Same Ol’, Same Ol’ – and Movin’ On

Can’t say I have anything in particular to write about today, but it been so long since I posted here I feel like I just want to say something.  So bear with me while I stumble through this — maybe something cohesive will emerge.

Well, we’ve been trying to sell the 2+ hectare piece of land we bought when we moved here to Bali.  It’s located just about 20 minutes north of Ubud in a little village called Bresela, and is situated on a river gorge.  The land is terraced all the way down, although one should feel adventurous to take the trek — a bit of agility also helps.  Grab a mango along the way for a treat.  But down at the bottom, along the river walkpath, a nice surprise awaits.  An awesome lava cave, which would be a great place to set up a little meditation niche.  There’s also a waterfall across the way for even more ambiance.

Back up at the top on a clear day,   one might catch a glimpse of the mighty — but very coy — Mt. Agung off toward the east, past the ricefield.  A bit less shy are Agung Batu Kuru and its mates to the west/northwest, located along the next gorge over.  Now would be a great time to discover young coconut.  The farmer tenant will climb the tree and send down three in various stages of ripening.

Okay, so the ones we always had back in the states were the “old ones”, with some water inside and a very meaty, crunchier flesh —  here in Bali these are only used for making the coconut oil; the village ladies here will make you a liter of (cold-pressed) coconut oil for about US$1.50 (byob).  Coconut oil is so light and absorbs quickly into the skin, plus  it leaves that wonderful lightly scented aura about you.

The water of the young yellow coconut is a traditional remedy for congestion and digestive problems, but is also a great hydrating refreshment.  I’ve seen that gyms and health spas in the States are promoting coconut water as a workout rehydrator/re-energizer, and I’m guessing it doesn’t come cheap.  So I kinda gloat every time I drink some fresh outta-the-shell coconut water, knowing all I had to do was ask.

A Brand New Year

Well, Nyepi (the Balinese Hindu New Year) has once again come and gone (exhale long and slowly).  I don’t know why I always kinda dread its impending arrival — it really only is a quiet, peaceful day of rest and reflection for the entire population of this teeny, tiny island.

It just seems that every year the religious and government powers that be want to impose more rules or prohibitions with regard to the Day’s observance.  This year, the off-island incoming satellite and cable tv services were also “requested” to suspend broadcasting for the 24-hour period (6am Saturday – 6am Sunday).  I, personally don’t have any major issues with that.  But I am beginning to get the notion that each year’s new restrictions are geared more toward the tourism industry than for the indigenous people of Bali.  It all really is no big deal to me,  I’m just sayin’…

So, after observing the Hindu New Year here in Bali for the past six –no, make that seven– years, my secret suspicions have been validated at last.  Yes, folks, it turns out that some people — besides the local peculang (village security) — do actually go out into the streets.  They go to the beach or to visit friends and relatives.  But – as far as I know – they must go on foot.  No prob, so what! you may ask.  Well, most of us expats have been brainwashed to believe that absolutely NO ONE is permitted beyond the kampung (family enclave) walls — dire emergencies excepted, of course.  I always suspected that there was a beehive of activity taking place while we were all locked safely inside our villas.

And – just as I suspected – this fact was indeed verified by my friend, Nik, who said she would be going to the beach on Nyepi…that if she stays off the main road, it’s okay to be out.   I’m smiling as I write this, because it is so typical and because I do appreciate the humor of it.  In order to get the whole (true) story or answer, one must not only have a firm grasp on the virtue of patience, but must be quite persistent and adept in the art of interrogation.  Sometimes it can take months or years to get down to the real nitty-gritty.

So, we made plans with our new neighbors to meet at their house (which is two steps beyond our pool garden door) to help pass the time.  It was great!  We had an early dinner and great company — we did, of course, manage to keep things subdued so as not to disturb the surrounding quiet.

I guess some readers might think that I am just way too cynical and critical of the Balinese/Indonesian culture and customs.  But, ya know, I’m just calling it as I see it.  And even better — I’m always grinning or just plain laughing at the ironic humor of it all  ’cause in the end, I always know the joke’s on me.

Silent Island

Well another year has gone by as Bali approaches the sacred Day of Silence, aka Nyepi/ Balinese Hindu New Year.  On this special day everything will shut down on the Island.  There will be no incoming or outgoing or internal flights, broadcasts, or traffic; the streets will be completely movement-free; lights and other use of electricity will be kept to the barest minimum.  Silence and stillness will reign supreme for this singular Day.  This is declared and enforced by law.

