GUESTBOOK 119 (2014): “Notes From Bali” (by Leslye Lawrence)


> We awake early to a quiet morning at Jan’s beautiful home which is surrounded by rice fields, frangipani trees and bamboo forests.  It is our last few days in Ubud and Steve wanted to play music with Jan and her boys before we left.  They spent the previous day in her studio with marimbas and guitars working with the members of one of her bands.  Steve has also been helping her son, Isami, with some Zimbabwean songs.  Isami was interested in learning a song that Steve wrote many years ago and Isami and his friend began playing it for Steve.  It was exciting to hear them playing it. 

. This morning we left Jan’s house early for a walk into town.  The narrow streets are still lined with penjors… elaborately decorated curving bamboo poles.  They are made and erected for Galungan & Kuningan… one of the most important recurring ceremonies in Bali (happens every 210 days).  The celebrations themselves last around 45 days with Galungan day and Kuningan day falling somewhere in between that.  Galungan celebrates the victory of good over evil and on Kuningan day, prayers are made early in the day to honor the ancestors and gods who come to visit but go back to heaven early.  (I think Bali is a little bit of heaven).  

. As we walk down the little street, we see a typical Balinese scene… women emerging from their family compounds dressed in sarong and sash (the sash tied around the waist symbolizing the separation of the lower realms and the higher realms), carrying a tray filled with offerings for the gods.  Each family compound has many temples, each business has small temple structures (even the lowly gas station) and every day offerings are made.  The contents of the trays are sticks of incense, small vessels of water, flowers, several small pieces of banana leaves with rice sprinkled on them, more elaborate banana leave boxes containing rice, cigarettes, crackers, pieces of candy, flower petals, and anything else deemed pleasing to the gods and ancestors… these offerings are placed on various structures including the home temples, steps to the compound, perhaps an area on the street, and many other places spirits may reside or visit.  The water is offered with a dip and flick of the frangipani flower… a prayer is silently stated.  This is performed every day!  Sometimes the teenagers are doing this, sometimes the men, but it is done every day… and will go on and on and on.  (Hope Bali never loses the precious and spiritual culture). 

. The streets of Bali are rarely quiet.  People come outside and talk to their neighbors, leaving to cut leaves for the cows or hop on their bikes to go to work.  We are greeted by an old woman wearing some well worn american tee shirt and sarong, her still black hair tied back in a bun, deep creases on her brown face.  Her smile reveals several gaps in her teeth.  Small children are playing outside and some of them see us and shyly follow us with their big brown eyes.  Other children hang outside their school area, boys wearing checkered shorts and a white shirt and baseball cap, girls wearing checkered skirt, white shirt and mostly have their hair in pigtails.  They are more bold and say “ha-loo” as we pass by, and then start giggling.  Groups of men sitting on the ground, skinny, barefoot and wearing shorts or sarongs and tee-shirts say good morning as we pass by and Steve answers “Pagi”.  We finally arrive in town and meet with our friends at a cafe for breakfast.  The cafe has a huge variety of tropical fruit drinks: pineapple mint; mango lime; papaya orange and so much more.  Really refreshing on this hot day. 

. After breakfast we make our way to the best fabric shop in Bali… Ibu Dewi’s ‘House of Jogja’.  Walking the “sidewalks” of Ubud is like being on an obstacle course.  Piles of dirt where construction is going on, dogs and dog shit and worst of all the broken sidewalks.  There a huge gaping holes where pieces of sidewalk are missing… exposing the really skanky water flowing below.  You cannot have a conversation with your friends that includes looking at them, or watch the narrow street as an impossibly big tourist bus speeds by nearly knocking down all the parked motor bikes, because you may step into one of these holes… and then it’s bye-bye!  The best you can get is a broken ankle or leg but people have died on these dangerous sidewalks in Ubud… people who have scaled Mt. Everest and survived, people who have photographed dangerous volcanos or been surrounded by biting snakes or slurping leeches.  The urban danger of walking in Ubud proves to be much more risky (guess that’s a good thing for someone like me who has a huge fear of scorpions, spiders, snakes, airplanes, etc.) because so far I’ve survived Ubud. 

