Thursday, 23 June 2011

Bungklang Bungkling: Dagang (Vendor) by Wayan Juniartha

Taken from ‘Bungklang Bungkling’, ‘Dagang’, a column by I Wayan Juniartha, published in Bali Post, Sunday 19th June 2011. Translated by Putu Semiada.

Dagang (Vendor)

It is said that two professions that Balinese do not like are to be a worker or a vendor because they represent the two lowest castes in Hinduism, wesia and sudra. It seems that nobody wants to be in lower status.

“That’s why most Balinese want to be kings or kstaria, or in kstaria positions, princes (dwagung putra), princesses (dwagung istri), or priests (pedanda and begawan),” says I Made Gengsi Kanti Mati (Prestigious is at any cost).

“If you look at our traditional operas (drama gong, sendratari, prembon and arja), the main characters will be always the king (raja), the queen (ratu), the prince (pangeran) or princess (putri). A ‘farmer’, a ‘worker’, a ‘fisherman’, or a vendor is considered inferior roles.

The above justifies that Balinese are still not interested in being a worker or vendor. They don’t like to do physical jobs.

They prefer to be ‘Brahmana’: from sulinggih to professor, or to be ‘king’ (read ‘leader’): from governor, Legislative Assembly member, mayor, district head or village head or civil servant.

“They want to be ‘leaders’ in spite of their corrupt mentality,” comments I Ketut Tenges Merenges (Cheeky Ketut).

“The high ranking officials are busy ‘selling’ permits, the Legislative Assembly members are busy making recommendation.

“Look at what happened to ‘Space Planning’ Draft (RTRW). All the mayors say that they reject the draft in the name of people. Actually their hidden agenda is that if they agreed with the draft, they would be forbidden to ‘offer’ land, river bank or beach to investors.”

The point is that, if one is money-oriented, they will sell anything they can, including temple’s property or the temple itself. If so, one should not claim themselves ‘kstaria pinandita’; or if a high ranking official always thinks of money, no matter how one will get it, he should never claim that he makes any good for people.

“Once one sees an investor, one bends down begging, and ready to be a ‘slave’ and ready to offer anything he can.”

“So, most Balinese now, mentally, are slaves.”

Most of them are like ‘vendor’ now, they always want to sell anything they can, to get money, but they don’t realized it. That’s why you should never surprised to find Bali like what it is now.

One might even offer his sarong he wears or his kris. When you have sold everything you have, how would you manage your life?

Monday, 20 June 2011

Stranger in Paradise: Bali’s Corner Warung

Yanti, the Belle of Pengembak, posing in the pandanus.

There are few things more sacred to the Malay culture than the corner tea-stall, or warung.

In Java, the warung has an important community function: it helps feed the teeming masses. It also provides a sort of ‘communal living room’, for migrants, street people and workers.

But there are warung and there are warung: Made’s Warung in Kuta has grown to become one of Bali’s most famous eateries and is a cultural cross road.

In the hills of West Java, some warung have hoses outside, playing into the air, these are warung plus or warung of ill repute.

Famed Ubud Writer Wayan Juniartha sets his weekly columns in a fictitious palm-toddy warung.

Jakarta’s former top comedy trio were called Warung Kopi.

The corner warung, the Warung Pojok — where domestic help can leave their toddlers, and community police can gather intelligence — are an institution across Indonesia.

I learned almost everything I know about Balinese culture in a warung in South Kepaon, near Kuta, which was run by an old, aristocratic street-barber’s ancient girlfriend.

LEFT: Ibu Yuni poses provocatively in front of Ipang’s food cart.
RIGHT: Warung Pojok ' Buang Nenggel"

In Surabaya, in 1973, during my first month in Indonesia, I was stone broke and was kept alive by the kindness of a warung vendor — an old Madurese lady with a set of chrome top ‘choppers’ like a Chrysler grill.

I went back to thank her twenty years later and she was still there, helping the hard-up.

