Friday, 13 July 2012

Stranger in Paradise: Bali’s Most Famous Tourism Icon Turns 50

1968 Photograph of Wija Wawo-Runtu at the Tandjung Sari by LIFE magazine photographer Co Remeister.

One can’t over-estimate the importance to Bali tourism of Sanur’s Tandjung Sari hotel, and of its founder Wija Wawo-Runtu. It was in the beach bar in front of the hotel in 1968 — whilst world leaders from the first Asia-Africa Conference did the Watusi, barefoot, on the sand — that Wawo-Runtu and a few Balinese mates drew up a road map for Bali’s future  Cultural Tourism.
Over the next five years many deals — including ones for the publication of Hans Hoefer’s seminal, cultural Guide to Bali; for the hand of Bianca Jagger,  and for the acquisition of East Timor — were all done at the hotel’s seaside bar.
Sir Warwick Purser came for his honeymoon and stayed on for three years as general manager. Legendary Australian painter and dirty diarist Donald Friend and tourism pioneer Christopher Carlisle arrived shortly after and together with Wawo-Runtu, started era of classy development that included the Bali Hyatt and Batujimbar villas, both still great today. I was working as gardener at Batujimbar when this column started in 1979. In the same year the Tandjung Sari’s Artist in residence Brent Hesselyn founded Jenggala Ceramics with Wawo-Runtu’s daughter Ade, and Dutch painter Ian van Wieringen  reached his first century of female conquests in the logbook Barman Bayu kept.

Tatie and Wija Wawo-Runtu, 1974

For the next decade the hotel was the tropical world’s equivalent to London’s Claridges — nearly every crowned head of Europe and Hollywood passed through the thatched roof joglo of the hotel’s lobby.         
For many of us Wawo-Runtu wannabes and early Bali-besotted beach babes — Idanna Pucci, Linda Garland and Hugo Jesseriati amongst us  — the Tanjung Sari was our home away from home and the kindly Pak Evert, the owner’s rep, our foster father.
The party for the opening of the hotel’s night club “Rumours — where the night need never end” was attended by Francis Coppola, the Duke and Duchess of Bedford and Gianni Versace.
Adrian Zecha always said that his Aman resorts were modeled on the family run Balinese homestay and the Tandjung Sari.
The gardens, the Balinese antique collection, Wawo-Runtu’s wife Tatie Wawo-Runtu, and the staff were all beautiful beyond belief.
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Wawo-Runtu died in 2001 but the hotel goes from strength to strength managed by Wija and Tatie’s daughter Wita and her hard-working husband Aviadi Purnomo. It still inspires: the beach bar, recently remodeled, is still THE place to be seen at lunch.
6 July 2012: The first family of Bali Tourism remembers the founding father and celebrates the Tandjung Sari’s 50th birthday
Tonight the island’s glitterati, clitterati (led by writer Diana Darling, author of the book “Tandjung Sari – A magical door to Bali”) and Nyonya Tatie Wawo-Runtu gather with her very extended very gracious family for a massive celebration. My date is Putu Suarsa, who started his life as a bon-vivant in 1966, aged 16, working as Wawo-Runtu’s man Friday (seconded by the much loved Mayor of Sanur, Ida Bagus Berata).
In a year when so many rabid expats and Facebook fanatics are putting the boot into Bali, it’s refreshing to attend a night of the best of cultural Bali with the beautiful people at Sanur’s most gorgeous Bali-style hotel.
Every now and then a family celebrates its own greatness — most recently the Windsors with one hell of a week of festivities in London — and it reminds one of the importance of longevity  and the joy that comes with great party planning.
Tonight was one such night. Tandjung Sari has always been the Queen of Sanur and 500 of Bali’s bright and most beautiful are gathered to celebrate her golden jubilee.
A giant ball of Marigolds — emblazoned with the numbers “50”, is floating in the beachside pool — greets the guests at the end of Memory Lane, Bali’s most famous garden path.
The dress code is gold and everyone has complied: Queen of the night Tatie Wawo-Runtu is wearing a fabulous Jean Francois Fichot gold baubles necklace and matching dress; Milo is in a golden shark proof vest; Putu Suarsa (alumnus 1966) a gold cravat teamed with an all black ensemble; Andre Puri  is in bright gold Prada  on purple ‘batik’ shirt. Even Diana Darling, has her hair up in a Duchess of Windsor chignon.

50 girls pendet (all staffs’ children)
JANGER dancer
But the stars of the evening are Tatie’s grand-daughters, all supermodel thin, and the dancers from Peliatan and Sanur lead by legendary prima-ballerina assoluta Gusti Ayu Raka, the first legong to dance at Versailles, in 1938.
After a sumptuous sit-down dinner, and with the Tandjung Sari jazz quartet simmering under the stars, Warwick Purser reminisces on the golden days of this golden lady, when Donald Friend would prop up the bar, literally and financially, and Warwick and Lisa Purser were managers.
“You know, the Duchess of Bedford stayed in her room for three days after she arrived,” Warwick enthuses, “surviving on mangoes delivered to her door. A claw would come out and grab a piece of fruit. After three days she rang me and said, “You know, I’ve been peering out my little window at the gardeners and they are all so beautiful — they must take off their shirts.”
And it was done.
Later Hans Hoefer and Cynthia (in gold Issey Miyake) joined in the praise for tonight’s amazing dancers — “Still great 50 years on — despite the REVLON PLUS maquillage,” commented Hans — and the moving video tribute all arranged by Tatie’s son-in-law Avi.

Mohamad Syofan leads his bride Irba Purnawati into the yellow pavilion for the SUNGKEMAN filial piety ritual, nDalem Hardjonagaran, Solo. See video:
8 July 2012: Ancient rituals in the most beautiful courtyard home in Java, nDalem Hardjonegaran
Today, Mas Sofyan the second son of my old Surakarta friend Kanjeng Harjo Soewarno is to  marry Roro Irba from Jogjakarta.
I arrive at 9 a.m. for a 10 a.m. start to find all ‘players’ already in position, already wrapped in the most beautiful Hardjonagoro batiks (Mas Warno's mentor, Hardjonagoro Go Tik Swan was, for 40 years, Surakarta’s most artistic batik maker).
The famed ISI gamelan is already in position including two SINDEN songstresses of perfect slender Solonese proportions. In a back courtyard I find four weapons-grade SRIMPI dancers rehearsing. My legs go weak at all the beauty — no culture does feminine refinement like the Central Javanese.

Srimpi dancer backstage

Star Sinden songster from ISI
At 10 15 a.m. three princesses from the Kraton Surakarta Hadiningrat palace arrive and the show starts: there are sungkeman (filial piety) ceremonies which date from Java's Hindu era, Muslim prayers and exquisite dance performances while a colonial era Javanese lunch is served by a battalion of busboys. 
After lunch I visit the town of Kudus 3 hours north on the coast and visit the amazing 16th century Islam-Majapahit tomb of a Muslim saint (See photos below). Watch this video for a more complete picture.
The hybrid Hindu-Islamic-Javanese cultures of Central Java are fascinating.