Monday, July 25, 2005

Modern History of Bali

I thought this was an uncommonly concise summary of Bali's post war history from a great little site, Bali Plus:
"On February 18th, 1942, a small force of Japanese soldiers landed at Sanur, and took over from the demoralized Dutch garrison. The victorious Japanese ruled Bali for three years, very much in accordance with the already established Dutch system. They did not actively intervene in Balinese affairs, but the effects of their compulsory requisition of rice and foodstuff were far-reaching and by the time the war ended the Balinese were suffering from severe privations and facing both famine and epidemic.

During the Japanese occupation, which fostered a repressive atmosphere ripe for rebellion, a charismatic young military officer, Gusti Ngurah Rai [pictured], began to gather together a Balinese 'freedom army'. He took the remnants of the military forces, combined them with new recruits and volunteers began training them in soldiery and tactics. His motto, 'merdeka atau mati', freedom or death , was to ironically seal his fate as both hero and martyr of the independence movement.

The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki resulted in the capitulation of the Japanese High Command, and on August 17, 1945, Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta declared Indonesia to be an independent nation. The remaining Japanese in Bali withdrew, and the local Balinese leaders moved quickly to occupy the provincial offices and residences.

The Dutch, however, were not yet willing to relinquish their pre-war powers. They arrived back in force and proceeded to make arrests, attempting to re-establish the colonial administration, meeting with unexpected resistance from Ngurah Rai and his followers. After a series of guerilla type confrontations which served to arouse the wrath of the Dutch, Ngurah Rai finally rallied his forces in east Bali at Margarana, where they made a suicide attack on the heavily armed Dutch. The Balinese battalion was entirely wiped out, breaking the last thread of Balinese military resistance.

In 1946 the Dutch constituted Bali one of the 13 administrative districts of the Republic of East Indonesia, a rival state to the revolutionary republic headed by Sukarno and Hatta. Continued rebellion in Java, however, finally induced the Hague to concede Indonesian independence. Bali became part of the Republic of the United States of Indonesia on Dec. 29, 1949. In 1956 Bali renounced the Dutch union and became a province within the Republic of Indonesia.

Transition from colonialism to independence was not easy, and by 1956 the whole of Indonesia, led by the charismatic President Sukarno, was undergoing a tumultuous, difficult period. Economic conditions had seriously deteriorated and the Communist party was growing in power. Rice was in short supply, and inflation was rife. In 1962 an extremely bad omen augured further disaster. Plagues of rats infested the island's fields and granaries. In early 1963, as the people of Bali began to prepare for the celebration of Eka Dasa Rudra, the most sacred of all Balinese temple festivals, signs were still particularly ominous, and the priests and elders were gravely concerned.

On February 18th, 1963, Besakih temple was being readied for an influx of devotees and official guests when Mt. Agung suddenly began to spurt ash and smoke, and earthquakes shook the island.

On March 12th, in the midst of ceremonies at Besakih, the volcano, for centuries dormant, began spewing mud and rock and by the end of the week great rivers of molten lava were flowing down the mountainside. Smoke and volcanic ash darkened the island under a grey cloud. The Besakih temple complex miraculously escaped the main line of destruction, although many of the thatched shrines were burnt, and the entire complex was buried in deep layers of ash. Many died, and for months famine prevailed over wide areas. Entire villages were wiped out, and thousands of hectares of farmland ruined.

The worst was not yet over. The island was in the throes of recovery in late 1965 when the Communist Party staged an abortive coup d'etat in Jakarta, and reprisals began all over Indonesia as the Nationalists set out to extinguish all traces of communism. Bali was the scene of incredible violence, and thousands of people were killed.

The terrible events of the early and middle 60's are rather forgotten by the Balinese, who prefer not to dwell on the past. With the government of President Suharto, major reforms in the administration have been carried out. Indonesia is in the throes of a vigour of development to which Bali contributes considerably as a rich source of international tourism. The Government is wisely trying to limit negative effects of this influx, at the same time as encouraging benefits such as the revival of many of the performing arts."

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Theo Meier

According to Harold Stevens: "Swiss artist Theo Meier walked across China in the 1930s with an easel on his back painting Chinese warlords; he lived with cannibals in the wild New Hebrides in the South Pacific; he followed the footsteps of French artist Paul Gauguin in the Marquesas; and he lived on Bali for 22 years and the last 20 years of his life in Chiengmai in northern Thailand. He didn't actually die as a pauper, for he did have a fine traditional Thai house in Chiengmai, but he had little money in his lifetime. Today his paintings are selling for over a hundred thousand dollars at Christie's auction sales."

Western artists in Bali

The painting is by Rudolph Bonnet, from 1975, titled "Pensive Young Man", from the Agung Rai Museum of Art.

It is all very well reading about artists in Bali, but it is difficult to find text and pictorial examples in the same place (online, at least: this Neka Art Museum book looks like the go). This little site has one example each of quite a few of the Balinese painting styles as well as of quite a few of the Western artists who resided in Bali. Better still are the online collections of the Neka Art Museum in Ubud, and of the Agung Rai Museum of Art in Peliatan, near Ubud.

