Where is home?

Last night while perusing a local glossy, drinking beer at a watering hole and listening to a live band mangle sensibilities on the eve of departing for another place…

Ludicrous, that’s the term for the question ‘where is home?’ Clichés are in abundance as retards frolic in the font. The printer’s devil is lurking somewhere between the syntax and grammar. Loneliness is good. It’s fulfilling and comforting. No glitches. No excuses, just a line of thought that runs linear to everything. A self imposed purgatory, an interval before the beginning of new life: Sparkling, smell of fresh fabric, new car interiors, sound of rustling plastic covers being removed from a sofa… sanitizing the senses.

Belief in a fresh beginning and new things all coming together to create a charade that will last for a while till ennui takes hold and all is abandoned.

Anton plays the guitar, the motley crowd of onlookers are speaking, scratching and drinking the warm beer, it’s nearing midnight as the thump carries down the road and reverberates in the rubbish heap.

Sting stings with every breath, the speakers hum and hiss. She moves crossing her legs for the rhythm has got to her, she looks around embarrassed. Food remains half devoured, cold and lifeless on the plate as her puffy fingers drum the discoloured napkin.

The Word is out tonight cruising and cursing the dregs of humanity that are flaying their emotions to keep above the waterline of life.

Questions rise medusa like from the crumbs of a baguette…a remnant nestles between nicotine stained teeth.

Where is home? The obvious is prosaic…family, children, relatives, houses, gardens and memories of births, deaths and inoculations. A string of events, places and things completing a picture of a place most call home.

Why the longing to belong to a person, place or thing? Why does home have to be fixed in the present continuous? Why can’t it remain a figment of the imagination: A hope that never materializes but continues to urge one on towards the ever shifting horizon?

Isn’t it frightening that everyone needs a home, a stationary object around which emotive aspects of existence play hide and seek.

Some may say home is where the hearth is or home is where one feels one belongs. But then why do we need to belong? Is it because there is an inbuilt homing device within us all that acts like a magnet constantly drawing us back to one thought process that cradles our hopes, joys and failures and emits a never ending stream of consciousness that connives with reality to lull us into sheep?

Home is probably an expression invented to give us universal wanderers an anchor that stabilizes our menial mentality for it perpetuates a notion upon which we build our lives, cities and our perceived love of the world.

Is it possible that we have missed the whole point of existence with our clinging to a reality that is constantly changing?

Could it be that home is really the human body each one of us lives in and not another person, place or thing?

Professor Unni Wikan – A Balinese formula for living

Unni wikanProfessor Unni Wikan, celebrated Norwegian anthropologist and author of Managing Turbulent Hearts –   A Balinese Formula for Living (a book that strips the veneer off the prevailing society and lays bare the intricacies of everyday life of the Balinese on the isle), speaks to Mark Ulyseas, editor Voices Today, in an exclusive interview.

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MU – Many visitors, women being in the majority, view Bali as a ‘feminine’ island with a culture that is all embracing. Do you feel that the increasing number of immigrants to this island will dilute or distort this culture? And will it (Balinese culture) morph into a more aggressive form thereby seeing a clash of cultures?

UW – I never thought of Bali as a ´feminine´ island; to me, such a concept does not make sense. Bali is a rich and complex civilization with a multitude of ways and “cultures” being practiced, some of them strongly patriarchal.

I do not think that immigration as such presents a danger to this remarkable Culture.  On the other hand, the exposure of youth to manifold influences through globalization, modern forms of communication, tourism etc. will undoubtedly have its impact, in Bali as elsewhere. We cannot say at this point in time what will emerge. It is not just a question of what happens in Bali but in the wider world.

MU – Do you think that the concrete jungle that is growing across the isle will alienate the Balinese with the growing influence of the “hotel and villa” culture? And what, if any, is the way out?

UW – I wish I had the answer to your question for there is clearly the danger that you point to.  The Balinese have traditionally lived in close harmony with nature; you couldn´t cut down a tree or erect a building, even a hut, without appeasing and taking permission from supernatural spirits.  The “hotel and villa” culture is fundamentally transforming the land and disturbing spirits that used to belong in certain places and that are a part of Balinese cosmology.  On the other hand, the Balinese resemble other humans in that they are pragmatic, and these new developments offer jobs to many people.  There is no win-win situation.

MU – Many long time residents believe the Balinese must be more pragmatic in terms of rescinding their responsibilities of the numerous mandatory attendances at religious ceremonies for the responsibilities of a job? Please comment.

UW – This is a challenge in many societies, how to accommodate job obligations with religious or ritual observances. I did fieldwork in Bhutan, a Buddhist country, and the same concern arose there: what could be required of job attendance of people who every so often had other “legitimate” ritual concerns. Or take Muslims in Norway, my country: praying five times a day at specific intervals is not easily combined with many kinds of job. Solutions must be found and generally, religions can be flexible:  they are, after all, partly man-made.

MU – There appears to be a growing gap between the haves and have not’s – the former being expats and the latter, Balinese. Do you think that this will lead to a backlash that will see a rise in criminal activities and in general disrespect for the Tamu (guest) leading to law and order problems?

UW – We see such problems emerging in many societies, they seem to be part and parcel of globalization. Organized, transnational crime is also on the rise everywhere.  What is special about Bali, as I know it, is how peaceful and orderly the island still is. But one should be aware.  Large-scale tourism naturally changes people´s perceptions of the Tamu, and the way many tourists (and some expats) behave further creates disrespect.

MU – Some say that marriages between expats and Balinese, where the age gap being a generation or two is abhorrent and should be curtailed; often these marriages are not legalized with competent authorities from the foreign embassies thereby disenfranchising the offspring from their rights to citizenship of the foreign country from which one parent comes from. Are we witnessing the birth of a generation existing between the gaps in society? And will these children of the morrow become the catalyst for change? And what change do you perceive this to be?

UW – I do not have first-hand knowledge of such cases, therefore it is hard for me to think through the implications with regard to Bali. Not having a legalized marriage is, however, a problem that many people in many countries are dealing with, and there is much international discussion of how to secure the rights of the child to paternity, inheritance and citizenship. Recently, there was a case in Egypt where a woman went to court because the man, with whom she had entered into a non-legalized (so called traditional – urfi – marriage) denied the child he had fathered paternity. In this case, both were Egyptians. She won, and has become an exemplar for others.  I believe women can become the catalysts for change.

MU – “I will not blame the rapes on Norwegian women. But Norwegian women must understand that we live in a Multicultural society and adapt themselves to it.” “Norwegian women must take their share of responsibility for these rapes.”

You stated this in reference to high profile incidents in Norway involving immigrant men and the local (Norwegian) women. Do you think the reverse will happen in Bali, like attacks on ‘visitor women scantily clad’ by ‘locals’ because the ‘visitors’ have shown ignorance of the social norms and/or not understood the prevalent culture?

UW – I have never said that women must take their share of responsibility for rapes. This is sheer misrepresentation of my statement. The rapist bears full responsibility for rape, which is a crime. What I did say was that many immigrants come from societies where the way many Norwegian women dress and behave is misunderstood to mean that they are immoral.  In a multicultural society, it is an advantage if people learn something about one another´s codes of communication.  The same applies if you are a tourist. It is a sad fact of life that women are exposed much more than men to sexual violence.  So women need to be careful, and knowledge is power.  But full responsibility for rape resides with the rapist.

MU – Is then, cultural clashes and clichés the raison d’être for an emerging ‘irrational society’?

UW – No, I wouldn´t use such a term. Society is not “irrational” but persons can be. However, rape does not have to do with irrationality. It is a crime usually committed by wholly rational people.

MU – You have written a number of books that have thrown light on the travails and tribulations and the constant fight for survival between man and woman in societies that discriminate. Does your book  “Behind the veil in Arabia: Women of Oman” shed light or reflect the state of women in general in societies across the world like India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and beyond? And is the treatment of women in a society reflective of its ethos?

UW – Oman is special. It was, and continues to be to me an exemplar of a good Muslim society where women are well respected and treated. Oman has an enlightened ruler, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, who has had the power for nearly forty years, and has done a world of good for his country, including women. Yes, there is an ethos in Oman that underscores gracious behavior and that is reflected in the treatment of women. It is different from what you find in many other parts of the Muslim world, local culture and religion always intersect, and so Oman is quite different from not just Afghanistan or Iran, but also its neighbor, Saudi Arabia. That said, there are also similarities: Polygamy – a man´s right to have several wives simultaneously – still holds in many parts of the Muslim and non-Muslim world, Oman included. Men are privileged in numerous ways. But Oman could point the way to what other traditional societies, more harsh to women – Muslim, Hindu, Christian etc. – can become.

MU – What is the role of a culture? Does it create, give birth to or is it a matrix in which we are all born? And does this matrix hamstring enlightenment/progress in all parameters of society?

UW – We are born into cultures; I was born on an island in the Arctic Ocean in a part of Norway called the Land of the Midnight Sun, and my view on the world is profoundly shaped by the influences I came under through my formative 18 years there.  But cultures are ever changing, just like people; indeed, it is people who make up cultures, we are the agents, culture in itself can do nothing, it is just a word, a concept. It is important to keep this in mind: People have in their power to create and make “culture” happen, for good or bad.  Therefore too, culture clash is not a term I use: it indicates that there is something there with the power to act by itself. Think of people instead, and you have a better instrument for building peace.

MU –  As a celebrated and highly respected anthropologist do you think that Bali will survive the onslaught of the continuing influx of alien cultures bombarding the island; and will this be the beginning of a convergence that will bring about a new evolved society or will it be another reason for a conflict of cultures?

UW – Bali has withstood a continuing influx of alien cultures for a long time in history. That gives me hope for the future of this gem of a civilization. Bali is bound to go on changing and evolving; and society fifty years from now will be different from the one we know. But I believe there is a solid core that is sustainable and that may even take on a stronger identity as “Balinese” as cultures mix and mingle.  Or, I should rather say, as people from different cultures mix and mingle.  My husband, Fredrik Barth, wrote a book called “Balinese Worlds”, plain and simple. That says it all: Bali consists of many worlds, many cultural traditions that have co-existed, competed, and also enriched one another. This is due to the resourcefulness and tolerance of Balinese people.

MU – What are you working on now and will you be visiting Bali in the near future?

UW – I have just finished two books – one published in the US, the other in Norway, on honor killings in present-day Europe. A sad topic I never planned to handle but that became urgent with the murders of several young girls by their (immigrant) families in Europe.  One is called In Honor of Fadime: Murder and Shame and deals with the fate of a young Swedish-Kurdish woman who was killed by her own father because she had “dishonored” her family by choosing her own love in life and refusing a forced marriage to a cousin. Her story made the international community wake up to the fact that honor killings do not just belong to “them” but to “us” in the West, and has helped to put the problem on the international agenda. Now I am about to do something much more pleasant: embark on a long fieldtrip to Arabia (Yemen, Oman and Saudi Arabia) to explore ideas of freedom and dignity post 9/11, and to see how these ideas are put into practice in various walks of life. As an Arabic speaker I can work without interpreters and as a woman, I have easy access to people, I am not considered a threat. Among places I will visit is the Hadramawt in North Yemen where some families I know in Singaraja  originally came from so I will explore the links; there have been close connections between inner Arabia and Indonesia for centuries, with influences going both ways.

I have also an ongoing project in Bhutan, a Buddhist kingdom in the Himalayas, where I have spent much time to explore culture and religion.

I was last in Bali a year ago, and hope to return later this year. It is very much a part of my heart.

High jinx at boot camp on Gili Nanggu

boot-camp

There exists on this fragrant island a rare and dwindling species of party mammals who have survived Ibiza and Goa. They now co-habit at the cross roads of the world with clear and present intentions to suck on the nectar of Bali and glean a life style akin to the famed lotus eaters of yore.

This week’s column is about a Dickensian character named Boots who hails from the heydays of Goa in the 70s. A man for all reasons he is now settled, in a manner of speaking, in Bali. Every so often he succumbs to the call of the wild life that beckons all who have set up home amidst the frangipani.

I met Boots through a friend, Mark Tuck of Paradise Properties, when I cooked an Indian meal at his home for family and friends. Since then we occasionally meet to reminisce and part-take of fortified h2o that is beautifully presented by his wife Nevi. His son Rohan, an avatar of Tom Sawyer, can be found climbing trees, throwing stones at imaginary monsters and beguiling guests with his witticisms.

Now that you have got the basic ingredients permit me to divulge details of the fascinating weekend on Gili Nanggu; where people of many nationalities congregated to celebrate Boots’ birthday.

The fast boat to iniquity took around two hours. On the fine sunny morning with the sea spray peppering the windows of the boat and Mount Agung gazing down at us from a distance one felt uneasy – uneasy because one cannot swim. I enjoyed the boat trip except for the water. There was too much water around.

We arrived at Gili Nanggu to warm comforting sand between the toes and chilled beer. Terra firma (after so much water) helped dispel the churning feeling in the stomach and the giddiness that came with the ‘rocking’ of the speedboat slicing its way through the choppy sea.

