After Ruby J Murray’s On Writing in the World: Ten Things About Ubud Writers and Readers Festival 2009.
1. Flying over the top end – veiny, crater-filled land, mercury lakes and billabongs. The corny sea creature carpet at Darwin airport where there’s a smoking area and men in matching shirts drinking VB. Realising in the past year-and-a-half I have only ever travelled alone.
2. Roosters crowing at night as I’m tucked-up in a King size bed under a canopy, wishing I had an extra week or more to absorb this place and to write. There’s a pool and and heat and a week of conversations about Kenyan forts and Indonesian princesses and the whole globe as a home. The room is where Richard Flanagan stayed for a month to write. I can feel its potential.
3. Street cracks and smell of sewers and incense and the contrast of the street to this party in a mansion where there’s a boulder in the pool. Pulling mystery meat off a bone at a long dining table I’m sharing with one. Later – writers of every age and nationality dance barefoot – cocktail-fueled – to 60s/70s tunes and one ‘Billie Jean’, the most popular and strangely universal song.
4. In conversation with Tom Cho, the Global Nomads and Blogging, Dissent and Solidarity panels – my official connections, the hours of preparation at home and they go by quickly though satisfactorily. Engaged faces in the audience seen at the bookshop later. The realisation that it was three years (a short time, a life time) since I was audience only. Ubud Writers and Readers Festival was actually the first festival I attended. I remember thinking ‘I’d love to do that one day’.
5. Suka Duka is the theme of the 2009 festival – compassion and solidarity. With sadness comes light, with male comes female, solar/lunar and so on. The ‘locals’ (ex-pats who have lived in Bali for a number of years) are worried about the American influx. The theme of colonialism is raised in many panels and discussions – not just colonialism in the past sense, but in the sense of commercialisation, consumerism, Americanisation. One taxi driver says I have beautiful skin. White with ‘no wrinkles’.
7. I am asked at the bookshop. ‘Are you related to Stephenie Meyer? She’s a writer too.’
8. Something I learn: sodomy and oral sex are illegal in Malaysia. Middle class Malaysians are somewhat protected by class. Transgender people are more vulnerable. In Bali, apparantly, there was no problem – and the gay clubs and organisations only arised when more foreigners entered the island. Something was segregated which wasn’t before. Some expressions used instead of ‘coming out’ in other languages have the English translation of ‘the hole is broken’ and ‘the seed has blossomed’.
9. On a panel called Meet the Australians Tom Cho and Arnold Zable thoughtfully debate short vs long form, art vs writing and so forth. At the party later I see them talking at length by the pool, a young and an established Australian writer no doubt continuing their discussion.
10. Coming home with a few keepsakes – books, of course, and too much washing and work to catch up on. A note in my journal: ‘I need to contribute something of worth.‘ And every time I have a conversation, read a book, meet someone new, and travel some place – I know a little bit more about what it is I can do.
(pictured: the top end; Hindu offerings on the street in Ubud; some books bought on my trip)