Saturday, January 16, 2010

Good and Evil in Land of Bali

Being Hindu in the most populous Islamic nation on earth has seemed to provide definition to the culture of Bali. The forces of good and evil abide in every nook and cranny. Evil is a real force that must be dealt with seriously through various forms of worship. The Kris Dance which is an ancient dance tells the tale of evil befalling the various servants of the king. The mischevious monkey and his friend, the Tiger are watchers of the drama. The evil Warong is a shape shifter and a force to be reckoned with. It is only the goodness of those who battle and their great courage and strength that gives the tale a positive ending. However, it is clear that the victory is that of a battle and the war of good and evil will continue forever.

________The gregarious engineer can not help but make friends as he travels. He agreed to exchange emails with a young Muslim man from Lombok to assist him with his English and met a Balinese policeman traveling from his job in Lombok to a celebration at his temple in Bali. Of course, we were given details and invited to join the festivities. We spent several hours in awe of the majesty of the rituals. All the worshippers were welcoming and delighted with our photography. The little girls were particularly fun racing to see their images on the camera. Although there was much joyousness in the celebration it was apparent that the matters at hand were very serious.

Our last stop on that day was to a village that practices an ancient form of Hindu not practiced anywhere else. Until recent times the village was only visited by anthropologist and persons interested in the unusual double ikat weaving done in this village. Times do change and now for a few pennies an elder will guide you through the village and tell you a little about the culture. The bride and groom were just married in this village and we received a brief history of the purification rituals. Interestingly, the main form of entertainment is cock fighting. We were given a restrained demonstration with two long legged and fierce roosters who were most anxious to rip one another. It was very interesting but less so when our taxi driver told us his father lost all of the family land in a single cock fight.

From Bali

Bali differs substantially from the rest of Indonesia. It is predominantly Hindu with a decided Balinese twist. Life seems to be a tryst between good and evil forces which can be mediated by placating the gods. Offerings designed to produce good are deposited everywhere...small baskets with fruits and flowers, joss sticks and other prayers.

Natural disasters such as the 1963 volcanic eruption are deemed to be produced by failure to appease the gods properly. Much of life is dedicated to averting evil.

The young man is wearing a white headscarf which tells us he is going to temple to carry forward the serious business of life. Balinese religion infused into every aspect of Balinese existence and can not be viewed as a separate part of Balinese life.

Balinese food and drink is wonderful. We sought out traditional dishes (which is not always easy), sampled several types of beers and wandered through temples in proper garb.

Snorkeling was very good in several areas prior to the tumultuous seas that accompany the full moon and cause an underwater sandstorm and impenetrable waves.

Martie and Wayne met us in Amed and we spent two fun days together sampling the cuisine and exploring.

Laidback in Lombok

********************************************We heard that Indonesian taxi drivers are intent upon converting non believers to Islam and our trip to Sengiggi, Lombok was a case in point. Exhausted after a long day of travel we embarked on the taxi ride of our lives. Jan spent the entire trip huddled in the back seat with her eyes closed whimpering while Doug tried to mediate the situation from the front seat. The rain poured as only it can do in Indonesia but the darkness did not obscure the near misses with motorcycles, other cars and small horse drawn carts without lights. There is a rumor in the part of the world that lights increase fuel consumption and many are thrifty. Despite the best efforts of the driver, we arrived safely in Sengiggi and Jan recovred in short few hours.
The morning brought us an Indonesian breakfast of spicy fried rice with a side of vegtables and we spent the day in recuperation by the pool with massages ($8.00) and a leisurely walks in the nearby village. Indonesia (with the exception of Bali) is predominantly Muslim but the people on Lombok are less conservative than other areas. Women can chose whether they wear the headscarf and many do not. There did not seem an air of tension between the dominant Muslims, the Balinese Hindus and few Buddhists. The children were playful and happy and all people were courteous, helpful and honest. The fruits in Lombok are delicious and some are unlike anything that we had eaten before. New to us were ranbutan (lychee) and mangosteen. Each day we eat pineapple, mango, papaya, watermelon and what ever we can try that is new to us. We have not been disappointed.

We spend one day traveling to the central area of Lombok which is nearly devoid of tourists. There was not a single hotel in the day's travel. Our driver, who spoke excellent English, was delighted as he pointed out the various "Lombok tractors" that we photographed. Doug and I did a trek to a falls got caught in a rainstorm and learned that banana leaves do make a nice umbrella in a pinch.
Some premier diving is found on the Gilli Islands off Lombok. We hired a boat to go to the Gilli Islands which are about a 2 hour boat trip. The diving conditions were not perfect but the diving was spectacular. We saw six turtles, beautiful angel fish, parrot fish, blue tetrans and about a 100 different types that we could not identify. Our trip included the boat, captain, a guide who snorkled with us to make sure we did not get into trouble and lunch for about $60 US.
Next we head to Bali which is a different Indonesia where the people are predominantly a variety of Hindu.

Sophisticated Singapore

Our friends, Martie and Wayne Lucas, who currently reside in Singapore, hosted the first part of our journey to South East Asia. We flew in exhausted following 22 hours of flight and arrived shortly after midnight New Year's Eve. They awaited with a celebatory toast and snacks for our arrival. It was the first New Year that we have rung in for a while.
The Singapore Harbor is a trove of upscale shops, ethnic dress and designer clothing. The Merlion guards the harbor well.

We lunched in Little India at a most excellent vegetarian cafe with atmospher to spare. Prostitution is legal in Singapore but Doug and Wayne seemed oblivious to an invitations.

Singapore is an amazing country and the focus of both admiration and critisism from the interantional community. Freedom of expression is critisized but the prospertity is envied. Fifty years ago Singapore was a malarial, backwater area that was expelled from Malaysia. Race riots teemed and all was not good. Lee Yuan Yew, the first Prime Minister took charge and transported Singapore to a modern power. Lee Yuan Yew pushed through an ambitious industrial and social program that transformed Singapore to an international commerce center. The standard of living is among the highest in Asia and the country is prosperous with admirable infrastructure and a spotless community. Deviation from presribed norms is not tolerated - as the plane lands the pilot reminds us all that drug possession is punishable by execution. Spitting on the sidewalks may no longer merit a prison sentence it certainly would merit a sizable fine. It should be noted that we saw no one intoxicated, drug affected or behaving improperly. Signs remind persons to put others first, not to think solely of them selves and to be worthy. Schools are ranked the first in the world, the downtown streets are 14 lanes that resemble Rodeo Drive.

Although the smells and sounds of Asia are clearly missing, Singapore is an experience.