Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Bali Echo Magazine, May 1996)


The modern medical midievas class descend on Uluwatu; The grandson of the controversial Viceroy returns, and afternoon tea with the President of Singapore. Now read on ............

Viceroy De Jonge at Pura Besakih. 1932

Sanur, 12 th January 1996, Wantilan Putih, Batu Jimbar
I visit Willem de Jonge, grandson of the Ducth Viceroy (Gubernur Jendral) to the East Indies, Bonifacius C. De Jonge 1931-36. Willem is here to retrace the steps of his grandfather and has an amazing collection of photographs from the Viceroy’s 1936 visit to Bali, amongst other precious memorabilia. Here, published for the first time, is a photo of the origins of tamanisasi, the plaque of border planting that has afflicted Bali since the early 80s. Is the gate of Besakih improved, one asks, by the addition of rows of potted pansies? Fine for the Viceroy, who locked up the Walter Spies for being just that, but NOT GOOD ENOUGH for the world’s most gorgeous culture, what-what, if you ask me.

Granma Lim in her fashionable hey-day

Madame Lim Kheng Eng (Top) is a rare old bird indeed. Hailing from the hey-days of grand old Singapore – when men were men and women wore wild, multi-coloured outfits; when the Victoria Hall on the Padang was S.E. Asia’s answer to the Paris Opera and writers still haunted Raffles – Granma Lim, as she is now affectionately known to a battalion of descendants, is a living treasure. And terror. Thirty years “projecting” has not been forgotten. She is a sharp as a tack and makes all around her aware of it. The Philipino main, God bless her patience, may have taken over the remote control but Granma rules the roost.
Her birthday tea is an affectionate affair with Goodwood Park Hotel waiters passing around trays of Orange Spot and Bread and Butter Pudding. Granma’s clansmen include the garden-loving President of the island republic, Lilian Tan ( Singapore’s own Ava Gardner), celebrity aesthetic surgeon Dr. Woffles Wu (who recently did fifty operations almost back to back in the wilds of Timor), and Datuk Lim Cheong Keat who introduced Buckminster Fuller to Ubud. They are all proud of their peranakan (i.e. Baba: mixed Chinese and Malay blood) ancestry – that culturally significant portion of the Gung Ho republic’s ethnic mix who still get misty-eyed when they hear the strum of a kroncong band of the whistle of a martabak vendor.
Sitting in Woffles and Granma’s romantic garden with a plate of curry puffs, surrounded by young interns in designer jeans and eyewear I feel the tribal warmth of the Asian family en masse, what-what, something I have witnessed from Yunnan to Irian Jaya, undiminished by genetic engineering, force feeding of modern metropoli. If there’s one message the Asian family send to the world it is: WE SHALL SURVIVE. (This month, February, saw two great family reunions: Chinese New Year, on 18 th, when the Lazy Susans go into hyperdrive and Idul Fitri, the end of the Moslem fasting month when the roadways of Indonesia are clogged with relatives heading towards their ancestral villages in Sunday best).

17 th January 1996, Jakarta, the lobby of the new Regent Hotel.
Every now and then a hotel achieves epic status (i.e. the carpets in the lobby are considered the freshest in town) and le tout Jakarta claim it as their own. It happened at the Hotel Indonesia during diplomatic salad-days of the Soekarno Era, at the Hilton when sumptuous Javanese Palace lobby first opened its gilded doors, recently, at the Grand Hyatt when one just had be seen in Armani on the waterfall escalator, and now, the spectacularly architectonic (a tad short on ormolu for the tastes of most Dynasty-loving Jakartans) Regent of Jakarta, the capital’s first masterpiece of modern design by the venerable U.S. firm Skid-more, Owings and Merril (San Francisco Office).

