A TYPICAL DAY

 

“You have a plan?” Ketut asks as he puts the produce from his morning trip to the market on my countertop.

“I’m writing.”

“The book?”

“Yes.”

“You want to see bale?” A simple question.

I’ve been talking about wanting a bamboo gazebo in the garden. It would be a lovely spot to read, sip fresh papaya juice, have a massage, and daydream among the topical flowers and lush greenery sheltered from the sweltering rays of the sun.

“Okay.”

I fill my water bottle, sling a lightweight backpack over my shoulder, switch my phone to data, and grab flip-flops and my helmet. I meet Ketut and his motorbike at the end of the narrow path that leads from my house to the street, and slide on behind him.

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In the fifty minutes from the house to Blahbatuh village where bamboo is fashioned into everything from swinging baby bassinets to complete houses, I learn that this isn’t the only thing Ketut has in mind. His list includes another stop, Depot Bangunan in Gianyar. It’s similar but less than one-quarter the size of Home Depot stores in the States. Still, for Bali, it’s huge.

“What do we need there?”

“Medicine to make bat gone.” He thinks for a minute then adds, “And door.”

I have a friendly bat that hangs out under the eaves at night. She’s harmless but the mess on my terrace every morning puts me off any thoughts of breakfast. I wonder what kind of medicine he has in mind.

After spending more time together over the past six years than most married people, Ketut and I have an abbreviated dialogue that works. I speak in Indonesian to him, he answers in English. “Door?” I ask.

“For toilet,” he says.

“Aduh! At last!” We laugh. He’s about as stubborn a human as they come and he’s fought me on getting a new door to his bathroom for months – maybe a year. I shudder to think what decay it’s fallen into that has caused him to finally entertain my wishes.

Then he reminds me I also need a Saraswati statue – doesn’t everyone?

The jolly owner of the bale shop speaks only Indonesian, fast. I try to keep up but have to ask him over and over to please repeat. He does, louder, but not slower. I catch enough to be able to crack a few jokes.

I like his product and the haggling begins.”Twelve million rupiah,” he says. I register the appropriate level of shock, tell him I’m not a bule kaya (rich foreigner) and what is his ‘morning price.’ That gets a laugh. “Okay, eleven,” he says. I change the subject. “Okay, ten million. Good price.” He’s having fun and I take the final plunge.

“I’ll give you nine million five hundred because you’re so handsome.”

Oh my. He doubles over laughing, and when he comes up for air with eyes dancing he says, “Okay. I give you for 9 million five hundred because you speak joke in bahasa Indonesia.” If for no other reason than that I continue to force my atrophying brain to study, and struggle to twist my tongue around this exotic  language.

The Depot stop is cut and dried. No haggling here. Ketut finds what he wants for the bat, chooses his door with only moderate complaints about the price, and we’re on our way.

There are miles of statues along the main road to Denpasar but I’ve had my eye on a particular shop in Peliatan, closer to home. We pull in and there she is: Saraswati, Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, arts, science and nature – with her swan.

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She’s gorgeous, but a little more elaborate, and a lot more expensive than what I’m looking for. I’m assured by the creator of this masterful piece that he can make anything and he will be happy to do so within my budget. “But you haven’t asked my budget,” I say, and give him a bit of a look.

“No problem, Madam,” he responds in perfect English, and right away I wish he’d said Ibu (mother), or Nenek (grandma), anything but Madam.

That word triggers me for some reason. It might be because it calls up images of an older woman who manages a brothel, escort service, or some other form of prostitution for profit. I’ve done many things for profit in my life but that isn’t one of them. However, it’s my problem, not his. How could he know? So I unruffle my feathers and we continue the process of establishing where my budget and his bottom line agree. The gap narrows, but doesn’t quite come together. I promise to think about it, and leave without ordering.

“You hungry?” Ketut asks as we straddle the bike and join the chaos in the street.

“Saya sangat lapar.” (Starving.) We head to a roadside food cart and pick up late lunch: a bunkus of rice, steamed vegetables, peanuts, a mixture of onions, garlic, tomato and chilies called bumbu, and other unidentifiable mysteries.

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This isn’t westernized restaurant food. The flavors are pure Bali with lots of heat and we eat with our fingers sitting curbside. I carry a bottle of Thieves hand sanitizer in my purse at all times and use it before and after. Ketut likes the way it smells so he uses it too. We polish off the food like hungry wolves, then it’s back on the bike.

“Where?”

“Pulang, Ketut. Mau pulang.” The afternoon sun slips lower in the sky as he turns the bike toward home. Later I think about the day and where I’d have to go in the States with a shopping list like this:

Custom hand-made bamboo gazebo – Hmmm
Bat medicine and door – Home Depot, maybe?
Saraswati statue – Hmmm
Unregulated street food – Hmmm

And where could I haggle over the price and tell a man he was handsome so he’d give me a better deal without having to hire a lawyer the next day?

