My memories have been stolen

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(In the early hours of April 5, 2010, my laptop, camera and cell phones went missing).

Easter Sunday night began with a chill glass of beer and a chat with a young lady from some European country who was working for an NGO and living the dream of freedom…travelling around the world.

Her name is immensely forgettable for her demure defaulted when it came to her partiality for yet another drink. The night ended like a cliché…she went her ways and I went mine – to my home, a house on a corner with a rice field view in front and a cemetery-cremation ground bringing up the rear… No man’s land… A perfect setting for a writer living alone and eking out a living attempting to create pictures with words… the phases and phrases merging into a stream of thought for food.

That night I lay in bed remembering my son and recalling the many years we spent together and then with a sigh boarded the train for Neverland.

Morning brought with it the crowing of the cockerel and the knock on the door of the pembantu (domestic help) who had arrived to clean my home.

I got up and with a hot cup of Kopi Bali sat in the garden throwing bread crumbs into the fish pond.

Hours later when the house began churning out the sounds of the day I realised my camera, cell phones and laptop had been stolen by a member of the light finger fraternity. Over four years of memories had been stolen, pictures, words and messages carefully saved on my laptop.

For a while I sat next to the pond and gazed at the fish. Futility of possessions became apparent as I watched the petals of the last of the lotus flowers drooping towards the water… the pointlessness of cataloguing one’s existence for posterity. Everything withers and dies and is forgotten. So why clutch onto images and words as if they are going to save one from drowning in the currents of the daily drudgery of living?

Reluctantly I visited the local police station and reported the matter. And the investigations have begun.

A day later I sit at an Internet café attempting to reconnect with the world. A vain effort to imagine all is well. But this is not true. Someone has stolen my memories and is probably erasing them as I speak. They are gone, returning to the ether from whence they came.

What shall I speak of now? What shall I do now? Create new memories? Buy them? Or steal them from someone else?

I doubt I would do any of the above. Instead I shall walk the walk, wherever it may take me for now I am a soul that has no memories and hence no baggage to carry.

I am free.

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The story of a rice farmer somewhere in Bali

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Rice Farmer 01 copy“I want to tell my Gods, it’s not fair”

Seventy five year old Pak Wayan Runia is a farmer who has been tiling the immaculately laid out terraced rice fields like his forefathers had done for hundreds of years. He lives with his wife, daughter, son in law and a grandchild in a modest dwelling. The daughter and her husband work part time for a workshop producing handicrafts.

Pak Wayan owns 20 Are of land cultivating rice and reaping two harvests a year. Each harvest, which is every six months, gives him 100 kg rice. Some of this he sells for approximately US 40 cents per kg if money is in short supply, which is quite often. The rest is for domestic consumption for a period of six months.

He pays US$ 5 per month for electricity, US$ 5 per month for water, US$ 8 Tax per annum, 6 kg rice from every harvest to the Subak (water authority), US$ 5 and US$ 2.5 for every major and minor religious ceremony respectively.

Free or subsidized medical aid and/or insurance are absent.

Pak Wayan has a fiscal deficit of US$ 40 every month as sometimes his daughter and son in law who work part time are laid off.

In return he gives the people of his homeland and tourists a free view of the world famous terraced rice fields of Bali. The reward? Commercial establishments mushrooming around his ‘work’, peddling the rice field views through the media, local and international, hotels selling rooms at a premium for the view he has created with great toil; Photographers, journalists, artists et al jumping on the bandwagon.

The local administration gives him US$ 25/- per year for the view.

Recently, a foreign movie crew filmed one whole night on his land after seeking his permission and promising to pay him. They have never returned nor paid him for trampling through the rice field.

Voices Today asked him if this was the great rip off and who should be contacted to seek justice for him.

“I want to tell my Gods, it’s not fair”, replied Pak Wayan and then turned his back and silently walked into the rice fields.

Who draws the crowds and plays so loud? Baby, it’s the guitar man!

