Monday, 19 December 2011


Abe (Alberto Putra Migliavacca), Milo’s nephew, backstage at his tooth-filing.

I have known Milo my entire adult life.

We both came to Bali as drop-outs — he from the world of ‘haute-schmuttah’ in Milan; me from architecture school in Sydney — and we have both stayed on, for almost 40 years, as ‘New-Balinese’ converts.

He rules the West Coast rag-trade spiritualists and I am the East Coast’s answer to Billy Graham, with a dash of Eddie Izzard. We each have our own favourite priests and ecclesiastical foibles (weaknesses for pretty faces and strong thighs among them).

Milo has ended up with a circle of born-again Hindu angels, a mixed-bag of gorgeous nieces and nephews (courtesy of his brother Ezio, a Legian lothario) and a band of merry men (his Seminyak banjar and attendant priests).

I go to palace cremations and make videos.

Now read on…

Milo in the rainbow warrior boat during Dr. Mario Veglia’s ashes dispersement in Sanur Bay, on 27th November, 2011.

4th December 2011: An Italo-Balinese dynasty is born — Major Hindu Ceremony at Seminyak Home of Bali fashion Giant

Today all the players in Milo’s life in Bali to date are gathered to celebrate the consecration of the kemulan shrine in his new family house temple. The shrine will become the earthly abode of his father’s recently Hindu-ized soul.

Milo has for decades been a devout Hindu — often traveling to India with his beloved guru, Pedanda Gunung and a contingent from Seminyak, his adopted hometown.

By consecrating a ‘family’ house temple — which involves the Hindufication of his late fathers ashes (Balinese religion is nothing if not infinitely flexible) — Milo’s entire family will be officially entered into the the Hindu-Balinese faith, full-time.

I arrive to find a garden full of glitterati and cogniscenti and fashionista — veritably le tout Seminyak.

It is a solemn occasion and the celebrity high priest Pedanda Gede Made Gunung is wearing a special Siwa-ite moon crescent tiara and pearls.

Milo for his part has turned a gold- trimmed South Indian ‘sari’ into a sporty twin set. I am in vintage Milo, wearing my order of the Shocking Pink Heliconia. The house is draped with orchids (Milo’s passion) and eye-candy, in the form of Abby, Putri and Luna, Milo’s nephew and nieces, who are having their teeth filed tomorrow, once the glitter-dust has settled.

At the end of the rituals, Bali TV interviews Milo and the high priest as today is something of a novelty in Bali — the internment of a spirit of (‘Bhatara Kawit Italia’ as the high priest calls Milo’s father) into a family house temple.

I am so proud of Milo for taking such a big step — Balinizing his entire family, and his ancestors, for that matter, back to the days of Lucretia Borgia (an ancestor, on his Mama’s side). It is admirable also that Milo has kept together such a disparate bunch of expats and helped lead them towards a lighter reality.

Bravo Milo!

26th November 2011: Poet-Filmmaker-Painter John Darling dies in Perth after a long illness

‘Ketut’ John Darling was Bali’s most devoted poet-filmmaker. He produced a dozen gems in a career tragically cut short by illness. His ‘Lempad of Bali’, made with the late Lorne Blair in 1980, opened the world’s eyes to the wonders of the Balinese culture. ‘Ketut’ John covered the mammoth cremation of the last great Raja of Denpasar (Cokorda ‘Gambrong’ Pemecutan X), the aftermath of the first Bali Bomb, and the great Inter-Hash piss-up held in Nusa Dua in 1997, amongst other less sensational Bali subjects.

I posted the following obituary on Facebook today.

• • •

20th December 2011: Bali is my Homo

Last month bulldozers moved in on Bali’s only gay beach bar as young homosexualists were seen nailing themselves to the future Alila hotel’s timber screen façade samples in protest. The trendoid ‘New Asian’ architect of the future Alila Pooftah has already decreed the once hallowed pansy park a “no flower” zone. A few miles away Bali’s most celebrated Arja dance drag performer, Ni Liku, was swiveling her hips on the lap of warrior princes at a police brigadier’s wedding.

The Balinese, and the Indonesians for that matter, adore girly-boys, but the territorial prerogatives of developers take precedence over heritage homosexualist sites, it seems.

The thick pandanus-fringed shores of the beach between the new ‘W’ hotel and the Bali Oberoi — once the sacred noontime turf of nimble-footed sexual predators — is now almost devoid of pandanus bushes.

The paradox is: New Asian, Muscle-Mary resort architecture — that strain of the applied arts that has lots of brown things in straight lines, equally spaced — is now the favoured style of straight fashion-victims worldwide.

Perth-born, porn-film-star Widjie Weinberg — who now operates a time share business out of Seminyak — was last year roped in to star in “Cowboys in the Pandanus”, a homage to the heydays of the gay beach.

