tip off

War on arak: how to get drunk in Bali without getting blind

Australians have died and been blinded by dodgy drinks in Indonesia. Crikey intern Jemimah Clegg investigates the mysterious beverage that is arak, why people are drinking it — and what can go wrong.

The foreign affairs department yesterday updated its travel advice on Indonesia, warning Australians to be cautious when drinking spirits, particularly the popular liquor arak. The warning comes after the recent death of Perth teenager Liam Davies, who was poisoned after drinking a cocktail containing methanol on Lombok.

In September 2011, Perth-based New Zealand rugby player Michael Denton died after drinking a cocktail containing methanol in Bali. Days earlier, Sydney nurse Jamie Johnston suffered brain damage and kidney failure after drinking arak (which contained methanol) on Lombok. A Sydney school-leaver was blinded after drinking arak in Bali in December last year.

So what is arak, why is it so popular — and so dangerous?

The Australian Medical Association also has concerns, recently advising travellers to Bali to stick to bottled beers like Bintang and avoid spirits altogether. But with cocktails available for as little as five Aussie dollars, many people are still willing to take the risk.

In January 2012, Melbourne administrative worker Nathalie Appere (then aged 21) had a bad experience drinking arak in Bali. She told Crikey she spent the night bar hopping in well-known tourist area Kuta, and drank “double drinks” (which have a high arak content) and bottled drinks that contain a mixture of arak and other spirits.

Appere spent the next day in her hotel bathroom, violently ill from the night before. “I woke up at 6am after a crappy couple of hours sleep and vomited for seven hours straight. Anything I ate or drank came back up within minutes,” she said.

Arak is a traditionally brewed liquor made from rice and coconut palm flowers. It can contain up to 50% alcohol. If it is not brewed correctly it can contain methanol, making the drink potentially fatal.

The Australian Medical Association of Western Australia has called for the Prime Minister to work with the Indonesian government to hold the bar which served Davies accountable for his death. ”How many people need to die or be maimed before something is done? How many travellers need to be injured before both Australian and Indonesian authorities decide action is needed?” President Dr Richard Choong said.

At the time you feel invincible and go about dancing and having a good time not caring about anything or the repercussions of your actions.”

Professor Robin Room from Turning Point Drug and Alcohol Centre in Melbourne says arak and other traditional liquors are not exclusive to Indonesia and are brewed in Africa and other Asian countries. “A lot of it is commercially distilled,” he said.

Room says the problem comes when the alcohol is distilled in backyards — that’s when things go wrong, and the alcohol contains methanol.

Appere, who is currently in Bali, says she felt euphoric and “high on life” while drinking arak. “At the time you feel invincible and go about dancing and having a good time not caring about anything or the repercussions of your actions,” she said. She has stayed away from arak this time around, sticking to drinks normally found in Australia.

One of the girls I’m here with, my boyfriend and his mates all had arak one night last week and looked like death the next morning. The girl drinking the arak that night was acting exactly how I was acting — high on life and without a care in the world — but her head was in the toilet the next morning.”

Room says arak is no different to other distilled liquors like tequila or whisky, and does not have a stimulant effect like drugs such as cocaine or amphetamines. “A lot of what we experience is from expectations, so if you’re drinking something different, you are likely to expect a different outcome,” he said.

But Appere insists she felt something different that night, while she thought people were aware of the risks — to some degree. “I definitely do think there’s a correlation between arak and the amount of risk you’re willing to take,” she said.

There is no way to be certain if arak has been properly brewed. According to DFAT’s Smartraveller website, even bottled drinks may be incorrectly labelled and contents can be substituted with harmful ingredients.

So perhaps the best way to stay safe in Bali is to stay off the arak. And however cheap cocktails are, Bintang beer is about half the price!

