Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Family Temple Ceremony Preparations Continue

May 6

            Each day I return and record the progress in decorations and offerings. It is impressive, even for a culture so dedicated to beautiful offerings. On the day before the ceremony, a man who has seen me videotape each day comes over. He is handsome, important looking, very well dressed.  He is literally and figuratively a prince . He chats. I ask him questions about the occasion, the events. He tells me the ceremony is tomorrow at 7, invites me to come. I am pleased, though all ceremonies are open to everyone, but to be invited by the prince is quite lovely.

            He asks if I have met his mother. I say no. He leads me to the imperious looking woman who greeted my camera with scorn a few days before. Now her son is introducing me to her. She is Ibu Raka, gracious and regal. We both reassess each other, decide to begin anew. I compliment her on the beauty of the offerings, thank her for their invitation and their lovely bungalows where I stay.

Ibu Raka (in poor light and unfocused, but love her smile here!)
            The prince’s name is C(h)okwah. He has a CW monogramed on his shirt. He tells me he is building a small house up the road, I should come see it. Please note: I am at least 20 years older than this handsome prince, but nevertheless, I am flattered and intrigued. It’s just a small house, he says. Ha-ha, I think. A few days later I see it, but more on that anon . . .
C(h)okwah - CW

Blessings a few days before the ceremony (priests marry here-this seems to be a courtship moment)

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Family Temple Ceremony: Preparation Begins

3 May 2011

View from Puri Saraswati Bungalow room

             The bungalows where I stay in Ubud were built by the royal family in the 1970s. There was once several kingdoms in Bali, but though they are defunct, the royal family and their lineage remains. The kings palace s across the street and the family temple is here, right next to my room. It is a richly embellished temple, even when there are no celebrations. When I return to Ubud, extensive preparations are under way for a ceremony at the family temple on Saturday.  I am thrilled at my good luck and proximity.

Family temple dragon/naga for protection
            The sound of people talking and laughing wakes me up the next morning and at first I feel grumpy, spoiled by the usual quiet here in the early morning. I look out my window and see that the temple preparation room across from me is busy with activity.
View from my verandah toward the ceremony preparation room
           Clearly something special is happening and everyone is bustling about.  Sure enough an hour or so later, a woman arrives who is clearly the grand dame, the queen mother, so to speak. Everyone hustles. She is friendly to them all, though clearly they aim to please. Soon after an entourage of elegant women dressed in the best kebaya blouses and batiks, hair perfectly coiffed and adorned, enter the temple.

Ibu Raka in pink flowered kebaya creating offerings
            I follow with my camera later in the day, and  find them making exquisite offerings form colored dough. The lovely ladies all sit under one pavilion, the family pavilion I later find out and chat and laugh and make decorations. When I film them, I am not greeted with the usual smiles and openness I have experienced everywhere else in Bali. They are indifferent to me, not pleased with being a tourist attraction. They are royalty after all, and I a mere observer. (This will change a few days later, once Ibu Raka and I are introduced - see next posting)

            I move on to the men who are rigging bamboo arches, and decorating the statues with fabric.

           Behind the building, well out of sight, the serving women prepare other decorations, having a much livelier time than the fine ladies, and much more friendly and smiling toward me. I already know some of them from the hotel, we chat and laugh.

Dewa (Goddess) Saraswati and her attendant
(before her "face lift" -- see upcoming post)

Friday, May 20, 2011


2 May 2011  
          My driver, Yoko, comes to pick me up for the day's excursions. I ask him what he did last night after he left me at my place. I expect him to say he hung out with his friends or family.  Instead, he tells me he went to the rice field to help his father with the cows that are used to till the fields before planting. Then he went home and tended to the four pigs he is raising to sell. Each morning at 5 or so, he takes some onions or beans to market to sell, then tends the rice fields. If it’s a good day and he has a tourist to drive, he does that too. 
Terraced rice fields in Tegallang
            I am amazed. I ask him how much he gets of the $25 fee for being tour guide, translator and driver. He tells me he gets $5, the rest goes to the car owner, a business man.  The day before, I bought him lunch as a tip. Today, I give him as extra $5. I had been told the average Balinese person earns $60 a month. Now I understand more about how it comes to pass. We are so fortunate and we barely know it.
Yoko, tour guide and rice farmer
            The man who manages the bungalow I stayed in for two nights explains that his wife is going to school to become a teacher and how he supports her in this with both enthusiasm and financing to pay for it. I met her the day before and we had a very good connection in our brief conversations. He says that she is doing well in school, but even if you graduate top in your class, you still have to pay the government about $15,000 to even apply for a teaching job, with no guarantee you will get it. I am speechless. Again, we take so much for granted in our system.
On way to village school
            Putu Paja and his wife Ani are both so sweet and positive, that I feel moved to make a small contribution to her education. I give her some money and when I say, “This is only for your education, not for the children, not foranything but you,” her eyes tear up.  I believe in you, I tell her. She thanks me and says I am the first foreign friend she has had. We are both moved. 
Putu Paja & Ani in Tebola
            Ironically, when I return to Ubud the next day, the streets are draped with red and white banners, and the school children are dressed in uniforms and costumes. It is a national education celebration day. The hotel where I stay is hosting a meeting at 4 p.m. for the education dignitaries.
            Here is the photo I don’t take: all the soldiers seated in rows listening to four high ranking military men talk about education, while military police in camouflage escort them all. This is all taking place on the patio where guests normally have breakfast and we must walk past this as we go in and out. It is grim. On the other hand, the military police are not armed and some are friendly and jovial towards me as I walk by. I decide to venture a smile at the old soldiers, but they glare back.
            I do not have a good impression of the Indonesian education system from these two days events. I have heard other tales that are dismaying. But then, we don’t have a lot to brag about for our educational system either, especially these days.

