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On our last 2 trips to Bali in late 2019 and early 2020 Georgie and I made pilgrimages to Taman Bebek Villas perched on the ridge overlooking the beautiful Ayung River Valley in the village of Sayan which is to the west of Ubud, just a hop, skip and jump from Penestanan, the village where Villa Tusk is located. The Cafe on the main road, Jalan Raya Sayan was closed as was the office. After asking around we found out that Made Wijaya (AKA The Stranger In Paradise) had passed away several years earlier. Very sad. I only met him once but often read his “vitriolic” newspaper column called Stranger in Paradise in which he made keen observations about the island’s expats and the “upper crust” of Balinese society.

In 1973 Made Wijaya (born Michael White) sailed to Bali on a break from Architectural studies, the ketch having difficulty landing in the high seas, Made impatiently jumped overboard to swim ashore.

Born: Sydney 22 March 1953 Died: Sydney 28 August 2016 St Vincents Hospital, Sydney from Lymphoma Books: Tropical Garden Design 1999, At Home in Bali 2000, Modern Tropical Garden Design 2007, Architecture of Bali 2011.

His break became permanent as he immersed himself in Bali life, living with a Brahmin family, who informally adopted him, and visiting regularly with the Balinese royal families he learned much of the island’s intricate rituals and history, “gaining an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the island that rivalled that of many Balinese”, speaking Balinese fluently. In 1975 he was officially renamed Made Wijaya by a priest in a temple ceremony.

The reason this memory of Sayan arose is because I have once again immersed myself in the magic of Bali. We will be finally returning in mid April for the first time in over 2 years. Yesterday I started skimming through a book called “A House In Bali” written in the 1946 by American musician Colin McPhee who arrived in Bali in 1932 to explore Balinese Gamelan music and eventually built a house very close to the very same location where we spent so many good times in 1998 at Taman Bebek which translates to Duck House. His book is enchanting, it’s a must read for anybody who has an interest in Bali’s past and the culture and personality of the Balinese.

24 years ago I stayed at Taman Bebek 3 times. Once in January 1998 with “A”, again in March with Georgie and again in September with Paul during the Megawati

election campaign. I had returned to Bali in January 1996 with Paul and “A” after a hiatus of about 9 years, we stayed in Legian, Seminyak and finally made our way up the mountain to Penestanan where we stayed with a man named Dhana at his homestay which was named Kori Agung, now re-incarnated as The Yellow Flower restaurant.

Our villa at Taman Bebek that we stayed in during those 3 trips in 1998 wasn’t anywhere near 5 star accomodation, no swimming pool, no air conditioning, the electricity was off more than it was on. But you know what, for me it epitomised my magical and exotic vision of what Bali was all about. This location felt like home for a while. I even took our bicycles to Bali and left them there for the whole of 1998.

Here is an except from the 1946 book by Colin McPhee “A House in Bali” where he describes how he leased the land in Sayan where he built his house.

I composed and created the music track called “Taman Bebek” as a memory of Georgie and my stay in Sayan in 1998. I play all of the instruments, most of them on guitar with the aid of a guitar synth.

