Monthly Archives: October 2014

A Tribute to Lempad, and Layers of History #uwrf14


This year’s Ubud Writers and Readers Festival’s tribute went to I Gusti Nyoman Lempad, the first UWRF tribute to a son of Ubud. It was particularly fitting that the tribute took place in front of one of the temples that Gusi Nyoman Lempad designed and executed for his royal patrons. Rio Helmi reports.

Presented by journalist/social commentator Wayan Juniartha, the event launched with a musical performance by a group of  boys from Padang Tegal whilst slides of Gusti Nyoman Lempad flashed on to the screen, including one of my favorites of him with his son Gusti Made Sumung. Once the music was over Wayan Juniartha, a.k.a. Jun,  introduced the film Lempad of Bali, produced and directed by John Darling and Lorne Blair. As it so happens, yours truly also worked on the production of this film as stills photographer and finding /setting up locations.


A slide showing Gusti Nyoman Lempad with his son Gusti Made Sumung photo Rio Helmi

It was really touching to watch the film again after some years; the scenes showing Ubud back in 1978/79 particularly stirred a bit of nostalgia. The audience seemed captivated both by Lempad and his work, as well as the various now historical scenes. It felt strange that I, who played such a minor crew role in this film, was the only one of the original crew on stage: both Lorne and John are now long gone, and Made Sumung my old landlord and mentor even longer before them.

When I look back and remember what a struggle it was to make this film for John and Lorne – just getting the material into Bali at the time was no mean feat, and so much volunteer effort by so many people went into it – and see the reaction of people now I  really feel it was worth it.  At one point Jun and I looked back over the crowd and saw people packed right back over bridge.

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The scene just before the film started to roll. photo by Anggara Mahendra

After the last credit rolls, Jun invited Agung Rai, Hedi Hinzler and myself to talk about Lempad. Up first, I seized the opportunity to emphasize how important the role of Sumung was to Lempad’s international recognition. I remember distinctly how Gusti Made Sumung guided this film, the long conversations between him and John, his slightly mischievous yet rational explanations. An intriguing man himself, he had attached Dutch high school, taught to analyse in the western manner, yet remained completely Balinese. He used his knowledge of the outside world to be the conduit for his father, both helping Lempad understand the foreigners who arrived on his doorstep, and helping the foreigners understand the enigma that was his father.

Sumung was manager, interpreter, publicist, marketer, but above all loyal son and provider for his clan. The symbiosis of Lempad and his son is often overlooked by many who talk about Lempad’s work.

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Scholar Hedi Hinzler who spent years working on Lempad, explains some of the facts. photo Anggara Mahendra

It is a fact that Lempad was more adaptable to western artistic and architectural esthetics as a result. Hedi Hinzler bore this out in her short talk, somewhat interrupted by the rain that began to spatter down (the organizers swear that weverytime hey do an event on that stage for UWRf it rains!). Hedi pointed to the extensive correspondence that existed amongs the Europeans living in or linked to Bali in the 30s and 40s, how much they discussed Lempad, commissions for him and so forth. Thinking of Lempad as simply isolated in his own culture, creating without any “outside influence” would be a myth.

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Gustra of the UWRF team gallantly shelters Agung Rai from the rain with an umbrella nicked from the decor. photo Anggara Mahendra

Agung Rai finished up by stating that no matter what, Lempad for him was a Balinese artistic genius through and through. And at that point the rain got so heavy that UWRFs GUstra simply grabbed one of the decorative umbrellas off the stage and dutifully stood behind Agung Rai and sheltered him from the rain. Turning around again I saw some of the more hardy of the audience huddled under their umbrellas

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A hardy audience  photo Anggara Mahendara

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 Jun, Jengki, and Rio commiserating about the weather.  Photo Anggara Mahendra 

The evening was meant to continue with poetry readings, kicking off with a poem by poet “Jengki” from Denpasar, but unfortunately the rain washed us out. But tribute to one of Ubud’s greatest sons had been paid, and soon we wandered off yet another Ubud Writers and Readers Festival event.

