Paksebali Trance, Revisited

Over the last thirty years, I have managed to make it to Paksebali’s Kuningan trance a few times but to be honest I haven’t gone for about 10 years now since tourists have discovered it in a big way. I thought I would give it a shot (urgh, pun not intended) this year tho but found a new plague: photographer’s clubs, a rude lot! Here they are shoving their lenses right between two of the most sacred icons of this temple…

As usual the trance got quite wild, and some of the old spirit of Paksebali came through despite all the really badly dressed tourists and snappers. Not to be left out of the action, I got a cut-up nose out of the party, but there is always the risk of something like that when you find yourself in the middle of the fray!



Bali Gods: Environmentally Correct!

For decades Balinese have resisted overpasses on the grounds that the Gods (or for that matter Brahmin Pedanda priests) could not go underneath them as it would be unclean. This can make for traffic jams, but there is an upside.

This week during the huge procession down from Besakih temple on the flanks of Gunug Agung to the beach south of klungkung banners (and even “penjor” traditional festive decorations that had plastic on them) had to be removed as the Gods “balked” and wouldn’t go past them.
Of particular issue were all the political campaign banners for parliamentary candidates (see about 7 posts back for pics), which apparently had to be removed before the procession could go on.
Thank the Gods!

PIRKLE JONES: another film from Jane Reed

Old friend (and sometime SF MOMA photo curator) Jane Reed has made yet another film about an interesting – though not ‘famous’ – photographer: in seven decades Pirkle Jones covered the whole gamut of SF’s Bay area: scenics to black panthers.

Congrats to Jane! If you want to check out more: WWW.FOTOFINISHFILMS.COM

Niche photo stock Sales up during recession?

Just read in Jim Pickerell’s newsletter that a leading advertising photog reports his stock sales for advertising is up as agencies can no longer afford shoots.
Interesting – though you still gotta shell out to do the shoot properly even if it is stock, does this mean more creative freedom? That could be one benefit, even if there are less assignments around.

Pope Down on Condoms – predictable, but disaster for Africa


With all due respect: Perhaps instead of simply blasting through Africa on a VIP tour the pontiff might consider rolling up his sleeves and spending a few months working with people with HIV. There needs to be some reasonable flexibility. Africa is the continent with the fastest growing Catholic population in the world, and the message should be realistic. It is of course the continent with the highest attrition rate due to HIV/AIDS.

A stalwart Catholic priest in Eastern Indonesia( I am not going to specify location for clear reasons), whom I know thru work on an HIV program, caved in long ago on this issue. After months of agonising deliberation he started promoting condoms “I can’t deny what I see everyday. I cannot stand by and watch this disaster, people will not change overnight. I must do something, even if it risks going against Rome or excommunication…”

The difference between him and his Pope is that one of them works in the field, the other is a shepherd in abstract world.

Election or Bust – The Cost of Politics in Bali

Those ugly banners by the roadside (see several posts below) hide an even uglier story. All Bali, and perhaps other parts of Indonesia are abuzz in advance of legislative elections. The number of parties is so high that there are scores of candidates for each seat.

What makes the coming attrition so sad is the fact that many of these candidates have spent a small fortune in Rupiah to finance their ‘campaigns’. And where did many of them get the money? By hocking their land and houses to rich loan sharks, who lay down drastic terms (no pun) for a stab at a spell in parliament. Interest reportedly runs many times higher than the going bank rates and timelines are equally dire – apparently as short as 5 months.

Basically not only does this mean that candidates are going to lose their homes if they don’t get elected, and of course many won’t, but even if one does get elected it is clear that there will be a spike in corruption. How does a member of parliament pay back a loan with such draconian terms on the wages paid to members?


The Ubud Writers and Readers Festival has played its role in bringing the world to to this once sleepy village which likes to hype itself as THE culture capital (hmmm). But belly button gazing aside it has been an interesting Friday the 13th here. UWRF launched a little event Friday night which had Indonesian artists interpreting literature on canvas, with some great results, as in above!

