The World Is Squared Part 5 – Balinese Interlude

by Daniel on January 12, 2015

Happy new year, all. This episode of my ongoing travelogue finds me and the family slowing the pace down significantly and spending six weeks in Bali. Due to an excess of comfort and indulgence, it’s being posted roughly a month late – I am now in New Zealand. Thanks as always for everyone’s kind comments on this series.

1.The 1990s Indonesia boom

I didn’t really do all that much during my six weeks in Bali – we weren’t travelling anything like as much as we had been before we got there and our plan was really to stay by the sea for a while, swim and dive, get a little bit fitter, educate the kids and finish a couple of writing projects. So as a result, this travelogue is probably going to be slightly thinner on geopolitical insights and indeed may veer into that even more widely and justifiably reviled genre, memoirs.

Back in November of 1996, I was something like five weeks into the London Business School’s MSc evening programme in Finance. I had made a few friends, one of whom surprised us all by announcing that he was dropping out, half way through the first term. This was quite a weird thing to do – it wasn’t like he was struggling with the material or anything, and we had all paid a substantial amount of money, up front, which wouldn’t be refunded. But, he told us all, he simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity of a lifetime. He was getting in on the ground floor, as a founding partner. Of a stock brokerage. In Jakarta. I think that, allowing for the set up and regulatory processes, he might have had time to make five or six trades before the crisis hit and the Asian Tigers story came to an end.

2.Bintang beer and other excretions

The ubiquitous beer of Bali, Bintang is one of the world’s really genuinely terrible beers. It’s owned and brewed by Heineken, presumably as some remnant of Dutch colonial days, and well …it’s brewed to a price point, that price point is very low, and every possible corner that could be cut in terms of quality appears to have been cut, including the chucking in of a load of cane sugar to speed up the fermentation process. I was also highly impressed at the inventiveness of the marketing team.

On a lot of beer bottle labels, you will see little gold medallions, indicating awards won over the years. I noticed that the Bintang label has two or three of them and was intrigued enough to study the label in detail, wondering what the hell kind of awful trade show or world’s fair might have been so corrupt or incompetent that they gave Bintang an award. The answer is, there wasn’t one – on the Bintang label, they are just gold-coloured blobs, of roughly the size and shape of medals and in the same location, but not indicating any victory at all. It is perfectly possible to brew decent beer in Bali – San Miguel does it, as do a few plucky little local craft brewers. But as far as I can tell, it isn’t possible to brew decent beer in Bali for less than 20,000 IDR a bottle, and the fact that the locals are too poor and the tourists too drunk to care is the commercial insight that Bintang have ridden to ubiquity. It is better when chilled to within an inch of its life, but still not good.

Balinese coffee is …well, about the best thing you can say about it is that it grows there. The real plantations are in Java and Sumatra apparently. All over the island, however, the locals have started marketing one of the dumbest ideas ever to hit the premium foodstuffs brand space, the concept of “kopi luwak”. This is, as conoisseurs will be aware, coffee made from beans which have been salvaged from the droppings of an animal which feeds on the cherries of the coffee plant. The concept might have made sense once upon a time, although I doubt it, but since it acquired a little bit of notoriety and a hint of a brand premium, every roadside stall holder with a coffee plant in his or her back garden has also acquired a pet luwak.

The luwak, as far as I could see, is a small, fluffy, pissed-off-looking doglike animal, which spends its days in a small cage consuming coffee beans and shitting. This reminded me uncomfortably of my civil service career. I didn’t buy any, but we visited a lot of the kind of stalls in tourist areas where it was sold, and we got the same script over and over again, presumably indicating that the person who went around selling the luwaks had also provided some marketing material to go with them. The owner would repeatedly tell me that the luwak knew how to find only the very best coffee beans, while I would object along the lines of “it eats what you feed it” and “it doesn’t forage for anything, it’s stuck in that cage”.

3.Taxi driver epiphanies, part four

We went up into the central mountains to stay for a few nights, in a hotel among the strawberry fields. It’s quite strange, the massive change in climate from sea level to 1000 metres, and the change in agriculture is similar in scope. The coast of Bali is a real desert-island kind of climate, with high temperatures and only occasional tropical storms, but up in the mountains it’s delightfully cool and misty. We went out in a canoe on one of the lakes, and it was like one of the scenes in a movie when some elf or other is going through a major life event and drifts off into Avalon. That lasted about four minutes of romantic drifting, then it started tipping down with marble-sized raindrops and we had to paddle like merry hell for the shore.