39
  • 1
    Deb Shepherd
    Posted Thursday, 10 January 2013 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    Thought provoking article as my partner and I were in Bali a couple years ago and drinking cocktails in the pool bar. He was drinking mainly milky based ones and really don’t know what was in them or even what they were now - but he was violantly ill that evening and night. He is normally a bouban drinker and never seems to be at all effected by alcohol. We did think it very strange at the time. I was keeping up with him but different cocktails to him and my tolerance to alcohol is way lower than his. Dont think we would risk it again!

  • 2
    Bill Parker
    Posted Thursday, 10 January 2013 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    As a lab technician in London many years ago we were always told to be careful about the security of our bottled alcohol(s). They were the targets of street drinkers and their favorite was known as “The Milk”. I recall it was made by cutting isopropanol with water. Lethal eventually.

    We used copious quantities of ethanol in our work but this was always analytical grade. Down at the hardware store “methylated” spirits were readily obtainable. The content was actually ethanol but “poisoned” with methanol.

    So Arak? How do you know if it’s been properly distilled? You may not. If you wouldn’t drink metho, don’t drink Arak.

  • 3
    Bob the builder
    Posted Thursday, 10 January 2013 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Pedants corner - spirits are distilled, not brewed. The wash is fermented (brewed) matter from which the alcohol and some other flavours are distilled (extracted). It doesn’t really matter how badly you brew the original wash as long as good distilling practice is followed.

  • 4
    Posted Thursday, 10 January 2013 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    Fascinatingly I just discovered that the chemical formula for Formic Acid (the cause of blindness or death from methanol) is HCOOH. Spell that backwards and you get “HOOCH”.

  • 5
    Lord Barry Bonkton
    Posted Thursday, 10 January 2013 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    I spent 2 weeks in Bali in 1987 -88 with friends. Kuta beach road was dirt then.The hotel pool bar had not one uncracked spirit bottle. Drank bottled beer.Was at another bar on kuta road with some friends and we joined in a card game/scull drink if dealt a ACE. The drink was Arak and from memory got 3 or 4 ACES dealt to me , I remember a girl throwing up at the table - Big blank - turning up at the Hotel pool(minus drivers License ) and friends took me back to room to sleep it off. Still drank it at good restaurants and purchased bottles at the supermarket ( $2.00 ).Great with orange juice or coke , just don’t Binge drink with it.

  • 6
    michael r james
    Posted Thursday, 10 January 2013 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

    @Bob the builder at 2:03 pm

    Just a little clarification. You may be right that correct distillation should end up with methanol-free liquid but obviously the cleaner the starting material the better (and technically I am not sure how easy it is to separate ethanol & methanol by distillation — it probably needs several cycles which is probably not done.)

    But: “It doesn’t really matter how badly you brew the original wash” is still relevant with respect to home brews, such as beer etc. It is a reason I will not touch “unproven” homebrews (people bringing it to parties etc).
    …………………
    The mystery to me is how seemingly just one person was badly affected. Even with a lot of differences in rates of metabolism between people, that bottle that killed Liam Davies should have at the least made everyone who drank from the same bottle very sick. Though it should be noted that falling asleep is the worst thing to do. Vomiting is your body doing what it can to purge the toxin; and the rehydration afterwards is a help.
    I cannot recommend the other possible treatment — drinking a high proof (and pure) ethanol spirit like vodka — since it needs to be supervised and only en route to a hospital that knows how to handle such toxicity. (Ethanol competes more effectively for the liver enzymes that convert all alcohols, so it reduces the toxicity of methanol by reducing its metabolic byproducts which are the actual toxic elements; or certainly the rate of its metabolizing. Meanwhile the kidneys will be excreting the methanol — so lots of water will help too.)

    The report on 7.30 tonight suggested one person dies every 9 days in Bali from this, so I am assuming most of these are locals. This is the kind of thing that happened in colonial Australia and prohibition America.

  • 7
    Bob the builder
    Posted Thursday, 10 January 2013 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

    @ Michael
    How brews are brews, not spirits, so the final product is the ‘wash’ as distillers call it. In home brewing it’s really important to maintain quality control, though as far as poisoning, rather than bad taste, I don’t think it’s such a big issue.
    Methanol is a lower fraction of the distillate (it evaporates at a lower temperature than ethanol, which in turn evaporates at a lower temperature than water - which is how distilling isolates the alcohol from the water) - regardless of the wash, it can easily be isolated (chucked out) from the ethanol fraction with some basic good practice and a decent reflux still.

