It's no surprise that white people congregate where they offer free wifi, but it's funny to be writing these posts often surrounded by English speakers. I listen very intently to Indo/Balinese conversations in my dire attempt to pick up the launguage, whereas English I proactively tune out; otherwise I get distracted by how enlightened they feel in this environment and/or some bullshit they have carried over from wherever they come from. Also, why is this a destination for a bunch of yoga-practicing white ladies? According to Cliff (see his comment below) Yoga has been present in Bali for centuries but I never see any yoga studio for locals, as you only see English signs for them at least in Ubud, "a cultural center of Bali." Are they so racist that they've mistaken Indonesia with India?
A striking difference between here and Europe, though, is the attitude of the locals towards tourists. After seeing Europeans grudgingly serve foreigners because they have to, Balinese seem way more accomodating, friendly and smiley to them, which I'd expect from Japanese who suffers from the everlasting white envy. Balinese on the other hand seems very confortable with who they are, then they'd still go out of their ways to help you. Maybe that's just how they are; helpful, friendly and smiley. Such a blanket statement, I know, It's only been 10 days. But I've motor-biked through the insane foot/motor traffic of Denpasar, Sanur, Ubud and the craziest of all, Art/Food Market of Sukawati (I find it easier to navigate through the swarm of sepeda motors/motor bikes going all directions than to carefully avoid stores spread to already-narrow streets, street vendors pushing carts, and a few totally clueless tourists lost in the Deep Asian Madness #nextsongtitle), attended 4-day temple festival at Banjar (a local gathering where community more or less governs themselves), a rather elaborate wedding and a temple anniversary, hung out with some random locals that were drinking wara (an Indonesian sake) by my doorstep, and ate at a few very touristy spots asking for wifi passwords. And my impression of Balinese so far comes in ambivalence; approachable but distant, helpful but unyielding, hardworking and lazy, generous and stingy, proud and humble, traditionalist and modern - but the post title above, the phrase Maria often uses, encompasses it all.
An example; as gorgeous and mysterious as these temples are, you find it in literally every corner of Bali streets so it would get old fast if you took pictures every time you see it (although I still can't help but sometimes). That does not mean they are like some city parks, you need to have a traditional outfit on to enter such as udeng and sarong for men, Kebaya for ladies etc. Females are also not to enter when menstrating, one of many misogenies you'll see in Bali. Once you're in though, it seems anything goes; there'd be priests chanting and people praying kneeled down on the ground while kids play and run around or, yes, selfie-ing. Even on the bandstand in between pieces you'd catch gamelan players gaming on their smartphones in the middle of a ceremony. At the aforementioned wedding we attended, Sarga the guru in the middle of a piece took a phone call, a VOICE CALL while playing on one hand. This is right in the middle of an actual wedding ceremony mind you, not a reception. I once witnessed the one and only Chili Charles (for whom I'd have to dedicate a post at one point) finish a drum solo with one hand while checking his watch, but this kinda tops that. That being said, there were many aunties socializing sitting in the same hut as the bride and groom were receiving blessing from the priest - #zerofucksgiven everywhere I guess. But I digress.
I find Banjar to be a perfect peek into Balinese culture; it's got everything (credit: Stefon @SNL) - on stage there's Wayang, a shadow play on the first night, the night 2 and 3 are Dance Drama featuring kids and newbies on the former, seasoned performers on the latter. Night 4 featured 2 comedy duos with the same amount of makeup on both ladies and men. All of these are accompanied by Gamelan ensembles of different sizes, with the third night being the tightest of it all which I will detail in another post. While all of this is happening on the lighted and heavily-decorated stage, the back of the temple hosts 4 to 5 tables, I mean sheets on the ground, of gambling games. I don't understand how all of it works, but at least one seems to be a dice game only with monsters as numbers, and there is one that involves coins which seems very, very simple. This by far is the most consistently attended part of the festivities, with even kids getting in on the action with real cash on their tiny hands. Some of them already has an attitude of a veteran, only no cigarette or facial hair (and if you think asians look younger, wait till you see these mofos). I heard cock fighting has been banned but are being held everywhere, maybe not at temples - just re-establishing how Asians love to gamble. Towards the entrance and just outside of temple are food vendors, offering anything from fried tofu, sate, rice porridge with chicken (which seems to be a hit for all the ladies #healthychoice) and kids favorite; crepe with black rice. Too bad I've been always stuffed with Mrs Sarga's delicious meals every time I visited.
