Posts Tagged ‘literary festivals’

Fear and loathing in Bali with Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh

November 24, 2019

At the Ubud Writers Festival in Bali, Scottish writer Irvine Welsh riffs on writing, aging, privacy, politics and pharmaceuticals.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a editor at large for Inside Asian Gaming, contributor to Forbes, columnist/correpsondent for Asia Times, and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

#UWRF19: Reza Aslan says we’re born religious

October 26, 2019

At the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Bali, God: A Human History author Reza Alsan declared, “The religious impulse dates back to before our species exists.” Evidence of organized religion goes back 14,000 years, but evidence of religious impulses, such as cave paintings that depict fantasy beings rather than actual prey, burials and idols can be found as far as 350,000 years back, some 200,000 years before the rise of homo sapiens.

Aslan believes that evidence points to an innate belief in a higher power. “What is without doubt is that this is a universal impulse,” the Iranian-American religious scholar asserts, one that’s hardwired into all of us.

Of course, there’s an alternate explanation: beings that don’t hold this belief in a higher power get struck down before birth by the terrible swift sword of the Almighty.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is editor at large for Inside Asian Gaming and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Ubud encounters: Afghanistan for Afghans

October 21, 2013

Australian painter Ben Quilty and Indonesian writer Agustinus Wibowo told the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Bali how they each reached Afghanistan by different routes for different reasons. But following their stays, they both also reached the same conclusion: after a dozen years and thousands of casualties, it’s time for Afghanistan to solve its problems without foreign help.

Wibowo came to Afghanistan for the first time as a curious and footloose traveler. In Afghanistan as well as Pakistan, Wibowo said that since he came from Indonesia, people assumed he was Muslim. Telling them he was an ethic Chinese raised in the Buddhist tradition would either provoke suspicion or pointless debate, including attempts to convert him. “But I found the perfect answer,” Wibowo revealed. “When people asked if I was Muslim, I’d say, ‘Insy’allah’ [God willing].”

Later, Wibowo said he found an even better answer from Afghan imam. “He told me he was a member of the highest religion of all: humanity.”

Wibowo found a number of jobs in Afghanistan. For a time he was a photojournalist. “The first time I covered a bombing and I saw the bodies and blood, I couldn’t sleep for a week. But then it became routine.”

He noted that when foreign troops and aid workers first came to Afghanistan, they were welcomed. But by 2006, Afghans’ views had changed. “Billions of dollars are pumped into Afghanistan, but nothing has changed,” Wibowo said. He said there are “two worlds, Afghanis and expats,” noting,” Only 20 percent of the money poured into Afghanistan goes to locals.” The rest goes for foreigners’ salaries and benefits, along with materials from overseas. The ongoing frustration over foreign presence has led to a resurgence in support for the Taliban.

Wibowo, who has written three books about his travels in Central Asia and China, also warned, “We cannot impose first world concepts on fifth world countries.” He cited his experience as a consultant to a United Nations gender equity initiative where foreign feminists told local women in workshops that if their husbands got angry, they should question them about why they were angry. “The next day, the women came back with bruises.”

Ben Quilty went to Afghanistan in 2011 as the Australian War Memorial’s office al artist. Spending time with Australian troops, he found good people fighting a bad war. He bonded with many of the troops, and his works from Afghanistan remain on tour in Australia. He also found circumstances that fit today’s headlines.

“I went to Kabul to try to speak to the Australian embassy, and I couldn’t get in. I didn’t have the right passes. So I don’t know how Afghans are supposed to go get their papers fixed,” Quilty said, addressing Australia’s policy of turning away undocumented immigrants trying to land by ship.

“If we’re at war with a country and sending people there to try to make it safe, if that’s not a reason to take these people in, I don’t know what is.”

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Ubud encounters: Justin Torres gets angry, Neal Hall moves

October 4, 2012

At the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Bali, I ran into a couple of Americans and found out we share school ties.

Justin Torres, author of the novel We the Animals, teaches at Stanford’s creative program, where I studied a few decades ago. Torres was part of a fantastic panel entitled Through the Glass Darkly, exploring the distance between writer and writing.

Torres mentioned during the panel that when he writes, the overriding emotion is anger. “But as I explore the situation,” he said, “I find out that I have developed some empathy” for whatever it was that prompted the anger.”

We talked about the differences between writing fiction and non-fiction. “Fiction is about asking questions and leading to even bigger questions,” Torres said. “At least when it’s going right.”

I also met Neal Hall, MD, ophthalmologist and poet. His website is www.surgeonpoet.com, and he won first in poetry at the New York Book Festival this year. Hall will be talking about his book Nigger for Life later during the festival.

Hall and I discovered that we were both in school during the same years, and that I likely saw him play football for Cornell, where he also earned All America honors in track. But our conversation drifted to his choice to settle in Philadelphia. He said he wishes he’d stayed in Boston – he did his surgical training at Harvard. “I love the architecture, the history, and the way you can go out the street and be entertained around Cambridge,” he said.

Of course, I would suggest that city between Boston and Philadelphia that starts with New and doesn’t end with ark. Or its Far East Side incarnation that I call home: Hong Kong.

Later this afternoon, I’m looking forward to the launch of Diana Darling’s thoroughly adult Balinese fairy tale The Painted Alphabet. She’s a wonderful writer and an even better human being. It will be a pleasure to see her on such a happy occasion.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Living the naughty expat dream in Ubud

October 3, 2012

The Ubud Writers and Readers Festival kicked off Tuesday. This year’s ninth edition promises to be another winner. Highlights for me include Jeffrey Eugenides (The Virgin Suicides, Middlesex, The Marriage Plot) and Sheng Keyi (Northern Girls), who I’m due to interview for Asia Times. But the real joy of these festivals is discovering writers you didn’t know. I’ll try to send impressions via Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Update, October 14, 2012:
At the request of the family of my friend Brian Aldinger, the recently deceased co-founder of Naughty Nuri’s in Bali, I’ve deleted the rest of this blog entry.

Rest in peace, buddy.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

East meets West at the Ubud Writers Festival

October 7, 2009

Two years ago, my novel Hong Kong On Air was launched at the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival in Bali. I blogged for Lonely Planet.com about the festival that year, and I think those posts still convey a sense of this spectacular event.

At Wednesday’s opening press conference, playwright and former political prisoner Wole Soyinka of Nigeria, the first Nobel laureate on the Ubud program, noted the festival’s origin as a counterpoint to the Bali bombings of 2002. “Ubud had been on my radar for some time,” Soyina said. “I was drawn to it as it was a response to an act of the cessation of life.”

As night fell, participants celebrated another opening at Ubud’s Royal Palace albeit without the full moon of 2007. But again this year, under Bali’s magical influence, at the opening dinner, camaraderie and learning were already evident on the menu for readers and writers alike.

If you’re in the region, the event runs through Sunday, followed by the festival’s first event outside Bali at Yogyakarta’s Borobudur temple on Tuesday. If you’re far away, start making your plans to attend the Ubud festival next year.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.


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