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The Bali Post Makes Me Afraid of Breakfast

by Susi, 18 September 2008

I promised to give occasional digests of the local newspaper, the Bali Post. Not to renege on a promise, here is a digest of Tuesday’s paper, by no means a more distressing one than usual. The headlines that drew my attention most were:

  • Struggle for Ramadan Gifts Leaves 21 Dead
  • Chaos Surrounding Bali’s Assets Created Deliberately
  • Regulation Against Communications Towers May Be Revised
  • Rights Organisation Demonstrates Against Anti Pornography Bill
  • Balinese Crystal Meth Dealer Busted
  • Balinese Housekeeper Caught Snatching Boss’ Jewellery
  • Bali’s Environmental Breathing Room Shrinking Fast

Struggle for Ramadan Gifts Leaves 21 Dead

21 women died struggling to get $3 charity envelopes in Pasuruan, a city not far from Surabaya, and the Bali Post had grisly photos on the front page. It’s a tradition during the “Holy Month” of Ramadan for the faithful to do deeds of charity, such as giving away money. More than once, however, this has resulted in trampling deaths in Indonesia. The photographs and the stories in the local media here are harrowing, tragic, and underline in blood red ink the problems of poverty in this country. While the desperate are risking their lives to get $3, meanwhile the (mostly) corrupt few are living the life of Riley, struggling to get the latest $5000 “it” handbag or limited edition Boucheron/Vertu handphone before their peers do. 

On Monday, in Pasuruan, 21 people (all women) died in a throng of the desperate. The family giving away this Ramadan “Zarat”  money put up a notice in the alley where they live that they would be distributing the $3-value envelopes of cash, and crowds of poor and desperate women descended on the narrow passageway four hours ahead of the cash distribution. The resulting crush left at least 21 women between 35 and 60 years of age dead, and dozens more injured. Charming. What a “Holy Month” for the families of the victims. The poverty crisis in Indonesia is an iceberg looming beneath the waters of this island nation. This incident was just a small tip breaking the surface. I don’t blame the man giving the money. I don’t blame the local police for not taking charge. I blame the intolerable level of poverty in this, one of the naturally richest nations in the world. It’s unspeakable really.

Chaos Created Deliberately

A front page opinion piece holds that the people of Bali have never been adequately informed of the actual wealth of their island in terms of assets, resources and income. Blame falls on government officials who are accused of deliberately clouding the truth, while colluding with investors and business interests for personal gain. The truth of this pointed accusation is impossible to deny. Or confirm. Thanks to the deliberately created chaos which leaves facts lost in limbo.

Regulation Against Communications Towers May Be Revised

Bali is a forest of telcom towers. These eysores are proliferating at a rate that defies any logic. There is no need to erect so many towers. There are numerous places on this largely agricultural, and very scenic island, with four or more towers per square kilometer. It’s madness.

Effective telcom coverage can be achieved through more efficient and less environmentally-destructive means, but nobody seems to be able to coordinate or cooperate and private interests are colluding with authorities to build towers willy nilly all over the island. Again, the truth is terribly clouded. A regulation was recently passed making a moratorium on tower building in Badung Regency, which includes Kuta, Legian, Seminyak, Canggu and the island’s capital, Denpasar. Bear in mind that most towers in Bali have only a few transceivers on them, and are in ridiculous proximity to other towers erected by competitors (also with only a handful of transceivers). In other words, most towers have failed to lease their available transceiver space. There is most certainly no need to build any more towers. It is ludicrous in the extreme. 

Back to the article . . . it tells us that the regulation against tower-building may be tossed aside. Not that it was ever enforced anyway. Towers have never stopped sprouting, despite numerous rather amusing incidents in poverty-ridden east Bali where the structural steel of towers has been cut off and spirited away by thieves to sell as scrap metal. Again and again. They need the paltry cash value of the steel more than they need additional microwave transceivers. Clearly.