The Balinese believe that this age-old ritual is necessary to restore balance to the island, ridding it of negative energies and evil spirits that have managed to creep in over the past year.  On this day, the eve of Nyepi, effigies of evils will be paraded through the streets of each village to a central location, then burned to the accompaniment of  fireworks, bamboo cannons and all manner of loud noises.  This is to scare the evils away, so that when/if they return hours later, they will think that the island has been deserted and be forced to take up residence in some other “populated” land.

Ogoh-Ogoh represent various evils & negative energies

Another version -- each group designs their own

Most of the ogoh-ogoh are totally handmade by the local village kids’ groups.  They are usually formed with a base of chicken wire with bamboo stick supports, then paper mache to make the full figure.

Proud designers and artists, smiling faces

They're everywhere!

Of course, I had to include some of the artists, who are always quite happy to oblige.

The hotels are granted certain leniency in the Day’s observance, but must take care to keep very low profiles.  Guests are generally served meals in their rooms, but are usually allowed to use the pool and engage in other quiet activities on the premises.  So if you’re ever in Bali when Nyepi is imminent, you can expect at least one full day of absolute peace and quiet.

My next post will happen when I exhale…see ya on the other side!

What’s A Sumba?

Somewhere along the way, hubby was able to take an exploratory trip to the island of Sumba.  I’m not one who particularly enjoys some of the more primitive aspects of living, so I decided to stay behind and let him scout things out.  Sumba is part of the Indonesian archipelago and is situated to the east of Bali, past Lombok and Sumbawa, south of the island of Flores, and just west of Timor.  The tip of northern Australia lies about 700km southeast of Sumba, making it one of the most southernmost of the 17,000 Indonesian islands. Geography lesson over.

So, upon arrival at the airport in Tambolaka, he was surprised to see that a welcome committee of sorts was on hand.  It’s not clear whether the local villagers gather here to watch the “big bird” in action, or if they are more interested to see who might be visiting their homeland.

 

Welcome Committee at Sumba Airport

This apparently is a regular occurrence here at the airport.  Arriving passengers must wait for the guard to open the door, which is kept locked to prevent the non-paying crowd from filling the small terminal building.

Moving on:  So, my husband and his travel buddy (who had previously scouted this venue) went to check into the “?hotel/motel?” in town.  (This is where I am so glad I didn’t tag along.)  Check this out:

 

This is the Lobby area

And the Dining Room --

Now for the coup d’grace :

This was (most of) his room

Guest Room Entrance

Bath House/Rest Rooms

Okay, so that’s a “garden entry” outhouse bath house.  No way! A middle-of-the-night trip to the toilet would be scary and potentially dangerous – scorpions, snakes, and any number of other nasty little tropical critters could be lurking.

Well, maybe now you can see my point in not tagging along.

However, the guys could handle it.  And the rest of the trip probably helped make up for the lack of accommodations.

They were actually there on a mission to locate, and appropriate, some tobacco.  Hubby’s pal, an avid cigar aficionado had been here before and had tried some of the local tobacco years ago, and liked it.  So after he moved to Bali, he wanted to see if this particular leaf could produce a great cigar.  Cubans are legal here, but expensive as imports; and although Indonesia has some world-class tobaccos, there were no really great 100% Indonesian cigars on the market.  Anyway, that was the mission.

Here are some of the other sights they saw in Sumba:

 

Approach to a typical Sumbanese Village

 

Along the sides in the foreground is the village cemetery; the people here in Sumba are predominately Christian.  The tall center roofs of the houses act as both cooling units and chimneys, allowing the hot air and smoke to rise and escape through an opening in the top.   The cooking area is always located directly below the vent.

 

Closer view of a Sumba home

The homes are built on stilts, because the open-sided ground level is where the animals (cows, goats, chickens) are provided shelter.  Then the next level is the living and sleeping area; some may also have a loft for additional sleeping.   This island doesn’t get a lot of rain even during the “rainy season”, so unlike Bali which is lush with ricefields, the main crops are corn and tobacco.

 

 

A common sight on the road

Water buffalo are often likely the only other travelers seen on the outlying countryside roads.

 

A Nice Vilage Family they Met along the Way

And two Friendly Little Beauties

Well – gotta run for now.  Sampai jumpa lagi ..(see you next time!)

