Saturday, November 27, 2010

Alert Issued over Bromo Volcano


The authorities have issued a “red alert” for an eruption at Mount Bromo volcano in East Java, less than a month after Mount Merapi volcano killed more than 300 people.

“We raised the status of Bromo to the highest red alert level at 3.30pm today. There’s a chance of an eruption soon,” government volcanologist Surono said on Tuesday.

Bromo started rumbling on November 8 and plumes of white smoke and ash were rising from the crater of the 2,329 metre peak on Tuesday, according to a government website.

Anyone within three kilometres of the volcano – which lies about 120 kilometres south of Surabaya – were urged to move to safer ground.

Unlike Merapi, however, the countryside around Bromo is not densely populated as it lies within the Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park.
The volcano last erupted in 2004, killing two people.

It is one of Indonesia’s most active volcanoes and is a popular spot for tourists and day trippers. It is the youngest cone in the vast Tengger caldera, a “volcanic complex” that dates back about 820,000 years.

Officials earlier raised the death toll from Mount Merapi, in central Java, to 322 people since it began erupting on October 26.

“Rescuers found many bodies in the incinerated area of Cangkringan,” disaster management official Agam Ferdatama said, updating the previous toll of 309 dead.

More than 130,000 people are living in emergency shelters, well down on the 320,000 at the height of the disaster, although the volcano’s threat level remains on the maximum “red alert.”

Merapi killed around 1,300 people in 1930 but experts say its latest eruptions were its biggest since 1872.

Tags: alert, Java, Mt Bromo, volcano

This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010 at 8:48 pm and is filed under News Alerts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Bali First in Aussie $2m Indonesia Security Boost


Bali is the first area of the country to benefit from a US$2 million maritime security system donated by the Australian government.

Australian Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor said his country had provided the communications system to help Indonesia combat maritime threats and cross-border crimes.

“Maritime security is a regional concern and the Gillard government is working with our neighbours to achieve the highest possible level of safety and security at sea,” he said in a statement issued on Tuesday.

The A$2 million (US$1,971) surveillance project was switched on Tuesday and is called the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System.

“The new network will be put into action today with the opening of the first of four Indonesian Maritime Regional Coordination Centres in Karangasem in Bali,” O’Connor said.

Issues the system will be employed to detect include people-smuggling, a contentious problem whereby a steady stream of asylum-seekers from war-torn countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan attempt to enter Australia after departing from parts of Indonesia, including Bali.

Illegal fishing would also be monitored, as would drug trafficking, two matters that plague the two neighbours.

“The VHF radio network provides more comprehensive reception of radio transmissions and can monitor maritime radio messages from anywhere within the archipelago,” O’Connor said.

“With better monitoring, Indonesian authorities can deploy resources more swiftly and efficiently, potentially stopping crime and saving lives,” he said.

Information picked up by the communications system and its operators will be sent to 12 Indonesian agencies as well as authorities in Australia.

The opening of the Bali centre will be followed by centres in other parts of the country – in West Timor, Maluku and easternmost Papua.

“Australia and Indonesia are working together to protect and police our adjoining waters to ensure the safety and security of the people of both our nations,” O’Connor said.

“The Gillard government appreciates the efforts of Indonesian law enforcement and border-protection agencies and we look forward to continuing to work closely together.”

Tags: Australia, Bali, Indonesia, maritime, security

This entry was posted on Thursday, November 25th, 2010 at 1:20 am and is filed under Headlines. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Bangli Puts Tourist Charge Up By 200%


Bangli regency had slapped a more than 200-percent increase on its tourism contribution fee charged to visitors to the area’s tourist attractions, which include Kintamani and Lake Batur. The charge has gone up — unannounced — from Rp3,300 (36 US cents) to Rp10,000 ($1.10) per visitor.

Some local tourism industry members have complained both about the size of the increase and the fact that no one in the regency government had told them it was to be imposed. They fear it may lead some operators and tourists to boycott Bangli in favour of other mountain areas, such as Bedugul.

The chairman of the Bangli branch of the Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association (PHRI), I Ketut Putra Nata, said the desire of Bangli authorities to increase local tax revenues was understandable and to be welcomed, but he said any increases should always come after public announcements and public and industry education about them.

“Socialisation is extremely important because it involves the cost calculations used by travel agents (in calculating tour prices). What’s happened in Bangli is a sudden increase in the tariff with no socialisation,” he said.

Even as head of the organisation that represented for hotels and restaurants in Bangli, he had had no prior warning of the increase and only became aware of it after hearing complaints from tourist guides visiting Kintamani who suddenly found themselves required pay Rp10,000 for each guest entering the roads surrounding the Mt Batur volcano.

Nata said Bangli’s tourism attractions were unique and could not be compared with other locations in Bali. He said it was also true that the level of security and comfort provided to tourist visitors to Bangli was not high enough.

But unannounced rises in access charges were unacceptable. “Maybe if the local government decides to increase tourism retribution fees, they need to first improve tourism facilities and socialise their decision. If the threat (of a boycott) is carried out by the travel agents, the tourism industry of Bangli will be the first to feel the effects.”

Tags: Bali, Bangli, charge, tourism

This entry was posted on Thursday, November 25th, 2010 at 1:25 am and is filed under Headlines. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Five Years Sought for Rp23bn Fraud


Prosecutors have called for a five-year jail sentence for Nyoman Suardana, former chairman of the Karangasem Building Cooperative, who is on trial over the disappearance of Rp23 billion (US$2.5 million) from cooperatives funds.

Chief prosecutor Putu Sugiawan told the Amlapura District Court last Monday that Suardana had made no attempt to repay the money owed to members of the cooperative since the fraud was uncovered in April 2009 when the cooperative’s books were audited.

He was therefore convincingly guilty under Article 374 of the Criminal Code and should receive the maximum five-year sentence.

The prosecutor said prosecutors were also demanded return of 27.4 kilograms of gold and three land certificates.

The prosecution case is that the books showed a notional balance of Rp293 billion ($32.7 million), covering 50,000 cooperative applications but Rp23 billion could not be accounted for because Suardana had applied the money to his own benefit.

Suardana, who is originally from Buleleng, is conducting his own defence. The hearing is due to resume next Tuesday to hear defence evidence.

Tags: Bali, fraud, trial

This entry was posted on Thursday, November 25th, 2010 at 1:24 am and is filed under Headlines. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Manslaughter Brazilian Gets Three Months’ Jail


A teenage Brazilian whose car crashed into a motorbike, killing its female rider, has been sentenced to three months in prison.

The Denpasar District Court said in a verdict on Monday that Lucas Silva, 19, was guilty of causing the death of Ni Wayan Sendi Tamara when his car drove into her motorbike on Jl Raya Ulwatu on the Bukit in southern Bali in August.

Firman Tambunan, presiding over a panel of three judges hearing the case, said the light sentence was in view of the defendant’s cooperation and that he had provided financial compensation to the family of the deceased.

Silva said he would accept the verdict. Prosecutors had requested five months’ imprisonment.

