Monday, March 31, 2014


In Bali, for one day of the year, no one is allowed to leave their houses. The streets and beaches are patrolled to enforce this, and in addition, you are not allowed to watch TV, listen to music, work, light fires, or make any loud noises (although no one seems to have notified the roosters).  Every commercial establishment is closed, including the airport.  

This day, called Nypei, is the traditional Balinese New Year, and it's today, March 31.  This is a Hindu holiday and there are many rituals which attend it.  Two days before, every Hindu on the island heads to the sea for a purifying ceremony.  (Talk about crowded beaches--that's 85% of Bali's 4.2 million population!)  On the night before Nypei (which we will call ogoh-ogoh night), the entire island makes a racket, rousing up all of the demons from their hiding places to join in the festivities. Then on Nypei, the island goes silent, in order to trick the demons into thinking there are no humans on the island, so they get bored and go away.

The Balinese lure the demons out by parading around homemade statues, called ogoh-ogoh, which are anywhere from 2 feet to two stories tall.  Most are traditional demons, with large, frightening faces, teeth, hands, and tails.  The ogoh-ogoh are carried on bamboo bases by anywhere from 12 to 20 men or boys, depending on the size.  Each village takes a collection for materials to make the ogoh-ogoh, and even foreigners like me are tapped for a few rupiah.  My village of Bentuyung made seven of them, ranging in size from 2 to a dozen and a half feet high.  It was dusk so my photos aren't great, but you'll get the idea.

As usual, the Balinese carriers are colorfully costumed and painted.  Here's Kadek, the 8-year-old son of my adopted Balinese family, decked out as an ogoh-ogoh carrier.

Everyone on the streets, including me, is supposed to wear traditional dress because this is a religious ceremony.  Kadek, the mother, provided me with a sarong and sash.

The carriers do the ogoh-ogoh dance in the streets to loud gamelan music which basically sounds like a lot of drums and gongs smashing together. The ogoh-ogoh are shaken and shaken during the dance, and when they lose heads or arms or break altogether, the crowd cheers. With the music, the darkness, and the ogoh-ogoh, it is easy to believe that demons are flying about, joining in the festivities. In the darkness, fireworks boom and flash, and the atmosphere seems exactly like a demon’s cup of tea.

After the ogoh-ogoh have been paraded from one end of the village to the other, they are heaped into a pile and burned, all the while to the noise of fireworks, clanging Balinese music, and a cheering crowd.

I woke up on the morning of Nypei to the crowing roosters, as always, but there is no construction noise next door (yea) and there is no street noise.  I have invited Kadek's family to an Italian-American midday meal at 2 p.m., but they arrived at around 10 a.m because, Kadek says, they want to spend the day with me.  I hadn't even showered, but I didn't mind because the sentiment touched me.  Kadek wanted a picture of me in Balinese dress, so I showered and donned sarong and sash for some "family photos".

The guys played a dominos-like card game .

Kadek brought his pet rooster Kok for a visit.  I was absolutely amazed at what this rooster allowed Kadek to do to it.

Whoever heard of a rooster hug?

I made guacamole with chips and crackers and cheese for appetizers.  While avocadoes are plentiful here, they had never tasted guacamole and seemed to like it.  Camembert cheese was also a first.  Then we had spaghetti with meat sauce (pork, of course, no beef) and a salad.  I purchased a dessert because I don't have an oven or the kind of utensils and dishes you'd need to make any kind of dessert.  So it was lemon cheesecake with strawberries on top, but not cheesecake as Americans make, more like a light lemon regular cake.  

We spent the evening together, cheating a bit with one small light on in the house.  Little Kadek had us laughing at his antics.  He can make playthings of ordinary objects.  I wish I had a video of him hopping around the room on the side of a cushion like he was a cowboy on a bucking bronco.  He was a non-stop whirl of energy and then he just dropped and was sleeping within minutes.  With no TV or lights allowed tonight, it's an early bedtime for all of us.  I'll be sleeping with my iPad!

What a warm and wonderful experience it was to spend this special day with this lovely Balinese family who have embraced me as one of their own.  

Sunday, March 23, 2014


Before I came to Bali, several people questioned why I was staying here for a whole month.  There's not much to do there, they said, especially in Ubud, which is quite a distance from the beaches that attract hordes of tourists.  And besides that, it's the rainy season.  But I already knew this, and it was exactly what I wanted...a quiet place to relax and reflect away from the bustle of tourism.

