Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Interesting facts about bird flu (avian influenza)

Avian influenza - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Virulent strains can kill within a few days, but the lower the mortality rate the worse overall, because people living longer infect more:
"In July 2005, a death in Jakarta was the first confirmed human fatality in Indonesia. The deaths of the man's two children, neither of whom were reported to have had close contact with poultry, further raised concerns of human-to-human transmission (although infection by eating undercooked poultry may be a more likely explanation). As of July 20, the outbreak had claimed at least 58 human lives — mostly in Vietnam. What concerns health researchers now is that the virus mortality rate in Vietnam has dropped significantly lately, from more than 65% to about 35% in a year. This might be a sign that the virus is able to infect a larger number of people (i.e., the virus is able to spread more easily) and possibly develop into a global pandemic with millions of deaths despite the lower reported percentage of deaths. For example, the mortality rate of 1918 Spanish flu (H1N1) pandemic was less than 5%."
Earlier this year, there was an avian genocide in Vietnam:
"An outbreak of avian influenza in January 2005 affected 33 out of 64 cities and provinces in Vietnam, leading to the forced killing of nearly 1.2 million poultry. Up to 140 million birds are believed to have died or were killed because of the outbreak."
An American has devoted a blog -- HN51, the name of the strain going around Vietnam and Indonesia -- to bird flu. This is an interesting angle:
"The Australian reports that western health authorities want an open approach to bird flu, not the coverups that have occurred in Asian countries with H5N1.

But it's awfully hard to get that kind of transparency, and not just in Asia. Over a century ago, Henrik Ibsen's play An Enemy of the People showed how a Norwegian town, reliant on its health spa for tourist revenues, could both cover up a contamination problem and persecute the lone physician who wanted to shut the hot springs down.

In 2000, the rural community of Walkerton, Ontario, suffered a serious contamination of its water supply, resulting in seven deaths and 2,000 cases of serious illness. The guys in charge of the water supply were incompetent dopes, and they didn't cut off the water or warn their residents. Incompetent people tend to make incompetent decisions. Then they deal incompetently with the crises they bring down on their communities."
Regrettably, he also advises of the death tonight of a 27 year old woman in Jakarta. There are about 20 people hospitalized in Jakarta confirmed as having the bird flu.

The Spanish flu killed between 20 and 100 million Europeans.

This is the first time a pandemic has been prepared for on this scale.

Cats are vectors as well as birds. And pigs are breaking out with it.

There is no evidence of transmission through well cooked meat.

Buying chickens live rather than slaughtered, and cock fighting, promote the spread of the disease. So does the orthodox sanitary measure of placing your hand over your mouth when sneezing (and then wiping it all over taps and doorknobs). The trick is, according to the experts, to sneeze into your elbow.

The photo, of a Balinese fighting cock painted pink, is from Dirk Yuricich's photography website.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Bird flu and bird markets

The Jakarta Post - Bird traders hard hit by bird flu

Well, not exactly the Denpasar Bird Market, but the Bratang bird market in Surabaya. According to the Jakarta Post:
"Faisol, a trader in the Bratang bird market here, ... said he had not sold a bird in the past week. The situation is difficult, because in normal times Faisol sells four to six birds a day.

Faisol has been selling birds for 20 years in Bratang market, the biggest bird market in East Java. He sells commonly found birds such as turtledoves, as well as rarer birds such as white cockatoos with yellow crests.

Another trader at the market, Abdul Hasyim, shares Faisol's concerns. While he normally makes about Rp 1.5 million a day [about $190 a day], for the last few weeks his income has dropped to about Rp 75,000 [about A$9] a day."
What do you mean he usually makes A$190 a day? That's like A$1,000 a week. What's the story?

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Steve McCurry: a man whose website has no photos of Bali, and may never have been there

The Swanker, whose blog is about South East Asia (when he calls himself Macam-Macam, anyway) had a good reason to feature a post about Steve McCurry. I don't, except that I like his photos, and you probably will too. His most famous portrait is of Sharbut Gula, recently tracked down by National Geographic.

But his photos are so good, and the story of Gula so interesting, that I thought I would shamelessly copy the Swanker, and put up a link to his site.

