Plastic bag ban is a bit more virtue-signalling

fruit on trays covered in plastic

We have entered the Woolworths brand new world of no more single-use plastic bags. Bring your own (they have to be clean) or buy one of their sturdy plastic bags, or their tougher bags. Yay! Hurrah! /sarcasm

As it happens, the grey shopping bags are not the big problem. Many, many people reuse them as bin liners. I certainly do. Having said that, it seems most people are in favour of the change. It was tried for a while in the Target supermarket, but the plastic bags came back. Maybe people have finally been embarrassed into seeing what effects plastic has on the environment. It’s a good step.

But…

This is virtue signalling, the change you make when you want to look like you’ve made a change. Pardon my cynicism, but I always look at what’s in it for them (the retailers). Coles and Woolies will sell you reusable shopping bags – that’s always a plus. And they don’t have to buy those shopping bags and put them out for people. Another plus. After all, Aldi has been doing the same thing for years.

The fact is plastic take-home bags are just the tip of the iceberg. Single use plastic abounds in packaging. Biscuits often come in a plastic tray in a plastic bag. Meat comes on a styrofoam tray with a soaker pad to soak up the blood, then all wrapped in plastic. I could go on but you get the idea. I talked about this before, in a post called, on supermarkets and packaging. Anything packed in trays or bags is a labour saving device. The product comes with a barcode, making it easier to process at the checkout. No weighing and measuring, it’s all done before being placed on the shelves. Oh, and the product lasts longer on the shelves, another plus for the retailer.

What about plastic bottles replacing glass in most liquids, liquid soap (in a plastic bottle) instead of bar soap, bottles of water (!), throw-away plastic cups, plates, cutlery, drinking straws, sandwich bags etc etc etc. This is where we really need to make changes before we end up living in a world that is one big waste dump. In Asian countries it’s easy to believe we already are, but we in the West collect and bury our waste – except for clever countries like Norway, who use their waste in furnaces to create power.

There’s a looooong way to go before the world is a plastic-free place.

Give me a sec to dismount from my hobby horse.

That’s better. Now then, on to another teensy rant. Fashion in the twenty-teens.

I hates it, I does.

I mean, really? Pre-ripped jeans? They cost more than the standard denims (if you can find them) and they’re skin tight. Real stove pipes. They HAVE to be torn at the knee so the wearer can bend his/her knee. And if you want a pair of standard, comfy, denim, boot leg jeans without rips? Well, you might get a pair of levis for a hundred bucks or more. Me, I’m after comfort – cheap comfort. I’m past style. I’ve even let the holes in my ears heal over.

Edited to add: I’ve had jeans with holes and things – but they were EARNED through toil, and I was reluctant to throw them away because of the fabulous fit. This rant is NOT about those – it’s the shortcut that bugs me. And the laziness.

They pay MONEY for these???

Then there’s guys with unshaven faces. Apparently there’s a special razor to get ‘the look’. You end up with a two-day growth which I expect is supposed to make the wearer look ‘masculine’. No, sorry, yuck. It’s stubble. Have you ever tried kissing a guy with stubble? Might as well rub your mouth with sandpaper.

Pass.

[Sigh] Ah, the joys of being a miserable grumpy old fart. Better get off the hobby horse again.

Tigers

The Goddess Durga on her tiger mount

There used to be tigers on Bali. On Java, too. They’re gone now, extinct. The Sumatran tiger hangs on by the tips of its claws in the vanishing pockets of forest on Sumatra but they are critically endangered, with the numbers in the wild down to just a few hundred individuals. There are too many people on this planet, shouldering out any life that competes. All over the world wild places have become smaller and smaller as humanity takes over.

Apart from the ever-dwindling habitat, tigers and other iconic animals are the target of poachers, slaughtering animals for their body parts which are highly prized in Chinese medicine. It is astonishing to me that in the 21st century there are still people that believe a potion of ground-up tiger penis will give a man virility. I’m sure Viagra is cheaper – and it’s known to work.

The time will come when the animals we all saw in our nursery books – elephants, rhinos, lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, koalas – will only be able to survive in parks and zoos. Maybe there’s still a little bit of time. The Indian Government has spent millions to help to preserve Bengal tigers. Villages have been closed and the people moved to provide space for the big carnivores to roam naturally with their prey animals. But all of this is only going to work if people care, if a living tiger is worth more than a dead one. I was delighted to learn that tiger numbers in India have actually risen for the first time in decades. People go the safari parks to see tigers in the wild there. Education works.

That’s why, with some misgivings, I went to Bali Safari to see the tiger show.

I’ve seen tigers before. Many years ago, armed with my very first, brand new, totally unused Canon EOS camera, I went to Singapore zoo. We arrived early, and the tigers were having their morning swim. Wow. Just wow. Three of them, interacting and playing in the pool. It was wonderful and I’ve never forgotten it. Often the big cats lie around, maybe flick a tail, because that’s what they do. To see them move, running, (from a safe distance) is an absolute joy.

The tiger show lasts for half an hour. Hundreds of people turned up to watch, most of them Asian, many of them children. Like the elephant show, the aim is to educate. First we were shown the importance of the tiger in Balinese culture (which is based on Indian culture). In Hinduism the tiger is the steed of Durga, the warrior aspect of the Moon Goddess who battles demons with the weapons carried in her many arms. Durga and her mount were paraded out into the arena and a couple of human ‘tigers’ danced. Then performers showed the impact of man’s encroachment on tiger territory and the effects of poaching. The poaching was stopped by the Goddess, which I thought was a great touch.

The tigers themselves (three young beasts) were only out there for maybe ten minutes in total, in two short bursts. They came out with their keepers but were free to run around the waterfall and the grass. One immediately lay down in the stream. Another curled around a keeper’s legs, asking for his bottle. The third trotted along the path by the waterfall, encouraged with treats.

