Friday, December 19, 2014

What Really Happens in Bali




A more appropriate title would be “Australians acting like idiots overseas”.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Have you ever bought someone a house?


Neither have we but I bet we can make a difference for Boni, Titi & Ho, the three gifted, charismatic street musicians in this feature-length documentary called JALANAN which is a drama/comedy/romance/musical all rolled into one. Although they're living on the streets of Jakarta, struggling to hack out a basic living in the margins of society, they don't act like victims or grow bitter but retain their cheeky personalities, their hopeful spirit and their good hearts. They laugh more than most wealthy people I know. They celebrate life. They are an inspiration to us all!

The producer of the movie tried to think how he could improve their lives through this film. To be sure, the awareness that it generates will benefit – at least in a small way – their immediate community, and perhaps even marginalized people in other places too. A film doesn’t fix lives, but it can bring acknowledgement, which for many of these people is really all they ask.

But he still wanted to find a way of leaving them with a better life after the film than they had before it. While they will always be responsible for their fate and need to continue working hard and acting responsibly, he wanted to do his part in helping them move forward in life.

Assisting them financially seems logical, but he had learned through years of experimentation that handing them money – as in cash – never works. No matter how much you give, it’s gone two weeks later. And it’s not even their fault: as soon as they come into any sort of money, they're under intense pressure from family members, friends and neighbors to help them out. Indeed, in Indonesian culture it would be unthinkable not to.

So any money he gives them inevitably ends up helping a cousin make payments on his motorbike, a neighbor fix her roof, or a sibling buy new clothing. None of this is bad, of course, but it meant that just days after a modest financial windfall, those buskers were no better off than they were before. He found this frustrating and wanted to find some form of assistance that would be for them, and wouldn’t just disappear.

So he decided to try to buy them each a house. Something that will be theirs to keep. A place they can live or rent out or raise kids in. It won’t be large or fancy or even in a good neighborhood, because he won’t realistically be able to raise that kind of money. But Boni, Titi & Ho are humble individuals accustomed to living simply (Boni lived in a sewage tunnel for 10 years) so just owning a home, no matter how modest, will be a dream come true.

A house with a legitimate land certificate is also a much harder thing to take away from them. The certificates will be deposited with a third party so that the buskers cannot be pushed into pawning off their property no matter how intense the pressure may be from those around them. With lives that are constantly in flux, their houses should be the one non-negotiable asset that stays with them forever.

A simple one-bedroom house in a low-income neighborhood in Jakarta will cost at least $15,000 and so the overall fundraising target will be $50,000. If a thousand people each put up $50, Boni, Titi and Ho's lives will be turned around for ever!

We at "Riverbend" Cottage want to be part of this transformation and decided that for every booking we receive from now on, we will donate $50 in our guests' names to Boni, Titi and Ho's Housing Fund.

So next time somebody books themselves a holiday at "Riverbend" Cottage, they won't just have a wonderful time but also leave feeling proud and warm and fuzzy inside for having made a difference to three young people's lives. And since the donation is in their name, they will also receive a copy of the movie JALANAN when it is released on DVD.


Donated so far:
  • US$50 on behalf of Michelle & James Thompson
  • US$50 on behalf of Elaine & Mike Maffei
  • US$50 on YOUR behalf?



P.S. Of course, they don't have to stay at "Riverbend" Cottage to make a donation. They can also directly DONATE HERE. And if they have been touched by Boni, Titi and Ho's story, we hope they will tell their friends!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Edge of Bali


Three people travel to Bali for very different reasons. All three are on the edge, unsure of whether they should stay in Bali any longer, but are increasingly drawn into the heart of this complex and alluring island. One of the three travellers in the story states with contempt:

"The hotel’s farthest fence had a gate that led to the beach, and there, too, its billboard reminded you that inside it was the way you want Bali to be. And eat your heart out everyone else, because Bali isn’t the way you want it to be. Bali has dirt and poverty and armies of hustlers trying to make a dollar, and if you can’t get behind a big, wealthy wall you can’t miss it."

