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Friday, 20 August 2010

Bungklang Bungkling: Hindu Vigilantes Front (FPH) by Wayan Juniartha

Taken from ‘Bungklang Bungkling’, ‘FPH’, a column by I Wayan Juniartha, published in Bali Post, Sunday, 15th August 2010.
Translated by Putu Semiada



Hindu Vigilantes Front (FPH)

All the palm toddy members are nervous as one of their members asks for a permission to do a presentation.

“I often run out of money having heard a presentation,” says I MadéOndo Moyo (I Made Stupid Look).

Two days ago, a relative of him did a MLM presentation (Mesatua Lantas Morotin = Approach and then Take All). After the presentation he spent a lot of his money buying many kind of products from lipstick, eye-shadow, perfume to medicine which was believed to be able to cure any kinds of diseases, from skin fungus to AIDS. He had to sell his cow to pay the products.

“Damn you, why do you think I will take your money,” suddenly I Wayan Laskar Cinta (I Wayan of Love Force) comes up.

I Madé says nothing. He knows that I Wayan is a vigilance man. He has joined many vigilance organizations. He even has killed some men, countless ‘pigs’ and ‘ducks’. That’s what is said.

Without greeting and introduction, I Wayan starts his presentation. According to him, it’s time for them to form FPH (Hindu Vigilantes Front), an organization which will look after the Balinese Hindu followers.

He says that a lot of advantages can be obtain.

“Firstly, it will make the local vigilantes have better positions. Look at what the FPI (Front Pemineh Pedidi dogen = Front of Arrogant Vigilantes). No matter how they usually beat innocent people, damage billiard centers and once dismissed gay and lesbian conferences, when they celebrated their birthday, the governor and the chief commander of police joined the celebration.”

“Secondly, There, for sure, will be sustainable financial resources for the vigilantes and vigilante cadres.

“At the moment their financial resources are political parties, political leaders, brokers and investors. If the political party lose, their financial resource will be disappeared too.

Religion will never go bankrupt. Let alone the Balinese Hindu. No matter how bad the economic situation is, the Balinese are still be able to renovate their temples or do ceremonies which often cost billions of Rupiahs. A lot of Balinese are indeed poor, but when it comes to a religious matter, they never think twice in spending money and a bit ‘show off’.

So when a mass organization attached themselves to a religion, they will be always have financial resources.

“When the vigilantes’ status is better, when their financial resources are fixed, it will be much easier for us to instruct them to stop beating innocent people, and they will look more ‘elegance’ when damaging one’s place (café, etc.), or can do in nice way when taking one’s belonging.

It seems that a combination between vigilantes and religion will create ‘religious vigilantes’ and a ‘violence religion’.

“So,when we have the FPH, our religion will be strong and the ‘safety’ of our ‘gods’ will be guaranteed.”

“Anyone dares to insult our Balinese Hindu religion, we will beat them up. Anyone dares to play with our sacred statues or symbols, we will destroy their houses, and anyone be lazy ngayah, we will also beat them up.”

“We will stop anyone who does not wear white and yellow dresses when entering and praying at temples, and we have to punish anyone who can not spell tri sandhya (Hindu prayer) correctly. We will also forbid any impolite tourist entering a temple.”

“The Balinese Hindu therefore will become a strong religion and make others ‘nervous’ and respect us.

If they still disrespect us, we can just bomb their place. So far, our island has always become their bomb target?? Why isn’t vice versa?

Everyone thinks that if FPH is established, so the first victims will be the Balinese themselves, from the lazy palm toddy members to the statue vendors in Gianyar who just lay the statues by the streets.

“What is really your agenda with the establishment of FPH?” ask I Madé.

“I need your support. The vigilantes alone can not make it. We need support from community leaders and Hindu followers to be our thinkers and patrons. If we get the supports from our leaders, like the FPI’s Saib Brisik lan Aduk Lawar Kanti Pasil (refer to FPI’s leaders Habieb Rizieq and Abu Bakar Ba’asyir), we will be soon formed.”

Now everyone smiles. They all know that no matter how hypocrite the Balinese Hindu elders, but so far no one want to be ‘vigilante’, nor change Balinese Hindu to be a ‘violence religion’.


Monday, 16 August 2010

Stranger in Paradise: FESTIVAL FEVER





Are there now too many festivals in Bali?

Is calling something a festival in Bali just an excuse for hot-blooded men to hurl teenage girls in the air and catch them in an inappropriate manner?

