Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, June 1999)

Dewa Oka, Wayan Legawa and Ngurah at the "City of Refuge" near Captain Cook Bay, the big island, Hawaii


To celebrate May Day (Hooray the Workers) and Cinqo de Mayo (Hooray the Phillipinos), I’d like to offer this little piece on Pan Pacific relations:
Twenty years ago homeboy Wayan "Legover" Legawa founded the now legendary Swastika Kebun (Garden) Commando Squads. This month the Stranger follows the further adventures of Wayan, in the new world, as he takes on Hawaii’s best ………

Monday, 12th April 1999: Guam Airport.
Wayan and his commandos are detained by zealous immigration officials who fear that the four doe-eyed boys in blazers are the advance troops for the ‘tontons Mengwi’. "There’s a lot of unrest in East Timor," the officer intones, quite correctly. "There’s a lot of unrest in Bosnia, too," I say, "but it doesn’t affect Switzerland! Bali is the Switzerland of Indonesia and these gentlemen are master gardener artisans not labourers in search of a new home. Please, sir, I survived three U.S. Ambassadors’ wives!!" The kind and humane official releases the team and by nightfall the commandos are walking the tourist strip of Kona town on the big island of Hawaii. The next morning, on the building site, adjacent the Four Seasons Resort, young Dewa, the star commando is ashen - faced: outside "Lulu’s", the night before.a brazen local lass has flashed her boobies at him and he’s gone into shock. They all think this is a traditional American greeting.

· · ·

Now, it needs here to be pointed out that the Four Seasons Ka’upulehu was supposedly ‘inspired’ by Bali’s drop-dead gorgeous Four Seasons Resort in Jimbaran: it surpasses its ‘mentor’, however, in terms of location¾ on the Kona coast, on the whale migratory route, on a near perfect series of anchaline ponds, stocked with coral fish and filtered for recreational swimming …… the site is a modern-day Shangri-la. Admittedly, the cheesy smiles of the Aloha-obsessive are no comparison to the gentle grace of Bali’s best, nor are the mechanical hulas a scratch on the VPLs* of the Jimbaran jocks, but, for my money the Ka’upulehu property is heaven on earth.

Right next to the hotel is the now quite famous "Bali house", designed by popular local architect Warren Sunnland. The commandos are to spend all of April working their magic on the ‘pavilion style’ house.

*visible panty lines

12 May 1999, One Month Later, in Downtown Honolulu, on my way to check on the Bali team’s progress.
Downtown Honolulu is arguably the only beautiful modern city in the world: the streetscapes are ‘Japanese-Tropical-Hawaiian’ design-excellent and the buildings, both colonial era and modern, very statuesque: the urban environment is truly park-like.
With rising Balinese landscape star Nyoman Miyoga I visit the famed Queen Emma Summer Palace high on the Pilo Highway, in search of the roots of the romantic Hawaiian garden movement. The "Daughters of Hawaii" manning the gift shop can’t help me as to the exact whereabouts of Queen Lili ‘uokalani’s legendary bathing ponds, but they do take an interest in Nyoman. "What language is he speaking," they inquire, politely, barely restraining a fully blown flash, I sense, from the billowing metres of their militant moo-moos; "Why, Balinese", I profer, politely "Did you know that the Hawaiians originally came from Bali?" "No they didn’t" The lady barked "They came from the Marquesas" (I was about to argue: I knew a Daughter of the American Revolution once: she could take out an amateur anthropologist from ten paces), so we quickly buy a poi mashing bowl and flee into the welcoming environment of the Pilo Highway during rush hour.
We pass the incredible ‘antebellum’-look residences of the Chinese and Korean Ambassadors, with their gardens shaded by mammoth Monkey-Pod trees.
Further down the hill we visit St. Stephen’s famous church yard, the site of all the royal tombs of the Kamehameha dynasty. We notice how the Hawaiian "ti" plant (called andong in Bali) is used to decorate grave sites in the same way as it is in Bali. I have a flash of recognition, too, as to the origin of the name Royal Palm" (the ubiquitous Cocos Island Palm), the ‘feather boa’ of the horticulturally-challenged, that adorns yuppie gardens and shopping malls from Brisbane to Brazilia). It is here used, most aptly and regally, to line the circular carriageway that runs around the 18th century church.

Further down the road we encounter more power moo-moos — it is "Aloha Friday" and half of the CBD is sporting pineapple patterned frills. We visit a number of design offices, all dead keen on the ‘Bali’ look, before high-tailing it back to Hilo, on the big island, home of "Baywatch" and the Merry Monarch Hula Festival (I have a wild card entry into the "Off-island hula" section and have even fashioned a skirt out of old remote control devices (like Paulette Goddard’s necklace of old engagement rings), but duty calls. I have to help the Balinese make great beauty on small budgets).
From Hilo airport we drive through several incredible valleys with waterfalls and forests of self-sown Alexander palms and African Tulip trees. We drive up through the cattle country near Waimea, home of the fabled Parker Ranch and around to Kona coast on the drier, lava swept side of the island.
During my month away the Balinese artisans had transformed the house and captured the heart of the client’s wife and at least one carpenter. The Bali garden created (see photo below) is more pre-Hindu coastal Bali, the sort of garden that may have once existed on the Kona Coast during the classic Hawaiian period. The commandos have fashioned soapstone decorative gates, balustrades, lava stone platforms and pieced together over thirty different decorative features while helping plant the garden. They have amazed with their combination of hard work and high artistic sense. And they have been disappointed that no-one greeted them in quite the same way as their first night.

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