Journey through Bali

We landed in Bali in the rainy season which is the “slow” season. we haven’t really planned anything, it just fit our schedule. On most days in the afternoon or during the night there were thunderstorms and pouring rain. We didn’t mind, We loved the lushness and the cloud formations over the volcanoes.

Bali is a small island and desperate for tourists, especially during the slow season. People are friendly and warm but there’s an intensity I recognize from Israel, to sell you on the place. Most of the people have never left the island, not even to neighboring islands. They are steep in their unique Dharma Hinduism and traditions, they are a minority in Indonesia, and they are poor. They constantly want you to appreciate their place, be happy, leave your money, and come back again with your family and friends.

I have to admit that as much as I loved the place, it became tiresome, especially with the hawkers who beg and beg of you to buy their merchandise at the entrance to all of the attractions. And you are expected to bargain and slice the price, and you are always in the dark as to what is the real price. It happened more than once that I saw the same thing I bought way cheaper one stall or one town away.

The surprising fact is that even in established stores you can bargain.

Saraswati the goddess of knowledge, science, and the, arts

Sita and Ram, statuses like this are everywhere. They are the foundation myth, figures from the Ramayana storyline.

It was inevitable

Yes, the day has come for us to fly back to Colorado. Tonight to Seoul and then the long leg to Seattle.

We stayed two nights in luxury and beauty at Dewa Phuket Resort, just south of the Phuket airport. Five minutes to the beach. Two pools. Wonderful spa massage staff. I had planned several weeks ago to get two massages before our departure — yesterday and today. Done.

I’m heart-broken to leave this beautiful, heart-warming country. Matan was right and we obeyed. The Thai language is a huge challenge and the alphabet is smashingly difficult: 42 characters, 15 diacritical marks. One would never be able to learn it. And all those curlicues? Huh? Leftovers from Sanskrit. But I would try.

Low costs, even low low low costs. We bought lots and lots of gifts. You will see.

Yes, this is Thai

Bali Bali

A fascinating place! The Balinese people are wonderful! Incredibly warm and welcoming. Always curious to find out where do we come from. Most of them have never been out of Bali or even out of their own region of Bali. And they are content. There was only one taxi driver who told us that he dreams of flying in an air plane and go to NY and Paris, and he added: “But this will never happen.”

Bali is mostly Hindu 80% and the rest are Buddhists, Muslims and Christians. They never even heard of Israel or Judaism. Their official languages are Balinese and Indonesean, but most of them speak English quite well, unlike in Thailand. Their AlphaBet is in Latin letters which makes life easier for us when reading names of places and menus.

They are loving and open and very devoted to their spiritual/ritual way of life. Their life is steeped in their own version of Hinduism which is mixed up with Balinese gods and their own (I dare to say, animistic) traditions. Lots of little ceremonies are completely interwoven with people’s lives. For example, we arranged a driver to pick us up from our Grand Inna hotel in Sanur (outside of Denpasar). A lovely young man showed up and said: “My name is G’de, Katut couldn’t come today because he is participating in a ceremony.” This happened almost every time we scheduled a private driver. This way we got to meet, G’de, Loti, Wayam… you get the idea. We never met the original Katut (which means the youngest son in a family – a common name here.)

Praying in the temple grounds. Each family is doing their own thing with the Holy Man giving them their mantra to pray with. During morning offerings or temple visits for ceremonies they wear traditional clothes which are usually very colorful both for men and women.

Daily offerings at the entrances to homes and business
You can see that this is offered on the black lava pavement: fresh cut lowers, rice, incense. During big ceremonies they offer baskets full of food and roast a piglet for the community to share.
Almost all temples and status are black and not necessarily beautiful as we got used to in Thailand.
The Temple of Holy Water
The Holy Man in a separate booth. He chants, rings a bell and sprinkles holy water.
All men and women need to cover their legs when visiting the temple. This was the result one rainy afternoon!

Kecak

You don’t know this, but fifty years ago, while I was a grad student in physical chemistry at UC San Diego in La Jolla, I was banging around the library. Somehow I found a folklore recording of “The Ramayana Monkey Chant”, which I now know is the Kecak Dance. I was entranced, and listened to the tape cassette many times, finally making a pirate copy.

Now, I visit Ubud and we book tickets to the Dance. It’s exactly as I remember from fifty years ago: a vast choir of men chanting, no instruments. Bali men young and old, chanting in syncopated rhythms.

I was swept with emotion, and as I do, I cried. I was able to revisit my past memories for real. Wow!

There is a Chinese Beachhead

Don’t Panic! Stay Calm! It is true that there is a Chinese Beachhead on the Island of Koh Naka Noi. There’s clear evidence: multiple floating docks, many shelters (thatched and otherwise roofed), many support buildings, housing for Thai laborers (forced labor?).

We were eyewitnesses of the day’s last departure of Chinese occupiers. Many were wearing the signature chiffon dress of that division.

Sad, very sad. We were hoping for a day’s end Chang beer and a snack. Nothing to be had. Nothing. Closed. Shut. Segur. Geschlossen. Very sad for us. (The dock hands were, however welcoming and helpful — but no food or drink).

We returned to our boat and waited for morning, planning on avoiding the return of the occupying visitors.

Our embedded beach spy reports that many many boatloads of Chinese “visitors” arrive every day in the afternoon. What islands have they been reconnoitering? They take shelter under the thatches and are served some sort of food and drink. No one swims. Not one swimmer. (Well, the beach is really a loooong muddy sand flat anyway. No fun.

Then, just before sunset, they all leave on the boats again: mostly fast power boats, good at avoiding capture.

What are they doing?