Don't worry, these little excursions will be swamped in time by more to the point posts to those 35 of you who might conceivably be interested in how beautiful I found the rice paddies near Ubud, or how we ate baked fish wrapped up in the leaf of a pandanus palm.

[Thanks to National Public Radio in the US for the photo.]

Saturday, September 24, 2005

rice flowers

rice flowers
Originally uploaded by IwateBuddy.
I'm just going to bug you with periodic excursions into the world of rice. Until I set up my rice blog. Flicking through Flickr's ricefields group I came across this: a rice flower, a photo of IwateBuddy. You learn something new every day.

Ubud Writers & Readers Festival, 6-11 October 2005

Ubud Writers & Readers Festival

This looks like a fine festival, featuring Michael Ondjaate, Xanana Gusmao, and Amitav Gosh, as well as lots of Indonesians and expatriates in Indonesia. It's US$200 (about $A260) for the whole thing. You can subscribe to its newsletter at its website. It seems to be yet another territory in Janet de Neefe's empire in which Casa Luna and Indus Restaurants, Casa Luna Cooking School, and Honeymoon Guesthouse, all good, are coloured red on the imperial map, and of which more anon.

Bali is 5 hours' flight from Melbourne, and Ubud is one hour's drive from the airport. You need not think accommodation will be expensive. Tegal Sari where rooms cost between A$30 and A$62 gets consistently outstanding reports (see, for example, A Singaporean's Vacation in my links), and Nick O'Neill over at Bali Blog has done some great work in putting some of the homestays in the middle of town on the web. They cost between $A6.50 and $A20 a night and accommodation goes up from there to US$700 a night (not including breakfast or taxes, presumably 21%) at Four Seasons Sayan Resort. Have a look at the homestays before dismissing them: they're really small hotels run by families on extended family land, not exactly what you might expect from the term "homestay". Published room rates at the Tjampuhan Hotel are only $US70 per night, and it is a beautiful hotel.

A Greek artist's Bali photos

cherouvim.gr > activities > photography > asia > bali

Here is a small selection of good photographs of Bali, as well as lots of other good photos from South East Asia, and elsewhere.

Friday, September 23, 2005

倒れた稲 Fallen rice

A Flickr photo from Marquee Moon.

稲穂 Rice plants

稲穂 Rice plants
Originally uploaded by MARQUEE MOON.
This one is nice rice too.

実る程頭を垂れる稲穂かな (Ears of rice plants)

I like this photo of rice from Marquee Moon's Flickr page. As you will find out, I like rice. This, I suppose, is Japanese rice. Balinese rice is nice.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The little pool cafe at the Tjampuhan Hotel

Tjampuhan Hotel, Ubud
Originally uploaded by Trapped In A Suit.
Now this is a nice place to eat, the little pool cafe.

Monday, September 12, 2005

The main pool at the Hotel Tjampuhan

Tjampuhan Hotel, Ubud
Originally uploaded by Trapped In A Suit.

There are two pools, relatively dainty little things, and the second and smaller one is full of spring water, and apparently unchlorinated. It is like swimming in a lake.

The River Oos (I think) at the bottom of the Hotel Tjampuhan

Looking back to Tjampuhan Hotel from the temple across the river

This shows the vertiginous scale of the grounds of the hotel. At the top is the one of the bottom most sets of four rooms and below that, where the curtains are, are the massage rooms which are part of the spa, where one lies naked, being massaged, or having some ridiculous bath full of smells and flowers in a room open to the gorge.

The stairs to a small temple at Hotel Tjampuhan, Ubud, Bali

That view again

Each room has a primitive man with a detachable erection of great proportion. The latter is a donger in more senses than one, though what one might summons with the gong of the man's torso is unclear. Can anyone help me with why the hotel might have thought it a good idea to include one of these guys as a central feature of each room's balcony? I'm dubious that it is from the Balinese artistic tradition, and strongly suggest it's traditional art of some other Indonesian island.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The quintessentially bad arty shot

Frangipane and alang alang thatch, Hotel Tjampuhan, Ubud, Bali
Originally uploaded by Trapped In A Suit.
I know this is a quintessentially bad attempt at an arty shot without much merit at all but it does something for me and I'm going to put it here just because I can, I have no editor, and no publisher.

Rooves of Tjampuhan Hotel bungalows

These rooves are made of alang alang grass, and they are just so beautiful. They are now more expensive than steel or tiles, so this thatch is mainly reserved for ceremonial pavilions and things touristic.

One of the many views from our room I'm going to bore you wiith

View from room Gunung 6
Originally uploaded by Trapped In A Suit.
Our room was Gunung 6. I suspect they don't think of it as one of their best rooms, as it is the closest to reception, and has a somewhat jungly view. We asked for it because Miss K was unwell and couldn't navigate the mountain trails which led to the most far flung room in the hotel which they had given to us in response to our request the day before by telephone for a room near the front entrance and at the top of the hill. That is not a criticism, just a warning about doing business in English in Bali over the telephone. I reckon it's a cracker of a room.

Tjampuhan Hotel, Ubud

Tjampuhan Hotel, Ubud
Originally uploaded by Trapped In A Suit.
They rearrange the garden's flowers so as to ornament paths, carvings, and one's pillow better than anywhere else I saw in Bali. I have often wondered why hotels in lands where flowers are plentiful fail to do that which would win the hearts of so many guests: pick some flowers and put them in a little vase. I will start a web catalogue of small and simple family owned accommodations without televisions and with fresh flowers.

Detail from Hotel Tjampuhan's beautiful garden

The gardens are absolutely beautiful. They are old; this has been a hotel since the 1930s. They seem artless, but they are in fact tended by swarms of gardeners.

Hotel Tjampuhan Reception, Ubud, Bali

Arrival is a pleasure. A glass inside a holder of closely woven cane is presented, filled with a dark drink. It is alcoholic, though no enquiry is made about whether you might want it; rice wine (brem) with sprite. It is a great and weird drink, a good idea. It comes with a cold towel. The filling in of the form which allows the government to keep very close tabs indeed on visitors is made as pleasurable as it can be.

Hotel Tjampuhan Reception, Ubud, Bali

The Tjampuhan is a magnificent hotel. It has none of the things necessary for 5 star status, but it could hardly be improved (except by the provision of even more adequate lighting for reading). It is amazing that 4 nights at such a place may be the subject of an A$1,000 package from Melbourne in high season.

Each room is spacious and has a series of perfectly clean plate glass windows framing a view of the beautiful gardens. Like many Balinese hotels, it is designed so that no room can see another, and each has a view. Ours was a particularly lovely view (Gunung 6; it's the room closest to reception). So vertiginous is the hill on which the hotel is situated that each building (two rooms up and two down) lies beneath, and out of the line of sight of, the other.

The restaurant does not seem particularly well frequented for dinner, but does a good free breakfast in the style of expensive hotels anywhere, with banana pancakes on the menu, and, if you want it, fried rice (nasi goreng).

If you have a mobile phone, the hotel has a particular advantage. Four free hotel shuttle busses trundle around the relatively small centre of Ubud, and its environs. A call to reception results in very prompt arrival of one of the buses. In a town inexplicably without taxis centred around one very long road and featuring many hills, it is a good thing. Those without mobile phones can just ring from the nearest shop. I say there are no taxis, but there are millions of "transport" and "ojek", vans and motor bikes wanting to take you wherever, but it's a negotiation each time.

Miss Yasmina's jackfruit

Originally uploaded by miss yasmina.
Here's one of her photos. Jackfruit and durian are similarly large, spiky things, though I never got to taste fresh durian because they were out of season, just like mangosteens (my favourite fruit in the whole world; after hearing travellers' rapturous accounts of them, Queen Victoria offered a great prize for anyone who could bring one back to England, fresh). Durian has been described as like eating strawberry soufle on the dunny. I did try jackfruit. It's a curiously chewing gum texture, and flavour really. I also ate jackfruit chips from Sagu in Ubud, of which, more anon.

Miss Yasmina, an Indonesienne

too hot for walking
Originally uploaded by miss yasmina.
Miss Yasmina has some nice photos of Bali, and of Indonesia more generally, over at Flickr. She is a fellow former guest of the Hotel Tjampuhan.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Night photography

Nighthawks - Night Photography

Wow. There's a whole community of night photographers out there. Night photography is a "thing". I like it a lot. This is the blog of an American, Mark Interrante whose Flickr username is Pinhole. He's got some great photos of Bali.

