Sunday, January 16, 2011

Bank Indonesia Ready for Rate Rise to Stem Inflation

Francezka Nangoy | January 14, 2011
Bank Indonesia Governor Darmin Nasution, pictured, said on Friday that the central bank was prepared to raise interest rates for the first time since 2009 due to rising inflation. (Bloomberg Photo) Bank Indonesia Governor Darmin Nasution, pictured, said on Friday that the central bank was prepared to raise interest rates for the first time since 2009 due to rising inflation. (Bloomberg Photo)

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6:31am Jan 15, 2011

We know that corruption is a major cause of poverty, but does it also part of the cause of inflation?

Both Zimbabwe and Burma have massive inflation that is caused by corruption. Although Indonesia's corruption is nowhere near that of these two countries, it is pretty bad, and cannot have a positive effect can it.

Is corruption actually crippling us?

* 1

Jakarta. Bowing to market pressure, Bank Indonesia on Friday indicated it was ready to raise interest rates for the first time since 2009 to tame rising inflation, the bank’s governor said.

“The direction is to raise rates but it will depend on inflation,” Bank Indonesia Governor Darmin Nasution told reporters on Friday. “BI is ready to find the appropriate time to increase the BI rate.”

Investors and market players have been urging the central bank to adopt a tighter monetary stance, including by raising its benchmark interest rate which had been kept stagnant at a record low of 6.5 percent for the past 18 months.

“Inflationary pressures will continue to pick up and will affect core inflation,” Nasution added. However, he said he was confident the government would take appropriate measures to contain prices of commodities such as rice.

Food prices have risen sharply since December and economists have warned that headline inflation would translate into core inflation if the central bank did not act urgently. Both the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank also said this week that inflation and capital flight were serious threats to the economy.

Inflation hit a 20-month high in December, adding to investors’ concerns that BI’s dovish stance may leave it too far behind the curve in tamping down price pressures.

Darmin’s comments were echoed by Diffy A. Johansyah, BI’s head of public relations, in a telephone interview with the Jakarta Globe.

“Bank Indonesia is ready to raise interest rates if inflation starts to build up,” Diffy said. However, he added the central bank has not decided on when and by how much it would raise the rate.

“We still have to calculate how much we shall raise it according to the policy mix,” he said. “All monetary instruments should be evaluated and weighed so they will be balanced and not negatively affect each other.”

Core inflation, inflation figures excluding volatile items such as food, which is used by the central bank as the benchmark to raise interest rates, stood at 4.28 percent in December. Central Bank officials said that the danger threshold began at 5.0 percent.

Fauzi Ichsan, an economist at Standard Chartered, said earlier this week that food inflation could translate into core inflation as high food prices affect prices of other goods that are included in the core inflation.

“Food inflation could translate into core inflation within three months. BI should raise the interest rate by 100 basis points to 7.5 percent,” he said.

Destry Damayanti, chief economist at Mandiri Sekuritas, concurred but added that core inflation could rise faster, perhaps within a month.

“If the food inflation is persistent, we can see the effect within a month,” Destry said.

She said the central bank should raise the interest rate in the second quarter, and should add 50 basis points to the current interest rate, raising the benchmark rate to 7 percent.

Destry also said that the effort of calming down the inflation should not come only from the central bank, but also from the government, by ensuring adequate food supply.

Over the past few months, prices of chili and rice have spiked sharply, increasing by more than four times.

“Government policy and monetary policy should complement each other, so that this kind of situation can be anticipated,” Destry noted.

Indonesia Real Estate Report Q3 2010

Key Insights on the Real Estate Sector of Indonesia
According to our in-country sources in Indonesia, the global financial crisis had absolutely no impact whatsoever on the commercial Real Estate sector.
Economic growth did slow marginally – from 6.1% in 2008 to 4.5% in 2009. The latest data suggests to us that GDP should expand by 5.2% in 2010. However, there has been an across-the-board rise in rental rates of around 20% in 2009. This rise has taken place in spite of vacancy rates that have been running at 15-20% for most kinds of commercial properties in the three centres – Jakarta, Bandung and Denpasar/Bali – for which we have gathered data. In one or two instances, such as industrial property in Bandung, the vacancy rate has been even higher.
We see the rise in rental rates as a fairly early sign of a rerating of Indonesian assets. Market protagonists – whether they be local developers/ landlords or foreign investors – see Indonesian real estate as being underpriced given the overall business environment and prospects for the economy. So too, it would seem, do the tenants. Looking forward, our in-country sources suggest that rental rates will continue to rise in the coming year or so and we agree.
This process can continue until the business environment deteriorates sharply – which we do not expect – or rental rates reach levels where they appear high by the standards of the commercial Real Estate markets in other countries in South East Asia.
The immediate impact of the rise in rental rates has been a corresponding increase in yields. Landlords have had no incentive to sell. The number and value of transactions has, therefore, been depressed. Looking forward, though, we expect that prices and capital values will rise relative to the increasing rental rates. Accordingly, we anticipate that yields will slip gradually, in each of the cities and subsectors, over the coming five years.
Interviews with our in-country sources were conducted in late March 2010.
Key Features Of This Report
This is the latest edition of a new series of industry reports published by BMI that seeks to identify the key dynamics of the real estate sectors of 44 countries around the world, some of which are developed and some of which are, in every sense, emerging markets. Once again, the questions that we seek to answer for each country remain as follows: What are the main issues that will matter to actors in and around real estate development in the country concerned, both over the long and the short term? What are the main constraints that they face? What are the key insights that one garners when one compares the real estate sector of the country concerned with its peers in other countries?
For Q3 we have introduced a very substantial new improvement to the reports. We have incorporated data and qualitative observations provided to us by commercial real estate agents operating in the countries we survey. As a result we have gained a much clearer picture of the balance between demand and supply in each of three main sub-sectors – office, retail and industrial. We have also introduced a new approach to the forecasting of rental yields, which is discussed in the methodology sector of this report.

Read more:

Rising food prices point to a looming global food crisis

Bali news -- Shown below is further proof that my prediction of a shortage of food around the world leading to much higher prices and possibly riots and overthrow of week governments that happens subsidizing food and fuel for their citizens.

I do not believe there will be a problem in Indonesia because its economy is doing so well.

Saturday, 15 January 2011 10:21

By Lester Brown
London. As the New Year begins, the price of wheat is setting an all-time high in the United Kingdom. Food riots are spreading across Algeria. Russia is importing grain to sustain its cattle herds until spring grazing begins. India is wrestling with an 18-per cent annual food inflation rate, sparking protests.

China is looking abroad for potentially massive quantities of wheat and corn. The Mexican government is buying corn futures to avoid unmanageable tortilla price rises. And on January 5, the UN Food and Agricultural organization announced that its food price index for December hit an all-time high.

When prices of staples soar, the poor bear the brunt. Without global action, people in poor countries will be deprived of adequate and nutritious food, with tragic consequences for individuals and for the future prosperity of their countries says Robert Zoellick the President of the World Bank group.

“The overarching goal should be to ensure that the most vulnerable people and countries are no longer denied access to nutritious food,” Mr Zoellick says.

But whereas in years past, it’s been weather that has caused a spike in commodities prices, now it’s trends on both sides of the food supply/demand equation that are driving up prices. On the demand side, the culprits are population growth, rising affluence, and the use of grain to fuel cars.

On the supply side: soil erosion, aquifer depletion, the loss of cropland to nonfarm uses, the diversion of irrigation water to cities, the plateauing of crop yields in agriculturally advanced countries, and -- due to climate change -- crop-withering heat waves and melting mountain glaciers and ice sheets. These climate-related trends seem destined to take a far greater toll in the future.

There’s at least a glimmer of good news on the demand side: World population growth, which peaked at two per cent per year around 1970, dropped below 1.2 per cent per year in 2010. But because the world population has nearly doubled since 1970, we are still adding 80 million people each year.

Tonight, there will be 219,000 additional mouths to feed at the dinner table, and many of them will be greeted with empty plates. Another 219,000 will join us tomorrow night. At some point, this relentless growth begins to tax both the skills of farmers and the limits of the earth’s land and water resources.

Beyond population growth, there are now some 3 billion people moving up the food chain, eating greater quantities of grain-intensive livestock and poultry products. The rise in meat, milk, and egg consumption in fast-growing developing countries has no precedent. Total meat consumption in China today is already nearly double that in the United States.

The third major source of demand growth is the use of crops to produce fuel for cars. In the United States, which harvested 416 million tonnes of grain in 2009, 119 million tonnes went to ethanol distilleries to produce fuel for cars. That’s enough to feed 350 million people for a year.

The massive US investment in ethanol distilleries sets the stage for direct competition between cars and people for the world grain harvest. In Europe, where much of the auto fleet runs on diesel fuel, there is growing demand for plant-based diesel oil, principally from rapeseed and palm oil.

This demand for oil-bearing crops is not only reducing the land available to produce food crops in Europe, it is also driving the clearing of rainforests in Indonesia and Malaysia for palm oil plantations.

The combined effect of these three growing demands is stunning: a doubling in the annual growth in world grain consumption from an average of 21 million tonnes per year in 1990-2005 to 41 million tonnes per year in 2005-2010. Most of this huge jump is attributable to the orgy of investment in ethanol distilleries in the United States in 2006-2008.

While the annual demand growth for grain was doubling, new constraints were emerging on the supply side, even as longstanding ones such as soil erosion intensified. An estimated one third of the world’s cropland is losing topsoil faster than new soil is forming through natural processes -- and thus is losing its inherent productivity. Two huge dust bowls are forming, one across northwest China, western Mongolia, and central Asia; the other in central Africa. Each of these dwarfs the US dust bowl of the 1930s.

Satellite images show a steady flow of dust storms leaving these regions, each one typically carrying millions of tons of precious topsoil. In North China, some 24,000 rural villages have been abandoned or partly depopulated as grasslands have been destroyed by overgrazing and as croplands have been inundated by migrating sand dunes.

In countries with severe soil erosion, such as Mongolia and Lesotho, grain harvests are shrinking as erosion lowers yields and eventually leads to cropland abandonment. The result is spreading hunger and growing dependence on imports. Haiti and North Korea, two countries with severely eroded soils, are chronically dependent on food aid from abroad.

