Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, May 2000)

The new Hollywood style Ogoh-ogoh (4 metres high)


March 20, 2000
Today I saw a lithe Balinese maiden in a "Nooo Problem" T-shirt: it set off a bleep on my radar, not unlike the bleep that registered the first time I saw cricket players doing high fives. Cross-cultural fertilization is, let’s face it, inevitable, but it can have a negative impact on a culture. Like the horrid planter boxes-from-hell that now line the island of Bali’s thoroughfares—introduced by the Dutch during the colonial Administration (The Loo Palace look, championed by the "Tontons Menteng" during the Soeharto years). For the greater part, however, Bali has been blessed with sensitive scribes and artists—from Dutch painter Niewenkamp (1906), through Miguel Covarrubias (1936), Donald Friend (1966) and Diana Darling (1986). Architects sympathetic to the island’s culture, like Peter Muller (Oberoi, Amandari) and Kerry Hill (Serai, Amanusa) were a healthy import too.

• • •

Last night I visited Teges village to see a performance of Jakarta choreographer Sardono’s Ketjak Dance, as performed (and now much transmogrified) by the wondrous dancers of the Teges village troupe. I was accompanying Madame Lied Von Praag whose husband, Hans (something of a legend in the Bedugul hills), was with the great German cinematographer Baron Von Plesson in April 1932 when something magical and historical happened. Filming the normally staid Janger Dance (an ancient male and female choir performance), Balinese dancer I. Limbak flew into trance. Eyes popping as cameras whirred (an old Balinese trick) he danced a frenetic Baris warrior dance, his speciality, as the choirs continued with their haunting mix of the frenetic "ketjak-tjak-a-tjak" and ancient polynesian-style harmonies. Musician-artist Walter Spies, of "Dance and Drama in Bali" fame, was present too, as was writer-anthropologist Kathryn Myerson, who had just returned from studies with the late, great Martha Graham in New York. Spies and Myerson had an inspiration: Lose the women, put the men in cute little chequered loin clothes and stage the whole show in the round. "Yes, Yes" screamed Von Plesson. "For the motherland—I see it now: Turn, Turn, Kick, Turn". The rest is history, or would be (but for the inspired Sardono-Teges collaboration) for since the tourism boom the Ketjak Dance has become more and more like a "Kodak moment".
Tonight, under the banyan tree, beyond the new "711" Banjar mini-mart and the hubbub of modern Ubud (Spies’ old stomping ground) dancers Rinta and Longho staged a sizzling simian-simulation that had an audience of experts agog with wonder at this re-instated import.
(In the audience: Daisy Anwar from (Indonesia’s version of YAHOO); famed international Javanese dancer Restu Imansari, Former Christies Holland boss Han Andre de la Porte and his elegant wife Irtha).

April 4, 2000: Alarming news in the Bali Post
Today, Indonesia’s popular Attorney-General Marzuki Darusman proposed importing Dutch judges to solve the lingering problem of corruption in Indonesia’s courts.
This novel approach, adopted by Singapore in the 1960s (with the importing of U.K. judges) would be difficult if we consider this country’s fierce anti-colonial bias, and the fact that most Dutch judges don’t understand Indonesian.
Far more worrying, however, is the recent import of JIHAD radicalism amongst the country’s minority Moslem extremists: today’s television showed a band of bandana-ed militants, brandishing bayonets, bolting towards the presidential palace. "Wipe out Zionism" they screamed. The president, Gus Dur, gave them a piece of his mind (extremism of any kind is incompatible with Indonesian culture, he reminded them) but the world’s press had a field day. As a born again feudal Hindu import I have spent twenty-five years trying to correct the w.a.s.p. world-view of Islam, promoted by the Hollywood-fed media, and counter the negativity towards Mohamadians found amongst my countrymen in Australia. The Balinese Hindus have long maintained a healthy relationship with Islam, since its import to the Hindu courts of "mother" Java from the 14th Century onwards, and this latest development was viewed in Bali as an isolated outburst.

April 5, 2000: Pengerupuk—Bali’s Halloween
The Balinese love to adopt, adapt and absorp.
This year’s Ogoh-Ogoh monster effigies demonstrates the influence of imported movies on the islands’ culture: the ghoulish floats in artistic Ubud village, in particular, are more " Species" that Sriwijaya more "Robocop" than Rangda. This year there were ogoh-ogoh with cell phones, Oakley shades and beaded pubes. Not since the Dutch put socks and epaulettes on the North Coast Janger have the western taste police been so up in arms. Bali loves an import—the fertile imaginations of the islands’ youth (Harley-Davidson T-Shirts still de rigeur offer a record 9-month stint) are turning Pengerupuk into the underworld’s answer to Rio de Janiero’s carnival.

