SATURDAY 3 OCTOBER
Travel to Heathrow Terminal 3 and join queue at Emirates desk for the flight to
At the gate, there’s a soft security screening technique in effect, whereby they look at your passport/boarding card and engage you in conversation. Presumably if you’re nervous, sweating and muttering Arabic to yourself, that’s an indication you should be screened a bit further.
‘And where are you off to today, sir?’
‘Business or pleasure?’
‘Both. I’m a writer – I’m going to a literary festival.’
‘And do you have any large amounts of currency on you?’
‘No, we writers don’t generally have large amounts of money.’
‘Unless you’re J K Rowling, of course.’
‘Ahh yes, she’s our Goddess.’
Emirates A380 flight to
This was not my seat
SUNDAY 4 OCTOBER
Four hours to kill in
Check my e-mail on my iPod, with the free wireless internet.
A Moroccan man sits at my table. We communicate in sign language. I tell him it’s . He tells me that he’s going on a pilgrimage to
Wander over to Starbucks and have a decaff latte, then head for my gate. The gate area for the
A man behind the first counter sees the 25 US dollars, beckons me to give him my papers, and then quickly returns them to me with a receipt for 25 US dollars. The people in the line in front of me are queuing for the second counter. I was right – it’s much quicker if you actually have the fee in US dollars.
I quit the line and race down to Immigration. The line for Foreigners is quite short. There’s an Englishman with a Yuppie voice speaking on his mobile phone, in the line immediately in front of me.
When he’s off the phone, I say, ‘It’s really quick today.’
‘Oh, is it?’ he replies. (Novice.)
The couple in front of us reach the counter and the Immigration man is shaking his head and pointing them back in the direction we came from.
‘Oh, it looks like they haven’t paid their Visa-on-Arrival fee,’ I say to the Yuppie. (Am I slightly smug? No, it’s not that, it’s that I am experienced and knowledgeable.)
‘Oh, neither have I,’ says the Yuppie, and asks me where it is.
As I point him in the right direction, I try to feel only gratitude for the opportunity to be of service to my fellow human beings.
Now I’m at the counter and I hand the Immigration officer my papers.
‘Sir,’ he says, gently, ‘This is not Visa-on-Arrival, it’s receipt for fee. You show them this receipt at second counter, and they will issue you with Visa-on-Arrival.’
Ugh … now I remember …
I rush back to the Visa-on-Arrival counter and now the queue is enormous, as everyone has managed to get off the plane. Queue behind the Yuppie and feel foolish.
I have achieved a state of Instant Karma. The slightest smugness on my part results in a fall immediately, so that balance may be restored as soon as possible.
Forty-five minutes later, pass through Immigration and collect suitcase.
Outside, there’s a man in the crowd waving a copy of my new Indonesian paperback, which they’ve given the title Bocah Muslim de Negeri James Bond. (A Muslim boy in the
Originally, they were going with Muhammad, Jezus dan James Bond, but decided that this might upset some people, as it might be construed to imply that James Bond was as important as Muhammad or Jesus. But to a teenage boy, who is told in regular school that he should behave like Jesus – peace and love – and in Islamic school that he should be a good Muslim – like Muhmmad – but in reality wants to be like James Bond, I think that would be a fair reflection, in terms of influence. This title would probably have generated a lot of publicity and maybe even got me a free cottage holiday in
Indra is my Indonesian editor – he looks younger than I imagined. We wait patiently for the car, which stops right on the zebra crossing to pick us up.
‘I say, old chap, you really shouldn’t stop …. Oh, who cares?’
There’s something deliciously laissez-faire about this place.
Indra takes me to my hotel, which looks like a converted colonial mansion house – where I quickly shower and change – and then out to dinner. We eat in an open roadside establishment – the most delicious, spicy seafood. Then he takes me to a supermarket and buys me whatever I want: bottled water, chocolate and nuts. Then to a phone shop, where he buys me an Indonesian sim card. Finally, he returns me to my hotel and gives me an envelope of spending money. This is a full service publisher.