According to Bill Dalton, Moon's Bali Handbook's author, "The island's two principal museums, in Ubud and Denpasar, lack the money to continue buying contemporary works. As a result, the really remarkable, high-quality pieces are bought up by discerning tourists or foreign art dealers, taken overseas, and lost to Bali forever." A wrapup of the various art galleries in Bali is here.

Harold Stephens of Thailand (read about him here; apparently he has written a biography of Theo Meiers) wrote an illustrated article for Thai Airways which features the rare opportunity to see Ni Polok, Le Mayeur's beautiful wife fully clothed, and a photograph of Le Mayeur as half undressed as Ni Polok was usually painted.

There are short biographies of some of Bali's artists, and information on where to find their works here.

There are some Donald Friend paintings, and a photo of Walter Spies in this corner of Stranger in Paradise, along with some cutting down of certain nonsense associated with the idea of "Bali style".

Murni's Warung's website's author says:
"Miguel Covarrubias, and his wife, Rose, went to Bali in 1930, visited Walter Spies in Ubud and wrote Island of Bali, the first major book on Bali, which is still widely read today. ...

Walter Spies, German (1895-1942), himself an artist, came to Bali at the suggestion of the royal family in Ubud. Spies told the local artists that they were merely churning out the same old themes and that they should paint scenes of daily life, the markets, planting rice, harvesting, temple festivals and dance performances.

Spies, Bonnet, Lempad and two princes of the royal family, Cokorda Gede Agung Sukawati and his brother Cokorda Gede Raka Sukawati, created an artists' association, called Pita Maha, which means "great vitality". It also means ancestor, an idea that reverberates in the Balinese mind. The aims were to provide guidance, maintain standards and guarantee the artists' livelihoods.

Every week the artists, who included sculptors, brought their work to Spies and Bonnet. They discussed it with the artist and if they thought the quality good enough, agreed a price and arranged for it to be sold or exhibited. Until 1937 Museum Bali was the major outlet. Bonnet also bought from them and finally donated quite a lot of objects to the Puri Lukisan, Ubud Museum. Bonnet's pupils are still around: see Balinese Paintings.

At the meetings, Bonnet, in particular, explained, if the work was rejected, why it had not been selected. This led to an unfortunate, unhealthy Bonnet-style generation of painters in Ubud, who copied his style of half-turned torsos. Painters from outside Ubud, from villages such as Kamasan, Batuan and Sukawati, were also members of Pita Maha, but they retained their independence and were not so influenced by Bonnet.

Pita Maha organized exhibitions in Java and outside Indonesia, and for the first time individual artists came to be recognized. They started to sign their paintings. They were at long last producing non-functional works, not merely objects for the temple.

The association experienced some disruption when Spies was arrested for immoral conduct, homosexual relations with minors, in late 1938. He was detained for almost a year. Then in mid-1940 he was arrested for being a German national when Hitler invaded Holland. Spies was deported and died when a Japanese plane off Sumatra bombed the ship transporting him to Ceylon in 1942.

The Japanese invaded Bali in February 1942 and Pita Maha came to an end. During the Japanese Occupation, Bonnet was deported and interned in Makassar (Ujung Pandang) in the Celebes (Sulawesi) in East Indonesia. He returned after the War in the 1950s, but efforts to revive the association failed. The Ubud Painters Group replaced it, but it was a pale reflection. ...

The Dutch painter, Arie Smit, who was born in 1916, came to live in Campuan, Ubud in 1956. He still lives in the area, just next to the Neka Art Museum, where many of his Matisse-like paintings hang. He gave teenage boys in nearby Penestanan paper and paints and showed them how to prepare canvas and make frames, but that was all. He did not try to teach them how to paint or suggest subjects to them. They were absolutely free to do their own thing. He even hid his own paintings, so they were not influenced. And he did not praise their paintings either, as that would encourage the kids to repeat what they had done to please him.

Fishes and frogs abounded. Bright colours in naive style filled the canvas: yellow skies, pink oceans, green men. It was vital and it was fun: ducks with hats, frogs riding bikes. There was a sudden freshness in Ubud and Penestanan.

There was no better expression of rural, peasant life in Bali. The paintings were bought by foreigners mainly and embassies in Jakarta. The Bali Beach Hotel in Sanur had one in every room. The famous science visionary Buckminster Fuller, and anthropologist Margaret Mead, were collectors of this school. ...

[Arie] Smit arrived in Indonesia in 1938 on a military contract. He had been assigned to the Topographical Service as a lithographer. Following the Japanese invasion of 1942 he was taken as a prisoner of war to forced labour camps in Singapore, Thailand and Burma. After the Dutch finally acknowledged Indonesia's sovereignty in 1949, he stayed and became an Indonesian citizen in 1951. He taught graphics at the Institut Tecknologi in Bandung, Java, before finally moving to Bali in 1951 at the invitation of Bonnet and James Pandy. He then became a full-time painter and developed an understanding about Balinese community, rural life. Coastal areas and the hills inspired him. He still uses the environment as his main theme using pure colours. The largest collection of his works is in the Neka Art Museum.