  • 8
    Ari Sharp
    Posted Thursday, 10 January 2013 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

    Worth noting that there is some pressure at the Indonesian end to lift standards:

    http://www.thejakartaglobe.com/home/local-alcoholic-concoctions-targeted-by-lawmakers/564831

  • 9
    michael r james
    Posted Thursday, 10 January 2013 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

    Bob, I don’t know why you just reiterated what I wrote.
    The methanol can only come from the initial fermentation (the brew, the wash) (though see below). Obviously inexperience and lack of understanding leads to poor fermentations (bacterial contamination, anaerobic conditions) then in the case of arak (more correctly arack; arak really refers to the pastis-type drink from the middle-east) a poor and lazy distillation. In Indonesia the chief ingredient is sugar but also red rice to give flavour.

    The cause of the current rise in these poisonings is apparently due to the Indonesian government slapping a 400% duty on imported spirit, and subsequent inability of importers to supply and of course the cost. Law of unintended consequences.

    A BBC news item from June 2009, reports there was a rash of 23 deaths within 2 weeks in Bali and Lombok, all presumed to be from one bad batch. The BBC piece slightly confuses things (to me) by concluding with: “Methanol, also known as wood alcohol, is used in rural Indonesia as a fuel for lanterns.”

    I cannot really imagine that any Indonesian handling these things could not be aware of the huge toxicity of methanol but there remains a whiff of a suggestion someone could be tainting arack with actual methanol (the 7.30 report also indirectly implied it). Seems unlikely but there is the additional complication that most arack factories are in Bali (and Lombok) because it is frowned on in Islamic Indonesia … (One reason for arak in the ME is that some muslims convince themselves that, because it is made from coconuts which are not specifically mentioned in the Koran, it escapes the prohibition against alcohol.)

  • 10
    michael r james
    Posted Thursday, 10 January 2013 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

    Moderation! Third attempt, I’ll break it up.

    Bob, I don’t know why you just rei terated what I wrote.
    The methanol can only come from the fermentation (the brew, the wash) (though see below). Obviously inexperience and lack of understanding leads to poor fermentations (bacterial contamination, anaerobic conditions) then in the case of arak (more correctly arack; arak really refers to the pastis-type drink from the middle-east) a poor and lazy distillation. In Indonesia the chief ingredient is sugar but also red rice to give flavour. Again, it must be getting thru the distillation — no matter how “easy” it is to separate the two alcohols (I notice that middle-east arak is distilled twice).

    The cause of the current rise in these poisonings is apparently due to the Indonesian government slapping a 400% duty on imported spirit, and subsequent inability of importers to supply and of course the cost. Law of unintended consequences.

  • 11
    michael r james
    Posted Thursday, 10 January 2013 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

    Second half (4th attempt):

    A BBC news item from June 2009, reports there was a rash of 23 deaths within 2 weeks in Bali and Lombok, all presumed to be from one bad batch. The BBC piece slightly confuses things (to me) by concluding with: “Methanol, also known as wood alcohol, is used in rural Indonesia as a fuel for lanterns.”

    I cannot really imagi ne that any Indonesian handling these things could not be aware of the huge toxicity of methanol but there remains a hint of a suggestion someone could be tainting arack with actual methanol (the 7.30 report also indirectly implied it). Seems unlikely but there is the additional complication that most arack factories are in Bali (and Lombok) because it is frowned on in musl im Indonesia … (One reason for arak in the ME is that some musl ims convince themselves that, because it is made from coconuts which are not specifically mentioned in the K oran, it escapes the prohibition against alcohol.)

