Archive for October, 2013

Solaire names Arasi president, as suggested

October 29, 2013

On September 12, Solaire Resort and Casino dismissed Las Vegas consultant Global Gaming Asset Management (GGAM) and Solaire’s chief operating officer Michael French, dubbed GGAM’s official representative there. In the October issue of Macau Business (see pages 93-95), I report on the reasons why Solaire’s billionaire owner Enrique Razon Jr fired GGAM.

I’d visited Solaire as part of researching a Macau Business special report on Philippine gaming (see pages 48-55) published in August. In September, when Razon said he wanted to replace French with an experienced hotel man, I immediately thought of Thomas Arasi, the former president CEO at Marina Bay Sands, one of Singapore’s two integrated resorts (IRs), and a veteran of the hospitality industry. Arasi delivered the most profitable quarter for a property opening in the history of Las Vegas Sands Corporation (LVS) in 2010 then quit in January 2011.

Two things impressed me most about Arasi. First, during his time at Marina Bay Sands (MBS), he was a great ambassador for his property and the brand: open, forthright and respectable. Nearly a year after he left MBS, Arasi was on a panel of casino executives that I moderated at a conference that happened to be held at MBS. Arasi introduced key ideas that helped the panel stand out. After the panel, he agreed to answer some questions for an article, so I accompanied him to his favorite coffee stand in the resort.

As we rode down the long escalators in the MBS convention center, Arasi was greeted warmly by every employee we saw. At the coffee counter, the barista remembered Arasi’s brew right down to the soy milk in his double-shot latte. Navigating MBS with Arasi was like joining a popular politician on a campaign swing. A CEO who made such a lasting impression on frontline workers would be a terrific choice for Solaire, or anywhere, really, I thought.

So I wrote to Arasi to tell him that I thought he’d be good fit with Solaire and vice versa. Many of the key people at Solaire worked for him at Marina Bay Sands. I also shared some of my perspectives on Solaire and Manila after my first visit there in 15 years:

[Manila] is an interesting and livable place.. Solaire is a first rate property and has set the bar high for the next three IRs… Entertainment City is going to bring the kind of buzz to Manila that the IRs did in Singapore. But Manila’s eight times bigger, so the impact will be diluted. Still, it’s a happening place.

I didn’t hear from Arasi before I filed my story. But just before the October issue of Macau Business went to press, news broke that Solaire had named Arasi as its new president and chief operating officer. I then received a pleasant note from Arasi, though no one has offered me a headhunting fee yet. I just hope Arasi’s tenure at Solaire proves as successful as I thought it would be for all sides.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Advertisements

Ubud encounters: Afghanistan for Afghans

October 21, 2013

Australian painter Ben Quilty and Indonesian writer Agustinus Wibowo told the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Bali how they each reached Afghanistan by different routes for different reasons. But following their stays, they both also reached the same conclusion: after a dozen years and thousands of casualties, it’s time for Afghanistan to solve its problems without foreign help.

Wibowo came to Afghanistan for the first time as a curious and footloose traveler. In Afghanistan as well as Pakistan, Wibowo said that since he came from Indonesia, people assumed he was Muslim. Telling them he was an ethic Chinese raised in the Buddhist tradition would either provoke suspicion or pointless debate, including attempts to convert him. “But I found the perfect answer,” Wibowo revealed. “When people asked if I was Muslim, I’d say, ‘Insy’allah’ [God willing].”

Later, Wibowo said he found an even better answer from Afghan imam. “He told me he was a member of the highest religion of all: humanity.”

Wibowo found a number of jobs in Afghanistan. For a time he was a photojournalist. “The first time I covered a bombing and I saw the bodies and blood, I couldn’t sleep for a week. But then it became routine.”

He noted that when foreign troops and aid workers first came to Afghanistan, they were welcomed. But by 2006, Afghans’ views had changed. “Billions of dollars are pumped into Afghanistan, but nothing has changed,” Wibowo said. He said there are “two worlds, Afghanis and expats,” noting,” Only 20 percent of the money poured into Afghanistan goes to locals.” The rest goes for foreigners’ salaries and benefits, along with materials from overseas. The ongoing frustration over foreign presence has led to a resurgence in support for the Taliban.

