Friday, 26 March 2010

Bungklang Bungkling: Pajak (Tax)

Taken from ‘Bungklang Bungkling’, ‘Pajak’, a column by I Wayan Januartha, as published in Bali Post, Sunday, 21 March 2010. Translated by Putu Semiada

Pajak (Tax)

Two members of drinking club are debating. They are I Made Pait Makilit (I Made ‘Very Stingy’) and I Putu NPWP (I Putu ‘You Pay Tax You Get Rewards’).

“I can’t understand why we have to pay income tax? Why do the government take percentage of my income?” asks Made.

“I do the job myself. No one help me, nor the president. So why do they have to take some from me?”

Everyone gives applause to Made. It should be noted applause doesn’t always mean respect in reality. It is the same like when you give an applause to speech, or when you just stand watching a victim of an accident without trying to help, or when you make a joke when you see a ugly person, or when you enjoy seeing a fight, or when you ask for a donation to a candidate or official.

Made is getting more excited. He orders two jerry cans of palm toddy for his friends. He wants them keep supporting him. It’s like money politics.

“What about when you go to your office, drive passing a good road, or pass by a huge bridge, free medical treatment, school for your kids, public health centre. How do you think our government cover the cost? The money comes from the tax though,” comments Ketut.

Ketut works in tax department office. That’s probably why he talks about how important to pay tax.

“You have 5 cars but you are not willing to pay tax for road maintenance,” comments Putu about Made.

But this time nobody gives applause. They still wait for Putu’s commitment if he will treat them palm toddy. He himself just drinks plain tea.

Made nods.

“Pay motor bike and car taxes for road maintenance is something that I still can accept.”

But there is something I can’t accept, that is paying land tax. Why should I? Since when the government cares for my land,” asks Made.

Everyone thinks that Putu will have a problem in answering Made’s questions.

“Well, it has been indicated in our Constitution that land, water, and other natural resources belong to the state. It means you are only a ‘lessee’, and you have to pay your ‘land lease’.”

Everyone laughs as if they make joke to themselves and realize that they ‘have nothing’ being a citizen. They note that when the island was ruled by kings, they had to give something (upeti) to the kings, and when the country is ruled by a president, it is still the same. Different rulers, but still the same game.

I have no comment if it’s all about Constitution. But I still have another question. You work in tax office. You get paid. And your task is to collect taxes in which your salary is paid using the money from the taxes you collect, right? But why do you then get ‘fee’ from collecting taxes. Doesn’t it mean you get double salaries?

Ketut can’t say anything. Suddenly he takes some money out from his pocket to treat his friends some palm toddy. He thinks that by buying palm toddy, they will be quiet. They will forget their problems. Ketut gets drunks as the others. When everyone gets drunk, they will not ask tricky questions.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Travel Diaries: Bangka Island

Published in Now! Jakarta, May 2010


Beautiful Parai Beach, one hour from Pangkal Pinang.

The island of Bangka is best known for its role in Indonesia’a early history. In 1948 Dutch forces arrested the Indonesian government in Jogya and exiled them to Bangka. The former ‘detention bungalow’ of the Indonesian leader Soekarno is now a museum on the island.

In world mining circles Bangka is known for its tin — considered the best quality in the world.

Last month I went to Bangka Island expecting to find a frontier mining town but instead discovered a treasure trove of old world charm.

28th February 2010: To Pangkal Pinang, the capital of Bangka

From the air the island looks like any of the thousands of other islands in the Riau Peninsula area, except for its proliferation of shallow grey craters, like pock-marks on a friendly face.

These are the small-scale tin quarries which scar the fertile island.

Close-up, the pockets of human settlement seem like those on any Sumatran or Borneo Island, except for one feature: distinctly Chinese villages and violently Chinese temples are everywhere.

More than 150 years ago — when tin mining on the island was in its infancy — Billiton, Dutch colonial tin mining company were exasperated by the malaise of the local Malays, and decided to import thousands of coolies from the Hakka area of South China.

It is odd being in a part of Indonesia that still feels like a part of China. The industrious Hakka have thrived and integrated totally with their Malay hosts ― and little has changed in 150 years: there are still Chinese rice farmers, and banana vendors, for that matter, on the side of the road.

And they are the gentlest Chinese I have ever met (“What happens between here and Mangga Dua?” one veteran cynic quipped). As a community they were spared the rigours of the cultural revolution, I guess — rigours that strip-mined their homeland (South Coastal China) of much of its cultural loveliness — and are now 150 year plus years into a love affair with a particular Malay island.

For this is the cradle of Malay culture ― not to be confused with Malaysian culture, wherelemah-lembut” (coyness) has been replaced with the new, more strident (some say Teflon-coated), bullish “Malaysia Boleh”.

But I digress: The point I want to make here is…..the spic and span villages of Bangka all are model villages for racial and religious tolerance — no-where in Indonesia have I experienced such an harmonious ‘melt’ of Buddhism and Islam, and of Chinese and the Malay islanders. The island prospers because it is well harnessed: social inequalities are sort of irrelevant, I guess, when everyone gets to have lunch out ― I have never seen so many road-side stalls and cafes ― and everyone has a house with a big garden and many people have their own private beach.

LEFT: A local Bangka Island girl at the reception desk of the Santika Hotel, Pangkal Pinang.
Note her distinctive IKAT BELITUNG sash.
RIGHT: Front veranda of a typical Bangka-Chinese rural dwelling near Parai Beach.

Krupuk shops are all the rage on Bangka Island

Matras Village near Parai Beach — an oasis of rural bliss and gentle architecture.

Like nearby Belitung (or Billiton), the beaches are sublime: palm fringed shores and white sand beaches which are dotted with giant boulders. Everywhere is ‘wealth’: the island is awash with motorcycle dealers, krupuk sellers (a Bangka speciality) and seafood restaurants — the most famous being “Aswin’s” in downtown Pangkal Pinang.

Aswin’s is so very chic that it has a V.I.P section out the back of the kitchen, which sits on a small man-made lake.

The fresh water prawns and chily crab served at Aswin’s are to die for. Regulars scoff down plates of gourmet food as they watch Shaolin Princess tele-dramas from a television placed high on a wall in a locked cage (the Chinese are nothing if not secure).

My first day in Bangka is spent scouring the countryside outside Pangkal Pinang, looking for some design inspiration for a hotel garden I am doing for a merry band of Chinese-Indonesian developers: amazingly my clients have actively encouraged me to “go Chinese” on the decorative elements in the garden. For decades this has been a ‘no-no’ in Indonesia ― unless of course one owned an Imperial Chinese restaurant, which many people did. Manicured, bonsai-riddled, Dutch Pensioner gardens comprise much of the green space in big Indonesian cities such as Jakarta and Surabaya, but heaven help romantics, like me, who like to do full-blooded, full-frontal Chinese gardens! It’s as if one were re-starting the Indonesian Communist Party or Gulag!

But I digress, what I really want to highlight is: the love of the Bangka, Malays and Chinese-Indonesians, for gardening, even well-articulated oriental-ornamental potscapes such as one finds in the fishing villages of East Madura.

They also love hanging out under broad shade trees like the Hawaiians.

In Parai one hour north of Pangkal Pinang, I discover a small resort hotel of such architectural perversity (Malaysian-Modern meets Nusa Dua Gothic) run by island’s main tin mining concern ― a behemoth, like Freeport, but friendlier (but no machinegun toting tontons in the whispering palms here).

We don’t take a room ― optioning for the more opulent Santika ― but one could.

A Hakka Chinese temple in Matras Village.

Hottie waitresses at heavenly Asui’s Seafood Restaurant, Pangkal Pinang.

The VIP section of Asui’s Seafood Restaurant, Pangkal Pinang.

LEFT: Mobile gold-fish vendor at Eca Village.
RIGHT: An Indonesian schoolboy of Hakkah Chinese descent in Matras Village.