  • 12
    michael r james
    Posted Thursday, 10 January 2013 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

    Second half (5th attempt):

    A BBC news item from June 2009, reports there was a rash of 23 deaths within 2 weeks in Bali and Lombok, all presumed to be from one bad batch. The BBC piece slightly confuses things (to me) by conclud ing with: “Methanol, also known as wood alcohol, is used in rural Indonesia as a fuel for lanterns.”

    I cannot really imagi ne that any Indonesian handl ing these things could not be aware of the huge toxicity of methanol but there remains a hint of a suggestion someone could be tainting arack with actual methanol (the ABC 7.30 report also indirectly impl ied it). Seems unli kely but there is the additional compli cation that most arack factories are in Bali (and Lombok) because it is frowned on in musl im Indonesia … (One reason for arak in the ME is that some musl ims convince themselves that, because it is made from coconuts which are not specifically mentioned in the K oran, it escapes the prohibition against alcohol.)

  • 13
    Bob the builder
    Posted Thursday, 10 January 2013 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

    @ Michael
    I was just making the point that the quality of the wash isn’t a decisive factor in the quality of the spirit. As far as I know any wash (‘clean’ or not) will have some methanol, it’s the distilling that eliminates/reduces it. It’s true that ferments with a high pectin content (i.e. using certain fruits) will contain more ethanol, even if they are ‘clean’, but at the end of the day, bad spirits are made by bad distilling, not bad fermenting.

  • 14
    michael r james
    Posted Thursday, 10 January 2013 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

    Bob,
    well now you have confused me by saying “any wash (‘clean’ or not) will have some methanol” because that would mean all beer would have some ethanol. If so, a good fermentation must result in only a tiny amount because it is so toxic (and of course gives a hangover at a lot less than toxic levels, not to mention accumulative liver damage, cirrhosis).

    Of course what may be happening is, that while beer brewers rapidly learn it is critical to avoid, when the product is normally distilled it is less apparent since you could cope with much more in the “bad” fermentation before it would show up in the distillate and then only in poor ly regulated distillation.

    I have wondered if the rice is not a culprit. I don’t know how it is prepared for the fermentation but unhusked rice builds up nasties and rice needs careful storage in the tropics to avoid problems (again if it destined for a brew instead of eating they may be less careful or indeed use otherwise rejected rice?)

  • 15
    michael r james
    Posted Thursday, 10 January 2013 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

    typo: “all beer would have some Methanol.”

  • 16
    Bob the builder
    Posted Thursday, 10 January 2013 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

    Yes, beer does have small amounts of methanol. If you distilled beer (sloppily) you would get an uncomfortable dose of methanol.
    There’s a good discussion of it at homedistiller dot org /intro/methanol/methanol . One of the contributors makes the point that the small amount of methanol in beer and wine is the reason a hangover from them is worse than from good quality vodka, which does not contain methanol.

  • 17
    michael r james
    Posted Friday, 11 January 2013 at 12:04 am | Permalink

    Deliberate (though more by ignorance than intent) doping of spirits with methanol happens. Just a few months ago:

    The 2012 Czech Republic methanol poisonings occurred in September 2012 in the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia. In the course of several days, 38 people in the Czech Republic and 4 people in Poland have died as a result of methanol poisoning and several tens of others have been taken to hospital.

    .
    and
    .

    A similar incident, the Pärnu methanol tragedy, occurred in Pärnu county, Estonia, in September 2001, when 68 people died and 43 were left disabled after contents of stolen methanol canisters were used in production of bootleg liquor.

  • 18
    Bob the builder
    Posted Friday, 11 January 2013 at 12:08 am | Permalink

    It takes a minimum of 100ml of methanol to cause a fatality. I doubt that these drinks could have that much methanol in them without some being deliberately added (as opposed to poorly distilled) after distillation. Wilful ignorance at best?

