Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine,December 2002)



Emails are pouring in from altruists across the island. “Come on Bali ”, “ Bali can survive”, “Ten steps to relief from Post-Traumatic Paradise syndrome”. It’s the Balinese’ biggest nightmare—the empowerment of the new-age ex-pat airhead? One yearns for the old days when foreigners bleating self-righteous codswallup of the nation-building variety were pickled and put on Pan Am’s night flight to Perth .
In Kuta the Australian grief counselors are complaining that some of the Balinese are trying to sell them real estate. At Sanglah hospital the angry ozzie Food and Beverage volunteer says “some Javanese woman is trying to buy up Kuta”. The “Javanese woman” is in fact Balinese-born Minadonese businesswoman Asana Viebeke from ‘Parum Samgita, the Kuta-Legian-Seminyak think tank, whose inspired battlecry “Now we move forward”. (OH THE PASSION OF THE CONVERTS!) is inspiring the west coast.
Many villages are holding buta yadnya rituals called, variously, Guru Piduka or Mecaru or, as in the giant one planned for Kuta on 15th November, Tawur Agung, aimed at appeasing the negative forces (Chthonic influences).
Interestingly these were not held after the big Seririt ( North Bali ) earthquake of 1976. But everyday the Balinese do make discreet mecaru offerings—one sees them on the street in front of house gates, the realm of the demons. When something rotten happens these offering’s are beefed up. Everybody doesn’t have to go printing doomsday T-shirts. Bali is reeling from the blows but not on the ropes life goes on.
Last month attempts were made to sideline the Stranger. My story, filed before the bomb, was judged ‘too irreverent’ for post-traumatic stress tourism. I convinced my beloved editor that Bali goes on, the Stranger goes on, and on, and on, and the Hello Bali will, after a brief spate of soul-searching, go back to the whole-hearted promotion of Bungies and beaded pubes.
Now read on:

October 13th 2002, 2002 Returning to Bali
I was at Changi airport in Singapore when I first got a glimpse of the massacre in my adopted hometown. It was twelve hours after the bomb attack. A brace of wealthy Delhi ladies, also on their way to the ‘island of the gods’, were unravelling in front of a news monitor showing images of the event. “It could happen anywhere” counselled a smooth Singapore airlines manager as the stampede was starting (only to fizzle before the plane departed).
The images of burning cars and destroyed buildings, in the stomping ground of my sun-drenched Kuta youth, were unfathomable. What would I find upon my return? Was this really just an isolated incident? Were any of my friends or family victims? Why the ‘Sari Club’, Kuta’s most famous flesh pit, whose controversial ‘whites only’ policy had attracted a lot of derision in fiercely nationalistic Indonesia?
Why Bali , the world’s most gorgeous culture, which survives despite the incursions of tacky mass tourism? I had two hours to think about all this on the flight home.
Denpasar airport was shrouded in grief. A RAAF Hercules was disgorging medical supplies on the tarmac. At the airport I saw packs of my countrymen parked by their luggage, queuing for the Departure terminal. Their faces betrayed abject despair. Above the hum of the piped gamelan music the full weight of the massacre slammed down.
My greatest fear was that certain Hindu factions might revoke the friendly guest pass always afforded Moslems on the island. With this in mind I visited my lawyer, Anjar, a Javanese Muslim with a pretty English husband. She had just had a baby but I wanted to quiz her on her impressions of the anti-Moslem sentiment being widely reported.
Anjar said that her mother, just in from nearby Surabaya , had been chased by the security guards at the venerable Four Seasons Resort in Jimbaran while on her morning walk. Further questioning revealed that Anjar’s mother had been dressed in full Arab garb, in preparation for the Haj next month, and that she had probably strayed into the hotel’s temple. “Al Queda grandma apprehended with kidnapped child!” I could see the headline.
I next visited Sanur, on the island’s east coast. My good friend Putu Suarsa was in temple dress: (as his village temple is having a massive two month ceremony, which goes on undeterred.
“Oh, man” he moaned “how could this happen to our Bali .”
I told him about the rumors of repercussions against the island’s Moslem community which he instantly squashed. “Tomorrow the governor has invited the heads of all religious groups to a gathering to express solidarity. Even the Balinese are now guarding the mosques and churches” he explained. “so that no-one tries any tricks.”
[more photos returning 2 Bali]

October 14, 2002 : Headline News in my backyard
The Balinese thoughts were never of revenge or culpability but of how to return to the status quo, with beaded boppers and Balinese gods living side by side once again, I guess.
That magic word BALI , the international denoter for all that is romantic and godly, was now being brandished about the international media like the words Bosnia or Gaza Strip.
Journalists ringing from Australia just wanted dirt on the possibility of an anti-Moslem backlash.
Bali ’s recently inaugurated television station, Bali TV, was alternating sickening footage of charred bodies with the usually programs on temple gardens and dancing. All these ‘high Balinese’ images now seemed tarnished.
“Have you been to Sanglah Hospital ?” a local gardener friend asked me the next morning. Now, I have had to make many mercy dashes to Denpasar’s main hospital over the past three decades; I know too well the horrors of emergency health care in the world’s fourth most populous country, and I didn’t need to go their as a tourist as many of the young Balinese were now doing. The Balinese community groups, consulates and schools were fully mobilized and dealing with the aftermath. Amazingly the Indonesian government, in a break with tradition, were allowing Australian medical teams and forensic experts onto the island.

