Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, )



Following President Bush’s visit to Bali, my six year old godson, an inveterate plane-spotter is contemplating renouncing his American citizenship. It happened like this: on the big day, the young lad visited the Denpasar airport, with his Indonesian father, to ogle Air Force One through the cyclone wire perimeter fence. Over the course of five minutes his party was twice buzzed by Stealth helicopters dripping marines brandishing machine guns. “Step back, Sir,” he was warned by the Apache’s public address system as he craned for a peek at his favourite winged machine.
In a separate, but related, incident, a boatload of Indonesian Navy frogmen, guarding the airport and the visiting dignitaries from terrorist attack, approached a posse of U.S. Navy Seals to make friends and fondle rubber accessories. “Step back, Sir” the seals boomed, as shoulder-mounted assault rifles snapped into the ready mode. The Indonesian frogmen were humiliated by this show of restrained aggression. My godson was devastated by the seals’ seeming horror of same sex affection.

Indeed, the 3 hour, 68 helicopter and one beach walk Bush spectacle, traumatized an island already exhausted by an abundance of security.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard’s Kuta Bomb Anniversary with the accompanying madness and memorial-pushing (see story below), treated the island’s aesthetes to even more ugliness. During the BBC’s coverage of the heart-wrenching ceremony, the open air quarry of the Garuda Wisnu Kencana culture park’s main stadium - a grotesque sun-baked space with signature bougainvillea demi-mortus atop giant, rough-hewn, limestone chimney-stacks, was described as “a setting emblematic of the island paradise’s sunny culture”. Many Balinese are voicing concern that their legendary good taste and grief control have been hijacked.
Now read on:

26 October 2003: More on the Kuta Bomb Site Memorial
“The monument speaks to the site,” blurts Denpasar architect Nyoman Gede Suardana in an article in today’s Bali Post. I don’t know who is speaking to whom here but the winning entry in the ‘Ground Zero’ Memorial Project, by respected local (Renon) architect Wayan Gomudha, is definitely not speaking, it’s screaming! It’s more a cry for help really!

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It’s horrible to think that international archibabble has entered the Balinese vernacular. Archibabble is that language which seeks to validate excessive use of concrete by attempting to pull the verbal wool over people’s eyes/minds/ears. Will Balinese architects soon be going to that ‘special place’, to ‘nourish and nurture’?    Gadzooks!!!

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Today’s post also brings TIME magazine’s issue on the Kuta Bomb anniversary, including Jakarta-based journalist Jamie James’ feature on Real Bali surviving the fall-out. Also in today’s post, an Australian newspaper with a most positive review of John Darling’s latest Bali film, ‘Bali Cry’, about the year since the Bali Bomb. Both works are well balanced and well-researched; with a positive prognosis for Bali.  

Denpasar, 27 October 2003: The main street closes for the greatest show on earth
Not a second too late, a major state funeral arrives to brighten up my horizon. As the international media babbles on about a “Bali struggling to come to grips with a post ‘Kuta-reality”, the band strikes up and a fabulous procession roars through Denpasar; the sceptics are swept aside by a glacier of gorgeousness.
Here a pair of high priests waving stuffed birds of paradise atop a golden float; there are 3 marching bands in matching Raybans; everywhere duty as beauty for the beatification rites for Ida Pedanda Gede Anom Karang, East Denpasar’s gentle high priest.
The white and gold bull sarcophagus, donated by Mr. Odek of Ary’s Warung fame, is particularly splendid; as is the Baris Tekok Jago in original Geringsing cloth costumes.
The star of the show, however, is definitely  half-Balinese half-American Ida Ayu Mira Suarsana, who is at the head of the procession in full Brahman palace dress, tiara glittering (see photo opposite), on a palanquin, in a posse of pedanda istri lady high priests. She is looking very poised.
Way to go, Mira! 
Dayu Mira’s parents are Ida Bagus Suarsana of Mas, the deceased’s eldest son, and Jero Melati, formerly Karen Waddell of New York, who together run the fabulous Terazzo Café and Batan Waru in Ubud. Mira’s brother Ida Bagus Giri Suarsana plays a gamelan metalophone, while chewing gum, on a float borne aloft by 50 men! In this way are Balinese-American relations best moulded. Hooray for alloys!
Bring on the marching girls.
And marching girls there are - 200 of them - in purple chemise and crisp canary yellow head scarves, with gold leaf ornament. Most impressive for this writer are the brigades of bouncers, Denpasar’s finest, from the media-genic Pemecutan palace, who assure that the procession has a speedy and smooth passage from the Tapakgangsul Brahman house,  which is Denpasar’s most celebrated, to the vast graveyard, the Setra Badung
, south of the palace. Chief officiating brahmana include Ida Bagus Gede Kesuma of Griya Tegal Gede, Denpasar (this month’s poster boy and a true fashionista) and Ida Pedanda Putra Bajing of Griya Tegal Jingga, Lebah. Also visible is the saintly Ida Bagus Anom of Sidakarya village who never misses a ceremony in South Bali it seems.
It’s lovely to observe the brahmanic solidarity; in comparison, the ksatrya princes of Bali are such a competitive lot.


