Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, March 2003)

Famous Australian literary critic with latest Bali book


“Bali ruined my Christmas” screamed Australia’s Daily Telegraph newspaper.
“ Bali - get into it” enthuses the Indonesian Tourist Department’s recent advertising campaign. “A new branding for the island” chorus the tourism press.
On New Year’s Eve, one thousand kecak dancers wearing giant waving hands, as if for a Papal visit, performed the rare Jazz Kecak-Tak-Kecak at the venerable Garuda Wisnu Kencana theme park.
Strange times indeed for the fabled isle!
The Balinese, it seems, must now deal with their own demons plus a host of ‘foreign’ imports - alligator altruism, piebald promotion and horrible hyperbole. “When will it end?” ask the Balinese. It is starting to irk them.
In early December, students from Nusa Dua’s Tourism Academy were stationed at the X-ray machines at the Denpasar airport. They wore comic suits, exaggerated ties, and buttons proclaiming themselves as ‘smile warriors’. They waved fake cattle prods.
At the fiscal tax counter, I was confronted by ‘SAVE BALI’ sandalwood roses-in-plastic-bags sellotaped to the booth’s window. I objected, on behalf of all Balinese, as well as on moral and aesthetic grounds. The tax official (name suppressed) then rose from his seat and removed the offending items. For me it was like Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on that bus in Alabama. My heart swelled with pride.
It is hard for a Hindu Balinese to object to imported sentiments you see; maybe it’s the root cause of Bali’s current dilemma. On the other hand, the Dokter-Dokter Pusing (spin doctors) are trying to re-invent-a Bali that never existed - the Bali of docile, pliant tourism slaves.
New projects are popping up with mindlessly un-Balinese and unimaginative names such as Park View Heights, the By-Pass Villas and Royal Jimbaran Bay; beware the curse of Pemecutan boys! You’re on their turf! A new ‘mega project’; a giant concrete gong, is heralded in this week’s Bali Post as “enriching Balinese heritage”. What about the 1,000 or so monumentally gorgeous temples that the Balinese build every year and which go unheralded?
Yes, the Balinese always welcome guests and have always supported mass (crass?) tourism: this column too has, over the past twenty years, observed that the tourist dollar has funded a renaissance in Classical Balinese culture. Sadly, however, and with Jakarta’s blessing, cultural tourism has become a culture of tourism. Since the start of crass tourism in 1985, a generation has been born to the juice blender and succoured on carved ducks. 
Quel malheur!

• • •

In Australia promoting my latest book - “Architecture of Bali - a Source Book of Traditional and Modern Forms - I amrepeatedly told by magazine editors and newscasters that any promotion to do with Bali is “off their list”. It seems cruel but perhaps kind. The end of the year’s TIME magazine - with its brilliant story on Bali’s own Dick Tracy, Brigadier General Mangku Made Pastika - has both a full page ad. promoting the wonders of Bali and a double page spread on Bali’s night of terror. It’s not a happy mix.
Promoting Bali abroad, in these troubled times is not all uphill work, however. The Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Sydney launches of ‘Architecture of Bali’ were well attended, with the Sydney launch at the Brett Whitely Studio Gallery attracting a stellar crowd of Bali-lovers and Asian architecture buffs (N.S.W. Government Architect Chris Johnson launched the book).
On the way home from Australia, I went hunting in a Sydney shopping mall for white goods at Post-‘Bali’ prices (the word ‘Bali’, once sacred, now means ‘terrorist incident’ in the Australian media parlance of today). I came across a Bali-themed promotional video, on all the screens in the television section. It showed Balinese dancing girls at work and at play. My heart strings were plucked, my memory jolted. THIS IS THE BALI WE ALL KNOW AND LOVE, I THOUGHT, THE BALI OF INFINITE GRACE AND GORGEOUSNESS.

Re-reading Bali-based art critic Bruce Carpenter’s excellent book on Dutch painter Willem Hofker (1902 – 1981) I come across some reminiscences that seem pertinent to the way I feel about Bali today.

“(During the Japanese occupation) the Hofkers watched Bali slowly return to its self-sufficient past, led by elderly matrons who still knew how to acquire useful necessities from plants and from the land. Native fibres were once again used for rope and cloth, natural pigments from fruits and roots replaced Dutch industrial paints, and imported steel tools, spare parts and vehicles gradually gave way to locally produced wooden alternatives. Far from feeling deprived, Maria and Willem regarded themselves as lucky spectators of wondrous events, witnessing history turn back and the ancient knowledge of the Balinese elders again take root and flourish, as if modern times had never intruded.”