It was simply wonderful to see them move, that long, loping, effortless run. I was almost brought to tears. One of them climbed a pole wrapped in thick rope for a treat dangled above. I don’t think people realise how high a tiger can climb, or jump.

Bali Safari also has white tigers. They were not in the show (I’m pleased to say) but people can watch them being fed in another very short ‘show’ (about 10 minutes).

White tigers are not albinos. They can occur naturally in the wild if there is a mating between two cats which both carry this recessive gene. The coat is very pale, almost white, with the usual black stipes and they have ice-blue eyes. Their striking appearance makes them showy and popular – but scratch the surface and you’ll find a few disturbing characteristics. All white tigers are cross-eyed, even if they don’t appear to be. They also suffer from other genetic defects, such as club feet and problems with internal organs, so they don’t tend to last in the wild. All the white tigers in captivity stem from a litter brought to the US by a hunter who shot their mother. In the pet trade in the US white tigers were popular so breeders crossed fathers with daughters or granddaughters, brothers with sisters, to be sure of getting at least one or two white cubs from the pairing. The rest would be the usual orange – and they were often excess to requirements. The result of all this is that white tigers are horribly inbred. Nobody should be breeding them at all. Please read this article from Big Cat Rescue in Florida for more detailed information about white tigers.

Unfortunately, while Bali Safari had a poster explaining the double recessive gene and how a white tiger can result from mating, it did not mention the other effects. I most sincerely hope the park is not breeding from these cats.

Nonetheless, I took a few nice pictures of the cats in their spacious enclosure.

I love tigers. As it happens, I was born in the Chinese year of the tiger. Chinese couples try to avoid having a girl in a tiger year. We grow up feisty and nasty. So it’s said.

You might have noticed a certain level of passion in this post. Without being an expert, I know a bit about the plight of the world’s tigers. I have written two books about them. They’re fantasy, starring a were-tiger (like a werewolf, a creature that can look like a human or an animal). The first, Black Tiger, is about the impact of poachers and the Chinese medicine trade on the tigers in India, with the fantasy and a touch of romance woven in.

The second, White Tiger, is about tigers in the USA where it is still legal in too many places for people to own great cats as pets. In fact, while the number of tigers in America is not precisely known, it is in excess of 6,000 – many, many more than the number of wild tigers in India – indeed, the world.

I wrote the books to try to educate people in an accessible way – read them for the fantasy and the romance and come away with a bit more knowledge about tigers in the modern world.  I suppose it’s my small attempt to make a difference. It’s not quite as good as letting people see the real thing, but it’s the best I can do.

picture of black tiger coverBlack Tiger

He haunts the jungle – and her dreams

When Dr. Sally Carter travels to India to regroup from a broken heart the last thing she wants is to fall in love. But Raja Asoka (Ash) Bhosle is entirely too attractive to ignore, even though she knows it can only end in tears. Hers.

Ash guards his forest and the precious creatures within it, protecting the rare tigers from mindless slaughter, and a secret that lives in legend. From the moment he sets eyes on the Australian doctor, he wants her, even over the objections of his mother and the unsuitability of her cultural heritage.

While Ash fights tiger poachers, Sally struggles against cultural prejudice. Can the Legend of the Black Tiger be the bond that brings them closer together, or will it be an impossible belief that rips them apart. The closer Sally comes to understanding what the legend means, the more frequent the nightmares become. Is she losing her sanity, or is there more to Sally than she herself knows? The answers lie buried in her past.

Buy the book from Amazon  Kobo iBooks B&N

  White Tiger

New York is no place for a tiger – not for weretiger Sally Carter or for the white tiger she finds in a Harlem basement, guarding an enormous stash of heroin. Sally’s daring rescue of the tiger attracts journalist Dave Gardner, who sniffs a story and a lead to a drug baron he’s been trying to nail for years.

While Sally is determined that the white tiger will find a home in a sanctuary, Gardner follows a tenuous trail from the tiger back to the drug cache – and a whole lot of trouble. Soon Sally and her weretiger husband find themselves mixed up in a drug baron’s plot for revenge where even their amazing weretiger talents may not be enough to save Gardner – or themselves.

Buy the book from Amazon  Kobo iBooks B&N

 

 

 

Bali Safari Park

The introductory show. The orang was only out there for a few minutes.

I was very much torn about whether to visit Bali’s safari park or not. On the one hand it’s a large safari park which takes visitors in a closed vehicle into closed habitat where animals do what wild animals do. On the other hand the park offers several animal shows. I don’t much like animal shows where the creatures are used to entertain humans. And I detest circus acts with lions and tigers forced to sit on boxes and jump through hoops, and elephants do head stands. But these animal shows weren’t acts in that sense. Bali Safari offers shows very much like Australia Zoo on the Sunshine Coast, and other parks around the world. They’re meant to educate while they entertain. Years ago I’d been to an orang utan ‘show’ at Singapore zoo which was excellent. The keepers said that for the orangs it was something to alleviate boredom, a very real thing in zoos. The animals weren’t forced to do anything. One big male didn’t feel like opening a coconut, so after he refused, the job was given to another orang. I hoped this park would be similar.

So we went.

Our hotel’s shuttle bus took us over to a larger hotel where we transferred to a Safari Park bus for the trip to the park, meandering through heavy traffic out to the other side of town. I think you need a LOT of patience to live on Bali – something I’m not good at. The Safari park’s entrance is modern but the organisation is decidedly olde worlde. The best thing to do is book and pay at the hotel or via the park if you can. We were held up in a queue for a very bloody long some time. Even after we managed to pay it was unclear what we were supposed to do next, but we eventually found someone to ask.

