Sunday, July 15, 2007

Indonesian Customs

Once again, Indonesian officialdom has struck.

C returned last night from Perth and had a stopover at Bali International airport. She was bringing back a 4 year old Denon amplifier that I had bought not long before we left Australia and had put into storage. Grace (the storage people) were great. They opened up the container, found the item, made sure it was packaged properly, stuck fragile stickers all over it and had it ready for C when she went out to their Kewdale office in Perth.

So far so good.

Arriving in Bali, C was accosted by a customs official who told her that second hand goods were not allowed into Indonesia. She protested, saying that the stated value of US$250.00 allowed items on the customs document covered the item. No, was the response, this only applied to clothing. He then made her go to an office, whereupon everyone else disappeared, then gave her a grilling. C told him we had been living in Indonesia for 4 years, the item was old, and as far as she knew, customs allowed goods such as this in. The customs official told her that she was mistaken.

C rang me on her mobile and asked me what to do. It was frustrating, but I gave her the only advice I could. Pay him, I said, ask what the “fine” is. I rang a friend who told me that the customs official was lying, but what could we do?

C got off the phone whereupon he asked if I was Indonesian. When she said no, a mistake she told me later, he visibly relaxed, and kept on about it not being allowed in. Finally C asked the question: “is there a fine I can pay?” He asked how much she had on her and she told him only Rp100, 000 or AU$50.00 (she actually had more but knew if she said so he would want it all). Foreign currency is fine he said, and C placed the note on his desk. He pocketed it and said "of course you realise I can’t give you a receipt as these are second hand goods". The box was put on her trolley and she was ushered from the office.

C said she was quite upset later but I admire her. She held her own and didn’t get fazed nor lose her temper. It could have been worse, but she got through it.

So, the question is, was he right in saying she was not allowed to bring in second hand electronic goods? It will be interesting to find out.


Travel Advice : A response

My cousin Sam who works for Australian Foreign Affairs provides an alternative view to the recent travel warnings/advice I mentioned earlier. As a reasoned response to my jaundiced and somewhat cynical view of Howard and his goverment, it deserves placing on the page.

Interesting points, but I thought maybe I could give you my perspective on the issue.
1. Sorry to be a nit-picker, but the Australian government hasn't issued a new travel warning for Indonesia, it simply added a new paragraph to the existing travel advice. The advice is updated all the time. That this advice contained new wording regarding terrorism meant that it was picked up and widely broadcast by the media. The advice, in fact, has not changed substantively from the previous advice.
2. Regarding relationships between countries, the Australian Government's stated policy regarding travel advice is that politics is not taken into consideration when formulating the advice. The purpose of the advice is to provide information to Australian travellers and Australian ex-pats living abroad. Whether Australia wants to have good relations with another country or not bears no relation to the information in the advice - and nor should it. If the government were to base the advice on the strength (or desired strength) of the bilateral relationship, then the advice would have no credibility whatsoever. (Of course, some people might argue it already lacks credibility, but making the advice political would make it distinctly less credible).
3. Australians will always come to Bali, no matter what happens. A friend of mine recently had a conversation with a hotel manager in Bali who said that they had no problem getting bookings from Australia, but the customers have difficulties getting seats on flights to Bali. Most flights into Bali are fully booked well in advance, meaning the limit on tourist numbers is caused [not] by the travel advice, but the lack of flight services between the two countries.
Anyway, I'm sure you won't agree with some of the above, but that's my two cents anyway. You might like to read the travel advice in it's original form at:
www.smartraveller.gov.au , where Australians living abroad are strongly encouraged to register with their embassy {hint, hint :) }.

I guess after so many years of listening and watching Howard reduce Australia to a shadow of its former self, one questions his motives on everything. It is difficult to trust a man who has made so many decisions based on political expediency rather than any moral or heart felt ideology.

Sam makes the point that travel advice needs to be clear of any political considerations. I would agree whole heartedly with him, yet there is still that niggling feeling that this might be yet another cynical orchestration of the Howard government. His primary guiding principle in holding on to power has been to create fear. Over the years we have witnessed far too many times the mastery he has exhibited in creating a climate of fear in order to win the day. Fear of Mabo, of refugees, of terrorists, of interest rates, of Hicks, of the unknown and so on.

