Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, August 2001)


Searching for the elusive perfect gado-gado I come across a posse of Balinese who don't want to sell me real estate. I'm in far North West Bali near Pulaki temple and everyone is incredibly genuine and friendly, which is the Balinese norm but just harder to discover these days under the thick veneer of tourism. People are lean, the air is clean and one could spend weeks exploring the beautiful coral gardens off the coast. In Kubu Tambahan I find a 19th Century palace in near pristine condition, tended by a loving family of aristocrats without attitude. The handsome palace's Colonial-Balinese pavilions are unique on the island. THEY HAVE BEACHES WITHOUT HAWKERS IN NORTH BALI and quite delicious food everywhere: the combination of chinese and colonial antecedents has left its mark on the coastal cuisine. In Air Sanih, 10 kilometres east of Singaraja, the North's capitol, the bathing springs on the beach are in much the same shape as I left them 20 years ago: in fact on the North Bali coast, once the cultural centre of Bali, one finds amazing temples, like Pura Beji Sangsit, unrestored and unrepentant. Architectural conservation is alive and living in Kubu Tambahan! East of Air Sanih I follow the signs to the Art Zoo and find American artist Symon of S.I.L.I fame still churning out inspired art from a completely inspiring coastal location. Near Pulaki temple, one of Bali's sad Kahyangan "great six" temples, I find, on a rocky prominontory, an extraordinary cluster of ancient megaliths, grouped to form a miniature Balinese temple. Behind this poetic outcropping, and only 50 metres away, a concrete temple of unspeakable vulgarity is rising, to challenge, as it were, the affront of the ancient against the urge to modernize or, rather, monsterize.
Now read on:

Pura Pulaki

Bali, Tuesday July 3rd, 2001: Wimbledon and Milosevic––what a wonderful combination. It's a shame some television programmer hadn't thought of it before.
"Do you think Taylor Dent knows I exist" lamented one of the Garuda Airline stewards at the heavenly Sanur Beach Hotel tennis courts this morning.
I've learned a lot about the Javanese psyche watching Garuda pilots play tennis. Firstly, that "the game" is secondary, compared to the constant fear of being hit by a furry ball. Secondly, anything on the line is OUT and anything six inches in has to be announced with a warcry-like "Masuk (in)" followed by a macho Monica Seles-grunt. "Take it you bitch, Mas" follows all backhands, which are generally fired like loose cannonballs through the back fence. Balking is encouraged at the Sanur Beach Social Club: the expression "Deuce coming" as the server lines up for a second serve is mandatory.
Rallies (gamesmanship) are deemed less important that moustache-bristling mis-hits, which draw great applause from the partisan crowd.
In fact the Garuda pilots are a lot of fun on and off the courts, the skies are definitely funnier, friendlier and more courteous because of them.

July 4, 2001: An expatriate fruitcake is haunting my reverie .
Last night at Scrabble a piercing scream shattered the calm of the Gentleman's Club. It was a neighbour screaming for my host's dog, the doe-eyed and docile "Girl", to stop barking. "How dare she," we all thought as the howls of disapproval continued throughout the game. Today the lady has sent my Balinese host a used sanitary napkin in a plastic shopping bag. "This is the sort of rubbish your servants leave around" she complained in an accompanying note.
Now this is suicidal Non-U Hindu behaviour of the highest order. My host, whose gentleness is legendary, has now climbed into his military fatigues and drawn the battle lines. Weapons-grade insults have been flying across the bamboo grove.
The real source of the trouble is typical: the grizzly expat has refused to allow the landlord's family to do offerings in the rented house, and, as a muscular christian, has ripped the shrine box off the wall. Why do these people choose Bali as a base one wonders?

Mureum Fatahilah

12July 2001: To Old Batavia for an exhibition.
Today I went to the Museum Fatahilah, the old Dutch era Staad Huis, for an exhibition of views of Batavia ( Jakarta), by 18th Century Danish artist Johannes Rach. For God knows what reason, the curators chose to juxtapose the precious prints with present day photos of the same vistas i.e. photos of nondescript urban sprawl architecture and aluminum cladding, which just sent us all spiralling down. We rushed to the recently razed Gajah Mada Street for air and discovered a whole new art form––hording art. It is flourishing at the roadside in many wild and wonderful forms.
The Batavia of the talented Mr. Rach may be gone but new Jakarta is always full of architectural surprises.

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