Avian Flu: Wildlife Experts Say Closing Overseas Wild Bird Markets Would Help Prevent Spread of Disease

Here is an interesting article on bird markets in Asia. On the scale of the trade, it says this:
The trade in wild birds for the pet and songbird trade in Asia is vast. For example, in Bangkok’s weekend market during 25 weekends in one year alone, 70,000 birds representing 276 species from Asia Australia, Africa and South America were sold. In a single market in Java, Indonesia, between half a million and 1.5 million wild birds are sold each year.
On its contribution to the spread of avian flu, it says this:
According to WCS, which operates conservation programs in more than 15 Asian countries, wild birds are caught, usually by rural hunters, then brought together in large numbers often outside their natural range, and put in contact with other animals and people that have little immunity to diseases they might be carrying.

“The birds are caged in stressful, unnatural and often unhygienic conditions during transport and in the markets themselves where they are forced to stand beak to beak with both wild and domestic birds, and handled by humans – all providing the ideal conditions for transmission of disease,” said Dr William Karesh, Director of the WCS Field Veterinary Program.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Ni Polok, dancer and muse

I went to Sanur, unnaturally interested in the Museum Le Mayeur (see my earlier post). It's a decrepit place, astonishing given the value of Le Mayeurs in the art market. This photo is what all the fuss was about: Ni Pollok, and, one suspects, her breasts. She was a dancer of the legong dance, and was the almost exclusive subject of Le Mayeur's gushy paintings. I liked going to this Museum; not because of the art which one suspects would be long forgotten well executed sentimental exoticism but for the legend of Le Mayeur and Polok, and their beachside idyll. Then Le Mayeur died, and his house became a museum while his wife was still living in it! As the sign in the bedroom says:
"This relatively small room used to be the Le Mayeurs' bedroom. They enjoyed using this bedroom so much [!] that they never shifted to any other room until their departure for medical treatment to Belgium, where the painter passed away at last in 1958. After the death of Le Mayeur, Ni Pollok kept on sleeping in this room even though sh had to allow visitors to enter her bedroom to have a look at some unique collections inside, such as a corner cupboard to keep valuable belongings at the south-west corner of the room, a few wooden boxes decorated with sea-shells used for a sea journey, a bed (already broken and now removed) in the midde of the room, its head toward the east, and a few paintings as well as photographs of Le Mayeur and the young Ni Popllok hanging on the wall."
It's hard not to think that Adrien was not more interested in his own legend than in his wife's wellbeing, but I suppose there is some explanation for the strange course of events.

Another shot of Nusa Dua

Nusa Dua
Originally uploaded by Trapped In A Suit.

Nusa Dua

Nusa Dua
Originally uploaded by Trapped In A Suit.
This is what Nusa Dua looks like. It's very Singapore, but without the excuse of being the business capital of Asia run by a much loved despot. If you're enjoying this blog, you won't like Nusa Dua. It is the most manicured place in the world. It's planned tourism, everything Kuta isn't. You look at it and you think "The Indonesian Government is just taking rich suckers for a ride". Guidebook writers have to be more accommodating of the people who stay there. I don't. It's a huge place which is 100% hotels. Who wants to stay in a little world which is nothing but expensive hotels (and, a beach)? Yuk. I knew all this but was completely unprepared for how utterly dreadful it is. There are so many good hotels in real places, you really don't need to stay there. Trust me.

Another shot of Uluwatu

Originally uploaded by Trapped In A Suit.

Monkeys at Uluwatu; Simian Foamy Virus

Monkeys at Uluwatu
Originally uploaded by Trapped In A Suit.
The ticket man regaled me with tales of the monkeys' ferocity until I agreed to give him a few thousand rupiah to accompany me with a slingshot (but curiously, no stones) which he aimed and made as if to shoot with good effect.

I did not know it, but simian foamy virus has recently been found to have jumped from monkeys to humans, a Balinese human in fact. That sounds pretty bad doesn't it? and comes with warnings on many an Indonesia blog, and Bali Update like this:
"Visitors to a Bali Monkey Temple should do so as part of a tour lead by a licensed guide and follow all instructions given to them, refraining from feeding the monkeys or posing for photographs while holding the primates."
Why? Foamy, I imagined, was how the mouth was during the paroxysm which is paralysis's antecedent. But no, hidden away in the fine print was this little detail:
"SFV has not been linked to any known disease symptoms among the humans infected, appearing to be non-insidious and benign to both humans and monkeys."
Mind you, the BBC does give some context about why to be worried, maybe. But then again, people already were worried, about their sunglasses. And if they weren't worried, the men who live from their stoneless slingshots did their best to worry them.


