Thursday, 28 July 2011

TRAVEL DIARIES: Hyderabad-Sydney-Bali

Published in Now! Jakarta, August 2011


The incomparable Pinky Reddy, in emeralds, and an Abu-Sandeep sari at her daughter Mallika’s wedding.

Last month I discovered Brisbane-based Strategic Airlines, a new full service carrier that flies Perth to Bali, Melbourne to Phuket and Denpasar to Townsville, in the day time.
The Strategic flight attendants wear 80s-look American Airlines outfits and lots of mascara. They mostly cater to bogans (Australian slang for the emerging middle classes) so speak to one slowly and lovingly — “Got your seat belt on, dear” sort of thing — compared to those barking ‘nancyboys’ on Qantas!
Of the day flights east, my favorite is Singapore Airlines flight 422, the 0730 a.m from Mumbai to Singapore via the Apollo chemist at the new GVK-Mumbai airport.
Apollo is a India’s best pharmaceutical dispenser (and have great hospitals too).They sell Old Spice aftershave for two dollars and one can buy one’s pills there — for all sorts of life-threatening illnesses — and still afford to live!
On Singapore Airlines, in Business Class, they have lie-flat seats on Boeing 777 aircraft for just a 5 hours flight so one feels really lucky – elated, really, to be escaping Mumbai (where I still have to go, monthly, to battle for rupees from my beloved Indian billionaires so I can pay for my Apollo pills).
The choice of breakfasts offered is amazing: there’s Indian Semolina Wettex and curried soup, Shitake Mushroom Chinese Noodles, and Malay Roti Canai. I adore the spicy, comfort-food character of Roti Canai,Malaysia’s answer to the buttered crumpet.
After breakfast I watch those Little Britain boys do their Japanese groupie girl impersonations on “Come Fly With Me”, again and again, until I slowly go horizontal and sink into a nanny-nap. No thrombosis stockings are needed: laughter is the best medicine.
When I wake up I plug my laptop into the convenient socket and start editing photographs for this column.

Newlyweds Mallika and Sidhart at the bride's aunty, Princess Shalini Buphal's dinner
in their honour at The Taj Krishna, Hyderabad.

This month its more of the same Indian fare – emeralds by the bus-load at Hyderabadi weddings-of-the-millennium (Shahrukh Khan, the Big B, an Ambani brother, two Miss Indias, a chorus-line of Bollywood pin-up girls, and Queenie Dhobi were at the GVK-Reddy wedding) – plus snaps of gum-scented Townsville (Far North Queensland) and heavenly Sydney in the winter.
The more I travel between Asia and Australia, the more I appreciate the good works of the Sydney city fathers of my sun-burned youth; the ones I loathed — little pinko, hippy radical that I was — while growing up in a perfectly orderly, green, sustainable, eco-friendly, gorgeous environment.
Now that I live the charmed life surrounded by unchecked urban sprawl and refuse I really appreciate my breaks ‘down under’ — to breathe air you can’t see, as it were!
To avoid Denpasar’s chaotic and demeaning airport I now quite often connect straight through to Oz from Mumbai on BA15, the 1945 hours sleeper service from Singapore to Sydney. I choose a seat at the rear of the Club Class cabin facing backwards, with my legs in the air.
There is a new Qantas morning flight from Mumbai to Singapore too but I dread the last 20 minutes of any Qantas flight when one has to listen to all the flight attendants droning on, about their real estate portfolios (the ladies) and skin-care regimes (the men).
On BA, the superbly picked multi-racial cabin crews are even cozier than Strategic: “Can I butter your crumpet, love” is a frequently heard refrain.
In the toilets they have Elemis hand and body lotion, which one definitely needs at the other end before going to the skin cancer specialist. (I keep myself tidy and moist for specialists).
Anyway, after I accidentally pocketed a few bottles of Elemis I move to the magazine rack where they have the latest HELLO (Victoria Beckham I love you), Spectator (I can’t live without Low Life) and the U.K. Vanity Fair (Croydon Carter you make my day).

Sidhart and Mallika exchange vows.
11th June 2011: To the marriage of Sidhart and Mallika Reddy in Hyderabad
Sanjay Reddy is the head of GVK, the Indian company that was awarded the new airport contract in Bali recently. His glamorous wife Pinky is the Zsa Zsa Gabor of India. I did their house garden in Hyderabad some years ago and was asked today to take photos.