  • 19
    michael r james
    Posted Friday, 11 January 2013 at 12:23 am | Permalink

    Bob, you have given me the bug to try to understand where the methanol comes from. (It’s the biochemist left in me.) I’m trying to see if yeast can actually produce methanol (either under certain circumstances, or the wrong kind of yeast) or if it mostly comes from bacterial “contamination”. I used quote marks because of course there will always be bacteria present. Here is a relevant wikifact from beer brewing:

    Hops have an antibiotic effect that favours the activity of brewer’s yeast over less desirable microorganisms.”

    But methanol is not mentioned anywhere in the article (10.5k words!) so I still don’t know. Since methanol is very toxic to most life (of course the ethanol the yeast produce also eventually stops their growth and kills them!) I am provisionally going with it being caused by bacterial anaerobic fermentation. I might have to search some boxes to find my old biochem textbooks but not tonight ..

    I also learned that fractional freezing (removing the ice core which has little of the dissolved salts etc in it) can produce beers up to almost 60% alcohol — which is then legally classified as a spirit. (and super dangerous IMO).

  • 20
    SBH
    Posted Friday, 11 January 2013 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    A timely warning to all the young people out there! Remember, if you do something you’ve never done before you don’t know what might happen. Especially if you are doing it overseas and doubly so if you are in a country ‘run’ by brown people. Who can tell what might happen? I think we would all be much safer if we just stayed indoors and only left our sanctuaries to get bread and milk - and always carry a gun.

  • 21
    Bob the builder
    Posted Friday, 11 January 2013 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    @ SBH.
    And remember, only wrap yourself up in Aussie-made cotton wool!

  • 22
    Matt Hardin
    Posted Friday, 11 January 2013 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    After a quick bit of research on the net, I would guess that the methanol is coming from fermenting fruit of some kind in the mash as well as not disgarding the “tops” (i.e. the low boiliong point material that contains methanol and comes off first) of the distillation. Fermenting rice alone would yield quite low methanol content. Whether the failure to disgard the tops come from greed (maximising yield) or ignorance (lack of knowledge of the taxicity issues) or both, I couldn’t say.

    I know SBH is being tongue in cheek but caution in unknown environments is a way to avoid injury and given that a proven hazard resulting in death or permanent injury exists, taking steps to avoid it is prudent.

  • 23
    Bob the builder
    Posted Friday, 11 January 2013 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    @Matt
    The amount of methanol produced in a standard distillation (I realise ‘standard’ is very elastic in this case as we don’t know how the composition of the mash) wouldn’t be enough to produce a fatal dose, which according to the intertubes is 100-250ml of methanol. Methanol would be less than 20% of the distillate (assuming purity is 90% alcohol) in the worst case, so to consume 100ml of methanol you’d have to consume 500ml of ethanol or 1 litre at 45% (standard-ish spirit strength). In which case, you’d probably be suffering from ethanol poisoning as well!
    Given those admittedly somewhat rubbery figures, I think methanol must be being added post-distillation - i.e. deliberately.
    Happy to be corrected by someone with deeper knowledge though!

  • 24
    Jacqui Solly
    Posted Friday, 11 January 2013 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    Having spent the best part of the last 12 months traveling in South East Asia the one thing I can categorically say is this:

    Australian’s (especially) go to places like Laos, Bali, Lombok, Phuket and expect the same level of regulation and services as Australia. These countries are third world. Don’t expect to be able to go to a top notch doctor if you are too stupid to look after yourself. Don’t expect to jump off a rickety platform, split your head open and be collected by an ambulance…you’re in Laos.

    I went to all of these places; partied, drank and went a little bit mental. The difference is I’m smart enough to realise that the bar i’m drinking in is being run by locals with no regulation and customers emptying their pockets.

    I’ve had enough of reading about Australian’s dieing and the families (and other armchair enthusiasts) blaming it on these countries. IT’S NOT THEIR FAULT! Yes, it’s tragic - and a lot of the time, bad luck. But don’t blame these third world countries.

    If you want to party for nothing, don’t expect everything.