MONDAY 5 OCTOBER
Breakfast in the hotel is a buffet of delicious ‘takeaway' style fried food, rice and noodles – and I can eat as much as I want. This trip is going to kill me.
Spend the morning on some personal admin, then decide to explore
I’m going to walk, and all I have to do is decide which direction to go out of the hotel, left or right.
I ask the security guard, using my best all-purpose-Foreign, combined with sign language.
‘I go walking. I go shopping. Which way I go? I go this way or I go that way?’
The security guard calls someone else over, who I deduce can speak English.
‘I go walking. I go shopping. Which way I go? I go this way or I go that way?’
‘I no speak English,’ he says.
Which, apparently, is more than the security guard can say.
If the hotel is centrally located, it shouldn’t matter. Either way should work. I set off. Past old colonial style houses, many with security guards sitting or standing in front. Most of them smile and nod at me. I have to walk in the road, as large trees have been systematically planted in the middle of the paved sidewalks. Plenty of traffic, mostly scooters, and incessant horns being sounded as the multitude of vehicles lurch together wildly without ever managing to collide.
Here’s an area of commerce: stalls selling food; a tethered goat; a woman breastfeeding her child; men squatting and playing cards; drivers offering me a ride; a giant poster for a BMW dealer, complete with Hindu goddess; a cat that looks on the verge of starvation. It’s hot, humid and the traffic fumes hang thick in the air.
I think I had in mind an indoor air conditioned mall and a modern bookshop.
Here’s a Western woman walking towards me. I make the assumption that she speaks English and say ‘Excuse me’.
She’s Australian, so I was close. She doesn’t seem troubled to engage in conversation with me, offers to walk me towards a more modern shopping area – she was heading that way anyway – then buys me a coffee in a cool, relaxed café. Her name is Amanda Simmonds and she works for the Australian embassy. Then she calls her friend/colleague Katheryn Bennett, and the two of them take me to dinner in a delightful Vietnamese restaurant, where I eat spicy, crispy fish. We have a wonderful conversation, and then they insist on paying, and then walk me back to my hotel. I say goodbye like they are old friends.
Katheryn, Amanda et moi
TUESDAY 5 OCTOBER
The publisher has arranged a car at , to take me to the airport, for my flight to
Breakfast at Starbucks and check my e-mail.
Head for the Gate area. Looking around the huge ‘Gate 4’ sign, where my fellow passengers are seated, I can’t see anywhere that actually leads to an aircraft. There’s a Western woman sitting here reading a novel, so I ask her. Strangely, she looks vaguely familiar. She’s Australian, was at the Ubud Festival last year, and is going again this year.
She explains that we wait here, and then walk over to a different place for boarding, when the flight is called. When she learns that I am planning to take a taxi to Ubud from the airport at Denpasar, she offers to give me a ride in the car she has booked. Australian!
The flight to
Faye and I have a drink in Starbucks whilst we wait for her driver – our flight was early.
It’s wonderful to be back in
Faye drops me at the Ubud Inn and says she’ll see me around.
Last time I stayed in
Is that it? I was in the Four Seasons last year, y'know
I turn up the air conditioner, unpack, shower, put on shorts and my ‘Happy Man’ t-shirt, and walk out into Ubud, heading for the centre of town.
I realise that this is new to me – walking in Ubud. I never noticed before the uneven pavements, the fascinating handicrafts in the countless souvenir shops, the occasional woman-with-baby-begging. How can this be? Oh, because last time, I was buffered in the alternative universe of the distant Four Seasons resort, was taken to events in an air conditioned car, and never walked anywhere. Now, I am experiencing Ubud, on the ground.
My back is killing me. I have to find Janet DeNeefe and get her to recommend a healer. Having read her deeply moving book, ‘Fragrant Rice’, I know that will work.