Meanwhile aquifer depletion is fast shrinking the amount of irrigated area in many parts of the world; this relatively recent phenomenon is driven by the large-scale use of mechanical pumps to exploit underground water. Today, half the world’s people live in countries where water tables are falling as overpumping depletes aquifers. Once an aquifer is depleted, pumping is necessarily reduced to the rate of recharge unless it is a fossil (nonreplenishable) aquifer, in which case pumping ends altogether. But sooner or later, falling water tables translate into rising food prices.

Irrigated area is shrinking in the Middle East, notably in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, and possibly Yemen. In Saudi Arabia, which was totally dependent on a now-depleted fossil aquifer for its wheat self-sufficiency, production is in a freefall. From 2007 to 2010, Saudi wheat production fell by more than two thirds. By 2012, wheat production will likely end entirely, leaving the country totally dependent on imported grain.

The Arab Middle East is the first geographic region where spreading water shortages are shrinking the grain harvest. But the really big water deficits are in India, where the World Bank numbers indicate that 175 million people are being fed with grain that is produced by overpumping. In China, overpumping provides food for some 130 million people. In the United States, the world’s other leading grain producer, irrigated area is shrinking in key agricultural states such as California and Texas. Source: FP Website

USDA report bullish for corn, soybeans U.S. corn ending stocks 2nd lowest rate since mid-1990s

Bali News Two of my recommendations since the beginning of last year and 2011 have been corn and soybeans. It appears that current shortages may lead to even higher prices in the future. I am currently long on both investments.

USDA report bullish for corn, soybeans
U.S. corn ending stocks 2nd lowest rate since mid-1990s
January 16, 2011 - By LARRY KERSHNER, For the Messenger
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For those with grain to sell, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's latest crop production and supply/demand report was good news.

For those with grain to feed or buy, not such good news.

The new report, issued Wednesday morning, had pushed corn futures up by as high as 28 cents by midday - $6.35 per bushel for March futures - and soybeans up by 66 cents, to $14.23 for March.

What was pushing the price was U.S. and world ending stock numbers, said Darin Newsom, DTN senior analyst, during a morning webinar prior to markets opening.

U.S. ending stocks for corn was whittled by the USDA report to 14.2 billion bushels, or about 5.5 percent.

"This is a very, very tight situation,"?Newsom said, adding that stocks were not this low since 1995. "Tightening stocks will continue to push markets up."

Newsom credited ethanol's continued demand increase as the largest growing sector of corn demand.

Even with the rising cost of corn, Newsom told Farm News he expected ethanol demand to remain consistent as long as petroleum prices remained high and gas demand was consistent.

"This is different than in 2008 when the petroleum price collapsed,"?Newsom said. "As gas demand goes up it requires more ethanol. The key is watching future spreads."

However if corn prices soar well into the $7 range, it may cause ethanol distillers to begin struggling, he said, but then added, "It may be that ethanol is getting used to the high prices.

"We're just not seeing the sharp reactions as in 2008."

Concern for dairy

For the dairy industry, Newsom said that although the class III milk market has stabilized, "it's still a difficult time out there.

"How long can it survive these higher prices in corn?"

He indicated that survival will depend on output prices somehow catching up to input prices.

He said that just within the first quarter of the fiscal year, 30 percent of the 2010 harvest has been exhausted.

World ending stock for corn was also lowered as worldwide demand for corn is also climbing, the largest seen since 1995.

Worldwide ending stocks is estimated 127 million metric tons, or about 15 percent - the lowest since the mid-1970s - which was much lower than analysts were expecting, Newsom said.

Part of this decrease, Newsom noted, was a drop in the expected supply from Argentina.

When asked if China will re-enter buying significant U.S. corn as it did last year, Newsom said "it's possible, but I'm not certain China will."

Soybean ending stocks dwindling

The total U.S. harvest has been once again reduced to 3.33 billion bushels, down from the previous estimate of 3.37 bb, and less than the final 2009 harvest of 3.36 bb.

U.S. soybeans stock estimates were reduced by USDA to 140 million bushels, about 42 percent. "This is about as low as its ever been,"?Newsom said.

He said that one thing that may be helping soybeans is that export demand for soybeans has showed signs of a slight slowing. The USDA's export estimate for this marketing year was unchanged at 159 bb.

However, residual uses was increased from 3.27 bb a month ago, to 3.55 bb on Wednesday.

Concerning worldwide ending stocks, soybeans are expected to dwindle further to 58.28 million metric tons, down to 22.8 percent..

He said the Argentinan supply was lowered this month by 1.5 mmt, to account for much of the lost stocks.

"It's not as tight as the corn stocks,"?Newsom said, "but global (soybean) stocks is at a critical point."

Acre wars commencing

When asked what it will take to replenish the corn and soybean larders, Newsom said that both grains and wheat are in need of more planted acres.

In corn alone, it will require 80 million acres to replace the corn supply, an increase of 8 to 10 million acres over 2010.

He expects that all three, not to mention cotton, rice and sorghum, will be able to see an expansion in planted acres.

"Something will lose out," Newsom said, "and I expect it'll be wheat."

Contact Larry Kershner at (515) 573-2141, ext. 453 or at

Don’t Ban Bali Hotel Building, Develop the North: Minister

Made Arya Kencana | January 15, 2011

Denpasar. Tourism Minister Jero Wacik has said he does not fully agree with plans of the Bali provincial administration to impose a moratorium on hotel development in Denpasar, Badung and Gianyar until 2015.

A week ago, Bali Governor Made Mangku Pastika said the island was suffering from imbalanced tourism development and an excess of hotel rooms.

“A moratorium is fine, but it should not be too extreme,” Wacik said on Friday, adding that in his opinion the problem could be solved through spreading tourism development and infrastructure across the island.

Wacik said there were plans to build an airport in Buleleng district in North Bali and to construct railway lines in collaboration with ministries such as Public Works and Transportation.

“It is my hope that both the new airport and the new railway lines will being operating by 2014. Once the airport is done, investors will rush in to build hotels in North Bali,” he said. “So I think a moratorium will not be required.”

Mangku said last week that he was seriously considering imposing a moratorium on hotel development in Denpasar, Badung and Gianyar until 2015, and that hotel investment would better be directed toward areas such as Buleleng, Bangli, Karangasem and Jembrana.

He added, however, that he would first need to consult the island’s district heads. As required under the Autonomy Law, district heads are the ones authorized to issue building permits, not the provincial government.

Wacik was worried that if nothing happened, the south of Bali would continue to be packed and traffic would worsen.

“In North Bali, there are plenty of poor and unemployed people,” Wacik said. “Through developing North Bali, we hope to provide these people with work.”

Mangku said on Friday he was still waiting for a “more specific study” from the Bali Tourism Board, which is considered one of the best-informed institutions when it comes to the dynamics of tourism on Bali.

“We still need input from the general public about these plans so that we have a very strong foundation [should a hotel moratorium be imposed],” the governor said.

“Without local input and local research, no bylaw can be issued on this matter,” he continued. “And Bali continues to be bombarded with investors who want to build ever more hotels in Kuta, Sanur, Jimbaran and Nusa Dua.”

A report issued by the Tourism Ministry’s Research and Development Center in collaboration with Udayana University showed that Bali had 55,000 hotel rooms — 9,800 more than the ideal number of rooms. Most hotels are located in the south.

Friday, January 14, 2011

36 Hours in Bali

Justin Mott for The New York Times

Meditation area at Fivelements wellness center, near Ubud.
Published: January 13, 2011

MAYBE it was the topless women that the German painter Walter Spies captured in his lush landscapes of Bali during the 1930s. But ever since, foreigners have come to undress. Shirtless Australians, surfboards strapped to the side of their motorbikes, cruise around for the best waves. At five-star resorts, bronzed Italian women in tiny bikinis while away the days with wine. Farther inland, spiritual seekers wrapped in body-skimming sarongs commune in temples. The natives don’t go topless anymore, but that doesn’t stop the throngs of sunbathers who let it all hang out on Bali’s busiest beaches.
Bali Travel Guide


Punctuated by temples hidden behind ornately carved archways and petal-filled lanes, Ubud is Bali’s artistic hub. And beyond the painted masks and shadow puppets that spill out of countless storefronts are a string of new galleries that offer one-of-a-kind treasures. Jean-François Fichot (Jalan Raya Pengosekan 6, Ubud; 62-361-974-652; carries striking gem- and stone-encrusted gold jewelry and objets d’art. Next door is the Nusantara Gallery (Jalan Raya Pengosekan 7, Ubud; 62-81-797-97804), which sells rare primitive art, including wooden statues and fine weavings gathered from all over the Indonesian archipelago. And at Rio Helmi Photography (Jalan Suweta 24A, Ubud; 62-361-978-773;, Mr. Helmi, who displays his own photos of Bali and elsewhere, has a new book out, “Memories of the Sacred,” that chronicles 30 years spent witnessing Bali’s enduring traditions.

7 p.m.


Culinary karma seems to emanate from Jalan Raya Sanggingan, a winding road about 15 minutes northwest of Ubud’s center. Joining Mozaic’s famed French-Asian fare and Naughty Nuri’s legendary ribs is Minami (Jalan Raya Sanggingan, Ubud; 62-361-970-013;, a stylish Japanese restaurant opened in 2009 by Miho Oshiro from Osaka. You can sip a yuzu-infused sake-tini (85,000 rupiah, or about $9.75 at 8,703 rupiah to the dollar) as you settle into the baby blue, jasmine-scented dining room, which overlooks a lantern-lit garden. The six-course tasting menu (210,000 rupiah) includes melt-in-the-mouth Tasmanian salmon sashimi and tissue-papery zucchini leaf tempura. Even the flavored salt (the recipe is a secret), imported from Japan and served in a tiny bowl, is exquisite.

9:30 p.m.


You’ll most likely have Ubud’s streets to yourself soon after dinner, but cute cocktail spots are on the rise. At Cafe Havana (Jalan Dewi Sita, Ubud; 62-361-972-973;, salsa bands and dance classes take place among mismatched hand-painted chairs and framed photos of Che and Fidel. Drinks at artsy Lamak (Jalan Monkey Forest, Ubud; 62-361-974-668; are mixed at an open-air bar; go for the sweet yet punchy El Diablo, made of tequila, crème de cassis, lemon juice and ginger ale.


7:45 a.m.