29th February 2010: Karaoke Hara-kiri

Today I need to watch the semi finals of an important tennis tournament so I take a room at a Star-Sports compatible three star hotel.

Here I discover that the real outdoor sport of the urban Bangka-wallah is Karaoke al Fresco.

The hotel’s garden restaurant ― off the car park but before the opulently decorated air-conditioned dining hall ― features a giant wide screen halfway up a mango tree, in a weather proof cage, and a stage where veteran sailors and tin baronets vie for the spotlight.

Three Chinese are shot singing “My Way” while one Batak bar girl does the Watusi under a Snake Fruit palm.

15th March 2010: In Sidakarya Village, Bali for all the Pengerupukan ceremony and ogoh-ogoh happenings

As a card-carrying, born-again Hindu I have missed Nyepithe important Hindu-Balinese day of Silence for the last decade, due, perhaps, to my fear of the dark. But this year my schedule and my need for a spiritual cleansing keeps me at home.

I go to my friends’ village for some local flavour.

I must say, the sunset preliminaries are wonderful ― families with obor torches placing caru offerings outside their gates; and the ‘Backstage at the Calonarang Dance of the Demons’ atmosphere in the community hall ― but the parades have become a tad pawai pembangunan (Rose Parade. Ed.), where once were warriors.

Of course the effigies are all masterful.

I guess now, what with rice farmers having turned into villa room-boys, the trance ritual and demon-worship fervor is bound to suffer.

One of the phantasmagorical demon effigies (ogoh-ogoh) paraded on Nyepi Eve in Bali, 15th March 2010.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Bungklang Bungkling: Ilmiah (Educated)

Ilmiah (Educated)

Everyone seems obsessed with being considered ‘educated’. When one is known to be ‘educated’, his words are considered as a truth, and no one needs argue.

“That’s why when you want to be a leader or politician ― other than being rich and mature ― you have to be able to create an impression that you are an educated person,” says I Made Kucing Dalam Karung (I Madé Check Carefully Before You Buy).

Everybody smiles. They all look happy because there are many ceremonies and celebrations these days which mean that they have ‘excuses’ to drink and gamble as often as they like. Along with the ceremonies and celebrations, there will be also general elections to choose mayors. And everybody knows it involves such a huge budget in spite of unsatisfying results.

“To be able to be seen to be ‘educated’, all you have to do is to include some academic titles after your name. As the titles come from a university, people will respect you as an educated person,” Made continues.

That’s why every candidate tries to include academic titles — as many as possible in front and behind their names. No matter how thick their moustaches are, how sweet their smile is, and how protruding their headdresses are, there will be something missing if they don’t include their academic titles. Various academic titles will be included from under-graduate, graduate, post graduate, Ph.D, even Professor, Mr.

“One even has 4 titles: I wonder how hard he studies? Perhaps, all he does day and night is just attend lectures. If so, when do they have time for the people anyway?” thinks Made.

“You are too naïve, Made. Don’t you know that the tittles they have are not obtained by studying hard? You know, even a doctor has been caught doing plagiarism, not to mention undergraduate and graduate students. In addition there are many universities where you can get your degree just by paying some money without having to attend lectures. You can have any academic titles that you like as long as you can pay,” says I Ketut Politik Aji Ugig (I Ketut Dirty Politician).

As a matter of fact, academic titles sometimes are not enough. You need to give speech as often as you can, and when you do, you must use big words or academic terms during your speech, just like the mayor candidates. They like using terms such as ‘equality of gender’, bureaucracy reformation, clean governance, good governance, community-based …..etc., etc. Someone who is just a drop out from elementary school will completely not understand. But an educated person will just smile when he hears such speech as he knows it is all full of bullshit.

For each candidate who joins the general election, other than academic titles and capability to hold speech properly, he also needs to have someone do a survey in order to find out how popular he is.

“The problem is that the survey is carried out by his friends while the respondents are his supporters. They try to make the survey process simple. As the survey is done by his friends, of course the results indicate that he is very popular.

