Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, March 2002)


Willie Goes Overboard

WILLIE GOES OVERBOARD Many years ago in a land far, far away, called Nusa Dua, there thrived a muscular pianist called Willie Ham by name and nature. It was the early 1980s, Bali's interregnum of unabashed amateur glamour, between the classical age of the Rajas and the present age of the Amanwannabe. Willie was the marquee act in the glittering piano lounge of the miraculous Nusa Dua Beach Hotel. No one had seen so much carved teak, so much gold leaf or so much ham. Willie's sparkling smile and vaudevillian delivery, not to mention those pert nipples, delighted a generation of fun-seekers, before High art took over from fun, and tight black tank tops side-lined the Barong shirt.
This month Willie resurfaced as party planner for the wedding of the year, the marriage of I Wayan Joost Steenbergen, dashing son of Peter and Made of Made's Warung fame and the festively plump Kadek Agung Liastari Giri of Tabanan.
Now read on:

28 January 2002, the Steenberger home, Gang Wina, behind the Maharani Dua, beyond the valley of the 10,000 surf shops
I arrive in a white rage, having been trapped like a rat in a maze (in Balinese dress) in the back lanes of downtown Kuta trying to locate the venue. Expecting a warm beer and a cold reception I am thrilled to find a courtyard brimming with old chums exchanging name cards under the chandeliers of gilded soccer balls and fashionable white starbursts. The whole courtyard is rimmed with gilt chariots of drooping gladiolus, giant silver and gold soccer medals, and teepees of beaded pooverie ("lit from within" boasts Peter, the proudest father ever). "Willie's gone overboard" comments one old hand.
Rounding off the carnival atmosphere were the usual gamelans, priests, and table-loads of offerings, and a lewd Topeng performance (in this way Bali is becoming more and more like medieval Italy).
Half of the teenage guests present are half-Balinese and what a fine bunch they are: proof of nurture over nature, as they all have the exquisite bearing of the bali-borne.
Made and Peter's two boys, dressed as Balinese princes, look like Greek gods: they are the pride of expatriate Legian. And le tout Legian are in attendance—Dayu "Warisan" Sri, Brent "Jenggala' Hesslyn, Milo, Mama and Ezio, Gusti "Mr. Bali" and hundreds of others who came of age, between the bar and the gents, in the wee hours, at Made's Warung, Kuta's first and only-ever speakeasy. Sitting in the reunion atmosphere it is easy to remember the greatness of Made's in the 1970's when nocturnal feeders would gather from all directions in the glow of Made's cash register, the last glimmer of the Aquarius Age. It was like a throwback to the Wiemar Republic, except we all danced and feasted on the legendary Nasi Campur while Kuta grew, and grew and grew. Gone are Kuta landmarks like la Barong Bar, Pranoto's Juice and the Sunset Café (home of the first magic mushroom omelette) but Made's Warung survives. And with this marriage so will the Steenbergen dynasty of Kuta, we can safely assume.

Proud Father Peter Steenberge
Wayan Yoost Steenberger and Made Reymond Steenberger

Proud Mother Made

February 3, 2002: Rumblings from far off East Bali: Revisionists Threaten our beloved Tirta Gangga

Tirta Gangga 1979

Water Palace Balinese royals are famous for destroying the work of their fathers, not unlike the gambling earls of Edwardian England, but in an architectural sense. So many of Bali's exquisite palaces of the golden age of architecture have been "gentrified" into oblivion: bambis and ghost train gothique now reign supreme where once stood vestiges of architectural excellence. Our mole in the palace (Eastern Division) reports that an American national (who built alpine-style pavilion additions hard on the glorious Tirta Gangga temple that are shameless examples of environmental vandalism) has the ear of decision-makers involved in the on-going restoration of the pleasure gardens (built in 1946; for a detailed background see Stranger in Paradise, June, 1980, "The Water Palaces of East Bali— Follies of Rajadom").
It is a scary thought. On their own the most respected descendants of the last great Raja have managed, with the help of municipal councils, to inflict unspeakable travesties, against good garden design principles, on the once romantic ruin.. THEY DON'T NEED ANY ADVICE FROM FREE-RANGE ENTHUSIASTS.
This week scaffolding has gone up over the sublimely beautiful central fountain and plans are afoot by the committee to erect a giant Siwa statue atop the elegantly simple eleven-tiered folly (see, a most admirable and impressive website, posted by the royal family's spritely new engineering division, which now lacks only essential input from a landscape conservationist).
Dr. Djelantik, son of the last Raja and a much respected figure on the Balinese cultural scene, whose own restoration efforts over the past thirty years often displayed the whimsical, yet romantic (the fibreglass swan paddle-boats, often misattributed to the good doctor, were in fact left by aliens), decorative touch of his father is rumoured to be undecided about any heavy-handed tampering with the charming old folly. Let us pray that he decides against the 'Ramayanafications': it would be a sad day for Balinese conservation were Tirta Gangga turned into yet another Hindu theme park.

Back | 1 | 2 | 3 | Next

Subscribe to the Poleng Magazine! Get your hard copy of the diary with large format photos and contributions from some of the island's more talented essay writers, cartoonists and photographers. E-mail your request, and kindly send letters or useful travel tips to: