Just for fun here are some Wikipedia facts for comparing Vancouver Island with Bali.
Vancouver Island: 32,134 km2 (12,407 mi2)
Bali: 5,780 km2 (2,230 mi2)
Vancouver Island: 2,195 m (7,201 ft)
Bali: 3,148 m (10,328 ft), Mount Agung
Vancouver Island: 759,366 (2011), 23.94 /km2 (62 /mi2)
Bali: 4,225,384 (2014), 730/km2 (1,900/mi2)
Vancouver Island: According to the 2001 census the religious breakout for British Columbia is: none (atheist, agnostic, and so on.) 35.9%, Protestant 31.4%, Roman Catholic 17%, United Church of Canada 9%, and Anglican 8%.
Bali: The island is home to most of Indonesia's Hindu minority. According to the 2010 Census, 83.5% of Bali's population adhered to Balinese Hinduism, followed by 13.4% Muslim, Christianity at 2.5%, and Buddhism 0.5%.
Vancouver Island: The mildest in Canada, with temperatures on the coast in January usually above 0 C (32 F). In summer, the warmest days can rise to 28C (82F).
Bali: As it is just 8° south of the equator, Bali has a fairly even climate year round. Average year-round temperature stands at around 30 C with a humidity level of about 85%.
I'm in Ubud, staying with friends for a few days after which I'll be off on my own. This morning I woke early to the sound of ducks of roosters. Scroll past the maps to the photos which were taken from my bedroom deck.
You know, when I started they weren't bad for you. Annette Bening on smoking, from the movie 20th Century Women
It's warm and humid but then that's expected in Bali. My friend Emily and I walked into town where I got money from an atm ($1 CAD gets you about 10,000 IDR), checked out a rental property (for Emily and Bill, not me), stopped for refreshments, bought groceries, got mugged by a monkey, then walked home where we cooled off in the pool while a rainstorm passed overhead. As to the monkey, he is of average build, grey in colour, and was last seen heading towards the Monkey Forest while eating my mango.
It's like that with every picture: I don't like the ones I understand. Gerard Richter, in the eponymous movie.
Balinese architecture is said to reflect the Balinese way of life in terms of spatial organization, communal social relationships, and spirituality. This translates to an architecture featuring a spacious courtyard with several small pavilions. A ring wall keeps out evil spirits and statues stand guard.
Of course, often times all you can see of a building is its doorway or gate; it's the building's public face. Ubud features a lot of different looking gates. Some are temples, some offer accomodation, and others are just private homes. So as I walked around Ubud today I photographed some of its eye-catching gates. There are two types of gates within Balinese architecture: the split gate, known as candi bentar, and the roofed tower gate known as paduraksa or kori agung. All the photos below except one are of the roofed tower type.
Why is it that if you buy a camera you are a photographer whereas if you buy a violin you own a violin. Anonymous
While my friends Bill and Emily have been exemplary hosts I thought it best to move on, that whole fish and guests and how both stink after a few days.
So this morning I packed up, walked 15 minutes south on Jalan Kjeng to Starbucks, turned left on the main drag Jalan Raya Ubud, walked three blocks, then walked north about 15 minutes to a house on Jalan Sri Wedari.
My new lodging is a spacious 2 bedroom 2 bath house with a big kitchen, a large outdoor bathroom, a patio and deck, and a shared pool. More room than I need: I've room for guests should anyone want to jump a plane. Just be aware the whole island of Bali will be closed - and I mean literally closed, streets, sidewalks, airport, everything - this coming Tuesday. More on that later.
The house, or villa as they say in Bali, is in a complex of houses with a shared staff that takes care of housekeeping, gardening, security, and whatever else needs doing. Like breakfast: each morning someone will come cook me breakfast, then clean up. Nice, eh? I'm thinking labor is cheap. This multi-house, shared-staff model is common here.
Unfortunately, between moving and shopping for groceries at the Coco mart and accompanying Emily on another property inspection, between all this I didn't take any interesting photos so instead I've some uninteresting ones of where I'm staying.
I'm listening to Pangkur from Gamelan music of the Jasmine isle. And I'm reading A House in Bali, the Canadian composer Colin McPhee's story of his life and the music of Bali in the 30's. McPhee's pre-tourism Bali is quite different from present-day Bali, but the culture he describes is still here, and you still hear the distinctive trance-like Gamelan music.
There are two roads that pass near my house. One is wide enough for a couple of cars but the second, the one in this photo, is foot and scooter only.
My house is hidden behind the trees on the right. This rice paddy has a few really loud bull frogs.
Asking Republicans to govern is like asking Barney Frank to judge the Miss America contest; if your heart is not in it, you don't do a very good job. Maureen Dowd
Speaking of doing a good job, it's the day before the Ngrupuk parade and the Balinese people are preparing for tomorrow's festivities by fine-tuning their ogoh-ogohs and practicing their movements. They are also dancing to Gamelan music.
Ogoh-ogohs are demonic statues made of vividly-painted bamboo and styrofoam. They symbolize malevolent spirits. After the ogoh-ogoh have been paraded around the village the Ngrupuk ritual takes place, which involves burning the ogoh-ogoh.
During tomorrow's procession through town each Ogoh-ogohs must rotate counter-clockwise three times at every T-junction and crossroad. Rotating the Ogoh-ogoh represents the contact of the bodies with the evil spirits. It is meant to bewilder these evil spirits so they go away and stop harming humans.