Originally uploaded by Trapped In A Suit.
I got up early one morning, and took a 5 hour tour of South Bali with one of many Mades on a tour of South Bali, taking in the Uluwatu temple and Nusa Dua on the dry and relatively sparsely inhabited Bukit Peninsula, and then to Sanur. We averaged between 40 km and 60 km per hour, my first real taste of the slow rate of progress available when you hire a driver these days.

A driver for an 8 hour day without much bargaining seems to be about 250,000 Rp. (a bit over A$30) and parking 1,000 Rp.

Few people visit Uluwatu in the morning; it is a place to watch the sunset. They have created an amphitheatre of sorts out of concrete and planks and hold the monkey dance (kecak) there of an evening. Going there is a somewhat underwhelming experience, at least early in the morning. It would be kindof cool to stumble across it, but it does not quite make it as a destination for a multi-hour drive. Going there for dance at sunset seems like a much better idea, but it wasn't an option for me.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Cinnamon at Denpasar Market

Originally uploaded by Trapped In A Suit.
Seeing great faggots of cinnamon sticks a metre and more long piled high on each other was one of the most arresting experiences of my trip.

Denpasar Bird Market (Pasar Burung)

Originally uploaded by Trapped In A Suit.
Something fishy about this bird.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Aceh, an aircrash, and Pete Loud

Well it seems as though there has again been a terrible air disaster in Sumatra, poor old Sumatra. I wondered whether as well as two terrible air disasters Aceh might have been in Sumatra. I googled and found this site by a man who appears to be a great eccentric fascinated by fiddles, engineering, the amateur cartography of warzones, and the sea and sailing. He also has great maps of Indonesia. Aceh is indeed in Sumatra, and the aircrash was in the same area today. The budget airline was owned by the Indonesian military. If you're very bored, check out this "Traveller's tale no. 27; Down and Out in Jalan Jaksa", the very quintessence of eccentric British engineers' travel writing. Also well worth the visit is his photograph of a man swallowed by a snake.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Monkeys at Denpasar Bird Market

Denpasar Bird Market
Originally uploaded by Trapped In A Suit.
Sorry about this poor photo, but it illustrates the pathos of the monkey shop.

Denpasar Bird Market

Denpasar Bird Market
Originally uploaded by Trapped In A Suit.

Denpasar Bird Market

Denpasar Bird Market
Originally uploaded by Trapped In A Suit.

Denpasar Bird Market

Denpasar Bird Market
Originally uploaded by Trapped In A Suit.
Odd, seing a crow in a cage.

Penjors at Denpasar Bird Market

Denpasar Bird Market
Originally uploaded by Trapped In A Suit.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Dead bird in Air Saneh, north coast

Apparently the bird suppliers go into the forests of Indonesia and take fledglings from the nest, and then rear them. They were selling for 50,000 Rp and upwards. 300,000 Rp (A$40) would have bought an owl without any bargaining. Wayan said many birds die within a few months, though he seemed to suggest that this was by virtue of their purchasers' indifference to their need for daily water.

Denpasar Bird Market

Denpasar Bird Market
Originally uploaded by Trapped In A Suit.

Denpasar Bird Market

Denpasar Bird Market
Originally uploaded by Trapped In A Suit.

Denpasar Bird Market

Originally uploaded by Trapped In A Suit.

Denpasar Bird Market

Denpasar Bird Market
Originally uploaded by Trapped In A Suit.

Denpasar Bird Market; Man Selling an Owl

Denpasar Bird Market
Originally uploaded by Trapped In A Suit.

Denpasar Bird Market

Denpasar Bird Market
Originally uploaded by Trapped In A Suit.

A muslim sat at one end of the market, in front of a temple, with a box of dried and flattened monkeys' arms. Smoking a cigarette from a bone cigarette holder, his fingers bedecked with chunky rings, I assume he was telling fortunes. His audience, which included a military man, seemed attentive. The man with the raptor and the owl was right next door and the whole thing was suddenly very Genghis Khan for a moment.

