Thursday, 25 August 2011

Bungklang Bungkling: Moksa by Wayan Juniartha

Taken from ‘Bungklang Bungkling’, ‘Moksa’, a column by I Wayan Juniartha, published in Bali Post, Sunday 14h July 2011. Translated by Putu Semiada.


It is said that the Balinese’ goal is to achieve Mokshartam Jagadhita Ya Ca Iti Dharma (Happiness in life and after life).

“You are happy in your life, then your soul will become one with God,” says I Wayan Musang Berbulu Ayam (I Wayan Evil Mind).

Everyone nods. They understand well about moksa. They often hear religious leaders or priests talk about it in temples, radio or television. However, they’ve never seen anyone really looking happy, let alone moksa.

Only I Made Kerakap Tumbuh Dibatu (I Made Hard Life) doesn’t agree.

“As a Balinese, what I want is moksa.” says I Made.

Everyone is surprised, because if you become a palm toddy association member, you have no chance of reaching moksa. One can not think properly when one is often drunk.

“I’m already 40 years old and I haven’t found happiness in my life so far. There will be no more chances for me.”

In fact, I Made has suffered all his life. He has only two things to do: cockfights and love affairs. He feels that he has never felt happiness in them.

“I can’t find anything interesting in my life anymore.”

Cockfighting has been banned by the authorities so he has to ‘chase’ cockfights everywhere. He never wins much. He has even mortgaged his house to pay his debt.

“I have ‘dedicated’ all my life to cockfighting; I’ve never tried other gambling, I have about 50 cocks, but I have nothing, it’s useless.”

“The same thing happens to my love affairs: I’ve had dedicated all my life to the girls I love. I borrowed money for them; I even left my wife and kids and house. When I had nothing, all the girls left me. They took my wallet, motor bike, land certificate and everything I had.”

“So what I will now pursue is moksa. When I do, I will be united with God. When I do, will God fulfill everything I want? Can I hold big cockfights? Can have a love affair with Julia Perez, and will I be powerful!”

De, you can only get moksa when you have died; When you are moksa, you want nothing” says I Wayan.

“So I won’t be happy in my life nor in my after life”

Actually, no-one really wants to get moksa: instead they just want to get what they want.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

TRAVEL DIARIES: Solo - Kerala - Paris

Published in Now! Jakarta, September 2011


Raja Sumasuma of Maluku channels the spirit of a 10th century statue at the Harjonegaran palace.

Last month I had to review “Sugar Barons”, the blockbuster by Mathew Parker, for Women’s Wear Daily so I took myself to the French Antilles (Guadelope) for some fun and rum.

The trip started in Central Java — another great sugar producer — where a ceremony was being held to commemorate the death of my old guru, batik maestro Go Tik Swan, known since his death as Panembahan Hardjonagoro.

It was a ten day trip of wild contrasts — Java, Paris and Jamaica!! — utilizing the services of a handful of airlines (Silk Air, Emirates, Air France and Singapore Airlines).

Local ladies praying for the soul of Panembahan Hardjonagoro.

Plates of ‘Bistek Spesial’ piled up in the Hardjanagaran house kitchen.

2nd July, 2011: To Solo, for a beautiful ceremony for an exceptional aesthete

In many Muslim countries 1000 days after a death is considered an auspicious day for the deceased’s soul — when the gates to heaven are open at their widest.

Today the family and friends of Panembahan Hardjonegoro are holding a night of Muslim prayer at the exquisite multi-courtyard-home- com-private- museum he built near the Kraton, the Solo palace he so loved.

The highlight of the evening is the release of eight doves by the eight children of his adopted son, Kanjeng Warno.

After a dinner of steak and vegetables — in the Dutch-Solonese tradition — one of the VIP guests, the Raja of Samusamu, engages in some spirited, free-range ‘channeling’ of the spirits of the ancient Hindu-Java statues which dot the courts (photo top).

The remarkable main court of Hardjonagaran home on the night if the 1000 day prayers.

LEFT: A rebab player in the Hardjonagaran house gamelan orchestra.
RIGHT: The Batik exhibition in the main courtyard the next day.

