Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

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Sunday, May 27, 2012

Parts of Bali

Selamat Pagi! (sell-ah-matt pah-ghee) Good morning!
We were supposed to have a vacation here. 
What, vacation from a vacation? 
We are traveling, this is hard work. When we started seven months ago (that long?) we were full of energy, eager to see, to experience, to accumulate sights and smells and sounds, to be free of past habits, only to make new ones. As time passed, we adapted to our new, simple ways, wearing the same clothes day in and out, taking care of them, and ourselves in the same time (you can’t go out in your pajama while your clothes are drying), eating whatever is available, sterilizing our water and learning about what is yet to come. And when we made the plans, we decided to have a vacation here in Bali. After Goa, where 10 days were not enough to gather some energy, we thought to have more time in Bali, two weeks vacation and two for visiting. If only! We hopped around like we couldn’t settle, the beach was nicer on the other side! But in this way we’ve seen more of Bali! And also some other places, that are not on this island, but for the sake of the blog, I’ll put them in Bali too.
How is Bali? Depends on where you stand: in the street it is touristic, in the rice terraces it is in a stopped time, in the dwellings it is traditional.

The gas station on the narrow streets of Kuta.

Street is a very busy place. Cars, motorcycles, tourists, hawkers. The sidewalk is very narrow, covered with tiles, and goes up (level with the restaurants) and down (at the stores entrances easier to bring merchandise in and the motorcycles.) At every corner there are men talking. The moment you enter their invisible circle, they stand up and shout: Taxi? Cheap price. Tomorrow? Maybe tomorrow? Sometimes they show you their car, big, with air conditioning. 
Next in line for your attention are the girls dressed in traditional garb, inviting you in their restaurants. Depending on what you’re looking for, you can choose from Indonesian to Italian, each with its own music, hoping to drown the noise of the street. The sound of the ‘no, thank you’ still clinging onto your lips, and you are asked in a sweet voice “Massage?” by the massage ladies. They flock on one spot, all in the uniform of their parlor. If you decide that you want a massage at some time, be prepared: they don’t have enough force to knead your muscles and they will bathe you in coconut oil.
Then there are the ticket sellers to the different shows of dancing or shadow puppets. 
The window shops are catching your eye with their colors and their fashion, their Buddha heads or ornaments, their paintings or batiks. The shopkeepers are asking us to enter, to look is free, maybe we will buy something. 

Kandak and I
Everybody is interested in our patronage, because we are tourists, we help them make a living. The cook from a Candidasa hotel started talking with me about everything, where are we from, family, education. Her name is Kandak and she has two children, her eldest always looking in the phone for a chat or a SMS (is it familiar?), her husband is a taxi driver, if we ever need transportation, could we call him? Here is his card. When we make eye contact, it is always followed by a business offer.

Alleys, paved with black and white mosaics, branching from the main street, are leading you to the different guesthouses, and behind them, to the rice terraces. These are everywhere on the island. Depending on the rice cultivar, they can have two (the traditional) or four crops a year. This is the explanation for seeing the terraces in different stages: muddy fields, covered in water with some green shoots, just green fields, or light green stalks with heavy seeds. The only place that we visited was Jatiluwih, a valley soon to be declared World Heritage. The water is captured someway up from the mountain and then makes its way from terrace to terrace to the end of the valley. Between the terraces that are close to the village, there are duck farms or cow sheds. People are walking on the side of the terrace and cut the grass with their hands, load it in a basket to take it home for the animals, to eat.

The dwellings are in a traditional style: the house, the outside kitchen, the temple, all enclosed by a tall wall with an ornate gate. 

The temple side of a house.

The religion is Hindu, and a woman is bringing offerings a few times a day. Always dressed nicely, in a sarong with a white lace blouse, carrying a tray with the offerings she goes around the house, incense sticks lit, placing a palm leaf basket with flowers and sweets in front of the main temple, small leaves with a few grain of steamed rice for every door, sometimes cups with arak (local brandy). 

She stops in every crossroad, taking the offering with elegant gestures from the tray, and then, with dance like movements, she places it in its intended space. Every important door is guarded by mossy statues, with red flowers on their ears. Sometimes they wear a checkered black and white sarong. 

Religion is a pervasive trait. It is what people have to do, if they want to continue to live here (or else the gods could punish them through earthquakes, eruptions, too much rain or too little). The new moon sparks a series of religious ceremonies, some at the temple (where they come with the whole family, the women carrying on their heads the beautiful woven baskets with the offerings) 

some at the beach. These ones are more elaborate, with musicians, with girls wearing palm weaved head-dresses, with the center stage moving several times, closer to the sea, in the end with a woman that falls into a trance. All of them need a gift of blood, solved elegantly with a cock-fight (because they don’t kill other living beings, as they believe they are their brothers and sisters on their way to Nirvana).

