Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, October 2004)

“The Balinese only do ceremonies for the tourists now”, one Seminyak ‘expert’ recently told me. Well I don’t know about that but I know it’s the silly season and August 2004 was the silliest in ages! There was a 3,000-people rave party at the Garuda Wisnu Kencana ‘Culture Park’ which featured a 1,000-man Ketjak. From reliable sources, I heard that half of the crowd were at least semi-naked and engaged in very heavy petting in the heavy temple setting. Gender confusion was rife.  
The Ubud seniors had an August bash too: herbal suffragette Linda Garland came out of retirement to stage a ‘golden’ rave at her estate. She was spotted collecting tickets at the gate wearing a Madurese money-belt with a bamboo catapult tucked into its folds. A mobile laboratory was set up at the front gate offering free stool analysis if you brought a friend. Vendors circulated inside the estate selling Flagyl for the intestinally-challenged. 
“Jerry Hall’s son is here” was the buzz.

 Now of course my spies saw amiable young Jimmy Jagger with his escort of lithe maidens at Kepaon’s fabulous ‘Pamapagan’ temple festival. His entourage included a bouquet of beautiful Hanoverian princesses who took the small temple’s inner sanctum by storm. They were in a group of 20, all in fabulous, almost-kinky Balinese temple fashions. “That blonde tourist with the long waist does it for me,” one of our Balinese hosts remarked. Another host sidled up to a teen goddess and whispered, “You know, in Bali, a flower behind the ear means that the wearer is available.” (The bogus guide who started this wicked myth deserves full marks for effort).
But, seriously, are we now witnessing the emergence of western culture – read blondes in wet sarongs and quarries full of throbbing multi-cultural metrosexuals – as a viable alternative to the Balinese lifestyle? Perhaps not, but the well-heeled hedonists are over here, overwrought and keen to remodel Bali in the image of Ibiza.  
The appallingly-named but mega-popular ‘Ku De Ta’ night spot, for example, has recently announced its 4th anniversary by issuing a ‘passport to paradise’: I suppose getting your ya-yas out in a convivial setting, visa free, as it were, is its message.  Paradise, presumably, is their hip and happening canteen; not the island of the gods.  
Other island main-stays promote a similar view point. If one reads ‘The Beat, the western beaches’ most popular magazine, the only beat from now on is the disco beat; there is nary a mention of the world’s most glamorous culture throbbing between the cracks in their loose foundations.


August was also Bali’s Galungan-Kuningan All Saints Season: cool weather and crisp, star-filled nights guaranteed temple festivals that were more heavenly than usual. I took budding Bali-ophile Ella Dinoi, architect for the new Bulgari hotel in Pecatu, to a fabulous festival at the Pura Dalem in Sidakarya, near Sanur. There was not a tourist in sight but the Balinese were sure doing it: a full four-hour Barong dance on the white sand, under the Banyan tree, in the outer jaba temple court was attended by the entire village. Inside the temple I marvelled at the new generation of Barong dancers and musicians, none over 20 it seemed – a sure sign that in this village, as in most others, the real beat goes on. For most Balinese the temporary temptations of the heavenly hedonistic kind are no match for the beautiful be-in that is Balinese life.
Now read on:  

Thursday, 9 September, 2004, MORE TERROR FIRMA
Just as I am sending a scathing email to an Australian newspaper chastising it its for its patronising tone – talking about Bali as a cheap exotic playground, and about the ‘Islam Issue’ (their phrase), in an article about the coming writers' festival in Ubud, a bomb goes off at the Australian Embassy. The bombs kills 9 innocents and destroys the recently restored peace between neighbours. The beautiful garden I did for the fortress Embassy in 1995 is razed. A gardener died in the blast.
It is just another blow to the chest for a punch-drunk tourism industry.
The Stranger joins all of Bali in offering condolences to the families of the deceased and sympathy to the injured.

Friday, 10th September 2004-09: To the fabulous Susuhunan Palace Solo, Central Java, for the Coronation of the Sunan Pakubuwono XIIIB
Pakubuwono XIIIA, the ‘other Sultan’, a police colonel, crowned himself last week, to the accompaniment of recorded gamelan music, in the house of Mrs. Moeryati Soedibyo of Mustika Ratu Cosmetics fame.
I gave Mrs. Soedibyo lunch once.
She picked my brains for two hours about Bali real estate (Kumpul Kubu) and spa design and the state of Bali style and I never heard from her again. So, against the grain of the au gratin, and my security consultants, I have decided to go to the rival coronation, at the gorgeous palace and gardens. Everyone who is anyone is not going – Poppy Darsono, Yoop Ave, even my Solo-based guru Go Tik Swan (K.R.T. Harjonegoro), founder of the palace's museum – or rather they are abstaining. ‘Refuseniks’ I call them all.

“I wouldn’t want to go to any coronation that would have me,” homewares icon Warwick Purser commented.
I am in conflict over my decision but feel it is my duty as a foreign correspondent to cover both coronations. As a lover of all things Javanese, I plan to enjoy the show and wolf down as much delicious free Solo food as time will allow. My only concern is: will I be caught with the also-rans?
My worst fears are realised when I reach Denpasar airport to catch the Garuda flight to Jogyakarta. I find the Ubud vagablondes (a Balinese hill tribe of ante-bolacimian rhinemaidens. - Ed.) in full battle dress (read denim boob tubes with weapons-grade central zippers). They are trailing trophy escorts babbling on about “Indonesians being thrown out of Australia en masse,” after yesterday’s bomb.

How is it, pray tell, that Jakarta’s  Trotskyite society matrons and Bali’s Seminyak crowd regularly spout the same facile and flawed intelligence?!!
Anyway ….. as I was saying..... the Royal House of Pakubuwono is one of the oldest and most esteemed in South East Asia; the title itself rising from a rift between two brothers at the start of the Mataram dynasty in Central Java, twelve Pakubuwonos ago.
 “There are 12 moons only in the Javanese calendar, therefore the last Pakubuwono was the end of the line,” soothsayers have been chiming lately.
 “Yeah? Well the French have 12 moons too, Mbok, and they still got through 16 Louis.” I remind them.



The plane lands at 7 p.m. and we drive north to Solo. On the outskirts of the city, we are stopped by a mighty police patrol. Heaven knows what system of ‘profiling’ they employ but I am asked to step ‘outside the vehicle, sir’ and open my bag. Once they spot our palace VIP (Press) Driver’s meal coupon card there is much scraping and bowing and we are waved through. The vagablondes, I later hear, were spread-eagled on a Kijang bonnet and strip searched; their zippers were confiscated!  


After the horrors of the Jogya-Solo highway, we arrive at the refined Roemahku Motel in the centre of town; it is like stepping into a slice of Javanese heaven.

The orderly Javanese art deco architecture, the neat courtyards of ornamental plants and potted ferns and the gentle swish-swish of Solonese soles hitting the terrazzo. Everyone in the lobby lounge is deep in discussion about the feuding brothers. How will it all end? Will the big demo at the palace coronation eventuate? Will the vagablondes remember to cover their navels? Will the vast courtyards be empty for the first coronation since last week?
  ... To be continued next month.



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