Ni Made Jessica Keatinge, at home, on the day of her tooth-filing 3 June 2015
When I first lived in Indonesia in Surabaya, East Java, in 1973, people of mixed blood were called Indo. During the colonial era it was a derogatory expression: there was discrimination against, and even special schools for, the Indos. I remember my Javanese friend taking me to see some indo girls in East Surabaya, and being struck by their hazel-eyed, long-limbed, honey-coloured beauty. They were popular as models for advertising skin-whitening productions. Back then, in the 1970s, they were regarded as great exotic beauties.Indos seemed to live in European-style houses and behave more like Dutch people. Fast forward 40 years and the word Indo now means Indonesian and any stigma attached to being mixed-blood has totally disappeared. The great Buckminster Fuller’s prediction that by the year 2050 everyone on the planet would be tea-coloured is not far wrong, certainly not in Bali, where the expat community is very mixed. Jakarta wags use expressions such as Indokrupuk Bali-German or Indokrupuk Bali-Aussie to describe these kids. Originally Indokrupukwas a derogatory term for an ugly Indo (rare, somehow, as the Dutch and Javanese genes seemed to be well-matched for mixing), but is now just amusing, and bantered around high-society circles. Before the advent of surfing, and bronzed beach boys, it was mostly the Balinese aristocracy who took European wives — girls with whom they had been studying abroad. The children of these unions tended to become doctors or TV stars, to marry Europeans themselves, and then to disappear. In the late 1970s, Aussie girls in particular started falling in love with Kuta beach stud-muffins and ‘Love as long as your visa lasts’ sometimes became a life of drudgery in a Perth suburb. There were, of course, many exceptions! But these girls tended to take their exotic hubbies home. In the 1980s there emerged, in Ubud, a new breed of Balinese husband-hunter, the Tjokaholics. These tended to be well-educated girls from good families — Tokyo Japanese and East Coast Americans for the most part — who loved the Balinese culture and wanted to marry into Balinese palaces. These unions produced some of the most talented classical Balinese dancers (such as Peliatan), chiropractors (such as Puri Saren, Ubud), and entrepreneurs (such as Geria Tapak Gangsul, Denpasar). Meanwhile, the villa people arrived in Canggu in the 21st century with children as backup, and the expat playing-field was levelled: 50%Indokrupuk, 50% paleface, where it remains, pretty much, today.
3 June 2015: A special tooth-filing in Sanur 42 years ago I sailed to Bali on a 35-foot ketch with Sydney mate, Mark Keatinge. I stayed; he went back to Byron Bay, to breed. In 1989 he returned, took a lovely local Sanur bride, and had two more daughters. Today is their tooth-filing!!
Mark’s wife, Ketut, is a leader in the community, so the house courtyards are packed. Mark was awarded an honour — the Order of Australia Medal — from the Australian Government for his humanitarian assistance during the weeks after the first Bali Bomb. Today, their girls look like Bollywood goddesses! Everyone is beaming with joy. It’s fantastic the way the Balinese just fold us into their society. (see photo below).
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14 June 2015: To Wantilan Lama, Batu Jimbar, Sanur: Soft launch of an important book: Pray, Magic, Heal about the real Ketut Liyer, by David Stuart-Fox
Photo above: (standing, left to right) Diana Darling, Frank Morgan (who generously hosted the event), the Stranger, Desak Suarti, Kadek Krishna Adidharma, Sarita Newson, Graeme MacRae (anthropologist from New Zealand), Rucina Ballinger, Mrs. David Stuart-Fox, Janet de Neefe, Leonard Lueras; (seated) Rio Helmi, David Stuart-Fox, Garrett Kam (Photo by Rucina Ballinger).
35 years before Ketut Liyer of Ubud became famous as Elizabeth Gilbert’s faith healer, writer David Stuart-Fox started a friendship with him that led to this book. Stuart-Fox is one of a small band of scholars who spent time in Bali in the 1970s; he has come back regularly ever since. His voice in this excellent illustrated book (with 48 of Liyer’s ‘magic drawings’) has never been stronger and purer.
