Friday, 29 January 2010

Bungklang Bungkling: Dedaaran (Food)

Taken from ‘Bungklang Bungkling’, ‘Dedaraan’, a column by I Wayan Juniartha, as published in Bali Post, Sunday, 24th January 2010. Translated by Putu Semiada

Dedaaran (Food)

There is a theory that one can tell the ‘character’ of a country by its traditional food, according to I Wayan Cupak Bagus.

The members of the group are happy today. Someone has sent them 200 tum (Balinese wrapped steamed pork meat) and 2 kgs of peanuts. No wonder: as the local elections are coming the team of each contestant is busy distributing things to attract constituents. They think that when one gives you something, just accept it: you can decide later which contestant you are going to vote.

“The Javanese are an example,” says Wayan.

The Javanese like bean curd (tofu) and fermented soybean curd (tempe). They are not expensive, easy to prepare, and can be combined with any kind of food.

“The point is that the Javanese are economical people, they don’t like to make things complicated or waste their time just for food matters.”

“That’s why they are able to save their money and they are hard-working people too.”

“They are very different from Balinese who are very complicated in food matters.”

“Take lawar (Balinese chopped food) for example. You need a lot different kinds of spices. It takes time and people to prepare too.” But it is stale in just a few hours.”

“On the other hand, if you want to eat tempe or tahu, you can prepare it yourself. You don’t need many people like when you make lawar.

“It means that Balinese like hanging around with their friends, spending lots of money for food.”

“As they hang around too much, they have less time to work then.”

And the Balinese eat too much pork too.

“After eating tempe you will feel healthy, but after eating pork you will feel sleepy. You can’t do any work when you are sleepy.

Nobody really listens to Wayan. They enjoy the tum and peanuts. They finish them all so nothing left for Wayan.

“Balinese also like spicy food which consists of different kinds of vegetables, like srombotan (spicy Balinese vegetable salad).

“They like food which makes you sweat when you eat it and can bring problems to your stomach.”

“That’s my opinion. Now, when our children eat pizza, KFC, and McDonald, it means that their characters may become like westerners,” Wayan keeps talking.

After talking too much Wayan feels thirsty and tries to get a glass of palm toddy — but nothing is left. Even the tum and peanut are also finished. That’s another kind of situation in Bali: “If you talk too much you will get nothing.”

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

STRANGER IN PARADISE: Buried Treasure and Hindu-Balinese Crusades

Pedanda Gunung emerges from the Goa Semar
meditation cave at Telaga Tiga Warna Lakes District, Dieng, Central Java.

Twenty metres into the site my jaw drops: I spy a largish crater, inside which is nestled a pristine tenth-century stone temple. On the temple’s floor is a Ganesha statue, still half-buried (to deter the thieves); the rest of the small walled, temple court is completely exposed, and looks brand new.

I am an avid amateur archaeologist and my first love is old Javanese Hindu Temple ruins.
This is my story ………………
Last year I was invited onto a team of experts — geologists, anthropologists, archaeologists — to create a hypothetical reconstruction of the kraton palace at Majapahit, in East Java. (Majapahit was the last of Java’s great Hindu empires and was the source for much of the red brick palace and temple architecture you see in Bali today.Ed).

During my six month internship I learned a lot and I discovered that archaeologists really are the divas of the ‘dead things’ world, and that working with them is a bit like walking on broken glass.

• • •

Last month, just days before I was due to arrive in Central Java for a job, I learned of the unearthing of a “mint-condition” 10th century Hindu candi inside the Universitas Islam Indonesia complex in Jogyakarta.

I arrived in Jogyakarta full of enthusiasm and quickly started asking around and calling in favours, to try and get permission to visit the ‘dig’, the Ganesha statue featured in the papers looked amazing and I wanted to see more.

By incredible fortune, the Balinese general manager of the Hyatt Regency hotel where I was staying invited me to help greet a visiting V.I.P. high priest from Bali — the charismatic Pedanda Gunung, Bali’s answer to Deepak Chopra. The pedanda, he said, was in Central Java to visit a candi.

“There is a god,” I enthused, and plotted to affix my caboose to the pedanda’s spiritual gravy train, as it were, and thus get into the new candi dig site.

The lovely gardens of the Hyatt Regency, Yogyakarta, Central Java.

Monday, 18th January 2010: Fortune smiles on a rabid groupie

At one p.m. Pedanda Gunung steps out of the lead car of the official motorcade and Pak Nur, the G.M. of the Hyatt Regency and I step forward to greet him.

Quickly the G.M. is elbowed out of the way and, beaming at the shining eminence, I blurt out that I am a friend of his friend Milo (the Balinese fashion impresario who took the holyman to South India in 2008) and that “surely the pedanda remembers the “Best of Stranger in Paradise 1996 – 2008” (available at a bookstore near you)” I had sent him and that I wanted to carry his bag for the next two days.

He said that he was in Central Java at the invitation of the Mayor of Wonosobo, to visit a proposed new Hindu temple site in the Dieng Plateau (famous for its 8th-9th century Hindu temples. Ed.) and he too had heard about the new candi discovery nearby and that he wanted to go…….and that, Yes, I could hang in.

The pedanda is with a small gang of acolytes which includes a local government official: I am interviewed that the archaeological dig is open to the public between noon and one.

“We leave for Dieng at 6. a.m. tomorrow,” Pedanda Gunung advises, and then speeds off, a picture of Sivaite Balinese loveliness, to his room.

His two Balinese aides-de-camp look daggers at me as if I am some hippy usurper just out of the Magelang Hills. Now, to be fair to them, I am debut-ing a shocking Pinky Fabindia shorty kurta and am a tad dishevelled, but in a nice not a nasty way.

• • •

Images from the Candi Kimpulan archaeological site,
Universitas Islam Indonesia, Jalan Kaliurang, Merapi mountain slope, Yogyakarta.

Lisa Ekawati from the Yogyakarta Archaeological Office on site.

2 p.m. The same day

I speed to the archaeological dig site to talk my way in.

It is easy to find within the grounds of the sprawling Islamic University campus — itself built in the modern-Muslim hard-liner style of the new capital of Malaysia, called Putrajaya Puritanical — as the site is the only area within the campus defined by crumpled sheets of cheap corrugated iron.

The security box window at the entrance gate is straight out of the movie ‘Water World’, or ‘Mad Max’, but the guards are, mercifully, straight out of central casting and are able to discern that this large pink person in a large pink kurta, who is dropping names like lead balloons, is an exception to the visiting hours rule, and I am let in.

Twenty metres into the site my jaw drops: I spy a largish crater, inside which is nestled a pristine tenth century stone temple. On the temple’s floor is a Ganesha statue, still half-buried (to deter the thieves); the rest of the small walled temple court is completely exposed and looks brand new.

Javanese workers convey baskets of volcanic soil up rough stairs. A ‘posse’ of archaeologists — roped off from the general swirl of activity — sit on a large woven mat surrounded by boxes of biscuits, kretek cigarette packs, floor plans and other tricks of the trade.

After a tour of the site, which includes a good look at the excellent information board for the public, I am invited to sit with the scientist and swap tales.

It is an exhilarating hour and I learn much about Central and East Javanese candi and the ancient Hindu cultures that spawned them.

19th January, 2010: To Wonosobo and the Dieng Plateau with Pedanda Gunung

In the early morning it is a pleasant two hour drive from Jogyakarta — through verdant wet-season countryside and quaint hill side towns — to Wonosobo, which is now just another ugly Javanese town.

Of course the Pedanda Gunung and party had bolted before 6 a.m. (the Balinese are only good about arrangements in Bali, and about cremations) but we manage to track them down at the Wonosobo Mayor’s guest house (Pondok Bupati), a colonial mini palace now ‘enhanced’ with heavy-looking carved teak Jepara pelmets and ceiling rosettes.

I sweep in — today in borrowed, white temple drag — and park myself next to the official party on a large red velvet chair with Napoleonic pretension, like the rest of the room’s furniture, not like me.

The pedanda beams. (The elder generation of Balinese still love a token blonde at official functions).