The groom’s sister (left) chats to the bride’s aunt during the ceremony.

LEFT: Officiating priests from Tirupati at the Reddy wedding RIGHT: Taj waiters at the pre-wedding lunch at the Reddy’s Hyderabad home.

Lunch for 1000 was at the house (my Moghul Garden had been turned into an exquisitely decorated air-conditioned reception hall) and the wedding and dinner for 5,000 was in a specially built Hindu temple and palace on the grounds of the airport NOVOTEL. I was in full Bali drag at the wedding (my Clive of Kuta look) and was spotted by the Bali Airport contingent — in ill-fitting suits — which included the Bupati Karangasem. The next day I had a chance to take in two of the fabled Islamic era marvels of the Deccan – the Golconda Fort, with its Moghul Garden; and the nearby Quab Shahi tombs of the Seven Sultans.

LEFT: The writer channels Annette Bening in the Javanese gapura designed for the Reddy’s home. RIGHT: My guide, Manish, channels Celine Dion at the Quab Shahi tombs, Hyderabad.

18th June 2011: Walking in the Winter
Since my dhobi rash flared up I haven’t been do a lot of extra-curricular walking-around in the tropics – saving myself and my Clotrimazole powder for required site inspections — but Sydney in the winter presented an opportunity to storm around on foot.

LEFT: Circular Quay, Sydney, as viewed from Cahill Expressway. RIGHT: The top of the Opera House, viewed across the Tomb of fallen heritage buildings.
I caught a harbor ferry to Circular Quay — they now have wi-fi and red leather seats (like Air Asia and Virgin and Kingfisher Airlines) —and then take a glass lift up the side of the Cahill Express way which deposits one at the edge of a 6-lane elevated highway with one of the world’s greatest views (see photo above).
From there it’s 100 meters to the back door of the Botanical Gardens and the fabulous Art Gallery of NSW beyond.
Try it one day!

The entrance garden of Queen’s Park, Townsville (Castle Hill beyond).
24th June 2011: Sydney to Bali via Townsville
Queensland is Australia’s answer to Texas, with a sprinkling of Chinese.
The early history of Asian and European workers to Australia (starting with the Malay-Chinese sea cucumber merchants in Perth, in the early 19th century, and ending with my ancestors in the 1920s, who were clog dancers from Lancashire).
In Townsville I stumbled upon a pretty ‘Queenslander’ bungalow called ‘Kardinia’ which was built in 1878, for Alexander Marks, the first Japanese Consul in Australia.

LEFT: The succulent garden RIGHT: The rose garden, Queens Park, Townsville

LEFT: Paul Tonnier in ‘Kardinia’ his heritage Queenslander. RIGHT: Alexander de Willoughby, Tom Ford’s man in Sydney.

The present owner, Paul Tonnoir, a fine arts dealer of Belgian descent, has spent almost 30 years lovingly restoring this magnificent home (see photo above).
From ‘Kardinia’ it’s a short walk down the hill, past period homes, to Queen’s Park, which was built in 1863, as a ‘sample’ colonial garden for settlers to emulate on their sugar plantations.
From Queen’s Park one can see the Pacific Ocean and Magnetic Island which is just off the coast.
There are fabulous scenic attractions in the interior too.

Meti Alwi at Trisna Newson’s birthday bash at Danu Gallery, Penelokan, Bali.

Stranger in Paradise: Amandari’s Classic Bali Film Festival

Every year for the last three years the Balinese culture’s last Resort has — with France’s prestigious La Cinémathèque Françaisede la Danse — hosted a three day festival of archival and other special films on Trance and Dance and Sacred and Secret and black men tap-dancing.

Last month I was invited by photo-journalist and former Happy Valley (Kenya) ‘It’ girl La Baronne Gill Marais and Sally Baughen, the dynamic Kiwi G.M. of the legendary Amandari, to a private screening of Basil Gelpke’s quasi-documentary “Bali: Sacred and Secret”. I say “quasi-documentary” because it’s also a poetic masterpiece, with an amazing score by Brian Burman and heart-felt narration by Malaysian-born Indian Mano Manum and I say “heart-felt” because the last big-screen Bali epic, the exhausting “11 Powers”, was narrated by Orson Welles, no less, on the condition that he did not need to know what the film was about.

Before that, it was Phillip Noyce and David Elphick for Qantas’ masterpiece “Bali – Island of the Gods” that had them doing naked cartwheels in the aisles.

