An Intoxicating Evening

By William J. Furney
The Bali Times

After several hours’ less sleep than usual, I woke early on Sunday morning and wham! – Did I really say that last night? It was during a moment of enthusiasm at the grand-opening party of Bali’s latest ultra-luxurious hotel that I had made what at the time seemed a perfectly logical request of a charming lady but with the dawning light of the new day was clearly anything but.

It had been an intoxicating evening at an enthralling venue, the St. Regis in Nusa Dua, and an unending flow of champagne and signature cocktails and oysters and caviar got the ritzy crowd geared up for a stomping performance by British jazz artist Jamie Cullum, who had earlier arrived from London.

His funky, piano-tapping jazz arrangements drove the well-attired folk into something approaching a polite frenzy, reaching a zenith when the star took a spirited leap from the top of his piano. Now there’s something you don’t see every day.

Cullum, who looked like he had just stepped out of a high-school study session, said it had been raining when he left the UK and was raining in Bali (err, it is the rainy season here, Jamie), but at least it was hot. So hot that everyone appeared glossy – as in encased in a film of sticky perspiration in the high-humidity open-air anteroom. And then there were some people who were hot, which led to my Sunday morning predicament.

Jamie has regional connections: his mum is from Myanmar. And he’s supremely talented, with musical instruments and a mature singing voice that belies his youth. I had wanted to chat to him about this at some stage, the Myanmar issue, but his manager deflected requests, saying the musician wanted to “focus on his music.” Pity, as with ASEAN meeting in Thailand the same weekend and its proposed new human rights body on the table, it would have been interesting to hear Cullum’s take on the appalling situation in that country.

But back to the big bash, and lovely Karen O’Keefe from SOS International Bali was pinching a cigar from my pack when I looked over and found she was with the new Australian consul-general to Bali, Lex Bartlem, a jolly fellow who has worked around the world on behalf of his government, including such hotspots as Baghdad and Beirut, and was awarded the Order of Australia Medal for helping victims and families after the bombings here in 2002.

I had earlier been chatting with the information chief of the Culture and Tourism Ministry, Surya Dharma, who’s from Sumatra, and his boss, Minister Jero Wacik, both of whom were upbeat about tourism here and said the global economic downturn was not entirely impacting the island, perhaps only in how much tourists decide to spend while on their vacation.

The minister was hopeful of record numbers of tourists to Bali this year, and he assured me that foreign tourists need not be concerned about being arrested on Bali beaches while attired in bikinis – in apparent contravention of a recently passed anti-pornography law. In fact he laughed at the idea, and just as I was launching into a “Well, why did you support the contentious legislation, then?” line, he decided he’d rather be elsewhere in the Astor Ballroom, where the crowd was chowing down on the finest of foods betwixt the second and final Cullum performance.

Jack Daniels, longtime Bali resident and head of Bali Discovery Tours and its indispensible weekly enewsletter, Bali Update, was just back from a trip to Mumbai, where he stayed at the refurbished Taj Mahal Palace hotel, following a deadly siege there late last year. He said he was struck by how a sense of normalcy had so swiftly returned to the prestigious property that had become such an international scene of devastation – a manager who had lost his wife and children in the terrorist attack was on duty.

David Leadbeatter from Hot Property magazine told me how resilient the Bali property market still is while a Bangkok-based American journalist from New York-based Travel + Leisure magazine – whose readers, via a third party-conducted poll that costs the publication US$1.5 million, have consistently voted Bali the world’s best island destination – was enjoying the evening, and sending messages from his BlackBerry.

Butlers took part in a St. Regis tradition of champagne popping – alas the popper broke the pricey bottle in half – and a giant cake that I half-expected a scantily clad woman to jump out of (now there’s class) – was rolled out to the snazzy sounds of an attractive electronic violinist.

There was lots of delicious gossip about goings-on in Bali – much too confidential to report here – and elsewhere. It was my third invitation to the hotel, following its soft opening last September and an art exhibition just before Christmas, and it’s a place that while at first seems luxuriously imposing does grow on you. It’s a resort you’d like to stay at and never leave, made all the more attractive by the very wonderful people that work there.

And so on Sunday morning, groaning while dressing, I returned to the scene of that inappropriate question, where the guest star was busy mixing St. Regis-devised Bloody Marys in the sumptuous King Cole Bar. And in true classic style that befits the resort, she laughed it off. After all, it was a stimulating evening that made you feel you could have it all. And in Bali, if you’re lucky, you can.

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