Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, January 2006)


The Balinese are too perfect really, in everything they do. In my work with Balinese gardeners on construction site battle zones I am regularly impressed by their grace, dedication to beauty and economy of movement. Fijian workers are, in comparison, klutzes – breaking everything they touch. Australians on the work site are brutes too, with a limited agility advantage only in the fields of heavy machinery operation and combat warfare while wearing Oakley spectacles.
The only area in which the Balinese must cede their top ranking as the known world’s most supremely co-ordinated people is in the use of the rear vision mirror and in the deployment of blinkers when turning.
For many years young Australians have been looking to the Balinese for lessons in deportment and Buddhist behaviour but, lately, many Australians, in their eternal quest for self-improvement, have by-passed the fabled isle and locked onto Singapore as a source for new-Asian values. Values like disproportionate paranoia, called Kiasu in Singapore, where it is enshrined (along with tiger lily-livered-ness) as the national characteristic.
A recent chain of events best illustrates my concern about Australia’s growing paranoia.
A painter in Perth wanted to send me a small painting of boats on the beach in Sanur; a friend coming to Bali was enlisted to help. At the last minute the friend decided against helping, for fear that the painting parcel would be stuffed with weapons-grade marijuana by the nearest Australian luggage handler of non Anglo-Saxon descent.
Next, a new, bolder friend was lined up. At the last minute, I got this email:

Good news..... I have finally found someone to take the paintings to Bali. He is also an artist and won't let me down. He is arriving on Garuda flight GA727, landing at 11.40am on Wed 23rd November. He has heard from WA that airport security watches for unusual behaviour, i.e. handing-over of parcels etc, so he has asked if your driver can drop him at his hotel at the same time as he hands over the paintings. Would this be okay???

Admittedly we are all edgy after recent events but we should not lose our heads.
Speaking of which, did anyone else notice Denpasar Television’s prime-time, pre-suicide testimonial tapes of the dreaded Bali bombers with insets on the screen, top right, passport style, of the suicide-bomber’s severed heads.
Gruesome stuff from a culture with no-holds barred when it comes to news reporting. “Is it a ‘Hindu thing’?” I asked a Balinese friend (meaning the equal time amendment for the world of demons and terror, expressed daily in Balinese’ newspapers, ceremonies and offerings to the netherworld).
“Nah” he said, “It’s entertainment.”

Now read on:

8th November, 2005: News coverage of the death of the hated and hunted Dr. Azahari – the Malaysian mastermind behind the Bali bombing – is flashed around the world today.
I am in India and it’s the lead item on CNN and BBC. The Balinese, I hear, are ecstatic about the news; all the ‘Wanted’ posters of the bombers heads’ stuck on walls in warung across the island are given extra ‘offerings’ today!!

14th November 2005: Javo-Timorese god-daughter marries poultry farmer with big house
Last month saw many dewasa (propitious days) for weddings: Odeck of Ary’s Warung fame finally married his Seattle-born sweetheart Tara; popular architect Popo Danes finally married a lovely Bali-Lombok lass, Melati, in a quiet ceremony in North Bali; and Taman Bebek’s accountant Manik met a feisty miss on the internet (Doesitlikea and married in Denpasar on 20th November. I have chosen to report on the Balinese wedding of my god-daughter – the daughter of my old Timorese buddy, Jhon Mintaraga – which captured my sympathy vote for ‘Wedding of the Season.’

• • •

Many years ago I swam ashore to Escort Warung Avenue, Benoa harbour and rented, for Rp.2000, a trail bike and driver, named Jhon Mintaraga. He was very dark and had bulging eyes that were part of his Portuguese ancestry. We became fast friends. We went to Denpasar to visit his wife, Susy, a Surabayan beauty, and their daughter Rita, born that week.
Today, some thirty years later, Rita is to be married and I am the surrogate uncle (Jhon Mintaraga having drunk himself to death in Singapore 22 years ago).
It has been a long hard road for Susy – now prematurely wizened and bent – who has, for the last twenty years, raised three children, alone, in the ghettoes of North Denpasar. She has sold electrical appliances, door to door and lived off the smell of an oil rag. She has never complained. She has occasionally requested some assistance but never more than she needed.
Five years ago Rita had a child, a boy, with a Balinese fiancé from West Denpasar. While at the hospital Rita was confronted in the maternity ward corridor by a young single mother with a newly born baby boy in her arms. She was a university student from Java who had been deserted by her Sumatran boyfriend. She had no money to pay the hospital bill and was desperate to give the baby away.
Rita made a phone call to her sister-in-law-to be and they agreed to “go into it together” as Rita put it. (Rita is a girl of mannish temperament).
The two boys grew up together.
At age three, the adopted child, Adimas, got typhoid and went into a deep coma for three days. As Susy is a Catholic she called a pastor and, miracle of miracles, the boy recovered, but not fully. He was left with mild autism. “All the others in his ward died,” Rita explained, compassionately, “one after the other.”
Susy had made a sacred oath to the holy mother so Adimas was duly baptised, and now represents one Christian half (40%, truthfully, on a good day, but he is angelic) of a three and a half person Hindu Balinese family.

Today, after seven years of family life, Rita and Kris are finally tying the knot. Some of Jhon Mintaraga’s aunts are here: Solo ladies who all married Timorese (“Nasi Liwet vendors at the port?” I imagined). They are not interested in my Cinderella-style tales. There is none of poor Susy’s family. Susy wanders round trying to collect her two errant boys, Alex and Bayu. She is wondering what she has done to deserve a stroke of good luck.
She is the ultimate, devoted Indonesian stoic.
I am thrilled that one of Jhon Mintaraga’s offspring has made a good Balinese marriage; enriching the local gene pool with saintly Surabayan stock.

20th November 2005: at last, bounty from the Sind!
One of my artisan associates, painter Dewa Antara of Ketewel, has so impressed an Indian diamond merchant client recently that he has been given a diamond ring for his wife, a princess of Sri Lankan (ballet dancer) – Irish (cricket umpire) – Punjab lineage. The princess, who was conceived under a sun umbrella on Galle Face green, was so taken aback by the gift that she commissioned a series of formal portraits which were sent, as a thank you gesture, to the unsuspecting diamond dealers (see photo below).
They were thrilled!

23rd November 2006: Bali’s Air Paradise is forced into bankruptcy in the wake of massive holiday cancellations by Australian tourists following the second Bali Bomb
Kadek Wiranatha – of Double Six, Bounty and Ku De Ta fame – has had a meteoric rise in Bali’s tourism industry. From his humble beginnings flipping pizzas at the original ‘Double Six’ Restaurant and Disco with Perth-born whiz-kid Kali Sari, Kadek went on to eventually found Bali’s first international airline. In that time he also acquired a sterling reputation, a gorgeous Anglo-Balinese family and a smart designer home. His brother rose to fame too, founding Paddy’s Bar, across the road from the late Sari Club, and rebranding Bali’s once somnolent Hotels and Restaurant Association, which he restyled as a high-octane vehicle for mass tourism promotion and his not infrequent tirades.
Early this year, Kadek announced ambitious expansion plans for Air Paradise and was often cited as the man who single-handedly brought tourists back to Bali after the first Bali Bomb.
Today his empire is in serious trouble.
“Where are you now, Mr. Governor?” Kadek’s brother asked in an impassioned article in Today’s Bali Post, hinting at some sort of western-style government sponsored bail-out.
“Only billion-dollar corruptors get government bail-outs,” one local pundit commented.

Architect to the stars, Popo Danes and his bride, Melati Blanca, 20th November 2005


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