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I have been a loyal customer of Garuda Airlines for over 35 years, through thick and thin.
I have known the highs — such as the thrill of upgrading to First Class for Rp. 11.000, on the Jakarta (Halim)-Denpasar route, and having a whole Boeing 747 to myself — and the lows, such as the ghastly food and threadbare service offered during the period of their near collapse in the late 1990s.
Last month I decided to go home for Christmas on Virgin Blue, on the new Denpasar-Sydney day flight, and back on Garuda early January, to compare products and to eliminate the traditional red-eye special start for one’s Christmas holidays.
20th December, 2009: Denpasar Airport
Virgin Blue prides itself on a no-frills service but that message has yet to reach today’s passengers — a grubby lot in skimpy beachwear — who sport frills on necks and exposed abdomen (Whoever invented the unisex Bir Bintang tank-top should be shot!).
Our Premier Economy cabin attendant is in an Ozzie bush pilot outfit — tan slacks and white, short-sleeved shirt — and is chatting loudly with the couple next door.
“Where’ dja stay then?”
“Smin’ya!” screams the wife.
“Yeh………it was pretty hectic…..but we found some laid back bits.”
• • •
Now I remember Seminyak when Peter Muller marked out Jalan Oberoi through the rice fields on an area of South Bali chosen for its extreme remoteness, so I am always shocked when people talk of it as if it were Asia’s answer to Ibiza. I need closure I guess.
• • •
The wonderful thing about Virgin Blue Premium economy is that one can order anything — Mars bars, pop noodles, Twisties — from the inflight snack trolley AND NOT BE CHARGED! And, as if by miracle, little Tabasco-sized bottles of cheap wine appear.
There is no curtain between the classes, however, so one needs to be careful, on alighting at Kingsford Smith Airport, not to be trampled in the stampede to the Duty Free liquor shop.
It was closed this particular evening: so I had to complain to management and point out that Australians would stop going overseas if Duty Free were not open!
• • •
Sydney is now pretty much full of Bali Villa owners and their offspring who, upon introduction say terrible things to me, such as:
“You don’t look like a Made.”
“Yeah, right, and I’m Wayan.”
Bali is now just a beach suburb of Sydney with bargain shopping galore. Everyone has a brother or a friend building an investment villa in Bali, or a restaurant “that’s not doing so well but will pick up.”
For some reason many on Sydney’s lower North Shore are experts on the variations of names of the sudra (lowest) caste in Bali. Last Christmas people only asked about the beverage blockage and the Kerobokan jail.
I suspect that the Bali Guides Association, tired of shopping the usual spiel, have started to spice things up a bit, and Australians are bringing home stories of caste qualifications with their Bir Bintang tank-tops.
• • •
I spent most of my time on Sydney’s lower North Shore, and on the Peninsula, that heavenly patch of land between the Pacific Ocean and Pittwater Harbour.
• • •
At a New Year’s Eve hobo (haute Bohemian) party in Lavender Bay, a young starlet bursts out with: “Bali has put out the fire in my panties, because it’s so balanced.”
(I’m not sure if that news has reached every Balinese yet).
At a lunch in a hill-billy shack in a stunning Cabbage Palm forest near Dee-Why I meet three young Australians who have just returned from the Gili Isles, West Lombok, Asia’s answer to Capri. Their panties were on fire, day and night, they reported.
At lunch the next day, with Peter Muller and Carole Muller in their maximum security Twilight home in Sydney’s Walsh Bay, Peter mentioned how he was shown the Gili Isles in 1995, when building the Lombok Oberoi, and how he’d told the developer that he couldn’t do anything on the barren islands without destroying their natural charm.
Today the islands are like an outpost of Seminyak, but without the posses of black ninja-outfitted parking attendants waving crowd-control hardware at passing motorists.
In an unrelated development, Islamic architecture scholar Peter Muller, ever the joker, has come up with a brilliant solution for London’s century-old quandary: What to do with the Battersea Power Station.
• • •
A few days after New Year’s sensational Chinese-themed fireworks on the harbour I visited the Palm Beach studio of design-legend Bruce Goold — his home a museum of tropical decorative arts. He has recently been to Laos and brought back a book with old 1910 photographs of court dancers at the former Vientiane palace. The costumes, ‘masks’ and headdresses remind me of the extraordinary telek dancers that precede the barong in the ceremonial Barong Dance held outside important Balinese temples.
In the Majapahit era (13th-16th centuries), and later, it was quite the fashion for the rajas and sultans of foreign lands to ‘gift’ dances and indeed whole dance troupes to rulers all along the Indonesian archipelago.
The Legong Kraton of Bali, for example, was created in the 20th century for a performance by Balinese palace dancers at the court of Pakubuwono X in Solo, Central Java.
Monday, 4th January 2010: Back to Bali on Garuda
Garuda Airlines is undergoing an image change at the hands of Jakartan socialite/designer Ted Sulisto.
At the Garuda check in counter at Sydney Airport I am immediately impressed by a counter top ‘bouquet exotique’: an hibiscus flower, of the Balinese Pucuk Bang variety, realized in hygienic plastic is set on a gilt, chicken-wire hemisphere …..itself impaled by a pair of artificial truncated flower stems (of the Ikebana Hara-kiri school), littered with plaster cherries, and all set in a sky blue miniature fireman’s pail complete with handle.
It’s not so much a floral tribute as a cry for help.
On board the visual treats continue.
In Executive Class, lunch is now served in on hay-coloured floor mats off rickety trolleys by gorgeous girls in glamorous costumes. Fortunately the airline has not ditched its habit of showing the wrong entertainment program, which keeps us all guessing. Nor has the nouvelle vague cuisine been abandoned.