The suspect had been holidaying in Bali with friends when the accident occurred.

Tags: accident, Bali, Brazilian, crime, death, Lucas Silva, traffic

This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010 at 6:32 pm and is filed under Headlines. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Mt Merapi Death Toll Rises to 322


Mount Merapi in Central Java has killed 322 people since it began erupting late last month, and over 130,000 people are still living in makeshift camps, an official said on Tuesday.

“The Merapi death toll has reached 322 people. More than 130,000 people are still living in temporary shelters,” disaster management official Agam Ferdatama said, updating the previous toll of 309 dead.

“Rescuers found many bodies in the incinerated area of Cangkringan,” he said.

The government reduced the exclusion zone on Friday for the second time in a week because of the volcano’s declining volatility, allowing more refugees to return to their homes.

Ferdatama said they had updated the number of refugees from more than 200,000 people.

Merapi killed around 1,300 people in 1930 but experts say November has seen its biggest convulsions since 1872.

Tags: Central Java, death, Mt Merapi, toll, volcano

This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010 at 4:29 pm and is filed under News Alerts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Traders Face Push-Off Order at Nusa Dua Beach


More than 150 traders, mostly Balinese, who operate at one on Nusa Dua’s last remaining “public beaches” fear that a Bali Tourism Development Corporation (BTDC) development deal will deny them access to their business location and put an end to their livelihoods.

The traders, who set up daily on a limited stretch of land just back just from a  beach which is confined at both ends by star-rated luxury resorts — Melia to the north and Hyatt to the south — now conduct their business in front of an ominous corrugated iron wall which runs the length of the beach.

The 300-metre stretch of beach has long been the destination of local Balinese families on Sundays and public holidays. Before the wall went up, the parkland area behind it was used for family recreation, such as picnics, sports and general relaxation.

The Bali Times visited the beach with Banjar Penyirakan leader and businessman Nyoman Sueta, who fears for the traders and for Nusa Dua locals who — despite national laws that decree all beach land is public and must be accessible — feel they have limited access to beaches in their region.

Sueta says the land behind the wall is the people’s land and “we have not sold it.” Attempts to get information from BTDC have been unproductive. He believes that a major international development just off the public beachfront will impose the same restrictions of access that apply in beach areas in front of Nusa Dua resorts.

With Sueta, The Bali Times tested accessibility. At the border of Nusa Dua Beach and Melia, a sign advises that entrants to Melia will be screened for security purposes. Yet The Bali Times party of three white expatriates passed with cheery reciprocal greetings to the security officer and was ushered on its way along the paved, hotel-front walkway.

Sueta, however, was stopped and told that hotel policy is that locals may not have access to the walkway, or to the beach. The security officer said all star-rated hotels along the Nusa Dua and Tanjung Benoa beachfront had the same policy.

We tested it. Next along is The Laguna, where the security officer (possibly alerted by his colleague from Melia) said they were focused on “profiling” but nevertheless reserved the right to deny anyone access to the walkway and the beach.

At the southern end, at Grand Hyatt, the firm policy according to the security attendant is that locals may use the beach but they may not use the hotel-constructed beachfront walkway. That means local leader Sueta may not jog on the track, but any “international tourist” may.

Back at “public” Nusa Dua Beach, Ni Sudiani has provided massage, hair-braiding and sarongs for 20 years, no doubt mostly to curious tourists who have ventured beyond the barrier between the public beach and Melia.

She has heard villas, a spa and wedding chapel will be built behind the wall. She has no concrete information, but she is certain she will no longer be welcome on the beach, and she has nowhere to go.

For 15 years, Ni Nyoman Sulasi and her husband have operated a cafe whose parkland aspect is now confined by the iron wall. Sulasi suspects the rumoured development, which may include a restaurant, will force her off the beach.

“We have nowhere to go,” she said. “How will we feed and educate our children?” The youngest of her four children is 18 months old.

She says the leader of the Nusa Dua Beach traders’ group, Paguyban Sekar Sari, has formally discussed the issue with BTDC. There have been no answers.

Tags: Bali, beach, development, Nusa Dua, traders

This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010 at 4:20 pm and is filed under Headlines. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport Renovations Finally Begin

by Barrie | November 23rd, 2010   Tweet
No doubt many of you could name a few things that are badly in need of change at Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport; those things that really annoy you. I could name quite a few – the hard seating in the departure lounge that make your bum ache, the lack of budget-priced eateries, the early closure of shops when you are on a late-night flight and the high prices. But hey, it’s Bali and they gotta make a buck!
And, we have all seen the disruptions in the airport of late caused by minor renovations. There is a reason, however, for all of that. Extensive renovations of Bali Ngurah Rai Airport are now set to commence next month. Apparently it is considered a top priority for this development considering the increasing amount of air traffic.
The article in the Bali Discovery explains further and according to it, the renovations are sorely needed due to rapidly expanding tourism arrivals and the under-capacity of Bali’s airport that now handles more than 10 million travellers each year.
I often ask myself why the sudden urgency as nothing is done in Indonesia without a cause. Indeed I was correct: an acceleration in the renovation of the airport is being done at the express orders of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono who wants the work completed in time for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit (APEC) in 2013.
Let’s just hope they put in recliner rockers in the departure lounge and add a couple of kaki lima and cheap warungs while there at it!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Diving on the USS Liberty: Tulamben, East Bali

by Barrie | November 21st, 2010   Tweet
On 11 January, the USS Liberty was torpedoed by Japanese submarine about 10 nautical miles (19 km) southwest of the Lombok Strait. Two destroyers took the damaged ship in tow attempting to reach Singaraja, at that time, the Dutch port and administrative centre for the Lesser Sunda Islands on the north coast of Bali. However, the USS Liberty was taking too much water and so was beached on the eastern shore of Bali at Tulamben so that the cargo and fittings could be salvaged.
In 1963 the tremors associated with the eruption of Mount Agung caused the vessel to slip off the beach, and she now lies on a sand slope in 30 to 100 feet (9.1 to 30 m) of water, providing one of the most popular dives off Bali. This shipwreck is probably the easiest wreck diving in the world.
Bali is a fabulous place to visit for snorkelling and diving and for scuba divers the east coast of Bali is a big drawcard. One of these hot spots is the wreck of the USS Liberty (as mentioned above). Located on the beach at Tulamben the Liberty wreck sits in water 15-30m deep, 30m offshore and is very close to shore. This makes the Liberty wreck Bali’s most popular dive location. The best time to dive this wreck are between the hours 11am-4pm as these are the most popular with anything up to 50 divers down there at one time. You might want to avoid this busy period. Apparently the night dives are excellent here as well.
The landscape around Tulamben and a large portion of the east coast is dry and boulder strew. The rice belt ends and the corn-belt begins further to the south-west and there is not much going on heading up the coast. In Tulamben there are several losmens, a few places to eat and, plenty of dive shops!