I would like to think Sam is right in that the recent update was made purely in the interests of traveling and expat Australians. It would certainly cast a different slant on the government in regards to its care and concern of its citizens both at home and abroad. I guess we can but hope that this is indeed the case.

Thanks for the comment Sam :)


Friday, July 13, 2007

This Week

C is in Perth at the moment, her last workshop at Murdoch University for the course she is doing. She left last Saturday and ended up spending over 8 hours at Bali international as Garuda was seriously delayed. Poor thing. She later told me she went in to Kuta for awhile but on getting back to the airport the flight had been delayed yet again. In two weeks time she starts her prac in primary at my school. I think she will do really well; she works hard at her studies and is very conscientious.

It’s been a busy week with the kids. I went back to work on Wednesday and had to leave them in their nannys care. They have been good but are starting to get on each others nerves, with Lil D causing all sorts of ructions with his older sister. Lil C is quite a sensitive little soul and will usually do the big sister thing with him, is quite patient etc and tries to sort him out but I noticed this week she was not nearly as accommodating as usual. Too much time spent together these holidays I guess.

Tonight Lil D threw a mini tantrum on going to bed and it took quite awhile to settle him. He is such a lovely kid, but when he decides to spit the dummy, all you can do is try to calm him and not lose your temper. He didn’t want to brush his teeth, didn’t want to say goodnight, and insisted Patsy put him to bed. Finally he did brush, did say good night but with an obvious reluctance.

They start school again next Monday and I’m sure once they do things will settle down again. One of the things about living here is that they don’t have much opportunity to go and play at others houses. School takes care of that so hopefully next week will see them both on top again.


Travel Warning

Once again, the Australian government has put its foot forward and issued a new travel warning for Indonesia. Afterwards it was a matter of vague assurances, protestations of doing it for the public good etc, and yet they must know full well that by issuing such a warning they are damaging the relationship between the two countries. I got an sms from my sister in Brisbane who asked me if I was okay and to be careful. Seems it got quite the beat up on Australian news. Not sure why they would issue such a warning, I haven’t heard anything, nor has there been anything in the local press but today I did read that arch foe of the US, Al Q, is planning on new attempts on American soil. Might be something in it, not sure, but in the current climate Australia’s warning is not a good way of bridging the gap between it and Indonesia.

If something does happen, then so be it. One does tend to adopt a fatalistic attitude while living here. But who knows? In the meantime, the tourist industry is hurt, and Bali is socked in the jaw again. However, I gather that tourist numbers in Bali from other countries aside from Australia are starting to climb to pre bomb figures, so that’s a good thing. I hope.

In Surabaya all is quiet, no demo’s, no jumping about, but as the incidents usually happen in the time around October, it really is a matter of wait and see.


New Computer

I’ve had my old computer for 4 years now and tended it carefully over that time. It has served me well but is now hopelessly outdated, and starting to show the blue screen of death every now and then. Rather than try to upgrade it I made the decision to put together a completely new rig from case inwards. After some hunting around and spending quite a bit of time on the net, I put together a new computer wish list.

Last Friday I went off to the city to the computer mall, four floors of computer shops selling everything and anything you could possibly want in a computer and its addons.

It’s a huge place and you do wonder how these hundreds of small shops make a buck as you pass them by. There is so much choice that in the end it’s exhausting trying to make sense of where to go. Some time ago when hunting for a second hard drive, I found the best option was to bring along few copies of a print out of what I wanted, show it to a few stores and wait while they put together a price list. Interestingly enough, prices do vary, and it takes a few hours to get an all round picture of complete cost. The idea is you wander in to a shop, sit on one of the small stools in front of a desk, hand over the paper with details to one of the girls behind the desk, and then they get on the phone to a number of different suppliers, punch out some numbers on their calculator and then give you the price. Never did work out who or where the supplier is, all quite mysterious. The girls usually don’t really know what they are selling being shop girls hired to just sell the items, though at times you will find someone who actually does know and if not too busy is willing to sit down and go through the list with you, giving advice etc.