Of course I don’t mean the marvellous temple festivals ― the very backbone of Balinese cultural life ― but the various regional and sports and fashion and cooking and writing and New Age festivals, all trumped up in the years since the Bali Bomb to show that “Bali Can”!

They seem to be swamping a ceremonial calendar which keeps the Balinese so busy anyway.

Last month in my quiet almost somnolent neighbourhood of Mertasari ― a ‘new’ suburb populated mostly by grey nomads (European pensioners on bikes), and by the lesser sons of minor Sanur nobility ― we had to endure the tail end of a ‘people’s party’ (the popular Sanur Village Festival).

We all heard the hum of the magnificent giant kites being flown but were, for the most part, scared to go out for fear of being run down by convoys of rabble-rousers. Any gaps in the ‘surround-sound’ of revving were filled with Jakarta pop music — blasted through the palm groves from a sound system at water’s edge.

Except for the most artistic kites, there was nothing Balinese about the proceedings.

• • •

A day after the Sanur Village Festival closed in a melee of fireworks, I attended, in nearby Sidakarya Village, an open-air traditional dance spectacle of such intense beauty and grace, and appropriate gamelan musical accompaniment, that one has to wonder whether the island is being split down class lines?

The classy Balinese do the traditional festivals of which there are tens of thousands; the less classically-inclined refugees from outer islands (including Australia) and the Balinese urbanites (from no particular village) fill in the few free days left, with more modern group activities.

One new by-product of this alternative ‘packaged’ Bali is a theatrical show by Bali Theatre called “Bali Agung – Legend of Balinese Goddesses” at the Bali Safari Park. It is raising eyebrows amongst the expat cultural police in Ubud: the advance publicity and photographs smack of commercialization.

John Sumampau, the Director of Sales and Marketing for Bali Theatre recently said that “Bali Agung will shed light on Bali’s outstanding cultural uniqueness and magnificence and will reflect values that should encourage more national and international audiences to come to the island to experience this one stop entertainment park.”

It is scary, but is it really any more phoney than the various Ketjak and Barong Dances along the highways that have been bussing in the tourists for decades?

This writer does, however, sense a ‘sea change’: Is a home-grown orientalist version of Bali overtaking “the Real Thing”. There seem far too many ostrich feathers on the Ubud stage these days, and an abundance of smoke machines at classical weddings. Are these western-influenced dance impresarios a bit too keen to sweep the real culture under the mat, as it were, the way real Balinese architecture has been overtaken by ‘Balinaise’ pastiche.

• • •


On another tack: Has Bali has lost its edge and holiday appeal as the preferred playground for the culturally-conscious, scantily-clad jet-set?

Not Yet.

In August, the aristocratic von Bueren family from Bangkok, Biarritz and Bombay, and friends, partied with great style.

Le tout Bangkok, Singapore, Delhi and Kuala Lumpur flew in to help celebrate: even Lalit Modi, the mega-celebrity founder of India’s International Cricket League threw a big party at his rental villa for the gathered glitterati.



10th August 2010: Kadek Nia Anggreni Permatasari, Putu Suarsa’s granddaughter, prays at her birthday oton in Sidakarya


Friday, 13th August 2010, Brawa: Swells gather in the garden to celebrate Nicky and Rekha von Bueren’s wedding.

Earlier this year architect Peter Muller — Amandari, Oberoi Bali, Oberoi Lombok — explained how he had designed Bali’s Oberoi Road in 1971. For 25 years it was an exquisite windy road which headed through virgin rice fields from Jalan Kerobokan to the sea.

I was with Muller five years ago when he returned to the area and got the shock of his life: the road had become a dense packed, up-market ribbon development with a smattering of real estate agencies. Muller ― an old wag and sperm donor from way back ― stormed into the C151 Real Estate office thinking it was a fertility clinic.


Helen, Rolf and Rezha Von Bueren (and little son).

Tonight, on my way to ‘Seaview’ ― a large ‘Bali-style’ estate complex on a lagoon at Brawa, designed by my office for some high-rollers in 1983 — I had a similar experience.

I had overseen the construction of the Brawa Lagoon Road from Canggu South with the late Max Weber, a chef from the Hotel Bali Beach and the von Bueren’s ‘fixer’. We modelled the road on the Oberoi Road and for almost 20 years it was also pastoral and splendid. Tonight I drive down the road for the first time in ten years and my valve slams shut. The vast rice fields are all but gone: in their place has risen a concrete and twirly thatch roof wonderland fashioned as a ghetto, it appears, for Gili Isles refugees.

