Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, July 2005)


I often write about Bali's unique relationship with Australia. Recently, that relationship has been severely tested; not that many Balinese knew anything about it.

Last month, while many Balinese were visiting Byron Bay, New South Wales, as part of the Indonesian Arts Festival and while Kuta's legendary Surf Life Saving Club was training in Cottesloe, Western Australia (See "Hands across the Ocean and Other Body Parts" Stranger in Paradise, May 2005), one poor Australian miss was going through hell, on the wrong side of the law, in a Denpasar trial that held centre stage in the Australian media for months.

The girl, Schapelle Corby, a 28 year old beautician from Queensland's Gold Coast, was caught with approximately four kilos of weapons grade marijuana in her boogie board bag (the type, the Stranger's sources tell him, which is readily available at the rave parties on the coast since the Bali Bomb closed down the old Sumatra-Bali dope trail whatever that means). On arrest, Ms. Corby maintained that she didn't put the drugs in the bag, which set off a bizarre chain of accusations against Qantas' baggage handlers in Australia; accusations which have, in the past, surfaced regarding shenanigans of this kind (you would have to be a pretty hard nut, I would have thought, to risk the life of an innocent and smuggle narcotics, in this crude way, into a country with the death penalty). What set this apart from the hundreds of other drug-busts involving Australians pleading their innocence around the world, however, was the Australian media’s special interest in Bali since the horrific bombings that claimed so many Australian lives in the Kuta Bomb attack in 2003. It is a morbid sort of interest that regularly pops up such headlines as ‘More Dead than Bali’ (after the Tsunami) and ‘Bali survivor weds’ (about a footie star injured in the bomb). Somehow, with the help of the free-range Australian media, Bali has been re-branded from being a magical Hindu island where dreams come true, into a cheap, exotic getaway where nightmares come true.  
Many Australians don't buy into this, mind you, because Bali was the place where they first experienced ‘Love as long as your Visa Lasts’ or where they first saw a trance ritual, or religious beauty on a Hollywood scale but that has now changed.  Most Australians – 92% in fact, according to a recent highly irregular pre-trial survey – now believe that Corby is innocent, based on something the once fair-minded ‘Bulletin’ magazine calls ‘Australians' bullshit radar’, and that she is also the cruel victim of Indonesia's Draconian justice system. She is fed on ‘fried rice, vegetables, chicken, bean curd and dirty water in the jail’ the ‘New Idea’ magazine printed (Not a bad meal, by Indonesian standards, I would have thought – and in Indonesia no-one gets bad water!!!). In a highly incendiary pre-verdict piece in ‘The Bulletin’ magazine, dangerous Pacific Rim dingbat Paul Toohey wrote: "Balinese policeman have to volunteer for the death squad," and, according to an Australian expat, "if the prisoner is Australian, there is no shortage of volunteers."
What utter nonsense!!!! The ‘Australian expat’ who fed ace hack Toohey these lies is the one who should be shot, I reckon. Anyway, there ARE NO ‘Balinese policemen’ just Indonesian, and their island of origin should never be an issue. It is extremely doubtful that any Balinese would ever volunteer as they have a strong belief in the Hindu principle of AHIMSA (‘thou shalt not kill’, and also the name of a new trendoid Bali hotel run by an Australian!)
I was in Australia for the verdict, broadcast live, nationwide, like the O.J. Simpson trial but styled like a CNN war coverage special. ‘Corby - THE VERDICT’ was the graphic floating large on the screen; CORBY - HER LIFE, HER TIMES ... SCREAMED the verdict-day COVER on The BULLETIN). The tragic figure of Schapelle Corby, with just a soupçon of décolleté, was large on the screen. She was poised and alert when Judge Linton Sirait (his nephew is an associate editor of this column) read out the sentence: 20 years. The sentence was expected, in the circumstances, considering that the defence team had not proven any of the accused's contentions, and that Ms Corby's backer (a bankrupt showman from the Gold Coast) had gone public with his accusations that ‘the Indonesians’ (as they were often referred to in the Australian media, not the ‘Indonesian prosecution team’ or ‘the Denpasar Court’) had been ‘asking for bribes’. Corby, reciting the Lord's Prayer, was momentarily relieved not to get the death sentence, but she quickly collected herself, between phrases of the prayer, to scream at the chief prosecutor as her mother rained down abuse on the judge; all watched by 10,000,000 Australians, live.
I had tears welling in my eyes: it was a shattering spectacle to witness. Whatever she did, she doesn't deserve 20 years my friend, a barrister, immediately commented.
Interviewed outside the courtroom, Ms Corby's brother was asked: "Do ya think the Indonesians did a good job?"
"They coulda did better," came a bitter reply. 
We were then shown another sloppily dressed Australian journalist with his hands on his hips (a gesture of aggression in most Asian cultures), interviewing  the much-loved Connie Pangkahila, in Chanel, the former Sanur G.P. to the stars, now ‘Indonesia’s psychologist and expert on Stockholm Syndrome’ who said that Corby had been ‘strong during the reading of the verdict’. Is this journalism at the highest level?
The next day someone at the Australian press tribunal let the racist dog off its leash. The Indonesian judges were described as ‘like bad Philipino actors’ in the once venerable ‘The Australian’ newspaper. What would they know??!!! The judge was a Batak, from North Sumatra, known for their animated way of speaking, like Texans and Italians – and their honesty).
"We want our Tsunami aid back. Boycott Bali. Free Corby." There was to be no end to the outpouring of embarrassing – to an Australian who lives and works in Bali like me – anti-Balinese sentiment, which was largely ignored, thank God, by the Indonesian media; less 'out of respect' for their Big Brother neighbour, than out of a sense of weariness over reacting to the Australian press' 'Proud to be Lowbrow' worldview.
Let us pray!
First for Ms Corby, that, on appeal, Justice, not the Australian media, will find her innocent.
Secondly, that the always cordial and often red-hot Australia-Bali connection will not be ruined by this brouhaha and that Australian drug gangs, such as the ‘Bali Nine’ caught last month trying to move kilos of heroin out of Denpasar airport, will respect Bali, for being the special place that it is, and not use it as a stepping stone for drug mules.
Amazingly, after years of this sort of imported ugliness, the Balinese still regard all who come to the island as ‘tamu’ or guests.  Have the ‘guests’, one must ask, forgotten how to behave???
Now read on …