The photos don't do justice to the scene, everyone is happy and laughing and clearly having a good time. Did I mention how friendly the Balinese are? Don't know what they are smoking, or maybe it's in the water, but almost everyone is friendly and welcoming. And most speak English, which makes getting around easy.
Today was one of the weirdest, funniest events l've experienced: the Nyepi day eve parade in Bali.
On this day each neighborhood council, which is called a banjar, parades its newly-made ogoh-ogoh monster around town in a ritual said to drive away evil spirits. At the end of the parade the ogoh-ogoh is destroyed by fire.
The parade of ogoh-ogohs is accompanied by a hypnotic soundtrack of Gamelan orchestras. They play unique instruments such as metal drums hit by hammers.
I've seen plenty of parades so this sounds straightforward, think floats and musicians marching down the street with an audience held at a distance by barricades and officials.
Ha. This is not that kind of parade. It's barely-controlled chaos where anyone can be in the parade and the monsters are coming from different directions, with the Gamelin adding a wonderfully pulsy trance background. Everyone, tourists and locals, some in native attire, everyone is laughing and having a great time.
The taller monsters find maneuvering a challenge in Ubud's narrow streets. The colourful demon sits high on a large bamboo lattice carried by a team of young Balinese. Clearly the builders compete for biggest and most outrageous with little thought to clearing the power lines. So some ogoh-ogoh are accompanied by fellows with very long poles that they use to manipulate the web of overhead power lines. Yeah, power lines. Some monsters get caught in the lines so it can take a while to maneuver. (I'm told power outages are common). Once they get through a tangle of wires the crowd bursts into cheers to congratulate them.
The monsters are also tasked to rotate three times at each intersection, and this isn't a simple rotation, the large and heavy monsters swerve like an amusement car ride as they turn. At one point I got caught in a packed crowd and thought I was going to get crushed in the mass of people fleeing the swing of the monster. Ok, that was weird.
After the parade the monsters gather in a field where speeches are made. It grows dark. Finally, joined by torch-bearing girls, the ogoh-ogohs resume their parade, but this time they are destined for their demise.
And with that we all get to rest for a day since tomorrow is Nyepi, the day of silence.
With that in mind, here are a few photos from what was a very photogenic day.
For a day people remained at home. Fires were extinguished; lamps might not burn. On that night I would sit in darkness without even a cigarette. The village was now "sepi", empty and quiet. The demons, wishing to return, would surely think it had been deserted and pass it by. Colin McPhee on pre-tourist Bali in his book A House in Bali.
It is seven in the evening in Bali, pitch black out and almost as dark in. Only a glowing screen and a couple of tea lights help me find my way inside the large house. I have just a hint of music playing, some soundtrack by Santaolalla.
To prevent this meager bit of light and sound from escaping I've closed all the outside doors and pulled the shades. I am hiding, like the wartime blackouts, but instead of hiding from the Germans I'm hiding from the demons.
It could be I have it wrong. McPhee wrote almost a century ago whereas all I've heard talk of since arriving in Bali is self-reflection and religion. But I'll go with McPhee's demons, I figure it's like preferring Halloween over Easter. If there really were ogoh-ogohs expelled last night they may need time to dissipate so I'll give them that time, I won't provide any distractions so they can find their way, to somewhere else.
Here's the official story. Today is the Hindu New Year, Nyepi, which is celebrated every spring by a day of silence. Observed from 6 a.m. today until 6 a.m. tomorrow, Nyepi arrives with restrictions: no lighting fires or any other bright lights; no working; no entertainment or pleasure; no movement outside your home except for medical emergencies; and, for some, no talking or eating.
So Bali is closed all day today, even the airport, though since I can't go anywhere I'll have to take their word for it. I don't expect anyone to come into my home to check if I've lit a candle or that I'm writing this blog, but there are said to be Pecalang about, traditional security men who patrol to ensure the prohibitions are followed.
When in Rome ...
When, on the morning after the day of silence and fireless hearths, Pugig lighted the fire again in the kitchen, it seemed to burn with a new warmth. Voices rose brightly; people set about work with animation. A fresh start had been made once more. Colin McPhee in A House in Bali.
I like almost everything in the Agung Rai Museum of Art, which is about a half hour walk from my house. Their fine collection is housed in beautiful spaces (though the experience would benefit from a/c or even just a bit of ventilation). Their extensive grounds feature a botanical garden, performance space, a hotel, a restaurant (where I ate lunch), even a rice paddy.
The museum focuses on art by Balinese artists and foreigners living in Bali. One building has abstracts, the second realism with Hieronymus Bosch like high-detail pieces depicting life in Bali: the cultivation of rice, cremation rituals, cock fighting, and gods and goddesses.
I especially like the large eye-catching Made Kedol painting "Golden rice" with its vivid bands of rice grass that pop out of the canvas. Stunning. I so wanted to take a picture of it and finally I succumbed: as I walked past its room and saw it framed in the doorway I couldn't resist the urge to grab a surreptitious shot even though the signs expressly forbid it.
Each day she placed a little portion of the food she cooked on a shelf above her pots and pans for Batara Uma, and dropped blossoms and betel leaves beside the little pool in the rocks down near the river (from which we got our drinking water) for the spirit of the spring. Colin McPhee in A House in Bali
One of the first things I noticed in Bali are the ubiquitous little pallets of offerings that take many different forms. They may contain leaves, flowers, fruit, incense, even candy bars.
