Monday, 13 October 2014

Travel Diaries : Lombok - Yogyakarta

Balinese beachboy on the roof of the love-boat to the Gili Isles.
Lombok - Yogyakarta
Trendy French people think that Lombok is the new Bali but really it’s just the old Lombok with a lot more tourist strips.
What a shame that the relevant authorities couldn’t have learned from the mistakes of Kuta and Koh Samui and kept the inevitable aluminum cladding ribbon development a few metres back from the main road.
Lombok still has great unspoiled scenic beauty — the North and South Coast, and Lake Rinjani, for example — and some spoiled but not yet ruined Hindu-Bali era palace pleasure gardens — the  Taman Mayura and Taman Narmada built by the Karangasem royal family in the mid-19th century. The real charm of Lombok, however, is the laid back charm of the beach scene at Senggigi now home to some decent beach-side restaurants and boutique  hotels.
Getting to Senggigi is not easy. One can drive to Padang Bai and catch one of the many Gili Air and Senggigi-bound fun boats — I lucked out and got the largest of the Srikandi Mania fleet which has astro turf and a beer bar on the sun deck —or take the morning boat from Serangan island harbor, near Sanur. One can also fly to Lombok’s new airport and then taxi two hours from the airport.

The sun-deck on a love boat to Senggigi.
I took the Padang Bai option. My boat was full of Balinese spiritual tourists, mostly from Sanur, off to visit Pura Suranadi and Pura Lingsar — the island’s main Hindu drawcards. They sat quietly in the main cabin, offering boxes on their laps, while the well-tattooed young ragers  bopped on the roof terrace.
The port authority really needs to do an urgent up-grade to the infrastructure at Padang Bai — it’s a bit of a bun-fight at present.
The imaginatively-attired young things all got off at Gili and the suckers and the sacred went on to Senggigi, which is a gorgeous series of small beaches with verdant hills behind.

Extreme Sunday morning selfie on Senggigi beach.

View from my hotel on Batu Bolong Beach.
I stayed at Batu Bolong beach, just to be different (Senggigi beach has the newer trendier beach hotels), in a pleasant all bungalow hotel called Sunset Beach. The food was grim and the staff noisy (Lombokis are kind of boisterous) but the beach scene divine — limited hawkers and easy mugging-free nocturnal access to the pizzeria plus at the end of the beach.

The exotic labarynth wharf at Senggigi.

Senggigi beach of a Sunday morning.

Beach Art, Batu Bolong Lombok.
Couples snogged on beanbags in the moonlight, like in St. Tropez, or Bali, before the outbreak of beanbag-snatching.
Beyond the beach strip expats seem to be building colourless villas with an aim to spend the rest of their lives in the Pleasantville atmosphere of suburban Senggigi, where the billiard halls never close.
A short 30 min drive north from Senggigi, in the Bayan Village area, one can see Lombok’s oldest mosque — a masterpiece of 17th century rustic Islam-Majapahit architecture — and the adjacent traditional village, which is also a living museum of old Lombok village architecture.

Bayan Beleq mosque, Lombok

Architecture in the traditional village of Bayan on Lombok’s North coast.
Amazingly some of the houses in the classic primitive houses have survived the island-wide trend to eradicate the ethnic.
•    •    •
Leaving from Senggigi wharf early in a Sunday morning I was treated to the full scenic charm of the Lombok Strait — Mt. Agung looming across a strait littered with colourful native outriggers.

Sunset view of Mt. Agung on Bali from Senggigi Beach, Lombok.
[ See Video Lombok Adventure Padang Bai to Senggigi: ]
P.S. There are many other side trips from Senggigi that one can do. The triple treat of West-Lombok Balinese temples — Pura Lingsar, Pura Narmada, and Pura Suranadhi — is just over the hill. Just around the corner — 30 minutes away, in neighbouring Cakranegara (the old Hindu-era capital) — is the enchanting water garden Taman Mayura and, adjacent, the handsome Pura Meru, one of West Lombok’s oldest and most important temples. Two-hours drive South and one can find a string of heavenly white sand beaches and a sprinkling of smart resorts. Or one can head for the hills and visit the pristine Rinjani lake or climb Mt. Rinjani.

Taman Mayura, Lombok
•    •    •
Later in the month I was invited to see some special dance performances in Yogyakarta, at the Bangsal Kepatihan, the famously large pavilion in the old prime minister residence.
I stayed at the heavenly d’Omah Hotel in Tembi village — an oasis of Javanese refinement —8 kilometers south of the city, on the Parang Tritis road.

d’Omah Hotel, Tembi, Yogyakarta
•    •    •
At 7 30 p.m.I arrive at the stately complex to find the pavilions packed with local dance aficionados   and exchange students (never a shortage in the university town) all neatly dressed and sitting pretty. The regal court gamelan is playing. The seven Bedaya (Bedoyo) dancers are already in formation in the court that forms the pavilion’s western side. They are in deep concentration — preparing themselves for 90 minutes of ultra-refined swaying and mincing.
As living treasures (pusaka) the dancers are dressed in the magnificent costume of Hamengkubuwono Palace brides (see photo below). The dance and gamelan are mesmerizing — all the more so in this magnificent setting.
“Centuries of Graciousness” is a phrase that always comes to mind when I find myself in this situation.
It’s so rare to be with a group of westerners who are really enjoying Javanese classical culture.

Bedaya Harjuna Wiwaha dancer in the
Bangsal Kepatihan, Yogyakarta.

Bedaya Sapta dancers waiting to go on stage at the
Bangsal Kepatihan Yogyakarta.
After the Bedaya Harjuna Wiwaha the Wayang Wong dancers take the stage present a classical Javanese mask dance rendition of the Ramayana.

Famous halus (refined) dancer Mas Tetet dancing Rama during the Wayang Wong at the Kepatihan, Yogyakarta.
[ See video Bedaya Harjuna Wiwaha, Bangsal Kepatihan: ]
After the show I take my guests to Jalan Malioboro, just adjacent the Kepatihan Palace, where a night market with a hundred food stalls takes over half of the boulevards every night. The atmosphere is not unlike the bazaar in Istanbul.
I take a horse and carriage home and sample the exquisite night air of this ancient town.
Apart from night excursions into Jogjakarta (and don’t try Saturday night) the city has become horribly congested. It’s good to stay south of the city and come in early to see the Hamengkubuwono Palace, the Sasana Budaya Museum and then retreat,  before noon, especially in the dry season.
23 October 2014: To Ponorogo for Suro to witness the pre-Hindu (Kejawen) ceremonies and dance performances that accompany the celebration of the first day of the Islamic year
The town of Ponorogo, centre of the fabled Reog dancers, is a 3 hour drive from Jogyakarta. We take the south road through Pacitan and visit the small museum of early man there.
In Ponorogo we stay at the three star Gajah Mada hotel which is near the aloon-aloon where the Reog Festival has been ongoing for over a week. Reog Ponorogo still has the verve and mysticism of the various Barong dances of Bali and most probably share a single ancestor.
More photos and reports next month on this action-packed weekend.

Stranger in Paradise: Passion or Poison — the Facebook rants of the Superbulé

The November 2005 cover of POLENG magazine in which the term ‘Superbulé’ was first coined.

110 years ago the royal house of Denpasar threw themselves onto their keris daggers rather than be subjugated by Dutch colonial forces.
Today there is a new-colonialism engulfing Bali, and the Balinese seem unwilling to show any resistance. The expatriate community has swollen out of control: various villa people — New agers and economic refugees from Western Australia with a penchant for proselytizing — seem to be taking control.
In the early days of tourism, a few people, mostly artists, fell in love with the island and stayed on to learn from the Balinese. These tourists were called tamiu (guests) or turis.
In the very old days all outsiders were called Tiang Jawi.
By the 1980s, the vaguely pejorative Jakarta word bule (albino) had replaced by turis — though love was still in the air.
After the Bali Bomb, when the sluice gates were flung open and foreign investment rules considerably relaxed, we saw a huge rise in the influx of expats. These newcomers tended to live in Seminyak but did not know they were in Bali. They seemed to be annoyed by the local culture rather than in awe of it — the processions that clogged the roads, and the cremations that kept people from work, gave them the dry trots. They drove black SUVs with blacked out windows: God help any native who got in the way.
In this column I have coined the term superbulé for this new breed.
Superbule wives were as strident as their husbands.
Rather than join in the mainstream Balinese communities — e.g., the temple or banjar communities — the expat wives found ‘causes’ which tended to focus on the grimy margins of Balinese society (the few impoverished mountain villages and the abortion clinics).