Did the same this time and spent ages wandering around going into shops, handing over the wish list then settling in for a long wait while they get on the phone. Got some reasonable prices and was going to go home and have a think about it all when by pure chance I came across a small shop, more a hole in the wall, run by a couple of computer enthusiasts.

They knew their products, knew their prices and were willing to sit around and chat about the merits of each and every part. On a few items they made some suggestions, gave me brochures, and send then sent me on my way. Back home, I got on the net and sure enough, their advice was sound. So, emailed them and they started to put the new rig together on the Saturday. On Monday I went in again and picked up my gleaming new computer. Just the case and its innards, didn’t need a screen as already have an LCD, speakers etc.

This is what I ended up with:

Abit Fatality FP-IN9 SLI motherboard

Passat Geforce 8800 GTS graphics card

Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 CPU

Hitachi TravelStar 160GB SATA II hard drive

Patriot 2GB PC6400 DDR2/800 Dual Channel Memory

Silverstone ST50EF (500W) Power supply

20X Double Layer DVD + RW (LITE-ON)

Case: i - Cute 0509ULA-5G1-BB (Fan Side Panel 25CM)

This computer is fast. Super fast.

I have the case sitting on my desk and its whisper quiet, yet roars through the games etc as I put it through its paces. The graphics are stunning, the frame rate is brilliant, and I just love the gleaming black casing that surrounds this monster. I am certain this computer will last me another four years so it was worth the extra cost of getting good parts, and most importantly, a good graphics card. The card is still considered to be middle of the road but at around US $350.00 I consider it to be high road! In the States computers are far cheaper than they are in Indonesia which is cheaper to some extent than Australia. For instance, I gather this same card in the States will go for around US$250.00. Go figure. Still, it is a powerful little beast for me, after running an MX440 on an AMD XP2200!

I’m really enjoying this computer and will probably load up a few games I haven’t been able to play on my old one. At the moment I’m playing “Call of Duty 2” with the graphics turned up as high as they can go and the game play is stunning. Going to try Quake and some others later which will really test the card.

I have read about overclocking etc and while I think I know what it’s about, at the moment I just don’t see the need. The motherboard is considered to be quite stable for OC so will probably give it a go when I tackle the new high end games. I'll let you know in a few weeks how it all goes but for the moment, it's serious fun!


Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Kuta Townhouses

Kuta Townhouses, an excellent option for singles, couples and families. They have studios, one bedroom and two bedroom apartments. We had a ground floor apartment looking out onto the central pool. The apartment is large, clean, modern, with kitchen, dining table, and each bedroom has its own bathroom. Big screen TV and DVD player supplied, also full size fridge, microwave etc.

The rates are very good, no deals, just a set rate. We paid Rp550,000 for the 2bedroom apartment.

It’s located off Poppies 1, and is a short walk to either the beach or the main shopping district.

Owned by a group of 6, it has a distinctively Western Australian feel about it with GWN on cable! It’s pretty obvious the owners are into AFL as on Friday/Saturday nights the bar/restaurant area shows the games on a few screens to an appreciative crowd.

Interestingly, the apartments can be bought and then rented out. I believe they go for around US$80,000 which is not bad for what you get. They are building the second stage next door and all will eventually become one.

The restaurant serves good food for reasonable prices, cold beer and a BBQ most Friday nights. Breakfasts (included) were filling, a simple choice of eggs & toast, fried rice/noodles, juices and coffee/tea.

I think this is probably one of the best options in Kuta. Sure, it’s a walk to the beach etc, but we didn’t mind. The only thing we didn’t like was that Poppies 1 is a very narrow street and traffic along here has to be watched. You are constantly stepping back as motorcycles go past etc but the kids got used to it and as you walk down Poppies 1 to the beach you get to peek into all the small shops along the way!

Plenty of restaurants around the place, ranging in prices from very cheap to moderate.

We hit the beach every day and the kids had loads of fun. We found the best thing to do is get there about mid morning, set yourself up under a tree near one of the many drink sellers. They will provide chairs if you want and you open a tab for cold drinks! I even tried the Bakso ( a soup with meatballs and noodles) from the stand behind us and was pleased that no after effects! It was very tasty as well! Further down the beach there are a few satay stands where we all ate to no ill effect, again, lovely food!