Everywhere are matching gays with matching dogs and Balinese schlepping designer-look luggage.

At the party entrance a Bangkok illusionist in Royal Thai court jester costume drops my prescription shades and scratches the lenses.

Inside is a field of beautiful people in black tie and sarong ― it’s like a Toast-Masters event celebrating that rich publicist who backed into the crowd in the Hamptons. Ha!

Rolf and Helen von Bueren are also celebrating a big birthday (“Rich 70 is middle-class 48,” one punter squawks).

They have been doing August parties since the dawn of European civilization in Canggu: this year they have pulled out all stops: there is a Ketjak plus Sangyang Jaran trance dance on the beach, an oyster-shucker flown in from Bangkok (Air Asia) and delicious Balinese food, courtesy of Made’s Warung.

The Stranger joins the region’s swells in thanking the von Buerens for their thirty years of great August Events and wishing them a happy joint 70th birthday.

On On!




Friday, 13 August 2010

Bungklang Bungkling: FIGHT (Siat) by Wayan Juniartha

Taken from ‘Bungklang Bungkling’, ‘Siat’, a column by I Wayan Juniartha, published in Bali Post, Sunday, 8th August 2010.
Translated by Putu Semiada







Fight (Siat)


I Made Brangas Brangti (I Made Bad Temper) says that when you want to be a man, you must dare to ‘fight’.

“If you don’t, you will be called a ‘coward’ and you will never to be a man.”

Everybody nods. Nobody dares to shake their heads to show disagreement. Everyone knows that I Made is a well-known street guy (preman). If they disagree, there is a possibility that I Made will hurt them.

I Made has been on the street since he was a child.

When he was in elementary school, he often asked his school-friends for money. Now he collects uang keamanan (money given by certain parties, especially businessmen, to street guys for safety purpose). If one doesn’t give them money, he/she will be in trouble. That’s what uang kemanan is all about.

I Madé has never been to the warung for quite some time. He spends his time mostly in pubs and bars and he drinks Jack Daniels and Johny Walker. He doesn’t drink rice wine (arak) or palm toddy (tuak) anymore. He says that it’s not his taste.

“You don’t buy what I say, do you? Look at what happened in Balinese villages in the old times. When someone is about to be a grown up, he has to fight. Otherwise, he will still be considered a ‘child’ or a coward.

Everyone nods and nods, and says, “I buy what you say, ”.

Made’s breath smells of palm toddy. He seems to be drunk and everyone knows that it is useless to argue with a drunk person.

“Probably that’s why we Balinese like fighting: nobody has ever taught us how to solve problems by discussion since we were children and even until we are old.”

Just when you start your study at Senior High School, your senior will abuse you, physically. The same thing happens when you start to study in university.

‘Well, when we, the local street guys, fight each other, everyone gives their massive comments. They say that Bali is not safe anymore. Having heard what I said, don’t you realize now that we Balinese have aggressive character?

Some of us fight using kris. A banjar fights against their neighbouring banjar because of land and ogoh-ogoh problems; a banjar fights against his members because of a dead body; a brother fights against his brother due to inheritance or love affairs.

Some people ‘fight’ by arguing: the governor against the local House of Representative members; a mayor against Election Commission (KPU), and taxi drivers against the governor.

“So nobody wants to solve problem in a polite way. For them, dialog is all about staring, shouting, swearing; nobody wants to listen to others. Eventually they will solve a problem by fighting, or by not talking to each other.

“So, from now on we should teach our children how to solve problems by discussion. They can learn that one is judged from how he talks, not how he fights.

Everyone claps their hands. They agree with I Madé.

“You haven’t been to a warung for such a long time, now you are here and talk like Krisna. All you say is true and good, indeed. Now I want to ask you something: Why did you talk about that here at the palm toddy warung?” asks I Ketut Lemes Lamis (I Ketut Talks Smart).

I Made gets angry.

“What an idiot you are: If I talk like this in a pub or a bar, they will hit me.”

Everyone nods. They now understand that I Madé is just using the palm toddy to ‘lecture’ them. Once he is done, he will go away on his Harley and show off how firm his arms and how big his money.


Monday, 9 August 2010

Bungklang Bungkling: Old Man (Nak Lingsir) by Wayan Juniartha.