A masterpiece of modern design, the new Regent of Jakarta

In the lobby I meet Bapak Soedarmadji (Aji) Damais, Jakarta’s answer to Andy Warhol, now director of the Furniture Museum in the old stadhuis on Fatahillah Square, Kota district, North Jakarta (a must visit).
He is chairing a seminar on a museumology attended by experts from all over the world. Aji, an adviser to the stranger on matters potokoliir, is quick to remind me (when I request guidance for the tone of this revived column) that Indonesians don’t understand irony and don’t appreciate sarcasm. This rather inhibits my style. I protest but promise, like a good honkie, to restrict my passion to the slapstick and the scientific.
I introduced to Madame Christine Desmoulins, a writer from the French architecture magazine ARCHIECREE and Monsieur Christian Dupavillion the famous head of French’s National Trust (patrimoine) under Mitterand goverment. We talk of the resilient nature of the Balinese culture and I promise to help the charming Madame Desmoulins on her visit to Bali, planned for the following day.

Thursday 18 th January, Third day of the odalan Temple Festival at Pura Luhur, Uluwatu.
I have written much about Uluwatu in the original Stranger in Paradise (1979-81). I lauded the success of the pangemong custodians of the temple, the royal house (Dalem dynasty) PURI AGUNG JERO KUTA, Denpasar, in keeping the temple sacrosanct and the festival refined and orderly. To this end, with the enthusiastic support of the government, the temple has been spared the, I feel, degrading Art Shop avenue approaches that now afflict Candi Borobudur, Pura Tampak Siring and Pura Tanah Lot, soon to be ringed with lateral condominia. At Uluwatu, the car park and inevitable art shop have been placed at some distance from the temple and one has time, during the 800 metres walk through virgin bush along the temple’s approach road, to get into ‘mystical mode’.
Tonight, traveling to Uluwatu from Sanur at midnight hoping to avoid the crush of devotees at this most popular but tiny temple (for full history see Stranger in Paradise pp 136, 7-et. al) I am amazed by the armada of air-conditioned buses, sedans and motorbikes, packed with temple-goers (in the white on white on yellow now de rigeur for all Dewa Yadya (god-worship-related rites), returning from Uluwatu so late at night. It is the miracle of Balinese tourism that it funds the increased interest in festivals, particularly among urban youths – the new-age peacocks of form-follows fashion-conscious Bali, and the refurbishment of the more than two million temples and house shrines on the fabled isle. The emerging middle classes are devoted to medieval ritual like no-where else on the planet!

The stranger at Pura Luhur, Uluwatu with gardeners from the Four Seasons Resort, JImbaran Bali. new-Balinese should note the devastating effect of a tight paisley motif for group photographs: a "doppler effect" is induced that makes the size of Balinese!!

Walking in the dark towards the temple, visible on its cliff top premonitory with neon and white banners, I meet Mssrs. Gusti of “Mr. Bali” apparel and Wana of “Mahogany Tape Shop” in their modified-Majapahit refinery (sashes tied as cumber-bunds in the ancient tradition) who impress my French guest not only with their urbane manners and command of English – the traditions of the gentlemen bodgie lives on!!

Arriving at the temple we are greeted, first, by a team of gardeners from the Four Seasons (the nearby village of Ungasan feed both Uluwatu Temple and the Four Seasons Resort with devotees) and then the view of hundreds of holy-water-hungry in a holding pattern on the temple steps!
Sacre Bleu...soon one will have to visit temples at 3 a.m. to escape peak hour crushes! Last year the main dalem court of this picturesque temple was closed to devotees for the first time, to allow the festival principals – the pedanda high priests, visiting dignitaries and the inner ‘court’ – room to operate.
This year the custodians have implemented a mass transit system! With dignity, groups of 300 or so are ushered through their prayer paces by a priest on a megaphone, as monkeys scamper and Madame Desmoulins waxes lyrical about the beauty of the young novices (“I’ll faint if he splashes me with water” , I think I hear her mumble)

It is a beautiful evening and munching on ‘de-essenced’ cookies (surudan) in the opera box-like side terrace, overlooking the crashing waves 150 metres dead drop below, we muse on the theatrical splendour of the Balinese faith.
Perhaps for the next Uluwatu festival the custodians will need to build a ‘dress circle’ and ‘bleachers’ so that all can pay homage!

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