Thursday, January 25, 2007

Mini Break in Denpasar

Anyone want to know what a big day in Bali is like? They are never typical. There are days I play tour guide, charity days, supply roundup days, days I snorkel, days I write.
Once a month, a charitable group of which I am a member, has a luncheon meeting. The incentive for attendence is a meal at a quality hotel or restaurant, and a raffle of interesting prizes. The real reason for the meetings is to let members know what activities are going on, including fund raisers for our charities. It is also the time when we hear what our officers are doing, and what we have been able to give to which charities.

I am happy to say that the group gives its money to the right places, more often than not. Some of the benefitted: widows of the Bali bomb who set up new businesses to support themselves, handicapped kids' institutions (good places), and primary schools in east bali. We used to have about half an hour before the lunch would start which was used for an optional meeting in an ante room, where members could hear about a charity or learn about a new service or product available in Bali, or even meet an interesting person (usually an artist or volunteer or visiting figure of note). Those extra gatherings seem to have been left by the wayside, and I'd like to see them reinstituted. Really, the group is a great, dedicated club, held together by a number of hardworking women. I could probably make some suggestions and help get the info sessions going again.

So one day a month is a club day for me. Club, not clubbing, mind you. I may not be an old fogie juuuust yet, but this is how exciting it is for me here in the resort capitol of one of the world's largest countries.

I try to add in some extra activities and errands to justify the trip south. It's an awful drive, an hour and fifteen or more minutes of trying to overtake slow trucks, avoiding motorbikes who weave in and out of traffic like mosquitos, and watching for vehicles coming at me in my own lane. I don't like to make the drive often.

After breakfast, I try to get in half an hour of writing, and I deal with my staff guys (all very boring, you don't want to hear it). I got my stuff together and jumped in the car. I drove the hair-raising trail to Kuta's FAMOUS RESTAURANT CHAIN FULL OF MOVIE MEMORABILIA wink wink (we can call it Celluloid Earth), site of this month's lunch. You know, I pass the Celluloid Earth almost every time I go south because it's at Simpang Siur, possibly Bali's busiest roundabout. I always figured that inside the massive walls was something like the museum-esque Celluloid Earths of San Francisco and New York and Hong Kong. Actually, I'm not sure if the one in HK still exists. But my memories of these places are of wall-to-wall movie memorabilia and autographed photos and huge posters and fun art and expensive-looking collectables.

Doesn't the Hong Kong Celluloid Earth have a wookie suit from Star Wars? There are big movie posters, glamorous items of clothing, all that wow factor stuff. I mean, kind of memorable memorabilia.

Well, the Celluloid Earth Bali looks like someone's basement bar collection that is now distributed on twenty times the wall space of the average basement rumpus room. It's a little bit sad. Lots of dead wall space. I didn't see one theatre-sized movie poster in the whole joint. All the movie posters I saw were the size of magazine foldouts, like an advertisement in Variety ahead of release day. I admit I kind of liked the huge mural of NYC in one of the dining areas. It had a (purely unintentional, I'm sure) fuzzy resemblance to the Manhatten mockup Tom Cruise dreamt at the end of Vanilla Sky... twin towers, a sweet sight. That was the room where they seated all the various determined (if not embarrassed looking) tourists, so that they would not be encroaching on our private function. I guess now they can check off another "must see before I die" item. Actually, as a group they all seemed so unsmiling, their room became in my mind some kind of hall of shame.

For dubious pizazz, a permanent light show inside a strange sculptural interpretation of a tornado graces the bar. Maybe it looks good at night, because the whole joint looked an awful lot like a tv set: very very worn, lots of "squint" needed to tolerate the decor... you know what I mean. But really, it is my theory that the guy who bought the Celluloid Earth Bali franchise just didn't have deep enough pockets to decorate properly. He bought the franchise and then had to choose from the approved Celluloid Earth catalog of memorabilia. Perhaps his contract even said that he had to have at least twelve posters, three costumes, ten props, and fifteen autographed glossies. He stopped at the minimum, and probably selected each item based on lowest prices alone. It's my theory and I'm sticking with it. I don't know how else to explain the complete lack of wow factor.

Seeing a 12 by 18 color image of Sean Connery (luger in hand) posted next to an actual, framed, machine gun on the wall, I paused to read the item's label. Apparently this machine gun was once used in a Bond film (unnamed), which probably means it didn't grace Connery's golden fingers, or they would have proudly stated the fact. Sigh. Coolest thing I saw at the restaurant was a signed 8 x 10 glossy of John Astin, dressed as Gomez, the Addams Family patriarch. In fact, I dined under his venerable image, mortified as I was.