Taken from ‘Bungklang Bungkling’, ‘Nak LIngsir’, a column by I Wayan Juniartha, published in Bali Post, Sunday, 1st August 2010.

Translated by Putu Semiada




Old Man (Nak Lingsir)


There has been a question as to why we call a sulinggih (high priest) an ‘nak lingsir’ (old man)?


“Well, it is because most of the sulinggih are already old. When you are not old enough, it is not quiet possible for you to be a sulinggih,” says I Made Sok Tahu (I Made As If He Knew Everything).


Everyone shakes their heads. They know that I Made is always too fast to jump to a conclusion.

“If you don’t believe me, just look around you: Is there any of you around 30 – 40 years old who can be a sulinggih?”


Everyone thinks. It’s democracy era. Everyone has the same right to be a sulinggih. As you can see, a sudra can be a governor now. And a young Balinese even can achieve a doctor degree and become a king at the same time: his name is Shri Shri Srandang Srendeng Amor Ring Acintya Tegehan Munyi Kema Mai I. So any Balinese can become a sulinggih.


“But not for me, . I still can’t control my sexual desires which makes me often have love affairs, and I’m still such a greedy person. If I were a sulinggih, I would often make mistakes in spelling the mantras and I couldn’t keep my eyes off girls wearing transparent kebayas with striking make up and big bums, says I Wayan Ngaceng Sesai (I Wayan Always Hard).


“I can’t either. I still have to finance my 4 children for their school. I need to provide them with things they need. One of them needs a laptop and one needs a Vario motor bike. If I were a sulinggih, I wouldn’t have a chance to pray for human being’s better life. I still need to work hard to pay my debts and bills. So how can I make my followers (sisia) live peacefully? Even if I were a priest, I would just be busy selling offerings (banten) and proposing unnecessary big ceremonies (karya) for my own advantage,” says I Putu Ambisi Korupsi (I Putu with Ambition to be Corrupt).


Everyone laughs at I Wayan and I Putu who dream of being sulinggih, wearing all white but they realize that they themselves are still far from that ambition. I Wayan likes flirting while I Putu likes stealing sesari (money put in the offering during the festival temple).


“When you have become a sulinggih, you should never think of worldly things. I think I’m ready for that. I think I’m ready to be a sulinggih. When is the good day for me for my coronation ceremony (melinggih)?” Asks I Komang Bobag Bogbog (I Komang Full of Bullshit).


Everyone can’t help laughing. Everyone knows that I Komang is in trouble. He stole the village cooperative’s money (Rp. 200 million). He thinks that by becoming a sulinggih, he will escape legal action.


“So I think I was right about what I said before. Being a sulinggih is not easy; especially when you still have strong worldly desires, or do not understand well the meaning of life or the dualism concept ― life and death, happy and sad. If you insist, you will become a Pedanda Baka (a bad priest), then you don’t deserve to be a sulinggih,” said I Made.


So the term ‘nak lingsir’ is quite clear now; no matter how old you are and even if you have had a coronation ceremony, if you get ‘nervous’ when seeing a girl wearing a pink longtorso or can’t control your sexual desire when seeing a sexy girl; or you still have strong material desire for luxury cars, or still want to have a big plot of land and big savings in the bank, then you don’t deserve it.”


A real nak lingsir is no longer interested in luxury cars, beautiful girls, officiating fees (sesari). It is the current situation that becomes their concern and makes them gloomy. It is not the wealth, popularity, nor magical power they want, but a peaceful and harmonious world and blessings from ancestors instead.


That’s a kind of real nak lingsir, in the skala or niskala (in the seen and the unseen worlds) that we can respect and listen to, and follow as much as we can. The rest are the fake ones.


Thursday, 5 August 2010

TRAVEL DIARIES: Solo, Central Java



Published in Now! Jakarta, September 2010

==============================================================



The scenic road from Karanganyar to Candi Cetho.

Solo, my favourite Javanese metropolis, is being beautified to within an inch of its life ― with gaily painted planter boxes and ornamental street lamps and gaudy new ‘Cina Lawang’ Ng’jreng’ colour schemes ― much like the rest of East and Central Java. If you want to see any of ‘Mooi Java’ outside the walls of the palaces you better go soon!

Last month I was invited to the 100th anniversary of the Sriwedari theatre for Wayang Wong performances in the middle of the people’s amusement park, so I jumped at the opportunity to head back.