It’s hard not to fall for Bali while cycling its quiet back roads, which are lined with stepped rice fields, blooms in every shade of the rainbow and women in bright sarongs balancing temple offerings on their heads. Half-day tours with Bali Eco-Cycling (Jalan Pengosekan, Ubud; 62-361-975-557;; 300,000 rupiah) start with breakfast overlooking the 5,600-foot-high volcanic Mount Batur and its crater lake, followed by a caffeine kick at a coffee plantation. The mostly downhill 17-mile ride isn’t very challenging, but it is spectacularly scenic and photo-friendly.

1 p.m.


Follow the dreadlocks and Aladdin pants to Kafe (Jalan Hanoman 44b, Ubud; 62-361-780-3802;, a sunny, art-filled cafe that is made of reclaimed wood. Run by Meghan Pappenheim, an ex-New Yorker, the hippie-chic spot serves vegan and raw food like Meg’s Big Salad Bowl — a heaping plate of greens, cabbage, peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes and crunchy tofu-tempeh cubes (36,000 rupiah) — and kitcheree, a hearty stew of lentil, brown rice, ginger and turmeric (32,000). There’s also a selection of baked goods for the less virtuous.

2:30 p.m.


It took 30 months to build Fivelements (Banjar Baturning, Mambal; 62-361-469-206;, a stunning wellness center and five-room hotel tucked away in Mambal, a sleepy village 20 minutes by car from Ubud. Transcendental massages are offered in incense-filled rooms built of polished bamboo, reclaimed wood and spiral thatched roofs (90 minutes from $80). Post-treatment ginger-lemongrass tea is served on a private deck overlooking a bamboo forest and the Ayung River.

5:30 p.m.


Bali’s legendary sunsets can be a controversial affair. Ask around for the best perch to catch the nightly psychedelia, and you’ll get an earful. Still, there’s no denying that one of the most stylish places is the Rock Bar (Ayana Resort and Spa, Jimbaran; 62-361-702-222;, an outdoor lounge built into the cliffs at the newly opened Ayana Resort and Spa along the island’s southwestern tip. The muted, minimalist bar with interconnected decks is perched above the crashing waves of the Indian Ocean. Get there early to avoid the lines and to get a good seat (though the best are saved for hotel guests). Order a cold beer (80,000 rupiah) and watch the sun melt into the water, casting the sky in brilliant shades of pink, violet and orange.

8:30 p.m.


Seminyak, Kuta’s upscale neighbor, has become Bali’s see-and-be-seen center of night life. So it was refreshing when Sardine (Jalan Petitenget 21, Kerobakan; 62-361-738-202;, an artsy down-to-earth restaurant, made everyone feel at home. With rice fields as the backdrop, diners sample what the executive chef Michael Shaheen, from California, calls “cuisine du soleil” — healthy, light food suited to hot climates. That includes just-caught seafood like pink snapper sashimi with shimeji mushrooms (65,000 rupiah) and pan-seared scallops in a parsley-truffle emulsion (195,000 rupiah).

10:30 p.m.


Bali’s beautiful people gather for drinks, jazz and D.J.-spun beats across the street at Métis (Jalan Petitenget 6, Kerobokan; 62-361-737-888;, a candlelit bar that’s the latest venture from the folks behind Kafe Warisan. In the center of town, design aficionados gather at Word of Mouth (Jalan Kunti 9, Seminyak; 62-361-847-5797;, a boutique that doubles as a cool lounge at night, with impromptu parties that have developed a loyal following (check its Facebook page for updates).


9 a.m.


Bali’s giant waves have been luring surfers since the 1960s, promising year-round swells that can soar upward of 10 feet. After spending time admiring the perfect tans and free spirits of Bali’s surfing community, you’ll very likely want to join. Surf shacks with teachers abound. To minimize first-timers’ humiliation, try a private 75-minute lesson (450,000 rupiah) with Marcy Meachin (62-812-385-9454;, a talented Aussie teacher who’s spent much of the last 30 years chasing surf in Indonesia. Beginner courses are taught on Legian Beach, where the shallow waters, sandy shores and small waves provide a gentle introduction.

11:30 a.m.


Breathtaking beaches edge the Bukit, the island’s southern peninsula. Book a car and driver to get to secluded spots like Padang Padang, an oasis of calm water shaded by soaring cliffs that was a setting for the film “Eat Pray Love.” Another stunning beach is at the Nammos Beach Club (Karma Kandara Resort;, reached by a steep trail etched in a limestone cliff. Interlopers can enjoy aquamarine water for an entry fee of 250,000 rupiah, which includes 100,000 rupiah toward food. The open-air kitchen serves a mean wood-fired pizza with toppings like fig, prosciutto and Gorgonzola.

2 p.m.


Bring home some Bali chic from Jalan Laksmana, which has emerged as Seminyak’s boutique street in recent years. Try bohemian-cool Press Ban Cafe at No. 50 (62-361-730-486) for handmade wooden shoes, Jackie O. shades and fitted vintage plaid button-downs. Lily Jean (No. 102; 62-361-847-5872; carries sexy strapless jersey pantsuits and bandaged cocktail dresses. And Simplekonsepstore (No. 40; 62-361-730-393; prides itself on one-of-a-kind design: limited-edition graphic T-shirts, origami-inspired bags and hand-dyed tunics that reinvent Bali’s rich tradition of batik in totally unexpected ways.


The 20 chocolate- and toffee-hued villas at Uma Sapna (Jalan Drupadi No. 20 Basangkasa, Seminyak; 62-361-736-628; come with private pools and outdoor patios. Seminyak’s shops are within walking distance and the beach is a short cab ride away. Doubles from $175.

The W Retreat & Spa Bali-Seminyak (Jalan Petitenget, Seminyak; 62-361-738-106; is expected to open in March or April, with 237 rooms offering knockout water views. Doubles from $575.

United States CPI inclined in December

Editors Note: As I predicted in my Decemberinflation will rear its ugly head. As shown below inflation increased almost 400% compared with November. This may be the start of a new round of high inflation.

United States CPI inclined in December
14 January 2011 @ 08:36 am EDT

United States Consumer Price Index rose in December by 0.5%, compared with the previous 0.1% and the expected 0.4%, meanwhile, on the yearly scale, the index rose by 1.5% compared with the previous 1.1% and the expected 1.3%.

As for the Core CPI, the index matched the previous reported estimate of 0.1% on the monthly scale, and 0.8% on the yearly scale, noting that market's expected the index to rise by 0.7% on the yearly scale.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Strong winds, torrential rains hit Bali

The Jakarta Post | Wed, 01/12/2011 10:37 AM | National

GIANYAR: Thirty-seven houses in Gianyar regency were destroyed after torrential rains and strong winds hit several areas of Bali on Monday night.

Disaster and Relief Control Center chief Putu Anom Agustina said that the homeowners needed assistance from the local and provincial governments. “We are lucky that there were no casualties during Monday’s incident,” Agustina said.

Strong winds also hit Denpasar, Jimbaran and Kuta, forcing several airlines to delay flight departures.

“We had to wait for two hours before leaving,” said Harikhesa, a passenger on Lion Air’s 10:10 p.m. flight from Denpasar to Jakarta.

Bali Social Affairs office head Ketit Susrama said that the provincial administration was currently coordinating with regional governments to assist victims of the severe weather.

Govt plans new toll road to Bali airport before APEC Summit

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Tue, 01/11/2011 12:06 PM |

A road in Bali connecting Nusa Dua airport with the rest of the island.

“We have agreed to build the Sarangan - Nusa Dua toll road, spanning 11.5 kilometers, in Bali," State-Owned Enterprises Minister Mustafa Abubakar said Tuesday after meeting Coordinating Economic Minister Hatta Rajasa.

“The toll road will not curve but cut from the airport to Benoa. It will also cut from the airport to Sarangan," he added.

Four state-owned enterprises, PT Jasa Marga, PT Pelindo III, PT Angkasa Pura, and the Bali Tourism Development Board, would form a consortium that would oversee the construction of the road.

“The four state-owned enterprises will work together to manage [the construction of] the toll road so it won't be necessary to use the state budget [APBN]. All funds, amounting to Rp 1.4 trillion to Rp 1.6 trillion, will come from the state-owned enterprises,” Mustafa said.

He added that the construction would begin in January, and has been targeted for completion by May 2013.

"We hope this road will be complete before the APEC Summit in Bali in 2013," he said.

A New Slogan to Lure Tourists to Indonesia

Editor Comment:
I wish that the Indonesian Tourism Officials would ask for comments about proposed slogans form western tourism professionals such as myself and most Hotel managers in Bali and Jakarta before they publish them.

For example one of the recent slogans was " Your coming is our pleasure".

Somehow something got lost in the translation.

The new slosgan " “Wonderful Indonesia.” is an improvgement butdoes not ryhme.

Maybe they could run a contest with free European round trip on Garuda to winner and have a panel of Indonesians and Western tourism professional judge the winner.

Tasa Nugraza Barley | January 09, 2011

With more than 17,000 islands and some of the richest biodiversity on earth, Indonesia is a natural paradise. To go along with its breathtaking natural scenery, the archipelago also boasts a hugely diverse range of cultures and religions.

Whether you want to take in the world’s highest diversity of coral species while diving the reefs of Raja Ampat in West Papua, stroll ancient temple compounds in Central Java or walk among real-life prehistoric dragons on Komodo Island in East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia has something for travelers of all stripes.

How then, can you sum up this myriad of tourism riches in a single slogan.

This was the challenge facing members of Indonesia’s Tourism Ministry running up to the unveiling last week of the country’s new official tourism slogan for 2011, “Wonderful Indonesia.”

Reaction to the new slogan has been mixed, with some expressing remorse that the older, more direct slogan, “Visit Indonesia,” had been dropped.

Like it or hate it, most travelers and tourism industry insiders agree that, along with the new, flashy slogan, Indonesia needs a new and better approach to managing a national tourism industry that continues to struggle despite being blessed with almost limitless potential.

According to the official Web site of the Association of Southeast Asia Nations, Indonesia ranks No. 4 in tourist arrivals on a list of all Southeast Asian countries. Malaysia, at No. 1, hosted more than 23 millions international tourists in 2009, followed by Thailand and Singapore, respectively.

Despite what on paper appears to be a chronic underperformance, there is reason to believe that Indonesian tourism is on the brink of a new golden era — if it can capitalize on some recent trends.