After a lunch of chicken curry and rice we dispersed…some to the beach, others to snorkel in the rooms.

For all those unenlightened folk who have yet to visit this island here are a few off the cuff remarks that may or may not find approval from all and sundry.

It takes about 30 minutes to walk around the island. Of course for those who carry an extra tire around the waist it may take up to an hour.

Traversing the island on foot can be daunting as there are rocks, debris of bottles and plastic waste (that needs to be removed) and trees which seem to conveniently fall across the beach with branches sipping the water from the sea.

There is a Buddhist temple on the island. However, I was too lazy to walk the walk and instead lounged with the hermit crabs that played hide and seek with every movement of the hand.

The hotel has a number of rooms with attached toilets that are in urgent need of renovation, a restaurant and a ‘play area’ where Boots set up his psychedelic paraphernalia and music system.

A few bales dot the beach front.

Okay that’s all the information you will be fed as you need to visit the island to enjoy the ‘other parts’.

While lying on the beach a respectable distance from the water line I was intermittently accosted by fellow guests who attempted to seduce me into the sea; fearful of drowning in three feet of water one escaped on a boat to sail around the island to watch sunset and take a few photographs for posterity. I returned at twilight to be greeted by throbbing trance music, laughter, and incessant chatter.

The dance floor was the beach. The props – tie dye fabric with colorful prints of Lord Buddha, Lord Shiva and retro psychedelic forms. UV lights placed strategically behind the stretched fabric transformed the display into ethereal images and with pulsating music one got the feeling that the event could have been mistaken for a get together of schizophrenics.

I sat in a darkened bale contemplating the futility of leaving such a menagerie of party animals to the elements while gently stroking my Arak Madu. Unfortunately all good things end…like my Arak Madu and so I was forced to enter the arena (dance floor) to be pleasantly massaged by outstretched arms of inebriated overflowing amphorae. Scuttling to the bar one managed to seize the day, in this case the night, pour myself a drink and make a dash for a group of locals sitting around a camp fire near the jetty. As luck would have it they turned out to be staff from our boat. Ignorant of the language, conversation quickly deteriorated into finger exercises, winks and a camaraderie that ridiculed sense and sensibility.

One of the prancing young bucks waved to me and asked, “What’s your name Bli? You India?”

“Yes from Bombay, my name is Mark Ulyseas”, I replied.

“What… Mark Useless?”

“Yes something like that”, I shouted above the throbbing monotonous music.

Then gibberish took hold as more beer arrived, courtesy yours truly.

The moonlit night and the sea gently kissing the shore were silent spectators to the shenanigans of homo-sapiens let loose to run free of inhibitions on a placid isle.

As the night wore on the revelers vanished into their hutments clutching anything they fancied. I on the other hand lay down on a bale, curled up and dreamt of the home I had left behind. Peace enveloped me to the vibrations of trance music which continued to play throughout the night until we departed the following day at noon. The wooden structure quivered with the sound waves.

An hour before dawn I was rudely awakened by a thud. Looming ominously on the beachhead was a gigantic Ogoh Ogoh with Spiderman in full flight on its back. Apparently Boots’ in all his wisdom decided to burn one at sunrise in keeping with tradition i.e. burning effigies on his birthday every year. He told me that this monstrosity was transported atop a boat like the one we arrived in.

As preparations for the incineration were underway, blurry eyed and bedraggled party animals began emerging from their shelters to witness the spectacle. Boots’ son Rohan and his friend held lit torches to the feet of the Ogoh Ogoh. Soon the monster was aflame to the sound of clicking cameras, clapping and yes, you guessed it – trance music. Alas, Spiderman refused to be drawn into the fire so stones and other objects were thrown to dismember the cartoon character. And as the smoldering remains of decadence lay scattered on the beach, the sun rose over Lombok lighting up the mighty Mount Rinjani to our left.

The sight was truly awe inspiring. Nature in all its glory had subdued our senses. The air tasted fresh except for the occasional whiff of beer breath. Some of us sat on the beach till the sun rose well into the sky.

Breakfast was a disappointment. The sticky omelet and cardboard bread was a far cry from reality. The only saving grace was the tea. How could anyone go wrong with a tea bag?

Answering the call of nature thereafter was an exercise in hop, skip and slide. It left one wondering whether the powers that be on the island had any intention of upgrading or at least maintaining a semblance of hygienic creature comforts that would entice tourists to return to the place.

Later in the day after we had submitted to the vagaries of sub standard hospitality, Mark Tuck, his friend Steve from Lake Tahoe, California, and me took a boat ride around the island. The short trip confirmed what I had thought all along – here was a beautiful isle that could be made a world class destination except for……

When we returned the trance music had stopped. The ensuing silence was deafening. The ringing in the ears and echoes of thumping rhythms was all that remained in one’s head.

The return boat journey was a nightmare as the sea was very rough and one of the passengers attempted to regurgitate her breakfast which fortunately was prevented by constantly talking to her about movies and in particular Dr. Zhivago.

Back on land once again I heaved a sigh of relief and profusely thanked Boots for inviting me to his birthday party and Mark Tuck for ensuring one did not drown.

The journey to iniquity and back was invigorating except for the boat ride. Next time round the preferred mode of transport would be by helicopter.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

The Good Women of Ubud

“Tread softly, for you tread on my dreams” – W.B.Yeats

This week’s column is dedicated to my late friend Bina and the good women of Ubud who I see every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday at restaurants dancing the evening away alone or in groups, while the men watch from the sidelines. The throb of Jazz, Reggae, Rock and Salsa entrance the women who move to the music like birds in a mating ritual. Sometimes I feel the urge to join them but I am outnumbered ten to one by the heavenly bodies and the captivating fragrance of Chanel.

Today we shall not talk of that four letter word we encounter everyday – Love. Instead we shall put on our dancing shoes and waltz to Englebert Humperdinck’s song, Release Me, with a companion held close to our bosom like two swans in a partnership of a lifetime; although ours will last three and a half minutes, which is the duration of the song. But who cares, it is the beat of the moment that counts.

Growing up in the late 60s early 70s in a city that was the former capital of India, Calcutta, we were intoxicated by Pam Crain and Braz Gonzales who jazzed it up at a restaurant called Trinca’s on Park Street. Those were the days of the Fox Trot, Waltz and the Tag dance. Of course the Cha-Cha and Jive did get pride of place. Pond’s talcum powder was thrown on the floor to smoothen the surface so that we could twist to Chubby Checker in our nylon socks and pointed toe shoes and shorts that were so tight that they stuck in our rear.