Before most tourists get up each morning the Balinese sweep away the prior day's offerings from around their homes and businesses. Then throughout the day they create more offerings which are everywhere, both underfoot and perched here and there in little shrines. You can walk on them, it's often impossible not to, and I take it that it's the presentation of the offering that matters.
This daily gift of offerings is meant to appease and please the many gods and demons of Balinese Hinduism.
Offerings range from a small and fragrant flower on each step leading into a compound to more elaborate ones to guard the houses doorway and appease the gods represented by statues throughout the house.
The Balinese spend parts of each day creating and dispersing these offerings around their compounds, often accompanied by burning incense. It's all quite lovely. And it's all quite labor intensive.
The offerings in the following photos are all pretty substantial, but I think that's because I was walking on residential streets. In the more commercial areas the offerings are, if anything, more numerous, but they are also simpler.
Here an offering is placed at the start of a small path. Also note the tall shrine on the left. It's sitting in what looks like an empty lot. It could be for plants being cultivated on that lot or it could be for some planned construction on this site. You can't make too many offerings and you especially want them before embarking on a construction project.
McPhee, in his book A House in Bali, describes an elaborate pre-construction ritual which included sacrificing numerous animals. I don't know if that's still done.
Unlike Vancouver Island, here in Bali the doors and windows are always open, to get a breeze and to listen to the unusual birds, the bullfrogs, and the insects.
One insect buzzes and buzzes and buzzes, steadily for ten, fifteen minutes. For awhile I thought an electrical transformer was malfunctioning, like the one outside our place in Naxos, but I later decided the noise was an insect. I asked Made Girl, one of the housekeepers, for the insect's name but I don't think she hears it as she couldn't answer.
Every morning Made Girl comes to my open double doorway and says "Hello?" before she comes in. She carries a tray with the makings for breakfast. She slips off her flip flops and comes into the kitchen. If there are dirty dishes she will wash them but there never are. At most there are a few on the drying rack to put away.
This morning, like most, Made Girl made me scrambled eggs, toast, sliced fruit, and French press coffee. There is ginger lime marmelade for the toast.
After serving me she asks if I need anything and she asks about tomorrow's breakfast. Most mornings she is talkative, today she is quiet, subdued. I wonder what has changed. She leaves. She'll return in an hour or so, to put away the breakfast dishes that I will have already washed, sweep the whole house, make the bed which I have not made as I find their method too complex, check towels and the drinking water supply.
Spanning this time just outside my open doorway an older woman is presenting offerings. Her ceremony seems to be more drawn out today, perhaps today is special. There are many special days in Bali. She started before breakfast and contines long after breakfast, taking maybe 45 minutes or an hour.
The woman making the offerings carries a large wooden tray piled high with little hand-weaved trays, flowers, leaves, and incense. She sets it on a ledge of the stone shrine.
Slowly, methodically she lifts items from her tray and assembles each offering. She carefully places each offering most of which smoke from incense. She pauses, spending time with each. If she is saying something I don't know, I cannot hear and I don't of course interrupt.
She walks down the hill towards the creek, and later i find another lower down on the path.
I keep thinking she is done, but she revists each offering, adjusting them, pausing, and adjusting them again. She walks towards the water again then returns. She walks up to my doorway, not far from where I am sitting and eating and places a small weaved tray with orange and red flowers and burning incense on my doorsill. Smoke from the incense surrounds her as a shaft of sunlight breaks through, her head enveloped in an ethereal glow for a brief moment. A smoky whiff of incense enters the house.
Finally she returns to the shrine, picks up her tray, and walks away.
Later I look for the offerings, to examine them. I find eight, there are probably more. They blend in with the lush greenery, the bright flowers, the orchids that are growing and flowering on the trees. I find them on my doorstep, on the path by my door, at the base of the shrine, on the shrine, in a branch of a tree, ... Many offerings, many gods to honour.
After breakfast I walk into town to head over to the nearby Ridge Trail. I complete the hike and return home by mid afternoon, just in time for a heavy rainstorm to pass through, which cools things off considerably.
While hiking the ridge trail I stopped for lunch. Cost was 45,000 which is a little over $4.50 Canadian. All those zeroes take getting used to especially as the currency doesn't group them so you get bills marked 10000 ($1), 100000 ($10), and so on. It would be clearer with the addition of some commas or periods, like 100,000.
I don't usually do food shots, I put them in the same annoying category as selfies (why would I think you want to see my ugly face?), but what the hell. I stopped for lunch at a charming cafe by a rice paddy where the food was very flavorful.
In the family there were also four levels. Children had their titles: Wayan, eldest born, Nyoman, Made and Ketut, the fourth.
What happens with a fifth child? I asked Nyoman Kaler.
You begin again, he answered. Colin McPhee, A House in Bali.
I thought it a coincidence that my first contacts in Bali were all named Wayan. But it wasn't a coincidence. Wayan is the most common name in Bali because a child is named according to birth order and Wayan is the name for the first child.
There are alternative names for the first born, such as my airport driver's name Gede, Putu and the girl's-only name Ni Luh, but Wayan is most popular. So when you meet someone from Bali chances are their name is Wayan.
The second child is usually called Made, but Nengah, Ngurah and Kadek also work.
The third-born child is called Nyoman or Komang and the fourth born is Ketut.