3rd July 2011: A garden party to celebrate a life devoted to Javanese culture
This morning the house has been turned into a Batik museum; a display of Hardjonagoro’s extraordinary collection of Javanese court textiles is hung on antique easels in the pavilions.

For the first time, the two gamelan sets of the house are playing. One of the sets was ‘inherited’ from Stamford Raffles private collection (‘private’ since the British troops ransacked the Hamengkubuwono palace in nearby Jogyakarta in the early 19th century).

Le tout Solo are here and a big slice of Jakarta high society too. In life, Hardjonagoro was a consummate aesthete — in the Solonese tradition. Since his death, the various rituals and gatherings have been bathed in beauty.

• • •

In Solo, where I stayed at the heavenly Roemahkoe in the Laweyan district. From Solo I took Silk Air to Kochi, via Singapore.

19th century Indian artist Raja Ravi Varma’s depiction of Vasco da Gama at the court of the King of Travioncore.

6th July 2011: To Kochi, Kerala, India — an ancient port once linked, intimately, to Indonesia, through the spice trade
St. Thomas, St. Francis Xavier, Vasco da Gama, and the 13th century Moroccan Ibn Battuta all once visited this important spice trade entrepot.

In a hotel near the old fort I discover a fabulous print of a painting of Vasco da Gama presenting himself at the court of the King of Travancore, in 1492. The artist is Kerala’s most famous son, Raja Ravi Varma, a member of the Travancore Royal family.

The palace still exists on a small island that juts off the coast in front of the Portuguese-built fort. In fact, the Portuguese controlled much of Kochi and nearby Goa during the years of nutmeg trade with Banda Neira in the Spice Islands, in Indonesia.

• • •

In Kochi (where I stayed at the delightfully local Abad Airport Hotel). From Kochi I caught Emirates to Paris, via Dubai. At Charles de Gaulle Terminal 2F I rolled back into bed inside the luxurious Andrée Putman-designed airport Sheraton.

19th century photography of a Creole spice vendor in the Guadeloupe Museum.

The next day I caught Air France to Pointe-à-Pitre, the capital of Guadeloupe, where I am also starting work on a garden design for an 18th century plantation home in the foothills of volatile Mt. Souffier.

Guadeloupe is a bit like Mauritius which is a bit like Singapore. It is beautiful, but the only time I felt that I was in the Caribbean, and not in France, was when I was advised not to take photographs of coloured folk.

“Post colonial rage is all the rage,” one local wag impressed upon me.

The locals are often a tad ‘gruff’ in Guadeloupe.

The exception being the local Indian “Malabar coolies” (as the Island French quaintly call them) descended from the workers (not slaves) brought to Grenada by the British some 250 years ago, to create nutmeg plantations in an attempt to defeat the Dutch-East Indies Company’s monopoly of the lucrative nutmeg trade.

The colonial park at Habitation Bois Debout, Guadeloupe, where I am working.

The educated ‘Island French’ I met didn’t know about this, which was pretty amazing; we ‘Island English’ (Australians) celebrate France’s Colonial Era Explorers, such as La Perouse and Bougainville.

In the foothills of Mt. Souffier I was delighted to find a number of 18th century plantation homes and gardens, still in the hands of the original families, and still authentically colonial. This is rare in the tropical world where most of the old colonial-era families were driven out during ‘shifts’ following independence; or where most old homes have succumbed to the humidity, and gardens to the ravages of time.

In the non-tropical colonial world one can think of quite a few still delightfully-preserved 18th century outposts — Litchfieldin Connecticut, Hills End in Australia, Arrowsville in New Zealand — but in the tropical world it is rare.

It is really only in the old Spanish colonies — Antigua in Guatemala, in the Philippines and in Cuba, in particular — and not in the French or the Dutch ex-colonies, where some 18th century architecture of the occupiers survives.

LEFT: One of many magnificent municipal monuments that dot the highways of Guadeloupe.

Guadeloupe today is ultra-modern — great roads, airports, schools and hospitals — and ultra French (meals, manners and mademoiselles, in that order, still of supreme importance), but also delightfully laid back.