The Tourism Ministry has released new data for 2010 showing that it was a record year for international arrivals, with seven million foreign tourists visiting Indonesia. The ministry said that these tourists pumped around $7.6 billion into the economy.

In addition, the ministry also reported that Indonesians themselves are getting out to explore the wonders of their own country in greater numbers than ever before.

Last year some 234 million Indonesians fanned out to beaches, hiking trails and resorts all across the archipelago in search of fun and adventure, adding Rp 138 trillion ($15.5 billion) to the economy in the process — a 3.05 percent increase from the 229 million local travelers reported in 2009.

The ministry has set a goal for 7.7 million international tourist arrivals in 2011, a 10 percent increase from 2010.

It is in support of this target that the Tourism Ministry has introduced its new slogan.

The new slogan is accompanied by a logo depicting the country’s national Garuda symbol drawn in five different colors.

“The aura around 2011 is very positive,” Culture and Tourism Minister Jero Wacik wrote recently on the ministry’s Web site.

Despite Jero’s enthusiasm, most industry insiders think that it will take more than a positive aura to meet the new goal.

Tara Seprita, a strategic planner at the Grey Jakarta advertising agency, said slogans, logos and taglines were an important part of this type of large-scale campaign, but she added that there must also be something behind the slogan that backed up the brand’s vision and mission.

Tara said that, by its nature, the global tourism industry is cluttered with many countries vying for their share of the tourist dollar.

Usually, one country’s campaign is no better or more distinctive than other countries’ campaigns.

It’s very difficult to stand out in this type of an environment. Doing so takes much more than just a catchy slogan, she said.

Dewi Wilaisono, a housewife, avid traveler, photographer and scuba diver, said she supported the slogan change.

“There’s no other word that can represent Indonesia besides ‘wonderful,’ ” said Dewi, who has traveled to almost every province in Indonesia.

Tara, however, believes that there is room for improvement. “Wonderful Indonesia” is not very focused, she said, adding that there are too many messages that the ministry is trying to get across in one line.

She thinks that the previous slogan, “Visit Indonesia,” was more to the point.

It’s not easy to determine which one is better, she said.

“In the end, a slogan doesn’t really matter that much — the most important thing is how well the overall strategy is implemented.”

Celebrated traveler Trinity, known to her readers as The Naked Traveler, agrees.

She said that a catchy new slogan is useless unless it is part of an larger integrated campaign.

Trinity, whose two books, “The Naked Traveler” and “The Naked Traveler 2,” have become national best sellers, complained that finding information about Indonesian tourism was still difficult.

“Try to search ‘Indonesia’ and ‘tourism’ on Google, the chances are you’ll have a hard time finding Indonesia’s official tourism Web site,” she said.

Trinity pointed out that finding reliable, up-to-date travel information on the Internet remained one of the most problematic issues for foreign tourists.

And until this problem is fixed, all the new slogans in the world won’t help to increase Indonesia’s tourism, she added.

She blamed the Tourism Ministry for not appealing to the public to get more involved in support of the tourism industry.

She pointed out how other countries like Malaysia, with its “Truly Asia” campaign, had managed to communicate their strategies not only to the world, but to their own residents as well.

“The people there are proud of helping and supporting the tourism industry,” she said, adding that the opposite is often the reality in Indonesia.

When the new slogan was launched, Trinity said most of the residents she spoke with didn’t even know about it and those who did didn’t really know what it meant.

“I myself don’t really know what the new slogan really means,” Trinity admitted.

“If people don’t know what the government is doing in the tourism sector, they can’t be expected to know how to help and participate,” she said.

“It seems to me that the government wants to go forward by themselves. This isn’t right.”

Tara pointed out how the slogans of neighboring countries such as “Amazing Thailand” or “Infinitely Yours Seoul” were actually nothing special.

But the difference is that these slogans are a part of large, sustained and creative campaigns to lure tourists.

Tara said that Indonesia’s tourism officials needed to stop focusing only on traditional communication strategies and start thinking more creatively while focusing on Web-based digital implementation and access.

But despite the criticism, Jero remains optimistic that his office is on the right course and can boost the number of tourists coming to Indonesia.

“Culture is our strength and treasure that we can use to build our tourism industry,” he said.

Although she personally likes the new slogan, Dewi agreed that there was plenty more that needed to be done in order to improve tourism in Indonesia.

“We don’t promote hard enough to potential tourists abroad,” she said, adding that even domestic promotion is very limited. “Access to many tourism destinations is still bad.”

A New Slogan to Lure Tourists to Indonesia
Tasa Nugraza Barley | January 09, 2011
The komodo dragon is one of Indonesia's biggest tourist draws. Most travelers and tourism industry insiders agree that, along with the new, flashy slogan, Indonesia needs a better approach to managing a national tourism industry that continues to struggle. (AFP Photo/ Bay Ismoyo).

Trinity, who’s been to every province in Indonesia except Papua, said that infrastructure remained a great obstacle to boosting tourism.

She said that East Indonesia, which has huge potential to attract international tourists, still has very poor infrastructure, making traveling there difficult and costly.

But despite the problems, Indonesia still has the major advantage of being, well, Indonesia. There’s nowhere else like it on earth.

For this reason, people like Trinity are certain of Indonesia’s potential. “I don’t know one foreign traveler who doesn’t like Indonesia,” she said.

“The challenge is how to start getting people to come here first.”

Businesses in Indonesia Anticipate Tough Year of Inflation

Dion Bisara, Faisal Maliki Baskoro & Francezka Nangoy | January 11, 2011

Regional Development Bank Targets Rp 2 Trillion in Bond Sale 9:21pm Jan 11, 2011

18 Firms Target Indonesian Automotive Industry 9:12pm Jan 11, 2011

Garuda Seeks New Wings, Up to $500 Million in IPO 9:11pm Jan 11, 2011

Bank Indonesia’s Stance Draws Further Concern 8:32pm Jan 11, 2011

Indonesia's Garuda to Sell 36.5 Percent Stake in IPO: Sources 5:06pm Jan 11, 2011

As inflationary concerns build and foreign investors pull out of Indonesia, local companies are bracing for a tough year.

“We’re not as optimistic as the government. With rising inflation, uncertainty in the electricity rate hikes and increasing oil prices, it will be good if the economy can expand by 6 percent this year,” said Sofjan Wanandi, chairman of the Indonesian Employers Association (Apindo).

“Inflation will not just affect companies’ sales, but will also boost operating costs. Companies have taken inflation into account to calculate labor wages.”

The International Monetary Fund, which provided Indonesia billions in assistance during the 1998 financial crisis, has warned that core inflation could accelerate and non-food prices could rise if food prices continue on their current course.

Jongkie Sugiarto, president director of Hyundai and vice chairman of the Indonesian Automotive Industries Association (Gaikindo), said he would monitor Bank Indonesia’s policy rate and inflation rate in the coming weeks before revising any targets.

“So far there’s still no revision [on car sales],” he said. Gaikindo has forecast national car sales to rise by up to 15 percent this year to more than 800,000 units, though that is based on the central bank keeping its rate at 6.5 percent and “inflation rates remaining at a controllable level.”

Gunawan, director of Indomobil Finance Indonesia, a financing company that focuses on car and motorcycle loans, said the company was confident about its sales target this year.

Even if the benchmark rate went up, he said, “Indonesians will still have the purchasing power to get cars or motorcycles.”

Erna Esti Utami, marketing manager of Farmers Market, also voiced optimism that people would still be able to shop.

“The only changes might be a switch from premium goods to second-line goods,” she said.

Bank Indonesia kept its benchmark rate at a record low 6.5 percent last week.

Island tourism industry looks rosy for 2011: Stakeholders

Wasti Atmodjo and Ni Komang Erviani, The Jakarta Post, Denpasar | Wed, 01/05/2011 11:47 AM | Bali

The tourism industry in Bali could continue to see good conditions this year, as stakeholders predict a greater number of foreign tourist arrivals and higher investments in the industry compared to last year.

The Bali Tourism Agency said 2.27 million foreign tourists visited the island between January and November last year.

Following a significant upsurge in December, with an average of 6,000 tourist arrivals per day, agency head Ida Bagus Kade Subhiksu said he was optimistic the total number would exceed the target of 2.3 million foreign visitors.

“We expect that the final figures show 2.4 million foreign visitors for the whole year,” he said recently.

He said the agency would wait for the final statistics and evaluation before setting a target for this year, adding that he expected conditions this year to be similar to or better than last year.

Bali Statistics Agency head Gede Suarsa said the island welcomed around 200,000 visitors per month last year, adding that he was also upbeat the target of 2.3 million visitors would be surpassed, with Australian tourists making up the biggest chunk of foreign arrivals.

In 2009, tourist arrivals reached 2.22 million, up 13.3 percent compared to the 1.96 million tourists in the previous year.

Nationally, the total number of foreign tourist arrivals reached 5.78 million between January and October last year, an 11.88 percent increase from 2009, Tourism Ministry head of human resources development Gde Pitana Brahmananda said.

“Overall, and especially for Bali, we expect better conditions this year. Our evaluation from various aspects shows a positive outlook. The conditions will be better if security, services and facilities are maintained,” Pitana said.

Each tourist spent at least US$1,000 per visit last year, less than 2008’s high of $1,178. In 2009, tourists spent an average of $1,000.

The chairman of the Denpasar branch of the Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association (PHRI), Ida Bagus Gede Sidharta Putra, said he was also optimistic, citing an upward trend in hotel bookings.

“From January to February, 80 percent of our hotels are close to fully booked and other hotels show similar trends. As long as the situation is favorable, this year can be as good as last year, even better,” he said, adding that high occupancy rates were due to good relations between hotels and guests, as many were repeat customers.

I Gede Ardika, a member of the ethical council of the World Tourism Organization, warned the tourism industry to not focus only on increasing the number of tourist arrivals, but also prioritizing quality.

“Quality is not only about how much tourists spend, but also about their interaction with locals so
that they absorb our cultural values.”

The tourism sector remains attractive for investors as well, with tourism accounting for 80 percent of total investments in Bali, the Bali Investment Agency said.

“Although last year we pushed for more investment in agriculture, most investors put their money into tourism,” agency head Nyoman Suwirya.

The total investment in Bali last year reached Rp 7 trillion from 300 business units, 80 percent of which were foreign investments.

