From New Straits Times http://www.nst.com.my/Current_News/nst/Saturday/Columns/20060128083714/Article/index_html
POINT BLANK: Wounded Bali on the road to recovery
IíLL bet Ida Bagus Raka Pudjana, I Ketut Acit and Remes I Nengah have never met. But their lives are intertwined somewhat ó in the form of the Bali tourism industry.
Ida Bagus is the owner of the famous barong and keris dance troupe, the Catur Eka Budhi of Kesiman village near Denpasar, the provincial capital of Bali. Ketut is a dance instructor employed temporarily by Taman Wishnu Kencana (GWK), a newly established cultural complex. Remes sells souvenirs to tourists. They represent almost a quarter of the population of Bali whose livelihood depends on tourism.
Ida Bagus, 53, better known as Komeng Apel, has acted in countless TV plays and films. He is also an accomplished stage comedian and actor and a respected figure in the Balinese cultural scene.
Fifteen years ago, Ida Bagus started his dance troupe taking advantage of millions of tourists attracted to Baliís picturesque landscape, its people and the culture.
The performance by Catur Eka Budhi is part of most tourist packages. Every morning at 9.30, rain or shine, hundreds of buses, mini vans and cars will make a beeline along the main road at Kesiman village. Tourists will be regaled by the story of the good and immortal Sadewa fighting the evil Rangda in Balinese mythology. The climax is of course the followers of Sadewa going into a trance and stabbing themselves with their keris.
Ketut, 22, is a graduate of the renowned Institut Seni Indonesia (Indonesian Arts Institute) at Jalan Nusa Indah, Denpasar. He can perform almost every Balinese dance ó Baris Tunggal, Kabyar Duduk, Satya Broota, Topeng, Gambuh, Wayang Gong, Sendra Tari, even Kecak. He is now teaching the children of Bukit Ungasan basic Legong Kraton (for girls) and Baris Tunggal (for boys) twice a week.
Remes, 45, was a taxi driver plying the busy Kuta area. But 15 years ago, he started a small souvenir shop along Jalan Tanjong. Bali was then developing another tourism front along Tanjong Benoa (Benoa Bay). Kuta beach was already congested with hotels. Tanjong Benoa and the adjacent new development site ó Nusa Dua ó is an alternative to Kuta and Denpasar. Tourists began to flock to Tanjong Benoa, where many five-star hotels are being built. Business was good.
Even the economic crisis and the subsequent "troubles" in many parts of Indonesia after 1998 did not affect this island paradise. Bali is home to almost every ethnic group in Indonesia, drawn by economic prosperity and the fertility of the largely volcanic soil.
The indigenous Balinese make up the majority and profess a unique form of Hinduism. In predominantly Muslim Indonesia, the Balinese jealously guard their religion, yet they are extremely tolerant towards others.
Take the example of the hill resort of Bedugul. Situated at the northern part of the island, the area is famous for the rounded peak of Gunung Catur and the beautiful Danau Bratan. The lake also provides irrigation water to the western half of the island.
At one corner of the lake lies the legendary Pura Ulun, a Hindu-Buddhist temple complex believed to have been built in the 17th century. A multiple-roofed meru (pagoda) is the most conspicuous structure in the area. There is a Buddhist stupa nearby. Across the road stands a large mosque, Al Hidayah, serving the needs of a large Muslim population.
The bustling market of Bedugul is a reflection of religious fusion in Bali. It is interesting to watch Muslim traders in tudung selling carvings and masks of Hindu and Buddhist deities.
The Balinese were shocked when the first bombing happened in 2002 at Legian in the Kuta area. It certainly changed the sense of security and lackadaisical attitude of the Balinese.
Ida Bagus was devastated. He lost his audience. There were times when the 600-seat theatre was filled with just 10 people. But the show must go on. He had, at any one time, 90 people on his payroll. It was an opportunity for local karyawan (musicians and performers) to earn a living.
He lost at least Rp300 million (RM130,000) a month after 2002. Many other groups simply couldnít survive. Today, the number of professional kecak and barong groups has dwindled. That spells disaster for an island that depends on culture and the arts.
For Ketut, life is getting tough, too. He used to perform Balinese traditional dances and play various characters in Topeng and barong performances at major hotels and festivals.
But hotels, too, are cutting costs. He has no choice but to join a kecak group to supplement his meagre income.
Ketut is hoping things will get better so he can do what he likes best ó performing for foreigners.
Remes, too, had his problems. Fewer foreigners are coming back. His stall is sepi (deserted). The situation is buruk (bad). He canít even pay his only remaining helper and struggles to settle his monthly rent. The Australians have disappeared, even the Europeans are wary of their safety. The second bombing last year was a death knell for proprietors like him.
"Kami bernafas dalam lumpur sekarang," says Remes, echoing the title of a famous Indonesian movie in the 1970s (literally, breathing in the mud).
I contacted the Bali Tourism Board to ascertain the situation in Bali today. They shied away from giving actual figures but I kept hearing, "Things are getting better".
At a kecak performance at Uluwatu Temple, I couldnít help but notice a small group of "foreigners" in the crowd. The majority were Indonesians from other islands. This time of the year, the Europeans, Chinese, Koreans and Japanese are supposed to come in droves.
Giovanni Comparini, who had worked in Indonesia for the last 10 years, wrote about the problems regarding Baliís recovery in The Jakarta Post
recently. Yes, the bombings have done enough damage to the economy. But for Bali to sustain its position as a premier eco-tourism haven, it has to preserve its environment.
He argues that Bali is falling into the trap of over-development. Investment in tourism-related activities is creating problems of its own. While tourism contributed 21 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product, agriculture is close behind with 20 per cent. Both activities have been complementing each other for a long time. But of late, they are in conflict "due to the cumulative effect of development", which has affected the quality of the environment. Infrastructure too is falling behind.
For Ida Bagus, Ketut and Remes, the bombings are only part of their problems. Religion is the anchor of their lives. But religion to the Balinese is not just about submission and belief, it is also about respect for nature. The desecration of nature to the Balinese will be an even a bigger blow after man-made bombs had made their impact.