The main Western artists in Bali, who painted very beautiful, sometimes romanticized paintings with Balinese themes, were:
  • the Swiss painter, Theo Meyer (1908-1982), who lived in Selat,
  • the Austrian Roland Strasser in Kintamani,
  • the Belgian aristocrat Adrien Le Mayeur (1880-1958) in Sanur,
  • the Dutch painter Willem Gerard Hofker (1902-1981) in Denpasar,
  • Australian Donald Friend (1915-1989).
Dutch Han Snel (1925-1998) and Catalan Antonio Blanco (1926-1999), who both married Balinese ladies, who survived them, lived in Ubud.

There are examples of their paintings in the art museums in Ubud. Blanco and Snel's paintings can also be seen in their personal galleries at their homes in Ubud. ... Blanco designed a museum, but did not live long enough to see the opening of it, the Blanco Renaissance Museum, in 2001, which is next to Murni's Warung."

Adrien Le Mayeur de Merpres (1880-1958)

Le Mayeur, a Belgian aristocrat, is apparently sometimes described as Indonesia's Gaugin. He was an impressionist painter who moved to Sanur in 1932 at the age of 52 and stayed for 26 years.

The pictured painting is from the website of travel writer Harold Stephens, an interesting sounding fellow.

Another painting of Le Mayeur's called "Garden at Sanur" which sold for $A860,000 after an 80 year old Dutch born woman once friendly with Le Mayeur ran out of dosh in the Northern Queensland bush. According to The Age, the painting is of his wife, the famous Balinese dancer Ni Pollok, in various poses as if among a group of bare-breasted Balinese women gathering frangipani petals in their garden. His house is a museum in Sanur. Baliblog's take on it is here.

This is the take on the museum of another website:
"Also called the Ni Polok Museum, ... Ni Polok's daughter guides you; she owns the adjacent Polok Art Shop.

Set in a lush tropical garden of hibiscus and bougainvillea and adorned with statues, the gallery contains 92 paintings captioned in English and Indonesian, local artifacts, and some superb specimens of traditional Balinese carvings. Later works dramatically capture the people and scenes of Bali; earlier paintings, which depict Le Mayeur's extensive travels around Europe, tend to be in poor condition. Some paintings were executed on rough canvas made of woven palm leaves which Le Mayeur was forced to use during the Japanese occupation. The dark interior makes it difficult to view the works, but the stunning portraits and photographs of Ni Polok are the highlights of the museum.

Le Mayeur first settled in the village of Klandis, east of Denpasar, where he met Ni Polok, a star legong dancer and famed beauty. She agreed to model for Le Mayeur and became the subject of a number of his paintings, bringing him great success in exhibitions in Singapore. To the astonishment of the Balinese villagers who so feared the sea, the painter bought an isolated plot of land right on the beach at Sanur, where he built an elegant Balinese-style home. The artist painted during the day and at night entertained other gregarious travelers, providing them with huge Balinese feasts, dance performances, and the opportunity to purchase his paintings as a memento of their visit.

In 1935, Ni Polok and Le Mayeur were married. The couple lived in their lovely beach home until 1958, when they returned to Belgium so that he could be treated for cancer. Le Mayeur died the same year, without heirs, leaving his paintings to his wife. For many years Ni Polok managed the museum herself. She died in 1985 at the age of 85. The Indonesian government now looks after the house and collection."

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

About me; about other salarymen

I kind of knew I was a salaryman, but I wasn't sure what it was. So I looked it up. Wikipedia says salaryman is a Japanese term (they point out helpfully that it is derived from the English word "salary" and the other English word "man") for a white collar worker, carrying "associations of long working hours, low prestige in the corporate hierarchy, absence of significant sources of income other than salary [I definitely have such an absence], wage slavery, and 過労死 (karōshi, or death from overwork)."

Back in 2000, the Christian Science Monitor published this review of the cool sounding Japanese manga Salaryman Kintaro. It said:
"A motorcycle gang roughneck, Kintaro takes pity one day on a hapless executive who has stumbled down the wrong alley. Upon saving the company president from hooligans, the grateful man offers Kintaro a plum white-collar job, usually reserved for those who spent their youth studying in the right juku, or cram school. With his unsophisticated Japanese and raffish good looks, Kintaro turns out to be more honest than most of his well-bred superiors.

Oh, and he's also a single dad.

Left with a young son when his wife died - allowing him maximum allure and freedom to flirt with other corporate co-eds - Kintaro manages to run three-legged races with his pixie-faced boy before big meetings. In Superman style, he changes from little-league dad to suit-and-tie clad salaryman in mid-sprint, an apparent nod to the increasing number of Japanese fathers who are participating in child-rearing.

In fact, in the comic series Kintaro is far gutsier and angrier than he appears on screen. Japanese comics, or manga, are more often oriented for an adult readership than for children. Through fictional characters, manga are sometimes a forum for tackling topics more bluntly than they ever are in the newspapers. Motomiya sees the TV and movie versions as watered-down adaptations. Advertisers don't want to air plots portraying true-to-life corruption, he complains, like those that reveal pervasive, unsavory business practices."
It's a film, and an anime too.

It is important for me to take a holiday for 19 days. Otherwise, I might suffer karoshi. In my early 30s, inertia (loyalty) has earned me long service leave. At the moment, I have only one suit, a blue pinstriped suit I had stitched by a team of tailors and tailor apprentices over a 24 hour period for $130 (extra pair of trousers included) in Udaipur, Rajhasthan many years ago. I am destined to buy a suit in Bali; I will be unable to help it despite having seen some truly terrible suits on returnees from the Island of the Gods.

Three Dollars
by Elliot Perlman is about a fellow Melbourne salaryman, for sure. Poignant scenes in a beautiful book are the cheese scene where de facto matrimonial bliss suffers trouble in paradise over the purchase of comparatively expensive Edam, and the suit scene, where the protagonist rips the suit which is the sine qua non for a job to pull him out of his condition of fighting with his wife over Edam, and puts it in for invisible mending he knows he won't be able to afford. Eddie, salaryman is the nightmare, Kintaro, salaryman the fantasy.

John Pilger Primer on the Horrors of Modern Indonesian History

Trust John Pilger to sum it all up neatly. This article extract from The Mirror in England has a Balinese angle, taking as its fulcrum the then-recent Bali bombings:
'State terrorism, backed by America, Britain and Australia, has scarred Indonesia for the past 40 years. For example, the source of the worst violence is the Indonesian army, which the West has supported and armed. Today, troops continue to terrorise the provinces of Aceh and West Papua, where they are "protecting" the American Exxon oil company's holdings and the Freeport mine.

In West Papua, the army openly supports an Islamic group, Lashkar Jihad, which is linked to al-Qaeda.

This is the same army which the Australian government trained for decades and publicly defended when its terrorism became too blatant.

In 1999, when the people of Australia's closest northern neighbour, East Timor, which had been invaded and annexed by the Indonesia dictatorship of General Suharto, finally had an opportunity to vote for independence and freedom, it was the government of John Howard that betrayed them. Although warned by Australia's intelligence agencies that the Indonesian army was setting up militias to terrorise the population, Howard and his foreign minister, Alexander Downer, claimed they knew nothing; and the massacres went ahead. As leaked documents have since revealed, they did know.

This was only the latest in Australia's long complicity with state terrorism in Indonesia, which makes a mockery of the self-deluding declarations last week that Australia had "lost its innocence" in Bali. Certainly, few Australians are aware that not far from their holiday hotels are mass graves with the remains of some of more than 80,000 people murdered in Bali in 1965-66 with the connivance of the Australian government.

Recently-released files reveal that when the Indonesian tyrant General Suharto seized power in the 1960s, he did so with the secret backing of the American, British and Australian governments, which looked the other way or actively encouraged the slaughter of more than half a million "communists". This was later described by the CIA as "one of the worst mass murders of the 20th Century".

The Australian Prime Minister at the time, Harold Holt, quipped: "With 500,000 to a million communist sympathisers knocked off, I think it's safe to assume a reorientation has taken place." Holt's remark accurately reflected the collaboration of the Australian foreign affairs and political establishment. The Australian embassy in Jakarta described the massacres as a "cleansing process". In Canberra, officials in the Prime Minister's department expressed support for "any measures to assist the Indonesian army cope with the internal situation".

Suharto's bloody rise might not have succeeded had the United States not secretly equipped his troops. A state-of-the-art field communications system, flown in at night by the US Air Force planes, had high frequencies that were linked directly to the CIA and the National Security Agency advising President Johnson. Not only did this allow Suharto's generals to co-ordinate the killings, it meant that the highest echelons of the US administration were listening in and that Suharto could seal off large areas of the country. In the American embassy, a senior official drew up assassination lists for Suharto, then ticked off the names when each was murdered.

The bloodbath was the price of Indonesia becoming, as the World Bank described it, "a model pupil of the global economy". That meant a green light for western corporations to exploit Indonesia's abundant natural resources. The Freeport Company got a mountain of copper and gold in the province of West Papua. An American and European consortium got the nickel. The giant Alcoa company got the biggest slice of Indonesia's bauxite. Other companies took the tropical forests of Sumatra and Kalimantan; and Suharto and his cronies got a cut that made them millionaires and billionaires.

IN 1975, the violence that had brought Suharto to power was transferred to the Portuguese colony of East Timor. Suharto's troops invaded, and over the next 23 years more than 200,000 people, a third of the population, perished. During much of East Timor's bloody occupation, Suharto's biggest supplier of arms and military equipment was Britain. In one year, a billion pounds' worth of Export Credit Guarantee loans went to Indonesia so that Suharto could buy British Aerospace Hawk jets.

Today, Suharto has gone, but decades of foreign plunder, in league with one of the greatest mass murderers, have produced fault-lines right across Indonesian society. The "model pupil" of the global economy is more indebted than any country; and millions of Indonesians have descended into abject poverty. It is hardly surprising there are resentments and tensions, and support for extreme religious groups.'

