Tuesday, March 2, 2010

First Weekend in Bali

After the first week of February I got free for a weekend visit to Bali. It takes a little less than two hours to fly from Jakarta. Alison had been there for a week already, starting two months of volunteer work at a children's center in a town called Bedulu, 15 minutes east of Ubud.

Bali is very different from Java. The taxi drivers that greeted me on my arrival Friday night all wore the same general outfits and none of them used meters. So my experience in Bali began, fittingly, with bargaining. After some hard-core work and largely thanks to my 5 months of experience in Indonesia at the time, I got a driver down to 150,000 rupiah, or roughly 15 dollars, for the one hour ride north to Ubud. My 150,000 rups wouldn't get me much farther in Jakarta taxis, but Jakarta has a wealth of non-taxi transportation options, including the public bus system and the public angkots, which come in at a whopping 2,000 rupiah (or twenty cents) per ride, and the busway, which costs 3,500. Bali has some public transport, but because the population is less dense and there are masses of tourists, it is extremely hard to find.

The so-called cultural center of Bali, Ubud is a charming town with an Indiana Jones-like Monkey Forest Temple, countless chic restaurants and cafes, and a number of stunning venues for nightly Balinese dance and gamelan performances. And lots of white people - many of them Dutch tourists.

This time around I only really had one day to see Bali, as I arrived Friday night and left Sunday midday. So we checked out Ubud market and visited the Yayasan, where Alison volunteers.

Here is the market in all its glory:


Ubud market is large and extremely bargainable. I am told that February is low tourist season, and while we did see plenty of other tourists the market was not bustling. We basically were there for the fun of it, to see the place and maybe get some pricing for future purchases. English is not very good in Indonesia, but in Bali they have more of it from exposure. Javanese sellers might only speak to you in Indonesian, but these Balinese sellers used winners like "I give you cheap price," "You special buy," "You favorite customer," and "How much you want?" And their initial prices were high, frequently ten times what they were actually willing to sell for. Typical conversation:

Balinese Seller: You favorite customer, I give you cheap price!
Me: Hmm.
BS: How much you want sarong? You special buy.
Me: Yang ini, berapa? (For this one, how much?)
BS: One hundred twenty thousand.
Me: Mahal. (Expensive.)
BS: Ok ok, for you I give special price hundred thousand.
Me: Thank you! (Start walking away)
BS: Ok eighty! (still walking) Ok seventy! (still walking) Ok I give you fifty! You buy ok I give you thirty!

And so on. They frequently went from over a hundred thousand initially to less than fifty thousand in 20 seconds or less.

The market has just about any souvenir you could want: sarongs, batik, dishware, quilts, paintings, wooden phalluses for decoration or as bottle openers, jewelry, hairpieces, and so on.

In Balinese fashion, there's a temple around the corner (or here, more or less embedded in the market) with countless offerings and burning incense:



The Balinese have a unique brand of Hinduism that I am told differs greatly from its Indian counterpart. 95% of Balinese are considered ethnic Balinese Hindus. So the island is remarkably homogeneous this way, and religion really does penetrate every corner of Balinese life. Every village and town has a temple and local ceremonies. Every family makes offerings every day to ward off evil spirits (these they place on the ground outside their homes) or to please the gods (these they place on the shrines and temples). They still worship the three main gods - creator, protector, destroyer - but there's one that's even bigger, and countless spirits, and quasi ancestor worship in family compounds, and peculiar other differences that make it a bizarre mix. And the island of Bali gets to be the center of their religious universe. Its various famous temples, each for a different god or gods, are treasured and visited by Balinese all over the island. The biggest mountain, towering Gunung Agung, has at its foot the Mother Temple. The Balinese orient their homes, which are like courtyards with separate buildings where we would have separate rooms, about the mountain and the sea. Directions are given as toward the mountain or away from it.

Anyway, when we tired of the market we took an angkot, or what Balinese call a bemo, to Bedulu and the Yayasan:


Angkots in Java cost 2,000 rupiah, and you start adding additional thousands once the ride gets to be more than 20 minutes or so. In Bedulu they tried to charge Alison 50,000 rupiah for the 15-minute ride. Hassling got it down to 10,000 and finally a no-discussion, hand-the-guy-4,000-and-walk approach. Tiring. There are only a handful of bemos and amazingly, they stop running after 4pm. On the road outside my school, one that runs between Parung and Bogor, you will see an angkot every 30 seconds and they run for 24 hours. So it's a very different public transportation situation.

The bemo drops you off at a corner and you have a ten minute walk through the village before arriving at the Yayasan:

Bali is obsessed with stone architecture and carvings. Even the poor Balinese seem to live in compounds that to Western eyes look like ancient stone mini-temples, rather than modern residences. On the left of the above picture, you can see that the Yayasan has the traditional stone doorway and outer walls, complete with statues.

The Yayasan is a converted housing compound. Basically, take a large Balinese family's house, build a couple classrooms, invite kids from all over the area to come every afternoon (and invite the ones without parents to just live there) and voila! Alison taught her first few weeks of classes in an upstairs room:

The Yayasan groups its kids by age: Group A, Group B, Group C, and Group D. The A's are really young, B's are maybe 7-9, C's are 10-13 and D's are young teenagers. Alison was assigned to group C, and at this point, she had been teaching them for one week - afternoon classes learning songs in English. She taught with a Dutch volunteer, Antoinette. There are so many Dutch people here. I had never even met a Dutch person. The Yayasan's volunteers are mostly Dutch, as it was started by a Dutchman and Indonesia's colonial roots are there. Dutch is incomprehensible, but it sounds sort of like German.

Here's the computer room where the kids learn computers and e-mail their sponsors:

Below you can see the courtyard with separate buildings concept I wrote about. Straight ahead are the guest rooms, on the immediate right is where Ketut, the Balinese man who runs the place, and his wife and family reside, and behind the swingsets in the background is a structure for gamelan and a temple structure for prayer and offerings (and maybe other things? it's complicated):

Here's Alison and two of her students, Dona and Deduk (center and right):

They are very sweet, stronger in English than I had anticipated, and have incredibly well-developed artistic skills, from drawing to dancing to clapping complex musical rhythms. And they like wordplay! I tried speaking Indonesian to them and they teased me mercilessly. They thought I spoke...so...slowly.

Just a hundred feet down the road from the Yayasan is Yeh Pulu Temple. I haven't been to the temple yet, but before you get there, you can see beautiful rice fields and the Yeh Pulu cafe! The cafe sells fresh fruit drinks, nasi goreng (fried rice), and other typical Indonesian fare. The place is a sitting area next to the owner's house. The wife cooks it all for you in her own kitchen, and her husband, a woodcarver, has his shop out front. On the right you can see his workshop, and the building back a ways in the center left is the sitting area for the cafe:

Antoinette and other Dutch volunteers from the Yayasan had introduced Alison to the Yeh Pulu cafe earlier in the week. The Dutch are obsessed with "getting a drink," by which they mean anything really, but usually beer, juice, or coffee. Just finish work at 4pm? Let's get a drink! Sounds kind of odd to an American (isn't it a little early/sounds like you might have an alcohol problem...), but I guess it's a Dutch thing.

Here are some of the rice fields you can see from the Cafe:

Here we are upstairs from the cafe. Notice the offerings on the ground near my feet, placed there to ward off evil spirits:

We headed back to Ubud and had dinner at one of the attractive restaurants. Before I knew it, I was back in Jakarta for another week of school.

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