So now it’s Sacred and Secret and the posh girls wanted me to compere, and to invite Balinese artists and dancers back for supper after the show at my little ethnic homestay the legendary TAMANBEBEKBALI.COM.

The compere-ing was easy; getting the Balinese to commit a date and a time and a meal was a nightmare.

But commit a few did, including the Bendesa Adat of Nyuh Kuning, Ubud and Sangeh, plus A.A. Ngurah Bagus of Puri Mandala Peliatan (the legendary Terompong dancer and fashion plate), la princesse Bonbon (Legong legend Dr. A. A. Ayu Bulantrisna and her sister A. A. Surya), rising star painter Ketut Sanna, and the film’s star the cosmic and cozy Tjokorda Raka Kerthyasa of Puri Saren in Ubud, amongst others.

200 international and Indonesian writers (Diana Darling), journalists (Kunang Helmi), film makers (Dr. Lawrence Blair), frog-dance aficionados, gurus (Rio Helmi), retail hags (Arthur Karvan) and anthropologists (Roda Bauer) filled in the seats left over from the village people WHO LOVED THE FILM. The Kedewatan village people screamed the weight of the rice being cooked during the Balinese kitchen scene, and the price of the fight cocks in baskets during the traditional Balinese courtyard scene. They all clapped wildly when the Ubud prince’s cremation tower inched up and into place, finally coming to rest atop the 21st century’s most glamorous funeral bier.

At the 90 minute film’s end local retail hags were secreting enzymes:
“The most beautiful film I’ve ever seen,” said Adi Bojokiwi from Ang Cook enterprises.
“Makes me proud to be a Balinese,” said an Ubud-ite.
Legendary documentary film-maker Dr. Lawrence “Ring me, Brenda” Blair was misty-eyed as he signed the burned bras of his constituents.

Made Jimi Wijaya of Sidakarya, at a recent cremation in Suwung Kangin.

I loved Tjokorda Raka’s comment in the film “When we Balinese do our big ceremonies we invoke something super-human.”

Director of Cinematography Julian Shori’s footage was certainly “super-human” and Brian Burman’s vaguely New Age score incredibly moving.

The film is going well under commercial release in the art house cinemas of Malaysia (one) and should open Cannes next year.

The back story to the amazing film based on Gill Marais’ amazing book of the same name is: Basil Gelpke (pronounced “Gelpay”) discovered la baronne’s book at the legendary Linda Garland estate in Nyuh Kuning while doing a documentary on edible bamboo paper panty-hose; his previous claim to fame was a documentary on oil spills called, “Crude Awakening”.

Anyway, this film is “destined to become a classic like Miguel Covarrubias’s 1936 book “Island of Bali”.

3rd June 2011: To a Brahman palace in Denpasar for a very special occasion
During the years 1974 – 1978 I shared a single bed with two young Brahmans in a rural village near Kuta (now ringed by ‘Villa People’ and urban sprawl). Gus Rai, one of the young men, was a sports star and matinee idol destined to become a big time bank manager; the other, Gus Ngurah, was less perfectly–formed but nicer, and destined, sadly, to die young of liver cancer after 20 years teaching Hindu religion at a Kuta High School.

Gus Rai married the best-looking girl in the village and they raised four perfectly formed Brahman children in horrible places with banks all over Indonesia for 30 years, before returning to Bali and building a very smart big bungalow in the ‘MAJAPAHIT Mc Mansion’ style on the outskirts of Denpasar.
Today is the wedding of Gus Rai’s eldest son and the tooth filling of all of his children, plus three others.
There are two of the island’s best gamelan bands and the island’s celebrity ‘Glam-Bram’ high priest, Pedanda Gede Made Gunung is officiating.
Liku, Bali’s most famous drag queen mask dancer is dancing and a cast of hundreds are filing teeth, serving snacks and generally looking gorgeous.

It is very moving to see the old guard, and to register how regal and refined Gus Rai’s teenage children are, despite having grown up in Papua, Timor Leste and Blitar.

I am nervous when Pedanda Gede Made Gunung comes in — as I had reported, in this column last year, something controversial he had said, and his people were a tad cross — but he playfully pokes me in the tummy and we quickly fall into gossip like old friends. He tells how legendary Bali-based designer Milo made five costume changes a day in North India during the two week Seminyak Dharma-bunny Yatra to the source of the Ganges.