As Hindus, they cremate their dead, but nowadays wood is very expensive, so they will bury the body for 3-5 years, until there is a sufficient number of people. A slender pole with a small roofed platform for offerings marks their graves.

The temples are closed for those of a different belief, but from the outside they seemed to have a simple architecture. Two of them are surrounded by vicious monkeys who climb on people and steal bottles of water and eyeglasses (Ioan was one of their victims, but one of the guards helped to recover them). From a different point of view, they were quite cute, preening each other and educating their babies.

If we are to judge from what we’ve seen at the museum in Denpasar, everybody is living in a palace. The same kind of roof with a guardian high above, same heavily sculpted doors, same verandahs with a platform for daily activities as in the palace of one of their old kings.

Garuda protecting the house.

 Just that the everyday objects were replaced with exhibits in the museum: about weaving and the different types of cloth that they wear daily (from everyday to special occasions, from commoner to the royal house), 

or religion, explaining the ceremonies that surround an individual’s life. Manusa yadnya starts when the baby is in the womb, to purify him from unholiness and misfortunes, leteh, and to avoid temptations that bring disaster and death. After his birth it is repeated every 210 days.
They were explaining painted art, in the beginning as a religious branch, and after the discovery of Bali, as an exotic ground by western painters, the traditional style, like dark sepia paintings,

Painting of the fire dance.

 and the free for every imagination actual style. 

They have masks with characteristic facial features, like the Greeks, used in religious ceremonies 

and the shadow puppets, made from cow hide, cut, pressed, holed and painted. 

These are recognizable characters, following the same story, of the fight between good and evil forces, the triumph of good and the importance of the right behavior. The magic is given by the team: the master puppeteer telling the story, moving the arms and feet, flying the puppets between the flame and the screen; the musicians, watching his every movement, listening to his voice, punctuating the gestures with a snapped wooden sound; the apprentice, who rearranges the puppets and keeps them ready for the master. On the other side of the screen, the story in the Indonesian language is lost on tourists and their children are not charmed by the simple entertainment. The show is just a portal to a world that you have to know, is just a way to fire the imagination to weave a parallel between the stories of your childhood and the reality of a conservative society.

Kecak (ketchak) the fire dance, we saw it twice. It is the story of Ramayana in dance. Sita marries Rama and they go to her new home, accompanied by his brother. On their way, she is kidnapped by a wizard. Hanuman, the monkey-god saves her, setting the castle on fire. Rama doesn’t want to accept Sita back, because she might be unclean, so she purifies herself through fire.

The first time we saw it we were in Yogyakarta (Jog-jakarta) in a big amphitheater, having as a background the Hindu temple Prambanan (Prahm-bah-nun). 

Prambanan and the gambelan orchestra.

There were many dancers, sewed up in elaborated costumes, shiny and colorful (for a tighter fit). The gambelan orchestra was playing, a man was singing, and the dancers moved their hands according to mudras and their eyes according to moods, telling without words about the great love of Rama for his wife, about the brother’s concern in leaving her without protection (Rama was tricked into following a deer, and after a first attack, the brother went for help), her anguish in being in the evil’s hands.
Rama says good-bye to Sita, while the brother guards.

By showing Sita the ring of Rama, Hanuman convinces her that he was sent by her husband.

Rama shooting the deer.

Prambanan temple by daylight.
The second time we were at a temple in Uluwatu. In the middle of the stage a snake like brazier was lit, blessed and then surrounded by fifty men, red hibiscus flowers at their ear, naked torsos, black and white checkered cloth hold in place by a red sash. 

As one, the overture started, keeping the rhythm saying chuk, moving their bodies and hands, while one of them was telling a song story. These men were the orchestra, the story teller, the decorum, the figuration in. At  one sign they made a magic circle around Sita, to protect her from evil forces, at another they broke up. A note send them on their feet, moving their hands up in the air, another one, running around on the stage.

The brother makes a magic circle around Sita.

In the end they invited us for a picture:


  1. That's a good advertising for Absolute Vodka. They drink quite a bit of it, that's a good ideia for re-cycling. That's good to know.

  2. The tourist are drinking it, for the Balinese it would be too expansive. As recycling... they use any kind of bottles, including plastic ones, but this one caught my eye.


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