Former Australian P.M. Gough Whitlam and son with former
President Soeharto (far right) at the Pondok Bupati, Wonosobo, Central Java.

Bupati (Mayor) of Wonosobo, H.A. Kholiq Arif (left) with Pedanda Gunung.

The room was once used for a meeting between Gough Whitlam, then Prime Minister of Australia, and President Soeharto. There is a photo of the historic meeting: it shows a bored-looking Soeharto next to Gough Whitlam who is wearing a wild BBQ shirt emblazoned with Kangaroos and what looks like flying meat pies.

We are offered breakfast and I sit with the head of the local Muslim community.

“Are there lots of Hindus in Dieng?” I ask.

“None” he replies, rather bluntly.

• • •

The day before I had asked my guru (on matters Javanese), Soedarmadji Damais, if the Dieng people were ‘pre-Hindu’.
“Pre-everything,” he replied.

• • •

It transpires that the Bupati Wonosobo, the mayor of Wonosobo, is behind this initiative — to build a place of worship for the 400 or so Hindus in his town.

I wonder if the Bupati Wonosobo is not just following in the daunting footsteps of the ravishing Bupati Karanganyar (near Solo. Ed.) who was behind the re-consecration of the Candi Cetho (reported in this Diary in September 2007, “Imminent threat of Hinduisation?”)

09.30 a.m.

The convoy speeds north, up the mountain.
It is a stunning drive, up the slopes of the Sindoro mountains, and over the ancient caldera top onto the vast plateau of rich farming lands and sulphur gas thermal springs.

Balinese Pedanda on Parade,
Telaga Tiga Warna Lake, Dieng, Central Java, 19th January 2010.

LEFT: Pedanda Gunung prays at Gua Sumur springs.
RIGHT: The keeper of the meditation caves, Juru Kunci Rismanto.

Siwa and Parwati statues in the Gua Sumur —
gifted by former Governor of Bali, Dewa Made Beratha in 2003.

Our first stop is at the meditation caves and holy springs at Telaga Tiga Warna (Three Coloured Lake). It is a magical palace with narrow, well-tended bricks paths that wind between small volcanic lakes, and lava rock outcrops, many of which, amazingly, have springs of fresh water.

The juru kunci, the traditional Javanese ‘guard’, is thrilled to have a real, live pedanda honouring his mystical attractions. In front of the Goa Sumur the pedanda gives a little speech about how he is a direct descendent of a Javanese Brahman holyman (Dang Hyang Nirartha) who came to Bali in the 14th century, and that he is the 8th in a line of Pedandas Gunung.

I add that a thousand years ago Javanese priests imported Hinduism to Bali and here, today, in Dieng, the Balinese are repaying the favour.

In one cave meditation spot ― the Goa Sumur, where a former Balinese Governor has left some Sivaite statues and where Presidents Soekarno and Soeharto have meditated — I ask the pedanda if he finds the place ‘empowered’ (‘mataksu’ in Balinese).

“Like a light bulb with dirty glass,” he replies. (The astute metaphor is the stock-in trade of the tuned-in Balinese holyman, I recall).

Eventually we are led to the site for the new temple.

“Beware of old Dutch mortar shells,” jokes the pedanda, as we thrash through the bush.

Readers should note here that black humour is a Balinese speciality. (Get someone to translate a sampling of Facebook exchanges if you don’t believe me).

• • •

It appears that ex-Governor of Bali, Dewa Beratha and Pedanda Subali from Bali’s Tianyar Regency have in the past created shrines here but it seems that they have been engulfed by the scrub, or worse.

Candi Arjuna complex, Dieng, Central Java.

Detail of Candi Door

Next we visit the very smart, very brutalist Archaeology Museum near the Candi Arjuna complex. It seems that the Dutch government sponsored many of the cultural tourism attractions in the area and used Dutch ‘urbanista’ architects to design them.

The museum is brilliant and is reason enough alone to visit the Dieng Plateau. I learned that the Hindu Sanjaya Empire, which built all the candi, was of a Sivaite Hindu blend very similar to today’s Hindu-Bali and that Dieng was in ancient times popular as a meditation spot among Siwaite priests.

