Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the NOW! Bali Magazine, January 2011)



Milo and Made on Mertasari Beach.

Bali’s Blonde Crusaders

There is a growing number of ‘white crusaders’ changing the face of Bali. The new blonde vigilantes — power-dressed in well-structured Nehru-jackets — are driven and devoted.
‘Queen of Ubud’ Janet De Neefe is the leader of the pack. She is the founder of the enormously successful Ubud Writers’ and Readers’ Festival, inventor of the bullet-proof white corsette, and a lover of all things bright and beautiful.
Her presence is almost Messianic.
She has four Balinese children, three restaurant-loads of devotees, and a column in the Jakarta Post devoted to her inner goddess. Janet is the real deal and the Sarah Palin of Bali.
On the men’s side, couturier Milo (who, like many Latin superstars goes by only one name) is the most visible amongst the ‘born-again’ Hindus. A master of mix ‘n’ match, his temple dress is always inspiring. Over the last few years he has led delegations of Hindu Balinese priests — mostly from Seminyak — to South India, and to the oldest Hindu site in Indonesia, in Kutai, East Kalimantan.


A celebrant on Mertasari Beach.

Gung Bagus at the big Peliatan cremation on 2nd November 2010

28th October 2010: Big Balinese Petileman at Mertasari Beach.

Milo’s magnificent garden-home on Jalan Dyana Pura — the Palazzo Versace of Seminyak — with its signature opalescent gate and meditation tower is a symbol of piety in an area otherwise known for its jockstraps and nipple rings.
In Sanur, on the East Coat, there are any number of well-borne Melbourne girls married to local Brahmans (but none with the following of Our Janet of Ubud).
What about this writer did I hear some readers ask?
Well, I am a bottle-redhead Sanur resident, I guess, and in the 30 odd years of banging on about Hindu-Bali affairs in this column, I suppose I’ve had some influence; but I’d like to be remembered more as the champion of the batik headdress, than, say, the inventor, with Putu Suarsa, of the Balilamp (Sanur’s answer to carriage lamps).
Here, ‘Honkies’ take Hindu names — unlike India where they often remain ‘exotics’ and start sleeping with cows. ‘Born-agains’ in Bali actually enter the work force, and become militant and righteous.

Look at Jack ‘Voice of Bali’ Daniels of Discovery Tours fame, with his mega-popular website. The Hindu Street is defined by the Discovery blog. No bio-diversable conference goes unrecorded, no shift in government policy nor mutation in the tourism industry would take place without Jack, the Billy Graham of Padanggalak, first announcing it!


James Murdoch

Jack Daniels and famed Malaysian dancer Ramli Ibrahim at Murdoch’s funeral.

James Murdoch’s beloved butler Diono collapsed into a Balinese friend’s arms as the coffin entered the fire

The kindly Jack is also a lay preacher and regularly conducts funeral services at the all-denominational crematorium in Mumbul.
Last month he was M.C. for the funeral of the much-loved musicologist James Murdoch, who died in Sanglah hospital aged 80. Le tout Ubud turned up — most in discreetly fabulous Hindu costume, including Jero Asri, wife of Ubud’s charismatic bendesa (chef of ceremonies) and founder/owner of the heavenly BIKU tea rooms in Jalan Petitenget, Seminyak (and founder with her husband, of the IBAH hotel in Campuan, Ubud).
Asri’s son Tjokorda Bagus recently married Jakarta film star Happy Salma in a lavish ceremony at the Ubud Palace (see Stranger in Paradise, ‘“B.T.”:  Teen Depression in the Age of Starbucks’, November 2010).
Last month also saw the launch of a film ‘Sacred and Secret’ by a Belgian Film Production crew, which featured the spectacular cremation of Jero Asri’s brother-in-law, late Prince of Ubud Tjokorda Gede Agung Suyasa. The film crew’s guide and adviser was Barone Gill Marais who, with Pemuteran ‘Polly’ (Diane von Cranach), England’s Earl of Warwick, Lady Diana Darling, Sir Warwick Purser and Contessa Maria Grazzia, make up the island’s quite sizeable European ‘court’.

