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Some observations

sunny 86 °F

We were welcomed to Bali by exotic dancers, a gamalan orchestra, and stunning flora. Bali is the only Indonesian island (remember, there are 17,000 of them) that is predominantly Hindu. As we travelled around this fascinating place, en route to an elephant camp (stay tuned for photos tomorrow), we learned a great deal about the life and customs here, not much of which can be made into a coherent story. So here are some factlets ...

1. The folks are preparing for New Year’s Day on March 7. On March 6, they will celebrate Noisy Day and 1) prepare dinner for the next day, 2) make a heck of a racket and 3) parade effigies of the evil spirits and burn them at the sea. On March 7, they will be quiet. No work can be done; no one is allowed to travel, and there will be no moon. Everyone stays home and reads and meditates, and tourists are confined to their hotels.

2. The life of the young is strenuous. All high school students are required to climb the highest mountain. At puberty, boys and girls undergo a tooth-filing ceremony. It seems that canine teeth are too pointy for the gods, so they need to be evened off and made flat. Generally six teeth are filed down, and that evicts six evil spirits: greed, lust, jealousy, anger, confusion, and ill-will. Sort of like the Six Deadly Sins. Pointy teeth are animalistic; flat teeth humanize you and make you able to control extreme emotions. Actually, the Balinese seem universally cheery and charming, helpful and kind. Who knows?

3. Babies have a hard time too. At the sixth month of pregnancy, the fetus is blessed and made a “good child”; without this blessing, terrible things happen. The child’s feet cannot touch the ground until 105 days after birth, and its birthday is calculated as the 210th day after birth. The placenta is considered a sibling to the child and is buried in the family compound. (I am not making this up.)

4. Naming is not simple. Each child has a family name (caste name) and a formal (family) name and a nickname (by which they are called). The first child is called “One”, the second child “Two,” the third child “Three” and the fourth child “Mistake,” and then they start all over again, so if there are more than three kids in a family, they share a name. And I am guessing that fourth children have some self-esteem problems.

5. Death is also pretty complicated. The body is cremated and placed in the family compound until the family saves enough money to bring the ashes to the sea for a ceremony. Once in the sea, the soul is released from the body but is “dangling” in a kind of limbo. That poor soul then undergoes many reincarnations until it finally collects enough good karma to go to heaven.

6. Motorbikes clog the roads. There are more motorbikes registered than residents, because most people have more than one. These are very SMALL bikes and they dart in and out of traffic, most with more than one rider. We saw one bike carrying a father, a child and a bathroom sink, another with a mother and THREE little children. Helmets?? Don’t be silly. On the rear of many bikes little pop-up shops are strapped on, complete with their merchandise.

7. The roads are dotted with shrines, mostly looking like fierce stone animals on pillars. In the morning, women bear trays to these shrines, each with fifty or so little squares of banana leaf topped with flowers. The women dart around placing their offerings on the edge of the shrines. The bottom of the shrines is often covered with large sheets of black and white gingham fabric (big squares) symbolizing the balance of good and evil. The Balinese are very concerned about keeping evil in check and not letting it get ahead of good. I guess they have never hoped for the triumph of good over evil.

8. Also seen along the roads are shelves filled with small bottles of benzin fuel, so that the bikers have drive-thru gas stations. One amusing collection was offered for sale in (obviously emptied) Absolut vodka bottles.

9. The Balinese are the producers of the world’s most expensive coffee: Luwak Kopi. They place coffee beans before civets (a kind of cat) and the civet chooses only the best beans to eat. After a while... the civet poops out the beans and some lucky soul gets to sort through the poop for the partially digested beans and roasts them. Sorry, we can’t tell you what this tastes like. We're eating on the ship, H&B

Posted by HopeEakins 22:38 Archived in Indonesia

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