Bali Report #1

Arrival in Bali
Monday July 3rd, 2000

Our flight was without event, although I wouldn't recommend Garuda Air's food to anyone. We landed in Denpasar and were picked up at the airport by Mary's driver, a young gentleman named Nyoman. We soon learned that there are only 5 names for men in Bali: Wayang for the first born son, Made for the second, Nyoman for the 3rd, and 2 others that I don't remember. If there are more sons, they just start again with Wayang and go through the whole order again. I'm not sure about the girls.

Anyway, it took about an hour to drive to our village from the airport. Bali seems remarkably not built up compared to Japan and Taiwan, but people have told me that if you had been here 5 years ago, it looks completely paved over in comparison. Any, the standard attributes of paradise: palm trees, flowering vegetation, etc.

And lots of lots of kites, filling half the sky. Nyoman said that the Balinese really like kite flying, and hold competitions that are very popular.

We are staying in a tiny but seemingly well off village outside of Ubud. Ubud, about an hour drive into the foothills north of Denpasar, is one of the major cultural towns in Bali, know for its painting and wood carving and as a center for music.

The house is a kick, though apparently more Filipino than Balinese. It is built of wood, with a thatched roof. Any walls are made of woven bamboo, so the whole thing is very breezy. The house is within the family compound, which consists of a number of cement block houses and a small family temple surrounded by garden. In front is a small road; in back are rice fields. The family does wood carving for the tourist trade, and there are always a number of people sitting around in various places chipping away at small sculptures. There is a school nearby and their gamelan practices every afternoon - so we get to hear the raw material, and don't have to go to a tourist performance ...

The kitchen is a separate pavilion, and Dayu, one of the family members who speaks English, cooks us the midday meal there. The bathroom is also a separate hut, with 2 Balinese squat toilets and the ubiquitous "mandi" - a large basin for holding water, which you use to wash your butt and to douse yourself for a cold shower. We have mostly all wimped out and are using toilet paper. When traveling it can be difficult, however, since most Balinese places will not have a receptacle for toilet paper, and one shouldn't flush the paper down the drain.

Dinners out have been mostly at beautiful open pavilion restaurants, sitting on cushions on the floor with water playing in the gardens. Ubud itself in the main streets is noisy with lots of traffic, even though the rice paddies are not far behind. Nyuh Kunning is however a wealthy "suburb", and is wonderfully tranquil and beautiful.


To visit a temple you have to be respectfully dressed, at the very least as a woman covering your shoulders and knees. The very chic Balinese way to dress seems to be a wrapped sarong called a kain, a sash ("prayer belt") and then a long sleeved, lace top called a kebaya that allows your lace bra or bustier to show through. (Traditionally Balinese women went topless - until the Dutch colonized the place.

Since I don't have any long summer skirts I had to buy a kain before I could enter any temples, and the first couple of days in Ubud were spent combing all the fabric stores, which are many, for suitable material. Ubud has many tourist traps but also several high end stores selling antique or "designer" cloth. Since Mom, Sheri and I are all interested in fabric we have now visited pretty much all of them. We saw many beautiful antique silk kain, which were all way too expensive, and finally picked up a couple of cheaper cotton ones for our utilitarian purposes.

Sunday night, Sekar Jaya had commissioned a shadow puppet performance with a rising young star of Balinese shadow puppetry and apparently one of Bali's best gamelan. It was in a village not far from here, in the pavilion used for such things: a covered space with a low wall and a stage at one end. The whole village turned out to watch, of course, except for the gentlemen in the gambling circle nearby. The story was from the Ramayana, but I missed all the punch lines and there is a surprised amount that is pure dialog, either the classical language Kawi that no one understands anymore, or Balinese during the comic relief segments, which the locals seemed to appreciate tremendously.

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