When you can buy academic titles, your speech is full of bullshit and the survey result is fake ― how do you expect an honest leader?


Taken from ‘Bungklang Bungkling’, ‘Ilmiah’, a column by I Wayan Juniartha,
as published in Bali Post, Sunday, 14
th March 2010.

Translated by Putu SemiadaTaken

Friday, 12 March 2010

Bungklang Bungkling: Jujur (Honest)

Jujur (Honest)

I Made Tuna Aksara (I Made Illiterate) has a ‘headache’ as the National Examinations are getting closer. He is thinking about his son, I Gede Lengeh Buah (I Gede Very Stupid). His son is completely not a bright student, which matches his name. His position is always 50th from the 50 students in his class every semester.

Gede is a student of Senior High School. He is in the 12th year now. As a ‘standard’ of a senior high school student in Bali, Made goes to school by motor bike (a ‘Vario’), has a mobile phone, his hair style is like male Korean ‘telenovela’ stars. His look is very trendy, but his brain doesn’t match his looks.

“60 percent of the students didn’t pass the examination during the ‘try out’, let alone when they have National Examinations,” Made complains.

But nobody really pays attention to what Made says. They all have sons who go to Junior and Senior High School. Everyone has their own problem when dealing with their own sons, so they don’t really have time to talk about somebody else’s problem. They know that when their children are already teenagers, they will have ‘headache’ as their children would ask a lot of things, from reasonable to unreasonable.

Everyone pays more attention to the television they watch. The television shows a riot where university students fight against the police, followed by a fight among the members of Legislative Assembly. Some presenters give their comments which makes the situation even worse. And the people just keep watching like they watch cock-fighting.

Some people say that it is difficult understanding who has to be blamed in the Century Bank case. In spite of funds that have been provided by the government, many of the bank customers did not get their money back. Everyone — the president, legislative assembly members, ministers and economists — talks and debates about who is guilty. Nothing is clear in this case. If you compare the case with the rules in the cockfighting (tajen) games, we can see the difference. In the ‘tajen’ everything is quite clear; who wins and who loses.

“My son Gede has just asked me for money again. He said it was to buy things he needs for the National Examinations. I thought he was going to buy some books. I was so surprised that he bought a mobile phone with facebook and chatting features instead. He used the rest of the money to buy copies of the test,” says Made.

“My son said that he would use the mobile to exchange answers through chatting during the test. They will do it also via facebook.”

“I was going to beat my son. I thought how guilty I was if my son passed the test by cheating. What if my neighbours knew about this? What would I say to them?

Fortunately I could control my temper. My son told me the reasons why he wanted do that.

“Father, you don’t have to be embarrassed about cheating on exams, or plagiarism. Everybody does that students, professor and even government officials. Teachers know we cheat during the national exams but they just don’t care. The most important thing for them that we all must pass the test,” Gede says.

“The teachers will feel embarrassed if many of us don’t pass; that’s why they allow us to cheat. If we all pass (no matter how), they will be very happy and they will claim that their teaching system has succeeded, and it’s all because of their dedication that their students can pass the test.”

“The indicator of ‘reputation’ of a school is that 100% of their students can pass the test. There is no place for honest students in the National Exams. The important thing is that how they can answer the test and pass.

“That’s why every school is trying to make their students ‘smart’. They give extra lessons to their students everyday, train them how to answer the test properly, and even give the answers of the test during the national exams” Gede continues.

“That’s why I just gave him some money to buy new mobile, pay for extra lessons and some sample tests from his teacher,” Made said sadly.

Everyone nods. It seems that it is difficult to expect honesty from common people when everyday they are fed with news about mega-corruption, like the Century Bank case. When the rich are not honest, how do you expect the poor to be; because if they are, they will get nothing.

Taken from ‘Bungklang Bungkling’, ‘Jujur’, a column by Juniartha,
as published in Bali Post, Sunday, 28
th February 2010. Translated by Putu Semiada

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

TRAVEL DIARIES: Samarinda, Kalimantan

Published in Now! Jakarta, April 2010


Pretty courtesy hostess in the Executive Lounge of the Swiss-Belhotel, Samarinda.

