Published in the Sunday Jakarta Post, 15 October 2006

A Hindu place for ugly people?

Monaco was once called a “Sunny place for shady people.” Is Bali fast becoming a “Hindu place for ugly people?”
Recent trends in advertising on the island of the gods have left local observers gob-smacked!
Lawrence Bellefontaine of PT. Bali Real Estate, for example, wrote, in a paper entitled "Bali Benefits from Thailand's Woes" for a Smart Property Conference, held in Singapore in late September 2006, that “the bombings and the coup in Thailand will benefit Bali Tourism.”
“What goes around comes around,” he added.
It seems a very ugly way to sell villas!
Not since the October 2002 Kuta bomb – when a six star hotel strung a banner across the highway which read “ We at the (six star hotel) are concerned about the bomb” – have we seen such ugly opportunism.
But it’s not just the carpet-baggers who are cashing in on natural disasters and otherwise.
Ubud’s successful Writers and Readers Festival – recently infiltrated by refined feminists with tabloid tendencies – came up with some shockers at last month’s festival too.

Noted Indonesian feminist author Toeti Heraty Noerhadi-Rooseno at the launch of her book “Calon Arang – The Story of a Woman Sacrificed to Patriarchy” at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. Seated below her on the floor is the book’s publisher, Sarita Newson

Kiwi-Kintamani wonder-woman Sarita Newson founder of Bali’s popular publishing house Saritaksu, and of the Bukit Kucit Women’s Refuge, sent out an invitation to launch a book “set in the artisan hill town of Ubud between bomb one and bomb two. The novel explores notions of paradise and a modern woman’s quest for meaning and passion in a post 9/11 world.”
What is it about these bombs that has unleashed the pens of so many lady writers?!!

• • •

This column was first to complain when Djarum cigarettes sponsored umbul-umbul temple banners leading to the island’s temple festivals.
“Is nothing sacred?” I cried.
“Ah, ya full of it” came back the “pro-development“ chorus.
This was in 1979.
Mercifully, commercialization of temple festivals has been confined to the temples fore-courts ever since.
But not anymore, it seems.
Even Bali’s revered ceremonies are no longer immune from commercialization. “Travellers can buy villas in Beijing, Vietnam or sun in the Seychelles but they choose Bali…..,” ran an ‘advertisement’ for a for a ten-day temple festival ‘fundraiser’ in the island’s Bali Advertiser newspaper recently. The ad came complete with a photo of a sad-looking temple priest and logos from all the ‘sponsors’ of the “massive-once-a-century, universe-stabilizing ceremony, which includes a Ngaturan Pekelem animal sacrifice ritual on Batur Lake.”
“Drowning cows won’t bring world peace” quipped an Indonesian friend, “and wouldn’t the expat community do better donating this money for education and health services?”
He continued in his well-reasoned email:
“Now you have the Canggu Club – a pretentious, neo-colonial facility – congratulating itself on "being involved". There are plenty of expats who have being doing stuff here for years without beating their chest.”

Many of my Balinese friends feel that the fundraiser with its 'faux ceremony' at the family club is an example of pelecehan or cultural prostitution.
“What pelecehan?” replied Sarita Newson, whose son Danny is an active helper in the temple in question. These (the ex-pats) are caring individuals who have gone back to their Bulé (honky. Ed) community and raised funds by holding an open day at their school with music and performance and raffles (she's a Kiwi). Guests of honour were the priests and elders of the temple who talked to the expats about the meaning of the ceremony. Their friends all participated generously.
Be that as it may, my concern is that the wholesaling of Bali and her festivals in this way, by concerned parties, may lead to a habit of ceremony-selling.

From left to right: I Gusti Putu Ardiasa, Komang Dhananjaya Wishnuputra, Phillip Xiao and Madame Chen at the Pura Tuluk Biyu mega-festival

For the Balinese and for most of her residents, donating time or money for a temple festival, or charity, is done with “iklas”, that is with a pure altruistic heart. No need to beat one’s breast in the Bali Advertiser, or hang banners across the road.
The Balinese are incredibly generous; and they are rarely judgmental about anyone’s supporting a particular festival or not. It’s just nose down, full steam ahead – into the nether world of purification rituals. They don’t blame the bomb or the Muslims for their woes, although many western journalists would like them to.

Feminist Film-maker Lissa Coote, founder of Sydney’s Hairy Leg Brigade, at a Bali temple festival.

They continue to welcome all visitors with open arms despite the common refrain – heard (amongst Balinese tourist guides) – “Sing ada tamu ma‘jeneng jani,” which could be loosely translated as “Today’s tourists are toads” (compared to the hot babes and cultural devotees of the 1970s).
Is the island filling up with villa-owners – most here, by their own admission, for “the available glamour” – who are not really warm-hearted towards the Balinese?
I am frequently shocked by the lack of basic manners amongst these new residents when they deal with my Indonesian colleagues. Have they “dispensed with generosity to practise charity?” as Albert Camus once famously remarked.

 Saturday 7th October, the propitious fourth full moon.
 I can't go to the big temple festival as I am lecturing Udayana University students on the evils of ribbon development in Bali but I send my house guests – newlyweds from  China – with a basket of offerings. They are floored by the beauty. They meet a Buddhist priest – an Indonesian of Chinese descent – who has been bussed in from  East Java for the ceremony. He speaks the same Fukien dialect as my Chinese friends!  Sadru, their Kedisan-ista guide is shocked that there are so many pedanda high priests at the four hour ceremony. (“We never have high priests in Kintamani” he comments, “We just use our local mountain priests. And there were fifteen expats wearing PANITIA (officials) badges).”
"Times change" I advise him, "And white folk butt in.”
They all laugh.


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