In the 1980s I enjoyed a brief stint as a warung ‘moll’, in Sidakarya, near Sanur. Every night I would come back on my push-bike from coaching tennis at the Bali Hyatt and perch on a platform behind the counter, and watch Cawa sell coffee and fried bananas.

Occasionally a passing truck driver or Bakso vendor would nudge me and I would go horizontal on the mat and talk about kangaroos and things (I was slimmer and prettier in those days).

Now I live in a mangrove swamp-side suburb of Sanur with more corner warung than you can poke a stick at. These warung have loaned the suburbs a measure of ‘Indonesian village’ pride.

The warung under the Beringin tree outside my front gate is a court fixture. It is manned by Ibu Yuni, from Madura, and her young husband with the thick moustache, and a few nephews. Next to her is a reserved parking space for Ipang, the ‘sweater-boy’ bakso vendor from Blitar.

They are much beloved and they hold down the corner and bring local life, and dangerous liaisons, to a suburb otherwise inhabited by super-bule-in S.U.V.s.

It’s rather like Tinkerbell versus the Terminator.

Some 500 metres away, on the next corner, which is also on the coast (a great plus) a strange, green, gypsy caravan-type warung has sprung up to keep the parking ticket collector happy. The Mama-san here keeps lots of dogs and chomps on kretek cigarettes as she sweeps the road and gossips. Her exquisitely beautiful daughter, Yanti, is the talk of the town; Sanur he-men turn out of their housegates in the morning with smiles on their faces, knowing that Yuni will always be on the corner, minding the dogs.

Next to Yanti’s caravan a Timorese man sells fishing bait from little recycled Botox bottles.

Next along the coast, towards the Dalem Pengembak temple, is Mertasari’s ‘Warung at the end of the Universe’ — so named by a sporty band of English retirees — where Ibu Wayan serves the most delicious Gado-Gado (Ketipat Cantok), Pork Stew (Be Genyol) and fried bananas. Old Sanur aristocrats hang out here a lot, and talk dirty.

From my fashion on the by-pass series on Facebook

I am fighting to save these warungs, somehow, by lobbying the Mayor, who is a fellow warung pojok lover.

To this end I have designed a restaurant in the rustic warung pojok style — called the ‘Warung Tandjung’ (or RATU’S) — next to the last warung in Sanur. From Ratu’s one can see the tall ships of Turtle Island harbor. The relaxed, arty multi-cultural atmosphere will hopefully ‘raise the bar’ for small “boutique” coastal eateries.

Speaking of coastal eateries, I am at present writing a brief history of the gardens of the legendary Tanjung Sari hotel — arguably the tropical world’s first luxury boutique hotel, and past playground for the jetset and the crowned heads of Europe, and for the heads of Legian — which celebrates its 50th anniversary next year.

I am discovering all sorts of things you don’t need to know about the early history of swinging Sanur and some nice things too — such as the influence on the early development of the garden by two old grandees, Dutchman Arie Smit, who is still alive, and flamboyant Australian artist Donald Friend.

In 1967, for example, Arie Smit lived on Sanur Beach in a small bamboo hut, built for him by Wija Waworuntu the hotel’s founder some years later. Friend, who had moved to Bali from Bentota in Sri Lanka, was influential in establishing the cottage garden-like paths and the romantic art-gallery atmosphere of the hotel, which survive this day.

17th May 2011: To Jero Gede Subamia in Tabanan, to fetch some holy water for a Sanur Festival

Jero Gede Subamia palace is the ‘ancestral home’ for a sizeable chunk of Sanur’s nobility — the Jero Abian Timbul clan — who own the Warung Tanjung and its adjacent hotel.

This Sanur mini-palace is set in the heart of ancient Sanur — that is Intaran, a Brahman enclave — and is very ‘traditional’ with a gorgeous garden. The Tabanan ancestor palace is magnificent, with giant Majapahit-style gates and vast garden courts dotted with colonial era bungalows and pavilions.

Merajan Agung, Jero Gede Subamia, Tabanan.