Amazingly a Singapore production company then made an ugly copy-cat production starring Janet De Neefe and Wham-Bham Tengkiu Nyoman entitled “Cowboys in Paradise”, which caused quite a stir.

• • •


Images from the PENILEMAN for Ida Ayu Kompiang Oka Sutarti and the

tooth-filing of her grandchildren, Puri Bongkasa, 24th, 25th November 2011

Photos by Made Wijaya and Tim Street-Porter

Bungklang Bungkling: Gengsi (Image) by Wayan Juniartha

Taken from ‘Bungklang Bungkling’, ‘Gengsi, a column by I Wayan Juniartha, published in Bali Post, Sunday 4th December 2011. Translated by Putu Semiada.

Gengsi (Image)

Everyone looks happy because the new year is coming soon. They are all thinking about what they will do during the new year’s eve.

They become more happy as they hear the news that they will be given iPad each.

“I hear that the legislative members will be given iPads to support their job. After that, it’s our turn,” says I Nyoman Desas Desus (I Nyoman Rumour).

“It doesn’t matter whether you can use it or not, the thing is that people will be amazed seeing you carrying IPad,” adds I Nyoman.

This is typical of a Balinese: No matter how stupid someone is, he wants others think that he is smart. No matter how poor he is, he will always try to look rich; even though one has nothing, one doesn’t seem to want to work hard.

That’s why probably most jobs available in Bali are done by people from other islands; from working in the rice field to selling rice.

Even some suckling pig food stalls now are run by people from other islands.

“There are lots of jobs you can do, but why do you just sit here and get drunk?” asks I Pekak Pocol Ongol-Ongol (I Pekak Nod Off) angrily.

“You know, you can be a flower vendor: the Balinese need tons of flowers for offerings everyday. Iisn’t that a good business opportunity?”

They might not listen to I Pekak. The Balinese (men) don’t seem to care about flowers (bunga) growing in their yards. They just interest in three kinds of things (bunga):

Firstly, one is more interested in beautiful girls (Bungan Rurung) he sees on the streets. When one sees such a girl, one wants to take her to bed and drop her back at the same place.

Secondly, one is interested in ‘bank interest’ (Bungan Bank), too. One deposits his money he gets from selling his ancestor’s land or other inheritance. By doing that, he doesn’t need to work hard and he can go through easy life. And for some men, they spend their money for girls (Bungan Rurung).

And the last one is that one is interested in borrowing money (Bunga Berbunga). There are lots of banks offering money to borrow for long term period with low interest. Today, it’s common that everyone buys something by credit; mobile phone, motor bike, car, rice, prostitute, anything one wants. One thinks that nobody will ask him where he gets the money from as long as he looks neat, wears expensive clothes, and drives a shiny car.

“Do you understand, Kak? Today is very different. Why should we bother ourselves selling flowers (bunga) here and there, while we can enjoy our life with the three things mentioned above?”

“Well, there is the fourth one; that is “Bunga Politik” (financial rewards obtained after getting a political position). It means that one will collect money from any sources possible to return money spent during the campaign. That’s why the legislative members ask for lots of ‘facilities’ for their own. One day, they might ask for underwear and condoms for free.

That’s how the situation is, when one wants too many things for ‘image’ (gengsi) without the motivation to work hard.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Travel Diaries: INDIA - BHUTAN

Published in Now! Jakarta, January 2012


Early morning, Kovalam Beach, Kerala: Fishing boats return.

Last month I travelled to Kovalam, in deep South India, in search of the perfect garden design moment.

I had lunch at the wildly popular new ‘Bait’ seafood restaurant, which over looks a fisherman’s bay teeming with despondent if perfectly-formed fishermen. The back waters there looked so dreamy that I commandeered a buggy from the delightful Taj Vivanta, the former Taj Green Cove, who operate the ‘Bait’ restaurant and made a short video (See which has now gone viral on You Tube.

Views of the dreamy backwater lagoon from “Bait” restaurant at Taj Vivanta, Kovalam, Kerala (garden design by Bali-based PT. Wijaya).

From Kovalam I travelled north to Keppel Beach — near Fort Bekal, in far North Kerala on the Karnataka (Mysore) — border where a team of garden magicians (lead by Made Sucipta and Wayan Legawa from Timpag, Tabanan, Bali) have created a sensational parkland and water palace at the Taj Bekal. The collection of Hindu-Balinese-Modern garden art, by Made Cangker of Keramas, Bali, is particularly note-worthy.

The gardens of the Taj Bekal (Planetarium Bar by Noleen of Grounds Kent Architects, Perth and Bali).

The backwaters of the Taj Bekal, North Kerala, soon to be the site of the All-Punjabi swan-boat gymkhana.

It is not easy to create great garden art in India: the British colonials having left a legacy of municipal potscapes; and no-one seems to have worked out how to keep water in the ponds since the Moguls left.

