Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Jon's Visit Part II - Bali

After another week of feeling relatively useless as an English teacher (re-iterating the WORDS theme with little comprehension or interest on the part of the students), I left with Alison and Jon for Bali! It was Thursday night, and we had full days Friday and Saturday to take in what we could of the island before I returned to school and Jon returned home.

We started things off Friday with a run through the beautiful rice fields, setting the mood for a great day in Ubud. We returned to the market for some serious bargaining. Jon managed gifts for just about everyone he could think of in the space of a few hours and relatively few dollars there.

In the afternoon we visited the Yayasan. Jon taught a couple of Alison's Group C girls some fractions (he is a middle school math teacher). By the time we got back to Ubud it was time for dinner and the show.

The venue was Ubud Palace, a centuries-old area for performance art in the middle of Ubud. This was my and Jon's first exposure to Balinese dance and Balinese gamelan. It was utterly bizarre. The gamelan (traditional orchestra) is much faster than the Javanese gamelan we saw in Yogyakarta, and the dance was also much faster. It really freaked me out, especially the way they dress up the female dancer's eyes and then the way she uses them in dance. It was unlike anything I had ever seen in western dance. The Balinese dance is extremely stylized, with their own way of holding their fingers and twisting wrists and arms about, eyes wide and unblinking, then suddenly looking far up and to the side. Here is the venue. You can't see the stars in this photo, but you do get a feeling for this exotic and beautiful setting:

Check out these bugged-out eyes. She will follow this moment by casting her eyes suddenly to the side, with a jerky synchronous hand-motion:

One feature dance of the night's performance was the barong, a traditional Balinese two-man dance with a shaggy-dog-like creature that represents all that is good. The being itself is the barong, and it looks about and snaps its jaw in performance, at times regal, at times doglike, at times playful, at times frightening. Balinese imagery seems very dark and brooding to my western eyes. At first, everything seemed calculated to frighten me. But in their stylized unique way, Balinese representations like this one really aren't intended to frighten. This is a happy, noble, good creature:

You can see that the costuming is very elaborate, with mainly gold and red, matching even the stage and the gamelan:

At one point in the story, Rangda, the witch who represents evil, makes these men crazy and they stab at themselves like crazed idiots for a few moments. I think if you get into the Balinese aesthetic mindset, this is calculated to be hilarious. The men definitely ham it up as if they are playing a part that is supposed to be funny. But on first viewing the shock can hold back laughter:

The whole cast:

That night we hit Circle K (Indonesia's ubiquitous 7-11) for some Good Time Teddybear crackers, Tim-Tams, Cimory yogurt (made in Puncak Pass about an hour from my school in West Java) and settled in for bananagrams. It was a good night:

The next day we went to the celebrated Kuta beach. Kuta is perhaps Bali's biggest tourist attraction. It put Bali on the map when its world-class waves attracted surfers. Now it is a super-developed clubtown complete with leagues of hawkers and trashy tourists. It is not unlike being at a dumpy beach in the US. Think Jersey shore, except the alcohol is sold a little looser and the waves roll harder. I really didn't care for it, though the beach was beautiful (outside of the dead fish and the trash). We hit the beach and walked north, where Kuta connects to Legian and then Seminyak. Supposedly the accommodations and dining get pricier and classier as you go north. Along the walk, we saw countless "bars" like this one:

There were people offering surfing lessons or surfboard rentals everywhere. It was the Kuta I expected. With a bigger crowd, it would be a really good time - but I still don't understand flying all the way to the other side of the world just for that.

We used what little time we had on Sunday to visit the Monkey Forest Temple. Within easy walking distance of central Ubud, the temple is as Indiana-Jones-like as it sounds. Ancient stone temples, massive jungle trees, and hordes of monkeys. I had some good advice from ETAs who had already traveled here not to buy bananas to feed the monkeys. First off, they will go right up to you and snatch them out of your hand, which is pretty scary. And sensing that you may have more, they'll go into your pockets grabbing for them. You're better off without them, since you can get within inches of the animals anyway. It's never been so easy to photograph monkeys:

This guy was crushing leaves by grating them into the stone pathway with a rock he held in his little hand:

Here is one of those awesome trees:


Here's the temple, which was closed off for renovations. But we got the effect:

A lot of monkeys we saw were just passed out. I mean totally asleep in broad daylight in the middle of the path. Must have been out late last night at the temple toga party:

This guy found a tasty treat in a Balinese offering - many offerings include small amounts of rice:
It was a great week and visit, and gave me the lift I was hoping for. Jon sent out some e-mails to prospective international schools in Jakarta during his first weekend, and managed to get an interview on the day he left - and a subsequent job offer. He'll be living in Jakarta next year. Crazy.

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