. Our journey to Ibu Dewi’s takes us on a road thru the monkey forest.  I have begun to be more comfortable walking this narrow road, shared by commuting motor bikes, pedestrians and monkeys.  Most of the time I see the monkeys are just jumping from branch to branch, or sitting together picking each other’s fur, or nursing their young, or eating a banana, or engaging in a mating ritual, but sometimes they sit and stare!  Stare right at me and look me over to see if I am secretly harboring something they can eat.  Do my sunglasses look good to them?  What is possibly in my bag?  What are those yummy dangling things hanging down from my ears?  This is when I bury myself under Steve and say “protect me”!  There was the time when a big granddaddy of a monkey walked by us and Patrice put her hand out to pet the cute thing.  It bared its huge fangs at her and I screamed.  There was another time when a monkey jumped on Kusum’s backpack and stole her waterbottle.  So while most of the time they are just cute, sometimes they are scary. 

. We make it through the monkey forest unscathed and continue thru a small village that has various tourist shops… selling bags, carved wood (I don’t know what the fascination is with the penis here, but they sell every size and color of the carved wooden penis… and, no, I cannot bring one home for you!), dresses, trinkets, and more.  The workers stand outside these open-air stalls and smile at you and say, “come… just looking, yes… cheap price…”  We kindly smile and shake our heads because we’re going to the fabric store.  Finally arrive to the magic wonderland of the House of Jogja Batik.  It is a small, one-room wooden shop filled to the brink with fabric and assorted antique wooden treasures.  Two very old fashioned sewing machines are set up at opposite ends and her work area with pillows, slabs of wax and other batiking tools and two portable small stoves are in a corner.  There are tables of old batiks that she collects and sells… beautiful fabrics with an amazing array of colors and decorations.  They are neatly folded but we pillage through ooohing and aaahhing at everything, leaving it not nearly as tidy as it was when we walked in.  Ibu Dewi is so sweet… doesn’t speak much english but between her english skills and our very limited indonesian skills, we are able to communicate.  She has a heart of gold.  She is also a very gifted and talented batik artist who sells her original art at a modest prices.  Usually one bargains when making purchases in Indonesia, but at her shop.  She always gives the best price for her and the customer.  No 200% mark-up. I buy one of her original pieces each year.  But we buy much more of her less expensive but very beautiful cloth each time we visit her shop (sometimes several times a month!).  Steve has some cloth made into a nice shirt, Patrice has a few kabayas (beautiful, lacy ceremonial tops) made and Sierra has a dozen bags made… all out of vintage fabric they hand-picked.  Such a treat to be here, but our time is limited because Steve has a workshop for teachers at the Green School. 

. But before the workshop, we head out to the holy springs of Tirta Tawar to be cleansed in the healing waters.  We dress in sarongs (the respectful cloth to wear when entering sacred places) and head to the temple near Jan’s house.  We walk down into the forest, down the moss-covered stairs (the stairs in Bali are always uneven and really huge) until we reach the springs.  Steve and Isami head for the men’s area while Patrice, Sierra and I head for the women’s.  There are 4 pipes spouting water, each with a moss-covered statue of a god or goddess above it.  Temples with lots of offerings are to our left.  We enter the area where the pipes are, say a prayer and completely immerse ourselves under the cool sacred water… washing away the pains, the negativity, the fears.  We repeat with each spring. I pray for Bali… to retain the beauty and culture… to end the plastic pollution that corrupts this island… to stop the greed that swallows up the rice fields to build yet another luxury hotel.  I look at my surroundings… the large banyan trees with roots twisting around the trunk, the big green leaves of tropical plants I don’t know the name of, the river cascading down the small hill, the sacred waters flowing out the pipes.  This is a special place.  May it always be so. 

. We leave Bali for awhile, on to another adventure… India!  I am excited to finally go to India… a place I’ve wanted to go for at least 30 years.  I think my fears stood in the way but this is the year of looking at fear in the face and trying to move through it. Jai Hanuman!!!  Yikes, I have nine airplanes to get on and off of in the next month.  I am in denial about that fact… I have learned not to think about it until the moment I arrive at the airport. (I used to begin my worrying at least three days prior to flying and really upset my stomach and mind)  But it is still a big fear of mine. Thank goodness I have a wonderful travel partner in Steve…  I have not reached the point of being able to get on an airplane alone.  What would the passenger next to me think as I grabbed and tightly squeezed his or her hand at every bump and noise I heard?  Steve tolerates me and I thank him for that.  

> Love and miss you all. 

xoxoxoxox  Leslye


(11- 6- 2013)




About KPKeelan

Fool, Philosopher, Lover & Dreamer, Benign TROUBLEMAKER, King and Jester of KPKworld, an online portal to visual and linguistic mystery, befuddlement and delight.
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