As the years rolled on, the Doors and The Beatles opened us to a whole new world of bell-bottoms and floral shirts with collars the size of medieval contraptions. It was a time of free love, teenage pregnancy and good music. The Waltz then became the choice of fuddy duddies while we moved on to rock n roll. The girls in their midis, short tops and roman sandals were like Indian rubber men on the dance floor. The contortions could have displaced a few hips but this did not happen for they knew how to move to the music of the times. Then in the midst of the party in walked the crinkle tie-dye cotton skirts, long hair, faded jeans accompanied by the raucous sound of Janis Joplin and the wailing of Bob Dylan’s ‘Times they are a changin’. Peace descended in our hearts to the harmony of Simon and Garfunkle. The sound of silence was the music that stoked the fire in our hearts. We danced with complete abandon oblivious of the morrow that cried out for sanity as our lives flowed like a river in spate.

Many of us had fumbled on the dance floor or had been shy of moving to the beat or holding the hand of a damsel eager to accompany us in a ritual that invariably bordered on erotica. Unfortunately, some of us have carried this feeling through to adulthood.

I have often wondered as to why women dance to the spirit of the beat and are mesmerised by the vocal chords of songsters, Barry White and Joe Cocker. Could it be that they have tuned into the subtle nuances that lie hidden in the subterranean blues and these unravel their heartstrings?

Not too long ago I met Elizabeth, one of the good women of Ubud, who wanted to learn the salsa. A teacher would arrive at her hotel to guide her through the motions. As time passed she transformed herself into a creature of delight swaying to the tempo of a live band. She dressed in black and danced the night away. The tempo ignited her emotions and quelled the feeling of loneliness she carried within her. I sensed that the sound of feet tapping to the music could have been a balm that soothed her aching heart. But one will never know for she had tuned into a higher frequency of passion just like Bina who I had left behind in Calcutta.

The first time I met Bina was when I bumped into her on the dance floor while straining every sinew to Rod Stewart’s grating ‘ Tonight am yours’. Her long black hair and lithe body clothed in a white cotton dress soon became entwined with me, as the song changed to Leo Sayer’s ‘When I need love’. In those days we called it the Slow Dance: A perfect opportunity to agitate the pheromones. From that night on we were regulars at Jam Sessions where a live band played pop songs and tea and cucumber sandwiches were served. Over a period of six years we graduated from these evenings to nights at the disco dressed like members of the band – Abba, and onto rock concerts on Calangute beach in Goa on full moon nights. Sadly from the time I stopped dancing with her, for I had grown weary of music, she drifted away. One day I awoke to a good-bye letter placed under my door. I never saw her again. She passed away last year on Valentine’s Day after a prolonged illness.

The only regret that I have is not having danced with her one last time.

‘Come on baby light my fire’ is a haunting melody that plays through my head whenever I encounter the good women of Ubud for they remind me of follies past. In them is reflected a joie de vivre, a time of roses and poses that keeps them forever young, a touch of Gatsby in the hills. They, like Bina, possess a lust for living and a natural enchanting rhythm that entices onlookers like sirens in a Greek tragedy.

Ubud embraces a string of restaurants and a host of entertainment that never ceases to drive away the melancholia that sometimes grips the good women of Ubud who have arrived from far off lands and nested in the hills. A night out with Chika and her saxophone, moving to Michael Franti’s ‘Yes I will’ at Flava Lounge or swinging to salsa with the genteel crowd at Indus is reminiscent of evenings at Park Street’s hip restaurants and bars of the 70s; Trinca’s, Blue Fox, Mocambo’s, Moulin Rouge, the Barrel, Sky Room with live music and good food. Here in Ubud shades of those swinging years flash before my eyes like errant motorcyclists whizzing past unmindful of the near death experience they go through everyday.

From Calcutta to Ubud, the song remains the same.

“You can’t start a fire
You can’t start a fire without a spark
This gun’s for hire
Even if it were jus for dancing in the dark”
-Bruce Springsteen, Dancing in the Dark

To the good women of Ubud, I have one request…

Save the last dance for me.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

Nyoman Suradnya – The enigmatic master of the Arts

I Nyoman Suradnya speaks to Mark Ulyseas in an exclusive interview.

“The red is me…it’s Suradnya. My colour I try to get the Bali smile – not Java smile, not Sumatra smile…Bali smile”. – I Nyoman Suradnya speaking to The Australian, Tuesday October 07, 1975, at his first exhibition of his paintings held at Aladdin Gallery, Sydney.

The first time I met Nyoman at a friend’s place I took an instant liking to him because he knew the words of the song Release Me. We both sang it loud and out of tune till the dogs started barking. Later over a cuppa and fried banana fritters we discussed the state of art in Ubud. His frank and often strikingly honest remarks were a breath of fresh air after encountering many self proclaimed artists who were too eager to please any listener. The next day we met at his studio to carry on the dialogue.

I began by asking him the usual question, “Why Ubud?”.

He replied, “Because Ubud is where every breath is a prayer. Look around you at every nook and corner someone is making an offering to the Gods. The continuous religious ceremonies inspire this living culture. Ubud breathes life into the arts and many come here to live off this breath of living culture”.

Nyoman is 60 years old. A child of a rice farmer, he worked in the fields helping his family. From a very young age he was intoxicated by the arts and crafts and would experiment with whatever material he had to create images on paper, in wood and stone. Inspiration came from the Wayan Kulit (Shadow Puppet) and then from his brother. He painted in black and white as in those days colour was not available. On finishing high school he joined the Art School started by Tjokorda Gede Agung Sukawati of Puri, Ubud. In fact Nyoman was the first student! Here he learnt painting, woodcarving, stone carving, carving for the Bull cremation towers from the masters of each craft. Like in India the concept of Guru-Sheeksha (Master-Student) was prevalent.

After one year of the three-year course in the art school, Nyoman chose art on traditional lines learning proportion, perspective with regard to wood carving “Ubud Style”. He learnt the techniques from Balinese and non-Balinese masters. The market place was one of his haunts. Nyoman would visit the market to sketch the basic outline of his subjects. Then he would return to the studio and breathe life into the sketch with paint and brush strokes.

Nyoman turned to the technique of Batik and went to Jogyakarta in 1973 to learn the art from the Javanese master craftsmen. On his return to Ubud he began by inventing batik colour pigments with some powder so that it could be blended like acrylics. The special batik paint he created was used in his paintings to recreate the batik effect on his canvases. This was a groundbreaking technique that enabled Nyoman to take the craft of batik, which was confined to fabric onto another medium.

The resultant effect was a creative leap whereby batik was not limited to fabric but became a medium that Nyoman could use to manifest his perceptions of the real world around him onto canvas. Colour exploded on the palette and splattered into shapes, forms and perspectives that immediately made Nyoman’s work recognisable in the numerous countries where he held his exhibitions. He became a pioneer in this field.