‘Baby Black Hole’ Offers Insight into Cosmic Enigma

Astronomers announced this week they had found the youngest black hole ever found in Earth’s cosmic neighbourhood, a discovery offering a rare chance to probe one of the mightiest and strangest forces in the Universe.

The black hole is believed to be a remnant of SN 1979C, a supernova in the galaxy M100, some 50 million light years from Earth, which was spotted by an amateur skygazer in 1979.

The supernova itself was a mega-star some 20 times greater than the Sun that collapsed in upon itself before creating a black hole – a gravitational force so strong that not even light can escape.

As there is no visual clue to a black hole, the phenomenon was spotted thanks to a steady glow of X-ray radiation detected by US and European orbital observatories from 1995 to 2007.

The discovery will give scientists a grandstand view of how a black hole develops from infancy, NASA said.

It could also unlock knowledge about huge stars explode, which ones give birth to black holes or neutron stars, and how many black holes there may be in our galaxy and elsewhere.

Many new black holes have been discovered in the distant Universe, but they have been spotted thanks to a signature blast of gamma-ray radiation.

SN 1979C, though, is different, as it is closer to Earth and belongs to a class of supernova that is unlike to be associated with a gamma-ray burst.

If so, that will back a common theory about how most black holes are formed.

Finding it was an extraordinary stroke of luck, as normally decades of X-ray observations would be needed to make the confirmation.

“If our interpretation is correct, this is the nearest example where the birth of a black hole has been observed,” said lead researcher Daniel Patnaude, from Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Massachusetts.

Filed under: Perspective

Amed’s Great For a Little Weekend R&R: Just Mind The Buses

By Hector
A weekend in Amed can never be a bad thing, even if it does take three and a half hours to drive there and much the same back. The place is pleasantly green – thank you, La Ni?a – and there seemed to be plenty of tourists around last weekend. The Diary, there with visiting friends from Australia, did not find the time to drop into Baliku (next time, Donna, promise) but did renew connections with Marcel Luitze, who operates Bayu Cottages at Lipah.
He related a story of interest to anyone who – like The Diary – wishes to keep a log of traffic idiocies. A day or so before the arrival of The Diary and Party a tourist bus had failed to make it up the steep cliff-front grade on the road outside Bayu and, slipping back without benefit of brakes (another frequent casualty of Indonesian driving skills) demolished a wall, narrowly avoiding a subsequent plunge into the inconveniently neighbouring abyss.
Never mind. In the event no one was badly hurt, except for Mr Luitze’s wall, which his insurers will pay for. And so passes yet another colourful incident in the long history of Bali’s wholly inadequate road and traffic regulation.
We dined at Sails, also at Lipah, on Sunday night, a double birthday celebration (visiting mother and daughter). Sadly the mahi-mahi was off – as in not available – but the lamb rissoles made up for this regrettable and (anywhere else) avoidable situation. And they organised a birthday cake, which was very nice of Anik and her crew.
Mt Agung graced us with its presence, mostly a morning occurrence, and Mt Rinjani was a low, grey eminence on the eastern horizon at dusk at Sails. Of such inconsequential material is the best of life made up.
Club Class
Janet de Neefe appeared (elfin-like, again; it’s surely time for one more reflective of the present-day Janet, especially as she wants to be taken seriously these days) in the Japan Times online recently. It was in a piece written by Jeff Kingston in which she discussed the regrettable absence of Japanese talent at Ubud Writers and Readers Festivals to date.
That historic absence is indeed a pity. Japanese literature is a rich field that deserves much wider exposure. It’s not quite as hard to achieve this as some might suggest, though it does take a little effort.
Never mind. Janet’s fixed this. Next year’s festival will have a Japanese writer – Mariko Nagai. She’s associate professor in English literature and creative writing at Temple University in Japan (and an accomplished poet and writer herself).
Oddly enough, the author of the Introductory Life of Janet to Japan Times online readers is professor of Asian studies and history at the very same university.  
Another One
There was another rabies death last weekend, a 30-year-old man from Blahbatu, in Gianyar but basically on the north-eastern outskirts of Denpasar. That makes the official toll 105, assuming the various incompetent bureaucracies involved can get their numbers together. Doubtless Bali’s chief medical officer, Nyoman Sutedja, will view it as yet another opportunity to remind everyone not to panic or even to worry too much. Doubtless, too, the insouciant insurgents of the vaccinate-only front will say much the same thing.
Yet it is unarguable that we are in the midst of a deadly shemozzle. The provincial government’s 2012 target for declaring Bali rabies free (Dr Sutedja has even put a precise date on this flight of fancy: October 28) is just another sick joke.
So it was interesting to read this week a contribution to Unleashed, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s feisty blog, by Bob Gosford, who was in Bali to cover the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival last month but found a real story to write about instead.
He sets out the rabies situation here rather well. He quoted from The Diary on same (like many people overseas, he reads The Bali Times) and stirred up something of a hornet’s nest. That’s good on one score – people need to be aware of the facts as opposed to the political fictions – but bad on another. Continued publicity about invisible vaccination teams and further rabies deaths won’t be good for tourism.
It’s not good for Balinese who might contract rabies, either, but in the grand tradition of top-down government that seems to be rather beside the point. 

He’s a Hero
There’s a lovely exhibition of artistic memorabilia in Surabaya (it opened on November 10 and ends tomorrow, Saturday) organised by the Australian Embassy in Jakarta and starring both the work and the person of Tony Rafty, who spent the August 1945-January 1946 period in Indonesia and recorded this in illustrations and correspondence. He spent a lot of that time with founding president Sukarno.
Regrettably, this is neither known nor cared about among the wider Anglo diaspora, especially the bit of it that still thinks Australia is chiefly notable for sporting prowess and deadly spiders. Equally sadly it is now ancient history even to most Indonesians, but it deserves to be remembered. Rafty was in Surabaya (on the right side of the argument) when British forces landed to reassert Dutch colonial control after World War II. Heroes’ Day, November 10, is celebrated to mark the Surabaya action, in which nationalists opposed the occupation of the city by force.
It’s not generally remembered that the British forces deployed included imperial Indian troops – who were none too keen, with India’s inevitable independence pressing, to prosecute the invasion with any vigour – and it is probably widely forgotten that one British unit embarrassingly refused to open fire at all.
What is more broadly understood, though far from widely, is that the Australians vehemently opposed the return of Dutch colonial rule here and actively encouraged and supported Indonesian national aspirations in the then fledgling United Nationals and other forums.
Rafty, who during World War II was a war artist with the Australian forces in Papua and in New Guinea – they were separate Australian-administered territories in those days – played a key role in informing Australian public opinion during the Indonesian struggle for independence.
He’s now 95. But as the photo here shows (it was taken in Jakarta on November 8) he’s still got what it takes. In Surabaya he addressed a delegation of students from BRIDGE schools – Indonesian and Australian schools that have exchange arrangements, another very practical example of the enduring links between the two countries.
Not a Prayer
Novar Caine, who as he relates in this week’s paper has been At Large with a DVD of Eat Pray Love, confesses to conversion on that score. It’s a good movie, he says. Well, Julia Roberts is a comely wench of matronly effect, and, OK, she has a smile to die for. It’s a shame that some other wench’s legs do the dishabille bits but never mind. Allan Ladd had to stand on an orange box to pucker up, after all. Tom Cruise uses modern cinematic technology to the same effect. In the movies, nothing is for real.
So, Pretty Woman Does Italy, India and Bali may be a passable diversion. Being a curmudgeon, The Diary demurs. Julia’s publicity machine told us she had been so affected by the ambience of the role she was playing that she had turned Hindu. Frankly, that’s more of an embarrassment than good news, a sort of Californian thing to do. It might best be defined as an insult. Plus, it makes you wonder what she wanted to be after Pretty Woman.
We heard a lovely little tale while chatting with a young friend at Amed last weekend. She works as a flight attendant for a major overseas airline (and was enjoying some well-deserved Bali R&R). The tale she told was of a cautionary nature, and came to light because – as you do – we were discussing massage and she said she personally preferred Thai massage because it was stronger and firmer: The Diary forbore to mention the very firm treatment you can get here from the right masseur or masseuse.
Anyway, to the tale; it is delicious. On a Bangkok layover (sic) recently the captain of her ark of the skies appeared at the hotel checkout fresh, or perhaps not quite so fresh, from his hotel night, to be confronted by an angry young woman. “Mister, you no pay me!” was her rather public message.
The moral of this immoral tale: If you contract personal services, remember to pay for them before you pass out from your exertions.
diary@thebalitimes.comFiled under: The Bali Times Diary

