Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Stranger in Paradise: SKALA DISKALA — Real and Unreal Estate in Bali

Last month I was asked by the World Real Estate Association to give a talk at their conference in Nusa Dua, Bali, in May.

Their choice of speaker was enlightened, I thought, because this column has, over the years, devoted pages and pages to the culpability of unscrupulous developers and real estate agents in the destruction of Bali’s foreshores and cliffs.

Sadly I have a conflicting engagement as I would have loved the opportunity to make an impassioned plea — on behalf of the Balinese environment, and of lovers of Balinese architecture and natural artful gardens — to stop the onslaught of Zen style ‘box homes’ which are now blighting the land.

I would have lectured them on how Bali’s real estate industry started well, in the 1970s—as it did in Honolulu, Denpasar’s sister city—with talented, culturally-sensitive architects designing climate-appropriate, traditional-modern homes and hotels for the Bali-besotted.

For two decades Bali design reigned supreme in the tropical world — with hotels like the Bali Hyatt, the Amandari and the Four Seasons in Jimbaran setting benchmarks. The only real estate was Batujimbar villas designed by Geoffrey Bawa — it was both well designed and culturally/environmentally sensitive.

During the years 1930 – 1990, foreigners and Jakartans built either on the outskirts of large villages or in scenic locations such as on the caldera at Kintamani, or at the foot of a great volcano, but never, ever in rice-fields.

Local developers lead the march into the rice-fields ― zoning ordinances too easily ‘ignored’ ― and foreign villa-owners have followed. But the foreigners are random in their purchases and are scarring scenic valleys all the way up the mountains with vulgar dream homes with high walls with zero set backs.

I maintain that foreign developers should apply the environmental conservation practices of the countries they come from: it is too easy to disobey the rules here!!

In the past decade, however, the architecture industry has gone seriously off the tracks: developers now slam-dunk 6 star hotels on pristine beaches, and gouge out cliffs for condominia. The pervading, popular architectural style has shifted from trad-mod. to mannerist to microwave.

Big billboards at the airport extol the virtues of “8% guaranteed annual return” if you invest in real estate on the fabled island.

The majority of villa owners today are really just investors trying to get rich while spoiling the cultural and physical landscape of the world’s most gorgeous island. 

I say “gorgeous” guardedly, because, although the Hindu rituals survive in all their glory, the unchecked development — unregulated by various “development-minded” administrations since the Soeharto Era — is deplorable. Balinese and foreign entrepreneurs have, in a stampede of greed and bad taste, tarnished their own island’s reputation for beauty.

Father of cultural tourism.
FOUNDER OF TANJUNG SARI HOTEL AND P.T. BIRD (Bali International Resort Development) –
Bali’s first real estate company, at Batujimbar, Sanur.

How did it get so bad, design-wise, after such a good start?

In the 1970s, any stand against development was considered ‘communist’ and thus anti-religion. As a result, the taste of Jakarta’s New Order oligarch’s swamped Denpasar and Sanur and the emerging nouveau riche became ‘leather lounge set fashionistas’ with a penchant for the pretentious (read ‘loud architecture’). By the 1990s the resultant ‘Bali-style’ was a hodge-podge of gratuitous decorativism: it became the sworn ‘enemy’ of the young turk architects of the New Asia Movement based in Singapore.

‘Bali-style’ became uber-unfashionable: ‘Zen-Modern’ swept-in.

• • •

The villa-buying public became confused and decided to go with the advertising executives’ ‘safe and stylish’ taste, rather than employ a talented architect.

• • •

The publishing industry has not helped either: books like the recently published “Bali Houses” read like catalogues of the uncomfortable: most of the villas are neither tropical nor remotely Balinese (Balinese in the sense that one can enjoy a beautiful garden from an open pavilion or veranda); Balinese in the sense that shrine-placement and respect for local tradition must be incorporated in home-design).

• • •

It is in the real estate sector that serious introspection/education is required. The rush to promote Bali as the land of eternal massages and cheap maids has to stop! One developer has an in-house magazine styled as a mainstream magazine which is hell-bent on turning Bali into Asia’s answer to Ibiza.


There is even a realty T.V. show planned for Bali’s alternative lifestyle channel to be called “Saving the Bukit”; it will follow the trials of Bali-based Australian real estate developer and his gorgeous family who build a Bali-style home on the Bukit peninsula only to have Jakartan high-rollers shave 30 metres off the cliff next door! It will be a sort of “Baywatch” meets “Lost”, with a real estate morality play edge.

