The World Cup, the oral aphrodisiac & the tsunami survivor
I have a cousin in Perth who is a reserve for the Australian army’s special services division.
Last week he sent me an email from Jogyakarta where he has been working on earthquake relief, on behalf of the Western Australian government. The tone of his email was elatory.
“Amongst the misery and destruction,” he wrote from a remote Central Javanese village, “There is the most incredible spirit and love.”
“To see the faces of the villagers when we supplied frames and wheelchairs to the disabled was unbelievable and there was not a dry eye in the place (except mine). Even the medical staff from Mohommedihr (sic) shed a tear.
The crew from WA were really compassionate, humble and genuinely concerned – you couldn't help feeling immensely proud to be Australian.
There was over 90% destruction in some areas in which we worked. It was incredibly moving to see the surviving families working together to rescue reusable bricks from the rubble. They laughed throughout and were so unbelievably appreciative and generous that it was a truly humbling experience.
I found all the people of Yogya, Bantul, Jetis and Klaten absolutely wonderful.
There were many Indonesian volunteers coming into the area from other parts to help those affected and community spirit was a model for the whole world.”
I advised him in a reply email that “crying over Central Javanese is not a sin, of course” and told him that I was proud to Australian too, most of the time.
My cousin Rik’s father was a Dutch-Indonesian of mixed blood – dashing fellow, loved his drink – who settled in Australia after Indonesian Independence. Since 1980, Rik has come to Bali, yearly, with his English wife and two boys and one has assumed that they got to know Indonesia. But it seems that it takes a few nights in a disaster-relief camp for the penny to drop: Indonesians are not the sombre, saber-wielding Islamists portrayed in the Australian media: they are for the most part, doe-eyed sweeties prone to fits of nervous giggling.
Another intriguing detail from my cousin’s front line dispatch: “the Kuwaiti contingent never left the Hyatt Hotel grounds.”
So much for the big brotherhood!
• • •
29 th June 2006: to Bungkulan village in North Bali for the second stage of the soul purification rights for my old sponsor Drs. Gusti Bagus Nyoman Pandji, who composed most of the Balinese beaurocracy’s nationalistic theme songs.
It is a stunning late-June North Coast morning.
I arrive before noon and am ushered into a courtyard packed with local and island dignitaries by Ir. Gusti Bagus, my friend, and co-worker, who is a grandchild of the deceased.
The house is beautifully decorated in gold and white, the colours of soul purification ceremonies, which are called Nyekah.
Unlike the heavy macho Ksatrya realism of South Bali palace affairs – where the courtyard chatter is mostly about football, real estate and fashion – today’s get together features intellectual and religious chat from a cast of dancers, musicians and literary folk.
I sit with Mrs. Mantra, widow of popular culture-conscious Governor Ida Bagus Mantra, and her son, a lecturer in architecture at Udayana University. In the 1960’s Ibu Mantra spent years in Delhi, where her husband was cultural attaché; and, after that, a few years in Jakarta, when her husband was Minister for Culture.
She is sophisticated and savvy.
I remind her of the ideological-aesthetic fight I had with her husband in the governor’s office in 1979, when I criticized the roofs of his Sasana Budaya buildings at Besakih temple for being “not Balinese.”
“Star Wars sixties” was how I described the roofs at the time.
Her son was not that amused.
“Andesite is the new enemy,” I mused.
The Padma spirit effigies for the soul of Drs. Gusti Pandji and some of his relatives
• • •
Jakarta , 29 th June 2006
Bali’s top writer has written a brilliant witty essay on the state of Australian Journalism – viz-a-viz Indonesia – and can’t get it published in Australia.
Meanwhile, a respected Jakarta daily (this one) runs an article by Surabaya-based Duncan Graham called “Foot-in-Month disease.”
It is brilliant. It refers to the Australian Prime Minister’s “roughing up” the Indonesian president in Batam yesterday, on the subject of the release from jail of Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Ba`asyir. “Howard and Rudd’s statement might get a “good on yer mate,” bore it up the bastards” response back home,” he writes, but the beneficiary is Ba’asyir.” “That’s why he’s always displaying his gleaming dentures: he may not be a Rhodes Scholar but he’s Kampung Clever.”
I am shocked!
I always thought Ba’asyir’s teeth were his own!!
And how does Duncan Graham get away with “Kampung Clever”?? (which is clever).
My beloved editor – the saintly, hard-working Chisato-san – would insist on changing it to “Kampung (or Indonesian village) clever.”
As for Ozzie hacks: they sure are a mixed bag. One recently attacked this glorious column, calling me a “wannabe Balinese who drops names”!!! Where would he get that idea!! And since when was being a wannabe Balinese a bad thing??
2 nd July 2006: the penny drops at the local drive-in
I have been disturbed for some weeks now by an on going television advertisement for a popular brand of oral aphrodisiac that features a Balinese Ketjak dance troupe, going at it like a chorus of voodoo trance masters and, in centre stage, a soccer player juggling a ball.
I felt that the ad was demeaning to the Balinese culture.
Tonight watching the Portugal-England match in the field north of the Grand Bali Beach where SCTV have built a sort of drive-in for the masses I discovered that the soccer player in the ad is non other than the Portugal striker and Indonesian demi-god Christiano Ronaldo, who looks like a cross between a Batak and Astro- Boy.
It seems that one of the very few survivors of the 2004 tsunami was a young boy plucked out of the sea wearing a Christiano Ronaldo T-shirt The Portuguese hero heard of this and came to Indonesia shortly thereafter.
At some stage some enterprising Chinese businessman seized on the occasion to promote a sex-drive drink and simultaneous denigrate the Ketjak, a semi sacred dance that is descended from the ancient Sang Hyang trance-dance.
Watching Christiano tonight I somehow feel that this demi-god and the semi-sacred Ketjak dance are meant for each other.