In civilised countries, telcom transceivers are strategically located on selected high points and cooperatively utilised to maximise coverage and minimise aesthetic and environmental impacts. Where towers are absolutely necessary, they are sensitiverly positioned and camouflaged to resemble tall trees or to fade into the background of sky. Not so in Bali. It’s looking like a porcupine with all the towers bristling forth from its surface. At any rate, the whole tower racket here smells a bit fishy to me.

Rights Organisation Demonstrates at Provincial Parliament Against “Anti-Pornography” Bill

There’s been a weird bit of proposed legislation wafting around in Indonesia for the past few years, referred to as the “Anti-Pornography Bill.” Among the many implications of this legislation (if ratified), it would prohibit sunbathing, swimsuits, moderately short skirts, bare shoulders, sleeveless shirts, disco dancing and PDOA. For women. And for women only. 

The first time this misguided bill popped up it was hotly debated for several months and then submerged beneath the surface. Since then it has reared its ugly head periodically, and now has surfaced yet again. Bear in mind that this is a country which is promoting tourism heavily, with Visit Indonesian Year 2008 being one of its big campaigns. And Bali, as a cultural, beach and party destination, is a fat Hindu golden goose, which other provinces view with envious and therefore angry eyes. Rather than promoting their own shores and their own cultural sites to an adoring world, they instead wish to kill the golden goose out of spite. Bali without bikins would be a non-destination. (Footnote: All alcohol to wholesale distributors has been halted in Hindu Bali – – which is reliant upon pleasing the world’s holidaymakers – – until the end of Ramadan.)

Regarding the so called “anti-porno” bill, please bear in mind that in many, if not most, of the cultures of Indonesia, women are in no way required or expected to cover their shoulders, or even wear upper-body garments during the daily routines of life. In Bali one still sees older women opting for the cooler, no-top option in both rural and urban areas. Not to mention men and women bathing naked in plein air at rivers and roadsides. Gawkers are considered the wrongdoers, not the bathers. The younger Balinese used to attire themselves appropriately for the climate (bare shoulders, tops optional), and wash au naturel in the bountiful natural waters of Bali, but this is no more, thanks to the increasingly reactionary climate of Indonesia today.

The hypocrisy of the whole anti-porno bill is hard to fathom. This country has avidly supported its two lucrative fashion weeks (Jakarta and Bali), which included modest Muslim attire alongside transparent and scanty ensembles as bold as any on the catwalks of Europe (and as beautiful and potentially profitable, too). The crowds applauded them equally. So what’s with this bill? Who’s backing it? Enquiring minds want to know. 

Meanwhile in Irian Jaya and elsewhere women wear next to nothing, and if I lived in such a climate in such conditions I would do the same, and have no qualms about it. Dayak women of Borneo’s interior are dignified, decent and imposing on a day to day basis in nothing but a short skirt cloth (plus traditional acessories like ear weights and bangles). Are we going to demand they wear long trousers and smocks? If so, why? And what sense could they possibly make of this? 

Balinese Crystal Meth Dealer Busted

This is a small headline, which barely merits attention, being such a run-of-the-mill thing in Bali. What does bear mentioning is this. The myth is that Bali was a lovely paradise until inmigration from Java and elsewhere brought crime and debauchery. The myth is still current that Balinese are not involved in the upsurging crime wave on the island. It’s “orang jawa,” which in Balinese means “outsiders”. In this case, the suspect apprehended was one Komang Artadana. It’s a Balinese name. He is Balinese. So much for the myth.

The numbers of theft and drug incidents appearing in the paper with Balinese perpetrators is increasing logarithmically. So the Balinese are not all sweet, peaceful people making offerings with flowers behind their ears? Don’t tell the tourists!

Balinese Housekeeper Caught Snatching Her Boss’ Jewellery

Here’s a classic story. The housekeeper had been working only a week for the family, and was caught making off with a gold and diamond ring. Was the suspected perpetrator an “outsider?” No. She was Ni Kadek Sari, 21 years of age. A Balinese. Luckily she hadn’t sold the ring yet, and the owner got it back. I guess people should be careful about hiring domestic help without references in Bali, as elsewhere. Balineseness apparently does not correlate with faithfulness or honesty. In direct contradiction to what visitors are led to believe, and the Balinese themselves are choosing to believe, lest the truth ellicit tears of shame and regret. Not to mention a dent in their accustomed attitude of cultural superiority. Hmmm.

