For those of you who know of celebratory expat, Made Wijaya, or have read his legendary columns published in newspapers and online, his latest collection of diary entries - The Best of Stranger in Paradise, The Next Generation 1996 – 2008 - will not disappoint. It’s all there: the wicked humour, sharp insights and keen devotion to the Balinese culture. For over 30 years Made or ‘the Stranger’ (a sort of nom de plume), has recorded his vibrant life through erudite and revealing journals, written in an amusingly candid and culturally intriguing style that is distinctively ‘the Stranger’.
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First a little background on the author. Sydney born Michael White journeyed to Bali by boat in 1973, swam ashore and fell in love with this island paradise. The then 20 year old tennis pro and architecture student was adopted by the Brahman family of Ida Bagus Anom of Griya Kepaon. He became known by his Balinese name, Made Wijaya, and went on to embrace the complexities of Balinese culture, religion and language.
Made’s career as a tennis coach and English teacher gave way to his fascination for traditional Balinese architecture. After learning from local artists and builders he started gardening and has since built a successful landscape architect empire. He works with a 300-strong team of Balinese architects and gardeners and his landscape creations spread from Bali to Mumbai and Singapore to Mustique. Aside from creating hundreds of gardens, he’s written half a dozen books on traditional and modern Balinese architecture which Made sees as one of the world’s great dynamic art forms.
Despite Made’s phenomenal success in the gardening business, he sees himself primarily as an artist and a writer. His commentaries are his soap-box – which, he jests, have a huge following in that lane behind Roma’s leather ware shop and in East Balmain!
Recording the details of his life and turning them into handsomely bound publications might seem a tad self-promotional but it’s ‘the Stranger’s’ signature journals that have contributed to his iconic status. His life is so illustrious and flamboyant that rumour has it Miramax Film is looking into re-shooting a documentary film, featuring Philip Seymour Hoffman as ‘the Stranger’.
‘The Stranger’ column began in 1979 in the Sunday Bali Post. Answering a couple of my emailed questions via his blackberry as he flits between Bali, Bangalore, Mumbai and the Maldives, Made explains that Stranger in Paradise was “just a campy title” when he lobbied for a weekly diary column in Sunday Bali Post. “It was very much a diary of my life as a tourist guide cum English teacher at the kokar dance academy cum tennis coach cum Hindu goy toy for the village of Kepaon”. At the time, Made was a young Bali-convert and felt compelled to enlighten visitors to the magic of the island’s life and ceremonies. Highlights from his early years were published in 1995 in Stranger in Paradise – the Diary of an Expatriate in Bali.
The Best of Stranger in Paradise - the Next Generation continues to be both highly opinionated and overflowing with the colour of Balinese rituals. But Made sees himself as more of a vigilante in this latest edition. His acerbic social commentary and gossipy style takes aim, as he explains in the preface to the book, “at mass tourism, tacky advertising, cultural prostitution, the under-dressed, the over-pompous and those who try to package, brand or otherwise attempt to own Bali” … to name a just a few of his gripes.
Needless to say, Made is an irreverent writer, poking fun not only at crass development and narrow minds but also at his friends and acquaintances. At times he even turns his pen on himself the ‘Tjokorda Bule Aga’ which he says sums up the pompous but amusingly animistic nabob he’s become since his humble beginnings as a Kuta hippy.
‘The Stranger’ takes the reader on a 12 year journey, from the ‘reformasi’ period through to the Bali bombs and beyond. The journey is exciting and intimate, sensitive and playful. He exposes the reader to his enviable lifestyle and a host of high flying friends including Balinese and Javanese royalty, the ‘bule aga’ set, film producers, actors, models, painters and diplomats. He provides unique insights into the inner workings of Balinese society and the beauty and strength of its people. As ‘The Stranger’ takes the reader on his crusade against the greedy real estate developers, sensationalist journalists and ‘the culture of tourism’, he educates us about the rights and wrongs of inappropriate behaviour, tourism and development. Made’s love of Bali is intense and when his paradise is misunderstood or abused by the ignorant or self-serving, he takes this affront personally.
With an uncanny ability to combine frivolities with tenderness, depth and sharp political insights, ‘The Stranger’ manages to elicit an array of emotions and thoughts. At the time of the first Bali bomb (October 2002) he writes: “In Kuta the Australian grief counsellors are complaining that some of the Balinese are trying to sell them real estate.” He then goes on to talk about attempts to sideline ‘The Stranger’s’ regular column. “My story filed before the bomb was judged too ‘irreverent for post-traumatic stress tourism’. I convinced my beloved editor that Bali goes on, ‘the Stranger’ goes on and on, and on and Hello Bali will, after a brief spate of soul-searching, go back to the whole-hearted promotion of bungees and beaded pubes.”
A couple of days later he writes: “For a few hours I immerse myself in the ongoing preparations for the re-awakening of the village’s rangda mask, the Balinese equivalent of Kali, the goddess of destruction and recycling. . The Balinese have taught me to lose grief in a crowd of ritualistic activity, something unattainable in my native land. The anger of my countrymen seems hinted with intolerance, but it is the same ‘Aussie anger’ that led to the heroic liberation of the people of Timor Lorosae.”
‘The Stranger’s’ diaries, of course, would not be complete without a touch of brazen naughtiness – which has led to the censuring of his columns over the years. In January 2006, for example, he assisted in the design of a float for the Sydney Mardi Gras. The winner of the office wide contest was a jungle-inspired design with three attractive Balinese and ‘the Stranger’. It was entitled “Where there’s a willie there’s a wayan”. (Very cheeky)
The hefty 379-page book is impressively produced with a vast collection of eclectic graphics and photos. There are photos featuring the who’s who of the Bali and Jakarta, photos capturing the vibrancy of ritual life, the carnage caused by the bombings and photos of ‘the Stranger’ at his best. Most of the photos were taken by Made although there is also a striking collection of historical reproductions.
The Best of Stranger in Paradise, The Next Generation 1996 – 2008 comes in both hard ($80) and soft cover ($50) and is available through Wijaya Words (http://www.ptwijaya.com/Wijaya-Words.htm), from Bookoccino in Avalon (Te:l 9973 1244) or at Periplus stores in Indonesia.
For those hooked on ‘the Stranger’s’ columns or who would like a little taster of his work, his regular updates can be accessed on www.wijayajournal.blogspot.com or www.strangerinparadise.com.