There are banners for UWRF 2009 everywhere. Past the Palace, heading for Janet’s restaurant Casa Luna, there are roadworks in Ubud – how strangely mundane! Casa Luna is a peaceful, tranquil haven from the heat, noise and dust of the road digging, but Janet isn’t here. There is a blonde woman sitting here on a sofa, reading ‘Fragrant Rice’ and I could so easily initiate a conversation (‘That’s a great book!’), but the pain in my back gives me other priorities. I have one of Casa Luna’s delightful mixed juice drinks, and head back out into the heat.
Down in the Festival office, a volunteer is looking for my welcome pack. A crowd of people are buying tickets and looking at the event posters. I walk past a table and my small backpack brushes against a bald, middle-aged Asian man. He glares at me for an instant, and I glare back. The blonde woman with him looks startled for a moment. Negative energy sparks fly. Men!
Outside, Sarah Tooth, this year’s Programme Director, greets me warmly and then introduces me to bald, middle-aged Mo Tejani, author of ‘A Chameleon’s Tale’, and his blonde partner. He greets me enthusiastically and they invite me to join them for a drink. We sit out on the delightful terrace of
With Mo Tejani
There’s a drinks reception for the writers at the Four Seasons hotel. I’ve left it a bit late to change, so I have to go there on one of the shuttles, still in my shorts and t-shirt. It doesn’t seem right for the Four Seasons – I stayed here last year, you know.
Here’s Catriona Mitchell, last year’s Programme Director. She’s as gorgeous and radiant as ever. I don’t even bother to pull my stomach in – forget it, man, she’s way out of your league.
Here’s Fatima Bhutto, of the Bhutto Dynasty. She’s vivacious and not aloof. Alas, that will all change when she’s sucked into Pakistani politics – the destroyer of souls. She seems friendly enough, and is very attractive. I can see why George Clooney was interested (but not enough to move to
Shuttles take us to dinner at another exquisite resort and finally Kellie Jones and Liz Ralf – both Australians, of course – give me a ride back to the Ubud Inn in their car.
Wireless internet access at the Ubud Inn is only in the Reception and restaurant area. I’m sitting here at , with my laptop, doing my e-mail.
A dark haired man in a t-shirt and pyjama bottoms comes to the reception desk and tells the nightwatchman that it’s too noisy and he can’t sleep. Apparently, the people upstairs from him are moving about too much. He has a soft voice and a foreign accent – I think it might be East European or German.
The nightwatchman calls the offending room, and says: ‘Can you be quiet.’ His English is not sophisticated enough to do this tactfully.
I think: ‘Bloody tourist. You can’t have everything your own way. There’s bound to be some background noise in this place. Get used to it.’
I’ve never had a problem sleeping and I tend to be unsympathetic with people who need everything in their environment to be just perfect.
Return to cottage and sleep soundly. I love
WEDNESDAY 7 OCTOBER
The Balinese ant is in the bathroom. My back still hurts. I’ve got to get it sorted.
Breakfast in the delightful open restaurant. By ‘open’, I mean it has no walls – typical of Balinese architecture. The staff are pleasant, polite and attentive.
Here’s my theory about the Balinese. They are actually very advanced souls who have been given an incarnation in
A dark haired man sits at the adjacent table. Suddenly, he says to me, ‘Excuse me, don’t I know you from Perth Writers Festival?’
It’s Najaf Mazari – ‘The Rugmaker of Mazar-E-Sharif’. I thought he looked familiar!
Robert Hillman, his Australian co-author, joins us and we all have a wonderful conversation.
Then Najaf says: ‘Last night I could not sleep. The room above was making too much noise. I had to tell the front desk to ask them to be quiet.’
Robert explains to me: ‘When Najaf lived in
I nod in sympathy and say nothing.
‘You see Imran, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”’
‘I’m sorry, Holy Spirit. It was wrong of me to leap to judgment. Thank you for letting me learn the lesson without too much pain.’