After four children, which is a lot for a Balinese family, the names re-start with Wayan, though the fifth child might be called Wayan Balik (Wayan "again"), and so on. Oh yeah, there are no family names in Bali. And pronunciation is easy, names are pronounced just as they are spelled, like Italian.
Speaking of birth order, it is widely believed to have an impact on psychological development. I'm not implying the Balinese subscribe to this idea, more likely naming by birth order serves as a guide to inheritance issues. Or maybe it's just one less decision to make. But it's a curious and oh-so-human example of seeing significance in something that isn't. We believe it because we want it to be true. Birth order theory has been widely studied but no effect has ever been shown. Nevertheless the belief remains, what some call a zombie theory. (See also astrology, religion, etc.)
Today was the first day the heat got to me. Oppressively hot and sticky. I walked into town, I window shopped, I politely turned down the endless entreaties one gets for a scooter-taxi ride - these are mild, almost lethargic entreaties, not the in-your-face Turkish come-ons - I ate lunch, then I returned to my house and, unusual for me, I took a nap.
For a picture to be good, he said, it must have a little of everything in it - fighting, a little love, comedy and grief. Like a well-made dish there must be mingled sweet, salt, a taste of acid, a taste of bitter...
And this? I asked, pointing to the incalescent love scene.
He laughed. It gives the savor, he said. Like "sra." Like shrimp-paste. Colin McPhee, A House in Bali
I took a taxi today to the Neka Museum. It's barely two km but I knew even this short walk would leave me drained. I think my muscles are atropying in the heat. I need to get home and start running again.
Ketut, a talkative fellow, asked 60000 for the short trip to the museum which I gladly paid. I don't haggle over small amounts, I think a dollar means more to them than to me. Later in the day, when I'd walked through every building at Neka, studied every painting, examined every sculpture, I messaged Ketut with WhatsApp and he brought me back.
Here's a test: how many older siblings are in my driver's family?
The Neka museum, like the Agung Rai, is a beautiful compound of attractive buildings set amongst lush gardens and soundtracked by noisy birds. And, like the Agung, the Neka specializes in the work of Balinese and ex-pat artists. The Agung Rai has a smaller but equally-beautiful collection but makes up for that in ancilliary facilities. The Neka is just art. Beautiful, mostly-colourful art, with Balinese life as subject. Happily for me, this museum allows photography.
Speaking of art, the streets of Ubud are sprouting huge bamboo stalks of home-made art, and they grow in number every day. Plus the ubiquitous shrines are being draped in colourful fabrics and the offerings seem to be growing in size. It's preparation for yet another special day, or rather days. I'm lucky, two festivals in one trip.
But, I hate to plant this thought in your head, but I find the poles creepy. The pole ends, which are very tall and have elaborate offerings dangling, bring to mind photos of Iranian cranes and nooses that were in the news a couple years ago, scenes that stick with you even though with all your might you try to erase them. Sorry for the disturbing thought.
Enjoy the art!
Back they came to work for ten days, only to stop for another month, for the week of galungan was near, the time when the gods came down to earth, and long after they had departed the island would remain in a holiday mood. Colin McPhee, A House in Bali
I'd be lying if l said I planned my visit to Bali so as to hit their top two festivals. No, I had no idea there were any festivals at this time so I'll have to say the gods were smiling on me when I made my travel plans. Perhaps I need to make an offering of thanks.
Galungan, my second Balinese festival, celebrates the victory of good over evil, or dharma over adharma. The festival begins on the 11th week of the 210-day pawukon calendar and it lasts for something like eleven days.
While this Wednesday April 5th is Galungan itself, for the Balinese the preparations begin several days earlier. Ministering to all those gods is a lot of work. As I walk around town I see people - mostly women - working away, constructing the offerings.
Of course there are the penjor, the giant decorated bamboo poles that each household places in front of its home. Shrines are enhanced too with lots of rather gaudy decorations. And then there are several additional tasks. Three days prior to Galungan there is the cooking of bananas. Two days prior (today) is the making of fried rice cakes. One day prior (tomorrow) is the slaughter of pigs and chickens.
So tomorrow is the day of slaughter. Well, I saw chickens being killed last week. One minute they were walking around, a short time later they weren't. As to the pigs I saw something in town today that I wish I hadn't. I certainly didn't photograph it. It was a truck bed containing a number of large pigs, each confined in a cage barely larger than the pig itself. Oh my, I want to get that picture removed from my brain. I don't know what else to say except poor pigs.
On that sad note, let's look at a picture of my street and then pictures of preparation for the festival.
In Ubud, and much of Bali, the major streets - those wide enough for cars - tend to run north and south, parallel to the streams and rivers carrying water down the mountain. There are not many roads running east west as they would require expensive bridges. What they do have are smaller paths such as this connecting major streets.
Oh yeah, you probably can't tell from my pictures of the streets here in Ubud but there is something missing: trash. It is all a bit rough, the roads, the sidewalks, the building construction, but no trash, just the occasional detritus from offerings, like flowers, bamboo, a few leaves. Everything clean as a whistle. (Do people still say that?)
As to my house, the address is Jalan Sri Wedari 58C (Jalan means street) but it is physically on a narrow path that connects to Sri Wedari. The path is one person plus one motor scooter wide :-) It is in this compound, across from a small rice paddy that harbours a population of very talkative bull frogs. I see our penjor is up.
These fellows are taking a penjor out to the street, and getting ready to raise it. The green thing is the offering at the base.