Monday, May 9, 2011


Sunday May 1, 2011 (delayed for pix processing)

Community/ Tebola Part 2

            I hire a driver/guide/translator to take me to Tirta Gangga, the Water Palace, focused on my water mission. It is an hour from the small village of Tebola where I stay for five days amidst impossibly green mountains and terraced rice fields. Tirta Gangga is okay, not impressive to me, built as a recreational place for a former king in the 1800s.
Tirta Gangga view
            What is impressive is the small mountain road we take to get there. Here I see village life as we drive through endless green vistas. I stop to shoot video at many photo ops, terraced fields, the village dam, the water canals. But what interests me most are the towns devoted to a craft, like the metal smiths making utility knifes and ritual kris knives used for the Barong ceremony. They hone the metal in wood or gas fired furnaces, display their wares on strings.

           One family shop makes the cremation towers used by the upper class Brahman families, like Raka used for his wife. I video details of the incredibly beautiful work. A young son learns his craft with simple sticks.

             It is Sunday, they are working at a leisurely pace, singing along with the radio, laughing, talking.  It makes no difference to them if I wander about and take photos, speak my meager Indonesian.

             I realize it is this sense of community and connection that I yearn for, this easy relationship with each other, with their trade, with life. At one turn in the road, we come upon a whole village making decorations for a cremation, the more simple kind for people with less money who cannot afford the elaborate towers. The men make a simple white box, to be painted with beautiful decorations, weave palm leaves into shapes to decorate a simple tower, strip palm fronds into slivers for ornate bowers that will grace the road.

            They graciously let me take all the images I want, ask me questions in Indonesian that I answer with all the Indonesian that I know, about 6 -7 sentences that answer their questions about where I am from, how long I am in Bali, where I stay in Bali and my name. Since my name with an “h” at the end means angry, I have  learned to make a joke in Indonesian that says, “Saya Mara, tidak marah,” I am Mara, not marah (angry) and it always gets a laugh. Pretty good for a language I barely know!

             They direct me across the road where the women make small offering baskets and decorations and cook baskets of rice, prepare glasses for tea, fry splayed chickens as offerings and then to feast on. It is a wonder of busy communal work, with everyone talking, smiling, laughing.  The cremation is a in a day or two.

            This is how the village sends you on your way when you die,  making it beautiful for you all together, doing everything they can to free you from this life and send you swiftly to the next one. If you have very good karma, you reach nirvana. If you have the usual mix of good and bad, you return as a human again, and with bad karma you become an animal. I cannot explain my wish to return as a well-loved house cat like my cats Tango and Mango, because all cats are feral here, small, lean and alert.
            Everyone comes together to send you on your way, as a village, as a community, as a celebration.  I understand that this is what draws me to Bali, the sense of beauty and of community. I tell my driver I want to come back my next life as a Balinese person. He laughs and says it is better if you come back for your next trip to Bali and buy a house as a foreigner and hire me to work for you. He is young, but wise!

            On the short walk downhill after dinner, with rushing water channels for the rice fields on either side of the dark, narrow road from the restaurant to my bungalow, I see the first fireflies and am delighted, reminded that in a month it will be firefly season back home too. There is nothing more magical than dozens of fireflies lighting the woods’ edge in summer.

            My dinner, by the way, cost $7 for tuna and a big salad, with fried banana for dessert. The protein portions are smaller here than the hearty American style. Meat and fish are costly so are used sparingly but well. I head back to bustling Ubud tomorrow for the last ceremonies and water temple excursions. I will miss this serene hamlet and the warm, friendly people here. Even in five days I have developed affection for many of them. It is a place to come back to again.

            The water channel outside my room rushes so strong and loud that I had to wear earplugs last night, even though I loved the insect and frog orchestra. Ironic indeed, on this water journey.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Heat Relief!

Okay, today I broke down after sweating for hours as I recorded details of another cremation's water rituals --
I confess, I found an air conditioned chain store like a 7-11, stood in front of the AC and ate an ice cream bar with Belgian chocolate and vanilla ice cream and it tasted sooooo good. Like childhood. I felt blessed indeed! Back to the ceremony revived!

The family temple for the royal family has been preparing for a ceremony all week and each day I record images as it becomes more and more beautiful. After I spoke with the son of the family for a while and interviewed him briefly, he invited me to be part of the ceremony tomorrow. I am delighted!

More pix tomorrow . . .