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Friday, 12 June 2015: A dinner at the Consul-General’s Residence for Allaster Cox, First Assistant Secretary South-East Asia Maritime Division, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Haters and whingers of Australia get real: your government does a great job in Asia. The Australian Consulate-General in Bali hosts many elegant events. It puts together leaders from the Balinese and the Australian expat community. Recently it hosted an event for the Emerging Writers Festival, and another evening for business people, at which Julie Bishop gave a rousing speech. One for Australian and Balinese artists is coming up. Tonight, Bali is represented by the assistant GM of Bali Hai Cruises and Ida Bagus Krisna of the Segara Beach Village family (his grandparents were pioneers in Bali tourism; his father now heads Bali’s Hotel and Restaurant Association). For four decades I have worked as gardener for nearly all the Australian ambassadors; over this time I have been impressed by the intelligence, compassion, and deep understanding of Indonesian customs and character our ambassadors and visiting ministers have shown. Australia is blessed to have had, since independence in 1901, good governance and limited corruption — which you can’t say about many other countries around here — or, indeed, anywhere. Seeing up-close the amazing contribution Australia often makes to Indonesia — in academic research, in the arts, in aid, in disaster relief — I have come to feel that the way so many Australians perpetually have the boot into whomever our PM or Foreign Minister may be is disloyal. All the embassy and consul staffs I spoke to tonight, who have all spent considerable time abroad, agree. Equally, when things go sour between the two countries as they now are, I find it unforgiveable that the Australian press beats it up with incendiary reporting. The Indonesia-bashing and-hating on social media lately are alarming. On the Indonesian side, there has been a lot of Australia-bashing — our record with our indigenous Australians and refugees is brought up time and again, as is our Big Brother posturing. But these articles come from the gutter press and don’t represent the feeling of the Indonesian people (certainly not the Balinese) for whom Australia is number one holiday and higher-education destination. The Balinese understand our underbelly — they’ve had 40 years to get used to it. They even find our boganism amusing, and can relate to it. We’re all island folk together
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Alaya Kuta Hotel Opens: Last month I completed a landscape design for this budget boutique hotel ― it had to be cheap and cheerful. My office did the interior design for the restaurant as well. I decided to cover the four-storey blank wall, poolside, with a lamak (woven Balinese offering) mosaic pattern, but it looked too busy and ‘Hindu’ (the owners are Christian), so I secretly developed a pattern based on a Barong’s vest, enlarged it 100 times, and called it ‘Lady Di’. They loved it! Now it’s the talk of the town. Ha! (Photo courtesy of Gabriel Ulung Wicaksono)
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Full coral Kul Kul at Batu Jimbar villas designed by Geoffrey Bawa and built by Wayan Cekog and A.A. Arum from Intaran Sanur in 1970
Cokorda Pemecutan XI, Raja Denpasar (Centre), his wife and palace priest Pedanda Telabah celebrate his oton Balinese birthday in the palace
The ‘Constable’ snap of the Kebun Raya Bogor’s main lake
Last month I wrote in this column of the untimely death of Jakarta’s great designer Jaya Ibrahim. This month I travelled to Cipicong, Bogor, for his 40 days ceremony and a wake of sorts. Arranging a trip to Cipicong for a Saturday evening event requires a bit of planning: I had a ticket for a 15:00-Cengkareng-arrival (we were invited for 6pm). There was no way my Jakarta friends wanted to be on the Jagorawi highway after four, so I took an earlier flight and decided once landed in Bogor, to kill time by visiting the Kebun Raya Bogor (Bogor Botanical Gardens). Denpasar-Jakarta flights are all jam-packed these days, so I had to upgrade to business class to get on the 11:50 flight.
On the way to the airport I made a startling discovery: some disfiguring brickwork. Below was my response, posted in Facebook: “Breaking news: Authorities brick off view to obscene natural planting roundabout at airport (at start of the new elevated highway over Benoa Bay). Possibly the last piece of virgin land in South Bali, the large grassy island has long been an embarrassment to municipal officials — a green belt devoid of budget hotel, Ramayana monument or fibreglass frog waste bins. Soon balihos (billboards) will obliterate the nasty views to sea and domestic tourists will be able to proceed to Joger and Beachwalk without unseemly distraction.”