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Adrian Vickers

Professor Adrian Vickers of the University of Woollongong is the second person I have come across who writes about Bali with evidence of a bullshit detector. He has in fact made a career out of books like Bali: A Paradise Created and this useful article about the idea of the liberation of static, moribund art by the likes of Walter Spies and Rudolph Bonnet, and about Donald Friend's time in Bali. He writes about the construction of what we think of as Balinese, and most recently, wrote a piece in the recently republished Balinese Gardens which astonished me, pointing out that Balinese gardens were traditionally very spare and open affairs. That book makes clear that many of the species that flourish in Balinese gardens today are not indigenous. He has also edited a book called Travelling to Bali; Four Hundred Years of Journeys.

This is what he said in the article linked to above about the deification of western artists in Bali, and the exaggeration of their influence (he makes an exception for Donald Friend):
"So far this sounds like another one of those narratives of expatriate glamour that diminishes places like Bali. The story of a declining artistic scene given a new lease of life by a great western artist has been retold in a number of contexts, and Andrew Sayers has documented versions of this also for nineteenth-century Aboriginal art. In the case of Bali, the German expressionist artist Walter Spies and his friend and colleague the Dutch artist Rudolf Bonnet have usually been ascribed the roles of western creators of modern Balinese art in the 1930s. Their story is based on an underlying assumption that the West is creative, the rest imitates. Although some of us have been working hard to overturn that myth, at present it survives in a watered-down form, with a number of postwar artists, notably Arie Smit, also being assigned starring roles. The story has been absorbed into the valuing of expatriate art, and so in the 1990s fuelled a price boom that began from the collections of a number of upwardly mobile Balinese. These people, notably Suteja Neka, Rudana and Agung Rai, had their imitators amongst the nouveau riche of Jakarta, leading to the usual over-inflation of prices and the production of a lot of second-rate works and forgeries. In a colder light most of the expatriate artists who have lived on Bali are very second-rate, were not famous before they came to Bali and, if they did not have a romantic myth attached to their work, would never have been heard of."

Friday, July 15, 2005

The tourism industry

The Bali Post reported in February that 85% of the more than US$16,000 million invested in Bali's tourism industry was in foreign hands. The editorial called for freehold title to be replaced with 20 year leaseholds.

It is as well to remember that disparities between wealth and poverty in Bali are probably as great as anywhere in the world, and are uglier than ever because the world's most wealthy come to Bali to stay in the greatest luxury available anywhere, with the expectation of splurging, the imperative to cram the good times into their few week vacation from salarymandom. The wealth is obvious enough. The poverty is there; even in a place as small as Bali the touristed areas are like ant-trails, and like the rest of the world, great swathes of the place miss out on the crumbs which fall away from the foreign owners of the industry.

The website of the East Bali Poverty Project records:
"In 1998, thousands of people in a village of 19 isolated hamlets high up the steep and arid mountains of North-East Bali lived in abject poverty without roads, water, sanitation, adequate nutrition, health and education facilities, and hope. Children were the main victims: over 80% were malnourished and had goitre due to iodine deficiency, and 70-100% were illiterate in the 1,000+ families highest up the mountains.

Life had been this way for as long as they could remember. Their dwellings, mostly single rooms with bamboo walls and dirt floors, are scattered over 7,000 hectares of land: isolated one from another.

Farming practices remained archaic: the only crops they knew that could adapt to the steep slopes and dry land are cassava and corn. Cassava unfortunately is a threat to health if is the staple, breaking down iodine and thus contributing to the high incidence of iodine deficiency disorders."
And then there is the haggling; not just any haggling, but the miserable pommy backpacker haggling. When I arrive in Bali, I intend to record some examples of truly miserable haggling and post the recordings as audio posts.

Tourism is going gangbusters, hitting record levels (700,000 tourist arrivals in the last half year for the first time ever), despite travel warnings to avoid inessential travel to Bali such as Australia's, and it is the high end luxury villa market which is taking off. Upper middle-class America's Travel & Leisure magazine has again voted it the "best island". Bali hotels are continually being voted best in the world by the same well-heeled well-bellied folks (particularly the Four Seasons at Jimbaran Bay and at Sayan, and the Amandari, the latter two both near Ubud). Bali Eats chronicles a cornucopia of extraordinary new dining options, the Thai revolution being the one sweeping through just now. The 2005 target is to have 1.7 million tourists. The idea is to take new business from China and Russia, which generate 20 million foreign tourists between them. Tourism to Indonesia is the second largest non oil and gas foreign exchange earner for Indonesia after textiles and the garment industry.

Agricultural land is being used up by new tourism developments at the rate of about 850,000 square metres or a bit less than a hectare a month according to the Bali Post. Coastline too is being used up by coral destruction, uncontrolled sand mining, destruction of mangrove forests, and constructing buildings too close to the shoreline. Seventy kilometres of Bali's 530 km shoreline has been destroyed, and only 38 km is being managed. There is no beach at Candi Dasa on the east coast because the coral reef just offshore was used in the 1970s to make cement to build hotels. In 1999, the province passed Provincial Law 99 which prohibited construction within 100 metres of the high-tide mark, but provided for the corrruption-friendly exception in the case of "the public interest" with predictable results.

