Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, November 2002 )



Sitting down to write a piece on the loose usage of the word ‘paradise’ in South East Asia these days, I realise that this column has been cashing in on the concept of ‘available paradise’ for twenty odd years! Therefore, I will have to modify my outrage against the recent outbreak of ‘commercial enlightenment’ (I get outraged or offended on behalf of the Balinese. The Balinese don’t really get offended, they just get even). Local hero and entrepreneur Kadek Wiranatha—founder of the ‘Bali Bungee’, ‘The Bounty’ (the venue for Bali’s first foam party on 12th October) and our beloved Praja Taxis has this month launched Paradise Air, Bali’s first international airline. Eyebrows were raised at the name: have the Balinese started believing their own press ? “I suppose manna will be served in-flight, as angels flutter down the aisle” one old crone croaked.
Good luck Kadek! Keep the Bali name holy.
In Malaysia, Pangkor Laut Resort force-feeds passengers on Kuala Lumpur Airport’s new train link with an in-carriage advertisement describing their resort as ‘an initiative in peace and paradise’. Do they really know what they’re saying here? In a separate but not unrelated development in Koh Samui a property developer opens a division called ‘Zen Property’ (Schurely Schome Mishtake. Ed.). It’s in Bali’s host of tourism magazines, however, that one finds the biggest clangers. One recent story by Legian-based Rachel Greaves describes ‘The Bale’, Nusa Dua’s newest boutique hotel, as a ‘zen masterpiece’, next to a photo of a Balinese waitress collapsing under the weight of a tourist-size hunk of beef. What is it about minimalist architecture and red meat? Doesn’t all that meditating in front of glass bricks and ribbed limestone reduce carnal desires? I’m sorry but where others see ‘Zen’ I just see red: for me ‘zen-inspired’ properties induce visions of the late actress Divine waddling down a perfectly downlit colonnade, with a slab of Dijon’s best tenderloin between her thighs.
Now read on:

Friday, 20th September
Flushed from my first trip to Seminyak in ages, to attend the opening of Bali-based glass sculpture Seiki Torige at the trendy Esok Lusa gallery, I encourage our events manager, Yuko Naumann, to hold a dinner party for local Japanese artists in the garden. Six turn up (which amazes me as trying to get six Bali-based western artists to turn up at the same place and time, and to be civil, is next to impossible).
It is a smashing evening: Yuko, in her immigration dress (an off-the- shoulder tank top), was bent over a wok of steaming ‘Broccoli oystersauce’ when I arrived. Dinner is in the garden near the bamboo hedge (to muffle Yuko’s mating calls). After a splendid meal, and after the pregnant Japanese lady produced a bowl of perfect grape orbs, there was a full half-hour’s conversation in Japanese on the male testes, Tojo’s foreskin etc. Everyone is an expert!

They all get on incredibly well despite having just met: it’s like the camaraderie I’ve often observed in the back of a market-bound Balinese bemo but with bottles of Bordeaux instead of a squealing pig. We discuss Seiki’s very successful sculpture show of incredible glass art and, as a special treat, western perceptions of the Japanese.
“Look” I explain “everyone thinks you’re aliens”, which prompts a huge roar of approval.
By the fifth bottle of red the ‘Hai Hais’ are starting to fuse like one long nervous tick.
I slipped away, sloshed, at 11 p.m., leaving the half-eaten bowl of grapes and the Mikado chorus practising synchronized swimming on the table top.
Banzaiiiiiii !!!!

Footnote: The August edition of Japan’s top magazine “Brutus” was devoted to Bali. ‘Magical Bali Love’ it was called. The photos and coverage were a relief from the tricked up food and derivative villa design photos of Bali’s local press: somehow they managed to pick the eyes out of Bali without criticising it or romanticizing it, and without once using the word Zen!
Bravo Brutus!

Sanur, 1 October 2002: A tragedy for Balinese Heritage?

My new book ‘Architecture of Bali—a source book of traditional and modern forms’ comes out this month. It is an attempt to set the record straight about a classical form, with incredible variety, and help arrest the tide of mindless modernism. The book includes many old black and white photographs I’d taken in 1979 – 1981 when this column first appeared in the Sunday Bali Post.
Over the final weeks of proof-reading and photo-editing I have had to add R.I.P. to many of the captions. Nearly all of the classical palace pavilions from the 1979 – 1985 research session have now gone. Like beloved relatives lost at sea, the spirit of the last buildings prevail but there’s no hard evidence, and nothing for the up and coming generations to admire and learn from. Balinese domestic architecture has always followed trends in the palaces which were once magnificent and unique but have lately been ‘going for baroque’ with a lot of text book ormolou.
This week an antique dealer came to my door with bits and pieces from Bali’s most famous palace pavilion, the quirkish Dutch-Balinese hybrid Bale Materdam (Amsterdam) photos of the Puri Kangin Karangasem palace ( see photo this page). It was my favourite Balinese romantic folly built by Bali’s most renowned folly-building family.

In the 20th century, the Karangasem Royal family built the fabulous Taman Ujung and Tirtagangga (see Stranger in Paradise, 3rd February 2002). And it was in the 19th century that their West Lombok cousins built the still sensational Taman Narmada and Taman Mayura.

Taman Mayura, West Lombok

Now, of course, royal families are free to renovate at will but will art history be well served by the renovation /destruction of all that is rare and exquisite in the name of newness?
Can nothing be done to arrest the tide? Can nothing be done to preserve one of the world’s most exotic architectural languages?
Let us pray.

9th October 2002: More affronts against geometry and theology
Bali’s premier paradise initiative, the Garuda Wisnu Kencana ‘culture park’ has added a new restaurant called ‘De Memedi’. (Memedi in Balinese means ‘to consort with demons’, it is an extremely spooky word used only in black magic circles; its use for a restaurant next to a giant Wisnu statue (one of Bali’s holy trinity) is akin to the Vatican City opening an ‘Exorcism Juice bar’ inside the Sistine chapel.
And we all thought the name ‘Ku De Ta’ was in bad taste!!!
As a linesman on the court of appeals I would like to rule nothing out. There’s now no stopping the juggernaut of tacky mass tourism and its effect on modern Bali. Old (architectural) friends and time-honoured values are being replaced by international commercial hogswallop. Bali is reeling but still appealing: will it become a “Paradise Lost” or will the forces of light somehow preserve the world’s most gorgeous culture.
Stay tuned.

12 October: Terrorist Bomb in Kuta. The Paradise bubble bursts
International tourism has become a target for terrorism. Cairo, Sri Lanka and Malaysia’s diving islands are recent examples. It’s now Bali’s turn. Tourism on the island will never be the same after the horrible massacre of 12th October. In the aftermath, the island’s poor emergency medical infrastructure has been exposed. The Australian press are outraged. The American press refers to Bali as an ‘Indonesian resort’. As I write, the heads of all the island’s religious factions are gathering at the wantilan hall of Pura Desa Sidakarya to issue a joint edict against terrorism. Bali is adept at reeling from punches of this kind. Balinese tourism has been on the ropes before.
Let’s hope that this comeback will be coupled with stricter regulations to control the influx of the disgruntled into Balinese villages.
The stranger joins all Bali-lovers in mourning the innocent victims, and in mourning the island’s loss of innocence. photo (AFP/CNN.COM) Warning: some may find these images distressing. (BALIPOST/NUSA) The memorial service.


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