Stranger in Paradise, October 2009

Green School, Our Green World, Press - March 2, 2012



Just when you thought it was safe to send your children to Norway

“Green is the new Black” trumpeted the ridiculous Singapore Straits Times recently, just as uptight architects across the region started cladding their buildings’ walls with ground covers.

“Lean and Green” went out the cry at last year’s South Asia Architects’ Conference in Sri Lanka; sloppy hack David Robson (of “Beyond Bawa” fame) lead scores of villa designers up and down the Galle coast in search of the Green Grail. They all came back ‘refreshed’, I believe, but nearly all continued designing aquarium tank-like homes.

And my opinion on Bali’s stampede towards mindless modernism do not need repeating.

So what’s the upshot?

In Bali I am daily invited, via Facebook, to join some green initiative against Balinese plastic/stray dogs, or ozone-depleting beggar-women. I don’t join because I have always felt that by employing 200 or so gardeners, and by championing artful-natural garden design for 35 years ……is enough ‘green initiative’.

Well it’s not. It’s a cop-out. I need to do more.

Let it now be known that Bali, with all its environmental problems—most the result of inadequate education and unchecked urban sprawl, and the, now, imploding infrastructure—has two green warriors amongst the expatriate hill-tribes of Sayan, Ubud. Their example must be followed: they have shown us dilettante designers the light!

Jewellery czar and czarina John and Cynthia Hardy, the Bill and Melinda Gates of Banjar Baung, Sayan Kelod, have shown us―with their all-bamboo Green School, their own-gnome home and their hostelry the Villas Bamboo Indah―that they are the best news on the Bali environmental design scene since Empu Kuturan invented spring-fed bathhouses in the 12th century.

Adobe is to altruism what stainless steel is to hedonism.

Now read on:

21st August 2008: A spirit-lifting epiphany in the heart of Hippydom

I am invited to superstar N.Y. design guru Stefan Sagmeister’s Sayan Swansong at the Villas Bamboo Indah. I have heard of the beauty of the villas through my good buddy Tim Street-Porter―whose photographs of the Hardy’s Bali and New York spreads have graced the pages of the venerable Architectural Digest―but I have only tonight made the pilgrimage, out of respect for my Bamboo Queen, Linda Garland (in Bali one can only be in one ‘Bamboozled’ camp at a time).

I arrive at dusk to find a field of Californian Fried Buddhists—the inner circle of the hill tribe expatriate breeders―in all their glory. They are all milling and frothing―about their recent land acquisition and villa projects―all in the midst of the most stunning piece of environmental design I have ever seen!!

Welded-columns of giant bamboo land like elephant’s feet on exquisitely crafted packed-mud floors. A Sumatran long house garden ‘folly’ rises from a field of corn like the bow of the Mayfair. Everywhere rice field-water bubbles through boulders, and teenagers from the Green School—full of gait and armpit hair—gambol and frolic.

Beer is served by reformed beggar-women in bamboo tumblers. Quaint Javanese limasan huts—the compound’s pricey accommodation―sit in paddocks of chilli peppers and spring onions, which extend to the rice-fields below, and beyond, leading to an extraordinary Ayung River valley view.

At the centre of all of this rustic-romantic, pastoral-poetic beauty John Hardy holds court with numerous nubile housemaids in attendance. In this regards he has taken a page out of book of General Qadaffi’s: one can’t be too obnoxious or have too many female security guards.

Nearby, Stefan Sagmeister braids the hair of a blind acupuncturist with his feet.

As the island’s most noxious Garden Design Poobah, I am humbled to find such a pocket of loveliness, and such sustainability.

I now want to mulch all the Tropical Cotswolde acres I have created in the name of beauty and burn my shoes and return to my Hippie Roots!

19th August 2009: Mass Norwegian-Balinese Wedding in the Mountain

Hill tribe impresario Ketut Sadru has worked for me for over twenty-five years as a gardener, driver, tour guide and eventually as manager of the planting works at the hugely successful Four Seasons Hotel project in Jimbaran, 1996-97. His two daughters—sweet village girls—went to Denpasar Nurse Academy and upon graduation went to Norway to work. They each soon found big Norwegians to marry and today they have brought them home to their mountain village on Batur Lake for a glittering ceremony. The nuptials are held in the village temple and a reception is planned afterwards in Sadru’s ‘holiday home’ on the road to Tampaksiring.

As the girls’ godfather I knew nothing of these big Norwegians or the ‘holiday home’, for that matter, until yesterday.

But this is the Balinese way: serve big surprises piping hot!

I arrive at the village temple to find the grooms in full Balinese drag and make up: with their good bones and fine features and well defined lips they look like extras in one of Greta Garbo’s Nordic romance films. They girls are glowing with joy, as are Sadru and his wife.

With a household of Norwegians to feed its like all their Santa Clauses have come at once!

Over the morning, I have many earnest discussions with my goddaughters future family, and then I return south feeling very proud and normal-sized.

The last word on the beggar women

For hundreds of years the women of the far-flung East Bali mountain villages have come to South Bali in search of work and sustenance during the dry seasons.

The very healthy beggar women with Heinz babies at by-pass intersections are from these villages. A group of concerned humanitarian groups lead by Daniel Elber including Yayasan Masa Depan Untuk Anak―which is represented by Anak Agung Bagus Soerio Mataram from Ubud, and President, Asri Kerthyasa and Honorary Swiss Consul Jon Zurcher from Denpasar as founding member―is working together with Foundation Future for Children, Switzerland (as fundraiser), with Yayasan Dian Desa from Yogyakarta (as project manager), together with the Balinese and Karangasem Government, the University Udayana from Denpasar, the Rotary Club of Bali, Ubud and with the Members of the Bali Hotel Association.

They are all now working to dig 35 wells in these far-flung villages to hopefully stem the problem at its source.

25th August 2009: A diplomatic ‘Divertissement’ dilemma
“Malaysia must not use our Pendet Dance,” screams the banner headline on today’s Bali Post.

Many of my student friends are up in arms too. “Malaysia maling Asia,” they all chant: (“Malaysia, the thieves of Asia”).

I can’t really understand it: for years the mighty Malaysian Tourism Board has been running a highly successful ‘Truly Asia’ ad campaign full of images such as the Balinese Pendet Dance and the Javanese Reog Dance and Balinese resort architecture and such …… and no one has ever commented. We all know that Malaysia is just a beautiful place for ugly people.

In 1960s Indonesian President Soekarno wanted to chop it into little pieces.

Why can’t students and the Bali Post raise fists against the truly deplorable conditions tourists face at the international airport, or the fast disappearing ‘green belt’ on the new Eastern Distributor, or Australians drinking in the street of Kuta and Sanur during this Holy Month of Ramadan.

With its depleted culture, Malaysia gets around 20 million tourists a year while Bali, widely considered the world’s most gorgeous culture, gets only 2 million.

Perhaps some introspection is called for rather than beating a dead horse like the Tari Pendet, which any scholar knows is just a modern creation loosely inspired by the salubrious Malay Serampang 69.

That’s what I reckon!

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