A bus takes visitors from the entrance area to the start of the show. Our tickets entitled us to several animal shows, a ride through the large safari habitats, a boat ride, the aquarium, and of course we could wander around to look at the exhibits. The first performance was an introductory show. Guinea pigs, cats, dogs and some birds ran onto the stage, encouraged by treats. None of them were asked to perform. A female hornbill flew in and a member of the audience volunteered to allow the bird to land on her arm. But the bird declined so the show moved on.

Female hornbill. She didn’t want to sit on a visitor’s arm

No animal was on stage for more than a few minutes. One of the resident orang utans appeared and swung across the stage on a rope. The orang was given a coconut to tear apart to show the audience how powerful he was. This is where the education part becomes important. The commentator explained that orangs were on the verge of extinction because they were losing their habitat – the rainforests of Borneo. Most of the several hundred people watching were Asians – Chinese, Indian, Indonesian – and many of them were children. If animals are to survive in the wild, increasingly it will be because we humans ensure that it happens. These kids need to know what it is that will disappear if we don’t change our ways.

We moved on to the elephant show.

Elephant swims through the water

I had misgivings about this one and I still do. The park offers visitors the option of being taken around the park on elephants, something I think is wrong. Guests can feed an elephant (nuts or something sold to visitors) and have their picture taken with an elephant. I’m not sure about that, either. Here’s one eye-opening review of the elephant riding – please read the park’s response, too, to be fair. Oh – and patting lions? Don’t do that, either.

An elephant’s eye

In less enlightened times Perth zoo had a solitary elephant who used to take patrons on rides around the zoo. I partook more than once. In retrospect I feel awful for that poor ellie. No family, none at all of its kind. At least here there is a herd of elephants and the park has a breeding program.

The elephant show was in no way a circus act. But it was a performance, mainly by human actors who showed how humans had impacted on the lives of the elephants by building houses, cutting down forests and the like. The commentator explained the differences between African elephants and Asian elephants (hint: it’s not just the ears). These were Sumatran elephants, smallest of the family, and hanging on to life in pockets of Sumatra. They might survive if enough people care about their fate, if the animals are worth more to societies alive, than dead. Education, you see. The oldest elephant in the show grew up in harsher times when people didn’t really understand elephants. Although there was no obvious sign of mistreatment in the show, I had to wonder. It seemed to me she was doing her damndest not to put a foot wrong (so to speak). In contrast the younger elephants were relaxed, mainly swimming around the pool in front of the arena.

Yes, we saw a tiger show. I’ll talk about tigers in another blog.

Then we went off on our tour of the safari habitats. Herbivores were kept in very large enclosures (at least a hectare (2.5 acres) each), one for each of Africa, Asia, and South America. The carnivores have their own space where they did a lot of sleeping. From the bus we saw wildebeests, antelopes, giraffe, lions, tigers, sun bears, elands, zebras etc. They all look in great condition and are clearly well looked after.

A young zebra waves her tail

A lion doing what lions do

It was a long day. We boarded the bus to take us back to the pick-up hotel, where the promised shuttle back to our hotel was missing. They’d made a mistake with the pick-up time, coming for us at 4:30, which was when we boarded the bus at the Safari Park. We were asked to take a taxi, with the charge being paid by the hotel. A taxi duly arrived and we explained where we wanted to go. He didn’t know where our hotel (The Kayana) was but he knew the five-star resort, the W, which was right next door. I suppose the driver thought he’d picked up a bunch of gullible old farts. The trip in the morning had taken about ten minutes. By the time we’d driven for ten minutes, we all knew this was wrong, and said so. He mumbled something about one-way streets and heavy traffic, which we didn’t believe for a moment. Colin found the hotel on a map on his phone and showed the route to the driver, who assured us he knew where to go. In the end that ten-minute trip took thirty minutes and we made sure we told the clerk at our hotel how the driver had tried to rip us off.

Still, looking on the bright side, we got to see a woman walking her dog while riding her motorbike.

And here are some more photos. It was fun, but technically the pictures aren’t brilliant.

A piranha. They get very bad press which isn’t actually true

Nice to see the dye on the horn – makes it useless to poachers

A hippo doing what hippos do

This lioness was sleeping but she got up for a wee and a quick drink 🙂

Not too sure what these beasties are – but that’s a mean set of horns

Macaws. I suspect the park also does care work. A couple of the birds had damaged wings

A komodo dragon trying to look cute

Reptiles can be pretty. Not sure what it is

A Day of Rest

Swimming pool with the dining area on the right

After our Big Day Out yesterday Wednesday was a day of R&R. Our package included a one-hour massage each. Sandy and I opted for a facial, which was very nice, while the boys had an all-over rub (no hanky panky). Apart from that we didn’t do much at all.

Power lines and wires

One of the most enduring sights in many Asian countries is the power lines. One thinks of spiders with a cocaine habit. But apparently there is a reason for it. In most Western countries cables go to the house and are then used to feed the various devices. As far as we could understand lines here go to a given device. So if you buy an air conditioner, one of these lines is strung up to feed it. We were told it would be MUCH more expensive to do it our way. Whatever. It seems to work. We had internet speeds of 140MBS using the hotel’s free WIFI. We’d kill for that here in Australia.

Late in the afternoon, since Sandy and I are both keen photographers, we decided to go down to the beach to take pictures of the sunset. Looking at the map it appeared that several nearby streets would take us there so we set off. We were disabused when we got to the security guard. Asked where we were going, we said the beach. He shook his head. This road led to a hotel and there was no public access.

Bugger.

We went back to the main road. As it happens, a hotel shuttle had arrived, dropping guests there so they didn’t have to make the 300-metre walk. Pete went over to talk to the driver and came back grinning. “She said to take the next road and when we get to security, tell them we’re going to the W.” The W is a five-star resort.