• • •

In fact, many say that Bali has become “Asia’s Biggest loser”: the island may still retains much of its natural charm but so so much has been spoiled by reckless greed, to whit: three ring roads/green belts have been turned into ribbon development ‘strips’; real estate booths dot the land like so many North Korean-modern fertility clinics; and, as of June, I hear that Australians can buy real estate freehold in Bali while they are being finger-printed at airport immigration airport (it’s sort of divestment-investment package).

Real estate developments which once had lovely local names like Batujimbar, and Bukit Kucit Permai are now called mindless names like Temple Hill, or C151.

Now……. in the same breath……..I must point out here that Bali remains the ‘cutting edge’ for high-end tropical design and for classy real estate operators: more Bali villas hit the annual Exotic Homes edition of Architectural Digest and more Bali hotels go on to inspire the tropical world (the Alila Uluwatu the latest “mould-breaker” (sic)﴿ than from any other place.

The luxury apartments now for sale in the Gay Ghetto (North Seminyak) are not half bad: one could be in Puerto Villarta, in Mexico, or Noosa in Queensland, but they are definitely tropical and have lush gardens and staff in tight black uniforms.

“Beam me up, Scarlet” is one Gay Real Estate developers catch cry.

Desecration of the rice fields.

Tragically — and plausibly to keep up with the fascionista architecture trend) — A.T.M.-like security portals are now replacing picturesque roadside gates in most new-age Bali suburbs; just as the Balinese are busy replacing their lovely brick temple architecture with the black on black. This look is more in keeping — one might easily, but falsely, assume — with trends in the design industry.

The truth is the Balinese have, quite independently developed their own bad taste in urban home design.

When did the tide change towards the tacky?

One could peg the first monetary crisis (1997) as the beginning of the end for both cultural tourism and its off-shoot, the rustic charm villa-rental business. South Bali is now, for the most part, a culture of tourism. After the first Bali Bomb, the sluice gates were opened: a former immigration-unfriendly island suddenly gave laissez-passé to alls sorts of carpet-baggers and developers and ‘project managers’/ ‘turn-key’ specialists. They did not take work away from local people ― there were no real estate agents until the late 1990s; or villa developers really ― but they did establish an industry, now a significant market segment, that excluded, for the most part, local culture and reduced trained professionals to the role of lackeys and lassies. Them’s fighting words but I have witnessed the slow rot set in, at close range.

As a result the ‘ethics’ in the construction industry ― never admirable ― have today crashed to an all-time low: local architects have become just draughtsmen for ‘construction managers’, or just side-lined altogether by a local real-estate industry that has a short-term gain as it’s only goal.


25th April 2010: To Tanah Lot for the first time in twenty years, and the first time to the delightful Pan Pacific Nirwana Bali Resort now 15 years old

I was once part of an environmental and cultural impact assessment team, appointed by the Indonesian government to judge the influence of the proposed Nirwana development — hotel, golf course, real estate — and I wrote, rather grandly, “that it was hopefully not the fate of Bali’s major temples to become back drops for signature golf courses”.

Today I am sitting at the dining terrace of the beautiful hotel gardens, by Alan Clarke of the Tong Clarke Mechler landscape architects of Hawaii; the view to the iconic temple, across the hotel gardens, and across the sixth holes is sublime.

The developers did, quite sensitively, incorporate the existing rice-fields into the hotel’s grounds and it’s a good thing they did too: these are now the only rice-fields left. The rest having been eaten up by McMansions and crematoria-like cottages of the Zen real estate boom. Ha!

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Bungklang Bungkling: FB

Taken from ‘Bungklang Bungkling’, ‘FB’, a column by I Wayan Juniartha, as published in Bali Post, Sunday 18th April 2010. Translated by Putu Semiada.


It is the first time for I Made Belog Nyodog (I Made Very Stupid): he comes late to the palm toddy warung today. His friends are playing Chinese cards when he comes.

“We have enough players to play, Dé, you may just watch us playing. If you have some extra money to donate, we would appreciate that,” says I Wayan Ngajet Ngaper (I Wayan Want Everything at Once).

Made makes no comment. Instead, he leaves from the warung, grabs his bike and brings it inside of the warung.

Everyone wonders what for. They see a laptop attached to Made’s bicycle rack.