Wayan and the Denpasar Bird Market

I went to the Denpasar Bird Market, and the Central Market, with the driver associated with Puri Tantra, Wayan from Candi Dasa. I liked him tremendously. He seemed a good advertisement for Hinduism, which he espoused with some enthusiasm. He seemed quite content, and devoid of envy, like a HIndu version of the chuckling Dalai Lama. If I were Hinduism's PR man, I would be using Bali as my source, not India. He never went to school, and was reading a spineless, dog-eared English text of a quality which serves to explain the nation's menu writing. I told him the English in it was quite wrong. He pulled out another, fallen into about 6 parts, and I told him that its English was right. Frigid, but correct, it was, nothing but a very long phrase book.

This poor fellow relies for his income not on his capacity to drive but on his capacity to joke with tourists, the highest reach of any language of course. He has no experience of study, and says that he finds it very difficult to memorise words and phrases from books. Private English tutors seem not to be terribly common: the tourist industry provides more lucrative means of employment for expatriates.

He says that English classes are outside his means. Of course one has to take such claims with a grain of salt. He stands to earn in the vicinity of 100,000 to 250,000 Rp (A$14 to A$35) each day that one of the 6 groups of guests at the bungalows wants to use the attached driver, while a senior teacher in a government school might earn in the vicinity of $280 per month (2 million Rp), or A$3360 per year. Petrol is not a major expense at A$0.35 per litre or so.

Wayan's career started out helping his sister sell fruit at the Denpasar fruit market. She still works there. Then he sold ice cream on the streets of Denpasar, and then worked as a conductor on bemos, the local public transport, before becoming a driver for tourists (who seem to be described universally as "guests").

I bought some pork satays at the market for 1,000 Rp each ($A0.14), double the local price. I offered some to Wayan, but he said he could not eat chilli. He said his stomach had given up on chilli a while ago, and I felt sorry for this unfortunate state for an Indonesian, which did not sound right, and suggested a want of medical treatment. Even if that were not the case, then I still felt sorry for him.

The bird market was two alleyways of fighting roosters, birds from all over Indonesia, mice, rats, squirrels, tortoises, monkeys, rabbits, guinea pigs, and great tanks full of crickets. Birdcages and penjors got a look in, along with fish, and some plants. Some of the birds didn't look too flash, as if they had worn out their feathers by crashing in a panic of flapping wings against their small bamboo cages. Some were spectacular.

The vendors looked like hard men, tough, and poor. One felt uncomfortable greeting them, and overcoming that discomfort did not produce any response. The monkey man in particular seemed scowly, as if a lifetime of keeping such closely related beasts chained by their necks on short short lengths of chain had stained his soul.

The squirrels are kept by boys, though it is best to possess them from when they are young. Then they will travel everywhere with their possessor, resting in a shirt pocket. The garden of the Puri Tantra bungalows rustles with squirrels, and geckos abound, though we only saw today our first gecko proper, a beautiful spiderman creature which has no diffficulty at all walking on walls. It is a handspan long, and has a head as big as a 50 cent piece.

Drugs in Indonesia

Bill Guerin, over at Asia Times (whatever that is) has some interesting hard facts and above average analysiss about drugs in Indonesia today, including that 2.5 million Indonesian 20 year olds are drug users:

About 3.2 million Indonesians are drug users and an estimated 78% of those are in their 20s. More than 15,000 deaths every year are attributed to drug abuse. Drugs are readily available in all major urban areas, including schools, karaoke lounges, bars, cafes, discotheques, nightclubs and even in remote villages. Drug counselors cite peer pressure, poor enforcement and lack of treatment facilities as among the key factors contributing to the rise of the drug menace.

The designer drug ecstasy is generally thought to be the "gateway" to the harder drugs. Addicts abuse ganja and heroine, shabu-shabu (crystal methylamphetamine), putau (low grade heroin) and cocaine.

Ecstasy and shabu-shabu are favorites among the middle- and upper-class users. Marijuana is the drug of choice among university students and intellectuals. For an increasing number of young people, the drug of choice is putau, which is cheap, plentiful, but potentially deadly.

