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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Bali - A Traveller's Companion

I found this book at PERIPLUS, my favourite bookstore in Indonesia.

It is at once a guide and a reference book, Bali: A Traveller's Companion, published by EDM, is a distinctive mix of practicality and erudition, presented in a visually impressive way. This hardback, 300-page book captures the wonders and beauty of this small volcanic island just off the coast of Java, and provides a visual as well as informational feast. Both novice and experienced travellers will be captivated.

Bali: A Traveller's Companion comprises two sections: reference materials and itineraries. The reference section is a treasure of information, providing an encyclopedic background on the island's natural environment, history, arts, tradition and architecture. Every page is filled with beautiful layouts, lavish photographs conveying the ambience of Bali past and present: its lush landscapes, rich culture, dramatic art forms, pervasive religion, colourful markets and stunning buildings. Themes and places are linked throughout the book by an excellent system of cross-references.

The itineraries section is made up of carefully devised itineraries complete with fully illustrated maps to enable travellers to find their bearings, estimated travel time and recommended sites with background information. Editor's picks are helpfully highlighted with a star. Bali: A Traveller's Companion offers less-travelled, off-the-beaten-track options: rugged secondary roads which demand a motorbike, a tough little jeep, or, for the very fit, a mountain bike. The itineraries are peppered with lively anecdotes, folktales and legends, and interspersed with features that give nuggets of information and complete this insider's tour of the island.

A special section on Bali through the eyes of painters and writers provides a superb encapsulated overview. The evocative colour photographs of paintings by Bali's most renowned painters, from Walter Spies to Affandi, communicate a wealth of impressions and records the vibrant dynamism of Bali culture and landscape. Similarly, the spirit and time of historical Bali comes alive through lively prose, evocative poem, heroic epics, engaging folktales, and factual records of writers.

This book is guaranteed to capture the imaginations of armchair travellers, soothe the nerves of first-time visitors, and thrill even the most seasoned globetrotters. It goes further and deeper than the conventional what-to-see-and-where-to-eat guide. So read Bali: A Traveller's Companion, and let Bali's sun warm you, its white beaches seduce you and its culture enchant you. It's the next best thing to being in the Island of the Gods.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Made Tanou Onederful

Made Tanou, compleat with unicycle sticking out of his backpack, about to leave the temple
The whole world meets at Ibu Kade's warung which is where we met 'Made Tanou' (not his real name but an honorific given to him by the Balinese), a charming 24-year old Austrian 'Taugenichts' who seems to live on a dollar a day - and possibly less. He sleeps in the nearby Brahma Vihara Arama Buddhist Temple's dormitory (no set price but a donation is appreciated), picks his own vegetables from the surrounding fields and has them cooked by Ibu Kade for a nominal charge. Here's a video clip of him at the nearby hot springs:

In this manner, he has lived and extensively travelled through Burma and India, and is now already in his second month in Bali.

Keep it up, Made Tanou! As Mark Twain wrote, "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did."

P.S. Made Tanou (or whatever your real name is), if you read this, email us as we would like to hear how the rest of your trip went. You are on facebook at www.facebook.com/tanou.onederful but since I have no facebook access, I cannot leave a message. Perhaps somebody who reads this and has a facebook account can leave a message for me?

Bali expats

There are all sorts of expats in Bali, hiding out in this shifting community of the planet's "homeless and assetless", languidly killing time like characters in a Graham Greene novel. They are Westerners who have been so ill-treated and badly wounded by life that they've stopped the whole struggle and decided to camp out in Bali indefinitely, where they can live in a gorgeous house for $200 a month, perhaps taking a young Balinese man or woman as a companion, where they can drink before noon without getting any static about it, where they can make a bit of money exporting a bit of furniture for somebody. But generally, all they are doing is seeing to it that nothing serious will ever be asked of them again. These are not bums, mind you. This is a very high grade of people, multinational, talented and clever. Everyone used to be something once (generally "married" or "employed"); now they are all united by the absence of the one thing they seem to have surrendered completely and forever: ambition. To quote my favourite writer Joseph Conrad: "... in all they said - in their actions, in their looks, in their persons - could be detected the soft spot, the place of decay, the determination to lounge safely through existence." Needless to say, there's a lot of drinking.

Having come to Bali after they've made a mess of their lives back home, they decide they've had it with Western women, and they go marry some tiny, sweet, obedient Balinese teenage girl. They think this pretty little girl will make them happy, make their lives easy. Good luck to them because it's still two human beings trying to get along, and so it's going to become complicated because relationships are always complicated. Some have their hearts broken, others just their bank balance, some actually make some sort of living selling real estate to other Westerners who've fallen for this misguided dream of a Balinese paradise.

Of course, Bali is not such a bad place to putter away your life, ignoring the passing of the days. Most Bali expats, when you ask them how long they've lived there, aren't really sure. For one thing, they aren't really sure how much time has passed since they moved to Bali. But for another thing, it's like they aren't really sure if they do live there. They belong to nowhere, unanchored. Some of them like to imagine that they're just hanging out for a while, just running the engine on idle at the traffic light, waiting for the signal to change. But after several years of that they start to wonder ... will they ever leave? Conrad again: "Their death was the only event of their fantastic existence that seemed to have a reasonable certitude of achievement."