Nyoman’s considers the word “artist” as one coined for or by tourists. The apt phrase according to him is Unagi, which means wood carver, builder, painter etc. All the arts and crafts were primarily for the Pura (House of God) and the Puri (House of the Royal Family). Later with the arrival of Walter Spies who was influenced by Henri Rousseau, the mingling of the two art forms resulted in metamorphosis of Balinese art forms. The local artist began to paint “daily life” and incorporated perspectives, subtleties of shading etc. The foreign artists and Balinese craftspersons took to each other like “bees to flowers”.

Asked about his opinion on the numerous art galleries sprouting up all over Ubud he replied, “The mushrooming art galleries across Ubud are like McDonald’s fast food outlets. They’ve lost the plot. The kitsch is feeding the tourists because that is what the tourists want to see and buy. I do hope this does not continue otherwise good taste and discerning customers will fade away along with various art forms”.

And when I enquired as to whether he had reached the zenith in his art form, he looked at me for a moment and then laughed loudly and said, “ I believe there is a promise land, a place I can reach nirvana with my artwork. However, I am still travelling and learning and travelling. When will it end I do not know. But I firmly believe it will be in this lifetime”.

I Nyoman Suradnya has been known to speak his mind and to encourage his fellow villagers to beautify Ubud. In fact due to his endeavours Ubud won the Most Beautiful Village in Indonesia in 1982, 1984 and 1986.

Some of his numerous past exhibitions were: 1977 Galerie de Geneva, Milan, Italy; 1982 Arts & Crafts Centre, Melbourne, Australia; 1985 ISLA Centre of the Arts, Guam University, USA; 1990 Gallery Balance, Osaka, Japan; 2004 Café Fleischli, Zurich, Switzerland.

Today one can learn the craft of batik and batik painting from the master himself at Nirvana Pension & Gallery situated on Jalan Gautama , off Jalan Raya, Ubud.

Gamelan Master – Tjokorda Raka Swastika


The Gamelan Master speaks exclusively to Mark Ulyseas

Introducing Tjokorda Raka Swastika of the Ubud Royal family, a Gamelan Master, who I met in the palace garden to talk about his art. This is what he had to say to the readers of The Bali Times.

It is a short introduction to Gamelan. The music has intrinsic religious significance and is an integral part of Balinese culture. This short passage from our conversation does not do justice to the art. But for the sake of brevity we have confined ourselves to presenting it only as an introductory piece so that anyone not conversant with this religious art will begin to understand the complexities of Gamelan music.

This is what the master had to say to the readers of The Bali Times.

I learnt Gamelan from a local guru Dewa Nyoman Sura from Pengosekan Village about 5 km from Ubud. In those days, there were no children Gamelan. I hung around the musicians and watched them play.

In the 60s there were only two Gamelan groups in Ubud – one belonged to the Ubud Kaja (North) and the other Ubud Kelod (South).

Gamelan is the traditional music of Indonesia (specifically Bali and Java). Gamelan means the traditional ensemble of instruments. For example, in Bali Kendang (drum), Reong (kettle gong), Gong Kempur (medium gong) and Kemong (kettle gong).

The materials used in the Gamelan are metal and wood. Prior to the use of metal we had bamboo Gamelan as seen in the Gambang Ensemble.

The metal used for instruments is made of the Panca Datu – 5 elements of tin, copper, iron, silver and gold.

Gamelan is played on religious occasions as it is one part of the rituals viz.:
Dewa Yadnya (God ceremony), Resi Yadnya (Prayer ceremony), Manusa Yadnya (Human being ceremony), Pitra Yadnya (Soul ceremony) and Buta Yadnya (Devil ceremony).

Gamelan in Bali is also performed in temples when sacred dances take place. Of course it is played for the performance arts elsewhere.

The Gamelan vocal is also part of the Panca Gita.

I have been performing the Gamelan for 30 years and have taught students from Australia, Japan, Holland, Denmark and England.

In 1986 I visited Tokyo along with the Gamelan group from Ubud. It was for an International Music and Dance Festival. Since then many Japanese have visited Ubud to study the art. Many have been my students. Three years later in 1989 I performed in Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Holland and Finland. In 2000 I taught Gamelan for three months in Sydney. Today there are two Gamelan groups in Sydney, one started by the local Balinese community and another by an Australian. I performed at the Summer Festival in Fukuoka, Japan, in 2003.

Presently, I am concentrating on teaching and the future progress of children’s Gamelan. The 1999 Bali Arts Festival held in Denpasar saw my students represent the Gianyar Regent team, which won an award.

In 2005 the children group, Cenik Wayah, who were trained by me represented the Gianyar Regency at the Bali Arts Festival and won an award.

Now I am also training women in the art of the Gamelan.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

Morganics – Hip Hop is my passport!

‘It’s the seams, it’s the edges where worlds meet, old school, new school, can you feel the heat?- Rapper Morganics in Ubud!

The New Year sun is days away, hiding far behind the hills of Ubud ready to rise and shine to warm, caress and preserve the beauty of a land reminiscent of the fabled Camelot. It will spread before us like a feast at Galungan and once again we will waltz through the year in Ubud rubbing shoulders with royalty, holy men, artists of vibrant hues, culinary maestros, musicians and the ubiquitous stereotype expats who lounge around watering holes wallowing in Draught.

The week began with a Hip Hop cool dude, Morganics, from Down under who is here for a brief R & R with his beautiful girl friend Karina from Paris before returning to Sydney for the launch of his latest album Hip Hop is My Passport.

When I quizzed Morganics about his Cd he replied, “ This album has been recorded on my laptop as I travelled through countries producing tracks with children on the streets of Arusha, Tanzania, on subway trains in New York with rapping ciphers (circles/groups), performing with aboriginal elders in Oz, rapping with Balinese school children in Ubud and culminating in the recording of a Javanese folk song to Hip Hop with Thanding Sari at the 2006 UWRF. The title of this song is Jungle Funk and it goes like this – it’s the seams, it’s the edges where worlds meet, old school, new school, can you feel the heat? This is how Hip Hop is my Passport came together through a series of cross-cultural collaborations. The album also features people rapping in Swahili, Spanish and Pitjanjarra (a central aboriginal language). Along with this album there’s also a one hour documentary DVD on the making of it.”

Morganics was born in Brisbane. His father a left wing political activist introduced him to the Warumpy Band and Kraftwerk while his mother, a feminist and into street theatre, made him listen to Grace Jones and Prince’s early work. When Morganics was 13, Hip Hop culture was taking root in Oz. And like punk music it was revolutionary, political and inventing itself at every stage. He had been in television from an early age doing shows with Lee Majors on one of the popular TV series produced by NBC called Danger Down Under.

