Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, December 2000)


At last General Wiranto's "Love Songs" CD is out and we can all recall the horrors of the East Timor massacres with appropriate background music. "Masseur fingers President" screams the local press. Quelle histoires!! Even Warner Bros. have asked for permission to make Die Hard III: "Puputan", at the Kuta roundabout.
But amidst all the mayhem Cupid is out and about, despite the crooning, for it is the wedding season-that propitious time during the dry season when the heavens smile on marital unions. And with the weddings come the tooth filings, (as the offerings required are the same), and the Chinese in fancy dress (where else to wear one's patio frocks these days?), the expats in high Balinese drag, and groaning trays of pork sausages and satay. This month I visited four weddings and a tooth filing in four very different settings:

12 October 2000: To Klungkung for the first gala wedding of the season.
Many, many years ago, during Kuta—Legian's formative years as Bali's international nightspot, a tall handsome young Brahman, Ida Bagus Bajra, and his stunning Sanur wife opened Legian's first café. It was called "Maxi's" and the owner was always known as Ida Bagus Maxi. The café was the centre of new Balinese activities and the kopi society. The Maroubra stomp was first performed in the garden of "Maxi's", for example, by an inebriated Terry Stanton, of the once pivotal Kantor Binggung (CHAOS CENTRE) at Seminyak. Maxi eventually became fashion designer Milo's landlord and spiritual mentor, and this writer's role model for baritone brahmanic Balinese-ness, as in "lower the lids when speaking down to people". Today Ida Bagus Maxi gave away his son in a very regal (Klungkung style) ceremony. Included in the three-day programme was a side ceremony for the filing of the teeth of some close relatives, which included Seminyak fashionista Milo's Mama (see last month's Stranger for full story). It was a traditional high Hindu wedding (see photo right of Ida Bagus Bajra and the wedding couple) presided over by three high priests-"forest green" velvet jackets, fob watches and beaten gold tiaras were very much the order of the day. Mama shone like a star amongst a cast of stellar Balinese.

14 October 2000, Sumerta Gallery, Teges, Gianyar: A modern Bali society wedding joins two of Bali's most successful art gallery families.
Agung Rai of the Agung Rai Museum of art in Peliatan and Wayan Sumerta of Sumerta Fine Art Gallery are self-made millionaires in the great, Bali "Art shops to riches" tradition. Today Agung Rai's daughter Jeniari married Wayan Sumertha's son Putu Gede Suarsana in a full-on Jakarta-Bali wedding reception (see photo opposite page, far right, centre). At the gallery's front, parking spots had been reserved for "the Governor", "the Mayor" and "the Harley Davidson Gang". "Nothing for Turis?" I asked as my car was valet-parked and my driver given a packed lunch. The glittering affair is replete with 56 inch television screens in the pre-function area (the art gallery's café over-looking fields of rice padi), a Tokyo wedding hotel-style cake, battalions of Jakartan art-lovers in black Iwan Tirta jumpsuits with exquisite gossamer-thin batik shawls (see photo bottom left). There is a special vegetarian section at the banquet for the leather-clad buddhist bikies.

25 October 2000: Sayan Village
What a charming rural wedding in Sayan at the home of my Sayan landlord, Mangku Dalem. There is real live music played by relatives on a platform under the rice loft, home-cooked local delicacies, towering rice cookie offerings made by a bevy of aunts and a bride and groom pressing the flesh at the courtyard level. I sit with some Australian houseguests agog at the simple majesty of it all: the blissfully happy bride and groom (photo, with the groom's parents, top left) -King and Queen for a day.

29 October 2000: The Mandarin-Oriental Ballroom, Kuala Lumpur, for the wedding reception of the princess Tenku Melina Melissa and Jalil Kamaruddin.
This was my first royal wedding in Kuala Lumpur. My friend Victor Ngo is giving his daughter (from his marriage to the beautiful Princess Soraya, daughter of the Sultan of Negeri Sambilan) a fabulous reception in the presence of the King and Queen of Malaysia. I arrived just in time to see the VIPs in their glittering songket cumber bands (the men) or 24 karat Sarong Kebaya (the women) being lead into the banquet hall by a phalanx of Malay cabaret dancers in fabulously Las Vegas local costumes (see photo bottom left). Then came the bumble bee and butterfly brigade to escort the bride and groom, both in shimmering pearl hues. They all floated past the fountains and dripping floral tributes of the 'Munchkenland' décor (to die for!) accompanied by Celine Dion's theme song from the TITANIC. I don't know about you, but I can never hear enough of that song. 300 adoring faces slowly swiveled as the fairytale bride glided past the banks of gladioli, Carrie-like, to her golden throne. There was then a period of rather deep bowing to the King as the family members bestowed their blessings on the newlyweds-a ceremonial splash of holy water was offered and a brush of banyan tree branch. Victor Ngo and Princess Soraya sat beaming at their Cinderella and her handsome beau. In the stalls we all gossiped and ogled the blonde-flush trusses sweeping past. "I'm going to see Rolf Von Bulow in Bangkok, and then Deepak Chokra in New Delhi, and then the Dalai Lama" shrieked the indomitable Sarah Kwok, petite breasts pushing chandelier-wards as the plastic fern on her raspberry cordial tipped, gently, away from the perpendicular. The poor Dalai Lama!

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