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Simon and WayanSlowly as a lovers’ dawn

We lay here in this bed ablaze

Long were the days when I needed love

Every night, free falling

You picked me up where love left off

You showed me through this long windy road

You gave me the light to see the other side

Every night, free falling

-Simon Kinny-Lewis, Free Falling, from his album Higher Heaven

Bali is a fertile breeding ground for ‘travelling wilburys’ – writers, poets, painters, musicians and the odd middle aged woman from the West seeking restitution from life in general. These wandering souls that arrive on the sunny shores of this Isle unwittingly become captives to the benign spiritual forces that encapsulate all that creates and nurtures life. The ensuing drama that continually unfolds sustains and enhances their perspective and reverence for all living things.

This week we shall talk to a young couple, Simon Kinny-Lewis and his Balinese wife Wayan Suratni, who shuttle between Sydney and Bali and two jobs and two cultures, spiced by this effervescent sense of being.

Simon is a tall lanky chap with a disarming smile and a laid back attitude. I first saw him a year ago when he was spasmodically playing his acoustic guitar as he sang a blues number at As One, a jazz joint owned by a Japanese painter. Now that it is closed he performs at the Blue Cat Jazz Bar on Pengosekan, whenever he descends on Ubud from Sydney.

I began by asking him to briefly outline his 28 odd years on this planet.

“I am Sydney born and schooled but dropped out of college to study music from friends and by watching the masters play at various gigs across the city. Music possessed me when I was very young. At the age of 8 I learnt to play the guitar and at 12 performed Lay Down Sally by Eric Clapton at a public gathering. From then on I would practice with friends, go to the concerts of Ray Beadle, a Sydney Blues Guitar Player, who used to and probably still plays at The Bridge Hotel. Because of my limited means I would buy many second hand CDs of my favorite artists – Robben Ford, Stevie Windwood, Scott Henderson, James Muller, Yellow Jackets etc., and listen to their music over and over again. Then I would take my guitar and attempt to ‘match’ their ‘fretwork’. Oh those were the days when everything seemed to flow. There were no hiccups except for want of money…hahahaha.

I first came to Bali about 5 years ago with my mother for a short holiday little realizing that the trip would turn out to be an experience of a life time…I met my future bride Wayan at Pura Dalam. The moment I saw her in her pink kebaya, holding herself upright with all the dignity in the world I realized I must have her…marry her, I mean.

But we had to wait nearly two years before we could get married.

My first album that I recorded was in 2004. It was titled ‘Open up the Letter’. In 2006 the second album ‘A winding bend’ was released. It was recorded in Bali. The title song ‘Why can’t we feed them all’ was inspired by the tenacity and industriousness of the Asian people who struggle everyday just to ‘eat’. The songs in the third CD, Higher Heaven, were written while travelling around in Bali. The cover picture was taken by my wife.

And now the latest album with the Henry Rollins drummer, Sim Cain, is coming out in December this year.

You know Bali has this strange, erotic and deep rooted spiritual vibes that intoxicate me. On full moon nights I dream dreams and feel the throbbing pulse of the island running through my veins. I don’t know how to explain this phenomenon. I suppose you can tell me…yeah?”

I side stepped the question and turned to Wayan and asked, “So tell us a little about yourself, please.”

“What you want to know…(giggling)? Okay I will tell you.

I was a Legong and Kecak dancer till I married Simon and went off to Sydney where I work in the hospitality business. My father is a Master Wood carver who still plies his trade in Ubud. I come from a reasonably traditional family, so my marriage to Simon was a bit of a shock for my parents. However, they saw how happy I was and finally relented and gave us their blessings and permission. We married under Hindu rites in Bali and then Simon’s parents arranged another ceremony in Australia. I admit I am ambitious. I want to learn, to travel and more importantly to remain Balinese through all this. Living in Sydney is at times very hard in terms of relating to the constant rush of business and traffic…but I know I have to work…if I don’t then where will the money come from? At the moment Simon is working as a music teacher in a private school. His music (laughs) still doesn’t get us enough money…but I love him and want only for him to be happy…”

Simon interjects, “Sometimes she is jealous of my guitar. Wayan says she wants to be MY guitar!”