I have often wondered what Bali was like before it became fouled by tourism. Before plastic accumulated in refuse dumps outside of each family compound. Before, when the tropical air wasn’t filled with billowing, yellow smoke as families burned their garbage alongside the road every night.

The Edge of Bali is a classic example of a book that should never have gone out of print.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Germans are laughing in my bloody pool bar so I won't be there this year ...


... but I try again next year!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Roaming in the gloaming

Roaming is the word used to describe using your mobile phone on another network for a short period, while still being billed by your existing provider. Your mobile phone number remains the same while roaming. When you are roaming on another network the temporary mobile phone company will bill your usual mobile phone company for calls you make while roaming on their network. (Note: It is important to note that even calls you receive while roaming when you are overseas may be charged to you and not to the caller.)

Here's my advice: DON'T ROAM! Using your Australian mobile phone in Indonesia and switching to roaming can be prohibitively expensive. I have heard of instances where a tourist's roaming bill amounted to more than all his airfares and hotel expenses combined!

What to do?

1) As soon as you arrive in Bali (or wherever), remove your Australian SIM card from your mobile phone. (Keep it in a safe place as you will want to re-insert it as soon you have arrived back in Australia.)

2) Buy a prepaid Indonesian phone card. They come in various denominations and start from as low as Rp.6000 (about 60 cents) and you can always top up later on. The "3" card has the most extensive coverage in Bali. Other providers may offer better coverage in other parts of Indonesia. The "3" card is sold in countless shops all over the island.

3) Insert the new phone card in your mobile phone. Now call your friends and tell them your new mobile number which is written on the wrapper of the card. All incoming calls while in Indonesia are FREE, regardless of where they originate. You pay the local rate for local calls and a very low rate for calls to Australia. Unlike home, your Indonesian SIM card is prepaid so there is no need for a contract. On completion of each call, the provider sends you an SMS which tells you how much credit you have left. You can top up your credit by paying an additional amount of money at any one of the many shops selling the "3" card.

Please note: the shopkeeper who sells you the card will probably tell you but just in case he doesn't, here's how you make an overseas call (e.g. to Australia): dial 01088, followed by the country code for Australia 61, followed by the area code, say 2 for Sydney, followed by the actual phone number.

P.S. Your Indonesia SIM Card requires a SIM-unlocked GSM 1800 compatible international cell phone. If you have a locked compatible GSM phone, you can easily unlock it. To do so, visit

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Banjar Hills Retreat is now under German management


My favourite hide-away in the cool hills of northern Bali has been for many years the small Banjar Hills Retreat - read here how I first discovered it.

It has recently come under German management. Ralf Pelzner and Anke Sawalies came to Bali for the very first time five months ago. Back in Germany they had been waxing bodies - see here - , now they are waxing lyrical about Bali. After just one night's stay, they had fallen in love with Banjar Hills and leased it for the next two years with an option to buy (of course, no foreigner in Indonesia can "buy" real estate which is something else they've yet to discover - click here).

As they don't speak the local language, know nothing of the local customs, and, most important of all, have not yet been confronted by the everchanging imigrasi rules which require them to maintain valid residency permits and working visas, they're facing many problems, all of which reminds me of this little story:

The Devil appeared to a man on his deathbed. “I’m going to give you a choice between Heaven and Hell,” he said. “And just to make it fair, I’m going to let you see them first.”

And there it was, Heaven, just as it was supposed to be: halos, harps, the lot; pleasant but dull.

Hell, however, looked terrific: drinking, music, dancing girls.

“I’ll take Hell,” the man said.

After he had died, though, Hell turned out to be exactly what you would have imagined it to be in the first place: flames, screams, demons, pitchforks.

“Wait a minute,” the man complained, “this isn’t what it looked like before.”

