Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, July 2001)

The good priests of Pura Dalem Kepala, Kepaon bless the holy waterbuffaloes.


Tourists all over the island are crying foul. They suspect that the merchants are conspiring against them by handing out 'coded' plastic shopping bags––sending signals, as it were, about the status of a free-range shoppers' stupidity. No signals needed I say.
As the tourists do battle in New Bali––that insidious mix of vice, grilled seafood and rows of matching things––I dive deep into REAL BALI, to my adopted ancestoral village of Kepaon, where the god statues, called arca, are being re-consecrated. Now read on: .

15th May 2001, Pura Dalem Kepala, Kepaon: A Pemelaspasan Consecration ceremony at my main village temple, the first in 30 years.
My real Australian mother, Mavis, the terror of Avalon, and my new-Balinese mothers, saints of the first order, are briefly reunited in the inner sanctum of the Pura Dalem Kepala temple in Kepaon (see Stranger in Paradise, "The Great Kepaon Juggernaut", October 2000), just south of the "Dunkin Donuts" at the dreaded six-ways.
The temple has never looked more beautiful.
The 30 or so guardian statues that flank the temple shrines and indeed the shrines themselves are all freshly painted and their arca votive statues freshly gold-leafed. The courtyard decorations––woven banana leaf, lurex bunting, freshly-cut coconut leaves and brand new temple umbrellas––are all screamingly gorgeous in the bright noon sun. The gamelan orchestra whips up the heady atmosphere––everyone is in their temple best, and smokin'.

We sit, gob-smacked, at the centre of a swirl of activity. Pedanda Ngurah, the friendly high priest from Sanur is re-inscribing the rajah talesman of Tintya, the ultimate spiritual being, who is patron 'saint' of temple gods, their arca and arcadia. Pemangku priests are giving the temple's holy waterbuffaloes, Anggrekbulan and Kebodengkol, a dousing of the tirta pemelaspasan that the gods statues and the devotees will all receive by the end of the day.


It is a joyous occasion made all the more wondrous by its survival, intact, amidst the urban sprawl. This December it will be 28 years since I first visited this temple, then a forgotten outpost of the Pemecutan (Denpasar Royal Family) diaspora.
The village, then about 200 souls, has grown to about 2,000, due to the villages' proximity to Kuta. The sleepy village square has become one of Denpasar's 400 unofficial ring-roads––"we ring, you suffer" is the Department of Transport's motto. The priests are back in the temple (one is a bouncer at the Hard Rock Hotel's Chinese take-away) and the pedati chariot, the village's pride and joy, recommissioned after 100 years in the garage.
So, today, the prince, I. Gusti Made Oka, is proud that this palace temple, which he has ushered into the next century, is fully charged and re-outfitted for the next generation.

May 22nd, Sayan, Ubud: an evening gathering to celebrate the founding of the Dili Surf-lifesaving Club
Above the wholesome glow of the very New Bali Four Seasons Resort, Sayan we gather at Kevin Weldon's ridge-side retreat to mourn the loss of fireflies and moonlit valley panoramas (in deference to the architectural audacity of one John "The Preener" Heah) and welcome to the region the brave Dili Lifesaving Club. Kevin Weldon and Gede Subrata founded the Kuta Surf Lifesaving club in 1972, and, some weeks later, the World Surf-lifesaving Federation. The surf club is still there, on Kuta beach, surrounded by greedy developers with licenses to kill, but it survives.
I may just be getting a bit nostalgic but I'm observing lately that old-Bali-timers, like Kevin Weldon, are so incredibly polite to all Indonesians they come across and also "know their place" (as disenfranchised colonial overlords). Most New-Bali-agers only know Indonesians as "servants" or bar-girls and thus are like fish out of water in polite Indonesian company. I hesitate to labour this point but an example might be a New-Asian professional from real Asia (Malaysia) who, upon being introduced to a muscular christian Jakartan client of mine (female, gorgeous), blew her two kisses and said "cute chick". She was incredibly stoic, blanching not a millimetre, and said only later at lunch that we (Javanese) just "nerimo" (let it wash over). That's class.
Meanwhile the world's media is depicting the whole nation as "sword-wielding savages". In Jogjakarta the next day I meet the SultanÕs daughter, a classical Javanese dancer of unspeakable refinement and worldly sophistication who, upon hearing the story, registered naught but detached bemusement, not wanting to be dragged into an intra-regional fracas. "Look" I protest "I'm out here getting offended on behalf of your people and I want some closure".

10th June 2001: A family reunion in Sanur
The incredible Cobden families are here again (see Stranger in Paradise, "Parallel Universes", February, 2000): this time, four generations of them––for the clan's star, Victoria's, 50th birthday.
Somehow Bali still works for these events: the babies get swept onto loving local hips (as do the middle-agers if they're not very careful), the mums and dads disappear, feeling a need to relive their salad days by sitting in the traffic for four hours, on a pilgrimage to Amed or Lovina. The gay ones go to the "Q" Bar and come home fully engaged.
Young Ben Cobden (32), now in the Australian Army Band, bought me a stubby-glove from Dili, East Timor (who ever said Australia never exported culture) where he recently played the "Last Taps" in the shadow of the giant Jesus that surveys the burnt-out capitol.
I mused on the many small links, like all the aforementioned, that most Australians have with Bali. "You know what I love about Bali" said one of the Cobden's support group from Perth. "Y'can get on the plane after lunch, and by five you're in the pool at the Kuta Palace with a stubby in yer 'and".
Dontcha luvvit.
Come back Cobdens––we need you.

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