The 1,628 sq kilometer island has over 100 small, cozy “table d’hote” restaurants perched, variously, on beach promontories and inside old plantation estates. It also boasts a number of world-class horticultural gardens, dive sites and rum-drinks.

I visited a number of rhumeries and sugar plantations before heading home.

14th July 2011: Bastille Day in Paris
Until today I never knew that the old English expression “as camp as a Fireman’s Ball”, dates back to the French Revolution, when Paris was burning, and pretty heads were rolling, and the fireman of the day were all out copying with the mayhem.

All that bloodied brocade: no wonder they started to bat for the other side!

LEFT: Chantal Lognos, the charming Chatelaine of Habitation Bois Debout
RIGHT: French actress Hortense Franc at ‘Marly’, the Louvre, on Bastille Day.

My hosts, the coquettishly colonial-Cambodian Montenay family and a few arty friends are tonight dining at Café Marly, which runs along one side of the Cour Napoléon at the Louvre. French film-star Hortense Franc has joined us and is causing quite a stir amongst the whippet-thin and perfectly groomed waiters, Paris’ pride and joy.

• • •

Agnes Montenay’s Balinese-modern-French-romantic garden in the shadow of Chateau Courance.

The next day I visit Château de Courances outside Paris and the newly restored 17th century gardens.

One is easily seduced by the beauty of all things French, after the vulgarity of New Asia — I mean the relentless trendoidism of New Aisa and the lack of respect for traditional culture — so it is with a heavy heart that I crawl back into bed on a Singapore Airlines Airbus 380 — it’s a hard life for us New Asians — and head back East, to all the glitter and the gauche.

Stranger in Paradise: Facebook Protocol for Balinese Royalty

Pemecutan Royal Family stud-prince parks palace big car at the Mertasari Kite Festival, 7th August 2007.

“In Ubud even the ducks are royal” goes an old Balinese saying.

In recent months, there has been an outbreak of ‘republican’ sentiment in Bali. The essentially feudal culture, with the triwangsa aristocracy lording it over the land, is under threat from fringe Facebook factions (lead by arty, Trotskyite rebels, from outer Ubud), over- zealous elected officials (keen to usurp the royals’ role as temple custodians), and by the pressure of modernization.

The fact that many of Bali’s royal families have failed to maintain their stature as bastions of society and as defenders of the faith is contributing to their slow demise.

Many of today’s mega-palaces (Puri Agung) are virtually empty.

“Lording over the land” has its perks but also comes with a huge amount of responsibility.

Many royal ceremonies are becoming like Pawai Pembangunan (municipal parades).

The fun and fashion-loving Balinese Royals, in their enforced retirement from active service, have therefore hit Facebook like a force majeure. While the normally-shy English-speaking Hindu intellectuals have annexed the Facebook discussion ‘rooms’ to vent their anger against corruption and cultural prostitution and nepotism, the Balinese royals use Facebook as a picnic ground cum mutual admiration society.

The tattooed, black-shirted, urban youth — angry in fashion choices only — use Facebook with greater inventiveness: They trade D.J. tips and outlandish tales of ribald sex (camouflaged in low Balinese metaphor and Jakartan slang), whereas the ‘royal’ groups just trade banalities and post photos of expensive cars and watches.

Palace Pillow-talk I call it.

“Has Turah (Ratu Ngurah) had his Milo before bedtime, honey,” sort of thing or “Has her royal highness changed her brand of Botox?”

It is always super polite, to the point of being polished petite bourgeois, and super exclusive.

As Bali’s only expat conservative monarchist writer I take comfort in the fact that most of the ‘republicans’ don’t do Facebook, or there would be a cultural revolution!

Kris dancer at the Jero Lanang Tanjung ‘Barongfest’ at Pura Dalem Kepala Kepaon, 8th July 2011.

Typical Balinese family on way to temple festival at Turtle Island on Kuningan, 16th July 2011.

• • •

To get over my anxiety I go to Pura Luhur Uluwatu where the Jero Kuta Denpasar family are still royal custodians, and still run the four day festival with great élan.