Literary world aristocrat Jamie James — former art critic of the New Yorker — holds court in North Seminyak with his consort ‘Bonita’ of Bonita Restaurant, ‘Bonita’ Real Estate and Warung Sulawesi fame.
While not a born-again Hindu, James is a director of the Writers’ Festival and Indonesia’s point man for Time magazine and Conde Naste.
No temple fashion-plate, Jamie James makes up for lack of sartorial splendor with an ever-changing display of his artistic consort’s ‘Easter bonnets’ in his studio’s waiting room (photo next month).

9th November, 2010: The Asian Gardens open at the Naples Botanical Garden, Florida
Balinese gardens have gotten a bad name since the late 1990s when the ‘Bali-Style’ fashion trend peaked.
Bali-lamps, temple umbrellas and cheap statuary were exported en masse to every corner of the world, to litter the gardens of home-owners in search of an ‘exotic tropical’ touch!
Kitschy ‘Balinasia’ fantasy gardens started popping up in hotels in Bali, Thailand, Malaysia and India too.
The first decade of the new century has seen a marked interest in minimalist garden designs which suffer from a lack of soul, rather than an abundance of it.


Balinese Shrine: Every Balinese temple is a gorgeous garden. In these temples there are shrines to the Goddess of Fertility (Dewi Sri), the consort of Dewa Wisnu, the preserver, the Lord of the Mountains and to the mountain lakes so vital to irrigation and agriculture

All this is not to say that Balinese gardening is dead (one only has to go to any traditional Balinese village or temple to see that) but one could argue that the art of making a good ‘Balinese’ garden in a commercial setting is a dying art.
The New Asian Garden at the Naples (Florida) Botanical is the first landscaping project I have done — since doing the Four Seasons Resort in Jimbaran — which is unashamedly ‘oriental’.
All the elements except the plants were made in Bali and shipped, as were four of my garden commandoes — over six weeks they pieced everything together again and earned the love and respect of the local ‘crackers’ the way the Balinese do before stealing their wives. (Fortunately the average age for women in Naples is 71).
The team’s leader, Dewa Sucita, was quoted in the Naples daily News:
“I Love pizza, and beer, and Hooters!”


Compang: The four Balinese commandos in the Ancient Asia section. The ancient villages of Eastern Indonesia all have raised stone platforms — called compang, at their centre. Here tribunals are held. Often-times these compang ‘grow’ totems which signify an important person or event.


I went to Florida three times over the last six months to fine-tune the planting schemes and to carry, for the Balinese, rare food items (snake oil, fried eels, Nescafe ‘Three in One’) and magazines (Romans and Detektifa; Robb Real Estate and the Bali Post).
Tonight’s party for 500 donors and patrons is a gala sit-down dinner. The tables are decorated with stuffed baby alligators and Begonias. My Balinese are writhing, semi-naked, (flowers behind ears only) in golden cages, donated by the Tea Party (Naples is a conservative stronghold).


Hindu Javanese Temple Ruinscape:
Before the arrival of Islam, Java Island was for 500 years, the crowing glory of ‘Farther India’, the countries that make up present day South East Asia. Candi Sukuh, the last temple of Java’s Classical Hindu Era (late 15th century), exhibited a return to ‘aboriginal’ Javanese motifs and a distinctly non-Indian style. This garden is a ‘ruinscape’ of the original temple, situated outside Solo.

Vietnam vets have occupied the Thai pavilion from which pour clouds of herbal marijuana smoke.
I am sitting next to the editor-at Large of ‘Town and Country’ magazine, America’s oldest, who says she loves the garden and wants to take Dewa home.
I haven’t had so much fun since Melbourne Cup Day at the Canggu Club!


New Asia: Tourism has ushered in a new ‘modern’ era in tropical Asia: no-where is this more celebrated than in the decorative garden arts. These murals (above) — realized by Bali’s oldest landscaping firm P.T. Indosekar — are a celebration of “New Asia”, and a celebration of motifs based on nature.

On large screens photos flash of the Balinese teaching Amerindians how to thatch and how to sell tribal lands to rich white women. Ahahahaha!
Not really, but is a great day for the noble art of Balinese gardening, and the romantic tropical garden movement in particular.

17th November 2010: To my adopted home in Kepaon Village

I had no idea tonight’s house temple gig in Kepaon village was to be such a fun-filled, pedanda-packed, full-gamelan affair (see photos left). It is a Rsi Gana ceremony to commemorate the 12th anniversary of the death of Ida Bagus Ngurah Susila, my great friend (see strangerinparadise.com ‘Angel and Ashes’, January 1999).


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