Around ’95 he co-formed one of Australia’s first Hip Hop groups “MetalBass’n’Breath” with Baba Israel (New York) and Elf Tranz Porter (Houston). The 3-member band formed on the streets of Sydney rapping, playing drums and break dancing. It expanded to include Funk Jazz musicians and a DJ.

‘Ya I played with bands from Run-Dmc to Michael Frante. In 97-98 I was based in New York for nearly a year and did gigs with Badar Ali, son of the late Ustad Fateh Ali Khan (great Qawali singer), as well as, the originator of hip hop culture, Grand Wizard Theodore who also invented ‘scratching’. The group disbanded in 99 and since then I’ve been doing solo stuff and a lot of community work and more recently Hip Hop Theatre. I will be producing and performing in some Hip Hop Theatre at the Sydney Opera House, Melbourne, Brisbane, New York and Manchester UK. I will be going on a European tour in August 08. Presently am writing a Hip Hop travel book titled – Hip Hop is my passport – memories of a Hip Hop nomad and what better place for inspiration, perspiration of the mind and the groove of culture than Ubud!”

Ubudians in the hills of Camelot

This is about cross-cultural fertilisation…
The land of the rising sun in harmony with the morning of the earth.
Of course one can’t overlook the ubiquitous watering hole.
The Jazz, Saki and Vodka.

Occasionally, I have spent leisurely hours wallowing at my favourite watering hole downing gallons of draught beer and discussing Sartre while nibbling on chicken Satay, and pontificating on the travails of living in Camelot (often referred to as Ubud) complete with its bars, nightclubs, restaurants, art galleries etc. etc. etc…as the King of Siam would say. Or was it Yul Brynner?

Talk is cheap but liquor is quicker as Doc. Dwarka (a visiting Ayurvedic Specialist and Doc to us) would declare. And what would I say? I would say that my watering hole has now become a Chinese restaurant. In fact one has to wrestle with the Sino customers to get a seat…you know like musical chairs…the music being the sizzling sound of pork chops on the barby.

It was here that I had breakfast with an acquaintance, Chris Gentry, the other day. The mornings being the only time the irregulars can get a look see in. Over a meal of ribs, tuna sandwiches, fried eggs sunny side up and crispy bacon washed down with large tumblers of Bloody Marys we moan the intrusion into our watering hole by invading hordes of tourists from the Asian mainland. The time is 9.30 a.m. I feel it is going to be one of those days when we will be here till closing time, a comforting thought considering the mayhem that surrounds us all in our daily grind.

Then Chris in his inimitable bedside manner gives me a few unsolicited ideas for future columns. I patiently hear him wax eloquent on Ubudian society.

“Mark, do you know that there are over one hundred and fifty Japanese women who have married Balinese and are living here in the villages in and around Ubud? My wife is Japanese so I know”.

“Yeah but I haven’t seen any women dressed like Japanese in Ubud let alone elsewhere in Bali” I reply.

He then extols the virtues of the Japanese women in point who have married Balinese men and have adopted the local culture. They live like Balinese in thought, word, deed, dress and are indistinguishable from the locals. Unlike many other expats who have retained their culture in terms of dress and lifestyles and some even their names…Made Wijaya, a friend, being the exception!

Isn’t this ironic as it was only in the last century that the Japanese invaded and occupied Bali? One can still see the tunnels that they had built in WWII near Klungklung.

History is the sacred cow often sacrificed by the hands of forgotten memories. The spirits of the innocents who were killed in WWII in Bali must be keenly observing the migration of people like birds, the comings and goings of generations of foreigners on this island, probably pondering the rationale for the bloody past and the incentives for wars.

Just the other day, Graham, a buddy from Ibiza who spends six months a year in Ubud took me to As One Lounge and Gallery to meet the Japanese couple that run the place – Chika Asamoto and her husband Hutomo Ishii. Now if you are a Jazz fanatic this is the place to hear Chika on the sax performing with local and visiting musicians. And while you sip Saki one can converse with Hutomo about his artworks, which grace the walls of the lounge. He is an artist who is in love with Bali.

Speaking to Chika and Hutomo I begin to realise that Time is only the vehicle – the essence is the heart of the people who adopt Bali as their home. They bring with them a culture and an acceptance of all things Asian that makes this experience so enriching.

A month ago Jill Gocher, a photographer friend, took me for dinner to Hyroshi the Japanese restaurant on the high street. Unfortunately as I don’t eat seafood the dinner was Nasir Bunkus with Ayam for me. But the experience left me wondering about the Japanese who have settled in Bali. What has lured so many back?

Chika and Hutomo, the soft spoken hugely talented couple don’t carry with them the burden of history. What they have brought to Ubud is the intrinsic passion for culture – art, music and (I think) the best Saki in town.

Let us revert to Chris Gentry… the superlatives he uses so effortlessly while talking about everything Japanese, is an American who is married to a fine Japanese lady and resides in Ubud. Okay I’ll not go off on a tangent on this one but suffice to say Bali is the prime meridian between light and dark. Those who venture onto this isle must understand the rules of peaceful co-existence. Methinks Chris has got it pat down.

It is 6 p.m. and Doc grabs the copy of The Bali Times from me and starts reading it aloud. He abruptly stops and remarks, “The world is f..kd, take a look at this…” and hands me the paper pointing to the Health page which carries the news item “Doctors use Vodka drip to save tourist”. Apparently a man in Oz who tried to kill himself (like we all do while driving in Bali) was resurrected from near death by a constant drip of vodka for three whole days. Hooray, our endless days of depravity have finally paid off. All along we assumed that vodka would be the death of us. In fact it has given life to someone albeit in tragic circumstances. But on the flip side can you imagine the hangover he must have had?

“So Doc what do you have to say about this?” I ask

“Absolute vodka saves absolutely”, he replies while sipping his sinful martini.

The morning has now become night, Chris has left and there are only a few stragglers like Doc and yours truly sluggish at the square table.

Quietly Doc confides in me his dream to set up an Ayurvedic Retreat somewhere in Europe. I announce that I plan to visit Japan to find out why my favourite Japanese writer Yukio Mishima – author of The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea – committed hara-kiri in his mid-twenties. Oh well, we are like two sodden souls waiting for the Day of Atonement.

Later in the night while returning home I hear Chika playing a soulful rendition of Louis Armstrong’s – What a wonderful World – her saxophone wailing in the night. Whether it is real or imagined I don’t know but it strikes a chord in me. Could it be that the morning of the earth and the land of the rising sun have found peace in each other… in Camelot?