A Bolshie proposal was put up by the head of the Bali chapter of the Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association: stop trucking music and dance troupes into Kuta hotels in open trucks and paying them $US1 to $US2 each for the night, and require travellers to visit villages, to which such performances ought be restricted.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Made Wijaya (Michael White)

Wijaya is Bali's most famous gardener, an Australian architecture student and one-time Australian tennis pro who was suddenly asked to design the gardens for the Oberoi Hotel "having jumped ship and swum ashore in a rainstorm" in 1973 according to his biography.

The recently renovated and republished-in-paperback Balinese Gardens seems suspiciously like one big (beautiful) ad for this bloke: pages and pages are devoted to the Bali Hyatt Garden (which he renovated), the Jimbaran Bay Four Seasons Resort Garden (which he designed), and the Canggu Puri Mertha (he designed the hotel), but maybe it's just a reflection of his eminence. He also designed the Amandari in Ubud, the Australian Embassy's garden, and David Bowie's holiday house in the West Indies.

He certainly has an odd website: one of the first about Bali I've stumbled on with any evidence of its creator having a bullshit detector, and a well developed one at that. He publishes a magazine called Poleng. I'm yet to see a copy.

He lived once at Taman Bebek, in Sayan just out of Ubud, built on the site of the home of American ethnomusicologist, composer, and proponent in the West of gamelan music, Colin McPhee, who wrote one of the standard accounts of the 1930s in Bali, A House in Bali. It has 7 accommodations for tourists, and Villa Om Si in Sanur (US$200 per night for 4 people, $US35 per extra person) was also designed by him.

Javanese language

Javanese is a classical language of the world with a literature going back 12 centuries. It is said to have some religious use in Bali. Only eleven languages have more people who speak it as a native tongue. One of its peculiarities is that its consonants written out:
ha, na, ca, ra, ka
da, ta, sa, wa, la
pa, dha, ja, ya, nya
ma, ga, ba, tha, nga
are a poem meaning:
"There (were/was) warriors
(They) had animosity (among each other)
(They were) equally powerful (in fight)
Both (were) dead."
The Javanese are powerful in Indonesia. Forty-five percent of Indonesians live in an area where Javanese is the principal language, or are of Javanese descent. Four of the five Presidents of Indonesia have been Javanese (though Sukarno's mother (that is, Megawati's grandmother) was Balinese, Gus Dur is part Javanese and part Arabic, and it is sometimes speculated that Soeharto's father was Chinese).

Indonesian and Balinese: two different languages

In Bali they speak Indonesian and Balinese. The image is of some of the Balinese characters. There is a westernised script too, compulsory in primary schools, but apparently, just like we forget about dinosaurs, explorers, and the life cycle of the chicken (not to mention long division in most people's cases), the Balinese promptly forget this script, known as Tulisan Bali, an example of which is this:
Sami manusane sane nyruwadi wantah merdeka tur maduwe kautamaan lan hak-hak sane pateh. Sami kalugrain papineh lan idep tur mangdane pada masawitra melarapan semangat pakulawargaan.
There is hardly anything published in the old Balinese alphabet (and an older language, extinct as a spoken language, Kawi) except for religious texts, often inscribed onto lontar palm leaves.

Indonesian is a great language in that its basics can be picked up within a few weeks (the essentials in one week according to this useful site). (Reminds me of Count Tolstoy's claim to have mastered understanding written Esperanto in no more than two hours.) It does not have genders, uses time indicators rather than tenses, is said to be pronounced similarly to Italian, and compared to other languages, is highly phonetic. It is not entirely without complications, though: good bye is different according to whether the speaker is staying or leaving.

It is the native tongue of hardly anyone in Indonesia (7%) and is a standardised dialect of Malaysian. It is the native tongue of only 45% of Malaysians. "Bahasa" means language, and the two countries call their languages "Bahasa Indonesia" and "Bahasa Malaya". It was a trading lingua franca of the kingdoms which predated the nation of Indonesia.

There is a slang form of Indonesian. Wikipedia is a cool encylopaedia: see their list of swearwords and find out the Indonesian slang for scrotum.

Since independence in 1945, when the language was adopted as the official language of the nation, there have been official spelling changes away from Dutch-inspired spellings to simpler spellings. Thus Soeharto became Suharto and Jogjakarta became Yogyakarta.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Online Information About Bali

Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree is the best travel forum I have come across, but it does not have the breadth of the specialist Bali forums. It has 1652 posts today across Brunei, East Timor, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, and Singapore. It is more international in focus than the Australian dominated specialist forums, and does not descend into the minutiae of where to save a few rupiahs on pirated DVDs in the same way as the somewhat cliquey specialist forums. Half-way between the two is a home-made but very extensive site, Filo's Bali.