For me Central Java is all about Hindu Temples. During last month’s trip I visited one temple, Candi Sajiwan, ‘under construction’ (restoration), near Candi Prambanan, and also the recently re-consecrated Candi Cetho, Java’s most magical mystical temple, on the slopes of Mt. Lawu, east of Solo.

By extraordinary co-incidence it was also the week of the Jumenengan Paku Buwono XIII Hangabehi’s Coronation Anniversary ceremony at my favourite palace, the Kraton Kasunanan. In just three days I managed to see a constellation of beauty, interspersed with frequent visits to the city’s famous soto and nasi Iiwet food stalls.

In a way the whole trip was very “Eat, Pray, Love” (“Eat, Pay, Leave” as it’s called in Bali) because my heart goes Boom-ba-di-boom whenever I get neat the city limits of Solo, it’s fabulous food and it’s ancient rituals, palaces and temples.


The 14th century Candi Cetho Hindu Temple complex.

6th July 2010, to Candi Cetho via Karanganyar, the best kept secret in Central Java

We rise early and leave our lovely Art-Deco hotel ― the Roemahkoe, in the old batik production district called Laweyan ― at 6 a.m. so as to avoid the traffic, and so to have enough time for some Javanese breakfast at a friend’s house in Karanganyar.

Karanganyar is approached by the following a series of billboards of the fetching lady Mayor of Karanganyar — in a sparkling powder-blue ‘Showgirl-krudung’ — pointing the way towards various regional attractions such as the Rice Husking Factory and the valley of cabbages called agro-tourism.


The progressive bupati (mayor) of Karanganyar, here seen promoting a local restaurant from a roadside billboard.

My Karanganyar friend has a rented bungalow in a delightfully leafy suburb of the town where Javanese joglo house meet the rice-fields in a harmonious ‘melt’.

We have a Central Javanese meal at a roadside ‘resto’ called ‘Rumah Makan Bu Perkis’ on the Eastern outskirts of the town.

From there we speed up the hill ― to beat the morning mists that routinely descend on the mountain temples (Candi Cetho and its sister temple Sukuh) ― and arrive just in time to witness the last pass of a motorized swiper tidying the lower grassy terraces of the temple.

The candi and indeed the surroundings have mercifully been spared the beautification programmes.

This morning the extraordinarily ancient Javanese-looking temple ― is a picture of pristine verdant loveliness. It is, in fact, a 15th century marvel and the last temple built during Java’s almost 1000 year Hindu Era.

The temple’s exquisite uppermost terrace now has a visitor’s book in the drawer of a parked desk and a jar of holy water (sealed) ― signs that the last year’s Hindu Balinese ‘makeover’ has staying power.


A young Balinese with offerings at Candi Cetho.

• • •

In the evening I go to the theatre and hang out with my old buddies from ISI (Solo’s dance academy) and the Mitra Bharata group of dancing socialites from Jakarta.

I witness a poignant moment ― just after a line of Bedoyo dancers (from the Mangkunegaran Palace) files through the dressing room ― as the troupe’s patron, 82 year old Madam Nani Soedarsono (a former minister in a Soeharto era cabinet) appears and lends her hands to be laid upon the head of troupe leader Mathius in Krishna costume. It is a ‘nyungkem’ gesture that radiates love. Oh Solo mio.

The evening’s dance spectacle is riveting ― the costumes and choreography (some by Mangkunegaran Prince Gusti Heru) are inspired.


Jakarta socialite Astari backstage at the Sriwedari Theatre.

8th July, 2010: To the Kraton for the Anniversary of Paku Buwono XIII Hangabehi’s Coronation

There is nothing in Indonesia quite so other-worldly and ancient as entering the Susuhunan Kraton on this day ― it is foreboding (so strict the protocol and elegant the courtiers) and so gobsmackingly gorgeous.

The inner Penataran Agung court is alive with groups of courtiers as we enter. The palace honour guards are going through their paces and the VIPs are taking their places on the antique Dutch colonial chairs. Suddenly the crowds part and the palace paparazzi shuffle: popular singer Syahrini and her entourage are entering the stadium, sewn tight into opalescent show girl kebayas ― they are a vision of loveliness.

The highlight of the precedings is the ethereal Bedoyo Ketawang dance performance in front of Sri Susuhunan and all the royal family members sitting cross-legged on the Pendopo Agung pavilion’s marble floor. The ritual is no less magical and mystical this year even though the Susuhunan is chewing gum. My companion also noticed that more than half of the VIPs spend half of the performance on their Blackberries!