The Royal chapel, called the merajan agung, is a masterpiece — the carving on the soapstone walls is delicate, but not too intricate. An old female retainer with one eye and a chain around her ankle tells me that, really, only one uncle lives here now which is terribly sad. This is largely the fate of most of Bali’s stately palaces: no one wants the responsibility.

A family elder has flown in from Jakarta to take part in tomorrow’s odalan-anniversary at the Sanur palace.

He is a natty dresser — quite au courant with the latest trends in temple dress in ‘male peacock’ Bali — and is a wealth of information about the ancient Subamia line, founded, in fact, by the same Majapahit warrior prince who founded the Pemecutan palace line, my obsession.

18th May 2011: To Jero Abian Timbul, Intaran-Sanur, for a special Pedudusan Alit Odalan

I arrive at 9 pm to find the family house temple in full swing: palace priests and priestesses are dancing with the gods (now there’s a title for a Bali-based reality T.V. show! Ed) as the exquisitely tuned house gamelan plays a haunting accompaniment.

I meet the family head Anak Agung Gede Ngurah Pemecutan, a sweet blinky chap and his glamorous power — broker wife, who complains that the ‘superbules’ renting her Mertasari Villa are too mean to pay for daily offerings (a shocking new trend this writer notes).

I am introduced to the palace’s Japanese wives (many major Balinese palaces have them now). I then position myself at the foot of an eastern shrine to video the evening’s trance ritual.

It is a beautiful ceremony — the climax has all the trancees clothed in (stylized) Majapahit Era ancestral robes. The delicate placing of the flowers in the turbans is particularly poignant.

Anyone still reading should also watch the video my team edited and posted on YOU TUBE/Wijaya Pilem 2: Pedudusan Alit at Jero Abian Timbul.

25th May 2011: To Ketewel near Sukawati for a grand cremation

The 95 year old father of one of my employees died last week: he was a priest in the Ketewel village Pura Desa temple and much loved. Today I am invited to his cremation.

Faces at the Cremation, Ketewel

When I arrive for pre-cremation brunch and heavy gossips, I see a magnificent, giant white bull ‘lembu’ (sarcophagus) parked in the village lane. Soon I meet all my outrageous Dewa ‘friends’ on Facebook — all sons of my master gardeners (I employ some 25 Dewas from Ketewel) — who are so meek and mild in real life, compared to their ‘take no hostages’ comic attitudes on Facebook.

The procession to the beachside cremation ground — now gloriously free of ugly villas spoiling the view, since a New York jeweler went bust — is ‘triumphal’. This priest was incredibly popular.

In the blazing noon sun the cheeky Dewa Facebookers take turns posing on the bull for mock-heroic snapshots.

1st June 2011: My mentor historian Soedarmadji Damais calls from Jakarta

“Made,” he says “Your video is brilliant! You must stop writing and just do this.” (Those in favour say “Aye” Ed).

He continues to say that my little barefoot videos, with commentary, are like “cinema verite” (in the style of Jean Rouche I hope) but need a bit of “introducing”.

Stay tuned.

(Above) Geesi and Pintor Sirait at the Gays Against Plastic work-bee in Mertasari, June 2011.

Travel Diaries: Balikpapan - Samarinda - Bali

Published in Now! Jakarta, July 2011


Family Planning statuettes from Sumba.

In Indonesia one finds great art in the most unusual places.

In the string of tourist shops high above Ubud in Bali, for example, one can find incredible modern sculptures and unique mirror frames; by the side of the road in Tanjungpandan on the Riau island of Belitung I found a ‘for sale’ sign for a second-hand Singer sewing machine that was pure Basquiat! In Sumba I found some family planning statuettes that were like miniature Modiglianos.

Street art in Indonesia

Last month in the oil-town of Balikpapan in East Kalimantan I found an art gallery called Hi-X, which had a startling range of good modern art at affordable prices.

I had discovered these artists from an installation in the lobby at the charming Novotel Balikpapan (“Free flow beer at “Anzac’s”, pool-side, 7–8 p.m.”).

