Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, June 2005)

WIN the Title of "White Supremacist Luxury Real Estate magazine
of the Year" 2005

At last, after 23 years, I get a letter to this column from a Balinese reader! It is from the delightful Sri Kebon, star of Jane Walter’s award- winning film ‘Hope in Paradise’ (see ‘Stranger in Paradise’, GOONA-GOONA’ AT THE CINÉMATHÈQUE FRANÇAISE de la dance, April, 2004).
She offers support for my campaign in this column against those trying to restyle our beloved Bali, with the world’s most gorgeous culture, as a New Asian Ibiza or developers’ playground. She writes:

“Your writing on the latest advertisement by ‘luxury realty’ is something that should be highlighted in Bali. I often feel that we Balinese are being discriminated against on our own Island. It's about time someone stands up and says enough is enough! Many young and talented Balinese architects are marginalised because of these ‘selfish hedonists’ as you so kindly describe them.”

Now, I’m not sure that anything can be done at this late stage in development frenzy. Bali has such a dynamic culture, with its own commercial needs, and the real estate business feeds many mouths (including many young Balinese architects). What can be done, perhaps, is to lobby urban planners, magazine editors and society leaders.
On this tack, I have a story to tell……………
I have survived many editors working for this glorious magazine over the past ten years; none of them more fondly remembered than Adam Fenton. Adam is now editor of a startling new white supremacist luxury real estate magazine called ‘TROPICAL LIVING – for those whose home is Bali’ which is funded, I believe, by real estate developers.
I am incensed by a story in the first issue – regarding a ‘Best Villa in Bali Competition’ that seems spurious – and fire off a scathing email to the affable Adam. The letter is dutifully copied around the world to the broad classic-Bali-loving diaspora – which includes Balinese notables such as Putu Suasta (Activists Against Superbule Bullshit), Sri Kebon (Balinese Citizens for a Balinese Future), architects Popo Danes and A.A. Yoka Sara, photographer Rio Helmi and Shamiana Shirazi (Siva Shen Taste Police).
I print here an excerpt from the letter:

“Why are nearly all the Balinese in your magazine merely accessories (i.e. masseurs or barflies) to your crimes against theology and geometry? Why are all the shrines in the villa photos devoid of offerings?
Why is the environmentally abusive sensationally untropical / unBalinese ‘ Asmara – Bukit’ featured next to a reclining Buddha??
“I wish there was more land, but I’m afraid this is it” says Nils Wetterlind of Temple Developments (and also part owner of ‘Tropical Living’ and ‘Tropical Homes’).
“Look around you; all other land in Jimbaran with ocean views is either built on or not available freehold.”

What would he know?
Poor Desa Adat Jimbaran having these carpetbaggers pronouncing on its future!!
And as for the charming Sam Schultz’ pronouncements on the famous village of Sayan, as reported in Tropical Homes:

"Now the Ridge has got a name," Sam says, "and people will buy a name. But this is no pig in a poke. There's no bullshit about it - Sayan is beautiful."

The response to my letter (cry for concern) is truly remarkable.
Former Hello Bali editor, the permanently pickled Sarah Dougherty, wrote:

“Stranger, so refreshing to hear the fire in your belly is burning as brightly as ever, God(s) help the Balinese, God(s), help us all. There is always the possibility that the ‘new Elite (Havens’ may go too far and the Balinese will inherit the whole manicured mess. Nothing is impossible”.
Kisses from Sydney,

(“The whole manicured” mess?? There are some truly gorgeous villas out there too but these magazines almost never feature them!).
And from Mrs. Ketut S. of Sanur, about the ‘pretend shrines’ amid trendoid planter boxes of horse hair plant in these new-age villas (see photo bottom left):

"Why they dress it without offerings, what will happen to Bali if people just playing like that?" (sic)

And from her Australian contractor husband:

“I love this island so much, and not because of the ‘junk Bali’ these people support.
It's always the right time to make a stand otherwise it will all just become another main street Surfers Paradise ( Queensland. Ed.).”

 And from Poleng magazine editor Drs. Putu Semiada:

“There seems to be more people who want to ruin Bali these days than those who participate in preserving Balinese culture.
These people should learn more about Balinese culture before they are able to talk about Bali (real estate and land). It seems that they are exploiting Bali just for money without having concerns for Balinese culture.
We Balinese should stand against these selfish people.

17 April 2005: the start of a two week garden tour of Iran with garden historian Penelope Hobhouse, landscape designer Nancy Goslee Powers, French boxing legend Agnes Montenay and 27 other garden enthusiasts
Modern Iran is a delightful surprise: It is clean, cultured and ever so colourful with stunning architecture – ancient and modern. It is a perfect antidote to the noisy chaos of India, where I have been spending a lot of time lately, and the ‘plastic paradise’ of Dubai, where one is forced to spend hours either side of poetic Persia.
The ancient Persians invented the median-strip, the zebra crossing, tying ribbon on luggage, flip flops and water gardens, among other things. Bali style was invented by the Persians, too (see photos above). Tomato sauce was imported to Persia from Sheffield in the 8 th century and is the foundation of every meal. From the ancient Zoroastrians – Cyrus the Great and Darius the most famous – we have inherited many of the decorative and garden arts (of all ancient people, they were most like the Balinese, I have divined). The modern Iranians are most like Javanese Muslims, with their super-polite gentle natures and love of refinement. Both cultures have deep roots in mystical forms of Islam and deeper roots in spirit worship. I had a field day – admiring and absorbing all the beauty.
The women are most alluring: “Inviting, but humble ….. demure,” said Fairy, our guide. The men-folk are full of grace and boyish enthusiasm.
Teheran has great museums and people but the smaller cities are the most attractive: Shiruz, Isfahan and Yazd have beautiful bazaars (a Persian word) run by honest vendors. Fragrant, fine, fancy free should be printed on the visa one requires to enter the country.
The image of a people oppressed by angry Mullahs – propagated by the western media – is far from the truth. I sat next to an angry Mullah on the plane and he gave me his tomato sauce. He loved my photos of ‘Bazaar Beauties’ and gave me tips on how to open one’s copy of Hafez’ Poems; the Persians’ answer to the I Ching.

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