Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

Published in Now! Bali, September 2010



Story: Popo Danes, Illust: Jango Pramartha, Courtesy of BOG BOG Magazine.

At last…..the Balinese have their say


Newlyweds Wayan Yudiana and Ni Ketut Yasni at their Ajeg-Ajeg Jiggy-Jig studio photo-shoot

Bali has survived Islamification and  colonialisation; the question now is: will it survive the twin terrors of mass tourism and ‘Villarization’?
After decades of taking it lying down are the Balinese fed up?
Are the insensitive billboards planted along the highways — which show scantly clad Russian models against backdrops of ultra-modern villas ― finally stirring up some protest??
Are the village Balinese now happier — spread across the globe as masseurs and cruise-line waiters — than they were when they were rice-farmers and offering-makers?
The truth is: one really does not know.
Unless, of course, you read the columns of Ubud-based writer I Wayan Juniartha, published in his popular weekly column in the Bali Post — and translated into Indonesian and English on wijayajournal.blogspot.com and baliluwih.blogspot.com. When it comes to foreigners (like me), Juniartha points out that asking opinions of the Balinese is a waste of time.
“Balinese promote Cultural Tourism where tourists are king,” wrote Juniartha in last month’s column. “Whatever the tourists say, the Balinese will nod in agreement. Whatever the tourists ask for, the Balinese will always try to provide them with, from ‘rice field’, ‘land’, mountain, to ‘lake’. When the tourists don’t ask for anything, the Balinese approach them, and offer them something.”
Juniartha went on to add that:
“Many tourists have become Bulé Aga. As they love Bali very much they think that they deserve to deal with all the problems in Bali, from protection of puppies, cats and other animals, to children.”

In the same week as Juniartha’s courageous column, the cover of Bog Bog cartoon magazine — “the Voice of the Hindu left” — featured a polite cartoon denouncement of foreigners in Bali who set up businesses and then can’t adapt to the Balinese culture (see opposite page).
Many of my Balinese friends pointed out that, when it comes to business, non-Balinese Indonesians are often just the same.

•        •        •

On the positive side one saw last month, the start of a new efficiency drive at the Arrival Hall at Ngurah Rai  International Airport.
It seems that the Balinese governor, and Denpasar’s mayor, are finally taking things into their own hands’ As a result less people are fainting in the long queues at the gates to ‘paradise’.  To be fair, the local immigration office has been under too much strain — enforcing all sorts of programmes that Jakarta sends down (the aborted finger-printing on arrival policy, for example). Extra Balinese ‘pecalang’ (Hindu vigilantes) have been posted — guaranteeing that Indonesians, at least, get prompt, efficient service.
For the foreigners who run the gauntlet, there is, after immigration, a new look Customs Hall with pots of plastic flowers and smiling customs officials ready to rip-open your daughter’s boogie board.
Outside the airport  — just as traffic snafus threaten to turn into grid lock in the glamorous Airport-Kuta-Seminyak-Canggu belt ― there is a billboard announcing the construction of Bali’s first flyover at the Duty Free Mall round-a-bout.

•        •        •


A fashionable Balinese couple’s pre-wedding publicity snap.

The big story on the Bali street, however, is celebrity phone-porn (Bali-Wood ) and Gone with the Wind style pre-Islamic, pre-wedding photos called “Ajeg-Ajeg Jiggy-Jig”. This colourful phase was invented by local cultural observer Susi Johnston, former Desperate Ubud Housewife, and this year’s Runner-up in the Yak Magazine’s outstanding Non-Balinese Woman of the Year. (Past nominees have included Janet DeNeefe, the Australian wonder woman who founded and continues to run the regular Ubud Writers’ and Readers’ Festival and Daisy Dingbat who launched the “Stray Dog pelt as carrier bag” initiative).
It’s funny that the Hindu left should see a link between the expat goody-goodies ― the environmental suffragettes, who think they own the island ― and a threat to cultural identity. Is it that the ceremonially-addicted Hindu majority ― that 99% segment of the island’s Hindus who believe that  the universe will be in balance if one keeps bashing gongs and throwing dead animals into holes” (as one foreign put it recently) ― don’t see the elephant on the island.
‘Villarization’ brings not just micro-wave-oven-look housing, but a micro-wave oven mentality.

Have you read some of the codswallop developers write:
“Conceptually the resort maximizes the natural topography of the original rice padi,” writes one developer about 3 concrete room block slam-dunked in the delicate Balinese landscape.

•        •        •

Through Facebook this column has discovered, in places like Hamburg, pockets of Balinese dissidents whose plot it is to Balinese Europe by building Balinese temples (GloBalization it’s called) with an eventual strategy to retake the island and rescue it from becoming Asian’s answer to Ibiza, or the Milan Furniture Show (NOTHING THE MATTER WITH ITALIAN FURNITURE, MIND YOU!)
Last month, to escape the traffic jams and the New Asian madness I headed East, to the traditional village of Ketewel where local architecture and cultural values still reign supreme.

15th August 2010: One Wedding and Four Tooth Filings: Fat Dewa’s son and a few cousins are wed then filed in a sophisticated series of ceremonies
I love Ketewel village because they are (still)  masters of Bali style.
The twenty or so dewas (all cousins) who have slaved for me for the past 30 years ― as master craftsmen and master gardeners around the equator ― all deserve medals.
Privately, I am thrilled that many design touches of mine, originally inspired by research into the architecture of Ketewel Village in the 1970s, have been re-adopted back into the village’s landscape architecture and gates, in particular.
Today I arrive at 9 a.m. to  find Fat Dewa’s son entwined around his wife-to-be ― herself a picture in shimmering pearl chemise loveliness.


Young Dewas in smart turbans at the Ketewel wedding.

Newlyweds Dewa Made Kumbayana & Desak Nyn Diah Wartini

I take some photos of local youths in big batik turbans (a current classical trend) and then  retire to the riverside dining terrace where twenty dewas are putting up a giant marquee-style roof and arranging thirty or so dining tables on a volley ball court.
I admire the menfolk fixing everything — with supreme grace and co-ordination — then watch as, seconds after they finish, a phalanx of gorgeous teenage girls sweeps in with the bains-marie and tablecloths and water melon slices.
Dewa ‘Junior’, my business partner’s son ― who now designs T-shirts for a surfing company in Kuta ― suddenly fires up some haunting Javanese gamelan and the guests start file in.
It is all too elegant and lovely.
God Bless the Balinese and long may their village based culture survive!


Iwan Tirta
Batik Fashion Maestro
18 April 1935 – 31 July 2010

“Iwan was a treasure — he valued the past and brought it into the present. Let’s hope it continues into the future.“
—Terron Schaeffer, Senior VP, Saks Fifth Ave, USA.

31 July 2010: Indonesia mourns the loss of a national treasure
In the early 1970s university lecturer and diplomat Iwan Tirta started a fashion house based on exquisite batik textiles — it went onto inspire an industry, and become the nation’s pride. At its height, the House of Iwan Tirta was staging fashion shows in Paris and New York and dressing visiting heads of state and film stars (Greta Garbo used to hide herself at the Amandari behind an Iwan Tirta headscarf. Last month Iwan died after a long illness —many of Jakarta’s cultural elite attended his burial. Over the years Iwan and his extraordinary fashion shows have appeared many times in this column — the Stranger mourns the loss of a dear friend.



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