Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the NOW Bali Magazine, May 2009)

Ida Bagus Gede Surya Manuaba (left) and Komang Wiramajaya with a dancer from the original Gaddagook Aboriginal tribe of Sydney.

Balinese Tourists Abroad

Last month I took two young Balinese to Sydney for a holiday.
Over seven days I watched them grow into Sanur’s version of the Hilton Sisters as they charmed and smarmed their way into the best houses and events in town.………ending up at the Sydney Opera House, in full Balinese dress, on the arm of Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett!
Now read on:

On the Garuda flight home

Sydney Airport, 20th March 2009: The Balinese arrive
I time my arrival from Singapore to coincide with the Garuda flight from Denpasar: it is the boys’ first time abroad and I didn’t want them confiscated by Sidney’s affable immigration. Awaiting the Garuda flight I linger in the arrival corridor, in a nice not a nasty way, but am easy prey for an over-zealous Qantas supervisor (male/village person) who threatens to call the federal police when I explain the situation.
“The boys have never flown before,” I protest.
 “Well, they made it onto the plane O.K., didn’t they?” He snarls.
Whatever happened to those nice Qantas stewards in orange courtesy vests, I think, who used to squeal when squeezed.

The Balinese at Palm Beach Studio, Sydney with (centre) famed Sydney decorator to the stars Sir Lesley Walford

I move on just before the plane lands but manage to snag the lads at the Duty Free. They are trailing a Central Javanese PhD. student who is having trouble steering his trolley.
They look terrified and rightly so: Robocop-like customs officials now parole the window-less corridors, ready to apprehend any ‘alien’ that moves!!
Immigration are charming, however, and we whiz through and head straight for Wylie’s Baths at Coogee for the boys first sight of Australians baking in the sun in an idyllic almost empty natural setting.
As it is Galungan, Balinese All Saints Day, we place an offering at the newest neo-colonial Bali Bomb Memorial before moving on to Palm Beach Studios for the boys first photo shoot, as window-cleaners!.

Sunday, 22nd March 2009: The Australian Launch of The Best of Stranger in Paradise 1996 – 2008 (now available at a bookstore near you)
It is my birthday and I have offered invitees a ‘Buy one book, Get lunch free’ deal: I end up feeding 80 people and signing 40 books!
Lin Utzon, old Bali-hand and daughter of Sydney Opera House architect John Utzon launches the book as former Australian Ambassador Bill Morrison, and Marty Morrison look on. Other old Bali-hands present include Carole Muller and Peter Muller (creators of Bali Oberoi and Amandari) and Val Ireland, founder of Magic Carpet Tours and the original Hotel Campuan  in Ubud;  David Elfick Producer/Director of ‘Morning of the World’ (the world’s first surfing film, shot in Bali) and Putu Sugiarta Winchester, my godson, whose father, Terry Stanton, invented Bali’s bamboo sofa in Kuta in 1978.
The Balinese boys have a field day propping up the bar, and posing for saucy photos, at which they are too fast becoming experts.

25th March, 2009: A dawn Ceremony at Sydney Opera House followed by  a State Memorial service for Jorn Utzon
We arrive as the sun is rising on a weird scene: in the vast forecourt of the Opera House stand four petrol drums full of smoking gum leaves,  and a small huddle of  60s survivors and a press gang.
A large Aborigine from the area’s original Gaddagook tribe, is playing a didgeridoo.
Lin Utzon and her brother  Jan are front and centre, with family and friends, but soon break off to lead a ‘tribe’ of dancers into the forecourt for an aboriginal dance performance and a symbolic “paying for the land” with a small Nordic-Eskimo model canoe and a piece of flint from Jorn Utzon’s desk.

In return the Utzons receive some aboriginal power objects.
Peace is finally restored on Bennelong Point!
The Balinese love the scenery but are less than impressed by the simplistic ceremony; they are, however, enjoying being fussed over by all the Mums in the crowd who love Bali and the Balinese.

•     •     •

11 a.m.: Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House.
The service at 11. 30 a.m. in the Concert Hall is extraordinarily moving. There are glowing tributes to Jorn Utzon, and performances by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, the Sydney Opera Compound and a reading by Cate Blanchett, director of the Sydney Theatre Company.

“Renown Be Thy Grave” is the general theme.
“The creator has finally been re-united with his building,” the Prime Minister’s representative announces.
The Balinese eyes are on sticks as a chesty opera singer brings the house down with Mascagni’s ‘Easter Hymn’! 
Over the past few days the Balinese have broken loose with the digital camera and come back with hundreds of photos of the “Here’s me in front of Luna Park” variety.
You can take the Bali out of tourism, as we are seeing in Bali lately, but you can’t take the tourist out of the Balinese.
Everyone in Sydney loves Bali, except the ratty journalists. Today, post NYEPI (Balinese day of silence), the Sydney Morning Herald has put the boot into Kuta again, complaining that “post Bali Bomb” there’s a stricter enforcement of Nyepi with no-one allowed on the roads.
Nyepi has ALWAYS been strictly enforced and Kuta has always been strict, both before and after the island rise of Australian Yob culture.

•     •     •

Meanwhile my Balinese neo-Yobs won’t take their Ozzie cricket hats off all the way back on the plane to Bali. They breeze through imigrasi like nothings happened and promptly go to bed for 12 hours.

•     •     •

Mild trance dancer at Batukaru fertility festival, Manis Galungan (photo: Babette de Biensur).

We meet up again the next night at our village’s Pemapagan festival, which celebrates the return from Turtle Island of the gods of the South Bali temples.
It is a joyous affair with a two water buffalo/one chariot procession and the occasional trance melée. Luna Park seems so far away.
The village gamelan has been infiltrated by pre-teens (a current pan-Bali fad) and there’s talk of pulling down the last village’s red brick temples and replacing it with a black andesite version (another tragic island fad: red brick is to Bhairawa Hindu Bali as was Virgin Fox to Liberace!).
At the temple I meet Mille Yeti here with Patrick Bensard from the Cinémathèque Française de la Danse (see, April 2004, Goona-Goona at the Cinémathéque Française de la Danse). Yeti (Agnes Montenay) tells me of a fabulous disco-frenzy trance dance they went to at last week at the village near Batukaru Temple, high on the slopes of the western mountain.
As observer, they had to crouch down with offerings on their head while teenage trance mediums danced the pendet backwards, clutching sheaths of rice
 “The priests were very strict,” Yeti comments.
“This is not a new trend,” I explain.
Whatever the Australian press might tell you.

In memoriam
Mangku Meme
(Jero Mangku Semadi, Nini Sempeng)
? - 2009

Free range, madcap, pan-Bali priestess Mangku Meme passed away last month in her Batur  lake-side paranormal healing kiosk, aged well over eighty.
She has been a star of this column since its start in 1979, most recently performing her signature joged nyem-nyeman dance of flirtation at the launch of The Best of Stranger in Paradise (1996 – 2008) at Warung Enak in Ubud, in February. 
During her long life she was much maligned by the official priestdom of Bali, but much loved by the populace: her exuberant, spontaneous dance steps bought joy and mirth, in equal measures, to any temple festival; as did her whacky pronouncements—on the state of the netherworld, the lake goddesses and the other side in general—raised eyebrows wherever she went.
She shadowed this columnist during the past thirty years in a weird and wonderful way—turning up and adopting all the temple festivals that I had adopted (as another sort of free-range, pan-Bali temple groupy). Her antics were lovingly recorded over this period. Her passing leaves a huge void on the temple scene.

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