Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the NOW! Bali Magazine, February 2010)

The swimming pool court in a typical villa at Alila Uluwatu.

From Little Perth to the Alila Uluwatu

I could write this month about the incessant traffic jams and the polluted beaches, but everyone seems to be doing that.
I could complain about journalist-dingbat Deborah  Cassrels’s recent article in The Australian quoting   Alasdair Stuart of ‘In Touch Realty’ complaining  that “the village of Batu Belig (one of Bali's ceremonially finest. Ed.) is finished” — just because Alasdair and his mates have bought up all the available rice fields and built ugly villas — but I won’t.
Smart people now think I'm an heretic, going against the flow of the total commercialization of the world’s last surviving God-king system, but, for me,  as long as there’s one temple-sweeper left in the car park of Little Perth ― that heavenly strip of day-feeding marsupials in BIR BINTANG tank-tops on Kuta Beach near the Discovery Mall ― I AM NOT GOING TO GIVE UP!
And if the Poojabbis go ahead with the event and, as a result, a pre-Nyepi MELIS procession of Gods to the Sea comes across a parliament of pooftahs in Prada jock-straps then I’ll be Pecalang (ceremonial vigilante)-General and have the prancing nancy-boys bussed to GWK, the "cultural colossus" (Garuda mag. Jan 2010), where they can party to their hearts content.
I am in this foul mood because it’s mouldy and I can't go for a swim in the Indian Ocean without getting my mouth/ear/nose full of plastic (it’s only a seasonal hazard......swim on the East Coast during the  wet months) and I detest traffic jams, billboards and hi-tech real-estate offices.
Now read on:

Satay vendor at 'Little Perth', Kuta Beach South

3rd January 2010, noon: In search of sunshine
This morning I take myself to Little, Perth for perfect Satay Madura, served by a perfect Madurese with gold teeth, and for a good look at my countrymen in holiday beachwear. 
In the traffic jam in Kuta Art Market Lane on the way in, I spy two giant Hulk Hogan type iron men (Silverbacks) in BIR BINTANG TANKTOPS and, to their immediate North, in a sea of other scantily- clad and beaded Australians, a tiny procession of four Balinese, immaculately dressed in white on white dawn fashion ― the final ritual of a soul cremation has just taken place on the beach
at Little Perth, before the beer-swilling starts. The celebrants weave eastwards, as a line, against the tide, as it were, oblivious to the crowd and the chaos: to them — the four against the four hundred — all the caked mess is just window-dressing in an arcade of the archaic, that time-honoured route from the sea to the shine of the ancestors. The only thing that matters to them is getting their spirit effigies back to their house temples safely: they know that they, the original crowd-drawers (and now the crowd-parters), will not be impeded in their quest.
At the Little Perth food stalls adjacent the cremation ground the lunchtime crowd of budget tourists and their half-Javanese offspring have started to gather. An exquisite bamboo and woven palm leaf ‘Altar to the Sun’ (sanggah agung) is still standing proudly in the beach sand, in a sea of plastic cups, downwind from the jumbos landing. 
I am on my way to the Alila Uluwatu — the latest luxury boutique resort to open on the Bukit Peninsula — to check out the handiwork of my old chums, the hotel’s architects; beforehand. I want a refreshing dip in the ocean, to clear away the morning’s administrative detail, before moving into poison pen mode (Ha). 
Amidst the low, warm waves and river effluent I imagine I am Al Gore at Copenhagen, floating on my back in a sea of optimism, despite the evidence otherwise: I am surrounded by four very dark, very thin former-fishermen, all looking for ‘things’ amongst the crashing waves in the aquatic rubbish dump. 
“What are you looking for” I ask, in Balinese. 
“Tourist's lost Goggles,” comes the reply, “and Septic sunglasses,” he adds, warming to the topic. “Like the septic bar girls in Sanur,  ahahahahahaha.” 
It was time to head south to the peninsula, I think, in search of less muddied waters.

The central facilities area of the Alila Uluwatu.

3rd January, 2010: Dinner at Bali's latest Temple to Luxury, the Alila Uluwatu with my body double, writer Jamie James
I have in the past been critical, in writing, of the Alila Uluwatu without having actually visited the property of Singapore-based  wonderboys Wong Mun Summ and Richard Hassell (WOHA) — creators, over the past decade, of some of the best architecture in the tropical world. I sort of felt that the property’s press in the design journals press was a tad too Gung Ho and I assumed that flat-roofed, microwave-inspired, concrete boxes could never look good in Bali on the BukitPeninsula.
I now stand corrected:  the Alila Uluwatu is a masterpiece of ‘Majapahit-Modern’ (the central facilities) and is the possessor of the hands down ― best villa designed in Bali since Peter Muller invented the modified house compound  concept at the glorious Kaya Aya (now the  Bali Oberoi) in 1970. The property’s architecture just sings. The detailing is gorgeous.
The gardens by Cicada of Singapore, while not entirely tropical — the Bukit has a weird micro-climate that bests supports sub-tropical almost drought-tolerant plants — and not at all ‘Balinese’, are fresh and original, and a noble support to the spectacular architecture. The rivulets of patterned lava stone ‘coursework’ that side-line and cool the flights of garden stairs are particularly clever. The lava stone rubble on the lightly-tiered (for a leaner silhouette) flat-roofs apparently absorb the sun’s heat and encourage a stream of cool air through the villas below (the villas are, architecturally, a combination of three breezeways. WOHA are not ‘greenwashers’, they really practice what others preach.

As an exercise in elegance,  the property's interiors, also by WOHA, set a new tropical world standard for  beauty in resort design ―  something Bali has managed to achieve every decade since the 1970s (one thinks here of, first, the Kayu Aya, then the Amandari, then the Four Seasons at Jimbaran, and lastly the Bvlgari at Ungasan).
The resort’s interior architecture reminds me of an ancient Roman villa with refreshing dashes of Georgia O'Keeffe, in the dark, decorative accents. Within the compound there are two imperial-sized day beds apart from the actual bed, and lots of smart Scandinavian modern-looking lounge chairs.
The level of luxury is high:   there are acres of ‘His and Hers’ toiletries, eight giant fluffy towels beckoning from the huge bathroom upon check-in, an Illy espresso machine, an iPod-fed sound system that plays anti-anxiety melodies, Javanese cakes under pheasant covers, a 24 hour butler in pirates pantaloons, maids in rouch baby-doll pyjamas by Karmalita (Jakarta's top uniform designer) and the best lighting in a resort hotel ever (by LPA of Tokyo).
Adjacent to the lobby the gem-like yoga pavilion is set in more landscaped grounds than the Kennedy Centre!
On the downside, one is shocked by the lack of Hindu shrines and wall-altars in 'Bali-Modern' hotels these days, but this seems to be the fashion: Balinese offerings boxes and their attendant offerings are perhaps considered too colourful for the severe beige on brown aesthetic, as it were. Adrian Zecha long ago decreed that the white tuber-rose is the only flower of the true trendoid, so there.
It makes me proud to see WOHA — trained by my old Sanur salad-day’s friend, architect Kerry Hill — achieve such soaring heights of originality, in such a hackneyed field as resort   architecture in Bali.
Expect many more marvels from this dynamic duo.

Royal Wedding at Puri Banyuning Palace, Bongkasa, 22nd December 2009

A. A. Gde Agung Kresnajaya & Ida Ayu Putu Padmawati

Cokorda Panji, Cokorda Pemecutan
& I Gusti Agung Oka

Merajan Agung Puri Bongkasa

Gung Ratih & Gung Anik

Mangku Gede Pura Dalem Puri

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