We set off along a roadway of arched bamboo until we reached the security point. This was SERIOUS security. One fellow carried a semi-automatic firearm. Not only were vehicles searched, we had to walk through a scanner like they have at airports. No questions asked, they waved us on. A few minutes later one of the resort’s shuttles ranged up beside us and insisted on giving us a ride the rest of the way to the hotel. The W turned out to be pretty flash, with several swimming pools and paved seating areas all overlooking the beach, which was thronged with people.

Fancy living at the W resort

Unfortunately, while clouds often give character to a sunset, in this case they were too thick. The sun made a brief appearance under a heavy curtain, but the show lasted for a couple of minutes max.

Busy one way

Sunset

We wandered over to the rank of shuttles waiting to take people to the main road and caught a lift back. Tomorrow we would be visiting Bali’s new safari park.

A few shots of Bali streets

The lane next to our hotel. There’ll be people living down there

Seminyak market

He didn’t buy it

A roadside shrine

A hotel facade. Don’t know what the mannequins are about

Kerobokan jail – the admin block

Beautifully carved tree root. There are two Chinese dragons depcited here. This is the retaining wall for the footpath – but I do think it’s old tree roots.

 

Temples, monkeys and mountains

Mythology. That’s Garuda, Vishnu’s mount

We’d had a look at tour offerings in the hotel lobby and asked one of the clerks if prices were in US$. He said yes, US dollars – but he could organise for a car and driver for us who would cover the same attractions. Car and driver for eight hours would cost a million, and we’d have to pay for entrances and lunch.

A million???? Yep. The exchange rate worked out at roughly IDR10,000 to AUD$1. So that was $25 each for a car for eight hours. Sounded good, especially since the tour we’d seen in the brochure would have been $US69 each (about IDR960,000). I think it’s very likely the hotel clerk lined up the job with one of his relatives. I recall something similar happening on my last visit to Bali thirty years ago.

The driver picked us up in a clean, modern vehicle – but the backseat was only big enough for two of us, so one of us had to sit in the dicky seat in the rear. Our driver, Oka, was a pleasant enough young man and although, like most Balinese, he spoke some English, he was far from fluent and really only offered halting explanations if he was asked.

From Seminyak it took about two hours inching through the traffic to get to our first stop, a temple. On the way we were stopped for a police check. In Oz it would have been a random breathtest. Oka got out of the car to talk to the cops, and Colin, who was in the dicky seat, took out his phone. In seconds the cop was at the door, pointing and speaking in rapid Indonesian. Oka translated, was Colin taking pictures? No, he wasn’t. Okay. We went on our way, Oka explaining it had been a routine licence and rego check. But we discussed the incident the following day and agreed that our driver had to pay a bribe. Traffic enforcement is not a big deal here (we hardly saw a policeman), and we had been warned in Australia that the police are corrupt. Thinking back, the driver signaled the truth with a few comments he made. In fact, he said, “The police are corrupt, especially in Sanur”. We’d been in the Sanur area when we were stopped.

Two warriors stand guard at the entrance to ward off evil spirits

Temples are everywhere on Bali. I’ve mentioned the little shrines found in shops, cars (Oka had a little shrine on the car’s dashboard) and on the roadsides. That’s the bottom layer of a pyramid of spirituality. Every family has its own temple, some extremely elaborate. Every community has a temple, and then there are large public temples. The family temple is essentially ancestor worship, with the public temples more about the Gods. The Gods are those of the Hindu faith – Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer. As in India, the cow is sacred. Then there are the other deities such as the elephant-headed God, Ganesh. The Hindu epics the Mahabharata and the Ramayana are important stories. We passed a huge statue of Arjuna, hero of the Mahabharata, not too far from the airport, and the figure of the monkey general, Hanuman, who is a major figure in the Ramayana, also figures prominently.

High fashion

Temples are not like a church where everybody goes into one building. Groups of open buildings are scattered around large, walled areas. Non-believers are allowed into the area but are asked not to go inside the buildings. Visitors are asked to conform to the requirements of entering a temple. It’s all about purity and modesty. Pregnant women, and menstruating women are forbidden, as is anyone where a close family member has died within the last 11 days. Oka couldn’t enter the temple because his uncle had died a week ago. Visitors are also asked to dress modestly – which means no trousers or bare legs. Ladies at the temple took our IDR10,000 each to fit us with a sarong, then we went into the temple area.

Each building has its guardians, ferocious creatures who defend against evil. These figures are often draped with black and white checked cloth, a symbol of security. Yellow and white cloth is also common. I couldn’t find a simple explanation of the significance, except that colour is associated with the Gods (red for Brahma, gold for Vishnu, white for Shiva). It would have been nice to have someone to explain everything properly (the advantage of a properly-organised tour).

The world turtle

We saw several depictions of the World Turtle carrying the world on its back. This was the inspiration for Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. The Disc is carried on the backs of four elephants which in turn stand on the back of Great A’Tuin, the star turtle, who swims magestically through space. Should you be interested in finding out more about Terry Pratchett and his role in my life, click here.

The carvings are magnificent. In this tropical climate the soft stone ages very quickly. Apparently, the carvings are replaced over time, as funds permit.

Next stop was the Tegenungan waterfall. We had to pay an entrance fee of IDR15,000 each. It sounds such a lot, doesn’t it? But it’s $1.50, so $6 for our group. The driver parked the car while we wandered between the line of food and souvenir stalls leading to a vantage point with a view of the waterfall. A steep path led down into the ravine for a closer look and a swim. After a nanosecond’s discussion, we agreed to pass. We took some photos, then returned between the stalls. A common incentive to buy something in the shops was an opportunity to use their toilet – for free.

