Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the NOW! Bali Magazine, January 2013)

Village elders at I Wayan Rugig’s Kepaon cremation, 18th November 2012.


Bali may be reeling under its own weight but the ceremonial wheels keep turning, and the creative juices keep flowing.
Even the lively expat community is contributing. They have started a Facebook page called LOST BALI where they post photos of themselves sunbathing on still virgin West Coast beaches in the 1970s and 1980s. They also post alarming statistics from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs about the number of shit-faced Ozzie tourists who fall off motorbikes every month, or plough into locals.
Personally, I would like to see the statistics on the alarming rise in sightings by Balinese at beach ceremonies of saggy tourist bottoms and such. Last month one REJANG DEWA dancer had to be revived with the vapours after a particularly ugly sighting in front of the new Alila Pooftah at Petitenget Beach!
Meanwhile the Balinese go on ringing bells and flicking flowers as if there were no tomorrow and I must say I approve whole heartedly.
If the wheels start falling off of your home environment — grid-lock traffic, goldilocks real estate invasion from Planet Seahorse, insipient American cultural infiltration (Malls of Mediocrity) — the only response is to show the world that your culture is bigger than the sum of its parts and bring on the dancing girls!
I mean has anyone else seen the latest wedding gate decorations and fancy dance competitions in every Balinese village? It’s like a parade of Easter-Egg-like confectionary with religious undertones.

After the procession of NGUSABA DESA offerings to the Pura Bale Agung temple in Intaran, Sanur, 7th November 2012.

For fuller coverage see my video: Ma'Ped Ngusaba Desa Intaran on Wijayapilem2@YOUTUBE:

Last month, Intaran village in Sanur — one of the island’s great cultural hubs — put on two days of ceremonies, called NGUSABA DESA, which were as glamorous as anything I have ever seen on the island. The sheer number alone — of marching bands, high priests, warrior dancers, and wedding cake-like offerings — was astounding.

Barong Landung ‘mascots’ lined up at the big ten village melasti to the sea held as part of Intaran – Sanur’s Ngusaba Desa ceremonies, on 7th December 2012.

(For fuller coverage see my video: Melasti, Ngusaba Desa Intaran on Wijayapilem2@YOUTUBE: &

This is the way the Balinese balance the evil influences of mass tourism and urbanization: by holding medieval ceremonies until the cows come home! When restoring harmony, there’s really no time for nostalgia or regime-change.

“You know before we all came here with our druggie behaviour and hedonism there was no ghetto where single women could not walk at night. There was no “new kinda animal out there fuelled on meth and poverty” just a zone around Seminyak which was, always, even before we invaded, a very spooky/dodgy part of Bali.

Bali, for the most part, still lives in harmony with culture, nature and art; something none of us could do back then, in the 1970s, without finding a beach-bum-friendly Hindu island, and now can't do because we are addicted to something that has gone. 
I don't think anyone on this (the LOST BALI page (Ed.)) contributed, individually, to the drop in health and safety standards and environmental degradation in the ghetto (soon to be cleaned up and filled in with high-rise condominia like Patong Beach) but that does not give us the right to now, collectively, put the boot into our gracious landlords”.  

20 December 2012: More on Mourning Management
Last night I had to drop in on the corpses of two recently deceased friends. I was most wary of the first stop, in Sanur, at the palace of the first family of Intaran, as the deceased was a great man — temple restorer, village head, artist and  swashbuckler in the nicest way, through a career in a 5-star hotel — and his (now) widow is the mother of dear  friends and business associates. I arrived to find the widow beaming good will and sitting with all the ladies at the veranda's edge with her old school chum the prolific Ibu Ketut Arini (75), star of screen, stage and Facebook and a big celebrity plus in any Balinese courtyard. Around a big post the men's section was equally ebullient with soon to be high priest Uncle Asmaran holding court in immaculate Pemecutan mourning dress chequered sarung and ikat cummerbund, teamed with a flat dark  batik 'turban'). My friends, the deceased's eldest son, explained in detail the last 24 hours of Pak Alit's life — variously in and out of the corridors and of of I.C.U at Sanglah, and now still in the morgue there due to a ceremonial hitch in the village. Floral tributes were lined up at the edges of golden pavilions. Perfectly formed grandchildren came through to curtsy or bow. The brothers and Uncles spoke refined High Balinese to each other and Uncle Asmara and I discussed details of Majapahit history (he an expert). Stories went from the history of the great Intaran Ngusaba Desa of last month — which the family still runs, and used to own — to the appalling value one gets for Rp 30,000 a night at the Kamar Mayat (morgue) at Sanglah Hospital in Denpasar where "corpses laid every which way on folding tables". The mood was neither maudlin, nor mawkish, nor melancholy....just civilized, and sombre enough. The funeral has been set for 15th December.

For fuller coverage see my video: Penyiraman A.A Alit Arya on Wijayapilem2@YOUTUBE:

After that spirit-lifting experience I thought I'd breeze through the double-feature and sped off to Kepaon where the widow of my old mate, and village neighbour Pak Rugig, and family and my banjar would be waiting, playing cards and smoking.
A rainstorm greeted my arrival. The umbrellas proffered were too small. I pushed on into the strange half built garage-house with a rice loft and a temple on the roof in the back lots of what is now Kampung Java. The house is half-built because my friend's only son had died three month's ago and there had been a quick cremation and they had just finished participating in the local palace PENILEMAN soul-cremation, and I am sure the family is sick of death and it's accompanying expenses and rituals.

As is so often the case when I go home to my old village, I can't tell the sisters from the mothers from the in-laws and I can't ever remember what banjar I am supposed to be in and I sit at the wrong card's table; so I made a bee-line for the corpse and expected the immediate family to be gathered there (the cremation is on Sunday).

For fuller coverage see my video: Cremation of Wayan Rugig on Wijayapilem2@YOUTUBE:

They were, but they all looked familiar and unfamiliar at the same time and I did not know who to console so started asking directions which worked out fine as the eldest biggest roundest daughter (nothing like her deceased brother who used to work in my office) stepped in to take charge and started a massive family tree roll call out very loud which was not in the least embarrassing.  Bli Rugig was inside a corrugated iron cocoon, on ice, wrapped in plastic and secured with ropes, behind a glitzy set of drapes in the ceremonial pavilion in the garage. The widow approached and wanted a hug and to cry on my shoulder but I wasn't quite prepared for that — I suppose I am something of a Tuan figure as ex-boss and village mascot but not to that extent and, like other Australians of English descent, am a bit mean with my shoulder for such purposes. The widow had also yet to receive the $60 I had sent upon hearing of Bli Rugig's death and only two minutes worth of the palace PENILEMAN video my office was supposed to deliver. Despite all this I felt like a lost puppy who had finally found his way home and my 'pack' started going to sleep around me saying things like "Koming, if we go to the shaman tomorrow what offerings will we need".

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