Because of the construction next door, my days haven't been as peaceful as I imagined.  So maybe now I wish there were more sights to see.  I hired a driver to take me to a few places north of Ubud.  It's consistently hot here every day, around 88°F (24°C) with humidity in the mid-80’s, so I wanted to go to the mountains to cool off a bit.  My driver, Kwi, is a really laid back , mid-30’s Balinese man who has a family like Kadek's, two boys the same age as hers.  Kwi's given name is Wayan, which is an extremely common name in this area of Bali.  So nicknames are given to children to give them individuality from the thousands of others with the same name.  Kwi was the driver who transported me from the airport to Ubud, and I took an immediate liking to his gentle spirit.  I asked him to take me to some special places.

Our first stop was the Elephant Cave Temple.

Balinese temples are designed as an open air places of worship within enclosed walls connected by a series of intricately decorated gates between its compounds. These walled compounds contain several shrines, towers, and pavilions arranged according to sacred hierarchy.

The special feature of this temple is a cave with carved recesses for special offerings to the gods.  This cave is mentioned in a Javanese poem written around 1365.  The entrance to the cave shows menacing creatures and demons carved right into the rock.  The steps into the cave show the curved erosion that thousands of entering feet have caused.

You will see statues wearing sarongs everywhere in Bali, usually black and white checked, which symbolizes the duality of good and evil.  I don't know the significance of this tricolored sarong.  

There were several recesses like this in the cave, but only two were filled with offerings.

You see these umbrellas here and there in the temple compound--I'm not sure they have a particular significance.

The grounds were serene and there were some beautiful flowers and, of course, another wonderful tree trunk, maybe the Balinese relative of the fig tree.  Kwi says it's a banyan tree.

We also visited the Holy Spring Water Temple where Hindus go to be purified by spring water that is said to have healing properties.  

The water from the springs here flows out of the temple area via multiples ditches and is used for irrigation and domestic purposes.  Here's one use for those umbrellas I was wondering about.

An example of one of the towers.

And a pavillion.

A pond chock full of huge colorful fish.

And here is one of those intricately decorated gates that separates the inner temple from the surrounding gardens.

This was the only modern example of statuary I saw here.

This huge banyan tree was draped at the bottom in a black and white checked sarong.

We headed from the temples to see Mount Batur, an active volcano which last erupted in 2005.  It was a bit hazy and,yes, those are storm clouds rolling in.  

There was also a lake in the volcanic valley.

We drove through a short rainstorm to the next location, the rice terraces.

Our final stop was a neighborhood, or banjan, where a colony of white herons live.  I walked down the tree lined street and there were herons roosting in every tree.

These are very small herons compared to types I've seen elsewhere.

It was refreshing to get away from the din of sawing and hammering and see some of the small wonders of Bali.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


The local temple in the village of Bentuyung, where I currently reside, can justifiably boast about the talent of its members.  Every Friday and Sunday evening, a group of its members, from young to old, don costumes and dramatic face makeup and stage a perfectly wonderful performance of traditional Balinese dances.

These two young boys who were milling about before the start of the performance perfectly illustrate the vibrancy of the costumes.

The orchestra that accompanies the dance is called a gamelan, and this one was comprised of different sizes of xylophones, woodwinds, and some drums.

The dancers were all young, but the orchestra members were men of varied ages.

This was my favorite dance,  the dance of the teal duck.

This giant xylophone was brought onto the stage for the final dance.

It was a great performance, and I was only sad that there wasn't a larger crowd to enjoy it, only about 15 or 20 people.  The tourists in Ubud have many choices for dance performance, and getting to this village requires the extra cost of transportation.

The next evening, I was back at the temple with Kadek to witness a special ceremony to honor one of the Hindu gods.  Kadek loaned me a sarong and sash, the required clothing to enter the temple.  On the walk to the temple, there were dozens of women with baskets on their heads filled with offerings of food, flowers, and paper symbols for the gods.  The baskets were placed on shelves in the temple to be blessed by the holyman.

The ceremony was pretty confusing.  There were a number of things happening simultaneously--the holyman was blessing all the offerings, there were different dances by separate groups of young girls and men, a puppet show told some religious story, and in the midst of all this activity, groups of women sat on the ground in rows chatting away with each other while the men stood around the perimeter doing the same.  None of it seem to be connected.

Next to the temple, there was a percussion orchestra in the area where the dance performance had been held the night before.  There were men dressed in costumes there giving some kind of performance, the significance of which remains a mystery to me because I couldn't understand Kadek's explanation.

All in all, it was an interesting but mysterious experience.  Kadek's English isn't adequate for explaining more complicated aspects of her culture.  Sometimes she can't understand my questions.  But she's a lovely woman who clearly has a very active spiritual life.

I grow more fond of Kadek and her family as they continue to draw me into their daily life and village activities.

Friday, March 14, 2014


GMy first week in Bali has been relatively quiet.  While I am in a rural area, and my house is set back from the road, there is a house under construction nearby, and the sound of saws and hammers interrupt the week of quiet stillness I had promised myself.  The churring cicadas and crowing roosters in my left ear compete with the construction noises assaulting my right ear.

But I have kept still in spite of the imperfect world aound me.  I clean up the lizard feces from the floor of my outdoor bathroom each morning and brush off the particles of grit that seem to constantly rain from the ceiling onto the bedsheets and floor.  I make my breakfast in the kitchen, a separate room at the side of the house that is entered from the outside.  It is clearly a man's kitchen with its paltry equipment--two pans, chipped plates, an odd assortment of utensils and dishes, no hot water.  There is a toaster oven and a rice cooker, two modern appliances that enable me to cook basic meals.  There are two luxuries here--air conditioning and cable TV with English language stations.  I am renting this house from an American expat, so for the first time in my travels, I have quite a selection of programs.  This and reading have been my primary entertainment, along with walks on the country road that runs through rice fields and small villages.

Kadek, the woman who does my housekeeping comes by to see me every day, at least once and more often twice.  She is surprised that I am a neat person who makes my bed and washes my dishes.  Kadek is a loquacious woman in her mid-forties, married to Made, and they have two sons, 15-year-old Wayan and Kadek, her namesake, who had his 9th birthday just two days ago.  Over the last week, I've learned a great deal about Kadek's life.  She grew up in a very poor family in Denpasar before she met and married Made over the objections of Made's parents who had selected another bride for him.  I'm not sure I understand everything she has told me about her life, because her English isn't very good.  She says she's been married for 14 years and yet Wayan is 15, so there may be a bit of "scandal" here that is at least in part the cause of the friction that has continued between Kadek and her in-laws.  Maybe I have misunderstood this--sometimes I'm very challenged to figure out what she's saying.  The friction between Kadek and her in-laws has continued over the years.  This is complicated by the close proximity of Made's family.  They live in a multi-house compound, all the houses built over time by the men of the family.  So, for Kadek, there is no escaping the daily haranguing of her in-laws even as she cares for them in the infirmities of their aging.

I ride into the town of Ubud on the back of Kadek's motorbike to buy groceries.  One morning I went to the local market with her.  I wanted to see what was available there, and it is everything from soup to nuts.  Kadek instructed me to follow her at a little distance because prices are inflated for white people.  I gave her my list and did my best to keep her in sight, which wasn't easy considering the narrow aisles that ran between the rows of vendors with their wares spread on truck beds and tables or in baskets on the ground.  It was a maze of a market on different elevations, inside and outside, and I surely would have become lost without Kadek in the lead.  Kadek supplemented my list with purchases of some Balinese spice mixtures and instructed me how to use them.

Kadek brings me samples of her cooking almost every day.  Most of it is simple food.  But sometimes, it is food she prepares for some special ceremony at the local Hindu temple.  There seems to be some special ceremony every other day.  She takes this special food to be blessed by the Hindu gods and brings it back home to her family.  In the morning, she cooks rice and a melange of vegetables in a mildly spicy sauce, sometimes with a small amount of minced chicken, sometimes not, depending on how much money she has that day.  This is what the family eats all day, supplemented by the ceremonial food she makes.  

After only a few days here, it feels as if I have been integrated into Kadek's family.  I ate dinner with her family one night.  I gave her money for the food and she prepared a Balinese feast, with me as her sous chef.  Made's "auntie", a widow who lives in the house next to them, spends most of her day at Kadek's house and shares meals with them.  She wouldn't sit at the table with us because she is shy and doesn't speak English.  She comes to rake the fallen leaves around my house every two or three days.  We smile and greet each other with the Balinese "Hai" and she proceeds with her voluntary work, which Kadek says she does "for exercise".  Made is artistic, and I am quite impessed with the pencil drawings he showed me.  They are mostly drawings that tell a story about some Hindu god, but my favorite is a drawing of birds perched on tree branches.

