Yesterday the 5th TEDxUbud was held at the magnificent Five Elements. Nine months of planning, by organisers Daniela Burr and Mila Shwaiko (and team) went into this now iconic event on the Ubud calendar. TEDxUbud was hosted by Ubud Now & Then’s Rio Helmi.

By Catriona Mitchell

For me the day began with ironing Rio’s shirts. Let’s be clear: ironing is not my strong point, but I wanted to be helpful in the frenzied activity leading up to the TEDx kick-off. Inspired by my role as ‘Iron Lady’ in the speakers’ room, I felt eager to help others too, but no one else seemed to need my services: Sakdiyah Ma’ruf, Indonesia’s first Muslim female stand-up comedian declined my offer of ironing her rose-pink head scarf; eco fashion entrepreneur Kyle Parsons was changing into an attractive blue shirt fashioned from plastic water bottles, but that didn’t seem to need ironing; in and out bustled Green School’s musical ensemble Noble Material, carrying costumes made from garbage bags and rice sacks and plastic straws and bubble wrap; Lucia Carbines the contortionist (pictured above) was wandering about with her plush red boudoir chair, but a contortionist has no need for pressed clothes, it seems.

Various presenters sat alone muttering to themselves in the corners of that speakers’ room, running through their speeches in a kind of impromtu final rehearsal. Getting it right, speaking powerfully in mellifluous prose, failing to stumble, was on every speaker’s mind, not only for the sake of the 300-strong live audience at Five Elements and the additional group watching via livestream from Rumah Sanur, but because TEDxUbud talks have had over a million views online since they started up.

Rio Friendly HostThe charming host for TEDxUbud 2016, Rio Helmi

The sense of performance anxiety was contagious. I had to go out and get coffee to calm myself down.

In the splendid gardens of the Five Elements, TEDx organizer Mila Shwaiko was greeting attendees in a strikingly calm manner which, she assured me, was her own personal performance for the day. Goodie bags were collected, croissants and coffee were served, then it was time for the audience members to make their way barefoot into the tall, cone-shaped bamboo structure that is the event venue. It was time to begin.


Talk #1 – Maxwell and Kyla

Green School Bio Bus: Powered by Cooking Oil

BioBusKids Maxwell Hidajat & Kyla Langotsky

The youngest presenters of the day at only 16, Maxwell Hidajat and Kyla Langotsky of Bali’s Green school offered up the riveting story of the Green School’s Bio Bus. Recognising that reheated cooking oil is both a health and an environmental hazard on the island – used up to 40 times, sold from one restaurant to another as it becomes increasingly toxic, and ultimately being discarded and going into the water system – these students decided to create the “cleanest bus in Bali.” Used cooking oil is now gathered from restaurants and treated at a plant, where it becomes bio diesel (which creates 80% less carbon dioxide than other fuels) to power three Bio Buses in operation in Bali. A year after the creation of the first one, the Bio Buses are taking 30-40 cars off the road every day.

But the students’ ingenuity doesn’t end here. Glycerin is required to turn the cooking oil into bio-diesel, and this glycerin was being shipped off to Korea afterwards for use in beauty products. This diminished the sustainability of the whole endeavour, and so a new idea was born. Now the students, along with teachers, interns and volunteers, make bio soap from the glycerin after school hours as a sub-enterprise.

And there’s more. One Bio Bus app now serves the community better, by making bookings and schedules readily available; while a second app keeps track of restaurant partners, to maximize the quantity of used cooking oil coming off the “black market”.

All of these endeavours are taking the students’ activities out of the classroom and into the real world. I was floored by these students’ passion, creative and technical problem-solving abilities and their (ahem) drive. So much so that for the first time in 30 years, and despite this being quite unthinkable prior to this morning, I wished I were back at school.


Talk #2 – Marlowe Bandem

A Cycling Journey Inspired by Nieuwenkamp

MarloweMarlowe Bandem

The very charismatic Marlowe Bandem, son of a renowned Balinese dancer, is a man who follows where his passions take him. Manager of two micro-financing banks, a DJ, and the creator of multi-media events, Marlowe is also a passionate cyclist with an obsession for “fixie” bikes – that is, bicycles without gears, which require back-pedalling for brakes – which he rides all over the island. (Rio and I passed him on the road once at speed in East Bali, and he was barely breaking a sweat.)

Marlowe is inspired by a colourful character who played a role in Bali’s history, Nieuwenkamp: a Dutch landscape and portrait artist who rode his bike around the island in the early 1900s, painting what he saw along the way. Marlowe decided to follow in the artist’s tracks on his own ‘fixie’.

Marlowe’s curiosity was provoked by a carving of Nieuwenkamp that’s to be seen in a temple in Singaraja. Originally created in 1904 and restored after an earthquake, this carving depicts the artist on a bicycle with a frangipani flower behind his ear. Unusual subject matter for a temple carving, to say the least.

