quit smoking a month ago

I quit smoking on August 7th. Very, very, very happy with myself.

No patches. No gum. No toothpicks. No meditation tapes or self-hypnosis. Hoorah.

Happiness is a mild cigar…

… I’m having one of those clumsy, unlucky mornings when relatively simple, straightforward activities just go wrong — making myself giggle… so, while the theme track from the old Hamlet tv ads is playing in my mind, I wanted to share this:


And then she said, I moo…

According to the Bali Times, a man has been forced to marry a cow (after being caught having sex with it):

“The village of Yeh Embang in Jembrana has forced a young man said to have had sex with a cow to marry the animal in a cleansing ritual ceremony.”

Sooo romantic. I bet many of the witnesses shed a tear when Daisy – not her real name — was finally married off.

Read the story here:


I am highly amused.


Balinese Umbrellas page in Google… now you see it, now you don’t…

white-balinese-umbrella …annoyed with google again… put up a new page at Indonesia Export for Wholesale Balinese Umbrellas.

A few hours later, checked google on the off-chance that it had gone into the index and was delighted to find that it was already there and respectably listed (fourth or fifth)… not the super dooper top listing but more than adequate. Monday morning, it’s gone and I can’t imagine why.

We’re on the page (down in eighth position or so) but not the actual umbrellas page that was there on Friday night – now it’s just our homepage.

Even stranger, a search of “wholesale bali umbrellas” (without the quotes) turns us up the correct page in about fifth position while “bali wholesale umbrellas” (again, without the quotes) has us in second place.

Cannot figure it out and not sure I would ever have the energy to bother. Just an odd, annoying result.


Tiger Woods can still represent…

As usual, my junk mail folder is overflowing… nice to see these hardworking chaps and chapesses at Spam Central don’t slack off during the holiday season. Anyway, one I found funny: a bunch of spam mail for that blue pill (you know the one) that runs something along the lines of, “Yes, now you can stay up all night like Tiger.” I just caught the message as I was permanently deleting the email but it is funny. So, Tiger, if you’re out there, I want you to know you can still pick up sponsorship… maybe it’s not Pepsi and all that but there’s plenty of money in those little blue pills and don’t forget the other related products… condoms, lubricating gels… now, that would revolutionise the sport of golf.

[Edit: Friday, January 8th]

Thank you Shirley Conran (shan’t put a link in because there’s a strong possibility that’s not a real name) for sending me another junk email related to Mr. Woods. It’s a simple and straight forward message: “Master the art of satisfying women.” And, in a second message, Gloria Mackey (these junk mailers are really good at coming up with names these days), tells me I can, “Score like Tiger Woods with free trial.”

What exactly is a handicraft?

“Skill without imagination is craftsmanship and gives us many useful objects such as wickerwork picnic baskets. Imagination without skill gives us modern art.”

Tom Stoppard

Handicraft pretty much disappeared from British life around the time of the Industrial Revolution although it does seem to be making a comeback with a recent surge of interest in handcrafted goods and techniques with many magazines and websites devoted to the subjects of woodcarving, knitting, pottery making, toy making and so on.

As far as I can tell, this is at least partly due to a backlash against cheap, mass produced goods from China and elsewhere in Asia but it’s also the desire to be directly and personally connected with a unique item. To say, “I made this.”

In Bali, however, there’s very little about a hand crafted good that is novel or fashionable – people make products by hand or with simple tools because that is what they have and that is what they know.

Many of the crafters we work with learned their trade from their parents who in turn learned from their parents and so on. Usually, they are not university or art school educated and they’re not business people in the generally accepted Western sense of the term.

When people have asked me to describe the craft industry in Bali, I usually turn to “cottage industry” as the catchall term to make sense of what goes on here. A lot of the products I’ve dealt with in Bali are made in the crafter’s home with full participation of the family — grandparents, cousins, in-laws… everyone.

Written like that, the industry might sound somehow charming or idyllic and perhaps it is. I’ll try to paint you a picture.