Monday, November 22, 2010

Cosmopolitan French Conductor Says Music Has No Borders

For Philippe Auguin, who has just been named almost simultaneously as music director of both the Washington and Nice operas, distance is no object as there are no national or musical borders.

“What interests me, is always having new horizons,” Auguin told said after taking up the reins of the Washington National Opera in October, less than a month after also assuming new duties with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Nice.

From an early age Auguin showed a passion for music, and especially the Austrian composers Alban Berg, Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern. He left his hometown of Nice to study abroad, first in Vienna and then Florence.

“Everything was pushing me to leave France,” said the 49-year-old, now billed as one of the most sought after conductors of his generation.

“I think of myself as a cosmopolitan,” added Auguin, who speaks four languages – French, English, German and Italian – and conducted his first orchestra in 1989, the Vienna Symphonic.

Since then he has conducted in some of world’s top venues, such as the Met in New York, La Scala in Milan, Covent Garden in London, the Deutsche Oper in Berlin as well as the Vienna Philharmonic.

“I was only 30 when I was called on to lead Wagner in Germany and Verdi in Italy,” he recalled.

Two decades later he was feted for his direction of Richard Strauss’s “Salome” in Washington DC, winning standing ovations from a packed auditorium.

And he says he won’t have any difficulty in leading two top orchestras at the same time, thanks to forward planning, even though he is likely to have a packed diary for the coming years.

“I already have the dates in Vienna until 2013,” he said, adding that to be a musical director does not require him to be physically present. “I can fulfil my duties in Nice at a distance thanks to the great team there.”

Auguin has lived in New York for the past three years but is planning to move to the American capital, to be closer to the opera, which has become one of America’s premier companies since its founding in 1956.

He has already built up a following here after making his debut in the city in 2009 with a well-received performance of Wagner’s Goetterdaemerrung.

Auguin says he is working in the same way with both companies, despite the distances, and even “if the pressure on the musicians is very different.”

“In Vienna musicians are national heros,” he said. “They have a cultural understanding of Beethoven and understand immediately what the conductor expects from them.”

The social status of musicians also influences the way they approach their work. In Europe, where musicians have better social rights and protections such as unemployment benefit “it is difficult to have any sense of urgency on a daily basis,” Auguin said.

“There are places where we can never begin rehearsals on time,” he said.

In contrast in the United States where orchestras are dependent on private funding, musicians “know that the quality of each performance is intimately linked to their economic survival.”

The purse strings are tighter in the United States. There are fewer rehearsals and musicians “tend to practice among colleagues.”

Auguin is taking over during a period of upheaval for the opera, after legendary Spanish tenor Placido Domingo announced in September that he was quitting in June as its general director after seven years in the post.

Domingo, 69, has worked with the Washington National Opera since 1996, when he was appointed artistic director. He became general director in 2003, and was credited with attracting world-class talent to the company.

Filed under: Arts & Entertainment

Facebook Launches New Messaging Service, Including Email

Facebook launched a next-generation online messaging service this week that includes email addresses in a move seen as a shot across the bow of Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg unveiled what he called a “convergent” modern messaging system that “handles messages seamlessly across all the ways you want to communicate.”

The messaging service blends online chat, text messages and other real-time conversation tools with traditional email, which Zuckerberg said had lost favour for being too slow for young internet users.

“It is true that people will be able to have email addresses, but this is not email,” Zuckerberg said at an event in downtown San Francisco. “It handles email.”

Zuckerberg dismissed reports referring to the messaging system as a “Gmail killer” aimed at the heart of free Web-based email services from Google and similar services from Yahoo! and Microsoft.

“We don’t expect anyone to wake up tomorrow and say, ‘I’m going to shut down my Yahoo Mail or Gmail account,’” Zuckerberg said.

But, he added: “Maybe one day six months, a year, two years out people will start to say this is how the future should work.

“Maybe email won’t be as important a part as it was before and we can push people toward real-time conversations,” he said.

The Facebook messaging service was intended to turn online exchanges into ongoing conversations as opposed to intermittent back-and-forth email missives, according to Facebook director of engineering Andrew Bosworth.

“The system is definitely not email,” Bosworth said. “We modelled it more after chat.

“I’m very jealous of the next generation that will have all this access to all these things,” he said.

Facebook’s messaging system, referred to inside the California-base firm as “Titan,” will be slowly rolled out in the coming months and adapted based on feedback from users, according to Bosworth.

Approximately 350 million of Facebook’s more than 500 million members fire off messages at the service, with more than four billion digital missives sent daily, according to Zuckerberg.

With such a large user base, a free personalized email service lays down a powerful challenge to the established email giants – Microsoft’s Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail and Google’s Gmail.

Hotmail currently has the most users, 361.7 million as of September, according to online tracking firm comScore, followed by Yahoo! with 273.1 million and Gmail with 193.3 million.

Facebook’s new messaging service comes amid a recent bout of sparring with Google over data sharing.

Google earlier this month blocked Facebook from importing Gmail contact information over the Palo Alto, California-based social network’s refusal to reciprocate and share data about its users.

Filed under: Perspective

Farce Rules

Gayus Tambunan, former taxman, is a one-man comedy show. He is now sorry there was such a fuss over his little weekend jaunt to Bali for the Commonwealth Bank tennis classic last weekend. He is clearly divorced from reality – the reality, that is, that would exist, and should exist, if Indonesian institutions (in this case the police) weren’t themselves a farce.