Suwirya emphasized that Bali needed to implement a moratorium on hotel development in Denpasar, Badung and Gianyar since the number of available rooms in those areas outnumbered existing demand.

A day of swimming and strolling along Bali’s Padang Bai Beach

By the way...: A day of swimming and strolling along Bali’s Padang Bai Beach
| Sun, 01/09/2011 12:33 PM | Headlines

It’s warm and sunny — a perfect day for a run down the coast to catch some sun and surf. Sun hats on, the top down on the red VW Safari and off we puttered to an old favorite, the fishing village of Padang Bai on Bali’s east coast.

Not too long ago Padang Bai was a peaceful little haven best known as the jumping-off point to east Indonesia via the great ferries that ply the waters here, sailing over the Wallace Line, a massive trench that splits the ocean floor into east and west.

The town of Padang Bai stretches along the main swimming beach, a gentle curve of gold sand and easy swell, ideal for kids and the elderly alike to take a dip in safety. On afternoons, the whole village used to take to the beach, bathing, racing along the sand, promenading at the tide’s turn.

Today, the waters that were the meeting place of this little village are a tangle of mooring lines and a gaggle of dive boats, drip-drip-dripping oil and gasoline into the sea. The mooring lines reach right out of the sea and onto the beach, tripping up the unwary. Strolling here is now impossible.

With the front beach lost to minor businesses we headed up and over the high hill to the Blue Lagoon, famous for its swaying coconut palms fringing an azure sea, a perfect, tropical paradise cliché in real life.

In days gone by, there was a
sense of adventure in the dusty scramble up the hill, past the cows and the pigs and the old lady who kept them, and on up to a shuddering thump of the heart at that first sight of the lagoon 100 meters below.

You guessed it — that’s all gone now too. There are instead steps, shaggy warung, an access road
for cars, a parking area and worst of all, someone has built a house on the peak blocking the view of the lagoon with cement and tiles.

Down on the beach, the tragedy continues: A warung has been built on the sand, shortening the beach to just a few meters’ width at high tide; the still-clear azure seas are awash with plastic bags, chip packets, juice containers with the straw still in place and some very worrying floating brown bits of something unknown.

Swimming in this sea has become unpleasant; bobbing into the floating rubbish just feels wrong, like swimming in a landfill.

One young guy was valiantly attempting to clean the seas by straining a plastic mesh box through the waves, trapping the rubbish.

This was something good, I thought, spitting a shard of plastic out of my mouth.

“I don’t normally do this job. A tourist said she would pay me to clean the beach as she hated seeing it like this,” said the beach cleaner, Wayan, from Klungkung.

He added that he had asked local businesses to pay him to clean the beach and act as security in case people get caught in the rips.

“In one day I saved five people — six of them had swum out too far and were in trouble. One of them died as I could not get to him in time.

“I think we should have someone on the beach all the time to make sure people are safe and we can clean the beaches too,” said Wayan, whose request for work fell on
deaf ears.

Another friend said she felt the rubbish was in fact a good thing.

“You can see it. When the body is ill it shows on the surface, like a rash, so you know to do something about it. Seeing this rubbish here, it tells us that we need to start taking responsibility and start looking for solutions,” she said.

I think she is right. We can’t go back to the way things were; tourism is here and it is going to keep growing, but the rash — the warning that we are destroying the very reason people visit Bali — daily becomes redder and itchier, and needs sustainable treatment.

For now, all I want is a swim and a stroll along Padang Bai’s front beach without having to battle the maze of boats or get strung out on their mooring lines.

Silver is 'common man's gold' in India as bullion expensive

Bloomberg) Silver is 'common man's gold' in India as bullion expensive

The metal is still 48 times cheaper than gold per ounce.

Demand for silver in India, where imports of the metal surged more than sixfold in the first half of 2010, is increasing as investors seek an alternative to higher-priced gold, according to a trader.

"It is increasing day by day," Ketan Shroff, Managing Director of Pushpak Bullions Pvt, said in a phone interview. Demand probably climbed at least 20% to 30% in the past six months, he said.

Silver futures in New York reached a three-decade high of $31.275 an ounce on Jan. 3, after rallying 84% in 2010. The metal is still 48 times cheaper than gold per ounce, data on the Bloomberg show. Gold for immediate delivery reached a record $1,431.25 an ounce on Dec. 7.

"People are accumulating silver since gold is getting unaffordable to the common man," Shroff said in an interview on Jan. 7. Silver "has become the common man's gold."

Weddings and festivals, and higher gold prices will likely fuel demand for silver in the medium term, broker Karvy Comtrade Ltd said in a report Nov. 2. Imports surged more than six times to $1.7 billion in the first-half of 2010, according to Karvy.

(FT Alphaville) World's Richest Man Enters the Silver Market

Here's some juicy stock market RAW to kick off 2011 - Carlos Slim, the world's richest man is looking to enter the silver market in a big way.

And that big way, according to KingWorldNews, is a bid for Fresnillo, the Mexican based mining company that is poised to become the world's biggest silver producer.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Culture as a Dimension of Development: The Case of Bali, Indonesia

By Camden Conference | Jan 09, 2011
(Courtesy of: Camden Conference)

The dimension of culture is vital in Asian history and development. When cultural traditions are ignored or undervalued, the results may bring outcomes not intended by experts or leaders directing economic or political planning. When appreciated as a fact of social life, culture may contribute powerfully to the analysis of what will succeed in an Asian setting.

Join cultural anthropologist Dr. Phil McKean for a discussion of modernization efforts in Bali, Indonesia, including the “green revolution” in the irrigated rice fields, and the growth of international “cultural tourism.” This event takes place on Sunday, January 16, from 3:00 – 4:30 PM at the Cushing Public Library and is free and open to all.

Dr. McKean will explore how an appreciation of culture can bring a deeper understanding of the changes in Bali in the past several decades in such important areas as sustainable agriculture for growing populations, and the retention of local and regional identity in the face of global communications. He may even conjure some suggestions for future U.S. policy towards the societies of Asia.

Phil McKean has taught at Hampshire College, Brown and Udayana Universities, and Coastal Senior College. His Ph.D. is in Cultural Anthropology, based on his research in Bali. He lives in Cushing with his wife, Deborah.

This community event is hosted by the Cushing Public Library in anticipation of the 24th Annual Camden Conference: “The Challenges of Asia,” February 18-20, 2011. For more information on this event, please call the Library directly at 207-354-7212.

The Camden Conference is a nonprofit, non-partisan educational organization whose mission is to foster informed discourse on world affairs through year-round community events, public and student engagement, and an annual weekend Conference featuring distinguished speakers focusing on a central theme related to U.S. foreign affairs. For more information, please visit or call 236-1034.

Culture as a Dimension of Development: The Case of Bali, Indonesia
By Camden Conference | Jan 09, 2011
(Courtesy of: Camden Conference)

The dimension of culture is vital in Asian history and development. When cultural traditions are ignored or undervalued, the results may bring outcomes not intended by experts or leaders directing economic or political planning. When appreciated as a fact of social life, culture may contribute powerfully to the analysis of what will succeed in an Asian setting.

Join cultural anthropologist Dr. Phil McKean for a discussion of modernization efforts in Bali, Indonesia, including the “green revolution” in the irrigated rice fields, and the growth of international “cultural tourism.” This event takes place on Sunday, January 16, from 3:00 – 4:30 PM at the Cushing Public Library and is free and open to all.

Dr. McKean will explore how an appreciation of culture can bring a deeper understanding of the changes in Bali in the past several decades in such important areas as sustainable agriculture for growing populations, and the retention of local and regional identity in the face of global communications. He may even conjure some suggestions for future U.S. policy towards the societies of Asia.

Phil McKean has taught at Hampshire College, Brown and Udayana Universities, and Coastal Senior College. His Ph.D. is in Cultural Anthropology, based on his research in Bali. He lives in Cushing with his wife, Deborah.

This community event is hosted by the Cushing Public Library in anticipation of the 24th Annual Camden Conference: “The Challenges of Asia,” February 18-20, 2011. For more information on this event, please call the Library directly at 207-354-7212.

The Camden Conference is a nonprofit, non-partisan educational organization whose mission is to foster informed discourse on world affairs through year-round community events, public and student engagement, and an annual weekend Conference featuring distinguished speakers focusing on a central theme related to U.S. foreign affairs. For more information, please visit or call 236-1034.

Culture as a Dimension of Development: The Case of Bali, Indonesia

By Camden Conference | Jan 09, 2011
(Courtesy of: Camden Conference)

The dimension of culture is vital in Asian history and development. When cultural traditions are ignored or undervalued, the results may bring outcomes not intended by experts or leaders directing economic or political planning. When appreciated as a fact of social life, culture may contribute powerfully to the analysis of what will succeed in an Asian setting.

Join cultural anthropologist Dr. Phil McKean for a discussion of modernization efforts in Bali, Indonesia, including the “green revolution” in the irrigated rice fields, and the growth of international “cultural tourism.” This event takes place on Sunday, January 16, from 3:00 – 4:30 PM at the Cushing Public Library and is free and open to all.

Dr. McKean will explore how an appreciation of culture can bring a deeper understanding of the changes in Bali in the past several decades in such important areas as sustainable agriculture for growing populations, and the retention of local and regional identity in the face of global communications. He may even conjure some suggestions for future U.S. policy towards the societies of Asia.

Phil McKean has taught at Hampshire College, Brown and Udayana Universities, and Coastal Senior College. His Ph.D. is in Cultural Anthropology, based on his research in Bali. He lives in Cushing with his wife, Deborah.

This community event is hosted by the Cushing Public Library in anticipation of the 24th Annual Camden Conference: “The Challenges of Asia,” February 18-20, 2011. For more information on this event, please call the Library directly at 207-354-7212.

The Camden Conference is a nonprofit, non-partisan educational organization whose mission is to foster informed discourse on world affairs through year-round community events, public and student engagement, and an annual weekend Conference featuring distinguished speakers focusing on a central theme related to U.S. foreign affairs. For more information, please visit or call 236-1034.

Indonesia Will Eliminate Tariffs on Imports of Wheat

farmIndonesia will eliminate tariffs on imports of wheat, soybeans and cattle feed, said on Friday by the chief minister of economy, in an attempt to improve household food supply and forestall possible protests over the escalating prices. As it is known, Indonesia is on of the developing country in South East Asia that has so many resources of fiber food.