The island of Borneo has long held a fascination for me: the stories of intricately carved longhouses; of wild men in bark lap-laps; and of ancient Hindu kingdoms.

What were those South Indian pilgrim priests doing up the Mahakam River in the 5th century I want to know?

Is it still all jungle and orang utan or am I 30 years too late?

I decide to make a one hour side trip from Surabaya and find some answers.

20th February 2010: Cold Turkey into Kalimantan

The Dayak day-wear on Lion Air to Balikpapan is scary. Am I flying into a cast re-union for the Rocky Horror Show? (The current pan-Indonesian, Islam-friendly fashion for black leggings and bondage boots must surely soon pass).

Balikpapan from the air looks like modern Malaysia: the airport is, however, an instant reminder that one is still in the land of ethnic excess and bizarre space planning.

I am met by a driver from Satria Tours of Samarinda who whisks me off to the ‘R.M. Melati’ café on the ring-road. Here I have the best grilled fish (patin, a local river fish) and sambal terasi on the equator. The next two hours drive includes views of sublime jungle scenery and my spirits are soaring by the time I reach Samarinda, where I see the famous harbour for the first time. On the harbour’s edge a Saudi-sponsored Islamic Centre looms large like Hagia Sophia over the Bosporus.

I note that the Balinese trend for closing off all views to lakes, coastlines and mountains has been most successfully implemented — with hideous attempts at modern landscaped park designs, kitsch fountains and statuary, and giant posters of sitting parliamentarians.

We wind through urban sprawl and up a steep ramp into the Swiss Bell-hotel where, in the Executive Lounge, a very cute miss from the upper Ulu is waiting to read me the rules book (the service in the smarter hotels of Indonesia’s ‘tiger cub’ cities is often Soviet Era and straight out of the training manual).

I learn that Pampang — the much touted Dayak Village Theme Park — is too far away for my one day programme: I start to get intrigued by the idea of a Samarinda city tour; from my harbourside eyrie I can see a quant mosque in the middle of a harbourside kampung.

Aerial view of the Islamic Centre in downtown Samarinda.

Left: Picturesque stairscape in Kampung Selili Village, Samarinda.
Right: The oldest mosque in Samarinda, in Kampung Mesjid.

21st February 2010: Heaven is a damp Kampung Apung

It’s a grey morning, so I decide to walk the length of lovely Kampung Selili — the kampung with the picturesque mosque. It is my first time in a ‘floating village’ and I am amazed by how civilized it is: there are warnet ‘cyber-centres’ brimming with 6 year olds, and gorgeous gardens galore on the narrow verges. Steep stairways framed by well-tended, grassy terrace lead to upper level cottages.

Everything is on stilts and built of wood and painted gaily. The locals are incredibly hospitable — blessed with the glowing golden skin of fish-eaters who make out often.

From Samarinda we speed to Tenggarong hoping to find a sleepy town straight out of a Conrad novel, with an old Majapahit palace — weeping amidst ancient Banyan trees — but instead find more beautification project parks and grotesque Dayak-style government offices replete with Malaysian-Modern gates and landscape lighting ……oh the horror, the horror.

The palace, once found, is a charming old tropical Art Deco treat, with attendant municipal monuments — it is now the Museum Mulawarman — named after the first Maharaja of the region. Inside is a collection of Javanese palace paraphernalia — the present sunan now lives next door in a bungalow of unspeakable modernity — the highlight of which being a black velvet cape with white Ermine trim on a dummy in a glass box....sort of Sonja Henie meets Raden Ayu Kartini.

