Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, May 2002)

Bargain Bali

Dear Readers,
As president of the South Sanur Real Estate Associations Ethics Committee I have some thoughts to share with you about this advertisement.
To live on "the island of the gods" is a privilege, earned through behaving in a way acceptable to the custodians of this magical place. Crass advertisements like these, which smack of colonial era attitudes (why should staff attend to "your every need and desire") do western culture a disservice. With this sort of insensitive consumerism one wonders how long the real Bali can survive the onslaught of carpet-baggers, without disassociating itself from the increasingly repugnant expatriate population.
Re: "Live like a King". There are still nine functioning regents, called Tjokorda (who oversee the all-important soul purification rites, which are behind the moniker "island of the gods" (see the Stranger's 1979 film of the same name for Qantas (directed by Philip "Patriot Games" Noyce)). The Tjokordas are still very much alive. They have earned their right to live like kings, after generations of duty. As we are all here as tamu (guests) it is polite not to presume kingly privileges.
"Get Rich Quick" campaigns like this belong in Florida or Queensland or the South of Spain. Let's leave Bali and the Balinese out of it.

22 March 2002: Working on my coming tome "Balinese Architecture – A Sourcebook of Traditional and Modern Forms"
On a lighter note my valiant editor Carole Muller recently took me to task, gently, for misattributing the provenance of the wonderful benevolent-malevolent "Faces of Glory" (called Boma, or Sai in Bali) which adorn Balinese temple gates. I had tried to link the Sai faces to the North Coast Java (Chinese) Barong Sai giant puppet effigies. Consulting my Javanese gurus and A. Bernet Kemper's marvelous book "Ancient Indonesian Art" threw little light on the subject. Bernet Kempers mentioned the fabulous carved Kala heads over the portals of Javanese temples but stopped short of any discussion on their possible origon and any mention of Boma or Sai. Of course the Kala heads are Hindu in origon but what do they mean ? Why all the fangs and menacing when all else is garlands and rosettes ? We need to know.
By great fortune I happen to be in Delhi the next week at a Sufi recital in the beautiful Hamayon's tomb (the pre-curser to the Taj Mahal). My hostess was wearing a Southern Indian necklace with a big Boma face on it. "This is a Kirthi muka face" she explains "known as the face of glory or the face of fame": Its everywhere on South Indian temples. I was intrigued. In "The Oxford" bookshop in Mumbai I find numerous books with references to the Kirthimuka. I presented all this evidence to Carole "Tooth and Fang" Muller who gave me one of her "more migrtion theory" looks and then said: "Yes, darling, but its really all Tibetan tantric."

26 March 2002: The Chatterattis gather in South Jakarta
I return to the delightful Bentara Budaya Cultural complex in Jakarta built by famed architect-priest Romo (Father) Mangunwijaya in 1963 and sponsored by the Kompas newspaper empire headed by the perennially youthful Jakob Oetama. Jogjakarta-born Romo Wijaya was an incredibly innovative and versatile designer in the spirit of Antonio Gaudi and Frank Lloyd Wright. The occasion is a retrospective of the Bali work of Indonesian artist and industrial designer Pintor Sirait. I have to make a speech, which is easy as I have so much to say about the Jakarta-Bali connection. I say that before the recent monetary crisis Jakartans only came to Bali to make bad debts and to make whoopee. Now they come and make shop-houses and songfests. Every now and then the Bali art and design scene is enriched by a passing city-slicker (One thinks here of composer-fashionista Guruh Soekarnoputra, the president's brother, or photographer-activist Rio "Bali Style" Helmi or choreographer-dancer Sardono (who invented the famed Teges Psycho-ketjak). Pintor Sirait is one such infiltrator-instigator. His inspired metalwork artworks for the new Lamak Restaurant in Ubud is drawing crowds, and influencing a generation of bored bengkel (metalsmiths). His designs for the staff canteen at the Four Seasons Resort, Jimbaran have raised the bar for working environments nationwide. His work is truly Bali modern: Sirait looks at old Bali (the lamak woven motifs on house shrines, and batik patterns, for example) and interprets them in a fresh modern way (compared to many expat designers who try and re-interpret Bali in their own image (i.e. zen pissy).)

7 April 2002: A spooky e-mail about Gay Art hits my desk
Has any one else noticed the way academics (sociologists and anthropologists in particular) reinvent themselves late in life, as art-historians or sexologists??
After decades spent in the daggy tenements of university suburbs, eeking out the Nescafe and packet Rendang, they are prone to late life metamorphosiis, emerging from stultifying cocoons as erotic art specialists and horticultural historians.
Solid Woollongong Anthropologist Adrian Vickers, in his seminal essay on Traditional Balinese gardens in Periplus' "Balinese Gardens" wrote that "Traditional Balinese gardens are not what someone familiar with European, Middle-Eastern, Indian, Chinese or Japanese gardens might expect." Profound! And this without ever having planted a pansy!! One of my loyal watchdogs has uncovered a new area of interest for the titled hacks: Gay art in Bali. ("I'm not homosexual" Adrian Vickers once said to me, "I just help them out when they're busy.")
Now a Dr. Astri Wright of the University of Victoria in a truly awful open e-mail writes "Yes, I've noted Donald Friend's fine work and I suspect many others among the foreign artists (part the men) also have such content. I think the subtle, hidden dimensions to the Indonesian and Southeast Asian discourse of gay are, there too, but less overtly so, though in the last 4 – 5 years beginning to come out more". DISCOURSE OF GAY?? What are these people on about?? Then some other dingbat ( dick) writes that "Donald Friend's work is definitely tastefully gay." Like the wee-wees are prudently short?? I mean why don't these people stick to twins in the womb and things, like they used to, and leave art history to the artist historians.

P.S. One is reminded here of Dame Edna Everage (B.A. (Arts) University of Melbourne) who famously said that "lesbianism leaves a nasty taste in my mouth."

7 April 2002: Unbelievable but True: More bestial antics in my adopted village of Kepaon
Two years ago a pair of water buffaloes were 'married' in the village's main temple: they were to become the sacred beasts of burden for Kepaon's famed chariot of the gods (see Stranger in Paradise, October 2000 "The Great Kepon Juggernaut") and as such needed to be joined in holy Hindu matrimony. Today my nephew Ida Bagus Gede from my adopted Balinese family has an oton (birthday) ceremony with a red dog as his twin. Together with Ida Bagus, the dog is bathed, in petalled holy water and even prays at the family house shrine. It seems that young Ida Bagus is prone to outbursts of irrational rage. Most un-Balinese, but quite natural for a teenager. Rather than put faith in the theory of diminishing hormones the boys' mother consulted a holy man in her home town of Pejeng. He in turn, consulted an astrological lontar manuscript (the boy was born on the astrologically awkward ninth full moon) which suggested a twin oton ceremony with a red dog was called for!. "The Balinese are nothing if not practical" writer Victor Mason once told me.

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