You don’t see strawberries on sale in much of the rest of the island, but they’re ubiquitous and delicious around the fruit growing area. I would guess that although the roads are perfectly adequate, they’re not really up to the transportation of large quantities of soft fruit without an unacceptable rate of damage and loss. So presumably, there is a facility somewhere which converts the bulk of the crop into puree, jam or juice.

The cool central forest of Bali is also one of the more Islamic regions, with plenty of restaurants advertising their pork-free status and quite a few mosques and other buildings with Arabic writing on signs outside. One of the drivers we hired was a Muslim, and cheerfully opined as we drove along that “Muslim, Hindu, Catholic – it is all the same thing, really, isn’t it?” I didn’t really express either agreement or dissent, but it was yet another or those priceless remarks which are the pundit’s bread and butter – one of the things I’m learning on this trip is that it is actually much more common than I’d thought for drivers to serve up perfect one-liner introductions to a 500 word think piece.

Of course, as a piece of theology, the guy’s views were tonto. Monotheism really isn’t a minor issue in the Koran; not only is it not “the same thing”, Hindus aren’t even people-of-the-book by the standards of Islam. But as an expression of the place of religion in society and the relationship between the religious communities in Balinese society, I’ve no reason to gainsay him. And it is quite strange, when you think about it, to have a polytheistic society sitting there in the middle of the world’s most populous majority-Muslim country. The Islamic religion isn’t all that well known for tolerance of other faiths or for reluctance to proselytise, and the Indonesian state is not exactly known for its reluctance to use unfathomable brutality on people it doesn’t like. My strong suspicion was that despite their pleasant and friendly culture, the Balinese people are in all likelihood not a pushover, and that the reason why nobody had converted them forcibly to Islam was much more likely to be “tried and failed” than “never tried”.

4.Life on the beach

If you ever find yourself with the good fortune to be able to spend six weeks largely at your leisure in a tropical island paradise, I can heartily recommend giving it a go. As JK Galbraith said … “Total physical and mental inertia are highly agreeable, much more so than we allow ourselves to imagine. A beach not only permits such inertia but enforces it, thus neatly eliminating all problems of guilt. It is now the only place in our overly active world that does”. And he knew a thing or two, did JK Galbraith.

There’s a wonderful sort of rhythm to it; wake up, eat fruit for breakfast, spend an hour or two home-schooling the kids, swim, snorkel, walk somewhere for lunch, snooze, swim, read a bit, walk somewhere for dinner, over and over again. We used to chat with the vendors selling toys and jewellery; once we’d bought more or less one of every line they were offering, they kind of gave up on the commercial angle and we learned quite a bit about the state of development and how things were going. My kids played with the Indonesian kids and learned how to arm-wrestle Balinese style. I progressed through a couple of cycles of sunburn, peeling and recovery, darkening by roughly 3 milliPantones every time. You do get a bit bored of fish curry and Bintang beer in the end, but the end is a long time in coming.

5.The ubiquitous swastika

The Second World War more or less passed Bali by – the USS Liberty ran aground fairly near where we were staying, providing a minor tourist asset to the dive schools which grew up there fifty years later. But all in all, although Indonesia was involved, the horrors of that period were very far away, and so although the locals have a dim awareness (mainly from tourists telling them) that other people find it a bit odd that there are swastikas literally everywhere, particularly at religious sites, it’s not something that really means all that much to them. And why should it, I guess, it’s not like I know all that much about the history of Southeast Asia.

At a full-moon ceremony in the village which we visited, crowd control was being handled by a bunch of guys in uniforms, with the word “PECALANG” written on them prominently. As well as being covered in swastikas, the local pecalang had gone for a striking colour scheme of red, white and black, making them look pretty alarming. I was told by an experienced expat not to worry – although they’re wearing swastika uniforms and carrying “ceremonial imitation swords” which to the untrained eye look very like “actual wooden clubs”, in fact they’re just a village-level civil society organisation which handles minor breaches of the peace, antisocial behaviour and any offences that the police force can’t get round to. So they may look like alarming uniformed vigilantes, but they’re actually … Ah well. They handled the crowds very well.

The police force themselves were occasionally visible, proving once and for all that in the favoured activity of soldiers and policemen across SouthEast Asia – standing around wearing sunglasses and looking hard – the Indonesians are the champs. As with Sri Lanka, there’s always a question at the back of your mind when you see these people, along the lines of “I wonder what you got up to, way back then?”

6.Coral diving

We were based at a little set of bungalows looking on to the beach at Amed, on the north-east side of the island. The sea crashed into the black volcanic sand roughly every four seconds and, for the most part, I sat around watching it do so from the shade of the frangipani trees, manfully resisting the constant temptation of the tropics to allow the first drink of the day to get five minutes earlier. From time to time I would grab hold of a snorkel and go swimming, with or without my wife or one of the kids.

Having grown up next to the seaside in North Wales, the South Pacific was something of a culture shock. The moment you put your head under the water, there are fish, everywhere, of all shapes, sizes and colours. And coral in all colours, and blue starfish and all the wonders of the deep. It took us a couple of days to learn the lesson that the coral reefs of the world are a massive area of sharp and painful things to step on, and occasionally burn you with some horrible caustic stuff that leaves marks for days. But once you get the trick of managing to arrange yourself so as to never some into contact with anything, it’s a very fine way to spend an afternoon. My main concern is that, having got used to the amazingly pleasurable sensation of walking into an ocean that feels like it’s roughly at body temperature, am I going to be spoiled for the European seaside for the rest of my life?

7.Laskar Bali

As you drive around the island, there are the usual selection of billboards. One recurring one seemed to feature two blokes standing next to each other, with the combination of black t-shirts, dodgy moustaches and folded arms with flexed biceps that usually denotes an advert for a martial arts school. I quite fancied the idea of watching a local wrestling show, and so I looked them up on the internet. It turns out that “Laskar Bali” (literally “The Bali Army”) are not exactly what I had thought, and the posters are pretty akin to having massive adverts up saying “HURRAY FOR THE MAFIA” or “WHY NOT JOIN THE HELL’S ANGELS!” by the roadside. They started out as the youth wing of a political party, but then then found a new role for themselves as a “Hindu Defense League” after the bomb in 2005, “protecting” the local community from the Muslim threat. Because of the particular organisation of Balinese society and their domestic political background, they have always been treated by the police and army as just another civil society organisation, somewhere between Greenpeace and the pecalang. As is the nature of free-ranging thugs with more or less a blind eye turned by the authorities, they soon realised that it would be reasonably easy for them to become self-financing rather than a drain on Golkar Party resources, and that’s when they sort of split off. They control the local trade in methamphetamine and rule the prisons, with a number of other profitable sidelines in other drugs and even some legitimate businesses. Since they mainly deal to foreign tourists and the main victims of their violent crime are other antisocial elements, they are able to maintain this sort of strange quasi-legitimacy. Apparently the purpose of the posters I kept seeing was to let the locals know which candidate in the elections had the coveted Laskar Bali endorsement.

8.A little town in paradise

When I discussed the itinerary for my round the world trip with people, I would mention that we were going to Indonesia and would occasionally get the reply “what, proper Indonesia, or just Bali?”. To which the answer was “just Bali, thanks, I have three kids”. We did have some vague ideas of travelling around other islands, but were uneasy about dealing with the necessary antimalarials, and our baggage train is just that crucial little bit too big to make for your actual backpacking. So, Bali it was, with a short but memorably emetic excursion over the strait to North Lombok in a small powerboat, which left me feeling iller than I have ever managed to achieve without the aid of distilled spirits.

And there’s really nothing wrong with “just Bali” if you go to the right places. There are parts of the island where more or less totally unplanned tourist development has made things pretty grotty, but that wasn’t where we went. Our little bit of the coast seemed to be about an hour-and-a-half beyond the fringes of the Australian package holiday trade, and was covered with dive schools and a sprinkling of (seemingly largely Swiss-owned) boutique hotels). But the local economy seemed to have not yet reached the tipping point of being entirely dominated by the tourist industry – the fishing boats were, for the most part, still being used to catch fish rather than for joy rides. Someone had lent us an old (1990s vintage) Lonely Planet guide, which described Amed as having excellent diving, but literally no tourist accomodation or restaurants, so we were able to gauge the pace of development pretty exactly. It was clearly accelerating though; bamboo scaffolding was going up everywhere, and quite a few of the guys we talked to had plans for developments of some kind or other, usually based on expanding a second tier of hotels, one road back from the beachfront sites which had obviously been first to develop.

