When the dead aunts go home

There isn’t a situation, circumstance, life event, object, (animate or inanimate) in Bali that doesn’t have a particular ceremony assigned to it. The big ones, marriage, birth, death, are universal. But a day to bless metals? An elaborate celebration before a baby’s feet are allowed to touch the ground? A ritual dealing with incest? The coming of age practice of tooth filing to rid the body of carnality? These are foreign concepts. Then there are the temple birthdays, a day to bless the animals, another for trees and plants, the list goes on.

But every 210th day on the Balinese calendar, the spirits of dead ancestors return to their earthly homes. Elaborate preparations are made by the living to receive them and the festivities continue for ten days culminating in Kuningan when those restless souls take their leave to go back to their haunts for another 210 days until the cycle repeats.

Today was Kuningan.  I woke up having slept a total of about two hours all night, and felt the urge to walk. The sky was that particular shade of wisteria with a steady breeze out of the east. I set out heading north on Monkey Forest Road toward the Ubud Royal Palace. Offerings hung from doorways and women in temple clothes lit incense and sprinkled holy water over mounds of square palm baskets filled with flowers, rice, and treats piled on the sidewalk. 2015-07-25 10.24.55As I ambled along in no hurry to get anywhere, I looked back to see this car, adorned with the woven, shield-shaped ornaments that signify protection. Many cars and motorbikes had these woven palm talismans hanging on the front.

2015-07-25 10.10.53Bicycles, too, were the recipients of offerings and blessing.

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My lazy stroll took me past residences that I never see when the streets and sidewalks are crowded with people. But this morning I was the only non-Balinese person about, so I took advantage of the opportunity to photograph the stunning second story residence of a wealthy Ubudian. Every door and window was framed by intricate stone carvings, and the shutters and doors themselves were carved and painted the deep reds, greens, blues, and golds of the traditional Balinese style.

2015-07-25 10.24.29The home sitting next to this one was another example of unique architecture. Resting at the top is a lumbung built in the style of the old rice barns. This one has been embellished with paint and looks more like an elaborate child’s playhouse, which maybe it is.

2015-07-25 10.24.05My trek had gotten me as far as the football field, a well-known landmark about half-way between the Ubud Royal Palace and the Sacred Monkey Forrest. It was in the background across the street when I asked a young woman who was putting offerings in the roadside temple if I could take her picture.

2015-07-25 10.19.01Of my several walking routes, this morning I chose to take a left on Arjuna Street for the quieter feel off the main thoroughfare. I had seen men working on penjors earlier in the month but had not been back since they’d been installed. This year those towering arched poles with swaying tassels, seemed taller and more intricate in design than I’ve ever seen them.

2015-07-25 10.25.59 Arjuna Street comes to a T. I hang a right that takes me up to Jalan Raya, the main east-west artery in Ubud. More altars with offerings, palm weavings and flowers graced this busy area mail.google.comAs I continued along my way, down the steep hill to the bridge over the river and then the slow climb out of the valley, I watched family after Balinese family in full-on temple garb, riding sidesaddle and carrying the square baskets that hold everything needed to send the dear departed once again on their way.2015-07-25 10.44.00No matter how many times I see the offerings, the temples, the penjors, the men in their udeng headgear and double sarongs, the women in their kebayas, I delight in the exotic beauty of it all. Today was no different. When I got home, Ketut was back from his family responsibilities in Abang Songan and had performed the ritual blessings for my house, and even though my ancestors probably can’t find me here, I’m prepared! P1090939

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When you just keep falling in love

For someone who’s sworn off men, I’m not doing too well. I’m alone, that isn’t the issue. But my defenses have been shot to shreds in the loveliest possible ways and I find myself falling in love a little bit every day.

First there’s Ketut. I’ve written thousands of words about Ketut, glowing, gushing words. When I first came to Bali he was my room staff. I remember when he met me at 3 a.m. as I disembarked from a taxi after a trip of thirty-six hours from the States. “You Zely?” he asked, then hoisted my brick-heavy suitcase on his shoulders and told me to follow him. The next morning, there he was again. “Breakfast?” he said. “Kopi? What you want?”