Bali and Lombok Travel Forum is good. Posts known as "JBRs" (Just Back Reports) are posted by "Forumites", and it is searchable. It is associated with Bali Hotels & Accommodations Co, which has its website here. Its principal, Mark Austin, seems to be having a tremendous fight with John Daniels of Bali Discovery Tours. He gets stuck into Daniels in a manner so defamatory as to make Steven Mayne of blush, at a website he rudely registered: It would be surprising given the tone and content of Fugly Bali if Austin were not behind it too. Though a bit hysterical, it does contain some interesting information, including an analysis of the Suharto children's alleged resort holdings in Bali. Daniels has a bit back at Austin here.

Daniels publishes a weekly subscription newsletter which has the occasional article of interest and several articles each week about current events, the tourism industry, and new hotels and bars opening up.

Wikipedia is great. It is particularly good for summarising years of newsarticles: see, for example, the article on Schapelle Corby and the Bali Bombings.

Made Wijaya's website Stranger in Paradise is good.

Then there is Mic's Bali Forum.

Murni's Warung, by the bridge across the Oos River on the way to the Tjampuhan Hotel in Ubud has this great website with a lot of information about Murni's take on Balinese culture. Equally good is a site seemingly associated with Bill Dalton, the author of Moon's Bali Hadbook.'s Ubud information is quite good.

There's information about up market accommodation, things to do, and spas at Smart Travel Asia with links to everything mentioned, collected together at the end. It also has my first experience of a phenomenon I have just been waiting to hit me: gamelan/new age fusion.

Needless to say, also see the links section of this blog.

Inexpensive Hotels in Bali

The folk at Bali and Lombok Travel Forum never stop carrying on about how excellent the Tegal Sari Hotel (pictured?) 20 minutes' walk from downtown Ubud is. See for example the blog linked to on the right as "A Singaporean's Vacation", and this collection of Flickr photos.

Bali Blog has a few posts reviewing losmen in Ubud, and has "budget hotel" and "guest house" sub-categories in its accommodation category.

It's very possible to find great places to stay in Bali for just A$30 a night, and quite possible to find places for A$10 a night. There are even budget hotels cannily offering free wireless broadband connection.

Please let me have your recommendations to share with other readers.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Expensive hotels of Bali

Tony Wheeler, co-founder of Lonely Planet, has been saying for a long time that Bali has the most beautiful hotels in the world. Here are some I've come across in my pre-trip armchair travels:

Sienna Villas in Seminyak (private pool, personal chef, chauffer-driven car etc. etc.)
The Legian in Seminyak
Hotel Uma in Ubud, where the cheapest rooms are US$248, and which has a sister resort only in Bhutan (kind of like the fashion chain Komodo with outlets in London, Kathmandu and Bali).

And here are my favourites:

Hotel Tugu Bali in Canggu (west of Kuta, Legian, Seminyak, etc on the same southern coast);
Taman Bebek in Ubud (see my post on Made Wijaya);
Bali Agung Nirwana in between Singaraja and Tulamben on the North coast, not far from Tejakula: it claims to be "completely eco-friendly". The owners are either very nice people, or very canny at pushing the right buttons to ameliorate the inevitable angst of the rich holidaying in immeasurable luxury surrounded by comparative poverty. In any event, they have an unorthodox website, which catalogue the exploits (in every sense) of others, less holier than they.

These hotels are featured for their beautiful gardens in the beautiful Periplus book Balinese Gardens:
  • Bali Hyatt (Sanur)
  • Grand Bali Hyatt (Nusa Dua)
  • Four Seasons Resort, Jimbaran Bay (said to be a Suharto family operation) $US719 a night for the cheapo rooms
  • Four Seasons Resort, Sayan (west of Ubud) (said to be a Suharto family operation)
  • Hotel Tjampuhan, Ubud, which was formerly a guest house for visitors to the King of Ubud, and incorporates the former home of Walter Spies, a paedophile who happened to be considered quite a good painter, but was in fact a kind of Balinese Pro Hart
  • Amanusa Resort, Nusa Dua. US$786 a night for the cheapo rooms starts to look quite good value when you consider that you can lie in the pictured private shelter for free (but said to be a Suharto family operation)
  • Begawan Giri Estate, near Ubud (voted best hotel in the world by Conde Nast Traveler). The cheapest room's rack rate is US$598.95, but breakfast is included, and there is a staff to guest ratio of 5:1.
And these hotels are some of those featured in this droolific book, Bali Chic (When is someone going to publish the seemingly obvious Sheik Chic?):

Saturday, July 02, 2005


Bali is an honorary South Pacific idyll. It is not in the South Pacific, but the 1949 Rogers and Hammerstein musical "South Pacific" is set in Bali-Hai. (This idea is from Adrian Vickers' book Paradise Created.) The whole Pacific idyll thing is analysed entertainingly by the SBS-commissioned Trevor Graham documentary, Hula Girls.

In my letter from Samoa I commented on the Australian man I found on the triple W who said of Samoa “The Samoan people must, in general, be among the happiest in the world” and “‘Paradise’ is the word that comes to mind, even if you prefer to avoid clichés.” "Island of the Gods" is the most hackneyed hyperbole (though if you were a God, Bali would be a good place to hang out; so too if you were an evil spirit -- you'd be propitiated there like nowhere else), but Pandit Nehru called it "the morning of the World" in what the Balinese and their chroniclers have always assumed to be a compliment (I have no reason to believe it wasn't, but I'm not exactly sure what he was getting at).

