(Published in the Bali Daily News paper, October 2013)

The Governor's Vision


I have finally worked out what the governor means by 'urban tourism'. Yesterday, driving back from a Bali Peace Park function at the White Rose Hotel, I had to run the new super-tight-packed gauntlet of t-shirt/tatoo and reflexology stalls that is Jalan Poppies 2 before breaking out onto the new-look Jalan Legian, which is a marvel. There are rows of mature shade trees, strategically-placed, with cleverly-designed pergolas and patterned pavements. One can't park there or be easily dropped off, so clever tourists get dropped off at Bemo Corner and wheel their bags to Ground Zero for a stubbie or two or twenty. They then reel off towards one of the attractive street-bound, high-rise, urban tourism budget hotel solutions named after popular room fresheners.
The streets may have gotten smaller over the past few years but all the tourist men are much bigger; they wander around in a state of bliss until they bump into a bargirl on the pavement small enough to put in their bag and take home. This, I now understand, is urban tourism Bali-style: its a very clever rebranding tired, old, New Age meets Melrose Wannabe Jalan Legian. Its supply meets demand. It corales the tourist urbanites who, let's be honest, aren't in search of a spiritual experience, just some spirits and any experience. The sight of their large, white, fully-tattooed arms pressed against tinted- glass windows is life-affirming. Some look semi-conscious, in a nice not a nasty way, as stern little local maidens pummel their thunder thighs.
A few days before this epiphany I was invited to Banjar Buni in the very centre of Kuta -- a tight-packed community of 290 family heads famous on the ceremonial circuit for their he-men and hirsute priests-- for the revival, of their Sanghyang Jaran  Fire Dance, which has been dormant for 20 years. My first thought was: Where are they going to do it? It used to be held down the full stretch of Jalan Pantai Kuta, which is now a main thoroughfare to Planet Seahorse (the zone of beach-side urban tourism that used to be Kuta Beach). Where will the tripped out trance-masters run to, pell mell? Up the fire escape of the nearest Q Hotel?
As it turns out I had no need to worry. The banjar had closed the small road in front of the community hall, put a dozen or so beefy pecalang guards out front to deflect the 'Occupy Adat' mob (one tourist came down to complain about the gamelan, at 7 p m!) and got on with the show, which was as spooky and amazing as I remember it thirty years ago, but was well-contained within the walls of the new high rise Banjar Hall Entertainment Complex. The only new thing was the large Kuta Photographers Club press corps contingent  in one corner  with giant lenses -- who posted extraordinary, technically magnificent photographs on Facebook the next day-- and the plethora of black Quicksilver fanny packs/bum bags which seem to be de rigeur for Ketjak dancers these days. The Ketjak chanting was as good as I've heard in my forty-odd years following trance dances across the island, made all the more spooky with the inclusion in their corps of tight-bodied surfies with ectoplasm occasionally streaming from their mouths.

Ladies from the local palace carried the god statues on their heads as tripped-out trance-masters wielding long kris daggers feigned and parried in their midst. The actual 'fire dance with hobby horse dancers' was performed with unusual efficiency in the tight space, helped by teams of lay priests wielding purpose-designed ember-sweeps.
Many people don't realize that Kuta and Legian have retained their traditional character despite the tacky mass tourism swirling around them.They've rolled with the punches -- such as the Bali Bomb, the tasteless 'Culture Neutral' developers and the lack of strategies for traffic management at the regional level -- and are constantly re-defining their product to reflect changes in tourism trends.   Congratulations  Kuta-Legian village for making the impossible possible.


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