Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Putting the Glop in Galapagos

more on this later


please stand by...

Giordano RULES!

Got to Macau to visit my hubby while he's here consulting to some big ol' slot machine company.

Macau weather still cold, and I knew I'd be back in northern California for a short time, so I thought I'd hit the clothing shops. First off, before I even get so far as the post office, I see one of those white-on-white clothing outlets that are so typical of Hong Kong and now, apparently, Macau. I go in and buy two bursting bags of ski jackets and fashion jackets and shirts and pants, some with the labels intact enough to know that I'm paying pennies on dollars. The whole haul is less than one hundred US dollars. All wonderful.

Probably the coolest thing, now that I've lived in Bali for 4 or 5 years, was that the prices were fair and marked indelibly on the tags. I mean, I haggled a little at the total, and I think the cashier knocked off MOP5 (I was paying in HKD, anyway, a nicer currency), but the main thing is, the haggling didn't DECIDE the sale.

Ladies of Bali Expatria, you tell me: ain't it a bitch to go into some cute little clothing shop, and there are no prices? It's the most popular Balinese dance: Shopping Joged. The steps are familiar to us all. You have to ask the nearest shopgirl for the price of every single item. You raise your eyebrows at the crappy first price. She counters by saying, but you can have a discount. You put one thing back, you pick up another. You repeat earlier steps. You hold the big pile of clothing and approach the cashier, asking for 50% of what you think you should be paying. She counters with a price that does not take into consideration the proffered discount by the first shop girl. You laugh gaily and point out the delightful mistake, being careful to say that 75% of what you want to pay is really more reasonable. They say no. Expert dancers at this point take out a calculator, and key in a slightly lower price for you to see. You say no, look to the door, offer 90% as a last price. They say no (boy, isn't this exciting?) and so you walk to the door, casually offering 100% of your own best price. They will either say yes or no, and if they say no, you better not go walking back in there unless you enjoy losing face. The end is the loss of your hard work choosing, calculating, and negotiating.

In Hong Kong and Macau, by contrast, each clothing shopper is on equal terms with the next. Maybe the shopkeeper's friends get a good deal every once in a while, but really there is a general equality amongst all punters. You go in, you see how much you gotta pay, you pay it, you leave. Surgical shopping.

Now, as I rounded into the beautiful plaza in the heart of downtown Macau, I spotted a Giordano shop. Giordano is a total Hong Kong phenom, beating American GAP to smithereens on several levels. Sometime back in the 60's, a delegation of Italian manufacturers came to Wanchai to show real style to Hong Kong people. Well, it convinced the Hong Kongers that Italian stuff is synonymous with style, but it also gave HK manufacturers a lot of great ideas. Giordano, Balino, and myriad other Italian-sounding style houses sprang up.

Giordano survived, with a difference. In about 1993, they decided that they would buck the trend of HK service and offer friendly salespeople, unlimited use of the dressing room, and dozens of available colors to choose from. No more "sorry out of stock", no more frowning girls ignoring your questions, no more exasperated sighs when you decide to not purchase an item, no more "you can't try on. Stretch fabric." Giordano suddenly became a frightening place for the jaded Hong Konger, for the barrage of smiles and hellos upon entry to the store. Tons of dressing rooms, girls searching earnestly through back rooms looking for extra stock... it was nothing we'd seen before. West of Hawaii, anyway.

But it stuck. To this day, Giordano is as ubiquitous in Hong Kong as Starbucks in urban America. And, true to form, as I entered the Macau Giordano, I was greeted by half a dozen young clerks, all smiling like Taiwanese or Samoans or Balinese or... anything but south Chinese!

I tried on twelve outfits, the girls helped me arrange shawls, they looked in the back for other sizes... it was quite a morning. Their help and suggestions and patience with me paid off for them. I laid down another hundred greenbacks. This time for several of their fabulous designs... the knit torquoise shrugs, the stretchy smooth long sleeve t shirts, a belt, shirts for my man, and probably would have bought more if I didn't already have a tonnage problem. Such great designs, such great fabrics, such unbeatable prices!

It dawned on me later that I had asked one of the salesgirls for something in pidgin Indonesian. She didn't even pout. She probably just figured I was German, struggling with the English language. Not that there isn't a German out there whose English is far superior to most American's.

Anyway, next stop for me was the luggage store. Had to buy a suitcase for all the loot.

But Giordano


Macau is a boom town.

It has everything a boom town has: too many cars, too many people, a thousand construction projects, and electricity in the air.

I first saw Macau in May of 1990. It was humid, still, and sleepy. We rented a "moke", which looks like a stripped-down VW Thing, and I drove it over the Macau-Taipa bridge. I think I saw a taxi driving the other way on that bridge. Macau was THAT sleepy.

In those days, the Praia was shaded with trees, and, despite the heat, it was actually a pleasant place to stroll. Start from the frightening statue of Ferreira do Amaral on horseback, near the Lisboa, towards the Pousada Sao Tiago, fortress-turned-hotel. In pockets of shade, grungy old cycle rickshaw drivers would be napping or reading the paper or just waiting for riders. It was a quiet place.

Nowadays, the Praia is still mostly a deafening construction site, crammed with ugly apartment buildings. The part of the Praia Grande without construction is a little nicer, but now the sea has been shut out and the water is a kind of lake or estuary, with a massive fountain. At least now many of those old buildings like the Clube Tenis Sivile is




It seems that sometimes I look at some ancient wonder or breathtaking landscape and think, "I've got to bring ------ (a loved one) here!" I flash on the logistics of such a visit, and it will seem totally do-able. Within even just a year or two.

Or I'll be at one of these places and think, I really need more time to fully appreciate this. I'll bet I can come back next year, but then I'll spend a week here. It seems to be logical at the time.

It took me 26 1/2 years to get back to Prambanan, a Javanese Hindu temple complex left over from the 12th century. Just an hour outside Jogjakarta, Prambanan was a ruined mess. It was roped off from anyone who was hoping for a close look at the friezes, but served as a backdrop for Ramayana dance performances at night.

Jay and I went to one of those dances in the first week of our honeymoon. The Javanese dancing was bold and theatric, the acrobatic men's dance contrasting beautifully with the graceful women's. There was fire onstage, too, pyrotechnics being something you don't see too much of in the US. I recall that several hundred European tourists were there to see the performance with us. Enormous, gleaming white buses took them out to the site. And many of them were staying out at the nearby Sheraton.

Of course, Jay and I were either at what's now the Natour, or else we'd moved down Jalan Malioboro to stay in actual air conditioning at the Mutiara. But the Sheraton seemed to me like plush pampering, perhaps too removed from the hustle and bustle of the city.

But in the company of my dad and the tour guide Popo (seems to be a common Javanese man's name, like Bambang), I revisited a revamped and clean Prambanan, one I could walk all around and upstairs and view closely all the reliefs. Being Hindu, it was a little more exuberant than Borobudur's meditative format. And the Ramayana comic book panels all around the walkways served as more entertainment than religious lesson. But there were stupa shapes all about, something I did not remember from 1979.

Clearly, my dad loved Prambanan and was glad we didn't spend another minute in Jogja looking for silver or batik.

We left before sundown, had an airport meal, and caught our plane back to Bali. Cakra picked us up and we were back at home by midnight.

Borobudur Revisited

Bali with my dad

Monday, February 20, 2006

The Frozen One

If you google "frozen Marcos", you'll happen on a lot of texts about his swindles against the Philippine people. And you may even find a Latina's porn stories site. But if you find anything about Ferdinand Marcos lying in state, add the site address to my comments area.

Thing is, I was not allowed to bring in a camera when I visited the body the other day in Ilocos Norte.

More later.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Abdul Aziz: the painter, sculptor, violin maker

Dateline 11 February 2006

Abdul Aziz: The painter, the sculptor, the violin maker

Denpasar, --- Artist Abdul Aziz created the painting known as the “Mona Lisa of Bali”. Yet few people outside the circle of art-collectors have ever heard of him. A highly talented artist and musician since childhood, a member of the Student Army during the struggle for Indonesian Independence, for which he later was decorated with the “Tanda Jasa Pahlawan” and other awards, Abdul Aziz was a recipient of an Italian Government scholarship which enabled him to spend five years in Italy, during which time he received two Diplomas from the Accademia di Belle Arti in Rome, for Painting and for Decoration.

On his return to Indonesia in 1965, Abdul Aziz settled in Bali, lecturing at Udayana University, and making his home in Ubud in 1970. Here he painted some very famous works, ‘coming out of the frame’, which are held permanently in the Abdul Aziz room at the Neka Art Museum. In 1983 a British tourist, Mary Northmore, saw his work and expressed an interest in meeting the artist. They were married in 1988 and set up home together just outside Ubud. Shortly after this Mary founded the Seniwati Gallery of Art by Women, to this day the only gallery of its kind in Asia, based in Aziz’ old studio in central Ubud.

Abdul Aziz not only painted and sculpted but he was also a serious musician and, towards the end of his life, dedicated his energies to making violins, as he said:
“To prove an Indonesian could be as good as Stradivarius” .

Many collectors complained to him and to Mary, that they weren’t able to get paintings by Aziz, but he was not interested in fame and fortune, preferring to stay home and play music rather than assume the role of ‘publicly famous artist’. This is why so few people know of his amazing life and work. One year after Abdul Aziz passed away, on January 1st, 2003, Mary decided that she wanted to create a book about her husband, to show the world what an extraordinary artist he was. She tracked down his paintings and sculptures, interviewed friends from his childhood and youth, his Italian years and later, and has combined them all into a book “Abdul Aziz: The Artist and His Art”, published in November 2005.