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Ketut with baby daughter Nengah

I remember my thoughts. A man? Why? Couldn’t I have a sweet girl cleaning my room and bringing my breakfast? Drat! I don’t want to put up with man-energy. But I didn’t understand then that the Balinese man isn’t like the men I’d known in the West. Ketut filled my room with flowers, daily. He anticipated me, knew when I would be hungry and showed up with treats. Knew when I wanted company and hung around to chat. Knew, even more importantly, when I wanted to be alone, and left me alone. His intuition was far more highly developed than mine, and I’ve come to realize that’s true of Balinese people in general. (But I won’t go into details here! Another time.) In short, Ketut healed my heart.

Enter, Gede! He’s another member of the staff in the neighborhood where I live. Gede is a clown, a twenty-one-year-old little boy who loves to laugh and make others laugh too. One day he gave me a lift on his motorbike and told me he wanted to bring me a kebaya. That’s the beautiful, traditional blouse that women wear to ceremonies here. It seemed far too generous a gift for someone who doesn’t even employ him, but the next time he went to his home in Kintamani, he came back with not one, but three stunning kebayas for me. They all fit like they had been custom tailored for my body. I fell in love with Gede long before the kebayas, but I fell a little bit deeper that day.

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Gede…always the trickster!

The Tukangs working on my house, we’ll call them Dewa One, Dewa Two, and Pak Mandi, all have a slice of my heart. Dewa One scared the bejeezus out of me when I first met him. He had an angry man look, his hair was wild and his body was as tight as a coiled spring. He snapped orders at his crew and I steered clear. But his work was immaculate and one day I drilled up the nerve to tell him how happy I was with his skillful precision. He smiled. No, you don’t understand. He SMILED! There isn’t a more beautiful face on earth than the smiling face of Dewa One. My heart became gooey. Now I find every possible opportunity to praise him and he graces me with that gorgeous grin every time. I love Dewa One.

workers that took down the yoga deck

Dewa One…you’ll have to trust me about the smile!

The most outrageous of my loves is Pasek. He’s blatant, calls me his second wife, makes highly suggestive comments and enjoys watching me bristle. I’ve met his first wife and I adore her but I wouldn’t want to be her. Her hubby’s a handful. But do I love him? Oh yeah. Pasek is the one I call when my electricity goes out, when my faucet leaks, when I need food from the market, or when I want to know about Balinese culture. His harmless joking has become just another part of life here. And he, too, anticipates me and shows up just when I am about to dial his number.

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Pasek and his wife, Nyoman

But it doesn’t end there. I’m in love with my tailor, with the taxi drivers, with the man who sells tickets on the street, and the shop keeper at the corner convenience store. I’m in love with my neighbor’s husband, and pretty much every Balinese man I know. Do I use the word too loosely? I don’t think so. The men in Bali are kind to me. I’m susceptible to that. In the West kindness has become a lost art. We have bumper-stickers to remind us to be kind. But here it’s a fact of life, so I just keep falling in love.

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The neighbor’s husband! (Don’t worry, Nina…you have zero competition here!)

 

 

A Strange Diagnosis

Ketut’s father is sick. The Balian, a traditional Balinese healer, is consulted. “How is Bapak?” I ask him the next day.

“Same-same,” is his reply. But there’s more to the tale and once again I listen in amazement to the complex interrelation of medicine, magic, and mystery that surrounds the lives of the Balinese. This is the story as told to me by Ketut.

One of his father’s ancestors a long time ago was a Balian and he had a book that had been passed down in the family for seven generations. The book (lontar) contained the collected wisdom of the healing arts, required rituals, recipes for medicinal cures, instructions for auspicious marriages, and all that the community needed to know to thrive. But it also contained the opposite, an operations manual for black magic.

When that Balian died, no one replaced him. The book that had been cared for, consulted, honored with offerings and placed in a special position of prestige, was ignored. It was kept in a cabinet in the father’s sleeping room.

“The Balian say book angry,” Ketut tells me. “My father sick because book want house.” I pepper Ketut with questions and learn that construction on a house for the book is underway. I’m trying to wrap my head around this but the concept is elusive.

A few days later I ask Ketut how construction is coming. “Not yet finish,” he says. I get the same answer as weeks go by. I’m picturing one of the small tower-like structures that I’ve seen in temples all over Bali. That, I assume, would be a fitting house for a book. But why is it taking so long?

The day comes when the new house is finished. “Is the book already inside?” I ask.

“Oh no.” Ketut answers many of my questions this way. “Not yet good days,” he says. “Manku make ceremony when good days.”  So this is a bigger deal than I thought. I should have known. The book can’t be moved until the holy man finds an auspicious day. Then the priest will be hired to come and officiate. Mountains of flowers, fruits, cakes, and chickens will be purchased or cooked and prepared as offerings.

