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Published: October 2nd 2006
Why is it that I always seem to join the slowest queue at immigration? Despite my quick departure from the plane, my line moved like treacle rolling uphill, as all the passengers who dawdled from the aircraft swiftly passed me to collect their baggage. Unfortunately, every person in my queue had some 'discrepancy' in their visa form - for serious immigration staff would leave their desks to obtain further documentation. So this must be the 'idiots queue' I mused - where all those who could not fill in a simple form had gathered. However, some visitors were led elsewhere and not seen again, and my mind turned to the unpleasant and dreaded thoughts of the snapping of rubbers gloves and a full-body cavity search. I shuddered. Perhaps I had joined the 'pedagogue queue' where punctilious officials executed excessive scrutiny? What then, would they make of my tourist visa payment, when my immigration card was marked as attending a seminar (a business purpose)?
Whilst pondering the different predicaments I may soon encounter, and after 35 minutes of waiting for only seven people to pass immigration, the moment of reckoning finally arrived and I confidently strode to the desk and smiled. The
stern official flicked the pages of my passport, "Are you Australian" he quizzed, "Yes," was my sheepish reply. The officer paused, a troubled countenance crossing his face before commenting, "Steve Irwin, bad news" (the Australian’s untimely death occurred a few days earlier). "Yes, it is bad and sad news", I rejoined. We then discussed Steve's attributes and his crocodile farm near my home city in Brisbane, as the official stamped my passport. Within 90 seconds of arriving at the desk, I had passed immigration - so my first guess was correct; this was indeed the idiot's queue.
I now commenced my delayed journey to my destination, and the bright, warm sunshine was such a contrast to the rain drenched streets of Taipei, where my undersized umbrella provided small relief for me and my backpack during the soggy sojourn to the bus station. We drove through the narrow sleepy streets, where the locals languidly moved through their daily routine. An occasional temple appeared, it's Hindu influence obvious, but these were sombre coloured edifices that did not possess the bright gaiety of their Indian counterparts. I felt excited - for not only had I never visited Indonesia before, but this day
The Main Pool, Intercontinental Resort - Jimbaran Bay
Every morning, staff would place these red flowers in the innumerable statues at the resort.
(September 10) was also my birthday - and what better way to celebrate a birthday then to discover a new country.
Normally, I avoid naming my accommodation choices - mainly because they are one-star and no-star establishments not worthy of mention - but in this instance I will, because the hotel was instrumental in making this a special birthday - so here is some free publicity to the Intercontinental Resort at Jimbaran Bay, Bali. The palatial grounds of the Resort arose from my right, which seemed even more expansive when compared to the kilometres of humble abodes I had just passed.
After a security check of the vehicle, we entered the property and shortly after I walked into a vaulted airy lobby, which commanded a view over the pools, statues and gardens of this serene estate. The resort’s courteous and friendly staff welcomed me and I soon arrived at my large, elegant Balinese style room complete with polished wooden floors, wooden furniture and a large bath. Most pleasing though was the chocolate birthday cake awaiting me - layered with cream and surrounded by shredded coconut - this was a most welcome surprise. For the remainder of the day,
Proudly posing at the seminar
Wearing a suit in such a relaxed resort felt most odd.
any staff who I interacted with wished me a happy birthday - it was a fine and appreciated gesture by the resort.
I spent part of the afternoon strolling amongst the Intercontinental’s immaculately manicured gardens were abundant with swimming pools of various designs and sizes. Scattered throughout the area were private peaked tents where people could read, sleep or receive a massage, and all of this fronted a beautiful wide flat beach that played home to sun worshippers practicing their devotion. The refreshing salt air and rumble of the waves was most soothing indeed.
However, I could not relax and enjoy the surrounds too much, for my purpose here was to attend a seminar - an international cooperation program on competition policy jointly held by the OECD and the Fair Trade Commission (FTC) of Taiwan. Not only was I most grateful for the FTC’s invite, but some staff had the generosity to present me with birthday chocolates as well! The seminar, attended by 36 participants from 11 countries, discussed the relationship between consumer protection and competition law. Despite the distractions of the resort, all were diligent and attentive in sharing knowledge and experiences. It was indeed heartening to
My birthday cake aglow - and it was chocolate too!
This was waiting for me in my room when I arrived.
see countries who are infants in the world of competition law (18 months for Mongolia) speak on the same platform as seasoned veterans with decades of enforcement work (USA and Australia).
After attending the 1992 Barcelona Olympics (as a spectator) I affirmed that when one meets many different nationalities in the one place, you realise that our similarities as human beings are far more significant than our differences. This is not only true on a personal level, but also for competition and consumer protection, where all countries faced similar nefarious practices of cartels and con-artists. Though the agencies differed in experience and funding, their staff possess a social conscience that expresses itself through a dedication and determination to contribute to the public good. By the seminar's end, we had increased the knowledge of all participants and cemented friendships through the exchanging of business cards, gifts and warm farewells.
Another undoubted highlight was the food; this was the most delicious food I've consumed since Kerala in India, and the best food I've ever eaten in a hotel. Not only was this pleasing from a culinary view, but also from an organisational one, since I had chosen the menus and
The Glass Conservatory (Surya Dining Room) in the Bella Singaraja restaurant - photo courtesy of Eric Tu
Where the seven-course conference working dinner (which for me, doubled as my birthday dinner) was held.
the dining venues. Every evening saw us indulge in a bountiful feast of Bacchanalian proportions - Balinese, Indonesian, Asian and European cuisines were all on offer - and the choices were almost overwhelming to the eyes, palate and stomach, as I engaged in daily episodes of gluttonous behaviour
The first night was a seven course working dinner for conference organisers held in the Italian themed Bella Singaraja Restaurant - the chandeliers, Mediterranean food and opera music seemed most incongruent with the tropical landscape outside. This night coincided with my birthday and an impromptu singing of "Happy Birthday to Shane!" was held at the conclusion of the evening. To finish my birthday in style, I partook in a "Beethoven Bubble Bath" where I filled the generous bath with frothy water and listened to my favourite piece of music, the final movement of Beethoven's 9th Symphony - sheer bliss. The final two evenings’ banquets were held by the beach and it afforded an opportunity to sit beneath the stars and swaying palms, whilst enjoying some truly joyous food and conversation.
After two days the seminar was concluded, and a small half-day trip the following morning to the Uluwata temple (inhabited
A Bella Singara sorbet
Creatively made by filling a balloon with water, freezing it, removing the balloon, then hollowing out the centre to place the sorbet and decorative flower.
by a particularly evil and bloated monkey) saw my Bali visit come to an end. The seminar had tired me considerably, and so at the airport I requested a place with an adjacent vacant seat, to allow me some room to rest. Even better though, that once on the plane, I discovered no occupants in the three seats next to me, and was able to spread out fully across all four seats, listen to polychoral music (Giovanni and Andrea Gabrieli) and consume the white and milk chocolate fudge I had made. I lay there reflecting on this most extraordinary birthday - the resort, the seminar, the food, the people, the kindness I received from those I barely know - it felt as if the whole world was smiling at me.
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