An Australian woman who has invested her life in advancing international understanding of the culture of Bali says visitors are beginning to appreciate that the island offers far more than good value holidays and great beaches.
Janet De Neefe is the principal of the Casa Luna Cooking School and Boutique Honeymoon Guesthouse at the craft and cultural centre of Ubud. She says that visitors are beginning to look beneath Bali's obvious attractions to find a vibrant artistic community whose roots are steeped in more than 1000 years of evolution as an advanced society.
Janet is one of the many expats living and working in Bali who have total faith in the resilience of the Balinese people to rebuild and expand the attractions of their "Island of the Gods," holiday home to millions of visitors over decades.
Bullish on Bali's Future
"Possibly the events of the last 12 months have provided an opportunity for Bali to re-examine the way in which it presents itself to the world - to enable it to re-shape its image in Australia and elsewhere by showing the full depth and breadth of the peaceful people of this wonderful place," said Janet, who has taught top Aussie chefs and celebrities at her acclaimed cooking school.
Janet says that she and her husband are very positive about the future of Bali. They hope to expand the cooking school soon to include a holistic wellbeing centre, where guests can learn traditional Balinese methods of relaxation and health maintenance, and use the natural healing energy which exists in Bali.
"Bali will always have the beach and wonderful shopping experience," says Janet, "but there is much beyond that - places like Casa Luna - where visitors are able to see and learn more of the Balinese culture than ever before."
Life in the Slow Lane
"At Casa Luna we have taught the Balinese way to nourish the body since 1992. Now I want to give guests a way to nourish the spirit."
"Western society moves so fast - too fast sometimes. The East can now give this wisdom back to the more developed countries. We can show how to slow down, to take stock and enjoy your time. Family, health, and friends - these are life's important things. Nobody gets to the end of their life and wishes they had spent more time in the office!"
The Casa Luna Cooking School offers a range of courses, lasting as long as you choose. First up is a trip to the local markets, where the freshest spices and produce are purchased. Following this Janet takes guests through the steps of a number of traditional Balinese dishes, which she herself learned at her sister-in-law Kasi's table.
Janet first visited Bali with her family in 1974, and returned many times until her marriage to Ketut in 1989. Together they have raised their four children Arjuna, Laksmi, Dewi and Krishna in the Honeymoon Guesthouse, built by Ketut following their marriage.
During her early visits to Bali, Janet attended what she refers to as a 'culinary/cultural college' with Ketut's extended family. She has, this year, fulfilled her early dreams by writing the book she has researched for the past 20 years.
Chronicling her exploration of the Balinese way of life, "Fragrant Rice" is much more than a cookbook. The recipes are scattered among reminisces which give a remarkable insight into Balinese culture, as well as Janet's, often comical, attempts to understand it.
"I was spellbound by Bali from my first visit," says Janet, "like so many Australian's before me. It is not surprising really - Australians and Balinese have so much in common."
"Despite the obvious differences between East and West, Balinese and Australians have a similar temperament and humor. We both have a 'fair go for all' attitude and a tendency to gentle teasing. It was Ketut's sharp wit which struck me the first time we met."
Although her family travels regularly between Australia and their Island home, there were no plans to abandon Bali following the October 12 blasts. "We feel completely safe here," says Janet. "We are part of a strong community including Balinese and expats who all look out for one another, and for ways to help the Island recover."
"Bali is safer now than ever before. To complement the official security measures implemented last year, the village communities have instituted their own checks. Anybody coming to Bali has to have a legitimate reason for doing so, which will be verified by the village heads. Since all of Bali is made up of villages, this 'neighborhood watch' system is pretty effective."
"The Balinese-Hindu culture dictates that they are responsible for all guests on their Island, explains Janet. The Balinese are determined to regain their national dignity and identity, by ensuring that all who visit the Island are safe and happy. The whole community is resolved to restore the Island paradise, to recover the peace and innocence that was so cruelly taken away last year.
"Australians know that the Balinese had nothing to do with the October 12 bombing. People came from outside to do this - the Balinese were as much victims as anybody else," says Janet.
"The bombing was a symptom of a global problem which everybody has to share in. Bali has given itself to the world, for all to share in its beauty and serenity. The world has to remember that now, and come back to us."
Janet's book "Fragrant Rice" is published by Harper Collins and available in all good bookstores.
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