Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, July 2007)

Health care in Bali

My best friend was sexually harassed by his acupuncturist in Kuta last month. In the same week, I was almost denied entry – due to my over-ample girth – into the CAT scan at the ‘Glimmer of Hope’ Hospital in Denpasar. Somehow I think these events are interlinked.

Health care is fraught with friction on the Island of the Gods and thus it has always been. In 1939, Charlie Chaplin almost succumbed to a virulent necrosis that started in his cane hand! The number of celebrities who have had ‘near-life’ experiences in Legian over the past decade is in the hundreds. Island heroine Bamboo Queen Janice Harding (real name suppressed) has, for 35 years, sustained a heroic battle with yeast, which is soon to be made into a Hollywood movie, starring Reese Witherspoon.

My Balinese family go to sleep counting thrombocytes.

What is it about Hinduism and health issues? Is 'survival of the fittest' a Hindu institution?

In India, doctors slap you around before they spit you out. Buying one’s way into the ‘express lane’ in an Indian Eye Hospital, for example, is like being put into a ghost train carriage at full speed!

Are things any different in Bali?

Read on and find out:

Klungkung, 15th May 2006: The island’s top proctologist takes aim.

My number one houseboy has had piles for some months now and is miserable. He recently bolted to his home in Lombok to seek help from a traditional healer, but it didn’t help. (He came back with some hair-raising stories about alternative medicine in the Sasak villages).

On his return to Bali, number three gardener, Wayan ‘Limpy’ Dog’ air, whisked him off to his Chinese faith healer near the bus station in West Denpasar. That was a complete waste of time - and money too!

Finally, we decided to blow the expense and sent him to the ‘Miracle Jit’ (rear end) doctor in Klungkung who has a unique, patented, ‘take no hostages’ treatment for haemorrhoids.

“Yeh, they put the metal thing up your butt and then shoot, shoot, shoot (suntik, suntik, suntik)” explained my driver, with relish.

“Oh,” I gasped, before my knees folded.

• • •

This evening the houseboy, Amir, has returned from Klungkung, visibly relieved.

“I want all the details.” I demand.

“Well,” explains Amir, patiently, “the doctor does four patients at a time …”

“Hold on there,” I interject, “you mean you’re in there with three other a***holes?”

“Well, they’re behind curtains, in cubicles,” he explains gently, “The doctor does up to 400 patients a day.”

“Does he play Wagner’s ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ while he is talking aim?” I feel like asking. 400 a day!

16th May 2007: My own brush with the health system.

I have to have a regular CAT scans for my deteriorating right knee. I prefer to do it in Bali because it’s cheaper and more user-friendly – no dour matrons and grim waiting areas.

I am now on first name terms with the pretty nurse who runs the machine. I can just breeze into the hospital’s magnetic imaging control room and have myself greased into the giant, whirring plastic doughnut within minutes.

It’s been about a year since I last got scanned; in that time, the operating-room walls have grown Versailles-style plastic lamps and Swiss chalet art. Also, one can now select music to soothe one’s nerves.

“The Balinese patients like Britney Spears,” confides the nurse, “but foreigners like Enya.”

(Is there a moral to this? I ponder).

I am soon lying face up on the feeder track (it’s a precursor to cremation in a way) heading for the plastic tunnel when she slams on the brakes and checks my width (back to belly).

“We had to turn another Australian away last week,” she offered, “beer gut too big.”

Fortunately I make it – with inches to spare, I might add.

But it is a wake-up call!

Lenny & I Ketut Darmawan at Sidakarya cremation of Ketut Lotreng, 17th May 2007.

17th May, 2007: A joyous cremation in Sidakarya

In the middle of all these health care issues, it is delightful to go to a village cremation and see all my old buddies now semi-retired and enjoying their full-time lives back in the ceremonial community.

I see Lenny (see photo above) who started Jenggala Ceramics with the late Brent Hesslyn, and his cousin Losen, who worked for 30 years at the Sanur Beach Hotel, and even Ketut Marsa, co-founder of P.T. Swastika (who still maintain the gorgeous Hyatt Sanur gardens) who is back in town after a long sabbatical.

Somehow a procession to the graveyard is the ultimate enjoyable social event. The ceremonies are sometimes shrouded in grief, but often a reunion atmosphere prevails as the village shows their respect for the deceased.

18th May 2007: Glamour returns to Gianyar

The Gianyar palace has always enjoyed a special relationship with Jakarta high society. This relationship dates from the Soekarno era (1945 – 1965) when the Gianyar Regent was a senior member of the Foreign Service and his father in law – from nearby Sukawati palace – was Prime Minister of East Indonesia.

Even during the colonial era, the Dutch-educated Gianyar royals were the favourites amongst Jakarta’s elite.

Cremations at the Puri Gianyar are almost national events: le tout Jakarta descend in their finery and flutter sandalwood fans as the pyres burn. The present Gianyar regent, Anak Agung Gde Agung is C.E.O. of S.C. Johnson, Jakarta (where he has lived most of his life) and past Minister of Social Affairs in the Gus Dur government. He recently added a degree in Environmental Studies (from Leiden University in Holland) to his impressive list of accomplishments. He has also ‘come out’ as a champion for the conservation of Bali’s environment and culture.

“Just in time,” one might add.

His cousin, Anak Agung Gde Agung Bharata, from the ‘east palace,’ is the present Mayor of Gianyar through the palace’s connections with Jakarta high society. He actively promotes Gianyar as Bali’s “Art and Culture Regency”. Tonight, fashion photographer, art director and society pin-up boy Jay Soebiyakto has arranged a fashion spectacular, ‘Gempita Gianyar’ in Gianyar town square as part of a weekend of cultural and culinary events spread-across the regency.

A dinner in the east palace precedes the event: Gianyar delicacies are served to Jakarta beauties woven into exquisite kain-kebaya national dress. The ‘Ibu-Ibu Gaya’ group are well represented by society stunners Yani Arifin, Inti Subagyo, and Astari (who, like many Javanese, goes under one name) and Sampoerna Sudiditempi in a luscious hot pink and pistachio outfit.

After dinner, the ladies waft across the road to watch the dance and fashion spectacular; together with 30,000 locals.

The show is a sensation: more Kecak dancers than you can poke a stick at; a giant Wayang Kulit Barong face; back projections, front projections, side projections; and some very pretty Balinese models strutting their stuff to electronic dangdut.

Wild things make the heart sing!


This past decade, the Island’s architects and developers have excelled themselves; closing off all views to the mountains and the sea, which everyone knows are distracting.
The bright designer of this commercial complex at the end of the Sanur By-Pass (above) has cleverly taken aim at the heavens and chosen to obliterate views of the sky by the ingenious use of concrete claws and simulated, out-sized jungle-gym bars. Lucky motorists can now storm down the By-Pass from Ubud to Nusa Dua, with almost zero cultural or geographic reference!

Bali’s National Tennis Champion
Last month Tami Grende won the Indonesian National Under-12 girls’ doubles. She is a member of Bali’s Pandawa Tennis Club (coaches: Kadek Pursika and Jordan Sanchez).


Tami & Jordan


| back | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | next |

Subscribe to the Poleng Magazine! Get your hard copy of the diary with large format photos and contributions from some of the island's more talented essay writers, cartoonists and photographers. E-mail your request, and kindly send letters or useful travel tips to: