Back to Bali… onward to Java

22 05 2008

street art in Kuta's narrow concrete maze
street art in Kuta’s narrow concrete maze

After Borneo, I headed back to Bali where I had previously been only for a few short days. This is the epicenter of Indonesian tourism, and it’s filled to the brim with things to do. I wanted to spend some more time exploring the island, sampling the bargain gourmet cuisine in Ubud, and try out surfing for the first time ever.

I took surf lessons in Kuta – a place that really grows old after a while. However I could not resist the draw of Kuta Beach at sunset. Kuta Beach’s fine, dense sand and gentle slope yields this magical property of oozing seawater from the sand all through low tide, resulting in a near-perfect mirror from most angles. You’ve seen this in my previous posts about Bali, and if you look in the photos you’ll see more than you probably care to browse.

The Ground Zero memorial, site of the 2002 bombing that killed 202 people.

I figure this might cause some parents’ hearts to skip a few beats. The kids were having lots of fun, and the moms were just a few meters away. Still it illustrates a bit about different attitudes toward child-rearing here – no one even batted an eyelash at this scene.

magic sand

Dogs – indifferent to the surfers and sellers passing by – rule the narrow concrete maze of Kuta.

There’s a toothless helmet law in Bali – you must wear a helmet on a motorbike, but the law does not specify any standard of protection. So the locals ride with anything from a real motorcycle crash helmet (too hot and expensive for most) to thin, unpadded plastic jobs that wouldn’t even go over at a construction site. These mostly cosmetic, fun ones are for the tourists.

Waiting for the next set

Sweet mayonnaise corn, now with raisin! from the comments on smugmug: “Yep, I just threw up a little in my mouth.”

Hope this waxing crescent moon shows at this size…

Let’s face it – clowns are just scary, even if they’re peddling hamburgers and surfing plastic waves

You know you play a lot of chess when: A) you’ve worn the black paint off your chessboard

Kuta Beach swarms with an entire merchant class. Massage ladies like this one, pineapple sellers, drink vendors, surfboards rentals, bamboo mats, sarongs, jewelry, tattoo artists showing sample books, and more bizarre items like bow and arrow sets and blowguns.

Almost every shop in Kuta has the same crap for sale. Surf clothes, snarky t-shirts, rude bumper stickers, cheap wooden sculpture, bootleg DVDs. An unbroken line of identical shops selling the exact same merchandise, haggling over pennies. So a shop with its own identity really grabs your attention. This is more of the “sell one thing and do it well” model.

Similar idea… the sandal shop, this one in Ubud.

Speaking of Ubud… after surfing it was back inland to Ubud, cultural center of Bali. Saw a great deal of dancing and gamelan. Gamelan is a little difficult to comprehend from descriptions, and I won’t bore you with stuff cribbed from wikipedia (link above) or guidebooks. I recorded quite a bit of very dramatic sound, but currently lack a good way to share that with you.

One of the intricate bronze xylophones in the gamelan orchestra

More fearsome carvings on xylophones

Bronze gong

Traditional dancing

The Kecak, or monkey dance.

The Fire Dance

The famous Monkey Forest… I’ve seen plenty of macaques on this trip, but only here in Bali have I met such malevolent, greedy monkeys – trained by banana-toting tourists to steal everything they can.

But baby monkeys: still cute

From the art markets in Ubud:


Wood sculptures

This one’s for Anita

Eggshells on cactus spikes – I don’t know why

Fearsome dragon kite, 20 feet across

The evil witch-queen Rangda, engaging in her favorite activity – eating children

Rice harvest. Cut with scythe, bash into basket to shake the rice grains loose.

Well, those little things are what all the fuss is about. Feeds half the world.

And also the Balinese Hindu gods, when made into cakes and ritually wafted up into heaven by holy incense…

Which brings the blessings of the gods to events, homes, crops, even motorbikes.

Oh right, and the surfing:

There you go.

From Bali I took a quick flight to Java – an island the size of Pennsylvania, with a population of 130 million. In other words, dense. Home to about half of Indonesia’s population in hot sprawling metropolises like Jakarta and Yogyakarta, this is quite a different experience than the little islands and remote corners where I’ve spent most of my time this trip. Actually I never really intended to spend much time here, and after melting in the humid sun for a few days that feeling was quite reinforced.

I came to see the Waisak festival, billed as the world’s largest celebration of the Buddhist New Year (alternatively, Buddha’s birthday, or date of Buddha’s Nirvana, or some other variations. Also known as Vesak in much of the world. Things get kinda muddy over the course of 2550 years). I’m not so sure this is the biggest in the world. It’s certainly the biggest in Indonesia, a country with only a tiny population (1%) of practicing Buddhists. And it takes place at at Borobudur, again billed as the world’s largest Buddhist temple. Though this might be a bit misleading – while certainly stupendously large, it’s a very singular temple, immediately surrounded by a giant parking lot for smoke-belching tour buses, row upon row of souvenir stalls and noodle shops, and herds of very persistent junk sellers and beggars. The central temple at Angkor Wat, for instance, may be smaller but it’s surrounded by miles and miles of related temple complexes, the center of what was at one time the mightiest city in the world.

Back to Waisak – I wasn’t quite expecting something sponsored by cigarette and sports-drink companies, with t-shirts and commemorative gift bags:

And as for the world’s biggest Buddhist festival – maybe so. I’ve been to 4th of July fireworks shows with more people, and certainly it’s nothing like the Superbowl or something on that order. However this was a major event, and the scrum of photographers from all the world’s major press agencies were doing the same as me – trying to make the small gaggle of a few dozen monks look bigger than they really were, and framing them in front of Borobudur to seem more connected to the temple, rather than being in a field off to one side of it.

So perhaps I was expecting something a little more exotic. Conclusion: if you want to see Buddhism in action, stick to Thailand, Burma, and Tibet. However Borobudur on a quiet day is something else entirely and not to be missed:

Inside each of the stupas is a statue of Buddha

And everyone has pretty much the same idea.

One last random thing:

Melon-flavored carbonated cultured milk drink. A little hard to describe the flavor, but totally delicious.

So what’s next? Currently I’m still mulling that around. Someplace cool and near water to spend some of the final two weeks before coming home June 4th.



8 responses

22 05 2008

I didn’t realize my creamy-opaque food aversion could reach new limits…but I will have screaming thrashing nightmares about mayonaise corn. I’m tremoring as I try to type this.

23 05 2008

Only you would probably appreciate that all I was thinking when reading the monkey rules was,

“Now is the time on Sprokets when we DANCE!”

Love ya, see you SOON!


23 05 2008

mmmmm Calpico! It was originally marketed as Calpis in Japan… the name didn’t survive coming to the US 🙂

2 06 2008

London says : I absolutely agree with this !

20 06 2008

Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

cheers, Composition

31 07 2008

carbonated melon calpico?! so delicious!!!! hope you’re doing well radin!

2 11 2008

I don’t know how I got to your website but I am digging this vibe. Your pictures are amazing, your commentary insightful. Enough to make this small-town girl remember there is something bigger out there…Thanks.

10 11 2008

We just did a bunch of that stuff. Good times Bali. What type of camera are you using. We have just a digital waterproof olympus. Your pics are amazing.

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