Once on board I found a host of Jakarta businessmen in batik shirts scraping and bowing to a countryman in 6E. I did not recognize the man from the papers. Could this be the legendary businessman Tommy Winata, I wondered. “Thank you for coming,” everyone kept saying to him. I fantasized that this was the board of directors of the Benoa Bay reclamation project! (my Trotskyite tendencies emerge once surrounded by batik shirts in Executive Class). “Who is that?” I asked a hostie. “The CEO of Garuda,” she replied. Then there was an odd announcement that a passenger had not turned up and that there would be a 20-minute delay while they reconfigured the ‘load list’. “But I can’t stand 20 more minutes of this Addie M.S. Dutch pensioner music,” I screamed and the CEO laughed. I hope my ploy works, and that the ghastly jingoistic cabin music is finally retired.
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The Istana Bogor as seen from Kebun Raya
Arriving in Jakarta I found that the traffic was mercifully light — we were at the Kebun Raya in no time. I found the gardens rather unkempt and full of picnickers (nice, but in Indonesia picnickers leave their bodyweight in plastic, so the gardens were messy). The sky was grey, the giant Victoria regia water lilies looked unhappy (kiddies now lob ‘Aqua’ bottles onto the broad leaves) and the tempayanpots in the Istana Bogor gardens broken. No mouse deer roamed.
Lady Raffles memorial and Saturday picnickers
Rather half-heartedly, I took a few snaps that caused quite a stir on Facebook. ‘Like a Constable’ venerable photographer Tim Street-Porter commented on Facebook from LA (see photo this page). I always visit the Lady Raffles Memorial rotunda and lay a flower; her husband, Sir Stamford, is my all-time hero. Sadly, there is now rather a lot of lime green orientational signage surrounding the rotunda, but it’s still handsome and atmospheric. The gardens remain wonderful. My advice? Only go there during the week. And have a helicopter on hand. We spent the next four hours circling Batutulis Train-Station-of-the-Damned in the most horrific bumper-to-bumper packed bemo traffic, thanks to reliance on GPS! NEVER RELY ON GPS in Indonesia. In Jakarta, always insist that one’s host sends a luxury car to the airport.
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Asmoro Damais Arifin and friend at Jaya Ibrahim’s Cipicong house
Finally at 8:30 pm I reach Jaya’s amazing Cipicong estate, announced by candlelit lanterns rising into the sky across the rice fields. It is a beautiful beautiful night at the Cipicong Villa. I find Jaya’s partner, John sending up the amber lanterns — the palace itself is glowing amber in the dark.
After seven hours on the road my head is spinning, and the house – filled to the gills with beautiful people in white — seems like a labyrinth at a gay sauna (whatever that is), a sort of hall of mirrors where one keeps getting lost, and then bumps into the same queen. Nephews give great speeches, people cry. Agung, my assistant, sees Jaya smiling in the kitchen in a Javanese version of Balinese dress. Agung sees dead people and green goddesses. The local villagers and their grandchildren frolic in the vast kitchen.
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Sumatra Architecture Tour
Last month I promised to do a special feature on visiting Sumatra’s architecturally rich areas. I’ll start this month with West Sumatra (ran out of space for photos last month) and Lake Toba. I have just started a Facebook page too: Traditional Architecture of Sumatra (photos, videos, essays).
View to Lake Maninjau near Bukittinggi, West Sumatra
Trip One (2 days): West Sumatra Fly into Padang and drive towards Bukitinggi. Bukittinggi, Payakumbuh, Pagaruyung, and Batusangkar are all worth seeing. Those are the best areas for Minangkabau architecture. Another place to visit is Pandai Sikek (=Sikat), a small town on the road between Padang Panjang and Bukittinggi. It is best known for its songket weaving, but it is also the place where the best Minangkabau house carvings panels are made.
Rumah Gadang Minangkabau houses in Solok, West Sumatra
Return to Padang via Solok which has a lot of interesting rumah gadang traditional houses and, halfway between Solok and Padang at Jorong Kayu Jao, an exceptional early 15th century timber mosque.
Along the road from Tongging to Silalahi, Lake Toba, North Sumatra
Trip Two: Lake Toba, North Sumatra (5 days) Fly into Medan. Rent an Innova or Avanza car and driver to pick you up at airport and drive (3 hours) to Tongging via the heritage Batak Karo village of Dokan (5 min. detour) on the crater lake’s edge. Stay Toba lakeside at Tongging (losmen).