    *stomps feet* *crosses arms* *hpmphs*

  • 25
    SBH
    Posted Friday, 11 January 2013 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    BtB especially if its in a flag-ish pattern

    and yes Matt caution, but there seem to be a never ending line of terrible things that can happen to people overseas to witt: crashing your rented bike, catching stds, eating mushrooms and having the fabled ‘bad trip’ being stabbed for a watch, marauding theives on motorcycles and so on. this is the latest in this unedifying litany. We haven’t even mentioned the likelyhood of your plane being blown up by paradise seekers. The long term risk to health is far more likely to come from mozzies than arak.

  • 26
    Matt Hardin
    Posted Friday, 11 January 2013 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    True about the mozzies,SBH that’s why I wear long sleeves at dawn and dusk and DEET repellent. :-)

  • 27
    michael r james
    Posted Friday, 11 January 2013 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    Bob, I think you are understating the likely toxicity of methanol.

    as little as 10 mL of pure methanol is ingested, for example, it can break down into formic acid, which can cause permanent blindness by destruction of the optic nerve, and 30 mL is potentially fatal, although the median lethal dose is typically 100 mL (i.e. 1–2 mL/kg body weight of pure methanol.

    Although methylated spirits (denatured alcohol) can be 90% ethanol, most formulations are 95% ethanol meaning <4% or less methanol (there are other additives plus water). True these are designed to be a compromise between deterrence against ingestion and lethality.

    Having said all that I don't know if the methanol used in Indonesia is appropriately laced with the usual: methyl violet (colour), pyridine or other things to make it bitter & unpalatable, even emetics. Of course if methanol is being added to bulk up arrack, if it is added pre-distillation these things would normally be removed — but not if the tops are kept (and there no point adding it if it is removed …).

    @Jacqui Solly at 1:42 pm
    I have travelled all over many of those places too, but more than 30 years ago when having fun was not equated with trying to get blitzed drunk as fast as possible. That seemed to develop as a widespread cultural thing in the early 80s in the UK where I observed it developing. By my second stint in the UK in mid-90s, even post-doctoral scientists and students spent half of Friday talking about how they would be getting blitzed Friday night. Once, after a scientific retreat, the distinguished lab head had to embark on a major PR corrective campaign to counter the human and physical wreckage of his lab over that weekend. It was reported in the Times. Of course it became a legendary bit of bragging by the lab concerned.

    Oh, and perhaps for me (the least fun person in such situations) drunk Brits are the biggest bores in the world. It is (apparently) only fun in their head, which of course they have forgotten by morning (if they are lucky). And finally, instead of it being a indication of their "free and adventurous spirits" they are simply pathetic victims of gigantic and successful advertising campaigns by the big drinks companies.

    The reasons to worry about this issue are: 1. over time there are more people disabled (blindness, mental impairment) than killed and these remain tragic lives, plus a burden on their families & health system 2. ditto for the citizens of the countries concerned who will have much poorer care and lead brutally tragic lives.

    (Yes, am I not a barrel of fun!)

  • 28
    Matt Hardin
    Posted Friday, 11 January 2013 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    Had a quick look at fatal doses of Methanol, Bob. Doses as low as 30 mL (pure) have been reported as fatal. This brings your lower limit to about 300 ml of spirits well within the range of a big night out.

  • 29
    Bob the builder
    Posted Friday, 11 January 2013 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    Fair enough, looks like my calculations might be a bit out. Perhaps it’s the odd person who has an unusually low tolerance that suffers death in these cases. A horrible end.

  • 30
    michael r james
    Posted Friday, 11 January 2013 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    SBH at 3.21 pm.

    I have a post in moderation but let me say in response to your “The long term risk to health is far more likely to come from mozzies than arak.”

    Not really true in places that have very large numbers of idiot western binge drinkers (Kuta, Phuket etc). Secondly the neglect of using anti-mozzie deterrents (primarily skin spray; since most prophylactic medicine is no longer guaranteed to work in malarious parts of Asia) correlates with drunkenness (and perhaps even more the idiot mindset that goes with the drive to binge drink as “fun”). (lookin’ at you Jacqui).