“No,” the Devil said, “but then you were a visitor; now you're a resident.”

I had blogged about their potential problems but was immediately shouted down by them in an email full of capitalised letters, even though only a few months earlier I had given them a well-meaning recommendation on Well, it didn't assuage Ralf's fierce Teutonic anger. "UNVERSCHÄMTHEIT!!!" (impertinence), he screamed in capitalised umlauts and demanded that I IMMEDIATELY take down his facebook photo which, even though in the public domain, is, according to him, "VERBOTEN" under German law to be shown anywhere else.

Well, Ralf, as an "inn-keeper" you had better get used to being a public figure who can no longer invoke Lèse-majesté! However, I do realise it's time for me to find myself another Bali hide-away, one that is run by charming Balinese, and leave Banjar Hills Retreat to those Germans and their laws! Which is just as well because Ralf has already put up the room rate by 30% to 450,000 - that's rupiahs not Deutsch-Marks!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Is Bali bursting?

The Jakarta Post warns that Bali will soon reach a saturation point in terms of its carrying capacity, natural resources and physical space.

A lecturer from Bali’s Udayana University Tourism School, Nyoman Sukma Arida, said: "There have been crucial changes in Balinese culture and the lives of its people due to the flood of tourists and tourism development.”

Bali’s population is now estimated at 4 million, a number that does no include a large floating expatriate population and the daily influx of tourist visitors, both foreign and domestic, approaching 10 million in the course of a year.

Arida continued warning that massive exploitation of water and food resources is taking place. ”Tourist visitors are massive consumers of fresh water, using 1,500 litres per day while the Balinese only need 120 litres per day," he said.

The Bali Hotels Association says its members consume 50,000 cubic meter of water each day.

The tourism academic also warns that Bali’s agricultural lands are vanishing as they are converted for residential and tourism developments.

According to Arida, efforts by the province to earn special autonomous region status for the Island have been unsuccessful. Those supporting the special status for Bali argued that it would provide more central government funding needed to curb uncontrolled development and protect the Island’s natural state.

Also unsuccessful have been efforts by Bali’s governor to introduce a moratorium on new hotel projects in the Island’s south, efforts opposed by the regent of Badung who insists new hotels provide for a wider tax base despite a ponderous over-supply of rooms.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Will there ever be a bogan-free Bali?


Every week, 16,000 rude, lewd Aussies and their badly behaved children head to the Indonesian island of Bali, filling its beaches, bars and hotels.

You meet your first Bali bogan, covered in tatts and wearing a Bintang beer singlet, at the airport in Australia. Then the party gets started on the plane as they crack open their duty-free Jim Beam in the air. By the time they land, they are totally paralytic. Bloated and burping, they stumble into the Bali airport, groping the beautifully dressed women greeting passengers with flower garlands on the way past.

These Bali bogans will spend their holiday bartering in markets for beer coasters, polyester soccer outfits and cotton dresses, enjoying the power play of bartering stall holders down from $10 each to $6 for two. They’ll feel important when they take a 90c taxi ride and tell the driver to keep the change from $1. They’ll talk in temples, ignore signs requesting they don’t take photos, and put tomato sauce on everything.

They’re easy to spot because the dads have lots of tatts, mums have beer guts, and the kids have rat’s tails and corn rows in their hair. It’s no wonder locals feel Bali is in danger of losing its identity in its bid to chase the Aussie tourist dollar.

This is most evident on the streets of Kuta, where bar after bar is packed with Aussies drinking all night long. When bars close in the early hours, they spill noisily into the streets, vomiting in the gutters before passing out on the footpaths. Then they wake up the next day and do it all over again. They don’t care that the man paid to clean their vomit earns less than the price of one beer a day.

They have no interest in trying to understand what life is like for the Balinese. Do the Balinese secretly hate us for turning them all into our servants? What does the man whose job it is to hang out in the bar toilets and refold the end of the toilet paper into a triangle want out of life? Is he happy?

