Report from Tomorrow - Vol 36

1USD = S$1.66 (S$1 = 0.580USD)

Bali Continued

Village leaders are elected and there are monthly community meetings where decisions are made like whether to build a path to neighboring village, or to plan ceremonies etc. There is a community center and temple which are communal property, but everything else is privately held. When planning for a ceremony, you are expected to contribute either time or money. After being married, the wife joins the husband's village. If you move, you still particiate in "your village" by sending money back. Eventually your parents will join you in your house. I suppose at some point you actually do "move" to a new village, but Darwa did not suggest it, despite my queries.

The Bali Spirit was actually pretty close to Ubud. After taking the hotel car in/back a few times, we discovered a "shortcut" through the nearby "Monkey Temple Forest". The temple is in a forest of banyon trees and has monkeys which roam the area.

One evening we attended a Balinese dance where they told a part of the Ramayana, where Sita is kidnapped by the Demon King Rahwana. The story is chanted in Balinese (I guess?) with support of a "choir" of fifty plus men who sing/speak in various cadences. The main characters have very elaborate costumes and perform a very stylized ritual dance. We found it most enjoyable.

The last event of the evening was the Kechak Fire and Trance Dance where a young man danced/walked through a bed of coals. He was, of course, unharmed after his efforts.

Role of Religion

The peculiar form of Hinduism which is unique to Bali is part of the daily fabric of Balinese life. You will see elaborate rice offerings to the earth demons scattered all over (we must have seen a dozen or more at our hotel alone).

A very large portion of the normal population learns some some sort craft - wood carving, music, dance, painting etc. and use this as part of their expression of religious life. And to sell to tourists too :-)

The Balinese are know for their elaborate ceremonies and festivals which are held many times a year. These are all part of their religious life and a great deal of their time and money go into ceremonies. We arrived just after a major festival and so missed all the activities. While I was very glad the place was empty, I also would have liked to see what was going on just a few days earlier.

The rich stories of Hinduism combined with the Balinese original oral traditions provides Bali with some of it's own unique characters. I made notes on a few:

GARUDA was a gigantic mythical eagle which was originally enslaved by the two Naga (enoumous mythical serpants of the underworld). Garuda escaped and flew to heaven where it bravely stole a drink of the elixir or immortality. As reward for its bravery, Garuda was made Deva Vishnu's "vehicle" for traveling between heaven and earth. Garuda is a favorite topic for wood carvers and is the name of the Indonesian airline.

BARONG is the most popular character in Bali's colorful creative culture. He is the island's Protector, a Dispeller of evil spirits. He comes from Bali's animistic past and appears somewhat lion-like on the masks you see painted and carved by the artists.

BOMA was the most powerful earth demon. As a "bad seed" he fought for the villanious Karawa clan in the war of the Mahabharata. Krishnu, his father, defeated Boma and in his death, Boma was transformed into a positive Guardian. His fearsome carving appears over Balinese doorways to frighten off demons.

Prices

This was our first real experience dealing with a currency where prices are in the many thousands for everyday things. The rupiah was trading at about 7200/USD while we were there. This was a huge improvement from it's worse level (14,000/USD) a few months before, but still a long way from 3500/USD of a 15 months earlier. The rupiah is still pretty unstable. Two weeks before we arrived, it was trading at 9000/USD.

Everything for us measured in 1000 rupiah "units" (14 cents) or 14.25USD/100,000 rupiah. To give you an idea of the differential, I was told the base salary for an entry level worked at a hotel would be 150,000/month and more responsible people might get 700,000/month. Our room at the Bali Spirit cost us a little less than 100USD/night (a month's salary for the lucky).

Food was very inexpensive and you know, we tourists were paying LOTS more than the Balinese. Some prices for food: western breakfast for 10-14000, chicken rice for 12-14000, bottle of coke 2500-3000, small beer 6000-10000, large bottle of beer in grocery 12000. A staple called nasi goreng which is fried rice with stuff added was as low as 8000, but in the Bali Spirit it was 30000. I must admit the Bali Spirit's was a favorite.

This is a society where you are expected to bargin, so prices for tourist things varied, but to give you an idea, 250,000 rupiah bought a basket, a wood carving, some clothe, a light jacket and a top for Mary. We bought some real expensive paintings and for a short time, I was a millionaire - until I gave it away. Pretty weird for a minute there :-)

The dance we attended cost only 15000 each and a taxi in the rain back to the Bali Spirit (2-3 km) was 10-15000. I'm sure we made lots of people very happy we vistied, but as I said before, life costs what it costs. If the artists made out on us, good for them (I'm sure one of them did VERY well :-).

Anyway, our time in Bali was a delight and will remain one of the most memorably Thanksgivings we've ever had. And no turkey gave his life for us :-)