The Mitra Bharata and ISI dancers at the Sriwedari 100th Anniversary performance in Solo.


The Bedoyo Ketawang dancers in front of the sultan.


LEFT: A Mangkunegaran Palace Bedoyo dancer at the Sriwedari 100th Anniversary performance, Solo.
RIGHT: Courtiers seat on the marble floor of the Pendopo Agung.



Syahrini (second from the right) and family members enter the pavilion at the kraton.


A cluster of palace groupies.


As we file out of the stately northern gate (photo bottom) I reflect on the three hours we have just spent in the medieval-meets-metro-sexual atmosphere of this most splendid of palaces.

In fact, apart from the chewing gum and the Blackberries, the only jarring incident in an otherwise seamless series of ceremonies and muted millings occurred when a posse of Malaysian royals in their distinctive St. John’s ambulance uniforms strode into the pavilion ― disregarding the protocol which demands that all must be in the lotus position on the ground when the Susuhunan takes his seat ― and presented a Sheriff of Nottingham-style gold necklace to His Majesty.

One ancient courtier tried to block their passage ― prompting a diplomatic incident during which the Malaysian dignitaries glared in a most un-Javanese way ― but the rare incursion into a 500 year old ritual was allowed to proceed.

This year the Goddess of the South Seas did not appear in green spirit form, as she has in previous years, perhaps as a result of these slips in court decorum.

The palace priests might now need to beef up the offerings to compensate, I fear.



Courtiers leaving the kraton after the Jumenengan ceremonies.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

STRANGER IN PARADISE: At last ….. the Balinese have their say


At last ….. the Balinese have their say

Bali has survived Islamification and colonialisation; the question now is: will it survive the twin terrors of mass tourism and ‘Villarization’?

After decades of taking it lying down are the Balinese fed up?

Are the insensitive billboards planted along the highways — which show scantly clad Russian models against backdrops of ultra-modern villas ― finally stirring up some protest??

Are the village Balinese now happier — spread across the globe as masseurs and cruise-line waiters — than they were when they were rice-farmers and offering-makers?

The truth is: one really does not know.

Unless, of course, you read the columns of Ubud-based writer I Wayan Juniartha, published in his popular weekly column in the Bali Post — and translated into Indonesian and English on Wijayajournal.blogspot.com and Baliluwih.blogspot.com. When it comes to foreigners (like me), Juniartha points out that asking opinions of the Balinese is a waste of time.

“Balinese promote Cultural Tourism where tourists are king,” wrote Juniartha in last month’s column. “Whatever the tourists say, the Balinese will nod in agreement. Whatever the tourists ask for, the Balinese will always try to provide them with, from ‘rice field’, ‘land’, mountain, to ‘lake’. When the tourists don’t ask for anything, the Balinese approach them, and offer them something.”

Juniartha went on to add that:

“Many tourists have become Bulé Aga. As they love Bali very much they think that they deserve to deal with all the problems in Bali, from protection of puppies, cats and other animals, to children.”

In the same week as Juniartha’s courageous column, the cover of Bog Bog cartoon magazine — “the Voice of the Hindu left” — featured a polite cartoon denouncement of foreigners in Bali who set up businesses and then can’t adapt to the Balinese culture.

Many of my Balinese friends pointed out that, when it comes to business, non-Balinese Indonesians are often just the same.

• • •

On the positive side one saw last month, the start of a new efficiency drive at the Arrival Hall at Ngurah Rai International Airport.

It seems that the Balinese governor, and Denpasar’s mayor, are finally taking things into their own hands’ As a result less people are fainting in the long queues at the gates to ‘paradise’. To be fair, the local immigration office has been under too much strain — enforcing all sorts of programmes that Jakarta sends down (the aborted finger-printing on arrival policy, for example). Extra Balinese ‘pecalang’ (Hindu vigilantes) have been posted — guaranteeing that Indonesians, at least, get prompt, efficient service.

For the foreigners who run the gauntlet, there is, after immigration, a new look Customs Hall with pots of plastic flowers and smiling customs officials ready to rip-open your daughter’s boogie board.

Outside the airport — just as traffic snafus threaten to turn into grid lock in the glamorous Airport-Kuta-Seminyak-Canggu belt ― there is a billboard announcing the construction of Bali’s first flyover at the Duty Free Mall round-a-bout.