To Chika Asamoto, her husband Hutomo Ishii and all the wonderful Japanese who have made Bali their home, I bow and say…

“Ariegato”

Thank You.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

A Bohemian Rhapsody – Amed

Finding Neverland has taken me many years, across continents and through the minefields of social disparities and conflict of interest. Now I rest my weary self on Milton’s Paradise regained, eight degrees south of the equator. The spirits of Bali hold me close to their bosom magnifying the good and bad within me. The choice is there for us all. Many intrepid travellers have fallen by the wayside; others have created a niche for themselves surviving on the nectar that the island has to offer. Circumnavigating Bali in search of this nectar I come across a place on the north east coast that nestles on the rocky side of hills overlooking the azure sea. Amed, the seventh heaven, which lingers in a time warp embracing the rustic beauty; the innocence of village life wrapped up in breathtaking landscape with Agung the sacred (the largest volcano on the island) looking down benevolently on the mortals below.

Driving for two and a half hours from Ubud in the hills down along the coast past Candidasa and Padang Bai I make the mistake of asking a Balinese for directions to Amed. The reason is that the Balinese understand directions based on the NSEW system and not by road names. So off I go down a northerly direction along narrow roads hugging the hillsides along the Mediterranean like coast. The long drive takes me through villages, across bridges partly submerged by flowing streams and children bathing in the gurgling waters. The countryside is alive with the wind whistling through the trees, the raucous sound of birds and the clinking of coca cola crates being unloaded at the warungs by the roadside. One cannot get away from consumerism that eats into the island’s life. Passing through a village I stop to light a cigar and to take in the fresh sea breeze. Nearby four Babi Gulings (suckling pigs) are being roasted over a pit lit by coconut husk. One of the four men who are rotating the large bamboo skewers gives me a toothless grin and asks for a cheroot. I reply in the negative and instead offer him a cigarette. The bond is made and soon I am sitting on my haunches rotating the skewers and chatting in sign language with the aroma of sizzling pork permeating the air around us. I am invited the next day for a feast in the village. It’s a celebration after a cremation. The Balinese sometimes bury their dead when they cannot afford the cremation and after a period dig up the body (when money is available) and then cremate it. In Bali people spend a fortune in cremating their dead. It is more important than marriage! In fact banks offer loans at reasonable rates. In the small warung across from where we are sitting are youngsters gyrating to the song “It’s my life”. They know what life is and accept it without any pretensions. I am still attempting to comprehend the subtle nuances that make their lives so fulfilling.

Half-hour later (which feels like an eternity in serendipity) I carry on my journey along the coast past Selang, Lipah, Lehan, Bunutan, Jemeluk to Amed. Even though the names change from area to area the whole strip along this coast is loosely called Amed. The beaches are lined with brightly coloured fishing boats and the surrounding area has some of the best coral reefs. In fact coral from these reefs have grown over a Japanese shipwreck from World War II that lies submerged in shallow waters metres from the beach.

I am waved down at a warung called Wawa Wewe One (in Balinese it means – like this like that) by Wayan. a young bloke with pants hanging precariously on his lower hip, boxers shorts showing and a t-shirt that reads Born to die rebel for Life. After a warm Balinese smile, handshake and greeting me Om Swastiastu he is sitting in the car directing me to the Wawa Wewe Two hotel down at Lipah beach. Wayan informs me that the area is predominantly rural with fishing, cultivation of peanuts, corn and rice. The entertainment being cock fighting and Saturday night live at Wawa Wewe One.

I check into Wawa Wewe Two that has a number of cottages built at different levels overlooking the rocky beach. The balding Rastafarian Made (pronounced as Maaday), who is the proprietor of the hotel, has a perpetual grin on his face. Initially I mistake it for dementia but then realise he is in a perpetual state of exhilaration. Saturday night at Wawa Wewe One café is made up of a live band, gyrating local and expat hipsters with lots of Arak thrown in. The “throbbing musical evening” commences with the band playing songs in slow motion! Methinks it’s the magic mushrooms which the locals eat here. But as the evening wears on everyone is on the dance floor swinging to “Sweet Home Alabama”. Even the pet dogs are on the dance floor. The following morning I witness the fishing boats returning with their catch and landing on the beach where the hotel is situated. The eight fresh mackerel that I buy for ten thousand Rupiah makes me wonder as to how these fisher folk exist on such meagre earnings. Their catches are quite small but the dignity with which they conduct themselves is truly inspiring. Putu, the head cook and bottle washer, serves me a breakfast of fried fish and rice with a large dose of potent sambal. As I don’t eat fish I hand the fabulous spread to Wayan. Putu, observing this tells me to “waitamoment” and soon serves me an English breakfast. God save the Queen! From now on I name Putu, the Queen of Amed and bestow on her the honorary title of “waitamoment”.

Later in the day Wayan takes me into the hills to village Bangli in an area called Toyemasem where four holy springs are located. I park my trusted and rusting Feroza on a side road and carry on foot across the rice fields up into the hills. We reach the temple dedicated to Goddess Masayu. Its not really a temple in the true sense of the word but a grey stone carved column. Wayan gathers a few wild flowers and hands them to me along with some lit incense sticks. I place these offerings at the foot of the column and pray for my family to the sound of the stream rushing by and the giggling of the village children observing me and whispering “Thakur Singh”.

The springs are located at walking distance from each other along the steep hillside. I taste the water from them and wash my face hoping to be absolved of my iniquities. What I experience dear reader is one of wonderment. The water from each spring tastes different: sour, bitter, sweet, and sweet salty! You must visit this place. There is a presence here that I cannot explain but which I can feel deep down. As we walk back I sense a presence watching my back. I convey my apprehension to the villager who is our guide and he tells me the Goddess Masayu is benign and that I should not be afraid.

On our return drive to Wawa Wewe, I ask Wayan about the phenomenon and he nonchalantly informs me that the Balinese practice a form of animism and therefore their form of Hinduism is partly different from that in India. This simple village lad has just enlightened me without even knowing it. This is the nectar I was looking for in Bali: The simplicity of living woven into a rural existence on the threshold of modernity, yet retaining the beauty of life.

For lunch “waitamoment” serves us corn and rice, seaweed salad, grilled chicken in peanut sauce and topped with the potent sambal which I immediately term “after burner” because the effects are felt only the following morning. Who cares? We tuck into the spread washing it down with local arak diluted with orange juice. An hour later I am lying comatose on a deck chair next to the infinity swimming pool that seems to meet with the sea on the horizon. The warm afternoon sun is comforting and I feel myself drifting into a luxurious slumber. Minutes later I am rudely awakened by “waitamoment” who has a hot cup of tea in her hand and a smile that livens my mood. She grandly announces that there is a Metajen (cockfight) in the village, which is commencing under the hour, and that Wayan will take me to the venue. So I dutifully sip my tea and await Wayan’s arrival.