Taking stock today, we can see some trends.
For decades the Balinese have ignored the criticism about their inability to look after stray dogs, plastic waste, and unwanted babies, just as they had ignored the earlier turis smoking pot on the beach and cavorting  half-naked at nightclubs — but this is changing.
There is talk of the government putting ‘etiquette refugees’ from Perth on Ceningan Island — in quarantine for a few weeks — and teaching them how to dress properly, and basic punctuation (before they cause havoc after hitting the ground with Facebooks open).
In fact Facebook has become the preferred forum for rants about injustice and Bali’s shortcomings: there are Facebook pages devoted to Crime, Animal Welfare, and the Health Care Systems here. Ubud Expats Page just announced ‘Stray Dog Prolapse Concern Week’.
To be fair, the expat community does a lot of good too.  Social media campaigns have resulted in a more strident Tourism Police, better education about waste management, and huge donations to many worthy causes (the John Fawcett Foundation for Eye Care, and the Annika Linden Foundation, to mention just two).
The rants on Facebook can be both passionate — demanding respect for the Balinese culture — and poisonous. Toxic rants point out the futility of making offerings for the gods’ protection, for example, when many locals here drive motorbikes like suicidal maniacs!
This October, I was asked to join a panel on this subject with Wayan Juniarta, the affable urban editor of Bali Daily, and Rucina Ballinger, who married Anak Agung Detra Rangki, a Mengwi prince, in 1986 and has since had many careers in the arts and philanthropy on the island.
Originally the subject was just about superbulés, but as it was a Writers’ Festival event, the other panelists agreed with me to concentrate on the superbulé writers on the expat Facebook pages Bali Expat, Bali Crime Report, ‘When is too much development too much’ (100,000 followers!) and Ubud Community (Yoga Hagisphere Central).
•    •    •
Recently a sizeable group of feisty Balinese women have started taking on the superbulé on Facebook about their sense of entitlement and their neo-colonial attitudes. Most are either western-educated or  from ruling class families but they come out of their corner with fists flying.
“Throw him in the sea”, said one delectable Desak.
“If you don’t like the Balinese, just leave”, came another comment.
Paradoxically, many Bulé Aga (old hand ‘ingrained’ expats) get their knuckles rapped by the same girl-gang when they get too judgmental about directions in decorum of temple dress. ‘Let the Gods decide’ came the chorus after a Denpasar bimbo posted Vargas Girls snaps of herself flashing her ample breasts on the stairs of the mother temple.
25 September - 3 October, 2014: A busy literary week. My Majapahit Style book is finally launched; and the superbulé talk goes well at the Writers’ Festival
Six years ago, I was invited by a group of Dutch amateur archaeologists to be on a team investigating the ruins of Majapahit, the last great Hindu empire of East Java (1293 to around 1500). This lead to a book – a comprehensive overview (360 glossy pages, available at Ganesha Bookstores island-wide) of the architecture, ceremonies and costumes of Java and Bali today that could be considered Majapahit-derivative.
Dry stuff for the casual tourist, but a breakthrough of sorts for those interested in Indonesian art history, I am told. Anyway, the launch party  was a riotous success, hosted by Australian Consul-General to Bali Majell Hind with guest of honour Cokorda Pemecutan XI. The Cokorda (CP XI) is the royal custodian of Dalem Majapahit the old empire’s deity, who ‘resides’, at the Pura Tambang Badung in Denpasar, according to local priests.
The book has received a glowing review in the Jakarta Post, by the champion of the Tart-Bogans, Bali’s funnies sit-down comedian, Wayan Juniartha, no less. He points out that all the Balinese royals now have a book to satiate their appetite for Javanese ancestry.
•    •    •
3rd October, 2014
My panel at the clitterati festival in Ubud is a huge success: old hippies are hanging from the rafters. In the Facebook frenzy that follows the discussion two new phrases emerge to help qualify the New Age mayhem now engulfing the once sleepy town: ‘Colon Whisperers’ and ‘Hormonal Holocaust’.
Congratulations Janet de Neefe and team on yet another spectacular week of book-related larks and sparks in Ubud! 
VALE Prof. Dr Litt. Dr I.Gusti Putu Palgunadi M.A. of Puri Gerenceng, Denpasar.  3 January 1948 – 24 September 2014
Younger brother of Pak Alit of Alit's bungalows, Sanur. One of Indonesia and Bali's most respected academics — he spent 35 years teaching in India.

Prof. Dr Litt. Dr I.Gusti Putu Palgunadi M.A.
3 January 1948 - 24 September 2014
I took this dashing photo of Gung Palgunadi in 1979 when he was 25 and I was a youngish palace groupie — his uncle was a great Balinese lontar expert — before he escaped to India to persue the quiet life of an academic.
Images from the Pelebon ceremony of
Prof. Dr Litt. Dr I.Gusti Putu Palgunadi M.A.,  Puri Grenceng, 1 October 2014
He was one of very few sweet but serious student princes in a community of hyper-macho skirt-chasers (I mean that in a caring, pro-triwangsa way) and many felt that he left the obligations of Balinese palace life to find peace abroad, in scholarship.
He returned a few years ago, in poor health, still the shy single prince, and lived quietly, alone, with one infirm uncle and one retainer in the large palace.

Pura Tambang Badung, 30 September 2014. The adegan spirit offigy of the late Dr  I Gusti Putu Phalgunadi is presented
at the great Pemecutan ancestral shrine one day before the big cremation.

Barong Brutuk at Pura Pancering Jagat, Terunyan, 12 October 2014