Gayus has been charged with serious corruption offences. He is – or he is supposed to be – locked up in a Jakarta police cell pending his trial. As usual in these circumstances, everyone has run for cover. In Indonesia, the buck never stops anywhere. There is always a risible excuse that the apparatus of state decides it is safer to acquiesce in.

But if Gayus’ embarrassing Bali jaunt is an example of how Indonesia’s police run their own show, someone very high up – and we suggest this should be the man in the big office at the Istana Negara – should put a stop to the nonsense now.

Filed under: Editorial

Mamy Rock: British Granny Takes Clubland by Storm

Giving a whole new meaning to Lady Gaga, a British granny is proving you’re never too old to get down, rocking top clubs on both sides of the Atlantic as a DJ at the grand old age of 69.

Ruth Flowers, aka Mamy Rock, is a politely spoken grandmother from Bristol in southwest England who has just taken Los Angeles clubland by storm after moving across from Europe.

“I love people. I think that’s what carries me through. I love the young ones, too, because they get such a bad press often. And I haven’t find them to be anything but wonderful,” she said.

Forget the clichés of retirement homes, afternoons in front of the TV and knitting: although well beyond pensionable age, Flowers seems to have more energy than most of the 20-somethings dancing to her pumping rhythms.

“I am still awake when the younger people around me are sleepy. I don’t have a problem with night work,” she says. “It doesn’t seem so strange for me because I’ve always been a little bit different.

“I have good health. I am fortunate with my health. If I had many of the complaints of other older people, I couldn’t do it.”

She came to California to record her new single, 69, and to make her US debut at an electro festival in Anaheim, south of Los Angeles.

The gig in front of 3,000 young clubbers went so well that she has been invited to DJ in New York on November 29, before heading for China and Japan at the end of the year.

From a musical family, Flowers always sang but once married devoted herself to her work in a fabric shop. “I had a wonderful life,” she says, adding that she has ‘no regrets of any kind.”

But after retiring to Portugal for 10 years and being widowed, she started to grow bored – and that’s when electro entered her life.

“I went to a party for my grandson, and after the party he took me with his friends to a disco. I was quite impressed by the enjoyment, the energy. And I thought, ‘Could I do this for young people?’

“And so I said to my grandson, ‘You know, darling, maybe I could do this,’ and he told me ‘It would be so cool!’

At first it was just an interesting thought, but it developed rapidly: through a mutual friend she met French producer Aurelien Simon, who told her about his idea to launch a “mamy” (French for granny) DJ.

“I said: ‘You know, that is one of the craziest ideas I’ve ever heard.’

“And here we are,” she says with a smile.

She says at first she struggled, not least with the technology – the turntables and mixing equipment. “I’m not a great technician by any means. I’m from a different age group. It was very hard at the beginning.”

But she persevered, making repeated trips to France to gain mixing experience – and ended up, last year, finding herself performing at the Cannes Film Festival in front of Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz.

“I was quite amazed. I stood there and I thought, ‘My God, what am I doing here?’ But I was amazed by the reception I received, and the young people are so wonderful.

“I didn’t think they would accept me like that, but they all wanted me to be their grandmother,” she adds.

Cannes was a springboard, and within months she was booked for events around Europe, known for her look of fluorescent T-shirts, glittery jackets and huge dark glasses, as well as plenty of jewellery and a shock of white hair.

Does she think of herself as eccentric?

“I don’t think I’m exceptional. I don’t know why people think it is. I’m a little bit different from the average grandma, but I don’t think that’s something so strange that people can’t accept it.

“My son thinks it’s great. He says, “Go for it Mum; if you want to do it, do it!’ … And my friends are all very enthusiastic.”

Unsurprisingly, her musical tastes are a bit different from the average 69-year-old, and range widely: from Daft Punk and David Guetta to James Brown, the Rolling Stones or a Lady Gaga remix.

Her only rule, when at the turntables: “If I like it, if I enjoy it, I play it.

Filed under: Arts & Entertainment

Mislabeling the Thai conflict

By W. Scott Thompson and Oliver Geronilla

For the last six months, the fabled “land of smiles” has been a land of urban warfare and sullen politics. It has conveniently been seen as a playout of two sets of forces with distinct labels, even colors. The Yellow Shirts have represented the rich Bangkok elite and the long revered king, Bhumipol; the Red Shirts were stand-ins for the ousted premier, Thaksin Shinawatra, a populist politician who built a base on the backs of programmes for the poor concentrated in Isan, the Northeast region that has historically been the least developed.

In fact this is worse than a simplification; it’s a distortion of what has been occurring. We may concede up front that it has become, as William Klausner, a veteran analyst of Thailand has argued, a “zero-sum game,” and one in which the so-called elite have yielded little ground intellectually or practically to its opponents. Many have not unreasonably urged on the elite a little contrition for the wealth of Bangkok — especially in contrast to Isan. But the elite reasonably argues that all the new wealth — including that bringing schools, roads, and fresh water to a previously desolate Isan — was generated through the policies and success of the Bangkok elite.

In comes a fabulously rich politician, onetime police general, Thaksin, whose fortune came from the cell-phone revolution, attempting to build his Bangkok elite position on the back of the dissatisfaction in Isan. He won a huge victory in 2001 and immediately began showing his hand—crushing opposition and overwhelming the media. But he unleashed forces that would take the decade to put down. 

By now, though, Red Shirts have as their banner the growing inequality between Bangkok and Isan — not their now magic-carpet leader, who travels the world looking for visas and digging from his diminishing fortune to fund his allies back home. This has included guns and ammunition. Equally, the Yellow Shirts are less about the monarchy and the privileges the elite enjoys in the city. It’s about the whole Thai project — of lifting the kingdom to the level of a prosperous, even rich, and influential society. Nor is it the division between military and civilian, a distinction barely visible in the Thai historical consciousness. In any case, it was in fact the military, before any others, who began the development of the region, even if it was more about the then ominous communist threat in that poverty-stricken province.

What in the Red Shirt case has substance is the still-growing inequality in the kingdom, a feature of all rapidly growing societies, the more so in Thailand given its extremely rapid development at the end of the last century and steady growth since the 1950s. But not enough has been done to even out inequality in Thailand – the results of such spectacular growth. That’s how Thaksin built his base — on cheap medical care and cash loans to villages. But it’s hardly as if this was new; infrastructure, irrigation, hospitals and schools have been going up since the 1950s. Isan is hardly recognizable now.

But in some ways the essence of Thailand hasn’t changed. A new army commander — traditionally the ultimate source of power in the kingdom — General Chayuth Chan-ocha has risen the ranks faster than anyone in living memory. He has made clear that he will protect the monarchy, which undoubtedly means that he will protect the transition to the wildly unpopular crown prince — in part because he knows that the monarchy will not have the present centrality after the passing of the great King Bhumipol.

Thailand has grown beyond that. It probably for a while won’t have grown beyond the enormous power of the new army commander, but at least he’s made a most important point. The issue is not between red and yellow shirts; it’s about whether Thailand will once again move fast toward its long-term goal, of not only a land of smiles but a rapidly growing one of prosperity everywhere.

