Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, August 2000)


In a month fraught with frustrations—my battles with "new Asia" and the emerging lifestyle have left me exhausted —I get my first gig as a lay-priest (new-Balinese division, see photo top right) for Australia's Channel 9. It is a small stint, officiating at Indonesian sculptor Pintor Sirait's TUMPEK LANDEP ceremony (holiday for metal objects, cars, welder's etc), but it means a lot for my media campaign against those who would have Bali become one big theme park. This month, for example, a project called "Benoa Vista" comes into the office. It features a Kul-Kul tower spouting water from its belly. Why not have a giant 10 meter high crucifix, I suggest, with flames ripping out of Christ's nostrils?? But that's just the thin end of the wedge. The environmental degradation of Bali continues apace, despite the velvet revolution. Until the legislators grow teeth it seems that nothing will change. Let us pray …………

June 5, 2000: "Singapore Press Holdings to launch newspaper for the hip and cool" screams the Singapore Straits Times.
In the 90s the terms "new Asia" and "real Asia" were invented by advertising agencies to cover up Singapore and Malaysia's disappearing cultures. "Cool" is to the new Asian, for example, as was "correct" to the People's Action Party faithful of the Singapore 70s. This newspaper is targeted at the "young, hip and opinionated, aged 20 to 40". It promises news and stories that would provoke and question ("Nothing ethnic for Outback Aunties" you can read between the lines).
Frankly, I feel marginalized by these computer nerds with their grey wardrobes and age-ist attitudes.
Last week I was fired by Singapore's newest-new asian magazine, for being "archaic" (i.e. refusing to desert the fax in favour of e-mail). In a separate incident, on a jobsite, I was told, in no mean terms ("we Asians want"), that Singaporeans were sick of the Bali look. On the same day in Singapore, an idyllic painting of a Balinese dream setting by Indonesian painter Lee Man Fong (1913-1988), sells for over a million dollars .

The contradictions in Asian society today are dizzying.
In Indonesia our beloved Ambon goes up in smoke as local journalists obsess about "interpelasi" in the lower house of parliament and the Vice President's medical check-up in Singapore. In Bali gay bars sprout (one called "Mugabe's Militant Mincing Parlour") where the well-shorn and well-defined new Asians can sit on their W.A.P-sensitive pagers. Well, Whoopee!!

June 10, 2000: A tooth-filing ceremony at my neighbour's house.
I drop next door with my houseguest, Prema Srinivasan, a Brahman lady from Madras. She is intrigued when I talk about the Chinese influence in rites de passages, shrine architecture and decoration. "There was a lot of Chinese influence in South India before the Brahman's drove it out" she volunteered.
We are both impressed by the beauty of the celebrants and the strong turnout, by relatives and friends, for this small family affair. In Sanur the traditional community is very compact - attendance at festivals and rites de passage is almost mandatory. There is no pressure, but also no dissent.

June 13th, 2000 : Bali-based publisher Didier Millet's offices, Editions du Pacific in Paris, for the launch of the French edition of my book Tropical Garden Design (out now at a shop near you).
Kuala Lumpur-London hearthrob Yu Chee Chong and Marie-Claude Millet have mounted a stunning exhibition of old photographs at the Editions du Pacific office-gallery in Rue Saint-Romain.
Amongst the dreamy 19th century photographs of Javanese and Balinese nobility, en repose, is a striking photograph of a traditional Balinese village square (circa 1915). Now, when was the last time anyone saw a thatched Wantilan building in real life ? Or a big Banyan tree for that matter? They have been replaced by three storey karaoke lounges and bungee jumps, non? Quel dommage.
I learn today that in East Bali, a banyan tree is called keroyo. Unless it has had a special ceremony, awakening its latent power, after which it is called bingin, and its leaves can be used for all sorts of important life-force and life-cycle ceremonies.

June 16, 2000 : At The Club.
This month's Bali advertiser tabloid is full of ads hinting at a hidden agenda in paradise "Dream home, no nightmares" and "trouble shooting crisis management and solutions" it warns. "Real power in the heart of Kuta" says another. It all sounds like 'sticky wicket' meets Rambo. Or "Something funny happened on the way to Notaris".

June 18, 2000 : Wantilan Function Room Sanur Beach Hotel
Tonight I attend a charity evening, "A night in Havana", not for Elian but for the Komodo dragons who are badly in need of a new picnic area. The Bali Advertisers target group is all there AND THEY'RE SMOKIN'!
The big difference in the Jakarta and the Bali expat groups is in their outfits and their eyeballs. The conversations are much the same: servants, anxiety gleaned from the front page of The Jakarta Post, tropical diseases, yeast. The Bali expatriates may look grizzlier than their Jakarta confreres (too much sun and nightlife) but are generally more hip and international (i.e out late, with a foreigners baby on the hip). Looser they are too. But also more concerned, as new-agers, about animal rights and the environment. The organizers of tonight's fabulous fiesta, entrepreneur Cody Swabo, photographer Rio Helmi, art historian Bruce Carpenter, Actioneer Jack Daniels and the Sanur Beach Hotel gave very generously of their time and enthusiasm. The giant monitor lizards are lucky.

The Brahman stronghold Geria Tegal, 3 July 2000: another "Petileman" ceremony for the beatification of 250 lesser immortals
Brahmans in Bali are associated with Lord Siwa, who's holy beast of burden is Nandhi, the cow. Today's ceremony, Siwa-ite purification rite, is a blaze of white and yellow, Lord Siwa's (and the Bali Brahmans') colours. My Tegal in-laws (Brahmans) are serving beef soup to their relatives before we head off on the 10 kilometres trek to Kuta, hamburger capital of the Indian Ocean. Indeed Hindu-Bali's relationship with beef is a mystery to most non-Balinese Hindus. The truth is, the Balinese are just not 'precious' about anything and don't like to cloud their bhakti yoga (enlightenment through ceremonies and offers) with a lot of dogma.

On my cow-search also I travelled to New Delhi this month, for the first time. In a 2500-year-old Siwa-ite temple I discovered a full size cow statue holy water dispenser with stainless steel taps for udders.
In Bali special cows (i.e. white father, black mother etc.) are used as a mascots, to a higher astral plane in some ceremonies. Today 250 deified ancestor spirits were escorted by such a cow as they crossed over a stargate ''door mat''made out of a water buffalo carcass (called "Titih Mamah" Even the Dalai Lama has the occasional sirloin steak on Japan Airlines.
Be daring with dairy, I guess.

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