I was happy to sit with powerhouse Mary N-, whose Yayasan Senyum is bringing expert medical operations to Indonesian kids with cleft palates. She is also a women's art maven, owner of the Seniwati Gallery in Ubud. She brought with her Sue F- from Australia, who is a volunteer acting as Mary's admininstrator for two years. It was her first meeting. Also at our table was Anna G- who is considering joining the group, and who wants to relocate to my neck of Bali's woods. So I'll be seeing her soon, I am sure.

We sat through a number of speeches given through a PA so bad, we could barely understand the speakers. No one told those behind the microphones. Everyone was either too embarrassed or too hungry to make the effort. Bonus guest was the wife of the governor of Bali, who praised our group for being humble. She doesn't know the half of it. Okay, okay, as a group, we like to give our money to good causes, but our individual stake is that we get to pig out in relative luxury this one day each month, gabbing with pals and wearing something besides a sarong and a tee shirt.

At last, mealtime. The buffet tables offered us Bali Buffet 101, my name for what the Balinese feed tourists en masse. Actually, BB101 can be pretty good if there is a samovar of muddy Bali coffee and dessert includes black rice pudding and fried bananas. No such luck; dessert was papaya, honeydew, and water melon. There was nothing out-and-out wrong with the food, it was freshly prepared, hot over sterno, and tasted fine, but it was the usual fried rice, white rice, sweet sour chicken, fish with veggies, mixed veggies, and spring rolls. Salad and corn soup and the fruit dessert on the other side. Can someone tell me what you get in America at a Chinese buffet in a shopping mall? And how much you pay? Before someone castigates me for being a fussbudget, can I just say that the Rp180,000 price tag buys a diner a spectacular meal anywhere else on the island. I pray that a good chunk of my 19 US dollar expenditure went right into the coffers of our group, because I shudder to think what profits Celluloid Earth garnered from this. To think that only a few luncheons ago, I paid the same amount and had a three course, 5 star meal at the Bali Hyatt. Waiters came to us at table, with some kind of bisque soup and fresh whole grain rolls, all you could grab. This followed by delicately grilled fish and al dente vegetables, and a dessert platter loaded with chocolate. So this meal at the movie place doesn't compare well to some of our other caterers.

The raffle. One of the greatest prizes was organic red rice from west Bali. This stuff is so healthy and so good-tasting. I just love it. And I actually won a bag in the raffle. I also won a lovely little carved soapstone elephant. I shelled out Rp50,000 for my raffle tickets, so I feel like a gambler who came out ahead, that's for sure. Now, as a winner, I must bring some prize or prizes to next week's raffle. After the last prize (weekend for two at the sumptuous Maya Ubud) was raffled off (lucky winner last year's president), everyone shuffled out. I stopped at one of the little tables set up by a well-known Gianyar yayasan (NGO) for kids in wheelchairs and with other disabilities. They were selling handicrafts and I bought a few items before going to my car.

Okay, so I have been meaning to case out a couple of Jimbaran hotels, the Puri Taman and Puri Jimbaran, which advertise cheap rates and are close to the airport. It is always useful to have places like this to stay, in case of a late night or alcohol consumption, when we can't make it back to the ranch. I cruised the jalans Uluwatu and could only find the more expensive of the two: Puri Jimbaran, which has basic, clean rooms for 200,000 a night with breakfast. A little disconcerting that a recycling depot is a stone's throw away, and the neighborhood is light industry and large commercial. Pool in back is okay for some frustrating laps, more of a cool-off pool. Bathrooms fine, includes tub. No guarantee it's cockroach free, but at least the doors and windows all shut and there's air con. I still like the Harris better (in Tuban), a less bizarre neighborhood.

Time for a massage from "Iron Fingers" Ketut, over at my chiropractor's office. If a patient is on the prepaid visit plan, free massages can be booked at any time. I always leave a tip for Ketut because I don't know what his salary actually is. A damn good, hard 40 minute massage, back side only. Not as atmospheric or as good-smelling as a spa massage, but at a 20 to 40,000 Rupiah tip, a good value. I poured myself into the car and went to get my manicure at Soap Suds. I was early, but by the time they could actually accomodate me, they were late. It's okay. I have my copy of Point to Point Navigation by Gore Vidal to amuse myself.