The problem for Prayuth is that in drawing a line in the sand around the monarchy, to use the words of Thitinan Pongsudhirak, possibly the best political analyst in the kingdom, the general could bring down the house — the house of Chakri, the ruling dynasty. For it is not apparent that the crown prince, known for a very unThai style of life, will realize that the perks of the monarchy, that his father earned from a life of dedication and diligence, will hardly be available to him. His enemies are too legion even for as powerful a man as Prayuth to protect him from them. The biggest problems of Thailand have perhaps only been postponed.

Oliver Geronilla is a language instructor based in Dasmariñas City, Philippines. W. Scott Thompson served four presidents in the United States and is professor emeritus of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Boston.

Filed under: Opinion

Pricing Ourselves Out of the Market

There are suggestions at parliamentary level that a 75-percent tax be levied on Bali’s entertainment industry, a major sector employing thousands of people and providing leisure for the two million foreigners who holiday annually here, as well as a sizeable chunk of the domestic tourism market.

Such a steep imposition on the pubs, clubs, restaurants and activity venues would be unwise.

Bali’s tourism – the only industry of real value that we have – is depressed because of an absurd central government tax on alcohol of around 300 percent. This makes ordering a bottle of imported wine an expensive affair, and one that leaves many visitors disappointed because they, rightly, will not pay exorbitant prices.

The hotel and villa sector, meanwhile, is facing an astonishing 1,000 percent hike in groundwater rates. This will force some properties to close their doors. Balinese will lose their jobs.

With talk of the new tax, and the existing and pending ones, it is clear that the authorities, whether in Jakarta or here, view foreigners holidaying in Bali as fiscal targets. Taxes are unavoidable, but they’re manageable if sensibly applied. The double- and triple-digit increases Indonesian officials are so fond of are regrettable.

Disgruntled holidaymakers have been saying they will not return to Bali; that instead they will opt for competitors in the region which won’t rip them off, such as Thailand’s Phuket.

If these official charges were in part returned to the island, by way of building up its infrastructure, adding additional personnel in areas such as immigration, or proving transport and related services to the peoples of Bali and its visitors there would be less disquiet. In truth, the money, if not siphoned off, goes to Jakarta and little if any of it comes back. The US$25 visa-on-arrival fee is once such anomaly. It generates around $50 million a year for the central government’s coffers, but Bali sees none of it once it’s collected from foreign tourists.

As the south of Bali becomes ever more clogged with traffic, the only infrastructure planning of note is a see-sawing new highway that alternates weekly between overground, underground and slightly above protected mangroves – the latest proposal and one for which the authorities admit they have not even budgeted for.

No one likes taxes but along with death they are inevitable. They are generally viewed as a mechanism to develop better services for their people, as in various European nations and their free healthcare, unemployment payments and other social-welfare programmes. Nobody likes a swindle, and that is what we have consistently been witnessing in Bali. Another massive tax rise slapped on Bali’s tourism sector would be too hard to bear.

Filed under: Editorial

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Transforming Stereotypes of the West

By Inayah Rohmaniyah

Extremism in Indonesia appears to be on the rise amid recent news of attacks against police headquarters in West Java and North Sumatra. Some members of the groups responsible for these attacks and a recent bank robbery are linked to Jemaah Islamiyah, a militant religious group whose name is Arabic for Islamic Community.

Such audacious and public activity demonstrates resistance to the rule of law and the government’s continued efforts to counter extremism and acts of terror.

There is a lot of speculation at the moment that religious radicalisation is being learnt on Indonesian university campuses.

Whether or not this is indeed the case, the educational system may just be the best place to counter such views and teach students a tolerant understanding of religion.

At Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University in Yogyakarata, teachers are trying to do just that. Students in the Department of Islamic Theology and Philosophy are required to take a course called Orientalism. Although the definition of Orientalism was originally understood by Western nations as the study of Asian culture, people and languages, the Palestinian American academic Edward Said in 1978 reframed the term as biased and based on false assumptions. In Indonesia, this negative connotation prevails and Orientalism is understood more narrowly in this course as the study of Islam by non-Muslim scholars.

My experience teaching Orientalism for more than four years has shown first-hand how education can change students’ perspectives and attitudes toward non-Muslims and the Western world.

The course includes a study of the works of historical and contemporary experts in the field, such as Snouck Hurgronje, Ignaz Goldziher, William Montgomery Watt, Nabia Abbott, John Esposito and Mark Woodward. At the beginning of each class, I conduct an assessment of students’ perceptions of these scholars and, by implication, the societies they stem from.

Year after year, this assessment indicates how students join this class with the perception that non-Muslims and/or Westerners are “the enemy” of Islam, intent on “destroying” it.

At the beginning of the term, approximately 95 per cent of students taking my class believe that Western colonialism is “a war between Christianity or Judaism and Islam” that will never end. Almost all students link the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims to the Crusades which, as mentioned by Mark Woodward in his article, Tropes of the Crusades in Indonesian Muslim Discourse, are commonly understood as brutal wars of unprovoked aggression in which savage Christians attacked pious Muslims.

One student, sadly representative of his/her peers, commented that “The West/Christian people will always find a way to fight against and destroy Islam. They were defeated in the Crusades and they have changed the strategy now to an intellectual war.”

Sadly, such statements show how anti-Western perceptions have become mainstream among young Indonesian Muslims.

Fortunately these views can be transformed.

Throughout the term, students engage in intensive discussions on the history of Orientalism and the thoughts of contemporary Western scholars about Islam. Students often find these perspectives surprising, and at the end of the course most students express a change in their perception of Western-Muslim relations.

Although many still have concerns about perspectives of non-Muslim and/or Western scholars, 90 per cent of the students who complete my class express the belief that Muslim-Western relations can improve over time and that the West is not homogenous, but instead home to a plurality of views.

One student wrote on an exit assessment, “Before I took this class on Orientalism, what little I knew about it came from Muslim proselytisers. They said that all Western/non-Muslim scholars of Islam have a mission to spread Christianity and destroy Islam. This point of view led me to hold a negative perspective of Westerners. Now, after taking this class, my negative standpoint has begun to change. In fact, not everything these proselytisers said about the West and Western scholars is true.”

Similarly, another student confessed, “Before taking this class, I perceived an Orientalist as somebody who has a certain mission from the church, or a desire to destroy Islam. But, after joining the class my perception has changed.”

Before-and-after comments from students demonstrate how education can play a role in dispelling entrenched societal stereotypes. All of us – educators, government, students, parents and others who support a tolerant Islam – must take back the curriculum.

Inayah Rohmaniyah is a lecturer at the Faculty of Islamic Theology and Philosophy at Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University in Yogyakarta. She is also a doctoral candidate at the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies, Yogyakarta.

Filed under: Opinion

What if Airport Screeners Checked Your Square Root?