“God bless him” I reply.

The Stranger and Liku do the rare ngibing K.U.D.

4th June 2011: To Kepaon village for a baby’s three month ceremony
Still in shock after the grandeur of Gus Rai’s mega-event, the family gathered today for the most loving of Balinese ceremonies, the three month ceremony, when the aunties sing their lullabies and the ancient good-will hymn “Don’t grow up like an ugly gourd.”

Today’s celebrant is the first grandson of my ‘brother’ Gus Teja who was once a shy asthmatic boy but now runs the village’s spiritual life, as Bendesa Adat. The baby’s father is a pretend movie star and the mother a great beauty from Ubud so any ceremonies involving these two are always quite grand.

The Brahman mini-palace’s main courtyard is chock-a-block with relatives when I arrive at 10 a.m. to document the event (I now also do videos which can be viewed on You Tube under WijayaPilem2). There us a very jovial Santa Clause-like high priest officiating (see photo previous page) and every family member possible — from as far flung as Lombok and Singaraja and even Muslim relatives form Turtle Island (from a three generations-a-go love affair), but no-one from Gus Rai’s side.

In Bali, as elsewhere, family rifts are the hardest heal.

• • •

The principal prop in today’s exhausting medley of ceremonies is a bright blue cradle hanging from the eve of the ceremonial pavilion. It is packed with offerings, including a rather suggestive banana tree flower (one can’t have too many fertility symbols in Bali) and an old coconut frond spine bottom wrapped in yellow chequered flannel with a baby Dumbo decorative motif (very post-Majapahit).

Eventually the baby ends up in the crib, for five seconds before it is dressed like a Hindu prince and whisked in front of the pedanda priest for its first pray-in and holy water body wash (melukat).

I join in — blessed are the meek — as have been having impure thoughts lately.

25th June 2011: The opening night of Amandari’s Film Festival at the Banjar Kedewatan
More and more near Ubud I find myself in a turban (udeng) and frock (kamen) giving a speech in broken Balinese and English in front of a hostile crowd (Ubud or Seminyak-based anthropologist or sexpats or both).

Tonight I looked out from my dimly-lit podium to a standing room only audience and there in the front row, were Rio, Kunang and Ranna Helmi — the most talented linguists on the planet with 49 languages between them and black belts in dharma— and my knees buckled.

I belted out some detail in market Malay and then quickly introduced La Baronne Gill, Ubud’s answer to Karen Blixen, who said we had to feel the film not just watch it, and curtsied, royally, which rather let me off the hook.

The faded-batik crowds mood — originally braying for blood — had shifted to republican fervor.
“Let them eat fried bananas” said la petite baronne.

Balinese artists and conservationists beamed from the front row (One “Aum Swastyastu” and they’re anyones) and soon it’s show time!

Bravo the Amandari, and France, for keeping us continually entertained.

Taman Mumbul, Sangeh: the Eight Wonder of Bali.

29th June 2011: Please God, Protect Bali from real estate developers for they know not what they do.
I receive a contingent of Malaysian-Chinese developers who have purchased a vast tract of land near two famous Balinese temples.

They have come to me for a brief on the religious significance of the temples.

They are charismatic Christians so I am careful not to mention anything too Pagan as I explain the pantheon of Gods precious to the Balinese, and the close family ties between these temple gods and the deified ancestors of the South Bali palaces.

“You mean like Feng Shui,” the boss lady queries.

“Well, not really,” I continue.

I show them photos in my Stranger in Paradise books of the same palace priests and priestesses going into trance at the temple festivals and one of the local Raja being cuddled by an adoring Muslim fan.

They can’t get out of my office fast enough — I think they’re taking their money to the Seychelles.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Bungklang Bungkling: FILM by Wayan Juniartha

Taken from ‘Bungklang Bungkling’, ‘Film’, a column by I Wayan Juniartha, published in Bali Post, Sunday 17th July 2011. Translated by Putu Semiada.


The discussion is started with a question: Why are the Balinese keen to help foreigners when foreigners make films in Bali?.

“Because foreigners give us lots of money,” comments I Madé Mata Duitan (I Madé Money Oriented).

Everyone smiles. They quite understand that I Madé is a kind of money-oriented person. I Madé thinks that anything one does, it is always due to money.

