Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, March 2004)



Here I am, after 25 years of banging on, buried beyond the classifieds. Am I to assume that the editor, whose name I recently slandered for offences against Balinese theology and geometry, has moved me here as an act of grace and, perhaps, to be more accessible for our Arab readers. Or am I just an "arty fart", as the robust, new, defiantly-neatnik ’The Yak’ (Seminyak) magazine would call it, or am I just resisting the flow (the beer flow) and the call to a New Bali full of nubile white women in party dress sans panties ??? This New Look Hello Bali has bravely put ‘culture’ on its masthead, I must admit, behind shopping, golf, villa rental, dining, travel and spas. My column is now described as "monthly social, architectural, aesthetic and opinion". It seems that I don’t even warrant a complete sentence!
OH CRUEL WORLD. Our beloved King is under house arrest, the Chinese developers are sharpening their teeth on stale abalone and my column is now placed 30 pages behind a story called ‘Ace of Lace’.
Now read on:

16th January, the Tenth Anniversary of the fabulous Museum Klasik Gunarsa for the Aji Sewara Nugraha Awards ceremony.
Desperate for a reality fix, I visit the Museum Klasik Gunarsa, near Klungkung, for an awards ceremony for some of Bali’s cultural heroes. All the old faces are there; including the Nekas, the Bandems, a collection of handsome Ubud princes and enough angelic sub-teen musicians to blow the blues away. Gunarsa has managed to rally le tout cultural Bali, on a weekday, for a be-in.

I am seated between the popular Bali-born Minister for Tourism and Culture, Mr. Ardika, and the hero of the Bali bomb, General Made Mangku Pastika. I seize on the opportunity to complain about the frangipani flowers on the urinals at the airport and the continuing gang-rape of Bali by the Australian press. They give me concerned looks (as in "give us a break") and continue gawking, as well all are, at Mrs. Gunarsa’s gravity-defying new silhouettes.
I try to commend Mangku Pastika on his swash-buckling appearance in John Darling’s film, ‘The Healing of Bali’ but he is looking over my shoulder at some arriving grandees. I have better luck with my old mentor Wayan Surpha, former Head of the Parisada Hindu Dharma (see Stranger in Paradise, May 1979) who agrees with me that the sky will fall in soon if we don’t stomp out the Aitken’s diet in Legian and re-instate a benevolent dictator.
As if on cue, an angel plucks Guruh Soekarnoputra, famed composer and brother of the President, from the front stalls and twirls him around, centre-stage, for a brief joged flutter.


On everyone’s seat was a magazine, MUSEA, with 28 out of 28 articles about Nyoman Gunarsa, and his influence on Florence, the Pentagon, the Denpasar hospital …….. you name it!

Nyoman Gunarsa has never looked more like the jovial dictator we all need to govern us; his new royal phase is a sight to behold. For the next three hours he dances, prances, pats, pins and prowls through an awards ceremony; a one-man exhibition, a world première of a Gunarsa musical and the launch of an autobiography. Not since the Nuremburg Rally has one ‘Aries’ coerced this many people into party mood for self-glorification - But we LOVE Nyoman for it. We Love his energy, his enthusiasm, his will-power and his wife. We will wear his plate-sized medal embossed with his planet-sized profile to the next Gunarsapuja and bask in his reflected glory for after all; it is only Nyoman Gunarsa who regularly strikes up the band for the preservation of classic Balinese culture.
BRAVO!! Encore!!


23rd January 2004, To Turtle island with the Kepaon Gods

Every year the procession from the Pura Dalem Kepala in Kepaon, near Denpasar, to Pura Sakenan on Turtle Island gets more and more surreal. In olden times, the procession filled the entire thoroughfare through the rice fields, before neatly folding into an armada of boats. These days the gods and gamelan are generally ignored as they edge down the by-pass: the busloads of gawking tourists seem less interested and pantechnicons, packed with carved and painted ducks, less inclined to give up an inch. Even the controversial new bridge connecting the island to the mainland, has been given a distressed Nuarta-esque Hindu theme-park finish; the bridge architect having chosen to represent Bali in miniature through neo-fascist bridge architecture. A series of concrete stumps, three metres high, line the bridge; they are accented with log-like sections of decapitated frangipani trunks, driven, ankle deep, into distressed planter boxes. Views to temple, harbour and South Sanur are thus obliterated, in favour of muscular-Hindu decoration.
Mercifully, the temple complex is still enchanting. A coral perimeter wall has finally been built to keep out the thousands of vendors and food stalls who provide for the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims.
I often travel (ngiring) with the gods from my adopted village of Kepaon on the Friday before the deluge, when the more local gods are installed in their pagoda-like audience halls. The main prasada shrine of the Pura Dalem Sakenan temple, fashioned from coral stone by the famous priest-architect Dhang Hyang Nirartha, in the 13th century, is arguably the only Prasada shrine in Bali to survive from that era, or rather to survive the current manic fad for restoration. In the reverted confines of its inner sanctum I spy old buddy Wayan Korda with his grandson, Putu.
I am politely introduced to the youngster as ‘a bomb survivor’, flushed as I am from the excessive heat. Wayan, it should be noted, has worked on both Bali bomb films with their respective producers, Gary Hayes and John Darling; I reviewed John Darling’s film in this column two months ago. This week I finally caught up with Gary Hayes (Padi Productions) film. (Avid Stranger readers will recall that it was exactly this day one Balinese year ago that I had to reprimand Mr. Hayes for insufficient decorum in a family house shrine.). His post-bomb film, entitled ‘Bali Cry’, is an heroic effort for someone who obviously knows little about Bali but sadly falls short of past Bali films. There are too many disenfranchised expats moaning and too much shallow ‘California Fried Buddhism’ narrative, which is my pet hate. Disjointed snippets of Balinese religious philosophy - some profound, many wide of the mark and all out of the place in this sort of film, were loosely sprinkled over ravishing footage of annual sacrifices, trance dances and even a legong being blown up in the rice field by the Hiroshima bomb as she emerges, purple fan a-flutter, from a tuft of padi. Even the well-shot and well-researched cremation sequences suffered from poor editing and gratuitous narration. No narration would have been better than the new age sentiments dished up by a narrator who seemed, herself, to be suffering from Caroline Chisholm syndrome.
The film’s musak - from Dambuster theme to Inca flutes, with some excellent Balinese music - further enforces an impression of disjointedness.
The film seemed more concerned with highlighting the devastation rather than Bali’s extraordinary regenerative powers.

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