From there we went to the monkey forest near the town of Ubud. It was very well established, with decent toilets and good paths. We had to pay, of course – IDR50,000 each – but that was perfectly reasonable. The monkeys are semi-wild – that is, they’re wild but the keepers feed them, so they hang around. Visitors are asked to use common sense – no food or drinks to tempt the beasties, no teasing or attempts to touch etc. You really don’t want to annoy a big male – or a baby monkey.

Guidelines

One of the three temples in the forest

For her it’s just a vantage point

New baby with extended family

People are warned not to bring in food and drink, but there’s always an idiot. In this case a woman had an (empty) soft drink can. At least she had the sense to let the monkey take the can, which she had crushed. He took it down to the water flowing down a drain and filled the can, then had a drink. Smart.

By now it was about 1pm, and we’d started at 9am. We wanted a break for coffee or something, so the driver took us up to Kintamani, a village with an excellent view of Mt Batur and its crater lake. Once again, we had to pay a fee to go up the road – IDR32,000 each. It was actually supposed to be IDR30,000, but the tax gatherer person added 2,000 each for himself. This was starting to feel like being asked to pay to take a photo and we were beginning to be a tad resentful.

Mt Batur. Ugung (the restless one) is further away to the right

The driver parked and pointed us at the restaurant with a terrace facing the mountain while he went off to wherever drivers go. Lunch wasn’t included, and the buffet lunch would have cost us IDR200,000 ($20) each. We weren’t particularly hungry – a sandwich would have suited – but that wasn’t an option. We passed on lunch and asked the local security/tax collector where we’d find the driver. Down there in the markets, he told us, pointing down the hill. We walked for a ways, taking note of non-existent or broken foot paths, the surrounds covered in litter, pursued by small children thrusting postcards at us. You buy. Cheap. Yes. After a short distance we agreed this was silly and went to wait by the car, fending off hawkers with T shirts and the like. Turns out our driver was in the downstairs restaurant under the building we’d entered (locals only) enjoying his free lunch.

Up here in the mountains the climate is cooler and this is where the Balinese grow vegetables like cabbages and tomatoes, as well as citrus fruit. Little villages are scattered everywhere, each with its own temple. We noticed the roads were lined with decorated bamboo poles with baskets, which we were told were ceremonial offerings. There had been an important festival on the date of last month’s full moon when these pieces were erected. They would be burned soon. I tried to get him to explain what the household expected to get from the offering. He didn’t understand the question at all. It was something you did. And why were some poles so much more elaborate than others? I don’t think he understood that question, either. I think the answer is if you’ve got money you are expected to create a more elaborate pole – but I bet there’s a bit of ‘mine’s bigger than yours’.

Symbolic offerings in a village

The driver who took us from the hotel to the airport when we left explained more on that trip than we’d learned with our man Oka for the full day. He explained what those bamboo poles were all about. The pole symbolises the sacred mountain (the volcano Mt Agung, which caused disruption to air traffic late last year). It’s an example of bringing the mountain to you when you can’t go there. He said Denpasar was emptying fast as people went back to their home villages for the ceremony when the offerings were burned. He would be off to his home town of Singaraja as soon as he’d dropped us off.

We drove back down towards Ubud and stopped off at the Tegalalang rice terraces, sculpted hillsides planted with rice. Our driver told us to tell the local security man when we were ready to go and went off to park the car. As soon as we’d alighted the security fellow wanted to sell us a ticket. IDR40,000 each. There are walking paths down through the paddy fields and up the other side – a lot of people younger than us were down there. But we just wanted a photo from the road, so we refused to pay. I took a picture from the footpath and was scolded with ‘no photo’. This same roadside was packed with food shops, souvenir stalls etc. To us it seemed silly. Wouldn’t they be better off not offending us with ‘entrance’ tickets and hope we’d buy a drink or something from the shops?

The rice terraces from the road

Seems we weren’t the only ones. This is a quote from Things to do in Bali.

Which brings me to the one minor drawback Tegallalang has. Compared to some of the other rice fields in Bali, Tegallalang has become very touristy. The area is now complete with parking and entrance fees and stalls selling everything from food to souvenirs. You can book a tour with one of the many companies offering rice field tours or take a walk on your own. By wandering a bit further along the tracks after reaching the “top” of the valley you can reach the next valley, which has better views and fewer crowds. 

Our next stop was supposed to be the special coffee place which makes the most expensive coffee in the world – the beans have been through an animal’s body. By this time, we were all fed up with the ‘hand out’ mentality, so we asked the driver to take us back to the hotel. We arrived at about 5pm, tired and a bit pissed off.

In retrospect we may have been a bit unreasonable. After all, we’ve all voiced complaints about having to pay money to drive down a road in a national park in Australia, or to stand somewhere to take a photo. Entrance fees to National Trust properties in UK are expensive. They even charge you to stop in a layby with a view. Many places charge a fee to park the car. I think our gripe was that we didn’t know in advance – which is what you get when you don’t go on a properly organised tour. If I did it again I’d want to talk to the driver beforehand, sort out what we wanted to see and how much it would cost. That way, there are no surprises.

In more retrospect I think I would also have opted to look at spots closer to where we stayed in Seminyak. For instance, a couple of temples by the sea were not far away, including the famous Tanah Lot. Crossing the city took literally hours, with really nothing to see. Thirty years ago Sanur, Seminyak, Noosa Dua, and Kuta were villages, with Denpasar and its airport ‘over there’. Now it’s a classic conurbation.

However, on the way back we did pass by the infamous Korobokan jail. The administrative buildings look quite nice, actually. In contrast to the row of rusting barbed wire on the top of the prison wall.