The National launch of the book on February 11th at Gedung Arsip Nasional, Jl Gajah Mada 111 included addresses by HE Charles Humfrey, CMG, British Ambassador, Suteja Neka, and Mary Northmore, with a Violin tribute to Abdul Aziz by I Gusti Bagus Wiswakarma, together with an exhibition of Abdul Aziz memorabilia and violins.

That's the extent of the official press release, but let me add that this extraordinary man has been given the extraordinary honor that every hardworking artist would want for him or herself. It's a remarkable book, a beautiful tribute, a meticulous history.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Boston Globe Editorial

Thank you, Boston Globe, for this opinion. This nails it.

Forms of intolerance

February 4, 2006

FREEDOM OF expression is not the only value at issue in the conflict provoked by a Danish newspaper's publication of cartoons satirizing Islam's founding prophet, Mohammed. The billowing controversy is being swept along by intolerance, ignorance, and parochialism. The refusal of each camp to recognize and respect the otherness of the other brings closer a calamitous clash of cultures pitting Islam against the West.

No devotee of democratic pluralism should accept any infringement on freedom of the press. But the original decision of the Danish paper, Jyllands-Posten, to solicit and publish a dozen cartoons of the Muslim prophet was less a blow against censorship than what The Economist called a schoolboy prank.

A Danish publisher of children's books had complained of trouble finding an illustrator to draw a likeness of Mohammed. Acting on an assumption that there should be no reason to refrain from publishing anything in Denmark that was not racist or an incitement to violence, the Danish paper then printed the 12 cartoons in September.

This was a case of seeking a reason to exercise a freedom that had not been challenged. No government, political party, or corporate interest was trying to deny the paper its right to publish whatever it wanted. The original purpose of printing the cartoons -- some of which maliciously and stupidly identified Mohammed with terrorists, who could want nothing better than to be associated with the prophet -- was plainly to be provocative. Islam prohibits the depiction of Mohammed in any way, whether the image is benign or not.

Other European papers reprinted the cartoons in a reflex of solidarity. Journalists in free societies have a healthy impulse to assert their hard-won right to insult powerful forces in society. Freedom of the press need not be weakened, however, when it is infused with restraint. This should not be restraint rooted in fear of angering a government, a political movement, or an advertiser. As with the current consensus against publishing racist or violence-inciting material, newspapers ought to refrain from publishing offensive caricatures of Mohammed in the name of the ultimate Enlightenment value: tolerance.

Just as the demand from Muslim countries for European governments to punish papers that printed the cartoons shows a misunderstanding of free societies, publishing the cartoons reflects an obtuse refusal to accept the profound meaning for a billion Muslims of Islam's prohibition against any pictorial representation of the prophet. Depicting Mohammed wearing a turban in the form of a bomb with a sputtering fuse is no less hurtful to most Muslims than Nazi caricatures of Jews or Ku Klux Klan caricatures of blacks are to those victims of intolerance. That is why the Danish cartoons will not be reproduced on these pages.

© Copyright 2006 Globe Newspaper Company.

Shame on you, Denmark! Cheers to James Zogby

Okay, I'm really angry about the European press jumping on Denmark's bandwagon to print those obviously inflammatory caricatures of Mohammed... all under the guise of making a statement for Freedom of the Press.

Yes, the press has the freedom to publish garbage, to start arguments, and to offend. But don't we as writers feel any sort of responsibility to be human? To have a soul? To relate to our fellow humans in a helpful manner?

Yes, Denmark had a right to publish those pictures and they could publish a picture of turds on a toilet seat, too. But what purpose do these things serve? The same: baseless offense.

I heard James Zogby speaking on the BBC the other day. He's the head of a prominent Muslim organization in America, and you can click on his name in the title to get to his bio. He really pointed out the main thing about this whole Denmark debacle... how silly it is (and ultimately how destructive) to knowingly publish things that will only offend.

I felt very sorry for the Danish table tennis players who will not compete in their tournament in the Emirates. This is exactly the sort of thing that happens when the press thinks only of its great rights and freedoms, and forgets that it is meant to be a vehicle for news and useful information.

Angle, angle, side

Remember trying to get the Geography teacher to write angle side side on the chalkboard? I don't think anyone's ever succeeded in getting more than a wry laugh out of the teacher. I do remember Mr. Wright at Berkeley High, who was young and funny and touted the pool table as a good learning tool for the course. He never fell for that one.

Why do I entitle this entry with AAS? Because that's the name of a village where there's some pretty nice snorkeling!

I'm pressed for time, and I can't enter anything else right now, but keep watching this space for news about Aas Beach and the Pondok Belgia.