Sunday, June 18, 2006

Don't Know Why... There's No Sun Up in the Sky...

Don't know why
There's no sun up in the sky
Stormy weather
Since my man and I ain't together
Keeps rainin' all of the time

Life is bare
Gloom and misery everywhere
Stormy weather
Just can't get my poor self together
I'm weary all the time

So weary all of the time

Since you went away
The blues stepped in and met me
If it's here to stay
Old rocking chair will get me
Every night I pray
That the Lord above will let me
Walk in the sun once more

by Ted Koehler and Harold Arlen

What the hell is going on with the weather here in Seraya!?
It is supposed to be the dry season, and instead we are getting rain, rain, rain.
It is great for my garden, but I suspect Al Gore is on to something in his global warming lecture series and popular flick.

Diana Darling: Bali's Jane Austen

Preview of upcoming Bali Advertiser article...

Is it possible that we have a Jane Austen in our midst? Believe it! Diana Darling’s The Painted Alphabet, based on a Balinese tale, reveals a similarly luscious talent and a sharp eye for human intrigue. Using graceful economy and incisive wit, Austen and Darling are master novelists, joyfully exploiting the vagaries of human relationships, in a format that ends with all loose ends ever so neatly tied up. Enak!

Ubud’s Darling was part of the influx of hippies and artists who sought in Bali not just an alternate lifestyle but an alternate universe. The mystical culture of Bali has great appeal, but to some seekers, like Diana, it held the promise of discovering the unseen.

“We were temple-mad… scouting the island for good temple festivals… [meaning] that it had dancing or trance; otherwise there was no point in going. …I longed to go into a trance,” Darling writes in Bali Kini, 1998.

Although she owns up to having once been “the most ridiculous, obnoxiously pedantic Baliphiliac on the island,” her explorations have rewarded her. Today she exudes an air of wisdom and good humor, in her writing and in life. She’s sensitive to village ways, more than happy to live in a Balinese household, and counts Balinese elders as some of her greatest teachers.

Her first novel, The Painted Alphabet, named a “treasure” by Periplus, and “dazzling” by The New Yorker, deserves top honors in the plethora of books penned by those smitten with the island of the gods. A thrilling story of love, loss, sorcery, and triumph, Darling gently binds the reader in a spell using precise pacing, humorous and evocative descriptions, and an assured knowledge of Balinese tradition.

A strong thread of Hindu dharma is laced through the novel, especially the formula for propriety which is this year’s festival theme: Desa, Kala, Patra, the belief that identity is informed by circumstance. Perhaps the book could be described succinctly as a lesson for accepting change.

She’s got a second novel in the works, which she calls “a fictional account dealing with the history of tourism in Bali,” and, perhaps most exciting of all, she’s writing the libretto for an opera based on The Painted Alphabet. Bali is eminently suited to multidisciplinary creations. Some of the most memorable moments of the past two Ubud Writers Festivals were performances of songs and theatre.

“I’ve always wanted to see The Painted Alphabet as an opera,” Darling wrote to this reporter. “A friend of mine recently suggested that we develop it as a theatrical piece. I saw a lot of music in it, and finally the penny dropped: make it all music. The dialogue is necessarily very concentrated. It’s reduced to its lyrical essentials, which is a way I like to work.

“I envision a musical style that is very much its own and that delivers the requirements of the story and the verse in which it’s composed. Because the setting is Bali, we want certain Balinese musical elements, but not straightforward gamelan either. It will be very eclectic.

“As for the writing process, the idea is to think in songs, not in narrative. You have to find the emotional pitch of the moment that requires that this particular dialogue MUST be sung. There is room to indicate stage directions as well, and I have quite specific ideas of things I’d like to see in the production. There will be some use of film in different styles. But all this is in a fantasy stage right now: that is, getting the fantasy down on paper.

‘My understanding is that the libretto is the architectural structure on which the composer builds the music. No, we haven’t begun looking for a composer. I want to finish the libretto first, or at least have a complete draft, before presenting it to a composer. That’s only fair. Then of course I would like us to collaborate closely.”