I might mention here that I've no idea how well these pictures are looking if you're not on a tiny screen. For all I know I bolloxed them all up. You see I do everything on an iPhone, well except for the original pictures which are taken with my Fuji. Once I move them to the phone I cut their resolution so they won't take forever to load. Let's say, 15Mb down to about 0.5Mb typically. I cannot tell from here if I've overdone it, I'll know when i get home where i can re-do them if need be.
Even with the doors and windows closed (I've succumbed to running the bedroom's air con) the house is permeated by the sounds of bullfrogs, birds, and insects. It's a bloody symphony out there.
Galungan is the great ten-day holiday which inevitably lasts a month, taking place each thirty weeks. Colin McPhee, A House in Bali
Today is galungan. On this day the Balinese make offerings (hmm, like every day), they decorate shrines, and they visit temples and pray together.
To the visitor what's noticeable is the penjors, of course. These are long (10m) bamboo poles decorated with coconuts, fruits, seeds, tubers, etc. The symbolism of the penjor itself is unclear, with some claiming it represents a specific mountain and a river and others who say asking for an explanation is perhaps besides the point.
Which brings me to the Balinese calendars which you'll notice is plural because there are two, the saka, based on the lunar cycle, and the pawukon, based on rice-growing cycles.
The saka calendar, like our boring old Gregorian calendar, has 12 months of about 30 days. It is aligned with the lunar cycle. The day for Nyepi, the day of silence, is based on this calendar.
In contrast, the pawukon calendar is so complex that you can't help wonder why. It is a 210-day calendar with 10 concurrent week systems of 1, 2, 3, ... and so on up to 10 days. In other words, there is a week that is one day long, a week that is two days, a week that is three days, etc., all on top of each other. The first day of the year is when they all align: it resets all week systems to their first day.
To distinguish them each week has a Sanskrit-derived name, and each of the days of each of the ten different weeks has a unique name. So this means every day has ten different weekday names, one for each of the ten weeks that are going on simultaneously. Whew! Fortunately not all weeks are of equal importance to the Balinese, who tend to pay attention only to the three-, five-, and seven-day weeks.
The intersection of the week cycles tells whether any given day is auspicious, inauspicious, or somewhere in between for a particular activity.
They don't tell you what time it is, they tell you what kind of time it is. Clifford Geertz
So what day is today? All I know is that it's my last day in lush, welcoming, enchanting Bali. I'll remember Bali as a land of friendly people, ubiquitous free WiFi, and colourful fragrant offerings to the gods and demons. They put on a mean parade, too.
I spent my last afternoon and evening at Emily and Bill's home, out on the patio overlooking vivid-green fields of rice. Tomorrow I get on a plane and begin my trek home to Canada.
I took this shot in dead darkness. The ogoh-ogoh teams were gathered on the soccer field after parading around town. The field is in the middle of Ubud and, like much of Bali, the roads around the field are edged with trendy cafes, healing spas, clothing stores, and artsy shops. Not much light though. Most businesses closed early for the parade or to prepare for the day of silence. There were food vendors in the field though. I bought something to eat, a triangle of bread covered with vegetables and tomato sauce which sounds a lot like pizza but he didn't call it that. It was a like a soft pizza. Once I ate I wandered the field, photographing in the dark, hoping to get something of interest. In fact, I got several.
I am happy that this captures for me some nice movement. But I also wonder if it can have the same feel without the actual experience?
The scooter drivers in Bali annoyed me less than than those in say Palermo or Florence even though they are as insidious. They are parked on every sidewalk. They dart through traffic. They speed down paths. And they are usually loaded with two or three passengers, or boxes of stuff, or chickens, definitely small children, and offerings of course. You can't have too many offerings.
Balinese drivers, car and scooter, make their presence known by beeping an I'm-entering-the-intersection warning at every corner. Beep beep beep.
But I quickly grew used to them. I was even impressed by their politeness. Often the driver would say sorry or thank you as they passed me and I stepped out of the way. The only scooters that scared me were those driven by tourists.
Scooters double as income generators. It seems like every fellow in town is available to drive you somewhere which translates to a large scooter : tourist ratio. I also saw what I interpreted to be pro- and con-Uber signs but then maybe I misunderstood them.
All day long you see lines of young men sitting along the street looking at their phones, using the free WiFi from the neighboring cafe (while their wife / mom / gfriend is at work?). As you pass they hold up a taxi sign or ask "Sir? Taxi?" in a lackadaisical manner. But it isn't offered with much pressure, the Balinese are polite even when they are encouraging you to buy something. This is all very unlike the Turks who transition from aggressive welcome to threatening insult in the seconds spent walking by their business.
Since Cartier-Bresson's hand wasn't as steady as it used to be, some of the pictures were a bit fuzzy. Sharpness is a bourgeois concept, he said. Helmut Newton in Newsweek
This serves as a lesson to me, pay more attention to shutter speed. I like this photo of a resting ogoh ogoh team despite the fact that its subject, the brightly-dressed young woman on the right, is not in focus. Just like with bird photos, it is better to either freeze motion with a high shutter speed or emphasize movement with a slow speed.
This was shot at 1/160 sec and ISO 200. So I'd say a better value for the auto ISO min shutter speed would be 1/500 or maybe 1/1000. Of course this adds noise, the higher the ISO the higher the noise. But I don't care so much about noise. Noise adds character. And if it's really noisy I try it in b&w.
Here are a few photos taken while walking around Ubud.