“The measure will take effect next week,” said Hatta Rajasa in a press conference after the Cabinet met this week to discuss the stability of food prices. The official said he had not decided on the elimination of tariffs on sugar.

Indonesia, the largest economy in Southeast Asia depends on imports of sugar, soybeans and wheat, and sometimes the imports of rice and corn. Protests over food prices are considered as a factor behind the fall of Suharto in 1998. Rising food costs drove annual inflation to seven percent in December, the highest level in 20 months.

The Organization of the United Nations Food and Agriculture (FAO) said on Wednesday that food prices rose to a record last month, which exceeded the levels in 2008 generated a series of raids in several countries . The government expects food prices they yield local harvest begins in February.

7 Reasons Why Food Shortages Will Become Global Crisis

(Activist Post) Food inflation is here and it’s here to stay. We can see it getting worse every time we buy groceries. Basic food commodities like wheat, corn, soybeans, and rice have been skyrocketing since July, 2010 to record highs. These sustained price increases are only expected to continue as food production shortfalls really begin to take their toll this year and beyond.

This summer Russia banned exports of wheat to ensure their nation’s supply, which sparked complaints of protectionism. The U.S. agriculture community is already talking about rationing corn over ethanol mandates versus supply concerns. We’ve seen nothing yet in terms of food protectionism.

Global food shortages have forced emergency meetings at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization where they claim “urgent action” is needed. They point to extreme weather as the main contributing factor to the growing food shortages. However, commodity speculation has also been targeted as one of the culprits.

It seems that the crisis would also present the perfect opportunity and the justification for the large GMO food companies to force their products into skeptical markets like in Europe and Japan, as recently leaked cables suggest. One thing is for sure; food shortages will likely continue to get worse and eventually become a full-scale global food crisis.

Here are seven reasons why food shortages are here to stay on a worldwide scale:

1. Extreme Weather: Extreme weather has been a major problem for global food; from summer droughts and heat waves that devastated Russia’s wheat crop to the ongoing catastrophes from ‘biblical flooding’ in Australia and Pakistan. And it doesn’t end there. An extreme winter cold snap and snow has struck the whole of Europe and the United States. Staple crops are failing in all of these regions making an already fragile harvest in 2010 even more critical into 2011. Based on the recent past, extreme weather conditions are only likely to continue and perhaps worsen in the coming years.

2. Bee Colony Collapse: The Guardian reported this week on the USDA’s study on bee colony decline in the United States: “The abundance of four common species of bumblebee in the US has dropped by 96% in just the past few decades.” It is generally understood that bees pollinate around 90% of the world’s commercial crops. Obviously, if these numbers are remotely close to accurate, then our natural food supply is in serious trouble. Luckily for us, the GMO giants have seeds that don’t require open pollination to bear fruit.

3. Collapsing Dollar: Commodity speculation has resulted in massive food inflation that is already creating crisis levels in poor regions in the world. Food commodity prices have soared to record highs mainly because they trade in the ever-weakening dollar. Traders will point to the circumstances described in this article to justify their gambles, but also that food represents a tangible investment in an era of worthless paper. Because the debt problems in the United States are only getting worse, and nations such as China and Russia are dropping the dollar as their trade vehicle, the dollar will continue to weaken, further driving all commodity prices higher.

4. Regulatory Crackdown: Even before the FDA was given broad new powers to regulate food in the recent Food Safety Modernization Act, small farms were being raided and regulated out of business. Now, the new food bill essentially puts food safety under the direction of the Department of Homeland Security where the food cartel uses the government to further consolidate their control over the industry. Militant police action is taken against farmers suspected of falling short on quality regulations. It is the power to intimidate innocent small farmers out of the business.

5. Rising oil prices: In 2008, record oil prices that topped $147 per barrel drove food prices to new highs. Rice tripled in 6 months during the surge of oil prices, along with other food commodities. The price of oil affects food on multiple levels; from plowing fields, fertilizers and pesticides, to harvesting and hauling. Flash forward to 2011: many experts are predicting that oil may reach upwards of $150-$200 per barrel in the months ahead. As oil closed out 2010 at its 2-year highs of $95/bbl, it is likely on pace to continue climbing. Again, a weakening dollar will also play its part in driving oil prices, and consequently, food prices to crisis levels.

6. Increased Soil Pollution: Geo-engineering has been taking place on a grand scale in the United States for decades now. Previously known in conspiracy circles as ‘chemtrailing,’ the government has now admitted to these experiments claiming they are plan “B” to combat global warming. The patents involved in this spraying are heavy in aluminum. This mass aluminum contamination is killing plants and trees and making the soil sterile to most crops. In an astonishing coincidence, GMO companies have patented aluminum-resistant seeds to save the day.

7. GMO Giants: Because of growing awareness of the health affects of GM foods, several countries have rejected planting them. Therefore, they would seem to need a food crisis to be seen as the savior in countries currently opposed to their products. A leaked WikiLeaks cable confirms that this is indeed the strategy for GMO giants, where trade secretaries reportedly “noted that commodity price hikes might spur greater liberalization on biotech imports.” Since GMO giants already control much of the food supply, it seems they can also easily manipulate prices to achieve complete global control of food.

The equation is actually quite simple: food is a relatively inelastic commodity in terms of demand. In other words, people need to eat no matter how bad the economy gets. Thus, demand can be basically measured by the size of the population. Therefore, as demand remains steady while the 7 supply pressures outlined above continue to worsen, food prices will have only one place to go — up, up, and up.

As international agencies scramble to find “solutions,” their energy may be just as well spent on questioning if this famine scenario is being purposely manipulated for profits. Regardless, the average person would be very wise to stock up on food staples as an investment, and frankly to survive the worsening food crisis.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Hog and pork prices expected to soar in 2011

Hog and pork prices expected to soar in 2011

Hog and pork prices are expected to launch to record highs in 2011 due to a combination of high demand, high feed costs, and a smaller herd.

"Foreign buyers are expected to elevate pork exports by 10 percent," said Chris Hurt, a Purdue University Extension economist. "Pork exports are expected to represent a record 21 percent of domestic production. The combination of modestly lower production and higher exports means that the available supply per person in the United States will drop by nearly 3 percent in 2011. This will be the foundation for record retail pork prices as there will be less pork available at a time when U.S. consumers economic conditions are improving."

Live hog prices in 2011 are expected to exceed $60 per live hundredweight, or more than $80 on a lean basis. "The stimulus will come from smaller per capita U.S. supplies, from much stronger demand driven by recovering U.S. and world economies, and by the inflationary policy of the U.S. Federal Reserve," Hurt said.

How high can hog prices go in 2011? "Historically $90 lean prices, or about $67 live, were the top of futures markets," Hurt said.

Some current futures prices now exceed $90 for the spring and summer delivery contracts and raise the possibility of them reaching $100, or $75 live.

"Some may argue that there is no historic precedence for prices that high," Hurt said. "But, there's no historic base for costs of production this high as well. So, a new era of high costs probably means there will eventually be a new era of record high hog and pork prices."

Current forecasts are for hog prices to average more than $60 live for 2011. The previous record annual high was about $55.50 in 1982. By quarter, those prices are expected to average in the high-$50s in the first quarter, move toward the mid-$60s for the second and third quarters, and average in the mid-$50s in the final quarter.

"Record-high hog prices would seem to suggest great profit prospects for pork producers in 2011," Hurt said. "Of course that's not the case as feed costs aim toward a break-even year with costs estimated to be slightly over $60 as well."

Hog prices are expected to rise sharply in 2011 from the current low-$50s and move into the hig-$50s by late February and March. At this point, the industry will be back to near break-even prices, Hurt said. "Prices are expected to march toward the high-$60s in late May and June. The spring and summer quarters are expected to provide profitable production before sliding back to break-evens in the mid-$50s for the last quarter of the year."

Hurt said that the pork industry has been downsizing in response to high feed prices and will drop modestly in 2011. In December of 2007, the U.S. breeding herd stood at 6.233 million head. Today the herd is at 5.778 million head or a 7 percent reduction.

"Pork consumers will finally be feeling the pain of high feed prices in the record retail prices they will face in 2011," Hurt said.

The USDA December Hogs and Pigs report indicated that producers reduced the size of the breeding herd last year by 72,000 head, or about 1percent. The 2010 reduction was focused in North Carolina which had a reduction of 90,000 head. Farrowing intentions were down 1 percent for this winter and down two percent for this coming spring. This means some additional herd liquidation will be likely this winter, Hurt said.

Hurt suggests that the Federal Reserve policy of quantitative easing (QE2) also be considered as a stimulator of commodity prices. "Since the Fed announced their policy in late August 2010, commodity prices have moved up, but meats have lagged in those increases," he said.

As an example, Hurt said the April 2011 CRB commodity index futures have risen about 26 percent while the April 2011 live cattle futures have only increased 10 percent and the May 2011 lean hogs have risen 14 percent. In contrast May 2011 corn futures are up 37 percent and May 2011 soybean meal has been up 27 percent.

"While each commodity has its own supply-and-demand situation, this may be an indicator that the full bullish impact of QE2 is yet to come to the meat complex," he said.

Corn prices and yield will also play a role. "The U.S. average price of corn in 2011 may be $5.75 per bushel, compared to $4.78 for calendar year 2008. High-protein soybean meal is estimated at $363 compared to $331 in 2008. The total estimated costs for 2011 are $60.50 per live hundredweight compared with $54 in 2008," Hurt said.

He added that farrow-to-finish operations had profits of about $12 per head in 2010, however, this came after estimated losses of $17 and $24 per head in 2008 and 2009. In addition, the industry is currently operating at losses estimated at $22 per head in the final quarter of 2010 and an estimated $11 of loss in the first quarter of 2011.

"Better corn yields in 2011 would help moderate feed costs, but those better yields are still far off with a lot of weather to worry about in both the Southern and Northern Hemispheres over the next nine months," Hurt said. "The most optimistic prospects for hog producers are that they continue to trim the breeding herd in the first half of 2011 and have high corn yields next summer. This would provide robust profits for 2012. If yields are not high in 2011, then losses could return for 2012."

Thursday, January 6, 2011

How to Invest in Chinese Currency RMB in Singapore?

By Kenny Thong

Article Word Count: 370 [View Summary] Comments (1)

The rise of China has led to many people wanted to invest in the Chinese currency RMB as they think that with the economic growth of China, the RMB will continue to rise, especially RMB is currently undervalue against other currencies.

