Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, September 2004)



“Temple Hill Real Estate” says the sign on the road to Uluwatu, “…….Ocean views!”
All my life I have wanted to live in a house with an ocean view and now I have one. This is my story:
Early last month, before leaving for an overseas trip, I instructed my garden commandoes to negotiate the moving of six remaining ‘weed-trees’ that just happened to be on my neighbour’s land. The trees were blocking a sliver-view corridor, between an ancient mango tree trunk and our water tank. My instruction was to move these trees to a new six star hotel where they would have a life as ‘shabby-chic’ accents. As I was to be off the island I could not be held responsible were some horticultural suffragettes to question my motives. (
South Sanur is full of them). As luck would have it……. days after the dirty deed, which took months of delicate negotiation with a cowherd, a real estate construction team arrived on the paddock and chopped down everything in sight.
I now have a 30 metre-wide view corridor of the south Sanur basin, which is fantastic. From the southern corner of my office I can see World Bank bulldozers criss-crossing the foreshore, quietly filling in
Mertasari Bay. Every half hour or so, a large sunburnt tourist is dragged across the sky, joined by a rope to a cigar-boat full of Sanur-surfie-studmuffins.
It’s called adventure tourism.


So, I now have an expanse of blue on which to focus between paragraphs but I also have a case of P.M.S. (Project Mobilization Syndrome). My anxiety relates to the nature of the real estate project about to start on these hitherto intestate acres. Until this month, you see, the said expanse of parkland in front of my studio-home had long been protected by the intricacies of Indonesia’s justice system; a Japanese punter had, some 30 years ago, been diddled and not even Jakarta’s finest middlemen could release the virgin beachfront land from its hibernation.
Now it is ‘pre-project’.
Will we be ignored?
Will my ocean view be filled in?
Stay tuned…….


17th  July 2004: Berlin
Escaping cremations and the wrath of suffragettes, I travelled last month with a gang of Balinese artisans to Berlin.
Berlin is great; one is never more than 20 metres from an espresso machine with free biscuits and they have so much great modern architecture. Berlin is in fact the spiritual home for the New Asian Fascistionista Movement; modern architecture that looks inappropriate and untropical in Singapore and Jakarta looks fabulous on the PotzdammerPlatz.
Our project is outside of
Berlin, in Spreewald to be exact.  Spreewald was Prussia’s lowland Gherkin district; it was once described as ‘Communism’s own Cotswolds’. I am working on a Balinese-style lagoon inside the world’s largest glasshouse, with horticulturalist Robin Lock, of the famous Eden Project, who is doing the tropical rainforest, and a team of Ubud carvers who are creating the world’s biggest indoor Balinese temple gate.
Watch this column for up-dates on this exciting project. Once the Balinese discover
Berlin’s X-rated late night television channels (“faster Ketut”) all hell will break loose!!!

23rd July 2004: To the Alila Hotel, Payangan for a stunning photographic exhibition by Ubud heartthrob Rio Helmi
Rio Helmi’s latest show of big black and white photographs is striking.  The hotel’s handsome gallery space is full of art lovers - Komang Neka of ‘Komaneka’, Diana Darling of ‘Latitudes’ and Amir Sidharta of Jakarta’s trendy ‘Kubuku’ bookshop - and we are all gob-smacked by the beauty of the strong images. It’s Rio’s ‘pick of the crop’, of twenty years in photographers’ heaven.

P.S.Last month Rio wrote in Bali’s popular Bog-bog magazine that taking fine photographs was like seduction i.e. ‘don’t show all at once’. I wrote for details (was I flashing too much cleavage in my photographs??) but got only the most non-committal of SMS in reply.

 “If one more person mentions that bloody cremation,” said my Australian houseguest, “I’m going to strangle them.”
Such is the state of cultural tourism on the fabled isle.


Today is the cremation of the late great prince Cokorda Agung Sukawati’s twin sister, who was also the present princes’ mother.  I am not invited, being a groupie of the Denpasar palace network, so have to leave town. The story below is filed by Gung Gede who is head of our landscape studio; he also took the fabulous photos (this page) from his front row perch at the palace: 
“The deceased is the twin sister of the late Prince of Ubud, Tjokorda Agung Sukawati, who was cremated in 1978. The late Anak Agung Istri Muter, was greatly respected by all Ubud Royal family members as well as by the people of Ubud. This is evident from the great effort and expense that the family and the people have devoted to her cremation ceremony. It is an extraordinary occasion and possibly the biggest pelebon (royal cremation) that has ever been carried out in Bali. The bade (cremation tower) is 25 metres high and 11 tons in weight. During the ceremony it is carried by 180 people, 2 kilometres from the palace to the graveyard. The bade was designed by her nephew, Cokorda Gede Sukawati, son of Cokorda Agung Sukawati and created by the people of Ubud village, which consists of 10 banjars (sub- village units).
Symbolically, for the royal family (Ksatrya caste), the ‘vehicle’ used to take the atman (soul) to heaven is a black bull-shaped wooden sarcophagus (Lembu). A Bull is the vehicle of the God Siwa. One thing that might be interesting to note is that most of the items needed for the ceremony (Bade, Lembu, Naga Banda) were designed by the deceased’s nephew.