 

 

 

 

 

The People You’ll Meet, part 2

In my last post I talked generally about how and when we started meeting people here in Bali.  I forgot to mention that when we were here as tourists, we met a young Balinese couple here in Ubud.  We were just out strolling one evening and passed her toko (shop), when she struck up a conversation with us, mostly in the hope of getting us into the shop.  But she was friendly and pleasant, so we went in to chat and have a look-see.  Soon we had refreshments, and soon after that we were invited to their home.  We were amazed that these gentle innocents would invite perfect strangers to their house.  (Of course, it’s all part of the “let me sell you something” plan, but just as well we didn’t see it that way at the time).  And yes, we did buy one of his paintings before we left.  We are still friends today.

Eventually (our third year here in Bali), we met a beautiful and very gracious lady, who we later found out had been a Javanese princess.   She befriended us and introduced us to so many people – it seems she knows everybody!  She became a princess when she married the son of the Sultan of Jogyakarta, which is a sovereign entity within the Java province.  When they divorced, she voluntarily relinquished the title but it is still impressive, don’t you think so?   Anyway, she had moved here to Bali and opened a Javanese restaurant in Ubud.  The menu is limited but the food is quite tasty.  We also discovered that she has authored and published a book of poetry, written during her travels through Asia, Europe and America.  It’s a lovely collection, and is written in Indonesian but includes the English translations for each poem.

Among some of our most recent acquaintances are our new neighbors – a young couple from Russia.  It’s just so exciting to meet and talk with so many people from every part of the globe!

 

Our "adopted" granddaughter, Sisi, about two years ago

 

She’s more mature-looking now, and probably at least three times more beautiful

I think the one person we’re most proud of is our “adopted” granddaughter, Sisi, who is the daughter of our friend and #1 go-to guy, (Wayan) Di.  We first met her when she was 12 years old, tall for her age, very thin, very shy, and very pretty.  After we moved here, we would have his family over for dinner (American style) about once a month – just to help them understand western tastes and to let them experience foods they would not otherwise likely ever try.  We had experimented with Di when we were out on the road and stopped for lunch.  We would let him taste what we had ordered (if he wanted to), then the next time he would often order that item.  So we figured it was probably a good way to introduce them to something other than rice, chilies, and skrawny little chickens.   Anyway, as time went on, she would ask for help with her English homework, so we set up a schedule for us to tutor her.  We discovered that she hoped to get married and maybe become a housegirl (maid) for a foreign couple.  But this girl was too intelligent for us to let that happen – she just had too much potential to waste.  So along with the tutoring came many advice lectures.  We tried to instill the confidence she would need to pursue much higher goals.   We mentored her ( I say we, but mostly it was my husband, who is a very good teacher) and helped her prepare for her first job-training internship at a local homestay complex, where she would be dealing with foreign visitors.   When she finished that stint, she was a changed person.  No longer did an early marriage interest her, nor did she set her sights on being a housegirl.  Now she wanted to be independent, to travel if possible, and to be successful enough to buy her own house.   That is quite a big order for a young woman in Bali (or Indonesia, for that matter).  Now she couldn’t wait to graduate and get started on a career.  She took every opportunity the school offered to learn more and to stand out from the others.  She graduated 2nd in her class of 413 kids.  We were so proud and so happy for her.  We had let her work in our shop part-time and continued to do so for another 6 months beyond graduation.  We taught her that she needs to know everything she can learn- the why, what and how; we taught her to ask questions; we taught her to answer questions; we taught her to be interested enough to find out.  Then we knew she was ready to go out there, and put herself on the road to success.  I am pleased to tell you that, 1 1/2 years later,  she is doing wonderfully well – she started as a hostess, but now is a clothing store manager/bookkeeper, sometime model, and sells custom motorcycles at the company she works for.  And! — she actually comes to visit us on some of her days off.  Each and every time she never leaves without thanking us for our efforts.  Awesome!

Bali Name Game

In my last post I talked generally about how and when we started meeting people here in Bali.  I forgot to mention that when we were here as tourists, we met a young Balinese couple here in Ubud.  We were just out strolling one evening and passed her toko (shop), when she struck up a conversation with us, mostly in the hope of getting us into the shop.  But she was friendly and pleasant, so we went in to chat and have a look-see.  Soon we had refreshments, and soon after that we were invited to their home.  We were amazed that these gentle innocents would invite perfect strangers to their house.  (Of course, it’s all part of the “let me sell you something” plan, but just as well we didn’t see it that way at the time).  We enjoyed a very pleasant visit with them, got to know them – yes, we did buy something – and they remain our friends to this day.

