Capital Class

By William J. Furney
The Bali Times

I’m interviewing a German art curator in Sanur and he’s telling me about a group of successful Jakarta businesspeople who gather in the executive Garuda lounge at Soekarno-Hatta every Friday evening, and board business class to Bali.

This they do every weekend, he tells me, almost without fail. One among them is a middle-aged Indonesian man who’s divorced and has no plans to remarry and “enjoys” his life with some of the country’s most stunning women. No strings, no hassles, just pure Bali fun at the end of a nonstop week in the capital.

I don’t recall how we happened on to the subject, as we’d veered off our talk about an upcoming exhibition of valuable art being exhibited here. But later it got me to thinking about the affluent, carefree class in Indonesia, how they flit around the country, and the world, on a whim.

For the most part, they’re not the usual breed of folk living it up on the trails of corruption; they have made it big all on their own – tycoons, heads of corporations, big-earning celebrities.

Not long after, I’m at the glitzy Ritz-Carlton in the heart of Jakarta, surrounded at a late-night shindig by well-heeled local women in designer attire, their toned bodies loosening up with expensive tipples, including brandy, I note (must be made of sterner stuff than me, as I can’t abide the snifter), as they do the salsa with their young trainers flown from the Philippines and put up for the weekend.

For people like these, money really is no object to the luxuries they need to get by. But though they exist on a different, higher plane, the ones I know are big-hearted and give generously to those less fortunate – whether cash aid or assistance with matters.

For people like these, a stop at an ATM almost clears out the machine; and they carry around big wads of cash in envelopes, never pausing to consider the price of anything before shelling out: if they want it, they shall have it.

Bali – and many of the world’s other top spots – is their playground. They’ve been coming here for years, seeking a fairground release from the trials of the gridlocked and smog-encapsulated capital. Some form business ventures with the expats they meet here; others start their own enterprises.

I’m thinking that for people like these – some religious, others less so, and only for the sake of appearance in their home communities – Bali represents something of a deep thrill not found anywhere else in Indonesia, or Southeast Asia: the island’s legendary blithe  ambiance; its treasure-box of spectacular scenery; its deliciously warm and inviting people; its unending places of world-class accommodation, entertainment and fare; its inventive expats and happy tourists from every corner of the world – it all combines into a potent, heady cocktail best served from dawn till dusk.

Recent media reports spoke of a possible reeling-in of expenditure by Indonesia’s moneyed class, but I don’t see it. One of them – at the apex of this fortunate group – was in Bali again this week for business and by extension, pleasure. Despite the lingering global downturn, he sees vast potential for doing business on this tiny island, and he’s not alone in that buoyant outlook.

Like a sultry seductress calling out from a craggy rock, Bali’s beacon attracts a wider scope than just the Jakarta wealthy; an array of stellar names from almost every nation on Earth has felt the pull, and acquiesced. This weekend many of them will be here, attending the grand-opening party of one of Bali’s newest properties, the imposing St. Regis in Nusa Dua. In a personal letter accompanying the luxuriously presented invitation, manager Frank Beck calls the resort “the best address.” That may be a soupçon of hyperbole, but there’s no doubt the tag could be applied to the entire island itself.

Whatever the prevailing economic or political conditions, Bali will remain timelessly striking, and for those who are smitten, it’s a charmed life.

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