Monday, 28 February 2011

Stranger in Paradise: Simple Pleasures — Penjors in the mist

Songan Priest at Belandingan Village.

I have recently fallen on hard times.

When one suddenly is unable to buy anything, one starts looking at things one already has with great tenderness.

As Paris, Rome, even Koh Samui are now beyond my reach I have started re-exploring the back roads of mountain Bali — which were my passion in the early 1970s when I first discovered the polychromatic Garuda shop in Pujung and I was the first blonde to be kidnapped by Terunyan tribes people in the middle of Lake Batur. To my delight, I find that there is still life beyond the buzz of the By-pass.

I find villages that are oblivious to the mayhem on the coast, with villagers still going about their idyllic lives, wrapped around perfectly formed best-friends, and smoking unfiltered cigarettes like there’s no tomorrow.

The only By-pass in mountain Bali is the ‘Fashion By-pass’, as urban trends — such as homeboy handshakes, sneering at whitefolk (a new trend in Gay Bali) and turning rice fields into dog ugly real estate —have yet to make it up the hill.

Mountain folk are also very original dressers. Take, for example, the Blandingan mayor’s wife, who sold us bananas from her tiny bamboo stall dressed in Louis Vuitton (Factory Outlet) from head to foot, and wearing large red plastic mules, and a clothes peg to protect her decollete.

At the beyond fabulous “Warung Kenali” Lake Fish ‘n’ Chips Shop, which is half- way down on the steep road that leads from Penelokan to Kedisan at Lake Batur’s edge, I discovered gangs of Homies — dark, savage-looking Kintamani menfolk — dressed as referees at an Olympic track and field event.

Mountain priests, by comparison, wear exquisitely tailored broad-lapelled white or black jackets over long white sarongs and sash.

• • •

My favourite mountain village is Blandingan — located on a fertile plateau above Mount Batur’s crater lake — and my favourite mountain road is the one that starts at Puakan, high on the Pujung-Kintamani Road, and ends up, after 20 kilometers of almost completely unspoiled villagescapes and padi views, in Bangkiang Sidem, West of Ubud.

Last month I went down this road on the Sunday before Nyepi.


On the Puakan - Taro - Keliki Road

27th February 2011: A Sunday Outing with old friends

I am invited to have lunch with restaurateur friends of mine, the Guskies, at their stud chicken farm, a few kilometers north of the 10th century village of Taro. I arrive at noon and find Djago and Karen Gusky playing Marie Antoinette and the Green Hornet in rural bliss.

We spend a pleasant hour in the garden admiring the squawking roosters — all lined up atop bamboo teepee on a vast grass paddock — and then sit down to lunch in an open pavilion. The food is organic, home-grown, and Balinese excellent.

“Ya can’t buy a camera in New York in a Saturday,” Karen screams, over the ghetto blaster as Djago Gusky passes the Storm beers.


At the Guskies Stud Chicken Farm

Arthur, Djago Gusky, Karen Gusky

LEFT: Gentle kitchen staff

• • •

After lunch my fellow trekkies and I stop at the Pura Gunung Raung in Taro, once a sublime architecture master piece of camel-hair coloured volcanic tuft but now ‘restored’, to within an inch of inch of it’s life, with an excessive use of Darth Vaderesque black granite stone (the stone first used, in abundance, at the mausoleum for the late President Soekarno in Blitar, East Java).

We visit not the temple but the surrounding car parks and community halls which are bustling with activity; the giant festival’s climax is but 25 days away.

Very cheeky school girls with very healthy cheeks are rehearsing dances in the banjar hall; battalions of volunteers are fashioning the most extraordinary giant woven festive banners, called penjors. These decorative poles flank the entrance to every house and temple in Bali on important festive days (the “W” hotel in Seminyak, designed, by super-spunk architect de jour Chan Soo Khian, had penjor holograms, an island first, at its launch last month, for example. Ed.).