Wibowo, who has written three books about his travels in Central Asia and China, also warned, “We cannot impose first world concepts on fifth world countries.” He cited his experience as a consultant to a United Nations gender equity initiative where foreign feminists told local women in workshops that if their husbands got angry, they should question them about why they were angry. “The next day, the women came back with bruises.”

Ben Quilty went to Afghanistan in 2011 as the Australian War Memorial’s office al artist. Spending time with Australian troops, he found good people fighting a bad war. He bonded with many of the troops, and his works from Afghanistan remain on tour in Australia. He also found circumstances that fit today’s headlines.

“I went to Kabul to try to speak to the Australian embassy, and I couldn’t get in. I didn’t have the right passes. So I don’t know how Afghans are supposed to go get their papers fixed,” Quilty said, addressing Australia’s policy of turning away undocumented immigrants trying to land by ship.

“If we’re at war with a country and sending people there to try to make it safe, if that’s not a reason to take these people in, I don’t know what is.”

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Ubud encounters: Flanagan takes the bridge

October 16, 2013

The Ubud Writers and Readers Festival began in 2004 as a response to the Bali bombings of 2002. It survived the Bali bombings of 2005 that occurred a week before the second edition of the festival began.

Australian writer Richard Flanagan, perhaps best known for his novels The Sound of One Hand Clapping and The Unknown Terrorist has been a repeat visitor to the festival and a big supporter of it. The Tasmania native is also among many festival writers that have embraced Ubud. His novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North, published in Australia last month, was partly written in during a stay in Bali’s hills.

During a panel discussion looking back on the first decade of the festival, an event that not just brings the world to Ubud but brings Indonesian writers to the world, Flanagan observed, “The bombs that were meant to tear people apart have created this wonderful bridge that brings people together, a bridge that grows wider and stronger every year.”

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Ubud encounters: Jalanan, Jakarta buskers rock

October 15, 2013

Fresh off its Busan International Film Festival triumph, Jalanan played to a standing room only crowd on Monday night at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival.

Daniel Ziv’s film portrays five tumultuous years in the life of street musicians Boni, Ho and Titi, as well as Jakarta, where Canadian-born Ziv moved in 1999. The charismatic and talented performers, mainly singing on buses, provide the documentary with its storylines and nearly all of its soundtrack and words. By the end of the movie, the three stars and Indonesia’s capital city have all undergone profound, and not always welcome, changes. The film is deeply moving and troubling, yet above all charming and supremely entertaining. You may well cry at the end – because you’re said it’s over

Jalanan (Streetside) made its world premiere in Busan on October 5 and won the Korean festival’s top documentary honor. The film is due for theatrical release early next year. Ziv and his team are seeking donations via FundRazr to help publicize the movie and fund bank accounts for the musicians. Jalanan vividly demonstrates how much difference a dollar or two makes in their tenuous situations.

Following the screening under the stars on the huge lawn of the Antonio Blanco Museum, the three star performers rocked the house, accompanied by Indonesian band Navicula. It was one of those nights that makes the Ubud festival so fabulous. For Jalanan and its team, Busan and Ubud look like just the start of their triumphs.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Ubud encounters: Uda Agus, Indonesia get social

October 13, 2013

At the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Bali, Indonesian short story writer Uda Agus told a story to illustrate how seamlessly digital media has blended with traditional culture. (Look for more from the festival, which runs through October 15, here and at Asia Times.)

Agus, a native of West Sumatra, told about a tragic day in the village when a teenager came running to his grandmother, screaming, “Grandpa has fallen out of a tree.”

“Quick, give me your mobile phone,” the grandmother said.

“Why?”

“I want to update my status from married to widow.”