View of Lake Toba from outside Silalahi
Day 2: Drive to Silalahi Village after breakfast; very scenic lakeside road, then up the caldera edge (good road) and along excellent road south and down again to Samosir Island from Tele (there is a causeway). Best to Google and plan itinerary, as there are waterfalls, hot springs, and culture shows (good), and so to explore the island and its amazing architecture over two days. There are some good Batak house bungalow hotels.
Silalahi Village, Lake Toba
Day 4: Take ferry from Tuk Tuk to Prapat and visit museum at Balige and a few of the villages nearby. There’s great traditional architecture in every direction! Fly Susi Air from Silangit near Balige (15:00 hours) back to Medan, and connect on to Jakarta.
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Detail of Batak Toba house front on Samosir Island
Traditional Batak great house near Manurung, Porsea, Lake Toba
Alternatively, one could combine both trips by driving or by taking bus from Bukittinggi to Prapat on Lake Toba (about 17 hours); very scenic but exhausting. Take ferry across to Tuk Tuk (tourist trip) on Samosir Island.
Batak Tobak Samosir house
Be warned: Hotel accommodation in any category is basic at best in the Lake Toba area. Tongging losmen and Samosir Island bungalows/losmen are fine.In Bukittinggi and Padang there are some decent hotels.
Statues of Minangkabau citizens in front of the Adityawarman Museum, Padang
Invited to a wedding in Solok, West Sumatra last month, I took the opportunity to explore the incredible scenery and the wealth of traditional architecture — both ancient timber mosques and rumah gadang traditional houses — in the highland country near Bukittinggi. I started on my first afternoon in Padang, the regional capital, with a visit to the Adityawarman Museum, itself a giant rumah gadang, to see their extensive collection of textiles and gilt headdresses. Included in the collection are photographs from the early 20th century of ceremonial groups and old architecture. The collection of artefacts from West Sumatra’s brief Hindu era is interesting too: it includes the excellent replica of the famous 14th century ‘Bhairawa’ statue of the great ruler Adityawarman, cousin of Jayanegara, King of Majapahit (1309-1320), sadly without any explanatory plaque or museum-card. This ruler went on to found Hindu kingdoms in Bukittinggi and Melayu, and to take control of the gold trade.
Adityawarman Museum, Padang.
In front of the museum, a Minang songbird was recording a video in the pretty garden — this was a special treat, and a reminder of the place pretty women have in Minang’s matriarchal culture (men just press the record button, it seems).
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I stayed the first night at the perfectly adequate Mercure Padang near the Indian Ocean and rose early the next morning to visit old town nearby. Early morning, in old town, all the characters are out: drinking coffee in the ancient warung and chewing the cud in the Chinese temple court. Sadly, much of the colonial architecture was tragically destroyed in the 2009 earthquake — in both the Chinese and Indian Arab herb-vendor districts. A 19th century mosque in the Hyderabadi style survives as the heart of the Arab perfume and fanatics district. “Don’t take my photo, I’ll end up in hell,” one handsome young Lawrence of Arabia style coffee-vendor told me.
The late 19th century Hydrabadi mosque in old town, Padang
Sweet-spice vendor of Pakistani descent in front of the Hydrabadi mosque
Lawrence of Arabia-look scent-vendor, Padang
In the 19th century, the Chinese community built a klenteng (sadly rather over-restored after the earthquake). The people there are much friendlier. Serious colonial architectural voyeurs and cultural historians could spend hours inspecting old town, but I wanted to get to the morning market to get a bit of Minang colour.
Some colonial era gems in Padang old town
I got more than I bargained for. Minang ladies deck themselves out in every colour under the sun. Mix that with the vibrant colours of the mountain vegetables and the menfolk in kampong cowboy outfits — all seaside, in a vast labyrinth of tiny stalls — and you have the picture. There are some amazing traditional wedding baskets to souvenir. After the hectic market visit, I asked my guide to take me to Teluk Bayur south of Padang to see the superb coastal scenery. From nearby Bungus port, boats leave for the fascinating Mentawai islands, 150 kilometres off the coast, now a popular surfing destination.
