KEMBALI20: Kevin Kwan, Oka Rusmini, Eka Kurniawan, and other great speakers you should see during ‘Rebuild Bali’ virtual festival

A scene taken from one of the sessions at the 2019 Ubud Writers & Readers Festival. Photo: Anggara Mahendra/UWRF
A scene taken from one of the sessions at the 2019 Ubud Writers & Readers Festival. Photo: Anggara Mahendra/UWRF

There’s no denying that our world looks starkly different today compared to last year, but that doesn’t mean we can’t engage in thought-provoking discussions from the safety and comfort of our homes amid this pandemic, right? 

Well, for those of us who were looking forward to the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival (UWRF) or Ubud Food Festival (UFF) in 2020, their organizers have created a virtual alternative this year, titled KEMBALI20: A Rebuild Bali Festival, which will take place from Oct. 29 to Nov. 8.

The full lineup and programs for the event, which is set to “bring together the most successful elements of UWRF and UFF,” was announced recently, featuring some pretty exciting speakers including renowned Singaporean-American writer behind Crazy Rich Asians, Indonesia’s own literary stars Eka Kurniawan and Dee Lestari, and not to mention talks that are closer to home for those of us in Bali, ranging from flourishing citizen journalism to preserving local folklore. 

With over 60 digital sessions across 11 days, you are quite spoilt for choice, so Coconuts Bali is here with a rundown of the sessions that, in our humble opinion, you should not miss out on during Kembali. Oh, do note that some of the sessions are pre-recorded, but audience members can submit their questions prior to recording here


Ben Bland: Man of Contradictions: Joko Widodo and The Struggle to Remake Indonesia

Thursday, Oct. 29, 2pm-3pm

For those of you who don’t know, Man of Contradictions is the first English-language biography of President Joko Widodo and it discusses how the 59-year-old is caught between democracy and authoritarianism, openness and protectionism, as well as Islam and pluralism. Written by Ben Bland, who is a former journalist and presently works as the director of the Southeast Asia Program at the Lowy Institute, the book and discussion might just provide an insight into Jokowi’s leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic. 


Keeping Bali’s Folklore Alive

Thursday, Oct. 29, 1pm-2pm

These days, there are always talks about how to return to the old Bali. Though that discussion is mostly reserved for the fact that tourism has crowded much of this island (up until the pandemic hit), some also touch on the increasing perception that certain aspects of Balinese traditions are dying. Featuring Balinese cultural preservationist Made Taro, his son Gede Tarmada, and Balinese writer Kadek Purnami, this session is set to discuss all about Bali’s traditional games, songs, and mighty interesting folklore. They say knowledge is power and perhaps these kinds of discussions will bring about a newfound appreciation to truly preserve those precious traditions in our modern world. 


Etgar Keret: Anything But Ordinary

Saturday, Oct. 31, 2pm-3pm

In this session featuring Israeli writer Etgar Keret, the audience is asked to expect anything but ordinary. That’s pretty much in line with the man, who is known for his specifically Israeli iteration of magical realism. 

“My stories come from a very unconscious place. I don’t premeditate them, I don’t know what’s going to happen in them,” he says. There’s not much else to do but to see this interview for ourselves, it seems. 


Eka Kurniawan’s Indonesia

Sunday, Nov. 1, 2:20pm-3:20pm

Eka Kurniawan is a household name in Indonesia’s literary scene, known as the most internationally renowned Indonesian author since Pramoedya Ananta Toer. We’ve all read Cantik Itu Luka (Beauty is a Wound), right? The topic of this talk seems pretty broad, as there’s just so much about this country that one can talk about, but if it’s coming from the mind of Eka Kurniawan, we’re all ears. 


Bali’s Citizen Journalism

Wednesday, Nov. 4, 1pm-2pm

So much of what’s being discussed in Bali can be traced back to the contributions from citizen journalism, and it’s been growing even stronger in recent years thanks to social media. It takes just hours for one video to make its rounds and turns into a heated debate, as we’ve seen with many things that have gone viral in the past year alone. Featuring community-based journalism portrayals Bale Bengong and Tatkala, this session looks set to provide us with an insight into the issues at the heart of Balinese communities. 


Jose Ramos-Horta: Peace and Governance in Timor Leste

Wednesday, Nov. 4, 5pm-6pm

There’s not nearly enough coverage about East Timor that it could feel like the world understands so little about the young country. So it’s pretty exciting that during this particular Kembali session, we’d get to hear from Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former president of East Timor himself, Jose Ramos Hortais, as he talks about his life, his country, and how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the fundamental principles of democracy.


Oka Rusmini: Men Coblong

Thursday, Nov. 5, 4pm-5pm

Oka Rusmini may be born in Jakarta, but her works are deeply rooted in her Balinese background, as some of us may have known through one of her popular works, Tarian Bumi (Earth Dance). Now, Men Coblong is a collection of her work, featuring the titular character of a middle-aged woman raising a son, who voices her responses to religious sensitivities, culture, politics, and everyday life. With Oka being known for her writing on the condition of women in patriarchal cultures, there’s going to be plenty to discuss during this session. 


Kevin Kwan: Sex and Vanity

Saturday, Nov. 7, 2pm-3pm

The author of Crazy Rich Asians is back with a new novel: Sex and Vanity. Released earlier this year in June, his latest book is a modern love story between two cultures and two breathtaking locales, featuring his trademark wit and an exploration of Asian-American and WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) identity. Sounds like something you’d be into? Mark this session on your calendars for a discussion on making it into Hollywood history and interrogating the ultrawealthy with Kevin Kwan. 


Krithika Varagur: The Call: Inside the Global Saudi Religious Project

Sunday, Nov. 8, 12pm-1pm

Krithika Varagur’s exploration of Saudi Arabia’s soft power play has been much talked about, for it provides an insight into what it actually means when a country exports its ideology. It should be particularly of interest to those of us in Indonesia, as she offers the country as one of her case studies. This one is set to be a discussion about religion, politics, and, naturally, what we really talk about when we talk about “Saudi money.” 


To stream Kembali’s online sessions, audience members must first donate to their Yayasan Patron Program. This will give you an email of registration link and unique code, from which you can create a user account. Guests are invited to choose to donate from IDR150,000 (US$10), IDR200,000, IDR500,000, IDR1,000,000, or more. Donations give you access to more than 60 of Kembali’s digital Main Program, which will be available for re-watch for the next month after the festival.

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