There is one minor revelation. For the first time I find, on one of the information boards, evidence, in Java, of the ancient South Indian Hindu geomancy (Hasta Kosala Hasta Bumi) which is prevalent in Bali. Or has the curator just cribbed from books on Hindu Bali Architecture.

Over lunch in the smart Candi Arjuna complex car park I learn that hundreds of Balinese come to the Candi Arjuna temple complex every year, to hold lavish ceremonies, on Suro, the first day of the Javanese calendar.

Suddenly I realize that there’s more to this ‘expansionist’ trend of the Hindu-Balinese than meets the eye!

• • •

After the Museum I say good bye to the pedanda and his gracious hosts, and to the gentle Dieng people, who have helped us all day, and race back to Bali to tell my great Balinese mate, Putu, of my adventures.

22nd January 2010: At the Sidakarya working men’s Scrabble Club

“Look who I got an sms from,” I say proudly, sliding the cell phone towards Putu.
He takes one look at the name “Pedanda Gunung” on the text message and rudely pushes the phone back.

“Nah, mate,” he admonishes, “this pedanda is a ‘charlatan’……..he doesn’t recognize the importance of our holy water (the universal Benediction water – the Tirta Sidakarya. Ed) ………and those fanatics on Dieng hurled turds at the temple.”

“Wo!” my inner voice says, “and I thought that dealing with archaeologists was like walking on broken glass!”

* * * * *

Friday, 22 January 2010

Bungklang Bungkling: BARANG TUA (Old Stuff)

Taken from ‘Bungklang Bungkling’, ‘Barang Tua’, a column by I Wayan Juniartha,
as published in Bali Post, Sunday,
17 January 2010. Translated by Putu Semiada.

BARANG TUA (Old Stuff)

Most Balinese don’t like preserving their heirlooms. When there is a chance for them to sell, they will or barter it for something new. If it’s not, they just keep it in the storeroom.

That’s what A.A.A. Jaya Parikosa (Anak Agung Sell Everything You Have) says. He once sold the rice fields belonging to the palace and used the money to buy luxury cars, such as Land Rover (the land ‘changed’ to Land Rover), Mercedes, and Hummer.

“Today nobody really cares how much land you own, they will still call you a farmer. But if you have many cars, people will respect you because your status is higher, the same level as a businessman,” he says.

Even ancient pavilions are sold. To be able to sell in pieces, they renovate the pavilions and then all the pavilion parts are brought to antique dealers to sell.

“There is a bulĂ© who is willing to pay a good price: he will use for his villa in Jimbaran,” says A.A.A. Jaya Parikosa laughingly.

They are not really interested in listening to him. They know that this kind of person only comes to them when he has a certain agenda, otherwise he will be a stranger. They just pretend to listen to him because he brings 2 bags of peanuts and some wrapped Balinese steamed pork meat (tum). He also promises to buy them 2 jerrycans of palm toddy.

At Jaya Parikosa’s palace, some labourers are busy building a big pavilion in the Italian style, as seen on TV. The shrines in his royal house temple also have been replaced using andesite stone (black). The palace looks like a hotel now.

“That’s what we call ‘modern’. Why do we bother using old wood that has been spoiled by termites?” That’s what you should do so that people will call you ‘modern’.

They all nod even though they don’t really agree. It’s a very difficult situation for them: if they agree with his opinion, they know that they can not afford a modern house. If they don’t, they will feel guilty as they have been given peanuts and pork meat. The situation in the warung looks like a political rally: the politician keeps talking while people listen and wait for some rice.

Finally Agung says what he really wants the sekeha (group), to do.

“There is an antique broker who is ready to pay for the manuscripts that belong to the palace. The problem is that the manuscripts now are stored at Pura Desa Temple. Now I need your help how to get them returned to the palace,” he says.

Now they understand what is Agung’s agenda.

“I think it is better for us to sell the manuscripts to western countries because we can not even look after them properly. I am sure the museums or universities in the West can look after them well,” he continues.