“What is that, ? Why do you carry a television? Are you going to mortgage it?” asks Wayan. Wayan is a kind of silly person.

Madé grabs a tum nyawan (steamed bees with Balinese spices wrapped with Balinese leaves) and sips palm toddy. He takes a long breath.

“It is all because of my daughter,” says Madé.

He has only one daughter—her name is Ni Luh Ngerépét Célcél (Ni Luh Flirtatious). Her friends call her Cindy. She goes to Junior High School. She is in the eight grade.

Now they really pay attention to Madé. They stop playing Chinese cards.

When it comes to children issues, especially teenagers, it is considered as a very important topic by the parents; other issues such as ‘Gayus’ scandals (tax corruption), a dirty national police general whose side job is as a cinetron artist, the riot between civilians and security team (that just happens in Jakarta), or Anand Krishna the meditation guru who felt faint after a long interrogation process some days ago………, are less important.

In addition, news about FB date-rape of school children has increased anxiety among parents. They now get up earlier to be able to take their children to school. Everywhere they go they have a knife attached to their waists. They plan to stab the rapists/kidnappers if by any chance they meet them. They think that it will be useless to keep them alive and send them to the police or to court. Because they can be released any time, especially when they have somebody to defend them or have money to bribe.

“What happened to your Cindy, Dé?” asks Wayan.

Madé tells his story. He says that when his daughter at home, all she does is sit in front of her computer: she won’t help her mother cooking in the kitchen; she won’t sweep the yard; forgets to do offerings, and she even forgets to have her meals.

“She has become very addicted to Facebook. She tells me that she has a lot of new friends: I can’t understand what is special about having a lot of friends in ‘cyber space’; friends that you wouldn’t ever meet nor hang around with,” says Madé.

This morning Made was startled to see his daughter staring at her laptop and enjoyed porn sites of good-looking men. Some were half-naked, some even totally naked.

“I got very mad and I beat her. I took her laptop, so she wouldn’t be able to access Facebook. Now I am looking for a buyer to buy this laptop,” says Madé.

Everyone laughs. It’s the first time for them they hear of father ‘seizing’ his daughter’s laptop.

“Do you think that your daughter will not access Facebook or browse porn sites after you take her laptop? You know, your daughter will go to warnet (cyber café) instead, or do it on her mobile phone,” comments Wayan.

“I thought that the pictures of naked men are saved in the monitor! Aren’t they? My God, I get confused. What is internet actually? What is FB? Oh I’ve got a headache…”

Everyone laughs. If you don’t know anything about technology how will you teach your children how to deal with technology wisely?

Miss Widji Wienberg in SAVE THE BUKIT

a Grounds Kent/JAYAPIN co-production

DREAM SEEKERS — Made Wijaya, Tropical Lanscape Architect

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Bungklang Bungkling: Kota (Town)

Taken from ‘Bungklang Bungkling’, ‘Kota’, a column by I Wayan Juniartha, as published in Bali Post, Sunday 11th April 2010. Translated by Putu Semiada

Kota (Town)

All the regencies in Bali have been trying to promote their traditional culture to make their capital towns ‘cultural centres’. The reason is: Bali is known for its rich culture. Each Regency always wants to be the best.

“Klungkung wants to be a cultural town, what’s more Gianyar.

Denpasar has two candidates for mayor positions: Both love talking about Denpasar as a ‘cultural centre,” says I Made Cureng Cecel.

As it is raining heavily―make television programs have technical problems―everyone looks for suitable topics to discuss. Made proposes a topic about Julia Perez. He wonders why no Balinese woman artist proposes themself to be a candidate for mayor, like Julia Perez in Pacitan regency in East Java.

“Why don’t the Balinese try to ask Julia Peres to be mayor candidate in Bali? If not, Sarah Azhari is fine. Don’t you get bored having male candidates with their moustaches, feudal behaviour and love affairs. If a beautiful woman became our leader, it might sound better, let alone if she loves men,” says Made.

Everyone agrees with his comments; but it seems that Julia Perez is not a good topic for discussion. Everyone seems ‘exhausted’ having discussed it. They all fantasize how it would feel they want having leaders like Julia Perez and Sarah Azhari. Some even think to be bra vendors.

Made changes the topic from Julia Peres to ‘cultural town’ issues, but no one is really interested. They think that cultural issues are the business of intellectuals, scholars and cultural experts’.

