Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, July 1998 )

"Diana Darling , Jero Ratna, the ultimate Bule Aga"


In 1958 a Nepali prince ran onto the tarmac at Katmandu airport and stopped the plane of a Bangkok-bound jet liner: he commanded the plane to lower its stair, climbed aboard and found the women he loved, Barbara Allen, who was sitting next to her husband of two weeks. Barbara Allen followed her prince off the plane and into her own special production of the “King and I".
In 1988 I worked in Bali on a Phillip Noyce film: “Love As Long As Your Visa last” was its working title. It starred John Lone (The Last Emperor), as the dancing prince from Ubud, and Wendy Hughes (Picnic at Hanging Rock) as the love-struck Australian tourist. The title came from Jakarta wit Aji Damais who had observed how well eligible young Balinese were marketing their charms and how often a cheap holiday would turn into a torrid romance of the Barbara Allen variety.
This month the Stranger looks at the Balinese tradition, now prevalent in the palaces, for taking European wives:
One of the great Balinese love stories of this century is that of Dr. Anak Agung Made Djelantik, son of the last King of Karangasem, and his dutch-born wife Astrid. Married in 1948 they fought huge prejudices both form within his staunchly royalist, staunchly anti-Dutch-colonial family and from within the dutch culture where “marrying a native” was often cause for social ostracism.
Due to his urbane charm, her fiercely independent spirit and their international life together — they worked and lived together in Somalia, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Iraq and Europe — the marriage survived fifty odd years — their children are now modern leaders in Balinese society.
Late last year Astrid Djelantik passed away after a long illness: to the end she remained unanchored to her husband’s very extensive family. In one way they were the Wallis and Edward of their generation.

Procession of New Balinse

* * *

I stood close to Dr. Djelantik on Sanur Beach as he carried his beloved Astrid’s ashes to the sea: because of the love we all feel for this supremely unselfish man it was agony to watch the bewilderment on his face turn to despair as, in the Balinese way, he bade his wife farewell on her final journey.
Since Astrid’s and Dr. Djelantik’s ground breaking marriage Balinese society has moved towards internationalism with alarming speed while the culture remains largely intact. Balinese society, always all-embracing, has grown to expect a few pink or pale faces in the passing parades.
And no-where more fashionable that the fashion-conscious mini-palaces of Ubud and Peliatan where every second Jero, the honorary title awarded a wife from outside the palace caste, is a ring in!

The invitation annoyed me — the long names I didn’t recognize, the new age Balinaise character of the design (dry twigs on earth tones) : The day and time were inconvenient too. Someone in my office advised me that the groom-to-be was the younger brother of “Odeck” (Gung Ari) the most stylish kssatrya (nobleman) in a town of Cary Grant wannabes, and owner/creator of the heavenly Ari’s Warung restaurant in downtown Ubud.

Pedanda high priests officiate at Ngurah and his new wife's wedding ceremony

I arrived at the palace gates at 6.30 p.m., fashionably late I hoped, wanting to avoid too much hill-tribe small talk from my compatriots (well, my sample group) and wanting to spend quality time with Odeck’s inner circle, the Hindu intellectuals keen on our women. The ‘leader’ of this pack, the widely admired Putu Suasta, my sponsor (along with Yardley’s and Nike), had been on BBC earlier today banging on about the Cendana families’ wealth in Bali and I wanted to congratulate him on his exposure. He’s our local hero.
In the alleyway to the inner entrance I was waylaid by a gaggle of ‘new-balinese’ and their support group of young empressarios. Everyone had beautiful skin and ruby buttons. Even the new Balinese were pictures of Byzantine beauty — wasp waists in silk brocade, perfect postures on rented chairs. Mr. Bali, Gus Kik, Poppo Danes and other ageless charmers anchored a saloon of courtiers keen to kick on.

"Jero Asri and her prince at their 1979 wedding in Ubud"

After some polite discourse on the power politics in the Puri (palaces) of Ubud with a Californian aspirant (Tjok-o-holic) I was ushered into the main courtyard by a beaming Odek, thrilled to be showing off his guests — “Hi Guruh, “Vive la Resistance”; Hi Mick, Hi Jerry”.
His garden was resplendent with makeshift pergolas dripping Balinese decoration, deep views to distant golden pavilions and copies of my Wijaya Classics fountain range.……and the groom, Agung Ngurah, parked like Napoleon at his coronation, and Cokorda Istri Risma, an exhausted Josephine.
There were thousands of guests, all perma-pleat, and six gamelan orchestras in courtyard after courtyard of ceremonial bliss. Each courtyard had a giant television set in its corner.

“I went to a royal wedding in Mengwi last week……….they only had 20 inch screens” I gushed to a nearby noblewoman from Novascotia: in fact, there seemed to be more new-balinese than the genuine article. (Soon the Balinese will need to buy tickets to such occasions).
With Bapak Nyoman Tusan, former Director of Art at Indonesia’s Department of Art and Culture, I watched an inspired Wayang Wong dance performance, my favorite. Tonight’s dance troupe, from Bapak Tusan’s village of Tejakula in far North-Eastern Bali, has been revamped by famed choreographer Sardono, of Jakarta, who is also responsible for the space-age Bomo Ketjak from the Teges village troupe.
My old chum Jero Asri, Sydney-born wife of Cokorda Kertayasa (brother of the late great King of Ubud) swept in as I was savoring the perfect satay. She lead a phalanx of Ubud wives from down under — Chery, Beryl and Jane — who sat on faux-Amandari chairs in the dress circle. I sidled over and told her how I’d just decided to abandon my future as an historian of Orde Baru (Soeharto era) architecture and devote my life to Jero-ology, the phenomenon of good goy girls marrying exotic noblemen. Grace Kelly would be the patron saint of the new research facility, I proposed, and the Australian Women’s Weekly the magazine of record.
But, jokes aside, the Balinese culture is sustained nay the Balinese thrive on these palace mega-events where high style, logistic prowess and feudal fervor are doled out in equally generous portions. It was an evening to impress even the most jaded expatriate — the poise of the Ubud chapter of new-Balinese a major contributing factor.

Subscribe to the Poleng Magazine! Get your hard copy of the diary with large format photos and contributions from some of the island's more talented essay writers, cartoonists and photographers. E-mail your request, and kindly send letters or useful travel tips to: