Monthly Archives: January 2010


It’s quite clear that most people like me know nothing about leadership, trust building, or long term national development. Only recently have I realized my views on democracy are terribly naive. Until now I always thought that you just choose the best man or woman for the job from the 220 million people that populate this archipelago, then he or she gets on with managing the country. Now I know it’s really about holding on to that office for dear life. And for some befuddled reason I had this idea that democracy had more to do with the ethic of caring for the greater good of the people, whereas it’s really simply just a system for getting into that office.

It’s a bit embarrassing to admit, but as far as politics go, I just listen to what everyone else is talking about and assume that that must be the most important issue of the day. For example, in the last few months we have had hours of TV coverage on what I thought was a major corruption scandal, which is all tangled up with a high profile murder case involving someone who should be above corruption, and a major bailout (involving a minor bank) which for some reason is only being questioned now (and not before it happened).

All of this supposedly goes back to the previous administration; but some of the people from that time have come up to the microphone and told their story and explained how they aren’t responsible. I’m so out of the loop that I didn’t know that once you are out of office you aren’t responsible for what was part of your job back when you were. Boy do I have to brush up. What you do is lynch people who are in office now for what happened then because they are here now. I know it sounds complicated, but apparently philosophically it makes sense.

You see, I found out this is all happening now not because it really did happen then, but because some bad people don’t like the President (then and) now. It turns out that even the Jakarta hotel bombers just wanted to hurt the President personally (he said so himself), and plain mistook the hotel for the palace.

Now that I have understood this reality, my trust in the leadership is fully restored. When the President says nothing, I’ve come to learn it means he is saying something he really means because he is not saying anything at all. And when he does actually say something, not only does he also mean it, but it is the core of the matter, the most relevant of the moment. That’s what leadership is all about. We citizens should know exactly when to take something on, um, face value.

So, when on Tuesday the President vowed publicly (well, on a train full of press people) to restore vitality to Indonesia’s football, I realized how important this was. What a fool I was, focusing on trying to get to the bottom of all these made up corruption stories, when what we really need to do is win the World Cup (or at least the Asian bit of it). That’ll fix everything, and we will finally be a developed nation.

Piece of Mind: Conde Nast Names Ubud ‘Top Asian City’?

from the Jakarta Globe, Friday 22/01/2010

Everyone loves Conde Nast Traveler when it’s on your side, and players in the tourism industry hold their breath when it comes time for  “Best of” lists to be published. Never mind whether you like them or loathe them, Conde Nast publications rule the fashionista horizon – the Lords of the Bling.

But that doesn’t mean that their pronouncements can’t be erratic. Some whisper “bought”, but by who?

My opinion tends to lean more towards the theory that they simply follow what they think are promising trends and try not to get caught with their designer pants down. The Traveler’s ‘best of’ list is, so it goes, voted on by readers.

Please don’t get me wrong  – Conde Nast has been kind to Bali, supportive of the island’s struggle to get back on its feet after crippling terrorist attacks in this last decade.

But its latest rating has left me a bit bemused. The majority of 25,000 of its readers apparently felt that Ubud is the ‘Best City in Asia’.

As a long term resident of Ubud I’ll have to admit to a certain twinge of pride (gimme a break, its been my home for more than three and a half decades).

But the wet blanket in me went: “What the flip?”

Have I been asleep, snoring away the years like Rip van Winkle, only to wake up and find out that Ubud is not the village I arrived in during the early ’70s, complete with no electricity and dirt roads?

Quite the contrary, for the last decade I have been calling Ubud a town, despite some starry-eyed expats trying to tell me it’s a village.

There are traffic jams, and shops everywhere. But city it is not. As a matter of fact, despite it being the ‘capital’ of this kecamatan, or administrative district, it has yet to even be officially recognized as a town, let alone a city! Ubud is still called a kelurahan , or administrative village.

Yes it has a center – one major crossroad, the epicenter of our very own traffic jams (except between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. on good days).

Outlets we have plenty of, complete with Polo, Calvin Klein – if you can fake it, we got it. Its restaurants rival Seminyak’s. And we have one soccer field, which doubles as an all-purpose public space cum parking lot cum kiddies mud bath.

There’s also a lot of culture going on, you can buy tickets to much of it.

But despite all the Disney-esque features, great nosh and the litter, it’s a far cry from a city.

Having been left slightly taken aback by a short-lived local poster campaign that tried to sell Ubud as the ‘Cultural Capital of the World’ (take that NYC, London, Paris, Prague, Berlin and what have you – I bet you don’t have trance dances every Wednesday), I can only imagine the confusion that lies ahead.

All those years we have been trying to sell the place on its charms as the ‘village of the artists’, now we have to jump to ‘thrilling city’? Oh dear. I’m gonna have a nap again, and perhaps when I wake up Ubud will be a country.

Rio Helmi is a photographer based in Ubud, Bali.