The Jakarta Post, Sunday edition, March 15th 2009.

Paradise through familiar eyes
The book The Best of Stranger in Paradise, Bali 1996-2008 by Made Wijaya is not written by a stranger, nor is it designed for strangers to Bali.


Do not expect this book to describe the beautiful Bali landscapes, or to tell you where to have your spa or what to eat.
Instead, get ready to laugh out loud at quirky photos and stories -- most of which I believe will never get published in any other book -- from the front page to the last.
Most of the photos were taken candidly and, while they lack professional photography standards, offer a more honest depiction of life on the island giving us a behind-the-scenes view that would be considered irrelevant by many other publications.

A photo of British supermodel Lilly Cole, for example, does not show her strutting down the catwalk or in a pose promoting some branded product with a hunk. While she is holding a phone, it was her own phone and she was taking a photo with four local men who were her support group during her stay.
The photos also provide a who's who in Bali - a good introduction for socialites.
Equally quirky are Made's reflections of the day - excerpts from his daily encounters over the last 12 years, including stories written during the reformation era, the 2004 elections, the Bali bombings, or about the more common religious processions and people he met.

Even in Paradise, however, not all is sweet and heavenly, as we see in the sudden death of Made's local friend, Gung Nik. But through the author's description of Gung Nik's funeral, the reader gets a priceless view of the Balinese funeral ritual and (through Gung Nik's fianc‚e) approach to the death of a loved one.
In his entry for late December 1997, Made writes, "'Joy and Sorrow' was the theme of the Queen of England's Christmas message this year - `Suka-Duka' it's called in Indonesia: The Balinese practice a potent blend of awe and humility, inducing a state that helps them cope with grief.

"Somehow, this beautiful young girl, deprived of her young beau in the cruelest way imaginable, had the strength, through her religion and support of Agung's giant family, to hold her head high and carry on as fiance-in-mourning."
The book is arranged in diary-form, where interesting things are mixed in with Made's blabbering about life and daily activities (the glossary really helps) and contains insider information which could never be found in travel guides.
A good approach to reading The Best of Stranger in Paradise is to simply open a page at random and be amazed by what Bali can offer beyond the tour packages and hotel brochures.

Made Wijaya, aka Michael White, has been in and out of Bali since 1973 after he dropped out of university. Since then he has worked in Bali as a journalist, tennis coach, tour guide, artist, landscape artist and others.
He offers not the glamorous but the true spirit of Bali, which he deems is under threat of modernization, with its suka and duka (happy and sad) approach.

Unfortunately, weighing almost 2 kg with its 373 glossy full color pages (excluding the foreword), this is hardly a bedtime pick which the content would certainly suit.

The Best of Stranger in Paradise Bali 1996 - 2008
Author: Made Wijaya, Publisher: Wijaya Words, Printed: 2008, Pages: 373

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