What if airport screeners looked at would-be passengers and instead of assessing the colour of their skin, asked: “What’s the square root of your likelihood of being a terrorist?”

Such is the world imagined by an American computer scientist who argues that racial profiling to root out potential terrorists is actually less effective than random searches, but says some simple math could offer a better solution.

“When you have any profiling at all, it quickly becomes less effective than random sampling,” said University of Texas professor William Press, whose paper appeared this week in the journal Significance, a publication of Britain’s Royal Statistical Society.

Profiling does not work because “you end up screening the same innocent people over and over again, just because they happen to be in a profiled group,” Press said.

Previous studies have shown that any apparent rise in success due to racial profiling is actually due to increased levels of law enforcement. More police focusing on one group will catch more criminals since fewer police and resources are focused on other groups.

“It is simply better to do uniform random sampling, which means everyone who shows up at the airport should have the same chance of being screened in the same way,” said Press, who has written on the topic before for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

But he has come up with an idea that just might be even better.

“It is this thing called square root sampling,” he said.

That way, screeners would approach a given group deemed to be, say 100 times more likely to be harmful, and then check them the square root of that number, or 10 times, more often.

“That actually would be better than uniform (random) sampling. The trouble is there is no good way to do that.”

Press teaches university-level statistics and uses the example for his students, who do not argue with his mathematical formulas but do puzzle over practical ways to solve the problem in real life.

“One could imagine a system in which people’s risk factors are evaluated and as you show up in airport you know, in some computerised automatic way the computer flashes either red or green and does this square root business which would be some form of optimal profiling,” he said.

“But I don’t know anyone who actually thinks you could make such a system work.”

And when it comes to the latest controversy roiling US airport travellers – systems that can peer through clothing and show bodily details – Press has just one hope in mind for any new screening technology.

“That it not slow down the lines,” he said.

Filed under: Perspective

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Take a Walk Through…Sangeh Monkey Forest

by Barrie | November 20th, 2010   Tweet
The most popular place on Bali for simians is, without a doubt, the Sangeh Monkey Forest and a place that is inundated on a daily basis by hordes of camera toting tourist. The monkey forest at Sangeh has a mischievous clan of monkeys and now it will cost you a Rp20,000 entrance fee. The monkeys here are friendly, to a point, downright thieves and can be aggressive especially if there is a baby monkey in the vicinity. It’s a cool place to go but has more to offer than just monkeys. Inside is a temple.
Being set within a large growth of nutmeg (pala) trees, Pura Bukit Sari was built in the 17th century as a meditation temple by the son of the King of Mengwi but now it is an irrigation or subak temple. It is definitely an eerie temple and especially at sunrise when the monkeys come down to feed as the streaks of early morning light filter through the trees canopy.
The grey-stone and weather-beaten temple is in a square compound with stone-carved reliefs and a thatched meru. Although not as appealing as many of the temples in Bali are, it is simply constructed and is a fine example of a subak temple and is important to the area. The main feature you will notice is the large garuda statue seemingly guarding the temple whereas in fact it is the monkeys that are the guardians of this peaceful place.
There is an intriguing local legend attached to the monkey forest: The forest was created when Rama’s general, the monkey king Hanuman, attempted to annihilate Rama’s enemy Rawana and his army by squashing them between two halves of Mount Meru. In the process of doing so part of the mountain fell to earth at Sangeh along with hordes of Hanuman’s army monkeys just left clinging to the nutmeg trees and the result being the creation of Bukit Sari.
Intriguing as this legend is, if you retain this in your mind as you walk the path that runs clockwise through the forest and down to the river then it is your imagination that could re-create the legend for you.

Canang Sari: An Offering to the Gods

by Barrie | November 18th, 2010   Tweet
Walk down any street in the Kuta area and in fact, anywhere in Bali and you will see on the pavements small, square-woven coconut leaf trays with an adornment of flowers and other things. These are offerings to the Gods known as Canang Sari. The phrase canang sari is derived from the words sari (essence) and canang.
All manner of animal love them and no sooner are they placed in offering, their contents are devoured; except of course the flowers. Canang sari are offered every morning by devout Balinese to show gratitude to the creator – Sang Hyang Widi Wasa. On your sojourn in Bali don’t freak out if you step on one although I always try and avoid doing this.
A canang sari consists of coconut leaves, flowers, sliced banana, rice kernels, fragrances, and bamboo strips. Flowers and foodstuff are an art form associated with every ritual in Bali. These various elements are the most essential media of sacrifice in Hinduism. The canang sari shape and size differ in the form and function. Some of them are triangles, squares and circle.
They truly are beautifully created and it is the Balinese belief believe in the forces of the invisible worlds that dictates offerings be created with a spirit of thankfulness and loving attention to detail. Canang sari can be found everywhere; in household temples and houses, cross roads, shops, temples and other places of worship and sacred statues; in fact, any place the Balinese believe sacred.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Photo of the Day: Dusk at Candi Dasa

by Barrie | November 13th, 2010   Tweet
I absolutely adore Candi Dasa. It is a peaceful enclave that once was a tourist stronghold and is without a doubt the most underrated part of Bali. It slipped as a tourist destination after the terrorist bombings and unfortunately never really recovered. It’s a shame because Candi Dasa has so much to offer the traveller.
Candi Dasa has some excellent accommodation in all the price ranges and some of the best restaurants on the island, and it is ideally located for visiting some of the greatest attractions Bali has to offer. The great thing now of course is that the area is gradually recovering and no doubt, in the future, great deals will be available at al the hotels in the area. For an alternative to the tourist hype of Kuta escape to the peace of Candi Dasa.

The Annoyance of Airport Taxis

by Barrie | November 3rd, 2010   Tweet
We all know how it works at Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport if you want a taxi. Go to the taxi counter, tell him your destination and he will give you a price and then you are ushered off to one. Alternatively, you could take your chances with one of the touts offering their services and travel by bemo or private car. However, these can be a hassle, and costly.
My bitch is that you cannot get into a taxi that has just arrived at the airport dropping off travellers. Why? Because there is a monopoly at the airport and it is tightly controlled. So, if you want to obtain a taxi without paying the sometimes exuberant charges, then you have to walk virtually out of the airport grounds and hail a taxi leaving the airport area.
I read an interesting article in the Bali Discovery about illegal taxi operations in the airports around Indonesia and although deemed illegal, the old practices still remain. Apparently, Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport is one of them. It seems, according to the article, a similar practice persists in Bali where taxis not owned by a Koperasi Taxi Ngurah Rai Bali are not allowed to pick up arriving passengers from the airport. The Bali taxis operate without meters and charge a set tariff specified destinations across Bali.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Temples of Bali: Pura Sakenan

by Barrie | November 9th, 2010   Tweet
Visiting any Balinese temple during your stay in Bali is an experience but when you visit during a temple celebration of festival; it is an amazing and colourful one. Located on the Bypass between Kuta and Sanur, just after the turnoff for the port of Benoa you will find a road bridge that spans 1km of the Benoa Strait and this will lead you to Serangan, or Turtle Island. It is on this island you will find an interesting Balinese temple, Pura Sakenan.
This is an important temple for Balinese people. The temple was built in the 16th Century by a Javanese priest named Nirartha. During the Galungan festival, particularly the closing day of Kuningan, the temple is very busy. Pura Sakenan is a public temple, meaning Balinese people from all over the island can come and receive blessings.
Visiting this temple at any other time than when festivals are being held could, to most travellers, seem a waste of time. But, it is a serene temple and one worth visiting. I was fortunate to visit the temple during the Galungan festival. Tourists can also enter the temple, even during Galungan, as long they are wearing a sarong and sash. This is a great photo opportunity. During the ceremony you will find many food and drink sellers outside the temple; it is quite an amazing scene.

