Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, February 2001 )

Elaine Tajima on the Amanjiwa-Borobudur Road


Has anyone else seen the new business class lounge at Bali's airport? Leaving Bali for Sydney on Christmas Eve I suffered a 'primal' breakdown there: It was as if Dubai's Duty Free terminal had been compressed into Imelda Marcos' karaoke lounge. Holy "Naga Banda" dragons guard weenie rotisseries. A ghost train water feature, modelled on the sacred Goa Gajah, oozes, annoyingly. In the main salon, four giant fake Nyoman Gunarsa paintings keep sombre watch over high-rollers picking at dry finger sandwiches. Forget about New Asian, this is new Bali-the land of perpetual (visual) saturation. "Too much is not enough" as Jakarta wit Adji Damais once commented. But there is hope! Some Balinese are going back to basics. Local impresario Agung Prana, of the delightful Umabian Palace, Mengwi, this month held an evening for the environment in his rural hamlet-cum-hotel. The morning before, he had rung me to say that I'd be introduced as "the man who, through his writings and design work, has influenced the middle class Balinese in their choice of the traditional over modern/western homes." "Rubbish" said local expat historian Chris Carlisle. "the Balinese were quite happy building Jakartan houses until you came along"! Whatever the truth Bali is now being flooded with all sorts of shop-house developers and package-dream-home-makers. Cultural tourism has finally flipped, and become a culture of tourism. Most visible in the VIP lounges are expatriate Australians. They have smart cars, ergonomic shoulder bags, lots of blonde children and a shrill mating call ("Ketuuut, have you seen my speedoes?") that strikes fear in the hearts of us old-timers. Are we to be trampled underfoot by these expatriates with jet-ski lifestyles? Let us pray.

15 December 2000, Central Java
Last month I wrote of heavenly Central Java where the buffaloes still roam. Where drag shows are interrupted by battalions of sabre-wielding religious fanatics, like in the old days, and colonial hill-stations are restored by buxom pensioners. This month I spent another weekend, in Central Java, at the magnificent Amanjiwo hotel near Borobudur, and at Losari, in the hills along the Borobudur-North Coast road. Losari is a colonial era coffee plantation lovingly rebuilt by old chum Gabriella Teggia of Amandari fame. Both properties are nestled in stunning verdant valleys with famous archeological sites nearby-Candis Borobudur and Mendut, near the Amanjiwa, and the Gedong Songo valley of temples, near Losari, now run by the Indonesian boy scouts. One evening the Amanjiwa's affable manager Francois Richli and his beautiful wife Olivia hosted a Jatilan trance dance in a neighbouring village (See Stranger in Paradise "Not the Royal Cremation", November 1999 for a full description). It is years since I last saw a real raw folk dance in a simple village setting. Between the papaya trees, under a starry sky, with gamelans pounding we were all transported into the Java-Balinese netherworld of beasty goblins and superheroes. Life will never be the same. The next day we drove through the serene rural countryside to Losari: a small welcome band was in full swing, under the banyan tree, across the grassy terraces, on the spacious verandahs of Losari's great house. Palm toddy and siesta sofas beckoned. Gabriella has worked landscape wonders on the coffee plantation over the past eight years-giant bamboo clumps shade ornamental lakes; palm toddy is served in an outdoor living room shaped by the massive arched branches of a toddy palm grove. Afterwards…… a choice of colonial verandahs await, to escape the afternoon deluge in this supremely fertile area. It's eco-tourism at its best, with class, home-made pesto, whole meal pizzas and a well-stocked library. Utter bliss!

5 January 2001: Dayu my secretary marries in Kerambitan.
The whole office travels to the royal Kerambitan fiefdom for a simple Brahman family wedding. Amidst all the arcadia the groom displays the latest fashion trend on his perfectly formed shoulders: a tattoo of a tiger shark, with jaws dripping blood. (See photo bottom right). It's funny how the Brahmans never really took to vegetarianism in Bali.

10 January 2001, Legian Beach
Tomorrow I am invited to the mega-trendy "Kudeta" restaurant, an establishment I've avoided, in protest, since it opened three months ago (Many of my Balinese friends' fathers were murdered, brutally, during the freaky 1965 coup d'etat). I mean the name is on a par with the "Agent Orange" and "Napalm Cove' cafes in Phnom Phen. But New Asia's New Bali is all about being " in your face", I guess, with the Oakley glasses and the six-pack abs. And up your nose, with cultural insensitivity (See Stranger in Paradise August 2000 ("Mugabe's Mincing Parlour").I hope they make lots of money and move on to Jerusalem to open a "Kristalnacht" disco. Heaven forbid!

11 January 2001, Bali's best new restaurant.
I take it all back: the Ku dé Ta (not quaisi-offensive kudeta) restaurant, bar and cigar room hard by the Bali Oberoi is FABULOUS. Great food, inspired décor: In the tradition of the great Aussie culinary expansion into South East Asia we now have a Melbourne Greek Temple to High Style. Congratulations to the whole team, particularly the design team for setting a new standard. Richard North-Lewis' murals and the man who did the cherry red bamboo dangling thingies deserve special mention. I chat to the charming aussie maestro, Anthony Bevilacqua who is running the restaurant with great panache. Also in the crowd are Periplus publisher Eric Oey, his wife singer Christina and their son Mathew, Brent Hesselyn of Jenggala Ceramics, Ida Bagus Oka, the former governer and his wife Dayu (showing their support for hip-hop-happenings), Richard and Anjar North Lewis, writer Leonard Leuras and dancer Restu Imansari Kusumaningrum in a striking BIN silk scarf. On, On New Bali!

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