“I am just a drop-out of from elementary school: How can I talk about a cultural town. I just think that we can call Klungkung as ‘Srombotan (a kind of vegetable) town’, Gianyar can be ‘Suckling Pig town’ and Denpasar can be ‘Pecel Lele (catfish dish) and Cap Cai town’” says I Wayan Pul Sinogé.

“The thing is that everyone in Bali now wants to look modern. Nobody wants to use terms such as ‘Kota Petani’ (Farmer Town), ‘Kota Nelayan’ (Fisherman Town) or ‘Kota Kuli’ (Labour Town). As tourism sector is the leader and ‘culture’ is easy to ‘sell’, so everyone tries to promote their local culture.

Therefore if we find a town in Bali calling itself as ‘cultural town’, it can be understood that they want to promote their traditional dances and other traditional arts to attract tourists and get some local income.

“Nobody really wants to cleanness anti corruption attitude, anti bribing, or public services improvement promote,” says Wayan.

They all just laugh: bit It is not because they understand what Made and Wayan talk about; they are more interested in listening about srombotan, be guling (suckling pig), pecel lele (fried catfish) and cap cay.

When it rains heavenly, the best thing one can do is gossip about hot topics, like talking about Julia Perez, or eating something hot like pecel lele.

Friday, 16 April 2010



Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Travel Diaries: BIAK ISLAND

Published in Now! Jakarta, June 2010

Friday, 9 April 2010


Bungklang Bungkling: Leak Marginal (Marginal Black Magic People)

Taken from ‘Bungklang Bungkling’, ‘Leak Marginal’, a column by I Wayan Juniartha, as published in Bali Post, Sunday 4thApril 2010. Translated by Putu Semiada

Leak Marginal (Marginal Black Magic People)

Who becomes the victim of development in Bali? The answer is: they are the people practising black magic because black magic people have become ‘marginal group’ now.

That’s why during the ‘Purnama Kedasa’ (the tenth full moon), they hold a congress, called ‘The Impact of Modernisation, Globalisation and Free Trade Era against The Future of Balinese Black Magic’. ‘Purnama Kedasa’ is chosen as all the gods from all over Bali gathers in Besakih Temple. Therefore, the rest of the temples in Bali have no gods available so this situation are safe for practising black magic.

“No gods will disturb our congress. They are not consistent. When we give them ‘atman’, they will defend us, but when the ‘balian’ (shamans) give them something better, they will against us,” says I Ketut Lenda-Lendi, the chairman.

The most vocal one is the black magic person from Kuta, Ni Made Pudak Sategal. According to him, massive tourism development has ‘reduced’ the chance for Balinese people to learn ‘leak’ (black magic).

“There is no more a place for practising. Many cemeteries have been provided with iron doors and locks. Why should I jump over the door when I want to practise ‘leak’ in the cemetery. It’s not our style. We have our own dignity. Only amateur thieves do that.”

The roads in Kuta are no longer spooky. Everywhere you have big spot lights and they are very bright, and you can see tourists in every place too, from night until dawn. There are police too to make sure the place is safe, especially from terrorists. That’s why we don’t dare to practise ‘leak’ by the crossroads. If we do, they will bust us or we will be run over by cars driven by drunken vigilantes.”

Once I practised ‘leak’ in one of the corners in Kuta, just when I started to loose my hair, fold my sarong, suddenly some guys whistled at me and they wanted to ‘book’ me. I then realize that most of prostitutes in Kuta have their hair loose and wear mini skirts,” says Ni Luh Nyoman Calon Barang.

The chairman of leak of Serangan Island, I Ketut Geruda Mas 24 Karat has another opinion. According to him, the development in Bali has spoiled the environment; forests are destroyed, rivers are filled up, caves are changed to tourism objects. Leak and nature are one. If one side is spoiled, so will the other.

“You know if I practise leak in Serangan lately, that is when I’ve changed to an eagle, for example, I often don’t find my way back home because the island looks getting bigger and bigger after they did beach reclamation around the island. The mangroves have also gone and changed to malls and supermarkets. It makes me difficult to find a quiet and good place to practise leak.”

Of course it’s not funny if we practise leak in the supermarket. Can you imagine how we can carry sanggah cucuk (a box made of woven bamboo to place offerings) to third floor, for instance, or how can we change to celuluk (witch), in front of a boutique selling made in Italy underwear.

“They will indeed think that we are a tourist attraction and many of them will watch and give applause. They will even laugh, and of course take pictures. This will make my magical power useless.”