They don’t really listen what Agung says because they are drunk. They don’t even know how to get home.

“The most important thing is that we should get money as much as possible. In future if our children want to learn about manuscripts they can study overseas. When we have money, we don’t have any problem sending them overseas.

They all nod.

Thursday, 21 January 2010


A TVRI — WIJAYA PILEM presentation.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010


A TVRI — WIJAYA PILEM presentation.


A TVRI — WIJAYA PILEM presentation.


A TVRI — WIJAYA PILEM presentation.


A TVRI — WIJAYA PILEM presentation.


A TVRI — WIJAYA PILEM presentation.

Part 1


Part 2

Tuesday, 19 January 2010


A TVRI — WIJAYA PILEM presentation.

PEDIKSAN AT SANUR, 2009 (High Priest Ordination)

A TVRI — WIJAYA PILEM presentation.

Part 1


Part 2

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Bungklang Bungkling: KOPERASI

Taken from ‘Bungklang Bungkling’, ‘Koperasi’, a column by I Wayan Juniartha,
as published in Bali Post, Sunday,
10 January 2010. Translated by Putu Semiada.


I Made Gali Lubang Tutup Lubang is eager to ask his friends to make a cooperative.

We have to make a economy institution quickly, otherwise we are finished, he says.

We are facing Asian Free Trade condition. Products from other Asian countries will easily come to Indonesia as no import tax is charged to the products.

You know, when the import tax was still charged to products coming from other countries, Chinese products had already come to Indonesia massively, and our products could not compete with them; sugar, peanuts, underwear, etc. When the free trade zone is really applied, we are finished.

Nobody really pays attention to the conversation. They only pay attention when the topic of discussion is about money, women and meat and sort of.

Only I Wayan Setir Kiri takut Istri (I Wayan Good Husband) is surprised.

“Oh My God, thank you Made for talking about Chinese products. I almost forgot. My wife asks me to buy a toy for my son. Sorry my friends, I have to go to the ‘Serbu’ (Serba Lima Ribu: all items cost five thousand Rupiahs each) shop,” he says.

Since there has been the ‘Serbu Shop’ next to the soccer field, everyone goes there shopping. It has everything and very cheap too. It has been our question how come the Chinese can sell their products cheaply in spite of shipping cost from China to Bali that they bear. And how strange that our products are more expensive than theirs.

“I would think that the businessmen here have to cover a lot of unnecessary cost, e.g. fund raise arranged by village youth associations, donation for new year’s eve celebration, campaign for local election, etc. In order to cover that cost and still be able to make profit, the businessmen will of course increase the price of their products,” says I Putu Kredit Kema Utang Mai (I Putu Wherever He Goes He Borrows Money).

“So, in order to deal with the situation, I would think that we need to build a cooperative to be able to compete with Chinese products. I mean, when we work together side by side, we can solve any problem,” Made says further.

The problem is that he talks the right thing at the wrong place. Most of the drinking club members have no entrepreneurship mentality. They are just happy with their current condition. They have no idea where they will get money from for cooperative capital.

“If I join the cooperative, do I get a free T-shirt? Or a pack of rice?” says I Ketut Bayah Malu Dukungan Nanti (I Ketut Pay First But Goods Later).

What kind of cooperative we are going to build? If it a selling product cooperative, I might not join, but if it is a cooperative for saving and borrowing money, I will. And I want to be the first customer to borrow money,” Ketut further says.

Now we know what situation the cooperatives are like in Bali. It’s just a place to borrow money. So when one has already borrowed money in the public bank or village bank, they will go to village cooperative to borrow money.

Most of Balinese prefer to borrow money instead of using their money to start new business. They would think that why we should bother work when we can borrow money easily?”

“If it is like that you think, of course will be finished soon, we will become objects only, as we are only customers only, never become producers”, says Made.

The others jus smile. They don’t really know about Asia Free Trade. They don’t even know how a cooperative can make their life better.

“Well, let’s just ignore Free Trade or whatever it is, who knows China will also be able to produce palm toddy and roasted pigs that much cheaper than ours. If they do so, I will ask the Chinese government to take over Indonesian government who only talk and talk but does nothing.

