Posts Tagged ‘seminyak’

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The Bogans Are Here Again

December 30, 2010

It’s the silly season in Bali again and the bogan hordes are here in force.  I’m not talking about those who are here to see and enjoy Bali in all its vibrancy – the culture, the markets, the people, the beaches and the sheer ambience of this chaotic and beautiful island.

No, I’m talking about the true bogans who, immersed in their own sense of self-importance, manage to annoy practically everyone here. There are thousands stumbling around the streets of Kuta, spilling over into Legian and even daring to desecrate the hallowed precincts of Seminyak (formerly reserved for the gentry). Happily proclaiming their individuality by wearing identical Bintang singlets and clutching bottles of beer, groups of these unfortunates clog up footpaths for extended ‘conversations’, oblivious to others trying to squeeze past.

Oh, if you’re not from Australia, the word bogan may have fazed you. How about oaf, dolt, dope, jerk, dipstick, twit, pillock, wally, git, nyaff, schmuck, bozo, schlemiel, turkey, galah, drongo, dill, gobshite? Or in Bahasa, orang kampungan? Whatever the names we give them, this dopey subset of humanity is the same the world over.

In Bali, they are the ones who light fireworks while walking down the streets in a drunken haze and think it is amusing to throw them in front of motorcyclists. Or terrorise sleeping dogs and laugh like drains while watching them run into heavy traffic in panic.

They are the ones who think nothing of stopping their bikes, in a big group, in the very middle of a busy street while traffic grinds to a halt around them. Why? To take photos of each other – sans helmet, licence, shirt, or any vestige of common sense.

They are the ones who, never having ridden before, rent motorbikes on which they wobble and weave, their arms straight and elbows locked so they have zero control while screaming abuse at traffic in which they have no business being.

They are the ones who walk four and five abreast down narrow streets, glaring and yelling at the vehicular traffic that dares to try to use a road that they have decided to take over. Or the ones that, having been granted total immunity from harm merely by virtue of being parents, wheel pushers containing the fruits of their loins down the middle of those same streets. No point running over those – they’ve already reproduced.

Then there are the males who believe that the magical transformational properties of Bintang have enhanced their masculinity, made them absolutely irresistible to all females, and conferred on them the right to proposition, grope and leer at will.

Their female counterparts, of course, believe that the magical transformational properties of cocktails have enhanced their desirability, caused them to lose weight and conferred on them a magical ability to dance erotically on bar counters while screeching lyrics to bad karaoke tracks.

I wish the silly season was over. I wish that the bogans would discover another destination. Or that Jetstar and Virgin go broke and take their cheap airfares with them. Or perhaps I should just go and live on the North coast in splendid solitude and eat worms …

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The Faustian Bargain Which is Ruining Bali

August 29, 2010

The early evening sunset vista from the beach at Double Six is magnificent as usual. The guy sitting at the next bench – a tourist here at the end of his stay – is sipping morosely at his Bintang and saying to his wife: “They’re ruining Bali. Money is the root of all evil, you know.” And because I can’t resist it, I just have to ask: “Who’s the ‘they‘ that are ruining Bali?” I don’t bother to correct his Jesus quote to “The love of money is the root of all evil”, because I already know who he means. I just want to hear him say it – and he obliges:  “The bloody developers, of course”, he mutters.

The focus of his attention is the broad sweep of beach towards Tuban, where the centrepiece is the stark and architecturally intrusive Discovery Mall. He obviously hasn’t visited recently, because he asks: “How long has that thing been there?”  Old news for us perhaps, but for those whose memories of Bali are untainted by the rampant over-development of recent years, some of the ‘improvements’ to Bali’s hospitality and commerce sectors come as an unpleasant surprise. He recounts how his current trip delivered a number of unpleasant shocks as he re-visited the magical places of his past, only to discover that they had been ‘developed’. For him, ‘developed’ was a synonym for debased, diminished or destroyed.

“Have you seen Dreamland now?” he asks rhetorically, because he is basically talking to himself with no input required from me. “Used to be a great beach. Used to spend the day there in the little beach warungs … all gone. Bloody monstrous hotel there,  and some Klapa place there now -and the bloody parking costs 15,000”. He goes on in this vein for quite a while. I just listen, because when you live in Bali, that’s all you can really do. I don’t  mention the numerous examples of inappropriate villa development. I don’t talk about height restrictions and beach-front setbacks being openly flouted by arrogant entrepreneurs, or ugly concrete blockhouses being built ostensibly in the “Bali Modern” style, or sacred temple land being turned into a parking lot in Seminyak, or the huge multi-storey hotel under construction on the beach at Batu Belig …

When he fumes about local authorities granting permits for all manner of abominations, I avoid telling him that the practice here is to build whatever you want, then buy a permit when it is finished. He wouldn’t understand. He has had enough disappointment for one week; why should I add to his troubles?

And I don’t disabuse him of the false notion that big, bad greedy developers are to blame, because everyone needs a convenient scapegoat. Sure, developers push the envelope, take short cuts, negotiate ruthlessly, work the system, pay bribes (sorry, ‘facilitation fees’) and generally behave like the Type A personalities that they are. Unless they are, or were, connected to the government, in which case they just bully their proposals through. Developers are in the business of making money, not creating eco-sensitive, culturally appropriate and sustainable architectural marvels. It’s their job, and they do it successfully all over the world, not just in Bali.

No doubt one of these developers is behind the new Kayu Raja Villas project in the Oberoi area. A long, skinny 70 are plot of land has been earmarked for 58 villas of about 100 square metres each. It will be like living in the Orient Express, though probably not as comfortable. Anticipated people load: 232 residents and staff. It is too simplistic to blame developers alone for a misconceived project like this and the others dotted all over Bali.