I guess you might be wondering why I haven’t mentioned their names.  Well, when talking to a Balinese person, they will always tell you their name is one of only about ten or twelve choices, depending on their order of birth.  Firstborns are usually Wayan (most common), Gede,  or Putuh;  second children are named Made, Kadek, or (something I’ve forgotten);  thirds are typically Komung or  ; and fourth born are usually named Ketut.  There may be one or two other choices for each of these, but those listed are most common.  Also, in the case of fifth or sixth, etc. the list goes back to start again with Wayan, but this is usually where the second or third choice names get applied, in order to avoid confusion among family members.   It doesn’t really stop there, though.  Each Balinese has a long string for his/her “official” name, which I believe is assigned by the “mangku”  (priest) at or before the child’s three-month ceremony.  So if you ask their real name, they will most likely give you a name like “Ary” or “Sri”, some abbreviation of a part of their official name.  Confused yet?

So, our friends mentioned above are Kadek and Made — hope that clears up the name issue.

Oh, the People You’ll Meet..

The choice to experience life in a whole new and unknown land is like getting into a great big swimming pool for the very first time.  It’s at once exciting and frightening.  At least that’s how it was for me.

Oh yes, I had been to Bali three times already — but as a tourist.  This was a whole different ballgame, as I’ve mentioned before.  I guess what got me to the point of actually following through to the reality was the fact that I was so busy for the two months leading up to the move, that I just rolled with the momentum.  This was to be a permanent move for hubby and me (at least for the plannable, foreseeable future).  So it was necessary to finalize any and all pending business, legal and personal matters, making reliable arrangements for all the rest.  This included disposing of personal belongings that could not or would not be taken along… a lot of agonizing decisions, some of them just downright painful.  Things I could not part with went into storage, to be dealt with on some future return visit.

And the family (below) and friends that were left behind — the poignant goodbyes and farewells…

Home Family Gathering

Our first Bali Family

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We knew no one over here, except for our Balinese friend/driver/tour guide, Wayan and his family (above right), and a couple from California we had met on our last visit here.  We met many Balinese people along the way during our first year and a half, mostly in the course of doing business and trying to locate necessities.  Oh, and we became friends with our (American) neighbor when we finally contracted a villa.  It probably took us that long to get settled in comfortably, what with the needed renovations and household necessities.  So we were basically on the road every day, running errands.

Then, suddenly, it happened!  We started meeting other westerners (as well as easterners) who were living among us all along.  It was at times a whirlwind of activity and new acquaintances.  So many other expats — who would have known?   From everywhere!   California, Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Utah, Indiana, DC, Washington (state), Canada, Australia, France, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Turkey, Greece, South Africa, Germany, England, Ireland, Nigeria, India, Japan, China, Iceland, Vanuatu, Philipines – just everywhere.  These are all people (including the Americans) that we never would have met or known had we  stayed in our cozy familiar little corner of the world.

It is so interesting to be able to know so many people from so many different parts of the world.  Not only does it reinforce the perception that people everywhere are still just people, but it infuses a sense of camaraderie unlike any other.  All share, to some degree, that sense of adventure/curiosity that allowed us to make the leap… a huge risk by the standards of so many… but so rewarding an experience.  Whenever I stop to contemplate, I’m always reminded of the Dr. Seuss book  ” Oh, the Places You’ll Go (and the People You’ll Meet)!”

Holidays Schmolidays

Okay, so this is the third time I’ve started this post.  The first two times it somehow turned into a bit of a rant about all the government-decreed holidays here in Bali.  (There are 13 holidays declared by the national government, and an additional 14 days decreed by the Balinese provincial government…that’s alot of holidays).  Anyway, I guess I was just trying to work through the shock of seeing all of these days in print on the same page.  I’m over it now, thank goodness.  But being over it kinda leaves me with nowhere to go with this post.  So excuse me while I ramble on…

A Welcome Ceremony for Guests at nearby Resort

The thing is, it can be so easy to get your panties all in a bunch living here in neverland.  But it’s so much better to find the humor in it and get a good belly laugh instead.  I’m trying!

The last month (two months, really) have been like a never-ending Fourth of July celebration.  It all started with the Hindu holiday of Saraswati, which occurred in November.  It involves all kinds of lavish offerings to the Ganesha, the god of Knowledge.  It also precedes the really big holiday of Galungan, which I know has some traditional religious or cultural significance, but I have yet to get the same explanation from any two people.  The degree of anticipation of this (Galungan) and of Kuningan (occurring 10 days later) is a frenzy of temple and banjar activities, leading up to a huge pig roast, Bali-style.  Ya, you probably don’t wanna know!  Not too bad, though…I’ve been to a few.  You only must be sure to ask what it is that’s being offered.  Some of the “delicacies” are just way too foreign or repugnant to this American palate.