“You may know that when an Indonesian makes a film in Bali, they don’t give much money, especially university students. They don’t have money to rent a place or to give donation to the locals. Sometimes they don’t even have money to pay for their own expenses. That’s why the Balinese always decline to help them.”

It’s totally different when foreigners make a film. Everything will be well-organized. They will do a long research and pay much more to the local resource persons; bringing huge amount of equipments and crews (lots of hotel rooms will be occupied); they will rent a lot of cars, and spaces for their equipments and parking. They “know well” how to deal with the locals: everyone will get their share, from pecalang (vigilantes), klian (village sub-unit head), to perbekel (village head); they will pay for locations where they do shootings.

“And they pay with dollars. One will always be happy when paid in dollars.”

“You know, when Julia Roberts and the Hollywood group made the film in Ubud, there was a fight between two villages on the donation provided by the Hollywood group.”

“There were lots of policemen and local vigilantes (pecalang). They closed the access to the shooting location. It seemed that the film company, local officials, vigilantes and the police “could understand” one another.”

“If the local make a film, the price they will pay is in local currency. They come here and there asking for help, usually for free. Asking for help for once is still fine, but the problem is that they often ask for help for several times for free. And nobody can accept this.”

Nowadays there is no lunch for free in Bali. One even put some money in a small offering (canang).

“The other reason is that if foreigners make films, it will a good promotion for Bali tourism as it will be seen by people overseas and it will make more people come to Bali,” says I Ketut Pramuwisata (I Ketut Tourist Guide).

Everyone nods. What I Ketut says makes sense because if the locals make a film, it will be seen by the locals only. And the fact is that most of the locals prefer seeing cinetrons and gossip programs, instead.

“Another reason is that the Balinese enjoy serving foreigners. It’s a kind of “tourism slave mentality”. Whatever a tourist asks for, the Balinese will be always ready to offer; lands, prostitutes, sacred ceremonies, anything,” adds I Ketut.

It seems that the Balinese prefer to ‘serve’ tourists or westerners than domestic tourists or locals. Tourists or westerners bring much more money and the Balinese like to serve people with more money.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Bungklang Bungkling: PKB (BALI ART FESTIVAL) by Wayan Juniartha

Taken from ‘Bungklang Bungkling’, ‘PKB’, a column by I Wayan Juniartha, published in Bali Post, Sunday 3rd July 2011. Translated by Putu Semiada.


“Who really still like to see PKB (Bali Art Festival?)” comes a question.

It has been 30 years since the first PKB. How come people still like to see the same thing for thirty years? It’s like one who has been married for 30 years. Does one really still love the same wife? One might have been bored.

“Well, I tell you. Nobody is bored with PKB. They still love them. I’ll tell you one by one,” says I Putu Bani Gondong (One Who Always Sure to What He Says).

“The first is the PKB committee. They still want it is held routinely every year because it gives them some good benefit; fees, uniform, meals, etc.

The second one is the Central Government, especially the president and Minister of Tourism and Culture. They don’t need to pay anything or help. They just need to address speech and say that the government always supports local culture.

The third is the local artist organization. It’s where they can show their ability before high ranking officials and the public in town.

“Our children will never go to Badung if the local government doesn’t hold PKB nor know about kebyar gamelan orchestra from Buleleng (north Bali). Gamelan from Buleleng can show their skill in playing kebyar traditional music in Badung regency as well.

That’s where Balinese feel themselves ‘real Balinese’. They can see art and performance from other regencies.

The fourth is the people who live around the art centre. They can have extra income from using their house yard for parking area.

No matter if people have to pay much more than normal parking fee, they just keep coming to see PKB. Doesn’t that mean that Balinese still love PKB?

In addition, there are still some other parties who love PKB; such as the teenagers because it is an event they can visit with their girlfriends or boyfriends; vendors (they can make good business and they don’t need to be afraid of security guards, instead they just need to adjust their shop positions); vigilantes, as they can have something for free, they just need to pretend as if they are police or officials; housewives who use PKB as place for recreation and get rid of their routines: bad husband, naught children, talkative parents-in-law); parents, who can bring their children to PKB for recreational purpose. It is much cheaper compare to Timezone, Centro or Galeria. In PKB, they can have Balinese vegetable salad (srombotan) and Balinese herbal drink (daluman) for Rp. 10.000.If they go to Galeria, they have to spend Rp.100.000 for a piece of pizza.

So everyone still loves the PKB, but the thing is that they like it not because they appreciate art.