• • •

The big story on the Bali street, however, is celebrity phone-porn (Bali-Wood ) and Gone with the Wind style pre-Islamic, pre-wedding photos called “Ajeg-Ajeg Jiggy-Jig”. This colourful phase was invented by local cultural observer Susi Johnston, former Desperate Ubud Housewife, and this year’s Runner-up in the Yak Magazine’s outstanding Non-Balinese Woman of the Year. (Past nominees have included Janet DeNeefe, the Australian wonder woman who founded and continues to run the regular Ubud Writers’ and Readers’ Festival and Daisy Dingbat who launched the “Stray Dog pelt as carrier bag” initiative).

It’s funny that the Hindu left should see a link between the expat goody-goodies ― the environmental suffragettes, who think they own the island ― and a threat to cultural identity. Is it that the ceremonially-addicted Hindu majority ― that 99% segment of the island’s Hindus who believe that the universe will be in balance if one keeps bashing gongs and throwing dead animals into holes” (as one foreign put it recently) ― don’t see the elephant on the island.

‘Villa-fication’ brings not just micro-wave-oven-look housing, but a micro-wave oven mentality.

Have you read some of the codswallop developers write:

“Conceptually the resort maximizes the natural topography of the original rice padi,” writes one developer about 3 concrete room block slam-dunked in the delicate Balinese landscape.


Newlyweds Wayan Yudiana and Ni Ketut Yasni at their Ajeg-Ajeg Jiggy-Jig studio photo-shoot.

• • •


Through Facebook this column has discovered, in places like Hamburg, pockets of Balinese dissidents whose plot it is to Balinese Europe by building Balinese temples (GloBalization it’s called) with an eventual strategy to retake the island and rescue it from becoming Asian’s answer to Ibiza, or the Milan Furniture Show (NOTHING THE MATTER WITH ITALIAN FURNITURE, MIND YOU!)

Last month, to escape the traffic jams and the New Asian madness I headed East, to the traditional village of Ketewel where local architecture and cultural values still reign supreme.



Young Dewas in smart turbans at the Ketewel wedding.

LEFT: Dewa Made Kumbayana and Desak Nyoman Diah Wartini.
RIGHT: A fashionable Balinese couple’s pre-wedding publicity snap.


15th August 2010: One Wedding and Four Tooth Filings: Fat Dewa’s son and a few cousins are wed then filed in a sophisticated series of ceremonies

I love Ketewel village because they are (still) masters of Bali style.

The twenty or so dewas (all cousins) who have slaved for me for the past 30 years ― as master craftsmen and master gardeners around the equator ― all deserve medals.

Privately, I am thrilled that many design touches of mine, originally inspired by research into the architecture of Ketewel Village in the 1970s, have been re-adopted back into the village’s landscape architecture and gates, in particular.

Today I arrive at 9 a.m. to find Fat Dewa’s son entwined around his wife-to-be ― herself a picture in shimmering pearl chemise loveliness.

I take some photos of local youths in big batik turbans (a current classical trend) and then retire to the riverside dining terrace where twenty dewas are putting up a giant marquee-style roof and arranging thirty or so dining tables on a volley ball court.

I admire the menfolk fixing everything — with supreme grace and co-ordination — then watch as, seconds after they finish, a phalanx of gorgeous teenage girls sweeps in with the bains-marie and tablecloths and water melon slices.

Dewa ‘Junior’, my business partner’s son ― who now designs T-shirts for a surfing company in Kuta ― suddenly fires up some haunting Javanese gamelan and the guests start file in.

It is all too elegant and lovely.

God Bless the Balinese and long may their village based culture survive!



“Iwan was a treasure — he valued the past and brought it into the present. Let’s hope it continues into the future
—Terron Schaeffer, Senior VP, Saks Fifth Ave, USA.


31 July 2010: Indonesia mourns the loss of a national treasure.

In the early 1970s university lecturer and diplomat Iwan Tirta started a fashion house based on exquisite batik textiles — it went on to inspire an industry, and become the nation’s pride. At its height, the House of Iwan Tirta was staging fashion shows in Paris and New York and dressing visiting heads of state and film stars (Greta Garbo used to hide herself at the Amandari behind an Iwan Tirta headscarf. Last month Iwan died after a long illness —many of Jakarta’s cultural elite attended his burial. Over the years Iwan and his extraordinary fashion shows have appeared many times in this column — the Stranger mourns the loss of a dear friend.