“I want to come to the book ceremony,” I tell him. He says of course and he’ll let me know. Weeks pass. “Book ceremony soon?” I ask.

“Not yet, maybe three month.”

“Three more months?” I’m shocked. His father hasn’t gotten better. But this is Bali and the mills of the gods grind slowly.

As mid-April approaches I’m told that the day has been decided. It will be on Purnama Kedasa, the full moon celebration April 14th, an auspicious day indeed.

The long-awaited morning dawns bright and clear. Outfitted in temple clothes, my neighbor Julie and my visiting friend from America, Jan and I are ferried up the mountain to Ketut’s village in a decrepit mini-van. As we chug and cough along Pasek, who is with us, gets a text from Ketut. The priest hasn’t yet arrived. Pasek invites us to his house to wait.

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We’re greeted by Nyoman, Pasek’s wife

Jan is beautiful in her lacey kebaya and sarong

Jan is beautiful in her lacey kebaya and sarong

Nyoman cooked this amazing spread for usIt’s always the same with Ketut’s and Pasek’s families. We are plied with food and drink. When asked if they will be eating too it’s either, “Already,” or “Later.”

Not many foreigners come to this remote, mountain village so we are studied with wide-eyed wonder by the small children. The adult women wrap us in warm hugs. The adult men smile and shake hands or hang back. Teens whisper and giggle.

Waiting outside the temple for Pasek's father to bless us

After the feast we wander to the temple where a rug is spread outside. We squat or crouch in our tight sarongs awaiting the blessing.

It’s mid-afternoon and we’re still with Pasek’s family.  Ketut comes to find us. The priest has not yet arrived but Ketut is ready to take his turn with us. “Want to see book?” he asks. Of course we do! We all pile back into the rusty bucket. This time our route can barely be called a road. The jouncing and jiggling are fierce and I’m surprised my dinner behaves as well as it does. I’m worried about Jan. Her stomach was a little unsettled earlier. But she says she’s fine. It’s a miracle.

Ketut and Pasek's cousing with rice basket cookers on their headsFrom Pasek’s house we move to the home of another relative. A tour of the premises brings us to the outdoor kitchen where Ketut and our driver model the woven cones that are used to steam rice over boiling water.

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Stealing honey

Moving from one mischief to the next, these two decide to pry open the bee house and check for honey. The bees they’re disturbing look like overgrown fruit flies. We’re told they don’t bite, but they swarm around Ketut’s head as he violates their stash.

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He extracts some of the honeycomb and a little nectar for us to taste. The comb is dark brown and the honey has a tart vinegar-y flavor. It isn’t an instant hit.

Ketut’s father with the ancient books (lontar)

Ketut’s father appears and greets us. He is much better. He leads us to a room with a cabinet and takes a seat on a raised platform. This is the room where the lontar is stored. A footed offering plate holds several of the volumes. With utmost care he opens one of them and shows us the script that was cut into the palm leaves hundreds of years ago. Very few people can read the old Balinese writing. The modern alphabet is completely different.

P1060083We lean in close and Bapak says it’s okay to take photos. The inscription is faint but legible. There are dozens of the bound packets of hardened palm leaves. Ketut tells us that the leaf is dried, then soaked in hot water, then dried again and it becomes hard. The writing is done by carving each letter with a knife.

But there are new developments. The book no longer wants to be in the new house. The ancestral weapons, the kris, must go there first. Later if the book wants to be with the kris, it will tell the priest. But for now, the book stays where ‘she’ is and the swords will take up residence in the new house. How was this communicated? “The Mangku he know,” Ketut tells me later.

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This is the new book house. Ketut stands in the doorway and Komang, his wife and a niece look on. I’m shocked to see a real house with two rooms. All this for a book and a couple of swords?

Ketut’s family gathers round while we wait for the priest. More food is brought along with thick, sweet, Bali coffee.

Ketut has heard from the priest. Many blessings are scheduled for the full moon and he’s much in demand. It may be hours before he arrives, “Or maybe tomorrow,” Ketut says.

The sun set a while ago. We still have an hour-and-a-half ride down the mountain before sleep. With the timing of the ceremony uncertain, and the adventures of the day already enough to fill us to capacity, we opt to take our leave. As we bump along the ridge, the lights of the villages lining the shores of Lake Batur shimmer through a gauzy mist of cloud far below.