There is much to enjoy in their lazy company, in those long Sunday afternoons spent at brunch, drinking beer and talking about nothing. Still, the outsider who's just passing through, feels somewhat like Dorothy in the poppy fields of Oz. Be careful! Don't fall asleep in this narcotic meadow, or you could doze away the rest of your life here!

Friday, July 29, 2011


The internet reception at Banjar Hills is VERY slow, so I was pleased to discover this internet café almost hidden away in the village of Tegeha.

The enterprising owner, Ketut Wahyuda, and I became good friends. Being a long-retired and frustrated accountant and management consultant, I discussed with him his business which has only been running for some eight months.

It turned out that he wasn't even covering his costs as he hadn't allowed for the amortisation of his eight computer stations and various other costs. I convinced him that based on a three-year life cycle of his computer equipment, and in order to make what he considered to be an acceptable profit margin of Rp.1,000,000 a month (a mere $100), his daily takings would have to be at least Rp.100,000. Based on an estimated 20 visits a day, he would have to charge at least Rp.5,000 a visit instead of the current Rp.3,000 for unlimited use.

To attract more visitors (all of whom are local boys and girls), I suggested he should run free introductory internet classes. However, we both agreed that foreign tourists are the best source of income. Hundreds drive past his shop every day on their way to the Buddhist Temple at the top of the hill; however, none stop as his internet café is barely visible, and even if they wanted to stop, they couldn't park their cars as the lane is too narrow. Solution? Open a 'branch office' of his internet café in a warung next to the Temple! He's thinking about it.

Anyway, I was happy to be the first customer to pay the new fee of Rp.5,000.

Ketut Wahyuda and his charming wife

... and their lovely children

Visit Ketut's blog at EXOTIC MULTIMEDIA.

Thursday, July 28, 2011


Of course, I bought lots and lots of 'pirate' DVDs - who wouldn't at Rp.8,000 a piece (approximately 90 cents)? One with relevance to this trip was Krakatoa.

The volcanic eruption of Krakatoa in August 1883 was one of the most deadly in history. It set off a series of terryifying tsunamis, destroying entire towns and islands and devastating the coastlines of Sumatra and Java. Now, in an ancient cycle of death and rebirth, the offspring of this legendary volcano is growing at the spot where its parent was destroyed. For decades, all that marked the site of the original 2,640-foot-high island was a tiny islet that survived the explosion. But in 1930 a new volcano broke through the water at the centre of the old, where, over 70 years on, a build up of pulsating magma is now pushing upward at an astounding pace. The latest scientific and historical research combines in this powerful docu-drama to reveal what really happened in the build up to, during, and in the aftermath of the disaster, and suggests what could happen if the child of Krakatoa lived up to its mother's explosive reputation.

Warung Bu Pilih

The whole world seems to meet at Ibu Kade's WARUNG BU PILIH where we spent many hours whiling the time away, chatting and watching the tourists who came to visit the Buddhist Temple nearby.

Ibu Kade sells just about anything that can earn her a few dollars a day.

The Bakso Man arrives late in the afternoon to sell his delicious meatball soup.

And then there is my friend Guntur who is in charge of the nearby Temple's carpark.

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He only earns Rp.450,000 a month (about $50) which, however, doesn't stop him from indulging his fetish for shoes of which he possesses three highly polished pairs.

Lively and charming Nana, full of laughter and mischief, attended the Temple's "Sunday School" ...

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... while the village schoolkids were practising for the forthcoming Independence Day Marching Competition.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Villa for sale

This FOR SALE sign was displayed near the Buddhist Temple at Banjar Hills when I visited in 2010. Balinese friends had taken me down into the hot and windless valley to look at this "villa" which was owned by a Dutchman who came out once a year to live in it.

There was no path to get to it; instead, we had to cross a river by jumping from bolder to bolder and trudging through muddy rice paddies.

Anyway, it has now been sold. I don't envy the new owner living in this remote and hard-to-get-to location.

The Pepper Trader

Hidden high in the mountains of Java lies a graveyard surrounded by ancient trees and steeped in Hindu legend. In the middle of this sacred grove stands a tall memorial dedicated to "thebrave men" of the German East Asia Squadron. The graves of ten U-boat sailors rest in the shadow of this mysterious white pillar. Who were these men? And why was a monument dedicated to their honour on the flank of a volcano in Indonesia? These were the questions Geoffrey Bennett asked himself when he chanced upon this remarkable site. He soon identified the man who built the memorial as Emil Helfferich, a young German entrepreneur who sailed to the Dutch East Indies in 1901 to make his fortune in pepper. Helfferich befriended the legendary Graf Spee and his sailors when they visited Java. He cheered their exploits in the early months of World War I - victory at Coronel, the swashbuckling raids of Emden, their daring trek on camelback - and he mourned their inevitable demise.