The savoring of garden design success is often fleeting: resort managers invariably come in and start pretty-littering with incongruous garden furniture and festively funny lighting.

Star gardener Rajan poses with his 2012 calendar month at Taj Bekal, North Kerala.

• • •

My last work-stop was Delhi in the far north — deliciously dry and cool (18 degrees) after steamy Kerala — where revisionistas are poised to move a marble pavilion into a major view corridor on my marquee project there.

The price for peace maybe eternal vigilance ………… but one is forced to conclude that there is a lack of respect for negative space across the sub-continent.

• • •

From Delhi I flew to Bhutan, for a second dose of the elixir of life they serve there; and also to buy Bhutanese brooches for Balinese brides (jewelry mule being my latest encore career).

I also wanted to make a short documentary on the Thimpu Centenary Farmer’s Market which I had only glimpsed during my last visit to Bhutan, in October 2011.

Offering ‘top knots’ on an altar in a farm-house chapel near Paro, Bhutan.

Visiting local markets is a great way to meet local characters who seem to converge in the meat section. There, much ribald humour can be heard over the body parts of dead animals. This has been the case in Balikpapan (Kalimantan), Kendari (Southeast Sulawesi, but with fish) and Tanjung Pinang, on Bintan Island off Singapore. Stories on all these markets have featured in this diary.

In Bhutan I stayed again at the enchanting Uma Paro.
This trip, a group of well-heeled communist Chinese had just flown in from Kathmandu in a private jet.

They strode into the dining room like the SS into that opening scene in the café in “Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom.”

“Today they want breakfast,” I warned the trembling Bhutanese staff, “Tomorrow they’ll take the lot.”

In fact the Chinese were very nice and only shouted a lot between courses.

The Bhutanese are refined and demur by comparison.

• • •

LEFT: Bhutanese beauty on the main stairs of the Thimpu Centenary Farmers market.
RIGHT: The author in Bhutanese costume outside his favourite farmhouse, near Paro, Bhutan.

The next morning on the way to Thimpu we stopped at a farm to watch my guide Tsheway engage a young heifer stud bull in ‘shadow boxing (an old trick to amuse the tourist performed with curled D tongue, posturing vocal dynamics and we happened upon an exquisite series of temple rooms inside the farmhouse. The lady farmer-priest told us that the deity there was pre-Buddhist (Bonism) era and was very powerful. So many of the power objects (water buffalo horns) above doors, and the rituals, she and Tsheway described were like those found amongst Indonesia’s Batak and Toraja people today.

I also discovered stashes of very graphic woven woolen blankets from Eastern Bhutan which took my fancy.

The exquisitely-designed Thimpu market straddles the Thimpu River which runs along the west side of the nation’s capitol. The two storied main section sits on the eastern bank while the handicrafts and Bangladeshi apparel sections are reached by an ancient roofed, pedestrian bridge, which has views to snow capped peaks in the distance.

On the handsome granite steps of the bridge’s eastern entrance the prettiest girls in Bhutan buy beef and mustard seed leaf momos (Tibetan dumplings) from mausoleum vendors with a basic chili sauce. One can sit here and watch the entire youth population of the magic kingdom go by.

• • •

LEFT: Head brooch-seller at the Thimpu markets, Bhutan.
RIGHT: Colourful character sells momos on the steps of the Thimpu market bridge.

Inside the market I roamed about searching for antique Bhutanese brooches and textiles for the interior for an architecture of ASEAN project I am involved in on Bintan Island, near Singapore. Many Bhutanese textiles seem the source for many of the textile styles of Southeast Asia.

I had a field day amongst all the temple paraphernalia and ethnic artifacts for sale: the stall keepers the very picture of poise and politeness.

Back in the main market — a masterpiece of traditional-modern architecture, bathed in natural light — I discovered row after neat row of glistering mountain vegetables and lovely local ladies, who all spoke good English, cheekily. They were all dressed in colorful versions of Bhutanese dress.

After the markets I had lunch with H.E. Benjie Dorji the former Minister for the Environment and his glamorous cousin Dashi Kundum Dorji, the Thimpu Valley’s answer to Helena Bonham-Carter. Both had been involved in Mala Singh’s recent book on the King of Bhutan’s photographs. Both were extremely urbane, amusing and sophisticated, like many of my Delhi friends, but fresher. They introduced me to the architect of the brand new 900 student Royal College of Thimpu who took me on a tour after lunch.

Bhutanese schools and universities are all brilliantly designed: complexes of traditional buildings arranged in large parklands. This new college sits in a pine forest just above Thimpu and has extraordinary views from every level.

The students were all in traditional dress and had ultra-modern hairstyles: the Justin Bieber-Pscycho-Korean crooner look for men; the girls had more Hollywood glamour coifs.

Royal Thimpu College students sporting popular “Korean-crooner” hairdo.

One holds great faith in a country with such well-designed and funded education institutions and such saucy society ladies.