Bali Corti: "Kuta, Mare, Uncle Bruce"
March 31, 2005
Dear Family and Friends,
Because of the schedule and booked flights on Garuda Indonesia Airlines, I needed to spend two nights in Bali before departing for Perth. So a short stop. I will return next month.
One of my friends said that Bali is not a very good place to visit. I have to admit that he is correct if he is referring only to the popular area called Kuta.
Kuta, with its lovely beach and pounding surf, is just like other overbuilt, overdeveloped, overrated and noisy Southeast Asian resorts, teeming with backpackers, surfers, divers and shabbily-dressed budget travelers rushing from sunset temple to sunset temple and over-drinking and over-eating at Italian, Japanese, and Mexican "restaurants." McDonald's, Swenson's, Haagen Dazs and Dunkin' Donuts. And you guessed it again! The Colonel is here, too. Larger than life.
In the gift shops, Thai elephants are replaced by Bali frogs; Thai flutes by Bali drums. Got the picture? "Versace" clothing? Si Signore. "Polo" outlets on every other corner. So far I have resisted them, but, "Hey, you never know." I'm coming back in a month.
In Thailand, the "Land of Smiles," the messages on the T-shirts reflect a little bit of the language and the culture: "Same Same - Only Different," or "No Money, No Honey," or my favorite, "Just Did It."
In Bali, the T-shirts respond to a bit of the recent history. One smiling, quite courteous young man working at an Internet cafe wore one that said simply "KISS MY ASS." Another shirt said it bluntly, "FUCK THE TERRORISTS"
So, how to spend two days on this island? A walking tour of Denpasar, the main city? Some writing? Reading? Try the beach? Hang around? WRONG!
Everything changed after breakfast as I took my stroll in the Legian section of Kuta Beach. A young man, Mare, 22, offered me the services of his motor bike.
After some cheerful negotiations, we agreed on a fee for the day, planned a route, and headed for the lush, green hills, terraced rice fields and ancient Hindu temples.
The temples I have seen here are not nearly as impressive as the huge Buddhist temples of Thailand and Myanmar. Yet they are attractive in their own right. Odd shapes, intricate carvings of gods and goddesses, soldiers and animals. One small shrine had a pairing of an alligator and a frog at the base.
One of the temples, Ulu Watu, sits on a sheer cliff above crashing waves below. Another, Thanah Lot, was built in the sea - atop a tall, rocky outcrop that is separated from the mainland at high tide.
Fortunately, the tide was out when we arrived so I was able to walk out on the slippery rocks, covered with small, scurrying crabs, to the foot of the temple. The priest gave his blessing. He sprinkled me with holy water, placed a little flower behind my ear and pressed a few grains of rice on my forehead.
The highlight came that evening; Mare invited me to his temple.
At 8:00pm Mare came to my hotel room. Around my waist he wrapped and knotted a perfectly becoming red-orange print sarong and gold sash. I wore the obligatory white shirt. On my head Mare placed a white silk cap.
On the way through the lobby and in the street, I attracted only a few stares, and smiles. With my dark complexion and tanned face, I looked almost native. Well, almost.
We entered the small Hindu temple, sat on the floor, and joined several other men in prayer. Mare instructed me on the proper ritual. From a small square basket filled with flower petals I first took a white petal between my fingers, pressed my palms together and raised my fingers to my forehead to pray. I repeated this gesture with a red petal and finally with three petals of mixed colors.
After a few minutes a priest approached and poured a little water into my cupped palms, right hand over left, and I patted the water on my head. After three cups of water the priest sprinkled some water on my head and took a few grains of rice and pressed them on my forehead.
Each time I raised my hands to pray, I was truly moved. Almost overcome with emotion, I prayed for the welfare of all those around me who had been so welcoming, accepting and generous.
I could feel another emotion, another strong thought as I sat with this beautiful, serious community. The notion that one group is "right" and that everyone else is "wrong" or "false" or "misguided" now makes me so angry. These devoted men and women and their families are filled with love and are deserving of love in return.
The evening was not yet over. Mare invited me to his home to "meet my new baby."
Mare's home sits out in the countryside among a cluster of other homes at the end of a dirt road. We entered the house and walked to the rear bedroom where Mare's two month old daughter lay asleep on a mattress. She wore little silver bracelets with tiny silver bells on her wrists and ankles . After a few minutes Mare's smiling, young wife came in to meet me and sit with us.
Then several other adult relatives and young children all giggled their way in to the room. They brought me a can of soda.
It was clear that everyone lived here in this house. The bedroom where we sat was where Mare lived with his wife and daughter - all sleeping together on the mattress on the floor.
This house that about a dozen people called home was almost devoid of furnishing or "things." Some clothing, a couple of TV sets, small fans, a mattress, floor mats were about all I saw. The cement walls needed paint and the floors were stained.
Then Bruce arrived. His family calls him "Uncle Bruce." He is about thirty or thirty-five; as the eldest cousin, he is the patriarch. His shirtless chest revealed a well-muscled and tattooed body. His family also calls him "Arnold." He is a bit pompous but I must forgive him. He understands that they have very little, yet he is proud that he will be passing on his "culture" to his children.
The culture Bruce was referring to is the many religious practices of his faith. The "culture" I observed is one where everyone smiles, voices are never raised in anger, strangers are welcomed. This large, extended family supports and respects each other. Bruce has it "right."
The next morning Mare and I visited other temples and beaches. We made plans for my return and extensive travel on Bali. There are some towering mountains looming...beckoning in the distance.
Now I am headed south - a three hour flight to Perth, and another new "culture."