The back rooms of the old palace feature replicas of the famed stella on which Pallava Era South Indian Hindu priests had inscribed praise to the sitting chieftain of the Mahakam River basin — obviously a thriving trade entrepot since the beginning of the first millennium (pepper? rare spices? Hornbill bird beaks?? Dayak slaves?) — and some well executed diorama showing key moments in the regions history. By far the most interesting is the one depicting the arrival of the god Bhatara Aji (a Sivaïte deity popular in Bugis mythology), descending from the heavens by wire, in a crib, and wrapped in golden cloth. A nearby exhibition of the local textile — a black and red Bugis-style sarong — enforce the impression that the court culture came from Java via Makassar or thereabouts. The only thing Dayak in the museum are groups of dark rugged muscle men in tight jeans necking petite pearly-white girlfriends in the darker recesses of the diorama section.

Adjacent to the old palace is a large timber pavilion which houses the graves and royal tombs — with their splendid carved ironwood markers — and a small cupboard for the ashtrays that are a ‘staple’ of Javanese Muslim ziarah (tomb pilgrimage) sites. One group of pilgrims have come from Central Sulawesi, which is a two-day sail across the Sea of Borneo: the tomb attendant tells me that people from all over Indonesia come to meditate at the tombs.

Picking through the garden behind the pavilion I hear the melody of local Kutai guitar music and I follow it to the souvenir mini-market bridge where a blind man is playing under a tree. The vendors are all very friendly and I buy a beaded Dayak mini-skirt with ‘Bir Bintang’ motif for a coming dance performance at ‘Little Perth’ in South Kuta, Bali.

Next we drive through the old suburbs — on the way we discover many interesting royal graveyard gardens and an ancient wooden mosque — to the nearby Rumah Kayu museum of longhouses slowly being consumed by the jungle. Inside is an interesting collection of timber souvenir kitsch and arboreal information. The vast park in which the museum sits boasts a man-made lake upon which Dayaks peddle in fibreglass swan boats.

Left: A tomb-marker fashioned from iron-wood in a royal cemetery near Museum Mulawarman, Tenggarong.
Right: The royal tombs and graves in a pavilion in the palace (kraton) gardens in Tenggarong, East Kalimantan.

The front garden and façade of the Museum Mulawarman.

Left: A museum visitor from the upper Ulu fondles a cannon barrel on the front porch of the museum.
Right: Historically-referenced pond ornament in the museum grounds (pond drained for health reasons).

Sidakarya, Bali, 28th February 2010: Borneo seems a world away

Back in busy-body, business-oriented New Bali I feel shields building up, against crass commercialism and western intervention; shields that had been stripped away over a weekend in Borneo, the land of the orang utan. The traffic jams are near unbearable (there’s talk of elevated highways by 2012); the expat community are up in arms about a high-rise cliffside development on the peninsula; and something called Leonardi Portatraiture has given me 6 hours notice to be photographed for a book on Tokoh2 Bali at the Tanjung Sari down the road, or else.

My head is spinning and my teeth are clenched.

But….tonight in Sidakarya village…, after a game of Scrabble…., walking through the compound of my Balinese friend’s traditional house and out onto the street I have a cathartic moment — the village youth group are putting the finishing touches to a giant demon effigy (to be paraded in the village the night before Nyepi) with the verve and precision of a battalion of bespoke tailors. I feel so proud of the Balinese, who keep up with their exquisite traditions despite the swirl of commercial tackiness around them.

Left: The blind musician behind the palace.
Right: 20th century royal of the Kutai court.


Noted Ubud Horticulturalist Nyonya Betty Buduh-Paling at her nursery in downtown Ubud.

Immediately, at first face-full of spider’s web, I remember all the lush Ubud gardens of my lost youth (spent eating hamburger buns spread thick with Blue Brand margarine and Vegemite at John Darling’s poetic pondok home in the rice fields above Ubud) and of the day I brought back to Sanur a bemo-load of ‘ravine whiskers’ (ferns) which died overnight in the dry, salty, coastal heat.

A very nice publisher from Jakarta recently asked me to write “more about Balinese Gardens” for the upcoming Indonesian language edition of my pivotal, seminal “Tropical Garden Design” book (WIJAYA WORDS/EDM, 1999), a copy of which I’m sure you all have.