Generally, this occasion has the following meaning:
The concept of ngayah (doing something voluntarily without expecting rewards) still exists amongst the Hindu Balinese which is something rarely found in modern world. This also means that the adat (local customs) are still strong in Bali.
This is also a special occasion which can improve and promote the image of Bali with all its uniqueness, which is hard to find in other parts of the world, especially since the down turn due to the Kuta bombing in 2000.
In a big occasion such as this, which involves thousands of people, there will always be obstructions that have to be dealt with. In Ubud, a lot of electricity and telephone cable installations have had to be cut to allow the 25-metre high bade to pass along the street; it was also necessary to deal with the busy traffic along Ubud’s main street. In addition, how can the 11 - ton bade be carried on the shoulders of only 180 men? This is something rarely found in Bali now, as mategenan (carrying something on your shoulder) needs good balance and is a vanishing skill.
I find that there is something missing from the ceremony, i.e. from the design point of view. For such big ceremony as this, the village square (bancingah) is not able to accommodate the number of people (locals and tourists) who are involved in the ceremony or even just watching the spectacle. Consequently, it disturbs the mobility of the bade, lembu, and naga banda. The Bali Aga atmosphere is also lost from the occasion. This should have been able to be performed by penyandang (the people who carry the bade). They should wear black and white sash (saput poleng), bare chest (no shirt), coconut leaf udeng (headdress), instead of wearing Polo shirts and white headdress. Also the priest, who shoots the naga banda, should be carried on palanquin (usung/gayot), and followed by temple priests, instead of mixing with the people and passing among the  tourists. The atmosphere looks a bit unreligious”.

  — A. A. Gde Agung, Puri Agung Sukawati

29th July 2004: A Showing of ‘Fahrenheit 9-11’ at Kuta’s Cine-Club
The Balinese can’t understand all the fuss over Michael Moore’s latest piece of pushy propaganda. “It is smart for the White House to have personal access to the Saudi Ambassador two days after the terrible event,” they say, “just like we did with the Javanese community the day after the Kuta bomb.” Anyway, the Balinese think the Republicans are the good guys because they have bigger hair and “give great cremations”: the recent Reagan Funeral, for example, was as good as Ubud’s Royal spectaculars!
Michael Moore looks like a loser at the kite festival, one Balinese pundit commented.
Right on!

1st August 2004: A Great Chronicler of Bali dies in Paris.
The 20th Century’s greatest photographer, Henri Cartier Bresson, died today. He was 95.
I saw him earlier this year at the French Film Academy’s Bali Dance Festival (see Stranger in Paradise ‘Goona-Goona,
at the Cinématèque Française de la Dance’, April 2004) earlier this year; he had loaned his extraordinary photographs of Balinese dancers in the 1930s for a special exhibition.
 “You never actually see H.C.B.”,said a French friend, “if you look at him, your eyes will burn out!”.
Indeed, H.C.B. had a reputation for superhuman aloofness and hauteur but his photographs captured moments of visual poetry that were after very important moments; the removal of the Dutch Governor General’s portrait from Bogor palace via the front veranda is my favourite!
Without his early photographs of Java and
Bali, the dance world, in particular, would be considerably poorer.

15th August 2004: Sanur Socialite gives Stranger hope for future of Balinese Architecture
Parallel Universe Up-date:
Yesterday two strays (straight-acting gays) came into my shabby-chic off-Sanur studio-home and squealed “Are we in the right place?” (My house is so devoid, you see, of normal expat residential indicators – such as flushes of dark timber grille-work, or a black reflecting pond, or a glass brick wall etc. – that the poor dears felt disorientated).
“Are you building a bar?” the lesser defined of the pair enquired, having spotted my in-house construction site.
This sent me into a steep decline; I sense in moments like this that hope for the preservation of the Balinese identity is dying fast.


Tonight I attend a heavenly soirée de gala at the Santo Domingos in Batujimbar, complete with tandem Jegog (giant bamboo) orchestras from Jembrana in West Bali
and the lithe offspring of many crowned heads of ancient regimes. Family friend Hugo Jesseriati, point man emeritus to serious grandees in Batujimbar since 1981, has built a gorgeous new home, in the old Batujimbar tradition of classical Balinese pavilions, in a classical Balinese garden. The discreet coral gates and other decorative masonry, by Sanur legend Bapak Puger, 75, are of a class not seen since Donald Friend’s first Sanur home in 1969.
Bravo to the Batujimbar beautiful people, for upholding standards of excellence in Balinese Architecture.
On, On!!!

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