Stranger in Paradise: Bali Tourism at the Crossroads?
Bali Tourism at the Crossroads?
Brahman ladies carry offerings into the Payadnyan at the big Maligia Geria Pidada in Sidemen, East Bali
20 September 2015 There is an odd article on the front page of today’s Bali Post suggesting that 64% of Balinese now want a ‘re-assessment’ of tourism goals, with more emphasis on cultural tourism. Obviously the 64% are not aware of the governor’s call for ‘urban tourism’, nor have they seen the uncouth hordes — hell bent on cheap beads ‘n’ beer — flooding in on the budget airlines. Bit hard to reverse the trend: cultural tourism has become a culture of tourism. One can’t easily demolish the hundred or so culture-neutral budget hotels that have sprung up in the green belts along the highways and in the jam-packed back lanes of Legian-Seminyak.
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In a separate but related development, there are calls on social media for village chiefs to be more mindful of Hindu hotel-employees’ work schedules when demanding attendance at temple festivals. This is in response to recent recruitment ads in the papers placed by hotels and such which make ‘Non-Hindu’ a condition of employment. What tourists originally came to see in Bali — the Hindu rituals — has now become an impediment to urban tourism. Very odd. Meanwhile the Balinese are ramping up their spiritual tourism: many now enjoying regular Yatra pilgrimages to Hindu temples in Lombok and Java, to ease the pain of a life on the juice blender.
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Last month saw a heightening of interest, amongst the island’s Hindu and non-Hindu population, in festivals of a secular nature: The kite festivals, Sanur Village Festivals, the body music festival, the Ubud’s Yoga Hag (saggy tits and high colonics), to mention just a few. I document Balinese fashion trends, including the use of the weapons-grade breast broach, the cherry-red tulle trains from hell, and the general stampede for Ice Capades outfits. In Java, at the same time, the local womenfolk have been slowly weaned from their saucy sarung-kebaya Javanese traditional dress and into white potato-sack muu-muu daywear, or into Rio Carnival confectionery for trumped-up festival wear such as the Batik, Butterfly, and Blue Brand Margarine festivals now held in Java regularly. Strange times indeed.
Fake Festival fashion of the third kind. Scary
Amongst the plethora of fake festivals, with all their padding and pyrotechnics, there is sometimes a quite purely authentic Balinese ceremony; it is to these that I am drawn, like an old diehard moth to a pre-mass-tourism lantern. I pick through the glam-brams and Ksatria Kardashians to find the true heart of Bali, the tastefully adorned centrum. I was rewarded last month with a Baris Gede warrior-dance of unspeakable beauty at a $300,000 temple festival in Sidakarya, just outside Sanur — oh, the feigning of the warrior-dancers! It made your mother’s knees go weak — and a 300-soul strong Baligyapurification ritual in the Brahman stronghold of Sidemen in East Bali. Now read on:
1 September 2015: To the Denpasar Brahman palace of Tampakgangsul for the start of an old friend’s soul-purification rites I knew high priest Ida Pedanda Gede Karang through all his incarnations: as tourism pioneer, hotelier, bon vivant and, finally, as slightly dotty high priest. He had been my Balinese mum’s lover when they were teenagers; at that time he was known as Gus Pung. A few months ago I attended his magnificent 21-gun salute cremation: today is the start of the next stage in his soul’s progress towards deification.
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I arrive a bit late at the palace and see the tail end of a procession of 300 white umbrellas in the distance, heading west towards the setting sun. I race down the street, following the crowd, in my white pumps. I cross the Denpasar River bridge, and I suddenly find myself in the forecourt of Denpasar’s most magnificent Majapahit-era palace, Puri Agung Jero Kuta. More than 300 pengiring (followers) are sitting in neat rows on the courtyard’s grass floor around a banyan tree. In the court’s gamelan pavilion I see my friends, including the deceased’s widow Pedanda Isteri, former society beauty Ibu Kompiang, and her very extended and very good-looking family. A gamelan and an angklung alternate in filling the heady ceremonial air with gorgeous music.
I find a back court where Brahmans are downing pegs of Glenfiddich. I indulge in a heavily laced Irish coffee then move back to the ceremonial court now bustling with activity. The high priest, Ida Pedanda Timbul from Sanur, has ceased his Vedic incantations and is busy plucking leaves from the banyan tree with a long bamboo pole. These leaves are then distributed amongst the pengiring to be fashioned, later in the week, into spirit effigies — then cremated, and the ashes thrown into the sea. The procession home is one of the prettiest I have ever witnessed: the bleganjur marching band is animated and the rows of Gucci sunglasses are glistening as the ribbon of 300 umbrellas weaves back to the Brahman home. At the palace the pengiring placed the silver bowls of banyan leaves in rows in the ‘grandstand’ within the sacred enclosure — called payadnyan — that has been erected in thebanjar hall opposite the palace. The family’s head then leads me to the high-tea table where a bevy of beauties are scoffing packages ofNasi Yasa, ceremonial rice. I feel blessed.
Ngangget Don Bingin ceremony Geria Gde Karang, Tampakgangsul, Denpasar, 1 September 2015
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Puncak Karya ceremony, Geria Gde Karang, Tampakgangsul, Denpasar, 4 September 2015
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Nganyut, Penileman ceremony, Geria Gde Karang, Tampakgangsul, Denpasar, 5 September 2015
VALE Jean Lane Murniati 26 December 1948 – 25 August 2015
Jean was the nicest expat lady in Kuta, all these years. She came in the early 1970s and married dashing Ketut Sulendra and together with Ketut’s mother they founded Bali’s first juice bar, TITIMAS, in Denpasar, on the bridge in front of the Kusumasari market. It was ground zero hippy heaven and poste restante for all of us back then, when Denpasar was the only place to buy punnets of white hamburger bun, Blue Band margarine and make phone calls home. Jean went on to found Kubu Krishna and then T J.s in Poppies Lane and to make beautiful jewelry and to paint (she recently illustrated a book with actress/author Jennifer Claire). She was loved by all. Ketut left Jean — with a son, Wayan Krishna lane — and moved to Australia, but all her myriad friends stayed close: she was a permanent court fixture at expat events for almost 40 years. Her passing after a long battle with cancer brings great sorrow to the old timer community and her big Balinese family. She never wanted to trouble anyone with her health problems over the last year. Jean is survived by her son, two grand-daughters and a grandson.