Bali Building Codes

I have seen construction sites in Bali that make me shake my head. After working on commercial projects in the interior design industry for years, I was familiar with strictly enforced building codes.  In Bali I’ve heard of only one: nothing can be built higher than a palm tree. There are some mighty tall palm trees, but a building over 3 storeys is rare.

That leaves the playing field virtually wide open for creativity, nevermind safety or accessibility! The Balinese are artists and if they can think it, they will build it. Or if YOU can think it, they will build it. Which brings me to the subject of my latest residence.

Approach to Front Door

From the outside it looks like a normal structure with handsome brick and stonework. There’s a wide tiled terrace a step up from the yard and a garden of banana trees, coconut palms, frangipani, and thousands of unknown plant species.

Right of Entrance

Lush foliage borders the right of the entrance.  The gap between the wall and the roof allows fresh air and light into the luxurious bathroom.

Stepping through the door, however, all similarities to Western design cease. The front entrance allows a view straight through the house to the back garden, and there are no walls or windows blocking the sight. A wooden platform floats serrenely in the air above the tiled living area. The stairway access has no unsightly railings and the surround enclosing the platform has openings large enough to allow countless small children to fall through unhindered.

Platform Overlooking Garden

It is something like heaven to wake up at dawn, pull out my yoga mat, trundle up the steps, and greet the day with sun salutes while nature sings it’s lungs out around me.

Daybed on Platform

A daybed occupies one end of the floating deck and I could easily live right here. This is where I enjoy morning coffee and start my writing for the day. The view of the inside of the house from this perch reveals a sweet informality. The furnishings, although not entirely my taste, work for me. The home was built to last 25 years ago, with brick walls 10′ high, tile floors, and a ceiling that soars 20 feet.

View of House from Platform

Below the platform is an extensive terrace living area. It is open on three sides and as one friend remarked, “It looks like anyone or anything could walk right in.”

Terrace Below Platform

Indeed they could. But the bedrooms and the kitchen have locking doors, and I tend to like the security of that when I sleep! However, the bedroom window has only a decorative wooden design that would prohibit an adult from entering but it wouldn’t stop a monkey! I just lower the bamboo blinds, arrange the diaphanous mosquito netting to make a cozy tent, and sleep more soundly that I have in years.

Bed, Mosquito Netting, and Window

This house comes with staff. Ibu is a 67 year old woman who wades across the river every morning (there’s no bridge) to make breakfast, clean the house, and do whatever else I need. The first day she disappeared for about an hour. When she returned she was carrying a box of a dozen two quart bottles of drinking water on her head. I fussed at her and she left again and returned with a second big box of 12 more. I can barely slide the darn thing across the floor and she not only lifted it up to her head, she carried it all the way from the market. And she did that twice. Later, she was nonplused when she saw I had made my own coffee and she apologized profusely for not knowing I wanted it. 

It’s hard for me to let her do anything. She’s a grandmother and has worked hard all her life. But this is her livelihood. She speaks no English. I am grateful I know a little Indonesian by now, but it’s not nearly enough. Still we are making each other understood, and it is fascinating to see how much is communicated non-verbally with absolute clarity.

I did , however, ask one thing of her. It is something I want done that only she can do. The Balinese fill their homes and businesses with offerings daily. They spend hours making the little palm dishes that hold the bits of moss and flowers. My new home has the traditional house temple. P1020771

There are statues of Rama and Sita, Buddha, and Dewi Sri. It was a strange feeling to know, though I am not Hindu, that something needed to be done, that there was unfinished business here. So I asked Ibu if she would honor my house and make the daily prayers and offerings. The next day she arrived with no less than 15 of the little palm dishes filled with flowers. She lit sticks of incense and put on her sarong. Then she went through the rooms placing each offering where only she knows it should be placed, sprinkling holy water, and making prayers.

P1020775

There was one on either side of the entrance to the house. There were three in the front yard, one in the back. There were two in the kitchen, one on the dining table. I watched with moist eyes.

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My heart overflowed with gratitude for Ibu, and the grandmothers who know what to do. They are a dying breed. When she finished the ritual, she told me that now the house was protected. We had appeased the high gods, the low gods and the animals. We had blessed the plants and the ancestors, and brought safety to my home.

Pasek stopped by later. “How much you pay?” he asked, noticing the offerings. When I told him he quizzed me again, “How many?” Again I offered up the requested information. I’ve gotten used to the direct questions of the Balinese. If they want to know, no matter how personal, they ask. When I approached a temple a few months ago with a Balinese friend he turned to me and in all seriousness asked, “Are you menstruating?”

I don’t know if Pasek approved of the price or not. It doesn’t matter. For sixty cents a day I have the joy of watching Ibu perform a ceremony that has deep meaning for her and has its roots in the oldest belief system on earth. Even if the complexities of it are beyond my understanding, it nourishes my soul, and that’s a bargain at any price.

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14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lottie Nevin
    Mar 04, 2013 @ 07:14:30

    What a beautiful new home you have Sherry. The floating balcony is superb, I bet you are very happy there!

    The first thing we did when we took over our house was have it blessed and we have 2 blessings boxes – one in the house and one in the garden and everyday Wayan puts countless little baskets round the house and garden, lights the incense, scatters the holy water and says her prayers. Apparently the french family that lived there before wouldn’t let her do it which I think is a bit churlish! Not least that they were missing out on something uniquely Balinese and special.

    I hope you have a wonderful time in your new home and that your cup of creative juice floweth over there and that remains a haven of love and blessings xx

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  2. shanemac
    Mar 04, 2013 @ 07:27:48

    A beautiful description of your home, your pembantu, your offerings and the Balinese people. Reading this is a reminder of why I love living in Bali.

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  3. Barb Garland
    Mar 04, 2013 @ 09:58:57

    perfect

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  4. Sharon
    Mar 04, 2013 @ 10:34:11

    You’ve truly made it your own sherry and it is transformed, warm and welcoming. I can feel your happiness and sense of blessing in being there. I almost “see” Ibu and certainly picture her placing the blessings. Still in recovery mode here in MN with the bright light of new snow blinding my view.

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  5. Gabriel Backlund
    Mar 04, 2013 @ 10:39:35

    What a beautiful house and I love the ritual of the offerings. Blessings my friend!

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  6. jessa
    Mar 04, 2013 @ 12:15:19

    I would love to wake each morning and roll my yoga mat out on that platform!! paradise! you will surely be very happy and comfortable there…and protected with all the offerings!

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  7. gigicullins
    Mar 04, 2013 @ 14:07:55

    Great story, Sherry! Very interesting seeing how you have adapted to your new life! Makes me smile!

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