9.Bob Marley in Bali

Down at the beach, there was the “Rasta Cafe”, decked out in green red and gold and covered in paintings of Bob Marley. The proprietors were Indonesians who sported dreadlocks and listened to reggae in their cafe all day, but they didn’t seem to have any of the religious practices I’d usually associate with Rastafarianism – they ate pork, drank alcohol and rode around on astonishingly loud motorbikes. I presume, without having checked, that the Jamaican theme to the cafe was meant to indicate, almost subtly, to passing tourists that you could buy drugs there. I suspect that this is the international branding of the country of Jamaica and suspect that nobody, from Bob Marley on down, would be particularly happy with the way things turned out. I did, however, get a decent joke from the proprietor, who claimed that he had played the triangle in Bunny Wailer’s touring band when they played in Sanur. He was apparently told to stand at the back and ting.



lvlld 01.12.15 at 11:11 pm

My strong suspicion was that despite their pleasant and friendly culture, the Balinese people are in all likelihood not a pushover, and that the reason why nobody had converted them forcibly to Islam was much more likely to be “tried and failed” than “never tried”.

Specifically, the Balinese warrior castes were serious business, and it was actually more a matter of “too busy fighting them here”. After the Mahapajits, Balinese princes had a good amount of success carving out fiefdoms in neighbouring Lombok and East Java.


Hindu Friend 01.13.15 at 3:01 am

No biggie (not gonna burn anything down or anything :-p ) but Hindu views are more complicated than the “polytheistic” view you no doubt learnt in school, e.g.:


Ian 01.13.15 at 3:33 am

Kopi Luwak isn’t originally Balinese, but it’s transplanted nicely thanks to the tourist racket. It began in Western Java, and the few real authorities on Kopi Luwak consider forest-gathered beans shat out by the uncaged luwak of Western Java (there are several varieties of luwak) to be the only genuine article. The price is astronomical. For a long time it was a gimmick for rich pseudo-connoisseurs in Tokyo and Shanghai, but in the early 2000s Oprah publicised it on her show and the fate of thousands of luwak was sealed. They’re actually small civet cats, and like any wild animal they don’t enjoy being confined in small cages, or being confined at all. Forcefeeding geese to engorge their livers is perhaps even more inhumane, but the geese are already domesticated and it’s only the feeding that constitutes torture – luwak OTOH are no more domesticated than Sumatran tigers. Some young middle-class coffee consumers in Indonesia are starting to become concerned at the animal welfare issue of Kopi Luwak, but most Indonesians still see animal welfare as a first world problem.

Nobody AFAIK has ever convincingly shown that Kopi Luwak tastes different from coffee made with identical but non-luwak beans. There are a few nice and sincere people in the industry who’ve deluded themselves that the difference is perceptible, and that marketing such a gimmick doesn’t hurt the reputation of Indonesian coffee more generally, but most of the Kopi Luwak producers are just out for a quick buck. And much of the coffee sold to tourists as “Kopi Luwak” has been nowhere near a luwak’s intestinal tract – but who cares, because expensive = good!

There’s a small amount of reasonable coffee produced in Bali, and in fact the Kintamani region was the first coffee region in Indonesia to get a GI (the bar is set pretty low, but it’s a start). Most of the coffee-growing villages in Kintamani are very conservative and know they don’t have to go to any effort to sell their “Bali Coffee” to middlemen for the tourist traps. But a few villages are being mentored to improve their growing and processing, and the results are impressive although not yet earth-shattering.


Sandwichman 01.13.15 at 4:01 am

“The luwak, as far as I could see, is a small, fluffy, pissed-off-looking doglike animal, which spends its days in a small cage consuming coffee beans and shitting. This reminded me uncomfortably of my civil service career. ”

So true.


derrida derider 01.13.15 at 5:22 am

Yeah, we Australians have wrecked parts of Bali & in time will probably wreck the rest. Sorry about that.


