Global Value Hunter

The Covid Curtain has descended on the world;
which side are you on?

Lockdown sign in Bali

Source: Business Insider

My mother lives in a small coastal town in Australia. Ordinarily she’d come and visit her granddaughters in Bali, where my family has been living, two or three times a year. We would also visit her in Australia once a year, at a minimum.

Unfortunately, with Indonesia’s borders closed to tourists, and – even more draconian – Australia requiring any Australian citizen to seek permission to leave (75% of requests are refused), our family has been separated by what I am calling the “Covid Curtain.”

We’re far from the only ones. Within Australia, people are even prevented from travelling between states.

It seems to me the world is rapidly bifurcating into two halves

One half accepts Covid-19 is a relatively mild, communicable disease that’s here to stay, and is trying to adjust to living with it. The other half has decided that bureaucrats and politicians should have virtually unlimited powers to do whatever they want in the name of “protecting” us from a deadly disease, which in reality is nothing to worry about for 95%+ of the population.

Near dictatorial, fascist powers have been gleefully accepted by government officials in many places around the world, ranging from Michigan to Melbourne.

People’s liberty has been taken away, their businesses shuttered, and their livelihoods destroyed. What’s concerning to me is the majority of people in many countries are accepting this narrative without asking any critical questions.

I’m not denying that saving lives is a noble cause. But at what cost? The brutal reality is, Covid-19 took out the weak, old, and clinically vulnerable and brought forward the timing of their inevitable meetings with the Grim Reaper.

A small percentage of otherwise healthy individuals… sadly many of them working the front lines in the medical profession… died too. That’s deplorable.

But we “flattened the curve.” Deaths were way lower than the doomsday scenarios that epidemiologists such as disgraced UK scientist Neil Ferguson predicted.

Yet, now, despite an abundance of data showing the threat is much less severe than first feared, lock-downs remain, “social distancing,” and wearing of masks is mandatory in many places, and hundreds of millions of people around the world are cowering in fear in their homes waiting for some mythical vaccine to appear like manna from heaven.

I’m not going to get into conspiracy theories. But I have to say there are some very weird things happening.

In Bali, in a matter of days, the Governor went from talking up a reopening of the island to international arrivals on September 11 to making facemasks mandatory, imposing fines on anyone caught not wearing them in public, to sending government inspectors out all over the island to make sure schools and businesses are following the rules on not allowing too many people in attendance at once.

It makes no sense to me. Logically, restrictions should be EASING, not becoming more DRACONIAN, as the health threat has lessened, not become worse.

Bali, like the rest of Indonesia has a very young median age. The population in general is not vulnerable to serious effects of the Covid-19 virus.

People are respectful and deferential toward older members of the community who may be at risk. They will naturally protect them. They don’t need some government bureaucrat dictating what they can and cannot do.

Tim's favorite beach restaurant at Jimbaran beach in Bali deserted
My go to seafood restaurant in Jimbaran Bali. Bereft of its usual crowd of customers

Meanwhile, the tourism industry is on its knees. Actually it is prostrate, crawling along on its stomach, completely eviscerated.

A million people, conservatively, out of a population of 4.5 million in Bali have been thrown out of work or seen their paid working hours drastically cut.

The narrative in the woke mainstream media is that Balinese tourism workers have peacefully

returned to their villages to live with their extended families and gone back to working the land or going fishing and that this is good for Bali’s environment, which has been overbuilt and destroyed by mass tourism.

Yes, there is no denying that mass tourism has been a scourge in some areas. But to suggest the Balinese are somehow at peace and happy that the island is “healing” because it is bereft of tourists is the figment of some woke desk-jockey journalist’s warped imagination.

Prior to leaving for Tanzania, we went to the immigration offices in Bali to renew our daughter’s passport. The presiding officer was quizzing my wife about our travel plans. He was all for it. He said, “without tourism, this place is dead; if you can leave and go somewhere where things are normal and the economy is vibrant, why not? Go for it.”

Local people in Bali, like that immigration officer, want the place to be open and back to its normal self.  Scrounging around on the reef for a few edible clams or sea cucumbers, fishing for hours on end in the hope of putting some protein on the table, or toiling away as their grandparents did in the island’s fertile rice paddies are not anyone’s idea of fun.

Yet the politicians who make the rules, in their wisdom, have decided that no international tourists will be allowed back in Bali before sometime in 2021.  The island was shut to foreign arrivals on March 19. That’s now 6 months ago. And now, with the stroke of a pen in Jakarta another 3 1/2 months of shutdown was decreed. I am not sure how people will survive.