The book’s translator, Ibu Jenny Kartawinata, said that she wanted “more of me” in the Indonesian language edition. I felt obliged to tell her that I really had no more to ‘give’: writing about gardens is something I used to do, before the Zen explosion wiped out the fledging New Age Romantic Garden Movement; these days I only take myself seriously as an exotic dancer at various office-openings, and at memorials.

Last month I was invited by Martin Grounds — of the venerable firm of Grounds-Kent Architects — to dance at their new office opening, in Jimbaran. I channelled both Paris Hilton and Jayne Mansfield in a performance described as “scintillating” by James Watling of the Bali Advertiser. “A rare attempt at career suicide,” he continued.

Now read on:

15th February 2010:
The Ubud Home of South East Asian ‘gallerist’, Valentine Willy

“Gallerist” is a new expression in the Jakarta art world — controlled, as it is, by a handful of savvy Chinese with developing taste. I apply the term to the dynamic Valentine Willy only lightly.

Willy has art galleries in Yogyakarta (with homewares czar Sir Warwick Purser), Manila, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, his home town. In fact he was born in Pontianak with a bamboo stake in his nose, but that’s another story.

Willy has the most splendid garden in Tebesaya, south of the Ubud cemetery, west of the Jazz Café, through a car park of a nice Gusti family who run a warung.

A quaint ‘adobe’ gate — framed in verdure leafy loveliness — catches one’s eye and sucks one in …… to terrace after terrace of horticultural splendour, culminating in a drop-dead-gorgeous ravine-view.

Immediately, at first face-full of spider’s web, I remember all the lush Ubud gardens of my lost youth (spent eating hamburger buns spread thick with Blue Brand margarine and Vegemite at John Darling’s poetic pondok home in the rice fields above Ubud) and of the day I brought back to Sanur a bemo-load of ‘ravine whiskers’ (ferns) which died overnight in the dry, salty, coastal heat.

Willy serves us home-made laksa — a peranakan delicacy — and two pints of beer. At the end of lunch I am lead next door to Bambu Indah, another exquisite garden designed by Cornelius Choy, an Hawaiian-Chinese friend of Willy’s, and executed by Anak Agung Alit, an old buddy of mine from Ubud’s salubrious seventies, when men ate men, and women cried on sofas over mushroom tea. (Whatever that is? Ed.)

Mr. Cornelius Choy — designer, with Agung Alit, of the superb Bambu Indah gardens and homestay in Tebasaya.

Choy has designed a multi-terrace, multi-faceted honey-mooners hostelry encompassing gardens of such loveliness that I fell humbled, just as I feel the damp rising. Choy has successfully married the Hawaiian garden look, with its horticultural high kicks — banks of begonias and bromeliads, amidst Dragon Claw vines and plumeria — with a dramatic mosaic hardscape that is magical and mystical, in a nice cozy Ubud way.

I go home, positively inspired by the experience and write the following:

Ubud Gardens

When I first went to Ubud in 1973 I was impressed by the fecundity and the glowing greenness everywhere: it was so like the town of Sintra, a mist-draped hill station above Lisbon, Portugal.

I was amazed by the tunnel of bamboo that leads to the Campuan River — where bathing springs were decorated with statues and spouts caked in glittering moss, and framed with curtains of dripping lacy ferns.

In those days one could only approach Ubud from Peliatan via corridor of enormous lychee trees.

I visited the Puri Saraswati Palace with its water gardens alive with pink lotus and its magnificent temple gate by the great artist I Gusti Nyoman Lempad. All Ubud gardens just seemed phantasmagorical!!

At the Hotel Campuan I paid homage to artist Walter Spies it was his old home, and swam in the natural edge, spring-fed pool that had been a gifted to Spies in 1936 by Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton. I visited the garden of Australian poet film-maker John Darling who lived in a bamboo hut and had a beautiful Ubud rice-farmers garden with packed dirt courtyard floor, Balinese garden plants (hibiscus, gardenia, plumeria) and a simple volcanic tuft shrine in a small lily-pond. His garden bathroom (a real Ubud speciality) was shaped like a barong; but guests would more often trek down the side of the ravine which bordered his property, through curtain after curtain of mountain ferns to the pancoran spring below.