Nine 01.13.15 at 5:30 am

dsquared surely cannot be unaware that the Swastika is a religious symbol connoting “auspiciousness” (whatever the hell that means) in both Hinduism and Buddhism ? I’m pretty sure i’ve seen it in temples in the UK. Its “ubiquity” may just be that as the diaspora – or the religion – disperses in distance and time it clings ever more rigidly and blindly to ritual as they imagine it practiced in the Urhiemat( though it’s probably not a good idea to use the word heimat and swastika together in any context). V. S Naipaul has written about this as it happens in the West Indies as have scholars of religion who have studied syncretism and that sort of thing.


nick s 01.13.15 at 6:12 am

They’re actually small civet cats, and like any wild animal they don’t enjoy being confined in small cages, or being confined at all.

And what was long considered a relatively unendangered species is now under observation to see how the whole caged-coffee-shitting thing does to local populations. Fucking fantastic.

My main concern is that, having got used to the amazingly pleasurable sensation of walking into an ocean that feels like it’s roughly at body temperature, am I going to be spoiled for the European seaside for the rest of my life?

St David’s has a rugby club.


Ian 01.13.15 at 6:49 am

we Australians have wrecked parts of Bali & in time will probably wreck the rest.

You’d better get on with it then! Aussies have wrecked parts of Kuta, Eurotrash fashionistas have wrecked parts of Seminyak, third-rate artists have wrecked parts of Ubud, and middle-class French, German and Russian tourists have wrecked parts of Nusa Dua. That still leaves 98 percent of Bali to get through.

Although bogans and schoolies being obnoxious in Kuta looks pretty crappy, the real responsibility for the wrecking lies with Balinese and Jakartan political and business elites. And they’re still at it – the latest plan to “reclaim” Benoa Bay off Sanur will mean environmental disaster, but a goldmine for some.


yabonn 01.13.15 at 10:10 am

it is actually much more common than I’d thought for drivers to serve up perfect one-liner introductions to a 500 word think piece

We’re…. were losing him!


bad Jim 01.13.15 at 10:27 am

“A beach not only permits such inertia but enforces it, thus neatly eliminating all problems of guilt.”

On my tenth birthday my family ended its transcontinental journey in Laguna Beach. The next morning I woke up in our beachside rental and felt somehow comfortably at home in a place I’d never been before.


Robert 01.13.15 at 11:21 am

I happen to be reading Alex Garland’s The Beach at the moment. As in the movie version, the tourists want to find the perfect beach resort that the tourists have not ruined.

I know about the coffee from a NPR interview with Massimo Marcone back when his book In Bad Taste came out, back in 2010 according to Amazon. I recall some discussion of casu frazigu cheese, an Italian thing.


Grant 01.13.15 at 12:44 pm

And much of the coffee sold to tourists as “Kopi Luwak” has been nowhere near a luwak’s intestinal tract

I believe it was Dave Barry (back when he was funny) who wrote about realizing he was actually worried he might have been being cheated by being served coffee that hadn’tbeen plucked out of cat shit.


Tomas 01.13.15 at 1:03 pm

As it turns out, there is a place so corrupt and inept that Bintang beer can win an award – a championship even. Apparently that place is London, UK.


ray 01.13.15 at 2:16 pm

The answer is, there wasn’t one – on the Bintang label, they are just gold-coloured blobs, of roughly the size and shape of medals and in the same location, but not indicating any victory at all.

If it works for Manchester City…


Theophylact 01.13.15 at 3:21 pm

Vis-à-vis Bintang: dsquared is the guy who thinks Budweiser is beer.


Sumana Harihareswara 01.13.15 at 4:08 pm

On a recent trip to India I had the pleasure of riding in a car being driven by a Karnatakan caterer who looks tremendously like Thomas Friedman. He was generally friendly but not given to platitudes about anything other than making South Indian desserts.

On the other hand, my father, a Hindu priest, was a pretty interfaith-y kind of guy (the local Hindu representative at the municipal Thanksgiving), and I grew up in a house with Vedas, Korans, Bibles, and a general “most of these scriptures basically say the same thing” understanding.


