Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, April 2006)


he float representing Bali ’s gay community was the big winner at this year’s Sydney Mardi Gras. The Australian commentators went berserk when the gold lamé, Janger Binan and rice queen confection rolled past.
“The Balinese are not the people throwing bombs,” one screamed, “they need your support. Visit Bali !!!”
As the crowd cheered, the Balinese JangerBinan dancers (or complete-mental-faggot warrior dancers) performed to blaring gamelan music on the zooshed-up trailer. One friend described it as a “pas de deux of frenzied temple dancing, followed by campy pecks on the cheeks.”
Meanwhile, our Jakarta members of parliament are debating the new anti-pornography bill.
The Balinese feel this bill could, basically, outlaw their lifestyle. They feel it is their right to be naked in the river, carve lewd statues, and, basically, be wholesome, warm-blooded and Hindu.
They also feel that Jakarta is putting the boot into Bali ’s fragile tourism industry once again, after the visa-on-arrival debacle, which they felt was unnecessary. But the real issue is that the Balinese don’t want anyone meddling with their culture.
As Sugi Lanus wrote in a review of photographer Rama Surya’s recent exhibition of Nudes: “Of Phallic Gods and the Balinese Body” (translated by Kadek Krishna Adhidarma):

“ Kleng Ngenyer or Erect Penis is the name of a tiny hamlet at the Northern shores of Bali where I was born and raised.
The Priest at our Pura Desa, the village’s temple to the Creator, told me that “To make it sound more polite, the name of our village was ‘mispronounced’ by alliteration as Kalanganyar. This is a ‘softening’ and a ‘cover-up’ of the fact. This probably occurred about four or five generations ago.
I have not found one Balinese history book that seriously uncovers this ‘history of prudishness’ in Bali . Who spread this ‘disgust’ for genitals among the Balinese? Since when did the Balinese feel ‘guilty’ for bathing nude in the river? Who taught us that taking a photo while bathing is ‘improper’?”

Bali's Rainbow Community

• • •

Meanwhile, it was strike up the band at Pura Dalem Sidakarya, the Stranger’s favourite rural village near Sanur, where dance troupes from all over the island helped celebrate the once-in-a-generation Karya Agung temple re-consecration ceremony.
Now read on:

Wednesday, 25 January 2006 : to the Four Seasons Jakarta Ballroom for India ’s Republic Day
In ancient times, Bali was known as “Farthest of Farther India”. Nehru called the Hindu island “The Morning of the World”, in the way that Kedah State in Malaysia is called the “Verandah of Mecca”, and Morocco is called ‘Le Maghreb’, or the evening of the (Islamic) world.
Weren’t those ancient politicians and regime-changers poetic!
These days, island states are rebranded with cheesy names like ‘ Treasure Island ’ ( Cheju ), South Korea and ‘Caribia Arabia’ ( Dubai ). In Kolkata one finds real-estate called ‘Veda-land’; meanwhile the white supremacist real-estate collective are really dumbing down Bali with names like ‘Temple Hill’ or “Estates on the River” or “The Mandi – an integrated ablutionary experience.”
Don’t get me started.
The Indian Embassy on the other hand has built an Indian Culture Centre in Bali , which opened last year.
Tonight Ambassador Singh and his talented artist wife Mrinalini are hosting a glittering gala which is also their Jakarta swansong. The ambassador and Mrs. Singh are going to be missed.
It’s funny how ambassadors come and go but the party crowd stays the same. I have observed it for over 33 years now – since my humble beginnings as Dick Woolcott’s gardener. Certain individuals have developed almost messianic auras: the Harry Darsono, the Warwick Purser, the Nini Saputra, the Ghea Panggabean are all like characters in a cartoon crowd drawn with extra thick outlines.

Wednesday, 1 st February 2006 : to Hyderabad, to the Chowmahalla Palace, to have lunch with H.E.H. Princess Ezra, and my Mentor (Khasmir and the Punjab ) Martand ‘Mapu’ Singh
Chowmahalla means ‘palace of four courts’. This incredibly beautiful palace has for centuries been the seat of the Nizams of Hyderabad – for generations the world’s richest men – until the likes of Henry Ford and Bill Gates came along.
For me, the main attractions of the palace are the costume museum and the photography exhibition: they give an extraordinary insight into the beauty of the court life in the 19 th and 20 th centuries. The whole place is redolent of Java – the Hamengku Buwono, Jogyakarta and Susuhunan Solo palaces in particular. I am intrigued to see the similarities between the men’s dress coats of Hyderabad , Java and Bali , for example. Even the Hindu-Islam decoration on all the architecture is vaguely familiar. The stylistic influence of this fabulously artistic Indian Islamic court on the courts of Java would be an interesting area for further research.

Wednesday, 15 th February 2006: to Naples, Florida, home of the Sabel palm, Alligator Alley and some of the best tropical home gardens in the world
I am invited to help design the new botanical garden in Naples , Florida . They love Balinese gardens there (the old-fashioned, leafy type) and are all pumped up about creating ‘paradise’ on earth.
At the benefactors’ drinks I meet a typical Californian neo-liberal whose Colombian-style wife seems permanently frozen in the namasté position (otherwise known as the Hollywood or Hindu greeting – Ed.).
“I found ten acres in Ubud,” he croaks. “But it is in escrow.”
“Where’s that?” I ask, biting my tongue.
“You know, the King’s son, Anum (sic) wasn’t supposed to sell it……..” Blah blah blah (God give me patience) ………blah blah blah, Bagawan Giri, Donna Karan, John Hardy, blah blah blah ……… “But you know, after that second bomb, I thought to myself, I’m not putting any money where those Muslims won’t let me take it out! What do you think?”
“I think you’re a big cracker redneck,” I snapped, and fled towards the heavy hors d’ouvres.
What has happened to the civilized world??!! All this mass hysteria about Muslims: I get it everyday when I’m travelling, from all quarters, except from the Balinese who practise religious tolerance as if it were a fine art.

Sunday,5 th March 2006: Pura Dalem Sidakarya, a massive 8 day temple festival
Every night from today until the 12 th March, Wali dances will be offered in this temple’s wantilan hall and courts.
The very name ‘Bali’ is most probably derived from the Sanskrit word wali* which is still in use in Bali today to describe the sacred temple dances – the Baris Gede, Wayang Wong, Gambuh and the Topeng Sidakarya.

KARYA AGUNG, Pura Mutering Jaghat Dalem, Sidakarya

Tirta Sidakarya holy water, only found at Pura Dalem Sidakarya, is used, island-wide, at the very end of all major ceremonies to complete the works, (sida karya in Balinese).
My old buddy Putu Suarsa points out the extra voluptuous naked breasts on the dancer effigy on the Sarad offerings (see photo right) as an example of the village priests’ answer to the proposed anti-pornography laws.
Artists will always make their voice heard!

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