Not without a touch of irony, Darling says that “my only requirement of the music is that it be exactly right and very beautiful.” Her stunning prose deserves no less.

Diana Darling was born in the USA in 1947, studying acting in New York and performing Off-Off-Broadway from 1970 to 1974. She lived in Carrera, Italy, carving marble (1974-80), and studied drawing in Paris (76-78). Moving to Bali in 1980, she soon married Australian filmmaker John Darling (until 1987) and is now married to A. A. Alit Ardi of Ubud. She’s been editor-in-chief for the highly praised Latitudes magazine, and has contributed essays to many publications on Bali style and culture. Alongside her personal works in progress, Darling has a day job as a copywriter.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Back in Bali

Picked up The Man at Ngurah Rai Airport and went to guessed it... Makro! The raja of grocery stores here in the isle of gods and rajas.

Just checking in. No news to report, except that I ran into friends Sue and Peta in the space of 2 minutes (outside of Dijon, how terminally EXPAT is that?). I don't see anyone outside of Amlapura postal delivery men and the boys at the pool hall across the street. So it's mind boggling to see these gals in so short a time span.

Feel pretty good about recent interview with Diana Darling. She's a wonderful writer. It could be that Bali is a damn good environment for honing one's writing skills.

Also feel pretty good about short story sent to Nury of the Asian Literary Review (née Dimsum).

Watch the Bali Advertiser for the DD interview.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006



I wish I had some checks to sign, or more letters to write. I am unwilling to waste this amazing date!

I am stuck at the internet cafe in Amlapura, sharing a dialup line with three other people, trying to get in this blog before it's time to go home to lunch.

Ariel and Kim and I arrived in Bali late last night. A successful operation all around, with no confiscated items by homeland security airport thugs.

Bali had the cutest black lab sniffer dog give all my bags a big wagging once-over, and it's a good thing they train those doggies to detect cocaine and marijuana, because if they ever get one of those guys to sniff out furniture polish, I'm dead.

Odd weather lately in East Bali, with rain clouds whirling overhead, patches of intense blue in between. I mean, is this June or January? Wet deck in the morning tells me our global weather is messed up this year.

Okay, eager to plan the next few days with the girls. I'll make the suggestions and they'll have to decide when to do what. On their list: rafting, surfing, and a visit to M Bar Go because Georgina Barnett is the PR girl there.

Spotted a very cool deal from the Hyatt here, where two nights cost only 988,000 Rupiah. Ariel and Kim are considering taking that on.

Horrid dialup situation keeps me disjointed and boring. Sorry. On 6/6/6, I am boring.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Tienanmen Square 06

Without benefit of Cantonese ability, I can report only that the candlelight vigil was unreasonably short tonight. In previous years, I have left Victoria Park long before the commemoration was over.

Yet, it was still moving, with thousands of Hong Kong people, from all walks of life, humbly sitting on asphalt with their candles held high, singing songs of their passionate remembrance for the democracy demonstrators.

In the end, a Falun Dafa adherant spoke with me and my daughter and her friend, as hordes of people filed out of the park, telling us that HK people are under constant surveilance by the government in Beijing. Was this the reason the event broke up at 10 pm? I don't know.

More later. Must sleep.

Tien An Men Square Commemorative Guilt


Yesterday from 8 to 10 I was online doing a United Airlines survey while a number of artists were at ParaSite in an art performance in remembrance of the massacre at Tienanmen Square.

The extenuating circumstance was that I'd failed to read HK Magazine's calendar. Naturally, I read it this morning over a cup of Java.

Okay, today I vow to get to exit D of the Causeway Bay MTR station to see another perf on the streets. Will bring camera.

HK Live 2006

Got back just now from the Fringe... HK LIVE event, Channel V showcasing 3 local talents.

Fun pop band "Maladjusted" at first, 5 Chinese youngsters that sound like Oasis without attitude. Actually pretty enjoyable. Next band "Vibration" funkier and dancier and canto popier (rhymes with copier) with girl singer (singing spotty but stage presence cute & cheerful) and plenty of sampling & effects.