Then it was on to Siam Sally, Gus Ky and Karen’s latest restaurant featuring Thai food for a jazz night with JRQ – hot little group, (and one eccentric bass player) all with jazz fire in their bely. Siam Sally was packed. Any wonder Gus Ky is smiling so broadly. Nice to have good music there too!



Just got back from Jakarta where amongst other things I attended a Tibet Documentary Film Week of Leaving Fear Behind. It is an extraordinary little film shot in the most basic straightforward manner – but does it tell the story.


One thing that did make me think is that sometimes our over romanticising of what Tibet was makes the opposition to China’s brutal repression a sitting duck for cynical Chinese retorts. It becomes easy for the Chinese to divert the attention to the abuses the Tibetans themselves carried out in the past.

As if there is any country in the world where abuses have not been perpetrated by its own people. China? Or the USA for that matter? Does that really justify a Maoist style ‘liberation’? Or even a Bush style pre-emptive strike? And who exactly is going to ‘liberate’ China or the USA? Funny how righteous ideaology seems to be OK for the mighty and not for others.

All the ‘liberation’ by others seems to do is rob people of their right to correct themselves, killing their own progress. Then the liberators do even worse by trying to create progress artificially. There is little chance for the liberated ones to really voice their views or feelings to the outside world.

In the film Leaving Fear Behind, the premise is simple. A couple of Tibetans, Dhondhup Wangchen and Gyaljong Tsetrin, set out to find out what their own countrymen in Tibet really think about the upcoming (then in 2008) Olympic games. In the opening shots the narrator speaks on camera, declaring his intent. He speaks on and off again on camera. And he does in in public places and on trains. In Chinese occupied territories. Watching, I am amazed, but he shows no fear.

Most of the footage between interviews is shot off the hip, and the interviews are shot in a way that focuses more on content than esthetic – something which makes it even more powerful as an eyewitness account. One interviewee sits heavily backlit in order to hide his identity, the consequent flared out highlights and deep shadows simply adds authenticity. Others insist on showing their face, one even declares he is ready to die as long as the message gets out to the outside world. There could be no other title for this film.

The simple message brought to us by these interviews mingled with sadness, tears, defiance, outrage : let us live, stop squeezing the lifeblood out of us, destroying our culture, fencing in our freedom, and bring the Dalai Lama back. There is no romanticism here: straightforward anguish and a sense of being abandoned by the world.

Meanwhile the Olympics were a spectacular display, far from the misery and grief of the fenced in nomad or the monk trapped in a disneyfied monastery – a PRC success that has swept the dirt under the carpet.

At the end of this Tibetan cinema verité film they show the presenter gathering all the cassetes to be smuggled out. The footage made it out. The film makers were not that fortunate.

Dhondhup Wangchen and Gyaljong Tsetrin were arrested in China months ago, and there has been no news since.

Schengen visa rant!

As an Indonesian citizen who is normally happy being one, I gotta say this has been bit of a humiliating few days. Not only do I have to cough up like $90 for the visa but another $65 for travel insurance (my entire world coverage, medivac etc insurance isn’t good enough for them, had to buy an additional stupid temporary travel insurance. what a scam). This after getting bank statements, proof of bookings for every single night I am there, proof of this and that, and all. They go over everything about you in minute detail. Then they take it all and tell you to come back in 20 days and perhaps you might have a visa.

Meanwhile, if you are European you can just fly in here with your passport and get a visa just like that. even if you get off the plane in a singlet and a torn pair of shorts and flip flops, dragging a daggy back pack.

When are we gonna get over this stuff?


Upcoming Elections in Indonesia: MORE CASH THAN DASH

The flurry of candidates (or more precisely the flurry of cash) that is in evidence for the upcoming legislative elections in April is an omen of things to come. It would be interesting to see how many of these candidates have any qualifications to be the law makers and representatives of Indonesia’s vast archipelago, my guess is a pretty low percentage. It’s an educated guess based on their total lack of taste and shame in chasing their ambitions.

Meanwhile the bad is even spreading to the environment, their flimsy, cheap, on-the-run billboards are an eyesore everywhere.