So the Balinese now are waiting banten (offering), caru (a load of offering for ground spirits) and temples that MADE IN CHINA.

Bungklang Bungkling: Endek (Traditional Balinese Cloth)

Taken from ‘Bungklang Bungkling’, ‘Endek’, a column by I Wayan Juniartha,
as published in
Bali Post, Sunday, 3 January 2010. Translated by Putu Semiada.

Endek (Traditional Balinese Cloth)

The palm toddy warung looks different this week. Everyone wears endek (Balinse traditional cloth). They look like a ‘sekehe pesantian’ (religious hymn singing association).

‘If I hadn’t seen the palm toddy bottles, I would have thought that the warung had been removed,” says I Made Gradag Grudug.

Made sits and eats some fried bananas. He doesn’t realize that everybody wears endek until he looks at his friends around him carefully.

Since when you all act like high ranking officials? Does it because your goal to be civil servants don’t come true?” Ask Made.

I tell you, if you want to be a civil servant you have to bribe 100 million Rupiahs. It is just not that, when you are accepted, you have to put your letter of assignment in the bank as guarantee for the money you borrow from the bank to bribe.

“You have a potbellied. What you need now is to wear a tie, so you will look like a civil servant or member of legislative assembly.”

“If you don’t know exactly what you are talking about, you’d better shut up. Didn’t you know that endek now become mascot of Denpasar town,” says Wayan.

The sekehe members just nod. They act like they are listening to a high-raking official giving a speech.

“Our friends here have joined this movement. It’s our duty to preserve our culture. Otherwise, other countries may claim ours like what happen to our pendet,” Wayan adds.

Every one gives applause. The drinking club members are always eager when talking about nationalism.

That’s why when talking about nationalism or culture preservation, he has nothing to say. His grandfather was a hero and fought against Dutch. If it is only about wearing endek, it’s nothing for him.

“I’m a nationalist too,” he says. He takes off his shirt and change with endek that hung on the warung walls.

When Made wears endek shirt he looks like a high ranking official. After finished eating another fried banana, he starts to talk just like a high ranking official.

“If all people wear endek, I believe we can preserve this heritage.”

Also, if all people wear endek, our traditional fabric industry will survive as it creates employment.”

Everybody gives applause to Made. They think that if Made join the mayor election, he will be elected as his vision is quite clear that is preserving the culture.

“I think that when endek has become local symbol the government will give free working capital soft loan from the endek businessmen.

The sekehe members nod but then shake their heads. They don’t really understand what it is all about.

“They will give us incentive for export, holiday tax, design training, and free promotion by the the endek businessmen.

The sekeha members just shake their heads.

I’m sure that the government has prepared the young generation how to make endek.”

“But if the government do nothing, well never mind. Let’s do the job ourselves. Now let’s buy endek and make endek shirt and we can wear it everyday.”

The sekehe members don’t shake their heads nor nod, but their eyes grow wider.

What you are talking are rubbish, Made. You know, the sekehe doesn’t have any cash now. We use all our money to buy endek for the shirts we are wearing now. Now you suggest we buy more. Do you think it is cheap?” Wayan gets upset.

Made’s mouth is sealed up now. He now realizes that nationalism is important. But the sekehe’s financial condition is more important, especially when the New Year is about to come.

You are saying that our money is finished? What are we going to do? We don’t have money to buy pork, no money to celebrate the new year’s eve, not even to buy some fire work?

They all nod.

Monday, 11 January 2010

STRANGER IN PARADISE - February 2010: From Little Perth to the Alila Uluwatu

Published in NOW! Bali - February 2010

Click image to enlarge

Click image to enlarge

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Bungklang Bungkling: Janda (Widow)

Taken from ‘Bungklang Bungkling’, ‘Janda’, a column by I Wayan Juniartha, as published in Bali Post, Sunday, 27th December 2009. Translated by Putu Semiada

Janda (Widow)

In Bali, a widow is always considered flirtatious and anyone can have sex with her.

