Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, April 2001)

How To Get Bali Back Into Your Bali

The new Macdonald's "Drive Thru" sign in downtown Sanur is definitely higher than the coconut trees. The controversial new bridge to my beloved Turtle Island is to be decorated with tiered planter boxes (the Anti-Christ) and other grotesqueries. The right-wing Methodist broadsheet,, is starting to talk about Bali as if Minnesota owned it!

Monday 27th February
After a particularly brutal month at the office (treachery and betrayal often a part of business life on the fabled isle) I escape one night to Sayan, to the valley view home of my artist friend Ian Van Wieringen. On his moonlit terrace, high above the Ayung River, I lie on a hard bamboo platform and feel my shoulders relax for the first time in ages. Suddenly everything swirls into perspective: sod the sewers, forget the gardens, when all else fails there's always Bali! My moment of reflection is sharply interrupted: the yodelling sound of the buggy-drivers sounds from the Four Seasons far below. My shoulder-blades snap back to attention as Van's diatribe, on the meaning of life, again commands my attention.

Friday 9th March, Penampahan Kuningan: The gods go to Pura Sakenan on Turtle Island at the start of the three day mega-festival,
The causeway to Sakenan is strewn with bulldozers and pot-holes but the processions of gamelans and gods manage to pick their way through. The fierce afternoon sun and the clear blue sky are pierced only by clouds of toxic waste from the roadside rubbish dump. The Balinese defy this municipal and chamber of commerce adversity by putting on more glitz: this year's processions are the most colourful and the most traditional in 30 years. Priests preceed the Bleganjur marching bands ringing bells and chanting the holy kidung hymns. Eyes stay fixed on the pallenquins and palladia as project-workers scrape out their sluice tanks and stare at the passing 'anachronism'. Who would have thought that a Balinese procession would have to fight for a foothold in its own land! At the temple complex a new hole has been punched, brutally, in the wall behind the meru shrines, to facilitate the herding of the masses. But today, Kuningan Eve, peace and piety reign supreme. With my guest, an official envoy for the V.O.C., I pray at the still original Pura Dalem Sakenan, one of the island's Sad Kahyangan (major temples). There are forty of us, tight-packed into the coral enclosure. The setting sun catches the bright banners and offerings placed high on the exquisitely carved coral prasada shrine. The pure peal of the priest's bell settles us all moments before a Jumbo jet brushes the tops of the neighbouring mangrove swamp. Let us pray.

Saturday, March 10, 2001: A Culinary excursion deep into enemy territory
Generally I avoid nights out in Legian-Seminyak - the traffic, the urban sprawl, and the outfits are far too tense-making - but tonight, glorious Kuningan night, when the shop-front shutters of the strip are resolutely shut - the Hindu adat community of Kuta-Legian are ultra-conservative - and the maze of rabbit warren-like streets relatively empty, I travel to Jl. Lesmana, opposite the Bali Clinic, for the opening of a friend's new warung, called The Warung. In the tradition of The Legian, The Hand job (a down market spa) and The Living Room, The Warung is a stellar example of a stellar product - authentic Indonesian cuisine. "Tonight we are offering tastings of central Javanese food" the half- French owner Chris tells me as I spot the pastry chef from The Legian getting a lesson in arak-tasting from three lithesome assistants. It is an odd mix of opening night guests: a mélange of men in black (most with The Pager riding high on The Belt), The Girls (in uptown evening attire and very high heels) and fringe franco-philes in all The Colours. The Art is regrettable; The Music cosmic and intense; scatter-Buddhas guard ashtrays along the wall; but it is the real thing: an authentic warung with a Semarang (Central Java) Ibu in the kitchen glowering from behind a glass cabinet filled with room temperature food.
Good luck brave hearts and Bon Success

• • •

Flush with the success of our first stop (I'm allowed three helpings of The Heavenly PECEL sauce) we move on (something I haven't done since 1978) around the corner to The Living Room, an up-market eatery. The establishment has a main pavilion and a lawn-load of tables and candelabra. The central living room portion of the main Javanese pendopo pavilion is corralled by gossomer drapes, like a LUX commercial. A violent floral centerpiece, fashioned from sexy pink Helaconias (the state flower of Western Seminyak) sits on The Carved Coffee Table. Everywhere are 1920s accents, cleverly done. Svelte sirenes in pastel-hued sarong-kebaya waft, delectably, amongst the marble topped tables, parrying queries in polite Indonesian with Legian Beach English. I hold my ground (normally I sweep out when this happens) as another well-lit glass cabinet of room-temperature goodies - lemon soufflé tarts, Crepe Soeharto parcelettes - beckon from across the room. Like Jason's argonauts we are drawn to the batik-clad sirenes and our kitchen-side corner: scorned for not having made a reservation but happy to be deposited nonetheless. Et Voila, at the next table, the eternally boyish Chris Norton, The Dorian Grey of the Bukit Peninsula, (G.M. of the fashionable Four Seasons Resort, Jimbaran) with his beautiful wife Brigitte. Finally, we know we are in the right place. The Living Room has an excellent wine shop pavilion set charmingly in the garden but disco-bop in the main hall so I strongly recommend the garden tables. Bring a rescue flare or two if you want to be remembered.

Sunday March 11th
There's a great new intellectual magazine on The Block called "Latitudes". The first issue has an excellent piece by popular Bali-based author Diana Darling entitled "Kuno Chic or Traditional Cement". She's currently having a battle with the brilliant PATA übermensch Jack Daniels about the possible ravages of militant tourism (has anyone else noticed the Bali Update's trenchant tone lately)

Diana writes:
"There is certainly much that a cultural conservation program could do to make Bali more amenable to the expectations of tourist. But making Bali pleasant for tourists does not necessarily protect Balinese culture, nor is it necessarily the best way to strengthen Balinese society. One maverick view of cultural conservation says that it is a diversion from the real work: building infrastructure, restoring the natural environment, improving education and medical services, and reforming government. That would be appealing to tourists, too." In another piece, "The Burden of being Exotic", the magazine's Editor-in-Chief Degung Santikarma takes a frank look at the orientalists' view of Bali, from the receiving end. Ripping reading. Good luck "Latitudes" and Panjang Umur. BALI STYLE UP-DATE LOST IN SPAS? Team your turban with the draperies? (And what is that behind her?)

5 steps to getting more Bali back into your Bali
1. Pretend you are semi-retired, like the Balinese do.
2. Ride a motorbike, for short distances: it's amazing what you see and feel.
3. Go to temple festivals as often as possible: They never cease to illuminate.
4. Do long walks through rural terrains (East Bali excellent for this)
5. Live near a processional route or near a Banjar Hall so that heart lifting gamelan music becomes part of your life.


Team your turban with the draperies? (And what is that behind her ?)

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