Smooth Operators

By Mark Ulyseas

For The Bali Times

In this week’s issue, what should we focus on? The shenanigans at my favorite watering hole, the week that was or about the eclectic mix of people who have visited this haven to partake of the ambrosia of the Gods?

The specials on the menu today are: a vivacious Jewish girl from New York, shades of Toulous Lautrec and Mardi Gras in the form of Fuchong, a Japanese pop star and, for dessert, a masseur of acupressure from Surabaya.

So gird your loins, pour yourselves a chilled banana lassi and take a front row seat on this week’s journey through Ubud with The Bali Times.

*     *     *     *     *

I dropped by Yogabarn, which has recently opened its doors to the yoga and health aficionados of the Ubudian hills, to meet Meghan Beth Pappenheim for a cuppa of herbal tea and Meg’s big salad bowl, a selection of fresh organic vegetables.

Meg said she visited Bali a long time ago, when she was doing her Masters in Art Histories and Museum Studies. Her thesis was on Balinese tribal art. “Ubud has an essence and this essence entices people to come here. Many return year after year and some actually set up shop or home here,” she said.

“My restaurant, Kafe, on Jl. Hanoman was started with the idea of offering fresh organic food that is crisp, full of natural flavors and, more importantly, in a smoke-free environment.”

The signature items are Indian Plate (Dal, Bharta, Aloo Gobi, red rice and a chapatti), Macrobiotic breakfast (a bowl of steamed vegetables and tofu on a bed of steamed brown rice garnished with Tahim sauce), New York Bagels and Hox (Home cured salmon with onion, capers and cream cheese).

Megan told me that part of the profits of her business go to fund yayasans, or foundations, across the island.

After our meeting, I visited Kafe to check out the range of organic foods. Megan’s own brand of Bali Kofi is grown and roasted in Bali. I suppose her marriage to a Balinese and the Hindu ceremonies and lifestyle has helped Meg grow from a student to a mother to a businessperson and to give back to the community that had embraced this New York lass. There are many like her in Ubud who have over the years become one with the Balinese community.

Now let’s hop skip and jump over to my favorite watering hole. From fresh organic food to beer breaths and grilled spare ribs on a cool afternoon. A few days ago I met a young Japanese lady with long black hair and a voice that enthralled the customers in the warung. Curious to know more about her, I slid over to her side of the table, offered her a beer, which was graciously accepted, and began by asking her her name.

“Ray Yamada, aka Ray Charles of Tokyo,” she replied in an accent that defied the English language.

“Ray Charles?”

“I’m a pop singer. My inspiration is Ray Charles, Sade, Lolly Hill, Bob Marley, Rolling Stones, U2 and Sting. I started singing from the age of 10 – gospel, R&B, jazz,” she said, adding that her first public performance was at 15, when she sang Whitney Houston’s Run to Me at Shibuja’s Club in Central Tokyo. Talent scouts, on seeing her performance, wanted to sign her on immediately. But her mother, Mihoko, and father, Koichiro, an architect, dissuaded her as they felt she was too young and needed to finish schooling. Presently she is studying law at Seikei University in Kichijoji, South Tokyo.

A few years later, Ray began singing professionally in well-known nightclubs in Tokyo. like the Ginza, Roppongi and Shibuya.

In Bali for a few days of R&R, she came to Ubud because she had heard a lot about it from her friends in Tokyo. “I like the serenity and more so the gamelan music. It’s so spiritual and moving,” she said.

After a couple of beers, the 22-year-old spoke passionately about her dream to help the less fortunate in the world. “I sing because I want to build a school in Cambodia or Africa for poor children. My family are Christians and therefore we must give a part of our earnings to the poor. A percentage of my earnings is given to NGOs like Medicines Sans Frontiers.”

Ray stood up and sang Sade’s Smooth Operator. When she finished, there was a moment’s silence in the warung; then all the customers clapped and whistled.

We shared a wicked vodka martini and discussed Ray’s favorite Japanese writer, Osamu Dazai, whose book Ningen Shikkaku is a bestseller in the land of the rising sun.

The smooth operator is on the plane back to Tokyo to carry on her studies and singing career. We wish her well and know she will return to Ubud, as planned, early next year.

And now let’s shift from serenading songbirds to salsa and the Mardi Gras with Fuchong (Santosa P. Wijaya), who teaches salsa, modern dance like jazz and the cha cha. His physique resembles that of a ballerina, with a smile that completes the picture of Bali.

Born in Bali, Fuchong had from the time he was in elementary school a “feeling” for art. As a child, he enjoyed drawing, singing and dancing. On completing his secondary education, he joined the well-known Art Academy at Batubulan. After completing his studies there, he enrolled at the Udayana Art and Design School in Denpasar.

In addition to having a passion for art, Fuchong was a cabaret dancer and choreographer at several resort hotels in Bali during the 1990s. He draws his inspiration from renowned choreographer Guru Sukarnoputra.

Fuchong’s desire for colorful headdresses and masks used by cabaret dancers was ignited during a 2001 Rotary International Study Exchange program that sent him to Brazil. There he came face to face with the exotic costumes and sensual gyrating bodies on the streets during the Mardi Gras celebration.

His “cabaret” headpieces are handmade using the finest local and imported fabrics, feathers, beads and imitation rhinestones. Traditional and innovative techniques are used to produce his creations, which to me appear out of the movie Victor Victoria. The sensual colored feathers and sequined pieces have a life of their own.

From 2003 to 2007, Fuchong got an opportunity to work in California, where he learned first-hand about the fashion industry – experiencing both the wholesale and retail sectors of the business.

If you want to know more about this talented Ubudian’s craft or his dancing lessons, call him on 0812 3912103.

Now that the dance lessons are over, let’s get a soothing massage from Samuel Suyoto from Surabaya, who has been living in Ubud since 2000. Married with two children Samuel – known to all as Totok – came to Bali from Surabaya after training under Hernavan, a distinguished Chinese practitioner of acupressure.

“People come to me to relieve aches and pains because they don’t know how to do themselves,” says Totok. “Medicine all the time is not good. One must exercise. Very fat people can’t do this, so with my art of acupressure, I give them relief. Also, tourists travelling long days and carrying heavy bags.

“I am a Christian and my Hindu brothers in Ubud have given me a home here. Ubud has given me a new life.”

You can contact Samuel Suyoto on 0812 4607464 and please speak to him in Indonesian if you want an appointment. He charges Rp70,000 (US$7.50) an hour.

If there is a voice out there in the Ubudian hills that wants to be heard on any subject concerning Ubud, please do write to me at or

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

Filed under:
, Travel & Culture

Comments are closed.