The manicurist took off my USA acrylics and started me off on a scary set of acrylic nails from powder that is pre-colored and glittery right from the get-go. The only polish is a clear top coat. First time I've had this done. As I'm sitting there, I'm starting to worry what they're going to charge me for this new technology. No worries, it's well under fifty bucks, way ahead of the Hong Kong prices, probably what fancier nail places charge for this service in the States. I've had my nails done in salons from Oneonta to Quito to Hong Kong, and I have to say that the most careful service has probably been here in Bali.

The salon offered me a stack of Australian celebrity gossip mags, and a very interesting article was in this month's ish of Cleo: photos of naked "real" women, edited side by side, so that you can see a number of very different -let's say, size 8 bodies, then the size 10s, etc etc. It was hard to not gawk, impossible not to compare self. Every kind of tits you can imagine, but due to frontal poses, I didn't get to compare my cellulite with these gals, most of whom looked well under 40. It was meant to help us non pinup types feel a little better about our bods... I mean, honey, the chicks went up as far as size 22, I think. Yeah, a little scary there on the last page of the article. But not one of them, size 6 to 16, looked like me.

I rushed on up to Seminyak, glorious sunset happening off to one side, to Fabio's Restaurant because I thought I was going to be attending a WWF (um, that's the animal organization, not the steroid one) fundraiser: the screening of some films about Indonesian nature. No, no screening here tonight. Duh, I look at the ticket. It's for the next week. So I high tail it down Jalan Double Six and park the car near Gado Gado Restaurant. I grab some necessities and walk, barefoot, down onto the beach and walk south, the magnificent sunset to my right. This is Seminyak beach, which eases seamlessly into Legian and then Kuta. It's miles of beige sand, ultra flat and wide, firm and perfect for a walk of nearly any length. I love walking the beach there, even if I live 2 hours away. So I do it when I can. Everyone is retiring for the evening... beach attendants gather up long chairs and empty beer bottles, couples head for their hotel rooms, and dogs get a last walk in with their masters.

I head up to Zanzibar Cafe, where my son and his friends liked to eat when they were here in 05. It's loaded with tourists (including one drunken table of retirement age Europeans who, I swear to God, had a jerry can of tuac ...local palm wine... with them). I order what was to be the best grilled snapper I have ever eaten in my life. Bar none. I wanted to kiss the chef, but he would have taken it the wrong way. Five bucks for that, and it came with a darn good salad and delectable grilled veggies. I finished with a chocolate mousse because, after I grilled the waitress, I found out that it was the one dessert prepared just that afternoon. Drinks? My fave to start: watermelon and lime juice. Then, with the mousse, some iced mint and lemon thing that was the perfect tart compliment. What a meal! So, go to Zanzibar and get the snapper. And I do recommend bringing a little Gore Vidal to read while you wait for your dishes.

I got a taxi back to where I parked my car (no, I am not going to walk way back up that beach, and besides it pumps money into the economy), and took off for the Galeria 21. I bought my two dollar ticket for the 9:15 showing of Babel and waited in my plush seat for the film to begin. What a movie! The director tells his story without relying on narrative tricks like a time line. It was so beautiful, full of great acting and evocative faces. Hearing impaired as I am, I related to the deaf Japanese girl on a couple of levels. But because it's all about human nature and human foibles, I could relate to everyone in the film, just about. I do recommend it.

I was not too tired to drive home. About six other people were on the road in Bali at midnight, so I sailed home in about an hour and five minutes, nearly a record for me. The waxing half moon had slipped away earlier, but I wait for it to get full in a few days, when it will light the roads and gardens at night. Yawn and to bed.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Scorcese Wins Golden Globe

Yes! Yes! Martin Scorcese gets the Golden Globe for Best Director of a Motion Picture. The Departed was incredible. Thanks, LA Foreign Press.

Hong Kong Went One Way, I Went the Other

I am sitting in an 11th floor corner room at the sumptuous Wynn hotel and casino in Macau.

I am in a state of shock and my sinuses are burning from the bad air (think: LA, 1978).

I'm on my way home to Bali, but had to take care of a little business in the former colonies. I find Hong Kong a little humbler and friendlier, but because no one's turned in my dropped pouch of wristwatches to the First Ferry lost and found, it seems to me worse for wear.

I had a great visit to the Cattle Depot Artists Commune in Kowloon City. I saw Kwok Mang-Ho's studio, and we spent quite a while chatting about our art and careers. Too bad Cho Hyun-Jae wasn't there; she is Kwok's wife and a sensitive creator of often powerful artworks.

I went to Annysa Ng's show at the Fringe. She has turned out some amazing assemblage sculptures that manage to show power, femininity, and protest. More on that, later.

