Published in the Sunday Jakarta Post, 29 October 2006

More Time for Bobby?

The Bali tourism industry is a bit desperate at the moment. Last month saw a 5,000 strong son et lumier Ketjak Dance performance at the picturesque Tanah Lot Temple, which succeeded in getting two minutes prime time coverage on the BBC! Female Ketjak dancers (an anomaly) were seen giggling like school girls as they were herded up and down the fake rock foreshore. Sweeps of purple and red light danced on the temple backdrop.

The 5,000-strong Ketjak dance at Pura Tanah Lot on 29 September 2006.

But still the art shops are empty, and the tourist buses asleep in their garages. My Australian house guest this past month – Lissa Coote, who worked on Bali’s first surfing movie, “Morning of the Earth,” in 1971 – would come back from her morning walks along Sanur beach with stories of boarded-up beach cafes and empty hotels grounds. On one outing she was ‘hit-upon’ by a mature if determined surf shop owner called ‘Bobby’ ! Bobby had leathery skin, snake hips and a wicked twinkle in his eye.
“Wanna boogie baby?” he crooned at Lissa, wiggling his hips.
“In your dreams,” chortled Lissa.
Lissa is a typical example of today’s cultural tourist: she has been pumping money into the Balinese economy for decades. This trip she went to the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival and met born-again-Buddhist-former-night-club-owner Arthur Karvan. She proceeded to shop up a storm at Karvan’s hand-painted clothes shop, “Divya,” in Ubud. Karvan employs thirty local artisans making batik pareo and shirts.
At October’s giant Ketewel temple festival Lissa next met Australian Dive Queen Valerie Taylor and bought a cut-rate ticket to Banda on Valerie’s nephew’s boat.
Valerie’s nephew, dive-master Mark Heighes, and his Flores-born wife have been struggling to keep their business afloat since the second Bali Bomb. They run dive trips to the Spice Islands and beyond in their Bugis pinisi schooner, the “Seven Seas.” Amazingly two more of Valerie’s nephews work in marine conservation in Indonesia too. |
In Banda – the centre of the world’s spice trade in the 17 th and 18 th centuries – Lissa found the above-water world a bit forlorn. The shell of the island’s Portuguese church had been torched during the 2000 Christian-Muslim unrest, and the once pristine rows of perkeneer (plantation-owner) town houses were unkempt. It makes for gloomy sight-seeing.
The harbour on the neighbouring island of Ambon, once famous for its rich marine life, is now free of fish and full of displaced families living in the wrecks of old fishing boats.

Lisa Coote (left) and Valerie Taylor in Banda Neira harbour. Photo courtesy Lissa Coote

(Click here to EXTRA IMAGES of Banda island)

It is a sad picture, but hopes for recovery are high. The revival of Indonesian tourism is essential to the survival many of Indonesia’s far flung attractions, as it is to the survival of Bali’s million and one art shops. Expatriate entrepreneurs in Bali and beyond are doing their bit – marine conservationists like Valerie Taylor and her husband Ron; Bali-based travel writer Jamie James; and Janet De Neefe founder of the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, for example, to name just a few.

• • •

Meanwhile, Lissa is back in Bali from Banda just in time for my village prince’s Penileman ceremony. (As tourism shrinks the Balinese ceremonies seem to get bigger and better).
She quickly falls into a regime of gorgeous and intense cultural tourism activities: there is a Penileman soul purification ceremony in my adopted village of Kepaon and a huge Maligia beatification in Sanur at the Taman Brahmana palace.
“So many byres, so little time,” says Lissa.
We choose a middle-of-the-range 2,000 strong dawn procession to the sea from the Penileman menu, and a Sunday-noon drive-by to the Sanur mega-event.
Both are gob-smackingly glamorous – the princes and princesses of the land are all present, with their royal serfs, in stunning white and gold ceremonial attire.

Byre-porters goofing off during A. A. Made Raka Kaba’s Penileman procession to the sea. Photo: Made Wijaya

(Click here to EXTRA IMAGES of Penileman ceremony)

I have photographed over 500 Kepaon village cremation processions over the years and they get more and more creative with every passing soul. Today the bukur tower features a yellow and white swan on its rear – the byre borne by a raucous gang of boyish bearers. The gang’s big trick is to lift the byre above their heads while exposing gorgeous tanned tummies for Lissa.
It is a generous if not a wholly appropriate gesture.

• • •

That night Lissa heads off to the airport weighed down with all her Banda, Bali and Ambon shopping to go stand by for a Garuda flight home. She doesn’t get on: sadly there are not enough flights in and out of Bali these days, to cope with the resurgent tourism demand!
“No sweat,” says Lissa. “More time for Bobby!”
Early the next morning, she heads for Sanur beach in her Ubud beach outfit: her Arthur Karvan pareo and silver gladiator sandals from” Trendy” of Tegalsuci.
Before too long she is face to face with Bobby, the 40 something beach boy with attention deficit syndrome.
“Hello, where you from, what’s your name,” comes the mating call from deep within the wiry but well-tanned frame.
Lissa realizes that Bobby does not remember her, from their brief encounter of two weeks before, when she had fended him off with a kayak paddle.
“I’m Lissa and I’m leaving tonight,” She replies politely.
“Ooooh, what a shame……Cuddles??!”


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