“I can say that leak has 3 weakness: they are afraid of reckless people, laughing people and bad-tempered people. Leak doesn’t dare to deal with reckless people at all.”

On the other hand, the chairman of leak of Denpasar, Sanur and surrounds doesn’t agree with Free Trade.

You see, more and more people come from Lombok, Banyuwangi, Banten selling magic oil, magic poison and black magic. If we let this thing happens, we will be finished. The government should take immediate action to deal with this issue and give us protection and provide loan for leak-small and middle-scale business.

The congress, finally comes up with the following recommendations: (1) The development in Bali must be controlled. (2) Protect the forests, bushy lands, and ‘spooky’ places from people trying to change the function of the lands. (3) PLN (electricity) should do ‘random power cuts’ so the leak still have some ‘dark’ spot during the night to practise black magic. (4). There should be a regulation on leak traffic and black magic. (5). Each mall, supermarket, hotel and other public places should provide a special room for practising leak. (6) ‘Leak’ people are forbidden to be politicians as politicians are dirty. (7) Leak should be considered as one of the World Miracles.

Next kajang kliwon (special day for ground spirits), the leak people will come to the Legislative Assembly office and governor to deliver the recommendation of their congress. They have to meet them during the working hours. Because nobody will accept them during the midnight as they always do when they practise black magic.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Bungklang Bungkling: Balian (Shaman)

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

Balian (Shaman)

The local election is coming soon. And as a shaman (balian), I Wayan Uyah Sere alias Abhiseka Batu Gulitan (I Wayan ‘River Stone’) is getting famous because many major electoral candidates/politicians pay him a visit.

Formerly all of them used ‘billboards’ for their campaign. They tried to use billboards as much as possible. Finally, they realized that everyone did the same. All ‘billboards’ had the same messages; smiling faces, to make impression as if they are good people, in spite of their habit of visiting ‘karaoke’ and ‘prostitutes’. They ‘hide’ behind their traditional costumes.

When they are tired of ‘billboards’, they start campaigning with their programs. But they contain the same messages as well: free medical treatment, free allowance for the poor, etc.

Next, they try to get blessing or support from ‘unseen world’ (niskala) or the gods by giving donations to temples for ceremonies or temple renovations. The problem is that the gods are ‘unseen’ so they can not ask the gods to ‘sign’ a Memorandum of Understanding and choose a certain candidate. So far no candidate has been chosen by the gods.

That’s why they change their strategy. Now they visit shamans to get ‘spiritual’ supports. They are called ‘spiritual advisors’.

“Wayan knows how to take a business opportunity. Everywhere he goes, he introduces himself as the best ‘political’ shaman, says I. Made Saru Gremeng (Much Talk But No Meaning).

Everyone laughs. They know that Wayan is a ‘fake’ balian. He becomes a balian by coincidence.

“He was fired from his office and his wife left him — so he is stressed. He often goes into trance and claims that he gets his magical power from the God Betara Dalem Weten.

He claims that he is able to heal all kinds of sicknesses that are due to black magic. As a matter of fact, most of his patients coming to him do not get better, they even get worse. Not to mention that he is afraid of going out in the dark.

Wayan then realizes that dealing with black magic is a difficult job: That’s why he has changed his ‘specialization’. He tries to become a shaman specializing in marriage consultancy. He offers his service on how to make a good relationship between a husband and a wife, and how to use ‘magic’ to help ‘attract’ someone you like easily, and how to prevent your husband/wife from ‘making an affair’ with others.

Unfortunately he doesn’t do his job very long. Instead of doing consultation, he does more sexual harassment of his female patients.

His reason is that something must be ‘inserted’ to your body to make the magic work; many of his patients believe that, including the high ranking officials’ wives.

Next Wayan changes his specialization again. Now he helps politicians or high ranking officials on how to raise their careers easily. And he has changed his name to Abhiseka Batu Gulitan Nyem lalah Galaktika I.

Wayan is quite successful in his new job, as many politicians and high ranking officials come to him for help. He offers magic oil. And he charges different prices depending on who is his customer. The richer the customer, the more he will charge. And he explains that if the oil is scrubbed on the voting booth, the voters will only see the picture of the candidate who buys the magic oil from Wayan and they choose him.

“The problem is that all candidates buy magic oil from Wayan. The voters may get confused.”

Everyone laughs: now they think that it’s not really important who will win. The fact is that Wayan gets good income from this job.