The problem with "investing" in the RMB is that there is no foreign currency deposit in RMB for investors to deposit in. So how does one play the RMB currency in Singapore? This question was posted to me a few times.

As the RMB is not a free currency that has offshore market, it is virtually not possible to buy RMB outside China.

One way to play it is to invest in the Chinese stock market. This is not a direct play, however, as the value of the Chinese stocks are influenced by other factors which may not be the same as those factors that affects the currency. Nevertheless, if the general growth for the country continues, the equity market should continue to perform well, so will the currency. A word of caution, as the Chinese equity market has run up much more than the currency, if there is a correction in the Chinese market, the lost on the equity investment may be more than the currency depreciation.

The other way is to open a RMB account with a bank in Hong Kong, as Hong Kong is allowed to take in RMB deposit. However, this route is impractical for many people. Furthermore, it is unclear if non Hong Kong resident can open a RMB deposit account.

The last method, which to me is the purest play on the RMB, is going through the futures market. The Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) has a USD/RMB futures contract. Therefore if one is bullish on the RMB, one should short the USD/RMB futures contract. This is not for the faint hearted. Furthermore, futures contract has expiry date whereby one needs to rollover the contract if he still wants to continue to have the exposure, unlike fixed deposit whereby the bank can rollover automatically for you. However, the futures contract does provide a cheap and efficient way of having an exposure in foreign currencies, much more efficient than the fixed deposit market.

I am currently an Investment Manager with a private equity firm, and a holder of the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) qualification.

Article Source:

Gloomy US jobless claims…

06 January 2011 @ 08:36 am EDT

The US released its initial jobless claims for January 1 showing a gloomy incline to come in at 409 thousand; higher than the predicted 405 thousand and the prior 388 thousand, while that the continuing claims for December 25 inclined as well to 4103 thousand; worse than the forecasted 4085 thousand and the prior reading of 4128 thousand.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Wined and dined in Bali

Dave Hulsman | 6th January 2011
BEFORE we start, let's get a few things straight. I'm no food connoisseur.

I'm no Gordon Ramsay, I'm no MasterChef and I'm certainly not a pretentious fine diner who will only eat if the food sits proudly in the centre of an oversized plate.

But I do like a good feed and often base my travel plans around this daily activity. I reckon I've got a fair understanding of what constitutes a good meal.

But the older I get, the closer I drift towards favouring a meal of better quality.

Fortunately, one of my favourite holiday destinations, Bali, has mirrored my gastronomic journey.

No, I'm not kidding. Just a few kilometres up the road from Kuta, in Seminyak, are travellers who are happy to forgo the economical advantages for a more comfortable holiday.

In Seminyak, the dining is centred on Jalan Laksmana, which is often referred to as Eat Street.

At first glance, it's really not a lot different to most of Bali's other streets: it's not neat, the footpath is uneven, the ever-present scooters still line the street and you could argue it still has that feel of seediness so familiar to a lot of other Asian tourist destinations.

However, stepping into the middle and high-end restaurants is like falling into a parallel universe.

They have an exquisite ambience that we never see here. Mass arrangements of fresh frangipanis and tuberoses, sweet incense, fairy- lights in the trees, tea lights flickering, clouds of fine table linen and overcloths, tinkling water features and cool cocktail tunes.

The dining options lining this street were certainly not what I was used to on my previous Bali trips.

It was goodbye to nasi goreng and hello to black truffle risotto, beef rendang envelopes and soft-shell crab.

On our first night, we chose the highly regarded Chandi (

We waltzed in about 7pm and assumed we'd have the pick of the best tables.

However, we then became aware reservations were the norm and had to choose the best spot out of the last two tables available.

We emerged 90 minutes later with a belly full of spicy tenderloin lettuce cups, black pepper crab dumplings with sugar snap peas in a soy butter cardamom vinaigrette, lemongrass-steamed red snapper, and grilled, sliced tenderloin with herbed mashed potatoes and sweet soy galangal broth.

Satisfied. Surprised.

For the next week, we sampled everything from duck breast with caramelised nuts, crispy pastillas, spinach, braising turnip and orange sauce (The Living Room) to homemade Bircher muesli (Bali Bakery); pasta dishes at La Trattoria and club sandwiches and fish and chips at Gado Gado, which is undergoing a major renovation). But for every restaurant we tried, there were five others we didn't get a chance to try.

The pick was undoubtedly The Living Room restaurant because of its garden setting and quiet ambience.

Dave Hulsman is from Ucango Travel and Cruise Centre.

U.N. group warns of potential 'food price shock'

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LONDON - The Food and Agricultural Organization said Wednesday that the world faces a "food price shock" after the agency's benchmark index of farm commodities prices shot up last month, exceeding the levels of the 2007-08 food crisis.

The warning from the U.N. body comes as inflation is becoming an increasing economic and political challenge in developing countries, including China and India, and is starting to emerge as a potential problem in developed nations.

Abdolreza Abbassian, a senior economist at the FAO in Rome, said that the increase was "alarming" but that the situation was not yet a crisis similar to 2007-08, when food riots affected more than 30 poor countries, including Haiti, Bangladesh and Egypt.

"The world faces a food price shock," he said, adding that a prolonged spike could lead to a food crisis.

The FAO said that its food price index - a basket tracking the wholesale cost of commodities such as wheat, corn, rice, vegetable oils, dairy products, sugar and meat - jumped to 214.7 points, exceeding the peak of 213.5 set in June 2008.

Abbassian said that agricultural commodities prices would probably rise further. "It will be foolish to assume this is the peak," he said.

But the FAO and food aid agencies noted the relatively stable prices for rice, one of the two most important agricultural commodities for global food security.

But the cost of wheat, the other critical staple, is rising quickly after poor harvests last year in Russia, Ukraine and elsewhere. Corn, meat and poultry prices are also increasing.
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Agricultural officials and traders are worried that agricultural commodities prices could rise further as the weather phenomenon la Nina intensifies. The pattern usually brings dryness to key growing areas of the United States, Argentina and Brazil.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology said that the current la Nina system would last at least three more months.

Neil Plummer, a climatologist for the bureau in Melbourne, said that the latest phenomenon looked set to be the most powerful since the mid-1970s, when droughts ravaged crops and pushed the world into the most extreme food crisis since World War II.

- Financial Times

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Letter: New Year’s Eve in Bali
| Wed, 01/05/2011 9:24 AM | readers forum
For many of the residents in Bali the uncontrolled and indiscriminate use of fireworks was extremely disturbing. The noise started some two weeks before New Year’s and by the time they had their crescendo on New Year’s Eve it was not only pretty fireworks but also bamboo cannon and explosives that sounded across the south of Bali.

Many residents spoke of feeling like they were in a “war zone”. Those of us who lived through the Bali bombing found it traumatic. Balinese and Western children and babies were fretful and fearful. Pets took refuge. I heard cows crying behind my house. I cannot imagine the money spent by people on the fireworks not to mention the injuries. I saw a girl standing in shock after a bottle rocket backfired in her hands while her friends laughed.

The 14 injuries reported by Sanglah hospital (The Jakarta Post, Jan. 3) is an underestimate. The pollution created was also of concern not to mention the fire risk. I heard of two houses that burned down on New Year’s Eve.

The Bali Post reported on Jan 3 that flights were unable to land and several flights were forced to circle until the fireworks subsided. I am not suggesting there not be fireworks. I am however suggesting that there be control. The sale of fireworks to the general public and minors needs to be controlled. The time and place where fireworks are allowed to be used needs to be controlled.

My suggestion would be to set up public fireworks displays in each district controlled by the authorities with the fireworks in the hands of those who know what they are doing.

That way, every one could enjoy by choice and not feel as if they are in a war zone.


Govt to raise cigarette excise up to 10 percent

Nani Afrida, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Sun, 11/28/2010 8:30 AM | Business

The government has said it had planned to raise a cigarette excise by up to ten percent next year.

"The new excise will be imposed by January 2011. The excise adjustment is made based on the inflation rate estimate in 2011," Finance Ministry’s Customs and Excise director general, Thomas Sugijata said on Saturday.

According to Thomas, the government targets to net more than Rp 62.7 trillion (US$ 6.96 billion) from excise in 2011, higher than Rp 60.7 trillion as proposed in the 2011 state budget.

"The new cigarette excise will help us raise additional revenue of Rp 2 trillion," he said.

Denpasar allocates Rp 1.7b to renovate houses

The Jakarta Post | Mon, 01/03/2011 11:22 AM | Bali

DENPASAR: The city administration says it will allocate Rp. 1.7 billion (US$188,700) in 2011 to finance the renovation of homes owned by residents living in poverty.

“We will prioritize houses which do not meet safety, health and living standards. The administration will cooperate with village chiefs and hamlet heads in identifying and registering such houses,” Denpasar Housing Agency head Kadek Kesuma Diputra said.

The administration said it would provide Rp 20 million to individual homeowners to purchase materials and hire laborers for renovations, up from Rp 10 million provided under a similar program in 2010.

“We have to take into consideration the increase in material prices and laborers’ wages,” Diputra said.

The city administration said it planned to renovate 80 houses with a budget of Rp. 1.7 billion in 2011, down from 190 houses in 2010.

The renovation program was initiated by Bali Governor Made Mangku Pastika.

“Healthy people are more productive and better able to pursue their professional work, with a good probability of improving their economic condition. How can people stay healthy when they have to live and sleep in unhealthy homes?” he said. — JP

Noisy, wet New Year in Bali

Noisy, wet New Year in Bali
The Jakarta Post, Denpasar | Mon, 01/03/2011 11:22 AM | Bali
Heavy rain and thunder on New Year’s Eve failed to stop Denpasar residents from celebrating the festivities by gathering with their families and lighting firecrackers.

The cracking sounds were heard incessantly across the city as children and adults enjoyed the mood.

“We joined the New Year euphoria with these few firecrackers we bought, and that’s what our neighbors did as well,” said Ketut Rika from Tabanan, who gathered with her family in the Sanglah area.

The sound of firecrackers stopped for a while as a downpour showered the capital around 9 p.m., but resumed as soon as the rain ceased and proceeded until dawn.

Culinary enthusiasts flocked to dozens of restaurants along Jl. Teuku Umar, one of the famed food centers in the downtown area.