Neither Kadek nor any of her family have ever eaten in a restaurant.  When I invited Kadek to go to lunch with me at a restaurant, she told me she would rather that I ask one of her sons instead, because she would like them to have this experience. She says she wouldn't enjoy this luxury if they could not.  This touching maternal response brought tears to my eyes.  Kadek's love for and pride in her sons was apparent to me when I had dinner at her home, but her denial of this simple pleasure (in my mind, but a greater one in hers) in favor of her sons spoke volumes about her devotion to them.  

While Kadek helps to support their family by housecleaning, Made works in construction.  In fact, the house being constructed next door is theirs.  Three people for whom Kadek cleans house have loaned them money to finish one floor of the house so that they can rent it out for income.  This is their longer term plan, to finish the house and earn rental income so that they can provide their sons with a college education.   They have been working on this house for five years now.  So, I cannot be upset that my serenity is disturbed by the hammering and sawing, because every board and nail brings Wayan and his little brother Kadek, the sweetest boys you would ever meet, one step closer to the brighter future that education can provide.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014


This is the guy who woke me up this morning.

I'm a long way from where I was yesterday.

My head spins when I realize that I have been in four places in the last week.... Brisbane and Cairns in Australia, then Singapore, and now in beautiful Bali.  What was I thinking?!!!

I flew from Brisbane to Cairns to see the Great Barrier Reef.  I would show you some pictures, but my camera died on me and my iPad has decided not to accept photographs from my cell phone.   The experience in Cairns wasn't quite what I expected, but mostly because I made some bad choices.  The Reef cruise I chose required swimming quite a distance from the shore to go snorkeling on the reef.  Since I'm not a strong swimmer, I opted not to try this and went instead on the semi – submarine boat to view the reef coral and all the colorful fish.  Instead of seeing the dozens of colorful fish I expected to see, there were only seven or eight varieties that appeared.  That was a real disappointment, considering what it cost me to fly to Cairns.  Oh well, I can say I was there.

The building above is the Marina Bay Towers in Singapore.  It was very hot in Singapore, and I spent a lot of time wandering inside air-conditioned shopping malls.  So, I don't have many pictures from there either. Singapore is a very modern and clean city, and there are lots of laws to keep it that way.  For example, it is against the law to fail to flush a public toilet after its use, and you can be fined $1000 for littering.  You can chew gum in Singapore, but you won't find any for sale there.  And, of course, be sure to throw it in a trash bin to avoid the $1000 littering fine. 

I was in Singapore for only two days. I had my morning coffee at a Starbucks nearby, and I was very surprised by how huge the large coffee was.  I think it was about 5 cups worth.

Several friends said that I must go to Long's Bar at the Raffles Hotel to have a Singapore Sling.  This is where the drink originated.  So I did.  The tab was a stunning $32 SG, about $25 USD.  What I liked most about this place were the rattan fans that lined the ceiling beams and waved back and forth in unison.  

This old colonial hotel was also stunning and a refreshing change from the sleek modern buildings that dominate Singapore's skyline.  But the price tag is for the rich and famous.

Travel weary, I have come to rest in this peaceful house in Bali, about 3 kilometers from Ubud, the town made famous by Eat, Pray, Love.  The house where Julia Roberts lived in the movie is only 10 minutes from here.

I sit in a comfortable chair on the porch and watch and listen to the sounds and movements of nature--roosters crowing (from morning until night), birds chirping, chickens scratching for food, neighborhood dogs barking, a coconut crashing to the ground, butterflies flitting from flower to flower.  It's very tranquil here, but if I want to sleep past dawn, I'll need earplugs.  There are several fruit trees in my yard--mangosteen, durian, salak, rambutan, and coconut.  I haven't yet tasted salak or rambutan, but have had the others in Thailand.

The owner of this house is an American who is also traveling.  He's lived here for 6 years and owns several shops in Ubud.  There is a Balinese woman who comes by every day to clean and help me arrange for anything I might need.  Kadek is a very sweet woman and also very talkative.  I understand about half of what she says.

Tonight, we will be cooking some Balinese dishes together and I will meet the rest of her family.  I expect to learn much about the culture of Bali from this very kind woman.

I will stay in Bali for a month to rest and relax and just BE.