No one tries to sell us real estate or their niece as we wonder amongst the polystyrene and teteron and scaley maypoles wrapped in bunutan leaves.

We stumble across a comfort station —tea and coffee dispensers on a table — and are invited to help ourselves. In the same large shopping court are pavilion after pavilion of dried coconut and bundles of sugar-palm (jaka) leaves stored for future ceremonies.

At Pura Gunung Raung, Taro

Pura Tirta Gunung Kawi, Sebatu

It is the Sunday before Nyepi, the Day of Silence and Nyepi Eve — when all the monster effigies are paraded — so there is plenty of roadside eye-candy on the way home.

The afternoon light picks out glistening woven penjor and white or yellow temple umbrellas which flank the entire length of the road.

The experience is re-affirming and exhilarating: “re-affirming” in the sense that one is starting to despair about ever again experiencing the joy of ‘Real Bali’ as one glides down a perfectly sculptured mountain ridge; and “exhilarating” as all the great art and gorgeous people make one’s atoms hop!

1st March 2001: Facebook Revolution in Sanur

Today a young architect posted a very stylish artist’s impression of a new banjar hall in Sanur in the style of his employer, the fashionable landscape-designer and architect Bill Bensley.

I made some constructive criticisms on line — the “lose half the tassles” vien) — and was thrilled when a whole band of Sanur architects soon joined my “Ban Andesite in Bali” facebook page and joyfully joined the debate.

They were all Brahmans from one community — the sort of coterie that normally becomes a mutual self-admiration society on Facebook — but they did not play the race card (“back off, Howlie”) or get self-righteous (as the Balinese nobility can) but just took criticisms on the chin and ‘penned’ a few punches.

The ‘relative anonymity’ of Facebook —it’s being at sort of ‘arms length’ — allows the normally non-committal Hindu-Balinese intellectual to fully vent his true feelings.

2nd March 2011: An unlikely street brawl in Seminyak

Popular cross-dressing Bugis restaurateur and real estate broker Bonita is the only Indonesian man to have been on the cover of the local French Magazine ‘La Gazette’ twice, in women’s clothes.

Today a Swiss national went berserk — over a rental dispute — in the carpark of Bonita’s “Warung Sulawesi”, and started pulling out rose-bushes from around the Hindu shrine. So Bonita swept out in a floral kimono and bopped him — laid him flat on the footpath with one punch. This sort of incident puts to rest the notion that all cross-dressers are sissies, and that Muslim don’t love Hindu shrines.

Bonita is considering forming a band of vigilantes drag-queens to protect the streets of Seminyak from the scourge of berserk foreigners!

Go girl!

Monster-maker in Payangan prepares for Ogoh-Ogoh procession

Friday, 25 February 2011

Bungklang Bungkling: Arisan by Wayan Juniartha

Taken from ‘Bungklang Bungkling’, ‘Arisan’, a column by I Wayan Juniartha, published in Bali Post, Sunday 20th February 2011. Translated by Putu Semiada.


I Made Kredit Ngripit Makilit (Stingey Creditor) has a lot of ideas about how to make money. The thing is : he never invests his own money; instead he takes advantage of his friends’ or neighbors’.

“This is a very good idea: you will get profit easily if you become a member.” says he.

Made is talking about his idea of having an “Arisan Ngaben”*. Everyone listens to him seriously.

“It’s much safer than putting your money in a cooperative. Remember what happens to KKM (Koperasi Karangasem Membangun)?** It’s much safer that putting your money in an insurance company like the BALICON***, or in a bank like the Century Bank.”

What happens to the members of KKM and Balicon is that they are like “the unluckiest pig breeders in the word”; they lose their pigs, the pig food, and they have their pigpen broken. In addition, customers with deposits at Century Bank never got their money back. Who took their money, and where it has been taken, nobody knows.

According to I Made, “Arisan Ngaben” is based on ‘family atmosphere. Each member must deposit Rp.100.000 a month. The member who has to carry out a cremation (ngaben), can withdraw the “arisan”, otherwise I Made will invest the money in a community-based businesses.