All in all, a great stay.


On Sunday 24th June, Bali held its first International Triathlon. A big event, it drew both participants and spectators from all over the world. There was a healthy contingent of entrants from Surabaya, friends who had been training for close to a year for the event. And they had to. It was a 1.5 km sea swim, a 40 km bike ride followed by a 10 km run. Not at all easy.

Some of our friends were older than me, yet determined to give it a go and all of them completed the course! I don’t think I could even contemplate such a feat.

I believe the oldest entrant in the triathlon was in their late 50's, one of whom finished in 2.35.26. Results can be found here. Best time overall was 1.58.30 (1 hour 58 minutes 30 seconds) by a 25 year old. A friend in his 40's did it in approx. 3.29.27 which I thought was brilliant (that’s him in the photo- runs a cigar factory, loves a good wine but very fit!) Let’s face it, a 1.5 km sea swim? Lucky if I got a 100 meters before succumbing to the waves.

It was a great event, lots of spectators, good music by a reggae band, good food, Storm brewery giving away free 'samples' :), and inspiring achievements by young and old.

More pictures and information of the day can be found here.


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Kuta at sunset
Posted by Picasa


Posted by Picasa


Low tide at Sanur Beach. The little ones had a great time. Note the innocent imitation of a cultural practice as portrayed by the Balinese woman in the background. Both were harvesting, one for play, one for work.


Boats pulled up on Sanur Beach...


Sanur Beach, driftwood washed up, a storm brewing, a Balai on one of the spits for relaxing..


Kuta at sunset again, using a different filter.


Kuta at sunset, using a filter.


Sunday, July 01, 2007

Bali Holiday
We had a brilliant time in Bali, very relaxing and enjoyable. Came back yesterday feeling good about the whole trip. All of us had a wonderful time, and while we didn't do the sightseeing etc that most would do, we found just going for walks, lazing on the beach and kicking back was all that was required to make it a special holiday.
The kids loved the beach, and spent hours playing in the sand. the sheer freedom of being able to run along the beach was exhilarating for them both, and they found so much to do that it was easy to let them just go ahead and play under a watchful eye.
I've written two reviews of the hotels we stayed in Sanur, but I still have to write a review of Kuta Townhouses, which we thought were excellent.
More on what to do and see later.


Gazebo Hotel Review

After looking around Sanur (I booked one night at a hotel then wandered along the beach strip and went into different hotels), I chose Gazebo for my family. We had a lovely free standing little cottage of 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. Balcony out front looking onto a lovely garden. There was also a courtyard off the main bedroom with a shower, a line to hang washing, and space to lie down and sunbathe if you wanted privacy.

Both rooms came with small fridge, TV (though only 2 international channels: CNN and HBO plus an assortment of Indonesian channels), couch, lounger, desk, coffee table, chairs. The rooms have a connecting door in between using two doors thus allowing either side to lock their door if they want to. However, the second room also has its own entrance and balcony on the side. There are two single beds in the second room plus a couch which can also serve as a third bed.

The beds were comfortable, and the children slept well. Both bathrooms were clean, large and the bathroom for the main bedroom was bright and sunny as it had sliding doors opening out to the private courtyard.

There are heaps of different rooms available at Gazebo. Reception was happy to show me around and look at the different configurations. Some lovely large suites, smaller rooms, cottages and upstairs downstairs type rooms.

I found that by walking in and discussing it a bit we got an excellent rate with them, US$75.00 per night for the entire cottage including breakfast. Very good value for a family.

Breakfast was included and while simple was filling and tasty.

One of the managers told me it was popular with Australians thus on the menu they had some dishes that would suit. They serve imported Aussie sirloin which was just brilliant, one of the best I've had in Indonesia, 300 grams for just US$6.00.

Fish and chips however, were disappointing. Cocktails etc are reasonably priced, and sitting around the bar watching the sea is a nice way to spend a couple of hours. Beer is cold and while service at times was a bit slow, they were all very friendly.