“Yes,” says Wayan, “Yes ‘cause he plays that goddamn thing very late at night instead of coming to bed and cuddling me! Hahahaha…my husband is a non-smoker and rarely drinks that’s why I put up with his antics. You know I too am an artist. I have just recorded a Balinese song ‘Tuah Semaya’ with Gus Maya, a well known producer in Bali.”

“Will you two keep shuttling between Bali and Sydney indefinitely?” I ask.

“Actually I would like to make Bali my base for my ‘backroom’ music because it is truly the gateway to the world. People of all nationalities live, work and travel here for pleasure. It has everything…culture, arts, music, food, religiosity and gentle folk. What more can I ask for?’ says Simon.

I turn to Wayan who is returning from the bar with three chilled glasses of lemon squash and a smile that would melt butter in a jiffy and enquire, “ And what about you my dear?”

“I would prefer living in Sydney and travelling to Bali because Sydney will help my career in the hospitality business. And also, I can earn lots more money. Here the salary is too low; we need to support Simon till he makes it to the Grammies. Then we will be rich and famous and I won’t have to work. I do miss my family and the culture here. What to do? One has to survive”, she smiles and walks back to the bar to place the empty tray next to the flower arrangement.

Now that you have heard it from a young couple what do you think dear readers –

Are these the youngsters of the morrow who are now bridging religions, cultures and countries by their acceptance of life as it is…without prejudice, only with love, understanding and mutual respect?

I leave you now to ponder the answer while I sit back and listen to one of Simon’s latest numbers about one world, one people and one song…the song of peace.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

Esoteric Enemas and Clash of Clichés

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slipperIn Bali many ‘long stay’ visitors aka derelicts are bereft of common sense for they succumb to the cliche – ‘Let’s not rock the boat’, a euphemism probably for ‘ Let’s not draw attention to ourselves for fear we may be found out for who we really are’.

These unbridled skeptics tip toe around the isle afraid even of their own utterances being misconstrued and thereby attracting the wrath of unknown entities. They remind one of Barking Deer, which are so skittish that they bolt at the sound of their own droppings. One has had the pleasure and privilege of being ticked off by these self-serving people for brazenly questioning the goings on in paradise.

‘You can’t say this, you can’t do that,’ or, ‘You will be thrown off the island if you write this or that’.

The litany of dos and don’ts goes on to the soundtrack of clicking tongues. No, I’m not suggesting these hapless souls speak in tongues; they just suffer from the enormity of anonymity: Faceless wonders in co-habitation with hallucinations that prompt one to surmise that humanity could be evolving in an oblong fashion, thereby creating a wedge between the Haves (those that draw on their cerebral assets) and Have Not’s (lobotomized folk).

‘Excuse me sir, have you reserved a dichotomy?’

‘Yes but please don’t seat me next to a conundrum.’

‘Oh well, do follow me then to your place in the scheme of things’.

Have you ever navigated the tables of diners lost in a make shift world of cocktails and culinary delights to a corner of the eye which is all seeing…all seeing through the spuriousness of an imaginary social set up like Barnabide’s feast?

The derelicts are the watchers in a paradise festooned with religious tributes. They dwell, procreate and congregate as a group that is akin to a herd of Wildebeest; Acceptance and enlightenment being the exception rather than the rule.

It is well known in some circles that their dodgy knowledge is acquired by dredging society and lovingly collecting, collating, rehashing and serving piping hot flotsam and jetsam at warungs frequented by their ilk.

Culture is the conundrum here for it plays a dual role in assisting in the preferences of the Natives on one hand; and on the other, tickling the appetites, extending the elasticity of sexual synergies and enhancing the delusions of those afflicted by a self induced paralysis in paradise.

Could these derelicts be hamstrung by Nature to prevent them from smothering the prevailing fragile culture with their predatory intentions.

Or, are they paradoxes deliberately planted like weeds to balance the forces in paradise?

