Celebrated artist Chang Fee Ming talks about his upcoming Journey to Creativity retreat in Bali

The four-day programme is at Spa Village Resort in Tembok.

Bali is a second home to Chang (Photo: SooPhye)

Options: Congratulations on your upcoming collaboration with YTL Hotels. Tell us about Journey to Creativity by Chang Fee Ming.
Chang Fee Ming: 
I have been a friend of YTL Hotels for a long time now. So when they asked me what I could do with their resort in Bali, the Spa Village Resort in Tembok, I thought about the first time I ever visited the island. I rented a motorcycle and travelled from Kuta and Legian in the south all the way up north, which took at least a week. That was how I had this idea to recreate this journey, but from a creative and artistic angle. YTL Hotels published many of my sketches and watercolours in a travel journal called Journey to Tembok in 2010 and I am drawing a lot of inspiration from that period of time as well.

When did you first visit Bali?
In 1985. The year before, I had travelled out of Malaysia for the first time — not counting Singapore, of course. So after visiting Nepal and India, I was hooked and quickly dreamt of where to go next. Bali then was a place all artists went to. Great names like Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur, Rudolf Bonnet, Donald Friend and Walter Spies, as well as Singapore’s Cheong Soo Pieng, were all influenced by Bali, its people, crafts and culture. Ubud certainly was an artist’s paradise and, ever since, Bali has become a second home to me.

So what can your lucky coterie of Journey to Creativity guests expect?
To be honest, it will be my first drawing escape with guests. I have done artistic collaborations before but never led a class, so to speak. Naturally, I am a bit nervous as I am neither a teacher nor a guide. But what I want participants to enjoy is my perception of Bali, specifically Tembok, which is still very untouched and reminiscent of the old Bali, the Bali when it was a magnet for artists and of a magical, inspiring time. The resort at Tembok is very spa-driven, so I feel creativity, art and drawing are very complementary to one’s total wellness. I am looking forward to taking the guests sketching on-site and talking to the fishermen or traders at the markets while doing so. I want them to enjoy a happy day in Bali, soaking up the local life and enjoying something far away from the regular tourist path.


The therapeutic properties of local ingredients and healing practices of the region make the foundation for the resort's spa treatments (Photo: Spa Village Resort)

Do you also have plans to take them to the local post office?
Yes. Part of the programme includes drawing on an envelope. The idea is to mail it to themselves or whoever they want. I began this tradition in Nepal in 1984, when I wrote letters home to my family. Since then, this form of ‘envelope art’ has evolved to become a signature of mine. So I thought it would be a nice touch to evoke it while giving guests the experience of choosing their own stamps and mailing them from Tembok’s post office. It would also serve as a nice souvenir and memory.

What are some of your must-dos every time you are in Bali?
Discovering markets and observing authentic village temple ceremonies, not the ones put on for tourists. Balinese markets are just so colourful and full of life, from buying flowers to make canang sari offerings to the array of jajanan pasar (market kuih and snacks). I am always impressed by how artistic and creative all Balinese are. I also enjoy arriving on the last flight in, staying the night near the airport and waking up very early the next morning to head straight to Jimbaran where I stock up on fresh fish. I often stay with my friend in Tegalalang, so I love bringing up my seafood supply to cook and eat while there. The restaurants in and around Ubud are also wonderful. My favourite places are Puteri Minang for the nasi padang and Locavore To Go for the burgers. For an unforgettable dining experience, I would recommend Rumah Intaran and Nusantara as well.

You must also have some secret spots for drawing and sketching in Bali.
Yes, I love to draw and paint in Kusamba in the Klungkung Regency. And also by the sea in Padangbai on the island’s east coast. Another spot I am intrigued by is Baling-Kang, whose Pura Dalem temple reflects strong Chinese influences, which are inspired by the legend of a princess of the Middle Kingdom said to be wed to an ancient Balinese prince.


Tucked away on the tip of the island's northeastern coast, the tranquil resort enjoys a lush landscape of mystical peaks and the vivid blue sea (Photo: Spa Village Resort)

What are you reading right now?
Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel, but a Chinese translation of it.

What are you listening to right now?
Honestly, I am not one for song lists. My music is the birdsong outside of my studio at home in Terengganu, where I often hear orioles and hornbills. Hornbills don’t sound nice but they are marvellous to look at. I also have two cats but they don’t meow much or disturb me. Their names are Miteng and Pakok, which mean ‘black’ and ‘white’ in the language of the Flores islanders.

You are an intrepid traveller. What else is on your exploratory list?
I would really be happy to explore the islands off Myanmar, in the Mergui Archipelago. Oh, and Madagascar! That is someplace I have always dreamt of visiting.   


Journey to Creativity by Chang Fee Ming takes place from June 20 to 23. Prices start from US$800++ for a 4D/3N stay. For reservations, email: [email protected].

This article first appeared on Mar 11, 2024 in The Edge Malaysia.

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