31 October 2003: Another cremation at Peguyangan palace near Mengwi for my old chum Professor Ngurah Bagus of Udayana University’s Anthropology department.In the 1970s everyone had a thesis to write or a film to make. The Blair brothers were doing ‘Ring of Fire’, David Stewart Fox was documenting the East Bali village of Budakeling; Stephen Lansing was investigating the subak agricultural community and John Darling was making a film on I Gusti Nyoman Lempad the great Ubud artist and architect. The island’s godfather, for the culturally inclined, was Professor Ngurah Bagus, a big-hearted anthropologist who always had time and a wise word for the Bali-besotted. Off his own bat he headed a lively faculty at Udayana University - many of his students have gone on to be leaders in their field - and was a blunt commentator on the evils of mass tourism and cultural prostitution.
Many senior Indonesian academics at this time were wary of their foreign peers, who were generally cashed up with Ford Foundation grants and the like, but Professor Ngurah Bagus acted as scout master, sounding board and, not infrequently, academic mafia boss for the foreign fray when a research fellow came unstuck.
It is sad to record his death from a sudden illness, at 70.
His cremation was a magnificent affair: I took Australian artist Tim Storrier and Janet Marshall, niece of Singapore’s first Prime Minister, David Marshall. Old Asia hands they marvelled at the devotion and spectacle of a royal Balinese cremation.
Also in the crowd, were the King of Denpasar, Cokorda Pemecutan, local painter Made Wianta, local writer Jean Couteau, politician Putu Suasta and hundreds of the good professor’s former students.
Farewell fine Professor……your departure marks the end of an era.

2 November 2003: Danang, Central Vietnam, to visit the famous Champa Museum  
For twenty years, ever since I discovered the 19th century ‘Champa Princes’ Grave’ Temple, built in Hindu-Balinese temple style, in Trowulan, East Java (the former capital of the Majapahit Kingdom, Bali’s cultural ancestor) I have wanted to visited Central Vietnam and see the Hindu temples of this little known but once mighty kingdom; now collapsed. It was in the bowels of the French Extreme Orient Society in 1983 that I discovered, to my horror, that U.S. B-52 bombers had destroyed most of the important Champa temples at My Son during the Vietnam War.
Today, in the beautiful Champa museum, with its raised open pavilions and frangipani-strewn courtyards, I find maps and temple models and statuary that prove, beyond a doubt, that both Bali and Champa were children of the same classical Javanese Hindu host; artistically speaking at least. The names of the temples, their statuary and their strict geographic orientations - with Brahma temples in the South and Siwa temples at the East, just as it is in Bali and Java - suggest a more symbiotic relationship between the Java and Bali cultures and Champa, than the odd incidents of marriage or exile mentioned in the history books.
From Danang we visited Hoi An, a Unesco heritage site for traditional architecture. Built first by the Japanese in the 16th century, as a port for exporting ceramic wares, the riverside township is today a miracle of Japanese, Han Chinese, Portuguese and French Colonial hybridisation.
Well worth a visit.
(Vietnam Airways flies direct to Danang from Singapore, starting 1 December.).

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