The answer to all these questions probably lies with the unseen forces that emerge from the darkness to taunt the derelicts in their dreams with nightmares of the past replete with all the angst of love, hate and belonging to the meter of the Gamelan and Clash of Clichés.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

Blue Cat Jazz Bar, Ubud

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cat

Incongruity at 7.30 p.m: A few customers, tattooed gentry masquerading as cultured lounge lizards high on aphrodisiacs, listen to the Griya Faria Ubud Reggae Band belt out numbers by Bob Marley and the Wailers.

A short while later, Harts stroll in and head straight for the bar on the far side, some are overheard lamenting the night of rain. Wet. Drenched. The throb of music is warm and like ‘the first kiss’, invitingly moist. The crooner’s lilting voice is punctuated by the intermittent roar of passing motorcycles.

The place reverberates with a sweet emptiness like biting into a macaroon. A red light on a pillar blinks out of sync. The singer mumbles apologies for what he assumes is poor sound quality (which it is not).

A self-conscious couple walks in and glances around furtively to see if anyone is watching them. They cling to one another as if propping each other up.

Incongruity is present and all pervasive.

Miscellaneous reality : Red, red wine is absent thanks to the Powers that Be; Bali is presently running dry as all supplies of liquor have ceased and further replenishment is like a mythical creature…though inferences are made it remains a figment of the imagination.

It’s now 9 p.m and Blue Cat is filling up to the brim with passersby dropping in eager to partake of the seductive jamboree. The boys behind the bar are smiling…shaking the Shakers, slapping on the lemon and dunking the ice cubes into pegs of Arak.

Mutton dressed as lamb gyrates on the dance floor under the adoring eyes of a young man she has apparently just befriended.

We fight for the right to be free…we all sing one song…the song of freedom…don’t worry about a thing…everything is going to be alright.

The show is enthralling as people in all shapes and sizes appear to be doing calisthenics to the thumping Rastafarian rhythms.

The night glides on to Cinderella’s cut-off time and then the band goes silent. Light recorded music wafts through the air as the loud chatter gently fades to a whimper and then dies out.

The year is now pregnant with the New Year…it is expected soon…screaming at the crest of a multitude of change by bringing with it renewed joy, grief and platitudes.

Hopefully the Blue Cat will remain a Terminus for lonely Harts, tourists and assorted expats to congregate thrice a week for a night of pure music, drinks and friendship.

To the Griya Faria Ubud Reggae Band, I say, thank you for the music.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

Neo-colonials – the new birds of prey

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fishbirdI dedicate this column to the Balinese and other citizens of this great country – Indonesia, who have in the past struggled against the Dutch and Japanese only to be confronted today by a new breed of invaders – neo-colonialists. These hi-bred specimens do not abide by any rules except that of self-profit.


In my inaugural column in The Bali Times dated Friday, August 10-16, 2007, I noted the words of my Landlord Wayan who referred to the act of foreigners buying land in Bali as ‘ekenomic colonisation’. He couldn’t have been closer to the truth.


One year later the scenario seems to have remained unchanged – the open season on Bali – just like the good old days when hunting season was declared in some countries allowing people to indiscriminately kill animals. Here in Bali the difference being that islanders are seduced with money in exchange for the land of their ancestors. If this carries on unabated there could come a time when the Balinese will become coolies and labourers on their land. I beg to ask the question – How many Balinese live in villas? And how many Balinese who have sold their land are working on them as labourers? The results of a census are a forgone conclusion.

As the Devil’s Advocate I have jotted down sixteen basic rules to follow to enable all prospective colonisers to successfully enslave the Balinese through a painless process called neo colonisation.


01. When you arrive on the island please do not bring a spouse. All you need to do is ask a resident coloniser who has married a person well below their age: the disparity and the children born from this connubial joy would be unacceptable in most western countries from whence these colonisers originated. But this should not worry you, as this is paradise, anything goes.

02. Once you have done the deed so to speak ensure you register the marriage. If you were previously married etc. you would need to present documents of divorce etc. before marrying a local lass. However, some colonisers have simply got around this by converting to Islam. You can convert if you don’t have the correct documents but continue to pretend to honour the Balinese and their culture by wearing their clothes, eating their food and going to their temples, while dishonouring two great religions of Hinduism and Islam.

