So, I came to the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival because my friend, Trish had been before and thought I would enjoy it – she came to Byron Writers in 2016 with me. I must be the only Australian on the planet who had not ever been to Bali and it was on my bucket list, so truly a ‘no brainer’!
The Balinese people are amazing – they are so kind and polite and eager to help and as physical attraction goes are small (generally) in stature with lovely skin and eyes and a natural grace. Many of the women are outstandingly beautiful, but humility seems to be a hallmark and shows up against our brash Australian manners……
I just adore the textiles, colourful and intricately patterned batiks, woven cottons and glorious silks.
Apparently a black and white check patterned sarong is a Balinese tradition and other parts of Indonesia have their own colour ways – I really need to research this more – it sounds somewhat like the Scottish tartan for different clans.
Six of us ‘girls’ have come to the festival which has been going for 16 years and lasts for 4 days, me from Lennox Head in NSW, four from South Australia and one from Western Australia, but I have to say that there are many, many women and men just like us from Australia and around the world. People who love reading, belong to book clubs, enjoy a glass or two of wine, good food and good conversation. It has been delightful to chat to and get to know lots of interesting folk. We have explored Ubud between us, been to many talks by fascinating (and sometimes not so fascinating) authors, artists and ex patriates as well as young artists in the visual arts, writing and music.
My understanding is that the festival was started by Janet De Neefe, an Australian married to a Balinese nobleman after the Bali bombings. Some of the authors and talks I have enjoyed include;
Nh Dini: A Living Legend – an Indonesian woman who was once a flight attendant and married to a Frenchman. She is a famous feminist writer and her career spans five decades. I heard that her protagonists are strong females and she is an important role model for Indonesian women. She told us she is 81 and has the face of a younger woman – I have often found Asian women don’t age like we do – perhaps they take better care of their skin, or perhaps its the genes.
Nigel Barley: The Innocent Anthropologist. He worked for many years at the British Museum and specialised in West Africa and Indonesia, is the author of ‘History of Toraja’ and ‘Snow over Surabaya’ – I learned more about the modern (20th Century) history of Bali from him – I had been to the museum in Ubud and read about Walter Spies – a German who arrived in the twenties and lived in Bali. Nigel Barley explained that he was apparently the first to label Bali as a paradise and more or less started the marketing of the island in that manner and Ubud as an art centre.
I think my favourite person so far (with one day to go) is Nusrat Durrani – born in Lucknow, India, but now a long time resident of New York. He is an erudite speaker, music video maker (he is general manager of MTV, film maker and world citizen). I love his take on life – totally streetwise, no fool, been everywhere and done everything but a ‘lover not a hater’. Fascinating hearing him talk about visiting unpopular places and people just so that he can understand them better. He took part in a panel discussion called ‘Going Home Again’ with Shokoofeh Azar and Ahmad Fuadi which resonated with me as they discussed just where is ‘home’? Shokoofeh is a woman journalist from Iran who had to escape her country because she displeased the ruling powers, became a refugee, got to Australia eventually and has a new life here. Ahmad is Indonesian but lived away for a long time and on his return to his village, found too much had changed.
Nusrat Durrani also spoke and presented excerpts of his films/videos in ‘Love in a time of Hate’. Another standout was Michael Vatikiotis who wrote ‘Blood and Silk’ and has been a journalist, advisor and expert on South East Asia for many years. From him I learned more than I ever have before about the cycle of power and reform, the personal political style and the nature of democracy and institutions in South East Asia.
I also loved hearing the stories of China’s Women from two famous Chinese female authors – Jung Chang (Wild Swans) and Lilja Chang (Lotus) and the most entertaining session was Ian Rankin – crime writer, author of the Inspector Rebus books interviewed by the irrepressible and delightful Nury Vittachi.
After a couple of days (and nights – cocktails, poet’s slam night where friend Merri performed, dinners, chats, travel authors), I needed to do something ‘hands on’, so I went off to a workshop on ‘Collagraphy’ – and explored another paradisical part of Ubud. Fun but very messy (thick printers offset ink all over my hands – had to wash off with petrol!).
Ubud is not all paradise – the traffic is pretty awful, there are problems with the water supply – apparently the aquifer under Bali is down to 20% and this is, in part, due to tourism – too many showers, flushing of toilets, laundry and although there is plenty of rain, it is being lost. Trash is the other major problem – especially plastics. Bali may be being loved too much!