The island of Bali is another world. But the places we’ve been today could be another galaxy so far removed are they from what we might consider normal. And yet it works here. It fits. And I doubt that I will ever outgrow the amazement and wonder at the vast differences that feel so familiar.

 

 

 

 

 

“Cinch me up, Scotty!” The Victorian corset is alive and well in Bali.

Vanity, thy name is woman. The quote is attributed to Shakespeare, but he actually said, “Frailty, thy name is woman.” I take exception to that! But vanity, in my case, is sadly appropriate. I stooped low. But given the circumstances I trust you will be gentle with your judgements.

Living among the warmth and generosity of the Balinese people, I frequently have invitations to important ceremonies. In ignorance I first attended in my regular Western clothing and quickly felt like the poor orphan in the midst of splendor. The statuesque grace of the female Balinese form takes on goddess-like qualities when outfitted in full ceremonial regalia. I quietly observed from the sidelines and resolved to clean up my act.

I bought a sarong at the market. Rushing home I spent the next few hours struggling to assemble myself and look like those ethereal creatures I was trying to emulate. What in the name of the goddess did they do with all those yards of fabric? The next ceremony was imminent so I put on a t-shirt with a little sleeve, wrapped myself several times around with the sarong fabric, tied it, tucked it, and hoped it would remain secure. I was lumpy but less conspicuous than before.

This time I noticed that all the women wore a blouse of a similar style, and many of them were made of colorful lace. The next day I returned to the market and left with a stunning golden lace kebaya and a matching satin sash.  

Back at home I tried on my ensemble. When I donned the lacey kebaya dismaying amounts of naked flesh were visible between my bra and my sash. The Balinese women had no flesh showing. What was I missing? For the next ceremony I added a tank-top under the lace for modesty and set out determined to get this figured out once and for all! Discreetly I peered more closely at what was going on under the beautiful, Balinese kebayas. What gave them that sculpted elegance I had failed to achieve? Where were their lumps? I was horrified to discover that these amazing women who, less than 50 years ago roamed bare-breasted and free, had succumbed to being sausaged into that chamber of torture, the Victorian CORSET! Just then I felt my sarong begin to unwind and slide down my hips.

The following day I stepped into the shop of a tailor whose exquisite kebayas hung on display in the window. I asked her if she sold corsets. She was not familiar with the term but employing a few gestures we came to an understanding. “Mona Lisa,” she stated, as if that ended the conversation. “Mona Lisa?” I echoed. “This,” and I gestured again wrapping my hands around my ribs and squeezing, ” is Mona Lisa?” She assured me it was and that she did not sell the exotic undergarment.

So my search began. With each failed attempt to locate what I wanted I grew more determined to own one. Finally, in a remote shop in Ubud, I found a woman who sold corsets. I knew I was going to be spending far more than the kebaya, sarong and sash put together, but this was THE piece de resistance! The corset vendor explained that there were three qualities: economy quality, better quality, and THE Mona Lisa. I tried the economy model first. The itchy lace ripped as she was securing it around me. We moved up to better quality. The zipper broke half way up my ribcage. Then with reverence she removed Mona Lisa from its tissue wrapper. I felt the smooth silkiness of it caressing my body. She hooked it and zipped it. The stays lifted me out of my dumpiness. I was pushed upward, outward and transformed. At that point I would have paid anything. I felt gorgeous. But I regained presence of mind enough to make a slight negotiation of the price and left with my prize.

Yesterday I wore my very own Mona Lisa for the first time. Even though vanity would normally deter me from posting the ‘before’ version, I feel it is essential to illustrate the absolute necessity of THE undergarment.

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BEFORE…t-shirt with sarong…lumps and bumps.

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AFTER…Mona Lisa…need I say more!

Happy Birthday to Me!

I don’t often post poems, but today is my birthday (it’s already January 6th in Bali) and I will do as I please!

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Kadek let me photograph her as she sprinkled holy water on the small house altar this morning. She moves gracefully, gliding like a beautiful swan. She is the inspiration for my poem.

BEAUTIFUL SWAN

In my whiteness
I watch gold-skinned women
in the temple garden.
 
One climbs
the stairs
to apologize…
 
“I make offerings
so sorry
did not see you.”
 
It is her task
to prepare
my breakfast.
 
Today she wears
a teal kebaya
with hot pink sash.
 
Tiny pearls of perspiration
glisten
on her upper lip.
 