Bali’s Environmental Breathing Room Shrinking Fast

This piece reports on a public statement by Balinese celebrity painter and social observer, Nyoman Gunarsa. He declares unequivocally that the degradation of Bali’s environment is the result of the Balinese forgetting their true nature, and straying from their long-held cultural tenets. He goes on to say that Bali’s much-vaunted title as “the last paradise” may soon be transformed into “the lost paradise.” He mourns the tragic loss of beaches, forests, river banks, rice fields and sacred places, in the name of short term economic benefits derived from hotels, villas, restaurants, shopping centres, golf courses, apartment buildings and “honky tonks,” then touches on the direct impacts on watersheds, effects of erosion, and the relation of these to degradation of coastline environments which are the lifeblood of tourism. Good on ya, Gunarsa.

What else in one day’s Bali Post? 

Officials in Karangasem have been given six cars and nine motorbikes. One of the cars is a new Toyota Fortuner (a “Forerunner” in other countries). It’s a huge gas-guzzling car, unsuited to the small roads of Bali, particularly those of marginalised areas like Karangasem. Here, it is a proud man’s car, a playboy’s showpiece, and not surprising as the duty on its import is over 100% of the car’s purchase price overseas. 

There’s a forest fire on the island’s largest and most sacred mountain, out of control for over a week. It is now threatening some of the most sacred temples on the island, including one which is special to me personally, Pura Pasar Agung.

The recently completed I.B. Mantra highway (semi-completed that is, as usual), has been called the “highway to hell” by locals due to the tremendous number of fatal motorbike and automobile accidents which occur there. The Bali Post reports that the highway will now be patrolled by police, in the hopes of decreasing the number of deaths. Good luck. Bali has three motorbike deaths a day on average.

Electrical cable thieves have been having a field day in Karangasem Regency in East Bali. Numerous thefts of heavy duty electric utility cables have been reported recently in the area. Now the paper reports that 34 meters of heavy electrical cable owned by the Bali-Lombok ferry company in Karangasem vanished. Hmmm. Bear in mind that electrocution deaths in Bali are all too common. I hope they use insulated cutters and boots.

I regularly scan and count the help wanted advertisments in the Bali Post. Note du jour is that the quantity of help wanted ads has decreased 50% since July. This underlines the excessively seasonal nature of the tourism economy, with its high season in July and August. The rest of the year is relatively quiet. Seasonal employment if it is a significant proportion of the total employment of a population has many negative consequences. People, especially tropical ones, were never trained to make annual household budgets based on a once-yearly “harvest”. What this means is that many young hopefuls for tourism jobs find themselves working only two months a year. The relatively high salary during those two months, and vague promises from the employers prompt them to become overconfident and go spend their paycheck to assuage pent-up desires for status goods like fancy cellphones, plasma TVs, new motorbikes, and even cars (on credit). With September layoffs, then what? Angry spouses? Hungry kids? The unfulfilled expectations of one’s dependants is a perfect prelude to a life of crime. Who is advising these people?

There were too many other stories which, for reasons too complex to elucidate here, give rise to concern. It’s simply not possible to begin to transmit even the main currents of this stream of strange situations in the strange and changing world of Bali. Just take in the few glimpses above, of Indonesia and of Bali, as random illuminating rays, small torchbeams, into this dim cavern. You can see a flash of this, a flash of that, and perhaps begin to get sketchy outlines of the shape of the cavern. Keep looking.

And remember, all the stories above are from just one day. What can one expect tomorrow at breakfast when opening the paper in Bali? Certainly it’s not conducive to a healthy appetite.

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1 Comment

    • dara
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    • September 19, 2008

    your summation of a day in the life of the bali post was tragic. sprinkling in your humor helped! i recommend you stick to the comics today.

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