It was John Darling who first encouraged sculptor Wayan Cemul (who had himself worked for Dutch artist Rudolf Bonnet as a gardener, as a young boy) to create flower pots and garden art in his unique primitive-modern style. Years later, in the 1990s, this writer, as well as landscape architect Bill Bensley, further developed Cemul garden art into decorative walls and fountain and lanterns.

So many foreigners had created exquisite gardens in the 1970s Rudolf Bonnet, Hans Snell, Antonio Blanco, Victor Mason, Walter Folle, Warwick Purser inspired in no small part by the magnificent garden-temples that ring the township, such as the Pura Campuan, and by the romantic courtyard gardens of the Ubud villagers themselves.

Today, almost 40 years later, the village-scape has become a series of shopping malls; but behind the village’s walls, and in the restaurants, one still finds magnificently moist gardens, replete with the mossy statues, and the nocturnal frog symphonies and the cute water features that define an Ubud garden.

The Puri Lukisan Museum of Art and the Neka Museum support vast gardens of botanical garden splendour where ‘battalions’ of heliconia flowers cascade from steep sloped banks; exotic vines — Dragons Claw, Jade Vine, and Thunbergia mysorensis (which only survive in the cooler mountain air) — droop from pergolas and covered bridges.

Ubud is still very much an artist’s town — foreigners like jeweller Jean-Francois Fichot compete with locals, as they always have, for the most poetic garden and rarest plant.

One artistic collaboration is worth special note — the 300 m2 Tebesaya, Ubud garden of Hawaiian-born Cornelius Choy and Anak Agung Alit from nearby Peliatan. The house-cum-homestay is approached via a long narrow lane, encrusted with rare vines and creepers. Then follows a series of garden terraces interconnected by stairs, all paved in light celadon-green and white “Chinese mosaic” tiles. All the buildings are painted green.

Red Bromeliads nest on Plumeria tree branches, like a family of miniature monkeys. Giant Castor-oil plants sit in terrazzo pots, like Japanese Maples. Small mounds of miniature Mondo grass — sprinkled daily with blue rose petals — surround delicate fish ponds full of golden Koi fish. Water tumbles down rocks over layers of lichen and moss. During the day there is a pervading scent of cempaka, and, at night, the Cestrum nocturnum vine perfumes the valley.

Ubud artists are great painters of nature the tenderness they put into their paintings often flows from their love of gardens.


Valentine Willy’s fabulous garden home


Corners of Bambu Indah gardens.


19th February 2010: Ground-Kent Architects new office is inaugurated

Tonight I put all garden photos and my research books away and get out my ‘Bir Bintang’ beaded singlet — beaded with perfection, with their feet, by Land Dayaks in Borneo longhouses built from plantation timber. My more fashion-conscious readers will know that the ‘Bir Bintang’ singlet is the only ‘must-have’ item in one’s Bali Holiday wardrobe; I wear it tonight as an homage to my hosts, Perth-based architects Martin Grounds and Jack Kent.

I affect an animal print (extinct Bali tiger) hat and a white Bali-dog purse-puppy (Rp. 100.000 at Hardy’s); Perth-Based Bali Septic-Stray Dogs are the sponsors being tonight’s performance.

It is a fabulous night, celebrating the firm’s new office behind the celebrated Four Seasons Resort designed by them, and me, 15 years ago. Their Balinese architects have cooked up a superb pork-fest but drink too much of the palm toddy it seems — one local architect tries to souvenir my beaded merkin as I am ushered out the stage door by my security detail.

Left: Perth based exotic dancer Miss Widji Wienberg, official spokeswoman for Bir Bintang’s Leasurewear Brand, arrives at the Grounds-Kent Architects office opening with her bodyguard; Right: Miss Widji and Mr. Martin Grounds perform the rare Joged Free-O.