03. With a little money and a bank account in your wife’s name you can start plying your trade. Some may talk of acquiring a Kitas, please ignore this advice. A business visa works better as one only needs to travel out of the country every six months. It helps one get a breather from family responsibilities and anything else lurking in the shadows. If in doubt ask any long time resident coloniser who is well versed in this field. There are quite a few floating around. It is heard in local watering holes that a Kitas is more expensive than a business visa for it has to be renewed every year. Further, after five years one can automatically attain citizenship – This is a frightening prospect for self-respecting long time resident coloniser who clings to his or her country’s passport.

04. Now if marriage is not on your mind and you are birds of another feather no worries, the island does not discriminate. It welcomes all who live within the law.

05. Buying land is a safer bet than leasing land in your name. As you cannot buy land in your name please do so in any Balinese’s name. You will have to give a percentage of the value to the person concerned. This is how you can own land that will never belong to you. If problems related to land acquisition arise, throw a few dollars and see things magically fall back into place – this advice you will receive from many an experienced coloniser.

06. If you want to do business always think in dollars but pay in Rupiah, preferably well below the minimum wage.

07. Another option is to be an English teacher. In the past, backpackers have taken it upon themselves to educate the masses, for a fee of course.

08. The essential dress code varies from place to place. It is imperative that you blend into the community by wearing thongs, shorts and a singlet. A tattoo strategically placed could add to the mystery. There are many permutations and combinations but under no circumstance wear a Balinese dress. Unless of course you are going to the temple to pray where there are a sprinkling of colonisers in attendance. You wouldn’t want anyone to see you honouring the culture, would you?

09. Do in Rome as the Romans do – hire a motorcycle and drive around without a helmet or driving licence on the roads and sometimes on the pavements during traffic jams. When caught cry foul and blame it on the police. Also, do not advise underage bikers not to drive carelessly. Though you wouldn’t want to instruct the locals on road sense, you are qualified to advise them on how to run their country.

10. Always visit restaurants and bars frequented by your ilk so that you can feel comfortable talking about the laws of Indonesia and other important things like sports and women.

11. You don’t have to learn Balinese. Bahasa is simple and easy to pick up. You can dress and ape the Balinese but speaking their language that represents their culture and all that they stand for is not required.

12. Joining a local hang out for colonisers is vital to one’s survival. Necessary information can be gleaned from any coloniser reclining with a draught.

13. When in need of spiritual healing please consult any self styled resident coloniser. For a few hundred Rupiah cash you can check your aura, have your fortune told and be shown ways to clear your bad karma. The Balinese do not know anything about these matters.

14. Dogs versus children. I suggest forget the poor children concentrate on the mangy street dogs. Fight for their rights to spread their communicable skin diseases. Feed them not the poor children. Do not follow the system in your home country where such animals are humanely put to sleep. This is good for your karma.

15. If you have a death wish or have no money or place to stay in paradise the law will be provide you with a lifetime of free board and lodging if you can present them with a few grams of banned substance as proof of your lack of understanding of the country’s stringent laws. Many before you are partaking of this unique hospitality.

16. Never consult the locals. They do not know anything about their country. The long time resident colonisers know better. Sit in any Warung frequented by these experts and you will get unsolicited free advice that should help you understand how to ‘deal’ with the locals.


Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

We are the Paradox

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slipperThis week’s column is about the use or should I say misuse of religion to suit our (expats) personal needs on the isle. We hop, skip and jump between religions converting at the drop of a hat to get married in paradise. However, we never forget not to make the necessary legal changes in passports, names et al, including not following the teachings of the adopted religion, thereby keeping options open for a graceful retreat to the environs of our delusions. For many, religion has become a means to an end – happy endings in conjugal joy.

Marriages apparently are made in heaven. Or so they say. Reality in Bali reflects another picture; People changing their religion like they change their clothes to suit the fair of face that one is about to join in holy matrimony. Arguments abound defending these actions that resonate in the morals and ethics of a people who have arrived on the shores of Bali to reside with their memories. Some hope to relive the passions of the past by attempting to recreate a home with all the trappings of a family and donning the respectability of married life.