Through the eyes of Helfferich, Bennett recounts tales of the tropics, the wider world and the unseen hand that guided the young man's life and loves. The Pepper Trader takes the reader ona romantic journey from Helfferich's village in Germany to the exotic East Indies and back again to his native land. A memorable cast of real characters, mystical creatures and the Queen of theSouth Sea accompany the reader on this fascinating voyage. This true story is a unique account of long-forgotten events from the last century - and how they continue to affect us today.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

To Vera and Danny Hempel of Doenersdreef Zorg

Vera and Danny at Lovina in 2009

Hello Vera and Danny,

We met at the Banjar Hills Retreat in November 2009 and I enjoyed our walks and talks and dinners together. Ibu Made tells me that you haven't been back since, even though you used to come out from Holland every year.

What happened? Is your work at Doenersdreef Zorg keeping you too busy to come back to Bali?

I've been back to Banjar Hills twice since we met. Here are some photos of the good folks at Tegeha; you may recognise some of them.

If you read this, I hope you will email me.

With kind regards

Lion King

Singaraja (which means 'Lion King') is a fairly good-sized city (which is a good way of saying that I'm not sure what the population actually is) and Bali's second-largest, but it's orderly - even quiet - compared with Denpasar. With its pleasant tree-lined streets, Dutch colonial buidings and charmingly decrepit waterfront area, it's worth wandering around for a few hours.

It was the centre of Dutch power on Bali and remained the administrative centre for the Lesser Sunda Islands (Bali through to Timor) until 1953. It is one of the few places on Bali where there are visible reminders of the Dutch period, but there are also Chinese and Muslim influences. The port of Singaraja was for years the usual arrival point for visitors to Bali but is no longer used as a harbour because it offers little protection from bad weather - shipping for the north coast now uses the port of Celukanbawang, while visiting cruise ships anchor at Padang Bai.

They have been repairing things in Singaraja over the past few years and it definitely has a clean, open feel to it. The main shopping area is on Jalan Diponegoro and Jalan A. Yani. There is not much here in the way of tourist goods (masks, paintings, jewelry) but you can buy supplies for your stay in the north here - juice, boxed milk, diapers, toilet paper, cigarettes and beer are much cheaper than if you buy them in the tourist area to the west.

What is it that is unique about this place, or what is it that draws me to it? Maybe it's because Singaraja isn't really all that unique - just another friendly town in Indonesia where you can bop around, find some things that you need, meet some fine folks and live your life the way you want without interference from people that are convinced that they know how you should live your life.

I could live in Singaraja which reminds me a little of my old stamping-grounds in Malaysia, Penang and Port Dickson, with just a touch of Malacca. A friend, the well-known art photographer Tan Sioe Lay, lives in Singaraja.

He has his previous house in upmarket Jimbaran, south of Denpasar, for sale. At just R.1,250,000,000 (about AUS$140,000) is seems like a bargain but I prefer the wide streets and friendly folks of Singaraja.

Tan Sioe Lay's house for sale in Jimbaran

Monday, July 25, 2011

3 Jaringan Selularmu

"Roaming is the word used to describe using your mobile phone on another network for a short period, while still being billed by your existing provider. Your mobile phone number remains the same while roaming. When you are roaming on another network the temporary mobile phone company will bill your usual mobile phone company for calls you make while roaming on their network." (Note: It is important to note that even calls you receive while roaming when you are overseas may be charged to you and not to the caller.)

Here's my advice: DON'T ROAM! Using your Australian mobile phone in Indonesia and switching to roaming can be prohibitively expensive. I have heard of instances where a tourist's roaming bill amounted to more than all his airfares and hotel expenses combined!

What to do?

1) As soon as you arrive in Bali (or wherever), remove your Australian SIM card from your mobile phone. (Keep it in a safe place as you will want to re-insert it as soon you have arrived back in Australia.)

2) Buy a prepaid Indonesian phone card. They come in various denominations and start from as low as Rp.6000 (about 66 cents) and you can always top up later on. The "3" card has the most extensive coverage in Bali. Other providers may offer better coverage in other parts of Indonesia. The "3" card is sold in countless shops all over the island.

3) Insert the new phone card in your mobile phone. Now call your friends and tell them your new mobile number which is written on the wrapper of the card. All incoming calls while in Indonesia are FREE, regardless of where they originate. You pay the local rate for local calls and a very low rate for calls to Australia. Unlike home, your Indonesian SIM card is prepaid so there is no need for a contract. On completion of each call, the provider sends you an SMS which tells you how much credit you have left. You can top up your credit by paying an additional amount of money at any one of the many shops selling the "3" card.

Please note: the shopkeeper who sells you the card will probably tell you but just in case he doesn't, here's how you make an overseas call (e.g. to Australia): dial 01088, followed by the country code for Australia 61, followed by the area code, say 2 for Sydney, followed by the actual phone number.

P.S. Your Indonesia SIM Card requires a SIM-unlocked GSM 1800 compatible international cell phone. If you have a locked compatible GSM phone, you can easily unlock it. To do so, visit www.unlockingcodesforphones.com.

A walk through the village of Tegeha