I ask the front desk about a massage and they say the place next door does them.
At the Wibawa Resort and Spa, I sign-up for a traditional Balinese massage. She leads me through an endless succession of terraces and garden areas, with elaborate statues and pools of water, to a room with open architecture, including an outdoor bath and shower.
‘Please take your clothes off and lie down, Mr Imran.’
She puts a sarong over my middle. My hour-long massage is very precise, sharp, sometimes brutal. Through the face hole in the couch, I can see her toes as she stands in front of my head, but surely those can’t be her hands laying into my back so powerfully. She must be just the ‘front man’ and a big, muscular guy must have come in quietly to do the actual massage.
But she makes me turn over and there’s no-one else in the room.
Finally, it’s over and she leaves me to shower and dress.
My back does feel better!
The security guard at the Ubud Inn gives me a scooter ride to
We check out the venue for my workshop – a delightful meeting room with open walls – and then Fan Fan gives me a lift back to the Ubud Inn on his rented scooter.
In the restaurant area, he introduces me to another Mizan writer, Peer Holm Jorgensen from Denmark, who has written ‘The Forgotten Massacre’ about the extermination of ten of thousands of people labelled ‘Communist’ in Indonesia in 1965. It’s a sobering conversation.
Peer Holm Jorgensen
Dr Janet Steele arrives at Ubud Palace
Janet De Neefe
I’m having a bit of déjà vu.
Walk over to Casa Luna, for the writers’ dinner. I am invited to sit with the Byron Bay Writers Festival delegation, as I was their Number One Bestselling author in 2009. Jeni Caffin says that she recently attended a conference of literary festival directors in
I was planning to walk back to the Ubud Inn, but some Mizan people have a car and give me a ride back.
Swim in the pool alone at , for exercise and cooling. Try not to make too much noise – don’t want to disturb anyone.
THURSDAY 8 OCTOBER
Breakfast, delightful chat with Australian publisher Cathy Lewis, then hotel car to
It’s a half-day workshop on my publishing journey. The audience is entirely women and they seem very interested. One of the volunteers, Tara, turns out to be a friend of Maril Crabtree – an American writer who helped me on my journey. I had dinner with Maril in
'First you write a good book ... then you get it published ... let's have some cake ...'
The audience all studiously fill out their evaluation forms with very intense expressions. I wonder what they have written.
Eat some of the cake from my workshop for lunch, sit awhile with
My camera loves her
I’m sitting sprawled out and relaxed on my favourite sofa at one side of the Indus lounge, enjoying a session hosted by Jeni Caffin, when Andy Ewing – one of the UWRF managers – comes up to me.
‘Have you got your book with you?’
‘Is there anything in it about chocolate?’
Pause to think. ‘Yes’.
‘Can you come to do a session? We’ve lost some writers.’
Of course, I agree, and he takes me to a waiting car and thence to a spacious villa complex, where an event about chocolate and literature is in session ... with free chocolate being given away. Apparently, some African writers scheduled for this event failed to show up (probably due to visa issues) and I was required to stand-in. Janet De Neefe is here and so is Catriona Mitchell, so I have to impress.
I have barely sat down when the MC says, ‘Please welcome Imran Ahmad.’
I manage to stall the audience with some talk about the importance of chocolate, whilst I find the relevant place in my book, and then I read the passage and insert some additional references to chocolate which I make up as I go along.
(Note to all literary festival directors: I am a full service writer.)
Janet gives me a ride to Casa Luna and, as I’m getting out of her car, invites me to a dinner event this evening.
‘Unfortunately I can’t. I have a commitment for dinner.’
‘I hope she’s pretty.’
‘It’s Ron Stones.’
(Ronald Stones OBE, the Director of the
Get a ride back to
This time is priceless.