I asked them back to the hotel for pizzas and to watch China win the Sudirman Cup for the umpteenth time.

LEFT: Artist Cadro Tarompo in front of one of his paintings.
RIGHT: Provocative painting by Balikpapan based Bugis artist, Cadro Tarompo.

One of them was built like an ox so I asked him to press down, firmly, on my bottoms while I planked, in a nice not a nasty way, on a purple poof in the lilac and pink fantasy Wedding Promotion tent in the lobby (see photo this page).

The artists — who had dread locks and ganja motifs on their jeans — were thrilled to be discovered and we talked about the specialness of the Dayak culture and the beauty of Borneo.

LEFT: Painting of Mahakam Riverside village near Samarinda. Artist: Joe’y Borneo.
RIGHT: Sado-masochistic street art in Central Balikpapan.

LEFT: A painting by Heriadi of the spooky Hudoq dance of the Dayak people of East Kalimantan (Barong Berutuk dance in Bali).
RIGHT: Arty shot of carpenter at work on the new ‘Boncafe’ Balikpapan, which my office designed.

While shooting a video on the Pasar Klandasan Market for YOU TUBE this trip (check it out) I discovered that this superb market was recently voted No. 2 in Asia, after Sydney’s legendary fish market.

No mean feat!

The view to the Celebes Sea from Klandasan Market.

LEFT: The first family of the Klandasan Market in Balikpapan — they run two stalls at the prestigious Eastern entrance.
RIGHT: Market beauty Endang.

At the famous Tahu Sumedang pit stop warung — along the Balikpapan – Samarinda Road (see You Tube posting) — I discovered that mafia-style menswear is all the rage in the Mahakam Basin: hustler shoes, studs, black satin shirts with, silver sunburst accents are all de rigeur amongst Dayak tahu-seekers. The ladies wear ten inch black patent leather heels and little black dresses with, generally, an acrylic sweater or cardigan thrown over the shoulders, for a leaner silhouette.

20th June 2011: A chance meeting with some Kuta pilgrims at the Balikpapan Airport

At the beaded peci shop I bump into Bapak Ketut Ardiana eldest son of the legendary Mama Dollar, owner of the Yasa Samudra Bungalow in Kuta Beach (now the Hard Rock Hotel). He is with 30 friends from his village — all in beach wear — doing a yatra (Hindu pilgrimage).

Kuta people never really move on from beach-wear, and Gidget Goes Gianyar hairstyles, but that’s part of their charm. They are famous for being devout so I’m not overly surprised to find them launching out to far flung Hindu holy spots.

Yesterday they prayed at the new temple in the police barracks and then immersed themselves in the tepid, murky waters of the mighty Mahakam River at Samarinda. Now they are heading home with basket loads of tourist ticky-tack to add to the mountain-loads in Kuta.

Domestic spiritual tourism is the fastest growing sector in South East Asia!

21st June 2011: To a glitzy gated community in Surabaya

Garuda has a great new full-service flight from Balikpapan to Surabaya and on to Bali, so I stopped on the way home to visit my old garden at the exotic Hotel Bumi, and to visit some friends at Pakuwon Estate.

Tonight is the 800th anniversary of Surabaya’s founding and the broad avenues — deeply decorated with all sorts of horticultural high-kicks — are spotted with little, illuminated ‘broaches’. On one road I spotted two Bambi and a gold fish; on another Spongbob and a Keris dagger.

On traditional T.V. some very saucy dangdut dancers are steaming up the stadium with hydraulically-enhanced hip-swivels and other pyrotechnics.

A corner of the recently restored Majapahit style garden of the Hotel Bumi (designed some 15 years by my Bali office,
the garden design had been tampered with by progressives).

At the Tunjungan Plaza One, Surabaya’s iconic hyper-mall, I find the Fiesta Madura shop still open “All the Madurese batik artists are dying off” the vendeuse laments.

It seems that Bali is the Madurase batik industry’s biggest client now: in Java ladies don’t wear batik in the streets anymore, just on formal palace occasions; the heavily upholstered beaded and bolted Iranian fantasy look is all the rage.