I admire the sarong
woven in traditional
ikat style.
 
“It is made by machine
not good quality,”
she wants me to know.
 
“It’s beautiful!” I say,
and it is
because she is wearing it.
 
The color combinations
would not please
the Western aesthetic.
 
But this is Bali,
contrived fashion rules
do not apply.
 
She carries woven trays
mounded with offerings
trailing clouds of incense…
 
stopping at each altar
to sprinkle holy water
and pray.
 
Who are you,
beautiful swan?
What is your story?
 
Your knowledge is ancient
I am awed and humbled
by your mysteries.
 
Teach me, my sister,
help me understand
your incomprehensible life.
 
 

Making Peace with Good and Evil

Good and evil, yin and yang, are balanced today in the village of Bakbakan.  It isn’t easy to maintain harmony with these energies. The level of sensory intensity in the ritual prayers, dances, and offerings that are required to keep peace between the sacred and the profane is unparalleled by anything I’ve seen before.

My friend Wayan invited Nancy (who is visiting from the U.S.) and me to attend the temple ceremony as guests of her family. The village of Bakbakan is about 30 minutes from Ubud. I arranged with Pasek and Ketut for motorbike transport. After a sidesaddle ride, which Nancy accomplished with impressive decorum, we were delivered to our destination and welcomed warmly by Wayan and Komang in ceremonial dress.

A group of women had already congregated. They were stunning. They looked like brides, all in white with a colorful sash at their waists. We had a few minutes to visit and then a line started forming. The row of towering pyramids of fruit, cakes, whole baked chickens, and colorful confections were retrieved by the woman who created them and placed on their heads.

This woman’s husband helps her with her 4′ tall, over 30 pound offering.

I cannot comprehend this feat of balance and strength.  It’s a challenge for me to balance a book on my head for more than a few steps. How on earth do they do it? The stately procession was followed by the gamelan musicians. Nancy and I walked alongside the men, snapping photos as discreetly as possible.

A stunning parade, at least 50 women all in white, carried their towering offerings the 1/2 mile to the temple.

The temple complex has three areas. Those who cannot enter wait in the least sacred area outside the entrance. If a relative has died recently the family cannot enter the temple. If a woman is menstruating she must not enter. At we approached Komang politely asked if Nancy or I were menstruating. There are very few bodily functions that register as taboos in Bali. Community life is an open book. There is no embarrassment around such things. I assured him we were both well past that age. He smiled and motioned us to the holy water where we were sprinkled. Then we passed through the gate and entered a magical realm. All was in readiness for the evening festivities as we passed through this second area.

Stepping through the last gate into the most sacred portion of the temple a riot of color and commotion assailed us. The air vibrated with expectation and the hum of voices. We were urged onto a platform, a seat of honor, and woven bamboo mats were quickly spread for our delicate foreign bottoms. Nancy and I sat by Wayan while Ary slept peacefully in her arms.

Komang’s cousin, Made, appointed himself our teacher and began explaining the events that would take place. His English was excellent and I learned more about Balinese Hinduism in the 30 minutes with him than I have in 5 months of reading and asking questions. We sat and chatted while other friends and family came and went.

The gamelan began, signaling time for prayer. We sat on the ground in family groups. Each family brought, in addition to the 4’ high offering tower, a basket of flowers and incense which Komang’s mother placed in front of us. Prayers were chanted in unison as the intricate rituals were performed. I tried to chant. I’m pretty good at following along with most melodies, but this wasn’t exactly a melody. When we got to the end I recognized the words and gave it my all, Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti, Om.

A buzz of excitement rippled through the crowd at this point and almost as a unit the we moved to the perimeter creating a center space. A cloth was spread on the ground and offerings were placed there. These were different. Some appeared to have been slightly burned. There were a couple of smaller, colorful ones but the rest were almost scary looking. Made explained that there would be a dance and prayers now to balance good and evil energies. A row of holy men in white sat behind the dark offerings. Incense was lighted that did not have the sweet fragrance we had been experiencing all night. This odor was acrid and harsh. The gamelan musicians began again. Then a grandmother appeared moving to the rhythm. Another grandmother joined her and soon a group of elder women were dancing in front of the offerings and the holy men. We had been told earlier that this would be a trance dance. It was eerie. The women appeared to be doing battle with the dark energies. I watched, mesmerized.

The solemnity of the prayers and trance dance complete, food suddenly appeared. Wayan handed us a tangerine, some beautiful little striped crackers, and a lacy confection of shredded coconut glazed with palm sugar. Yum! We ate, visited, and anticipated the beginning of the evening’s entertainment. People started moving into the performance area and Komang hustled us into position at the front. What followed were three traditional Balinese dances, each one more spectacular than the one before.

The first dance, Penyembrahma, was brilliantly colorful.

That was followed by the spectacular, twirling Bird of Paradise dance.

The costumes in deep maroon with gold were absolutely gorgeous.

Bird of Paradise was followed by a brilliantly costumed trio. I missed the name of this performance and it moved quickly so photo ops were difficult. It was hard to keep my eyes behind the camera when I really just wanted to absorb myself completely in the moment!

It was 9 p.m. by the time the dancers finished. We were told that there would be another performance starting soon, but this was a ritual dance and it would be dangerous for us to leave in the middle. It again had to do with balance of good and evil. Once we started watching we would have to stay until the end at about 2 a.m. As much as my curiosity, my heart, and my mind wanted to stay, my body was in protest. Komang graciously escorted us to the street. Pasek and Ketut had returned and were waiting for us. We exchanged sweet farewells and started home. The cool night air brushed by as we zipped through dark, quiet streets. I was overwhelmed once again with immense gratitude for the opportunity to live this kind of life, a life I have created for myself knowing what I need, what I want, and what I love. It is a life that fits me like skin.

The Night Market at Mas

Question:  What do you get when you cross a Hindu ceremony with a Balinese all night market?  Answer: Sensory overload!

When Ketut asked, “You want to go to different market?” and I responded “What is different?” I was operating on the assumption it would be the same kind of market in a different location. Assumptions. Ketut expanded, “Night time, whole night, by temple, big football field.” I sought further clarification, “You mean all night? 24/7? No close?” Yes, that is exactly what he meant.

Of course I want to go, and my friend, Nancy, who is visiting me from the U.S., wants to go too. I picture a series of small shops around the perimeter of a large open area beside a temple. Why does my mind do that? Why do I presume to know what to expect? I do it every time and every time I’m astonished by something so utterly and completely unexpected it blows my tiny mind.

At 6:00 p.m. we’re ready. We have our sarongs in a bag to tie on when necessary. Ketut arrives, takes one look and says, “Pasek already sarong.” Okay, we need to wear our sarongs. At 6:30 we are still struggling to wrap the 2 meters of fabric in a semi secure fashion that doesn’t include an unsightly bulge around the mid-section. We both look about 8 months pregnant. It isn’t working. Finally, sweating bullets and laughing because it beats crying, we agree to quit trying to make it perfect and just go. I’m packaged like a tootsie-roll pop. Walking is a challenge.

I start to mount the motorbike (sidesaddle of course) and Ketut patiently repositions me. Since they drive on the left side of the road it is less likely my protruding knees will snag a passing vehicle if they stick out on the left. (Yes, the oncoming traffic is THAT CLOSE!) I glance at Nancy. She has hiked up her much more loosely wrapped sarong and is straddling the back of of Pasek’s bike. She’s taking no chances.

My first clue that the Mas Night Market may be a cut above the norm is the traffic jam. Suddenly every motorbike in creation has converged on this point. As we inch our way forward I notice a temporary toll booth of sorts. It is a chair in the middle of the road with a sign on it. The attendant standing beside it collects the fee. And then I see them…rows upon rows of motorbikes lined up two deep as far as the eye can see on both sides of the street. Ketut and Pasek make a few adjustments to the arrangement and we’re parked. We join the throngs. The flowing sea of humanity reminds me of Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Here however, out of literally hundreds of people, Nancy and I are the ONLY tourists.

Nancy pauses outside the huge stone entrance to the temple area and Pasek waits just inside the gate

Pasek on the left, Nancy on the right and in the background a parade of people, all in ceremonial dress, bring  their offerings into the temple

In another area of the temple people sit amid flower petals praying

This altar is adorned with rich fabrics and loaded with offerings

I still hesitate to take photos in the temples during ceremonies. It feels intrusive and disrespectful. The Balinese are always gracious and invite snoopy folks to photograph whatever they want. So it may be just me. But I cringe when I see some guy in shorts with a telephoto lens as long as Pinocchio’s nose, climbing on whatever is handy however sacred it might be, shooting, shooting, shooting. At the very least wear a sarong…try! Fortunately there were none of those types around on this particular night.