I’ve only got 30,000 Rupiah in my wallet and I need 50,000 to pay for a car ride back to the Ubud Inn. Julie Silvester, a Festival volunteer, overhears me trying to find a scooter ride and offers to share a car, as she lives right by the Ubud Inn. She’s been in
Shower and change. Ron Stones’ car picks me up at and takes me to his magnificent villa, where I have dinner with some of his school staff. They all seem to be wonderful, upbeat, cheerful people.
Get a ride back and sit awhile with Peer Holm Jorgensen in the deserted restaurant area of the Ubud Inn.
FRIDAY 9 OCTOBER
My back is hurting again. An intense pain in the lower back, on the left side.
Have breakfast with Cathy Lewis and Najaf Mazari.
Get a scooter ride to
At , a car arrives to take me to the
Get a ride back to Ubud Inn, and go for a walk around the nearby shops.
Indra and Fan Fan are waiting for me outside the cottage, when I get back. Rapidly shower and change, and we head for Denpasar for my first book launch event, in the biggest bookstore.
First they take me to dinner and then buy me a chocolate sundae and give me some more spending money. Yes, Mizan is a full service publisher.
In the book store, there are posters of me. Atta, my eloquent publicist, does an excellent job with the microphone to get people to gather around, listen to what we have to say, and ask questions. Afterwards, I sign books and many people get their photos taken with me.
Atta says (in Indonesian): 'It's a great book!'
Indra and Fan Fan give me a ride back to Ubud, and I ask to be dropped off at Chris Gentry’s villa – which is the location of tonight’s party for the writers. There’s a map on the invitation, which I show the driver.
The villa is extraordinary and has beautiful Balinese open architecture … blah … blah … I’m so getting used to this.
The party is in full swing. The buffer dinner is wonderful and people are dancing frenetically. I have to dance, I suppose ... otherwise I cannot say in this blog that I danced. Fortunately, it is quite dark, so no-one can really see me too clearly. (This is a private party, so I don’t feel I should publish photos here.)
I wondered where all the Beautiful People had gone, and now I’ve found them. And in this darkness, they must think I’m one of them!
Fatima Bhutto is here! I could dance with her (I’m at least as good looking as George Clooney). If I impress her, the possibilities are endless. When she becomes President of Pakistan, I could reclaim my long-ago-lapsed Pakistani citizenship and serve in her Government, as a Minister, or Special Envoy. I could lead the final peace negotiations with India (‘Beloved brothers and sisters, I come in peace, now and forever’); be the visionary architect of the South Asian Union (‘Dignity, opportunity, rights, justice and prosperity for all citizens of the SAU’); address the United Nations; have tea at the White House; Barack Obama could call me his friend and trusted advisor; King Charles could give me a knighthood (he’s mentioned three times in my book) (of course I’d keep my British passport, I’m not stupid); an honorary Doctorate or two (I failed to get one in Chemistry the normal way, by doing the hard work); the Nobel Peace Prize … finally, retirement in the House of Lords … the possibilities are endless … whatever you can dream, you can achieve (I read in that MBS book the other day). All I have to do is dance with Fatima Bhutto.
But Fatima Bhutto is not dancing – she’s reclining on cushions. That’s exactly what Pakistani feudal lords and the powerful elite do – they recline on cushions. (Seek an audience with one and you will see.) Oh well …
Here’s Catriona Mitchell, dancing so amazingly – she’s practically leaping up to the ceiling. I join her (she smiles!); I dance with her; I try to keep up with her; I impress, her I’m sure … until the shooting pain in my chest and down my left arm tells me that my time is up. I disappear into the crowd and make my way to a living room, to gasp and rest.
It’s time to go … but I decide to explore just one more living area. Here I meet a couple from
I need a ride back to Ubud – this villa is in the middle-of-nowhere. I loiter in the reception area and a woman comes out and looks like she’s getting ready to leave. She’s Australian, so obviously she is happy to offer me a ride with her and her husband. They drop me at
I have an email from an Indonesian publisher. They would like to publish my book in Indonesian. Sorry … just a little too late …
SATURDAY 10 OCTOBER
I sleep late-ish and just manage to get breakfast before the deadline.