Finally I find Pakuwon gated community on the road to Kenjeran Beach. It is a homage to wedding cake architecture in the ‘Gone with the Wind’ category, but with snatches and patches of black glass and chrome, as a concession to modernism. The McMansions are tight-packed-tooth and jowl — with a liberal sprinkling of swan and geese fountains in the public areas.

Everything is triumphal and terrifying except the mall, which seems made out of Lego blocks.

I came running out of there looking for a warung to rest my tired eyes. If I lived in Surabaya I would get architect de jour Andramatin to design me a big Hermes Birkin Bag windmill on Kenjeran beach, with a tunnel to Tunjungan Plaza One.


30th June 2011: To Singaraja, for a friend’s son’s wedding

I always forget about the architectural delights of North Bali’s capital.

Cloaked in colonialism, the large spacious courtyards of the Singaraja gentry are a delight, especially after visiting the tight-packed, deftly-decorated palaces of Ubud and Peliatan.

The front courtyard of the Geria Pande, singaraja

LEFT: Newlyweds outside ancestral home, the Geria Pande, Banjar Beratan, Singaraja.
RIGHT: Indonesian-Dutch Art Deco survivor in the back courtyard of Beratan, Singaraja (Pande) home.

Today’s wedding is proceeded by a mass tooth-filing in a ‘geria’ (a Brahmin or high-priest’s palace). It is in fact a ‘Pande’’ clan geria, once home of North Bali’s most celebrated silversmith. His son, my old tennis-buddy from tennis-coaching days, is today a Sri Mpu high priest and our host.

The palace has a strictly Balinese layout but with quirkish colonial-era bungalows and Chinese-style decorative elements in its vast house temple. The tooth-filing ceremonies are ancient but egalitarian — in the true spirit of the ‘Pande’ clan.

I thoroughly recommend to lovers of Balinese traditional architecture that they spend a few hours poking around the palaces and temples of Singaraja.

Bungklang Bungkling: Tree (Taru) by Wayan Juniartha

Taken from ‘Bungklang Bungkling’, ‘Taru’, a column by I Wayan Juniartha, published in Bali Post, Sunday 12th June 2011. Translated by Putu Semiada.

Tree (Taru)

“Is it true that there is any tree in Bali has magical power?” comes a question.

“Of course, there is. I’ll give you an example. Leak (Balinese witch) is scared of ‘dapdap’ tree. Once I use a piece of this tree to exorcise leak,” says I Made Sengauk Agrobag (Full of Bullshit).

Everyone then tries to listen to him carefully. They want to know more about his story. The reason is that it is hard to find a tough Balinese who dare to fight (“get rid of”) leak, and investors as well; they ‘invite’ them, instead.

“Once during the Kajang Kliwon (spooky day) and big celebration day, the power was off and the city water too. It seems there was a conspiracy between the leak and the PLN (State Electricity Enterprise) and PAM (Municipal Water Corporation).”

Everyone seems very interested in listening to I Made’s story. He is very clever in telling stories, like a real narrator, bringing his listeners into a suspense atmosphere.

“I saw an old-lady witch (celuluk) with hanging big breasts dancing. I was so scared. Suddenly I found two pieces of ‘dapdap’ trunks as big as my arms in front of the pavilion.

“I then hit her at her head and neck several times. She collapsed. After that I went back to sleep.”

Everyone is amazed by I Made’s story. They wonder how could he did it. They realize that how he did it has nothing to do with magic, nor magical tree.

I Made laughs loudly and say, “This is because you always expect big things happen.”

“There are still magical trees, but they mean nothing before ‘powerful’ men.”

‘Powerful’ men include men carrying machine saws, investors who want to build hotels and golf courses, and timber dealers.

“No matter how big is a tree, but when a man with machine saw cut it, it will fall down; no matter how big is a forest, when an investor wants to buy, the forest will be gone.”

Whether a tree can have magical power or it will become just piles of fire wood, it all depends on human’s will.