Friday, September 02, 2005

The Natural Guide to Bali

Anne Gouyon is a Parisian agricultural engineer who has edited the first of a series of new guidebooks, The Natural Guide to Bali. She is profiled in La Gazette de Bali No. 3, August 2005, a beautiful French tourist and expat newspaper.

She wrote it with a team made up of an ethnobotanist, Jean-Marie Bompard, Titiek Pratiwi, a "forest specialist", and Godeliva Sari, a sociologist and editor of the now defunct Latitudes, an English language glossy periodical about Indonesia. Many of the longer information pieces are in fact condensed versions of articles which appeared in that periodical.

More are planned, for Thailand, Sri Lanka, Laos, Vietnam, Madagascar, and a second edition of the Bali guide extending to Lombok and Komodo. The guide was first published a few months ago, and the series is brand new. Anyone travelling in the next little while is lucky to be able to use this guide, and one suspects that it will always be a guide used by comparatively few.

Its premise is that its user wants to travel responsibly, and it is much more selective than other guides. Lonely Planet could not devote a quarter of a page to the following:
"The Magical World of Pak Darma A banana leaf, a butterfly, and a bright flower creeping along the path will lead to fascinating stories as you walk around with Pak Darma, the owner of Rumah Roda restaurant. Under his expert eyes, every detail of the landscape finds its place as yet another colourful element of the Balinese art of living. Just tell him your interests, and benefit from his knowledge and friendship. [Contact details, and price then follow.]"
If they did, the poor man would be besieged by tourists, his price would go up, he would franchise out his operations to others, and quality would slip (the Lonely Planet effect). With this guide, one can travel around secure in the knowledge that for the next little while, these will be fresh recommendations.

The book could be better proofread, perhaps a function of having a French editor (perhaps it also explains the not-quite-right title), but it is beautifully laid out, with many more photographs incorporated into the text than Lonely Planet guides.

From what I have read so far, the ecological aspirations of the book are relatively modest (The Oberoi, a 5 start resort, gets the maximum of two goodness hearts seemingly for cleaning up the beach in front of it), and its tone is never hectoring, or cloyingly politically correct, though sometimes it gets a bit on the dumb side:
"So what to do as a nature lover? Dolphin watch tours are a good side income for fishermen, and give them an incentive to preserve the marine life. If you decide to book one of them, explain to your boat driver that you do not want to chase the dolphins. When you see a group of dolphins, ask him to stop his boat and wait. You may not see the animals as close as the other boats running after them. But it is better than disturbing these lovely creatures, and it will show the local fishermen that not all tourists are disrespectful of sea life. [So far, so good.] By allowing dolphins to behave in a natural way, you may even get a chance to witness something special, like hunting, feeding, mating or the birth of a baby dolphin [yeah, right] -- which won't happen when animals are being harrassed."
It has an excuse for being selective, which is an advantage, and has a great deal more information about many fewer accommodations with many fewer rooms each than the other guides do, which make an effort to cover off most of the things in most of the places,
even if by general reference. It is anti-encyclopaedic, and that is a good thing.

Bali is one place where there is so much information on the internet that a Lonely Planet guide is unnecessary for finding accommodation, and where good commentary about the place is probably more important. The Rough Guide has long excelled in that regard. It strikes me that the least one can do when coming to spend one's wealth decadently is follow the paths set out in this guide. It also strikes me that doing so will be no hardship, unless you are a lover of large hotels owned by the Suhartos. Furthermore, I reckon the guests and fellow diners at the 300 places with detailed recommendations will be more pleasant company than elsewhere.

Not surprisingly it is stronger on Bali outside the conurbation known generically as Kuta, and you probably wouldn't buy it if you were spending most of your time in Kuta.

It was not available in Australia last time I checked. I will consider requests to buy, borrow, or rent mine.

Obsessed westerners: 70 years after it was fashionable

I read in the Natural Guide to Bali about an Italian, Cristina Formaggia, who has formed the Gumguh Preservation Project, having studied for 10 years to become a master of one of the main roles of this Gumbuh dance, which was suffering from indigenous disinterest in the lavish resources needed to mount it. The Ford Foundation has financed this study.

In a back issue of Bali Echo I read about Vaughan Hatch, who studied gamelan for a year, and wrote this horrible sentence about the experience: "No drug is better than this, although the after effects are often cramp and a really sore back!"