Janet De Neefe on the Quieter Bali Life

 

 

 

Australian Janet De Neefe made Bali her home decades ago, after marrying an Ubud man and moving to be with him in paradise.

There, she raised four children, set up restaurants and a gallery, a hotel and a cooking school. In 2002 she set up the Ubud Writers And Readers Festival, then the Ubud Food Festival.

Her life was super-busy, and rewarding. Then along came Covid-19. Suddenly the tourists were gone, and everything changed.

But despite all the challenges, Janet remains philosophical. She chats to The Starfish:

 

Janet, in your decades in Ubud, you’ve lived through the Bali bombings and global financial crises. But is this  global pandemic the hardest setback so far?

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I have lived in Ubud since 1985 and I have never before witnessed a crisis of this nature.  With the first Bali Bombings, business slowly started to return to normal after 6 months and the airport or borders were never closed. With Covid, it has now been 12 months with no definite end in sight. So many businesses have closed. Every day on Monkey Forest Road and Jalan Hanoman, more shops are closing up, one by one. Maybe only ten percent are operating right now. And the monkeys are getting hungry and bored. They have been wandering further north, up the road, away from the forest.

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How difficult has it been for the Ubud community? 
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The community remains optimistic but you can see they are pretty flattened. My neighbour next to Casa Luna on the main road stopped me on the street the other day. ” Ibu,” she said with misty eyes.” Please tell the tourists to come back to Bali so that we can make our offerings. Please tell them that it is safe here. We promise to look after them.”
Luckily the banjars, community groups,  have been a small saviour for the people. With funds they have collected from all the members over the years, they have been able to assist by providing rice for everyone. Luckily, noone starves in Bali!
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You have so many businesses in Ubud catering for tourists, how devastating has this been for your family?
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During the whole pandemic we have kept our restaurant Casa Luna open although we have reduced operating hours and often wondered if we can survive this. I think we all just want to keep our staff employed. We closed Honeymoon Guesthouse, the Emporium and Indus. But it hasn’t all been bad. At Indus, my son built a wood-fired oven and has been making delicious wood-fired pizza every weekend, Friday to Sunday, mainly for delivery. Honeymoon Guesthouse has had a few guests lately too. And the bakery has been plodding along the whole time. We have added a whole new range of baked goods to our repertoire too, from sausage rolls and homemade tempe, to new sourdough breads and Portugese tarts. We have been keeping the local expat community happily heavy!
Day to day, how different is your life?
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My former day-to- day life was like a marathon. Now it’s like a stroll through the park, although Zoom can be a tad tiring. But I am enjoying going to bed earlier and reading more. My new routine is that I must read for at least 20 minutes every night. Recently, we started the Ubud Artisan Market and I have also started art classes in the Festival office so my life has come full circle! I am back at the beginning. And of course we are now working on the Festival program. But I am definitely not working as hard as I used to.
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Are the streets deadly quiet?
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There is always local traffic, but there are definitely less cars and motorbikes on the road and at nights the streets are deserted. The skies are deserted too. I have never heard so many birds before!
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Are many locals still attending your restaurants? Are some people still coming to the Honeymoon Guest House?
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Expats are still eating at Casa Luna. There has actually been an exodus of local westerners to Canggu, to be near the ocean and a bit more action. We have a few guests coming to Honeymoon and these have mainly been long-term. One Indonesian guest has been staying with us for 10 months now. Our price is so low that she decided to live at Honeymoon during covid.
How has the whole experience changed you as a person?
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Changed me? Not sure, but I guess it has created an unforgettable experience for me and forced me to think outside the box. I have loved spending more time with the family too. At the start we were all at home at night, eating together, cooking together, even playing poker. That was magical!
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You have come up with a number of innovations to keep your part of Bali connected to the outside world, also to keep your own businesses going. Can you tell us about some of them.
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In terms of innovations,  last year the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival became an online event that married literature with food and  local stories. That was an entirely new experience for us and one that forced us to move beyond our comfort zone into a new digital landscape. I have also been having fun running weekly interviews on Instagram Live, mainly about local food and well known personalities etc. We have started the Ubud Artisan market that focuses on young creative Indonesians and the new businesses they have created to survive. Our Festival office has morphed into a creative arts hub where we are running a variety of workshops, including art classes. We are constantly evolving!
When do you expect international tourists will return and the old bustling Ubud will return?
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Bustling Ubud? That might be a while but I imagine people will start returning in July.
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What’s something nice, and perhaps unexpected to come out of this very challenging time?
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I’ve loved getting back to my yoga. I used to do it every day once upon a time and suddenly have been able to return to my former schedule. I’ve also had time to refresh the house a little – I have loads of textiles and we made up lots of new cushions, recovered sofas etc. And I decided to start an organic garden and had a girl in town plant loads of wonderful herbs and vegetables. Mahjong has been my best friend this year too. I’m addicted! But perhaps the nicest thing of all is that my daughter, Dewi, announced her engagement last year with Eka and they will marry this year.
You’re  an amazing cook. Thanks for the recipe for Balinese Tofu and Spinach Curry in this edition.
And you’re doing some online cooking lessons at the moment. How do readers sign up?
I decided to start cooking classes once a week back at Casa Luna. The menu focuses on plant-based Balinese food and I have had full classes so far (although the number is reduced due to Covid). I think it’s best to keep your eyes on my Facebook and Instagram account for class details. They are generally every second Saturday depending on ceremonies etc.
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You’re also running art classes in Ubud?
Yes, we encourage all budding artists to come along, to learn or improve their technique. Join our exciting new art sessions at Studio Saraswati on the grounds of the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival in Sanggingan. Our monthly program includes life drawing and workshops in creative arts and literature. Basic drawing advice is provided for those who want some direction at the sessions. Studio Saraswati is an initiative of the foundation that runs the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival as part of their community arts program.

DRAWING TIMES

Sundays 10am-1pm and Wednesdays 21 6pm to 9pm

Drink & Draw Rp. 350,000 Wine provided

Draw only Rp. 250,000

Register by WA +62 812-4683-8459

Class size strictly limit

Coffee,tea, aqua provided for all sessions.

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3 thoughts on “Janet De Neefe on the Quieter Bali Life

  1. Yes, Janet and many others affected but doing things differently. I fondly recall being there in 2015 for her Writers & Readers Festival. Such a warm, enlightening and memorable experience. Let’s hope it comes back, so I can come back. Best, BC.

  2. Dear Janet , it has been lovely to hear your news and it makes me hungry to return to the honeymoon guesthouse when Australian s are allowed to travel safely. I’m so glad everyone us at least able to eat. I stayed at honeymoon in 2020 in late Jan and created a painting exhibition featuring views from honeymoon guesthouse. So glad you have time for yoga too. Regards Valerie Crosse

  3. Thanks, Janet. It’s good to hear how things are going in Bali during these unusual and difficult times for the world.

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