Marlowe’s journey gave birth to a multitude of intimate interactions, allowing him to see the island with fresh appreciation. Cycling up to 80 miles a day, he never felt lonely or tired: he was powered from the “miles of smiles” that came his way from schoolchildren. Local men offered him shelter from the sun; a man in a wheelchair, making his way slowly along a road, shouted “Keep going!”; high school students in the midst of graduation celebrations stopped spraying each other with paint in order to Google who Nieuwenkamp was. “It was amazing how people would join the conversation and take a break from their daily activities,” said Marlowe. The peaceful interaction and mutual respect, the infectious laughter and sunny dispositions towards life, moved him deeply – and most of all, the openness to new people and new ideas that he encountered among his fellow Balinese.

This openness is something I think we have all marveled at, at some point or another, regardless of where we come from – and possibly don’t appreciate enough. Fixie, anyone?


Talk #3 – Catherine Huang

Floating Hospitals

 CatherineCatherine Huang

Indonesia may have universal healthcare, but what does this mean if almost a third of the population can’t access it? This was the question at the core of Catherine Huang’s talk about the floating hospitals she now works to propagate, set up by Dr Lie Dharmawan.

Indonesia has 260 million inhabitants, yet 100 million people live under $3 a day, and “taking a trip to see a doctor is enough to bankrupt a family,” she told the TEDx audience. “Taking a trip” were words chosen carefully: with only one doctor to every 1625 patients (as opposed to one doctor per 300 patients in the USA, for example), many live without any medical facilities in their vicinity at all and have to travel for more than seven hours to access the nearest medical care.

At the age of 65, Dr Lie sold his house in Jakarta and purchased a boat in order to address this problem. He converted it into a floating hospital, and one of the first areas he visited had not seen a doctor in 70 years. Dr Lie’s team is now performing six operations in that area every day.

His organization is bringing free healthcare to millions of people living in remote islands of eastern Indonesia.

“The beauty of a floating hospital is that it’s not stagnant,” said Catherine, “and it’s able to be more accessible to locals.”

Dr Lie’s organization (called doctorSHARE) now has three boats, one of which is a residential barge with cabins for up to 30 medical professionals (donated by Julie Tan). Surgery is performed on board.

Catherine Huang, who now fundraises for doctorSHARE, formerly worked at Google in San Francisco on developing new technologies. Longing to apply these skills to work that was more meaningful, she moved to Jakarta to become a project manager for Dr Lie. She was incandescent when describing the activities of Dr Lie and his team, and struck admiration in the audience with the clear-sighted way she delivered her talk, with a combination of compassion and fierce intelligence.


Talk #4 – Susan Tereba

On Being a Caregiver

Susan 1

The theme for TEDxUbud 2016 was “small things, great things”, and nowhere was this more clearly expressed than in Susan Tereba’s heart-rending account of caring for her husband and soul-mate Bob who, after 14 years of happy marriage, was afflicted with Alzheimer’s. Susan cared for him for 14 years until Bob passed away two years ago. Her talk highlighted the pain and vast responsibilities of the caretaker – a subject seldom talked about (and yet every 66 seconds, someone in the US alone develops the disease; and in 2015, 15 million caregivers gave over 18 billion hours of unpaid care. Alzheimer’s is, in fact the 6th leading cause of death in the United States).

Susan described the intimate details of her life with Bob during his illness: in particular, the challenge (and terror) of his wandering away when they travelled together, which they had previously done often. Bob got lost in Laos, and in Bangkok, and slowly it became clear that he would never be able to leave Bali again, or be left alone.

All manner of measures were taken to improve his quality of life in the house he and Susan shared. For instance, lights were installed to brighten up the shadows at night, because Alzheimer’s sufferers perceive shadows as holes in the floor. This reduced Bob’s anxiety. The rooms of the house were painted in different colours so each one could be more easily identified, the bathroom being bright yellow, for ready recognition, because incontinence “becomes a serious issue as the disease progresses.”

Susan took a rasp to Bob’s keys to render them unusable. She gave him tools to use – a hammer, tape measure, gauge, pens and pencils – but neither pliars nor screwdrivers because “he liked to disassemble things, like the TV.”

Susan’s talk wasn’t without humour: one day she asked a fellow caregiver what Bob needed that day, to which Bob stated loudly: “Sex!” – a sign, Susan said, “that the real Bob was in there.”

By taking us into the minutiae of the caretaker’s reality, Susan put us squarely into her shoes and opened up a number of insights. Her talk was delivered with remarkable emotional clarity, though she did become teary during her last two or three sentences, when she declared that she now remembers Bob as the handsome and strong man he used to be, prior to his descent into illness. This story took great courage to share, and Susan handled the talk with honesty, with open vulnerability, and with unfailing tenderness.