People have struggled to get by on savings, and the generosity of family and friends better off than themselves for months on end already. Now they just learned that nearly as long a period of hardship and uncertainty as that they just struggled through still lies ahead. It’s devastating.

Already, our excellent, trusty gardener packed up and returned to his home village in Java… he says, never to return. He has virtually no customers left in Bali, save for us and about 10% of his usual roster. The owners of properties who now don’t have guests are simply not in a position to pay him. So, they are letting their gardens grow wild, I suppose.

We offered to have him come more often to our place, and on a much more generous payment, in the hope he might stay. But he has a family to feed, and a future to think about. In the end, he had no choice but to leave. Getting double the business from us, but 90% less from elsewhere, only left him with 20% of his normal business.

He’s far from an isolated example. Friends of mine in Bali rent out villas to foreign visitors, and in normal circumstances make a decent return on investment. Now, to attract the few tenants that remain, they have slashed prices by up to 2/3rds. They are the lucky ones, as they at least still have customers. But at these prices, the future is not looking rosy. One is worried about paying his daughter’s school fees.

At the end of the day, there is little anyone can do when the borders are shut by decree, and planes can’t land.

Before leaving for Tanzania, via Jakarta, I checked how I might get back to Hong Kong  from Bali, to take care of some business matters. The best option was a 40-hour journey via Jakarta, and Taipei. That’s for a route that normally has 3 or 4 direct flights a day that take about 4 hours and 45 minutes.

There appears to now be maximum two international flights out of Bali a day. The services are patchy and often get cancelled. One goes to Doha on Qatar Airways and one goes to Perth on Batik Air. That’s compared to over 100 international flights a day in normal times.

In Tanzania I feel much happier, freer and optimistic

I had good reason to come to Tanzania. My new business venture, the African Lions Fund, launches for trading October 1. Being here on the ground where several of the businesses we want to buy shares in operate, to observe first-hand how they are faring, is one reason I am here.

But the other big reason is that in spite of the pandemic, Tanzania is operating almost completely normally. The only places I see face masks are at multinational businesses, such as courier services company DHL, which I had reason to visit the other day, and foreign luxury hotel chains. If you order an Uber, you also get a stern message saying you must wear a mask, sit in the back seat, and avoid close contact with the driver.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m still taking sensible precautions. Hand sanitizer, or hand washing stations are available nearly everywhere. I usually sit by myself at a table well away from groups of people if I am on my own. But, I’m conducting normal meetings with 2 or 3 people at a time, too.

There is no fear or panic here. No one is going to shout at you for not wearing a mask.

There are no morbid “case counts” and “death counts” in the corner on the front page of every newspaper or news website, and there is no live ticker tape reporting virus statistics on TV. Public discourse isn’t dominated by it.

It’s refreshing, I tell you. It is much better for your mental health to be in a place such as this. I feel much more sanguine about things going forward. I’m here now, and I’m looking to stay.

As I wrote the other day, Tanzania’s economy is still growing strongly. Some sectors, such as gold mining, are positively booming.

The listed companies the African Lions Fund is targeting for investment are reporting excellent year-on-year earnings growth and look set to continue to do so.

There is a positive energy about the place, at the same time that so much of the world is full of negativity and despair.

Unless you are an Australian citizen being held prisoner by your government within your own borders, you have a choice as to which side of the Covid Curtain you want to be on.

Maybe you are happy where you are. Different situations suit different people. For an older, retired person such as my mother, where she is, in regional Australia, is perfect for her, with no instances of Covid-19, borders locked to prevent any coming in, and great healthcare facilities nearby. She’s happy. But that’s her situation.

Your situation may be very different. What I would say is, if you’re not happy, DO SOMETHING about it.

I’m certainly glad I did.

Hopefully things improve and life can return to some semblance of normality again all around the world. But with no end in sight, and no rational, logical plan, many countries are floundering, and so are their people.

As my website prominently states, two of the three secrets to happiness, or mental wellbeing, are to have “something to do, and something to look forward to.”

If you are stuck at home, out of work, with nothing to do and little look forward to, as so many people sadly are right now, your mental well-being cannot help but suffer.

That governments can’t see that, or pretend not to, in the name of eradicating a mildly harmful virus, is really one of the most bizarre chapters we’re ever likely to witness in modern history.

Until next time,

Keep your spirits up!


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