Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, October 2006)


Banyuwangi Style

Indonesian villagers are very stylish – none more so than the fashion-conscious Banyuwangi of East Java, the arms and legs of Bali’s building industry. In the realm of tight and teasing construction dress, the Banyuwangi have recently demonstrated their superiority over the dress of the Solonese, of Central Java – a community that takes construction costuming very seriously. And of the bullyboys of Blitar, whose ripped Jean and studded T-shirt look has caused many a ripple in the hearts of female quantity surveyors.

In the fashion stakes the Banyuwangi are well ahead of Indonesia’s international community too. While the bulé Aga – the ancient expats of Bali – still wallow in 70s fashion hell, and the Turis Bali slope around in increasingly inappropriate sportswear, the athletic Banyuwangi have taken street-dressing to brave new heights. Bali ’s indigenous fashionistas deserve a mention here too.

What the Banyuwangistas bring to construction-wear the Balinese bring to ceremonial fashion. For ordinary adat-wear – weddings, tooth-filings, temple consecrations – the Balinese male peacock has this year co-opted the scintillating pastels of Bali’s surfing seventies and worked them into Hyderabadi-Hindu layers of loveliness (see photo right). The look is loose and louche, worn with a casual, carefree attitude. Balinese men don’t just stand in ceremonial dress, they pose. By comparison, the demure Solonese – wrapped ever so tightly in Batik pleats and cummerbund – can only sit upright, or waddle with grace. The Balinese strike saucy poses with buns tightly clenched and toes pointing out, for a leaner silhouette.

Balinese ladies – generally struggling to compete with their menfolk – have lately gone for a more wholesome Hindu look. They have deserted the horrid silk corsets and plunging necklines that haunted the 1990s. Subtle, contrasting hues are back where opalescent twin-sets once reigned!

• • •

On a separate but not wholly unrelated note:
If the trend is ‘Back to the traditional’ in the Balinese style stakes, then someone forgot to tell the new-Asia-driven expatriate real estate community, the guardians of Bali Zen Style – that mix of Karma Cola and Officeworks catalogue chic that seems more about confusion than fusion. Today’s Bali-Zen stylist is bolting away from tradition: “Nothing Hindu” is the catchcry heard in design offices across the island.
“Let’s starve them of cultural reference”, I overheard one designer say recently, “so they won’t feel awkward in their godless, treeless, loveless villas.”

Why drain the Hindu out of Bali?
As a garden designer, I am particularly upset: in my personal quest for a more decorative universe. I am thwarted at every turn In Malaysia, a new Bali gate I have designed is considered “too Chinese for the Muslims”. At the new Bulgari Resort (fabulous! Opens 23 rd September) my five metre high Ganesha entrance statue is “too Balinese for the Italians”. (It has to be moved!). In Hyderabad, our design for a North Java Coastal Islamic courtyard wall for a spa court is “too Islamic for the Hindus”. Whatever happened to happy hybridization? Something the region is famous for!

• • •

Last month I received a brochure for the new commercial ’Botanic Garden Ubud’. The garden is represented, graphically, by a fern curl. “Meditate under the old Banyan tree to honour the Hindu Gods” purrs the venture’s publicist, Salmon Lady Rowe.
“Carved stone Buddha statues gaze benignly into space, watching over the stone-paved courtyard ($80/m?) and the spirits can rest under the banyan tree peace” (sic), reports a tourism mag. Why are the new-age Bali-Stylists so hell-bent on packaging Hinduism and Balineseness as if they were on the verge of extinction; like Polynesian macramé?
Now read on:

Supandhi’s boys on the day of their circumcision

23 rd August 2006: To Segobang, East Java, for the circumcision ceremony of my star Banyuwangi gardener’s two boys
Supandhi came to us in 1983 from Wija Waworuntu’s first Batujimbar Estate’s garbage detail. He quickly advanced to a position in my office’s elite commando division due to his inspirational grace and beauty and his forearms. He was a big hit in the compound. Before too long he was dropping flower pots and tripping over extended hoses across five continents; working on the gardens of international rock stars and movie moghuls.
In 1996 he married his child-hood sweetheart – a great beauty herself – in Segobang, Banyuwangi. All the garden commandoes attended.
The Supandhis quickly had two perfectly-formed boys and the rest is history; except that Pandhi has now been put out to pasture, as it were, due to a hormonal imbalance, and he needs a good shot of botox. He is still immensely popular, however, and works for us at the Taman Bebek Villas in Sayan. He is the prize Banyuwangi in an otherwise very Balinese village: he does everything the Balinese do except eat pork and pray at the temple. He speaks no known language so his halting Balinese – delivered, half-baked, through thick Banyuwangi lips – has never been a problem.

• • •

Supandhi's family

Investing in futures

Mrs. Supandhi

Mrs. Supandhi's brother (18)

Today I drive 13 hours to Segobang and back in a nice car. In the middle I spend an hour with a delegation from Taman Bebek eating Bugis cakes and goat satay at Supandhi’s house.
Supandhi and his wife beam with pride as we arrive, Balinese fancy-dress askew, in the narrow village lane that has been turned into a communal banquet hall for the weekend. The two boys are dressed in satin pyjamas and are toting silk purses on satin straps over their shoulders.
For the cameras, I put the boys on my knees and pop some cash into the purse.
“Investing in futures?” jibes our cheeky office personnel manager!
The atmosphere is joyous but slightly menacing so we don’t stay for the mutilation as we are keen to get onto the ferry and back to Bali and the Ayam Betutu stall at the Gilimanuk Bus Terminal; the highlight of any journey to East Java!

25 th August 2006: A Jakarta socialite marries off her son
From Banyuwangi I go to Jakarta for a Solonese wedding reception in the garden of the Darmawangsa, Jakarta’s most Javanese hotel.
The groom is the son of my new friend, Yani Arifin, Jakarta’s answer to Vivien Leigh.
For some reason I am popular amongst the chattering classes in Jakarta – they think I am a cultural czar – whereas in Bali, I seem to have been written off as a “popular shit,” for crimes against progressive real estate. Ha!
The Darmawangsa is a fabulous venue for a Solonese wedding: the emerald-encrusted Javanese beauties look more lovely than ever in the extreme Javanese classic interiors, all created by society decorator Sir Jaya Ibrahim, V.P.L.


Bustanil Arifin with his grandson

Inti Subagyo & Ike N. Bakrie

Astari, Roosati Kadarusman & Pola S.

Yani Arifin, Alwin Arifin & the bride

Bustanil Arifin's grand-daughters

The event is fairly normal by Jakartan mega-wedding standards – the President arrives at 8 p.m; Warwick Purser at 8.15; Duck noodles for 5000 are served in a garden marquee – except for a particular bevy of beautiful ladies with Chinese/Brazilian/Argentine tango coaches. As soon as the formalities are over they take to the floor like the Luftwaffe over Holland! Titiek Prabowo (ex-President Soeharto’s normally demure second daughter) is wild and untamed; Lina Schultz is doing high kicks on the high notes; Yani Arifin is burning up the dance floor in a sizzling ice-skating queen see-through chemise and Zig-zag cummerbund. Next the well-heeled ladies commandeer the stage and start belting out love songs – “My baby does the hanky, panky”, “Meet me in Sibolga”, “Voodoo man is feeling blue” – like Solonese sirenes of the saloon.

For me it is like a time warp back to the Soekarno era, when palace ladies in Suzy Wong bras ruled the archipelago. For Soekarno and his court at the Presidential Palace in the 1960s it was twisting time in batik and kebaya almost every night.
It’s refreshing to once again see Jakartans unplugged!

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