And, here's something little-known: Australia's best known ex-Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam said, on checking in to the Oberoi "If there be a Paradise on Earth, this is it, this is it, this is it". (This is from p. 110 of the quaint book In Praise of Kuta by Hugh Mabbett.

The image is one of Phitar's, from Flickr.

Other high art references

You can't go past the "Bali" sketch from the Melbourne-based television show "Australia You're Standing in It" written by Tim and Debbie (Steve Blackburn and Mary Kenneally) and master Melbourne comic of the Left, Rod Quantock. You can listen to it here and here. They were "left-wing pseudo-intellectuals whose world view is constructed from a confused jumble of intellectual mass culture," as the man who keeps them on the www describes them.

I like the doggerel of Noel Coward (pictured) too:
As I mentioned this morning to Charlie,
There is far too much music in Bali,
And altho' as a place its entrancing,
There is also a thought too much dancing,
It appears that each Balinese native
From the womb to the tomb is creative,
From sunrise till long after sundown,
Without getting nervy or rundown,
They sculpt and they paint and they practise their songs,
They run through their dances and bang on their gongs,
Each writhe and each wriggle,
Each glamourous giggle,
Each sinuous action,
Is timed to a fraction.
And altho' all the 'Lovelies' and 'Pretties'
Unblushingly brandish their titties,

The whole thing's a little too clever
And there's too much artistic endeavour!

Forgive the above mentioned Charlie,
I had to rhyme something with Bali.

And I like the page about it too on the website of this other Melbourne fellow, David Atkinson, which has some old photos of Bali.

The blog's title

"I've Been to Bali Too" is a track from the 1985 Redgum album Frontline. It goes like this:
Qantas flight 20, Denpasar
Meals and accom', Rent-a-car
I've been to Bali
I've been to Bali too

Took a two week course at a suntan clinic
So lying round leggy and I wouldn't look anaemic
And you can't impress me
Cause I've been to Bali too

Got a ride out to Kuta in the back of a truck
Cost me twenty dollars and it wasn't worth a buck
Hustled to a losmen down poppy's lane
By a Javanese guy in a tropical rainstorm Lock up your daughters
I've been to Bali too

Life is tragic hanging out at Kuta
If you haven't got a car, bike or a scooter
Show me the bike shop
I've been to Bali too

Got myself a Honda, had to get away
No brakes, bald tyres, five thousand rupes a day
I've been to Bali too.

Well I don't ride a bike much home in Australia
As a motorcycle hero guess I'm a failure
Bemos to the left, trucks to the right
The Honda was a wreck but I was alright, hello mecurochrome
I've been to Bali too

Wired home for money, short of cash
A dose of Bali belly and a tropical rash
Daddy came through - American express
Bali t-shirts magic mushrooms Redgum bootlegs
I've been to Bali too

Took my bag and mozzie coils to Peliatan
It's there were my Bali trip really began
Been there, done that
I've been to Bali too

Tourists from Holland, Britain and France
Late night puppet shows, legong dance
Want to see my slides?
I've been to Bali too.

Well I wandered off to Ubud, just a little up the track
One week there didn't want to come back
Listening to Gamelan, playing guitar
Janteris, tacos, Hotel Monara, two month visa
I've been to Bali too.

Flying Kangaroo out Denpasar
Left me camera in the airport bar
I've been to Bali
I've been to Bali too

Touch down, touch down Tullamarine
Sprayed me on the plane so I'd be real clean
Coming though customs
I've been to Bali too

Went through my bags like McCartney in Japan
I didn't have a thing so I didn't give a damn
You can't trick me
'Cause I've been to Bali too

You've been to Paris and you've been Boston
You've been to Fiji and you've been to London
But you can't impress me
'Cause I've been to Bali too

Friday, July 01, 2005

First things first: where I'll stay

I'm going to Bali and I'm going to bother you all with a salaryman's excitement at his winter holiday.

These are the places I've chosen to stay after many nights' surfing:
  • Puri Tantra Bungalows in Legian, the suburb between Kuta and Seminyak (which latter is the home of Ku De Ta), all of which are in the general vicinity of Denpasar, the capital of Bali largely ignored by tourists.
  • Hotel Tjampuhan in Ubud, the second most visited area of Bali, an hour's drive or so from the airport, billed as the arts capital, and full of amazing accommodation (Walter Spies, a painter who lived in Ubud in the 1930s had his house on the site of the Hotel) (4 nights' accommodation and direct flights from Melbourne on Air Paradise is only A$1,000 including taxes).
  • The Octagon at Just Beside Cilik's Beach Garden at Yeh Sanih (also called Air Sanih), a bit east of Singaraja before Tejakula, the old capital and second largest city in Bali, a fishing port on the dry northern coast run by a German-Balinese venture.
  • Apa Kabar Villas also near Amed, which I was sucked into just because it's got such a beautiful website.