The reality is that the Balinese need our Aussie tourist dollars, but it comes at a high price. The wealth that’s pouring into the country isn’t shared, and it’s just forced the majority of workers into low-paying manual service jobs. This inequality may just be a fact of life in Asian countries, but the problem is that many Aussies have stopped seeing the Balinese as people and instead see them as little more than our servants.

I reckon the bogans should just stay home, and clean up their own vomit.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

I've been to Bali too - but not this year!

(turn up sound and click on full screen)


Bali to me is the small village of Tegehe in the foothills south of Lovina. Denpasar and Kuta have become such congested, noisy hellholes that it is hard to image anybody staying there of their own free will.

Kuta comes as a culture shock - or more like a lack-of-culture shock: it's a jungle of pumping bars, nightclubs, restaurants, tattoo and piercing parlours, surfwear and novelty T-short and junky art shops. And it is full of seriously inebriated Aussies in Bintang singlets, staggering from the Aussie Koala Bar to the Aussie Kangaroo Bar.

On a much earlier visit I thought it would be nice to see the famous sunset, and so I headed down to the famous, or infamous depending on which way you look at it, Kuta Beach. In all my travels, I'd never seen such a jam-packed beach. Walls and walls of bodies walked, sat, laid and squished together on the sand, with smiling locals handing out small envelopes containing letters that read, "CONGRATULATIONS you have won a video camera. And one week's accommodation." Ah yes, timeshares are alive and well in Bali.

As I said, for me Bali is a small village in the foothills south of Lovina but there won't be any jalan jalan (literally 'walk, walk') this year. Maybe the next.


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Bali - as it used to be

Bali, the island of love, Part 1

Bali, the island of love, Part 2

Bali, the island of love, Part 3

Bali, the island of love, Final Part

Travelogue (Part 1)

Travelogue (Part 2)

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Heaven can wait

Yours truly. Why buy when you can rent?


If you have visited Bali and discovered its amazing natural beauty and low cost of living, and then considered buying real estate on the island, you are far from alone. The departure lounge at the Denpasar Airport is always filled with people trying to sort out how they’ll one day exchange their current hectic life for one of bliss and simplicity in this magical place.

Unfortunately, moving to or investing in Bali can be a complicated process. Indonesian laws strictly prohibit foreigners from owning land in the country, although this situation morphs a bit each year.

Bali is loaded with foreigners who love living on the island, but there are also many tales of people who fell victim to fraud, so this isn’t something anyone should consider doing on a whim. And certainly not in a hurry, as a certain German couple did when they signed up for a lease and purchase option on my favourite little hotel in North Bali, all in a couple of days - click here.

Apart from what can be quite a nasty expat community, there are real estate frauds and more real estate frauds aplenty, so, before you sign anything or hand over any money, read about real estate agents and follow some of the forum discussions and read some of the countless newspaper articles here and here.

There are plenty of true stories here and here and elsewhere, so my advice to you is: don't trust anyone!.

Don't even trust me; GOOGLE for it yourself:


Monday, March 10, 2014

They came, they saw, they leased


My favourite hide-away in the cool hills of northern Bali now has a resident lessee from Oldenburg in Germany!

Ralf Pelzner and Anke Sawalies came to Bali for the very first time two months ago. They came to stay at Banjar Hills and ask the obvious question "How much?"

It must have been infatuation at first sight because what they really wanted to know was how much it would cost to buy the place!

As it turned out, the asking price was rather more than they could afford, so they leased it instead - initially for two years, with an option to extend the lease or buy the property outright ("investing" in Indonesian real estate is fraught with danger for non-citizens - see here - so the next two years will give them enough time to check it all out before they buy - if they ever do!)

They've just been back to sign the lease and will take up permanent residence in mid-June. Will there be a new menu? ☺