About ten minutes walk down Jalan Kajeng the narrow street turns into a path. No cars, just scooters and foot traffic. It is where you see these fellows who were hired by the local property owners to resurface the much-used path. Their paving technique is to pour fresh cement on top of the existing crumbly path.
I packed light for Bali. A checked suitcase for largely-synthetic clothes. A raincoat. Sandals. A carry on for toiletries and electronics. The only thing I missed was a large empty bag to carry purchases home. I would have also missed packing an umbrella but every place I stayed supplied large umbrellas.
I bought another bag in Ubud. I thought it flimsy but I decided to gamble it would survive one trip. It did. I quickly filled it with wooden masks and a big wooden bird. I should have got a bigger bag, I would have bought more. The masks, coconut sized, came from a charming Timor couple who own a store-full of temptations. The bird came from another store, one with an equally friendly and talkative saleswoman. The bird came disassembled. Assembled it's pretty big. It's yet to find a home.
I hand laundered my clothes every night and then dried them under a ceiling fan which solves the clothes drying problem. Bali is very humid so you can't assume stuff will dry overnight. But under a fan they do. Outside in the shade it takes longer. In a bathroom with a leaky ceiling it takes much longer.
As to footwear most wear flip flops. Not me. It's hard to not trip on a sidewalk. They've missing tiles, unexpected steps, and the occasional deep hole that I guarantee will injure you if you don't see it. That said, the sidewalks are better than those in Buenos Aires.
I've not seen many uniformed school kids in North America but it's a common sight elsewhere. Like these kids in Ubud who are heading home, either walking or catching a ride.
I've been to Ubud1 and I'm finding this visit both nice and odd. Nice in that Paul is with me. Plus I somewhat know my way around, like where to buy groceries (the Coco supermarket2), where to mail a post card (two months to get to Canada), and where's the house (via cement path through froggy rice paddy or via hidden path from street).
Odd because I've to reconcile my pleasant Bali memories with what currently strikes me as a drier, noisier, more crowded, and dirtier town than I remember. Has it changed? Or is it context? For example, has two weeks in Thailand lowered my tolerance for countries where cars and motorbikes have priority over pedestrians?
Memory is curious; I've read that it changes with each recollection, like the uncertainty principle, the act of recall changes what you are recalling. So Bali cannot be exactly as I remember. Fortunately the house we rented feels the same, spacious, private, and visually pleasing, with friendly Wayan coming in each morning to cook breakfast.
1To read about my previous trip start here.
2We've since found more supermarkets, the Bintang, like the beer, the Pepito, and the Delta.
This is a 150-year-old teak Dutch Joglo, which is a type of Javanese house. It was moved from Java to Bali in 2011. Every piece of wood was marked then it was disassembled and then reassembled here. It's now a 5-room guesthouse called the Rice Joglo.
In front of the house you can see three colourful penjors which are long bamboo poles that are both symbolic and a place for offerings. I thought penjors were only for Galungen, a religious holiday that comes every 210 days, but I've since learned they are used for other religious occasions, too.
The Neka museum, like the Agung Rai, is contained in a collection of attractive buildings set among lush, well-groomed grounds. And like the Agung Rai, it's all art with a Bali theme.
Building one (of seven) starts out the tour with large paintings full of immense detail and depicting the lives of the Balinese people. Some are classic scenes --- temples, cremations, offerings, bathing bare-breasted women, etc. --- but the most fun ones include modern components, such as tourists with cameras and police raiding illegal cockfights. One painting features a plane that landed in the water, a true story, and shows people crawling out and islanders coming to the rescue.
While we were hiking yesterday I talked to a couple of fellows who were busy working on large pieces that fit this genre. Both told me it took them many months to get in all the details. Just wish I'd room to throw one in my luggage.
As you proceed through the museum the art and occasional sculpture evolves into more traditional subjects, such as pretty women (or men). Most of the art dates to the past fifty or so years and shows influences from European styles. It is all quite beautiful, it's cheap at about $7 Canadian, and it is a good way to spend a couple of hours. If only the buildings were air conditioned.
We're both a bit under the weather so we put off our trip to the mountains. Instead we spent the day hanging around the house. Fortunately it's a comfortable house with spacious rooms and a big deck surrounded by greenery.
In the mean time we've been looking for ways to entertain ourselves. First we tried the house's large DVD collection but only some work, and those that work stop working along the way, like near the end of the story so you never know how it ends. If these are representative of pirated discs I can't understand why anyone would ever buy one.
Then we tried Netflix but it's blocked, at least the Canada feed is blocked. I'd earlier noticed that Indonesia blocks websites, like Hacker News of all things as it isn't actually about hacking, it contains discussions on technology and current news. Website blocking isn't something we are accustomed to seeing in our travels.
I think we're just going to have to resort to reading our books, and since they are on Kobos --- I rarely read a real, physical book anymore --- I've my whole library with me.
One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas, I'll never know. Groucho Marx
We are still under the weather so another day spent around the house, save for a pizza run, a first for this trip. I think this has been the longest time we've been pizza-free, pizza being the universal travel food. Exhibit A is the photo below, taken at the entrance to Aguas Calientas when I walked down from Machu Picchu.
The food on this trip, especially the food in Thailand, has been too delicious to get bored with, whereas in, say, Greece, to take the other extreme, we were only too ready to take a pizza break, Greek cuisine being a bit, umm, repetitive.