From Teluk Bayur we headed to Solok — a 90-minute drive through tea plantations and bamboo forests — stopping briefly half-way to inspect the early 15th century timber mosque, Mesjid Tuo Kayu Jao at Jorong Kayu Jao, Nagari Batang Barus, Gunung Talang. One finds timber mosques in the ancient Austronesian (read pre-Hindu) style from Aceh to Palembang — the hills above Padang are home to a few excellent examples. Nearly all are on natural springs or river meanders, and provide delightful communal bathrooms for the villagers.
The early 15th century Mesjid Tuo timber mosque at Kayu Jao at Jorong Kayu Jao halfway from Padang to Solok, just off the main road
This one is one of the oldest (1404) and the most striking — black ijuk fibre roof, simply carved dark brown timber walls, exquisitely sited in a shallow valley on a fierce mountain stream. I had a bath in the mosque’s bath-house and we headed on. Solok was a surprise: hundreds of pretty rumah gadang houses can be seen from the road (they signify that the inhabitants are original Solok folk).
Lake Singkarak, north of Solok, West Sumatera, 7 June 2015.
I stayed at the Caredek losmen which was clean: air-conditioned, but lacking a restaurant. Breakfast was indifferent and served in a small room off the car park. My room, the losmen’s largest, was noisy, but I was so happy to be close to hundreds of rumah gadang, and a handful of hot springs and mountain lakes.
Akad nikah wedding ceremony of Etwin Juanda and Vighea Oktrisna, Solok, 5 June 2015
Official wedding photo
Power-aunties tuck into the rendang curry, groom’s feast, 8 June 2015
Wedding feast, 8 June 2015 at the groom’s house
Putri Minang beauty at the groom’s feast
The wedding was stretched over four days, so I had ample time to explore the countryside and fill up on rendang padang, the local beef curry that is the centrepiece of every Minang gathering. The first feast was at Vighea Oktrisna, the bride’s house. After Friday prayers the akad nikah ceremony lasted five minutes, but the lunch that followed lasted an hour.
Your columnist at the groom’s father’s house, fighting rendang fatigue
After lunch we kidnapped the groom and sped off to the hot springs at Talang, which were deserted, and we got to broil our sore bits in private. Sadly, the springs have had a municipal makeover, like nearly all hot springs in Indonesia, but one can still admire the mountain scenery from the concrete corral.
Day two I spent searching for the prettiest rumah gadang in Solok (next month in this column I‘m doing a piece on Sumatran architecture, so I’ll publish some of the winners). It’s a pretty laid-back lifestyle for the women in the Minang hinterland, I discovered, spent between long weekends cooking rendang and whipping up fancy outfits for wedding ceremonies. The menfolk are sent out to the rice fields that form a narrow band between Solok the market-town and the hills that define the valley.
Kampung cowboys convey their canines to the bush pig hunt, outside Solok, Sunday 7 June 2015
Unlike the feisty Bataks further north, the Minang men don’t drink, but they do have an exotic hobby: bush pig hunting, for which they raise packs of doting canines. On Wednesdays and Sundays the dogs can be seen along the shores of the lakes district being ferried to and fro on motorbikes (see photo above).
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Masjid Asasi, Sigando Village
Masjid Lubuk Bauk, Batu Sangkar
On my second last day in lovely Minangkabau, I attended the Lake Maninjau Festival at Lake Maninjau, which is a two-hour drive from Solok. On the way we visited two old timber mosques — the 15th century Masjid Asasi Nagari Gunung in Sigando district in Padang Panjang and the early 19th century Masjid Lubuk Bauk in Lubuk Bawah — and stopped for lunch halfway at the famous Satay Mak Syukur at Padang Panjang, a satay hall which serves beef satay with lontong in a vaguely middle eastern sauce.
The drive to the end of Lake Maninjau was stunning, but the festival was a bit of a dud: some Quran reading, canoe racing, and fishing contests.
My last day was spent at my friend’s house, watching procession after procession of Minangkabau aunties arriving in their colourful dress, baskets on head, accompanied by four-piece percussion bands..
There was rather a lot of sitting around watching the battalions of power aunties bring out plates of food. I retired that night with fond memories of beautiful people and a stomach bloated with rendang!