So, to get back to the celebration…  Indonesians, at least the Balinese, have an irresistible fascination with fireworks, any kind, all kinds.  And though “illegal”, they’re pretty easy to come by.  And this year, for some reason, everyone and his brother seemed to get in on the action.  The fireworks mostly started out in November and early December as the bang poppers or little cherry bomb types — a lot of noise, but no show — mostly beginning in late afternoon on through until about 10pm or so.  All up and down the ridges of the gorge where I live, all around us.  About mid-December (Galungan & Kuningan), the fireworks activity started picking up, starting earlier in the day (sometimes at daybreak) and going a little later into the night.  The week between Christmas and New Year was the almost never-ending climax.  Everyone broke out their very best — all the lights, sparkles, booms and whistles almost ceaselessly for about 10 days.  It was absolutely incredible!  I even read a report that they had to keep the arriving flights circling the island for about an hour on New Year’s Eve — there were just so many light shows happening everywhere at that time.  But it was said that many of the pilots were afraid to attempt landing their carriers amidst such random and unpredictable explosive displays.

Well, what was the point of this post?  Beats me.  Oh yeah, I was looking for the underlying humor in the midst of my rant about all the holidays. .. guess I’m over it.

 

Same ceremony - Taking guests to their Villa

 

 

Five Years On

This is a little anecdote I posted elsewhere a while back and I just thought it might make some readers smile.

Well, I’ve been living in Bali now for 5 years, and I must say I’m still havin’ fun. It’s alot like living on another planet. Halfway around the world, in another life, I would be plugging away at my day job. But today I’m hanging around our villa while a local craftsman is refinishing all the teakwood trim in the house. This will cost me less than $95 USD, including materials and labor for 3 or 4 days work. Are you listening, America?

Every time I call the local plumber, he shows up at the villa within the hour and charges about $2.50 for the house call and labor, plus he goes to the store to purchase any parts that are needed (usually less than $5). Can you hear me now?! When we moved into our villa, the 3x4x2-meter (that’s 9x12x6-feet) step-down plunge pool was hand dug and completed (with underwater lighting, drainage, pumphouse, etc) for about $7000. I could go on and on, but I wouldn’t want to give the impression that everything is so cheap. Electrical service, cars, computer accessories, and most state-of-the-art technologies are pretty much on par with US prices.

This is a third-world developing nation, and there remains a lot to be desired, but everything you could want for is here — one only needs to find it. Ah, and therein lies both the challenge and the adventure! I cannot begin to tell you what a blast that has been. When we first arrived here, I believe we managed to have at least three good pee-ur-pants belly laughs every night. Now we’re so used to the bizarre, we’re probably down to two or three a week.

So my worker has gone home for the day. I watched him earlier as he worked on the railing along the 2-1/2 meter elevated terrace. He climbed over and walked along the outside and balanced himself in a squatting position to reach the lowest areas, never once wavering or grabbing the rail to regain balance.  Sometimes I’m just awestruck at the way things are done here. Let me elaborate.  When they were building our pool, local village women were hired to carry out the excavated dirt and rocks and carry in the concrete and cinder blocks.  There was a constant parade of the women balancing three – four blocks on the top of their heads or balancing one pail of concrete on the head and carrying two more buckets in their hands.  I’m sorry I don’t have any photos to post here, but maybe I’ll remember to get some one day.  It’s a sight that certainly goes against everything we take for granted in America, but these ladies seem perfectly happy to have the work — it means extra money for upcoming ceremonial offerings. That’s another story altogether, and perhaps I’ll get to tell you about it someday.

The Basics

I’m living my dream here in legendary Bali. It’s a beautiful tiny island in the middle of the Indonesian Archipelago, anchored in the Indian Ocean. The entire inland of the isle is divided by countless gorges. Some are river gorges, some host ageless terraced rice paddies.
They all make for stunning views and scenery, but there are no bridges spanning these chasms, so you have to go around them to get from point A to point B. This makes a road trip somewhat more interesting and time-consuming. But then again, the old saying about time being relative takes on a whole new meaning here. One just has to learn how to sit back, enjoy the sights and relax…you’ll get there when you get there. And chances are that when you do get there, wherever there is, you’ve just missed whoever you went there to see. The Balinese are famous, or infamous as the case may be, for their total lack of timing. To them, later may be later today, or maybe tomorrow, or perhaps next month.
Learning the ropes. Some of the things we had to learn here was how to slow our pace, curb our impatience and accept those things we cannot change. In the process, we get a lot of chuckles and outright belly laughs from our experiences. Follow along as I post various insights we gained while learning the ropes of living abroad.

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