    Yes, I am one of those boomer bores who utterly hates seeing these places being ruined for everyone (including the locals despite the economic benefits) by this idiot western pseudo-decadence.

  • 31
    Matt Hardin
    Posted Friday, 11 January 2013 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    It is indeed, Bob.

  • 32
    michael r james
    Posted Friday, 11 January 2013 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    Moderated again, here is part:

    @Jacqui Solly at 1:42 pm
    I have travelled all over many of those places too, but more than 30 years ago when having fun was not equated with trying to get blitzed drunk as fast as possible. That seemed to develop as a widespread cultural thing in the early 80s in the UK where I observed it developing. By my second stint in the UK in mid-90s, even post-doctoral scientists and students spent half of Friday talking about how they would be getting blitzed Friday night. Once, after a scientific retreat, the distinguished lab head had to embark on a major PR corrective campaign to counter the human and physical wreckage of his lab over that weekend. It was reported in the Times. Of course it became a legendary bit of bragging by the lab concerned.

    Oh, and perhaps for me (the least fun person in such situations) drunk Brits are the biggest bores in the world. It is (apparently) only fun in their head, which of course they have forgotten by morning (if they are lucky). And finally, instead of it being a indication of their “free and adventurous spirits” they are simply pathetic victims of gigantic and successful advertising campaigns by the big drinks companies.

    The reasons to worry about this issue are: 1. over time there are more people disabled (blindness, mental impairment) than killed and these remain tragic lives, plus a burden on their families & health system 2. ditto for the citizens of the countries concerned who will have much poorer care and lead brutally tragic lives.

  • 33
    michael r james
    Posted Friday, 11 January 2013 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    Moderated again, here is part: (attempt #3)

    @Jacqui Solly at 1:42 pm
    I have travelled all over many of those places too, but more than 30 years ago when having fun was not equated with trying to get blitzed drunk as fast as possible. That seemed to develop as a widespread cultural thing in the early 80s in the UK where I observed it developing. By my second stint in the UK in mid-90s, even post-doctoral scientists and students spent half of Friday talking about how they would be getting blitzed Friday night. Once, after a scientific retreat, the distinguished lab head had to embark on a major PR corrective campaign to counter the human and physical wreckage of his lab over that weekend. It was reported in the Times. Of course it became a legendary bit of bragging by the lab concerned.

    Oh, and perhaps for me (the least fun person in such situations) drunk Brits are the biggest bores in the world. It is (apparently) only fun in their head, which of course they have forgotten by morning (if they are lucky). And finally, instead of it being a indication of their “free and adventurous spirits” they are simply pathetic victims of gigantic and successful advertising campaigns by the big drinks companies.

  • 34
    Jacqui Solly
    Posted Friday, 11 January 2013 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    Ahhh Michael R. James…selective reader? I actually agree with you.

    My point was that people like Bob Carr and general Australian’s don’t have legs to stand on when they insist that these countries “do something”. What are they going to do?! Jump on their donkey and parade into these tiny towns and insist that the locals running these money makers shut down? Where would the donkey riding authorities collect their taxes from then?!

    We can’t assume the same safety net that we have here in other parts of the world.

    Am not so much of a binge drinker as I am a people watcher. Sure, had a few - but was always able to stay right side up in the tuktuk on the way home. And, I made it all the way home to Oz.

    Perhaps my fault that I didn’t make it clear that my 12 month travel was peppered with these experiences as opposed to the reason I went, not the other way around. Let me tell you - getting on a local bus from the border of Laos and China and ending up in Vang Vieng (tubing central) is a slap in the face i’d prefer not to have again. Nor will I ever visit Phuket again.

    When I do return to the beauty that is SE Asia I will be avoiding these places, and the silly tourists within.

  • 35
    michael r james
    Posted Friday, 11 January 2013 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    Jacqui Solly at 5:36 pm

    Good to hear it. Though (just to reinforce my Dr AntiFun rep) in my day (hah! cardboard boxes coming up…) of course there were still travellers that got blitzed but one could always choose not to. As if a few ice cold beers was not enough. Perhaps you don’t realize it but your description still emphasized a fake “glamour” behind “going a bit mental”. And good luck with ” avoiding these places, and the silly tourists within.”

