Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, August 2002)

WHAM!! BAM!! Thankyou (Nyo) Man

Some months ago my favourite Californian client mooted the idea of a “Bali theme” for their lavish annual office party.
“Temple umbrellas and Buddha statues” were mentioned. As a vocal opponent of the “Scatter-Buddha” and “Hindu Triz” schools of interior decoration (see past columns) this put me in a very awkward position. I needed to quickly convince my new-world friends that only a sophisticated and original approach would preserve our combined reputations (in other words: How to sell them something, quick, that would keep my courtyard of Balinese gainfully employed in these hard times and my reputation as U-Hindu party planner intact).
We set to work.
My stable of Balinese artisans and computer whiz worked feverishly to prepare reference material, mock ups and photo montages (liberally sprinkled with semi-naked Balinese stud muffins holding paint brushes to tantalize the Silicon Valley suffragettes (see right). Our art department head, Nyoman Sayang, and his team, God bless them went into hyperdrive with the pretty litter—and what fun we had.
I had decided to decorate one room (of the venerable Limn Gallery in downtown San Fransisco) as “Mertasari Beach (Sanur) by Night”—a heavy petting in a temple setting panorama sort of thing—with 70 metres of tromp l’oeil. Another room was to be a N.Y. “Bali Photo” exhibition with giant ultra-Balinese images. The third and last space I left, diplomatically, for the local (Palo Alto) tassle-swingers, with a proviso that there was to be no draping batik at an angle nor Non-U Hindu excesses of the margarine Saraswati statue variety.
Over the past few months I have defended my turf—attempts at revisions were rampant—until, finally, late June, I found myself schlepping 200 kilos of tasteful tack across the Pacific.

Saturday, 29th June: The E. Tajima Creative Group’s Bali Night in San Fransisco—Road to Bali revisited
From dawn, bands of Bali-o-philes helped dress the space and make elaborate Balinese offerings. By 7 p.m. it was showtime: I found myself wrapping West Coast socialities in Legian pareo. It was gay pride weekend on a sunny Saturday night so nobody blinked as we walked through the lobby of the black on black “W” hotel, like the groom’s party at a new –age Kuta wedding (we stormed out into the cross-dressing mayhem that was slowly overtaking the city).
The Berkeley Bulé Angklung (bamboo xylophones) were in full flourish as we arrived. I decided, rather magnanimously I thought, to risk the derision of the gathered stock brokers and place some incense and marigolds at the feet of the orchestra.
“No, no…..I’m allergic to smoke,” growled a cross-eyed celt in Ubud palace drag.
Only in America! what-what!
Unperturbed, I wafted the essence of my offering towards the hairy blonde ankles, uttered an abbreviated mantra, and beat a hasty retreat.
The Gay Pride parade, 30th June, San Fransisco
“I love my lesbian Mom” read one five year old’s placard as 200 nancy boy Navajoes (much more Mini that Ha ha) , and VERY light in their moccasins, danced  and pranced along Market Street. You could feel Geronimo turning in his grave. Inside Starbucks a battalion of leather grannies watched the president’s colonoscopy, live, on pay per view. No-one knew that Brazil had just won the World Cup and that Ronaldo had just passed into the celebrity stratosphere; the entire fag-hag population of S.F.(estimated 15,567,888) just wanted to gush and glow as bearded women wheeled past test-tube babies.

6th July 2002: A royal cremation for a giant turtle at Besakih’s sister (sea) temple, Pura Watu Klotok

Last week a fisherman caught an abnormally large turtle in the Bali Strait off the coast of Klung Kung. As there was something odd about this turtle none of the turtle brokers (such things still exist on the island of the gods!!) would buy it, for fear of desecrating a supernatural being. Finally the disparaged fisherman slaughtered the turtle but (and this is an ultra Balinese detail brandished across the banjar of the land) fountains of blood rose from the poor creature at intervals from its shallow grave well after its heart stopped. With each tragic spurt, a slit drum (kul-kul) would sound, in the neighbouring banjar and temple kul-kul towers. Strange comet trails appeared in the sky over the temple and the fisherman’s family had all fallen mysteriously ill (collapsed arches, dry trots, creeping willies etc.): some form of atonement (closure) in the form of an appeasement ritual needed to be found.
Soothsayers (Balian meluasan) were brought in and it was divined that the said turtle was in fact a demi-god, Ida Bhatara Lingsir, the duwe (holy beast) of the temple and cosmic guardian of the South Bali seas.
Within days the turtle was cremated with full pelebon rites: the Bali Post reported that “10,000 people and 500 spirits (manusia niskala) attended the rites.”
Peace reigns but we’re one giant turtle down and not many more to go.

Sunday, 7th July 2002, to Museum Neka in Ubud to attend the 20th anniversary of Bali’s finest art gallery and museum.

To celebrate the milestone, gallery owner Suteja Neka is holding a retrospective of the work of Dewa Nyoman Batuan of Pengosekan whose mandala art, both cosmic and comic, has been delighting Bali art lovers for the past 25 years.
As a show of solidarity with his Ubud peers Neka had invited other gallery owners and local artist Ari Smit (83) to help open the show. Amongst the official group were gallery owners Wayan Rudiana, Anak Agung Gede Rai, Wayan Sika and local art patron Cokorda Oka Kertyasa from Puri Saren Ubud (Director of the prestigious Ubud Museum, the Puri Lukisan, founded by his step-brother the art patron Cokorda Gede Sukawati in 1928 (?)).

The fabulous Pengosekan angklung orchestra played as Dewa Nyoman Batuan showered the courtyard with his 21 gun smile. No one complained about the incense smoke. Amongst the gathered Ubud art glitterati were Madame Blanco, Ibu Bandem and nearly all of Ubud’s artists who have over the years felt the benevolent touch of this generous patron.
The museum (which houses a truly representational collection of Balinese paintings of the past century), the bookshop, the café, the gardens have never looked better. The Stranger joins all art lovers in wishing the Museum Neka all the best for the future.

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