16 November 2013
We are in Bali! Finally, Bali! And this blog will have zillions of photos (okay, not quite, but a lot) because Bali is like an artist's idea of Nirvana, a visual heaven, overload for the eyes and mind. Everywhere we turn some ordinary everyday object has become a thing of beauty or a work of art. Everything is new and interesting and different and so unique - and it is all utterly amazing! So you are warned - LOTS of photos!!
Our little hotel sent a driver to meet us, we gathered our stuff and set off for the town of Sanur, just outside Denpasar where the airport is located - and immediately passed this amazing sculpture in the middle of a roundabout! It shows the hero fighting his uncle, and I'm not sure how the horses fit in, but it's one of those religious parables, I think. We have not only a language gap but also a mind-set gap, because religion here is so much a part of secular life that it seems as if people don't really separate the two. That comment will make more sense later on.
Anyway, I'm blown away by the art and architecture. A toll booth becomes a Balinese architectural model. Our hotel room furniture is a series of works of art - each piece carved and painted, because why should anything be simple and boring? Not that things are overly ornate - just decorated. And decorative. Why should anything be solely utilitarian? No, make it useful and beautiful!
The same way form and
function are united, life and religion are united. Every home, every business, seems to have statues, shrines, offerings. I asked our hotel staff about this, because the entrance to the hotel is flanked by two statues. There are little boxes or baskets with flowers and little bits of food in front of each statue. And there are two of the little boxes/baskets with incense right on the step, and two more in the driveway.
So - Bali is a Hindu island, the only mostly Hindu island in Indonesia, which is now the country with the most Islamic people in the world. Because Bali is somewhat isolated, over the centuries the practice of Hinduism has changed somewhat from the way Hinduism is practiced in India. So there are uniquely Balinese ways of doing things.
The statues represent gods in the Hindu polytheistic hierarchy. The little boxes or baskets are offerings that are given twice a day, morning and evening, to the gods. They are placed two at the entrance to the business or home, two on the way out, and one each to the left and to the right of the entrance. The offerings ensure "all good things" as I was told - prosperity, healthy, good business, happiness, all those things. Thus they are at the entrance to both businesses and homes. (And yes, ants and squirrels and probably even cats make off with much of the food left in these little baskets.)
I watched a young woman from a restaurant setting out the little bits of food in each of the boxes which were already in place. She'd lean over, place the paper with rice and fruit in the basket of flowers, wave her hand over it two or three times, then stand up and move on to the next one. I asked the lady at the front of the restaurant why she was waving, and she said this is part of the prayer. I told the lady that it looked like she was waving to alert the gods or spirits that the food was ready, come and eat - she laughed and said that's probably a little bit of it too.
And yes, these little boxes are all over the sidewalks, and you have to step around then when going into and out of businesses.
But they are so pretty, and decorative, and so in keeping with the entire aesthetic we've seen here.
There are also these amazing and intricate decorations up
and down the roads. I asked about these too - about a month ago, there was a religious festival. (I didn't catch the name, but it wasn't Diwali, which I know was celebrated in India, Fiji, other places.) This is a festival celebrated every six months. And the purpose is, according to my source, "celebrating the triumph of good over evil." Really, that's what our waiter at the restaurant said. "The triumph of good over evil."
Which of course brings up all kinds of questions in my mind: Why every six months? Is the triumph of good over evil continuously happening, so we celebrate this in an ongoing fashion? Or is the belief that good has triumphed universally and forever, but, just like making offerings to the gods twice a day, we continue to celebrate the triumph to keep Good appeased and happy? What happens when there's a disaster, like Typhoon Haiyan, is that evil? What constitutes evil? What creates evil?
Anyway, we've only been here about 30 hours now, so I don't have the answers to these questions. But these are questions I might seek to answer as we spend time in this amazing place.
And then there are things that I totally don't understand, such as the bowls and vessels of water and flowers. This was just on a sidewalk, near a few stores. Is this just to be pretty? To smell good? To wash our hands? Wash away evil? I'm just curious. But it does smell good, and looks pretty, and maybe the food-stealing squirrels get a drink of water this way.