    (And in 1979 on those actual grass-hut encampments on Koh Samui, there was the gentle partaking of a toke or two (and Tiger beer) but an entirely mellow atmosphere; it will stay with me forever and has absolutely nothing to do with getting blitzed out of my mind. And no that is not a contradiction.).

    Anyway, below is the last part of my moderated post (first part is stick stuck), I try to explain why we should do something. This problem is exactly what the west went thru in much earlier times and our experience for overcoming it does count. Also you are being very patronizing to our neighbours.

    The reasons to worry about this issue are: 1. over time there are more people disabled (blindness, mental impairment) than killed and these remain tragic lives, plus a burden on their families & health system 2. ditto for the citizens of the countries concerned who will have much poorer care and lead brutally tragic lives.

  • 36
    michael r james
    Posted Friday, 11 January 2013 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

    Moderated again. Attempt #3. (first part)

    Jacqui Solly at 5:36 pm

    Good to hear it. Though (just to reinforce my Dr AntiFun rep) in my day (hah! cardboard boxes coming up…) of course there were still travellers that got blitzed but one could always choose not to. As if a few ice cold beers was not enough. Perhaps you don’t realize it but your description still emphasized a fake “glamour” behind “going a bit mental”. And good luck with ” avoiding these places, and the silly tourists within.” It only takes a significant minority (ahem, like your younger self) to behave like that and quite quickly everywhere is infected.

    (And in 1979 on those actual grass-hut encampments on Koh Samui, there was the gentle partaking of a toke or two (and Tiger beer) but an entirely mellow atmosphere; it will stay with me forever and has absolutely nothing to do with getting blitzed out of my mind. And no that is not a contradiction.).

  • 37
    michael r james
    Posted Friday, 11 January 2013 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    Moderated again. Attempt #5. (second part)

    Anyway, below is the last part of my moderated post (first part is still stuck), I try to explain why we should do something. This problem is exactly what the west went thru in much earlier times and our experience for overcoming it does count. Also you are being very patronizing to our neighbours.

    “The reasons to worry about this issue are: 1. over time there are more people disabled (bl indness, mental impairment) than killed and these remain tragic l ives, plus a burden on their famil ies & health system 2. ditto for the citizens of the countries concerned who will have much poorer care and lead brutally tragic lives.”

  • 38
    SBH
    Posted Friday, 11 January 2013 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    Even given the number of rich western idiot binge drinkers Michael, I can’t help but wonder what the fuss is about. It’s like cowboy bullets. malaria causes death and disease on a scale that dwarfs the boorish tourist ‘accidents’ and yet here we are havering over a small number of incidents.

    On the booze generally however let me say that we cling to it like americans cling to guns only the results are far more frequent, serious and every bit as permanent. It’s ok for an old rechabite like me to say but we need a serious look at our selves and our attitude to drinking.

  • 39
    michael r james
    Posted Friday, 11 January 2013 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

    SBH at 8:00 pm

    It’s not that I disagree but it is false equivalence. One is a medical-biological problem which eventually will be solved/brought under control by technology (inc. biotechnology). The other is a social disease and really does point to a genuine decadence in our so-called advanced society. I blame the Brits for spreading the binge-drinking disease but it is now apparently infecting youth in previously sensible countries like France (it wasn’t when I lived there). And now Asia is falling to infection.

    I have no idea of what to do about it. Except of course for the hand-waving about education (but those post-docs doing the binge drinking were at Oxford so …).

    It is the same for obesity and all the lifestyle diseases that hardly anyone wants to get serious about. And incidentally, while I am confident the world’s biggest killer malaria will be tamed before too long, I am not confident about the lifestyle diseases and they kill more in toto than malaria.

Womens Agenda

loading...

Smart Company

loading...

StartupSmart

loading...

Property Observer

loading...