It’s just a door…

I think one of the keys to understanding Balinese crafts is that while they may resemble the everyday objects of the West and fit loosely into general, utilitarian groups like furniture, windows and doors, the design and uses of these objects spring from entirely different cultural origins and needs.

Before I came here, I had never focused on doors beyond the functional: they exist to keep out the cold and bad people.

Picture of traditional Balinese DoorA typical Balinese house starts at the front door or gate — usually two doors set into wall or an arch that swing inward.

This door does not open in directly to the front garden or directly face the house — if it did, that would allow bad spirits direct access to the property. Usually, it opens to a walled area or a garden area so you can’t see the house straight away.

Now, that’s a charming concept.

Of course, not only does this make it difficult for spirits to get into the house, it’s also a pain when moving furniture or carrying any large objects in or out and it’s also a pain when many people live in the house because, usually, you can only lock or unlock the door from one side at any time.

Let’s say, I leave the house in the morning and my wife and daughter are staying home… I go out, close the door and it’s locked. When my wife needs to go out, she unlocks from the inside. When I come home, I have my key. Simple.

Picture of Balinese Door Knocker / Handle -- Made of BronzeWith the usual Balinese door, there’s no keyhole… there are two ringed handles on the outside that can be padlocked when you leave and a bolt on the inside that can be padlocked at night.

If I go out in the morning and lock the door from the outside, my wife will be locked in all day. If I’m going to be late home at night and my wife wants to lock up the house before she goes to sleep early, I’ll be locked out.

So, how does that work? Easy. The door is not locked. Someone is always home… that’s a Balinese door on a Balinese house.

So, you walk in through the Balinese door and find yourself in a courtyard setting with several buildings dotted around.

One of these buildings will be a living room, one will be a kitchen. Another building will be the master bedroom. There will probably be a bathroom / toilet building. (there’s no point in calling it an outhouse because they’re all outhouses). In the centre, you’ll probably find a gazebo — essentially a concrete platform with a wooden or thatched roof. The floor usually covered by woven mats and cushions. This is where you’ll usually find the carver working on a wood statue or making baskets.

As you can imagine, this is a very different work environment from the Chinese factory as big as a city or British office cubicle the size of a rabbit hutch.

Here, the worker is surrounded at all time by the family and work might slow down or completely stop for any one of the following reasons…

  • One of the five, happy, naked children running around will fall down or need attention for some reason.
  • There will be an interesting song or story on the radio.
  • An offering needs to be made or a ceremony begins.
  • It gets too hot.
  • It starts to rain.

I’m not sure if that’s idyllic… it’s certainly different and it is the reality of Bali’s cottage industry. It takes place in the home… the cottage. There is skill (in abundance) and there are distractions (in abundance). The crafter doesn’t go to some specially structured place; the family is not separated from the work or the product. The product is not ‘special’ or unique or wonderful or remarkable… it’s the every day result of an everyday chore.

That’s one of the reasons why Balinese handicrafts are so cheap.

On my first day in Indonesia, the first handicraft I encountered was the sarong (or pareo, as it’s known by some). It was presented to me by a lady as I walked down the street in Kuta in a conversation that ran basically as follows:

“Sarong, Mister?”
“No, thank you.”
“Good quality, cheap price –“
“No thanks.”
“You look, Mister, nice quality. Very nice. Cheap price.”
“Maybe tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow… you want massage?”
“No thank you.”

I had basically the same conversation with four more ladies as I walked down the street before ducking into a huge, ramshackle tourist café for a cup of appalling coffee. Then, because I was sitting too close to the street, other sellers started to approach with sarongs, carved bone blowguns, wooden bows and arrow sets, carved wooden boxes, “copy watches”, sunglasses and more.

Kind of strips the mystery away from the whole handicraft thing, doesn’t it?

At that time, of course, I knew nothing about handicrafts and nothing about Indonesia. It was my first day.