TheSophist 01.13.15 at 5:17 pm

I was given a small quantity of kopi luwak by a student last year (yeah, I have some really wealthy students.) I have to confess that I really did think it tasted wonderful. No, I didn’t do a blind taste test. I also encountered it in a cafe in Warsaw (!) where I didn’t think it tasted special, and thought of the Simpsons episode where Homer visits the Duff brewery and discovers that Duff, Duff Lite, and Duff NA all come from the same vat.


TheSophist 01.13.15 at 5:19 pm

Oh, and also, can DD please post the NZ episode before I go there in mid-march? I find these pieces absolutely fascinating. (yes, of course the posting schedule should be dictated by the whims of CT commentators.)


Cosma Shalizi 01.13.15 at 6:02 pm

I’ve heard Muslims from the sub-continent and even Afghanistan say that Hindus are “really” monotheists whose scriptures basically say the same thing as those of the peoples of the book, the different members of the pantheon being so many aspects of the divine; at least one described the appearance of polytheism as a mere poetic exaggeration of the 99 names/attributes of God. How wide-spread this idea is, and whether it’s found any expression in formal theology or religious law, I couldn’t begin to say.


js. 01.13.15 at 6:15 pm

I’ve heard Muslims from the sub-continent and even Afghanistan say that Hindus are “really” monotheists

In my experience, this is mostly held by liberal (culturally and politically), not-really-practicing Muslims (at least in India). It might be held by religious Muslims as well, but I would guess only by a small minority. On the other hand, my experience is pretty limited, so I could be very wrong.


bianca steele 01.13.15 at 6:18 pm

I remember a Hindu friend saying something along those lines, around the time of the museum show “Manifestations of Shiva.” (And on the other side, there are (or were) lots of Westerners who adapted Hindu literature to their humanism without necessarily abandoning Christian faith.)


js. 01.13.15 at 8:04 pm

I’m also a little surprised that you were surprised by the “ubiquitous swastika”. You see it everywhere in India too, often outside gates and doorways etc. (I remember reading/hearing that it’s oriented differently, but I can’t quite picture it now. And anyway, the orientation wouldn’t undo the shocking effect of one weren’t used to seeing it.)


iolanthe 01.14.15 at 12:17 am

Can I put in a vote in favour of Bintang? In Indonesia it goes down very nicely and is perfectly suited for the climate and food. What you should never do is make the mistake of drinking outside the country when I would concur absolutely. Why this is the case I have no idea – I presume it’s the same product in both cases.


derrida derider 01.14.15 at 3:52 am

dsqsuared’s trollery is not quite up to scratch in this post. To troll properly you must begin with a patent insincerity (“Bud is good – no, honest”), perhaps attributed to a moustachioed cab driver, then go on to question the intellect, morals and ancestry of anyone unwise enough to try and correct you.

All those who have sampled it in sober comfort know Bintang is crap; it would have to be a rotten climate or worse food that could warp your judgement enough to believe otherwise. Admittedly, though, it is no worse than our own worst beer (Fosters – the one we flog to desperate poms trying to get drunk to escape THEIR rotten climate and cuisine).


js. 01.14.15 at 5:01 am

I for one would rather have a Budweiser (or a Foster’s) than some 360 minute IPA specially made from hops that had been digested and shat by a wildcat.


Ian 01.14.15 at 7:41 am

TheSophist @18: Oh, and also, can DD please post the NZ episode before I go there in mid-march?

I can tell you what the NZ instalment will say: “Nice scenery, but the people are ghastly: they spend all their time watching Coronation Street, and driving around in second-hand Hillman Avengers.” DD may not actually believe this, but it’s been the mandatory line for UK scribblers visiting New Zealand ever since Anthony Trollope. The British Council has a stand in the arrivals hall of Auckland airport where you can pick up a copy of the script.

Given that the majority of CT’s readers seem to be American and may not be fully attuned to the semiotics of the Hillman Avenger, it’s possible that DD will be allowed to throw in a Hobbit reference to keep the groundlings quiet. We shall see.


dsquared 01.14.15 at 8:30 am

26: you do me a disservice sir! My main interest in NZ, like every other decent Welshman, is to work out how the hell it’s possible to make a decent middle class living out of sheep farming. I was also planning on investigating the strange set of customs and beliefs which surround the sacred concept of “clearing out at a ruck”, a quasi-religious Kiwi concept which involves pretending that there’s a section in the rules of Rugby Union which allows you to sometimes wander into an offside position and try to break someone’s neck.