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Ubud encounters: Bernice Chauly calls foul, Angelo Suarez calls cops

October 12, 2013

On opening day at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Bali, a panel on Southeast Asian writers featuring Malaysian writer Bernice Chauly and Philippine conceptual writer Angelo Suarez fielded a question about artistic freedom in their countries. (Look for more from the festival, which runs through October 15, here and at Asia Times.)

Chauly, who curates the George Town Literary Festival in her native Penang, said, “There’s a huge problem with censorship in Malaysia. I also work as an actress, and I was in a film that’s been stuck at the censorship board for more than a year.” The film features an angel that speaks in English, and a father with five children from five wives. “There are no fixed rules, so someone can just decide that they’re offended.”

Author of the memoir Growing up with Ghosts, Chauly added, “It’s safer to write in English if you want to be controversial.” We have become extremely sensitive about race and religion. If you’re not Muslim, you can’t use the Allah. It’s ridiculous.”

Suarez explained there’s a word in the Philippine language Tagalog, kuyog, which means to be lynched by a mob. “If someone doesn’t like your work, you will get lynched by someone in some fashion.”

Noting, “Religion is always inviting transgression,” he told about the Manila exhibition of a sculpture of Jesus with a penis in his forehead. “It’s offensive to me not because it’s a transgression, but because it’s a bad art. I think some form of aesthetic police has to be created.”

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Eat, Stay, Write: Bali for Fodors.com

October 5, 2013

New entries are dribbling online for the expanded Fodors.com guide to Bali that I worked on earlier this year. It’s always a delight to visit Bali, and this trip I went to the north coast for the first time in more than a decade. As with so much else on this rightly popular and renowned island, a lot had changed but the essential character that makes Bali so alluring hasn’t.

I stayed at the Lovina Beach Hotel, which turned 60 this year. Lovina has basically been built around the hotel. The Lovina Beach is definitely old school, but the rooms are fresh, the pool is appealing, everyone’s friendly, and it’s dirt cheap for what you get. At the other end of the scale, I ate a memorable dinner under the stars at Damai, “peace” in Bahasa Indonesia, a boutique resort in the hills above Lovina with views all the way to Java. Plush Puri Bagus Lovina is the winning choice if you want your luxury retreat and manicured lawns on the beach.

Just up the road from Damai, Surya and Fritz Barme showcase the spectacular view at their Ponjok Indah (Beautiful Corner) restaurant by appointment and treat you to sumptuous European food with a German accent. If you’re lucky, this Balinese-German couple may let you sample the wines they make from local fruits. Call them from Lovina on 0362 41571 for your appointment.

Kopi Shyup (+6285737179056), which didn’t make the cut for Fodors.com, is a comfortable coffee shop affiliated with a coffee and clove plantation located between Lovina and scenic Munduk on the road to Banyuatis village in the heart of Bali’s coffee country. It’s worth getting lost to stop by and have a walk around their mini-plantation and kitchen garden.

Further south, I added another restaurant from a best in Asia list. Although French food isn’t my thing, it’s easy to understand the appeal of Metis in Seminyak, with its elegant open air dining room overlooking vast lotus ponds.

Ma Joly on the beach south of Kuta stands out for high level cuisine in an extraordinarily relaxed atmosphere that keeps it from getting fussy or pretentious. If the white sand isn’t soothing enough, Ma Joly’s tropical sangria can help get you in the mood.

Hands down, the best meal I had was at Bridges in Ubud with founder Claude Chouinard. Bridges combines an original international menu with a classic Bali setting, perched on a lush hillside above a river. But every place I stayed, ate and explored was terrific, otherwise I wouldn’t have listed it.

I’ll be heading back to Bali next week for the tenth edition of the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. (Watch this space for mews and views.) The only thing I don’t look forward to is the traffic. But even driving there can have its moments.

One compensation is the decoration on trucks. While not as elaborate as jeepneys in the Philippines, some fantasy landscapes or dream girls on the side panels are pretty spectacular. Some times it’s just the mud flaps.

Early in the trip, not far from Sanur, I saw a mud flap labeled “Dr Bombay.” That’s Bali, perfectly bewitching. Just don’t take any wooden Darrens.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.


%d bloggers like this: