time. So in the meantime at least let’s start teaching our children about road safety.”

There has been many a voice raised at the errant motorcyclist who weaves through the traffic without a helmet; carries materials in one hand while holding the handle with the other; carrying a baby in one hand; talking on a hand phone; lighting a cigarette:and other heart stopping actions. So what makes these docile and smiling folk drive around like headless chickens doing death-defying manoeuvres and/or like boxers without the Marquee of Queensbury’s Rules?

I asked a friend Wayan about this curious behaviour and this was his reply.

“Mark Useless, most of us live in large extended families together in ancestral compounds. We share our responsibilities, wealth etc. Our lives are not private. Everyone in the family knows everything about each other. Our young generation wants time away from prying eyes and some feel their lives are very confined. Therefore the sepeda motor for them represents unbridled freedom. When they are driving they feel free as the wind and are very happy the faster they drive.”

It has been observed and experienced by some visitors and long time residents on the isle that if one got involved in an accident the blame would always fall rightly or wrongly on them. This is so as some locals believe that if the foreigners were not on the isle the accident/s would not have happened.

We have heard many views on the subject of road safety. And the one that strikes a note of truth is that of the policeman’s whose candid opinion reflects reality: the blood on the roads of Bali caused by ignorance and a frightening apathy towards the fact that our children are being permitted to ride the road of death without first learning the basic rules of survival.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

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Where does one begin to unravel the past? Do I speak of education in college. Or, of the professional work I have done? It’s confusing living life as it is to commence a story that most of us are not really interested in! Suffice to say I have been in the wilderness for many years spanning continents, friends and the odd lie. The buck stops here on this site. Today the truth begins, anthology of a life worn by the myriad faces of the past scurrying for an identity. Patience with me dear reader. Humour me. I need your attention and views. Write in when you have read what I have written and share the life within you and teach me how to be a better human being. 

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