On top of all this, you see socializing of all generations from aunties, dads, elders to kids; the most entertaining of all. Their fascination with Maria has brought to us so many #adorbs moments that I can't even, with the funniest being their attitude towards photos. They LOVE being photographed but never want to smile when prompted. They'd come with all smiles and sometimes even demand that we photographs them, then when we points the lenses their faces turn all serious and devoid of emotion. Thank gods I managed to grab a few candid shots from the side. At least from what I have seen, the community manages to ground all their youth onto this occasion and maintain their involvement; the performances on the second night was mostly carried by youth, with some really talented comedy act that closed the night. The talent pool here must be pretty hot; Sukawati is known for producing virtuosos of Gamelan as I mentioned earlier, and one young local player from I got to sit behind at a wedding was a winner of national competition a few years back I hear. Again, lucky to be here.
Yet another example of Everyhing Sacred/Nothing Sacred, or the testament to the character of Sarga the guru; after mere 4 lessons and barely learning how to hold mallets without dropping, the Bird of Gender decides to have me play a piece at the said temple anniversary gig. My plan that day was to visit Ubud to check out music stores (which have been shitty. They have nothing worthy to mention) and some wifi time to leisurely blog while sipping veggie juice lol but now he is "enticing me" to come back to Sukawati for 3pm lesson to go over the last section of the only piece I have been learning, I mean, struggling to memorize, and sit in with up to 8 players at the gig so "no one will notice if you play wrong." Yea, VERY ENTICING. He might not give a fuck but I do. And right I was; the vibe at Keramas temple is more intense than Sukawati banjar which felt more like some fiesta and well-attended. Everyone seems to greet Sarga with respect; he is the living legend whose reputation brings certain gravitas to occasions which he is invited to. I see 8 genders with 4 being smaller, which I'm supposed to play on. Along with Sarga are the local kids who all seem to be way more comfortable with the music and the occasion, playing some RPG on their android while waiting. Or on facebook which seems to be exploding right now here. I try to maintain my cool while others play.
4 or 5 pieces in, "Tulan Lindun" is called; my piece. FUCK its happening. Reluctantly slide my ass in front of the small Gender, then Sarga proceeds to walk from the big one upfront to the one to the right of me, sits down, and smiles. Points to the first key of the piece, and I realize the keys are numbered 1 thru 5. Nice, the kid set. Then we begin, the first key I hit sounds...different. Well maybe its like a soprano/alto set, a higher register. Then I move up the scale and the intervals sound different. I panic - did I start on the wrong key? I don't think so, I seem to be playing the right keys but it just sounds different. Could this gender be in a different scale? Or am I fucking tripping?
Later I find out, I was basically correct; yes it is a higher register, yes the intervals are different. Still the same slendro scale, but the tuning of instruments differs from a village to a village, giving a distinctive flavor to each community ensemble. There's no A = 440. GREAT, it's like playing a guitar that's tuned standard but frets are uneven everywhere on the fingerboard, still creating harmonies. It's so native to their musical perspective that it didn't occur to them to warn me. Don't get me wrong, it is an amazing concept; the same tune can sound slightly different depending on who plays it, let alone how they can tune the instruments ever so slightly different for each ensemble. #Zerofucksgiven to the idea of standardizing, but #allthefucksgiven to make it sound magical and distinctive every time you build it.
Maybe I was so racist that I thought all Balinese music are the same?
Soundchaser/two-time Independent Music Awards finalist. New EP "Six Songs from Insomnia" is out on all major streaming platforms.