Monday, July 31, 2006

Seraya Fast Lane

Sometimes I miss Hong Kong. The buzz, the cool stuff to see and do, the nearly year-round hiking, finding old pots in village rubbish heaps, swimming laps in the big pool, walking, walking, cheongsams, tailors, ferries, friends, exhibitions at John Batten gallery, basso profundo frog talk on rainy nights, Singapore noodles, ten dollar wonton soup, Freddy, big rocks sticking out of hillsides, dancing to a good band at the Wanch, the skyline, grabbing a drink with friends before heading out to a movie or concert.

I just had a lengthy couple of conversations with HKU prof Paul Smethurst. I took two of his courses at HKU, and, although I hate postmodernism, he made me really understand it. In fact, we probably don't even see eye to eye on any number of scholarly topics, but he never gave me a bad grade. A prof who's a teacher, not a politician. And that's pretty cool!

Paul gives me props for telling him, "you're not getting any younger" back in 2000, when I first bought the Bali land. This made some impact on him, for he followed on down to Bali and got himself a nice little villa north of Seminyak. He's got something going up in the mountains, now, too. Wow! Dude loves his real estate!

So it got me thinking, as I'm telling Paul all about how I miss HK. But I have to admit that Bali has its own buzz. It's just a mellower buzz.

I certainly do my share of entertaining, here in the Shack. I had a few good friends down to celebrate the fact that it's a short snort to points west and south, now, thanks to the new bypass. What was going to be my big blowout party ended up being a little dinner. Big party must come later, when my friends are not suffering from Morning Sickness, broken cars, and other regrets.

But, yeah, I give a party here and the band plays or the girls dance, or both. Sure as hell didn't do that in either of our tiny apartments in Hongkers.

While I miss some of the really good rock bands of the bars of HK, I do get to got to the Denpasar arts festival and hear fusion bands (what that means is a synth, guitar, and drum set backing gong kebyar... but it can be very cool). I may not be able to strut around in a form fitted cheongsam here in Bali, but I do get to wear some nice Javanese sarongs. Laps in the pool... hell yeah, and the pool is all to myself now. Okay, the walking and hiking... there's the rub. Near equatorial sun makes hiking difficult. Here in Bali, you pretty much have to choose a mountain area, dawn hours, or (rare) shaded paths. The Bugbug hill is suitable for afternoon hiking because of the shade, but I do neighborhood walks in the dawn.

Okay, now my life has all this new stuff in it: teaching my cook new dishes, recipes, menus; doing Buteyko breathing exercises to minimize my sinus problems, yelling at the TV news (Israeli army & politicians get my loudest insults), working on my novel (which will undoubtedly make me a small fortune in royalties), and cleaning up the clippings and piles of crap. Bonus time is devoted to helping the schools around here (latest project is getting Pusat Pendidikan Lingkunan Hidup out here to teach the kids the basics of environmental health). We gotta get in the basics, like trash management, English, and reading. So libraries are my other favorite project. I am also working on the girls in the village, one at a time, to stay in school and not just get pregnant at age 15. It is all slow going, but Seraya will benefit. I help the Ubud Writers Festival with promotional materials. That is great fun for readers here, when all of our writers come and dazzle us each October, but the not-so-hidden agenda is the Saraswati Foundation, which helps kids learn, and they benefit from the festival.

Basically I've moved on from getting my kids through school to getting other kids through school. The world is a delicate place and it's wonderful to see how working delicately moves mountains. Too many people are overwhelmed by poverty and cruelty, and they won't do even one thing.

More on that in a moment.

So nice to sit here on the computer and listen to my husband mix the tracks of the traditional and not-so-traditional music and chanting of Dewa Balian. It will be a lovely CD when it's done.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Happy Birthday, David M!

Okay, so this is my bro's 50th birthday. Leo Monkey... hmmm.

Davy is 50 and will be having a big party. Sorry to be missing it. We are on an austerity program and I won't be taking any extraneous trips for a while.

Davy has a BS from UC Santa Cruz in Natural History, one of the most time-consuming undergrad degrees around! He is a contractor in Oakland, CA, Master Builders. Save your jokes. We've already heard it.

I will next see my bro in New Delhi in October. Actually, I will see him on the flight from Singapore to Delhi. We will be met by The Original Binski, who is there learning Hindi and salting leeches from off of friends' legs. Check out her blog for more on that.

Then we catch up with Jim and Jay and all head for West Bengal and Darjeeling. I plan to toss the last little bits of my mom's ashes over along Observatory Hill, looking at Kanchenjunga. I am going to be glad to be rid of her ashes, because as long as they are in my possession, I am not letting her be her own being, on her own, a spirit and not a body. So there is a closure in going to Darj, a release of my mom's carnate self.

Friday, July 28, 2006

What I wrote about William Dalrymple for the Bali Advertiser:

Imagine this. Pursuing a career abroad, an Englishman comes to an Asian kingdom and is changed forever. The lifestyle, the warm weather, the color, the food, the unexpected delights win him over. He falls in love with a dark-tressed woman of graceful beauty. He changes his religion. He dresses like a native and adopts their manners and customs. He swears he’ll never go back.

Sounds like someone you know?

Not just another expat saga, it’s also the framework of a fascinating, true story of love, betrayal, and intrigue in colonial India: White Mughals by William Dalrymple, one of the writers par excellence who will grace Ubud at festival time.

Dalrymple first earned international accolades at the age of 22 with his richly evocative In Xanadu. His City of Jinns won him the 1994 Thomas Cook Travel Book Award, and he wrote and presented two documentary series for the BBC, Stones of the Raj and Indian Journeys.