Final band "Robot," tonight encarnated as a quintet of cool nerds, mostly white, including two intense bald guy types, with a couple of tables of mixed electronics. Worth the price of admission was their 5 part film on evolution, filmed in HK and definitely inspired by bellbottom science (Open Learning, for readers who are not members of my family).

Robot would screen a part of the video and then pause it and play a tune (that electronic dance stuff for which boomers like me haven't quite developed a taste) and then go back to another section of the movie... hilarious sequence of cave men days filmed atop a typical hk rock outcropping, with massive HK urban highrise background.

Came home smelling like an ashtray (HK lags behind Oklahoma City and New Jersey, do you believe it?) and curious to know if I can fall asleep.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

The Forgotten Language

I emailed this to my son, who's fluent in Putonghua and can hold his own in hockey rink Cantonese:

Humbled in Honkers:

I flag a taxi, I jump in, expelling "Tai Hang Douh" as quickly as possible, for it's usually when ya go too slow that expat Cantonese doesn't cut it. I follow with "Wong Fung Toi", simply because Wong Fung Terrace is the little private road that I really mean, but I want him to get to Tai Hang Douh first.

"Wong Fung Toi?" driver intones back at me, genuinely puzzled, tapping the break in the middle of Lower Albert Road. He makes as if to go down Ice House Street, a true disaster.

"Wong Fung Toi, yes," I say. He's said it just like I did, and I am pretty darn sure I said it right.

Back and forth we verify and confirm and act like parrots, and I desperately add, So Kon Po, and he's all ahhhh! So Kon Po! and I think s**t, no, I don't want him to take me to So Kon Po... what the hell is Cantonese for "above?" And my mind spits out beautiful Indonesian sentences for perfectly explaining what he's gotta do.

"M'hai So Kon Po," I tsk, exasperatedly. I hope to God that I look like I am searching for a better way to explain myself, but how do you say in Cantonese, "I beg your pardon, but it seems to me that my Cantonese, formerly quite adequate for giving a taxi driver directions, is now virtually forgotten, replaced instead by halfway decent Indonesian?"

I sputter and pray he doesn't turn up towards Midlevels, as we are now racing along the underside of Government House towards Cotton Tree Drive.

He goes to his cell phone and speaks to dispatcher/wife/gambling buddy/random number: "gonggingjungmanggongwongdong Wong Fung Toi, ah?"


"Aaaaaaahhhhhh! WONG FUNG TOI !!!!" What's Eureka! in Chinese?

He hangs up with a smile and says to me, and I swear to God there is no difference between the two pronounciations, "M'hai Wong Fung Toi. WONG FUNG TOI ahhh" in a helpful, not at all insulting voice. Although I proffer a sincere, "duih m'jih", I'm thinking what the Sam Hill am I going to do next time I'm in a taxi and I want to get to Quentin's house? Taxi driver is chuckling to himself in that head shaking manner of "now I've heard everything! Wait'll the wife/drinking buddy/guys at the shop/ kids/dog hears THIS one!"

Readers, please do NOT tell me that wong fung toi, if intoned in a certain way, means "s**t my pants" or "swim with donkey" or worse. Then again, tell me how that would be pronounced so that I will never make that mistake again!

Friday, June 02, 2006

Hong Kong: a stranger again

Well, it had to happen. I have been out of Honkers so long that I perceive all the things a stranger notices:

the dense crowds (and is EVERYONE 19 years old?)
the air conditioned interiors
the air
the gaga, overwhelmed faces of backpackers
the lack of good street signage
the relatively dressed-up appearance of young expats
the wrought iron bars on everyone's windows
concrete retaining walls with mortar blackened by mold and humidity

I checked into Susan and Q's nice trad HK flat (you know, one apartment per floor, no amenities, tiny kitchen, large lounge-dining area, surprisingly sizeable balcony). Hacked into the network (I think I'm not the only person on Q's line, it's a bit slow), and planned my stay. Had a couple hours in Causeway Bay, in search of a good adaptor (forgetting to pack one is another sign of a clueless stranger). Of course, along the way I bought eye makeup and yogurt. Tried to figure out the green minibus number that runs up along Tai Hang Road.

Got in, my calves aching from the walk! What walking I did, when I lived here.