Stephen O’R’s Yak and Ubud
Bali is a small island in a country of 17,500 islands – a nation of 3000 languages spoken by more than 300 million people. Bali has a volcano with a lake inside its crater, it has hundreds of rushing rivers and streams and no sewage system. When I first saw it there was a puff of smoke every five or ten minutes alas it blows no more and Sumatran volcanoes seem to have stolen its thunder. The People of Bali are the friendliest people I have encountered closely followed by the Turks and the Australians. Friendly they may be but in 1966 the Balinese killed 10,000 people in one night – some say 60,000. The go was to knock of all the communists but anyone who held a grudge took the chance to end it with a kiss from a Kris that dagger with the deadly curved blade, which quickly opened the insides to the air. The Chinese suffered badly in those days and are still discriminated against today. Their children go to University up the hill from me because Chinese are restricted in the number of places they can have in an Indonesian University. I first travelled to Bali in 1971 when London’s Lonely Planet was given out or sold as a one or two-page photocopy (or was it printed on a Gestetner?). I did not have a backpack just a small bag but I was what one would describe today as a Backpacker. It cost about one US dollar a day for everything except alcohol. It had, and still has, lush jungle and beautiful terrace rice paddies. There were three rice harvests a year and a continuous supply of fruits, pigs and chickens. Dogs barked at strangers and the monkeys in the monkey forest in Ubud were almost friendly and didn’t appear to have rabies. The good news is that most of this is still true. We flew to Bali recently to have a working holiday. My wife is a film producer and has a project in development that is set in Bali or more specifically in Seminyak or as the magazine that promotes it is called – The Yak. When I first went to Bali, Seminyak was probably a coconut plantation where beautiful cattle grazed in between the trees. There would have been a small village and a few fishing boats on the white sands of the long beach. The first signs of cheap tourism on that beach was Kuta where one could rent a room for about 30 cents a day and no visible restaurants although one family supplied food out of their back door. The chips were hand cut and the tomato sauce home made. You could get a Blue meanie, pancake, thick shake or any other food that took your fancy. A Blue meanie lunch would give you a psychedelic few hours during which the cattle made meaningful contact with you from eyes with impossibly beautiful long eyelashes and the warm water lapped seductively at your wheels. I was riding a motor bike along the edge of the surf until the soft sand and water stopped me and I rolled into the water laughing. The waves, each one of them perfect for body surfing played music as they rolled in to the whitest of white foam. When you stood ankle deep in the surf and watched it slide back away from the land you were given a psychedelic show as colourful patterns formed in the retreating water. Ikat is one of the oldest methods of cloth design where the patterns are woven into the cloth rather than being printed on top of the cloth. I remember being convinced that the designs and colours at the ends of the sarongs must have been created by a sarong weaver who long ago had stood ankle deep in the surf after a blue meanie lunch. I have been to Bali quite a few times since that first trip and am used to seeing the amazing changes that have taken place since my previous trip. Now thousands of people have jobs in the tourist industry. At five o’clock small motor bikes fill the narrow roads as all the housemaids and beauticians leave work for the ride to their village. In Ubud there is a beautiful hotel where you can rent a suite of rooms room thirty metres long and sit and watch the play of light on the other side of the ravine , The ‘Ibah’ is owned by the king of Ubud . The staff are underworked so they laugh and joke all day long. In Ubud we met up with two old friends - Arthur who used to run the coolest club in Sydney but now has a boutique for middle-aged women from Australia and Stafford the doco-maker who made a fortune out of video post production in the early days of digital. You can find Arthur in the Nomad coffer bar, he has a natural eye shadow that makes him look like a cooler version of Malcolm McDowell in Clockwork Orange. Stafford is married to an Australian woman who has a very posh hotel with an edgeless pool and luxury rooms the size of a village. Most guests fly in by helicopter as the 25-minute drive is a bit slow for them. Stafford took us off the main road to a Japanese restaurant that only served locals and Japanese tourists. The real Bali of constant daily sacrifices and dances is still there. The beauticians and receptionists are there dressed in the traditional manner with the intricate rice and flower sacrifices which they carry on their heads to the small temples which abound on this island. Five nights in the Ibah was not enough but we had to go to the Bali film festival which opened with Eat Pray Love one of Julia Robert’s worst films. The last part was filmed around Ubud and there are so many tourists going to see where it was shot that T- shirts are printed with Eat Pray Leave on them.
Back in Sydney where an early summer has turned into a late winter as it does every year at this time. Adieu.