Ah Bali! She’s not for everyone, but I’m in love…still so in love.

 

 

 

 

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Sacred Cock Fights

Mr. Duffy lived a short distance from his body. James Joyce captured my current state in that brilliant sentence.

I’m back in Bali, but parts of me are still arriving and parts of me never left! It is an odd sensation, very odd, and one that I enjoy exploring in my discovery writing. I’ve been half way around the world twice in 45 days with a quick back-and-forth hop between Minnesota and New York sandwiched in-between. My mind goes and my body tags along, sometimes kicking and screaming. Then my body arrives but my mind may have taken a side trip and doesn’t catch up until later.

But the parts of me actually here are residing in this charming, second floor room with many windows and great, western light.

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The balcony wraps the corner and extends to an area where I can sit and write, daydream, or observe the daily life of an upper class Balinese family.

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This part of the balcony overlooks the family temple, but also the public temple across the street. I arrived in the middle of a very important three-day ceremony. There has been constant activity, not the least of which are the cock fights. Yes, cock fights. I requested an explanation from my host, Joni K, about the sacredness of fighting cocks…”Why in the temple?” I was curious. In that slightly apologetic way that is so engaging, he explained that at first, long time ago, just two ‘chickens’ fought so that the blood could be used for offerings. “But,” and the dimples appear, “people enjoy. Now many chickens fight and much money is made and lost.” He told me how much cash is bet on a single fight. “Who keeps the money?” I asked, thinking it might all be donated to the temple. “One who has winning chicken,” he replies. I thought for a moment then said, “Joni, where can we get one of these chickens?” His uproarious laughter warmed my heart. I haven’t lost my touch. I can still make the Balinese laugh.

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Since first coming to Bali I have been enamored with the temple drumming. The drum sounds at about 6 a.m. It signals morning and I love the haunting beauty of it coming through the darkness over the rice fields. Now I live across the street from the drum. It sits in a tower of the temple that is eye-level with my balcony. Today the holy man was striking it every 10 seconds as people in ceremonial dress brought their offerings. I caught a photo of him from the balcony. How can you not love drumming…even up close…especially up close! Something primal in me resonates!

Made Parna Painting

Ubud is the cultural and artistic capital of Bali. In this family, both Joni and his uncle are well-known painters. Made Parna paints in the traditional Balinese style and sells his very expensive works in Jakarta. He took me into his studio to see the works in progress. What kind of patience does one have to possess to create in such intricate detail?

This painting by Made depicts Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, arts, and science. According to Wikipedia, It was with her knowledge, that Brahma created the universe. She is a part of trinity “Saraswati”, “Lakshmi” and “Parvati”Painting Traditional. All the three forms help trinity “Brahma”, “Vishnu” and “Shiva” in the creation, maintenance and destruction of the Universe.

The Hindu religion is complex. Each village interprets and practices it as they see fit. So the moment I think I’ve got a piece worked out I go somewhere else and it is entirely different.

I’ve quit trying to understand. I find it’s better to simply go with the flow whenever I’m invited. And the Balinese are quick to extend that invitation! The very same day I arrived Joni and his wife wanted me to accompany them to the evening temple celebrations. I never say no, but that night I politely declined. I wasn’t sure what remnants of self I could gather up, and even if there were a few shreds on hand, they looked ghastly.

Joni photoJoni’s style is 180 degrees in the opposite direction!

Joni painting contemporary

He sees color and transparency, shape and contrast, and applies it to canvas. His paintings have a satisfying balance which typifies what the Balinese strive for. They believe their rituals serve to maintain a balance between good and evil.

Another uncle is a stone carver. His talent has adorned every building in this family’s amazing complex. The entrance to Joni’s father’s home is a stellar example of the family stonecarver’s genius.

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However, in Bali it is hard to compete with Nature. I have a western view. When my room filled with golden light about 6:30 p.m. last night I hurried outside. This resplendent sunset brought tears to my eyes.

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So here I am, plopped down in the midst of these wildly creative folks in one of the most beautiful places on earth. I can feel inspiration seeping back into my shriveled pores. As each wayward part of me arrives, and I become an integrated being once again, the juices will flow. They can’t help it. Ubud is creativity central.  It’s no accident that I’m here…or almost here!

Meet Dewa, #1 Guide, Host, and Friend

Dewa says I must bathe in the sacred waters of Tirta Empul before I leave Bali. It will purify my mind and body. So this morning at 9 o’clock sharp I do as I have been instructed, don my sarong and sash then off we go. “Why the sash?” I ask Dewa as he weaves through the maze of motorbikes in early morning traffic. My Balinese walking Wikipedia thoughtfully asks a question in return, “There is the mind, and there is the body…what is a better English word for the desire of the body?” Now it’s my turn to ask a question. “Do you mean all the desires? The desire of the body for food, for sleep, for sex?” (It’s okay. We’ve had these conversations!) “Yes, for sex,” he replies. “Well, that depends,” I say. “If desire is accompanied by caring and deep feeling it is a good word. If it is purely desire with no emotional attachment you could call it lust.” By now I think I have an idea where this is going. Dewa confirms my suspicions. “The sash is to separate the mind from the sexual desires of the body when you enter the temple,” he tells me. In this culture there’s a purpose for every item of clothing, every ritual, every ceremony.