But so much about the people. The environment is as forgotten and as sad as Tai Wan Shan Park, that enormous boulder sitting in the harbour on Kowloon Bay. A smooth rock as big as a circus tent, graced by a swath of shrubbery and a little pagoda, the park appears as a frightened chunk of Mother Earth chased to the sea by encrouching high rise apartment blocks.

Hong Kong has finally instituted trash bins for recyclables, but the region is not doing enough about this haze. At dawn, my husband and I walked up Guia Hill for some exercise, and the rising sun could be viewed only briefly as a salmon shimmer on the delta waters. The cloud cover (or smog) is so thick, it's hard to believe there's a sky up there. Macau and Hong Kong are two canaries to China's coal mine. Will someone please take notice?

It is a delight to be able to be measured for a bespoke wet suit, choose from ten brands of bottled green tea, get passport photos in the tube station, bargain down the price of a fox stole that's already reduced to a tax-free sixty US, and buy a Laura Ashley skirt for ten... all in a three block area. Hong Kong is like that. In Macau I can find a dozen vintages of porto, five dollar Dao and one dollar flagfall in the taxis. But no one holds the elevator door and even the Wynn doormen don't offer to help me out of my taxi, laden as I might be with shopping bags and a foot stuck under the front seat.

I am less strong, less energetic, and the walking wears me out. These special administrative regions are charging ahead like athletes on steroids, and I just want to go snorkeling two thousand miles south of here. From where I sit, on land that was brought from a dynamited hill to a shallow bay, I can't tell, looking north or east, that I am on a tiny peninsula. I can't tell that this city is anything more than two months old... cranes and the highrises behind them obscure the five-hundred year old lighthouse, the Parsee graveyard on the vine-laden hill, the Sun Yat Sen house. This once sleepy little enclave with funny cars and winding alleyways has become one of those never-rest cities that attracts Dickensian droves of people, filled with hope, charged with just a little fear. I may be visiting a boom town, but I have accelerated on past to the dubious maturity of philosophical ramblings, nostalgia, and wide-eyed exhaustion.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Iwao Takamoto 1925-2007

Hanna-Barbera loses another great artist.

Takamoto was known for his ability to draw quickly, as if his pencil were merely revealing an image obscured in the paper. But he was also able to create personality on the page, turning a Great Dane into a goofy neurotic pal we can all love. He apparently created more than a hundred characters for the animation studio, many not making it to the screen.

It's interesting to me that he began his cartooning while interred at Manzanar during WWII. He was 17 then, several years older than my family friend K., a great ceramicist who, I believe, began the fourth grade at that godforsaken place. K. was just over at the house by the beach on Sunday, telling some stories about her studio. Interestingly, and sadly, my brother recalled the family tale of one of my uncles being approached by a lynch mob of Scots-Irishmen on his Wisconsin farm. He was taken out to a tree on his land, and was told that if he didn't stop speaking German (at home, and, I supppose, in town with other German speakers), he'd be back there, hanging. WWII wasn't all that long ago. Lots of wasted energy on mistrust and intolerance.

But at Manzanar there was enough idle time that arts and crafts classes were organized by internees who had a talent for these. It's nice that children were given this outlet, but it's not as if there was a lot of paper or materials to use. Furniture, crafts, and paintings from the camps can be seen today as coming from fruit crates and even the paper notice to leave for internment.

Anyway, thanks, Iwao Takamoto, for sticking with your art. I saw a flag at half mast yesterday, and as far as I'm concerned, it's for you.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Friday, January 05, 2007


Having virtually visited my recently titled friend Don, I sought the Philomath of Fishbourne Sneething for advice.

Is it really so great to have a title, I asked the Very Lady R the P of FS?

She lowered her demitasse and sighed disappointedly. If you must ask, she admonished me, you probably don't deserve a title.

I excused myself and walked out along her lane in the direction of Marble Arch. I gave the matter two minutes' thought. Really, I concluded, except for most OBE's and knighthoods, titles aren't usually deserved. Lords and Ladies are usually just born into some entitled family. So what's the big deal about deserving a title? Sorry, Sneeth Sister, I did the cheap thing, and grabbed myself a title as though it were a one-dollar bra on Wing On Lane.

The virtual land grab:

My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
Lady Madame Seraya the Subservient of Bumswick by the Hole
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title

Hmmm... Kind of reminds me of my Chinese name, Fok Wan-Lei. Lesson of the day: stick with the culture and class of your birth.