I think about renting a scooter, and the hotel security guard introduces me to a scooter-renter a few yards down the street. He looks visibly concerned when I answer his question – no, I’ve never driven a scooter before. Hey, what’s the big deal? Everyone comes to
The pain in my back has returned – but now it’s on the right side. The healer just moved it! I call the Bali Botanica Day Spa and book a full aromatherapy massage for Sunday morning.
I take a car to
The lunch is delightful and is hosted by Warwick Purser – the Patron of UWRF. Last year at this place, I got stuffed on the appetisers and didn’t realise there was a main course – which I was too full to eat. This year, I remember not to do that.
Warwick Purser addressing the Long Table Lunch
There is a reading by several writers after the lunch, and I also manage to read from my book – about school lunches in
Afterwards, Polly Purser shows us around the compound, with its magnificent bamboo architecture.
Art or science?
Get driven back to
Now I have a problem. The two public events this evening are the Poetry Slam and the Street Party. Neither is really calling me – it’s going to be an arbitrary decision. Liz offers to give me a ride back to the Ubud Inn on her scooter.
We step out of
I have a brief conversation with Vik and he gives me his personal email address. Finally!
Get home quite late, and the Balinese ant greets me at the door of our cottage.
SUNDAY 11 OCTOBER
I arise early, have a quick breakfast, and then get a scooter ride for my aromatherapy massage at the Bali Botanica Day Spa.
After the fruit juice welcome, she (petite and elegant) leads me to another room with a missing far wall – looking straight out onto dense forest – and asks me to remove all my clothes, while she steps out. I can put on the disposable underwear if I wish. This is black panties – which I do decide to put on, and hope that no-one (man or monkey) in the forest is watching.
She returns, covers my middle with a sarong as I lie down and the aromatherapy massage begins. It’s 75-minutes and it’s amazing … I drift into another place, where space and time are one … the rhythm of my own breathing … the warm oil on my skin … the soothing sound of running water splashing on rocks … her hands working the pain and the negative energy out of my body …
It’s a full body massage …
It feels wonderful …
Her hands feel wonderful …
This is the first time that I’ve ever been glad that my old equipment takes a lot of effort to get started up …
Finally, she leaves me to shower and dress. I stand naked, looking out at the forest. My back feels better. I feel like a new man.
I walk up to
My Mizan friends collect me at , for the official launch of my Indonesian book at UWRF 2009.
Afterwards, I rush to get the shuttle to my next performance event, Voices from the Coffee Lands, at the stunning Linda Garland estate. As I explain when I do my readings, I’m not actually from the coffee lands, I just drink a lot of the stuff.
This is the perfect event – the embodiment of UWRF. It’s intimate, and there’s food, drink, poetry, literature, music, song and dancing. Janet De Neefe drops in and has a dance, as she always does.
Afterwards, I walk back to
Some delightful Balinese children greet us in the street.
At , join Peer and Julie for a taxi to Antonio Blanco’s
Janet calls her team on stage and, as I step forward to take their photo, she says: ‘I know Imran will be back next year.’
I have tears in my eyes. I can’t wait to come back. This is the most magical, extraordinary Literary Festival that there is.
I say goodbye to Catriona, Peer, Janet, Kellie, Liz,
To stretch the experience, I walk all the way back to the Ubud Inn …
MONDAY 12 OCTOBER
It has rained very heavily overnight, but the weather was perfect during the Festival. Ahh, that’s because Janet’s team made a special request to the Balinese rain gods …
'Oh no! I am so sorry. You’re from
My Indonesian speaking tour will be another blog entry.
Note: If you are one of those famous writers whom Janet writes to, about coming to Ubud, and you don’t even bother to reply, the loss is entirely yours.