Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, August 2005)


      In my old age I have started doing offerings in the street – not that doing offerings is a new thing. In Sydney, in the early 1970s, I would ply the lower reaches of Victoria St, Kings Cross, with a tray load of Bali rice and flower rosettes: hours were spent each morning making heavenly little mini-pizzas of votive bliss from hibiscus leaves with cochineal-coloured rice,  gladioli and Incense de l’Orient.
      The first time I went to
London – as guest/tennis coach for the Queen’s couturier Hardy Amies – I took bottles of Pura Besakih holy water to splash on the gargoyles of Kensington Palace.  In those days I was more ‘showing off’ – as a young novice and born-again Hindu adventurer.
      These days I stumble down the spiral stairs to a pile of perfectly stacked, store-bought canang offerings and pre-lit incense, all prepared by the Javanese couple, who remain as the only live-in staff,  now that my Balinese apprentices have all tied the knot (see story below).
      I am generally draped in a white Kerala sarong and indigo swastika waist sash; my naked torso softly rolling over the ensemble, in a nice (muffin-roll) not a nasty (beer tumour) way. Mamok, the house stud, has lately fashioned, with white enamel paint and an artist’s eye, an artwork out of a very ordinary moulded plywood tray. Laden with the aforementioned votive goodies, I set out every morning on my rounds. The highlight of my perambulation, usually at
7.30 am, is pushing onto the Mertasari road with an escort of house mongrels; here my hulking great speckled white form is met not by cries of derision from the passing schoolgirls and market-bound mums but with beams of approval and thumbs up.
      Last week I stood in the street, at this position, loudly berating security for some shortcoming as I balanced my tray of offerings with housedogs wrapped around my ankles. Suddenly, from the east, disgorged from a cloud of refuse smoke, a phalanx of superbule power-walkers approached.
      I bade them good morning but was cut dead – on my very own mini-palatial threshold. The dogs barked, sensing an outrage against
South Sanur protocol, and chased them down the street.
      Skitch’em!”, I screamed, “Kill and Savage!” 
      The lid fell off my tirta tumbler.
      The white power-walkers then turned and smiled.


The next day my old English chum ‘Jengo’ – a long-term Sanur resident and father of four gorgeous Balinese-English children – collared me as I was on my rounds. Being very familiar with local custom, he thinks nothing of keeping up a lively conversation with someone doing their offerings.
As we stood near the shrine at the corner of the Mertasari- Pengembak intersection, an old Sanur blonde came by on an old Honda Scooter. She waved and I smiled. My smile was reciprocated.
      “Was that Debbie of Zen (Real Estate)?” I asked Jengo.
      “Yes”, he replied.
      Now, I have never met Debbie of Zen nor wanted to; she once sent emails to Australian chums of mine claiming I was a black witch. I was thrilled, therefore, to finally catch sight of the woman today – almost a decade since the scurrilous slanders – and to finally bury the hatchet.
      All thanks to morning offerings in the street.
Now Read On:

21st June 2005: to our Art shop on the By Pass (who doesn’t) have an art shop on the By Pass??) for the shrine’s odalan anniversary
      I go to our art shop once every six months, to officiate as token nabob at the fledging business’ offerings of thanksgiving to the gods. This year all the staff – Balinese and Javanese – are gathered in Balinese temple dress and festive mood. Gamelan music is streaming from the ghetto-blaster as the priest my number-one footman’s father-in-law intones the Vedic prayers. The essence of a small van-load of offerings is being offered to the local gods. My business partner’s wife and daughter fuss about in supporting priestly roles as a group of Intaran Brahmana ladies stage-manage the dreamy rituals.
      For the prayers segment of the ritual, the end bit, I sit in the front ‘pew’, on a mat, on the shrine-garden’s floor, with Ngurah Security, Ida Bagus Security, Guntur the store’s stud muffin vendor (every By Pass art shop has one),  and the store’s manager Akhmad Yani.
After prayers I race back to the office in Sanur. I do not share a meal with the staff, which I will always regret.

22nd June 2005: Devastating News
      Yani has just rung me at 8 am, with the all too familiar Indonesian refrain: “Ma’af, Ada Berita Duka” (Bad News I’m afraid).
      Ngurah Security and Ida Bagus Security were hit by a drunk driver (Balinese) on the By-Pass near Kuta last night. The boys had gone out on a bike for a
midnight meal. Ngurah is dead. Ida Bagus is in Intensive Care at Sanglah hospital. Five minutes later the office’s personnel boss rings me with the same news.
      This scenario has played out about a dozen times over the twenty years I have run an office in South Bali and every time I am amazed at the grace and maturity shown by my Indonesian colleagues when dealing with the shock and grief of such an event happening.
In this case, all the senior staff race to the hospital to check on Ida Bagus Security.       Simultaneously a detailed office security poor Ngurah has no immediate family in Denpasar, was dispatched to the hospital’s morgue to claim Ngurah’s corpse and accompany Ngurah back to his young widow and her one year old son in Negara, West Bali.
      The office is shrouded in a cloak of gloom all day but no-one says anything; people who want to, just go off to the hospital quietly. Everyone is gentle with me; I feel like a mother who has lost a child, but I have to get on a plane to

23rd June 2005: At last, my A.D.C. ties the knot with our pretty office secretary, Amik
      Kadek Wirawan, son of Ibu Warung and Bapak Security (retired), light of my life, charger of my phone batteries, keeper of my secret receipts and travel packer is finally getting married, after a series of very public false starts.
      For the last six months he has hovered around the desk of one of our junior secretaries, Amik, from Pedungan, who has a sweet face, a gentle disposition, good skin and a long waist and legs.
      Everyday he has taken her home; for fear that she would be snatched away, like the last one.
Today I go early to his minute Suwung Kangin home for the wedding and the siblings’ tooth-filing ceremonies that often accompany Hindu-Balinese wedding rituals. Ten of Kadek’s cousins are in various stages of dressing up as I arrive. The boys are all Sanur surfies – which is like a Kuta surfy, but without a Japanese wife and a surf shop – and are draped about in the morning sun; snake-hips and taut tanned torsos are stretching to take layer upon layer of ceremonial lurex.


      I pose a posse of pretty boys in the family house shrine.
      I have become the Cecil Beaton of Kampung weddings.
      I don’t stay for the tooth-filings – not enough room in the courtyard really – but return at
noon when the nuptial rituals are in full swing. Kadek is beaming with pride; he has the girl of his dreams at last. Amik is looking more stoic than ‘stoked’; the weight of the ceremonial headdress is exhausting.
      A sign of Kadek’s popularity is the show of support from our office: over 200 of his fellow workers show up and a huge ‘ten-pork-dishes’ feast is held in the house across the road.
Good luck in your future life together Kadek and Amik!

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