Gunung Batur Closed to Climbers

by Barrie | November 9th, 2010   Tweet
There is so much volcanic activity across the archipelago at the moment. As more and more earthquakes occur the higher the chances of usually dormant volcanoes coming to life. In the last ten day Gunung Merapi in Central Java has unleashed its fury on the city of Yogyakarta. This afternoon I received yet another phone call from Yogyakarta informing me of an earthquake in progress!
The two main dormant volcanoes in Bali are Gunung Agung and Gunung Batur. I can well remember talking with some locals a while back about the volcanic activity of Gunung Batur. One of the fishermen told me that if the lake’s water gets warm then this is a good sign the volcano is coming to life.
I was reading an article today in the Bali Discovery about Gunung Batur being closed to climbers. According to the article: One of the volcanoes placed on alert is Bali’s Mount Batur which, as a result, has been closed to mountain climbers and other activities on its slopes until further notice. 19 volcanoes across Indonesia are currently classified at a “Waspada” alert status, the second highest danger level just short of a “Siaga” status reserved for mountains at an elevated level of tectonic activity.
It’s a worrying time for Indonesians across the archipelago at the moment and one can only hope that recent disasters like those in Sumatra and Central Java never occur in Bali.

What is the best gift for yoga lovers?

by Cristina | November 8th, 2010   Tweet
With Christmas only six weeks away, it’s definitely time to start looking into gifts for your friends. I’m guilty of doing my shopping online and… usually a bit too late.
We all have at least one friend who is into an active lifestyle. And many friends who love to travel. If you want, you can combine the two hobbies into one interesting gift: a vacation in Bali.
First step? Ask your friend when their next vacation will be. Then, look up flights to Bali . It’s a bit harder to figure out cheap options when you’ve got a limited time frame to work with, but it’s not impossible. It just requires time. And patience. Just remember that a ticket will definitely set up back about $1200 (round trip, from New York). If you fly from Europe, round trip flights start at $1500 (from London).
Next step… look for accommodation. Cheap hotels in Bali are not that hard to find, especially if you spend a bit of time looking for good options. A room (for two) in a 4-star hotel starts at $300 (for 6 nights). Facilities typically include AC, tea/coffee making facilities and phone in room.
Oh, and by the way, Bali travel packages are excellent choice for you and your loved one.
Vouchers are also excellent choice. Whether you opt for a flight or hotel voucher, a spa treatment or a gift card, your friends will definitely love them.
And if your budget is not exactly accommodating such a gift, then you can always get one of the eco-friendly yoga mats and , maybe, a gym membership.

Top Things to Bring to Bali

by Barrie | November 2nd, 2010   Tweet
Bali is a crazy strange place for first-time arrivals and besides being overwhelming [that includes starting at the airport] it is a full-on experience. For those of us who have years under-our-belts it’s a bit of the ‘ol ho-hum usual. There are several things new travellers to Bali could bring with them that would be helpful during their stay on the island.
Of course good common sense and sometimes logic helps but of course it is a matter of letting-go and stop ‘thinking western’ and expecting everything to be just like home because it just isn’t. If you can let yourself go and immerse yourself into the fascinating culture then an awesome experience awaits you. However, it is the material things that help when you visit Bali (besides money!].
Guidebook and Balinese / Indonesian Phrase Book: There is a literal plethora of these in any bookshop in the city where you live. It’s best to purchase these at home as they can be expensive in Indonesia. Before you leave for Bali, browse through the guidebook and obtain some idea of the paces you want to visit. Learn from the phrasebook even if it’s only the usual greetings etc. A few words of the local lingo will unlock many social encounters.
As far as guidebooks are concerned, I prefer using Rough Guides because they are very nuts & bolts oriented, listing guest houses, places to eat, festivals and good all round information.
International Driving Licence: It is very true that your mode of transportation is one of the main factors that will affect your trip to Bali. So, if you fancy taking on the crazed road skills of the local drivers and the terrain then having an International Driving Licence will allow you to rent cars and motorbikes. Make sure to obtain insurance when you rent the mode of transport you choose.
Laptop or Notebook: I wouldn’t leave home without mine! Besides being handy for detailing the events of the day, they are also a great for downloading all your images from your digital camera. Most internet cafes on the tourist strip accommodate for laptop use. The size is up to you but a 15” like the one I use is excellent. They are also for recording all the special people you meet and names of cool places you encounter.
Ear plugs: These are easily purchased at any chemist or camping store. The reason I have added earplugs to this list is because they are useful if you wind up in a hotel on a busy street. Also, most of the 5 star hotels have ‘theme nights’ and these can be quite rowdy through until the early hours.

The Sasak of Lombok

by Barrie | November 15th, 2010   Tweet
There were many interesting aspects with the culture of Lombok that I wanted to experience on my last visit to the island. As with the Bali Aga in Bali, you will also find the almost equivalent on the island of Lombok; the Sasak people. Although the Sasak are predominantly Muslim while the Balinese are Hindus, they are related to the Balinese in both language and race. It’s interesting to know that 85% of Lombok’s population are Sasak.
Very little Little is known about Sasak history except that Lombok was placed under direct rule of the Majapahit prime Minister, patih Gajah Mada. During the late 16th century to the early 17th century the Sasaks converted to Islam under the influence of Sunan Giri and the Muslim Makassarese. Thus, basic Islamic beliefs and Hindu-Buddhist beliefs were ‘merged’ creating the Wektu Telu religion.
The term Wektu Lima is used to distinguish them from the Sasaks who are practitioners of Wektu Telu or three times who only pray three times a day. Orthodox Islamic teachers generally instruct adherents to pray five times a day. Large numbers of people adhering to the Wektu Telu faith can be still found throughout the island, especially in the village of Bayan. This is where the religion originated. A small minority of Sasaks called the Bodha – an estimated population of 8000 – are mainly found in the village of Bentek and on the slopes of Gunung Rinjani.
There are a few Sasak villages set up for visitors to the island wishing to see this fascinating culture and I was fortunate to see such this at a place called Desa Wisata Dusun Ende. It is fascinating to see the Sasak going about life as they have done for centuries and I was most impressed by their outgoing attitude to visitors. If you do get a chance to go to Lombok then having a visit to a Sasak village must be on top of the list.