“I believe that most of them are flirtatious and we can have sex with them anytime we want,” says I Wayan Buaya Darat (I Wayan Sex Maniac).

I can’t remember how many widows I have slept with, from the sexy one to the fat one,’ Wayan adds.

Ni Luh Makin Digosok Makin Sip’s face gets red having heard Wayan’s comment. She thinks that Wayan underestimates women.

She realizes from his face that Wayan is a very annoying person. He has a bold moustache and is arrogant. Every time he sees a woman, he tries to flirt with her. He thinks all women are the same.

“I regret I stopped learning black magic: If I hadn’t stopped, I would be able to curse this big mouth man,” Ni Luh thinks.

She imagines Wayan’s moustache disappearing and him becoming impotent because of her curse.

“How dare you talk like that, Wayan. You know, my father died when I was a baby, so my mother has looked after me ever since. She works very hard. You know she is a widow. If you dare to say bad thing about her…..”, I Made Wat Kawat Tulang Besi (I Made Strong Muscles) threatens Wayan.

Wayan cannot say anything. He remembers what happened last month when some men playing Chinese cards seduced Made’s mother when she was passing by in front of the security post. And then how, after a few minutes, Made came with a big wooden stick used to beat the men. They suffered bad injuries and were sent to hospital. Even the security post was a mess.

“If you don’t know nor understand how a wife left by her husband has to raise her children on her own, save your dirty talk,” says Made.

Ni Luh is happy to hear what Made says. She gives him a glass of palm toddy for free. She even hands a piece of wood to him. Made smiles but Wayan gets nervous.

I think that it’s only a man’s opinion that widows are flirtatious, says I Ketut Lubak Berbulu Bebek Betutu who pretends to be a ‘mediator’.

According to him if all people believe that widows are flirtatious, no woman would want to make friends with them, which means that they will have no friends to talk to and feel lonely. This situation will make easier for men to come and approach the widows. So that they can sleep with them then,” Ketut adds.

Even widows have friends to talk to, but nobody really believes them: All believe that they are not good women.

“It’s a good point. Once if I get caught having an affair with a widow, people will blame her, instead of me. Even my wife will beat her. Of course my wife will be mad at me, but it’s not a big deal. She will be able to understand that the widow has seduced me, not the other way round,” Ketut says laughingly.

Wayan also laughs, then suddenly he collapses. Made has beaten him with a piece of wood. After beating Wayan, Made then beats Ketut.

Ni Luh pretends not to see what happens.

Thursday, 7 January 2010


Published in NOW! Jakarta - February 2010



I have been a loyal customer of Garuda Airlines for over 35 years, through thick and thin.

I have known the highs — such as the thrill of upgrading to First Class for Rp. 11.000, on the Jakarta (Halim)-Denpasar route, and having a whole Boeing 747 to myself — and the lows, such as the ghastly food and threadbare service offered during the period of their near collapse in the late 1990s.

Last month I decided to go home for Christmas on Virgin Blue, on the new Denpasar-Sydney day flight, and back on Garuda early January, to compare products and to eliminate the traditional red-eye special start for one’s Christmas holidays.

20th December, 2009: Denpasar Airport

Virgin Blue prides itself on a no-frills service but that message has yet to reach today’s passengers — a grubby lot in skimpy beachwear — who sport frills on necks and exposed abdomen (Whoever invented the unisex Bir Bintang tank-top should be shot!).

Our Premier Economy cabin attendant is in an Ozzie bush pilot outfit — tan slacks and white, short-sleeved shirt — and is chatting loudly with the couple next door.

“Where’ dja stay then?”

“Smin’ya!” screams the wife.


“Yeh………it was pretty hectic…..but we found some laid back bits.”

Now I remember Seminyak when Peter Muller marked out Jalan Oberoi through the rice fields on an area of South Bali chosen for its extreme remoteness, so I am always shocked when people talk of it as if it were Asia’s answer to Ibiza. I need closure I guess.

The wonderful thing about Virgin Blue Premium economy is that one can order anything — Mars bars, pop noodles, Twisties — from the inflight snack trolley AND NOT BE CHARGED! And, as if by miracle, little Tabasco-sized bottles of cheap wine appear.