Now read on:

Didier Millet, Made Wijaya & Andarawati Gunarsa

12 December 2002: “Architecture of Bali – a Source Book of Traditional and Modern Forms” is at last launched at the Neka Art Gallery, Ubud
The launch of my book (25 years in the making) goes smashingly well: only one West Coast altruist turns up (the others are too busy, I decide, taping sandalwood roses onto windows), but over 100 classics-conscious Balinese help make a big splash. My old sponsor Nyoman Gunarsa and his wife, the delectable Indrawati (see ‘Appropriate Dressing’, Stranger in Paradise, September 2002), are guests of honour. After a rambling speech not all about himself (thank you, Nyoman), Gunarsa takes the bandstand for a tone-deaf rendition of ‘Great Indonesia’ (Indonesia Raya) which almost clears the decks. Present also is a full contingent from Editions Didier Millet (the book’s co-publisher) including Art Director Marie Claude Millet and editors Diana Darling and Shan Wolody, and Didier Millet himself, in Guy Laroche Homme.
Thank you Suteja Neka for supporting us revivalists against the tide of revisionism.
More Photos of Book Launches

January 6th 2003: The Stranger discovers a secret Javanese supremacist enclave in Johor
Three hundred years ago the Dutch colonial government’s military arm all but wiped out the entire royal family of Kediri, East Java, an important capital during Java’s late classic Hindu (Majapahit) period. Survivors fled, with their Javanese beliefs, to Malacca in nearby Malaysia.
Today I meet Idris B. Idros Esq., a barrister who claims descent from this royal migration (his Javanese name Raden Anggarrkesuma N. was whispered in his ear at birth): he now runs the popular “Double ii Equestre” saddle club in Batu Bukit, Johor. His only son, the dashing Raden Cokroaminoto, is Malaysia’s national dressage champion. The family and their court in exile, long since Islamicised, still perform the ancient kejawen (Javanese-animistic) rituals that they claim keep them ‘balanced’ “The Javanese were marginalised during the British Colonial era,” he claims “when many of Malaysia’s newly created sultanates cut off all ties with the motherland”. Most interesting. This story also dove-tails with my observation, formed over 25 years of working in Malaysia, that the modern Malaysian has a severely skewed perception of Java and the Javanese, regarding them as some sort of underclass. Javanese Encik Idris talks of a book called Bora Bora which explains the genealogy of the Javanese sultanates and their dispersal to neighbouring lands during the Dutch colonial era.
Stay tuned for more about this fascinating family.

Banjar Dalem Kusumasari, Kepaon, 22 January 2003: a special performance by dalang puppet masters I Made Sidia and I Dewa Made Darmawan (founders of the sensational Wayang Skate-board troupe) entitled “Dasa Nama Kerta” (Akas Wayang Skateboard) at my old village banjar hall
Tonight’s performance is for the children of the victims of the Kuta bomb. None turn up (tomorrow there is a big cremation) but there are lots of ethno-musicologists in faded batiks and the saintly Rucina Ballinger, project coordinator for Dasa Nama Kerta and one of the driving forces behind Yayasan Kemanuasiaan Ibu Pertiwi (YKIP). Many charity organisations have sprung up to help the children of the Kuta bomb victims. YKIP is assisting with an educational scholarship fund.
Dalang Sidia is the son of the famous Dalang Sija of Bona. Sidia was once immortalised in my original Balinese Architecture book (1984) in a drawing by Stephen Little performing a Baris dance. It is therefore a special treat to see him now, all grown up and a major star.

The fabulous Wayang Skaterboard in action at Br. Dalem Kusumasari, Kepaon 22 January 2001

The show is fresh, inspired and ridiculously Balinese. The only discord in the multi-media-savvy performance is the last act, about Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome, which I find a tad commercial. Force fed to an innocent audience, it seems unnecessary, as the Balinese are stress-masters of the highest order.

Kepaon, 23rd January 2003: The cremation of my namesake, Made Wijaya, one of the taxi-drivers blown up in the Kuta Bomb.
No ‘grief counsellors’ from the interest groups at today’s cremation.
In a large crowd, I find the family of the deceased and request a series of photos in front of the burning corpse. The eldest son runs to get a framed photograph of his late father while his grand dad is styling the shoot. “You’ll be on Bali TV”, scream the onlookers.

The youngest son of Kuta Bomb victim I Made Wijaya at his father's cremation

There seems little room for stress amid all this filial piety and cremation rituals but, in the eyes of the youngest survivor, I discern wrenching pain; a beautiful young family have lost their leader in an imported act of shameless brutality.
The truth is that all Bali-dwellers are in post-traumatic shock and most of them get counselling via the cycle of family banjar and temple gatherings. “My whole life is one big parents and citizens meeting”, confessed my Bali guru recently.

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