We found that the food was reasonably priced thus had a number of meals there and just kept a running tab paid on the last day making it easier to not have to carry around cash.

For sheer indulgence food however, walk along the beach to the Beach Cafe. Excellent food, gourmet quality, beautifully presented. Jugs of Heineken only US$5.00!

The gardens were a bit overgrown when we arrived, but it may have been because of the low season but in the last two days we were there gardeners were out busy tidying them all up, probably in preparation for high season which starts at the beginning of July.

The pools were great, a small one safe for young children, a larger deeper one for the adults, and a third one set back on the property for those wanting a quieter swim.

The gym was disused and neglected. Equipment was mostly broken and it obviously had been left for quite some time. A pity as it would have been nice to have a workout.

Books in the cabinets were mostly in German etc, very few in English thus I would advise either bringing your own or wander up to the main road in front of Gazebo and along a bit. There are a few bookstores dealing in seconds with reasonable prices.

The tide goes out in the afternoon making the beach a delightful place for our young children to splash about, find crabs, watch small schools of fish up close, go shell hunting, build water pools and sandcastles. For a young family, I truly believe Sanur is one of the best spots. It’s safe, calm, and peaceful and there are enough restaurants for the parents to get out and enjoy in the evenings.

Gazebo is well placed, away from the crowded end, just a short three minute walk to Circle K, a small but handy shop selling everything from toothpaste to hotdogs.

Overall, we found Gazebo to be an excellent hotel for our family. Highly recommended.


Besakih Beach Resort Review

After reading all the reviews on Besakih Beach Resort, I booked two standard rooms (Rp390, 000 each). Not a bad deal we thought at the time, though our accommodation in Kuta (Kuta Townhouses) was cheaper and by far one of the best we have stayed in as a family.

Arriving at Besakih we were greeted warmly by reception and shown to our rooms, two standard rooms in the old hotel part, in fact just a few doors down from the reception area itself on the ground floor.

Walking into the room, the first thing we noticed was a very strong pervasive musty smell. Turned on the air conditioner and hoped it would go away. No such luck. The mattress had such a strong mouldy odour that neither of us got much sleep that night.

The room was basic, clean, tidy but once you were inside you could be anywhere, it had all the elements of a standard hotel room anywhere in the world. The bathroom was, to put it mildly, decrepit. Stained tiles and bathtub, ageing taps, dirty yellow/grey grouting etc. The radio/power system set into the bedside table didn't work (so why leave it there?), a door at the back of the room, locked but obviously was a concern. The good thing was that between our two rooms was a connecting door near the entrance door thus facilitating access to our young children’s room.

Stepping onto the balcony we were faced with a brick wall a metre or so away so not the nicest view when relaxing.

C wanted to charge her mobile phone and went to reception to ask for a double adaptor. The person behind the counter (a new one who was not there when we checked in) told her to "go buy one if you need one". So she went out and bought one, only some time later a porter turned up and gave her one they had found.

The next morning I woke early and wandered down to the restaurant and asked for a coffee. I was given instant coffee. Usually most hotels in Bali will serve the delicious 'Bali coffee' so this surprised me.

The pool on first glance was very inviting, looking out over the beach and the sea. Closer inspection found it to be covered with a thin film of dust. However, later in the day I sat by it and while it was a lovely view, to get a drink one had to go over the bridge, down some steps, step up onto the raised restaurant floor, wait for the group of staff sitting around chatting to notice you, wait for a drink, ask for a stubby holder, (this caused a few annoyed looks cast my way), one grudgingly found and dusted off, and then back to the pool again. The pool bar was not in operation and looked as if it hadn’t been for some time.

After the bad nights sleep, an uninspiring room and poor lacklustre service we had had enough. There are heaps of hotels to choose from along the beach strip.

We checked out and moved a few doors down to the Gazebo, paying less for a two bedroom, two bathroom, private courtyard, free standing cottage looking out onto a beautiful garden. Big clean rooms, delightfully and distinctively Balinese in design. We stayed at the Gazebo for a further four nights before heading back home. If you really want to enjoy Balinese hospitality, good food, good service and great rooms, try the Gazebo.


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