So, a day spent relaxing and reading. So what am I reading? Well, I primarily read fiction but there are two genres of non fiction that I like, books about travel and books about writing. In another life I might have been a travel writer.
To prep for this trip I read two books, Travelers' Tales Thailand, one of a wonderful series of books full of true stories by good writers, and Ward's What the Buddha Never Taught.
Ward's book, which I've quoted a bit in previous posts, follows the experience of a Canadian who became a Thai monk. Well, he did not become a full monk, he only went part way up the path to monkdom. His story is an interesting complement to visiting a temple and observing the monks and non-monks. My take home, and it's just mine, take it or dismiss as you wish: it's theater. The monks are playing a role, identified by their robes, and the non-monks are also playing a role, worshipping the Buddha statues and showing deference to the robes worn by the monks. And I am the audience. So it's theater to me, which is fine for a bit, but then my revulsion for things religious kicks in and I'm done, ready for something else. The problem with Thailand, at least in my ridiculously-limited exposure to the place, and I do realize I am coming across as making generalizations, the problem is Thailand is all about the food and the temples and you can only spend so much time eating though the Thais do make food available pretty much everywhere.
A third travel book I would have read for this trip if I'd not read it previously is also by a Canadian, McPhee's A House in Bali. If you've read my 2017 Bali posts (and if not, start here) you'll have encountered many, many quotes from this book. It explains what you see in Bali, though it is a purer, tourist-free Bali.
I also like reading books about writing, think Eats, Shoots & Leaves and Garfield's Just My Type, which isn't really about writing, it's about fonts, but close enough.
My current book is Dreyer's English, a funny and opinionated book about the nuts and bolts of grammar, punctuation, and spelling. There, I used a series comma when I needn't per Dreyer's recommendation. He says "only godless savages eschew the series comma" though now that I think of it I better fit those who don't.
Once every five weeks Daria the priest came to the house to bless my different possessions. On the day of the coconut palms he placed an offering at the foot of the largest tree, and went about sprinkling the trees with holy-water. On the day for blessing the pigs and domestic animals he indulgently sprinkled water on my pets as well, the monkeys, the parrots, and even Chengcheng the dog. There was the day for cattle that ploughed the fields; the day for weapons, but I had none; for books, and then the day for blessing the puppets, masks and musical instruments. When these six sacred days had come and gone, the cycle was complete; it was now time to begin once more. Colin McPhee in A House in Bali
Offerings are a big deal in Bali. The most common ones, the ones you find laying on the ground, are usually a collection of flowers and weavings, sometimes with incense, sometimes with food, set on a large green leaf and placed in the path to a doorway or on the sidewalk in front of a business. They are everywhere. Walking on them is fine, it's the act of making the offering that matters.
Other offerings are placed on raised platforms, such as ceremonial bamboo penjors and permanent structures of cement or stone. These platforms are the first things built on a property as you want to start out with a good relationship to the local gods and demons. Yes, offerings are made to the demons, too.
Since we are approaching a major holiday, Nyepi, the Hindu New Year, the offerings have grown in size. You have to step even more carefully so as not to trip; Ubud sidewalks are sub-optimal. The streets are now fully lined with penjors. Platforms are wrapped in yellow and white fabric. The sounds of gamelan musicians fills the night air, I woke to their practicing at 1 this morning, and there is the occasional glimpse of an ogoh-ogoh.
Going to the doctor while traveling isn't on my list of fun things to write about, but there you are, life gives you citrons.
Paul hasn't improved; he has fever, aches, and pain. About six this morning I called our travel insurance company back in Canada and by ten a doctor and her assistant arrived from Kuta and were in our bedroom taking Paul's temperature and drawing blood. The only challenge was the doctor finding our house but after trading many WhatsApp messages (Bali's favorite message service, my least favorite1) and then Wayan talking to the ambulance via her cell, they pulled up, all uniformed and equipped for action.
The doctor was great. Personable, knowledgeable, and well equipped. English speaking. It's probably a virus, she said, likely the ubiquitous dengue. She reviewed what to do and left us with written instructions and a bag with meds and a thermometer. It was all so very civilized, like a scene out of a Merchant-Ivory movie. If only my doctor, who is otherwise wonderful, made house calls.
But I dare not paint health care in Bali as all unicorns and rainbows. The medical care we received isn't the care most Balinese can avail themselves of, it's provided by a company called International Tourist Medical Service and I'd imagine it is too expensive for the locals. Along with relief I felt uncomfortable in front of Wayan, I am sure she could not afford such care. Bali doesn't have anything like Canada's single-payer system. When someone goes into the hospital family stays with them to care for them, and friends and neighbors raise money to pay the bill. It's all so random, you've no choice as to where you're born. If you are lucky enough --- and it is luck, isn't it? --- to have good health care you should make an offering to the god of randomness tonight.
1Years ago, when I started using Fb (WhatsApp's owner) I found them violating my privacy. Old news now, of course, it's their business model to violate their users' privacy, and while they deny it they lobby against privacy protection. So I let WhatsApp have space on my phone only when I travel.
Good news, Paul is recovering.
The doctor made another house call today. A different doctor than yesterday's but all of the laudatory descriptions still apply. He checked vitals, took blood, and left us with a couple more meds. Later in the day the lab sent us the results and the results are good enough for Paul to travel. So we'll start the trip home Saturday.
