KUTA, Bali — Third time’s the charm, ’tis said, and I must agree, when it comes to Bali. My first visit was many years ago as part of a media contingent on a fam tour with DOT officials, the second on an invite to the Ubud Writers Fest for a week, during which time some of us also managed to spend a day or two in Denpasar.
But I’ve never really stayed long in the capital of this fabled Island of the Gods. The most I’d previously seen in Denpasar was the inside of Hard Rock Café in Kuta — of which I’m not too sure why it should be a capital attraction — and the nearby memorial at a well-lit plaza commemorating the victims of that horrible terrorist attack dubbed the Bali Bombings in 2002.
Oh, and there was a nice dinner at one of the seafood restaurants along the wide stretch of beach in Jimbaran Bay — where wandering minstrels entertain diners from table to table, and upon finding out you’re a group of Pinoys, immediately launch into Freddie Aguilar’s Anak, in both the orig and Bahasa-translation versions.
The BLAJA winners with PMFTC Inc. officials and the media contingent at Taman Ayun, the Royal Temple of Mengwi built n 1634: Seated at front, Mau Victa; standing on second row, from left, Hannah Jo Uy, Ces Gomez, PMFTC. Inc. director for corporate affairs Bayen Elero-Tinga, Bessie Elero, Ditas Antenor and the author Krip Yuson; last row, Albert Gamboa, Teddy Molina, David Leprozo Jr., Didet Danguilan and Dave Gomez
This time I come as one of the media chaperones of the four grand-prize winners of the 7th Bright Leaf Agriculture Journalism Awards (BLAJA) handed out by PMFTC, Inc. last December.
Lifestyle Feature ( Article MRec ), pagematch: 1, sectionmatch:
These winners are: Fermin Diaz for the 2013 Agriculture Story of the Year that appeared in Lamb magazine, “What’s behind the fuss over CP Foods?”; Tobacco Story of the Year winner Teodoro Molina of The Philippine Star for his article titled “Is the Tobacco industry headed for collapse?”; Agriculture Photo of the Year winner David Leprozo, Jr. of Manila Standard Today; and Tobacco Photo of the Year winner Mauricio Victa of Business Mirror.
I was one of the contest judges, too, together with Albert Gamboa, Business World columnist, so we’re two of the four current media chaperones, and the only ones who were also engaged in the deliberations for the hefty prizes usually capped by a field trip to an Asian city.
Previously, I had also judged the national art contest sponsored by PMFTC, Inc. That was several years ago, when the winners and judges were rewarded with a boondoggle in Shanghai capped by a grand farewell dinner at the top-rated M On The Bund penthouse resto overlooking Huangpu River.
Subsequently, I’ve been a BLAJA judge for the last four years, resulting in the tough chore of chaperoning the winners in foreign trips to Ho Chi Minh City, Kuala Lumpur, Guangzhou, and now Bali. I can only guess that corporate awareness of my crusading smoking habits (and my brand is really Fortune) has helped nurture this fortunate relationship.
Together with food stylist Ditas Antenor who covers these BLAJA prize-caps for Philippines Graphic magazine and Hannah Jo Uy of Manila Bulletin, Albert and I just had to grin and bear it as we soaked up on temple-hopping and the obligatory dip in the surf at popular Kuta Beach. And when we tired of those, we patiently passed the time under the equatorial sun at the poolside of Sheraton Bali Kuta Resort, from where the panorama serves up Kuta’s white-capped coastline.
Oh, we also had to sacrifice our sleeping hours by flying here last Tuesday on a red-eye CebuPac flight that took off from NAIA 3 at 4 a.m.
Thankfully, our first day was declared a free one, so that early check-in, breakfast, a nap and lunch were followed by a crossover to the beach, there to be greeted by monokini-ed creatures from the West, and mostly from Down Under, then some burdensome shopping at the Beachwalk Mall and crafts shop alley behind it — for the traditional purpose of mitigating our respective constituencies’ concerns during our four-day absence.
The middle two days were given over to full tours around parts of the island, with the final day (which is when I’m writing this) also free for pondering the meaning of a freebie lush life, preferably at poolside.
Last Wednesday, our tour started with an hour’s entertainment at Batubulan Village, featuring the Balinese Barong and Keris dance performances.
It seemed like deja voodoo time at the roadside venue that looked like a cross between a cockpit and an amphitheater, meaning that I’d been there Bintang that before, so that after a few de rigueur shots,I took leave of our front row seating and chose to wander around the side garden with the usual sarong-ed stonecraft gods and ponds and greenery.
Beyond those was what caught much of the hour’s attention: a roofed section at the end of the driveway, where a couple of billard tables had drawn a dozen venue staffers and drivers. It instantly became evident that they were shooting small pool, with junior-sized balls. But it was still conducted with much aplomb and/or finesse, a lit Kretek hanging from the side of a mouth as a player half-mounted the corner of a table and cued his stick.
The next stop was Ubud, the village that breathes art and spirituality, with all kinds of creativity practiced and peddled on both sides of each road. I was glad that our main purpose there was to check out the Antonio Blanco Renaissance Museum, a flamboyant three-story building that housed many of this transplanted (by way of Manila) Catalan’s fascinating oil paintings of Balinese women in remarkably ornate frames he himself designed and carved.
I had made brief acquaintance of this enchanting place with its splendid vast garden only on the last day of the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival in 2008, and had sworn to come back. Now it’s become even more fabulous in its verdant hilltop setting, with a new, airy restaurant with panoramic views. And I found more time to explore the gallery rooms. The last, a small one right before the labyrinthine exit, displayed the artist’s late collection of multi-media erotica, some inclusive of his own mischievous poetry.
In Bali he was known (still is, even after his demise in 1999) as the “Fabulous Blanco,” a friend to Balinese royalty, and once even visited by the King of Pop Michael Jackson, a photo with whom is displayed prominently by the museum entry. Some wags have also dubbed him as the “Dali of Bali,” with good reason other than his moustache.
Our group was then enticed by the prospects of shopping at Ubud’s central market, where indeed the buys were much cheaper and seemingly more varied than what we had seen in the Kuta area. So it was decided to forego a couple of scheduled stops on the way back in favor of more individual time to engage money changers and feed up on native culture.
In any event, that enviable culture was something we were being given noteworthy lectures on by our official tour guide Putu (meaning that he was the first son in a Balinese family). The ecumenical spirit practiced in his island was what he stressed repeatedly, albeit with a light, comic touch — that here on this island of the gods, the many faiths that have evolved stand side by side, healthy and free.
It is also how the tropical flora look, bountiful and ever colorful, blessed with the rich elements of Bali’s volcanic earth. Fire, water, air and space (the token abstraction) complete the five wonders of nature that enhance this paradise, as Putu shared in our tour bus.
In the next two days we would experience much more of the many offerings of Bali. But that’s a redundancy, as one of the meanings of the Hindi word “Bali” is “offering.”
(To be continued)