• • •

To celebrate Pengerupuk I took a Dutch-banker chum deep into enemy territory, to the new Serangan Timor beach (Jakarta’s latest import to Bali). The beach sits at the easternmost extremity of the now defunct (God has mercy) Bali Turtle Island Development.
I imported Bali’s first jaffle-iron from Bondi Junction in 1975 so I was amazed to find a jaffle shop on this new, non-p.c beach. The jaffles are being sold to Korean surfers. Squadrons of Balinese beach-boys, boardshorts riding tenuously on coppertoned cheeks, weave amongst the sportsfans. I recall that it was the import of surfie culture ("Bagus Sunset", "Ada Meusli?", " Om Clothing Clothing Clothing" (see Stranger June 4, 1980)) that helped put Bali on the mass tourism map. This latest addition is a delightful place to re-experience the ‘fruit-salad days’ of 1970s Kuta.

March 11, 2000, Apres-Ski
Luxuriating at the Hemizeus Hotel in heavenly Zermatt, Switzerland, I catch "The Picture of Dorian Grey" on Turner Classic Movies (has anyone else noticed how the film seems styled by Jakarta’s ubermensch interior designer Jaya Ibrahim (a.k.a Aneka Tempel). In the 1946 movie the title character has a Balinese Oleg statue on his desk. Halfway through the movie he is given the book "The Life of The Buddha" (an early karma-kola moment) and the next thing you know, Dorian Grey is hosting a party of "Balinese Dancers" (in fact Hollywood-based Javanese dancer-celebrity Dewi Ja) dancing a version of classical Javanese dance. Avid Stranger readers will remember recent references to "Gold Diggers in Paris" (Busby Berkely, 1936) and "Road to Bali" (Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Idanna Pucci, 1941): from these early days (read Andrian Vicker’s dry tome "Visions of Paradise" for a full account) we can trace the export of the BALI image of gorgeous exoticness.
This Shangri-la image pervades—and rightly so despite three decades of rampant environmental abuse: glittering Barongs and Legong Dancers are still wheeled out at the Hamburg Tourism Fair; the "Bali Café" is the London favourite of chanteuse of the moment Madonna !. "Don’t rain on my parade" Babra Striesand was heard humming at a recent Ubud cremation.

Linda Garland's Bali Export line at Ian Fleming's old house in Jamaica

Women at the Beach by Bali-Based Belgium artist Le Mayeur.
Estimated at $200,000-$300,000, it sold at Sotheby's in Singapore for $498,750.

March 16, 2000: EXPORTING MYSTICISM: cashed-up Dharma-bunnies line up at the Begawan-Giri, the resort of the moment
It seems odd to me that a property famous for putting barbed wire around a communal holy spring should now attract all the Zen-zoners from the new world (Mzs-Streisand, Karan and Hawn this last month) just because of one piece in the Architectural Digest (God Bless its pages). I mean who is Bradley Gardener ??? I recently went there and it was like the American way of dying. My escort, the lithe-some Linda Garland was told to re-align her Humber ("IVANT TO SEE VUN LINE") someone heard the pious proprietor scream from his doily-strewn bunker. Ha !
I mean, GIVE US A BREAK, BIG GIRLS – you don’t need to spend $3,000 a day to achieve enlightenment. But the heavenly new resort spa is worth it!.

Bali 20, 001—a Balinese space oddysey (A future fantasy)
Nasa is today sending two rockets to a distant planet to save the human race. The first rocket has 20,001 humans and 20,001 animals. The second rocket has 20,001 tons of Balinese "antique" furniture, so they’ll all have something to move around and sell when they get there.
But seriously, is there a town on earth without a Balinese-Javanese antique furniture shop. Is there a tourist enclave in the tropical world without a copy (usually poor) of Balinese designer Putu Suarsa’s 1978 BALI LAMP?
Bali has done incredibly well over the past five years exporting the "Bali" name.
In Singapore the word Balinese now means anything decorative (or spooky, Hindu or otherwise full-blooded). A Bali house anywhere in the summery world, from Mustique to Marbella, now means a tropical house with detached pavilions (courtyard style). Ubermensch architects deplore "Balinese stuffe" (what they mean is the fluffy orientalist decorativeness popularized by interior decorators since the world discovered how cheap deep carving could be). Bali’s thriving tourism industry has spawned flourishing side industries—exporting fashion, jewellery, handicrafts and homewares. Even the stranger is working on a range for the dot.commies and a scent, "Dry Elbow", for the expatriate redheads.
Indonesia has been exporting spices for over 2,000 years: Bali, in just fifty years, has managed to turn the export of its image—the magical, the mystical and the mammaries—from a market segment for the elite into a billion dollar export industry. With autonomy for Bali just around the comer these export dollars will translate into even more phantasmagorical ogoh-ogoh, even more livid love nests for dharma-bunnies, and even more miles of carved product.


Last month I wrote a piece on the new Jenggala Showrooms in "Gems of Modern Balinese Architecture". Kiwi-import Brent Hesslyn, co-founder of Jenggala Ceramics (visit their gallery for Jakarta-import Teguh Karya’s current show) is cross. He has written to inform me that the complex was designed by English/Australian based architect Roderick Learoyd. Mr Sutaryo was Project Manager. He was assisted by Australian project architect, Trevor Mackman. Lighting consultant was Paul Turner assisted by Russ Beard. (See Stranger in Paradise April 2000). Apologies gentlemen.

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