Zamfir 01.14.15 at 9:31 am

I am intrigued, is there something culturally special about the Avenger? Compared to, say, a Kadett or Escort from the same days?


dsquared 01.14.15 at 9:51 am

I can add that, after a month of driving round listening to Maori radio, I can confirm that in the tapestry of Pakeha influences on their culture, Fleetwood Mac’s “Tango in the Night” album seems to have been the greatest success.


Phil 01.14.15 at 10:15 am

“Laskar Bali” (literally “The Bali Army”)

They’re not by any chance into cricket? Or Sheena Easton?


TheSophist 01.14.15 at 2:56 pm

I’ll be leading a company of 13 dwarves (sorry, got carried away there, I mean American High School students) around NZ. They will be expecting me to regularly drop pearls of wisdom such as “it is possible in NZ to make a decent middle-class living farming sheep because…”, so I urgently await the next installment.


Naadir Jeewa 01.14.15 at 3:13 pm


I’m pretty sure we were taught Hinduism-as-monotheism* in secondary school too and on a visit to a mandir in East London. I don’t think this understanding originates from Muslims at all.

* all gods being the expression of one supreme being.


sanbikinoraion 01.14.15 at 4:04 pm

I didn’t really talk to the locals in NZ, to be honest. We didn’t see all that many – we were there in late winter / early spring and so there were barely any tourists around either. The few we did interact with generally disliked us because we were “freedom camping” and they were running the local tourist information.

I have to say that most of NZ’s towns are pretty horrible aesthetically — strips along a main street lined with neon-coloured false-front billboards. Not quite run down enough to be charming; even my grim northern hometown of Doncaster comes off better by comparison.

Re: middle class lifestyles – one thing NZ has going for it is *ludicrously* low property prices.


sanbikinoraion 01.14.15 at 4:05 pm

(And hurray, I finally managed to comment on a D2 post before comments were switched off!)


Phil 01.14.15 at 5:18 pm

So we’re basically looking at “There is one God (who may manifest and be worshipped under different aspects, some of which really need pictures) and Mohammed is his Prophet (although other prophets are available)”. Chilled Islam – I like it.

My daughter’s a Manichean, although since she’s never heard of Mani or his heresy she refers to herself as a ditheist (pronounced roughly “die, theist!”). Her creed (which she came up with it all by herself as far as I can tell) is that there’s lots of good and happiness in the world but also lots of evil and misery, so if there is any God at all there must be two of the blighters. I’ve argued with her (in a rather half-hearted spirit of “I don’t believe in any of it but I particularly don’t believe in that“), but she’s unshakeable. When she reads “The Snowball Effect” and ditheism sweeps the globe, remember you heard it here first.


albert 01.14.15 at 7:50 pm

how the hell it’s possible to make a decent middle class living out of sheep farming

The dominant strategy for the past fifteen years seems to be to sell the sheep and start milking cows instead.

one thing NZ has going for it is *ludicrously* low property prices

n.b. may not apply in cities of 150,000 or greater.


ZM 01.14.15 at 10:07 pm

I am surprised to hear it is so unusual elsewhere to make a decent living farming sheep. One of my uncles farmed sheep and plenty of other people in Australia farm sheep too. What is the problem that prevents successful sheep farming in other countries?*

*Sheep farming globally needs to decline due to methane being a greenhouse gas


Ian 01.14.15 at 11:58 pm

Zamfir @28: Not culturally special, rather the apotheosis of unspecialness. Sort of like an Escort I guess, but more naff. With a touch of Lada or Yugo.


Ian 01.15.15 at 12:41 am

After the above distraction, I looked again at the OP and remembered I wanted to comment on Laskar Bali. Although LB has its own characteristics , it doesn’t really derive from “the peculiar organisation of Balinese society” – groups running a mix of political muscle and protection rackets are common in many parts of Indonesia. There are some prominent ones in Jakarta and an infamous nationwide one, Pancasila Youth, which provided the thugs that feature in the film An Act of Killing. The mentality seems to go back to organised street crime in the Dutch colonial era, which fed into the creation of popular militias during the 4-year chaos of the war of independence immediately after WWII. The Australian academic Ian Wilson (not me, btw) is about to publish a book on the Jakarta gangs, which is likely to be definitive – google his name and Jakarta gangster for useful short articles.

LB claims to be the defender of Hindus if it suits them, but non-Hindus (both Muslim and Christian) have such a presence in the lucrative tourist zones that overplaying the sectarian card would make LB’s political allies very uncomfortable. I suspect LB’s real break came in 2008, when an ex-senior cop was elected Bali’s governor. The ex-cop had been in charge of the successful investigation into the 2002 bombing, and was a competent and professional policeman – but he played politics the traditional way, and used his personal networks to reinforce the nexus between party politicians, police and racketeers. Then towards the end of his first term, for reasons I know nothing of, the governor jumped ship and joined the Golkar party, which is relatively weak in Bali. For his re-election bid in 2013 he therefore needed all the help he could get. LB came in as old-style enforcers, reminding neighbourhoods associated with the governor’s former party that the vote count from ballot boxes in each neighbourhood would be noted and remembered. The governor scraped home in the run-off with something like 50% plus a few votes.

So LB is now owed more favours. Concurrent with the above, the drug trade in Bali has been shifting into more hard drugs, apparently with the ready involvement of certain Australian bikie gangs, whose members seem to get easy access to Bali without questions from police or immigration. LB makes no secret of its cooperation with and mentorship by Aussie bikies, although of course LB is against drugs and would not be associated with any criminal activity, it’s a responsible community organisation…

The above is certainly not the full story, and I’m not sure where the chicken/egg division lies. I’ve seen LB’s in-your-face billboards in Denpasar city, but it’s surprising that they’ve appeared in the tourist areas – there must be an element of “Because we can” there.


MC 01.16.15 at 1:07 pm

For all the talk of Hinduism as monotheism vs. polytheism, everyone has failed to mention that Balinese Hinduism has almost nothing to do with subcontinental Hinduism. It is essentially the animism of the Bali Aga, Bali’s earliest inhabitants, with some names appropriated from the Ramayana. At the core of Balinese Hindu faith is the belief in sekala and niskala (the human realm and the spirit realm, roughly) and the gifts of offerings, called banter, to ancestors. Wholly unlike Hinduism elsewhere in nearly every way. The old joke in Bali is that when the government began mandating a choice of religion on the official state-issued ID card, the Balinese knew they weren’t Muslim or Christian and chose whatever was left. Hindu in name only.

Also, “the Second World War more or less passed Bali by”? Nein. From Wiki, for lack of a more convenient source:

“Imperial Japan occupied Bali during World War II. It was not originally a target in their Netherlands East Indies Campaign, but as the airfields on Borneo were inoperative due to heavy rains, the Imperial Japanese Army decided to occupy Bali, which did not suffer from comparable weather. The island had no regular Royal Netherlands East Indies Army (KNIL) troops. There was only a Native Auxiliary Corps Prajoda (Korps Prajoda) consisting of about 600 native soldiers and several Dutch KNIL officers under command of KNIL Lieutenant Colonel W.P. Roodenburg. On 19 February 1942 the Japanese forces landed near the town of Senoer [Senur]. The island was quickly captured.[20]

During the Japanese occupation, a Balinese military officer, Gusti Ngurah Rai, formed a Balinese ‘freedom army’. The harshness of war requisitions made Japanese rule more resented than Dutch rule.[21] Following Japan’s Pacific surrender in August 1945, the Dutch returned to Indonesia, including Bali, to reinstate their pre-war colonial administration. This was resisted by the Balinese rebels, who now used recovered Japanese weapons. On 20 November 1946, the Battle of Marga was fought in Tabanan in central Bali. Colonel I Gusti Ngurah Rai, by then 29 years old, finally rallied his forces in east Bali at Marga Rana, where they made a suicide attack on the heavily armed Dutch. The Balinese battalion was entirely wiped out, breaking the last thread of Balinese military resistance.”

The Japanese used Bali as a strategic base for further jaunts into the South Pacific. In the time they were there, the Balinese led several extremely bloody uprisings against the occupying army. Many Indonesian girls were also taken by the Japanese as comfort women (at one point in the War, the Japanese also took Dutch boys from their homes for the same purpose…).

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