October 15th 2002 , back at my desk.
In my Sanur office, the phone calls from journalists started at 8 a.m. . How could I best serve my two homes I thought: as an Australian the images were gut-wrenching; as a new-Balinese I felt real despair for the families of the taxi drivers and others killed in the blast: their bodies still lie amongst the tangled mess of 200 others at makeshift morgues. Balinese ‘closure’ only comes after the corpse, in whatever state, is washed by the village community and then ‘dispatched’ during a cycle of rituals that take a minimum of thirteen days.
E-mails of concern were pouring in from around the world: most were despairing that their Bali was gone forever. My Bali was intact. Well all of it save a square mile of Kuta. I went to the temple in my adopted village, Sidakarya, and for a few hours immersed myself in the ongoing preparations for the ‘re-awakening’ of the village’s Rangda mask, the Balinese equivalent of Kali, the goddess of destruction and recycling. The Balinese have taught me how to lose grief in a crowd of ritualistic activity, something unobtainable in my native land. The anger of my countrymen seemed tinted with intolerance, but it was the same ‘Ozzie anger’ that had lead to the heroic liberation of the people of Timor Lorosae.
The American media were calling our fabled isle ‘the Indonesian resort of Bali ’: I felt strongly that this was the root of the problem. For too long the rampant expansion of tacky tourism has gone unchecked. Cultural tourism has become a culture of tourism. International tourism has become a target for terrorism.
This was an attack on tourism in Bali not on Bali itself. Nothing, one prays, can ever destabilize the Balinese way of life, called Bakti Yoga, the path to enlightenment through ritual. Or co-erce them away from their commitment to their gods and their traditional ceremonies, called adat.

October 16th 2002 : A ray of light
The nightly news was becoming more and more alarming—Airforce officer bombsmith suspects, footage of Al Queda training camps in Indonesia , fermenting corpses and piles of makeshift coffins. Then a ray of light shone through the dark media clouds.
A heart-warming documentary, by Australian film maker Bill Leimbach, on the surfing legends of Bali during the years 1976-2001, was aired on the Discovery channel. There were many flashbacks of ‘Froggy’ and ‘Bobby’ and Ketut, my beach bum buddies of the glorious fruit-salad days of pre-tourism Kuta who are now garment magnates, or tour leaders for the QANTAS-owned ‘Troppo Zone’
They all sounded far more Australian than me. I had lost track of them and here they were, all grown up and successful, with Japanese wives and Australian staff giving them tows to shore with executive jet skies. Here was the best of Bali , presented with a conservation message, gleaming smiles, dancing children and athletic prowess. I remembered how Kuta tourism started with the surfies and their nature-loving life-style, a life-style that has been nurtured, lucratively, by these homeboy surf stars.
Here was Bali-born Rizal Tanjung, the world’s fifth ranked surfer, shooting the perfect tubes at G-land, the beach in East Java colonized since 1970 by the Balinese surfing community.
The last minutes of the film highlighted the skills of the latest local surf star, twelve year old Mustafa.
“All who come to Bali become Balinese” a local priest and philosopher once pointed out. Little Mustafa, the star-boy of the third generation of Kuta surfers, is a Javanese Moslem born in Bali .

October 20th 2002 , to Jakarta for the wedding of the president’s brother Guruh Soekarnoputra to Guseynova Sabina Padmavati of Uzbekistan
Jalan Sriwijaya, a quiet residential street in South Jakarta , had been cordoned off and tented over to create a long entrance hall for the wedding-reception. The ‘avenue’ was bedecked with flower bouquets and clusters of of beauties from Guruh’s Swara Mahardika Dance troupe.
Many of the girls wore stunning South Sumatra costume. Guruh’s mother, Fatmawati, was from Bengkulu in South Sumatra . MyDutch friend reminded me that President Soekarno, Guruh’s father, first saw Fatmawati, a devout Muslim, playing Mary in a Bengkulu Catholic School ’s Christmas pageant. Everyone was given a POLENG rosettes to wear on one’s lapels as a sign of mourning for the Bali tragedy. I was thrilled to see some Balinese guests in the crowd, Agung Vebri and Nyoman Sumerta, and their wives, all from Peiliatan, Guruh’s adopted Balinese village. There was a moment of silence for the victims of the Bali bomb and we were then ceremonially ushered to the audience hall, past the Solonese and Balinese gamelans, past my old buddies Hudi and Maya Soedarmoko (how nice it is to have the grotesque ‘super-people’ out of power and to have the cuties back, as it was in Soekarno’s time), past royal courtiers Asmoro and Adji Damais (how nice it is to have the sharp tongues and quick minds back after decades of fast car talk), past Uzbekistani relatives in their colourful costumes, to be deposited, finally, at the wedding couple who were beaming with delight and exhaustion.