this post originally appeared on the blog roll

Super Charged Albino Expat Syndrome #uwrf14

Made Wijaya, a.k.a. Michael White, convened, chaired or provoked (we’re not sure which) a house rocking panel at the Left Bank earlier today. Invited/seduced/coerced (again we’re not sure which) to join were Balinese Putu Semiada and Wayan Juniartha, beyond-honorary Balinese Rucina Ballinger a.k.a. Jero Soka Astita a.k.a. Jero Ade (who has spent more than 35 years on Bali, is an expert on the culture, has two half Balinese sons in their 20s who grew up Balinese) and Canadian emigré Peter Wall of Hubud co-working space. The title of the panel was “Poison or Passion: the Rise of the Super Bule”. Rio Helmi didn’t take notes, and here is the short version of what his feeble memory retained: 

Made Wijaya  has spent decades in deep immersion in Balinese culture and has also spent decades doing his best to scandalize everyone with his outrageous alter-alter egos (amongst them the poofed up Widji Weinberg) antics, nowadays immortalized on video. Despite Wijaya’s reputation as a fast-talking, royalty-hugging drama queen, he does have a very serious side to him. His dedication and fierce defense of Balinese culture is quite informed and well intended. He is one of the few expats who really does stand up for the Balinese and takes it on the chin…


Made Wijaya holds forth as Rucina Ballinger and Peter Wall sit bemused.

The panel rocked from the start, with Made quickly charting the etymological changes of the terms the Balinese use to call outsiders: from tamiu/tamu (guest), to turis, and then finally to the Jakarta slang bule. For those of you who are wondering, the term “bule”  is pejorative, and has the connotation of  being an albino canine. One of the more amusing things was members of the audience trying to get the definition of the term Super Bule – as if it was in the Oxford lexicon. Coined by Made Wijaya, the definition became more defined as the session went on.

Basically Made is taking aim at middle class foreign people who drop  out and into Bali, reinvent themselves, act entitled and are obnoxious. (Made, if I missed something I’m sure you know where the comment box is).  They are clearly Made’s pet hate, people who come and tread all over the Balinese and their culture.  If you are interested Made years ago also coined the expression ‘the villafication of Bali’, and if you really are interested on more of his coined phrases buy a copy of Stranger in Paradise.

There quickly ensued a serious and hilarious (that’s the kind of session it was)  discussion on the various social strata that have converged on Bali now.; beginning with the Super Bule, through the Bule Aga  (a take on the “Bali Aga” ancient Balinese cultures) who have been here longer and came to immerse  themselves in Bali and it’s culture, to Javanese rich and poor immigrants, through to various levels of Balinese themselves.


above:  Wayan Juniartha: “You’re too romantic. Balinese don’t do 24/7 -365 ceremony…”  

below left: Rucina Ballinger,  

below right: Putu Semiada            



Wayan Juniartha took a clean shot at Made and called him hopeless romantic. Jun went to say that Balinese don’t really spend 24/7 on ceremonies, they want to be modern just like everyone else. He also suggested that without tourism Balinese culture would have long been swallowed up. Putu Semiada pointed out that the school he runs is subsidized  by foreign donations, if weren’t for Bules there would be no program. One poignant quote from Putu: “Take what you want but leave us our gods”.

Rucina Ballinger pointed to her experience in her village just days after the infamous bombings in Kuta : as she sat preparing for a religious ceremony with the women of the community, not one person discussed the recent events only 7km away, instead the conversations were about the preparations for the gods.

There were also some heartfelt statements: a young boy of mixed Indonesian-English parentage asked what he should classify himself to be: Indonesian, English, or something else? (Peter Wall chimed in and said that there is such a thing as the third culture, something new. It was bit of a pity that Peter got caught up soft selling Hubud when we would have loved to have heard more about his experiences in bringing new economic opportunities to the Balinese, something which he barely touched on). Another expat went on to say how he never came to Bali before because of all the stories he had read about the bogans in paradise (g’wan, google it), but that it was a place where he came for his retirement and he has never felt happier and more alive in his life surrounded by Balinese culture, music, art, and villagers. He got a standing ovation.

There’s much more that was said and that happened but I have to run to the next panel.

Selamat Sore.

(this post originally appeared on  –