Buying tribal art out of context and other traps for young players.

Ever since I saw a shabby little collection of cheap souvenirs from the 1930s onwards, in a showcase at the old Girl Guides headquarters in Sydney, I’ve resolved to buy “nice” pieces when I’m overseas. Instead of buying lots of little tatty things, my wife and I lash out and spend what we think is a fair bit of money for what we consider is something really special.

When we were in Ubud in Bali this year we saw this stone statue and we were immediately drawn to it.

Over a period of about a week we kept on going back to have a look at it.

Ubud is more or less the art centre of Bali and as such is packed with a plethora of galleries. It’s the Santa Fe of  Indonesia, if you will. The items in Ubud run the full gamut, from very cheap and nasty crap, right through to mind blowingly amazing and expensive artworks.

The trouble with buying tribal artefacts in Ubud is that, often the people who are selling the items don’t know anything about them. As a matter of fact you can go into the same store on different days and be told a different story about the same item every day. Sure enough, the Balinese who work in the stores know about the local Balinese artwork, but they can be so clueless when it comes to art that has been brought to them from other parts of Indonesia. We were told that the statue we were interested in was from Sulewesi.

Since getting back home and doing some research on the net, the best guess I can make for the origin of the statue is that it might’ve come from Sumatra and it might’ve been made by the Karo Batak. The statue has design proportions and elements similar in style to those used by the Karo Batak and it might be based on naga marsarang (Medicine Horns) used by Batak datuk (animist priests) to hold magic substances. I also suspect that the creature that I first thought might be a seahorse could actually be a singa (a protective mythological creature).

To be honest though, I don’t really care where the statue comes from, as I like it, and for all I know it could be some pastiche of various Indonesian designs cobbled together by a local sculptor. I would like to know where it comes from because I just hate being ignorant about anything.

A few days before we were to leave Bali, we took the plunge and after some haggling the statue was bought for a bit under half what was asked (which probably 50% more than would we should’ve paid). The Statue is 630mm high (about 24″), 650mm long (about 25 and half inches), 25cm wide (about 11″) and weighs 39kg  (nearly 86 lbs) so we arranged for sea freight to get it back home at a cost of $400 USD. I knew we would be up for customs brokerage fees as well when the statue arrived so I figured that we were up for about another $100 when we picked it up.


I picked up the statue yesterday and on top of the brokerage fees of $130, we had to pay another $93.50 for the delivery order (WTF is it, and does it mean?).

Then there was the import processing fee of $22.

Cargo automation fee of $27.50.

Terminal handling charge of another $27.50.

It was starting feel like the process was a death by a thousand cuts, but then came the heavier blow of $135.44 for the handling fee, quickly followed up by another body blow to the guts $121.

They knew they had me helpless on the ropes, so they unleashed a quick flurry of lighter blows to finish me off.


$22 for maritime security charge.


$11 for post and petties (petties? I thought this was just a beating, not foreplay).

So on top of paying $400 to ship the statue, I had to pay a further $591.44. Basically it cost us $1000 to ship our purchase from Bali.

Did I feel like I got screwed?

You bet!

I was screwed, blued and tattooed!

They bent me over that counter and fucked me six ways to Christmas!  They also had the audacity to act surprised when I told them I didn’t enjoy the experience and what a bunch of rapists I thought they were.

I felt so despoiled, as if I’d been subjected to some kind depraved customs broker’s fantasy. I can almost imagine what might’ve being going through the brokers mind’s as they were having their way with me.

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The spring of my discontent. Perisher, NSW, Australia. 2010

Last Saturday I was out skiing with my wife and friends on what was a beautiful day. I thought to myself, “it just doesn’t get much better than this”. The sun was shining and it had snowed the night before. In short, it was a perfect spring day to go skiing.

With such good conditions, it surprised me to notice that I was in a very bad mood.

At first I couldn’t put my finger on why. My wife, Engogirl picked up on my dark mood and asked me if there was something the matter. I said that for some reason, everything was bugging me and that it wasn’t anybody’s fault and that it was just a strange head space I was in at the time.

I was going to try and work things out in my own mind.

Since I hate the whole resort thing with the crowded ski lifts, the waiting in line while strangers ski over my skis and trash them, I go back-country skiing with telemark skis.

I’ve been skiing for years but I’ve never really learnt how to ski properly. Skis are basically long snow shoes for me. My balance is crap plus I have the added disadvantage that I’m not keen on falling at speed which means I dread going down hill. For someone who can’t ski well, I’ve done a lot of back country skiing and snow camping, but the deal for me is that skiing is a means to an end. I just like being out in the bush away from the crowds.

I know that for some people skiing is all about the physical activity and developing the skill. Not for me though, I simply don’t have the aptitude or the desire to get good at it. Generally I just like to get out and be in nature.

So why was I so pissed off on Saturday?

Maybe it was because my old leather ski boots (over 15 years old) had finally bitten the dust and all the new telemark boots are plastic, which I find anathema. I rented some older leather boots for the weekend and as I plodded along, thinking dark cranky thoughts, I felt a blister growing on my heel.

Then there was the cross-country ski instructor who made a point of skiing right up to my wife, and stopping to block her way to show his distain for our group.

What a wanker!

As the day wore on and the temperature rose, the snow became stickier and began to ball up under the my skis but the snow in the shady areas had turned to ice. The skiing experience was like a mixture of trying glide across fly paper and slipping on a banana skin. I was in a constant jerky state of almost falling over for most of the day. So very unaesthetic.

In summary, I was having a John Howard (our ex prime minister) of a day. Short and bloody irritating!

As each thing annoyed me I started to think about how I wanted things to go better than they were, on such a nice day and in such good company, then it struck me why I was having such a bad day.

I had broken with my usual habit of having low expectations!

The good company, beautiful day and surroundings had lulled me into thinking that I was going to have a great day and every thing was going to go smoothly. But as the day progressed all the little niggles added up to a general feeling of incoherent discontent that grew into a smouldering rage.

I should’ve remembered old Seneca’s warnings about how fortune’s favours never last and how we shouldn’t get our hopes up because that leads to disappointment and then onto unhappiness.

Stupiddy, stuppidy me!

Here’s a few short videos (a total of 24 minutes) by Alain de Botton about Seneca on anger.

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Caro Emerald, “Just One Dance”

Thanks to Joost (a visitor to this blog) I’ve just found out about Caro Emerald. I think she’s fantastic and her music will be on my next order with Amazon.

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Radio here in Australia is so abysmal.

The tyranny of the majority and commercial concerns!

I’m so glad that I have friends with taste who can turn me onto new and interesting music. My wife and I are always on the lookout (or perhaps I should say listening for) non-mainstream (by Australian standards, which isn’t saying much) music, so if any of you out there think I might like something you’ve heard, please let me know about it and I’ll go and check it out.