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October 2008

Just arrived back in Bali, which is why I've had 5 minutes to update by blog (apologies to all those who've been waiting for months for news). Flew Singapore airlines, who pay their CEO less than one third of what Qantas pays theirs, but Singapore was on schedule (and always has more leg room). Is their a correlation?

Bali's tourist industry is hotting up, and it's not just the Ubud Writers Festival (which is the main reason I'm here). Until the current economic crisis hits (which may see a return to Bali's downturns of the early and late 1980s), business is booming, at least in all the tourist spots.

My part in the project looking at the clothing industry in the Asia Pacific is slowly gathering momentum. Interesting how the industry is now centralised in one little corner (and even two streets) of Bali, at Seminyak, but that Bali, like Cambodia, has been able to remain competitive as a clothes producer by avoiding the bulk production of low-quality goods in the style of China, and instead has gone for fashion niches.

Three sad items that I haven't had time to put on the public record. The past few months have seen a number of losses to the world of Indonesian scholarship, particularly Bali:

First, Ketut Kantor, gambuh and other dance teacher to a generation of Balinese dancers at ASTI/ISI and to a lot of westerners, died of a stroke, the last in a series (and probably preventable in a Western country, but it would have helped if he didn't smoke). Ketut was an important advisor to me in the 1980s when I was researching gambuh, and a great store of knowledge. I was glad to have visited him earlier in the year.
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Then not long afterwards Cristina Formaggia, the energy behind the Gambuh project, died in Italy. Cristina not only got together the wonderful Lontar publication, but was responsible for getting the funding to give Bali'smost important dance form a major stimulus. And because of her visitors can see the dance every month at Pura Batuan (pester those tour guides, the more rapacious refuse to take people there because they can't get their usual 60% cut).

Then in August Thea van Lennep, who taught me and a whole lot of other Sydney University students Dutch and linguistics, died in Sydney. Thea was an inspiring teacher, and imparted a love of writers such as Haase and Dumont, as well as of the savage irony of Van der Tuuk's letters.

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It will be interesting to see whether Indonesia can weather the current economic storm. Early predications, and my own view, are that it might because it has already been through the events of 1997-8. However the Straits Times yesterday reported that one of the Bakrie families big coal mining investments will most likely be the first casualty of the credit squeeze. This may be a problem for SBY, since he needs Bakrie and some of the other rich to bankroll his election campaign, but if other conglomerates are also hit, then Indonesian politicians may just have to campaign on policy and vision rather than payola. That would be a novel development in any country, and is similiar to the problem that Obama and McCain face in the world's second largest plutocracy, oops, democracy.

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