I’ll admit, I’m not the keenest traveler when it comes to general curiosity. I’ve gone entire months in a country and left still not knowing what the local currency is called. That particular case is partially because I’m no longer permitted to have a wallet after one too many incidents involving my forgetfulness, but the point is that I probably don’t pay attention as much as I should when exploring other countries.
So I took some time to reflect on our month in Bali, and came up with a few little nuggets that I I’ll remember.
That Weird Sound is a Gecko
It starts as a grumble, then this very loud squawking sound. “EH-uh, EH-uh, EH-uh.” Finally, in our last week, Rae asked ask our driver what it was, and he told us this sound was a Gecko! I had no idea they even made a sound.
Monkey Ransom is Dealt in Boiled Eggs
While out on a tour our guide took us through an area full of monkies who are notorious for stealing sunglasses and phones and holding them ransom in the trees. They will give you your stuff back, but are very particular about the ransom. No, they don’t want Bananas. They only accept boiled eggs, nothing less.
Bali is Hindu, the Rest of Indonesia is Muslim
Indonesia was once mainly Buddhist and Hindu, but trade with other nearby countries brought over Islam, which took over as the dominant religion everywhere except Bali. Bali, is a somewhat isolated island that was never big on trade, and thus remained Hindu. It’s easy to see the cultural difference if you head out even just as far as the Gili Islands.
When studying a sculpture of Ganesh, the elephant, Rae noticed a little mouse. A passerby saw her excitement about the mouse and told us that it is Ganesh’s friend, and he’s always around wherever Ganesh is. From then on, whenever Rae saw a sculpture of Ganesh she searched it high and low for the mouse, and sure enough, he was always somewhere to be found!
Women Carry Things on Their Heads
I still don’t know why only women do it (just too dainty for men I suppose?), but they can be seen carrying everything from a can of coke to 4 foot high fruit baskets. One day we headed out for dinner and ran into street corner full of hundreds of Balinese all dressed in formal wear and the women carrying baskets of fruit that sometimes seemed taller then they were. I looked it up and think this specific event was called Purnama Kedasa (the 10th Full Moon).
In our first dip in the ocean in Sanur, my Dad called me over to look at a big black sea urchin. “You wouldn’t want to step on that!” I said. “Oh, you think it would hurt?” he replied.
Well he found out while snorkeling on Gili Air a few weeks later. Yes, they do hurt, badly. Almost as much as the pounding on the stingers that the doctor has to do afterwards to break them up inside your skin. Apparently though if you don’t get treated after stepping on one, you could go into shock and even die.
While waiting for my Dad to get his torture treatment, another women rode up to the office with the same affliction. I wondered why they don’t put up warnings everywhere to watch out for these things, but then I saw the doctor doing up the bill. Apparently my Dad was the 4th sea urchin patient that day, and this woman was the 5th. At 100+ bucks a pop, the proper signage may be a bit of a controversial issue 🙂
Chicken Gordon Blue
When I first saw this on a menu, I thought it was a funny typo. However, it can be found spelled the same way on menus all over Ubud. Some restaurants have Chicken Cordon Bleu, but most serve “Gordon Blue” instead. I ordered both several times, and couldn’t tell the difference.
There is a certain type of coffee famous in Ubud because the beans are eaten by tree cats (Kopi Luwak). It’s considered the best, because these cats are apparently adept at selecting only the highest quality beans. The twist, however, is that when I say the beans are eaten by tree cats, I literally mean the very beans you drink were eaten, digested, and deposited out the other end of the Kopi Luwak. Nicole insisted on trying it. I couldn’t be convinced, but I heard mutterings that it tasted like… well… you can guess the word.
Flower Offerings Everywhere
When I was in Grade 1, I got my first official school recognition for cutting the most snowflakes out of paper. I produced two whole garbage bags full. I still recall how my time and effort into those snowflakes felt rewarding. Balinese people produce thousands of these flower baskets, called canang sari, which are a simple offering of their time and effort to give thanks. Perhaps their canang sari are more spiritual than my snowflakes, but watching them crafting these little baskets reminded me of my snowflake days. They also smell nice 🙂
The Balinese Orchestra
Gamelan is what they call the ensemble of instruments that make up the Balinese orchestra. These orchestras are mainly drums and xylophones. I’ll be honest, the music didn’t really grab me. I even found myself wondering if there were actually any “songs” or discernible patterns in the music, or if the idea was just to wail on whatever was nearest to you. Nicole and Rae decided to find out one day by taking a music class. It turns out there is indeed some complexity and skill involved, with patterns, melodies, precise timing, etc. I guess I’m just not musically sophisticated enough to fully appreciate it. I’m not blessed with the ability to enjoy jazz either for the same reason.
Along the streets there are tall bamboo poles that droop over to the side and dangle over road. They are called Penjor. I asked one of our drivers what they were for, and he replied “Good Dharma.” The story of good (dharma’s) victory over evil is a common theme in Bali and asking simple questions about the things you see will often this story. In this case, the towering bamboo pole, in part, symbolizes good defeating evil, and the bend at the top symbolizes the tallest mountain, the mountain of Gods, Mount Agung.
Daily Songs of Happiness
At certain times of the day, the radios all blast, what to foreign ears, sounds like a bunch of noisy gibberish. I recognized it from our time in Malaysia as prayers. A guide told me that they are basically just telling everyone to be happy and enjoy the day. I’m sure there is probably more too it than that, but the way he explained it changed my perspective on it. Somehow they instantly went from sounding solemn and mysterious to casual and uplifting.