Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, March 2005)

  Superheroes in Super-Hard Times

There were so many heroes in Bali last month: here are just two noteworthy examples.
After the horrific tsunami (270,000 Indonesians now confirmed dead), the honorary Dutch consul for the past twenty years, Al Purwa, raced to Aceh with donations from the Rotary/Dutch/travel communities. From there, somewhat shell-shocked, he filed harrowing daily reports; as he dispensed aid.

This is a copy of some SMS text messages from one of Al’s operatives in Aceh:

  "Been 4 days in worst affected area, Meulaboh, devastation beyond belief, 3 Tsunami from 3 different directions at same time, crushing the city of Meulaboh with cold and very hot water due to friction. Most bodies found naked due to force of waves, coastline shifted 5-20m inland, still lots of dead bodies under rubble. Ship after ship & an incredible amount of donations keep flowing in.
Military, NGOs & US can't keep up, still 6 ships waiting to unload.
Al, I have surveyed coastal areas and land from city to Lapang 15 km and Ripen 10 km, no way to collect data, how many people for 1 unit water? My recommendation is the way I am doing. I donated 10 units to BPPT, Bakti Teknologi Aceh.
I follow them and see their operation, in 2 days finished 2 units. You should see the happiness on refugees’ faces. 1st fresh water in a month. They have surveyed and know where to find and supply water, we just give them Rp.15 million per unit and later ask them for report. Feisol, Meulaboh, Aceh"
More photos tsunami (Al-Purwa)

 Another case was that of Odeck (Gung Ari) of Ary’s Warung in Ubud, who represented the Ubud community in an inspiring initiative. Together with Robert Wilson of Rip Curl Apparel, he loaded up a boat in Padang, West Sumatra, and sailed for some of the more remote coastal pockets in Aceh where aid had not reached. I am printing his email of 24 January, 2005 to show the scale of the operation.

"On the 9th of January, Robert Wilson (Rip Curl Indonesia), Jack Mc Nort (AAAI, Aceh Aid @ IDEP) and Gung Odeck (Ubud Community Board for Tsunami Relief - Ubud Initiative) departed from Padang on the 'KM Karya Bersama' (Working Together) Vessel, chartered by Rip Curl, with relief cargo;  destination Sinabang, Simeulue and Calang.    
The 'KM Karya Bersama' vessel arrived in Calang, the capital town of Aceh Jaya District, on Friday 14 January. The district of Calang, with a total population of about 35,000 people, was left with about 7,000. All the homes, buildings and infrastructure were completely wiped out and destroyed. Locals reported the tsunami waters were very hot and they saw waves as tall as the coconut trees. Robert himself measured the height of the water mark to be 25 metres in one hilly spot next to the ocean. The local government was not functioning; however, the 'Bupati' (the Regent) survived and was in the early stages of building a temporary office.  
Due to Military zoning 'KM Karya Bersama' had to anchor and they had to organize other means of transporting the goods — 96 generators, 96 pumps, 100 sets of tools etc. to shore.
On Saturday the 25th, they unloaded the boat with the help of Mr. Ade Taryano an NGO from Walhi Foundation in Jakarta, smaller local boats, an amphibious vehicle from the marines, local people power and the crew and gang of 'KM Karya Bersama'. 
After unloading, Robert Wilson and Odeck set out to find some families in the area who were already organizing themselves to start building their homes. After a long search by jeep with no roads, they found one family who had just started so they gave them a complete set of everything listed above, along with a briefing on how to use the pump, pipes and generator. By this they were hoping the family would be an example to encourage other survivors of the community to start their own individual building, which would give them a daily activity and eventually give them a place to reside other than in the over populated refugee camps." 

After the Bali bomb, the various Balinese communities — Hindu, Muslim, Kuta, Ubud, expatriates too — all showed great cohesion in the organisation of aid. The support groups from that disaster were fully activated once again for the tsunami relief effort.

• • •

In Malaysia, on the island of Rebak near Langkawi, I have six Balinese commando gardeners who have been working there for some months. I arrived on Rebak in mid-January, the day after some terrifying tsunami photos shot by a Banda Aceh photographer, were being widely aired on the world’s media. I made the gardeners sit down and watch the harrowing scenes and listen to the testimony of the photographer. Their jaws dropped as they registered the full horror and the biblical scale of the spectacle but awe turned to mirth during the poor photographer’s interview.
"What are you laughing at?" I enquired.
"The man saved his film ………but lost three of his children! Ha!" countered big Dewa, the leader of the pack.
I have often noticed the ability of some Balinese to be amused by the misfortune of others: it’s a version of the Indonesian ‘tabah’, a fatalistic approach to life that accepts all the cycles — of life, of death and of nature. It allows the Balinese to ‘just move on as they groove on’, I guess.
The other hero of the disaster has been the world community, which has rallied like never before — Kofi Anan, George Bush Senior, Bill Clinton, SBY, the Indonesian President, and even the Malaysian Immigration Department (in accepting the Indonesians found drifting in the ocean, weeks after the tsunami).
Over ten thousand benefit events have been held around the world.

21st January, 2005: the wedding of my old pal Mark Keatinge and the lovely Ketut Mariani of Sanur
In 1973 Mark Keatinge and I sailed to Bali on a 35-foot ketch.
I never left.
Keatinge went back to Australia to find himself and to work on his warrior person. He sired children and built a smart tropical house in Byron Bay. Both these talents he brought back on his return to Bali in 1989.
He is now the proud father of two stunning Sanur-Sydney starlets, as well as being the very proud owner of a timber construction company. Today he officially entered the Hindu Bali faith; as a crossover from Presbyterianism via Rajneesh, the Atkins diet, Plan X from Outer Space and the Sanur Rotary Club. He has long been a player in the Sidakarya and Sanur Hindu communities.
Minutes after becoming a Balinese Hindu, he finally and formally married Ketut.

26th January, 2005: Australia Day
Mark Keatinge has been awarded an A.O.M. (Medal of the Order of Australia in the General Division) for his heroic work at Denpasar’s Sanglah hospital in the days and weeks after the Bali bomb.
The Stranger joins all of Bali’s Australian community in offering heartfelt congratulations.

6th February, 2005, to N.G.M. - The Nyoman Gunarsa Museum, formerly the Museum Klasik Bali
Maybe Sam Goldwyn and Nyoman Gunarsa never met, but these masters of modern-day chutzpah sure had a lot in common!
Supreme Aries Artist Nyoman Gunarsa and his flamboyant wife Indrawati are Stranger in Paradise regulars — see ‘Appropriate Dressing’, Stranger in Paradise, September 2002 and ‘Behind the Shopping Section’, March 2004, for file photos — going back to my first trip to Central Java, in 1981, when I recorded the mayhem of their studio-home in Sleman, Yogyakarta. Gunarsa is now the Napoleon of modern Balinese art and museum—building; his wife a noble and ever-youthful Josephine. Over the past decade, Nyoman has survived a stroke, slander by Idanna Pucci in her new book and, the adoration of Claire Wolfowitz (the art-loving wife of super-hawk Paul). He has emerged as Bali’s most prominent artist. His museum, near his ancestral house on the outskirts of Klungkung, now occupies a huge 5 hectares with a three-storey museum full of classical Balinese art. There are expansive gardens, pavilions and ceremonial gates.

Tonight I arrive in the main reception area, which is bedecked like Barbara Streisand’s wedding was (if it had been sponsored by Indomie). The perennials of Bali’s art world — Gung Rai, Suteja Neka, Made Bandem, Popo Danes — are all there, as is the Governor of Bali, and Taufik Wiraatmaja, the C.E.O. of Indonesia’s largest food manufacturer, Indofood, which is footing the bill for this most praiseworthy extravaganza.
Nyoman is wearing a white and gold ensemble with a headdress that seems to be glittering like a Barong’s mud flaps. He is all pumped up — Michael Jackson meets Rambo sort of thing — as he leads us to the arena. We all stare in awe at the sky-sweeping lasers, the stage with N.G.M. in 4 metre-high letters, the crowd of 20,000 and Bali’s best Barongs and their attendant gamelan orchestras.
It is a great night for Gunarsa: he has elevated the humble Barong dance to Nuremburgian scale. He deserves a medal (which is duly forthcoming when the Minister of Culture announces the award of Indonesia’s most prestigious cultural gong during his introductory speech).
A single pin spot is playing on Gunarsa who sits, like Nero, in the front row. Will a white grand piano rise out of the stadium floor, we all wonder?
The Noodle King gives a great speech about the good tsunami represented by Nyoman Gunarsa at the cutting edge of culture. The first Barong then struts and the audience sways — my faith in the survival of classical Balinese arts is restored.

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