“I won’t use it for building hotels, or investing in the stock market, but more for “community based businesses” such as cockfight arenas and girly bars.”

Everyone nods. They are amazed by I Made’s business instinct. People always make a profit from carrying out cockfight gambling (matajen). Countless meeting hall (bale banjar) and temple constructions, and public facility renovations have been funded from the profit gained in cockfighting.

Also girly bars — with a small amount of capital to start, with living tree fences, no plastered walls, mediocre girls (as no one really pays attention during the evening as the lights are dim) — no power-consume, no need toilets as they are located in quiet places and visitors may pee anywhere. With a small amount of capital, one can make a big profit by running a girly bar.

The Balinese men feel proud of themselves when they compete with each other in drinking bee; with applause and support from bar girls with bulging breasts. Under these circumstances, one is happy to spend all of his money and even borrow from his friends and use his wife’s money or mortgage his parents’ land certificate if necessary. He may use money from donation (punia) for temple construction, too.

I Made just smiles seeing his friend likes his idea: Everybody seems interested.

“What do you think? Will you join?” I Made asks I Wayan Klebat Klebit (I Wayan Doubter).

“The problem is that my parents have died so have my parents-in-law. They all have been cremated and their souls have been purified to become ancestral gods (Dewa Hyang) as well. Is it okay to join the arisan even though I will have no corpse to be cremated?” ask I Wayan.

“It doesn’t matter if your parents and your parents-in-law have been cremated (aben). You are still alive, so is your wife. At least you can use the funds from the ‘arisan’ for your own cremation and your wife. It can be used for funding cremation for your children too. You know, lots of young Balinese boys and girls die before their parents do; some due to car accidents, or run over by trucks; some due to drinking too much palm wine (arak) mixed with methanol, some due to drug overdoses or take too many health supplements.

Everyone nods when they realize how flexible it is: It can be used for funding other people’s cremations and is quite a good investment.

“Well, this is what we call “saving plus plus” as it involves saving on yadnya (donation for religious matters), investing, good karma, (both worldly and heavenly).

Everyone now is eager to become a member.

“Sorry, I think I won’t join; If I did, It would feel like I expect my mother to die soon. It’s better for me to use my Rp.100.000 to buy her good and healthy food to make her feel happy. It makes no sense if you make her high funeral bier (bade) when she dies, as she won’t see it,” comments I Putu Sayong Bengong (I Putu Blank Expression).

Everyone nods as they think what I Putu says is right. What is a big cremation ceremony for our parents when we don’t take care them properly during their life.

“Well, I don’t have much to say, here is Rp. 200.000, just give me the first turn, will you? I need the funds to hold 2 cremation ceremonies,” interrupts I Komang Srandang Srendeng (I Komang Walking Slowly) while handing the money to I Made.

Everyone was startled as they all know I Komang has no corpse to cremate. And no one hears sound of kulkul (wooden drum) as a sign of somebody has died.

“Who are you going to cremate, Mang?”

I Komang quickly replies:

“Gayus Tambunan and Chairman of FPI,**** Habis Brisik.”*****


*Arisan Ngaben: social gathering among the Balinese whose members contribute to and take turns at winning an aggregate sum of money to use for funding a cremation.

**KKM: a cooperative body in Karangasem, East Bali that has been banned.

***BALICON: an insurance company who collects funds from customers and gives them much higher rate of interests than the banks. It has been banned last year. Lots of the customers’ funds have not been returned yet.

****FPI: Front Pembela Islam (Radical Militant Islamist Group).

*****Brisik: Noisy

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Bungklang Bungkling: Jemet (Hard-working) by Wayan Juniartha.

Taken from ‘Bungklang Bungkling’, ‘Jemet’, a column by I Wayan Juniartha, published in Bali Post, Sunday 13th February 2011. Translated by Putu Semiada.