Talk #5 – Kyle Parsons

Indosole: Re-purposing Tyres into “Soles with Soul”

KyleKyle Parsons

“I am dressed from head to toe in trash.” So began Kyle Parsons, co-founder of Indosole, a company that repurposes Indonesia’s used tyres into soles for footwear. Kyle’s sunglasses were made from old wooden baseball bats, his shirt from recycled plastic bottles, his belt from an inner tyre tube, his pants from hemp, his socks from recycled denim, and his shoes from repurposed tyre soles. And I have to declare, at the risk of  objectifying him, that Kyle was NOT looking shabby. Au contraire.

Kyle has dedicated his work-life to “responsible processes to give us something special to wear.” The idea for Indosole was born after a surfing holiday he took in Bali around a decade ago, when he was shocked by the amount of slimy garbage surrounding him in the sea, and by the horrifying ear infection he contracted from the bacteria in the water (he and his room mate were driven to sleeping with garlic cloves in their ears to address infection). “Tyres, styrofoam, plastic bags and bottles… Bali’s beaches were literally drowning in trash,” Kyle said. He then returned to his local beach near San Francisco and took a closer look there, to discover that “in each handful of sand there were tiny fragments of plastic.”

And so he decided to do something about it. “Pollution is not the root problem,” said Kyle. “The root problem is the idea that someone else will clean up after us.” Indosole was created to address the problem of tyre waste in particular, because 1.5 billions tyres are discarded worldwide every year and “the thing that makes them so awesome is what makes them so problematic.” Tyres stick around for a long, long time, and in Indonesia, make for a perfect breeding ground for dengue when they collect water.

With its production based in Bali, Indosole collects tyres from mechanics, truck drivers and from the sides of the roads, and re-purposes them into the soles of a collection of fashionable yet practical shoes for both men and women.

I for one am ordering a pair of Indosole hightop sneakers online today – I took a close look at Kyle’s pair while we were in the speakers’ room, and they’re lightweight, durable, attractive, affordable and ethical. What’s not to like?


Talk #6 Dade Akbar

Warteg Gourmet: Turning the Ordinary into the Beautiful


“Why do we lust after what is far away and out of reach? Why is beauty unattainable?”

These questions kick-started Dade Akbar’s food photography series on Instagram, ‘Warteg Gourmet’ – a project that’s taken him on a path he would never have anticipated.

Probing into the somewhat artificial nature of social media (“it tells only 1% of who a person is”), Dade started to wonder what it would take for Indonesians to post pictures of the warteg food they love so much, yet find too humble to post (or boast) about on their social media accounts.

As a playful way to address this, he started plating the well-loved street-food dishes in the style of haute cuisine.

“The more I did it, the more I saw the beauty in flavor, colour, texture and shape. I wanted people to see more of the beauty – to put it in a way that people can appreciate more,” said Dade. “Who needs truffle when we have petai?”

The resulting images are extremely beautiful, but also humorous and absurd. They have been leapt upon by the media, garnering attention from such publications as the Wall Street Journal, and many Indonesian social media users have taken to the idea and made it their own. “That’s when I felt my mission was accomplished,” said Dade.


Talk #7 – Shilo Shiv Suleman

Connecting Art, Nature and Technology

ShiloShilo Shiv Suleman

“As a child, I believed that the moon followed me home every night,” said Shilo Shiv Suleman. Dressed in a gold saree, snake-like bangles, nose rings, heavy necklace, belts and a pair of shiny gold sneakers which she kicked off on stage, her love for the imagination as expressed in visual terms was immediately apparent.

An extraordinary illustrator and installation artist from India, Shilo relayed how she had met, and fallen (temporarily) in love with a neuroscientist at a TEDx talk in Brazil. He had been measuring what happens in the brain when we meditate, and she was eager to express this in visual terms. The two paired up to create a tech-art installation that went to Burning Man: a forest of larger-than-life lotus flowers that illuminated to match the heartbeats of the people interacting with them. The photos she showed were of wondrous beauty.

Shilo talked about the magic of “making the invisible world visible through technology.” She’s fascinated by ‘biosynchronicity’ – studying how body rhythms synch up when people spend time together – and she’s now focusing on ‘geofeedback installations’, that is, objects that interact with the large invisible forces of nature, such as the wind, waves lapping on the shore, and the movements of planets.

There is no end to Shilo’s fertile imagination, it seems. It’s a place where magic realism meets technological innovation meets art for social change.


