Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
Yes! I actually made it! I’d been wanting to attend Ubud Writers and Readers Festival since a few years ago, but it was whether I knew about it too late or I couldn’t get off days from work. My curiosity wasn’t so much about meeting my favorite authors unless the ghosts of J.D. Salinger and Herge were coming. I’m also not what you’d call a bookworm. I rarely get updates on the latest books and I often forgot the details of books that I actually enjoyed reading.
But I really like Ubud, I like being around people who love reading and writing, I do read books though I struggle finishing them because I’m so easily distracted, and I’m curious about an event that has attracted more and more visitors and speakers from around the world for 11 years now! These people must have done something right.
So I booked the plane and event tickets early, and I organized my own schedule so as not to miss any session I was eager to attend. And off, I went to Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. Woohoo!
Ubud Writers and Readers Festival (UWRF) was an event initiated by Janet Deneefe in 2004 to lift up Bali’s spirit from the gloomy days post the first Bali bombing in 2002. She is a Melbourne-born living in Ubud with her Balinese spouse since 1984. Deneefe, with the Mudra Swari Saraswati Foundation that was formed to fund the festival, gathered writers, activists and people who dream of making positive changes to Bali and the world in general.
As it developed, UWRF has now become the largest annual cultural and literary event in South East Asia! The activities revolve around books, arts, culture, humanity and environmental issues, with international and Indonesian speakers. There are discussions on books, book launches, lunches and dinners with authors, writing workshops, cooking workshops, cultural performances and discussions, environmental issues discussions, cycling or walking tour around Ubud’s enchanting nature, and gosh, so many more!
The sessions are held in venues throughout Ubud. The UWRF 2014, the one I attended for the first time (and hopefully won’t be the last), was held in almost 50 venues located on Jalan Raya Ubud, Jalan Monkey Forest, Jalan Sanggingan and a few more. Most of the venues were located in Ubud, some sessions are held in Denpasar.
With so many sessions held in so many venues in just 5 days (1-5 Oct, 2014), there was no way I could attend all of them. I sorted out my schedule, retyped it chronologically complete with the dates, times and venue addresses, and printed it on a piece of paper for my own practicality. There were 20 sessions that I highlighted with several backup sessions just in case I missed some or changed my mind. In reality, I went to most of the highlighted sessions and canceled or switched the rest.
To tell you the truth, I had not heard of almost all the speakers of UWRF 2014. So the synopsis of each session in the program book really helped me in deciding what sessions to choose. Some of them were:
Destination Unknown, basically talked about what’s been happening and what the future holds for Indonesia. Elizabeth Pisani (The Wisdom of Whores and Indonesia Etc) was on the panel with Indonesian’s famous poet Goenawan Muhammad and Muslim scholar Azyumardi Azra.
Ethics, People, Place, featuring three travel writers with daring adventures in their pockets. Colin Thubron talked about his journey through the Silk Road, Carl Hoffman talked about his experiences in the hinterland of Papua’s cannibalistic tribe, and Tim Cope with his amazing story on the journey of Genghis Khan trail on a horse.
On a separate session, I watched Tim Cope’s documentary on the journey, titled The Trail of Genghis Khan, that was shot around 2004. This, and another movie titled Tracks that was based on a true 1,700 miles journey of Robyn Davidson crossing the Australian dessert with camels and a dog, reminded me once again that there is only a little room for impossibility in this world. And that what I’ve done so far is too little compared to what I’m possible of achieving.
Stepping out of the book world, the Herb Walk workshop took us on a walk tour while getting to know Balinese herbs. Well, most of the herbs are the same with those around Indonesia, they’re not unique to Bali. But I could use some knowledge about their types, usage, and of course, the refreshing walk in the rice fields that don’t exist in Jakarta anymore.
According to our guide Westi from West Bali, there are more than 25 kinds of bamboo that grow in Bali, each could be used for different purposes, like for building materials and as food. Although Balinese rice is considered more nutritious and satiating, it is also more costly to grow, since you can only harvest it once a year and the cutting process takes more time. So more of Philippines rice is planted in Bali nowadays, giving 3 harvest times every year.
Oh, the walk was rich with information. I’ll try to make a dedicated post about it after our Borneo trip.
I have almost always drawn realistic figures or slightly cartoony, so this was an interesting topic for me, and challenging at the same time. Zak Waipara, a graphic artist from New Zealand, did a great job introducing and instructing on how to make a mythical creature. I came out with a cat-goddess-like creature, who was out in the world fighting crimes with her fellow innocent-looking dog and witty one-eyed mouse. They don’t have names yet and I still have vague ideas on how the story is going to go, but Zak seemed to be convincing when he told me this could be developed into a good story. Yeay!
On Cosmics Crash Course, Ant Sang taught us how to make a comic panel after some basic step-by-step on drawing people and animals. The only comic I’ve done was a diary when I was in college, with, obviously, me, as the main character, and my then boyfriend as the supporting role. So I’m pretty good at drawing myself because when you make comics, you need to draw the characters again and again in each panel. On this session, Ant taught us how to draw ‘turnarounds’ of each character before we started drawing the comics or even come up with a storyline. It really came handy! Oh, watch out for Ant’s Dharma Punks comic, coming out the end of this month. The quirky combination of ‘dharma’ and ‘punks’ in one sentence was one of the reasons why I signed up for his session.
Poetry Slam was one of the most memorable experiences to me at the UWRF. Simply because it was the first time I watched a poetry slam and many of the competitors were rad!
I lost interest in poetry because most of poets I saw in Indonesia always read the poems with obvious artificial expressions, TRYING to look like they’re so emotional and deeply immersed in the words. But on this session, I felt that a lot of the slam poets, mostly westerners, were quite genuine with their emotions. The poems were of diverse topics, from dyslexia to Bali belly. Jesse John Brand, the Australian Poetry Slam Champion 2013, was co-hosting the show. He was brilliantly funny and cursed a lot, and I, like almost all the audience at Betelnut that night, was blown away with his performance.
Yes, I will, circumstances permitting. I might sign up as a volunteer, I might not. At this year’s UWRF, I loved the feeling of being like in a big campus, where I had classes to go to, and meeting up friends or boyfriend in between classes at the cafeteria (or restaurant) and catching up on gossip or the lectures. The shuttle cars provided were really helpful, taking us to most of the venues from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Walking around Ubud was also nice. Though the town has gotten more packed over the years, it’s still a lovely town to stay for several days. But I have to say, I am still not comfortable with the stray dogs barking at passers by, just like in any other parts of Bali.
If you have been to Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, tell us what you think of it.
If not, are you interested to attend it in the coming years?
Check out our previous stories on Ubud here or here.