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.

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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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Hafiz had it right

I was searching for words this morning. I am a writer, I told myself. There are words for this. Then I asked myself, What is the ‘this’ I am trying to describe? From somewhere subconscious I recalled a poem. I did not remember the author or even the words, but I thought perhaps Rumi, or Hafiz. It took only a few moments of communing with Google to find it. Ahhh. Hafiz. Here is the poem:

I Have Learned So Much

I

Have

Learned

So much from God

That I can no longer

Call

Myself

A Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim,

a Buddhist, a Jew.

The Truth has shared so much of Itself

With me

That I can no longer call myself

A man, a woman, an angel,

Or even a pure

Soul.

Love has

Befriended Hafiz so completely

It has turned to ash

And freed

Me

Of every concept and image

my mind has ever known.


From: ‘The Gift’
Translated by Daniel Ladinsky

Isn’t it beautiful that love is the friend that freed Hafiz from every concept and image his mind had ever known? As I sat with that thought it became clear that love is the only thing that will ever free us. To love others is to accept them in all the ways they are different freeing ourselves from judgement. To love the earth is to protect and care for her freeing ourselves from the consequences of her demise. To love oneself is the ultimate freedom for out of that love comes the capacity for all other love.

The past few days my journey has been inward. The name of this village is Ubud. It means medicine. The essence of Ubud is fundamentally healing to the body, the mind, and the spirit. I have asked myself, why is this so? Is it about the thousands of offerings made daily? The scent of incense ever-present in the air? The constant rituals and ceremonies performed specifically to maintain balance in the spiritual realm? Every day hundreds of tourists parade the streets of Ubud. Every day another rice paddy is drained to make way for a new resort or villa funded by money from the West. But inside the walled compounds of Balinese family homes, life goes on as it has for two thousand years. These people have a way of accepting the new, adjusting to accommodate change, but remaining virtually unchanged themselves. They do this with a self-possessed dignity that defies explanation.

I don’t know the answer to my question. All my life I have believed that everywhere was basically the same as everywhere else. I have traveled and visited amazing countries. I have seen works of art and architecture that left me breathless. I have met wonderful people who genuinely cared for me.  Yet nowhere else has a place whispered to my heart entreating me to stay, to learn, to just be.

Hanoman Street in Ubud

I love the surprises each day brings. After another superb meal at Atman Cafe I head north on Hanoman Street.

Hanoman is one of the two main arteries running north and south through Ubud. I set off, camera in hand, to capture some images that are representative of the flavor of the village. This carved, painted door with a soaring crown and gargoyle is typical Balinese architecture. It is inserted into a high brick wall that surrounds a family compound or perhaps a temple.

There are always steps up to the doorway so you can’t quite see what’s in there. Today curiosity triumphed. I climbed the stairs and took a peek  through the partially open door. There was a large open space bordered by several buildings that I assume are dwellings. The ornate facades of these homes are protected by statues of gods or fierce creatures.

My mission for the afternoon is to visit the new CoCo Supermarket and pick up a few snacks for evening munching. I hadn’t realized until now what a snacker I am! Not having a kitchen with stocked cupboards handy is definitely a lifestyle change. I comb the gleaming isles of the large store. There are thousands of varieties of chips, cookies, and candies. My search is successful and I leave with two apples and a bag of spicy Thai peanuts. There is a somber look to the sky as I head home so I pick up the pace hoping to reach cover before a downpour.

I am approaching my turn when Hanoman Street becomes suddenly quiet. No traffic. That can only mean one thing. Looking up the street I see them coming. A ceremonial procession is making its way toward me.

The black and white plaid fabric is seen everywhere in Bali. I was told that it represents balance.

They pass directly in front of me on their way to the temple to make the offerings that the women are carrying on their heads.  I don’t want to be the obnoxious tourist who intrudes upon their traditional rituals with camera flashing, so I try to be discreet and probably miss the best shots as a result.

The parade continues on and I head down the walled corridor that will take me home. As I turn the corner at the top of the steps, there beside my door is a canang sari, a small basket woven of palm fronds containing an offering to the gods. The Balinese present these offerings three times a day. Sometimes I wonder how the women get anything else done. They seem to sit for hours every day making literally dozens of these small gifts.

Finally back on my balcony I watch the threatening clouds approach.

There’s a stiff breeze and…ahhh yes! Here comes the rain!

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