Jemet (Hard-working)

“Are the Balinese hard-working?” comes a question.

“Of course they are. There are no other hard-working people like the Balinese,” comments I Madé Mayus Makudus (I Madé Big Mouth).

“Look at our Balinese brother who transmigrated to Lampung and Celebes. They changed the wild jungle and hilly areas to rice field and plantation. They even start work at dawn; hoeing, cutting grass, etc. If there hadn’t been Balinese there, the Celebes people might have never known what a good rice field looks like.”

“I’m talking about the Balinese who live on this island. The Balinese migrants, of course, should work hard, otherwise they will never be able to change their life,” comments I Wayan Sinis Kritis (I Wayan Smart But Sarcastic).

“Well, why do you doubt that? I guess that the Balinese who live outside the island are as hard-working as the ones who live on the island. However, what make it different is: the later have too many other obligations,” adds I Madé emotionally.

“Firstly, as they feel that they are the majority on the island, they have to be tolerant to the minority.”

“That’s why so many jobs are ‘given’ to the Javanese and Sasak. The Balinese do not like to ‘compete’ for those jobs. They just let the Javanese and Sasak do them to help them survive, to help them looking after their children and send them to school.”

“Jobs such as cleaning ditches, road pavements, rubbish collector (pemulung), meatball vendors, catfish salad vendors, building workers, bar girls, ‘chartered’ bike drivers (ojek orderan), criminals, all are done by the Javanese.”

“Currently even harvesting and offering vendors are done by the Javanese and Sasak. So we can say that the Balinese are kind-hearted and care for their ‘brothers’ from other island very much,” he continues sarcastically.

He can’t help his tear dropping and cry. He is very touched by his Balinese fellows’ kind-hearted. The other palm toddy association members (krama sekaa tuak) begin to feel touched as well.

“Secondly, the Balinese do not like hurt others nor give instructions to or direct somebody to do something with authority and are too shy to show their abilities.”

“The Balinese do not like doing jobs which involve ‘giving instructions’; it is not because they can not do it, but it is just that they don’t like it.”

“That’s why, professions like hotel general managers all are ‘given’ to the bulés who are probably unemployed in their own countries; professions such as directors, company, restaurant and travel agent owners, as well as art critics are taken by the Chinese and Jakartans.

“You can even have bulés realtors in Bali now. The Balinese just ‘accept’ the situation in which the bulés make a very good living here, can afford to buy cars, own villas and send their children to school in Sydney and London.”

I Madé’s tear is dropping that makes everyone cry. They are all amazed by the humble and kind Balinese.

“Thirdly, the Balinese do not want do any kind of jobs with uncertain reward; a kind of job that make them sweat but very little money. They are smart in which they only take quick and easy jobs but give them big money.”

“That’s why if one has a piece of land, he will lease or sell it; money comes easily. Or if one doesn’t have, he might offer his friend’s, the village property (tanah ayahan desa), the temple’s (pelaba pura) to investor to invest. If necessary, temples and pretima (god statues) will be sold. It looks they are smart; no pain but big money,” adds I Madé’s sarcastically.

Everyone nods happily because now they know that the Balinese are “smart” and “clever” in making a living.

“Fourthly, the Balinese have ‘fighting spirit’, they are ‘nationalist’ and “heroic”. That’s why in relation to “defending our country” or “serving our nation”, the Balinese are number one.”

“No matter how good one’s job is, even with good salary; but when the time comes to “serve the nation” by becoming a civil servant (PNS), one will take the chance no matter whatever it takes. And it is not a problem for one to bribe Rp. 100 million, and sometimes they even fight one another just to be a PNS.”

Suddenly I Madé cries loudly so do the other palm toddy association members as now they realize that the Balinese including them are not just ‘hard-working’ people, but also ‘kind-hearted’ to others, do not like giving others instructions, humble, smart, wise and always ready to defend their country. So being a Balinese is really something.