A short stay on Bali

Bali is one of Australia’s favourite holiday destinations – especially if you live in Western Australia. Bali is part of Java’s ‘tail’ – that line of little islands sitting in a line behind Java’s western extreme – and the one closest to Java. Lying in the same time zone as Perth, it’s a three-hour flight from there. Just up the road, really, and closer (and cheaper) than flying to Australia’s Eastern States. For that reason it’s a popular destination for West Aussies but despite the six-and-a-half-hour flight from Brisbane, the holiday package was still very cheap, so Pete and I and our friends Col and Sandy took up the offer of a five-night stay in Seminyak. I’d been to Bali about thirty years ago which left me with mixed feelings, but Pete, Sandy, and Col had never been. It was going to be interesting.

The first challenge is always getting there. Pete and I drove to Brisbane and stayed in a hotel overnight before the seven-thirty ay em flight to Bali. Only a couple of airlines fly direct to Bali these days. With some misgivings we opted for Jetstar, a budget airline which had started life as one of those cheap and nasty cattle transports but had upgraded itself and now offered business class. Sort of.

Jetstar is very much a pay-as-you-go airline. Buy a ticket and you get a seat on the plane, which you reach via the roped-off conga lines to the check-in counter. Everything else you pay for – food, baggage, entertainment ($10 to watch movies, TV etc), drinks. They also offer premium economy and two tiers of business class. This was the business class you have when you’re not quite having business class. You needed to pay an extra $200 for ‘business max’ to get lounge access, which is hardly worth it for a cup of coffee and a bit of breakfast, even if we had read the fine print and found out about it. So breakfast was a very expensive flat white and a toastie at a kiosk in the airport. Mind you, it cost a lot less than $200, and it filled a hole since the plane left an hour late. It seems the pilot was held up by an accident on the M1 between the Gold Coast and the airport.

For me, one of the biggest advantages of business class is avoiding the check-in queue. Apart from that we got larger seats with more leg room, in a 2-3-2 configuration, as opposed to the rest of the cabin, which was 3-3-3. I suspect there are restrictions on which seats tier-two business class travellers can select, although that’s not clear online. We didn’t get the seats we thought we’d selected, so I didn’t get a window seat and in fact we didn’t get to sit together. The woman that did get the window seat went to sleep as soon as she could, oblivious to the view as we banked over the Brisbane CBD with a wonderful view of the river meandering through the city. Yes, sour grapes. The camera would have been all ready to go. The seats didn’t descend into a bed so I wouldn’t want to fly on a real long haul. We were served breakfast, pretty decent scrambled eggs. We also got to use the usual entertainment of movies, TV shows and the like. I watched Black Panther to while away a few hours.

Jetstar will not be receiving our patronage again. For what it’s worth, Sandy and Col had a similar story to tell about their flight with Virgin. Air travel isn’t what it used to be.

Despite the new terminal building, immigration in Bali is third world. We waited for a good 45 minutes for our luggage to turn up – mine without its luggage strap. It could not have come undone by itself, so I’d say somebody souvenired it. Then it was off to the immigration queue with several hundred other people from several flights. No automation here. You shuffle along the roped-off maze (fending off attempts to pass) and eventually front up to the desk one at a time to get a stamp in your passport. We strolled through customs, I’m glad to say, and entered arrivals to a veritable sea of folks holding up placards with peoples’ names on them, as well as a few hopeful taxi drivers spruiking their services. We eventually saw our man holding his sign while checking his phone. When we finally got his attention, he led us to a waiting area and went off to collect the car. Organised chaos is the best way to describe it. After another fifteen or twenty minutes he reached us and we piled in for the hour-and-the-rest drive to the hotel

Traffic at one of the few traffic lights

The traffic is… very Asian. More motor bikes than cars, white lines that seem to be there for decoration and not much else, parking is wherever you can abandon your car or bike and road rules seem to consist of nothing more than more or less keep left. We saw very few pushbikes, so if I say ‘bike’ that’s a motor cycle or scooter. Helmets are mandatory, but many riders don’t seem to know or care. We saw several White idiots riding shirtless, helmetless and apparently senseless. Did I mention the traffic jams? Cars and bikes weave their way in and out. Bikes take to the footpaths or anywhere else they can get through. The basic approach to going around corners is ease your way into the traffic until the other cars have no choice but to let you in. But unlike Australia, where there would have been two-finger salutes and comments about ancestry, it’s all polite. Motorists use tiny honks on their horns to tell other drivers where they are, and that’s how the many taxis signal to the tourists that they’re free. Pavements are obstacle courses with unfinished work, exposed pipes and broken slabs, as well as the occasional motor cycle avoiding a snarl. Every hotel has a security guard who helps cars visiting a property back into the street by blowing his whistle and stopping the traffic. Somehow it all seems to work.

The Kayana hotel was pleasant, with lots of open space as you’d expect in this tropical climate. We had our own little walled in villa complete with plunge pool and outdoor pavilion. Floors are tiled, the room was large with walls separating the space. The only internal doors close off the shower and toilet area. A concrete path overhung by frangipanis meanders between the villa walls. Meals are in an open restaurant beside a swimming pool, but guests are encouraged to eat in an outside pavilion that’s part of their villas. That’s all very nice, but since all the courses are delivered at once, we only did that once.

The path between the villas

Inside the enclosure from the outdoor pavilion

Bedroom and plunge pool

Thatched roof, frangipani and sun lounges

After we’d unpacked we met our friends for dinner and worked out the plan for our stay.

Monday was an orientation day. Kayana, where we stayed, is close to the beach but has no beachfront access, so Pete and I took a walk down a nearby street to find the sea. On the way we came across a security checkpoint, where we were asked where we were going, and waved on through. This was the first time we noticed how much attention is given to security. All bikes and cars were stopped and checked. The guards looked into carry space on bikes and checked inside cars, as well as under cars using a mirror on a pole. Indonesia is a Muslim country which is becoming increasingly conservative. Bali is an enclave, hanging onto its Hindu past. But after the 2002 bombing of a nightclub in Kuta which killed 202 people and two further attacks in 2005,  the threat of Islamic terrorism on this holiday island is always there.