“Having dinner together has been our routine agenda every New Year eve. Either we cook at home or go out to a restaurant,” mother of two Ni Wayan Herawati said while buying cakes at a bakery.

The festive New Year mood filled the air beginning Friday morning, especially at the Denpasar Festival, held in at the heart of the city.

Throngs of residents visited every booth presented at the festival while waiting for a cultural parade in the afternoon during the “Bid 2010’s Sun Farewell” event.

“This event successfully attracted residents, despite the poor weather. They were very enthusiastic to see the sun’s farewell ritual,” said festival steering committee member IGN Eddy Mulya.

Unlike previous festivals, this year saw a greater variety of traditional dance performances from all over the archipelago, including the Mandau dance from Kalimantan, Piring from Sumatra and Ronggeng from Betawi.

“We presented more traditional dances to attract visitors and appreciate the nation’s culture,” Eddy said.

As the cultural parade ended, a string of shows were presented to entertain visitors, ranging from Calon Arang, leather puppet performance and live music that lasted until the final seconds of 2010.

Some residents were stunned, and some laughed while observing photographs depicting memories of the capital in a photo exhibition held by the Denpasar Photographers Community in one booth at the festival.

Around 15 photos were displayed in frames in the “Beauty of Denpasar” exhibition, most of which were about the city’s cultures and natural beauty.

Among the cultural theme photos was one displaying the Ogoh-ogoh festival held on the Hindu’s Day of Silence, as well as another depicting the annual Omed-omedan ritual.

Another photo displayed an offerings vendor resting against the wall of an old building in the heritage area of Jl. Gajah Mada. The photo was framed in a tin and equipped with a light bulb.

The Lingkar and Lubang Jarum communities exhibited their photos in a unique way, including black and white pictures hung like laundry.

Dozens of other photos were inserted in plastic bags filled with water, resembling ornamental fish usually sold in plastics, giving the photos a dome-shaped effect.

The photographers recorded the city’s daily hustle and bustle, such as vendors in traditional markets and children playing on public fields.

Bali police chief Insp. Gen. Hadiatmoko stated that the New Year’s Eve celebration in Bali went smoothly with only minor security disturbances. “Several crimes indeed took place, yet the number of crimes was minuscule compared to the nearly four million inhabitants of the island. Generally speaking, we had a very safe and peaceful New Year’s Eve celebration,” he said Sunday after giving a report through a teleconference facility to the Indonesia National Police chief.

Bali Police recorded 19 cases of criminal activity on the night of the celebration, leaving eight people dead and 11 severely injured.

Monday, January 3, 2011

In the footsteps of Julia Roberts

In the footsteps of Julia Roberts

"SO you come to Bali for the loving and the eating and the praying, OK?" asks my driver, a savvy young Balinese called Ikomang, as we prepare to set off for our daytrip into the mountains.

So, here it is, the conversation I've been dreading. I try to head it off with a who-me-absolutely-no-idea-what-you're-talking-about-mister-you-must-be-on-crack eyebrow-raise. I fail. Well, that is a lot to ask from an eyebrow.

"The praying and the loving and the eating!" he persists. "You not see the movie?!"

Grudgingly, I concede I have seen the movie Eat Pray Love. Oh, all right, and I've read the book. But, I assure him, I'm not here because of that. It didn't even cross my mind.

"So many people come to Bali now to be having the eating and the praying and the loving," persists Ikomang. "Having the meditating, having the yoga, having the seck . . ."

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Err, the seck?

"You know the seck. The boom-boom." Ah.

"So, you want to go where Julia Roberts go?"

I swear it, I wasn't thinking about Eat Pray Love when my friend Katie suggested we go to Bali in October and do a retreat together. It didn't even enter my mind.

Which, in retrospect, is baffling. After all, along with pretty much every other Western female 30-something with an even vague interest in her sacral chakra, I've read the (seven million copy-selling) book and seen the (Julia Roberts-starring, more than $50 million-grossing) movie version. Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir of how she fled her marriage and roamed for a year - to eat pasta in Italy, pray in India and, as it turned out, find new love in Indonesia - long ago blossomed (some may say metastasised) into a bona fide pop-cultural phenomenon.

If you haven't read it, someone you know almost certainly has. Probably the one sitting cross-legged in the corner right now saying "Om".

If Italy is the stomach of EPL and India its soul, its heart is Bali, the beautiful Indonesian island where Gilbert concludes her pilgrimage and regains the emotional equilibrium upset by her ugly divorce.

Specifically, she winds up in Ubud, the fantastically lush, absurdly scenic hill town an hour or two's drive from Denpasar's international airport. As a result, Ubud has become metaphysical central for the hordes of EPL fans flocking to Bali.

And flock they have. In the first three months of 2006, the year the book came out, 237,260 foreign tourists visited the island, according to In the first three months of last year there were 551,186 - mostly women aged between 35 and 65 - and visitor numbers are on track to hit a record 2.5 million for the year, with EPL given credit for the boom.

There are indications even the hospitable Balinese are wearying of their popularity, with reports of restaurant signs exhorting patrons to "eat pay leave".

For the most part, though, enterprising locals have embraced the opportunity, with EPL travel packages allowing soul-searchers to tick off a checklist of spiritual experiences (massages, meditation sessions, palm readings) as assiduously as they do the tourist spots (monkey forest, hot springs, gamelan orchestra).

However, as it happened, when Katie sent me the details of the (let's call it) Spirit of Saraswati Retreat, five days and six nights of yoga, meditation and inner-self work with a group of about a dozen women, EPL didn't, really did not, even cross my mind. Which is just as well or else I might not have gone.

There can be a certain snobbishness among retreaters, you see, and the more original and rigorous the experience the greater the bragging rights. Given that the essence of any kind of retreat is to seek truth, deeper consciousness and enlightenment, and generally become a better being, you may not imagine anyone being able to turn it into a competition.

But you would be wrong because human beings can make anything, anything at all, into a competition. Even hotdog eating. Even growing their hair long. Even childbirth.

So as much as mention you're about to go on a retreat and someone is bound to start telling you all about this amaaazing meditation wall cavity they were once immured in where no one was allowed to speak, make eye contact or register a measurable pulse for 10 days, after which half the group achieved nirvana and the rest probably got carted off to a mental hospital.

My favourite war story involved a highly charged weekend group retreat during which we felt our auras, identified our inner animal (I would like to report mine was a lioness but, no, it was a monkey) and spent a few traumatic and cathartic hours in a sweat lodge from which we eventually crawled on our hands and knees and staggered naked, exhilarated and most likely dangerously dehydrated in the moonlight down a frost-covered hill somewhere near, I think, Murwillumbah in NSW.

Obviously, I knew nothing was going to top that for fun, but I was perfectly willing to spend a week in a tropical paradise to try. I just didn't want anyone thinking I was only doing it because of Eat bloody Pray Love.

IT is my third full day in Bali and Ikomang is driving Katie and me to the hot springs, the volcanoes and the Kintamani temples. Later in the week we have booked him to take us to Tampak Siring, the holy spring water temple.

Yep, all of the EPL locales. As much as I try to avoid it, it's impossible not to wind up following in Gilbert's footsteps, or at least those of Roberts, who shot the movie's Ubud scenes on location last year.

If you want to go the whole hog, it's apparently even possible to visit the real people in the book and eat a "vitamin lunch" made by healer Wayan and have a palm reading from ancient medicine man Ketut.

A woman in my group tries to get a consultation with Ketut but he's busy every day.

However, my friend Lisa, who happens to be doing a retreat just up the road from my retreat, does get in to see another, equally revered medicine man, known colloquially as the Stick Man, who feels her skull, pokes the pads of her toes with a Y-shaped twig and diagnoses stress in her solar plexus.

"Follow your bliss," he tells her.

As Lisa tells me this story over dinner I realise I am feeling what is arguably one of the most ignoble and unenlightened emotions possible: retreat envy.

Whereas her retreat is pretty strict, with hours of yoga and lectures in Ayurvedic philosophy and Vedic astrology, mine is turning out to be undeniably soft, with yoga for inflexible people, meditation for people with short attention spans and inner-self work for people who think a clear spirit is Tanqueray No 10.

Plus lots of time off for massages and visits to tourist spots. On hers, you get in trouble if you're late. On mine, you get to cut out early to go to your 2 1/2-hour chakra dhara massage. This time, it is obvious, I will have no retreat war stories to tell.

Yet, despite my considerable ego and resistance, Bali and the retreat are working their magic. Ubud is a sensory feast. It sounds like roosters, feels like a warm sponge bath, tastes like smoke, looks like the Garden of Eden and smells like Nag Champa.

At the water temple, Ikomang shows us how to rinse our hands in incense before we swim in the holy spring and drink from the row of gushing spigots, carefully avoiding those reserved for cremation water.

The retreat leaders are cherry-picking religious rituals and cultural practices from all over the shop: a bit of goddess worship here, a dash of Bali's Hindu Buddhism there, a sprinkle of Mayan flavour on top.

I adore this, being in complete agreement with Gilbert when she writes: "Take whatever works from wherever you can find it, and keep moving toward the light."

We use cards to try to find different ways into our unconscious and mine say, in order, one a day: "Spend some time in silence." "Be still." "Find your centre." "Heal." "Connect." "Go outside."

I hear what the universe is trying to tell me: calm down and get over yourself, girlfriend.

Every day we meditate on one of the seven chakras and their associated colours and characteristics: basal (red; rootedness), sacral (orange; sensuality), solar plexus (yellow; strength), heart (green or pink; the emotions), throat (blue; expressiveness), third eye (indigo; inner wisdom), crown (violet; spirituality).

Once, semi-hypnotised during an evening meditation by tiredness and a wavering candle, I have a fantastical optical illusion that the tiled floor is billowing up and down on my breath. My cynicism sloughs off me like dead, unwanted skin.

Early each morning we do yoga in a sun-spilled, marble-floored space above a cooking school, and aromas blend with asanas as we breathe our way through the gentle Swara Cycle, led by an exotic Gypsy yogini called Cara.

"Every breath is a fresh start," she says. "Every breath is a new beginning."

Each day also, held in the safe, secret space of the women's circle, there are confessions, admissions, revelations and transformations. Some of them mine. But I can't talk about any of that here. What happens on retreat, stays on retreat. At least until I write my own book.