The writer’s meticulous research and passionate feelings for India meld perfectly to bring readers into realms hitherto buried and forgotten. For White Mughals, Dalrymple drew from collections of correspondence (some in cypher) and massive piles of colonial records to synthesize history into a well-paced and nicely illustrated narrative novel. Set in a seductive world of mango orchards, carrot halwa, medicinal opium, remote forts, and boy servants, the intrigue and adversities of 18th century colonial India come alive in the hands of the reader.

White Mughals satisfies the interest of anyone who seeks to learn something of the era of Colonial Residents, cantonments, and Anglo-Indian gentleman poets. The level of detail in Dalrymple’s writing never mires the pace and flow of the book. Even his footnotes are fascinating and quite colorful, whether it is a two hundred year old description of mosquitos torturing the legs of guests under a dinner table, or accurate definitions of erotic yakshis and apsaras.

William Dalrymple will bring to the festival his rich knowledge of India’s past and present. His concentration on the country’s history and culture will nicely augment the words and views of our many invited writers from the subcontinent. Look for lively discussions, colorful readings, and the kind of magical serendipity for which the Ubud Writers Festival is becoming known.

Dalrymple enjoys his travels in India with a passion, lauding a street cook (whose simmering biryani is purportedly the best in Hydrabad) alongside his publishers’ names in the book’s acknowledgements. (Note to Festival Founder, gourmet restaurateur Janet deNeefe: so that’s why you love this chap)!

Also by William Dalrymple: From the Holy Mountain: A Journey in the Shadow of Byzantium and The Age of Kali: Indian Travels and Encounters.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Anita Desai

Here's what I've written and submitted to the Bali Adverstiser, in the regular column on the Ubud Writers Festival 2006:

Acclaimed author Anita Desai is guaranteed to add fuel to our theme Desa-Kala-Patra. Throughout her novels, short stories and children’s literature, Desai often focuses on the dilemma of identity and family relationships often in context with India’s recent social changes. Desai has received numerous literary awards and her work is touted by English professors from Princeton to the University of Hong Kong.

A sensitive heart and a bold hand synchronize in Desai’s work, giving the reader immensely rich reading experiences. Her created characters linger on in the mind, sculpted with substance, even in her shortest short stories. To read Desai is not to be overwhelmed in flowery descriptions, but to be allowed to observe salient moments of revelation and transformation. Preferring to reveal truth over sentimentality, Desai isolates the details that matter, with critics and admirers comparing her to some of the best modernist writers, including Virginia Woolf and T. S. Eliot.

Desai’s subjects are often seen captive in the walls of the home, or in a confining social convention, but she lets the reader see their hopes, pleasures, and compassions. Never claustrophobic, Desai’s characters’ domains and inner selves are given distinction and quiet dignity amidst an unyielding world. A tale about a going-away party, in her delightful Games at Twilight and Other Stories, to which many an expat can relate, is full of water metaphors to show a queasy sense of instability.

Having an affinity for both India and the west, Desai has a true familiarity with marginalization and dual ethnicity. Her mother was German, but adapted easily to life in India. The biggest difference between Desai’s parents and those in her neighborhood is that she and her sisters were encouraged to read the best English literature. Even as a 6 year old, she knew she would become a writer. Today, when she teaches creative writing, whether it be in New York or Cambridge, Desai emphasizes practice, in the same way that a musician must practice. But she also encourages reading itself.

Indian society is a popular subject matter today, and there are seemingly countless hot subcontinental writers. What really sets Desai apart is her deft use of language and ease with creating characters which ring true. Her writing is a popular scholarly subject, with just as many books about her work as books authored by her.

We’ll never see her work distinguished in the UK’s annual “bad sex in fiction” literary stakes (Salman Rushdie and Arundhati Roy have had that dubious honor). Desai has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize three times and can count Rushdie himself amongst her many fans.

Suggested pre-Festival reading from Desai: Games at Twilight and Other Stories, Clear Light of Day, Baumgartner’s Bombay, and Fasting, Feasting. Desai adapted her novel In Custody for the screen in the Merchant-Ivory production of Hifazaat; possibly can be found on DVD, but don’t bring a pirate copy to the book signing! A Festival lunch with Desai will be a sure sellout this October.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

What Joe Lavin Wrote, December 30, 2003

I just love to read bad sex scenes. The Brits have a great award for it, not that there's a prize or anything. Salman Rushdie and Arundhati Roy have been chosen in past years... what's the deal with Indian writers and bad love scenes???

I quote from Lavin's website:

At any rate, 'tis the season for wacky end-of-the-year awards. One of the most famous, the Bad Sex in Literature Award, was recently presented in London. Each year, Literary Review gives this award for the worst description of sex in a novel. Aniruddha Bahal won this year's prize for his novel "Bunker 13," which featured this stunning passage:

"Your RPM is hitting a new high. To wait any longer would be to lose prime time... She picks up a Bugatti's momentum. You want her more at a Volkswagen's steady trot. Squeeze the maximum mileage out of your gallon of gas. But she's eating up the road with all cylinders blazing. You lift her out. You want to try different kinds of fusion."

Interestingly enough, Bahal was also a finalist for the Bad Automotive Reviews in Literature Award, an equally prestigious though oft-ignored prize. Another passage contains this bewildering line: "Her breasts are placards for the endomorphically endowed." I don't even know what that means, but I bet it's got all those people over at really turned on.