One thinks that the nearby Pecatu villagers — former peanut farmers who seem to be getting more regal with every passing year — would not do such fantastic processions were the royals not at the temple to greet them.

The same could be said of the dalang puppet-masters and mask-dancers and gamelan troupes who perform at the temple every year. Would they be as enthusiastic if a member of the local village council met them, rather than a prince of the realm; a prince whose deified ancestors once ‘communed’ with the spirit of Pura Luhur.

“Bali would be more beautiful without the royals” one Balinese blogger posted recently.

“Really” I replied, “and who would be fashioning the gilt spirit effigies at the major cremations, Danni Minogue?”

“Who would bury the precious metals in the state temple shrines, to bring them to life? The fire brigade?”

Imagine Bali without Ubud royal cremations, palace weddings and whip tattoos on Denpasar’s stud-princes!

It’s time, perhaps, for the Balinese royals to pull up their socks and earn their keep — and not just sell off the temples’ rice fields and pander to fawners.

The temples of Sakenan and Uluwatu narrowly escaped ‘nationalization’ recently. I therefore here ask my readers to vote with their hearts; cuddle a Balinese royal today; make them feel loved and wanted.

2nd July 2011: To gorgeously royalist Solo for a King-worship of a special kind

My great, late guru Go Tik Swan was born Chinese but died Penembahan Hardjonagoro a Solo prince. Over his long and fruitful life he was rewarded by his dear friend the monarch, Pakububuwono XII, with various responsibilities, such as creating a palace museum and with titles (the last being an elevation to the nobility, so that his tomb can be considered a royal ‘kramat’).

Tonight, in his exquisite Javanese courtyard home — a museum of ancient statuary and noble pavilions — a royal from Solo palace is leading the Muslim prayers that commemorate the 1000th days since his death.

After the melodic prayer session the eight children of Hardjonagoro’s adopted son, Kanjeng Warno, file into the main courtyard carrying bird cages. They line up and then invite Go family members in the ceremonial releasing of eight white doves.

There is not a dry eye in the palace.


LEFT: The author with the Warnos; RIGHT: Kanjeng Warno & Mas Bas

LEFT: Kanjeng Warno’s daughters.

Kanjeng Warno’s daughter-in-law, Fatima

• • •

4th August 2011: Mertasari Beach park turns into a ‘colliseum’ for competing kite gangs.

“Bigger than Ben Hur” opined one of the suburbs bike-bound Ozzie grey nomads who haunt Mertasari.

Indeed, this morning’s procession and pageantry rival ancient Rome in verve and spectacle. Under wildly coloured kites riding high in the sky, wave after wave of flag-waving, gamelan-pounding youth groups stream down the normally somnolent Tanjung Esplanade.

Mbak Yuni’s Warung Pojok Plus, the only food stall on the route, is filled up with male peacocks and Denpasar ‘homies’, the likes of which have never been seen before.

It’s as if the outrageous humour and riotous behaviour which once accompanied the Ogoh-Ogoh demon effigies — on their parades the night before NYEPI (the Day of Silence) — has now been channeled into the kite festivals.

The Balinese lads and lassies have today deserted the tidy outfits that have become a feature of the Pawai Pembangunan (municipal parades) for a sultry gangster mol sarung kebaya (the girls) and the bohemian-farmer dope-fiend look (the boys).

Lots of expats and tourists join in the fun too — carrying kites and generally participating.

For once the whacky beach-wear of the foreigners seems appropriate!

The kite gangs names — such as ShangHong, Geng One-Unity and Bistek Bad — have a ring of anarchy about them.

The show rages for two days until the last posses of tattered kite remnants and tin pot gamelan struggle back up Jalan Tanjung and along the by-pass Ngurah Rai on their way home.

The kite festival highlights the Balinese talent for team play, their love of theatre, their perfect co-ordination and their ribald sense of street theatre.

Hooray! Horas!