We arrive at Tirta Empul and walk through the serenity of the the gardens.

The statue is Saraswati, a female Hindu water deity.

There isn’t really grass anywhere. It’s a tiny, round leaf plant that is used for ground cover.

And here is Dewa. Always happy, always patient. The plastic bag contains offerings for our time in the sacred waters.

Before we enter the cleansing pool, Dewa takes out the three offerings made by his mother, and lights the incense.

He places the offerings on the altar along with many others. Now it is okay to enter the water.

He says I should go first. I sit down on the edge and notice there are a great many fish that are sharing this experience with me. Some are medium, some are an edible size. I decide it isn’t much different than swimming in a Minnesota lake. As I put my feet and legs in the water I detect another similarity. It’s COLD! This is fresh spring water and as such it is deep-earth cooled. I slip into the chest high water with a little gasp. There are 12 gushing spouts and I am to bow under each one of these and make a prayer.

That’s me about half way through. By this time I’ve got it down and I’m totally into the experience.

Dewa follows. It’s quite a lengthy process, this cleansing of the body!

The second pool is for the mind. There are six spouts but you only use one. I wait patiently for the privilege of cleansing my mind.

The ritual cleansing completed, we go back to the locker room, change into dry sarongs, and depart for the next leg of the journey. Our second stop is the home of a famous batik designer. Following a narrow walkway from the street, we come to a large room. Thirteen women sit at makeshift drafting tables, each with a length of fabric and a bowl of hot wax. Using a paintbrush they painstakingly apply wax to the fabric in all the areas where the dye is not wanted. The wax is a deep amber color and the waxed pieces are beautiful before they are even dyed.

The next room holds the huge vats of dye. The fabric is soaked in the color then hung to dry.

Once dry, the pieces are moved into the next room to await wax removal. In this factory the batik is done on cotton, linen and silk. They are limited edition fabrics. Only a few of each of the designs are made. The quality is magnificent. You won’t find these in the market!

The contents of the two huge, black cauldrons in the center of the room is heated with a wood fire. The dyed material is placed in a cauldron and the wax melts leaving the raw white fabric showing through creating the design. If more pattern and color is desired the piece is returned to the wax room to have a new application placed over the dyed areas. Now when it is dipped in a different color the already treated portions will not be disturbed.

Here is a block of the amber wax. Pieces are sliced off and melted for the women to use in the fabric waxing room.

I so appreciate the opportunity to see the Balinese people doing what they have done for hundreds of years for the most part unchanged. It can be a severe shock for those of us coming from the industrialized West. Most tour guides take you to the showrooms. There you will find a few pretty vignettes where Balinese people demonstrate how jewelry is made, or batik fabrics are created. Then you are ushered into the main area with row upon row of glittering jewelry cases or racks of fabrics for sale. The average tourist doesn’t have a clue that these staged presentations are light years removed from the reality of how the products are created.

We thank the batik workers for allowing us a peek into their world then head for the ocean. The last stop today is a fishing village where we will have lunch. The roads get narrower and narrower. Dewa reminds me that this is not a place where tourists go. This is a village of Balinese fisherman and our ‘shore lunch’ will consist of today’s catch, whatever it is.

The road ends at the beach and the black volcanic sand begins.

Dewa poses beside one of the colorful fishing boats, still smiling!

Our mystery fish is being grilled over a coconut husk fire while we watch. As it sizzles, it is basted with a mixture of garlic paste mixed in coconut oil then flipped and basted again. The skin is scored with several diagonal cuts before it goes on the grill so the garlic mixture can penetrate into the meat. The end result is yet another gastronomical delight!

Here it is, grilled fish, water spinach, and rice mixed with sweet potato. Notice the candle. We had a good laugh about our candlelight lunch on the beach!

Last but not least, fish satays. These are wickedly hot little globs of fish mixed with various chilies and spices then grilled. I ate one. Dewa polished off the rest.

The shoreline gracefully curves, embracing the incoming waves. Mountains at the horizon are hazy blue.

This one almost got me!

Time to go, but as we leave we stop to watch this woman make short work of a fish. It is round and flat, I’m guessing flounder. Squatting by the side of the road she has it gutted, the fins chopped off, flesh scored and ready for the grill in a few swift flicks of that knife. Even dressing a fish, in the skillful hands of a master, is poetry!

What an amazing day. I think I have said that about every single day for the past two months. I also think, no matter how long I might stay, there would be no end to amazing days.  I love this place, my new friends here, and the ancient ways that anchor me to something more permanent than my life.

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