The Villa Bebek, 17th May, 2005: a dinner in honour of the coming investiture of  Mr. Basil Charles of Mustique, Melbourne and Montreux, with the Order of the British Empire by H.M. The Queen on 22nd June, for ‘community service, and support services to blondes around the world since 1943’.
Mr Basil Charles has been a great friend of Bali since before the Amandari. He has put up Balinese gardeners and carpenters in his humble Mustique home for the Mick Jagger, the David Bowie and the Princess Margaret house building projects. He collected the first batch of Garland-musk with a bamboo spoon in 1984, he was there in Richmond when Jerry Hall slapped Mick after the inveterate groin-bandit tried to say that the Jagger-Hall Bali Wedding at the home of Amir Rabik was not valid and tonight he is here with his hill tribe fan club to accept the Stranger's Jungle fever Lifetime Achievement Award for services to tired blondes, with his ravishing (and still youthful) escort, the Lady Diana of Montreal. I have had our art department fashion a crown for this joyous occasion – it has a spam can band with a aureole of miniature bananas, peacock feathers a destra a sinestra, with a pineapple and Waikiki topless barbie opined and rampant .
A special Central Javanese Keroncong band plays by the pool, ablaze with Masquerade and Midnight Screamer roses for the occasion. The saucy lead singer sways, the moon is high, the red wine flows. It’s a perfect Sanur night I am thinking as the lovely Yuni Rabik, wife of the honorary Spanish Consul Gran Señor Amir Rabik B.A, takes the microphone to croon a Batak love song or two. There is nothing quite like the thrill of a Batak crooning in the garden under the full moon.
Basil's crown melts and we all jump into the pool to cool off.

29th May 2005: I visit the popular THE BALE hotel, near Nusa Dua, with some Indian clients.
I have always been loath to go there as the white on white tank trap look leaves me cold, but my Indians go ga-ga at the formulaic architecture and design. The gardens ARE rather splendid – Islamic inspired, with rills and water elements to cool the dry Nusa Dua air – with a restricted palette of magnificent specimen plants – white Bougainvillea, Washingtonian palms, Saracea thaipengengsis (a small neat tree with brilliant orange flowers).  The place seems oddly devoid of shrines and offering boxes though – I've observed that New Asians find spirit-worship ‘spooky’ – which is unusual for Bali. There is one small canang offering on a wee tray exactly in the corner, the wrong corner, i.e. not in the propitious north-east corner of the reception desk. Is this a new trend: Balinese scatter-offerings (like scatter-Buddhas and scatter-pillows), to appease the delicate Zen fashion sensibilities but not the Gods???? SCHURELY not??

30th May 2005: to Sanur, for a friend’s son's wedding.
I first met contractor Made Dapir and his partners, in Batujimbar, in the glorious 1980s, when moguls like Kajima, of Kajima construction, and  Ong Beng Seng of HPL Properties (they own most of the Four Seasons Hotels around the world) were building giant dream homes in the once sleepy real estate development P. T. Batujimbar International Resort Development ( P.T. Bird) , Bali's first.

Dapir's company, P.T. Tunas Jaya Sanur, had the best carpenters and the most flexible supervisors; in over twenty or thirty projects over the years – the Saba Bay Resort, the Sheraton Cengkareng, the Amandari and the Four Seasons Resort Jimbaran among them – we have suffered and  grown together.
Today his son, Kadek Alit Wibawa, SE is to marry the lovely Ni Wayan Eka Januryati, SS. Dapir's garden home – designed by Bali-based architects Atelier Six and Sanur-based American landscaper Karl Prinsic of The Bale and the Amanusa fame – is a wonderland of hotel-style and kitsch white bathing beauty statues (not Prinsic's design I'm sure), like many contractors’ homes around the world. Gathered today in the highest North pavilion are dignitaries from all the palaces of Sanur and Denpasar; a sign of the respect that Dapir has garnered over a thirty year career.
I talk to Ngurah Wardana (Cokorda Kesiman), a rabble-rouser member of the local parliament who also happens to be the ruler of one of the oldest palaces in Bali (buy my book ‘The Complete Stranger in Paradise, the Diary of an Expatriate in Bali 1979 - 1980’ for the run down on  his illustrious ancestors). We talk of the newly empowered real estate industry and its attitude towards Bali's traditional culture. He thinks the answer to the urban problems of pollution, drug addiction and cultural prostitution is more offerings.
“Round up the infidels and hunt them on horseback," I scream, "if they can't honour Bali and her traditions!"
We are both prone to screeching, but nobody listens; the Balinese are sadly apathetic when it comes to activism. Even today's horrific incident at the Western Australian Parliament house, when Corby supporters painted ‘Bang Bam’ and ‘Free Corby’ in thirty foot high letters on the building's walls, leaves the Balinese only faintly bemused. (It’s a good sign that both the Australian and the Indonesian governments have agreed not to let Australian popular sentiment – read mass hysteria – on the issue spoil a good friendship).
The new president's cabinet and advisers have proven themselves level- headed and mantap (together) in the first year of their government, and there have been some mighty tests!

14th June 2005, Preparing for a Muslim selamatan service 40 days after the death of  my Jakarta matriarch , Madame Damais, the mother of Jakarta cultural elite Asmoro and Soedarmadji Damais
I have collected so many mothers during a brief life: my birth and nurturing mother Mavis, my two Balinese Ibu from my years in the village, my best friend Putu Suarsa's ibu  (see Stranger in Paradise, October 2002) and, since 1979, Ibu Damais.... the elegant, erudite and sharp-tongued matriarch of one of Jakarta's most talented and eccentric families. Ibu Damais, whom we all called Mbah, was the first ’native’ to marry a French civil servant when she married dashing epigraphist /archaeologist Louis Charles Damais, early 1940. They had three children before M. Damais died in 1969.

For the next 35-odd years Mbah saw over a burgeoning family of bright sparks and kept up a coterie of Dutch-speaking iron maidens – mostly Javanese of aristocratic birth (like Mbah) – who offered wisdom on all subjects. They didn't miss a trick. I lived with Mbah and Adji for a few years in Jakarta and for some time I used to treat Mbah like a sweet old granny until one day, when I went to borrow one of Adjie's exquisitely laundered exquisitely made shirts while he was out of town and found the wardrobe pad-locked with a post-it on the key hole: "BAD LUCK, OLD CHUM!". From then on we became fast friends and I was distressed when I received the news that she had finally died, aged 92, in Jakarta on the 8th May. I made plans to dash to Jakarta – the Javanese do everything slowly except running loved one's mortal remains to the graveyard – and arrived just in time to witness the mountain of floral tributes at Mbah's gravesite and sit quietly with Asmoro and her children. Aji was sitting, not quietly, at some one else's grave a few metres behind, carrying on a few  very animated conversations, variously in French, Dutch, Indonesian or Javanese, which is the family’s great Legacy from Mbah and her language worshipping husband. "Oh, Adjie behaves everywhere as if he were at home," remarked Asmoro after I remarked that Adjie was surely a role model of TABAH (Indonesian grief control) today.
"It is the end of an era," many people remarked.
In the romantic graveyard garden setting, touched with sadness and swept by the rays of a setting sun, I sat admiring all of Mbah's children, grand children and great grand children and thought rather that this remarkable woman had ushered in a new era, of strident INDOKRUPUKs (Adjie's affectionate term for Indonesians of  mixed blood) and female emancipation.
She will long be remembered.

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