Taman Lintang Kidul, Mertasari, 5th-7th August 2011


Jean-Francois Fichot
Born in Bourg En Bresse, France, 7 April 1948 
Died in Cuba, 30 June 2011

Jeweller extraordinaire, male peacock, brilliant garden artist, wardrobe mistress to the Goan Hippy Elite (1968--1972), Petitenget Beach Pioneer and journeyman (1984--2000), indecipherable conversationalist and Sean Connery lighting double , permanent court fixture at Made's Warung in the 1970s, at Linda Garland's in the 1980s, at Batujimbar in the 1990s, Carole Muller beard and global jeweller to the stars this century Jean-Francois was a warm and tender human being(once described by Stephen Little as "like an old, beloved dressing gown on the back of a door")and a wonderful dancer. His departure from the musical leaves a hole in the Ubud decorative arts and haute bohemian scenes.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Bungklang Bungkling: Layangan (Kites) by Wayan Juniartha

Taken from ‘Bungklang Bungkling’, ‘Layangan’, a column by I Wayan Juniartha, published in Bali Post, Sunday 10th July 2011. Translated by Putu Semiada.

Layangan (Kites)

The Balinese are playing kite recently.

“I’ve often got headache recently as everywhere I go, I’m stuck in traffic jam, because people carry kites on the streets,” says I Made Migren Bulenan (I Made Got Panic Easily).

“Every turn I take, I always find trucks loaded wit kites or boys in parades carrying kites. It usually takes 15 minutes for me to market but this morning it took more than one hour. I threw up due to my gastric problem,” I Made continues.

The others just laugh having heard I Made with his various sickness.

“We Balinese are so silly. When one tells about his sickness, others laugh funnily. That’s why I don’t like my Balinese fellows. No matter how serious is a problem, they always response with laugh,” comments I Ketut Cendekiawan Cendawan (I Ketut Amateur Intellectual).

I Ketut is a kind of serious person. He always analyzes every problem based on scientific theories or modern concepts.

“I don’t understand my Balinese fellows. A Balinese often blocks the roads every time he carries out an event, no matter how small it is; from a three-month baby ceremony to village fund raising (bazaar), not to mention kite parade. Isn’t it useless and inefficient? Doesn’t it waste your time, money, and business opportunities?”

The palm toddy members never take I Ketut’s comment too serious as long as palm toddy and peanuts available at the warung. And they actually don’t like arguing. They would think that no matter how often one criticizes a situation, it would never make a change. That’s why they just keep enjoying their palm toddy.

But this time is different. They react as I Ketut dares to give negative comments on kites. To the Balinese, there are ‘four things’ that they must stand for; palm toddy, Chinese card gambling, cockfights and kites.

“How dare you say like that, Tut,” interrupts I Made Tuak Labuh Gentuh (I Madé Palm Toddy For Ceremonies).

“Look, how many our Balinese fellows block the roads in a year. Have you ever seen a customary village (desa adat) block the roads for a long time?

“Even they don’t block the roads, there are still traffic jams. Who pass the roads when the roads are not blocked? There are motor bikes, cars, trucks and tourist buses.

Everyone passes the roads to pursuit money and ‘serious or important businesses’. Why don’t you just let your Balinese fellows sometimes ‘use’ the roads for unserious matters, hanging out, traditional and inefficient matters, or having fun.”

“If everything that a Balinese does must be something serious or modern, or efficient, Bali will become a ‘dry’ island; one might be rich but stressed. If the Balinese do not do cockfights, or Chinese card gambling, or play kites, or drink palm toddy, where do you think the Balinese, especially the ‘alienated’ ones from tourism can go to enjoy themselves?

“Let our Balinese fellows once in while ‘block’ the roads, just to make them feel that they still ‘own’ this island, in spite of investors, tourists, the rich Jakartans, high ranking officials, labours from other islands, who seem own the island.

A question has been asked by the Balinese: Does this island still belong to us?

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Bungklang Bungkling: Murid Baru (New Students) by Wayan Juniartha

Taken from ‘Bungklang Bungkling’, ‘Murid Baru’, a column by I Wayan Juniartha, published in Bali Post, Sunday 31st July 2011. Translated by Putu Semiada.

Murid Baru (New Students)

‘Hazing’ (pelonco) during school orientation has been banned but the parents still have to deal with things relating o this.

“The difference is just in what they do,” says I Ketut Nanang Teladan (I Ketut Champion Father).

During school orientation they wait for their children outside the schools, and calm down the children after hazing by seniors; and help their children find ‘unusual’ things demanded by their seniors, like some lizards’ eggs and mosquitoes.

“Well it is still okay, I think, as long as the seniors do not ask our children to look for juuk linglang (magic orange) or honest politicians. Both are something quite impossible to find.”

And no matter how busy the parents are, it has nothing to do with oranges or mosquitoes.

“What they do is to ‘approach’ certain parties to give their children —who have poor grades — an opportunity to be able to study at famous schools.”

They approach school administration staff, teachers, and school principals, even Heads of Local Education Departments, Mayor’s Administration Secretary (sekwilda), and even members of local Legislative Assembly.

“Parents may approach the football coach, head of music (gamelan) club, head of dancing club. They may ask for ‘fake’ certificates to complete documents for their children with poor grades. They cheat.”

“After that, parents will try to borrow money here and there as nothing is free. They have to pay for “fake certificates”, money for bribing the schools; they have to pay for admission fees, uniform, ‘voluntary’ donation, ‘compulsory donation’, or donation for ‘prestige’.

This situation makes the public schools ‘over-capacity’ – 50 students in one class. The teachers and headmasters pretend as if they can’t do anything about the situation, they say that they just do their job and that ‘lobbying’ from parents and other parties are unavoidable. As a matter of fact, they smile and feel happy: they will get extra money to save in the bank or buy new cars.

When the time comes, the famous public schools with lots of less brainy students have to retain their reputation as favourite schools. Hence the teachers will let their students cheat during the examination and the teachers themselves will cheat on school grades so that their students look smart.

“If this how they run the school, whit good examples that the new students can follow!”

In their minds, being intelligent and honest is a secondary consideration. The most is important thing is having money. One does not need to respect teachers. One can buy ‘respect’.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Bungklang Bungkling: Dupa (Incense) by Wayan Juniartha

Taken from ‘Bungklang Bungkling’, ‘Dupa’, a column by I Wayan Juniartha, published in Bali Post, Sunday 24th July 2011. Translated by Putu Semiada.

Dupa (Incense)

How can we prevent people from fighting each other?

“Just buy them two trucks of incense,” says I Ketut Bogbag.

Everyone seems to surprise to what happened to the Balinese in Bangli. They were fighting among them. How could they so cruel to their own Balinese fellows. The thing is that they respect the people from other islands or countries very much, but not to their own Balinese fellows. When one deal with foreigners, one becomes so polite and always ready to give a hand. When one asks for dispensation from the banjar (village council) on certain obligation (contribution, etc), the people will get angry. But when investors want to buy lands, tourists ask for ‘striptease, the people will be happy to do that.

“Watch your mouth, Tut. This is a serious problem. If thing like this happens, Bali will be getting worse. How can a serious problem can be solved using incenses,” says I Made Srayang-Sruyung (I Madé Crazy Idea).

“What do you think the solution then?”

“You know, even you bust ones who make troubles and send them to jail, here will be still problems. You bust the old, it will be the young who make trouble then.”

“If you make regulations, no village council will accept them as each village has already had their own regulations (awig-awig). Nobody will obey them. They have their own autonomy. That’s why when there is a riot, nobody will listen to the higher traditional institutions.

Traditional leaders find it difficult to make peace among them because the leaders themselves have their own vested interest. No leaders dare to be against their own village. The fact is that, nobody listen to what they say.

“Balinese like to fight among themselves. ‘The Balinese are friendly’ is just a slogan created by tourism industry to attract tourists.”

“The thing is that how to make hot-tempered people to friendly ones.”

“The solution is by using ‘empowered incenses’ (dupa pasopati). It is believed that they can create positive vibration and peaceful mind; all evil influences, black magic, voodoo will go away.”

“One incense can make a good vibration for 9 m2 area”; that what an advertising says, which means that it will need 2 – 3 trucks of incenses for one village.

If this thing works, it means that the Balinese are “great people”.