As we walked along the road towards the beach, Pete and I saw a strange building in the distance. It seemed to be a curved, multi-coloured wall. Closer by we realised it had been built from discarded shutters and louvred windows, a piece of recycled art. Then we noticed the colourful mural, a confection of purples, blues, yellows, cascading down a slope. It was made up of rubber thongs – a testament to our penchant for throwing away man-made materials. I expect these items were salvaged from the beach.

Recycled art

A typical Balinese temple stood at the entrance to the beach itself. Temples are everywhere, and I’ll tell you a bit more about that in a later post. Suffice to say Balinese are very spiritual and pray three times a day. You’ll see offerings – flowers and small items of food in small baskets – everywhere in the streets, shops, beach – even in taxis. It’s a part of who they are.

A beach temple

A glimpse inside. It would have been wrong to enter.

It’s a surf beach with dark sand typical of more volcanic places. Offerings lay on the sand amongst the more common litter.

Shadows on the sand

Later that day we visited the Seminyak markets, which are much like markets everywhere – lots of cheap clothes and local, mass-produced souvenirs. At the city market bartering was allowed at stalls, but not in the air-coditioned shops. We went on to the traditional market, conducted in tents lining alleys. Sandy bought a couple of pretty expensive T shirts for the grandkids but for the rest, we’ve got enough dust-gatherers. My souvenirs are my photos and these little blogs.

Birds in my backyard

After last week’s post about a newcomer bird in the garden, it occured to me it might be nice to show you some of my regulars. So here they are, in no particular order.

A young blue-faced honey eater. The green around the eye goes blue as they age

Adult blue-faced honey eater

A magpie lark, also known as a mud lark, or a pee wee

Scaly-breasted lorikeet – smaller but bolder than the rainbows

Crested pigeon. Dumb as a brick

A baby butcher bird begs for food

An adult butcher bird fans his tail

An adult magpie ignores the baby’s begging

A baby galah tries his luck with mum (who’s not very interested)

A long-billed corella. We get the other variety, too

Gee, and that’s just a handful. I’ll show you some more another time.

 

 

Here we go again

We the Australian consumers are being shafted again. I have to admit we should be used to it. We pay soooo much more for just aboout everything, really, than people in the USA or UK. Cars, ride-on mowers, computers, TVs, books, DVDs. This is not just the exchange rate. Major items like cars and mowers cost TWICE as much as what they do in the US, even allowing for exchange rate, and shipping. Books have always been much more expensive here than overseas etc etc. Even Netflix costs. Oh yeah, Netflix. Higher costs and crappy choices, not a patch on what’s out there in the USA.

This particular rant is the result of Amazon’s (understandable) decision to not collect GST for the Federal Government. Here’s a quote from The Australian newspaper.

“Earlier today Amazon announced that it would block Australian consumers from having access to hundreds of millions of items and forcing them to choose from a slimmed down offer on the Australian Amazon site.

Australian shoppers will be locked out from buying their favourite goods on Amazon’s US and UK platforms — which offer hundreds of millions of items for sale — after changes to the GST on online purchases forced the online retailer to partly quarantine Australia from its international network.”

And you can read all about it here.

“Slimmed down” is damn right. Amazon’s new Australian store is a joke. We buy online for a lot of things, both for price and availability, but Amazon (AU) doesn’t have the range we need. Living in a small town is nice, but the downside is choice of retailers. For example, apart from the limited offerings in Big W and Target, there is one bookstore in the Bay. One. Guess how much shelf space is allocatd to SFF? I buy my ebooks from Amazon Australia because I have no choice (that is, I can’t buy from any other Amazon store). The exchange rate plus the GST means I pay much more for books than I would through Amazon US. Yes, we can buy through other vendors. But (you’ll love this – we did) we cannot buy ebooks from B&N because we live in Australia! Can I have another ! please? I mean, really, WTF? It’s an ebook, delivered through the ether. Kobo, at least, has grabbed a brain and will take our money AND deliver a book, and Smashwords never embarked on such silliness.

GST is a good idea. It places the tax burden on everyone on a pay-as-you-spend basis. BUT… if you’re going to ask a multi-national to collect tax for you, then the option to withdraw service is there. It would cost Amazon a fortune to collect tax for the Australian Government. I’m not suggesting the company shouldn’t pay tax. But I think it’s important to remember that Amazon doesn’t actually manufacture anything. It’s just a shop front. People who actually make the stuff (like me when I write a book) already pay tax if we make a sale. Amazon’s profits come from providing that shop front. If all the highly-paid accountants and financial advisers got together I’m sure they could come up with an equitable solution, like asking Amazon to pay corporate tax as (say) a percentage of revenue made through the Australian online store. Or something. That way, the long-suffering Australian consumer wouldn’t have to be shoved into the backwoods yet again.

Back to local news.

I had a new visitor to the Magic Pool Fence the other day, a bird I’d never seen before. Having taken pictures, I went through the bird book and discovered it was a spangled drongo (true). This one seemed pretty happy around the humans and was pleased to pick up a piece of the meat I threw out for the butcher birds. A very handsome creature, mainly black with iridescent blue-green tail, and the same colour ‘spangles’.

I’m not sure why they called it a drongo, though. Seemed quite bright to me.

We’ve also had a solitary kookaburra hanging around for most of the day. That’s unusual. They’re gregarious birds that notmally hang out in families. I suppose he wanted to chill by himself for a while. He certainly wasn’t injured or ill – happy to eat morsels thrown out for him and could fly well enough. He disappeared at night fall but returned mid-morning. That has happened for several days.

We get a lot of different birds in our yard. It’s always a pleasure to see them.

And let’s end with the ever-present rainbow lorikeets.