Tusk Villa Ubud Bali Colin McPhee
Colin McPhee

“The village of Sayan stretched along the top of a narrow ridge that ran up into the mountains. Every three days a crowded bus rattled down from the Chinese coffee plantations to Den Pasar, choking and stalling as it climbed back again at night. The land I wanted lay at the end of the village, next to the graveyard, on the edge of a deep ravine. Far below ran the river; across the valley ricefields rose in terraces and disappeared in the coconut groves. Behind these ran the mountains of Tabanan, and far off to the south a triangle of sea shone between the hills. The land had once been terraced to grow rice, but now was covered with grass and shaded with coconuts. It descended in several steps to the edge of the cliff, where it dropped four hundred feet. From below came the faint roar of the river as it rushed among the rocks and stones. The village belonged to the district of Gianyar, ruled by the detested Anak Agung Ngurah, who was eating his heart out at colonial restraint. His attempts at ancient tyranny were constantly foiled by the Controlleur, whose tiny office across the square from the palace in Gianyar was a constant and infuriating reminder of another régime. Sayan was a peasant village, not very old, but running according to old Balinese law. There was not even a village school, and very few men spoke Malay, which meant I would have to learn Balinese. There were three banjars, with an assembly: where on rare occasions the elders of all three banjars met for matters of grave importance. There were half a dozen small temples, and a crumbling palace which belonged to me Chokorda Rani, a poverty-stricken, prince from the ancient and highborn family which once ruled in Pliatan, across me valley to me east. The rest of the village were simple farmers: when they heard a white man was coming to live among them the signal. drums beat loudly, and there was meeting after meeting of the village elders. Rendah, the owner of the land, was a shy frail man of fifty; he was plainly startled. When, as he led his cow through the bamboos one afternoon, he found me sitting under his trees. It was only after Kesyur told him that I was merely walking for pleasure that he relaxed. Then Balinese manners prevailed. I was welcome! Would I not like some coconut water? He tucked his dusty sarong around his Joins and began to climb a palm with surprising agility. In a moment there was the double thud of two nuts as they fell, and he descended, to open them with a neat blow from his heavy knife. We sat conversing. I made no mention of my plans, as I knew the idea that I wanted to build a house on his land would have to be broken with caution. Kesyur was soon embarked on a synopsis of where I had come from, where I was going, my finances and my character, while I was already thinking of the kind of house to build. I saw Rendah twice before I ventured to tell him what I had in mind. It was clearly a shock, and there were many conferences with his older brother, who was headman of the village. He spoke in disapproving tones, but finally the two broke down and consented. I offered to lease the land for ten years, with a lease to drawn up legally before me Controlleur in Gianyar. But before this could be done, the pipil or deed would have to be found. This was a bit of writing scratched on palm leaf. No one had seen it for ages, and it took a month to find. In the meantime the village heard of the amazing news, and soon found out that Rendah would profit considerably. This was too much! A long and bitter dispute arose over the ownership of the land. The village claimed it had always been village property. Chokorda Rahi, the prince, suddenly appeared, all smiles, to say that the land belonged actually to him, had been given to him long ago by his father, in the palace at Ubud. The land had been merely loaned to Rendah, he claimed, adding sweetly that I was welcome to it, I must please accept it. Rendah, however, insisted that the land had been given outright to him by the Chokorda in return for money he had once loaned, and the day the pipil was found the Chokorda had to retreat, baffled. This pipil on examination turned out after all to be made out in favour of Rendah’s older brother, the klian, with items—the coconut trees remained the property of Chokorda Rahi; the crop was his; one-fifth of it went to Rendah in payment for watching the trees. At last it was agreed that the klian should receive the rent, while I would engage Rendah as gardener and watchman, and give him a similar amount. Both were pleased; this maintained a balance, was justice. The village, however, was far from pleased, and immediately began a lawsuit against the klian. Two months later the verdict was given at the Courthouse in Gianyar, and they had lost. Angry meetings now took place in the pavilion of the elders. Kesyur told me they had vowed to take the case to Buleléng; then to the Governor-General in Java, and later, if necessary, even to Queen Wilhemina herself in Holland. But Jacobs, the Controlleur in Gianyar, assured me the village had no claim, and that I could begin to build. I did not like the idea of breaking into a hostile community. I already had a feeling of guilt about the disruption my mere presence in the village would inevitably cause, but I had hoped I might be able to move in peacefully. However, I felt that this quarrel was not mine, and I decided to let matters stand until the time when I actually came to the village to live. I was determined not to ruin things at the outset by the simple solution of offering a bribe of money, and I had lived on the island long enough to feel that things would soon quiet down again, especially if I made the village a present of two pigs at next galungan-time, which was soon approaching. This was a ten-day season of bright celebrations, when the spirits of the ancestors came down to earth to be honoured and entertained, and the opening day in particular was one of great feasting. It was also a day for giving presents—chiefly food, it seemed, for everyone who killed a pig for his own use sent the choicest parts to those to whom he felt indebted in some way. On this day I gave new batik sarongs to Kesyur, Nyoman, Madé Tantra; a bottle of brandy to Gusti Bagus in Saba. The unexpected arrival of two additional pigs for slaughter (as large as I could find) could not fail, I thought, to soothe the village elders, especially on a morning when all were in the best of humour.”

It was in Sayan that I decided that I would like my own house in Bali in early 1998. To get to Sayan from Ubud would generally involve driving through the village of Penestanan, a village that I had connections with since my very first trip to Bali in 1983. I have always been drawn back to this part of Bali. I have many memories of late night drives through the quiet streets, rides on our bicycles and even walks through the rice fields. For me it epitomises a combination of the best of what I love about Bali, even the western businesses in the village seem to meld with ambience of Bali instead of fighting against it.

So here I am in late February 2022 yearning to return to Bali. It is almost 40 years since I first arrived at Ngurah Rai Airport and smelled the exotic scents of humidity, decaying vegetation, heat, human excrement, fruit, dogs … a mish mash of smells that can only be associated with equatorial Asia. 

So here I am in late February 2022 yearning to return to Bali. It is almost 40 years since I first arrived at Ngurah Rai Airport and smelled the exotic scents of humidity, decaying vegetation, heat, human excrement, fruit, dogs … a mish mash of smells that can only be associated with equatorial Asia. 

Gary and Georgie, Bali March 1998