There is no curtain between the classes, however, so one needs to be careful, on alighting at Kingsford Smith Airport, not to be trampled in the stampede to the Duty Free liquor shop.

It was closed this particular evening: so I had to complain to management and point out that Australians would stop going overseas if Duty Free were not open!

Sydney is now pretty much full of Bali Villa owners and their offspring who, upon introduction say terrible things to me, such as:

“You don’t look like a Made.”


“Yeah, right, and I’m Wayan.”

Bali is now just a beach suburb of Sydney with bargain shopping galore. Everyone has a brother or a friend building an investment villa in Bali, or a restaurant “that’s not doing so well but will pick up.”

For some reason many on Sydney’s lower North Shore are experts on the variations of names of the sudra (lowest) caste in Bali. Last Christmas people only asked about the beverage blockage and the Kerobokan jail.

I suspect that the Bali Guides Association, tired of shopping the usual spiel, have started to spice things up a bit, and Australians are bringing home stories of caste qualifications with their Bir Bintang tank-tops.

I spent most of my time on Sydney’s lower North Shore, and on the Peninsula, that heavenly patch of land between the Pacific Ocean and Pittwater Harbour.

At a New Year’s Eve hobo (haute Bohemian) party in Lavender Bay, a young starlet bursts out with: “Bali has put out the fire in my panties, because it’s so balanced.”

(I’m not sure if that news has reached every Balinese yet).

At a lunch in a hill-billy shack in a stunning Cabbage Palm forest near Dee-Why I meet three young Australians who have just returned from the Gili Isles, West Lombok, Asia’s answer to Capri. Their panties were on fire, day and night, they reported.

At lunch the next day, with Peter Muller and Carole Muller in their maximum security Twilight home in Sydney’s Walsh Bay, Peter mentioned how he was shown the Gili Isles in 1995, when building the Lombok Oberoi, and how he’d told the developer that he couldn’t do anything on the barren islands without destroying their natural charm.

Today the islands are like an outpost of Seminyak, but without the posses of black ninja-outfitted parking attendants waving crowd-control hardware at passing motorists.

In an unrelated development, Islamic architecture scholar Peter Muller, ever the joker, has come up with a brilliant solution for London’s century-old quandary: What to do with the Battersea Power Station.

A few days after New Year’s sensational Chinese-themed fireworks on the harbour I visited the Palm Beach studio of design-legend Bruce Goold — his home a museum of tropical decorative arts. He has recently been to Laos and brought back a book with old 1910 photographs of court dancers at the former Vientiane palace. The costumes, ‘masks’ and headdresses remind me of the extraordinary telek dancers that precede the barong in the ceremonial Barong Dance held outside important Balinese temples.

In the Majapahit era (13th-16th centuries), and later, it was quite the fashion for the rajas and sultans of foreign lands to ‘gift’ dances and indeed whole dance troupes to rulers all along the Indonesian archipelago.

The Legong Kraton of Bali, for example, was created in the 20th century for a performance by Balinese palace dancers at the court of Pakubuwono X in Solo, Central Java.

Monday, 4th January 2010: Back to Bali on Garuda

Garuda Airlines is undergoing an image change at the hands of Jakartan socialite/designer Ted Sulisto.

At the Garuda check in counter at Sydney Airport I am immediately impressed by a counter top ‘bouquet exotique’: an hibiscus flower, of the Balinese Pucuk Bang variety, realized in hygienic plastic is set on a gilt, chicken-wire hemisphere …..itself impaled by a pair of artificial truncated flower stems (of the Ikebana Hara-kiri school), littered with plaster cherries, and all set in a sky blue miniature fireman’s pail complete with handle.

It’s not so much a floral tribute as a cry for help.

On board the visual treats continue.

In Executive Class, lunch is now served in on hay-coloured floor mats off rickety trolleys by gorgeous girls in glamorous costumes. Fortunately the airline has not ditched its habit of showing the wrong entertainment program, which keeps us all guessing. Nor has the nouvelle vague cuisine been abandoned.

Go Garuda!