 

 

 

The magic refuses to die

It’s 26th May in Australia, but still the 25th in the USA. It’s a momentous anniversary, the first actual release of that juggernaut, Star Wars. That was the film’s name back then. No ‘episode 4’. No ‘A New Hope’. That would all come later, when George Lucas realised he had a really, truly block-buster on his hands. People queued around the block to see it at the thirty-two movie theaters prepared to take a risk with this science fiction movie produced and directed by a little-known newcomer. There you go. You never can tell.

It’s interesting how closely the date matches the release of the new Star Wars spin-off, Solo: A Star Wars Story. Harrison Ford, who played Han Solo, made his mark in that first movie all those years ago. Forty-one, to be exact. It never ceases to amaze me at the series’ longevity. I can understand the movie catching the imagination of 1977. It was fun, had a smart-mouthed heroine prepared to take charge (still too much of a rarity) and it had lots of TECH. It was understandable tech.  Space-capable fighters  flying in space as they would in atmosphere. Moving from planet to planet in the same time as it would take to drive across town. Blasters that looked a lot like your average pistol. All the planets seemed to have pretty much the same gravity and all of them had atmosphere humans – and most aliens – could breath. Lots and lots of aliens, most of them humanoid. And wow, gosh space ships! And star destoyers like great big aircraft carriers in space! And fighters and the Millenium Falcon, with dirt on them and scratches and things.  As if somebody had actually used them! And fights and explosions and this AMAZING baddy!!!

The science was lousy, but who cared? I certainly didn’t.

I suppose movies, like most things, are a product of their times. The Vietnam War had ended (with the US having to admit defeat) but the Cold War was still on. The Berlin War stood proud. Kids did atomic bomb drills (in US schools, anyway). Star Wars was an escape, another world to enjoy when this one didn’t offer much. It’s ancient history that the first movie led to a second, and a third, then a flood of Star Wars books of variable quality. The magic refused to die. So George made his prequels, with Darth Vader as a cute eight-year-old and his future wife as the Queen of Naboo. I never could see what Padme saw in the petulant, teenage Anakin. A lot of other people couldn’t either. The prequels were universally panned.

And still the magic refused to die.

A new generation of kids grew up to hate Darth Vader (or love him if you were a bit weird, like me) and love Han, Leia, and Luke. Disney bought the franchise, causing deep concern amongst fandom. But it was a smart move from the studio, which has been repaid in spades for its apparently large investment. Star Wars toys and merchandise had never vanished from the shelves. Now they returned with a vengeance, along with the long-awaited movies, the animated Star Wars: Rebels in the vanguard. It’s no secret that I thought The Force Awakens was derivative crap. But at least Star Wars was back. Rogue One was very good. The Last Jedi I think drew a thick line in marker pen under the old guard. Let’s hope Star Wars 9 really will be A New Hope. (Haha). We have some new characters to watch – Finn and Po and Rey. We’ll see.

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56323217

I have hopes for Solo. It’s a return to the roots. The new young actor Alden Ehrenreich, who plays the role of Han Solo, has big shoes to fill. Think Han and you see Harrison Ford, who owned the role in the earlier films. However, from what I’ve seen it’ll be a fun romp taking place before the events in A New Hope (the original one). There’ll be no Force, no Leia – but there’ll be Lando Calrissian (played by Billy-Dee Williams in The Empire Strikes Back). Sure, it’ll be predictable, it won’t offer anything deep and meaningful that’ll leave you cogitating for days.

You know what? In these dark and dangerous times, that’s fine by me.

 

I wish them good health and happiness

My post this week is a little late – sorry about that. I’ve had some technical issues (apart from GDPR) that I’m still grappling with.

But I wanted to make a POINT.

I’m not a royalist. I’ll take it further and say that as an Australian, I’m a born-again Republican.

Right, that’s done. NOW I’ll talk about the Royal Wedding. I know, I know. Half of you were dazzled, the other half were sick to death of all the hype and the glamour and the bitchiness. To some extent I was in camp B, but when you think about it, if the press wasn’t full of the wedding, it was full of car accidents, murders, yet another school shooting in America, and political back-stabbing at all levels. The wedding was about a lonely young man who’d finally found a beautiful woman with the poise and experience to put up with the adulation and paparazzi nonsense that he’s lived with for all his life.

Seems to me after a rocky start with the death of Diana, the Windsors are becoming much more a part of the real world. Charles married Camilla, a wedding his sons attended. Then we had William and Kate Middleton (the very lovely daughter of a middle class family) and now Harry has found hapiness with a divorcee of mixed race background. And if that last sentence sounded at all bitchy, that’s not how it should be taken. To me, it looks like a love match, not some arranged union with (as a commentator put it) “some horse-faced German princess”. Sorry, Germany.

Since I haven’t been to the doctor lately I didn’t see the women’s magazines which no doubt had a wonderful time talking about the dress and the bridal party and Meghan’s bogan relos. Apart from this event selling millions of magazines, tacky souvenirs like mugs, cups, commemorative plates, it also sold plenty of international plane tickets, and within UK, train, bus, and parking tickets. Thousands of people lined the Long Walk in Windsor. More thousands lined the routes about the town streets. Millions watched it unfold on TV.

People – ordinary people – loved it. And Harry and Meghan – and William and Kate – embraced the joy. And good on them. If we looked carefully, I’m sure we’d find Prince Fred of Denmark and his wife, Aussie Mary, somewhere in the crowd.

Meghan’s mum, Doria, wore the most beautiful dress – and her nose stud and unashamedly afro hair – with pride and dignity. Kudos to her.

So if you enjoyed the Royal Wedding, all power to you. It was a wonderful breath of brightness in an increasingly dark world.

Please feel free to comment. You’ll have to tell me your email address but I promise not to send you anything at all, really. I don’t like spam, either.