Today is the eve of Nyepi, the Balinese Day of Silence, so I'm posting early as tomorrow we'll be, well, silent. We expect the internet to be turned off during the night. We just hope they don't go full blackout and turn off the hydro.
Tomorrow the roads, usually full of motorbikes, will be deserted; the temples will go quiet; cellphones will be stowed away; and homes will go dark and silent. It will all happen suddenly, as if a light switch has been flicked off. Participation is not voluntary. The only exceptions are for medical emergencies.
This morning I watched from my door as an elderly woman made an elaborate series of offerings. She placed offerings on a platform, along the path, in the trees, and on our doorsill. An odd scent filled the air as each offering has a burning stick of incense.
We then walked to the grocery store. The celebratory mood is palpable. The streets are more chaotic than usual as some are blocked for tonight's ogoh-ogoh parade and people are stocking up for tomorrow when all the stores and restaurants and everything else, even the airport, will close. There is also the fun of watching the occasional ogoh-ogoh (pronounced a-go-go) being readied for tonight's festivities and maneuvered through the narrow streets.
I'm listening to Nina Simone, I put a spell on you.
On the eve of Nyepi it poured. It poured into the night and it poured all the next day. It poured and poured, buckets full of water to feed the tropical forest and small river that abut the house.
The pouring rain didn't disturb our activities as we didn't have any, what with being house bound, well, house and grounds bound. During the day we read (I'm re-reading a le Carre), we played cards (Paul beat me at canasta by 11,300 to 10,650), we snacked, we reminisced. We listened to the big gecko that lives in the house. He hangs on the wall and occasionally breaks the silence with a sudden crazy-loud and grating shriek.
We looked out the windows and sat on the porches and enjoyed being surrounded by the lush forest. We listened to strange bird calls. We listened to the insects. One insect could be mistaken for the sound of an electric saw, in fact the first I heard it I thought it was a saw but it goes on for a long time and of course no one is sawing in Bali right now.
We showered before nightfall so as to not do it by candlelight and we used the upstairs shower as it's indoors; it seemed odd to shower outside in the rain using the downstair's shower though now when I write this I don't know why this is so.
We cooked and ate by candlelight then retired to the bedroom. Earlier we'd pulled the shades so no light would escape and risk the wrath of the demons or more likely the Pecalang, the Balinese police. We ran the a/c though the pouring rain made the temperature comfortable. It cuts the humidity and our wet clothes dry faster.
We watched a movie and a couple of episodes of the old HBO series Six Feet Under. We heard many loud noises coming from upstairs, like a large animal was in the house, maybe one of those demons, but we never figured what it was. Gave us a bit of a fright. We then called it a night.
For our last full day in Bali we've a friendly, upbeat driver, Made, who is taking us into the mountains. The weather isn't promising but I expect we'll have a good time and we'll learn more from him about life in Bali.
Today is our last full day in Bali. It's overcast but the rain has taken a break. We hired our neighbor, Made, to drive us to a nearby volcano, Mount Batur. It last erupted in 1999. Along the way we made a few stops, at an artists' cooperative, a cave temple, a water temple, and a rice paddy.
I'm listening to Sarah Vaughan, How long has this been going on?
Tirta Empul, or the water temple, has a mountain spring and a bath. The large rectangular bath is fed by the spring via a row of water spouts. The spring is adjacent, you can walk over and see the water pushing up from under the ground. The bath is used by pilgrims for what they call purification. Pilgrims stand in long snaking lines in the water as they wait to dip their heads below the water spouts. Some bring offerings which are placed adjacent to the spouts. After they bow under the water of the first spout they continue moving down the line to the rest of the spouts.
We are home. Paul is much better. The kindly doctors who visited the house and took blood didn't commit to a diagnosis but said it was likely dengue fever.
Our last day of travel was spent getting home. Made (pronounced ma-day, with the accent on day) drove us to the airport. We got used to his driving, it is as relaxing as driving in Bali can be. Made drives a small, late-model, air conditioned van, like everyone in Bali who isn't on a scooter. And like every driver in Bali he keeps one hand on the wheel/handlebar and one on the horn beeping here I am. He calmly weaves around other vehicles, dodging dogs and pedestrians, all the while he is swimming in a sea of motorbikes. It's like he has some little force field around his car, he gets oh so close but never touches, and he flips his mirrors in and out constantly. Electric in-and-out mirrors were made for places like this.
The road from Ubud to the airport in Denpasar takes about 90 minutes unless you go in the middle of the night, then it takes half that. The road isn't highway, it's narrow lanes and bumper-to-bumper traffic. Both sides of the road are hemmed in by a succession of shops, home stays, resorts, and temples which at some point start to look alike, and here I especially mean the temples. The temples are blocky structures, built out of something like grey legos but sparkled with the occasional fantastical statue. Like a big blue elephant with a golden sash and red eyes. Occasionally there's a break and you get a glimpse of a lush green rice paddy.
The five-hour flight to Taiwan was uneventful. But the ten-hour flight on to Vancouver came with lots of turbulence that went on way too long. Through it all the EVA crew was all calm and collected. They'd made a good impression on the flight over when we missed a connection; they rerouted us without our having to ask and held a plane to ensure our luggage accompanied us.
The final leg, the drive home from Victoria airport, was on another two lane road though otherwise it resembled Bali not at all. We arrived to a freezing cold house but our friend Marcus left us with an appreciated gift, a ready-to-light wood stove. Thanks Marcus!
I'm listening to Bob Marley's Legend album.