Mind you the authorities here frown upon cockfights and when I write about it, it is not to glorify this blood sport but simply to convey how rural life often comes in conflict with perceived western notions of right and wrong.

The Metajen (cockfight) is held at the local meeting place on the beach a few km from the hotel. We arrive to the cacophony of voices and the shrieking of cocks, with intermittent oooohhhhs and aaaahhhhs.

Wayan introduces me to Kadek, one of the main promoters, who is famous for his cocks that win most of the fights. Witnessing a few wins by his cocks I promptly give him one of my Ramayana cigars to the delight of the onlookers, light it for him and rename him Don King.

Before each fight there is much discussion as to the contenders. When this is decided a man carrying a leather purse opens it and flips through the felt pages that have very sharp knives mounted on them. The knives are as sharp as scalpels. The contender’s leg size is measured and then the appropriate knife is tied onto the leg with red thread. Soon both gladiators face each other to the loud shouts of “Menang” (win) and “Kalah” (lose). Like the gladiators in Roman times it is a fight unto death. The vanquished is soon cut up and taken away for someone’s dinner while some of its feathers are given to the owner of the winning cock. Don King loses only two of his gladiators out of the ten that he has entered in fights.

I have to leave the coliseum as the sun is setting and Wayan is keen to show me the peanut, corn and rice cultivation before I head for home. Back on the road the silence in the car is deafening. Wayan slips his cassette into the tape deck and soon life around returns to normal with the reggae beat of “Welcome to my paradise”.

The rest of the evening is spent walking the fields of dreams with Agung the sacred glowing in the setting sun. Nightfall is minutes away when I turn onto the highway to head back to Ubud. Wayan alights from the jeep and folds his hands saying “Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om” and I reply “Suksema” (thank you in Balinese).

Night blankets the countryside as the headlights of my car weave patterns on the darkened road. Another day in paradise tomorrow is yet to come.

Soliloquy

When I first arrived in Bali it appeared to be just like any other island with its beaches and beautiful people. Months later traversing the hinterland I have had the pleasure of meeting so many wonderful and interesting individuals; confronted with customs that were alien to me; eaten food that I would have never eaten; and above all enjoyed every moment talking to the Balinese and attempting to comprehend their way of life. For example the Balinese artist, Wayan Tuntara, who had appeared out of thin air when I had parked my jeep near Batur, to hawk his paintings. I felt sorry for the bloke riding around on his two-wheeler with his brains pickled by the sun. I bought a small painting that depicted topless women cultivating cabbage and onions at the foot of the Batur volcano. Looking closely at the miniature painting it gradually dawned on me that the Balinese do not have any pretensions or hang-ups when sexuality is discussed or shown. There is an underlying innocence and acceptance that is truly enlightening for one who has arrived from the land of the Kamasutra. I wish I could take Wayan to Khajuraho in India to view the large erotic cave sculptures for inspiration; Playboy centre spreads pale in comparison to them.

Oh well, another day in paradise, another experience to share with you. Did I tell you about my trip to Amed where I spent two glorious nights under the full moon? The unplanned sojourn was over a weekend. I stayed at Wawawewe (in Balinese it means – like this like that). The balding Rastafarian Made, who is the proprietor of the hotel, had a perpetual grin on his face. Initially I mistook it for dementia but then realised he was in a perpetual state of exhilaration. Saturday night at Wawawewe 1 café was made up of a live band, gyrating local and expat hipsters with lots of Arak thrown in. The “throbbing musical evening” commenced with the band playing songs in slow motion! But as the evening wore on everyone was on the dance floor swinging to “welcome to my paradise”. Even the pet dogs were on the dance floor. The next morning saw the fishing boats returning with their catch and landing on the beach where the hotel is situated. Buying eight fresh mackerel for ten thousand Rupiah made me wonder as to how these fisher folk existed on such meagre earnings. Their catches were quite small but the dignity with which their held themselves was truly inspiring. Putu, the head cook and bottle washer, served us breakfast of fried fish and rice with a large dose of potent sambal.

Some weeks ago in Ubud, I came across a small warung that Warwick Purser had told me about. From Campuhan Bridge it’s a short walk up the steep road that leads to Penestan. Mendez, who has given the warung his name, is an unassuming chap. He cooked up some duck, chicken, ox tail stew and lots of other goodies. The rates are very low and so is the lighting that gives it a rustic feel. Thank you Warwick for the tip and whenever you are in Ubud please be my guest at Warung Mendez!

When in Kuta visit Nyoman’s food stall that is opposite McDonald on the beach. She offers succulent green thinly sliced mango liberally sprinkled with rock salt and a good helping of chilli paste. It costs just five thousand Rupiah and while you’re eating it Kadek will give you a pedicure for a small fee. I term the chilli paste an after burner because the after effects are only felt the following morning.

Psst…Did you know that there are Kuta Cowgirls lurking around? Watch this space next issue…will introduce you to Karlina, an ace surfer.

Enough about food and cowgirls let’s change the topic from eating birds or whatever to watching them with Victor Mason. This English gentleman is the epitome of all that is good about the English. He walks bare foot around Ubud with the air of a distinguished local. He is one of the few remaining expats of the ‘70s who has survived the onslaught of rampant tourism and maintained a healthy respect for local customs. The Bird Walk that he took me on was quite eventful what with us bumping into two startled snakes and a large spider. The birds spotted were few; Egrets, Swallows and Munias. Victor did mention that even the birds had their off day. On our return from the walk we had lunch at Murni’s. I tucked into the Indian Pork Vindaloo smothered in chillies while Victor sipped his beer and listened to Acker Bilk’s Stranger on the Shore. By the way he was keen to know how the picture of him dressed in drag, holding a chain and standing outside Nuri’s got into the July issue of Hello Bali. He explained his dress code saying that it was probably on Valentine’s Day this year when the Hash House Harriers organised a run for the men who dressed up as women for a lark. Doesn’t this give a whole new meaning to cross-dressing?

On a lighter note have you visited Fly Café in Ubud? The logo is of a fly, the T-shirts, menu etc. has fly this fly that. It’s not a bad idea naming a restaurant after a flying insect. Wonder how this café will fare if it opened in India? Hummm… I suggest that someone open a restaurant opposite the Fly Café and call it Swatter. Thankfully the food served at Fly is excellent with no flies in it.

Another day east of Eden, tomorrow is yet to come.