There are obvious shrines all over, as well as gods or spirits or manifestations of Shiva, Vishnu, whomever. (I obviously only have a vague understanding of the Hindu religion.) But there is a feeling of peace that seems to hover over this town, maybe this whole island. I think that may be why there are so many tourists, why people flock to this island, and return year after year, and why the name "Bali" conjures up images of peace and beauty and tranquility, why this spot is somewhat legendary.
(And I like the umbrellas over the shrines - practical but also a little bit whimsical, with a quirky sense of humour.)
Our little hotel seems to be in a touristy area of Sanur, with all kinds of shops, places to change money, restaurants, and big resorts as well as small hotels and guest houses, the kind of places we prefer. Our hotel has all over 21 rooms, though each has a balcony or patio area with chairs and a table. We also have free wifi, and breakfast is included in the price. The breakfast options include an Australian big brekkie of eggs, meat, toast, fruit; a European continental breakfast of fruit, toast, coffee; a few Indonesian options of fried rice or fried noodles and satay and egg (mee goreng or nasi goreng, I confuse the two); and even a sashimi breakfast with maguro, tuna belly.
All this for a budget price! Really a nice little place, even though our AC is not enthusiastic.
Check it out if you need a place in Sanur for a few nights: the Abian Kokoro Hotel, which calls itself a small, comfortable, cheap hotel on their website: http://abiankokorohotel.com/
(No, these photos are not of the hotel - this is a place down the block, in the traditional Balinese style of architecture.)
I have no idea what this little ceramic happy figure is all about - he was on a wall in front of a restaurant, with a number of other object that I didn't recognize. Until lunch. We stopped at a place for lunch, and I ordered the chicken satay. (Richard had a burger.) My satay (or saté) came on a little terra cotta brazier, full of burning embers, keeping the skewers of chicken nice and hot while I ate them. That's what the little objects were with Happy Guy - but I still don't know what he was used for. (And the best part of satay is the peanut sauce, all rich with spices and ginger and who knows what, just wonderful sauce!)
And of course I restaurant had their own shrine with flowers and offerings. As well as bowls of water with orange chrysanthemums floating in it.
The whole town smells like flowers and incense!
There's a big temple in town, all red brick and ornate trim - I don't know if the trim is carved cement or carved stone, I haven't gotten quite close enough to check it out. But while it's beautiful and decorative, there's a sort of wildness to it, an unfettered exuberance of spirit or something. I'm not sure if it's my Western sense of aesthetics or what, but really, some of the statues of gods seem almost scary - fierce faces, almost warrior bodies, all kinds of grimaces, and this one even seems to have fangs. All I can think is that maybe they look fierce because they're representing the Good who triumph over Evil. So they look fierce because this is an ongoing battle. Or war. I'm not sure - these are questions I hope to answer over the next two months while we're here.
I like these little, oh, I don't know what to call them. Very cool little decorative things added to shrines, made of metal washers? Donuts? with mirrors, and strings in color, and just ornamental little things.
But one of the things I really wanted to see were the puppets - Balinese and Indonesian puppets are legendary, especially the shadow puppets.
So I found a store selling these amazing objects, little works of art, each one! I explained that we're travelling, I can't buy one, but they are so beautiful, and would they mind if I took some photos? And people in Bali are so welcoming and kind of friendly, they said of course, and then called me over to point out where they had more so I could look at all of them.
I am enchanted by this place!
And then there's the statue of Ganesh, the elephant-head god, who sits in the middle of a small roundabout at the major crossroads of this neighborhood. Ganesh, peacefully presiding over the businesses and hotels and residences of Sanur.
Okay, I know I'm rambling - but I found some Balinese chocolate, and had to buy a bar of the dark chocolate. It's pretty good, and the brand is "Magic Chocolate." Grown and produced here in Bali. If we're lucky, we'll find the chocolate farm and visit and try some samples.
We head inland to Ubud tomorrow, and we'll start formulating how we'll spend our time here, whether we head to some of the other Indonesian islands, where we dive, all that.
And of course, we'll keep you posted on the blog!