See, the thing is, someone local had to sell them the land in the first place. Then someone else, again local, had to ‘approve’ the often ill-conceived plans produced by some of these entrepreneurs, and then work out a profitable little ‘on-going fee’ scheme. And of course, the cash-flow that underpins these transactions, and lubricates the approvals and permit process is enormous. Sadly, it also seems to be irresistible to local Balinese landowners and officials regardless of a project’s worth, or any potential damaging effects. Naturally, there is no consultation with the wider community. Foreigner input, especially from qualified personnel, is actively discouraged. Local identity Susi Johnston has written that any attempt to discuss more viable development solutions with local power brokers for any project fails. It is typically met with the dismissive response: “We know better, it’s our island, you are just a tamu“. I believe she is spot on.

So the locals in power here, having entered into a Faustian bargain with the devil developers are basically telling any critics to shut up, and if they don’t like it, to go away. Bali’s birthright, in fact its very heritage, is being prostituted by pimps for short-time monetary gain. The love of money is truly the root of all Bali’s evils, but ultimately, when it all falls in a heap in the not-too-distant future, who will shoulder the responsibility? The tamu, of course. Because when it’s your island, you get to make all the rules, which means taking none of the blame.

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Serendipity – meeting the Muse in Bali

September 16, 2009

So there I am, sitting on the Double Six beach, watching another Bali sunset, and my peripheral vision informs me of a presence two benches along. He is a wizened, weather-beaten man, looking as if he is made of leather and held together with nails. He is holding an equally battered guitar, which he cradles as if it is the only thing of importance in this life.

We make eye contact – me with curiosity, him with diffidence. He sits beside me, instinctively choosing my right side – the one with the ear that works. We talk. His name is Budi, from Kalimantan, and he settled here a long time ago. From the looks of him, it was probably around Independence Day. I look at his guitar; he tells me that it was made in Jarkarta and cost 800,000 Rp. I think to myself , hmm – perhaps they saw him coming? 

But then I look at his guitar again, more appraisingly this time, and note that it is old and worn – but well looked after, and clean. The fretboard varnish is worn unevenly all the way down to the 14th fret. The tell-tale marks of a player who is unafraid to let his instrument sing tell their own story. He notices my gaze.

“Do you play?” he asks. Well, I did once. Badly, and a long, long time ago. He gives me the instrument and sits back expectantly. I can hardly remember chords that were once so familiar and my fingers feel like the breakfast sausages served at a two-star hotel. For a moment, I am the sober patron who has just been bullied into singing karaoke by his drunken ‘friends’ and is about to die on-stage … but I begin to tentatively explore the strings.

It is like an epiphany. This instrument is … well, let me tell you. It is perfectly in tune. Oh yes, the strings are screaming for replacement, but despite that, the sound is still harmonically rich, with overtones that can only have come from a luthier who knows his woods and his craft – and is so unconsciously skilled that he makes the superhuman task of creating a near-perfect instrument seem easy. The action is light and precise, with the individual notes of every chord being within a cent or two all the way up the fingerboard. The thing is harmonically balanced, with the 12th fret providing perfect octaves and all of the harmonics ringing true.

I play like I’ve always played. Truly, badly, briefly. But what a pleasure it is to hold this instrument and try to coax some simple blues riffs from it.  Like someone else’s docile but faithful dog, it is reluctant to yield its affections to a stranger. But to my surprise, it does yield, and soon begins, like all good instruments, to almost play for me. On hearing the ancient and familiar 12-bar pattern, Budi’s eyes come alive. I hand him the guitar, recognising that age-old muso ignition point where he must either play now or quietly die inside.

So then Budi plays. I am transfixed. It is traditional blues, but with influences from everywhere he has been and everything he has seen. It’s rough and ready, and like a diamond, technically flawed in places. He plays and sings from his heart and soul, not from his head, and my forearms are dimpled with goosebumps from hell in the warmth of the Bali evening. His voice is etched with acid and honey, and there are overtones of broken glass and bourbon, poverty and loss. He frequently stops, usually about half-way through each song, trailing off with an unseeing stare at the horizon, muttering softly “Saya lupa, saya lupa …”  I often forget words to songs too and I understand. He asks me to identify the exotic and mournful chords that he plays, but can’t name. It doesn’t matter. His music is the core of his being, and I am awed.

He will probably never give a concert, or be a performer in the cafes and bars. He probably would not manage to survive the crucible of the recording studio with his soul intact. The wolves of the recording industry would rend the flesh from his bones and dilute his soul enough to break his spirit anyway. I suspect he doesn’t really want public adulation – the act of creation is enough for him. He has no need to be stroked by a large audience – simple recognition by peers is enough for him. His music is his essence.

Budi reminds me of another artist – let’s call her Hellena – that I met in Seminyak. To financially survive, she works behind a bar. To emotionally survive, she writes songs and paints. To me, her paintings are very appealing. Being a Westerner, way too accustomed to being able to purchase whatever I want, I offered to buy a beautifully evocative guitar-themed piece  that resonated with my own psyche. She refused. “My art is part of me”, she said. “I can not sell it, because I would lose it …”  Just as for Budi, her own Muse has a personal relationship with her, and has not yet given permission to share the channelled talent with the world at large.

And that is the rub. Perhaps the best art is to be seen, and experienced, but not owned by any individual. Perhaps the best music is supposed to be heard, but not commercialised, lest it be diminished in some way. I don’t know. I do know that my life has been enriched by serendipitously meeting these two people. Thank you Budi; thank you Hellena.