We leave the other-worldliness of the temple and are thrust into the earthly business of buying and selling. Carried along with the flow, we pass blankets spread on the ground with mounds of lace fabrics. Women are pulling out colors they like and looking through the merchandise just as I would around a bargain table in the U.S. There are wind-up toys, watches, jeans, t-shirts, underwear, jewelry, sarongs, balloons, tennis shoes, sandals, motorbike parts, and food…lots and lots of food. The aroma from this particular warung cannot to be ignored. We try three different kinds of satays.

Making and selling satays in the Mas Night Market

And they are delicious…smokey, spicy, mouth wateringly delicious!

I’m lovin’ this fish satay. Pasek is being his stoic, patient self. He’s a saint!

I notice a stall where that beautiful feminine undergarment of torture, the corset, is on display in abundance. I need one. I have the sarong and the lacy kebaya, but to be 100% correct I need the strapless push-up-pull-in-rib-crushing corset to complete the look. In spite of the human current pushing me I slow way down. Pasek, a few steps ahead but ever-vigilant lest he lose one of us, is immediately beside me. “You want to buy?” Somehow the vision of one of those adorable little Balinese girls strapping me into the most intimate of undergarments in front of the gods, and Pasek, and everybody gives me pause. A corset that doesn’t fit is worse than no corset at all, and the retelling of the story of me being sausaged into one would provide enough entertainment in the village for weeks to come. What am I thinking!? Common sense surfaces and we move on.

There must be something about greasy fried food that triggers a neural response. The warungs selling heaps of piseng goreng (banana fritters) and other deep fat fried bready foods are like magnets. We cave to our salivating taste buds. I point to one heaping mound and two handfuls of the stuff goes into a bag. Before I can ask the price two heaping handfuls of something else goes into the bag. I started to speak but STOP!!! doesn’t seem appropriate so I watch in fascinated horror while the bag is filled with two or three handfuls of everything. It comes to a dollar.

We agree it is time to head back to the peaceful sanity of Ubud. The motorbikes are located and the Polisi directing traffic gets us safely on our way.

Leaving the night market

The ride home is uneventful in the best possible sense of the word. Pasek and Ketut join Nancy and me on the balcony for tea and mounds of greasy delights. I forgot to mention that each deep-fried handful was accompanied by two or three whole green chilies.  And what do you know…a bite of fritter and a bite of chili when chewed up together in the same mouthful…bliss!

Oh what a night!

Balinese Fashionista!

Maybe you recall my post about the Balinese wedding I was so fortunate to attend. And perhaps you remember the photos of the women in their beautiful clothing, and me in my black T-shirt and sarong. Well, no more! I have been invited to two more ceremonious events in the coming weeks and I shuddered to think of showing up so inappropriately garbed. I asked Dewa about the lace blouse that so many of the women wear. “You mean kebaya?” he corrected me. “Yes, the lace blouse, kebaya, where can I get one?” Well, it seems if you want it to fit properly you buy the lace and go to a tailor. “Very expensive,” he said. I didn’t doubt it. A few days passed and I again broached the subject. This time his wife brought a bag of fabrics to show me. None of them were lace. “Too hot!” I exclaimed. “Need holes!” They laughed and again Dewa warned me, “Very expensive.” It occurred to me that something might be available ready made at the market. I asked and his answer was affirmative. “Yes, you can buy there, small, medium, large. Not tailored.”

The next day I took myself to the market. Even though that in itself is a challenge not for the faint of heart, I was on a mission. Passing stalls of jewelry, soaps, incense, carvings, and food, I finally found my way upstairs to clothing vendors. The first person who accosted me with, “Sarong? You buy sarong today? Good luck buy from me.” I said, “Kebaya?” It was like an army snapped to attention and suddenly kebayas were everywhere, cotton ones, polyester ones, every color of the rainbow, and yes, lace ones! I won’t belabor the details, but with much buttoning and unbuttoning (there is a row of 12 tiny buttons down the front and they are all displayed buttoned) and trying on and taking off, I found the perfect kebaya. Then with hand signals to represent the cummerbund around the waist the exact item was located. Some quick bargaining and I had hunted, captured, and bagged my prey! I actually found my way out of the market without getting completely turned around and hurried home. Assembling the outfit on my bed to get the full effect of the shopping expedition, I have to say I was thrilled. Here it is, my event-appropriate costume for ceremonies Bali style.

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