At the reception I talked to Tuti Kompiang, daughter of Ibu Kompiang, Bali ’s tourism’s champion for years, before this era of casino-talk and cut-rate Hindu theme parks. Together we decried the ‘resort’ word being brandished about by the world’s media. “ Bali is ‘SAKRAL (sacred)”, beseeched Tuti, the Joan of Arc of cultural tourism.
“Death to the infidels’ we vowed.
Aji Damais joined our conversation. “Remember Lord Krisna’s words” he said, “All that is good, is not all good; All that is bad, is not all bad”.
“Who” asked my Dutch friend.

October 21st 2002, Pura Desa Sidakarya temple
I take Ozzie journalist Michael Maher from ABC National Television to Pura Desa Sidakarya temple to interview Putu Suarsa on the present mood and mindset in Bali . Putu is busy painting a Barong’s side- flaps. A young maiden is having her hair cut, for the Barong’s beard. The temple is alive with artistic pursuit of the ‘ngodak’ variety: the village’s Rangda, the evil consort of the beloved Barong, is to be reawakened (nangiang) on the 15th November, coincidentally the day of the giant Tawur Agung ceremony planned for Kuta.
Putu is eloquent in explaining the Balinese resilience to setbacks, and will not be drawn into any statements about ethno-religious revenge. He sounds part Dalai lama part Clint Eastwood: a peculiarly Balinese cocktail.
The atmosphere in the beautiful temple, which Putu is trying to preserve from restorationists, is sublime. An afternoon light picks up the Barong bits hanging like dinosaur bones in the temples pavilions. Everywhere beautiful Balinese hands are lovingly refurbishing masks, crowns and the Barong’s flaps: it is the sort of Bali scene film makers dream of. Tragically only ten seconds of it make the ABC’s Sunday program: the more sensational Moscow theatre gassing edges it out. In general Australian news teams have tried hard to show a rounded picture of Bali , but the editors back home just seem to want to grisly bits.

October 22nd 2002 : Th the Australian Governor General H.E. Dr. Peter Hollingworth and his wife host a party for the Kuta Bomb volunteers at the Kartika Plaza Hotel in Kuta.
“Where have you been, Made?” asked one of my Kuta peers. “Manning the front desk” answered Jan Smith, the Australian Ambassador’s wife with true the diplomatic aplomb. I have been feeling very guilty, mind you, not having put on the latex gloves but I guess guilt goes with the ‘cub war correspondent’ role.
Interviewing victim’s family members and volunteers I slowly become aware of the true magnitude of the co-operation between the Balinese, expatriate and international communities that swung into action after the blast. I spot Gung Bagus, the Lawrence Fishbourne of Legian, the golden boy of Golden Village , Seminyak, during the golden years. His stories of the first 24 hours after the bomb are horrifying. I get a snap of Agung planting a kiss on Jan Smith’s cheek: it is a GORGEOUS image that suggests the very heart of the Bali – Australia love affair, and, hopefully, of future co-operations

October 27th 2002 , Nusa Dua to watch the finals of The Nusa Dua Bali Tennis Open
I take a break from all the morbidity, grief and self righteousness and visit Nusa Dua.
As a teenager I was taught about tennis on the hallowed grass courts of White City , Sydney : from an early age I was steeped in the gentle etiquette of the game. For me Indonesian tennis tournaments are a source of great amusement.
(“It doesn’t matter if you win or lose” John McEnroe said recently, “until you lose”). At Nusa Dua today the losers were out in force. Ha! Neo-Nazi linesmen were barking calls as homeballboys juggled balls mid-point whilst draped all over the net. The court’s back door was left open for the duration of the men’s final so that TVRI cameramen could walk across the baseline with impunity. The man on the score board squealed every time a Balinese won a point. Under the umpire’s stand the tournament committee sat eating their lunch.
But the tennis was fantastic. Gusti Ayu Fanny (14), for whom this column is a co-sponsor, won both the Ladies Singles and Doubles with athletic prowess and determination, the Balinese best attributes. If only sports-related tourism could steal a slice of the mass tourism pie: I’m sure the hospitality industry’s future would be more secure.
Congratulations Fanny, at 14 the youngest ever Bali Open Champion, and first Balinese champion in twodecades. With Mustapha and Fanny around, there is hope.

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