Thursday, 19 April 2012

STRANGER IN PARADISE: Bali’s Emerging Underclass

Jegog musician at Putu Suarsa’s house-warming ceremony , 17 March 2012. (photo by Pier Poretti).

Bali’s Emerging Underclass

I have a new occupation — rock spider.
I sit in the cyber-corner of the lobby of the small hotel that was once my home and watch guests file past, and then write about them
One day last month I was on at 6 a.m., minding my own business, when a tall athletic blond woman stormed past in a yoga outfit – distressed-jersey shorty-shorts and earthtone singlet (to highlight her muscular shoulders and arms). Three  petite Balinese trainees — Senin, Kemis and Jumat I call them — were mopping the lobby floor at the time and  were almost skittled as this amazon of the yoga mat ran for her S.U.V., nose pressed to her i-phone, checking on the confluence of the planets .    The festival is a complete mystery to me.
"What spirits are they serving there anyway?" one Canggu-based Diva of Debauchery asked me.
The festival sent this column daily ‘up-dates’ with photos of hippies floating in the Bali Purnati Art Centre pool. I remember doing laps between cigarettes in the Bukit Jati pool near Gianyar with Ubud-based guru  Rio Helmi  during his Djarum Super period and he could barely float. Is there a link between cosmic consciousness and buoyancy I am asking.
With so many Balinese now ending up in service — lip service, toe service, room service — will they lose their lustre as the world’s most gorgeous practicing Hindus. Will they become grumpy and disenchanted as mass tourism delivers more and more charm-challenged customers?
By-pass fashion: security guards from the Spirit Festival.
So far the fun-loving Balinese have managed to rise above the mean common denominator and continue with their occasions — their ceremonial life, which is everything to them.
Last month was the tenth full moon and I got to experience some wonderful events — country weddings, giant temple festivals, loopy house consecrations — as I continued documenting fashion trends on the by-pass (see above) as I was going about it.
I got to experience, first hand, day after day, the loveliness of the Balinese as they go about their gorgeous life-enriching courtyard ceremonies oblivious to the ticky-tack outside. (I mean have you seen what tourists are now wearing on the footpaths of Legian and Sanur and Ubud (grunge-monsters) as the Balinese flit around in various states of gorgeousness.
I mean who  is the underclass here?

The exquisite Majapahit Era architecture of the Pura Penambangan Badung Temple, Denpasar
which had its odalan on the 10th full moon, 6 April 2012.

(See video “Pemelaspasan Alit Candi Ibu”:
Amazingly, considering how great a spectacle are most Balinese ‘ceremonial’ events, tourist just don’t turn up anymore.
They go to malls to smell donut fat  and have their hair braided and then, maybe, go to a fake Balinese fire-dance or a Vegas-style  Cirque de Silly’. Real Balinese culture  is way too real for most of today’s tourist — they want Bali-lite, hygienically-packaged. The city fathers have co-operated by dressing up the by-pass like a cheap tart (not that there’s anything matter with cheap tarts) and filling in the sky with unbelievably cheesy billboards.
But the miracle is: the Balinese ceremonies get bigger and better!
Perhaps the true underclass are the tourists!
7 April 2012: My best friend’s son’s wedding, Sidakarya
For over 15 years I have watched my best friend — now a Balinese grand-dad — turn his backyard into a showcase of traditional Balinese architecture.
His village, Sidakarya, near Sanur, was once rural but is now neo-suburban; most village families long ago turned their brackish backyards into real estate or massage oil factories.

(See video “Wedding Sedang”:
Over the years, in the evenings, we have played Scrabble in a classical redbrick ‘meten’  pavilion with Dutch-colonial antique furniture. The rest of the compound has been for parking pit-bulls and Javanese workers, though not in the same room.
His wife and his first son’s family  have continued to live in out-dated living quarters roadside, opposite the banjar, where they have been wearing offerings, soldering walkie-talkies, and  watching soap operas.
No one has ever queried the huge amounts of money being poured into my friend’s aesthetic enterprise or questioned when they might get a chance to enjoy it, by actually living there.
An antique rice barn and kul-kul style water tower were added recently, and a three bedroom vaguely-Denpasar- Art-Deco bungalow took form down one flank of the land, behind some bushes.
Then, suddenly, it was announced that Eka, the youngest son, was to be married and that he would bring his bride to this new palace.
Soon, truckloads of white sand started arriving, to fill in the path.
A team of the sweetest Central Javanese started fashioning a simple but special ceremonial gate (my friend had done the ceremonial gate for the Interhash in Sidakarya n 1995) and a ‘bush kitchen’ sprung up next to the rice loft.
‘Carlo’-look dining chairs arrived.

Eka and Widi pre-wedding snap.
Invitations were printed with the evitable pre-wedding snaps (Eka and his bride-to-be in impossibly corny situations).
Suddenly, a week before the wedding the southern, roadside houses were deserted and everyone was up north, not having missed a beat.
I emerged one night from our Scrabble room  shortly thereafter to find 400 intimates parked in the pavilions  (it was 3 nights  before the nuptials and everyone thought they’d turn up as a sign of respect, for my friend  Putu Suarsa, who has been a devoted member of the village community, since return from self-exile after the communist insurrection (1965).
Oh what stories these old era Balinese lives make — with their romances and mysteries and tragedies.
There’s still enough treachery in the Balinese village to keep the pen wagging — priests selling holy relics; princesses going off with their drivers — but the generation of Balinese (today’s grand-dads) with one foot in a tinselly grave and the other firmly planted in a florid feudal past, make the best tabloid fodder.
Yes, today’s young Balinese' number one job is still being a Balinese — with all the ceremonial obligations which that entails — but it’s what he or she does with the rest of his life that pales compared to the swash buckling escapades of my friend Putu’s gang of merry men. They had Mick Jagger waxing lyrical  at the Tandjung Sari; today’s Balinese high-rollers have Paris Hilton at Kudeta. (Putu’s father was murdered during the “kudeta” (coup d’etat) so that venue’s name is a sign of this generation’s contempt, one might say, for the old).
But that’s another story.
Today it’s a all about Eka and his Tabanan bride receiving 1500 guests in the most gorgeous and lovingly fashioned wedding  venue ever. (See video “Wedding Sidakarya”:
• • •
I sit, transfixed at the beauty and muse: many Balinese of the Hippie Era are returning to Balinese basics in their choice of lifestyle, just as the tourism industry is reving up with an onslaught of the modernist, the moche and the make believe.
Bukit Dreamhome
Romantic Modernism
Design by P.T. Wijaya; Metal Artwork by Pintor Sirait