Many among us carry names like Mohammad, Yusuf or Ali hidden in our wallets. We are afraid to let anyone know who we have become by wearing a mask of pretence, which doesn’t fool anyone – except ourselves. We retain our names that we are born with, while at the same time pledging to follow the teachings of Islam and abide by its tenets.

Then there are others who have become Hindus whilst keeping alive the faith and culture of their upbringing for they are afraid of losing their identity in the maze of the enchanting living-breathing ethos of the Balinese.

And life carries on in Bali oblivious to the dumb charades that we play among ourselves.

No one is the wiser, except our God/s.

What is it that instigates us to abandon the religious teachings of childhood? Is it an easy way out of the morass of a society that tries to control our feelings and deliberately guides us down a path that appears to take us away from ourselves? These questions often seep through our consciousness to awaken us in the night to our dreams of our faith – faith in a religion we were born into.

Is it love, compassion or sheer carnal joy that makes us want to disrobe ourselves of our faith so that we can partake of and possess another person’s body, soul and religion? Some vehemently defend their actions with well-crafted words like ‘we must respect the other’s religion we don’t want to hurt the sentiments of the spouse’s relatives’, conveniently ignoring the question of their own religion just like a horse with blinkers in a stud farm that only sees the rear of one horse.

And there are others who have come to find themselves on the isle because their religiosity has faded and frayed by the continuous friction in the consumerist society from whence they cometh. These innocent folk delve into the realms of an ancient faith hoping to discover within its folds the ambrosia that would give them a new lease and meaning to life. They too marry into the faith vainly attempting to ‘borrow’ beliefs that could resuscitate their souls without first comprehending the language of a people which is the key to unlocking the knowledge of the ‘new world’.

According to a friend it is conceivable that these folks have not really understood the religion that they have been brought up with and therefore have discarded it because of confused notions of it having failed them in their lives. Today, religion is used as a means of transport from one culture to another and the tool that fixes personal aspects like marriage, when all else fails. For example, the solution to getting rid of a troublesome spouse left behind in the home country who refuses to give one a divorce is to change one’s religion in order to marry another on the isle.

A newly wed once told me that change of one’s faith as a means to connubial bliss is a question of personal choice, therefore using it for one’s benefit is not wrong. I suppose this argument sustains itself in so far as untruth is concerned. The rest is disposable. For when we cross the threshold of one religion and enter another we leave our reasoning behind, as we are afraid to accept the truth that we have abandoned the faith our parents taught us.

And if we beget children with our newfound culture what happens then? What will we teach them? About the shopping malls we left behind or the truths of our childhood? When the children grow up what will become of their faith? Will they too abandon what has been taught and scuttle to another culture, another faith for shelter from their ignorance?

Let us revert to the earlier life – the one prior to Bali. A closer examination may reveal an alarming incongruity in our lifestyle that fuelled the urge to dump our faith and make haste to paradise with the idea of creating a meaning to life, a meaning to existing on this planet with a purpose.

The eastern religions beckon us with their intoxicating aromas and colourful customs that border on dreamscapes the likes of which we have never partaken of before. We reach out like drowning sewer rats trying desperately to keep afloat and to understand what life has to offer us in paradise. Some say it is this desperation that makes us do what we do – like converting to another religion.

In the end we overlook the fact we have only made farcical changes. Deep down the hurt, loneliness and guilt reside like a recoiling spitting cobra ready to rise and strike us blind with reality. Usually it never does, except in extreme cases when divorce ends the fairy tale. Fortunately, the beginning of another ‘happy ending’ quickly follows it. So we continue our journey on the road of convenience – the convenience of changing one’s religion to match physical desires and misconceptions of the benefits of obtaining membership of another religion, another culture.

Could it be that we have unwittingly become the personification of a paradox in paradise that confuse and confound and yet in a strange sort of way gives many of us a sense of belonging?

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

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