Tuesday, 1 September 2009


Published in NOW! Jakarta - September 2009

The lake at Pengalengan, an idyllic resort town high in the mountains above Bandung.

It is more than thirty years since I attended Bandung’s elite Institut Teknologi as a lay architecture student. I was a hippie at the time and all my fellow students were still at the ‘neatnik’ stage—that is, like Pat Boone/Tammy Wynette (read Widyawati and Sophan Sophian).

I was not warmly embraced by my fellow students.

My impressions of Bandung—despite several trips since then, on mercy visa dashes and such—have always been clouded by my bad experiences during my student days.

Even the rustic hot spring I loved at Ciater in the mountain above Bandung has become a gentrified gay outdoor sauna for chubs, I was recently told.

Last month I got a pleasant surprise: On a return trip to Bandung Atas, the Dago district—my first in a decade—I find green suburbs alive with excellent modern architecture and, in the many, many excellent cafes, caravanserai of Chinese chomping on colonial chow mien and such.

It was delightful, delicious and refreshing.

There are also any number of Factory Outlet stores, and food malls (the Parijs van Java the most atmospheric) and scenic mountain drives just around the corner.

I visited the old colonial era resort town of Pengalengan, 30 k away, which has a beautiful lake and some wonderful old colourful houses and gardens.

12th July 2009: From the kidney-shaped pool, Sheraton Dago, Bandung

My olfactory glands pick up a whiff of sun lotion and Chinese blubber oil from the thick film floating on the pool surface.

From behind gently parting curtains gold Alain Delon belts appear, riding high on black trousers.

In a far corner of the pool court a maiden emerges, dressed in a figure hugging cashmere sweater, tight jeans, and a pink satin jilbab; her perfectly-formed breasts pointing towards the rising sun.

It is the school holidays and supersize Chinese children are out in force; hard-faced grannies in spandex shorts and tank-tops keep guard, lest anyone get between the child and his next plate of mie goreng sosis.

Early Chicha music picks through the stands of mountain cedars; fresh-faced waitresses flashing perfect gams as they wait on the ugliest roomload of breakfast-revellers since Kublai Khan captured Gresik.

Colonial architecture and nostalgia abound in Pengalengan.

Gems of Modern Indonesian Landscape Architecture Part 3: The Zen Bambi Installation at the Graha Melandas Lifestyle Furniture showroom, Surabaya.

The legendary Valley View Restaurant at Dago Atas, Bandung—home to delicious Dutch, Sundanese and Indonesian culinary treats.

13th July 2009, 05 30 p.m.: Parijs van Java Airport Bandung

With my INDOSAT VIP THE SPECIAL ONE card a.n. Pevi Agnes, I gain access to the Mutiara Parahyangan Executive lounge which has two TV monitors blaring the latest on swine flu (a hapless bulé is being led into confinement at Sanglah Hospital, Denpasar) to strains of the theme song from Ben Hur. More sweater girls in satin jilbab make instant coffee with great flourish: they are genuinely concerned that I have eaten just one fried and dusted thing.

“Kok makan dikit, Misteeer?”

Earlier two lines formed at the only ultra-slack Merpati counter and a fight did not break out.

Bandung is truly a gracious place for hungry people.

20th July 2009: To Sydney with some Jakartan friends

Sydney’s winter weather can be sublime—crisp, cool, sunny—and it’s hard for my Indonesian artist friends to stay awake.

Without the constant noise and texting and food-mania their systems sort of shut down.

I drag celebrity painter Astari and her beau, sculptor Pintor Sirait, to the Brett Whitely Museum and the Botanic Gardens and the National Art Gallery where a door from Donald Friend’s old Sanur home is now on display, recently gifted by Bali Oberoi and Amandari co-creator Carole Muller.

The Jakartans are bowled over by Sydney.

The new Jamie Durie-designed cactus garden at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney.

LEFT: Painter Astari (who like too many Javanese goes by only one name) in front of a Brett Whitely painting at the Brett Whitely studio gallery, Sydney.

RIGHT: The door from Donald Friend’s Sanur Home—painted by Friend and carved by Jojol of Taro, Bali—in the National Art Gallery, Sydney.

• • •

On the flight back to Bali I notice the new breed of villa-owners-with-attitude who fill up Garuda’s Business Class (Thank God). All the ladies have been married in Bali at least three times: one is trailing her latest conquest, a septuagenarian who keeps snapping at the Solonese flight attendants as if they were Banyuwangi bar girls.

“Men are from Perth, women are from Banyuwangi” is a joke around Seminyak at the moment.

23rd July 2009: Back to Surabaya to sample more delights of the modern and ancient Javanese garden world

I am writing an essay on Javanese gardens for the Indonesian edition of my book ‘Tropical Garden Design’ and have been scouring the island looking for inspiration.

This month I find a number of weird and wonderful ‘modern’ gardens—of the screaming kitsch variety—in the new suburbs of Surabaya, and I visit, for the first time, the 11th century temple complex/water ‘temple (patirtan) at Belahan, near Tretes.

Like its sister temple, Jalatunda, which also sits high on the slopes of Mt. Pamanggungan, it is a marvel of classical Hindu Javanese architecture, and has some exquisite statues.

According to famed archaeologist A.J. Bernet Kempers: “Belahan is supposed to have been the burial monument of Erlangga. Such bathing places as burial monuments are a feature peculiar to east Java and presumably connected with very old customs of ancestor-worship. They may go back to prehistoric megalithic monuments.”

The main façade of the water garden section of the 11th century temple complex at Belahan near Tretes in East Java.

A new look Garuda passenger on the Sydney to Bali route.
Aussie tourists now swill beers in the aisles in preparation for the narrow footpaths of Bali.

31st July 2009: To Singaraja in North Bali for the first North Bali Culture Conference

North Bali has a unique culture: During the Dutch Colonial era it was the centre for most of the research on Bali. Much of the old colonial architecture survives in Singaraja, the capital, and in quaint ‘hill stations’ like Gobleg and Munduk.

The conference is a collaboration between Indonesian and Dutch scholars, including Hedi Hinzler from Leiden University, the leading anthropologist/Bali expert on the florid phantasmagorical North Bali statuary.

• • •

After the conference, I am invited to a staff member’s wedding in the fabulous village of Banjar, North of Seririt (the hot springs complex in Banjar are a must visit).

I decide to spend the night at Gusti and Diana von Blantjook’s Puri Ganesha hotel in Pemuteran Village nearby.

The North West Coast of Bali is still pristine; from Pemuteran Beach one can catch boats to nearby Pulau Menjangan the location of some of Bali’s best dive sites.

One of the four villas at Puri Ganesha, Pemuteran—Bali’s first mountain and beachside accommodation; Boats take day trippers from Pemuteran Beach to Pulau Menjangan Island.

Luh Ade Puspeni at her wedding in Banjar Village, North Bali.