Last month, I invited a few friends from around the world to help celebrate my 60th birthday to enjoy the delights of Bali and Central Java and I’ll never do it again.
My life became a living hell of heavily-sedated primadonnas, testy homosexualists and wonky S.I.M cards.
I imported a masseur from Bandung, called Arjuna, for the duration of the festivities: you’d think that they’d be happy! No way: a fight broke out over exchange rates and baby oil.
A French guest took one look at an emping and developed gout and had to be shuttled about in a palanquin for a week.
Two Australian dry drunks glared at each other across my Sanur house courtyard for a week; hostilities had broken out on the Garuda flight when one of the seniors had patted the bottoms of an in-flight air hostess only to discover that it was a shapely in-flight immigration officer.
The moral is: go to the Gili Isles or Lake Toba for big birthdays and don’t tell your friends.
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The week started peacefully at the gorgeous Taman Bebek Hotel where I settled two German girlfriends at the heavenly Ayung River valley-side Presidential Suite.
One fell in love with a trainee from the hotel academy who was promptly pressed into service as a fashion model for her jewellery line.
The other — an old froggy oleg dancer from the days of Gung Kak’s “Tease Them and Squeeze Them” Legong School in Peliatan — pulled all stops out and commissioned a performance of the rare all-male Legong Nandir in the forecourt of the Puri Mandala Peliatan.
A tight courtyard space with an ornate Bali gate is the only way to watch Balinese dance and the forecourt of Puri Kaleran Peliatan — Bali’s premier Legong ‘factory’ for the last 70 years — is the most romantic on the island.
Our host, legendary dancer Gung Bagus, put on a show that blew the tits of all the gathered budgerigahs, including the debut of his pupil Agung Rahma of Kapal in a Nureyev — quality interpretation of I Mario’s classic Kebyar Duduk dance. The virile Legong did not disappoint (catch it if you can).
The torch that the great Balinese dancer I Mario once passed to Gung Bagus was tonight passed to Agung Rahma.
Sydney artist Peter Kingston A.M. did sketches throughout the evening.
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The next night I dragged the culture-unconscious group to the odalan at Pura Panembahan Badung (Tambang Badung) on Sugian Jawaholiday to watch the Pemecutan royals pray, and dance, and hold court. Our host, Cokorda Pemecutan XI, loves nothing more than a courtyard full of devout Hindus, Muslims and well-dressed tourists and he treated my group royally, even securing the hand phone number of a lithe Swiss miss.
Tambang Badung Temple is the seat of the ancient Javanese god Dalem Majapahit and much of the temple’s architecture is Hindu-Javanese in flavour and richly adorned. Before the evening’s rites I took my group to the nearby Pura Maospahit a 14th century temple designed by an East Javanese architect.
Sugihan Bali holy day in Bali is only for Balinese descended from the Majapahit exodus in the 15th century, when Islam was adopted by the courts of Java. See my coming book Majapahit Style for details.
The Cokorda’s cousin is head of Bali’s Hindu-Muslim Friendship Society and the town has always been a bastion of good relations between the two communities.
16th March 2013: To Johor, Malaysia for the wedding of my friend, Fairuz Salleh with Diyana Othman
Over the years, my Singapore office manager has built a Balinese resort style retreat in Kulai, Johor constructed from bits and pieces he’d found roadside in consumer-conscious Singapore. The result is magnificent. Today all the ‘Mak Cik’ aunties in florescent-hued caftans and heavily-decorated headdress (“Like a camel’s saddles,” commented one Islamic fashion purist) are parading around the pool court like a Mrs Tehran contest.
Fairuz and his bride, Diyana, a former Singapore Airlines girl, are dressed in white satin — Malay prince and princess for a day.
I meet Media-Corp. (Channel 7) newscaster Daud Yusof who looks Chinese but is actually from Manado, in Indonesia, home of handsome tele-casters. He has never met another Manadonese in Singapore, he says.
We talk of the incredible natural beauty of the Tondano Lake District where he was born, and the extraordinary diving at Bunaken Island off the coast. Silk Air now flies non-stop to Manado from Singapore.
(See Video: http://youtu.be/LFHHt5rSwzA)
The rural hinterland of Malaysia is strung with idyllic settlements which are like clusters of tiny plantation houses. Oil palm estates abound as do Kedai Makan (roadside cafes) selling the best of Malaysias-Indian-Sumatran-Chinese cuisine.
It’s rare to see an underfed Malaysian.
22 March 2013: To Geria Kepaon near Kuta for my 60th Birthday
In 1973 I moved in on a poor unsuspecting Brahman family in Kepaon and ate all their food for a six year stretch. Now I’m back, with 30 friends, demanding suckling pig.
My Balinese family have arranged an OTON birthday ceremony and a high priest to expel karmic toxins and such. It’s been years since I had a spiritual tune-up and I feel like Julia Roberts at a Ketut Liyer (EAT PAY LEAVE) healing session.
My foreign guests are presented to my 90 year-old Balinese Mum, Biang Agung, who has been wheeled out for the occasion.
There is light tingklik (gender) music and light rain.
I feel reborn and ready to drag the critical mass of megalomaniacs to Central Java for five days of more festivities!
God give me strength.