Talk #8 – Emily Penn

Measuring Change in Our Oceans

EmilyEmily Penn

When British architect Emily Penn was offered a job in Australia, she decided, for environmental reasons, to travel not by plane but in a bio-fuelled boat. This was a decision that was to change her life, because the amount of plastic pollution she saw in the oceans was so extreme that she couldn’t ignore it. She continued to round the planet with the boat’s crew for nearly three years, and Emily is now the director of global organization Pangaea Explorations that helps scientists, filmmakers and everyday people gain access to the most remote parts of our planet to see firsthand the ocean’s plight.

“60,000 plastic bags are used globally every 3 seconds,” said Emily. “And only 10% of the plastic we use gets recycled.” The danger of plastics to marine life is not so much the gyres (huge areas of plastic pollution accumulation, some larger than Texas), but the thousands of tiny fragments of plastics that now fill our oceans in varied degrees of concentration. Given that fish are unable to discern between real food and these plastic fragments, plastic has entered the food chain in a big way. And chemical contaminants bio-magnify up the food chain, from smaller fish to larger fish to (you guessed it) us.

Emily wondered about the chemical implications of bio-magnification. “Was this just a theory, or something we needed to worry about?” In response to this question, she decided to have her body tested for 35 chemicals that are most hazardous to human health, according to the UN.

29 of these chemicals were found in her body.

Colleagues of Emily’s also had the tests done, via blood and hair samples. One, from California, had high levels of flame retardant in her system. Another had high levels of mercury – it turned out she had been eating fish from the Amazon, in a mining region.

This was a “really scary indicator of the health of the environment,” said Emily. The positive news was: only one member of her crew had traces of DDE (a DDT derivative, banned in 1972) in her system. That person was 67 years old. The younger crew members (born after the ban) didn’t carry such traces – evidence that with environmental laws restricting use of dangerous chemicals, a purification process can begin and the toxic build-up start to diminish.


Talk #9 – Sakdiyah Ma’ruf

Indonesia’s First Muslim Female Stand-up Comedian

SakdiyahSakdiyah Ma’ruf

“I am the first Indonesian Muslim female standup comic,” Sakdiyah told us, by way of introduction. “I was not supposed to stand here – I was supposed to marry one of my distant cousins.”

Sakdiyah is skeptical about some of the awards she has received for her comedy, for being “one of the faces of moral courage” and “the face of moral dissent.” “What does it mean to be celebrated as a dissident?” she questioned. “Life is sometimes scary – especially when asking permissions from your Dad to kiss your boyfriend. As a devout Muslim woman I’d never try that. Not the asking for permission. I did kiss my boyfriend…. Many times…. Via text message.”

Sakdiyah never set out to become a comedian: her talent seems to have evolved organically since she left her home for Jakarta to study English literature. “Dreams and aspirations are a luxury for women living in my community,” she said. “Many of my friends got married at sixteen and dropped out of high school.” Happily her own parents kept her in school, but “with so many conditions that I wished I had a lawyer to negotiate.”

Sakdiyah draws upon her relationship with her father as the source of her comedy (he upholds the traditional values that she so fervently eschews). “I said ‘yes, father, I will obey.’ And then I continued to do what I do behind his back.” She praised the virtues that this double life has instilled in her: punctuality (always returning to her student accommodation before dawn in time to receive a phone call from her father, before going out again); muscle flexibility (which enables her to climb the locked gate in the dark); and creativity (inventing a myriad stories to tell her father).

When told that she had won the Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent as part of the Oslo Freedom Forum in 2015, Sakdiyah said she experienced three seconds of pure elation before being struck down with panic about what to tell her Dad. Instead of spending the following three months preparing for the award ceremony and acquiring visas etc, her energy went into fabricating stories to tell her father, and finding ways to pay for daily mobile phone calls from Oslo so she could speak to him as normal, as if she were in Jakarta.

Growing serious and sincere in tone towards the end of her talk, Sakdiyah declared how much it meant to her to have the freedom and opportunity to be in Bali, talking in front of all of us… “While telling my Dad I’m at a university event in Surabaya.”

Sakdiyah was a big hit amongst those watching the live-stream at TEDxUbud at Rumah Sanur.


TEDxUbud offered many delights in the form of live entertainment, in addition to the talks. There were singer-songwriters, there was a gamelan performance, there was a mesmerising magic show by Sean Borland all the way from Glasgow, an incredible contortionist (Lucia Carbines) from Australia, and a group of graduating Green School students gave a musical performance like no other, in protest against single use plastics.

Noble Material 2From the incredibly touching and inspirational Green School musical, called Noble Material


LuciaLucia Carbines, contortionist extraordinaire, hails from Sydney.

SandrayatiSandrayati Fay is a singer-songwriterwith Filipino/Irish/American roots, who expresses her feelings about nature, human rights, identity and love through her music.

SeanScottish magician Sean Borland befuddles an audience member with a card trick.

TEDxUbud: it was pure magic! Our congratulations to the entire TEDxUbud 2016 team.

TEDxTeam Blue