Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Loss

Hundreds of white herons roost in trees in Petulu (a small village outside Ubud) every night around sunset. No one is quite sure why but there have been many stories created to try to explain it.

I regret to say that my last post proved to be a little prescient. As I was walking out of my homestay around 5pm to meet some friends for dinner I noticed that a group of women were sitting around the family compound folding banana leaves for offerings. Thinking there must be a celebration that they were preparing for, I asked Made what everyone was doing. He told me that his father had died today.

His father was a man who had been sick for several months. He couldn’t move easily and the few interactions I had with him took place when he was sitting outside his house in the family compound to bathe with the assistance of his daughters-in-law. We never said more than good morning to each other.

I know I had just written this post about names and death and sadness and how, in Bali, death isn’t an occasion to be mournful. This all flew out of my mind when Made told me and my face must have changed because HE immediately began reassuring ME that it was okay his father had died. I wasn’t sure what to do and all I knew was to say I’m sorry and give him a hug. People don’t really hug here. And they don’t say they’re sorry about death. But I realized today that even though death is considered to be something more natural and is accepted, it can still be sad.

I quickly left the homestay feeling at a loss for what to do and trying to give the family some privacy. When I got back around 9:30, the family compound was full. As I write this from the balcony outside my room, I’m overlooking about eighty men and women sitting below. They are drinking tea and eating cake and playing cards. Some of them are gambling. Some of them are texting. Some of them are nursing babies.

They’ll be up all night. The cremation will take place tomorrow. For three days after, things will continue like this. Friends and family will come spend the night in the family compound and stay up, talking and playing cards before, at the end of that time, things return to normal. Or as normal as they can be.

I cannot quite believe my eyes as I see all the figures in the dark down there and hear the crickets and the laughter and the sound of cards being slapped down on wood tables. I cannot quite believe how, mere hours after this man died, his house is literally full of people to help remember him. These people are giving up work and school and their own beds to be here through the night so that no one is in this alone. What an amazing send off they are giving him.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Name Post: On Reincarnation, Death and Sadness

Okay, this might be a bit of a downer.

I am currently in my last week of Bahasa Indonesia class. As our class has gotten friendlier with each other, we’ve also gotten more comfortable spending class time engrossed in long conversations about life in Bali and trying to justify this by throwing in the occasional random noun in Indonesian.

Today, however, when our teacher came in, she was a bit frazzled. She told us a staff member of the library had a cousin who was working for an American cruise ship in Indonesia and had just committed suicide on the boat. “Suicide?” She said, “Is that what it’s called?” We all nodded, and realized she wasn’t sure how to translate it because there’s no word for suicide in Indonesian or Balinese. Instead, deaths that are somehow “unnatural” are all called “wrong deaths.” Not to get too Chinua Achebe here, but it felt terrible to be in the position of confirming, as westerners, “Yes. Suicide. That’s what we call it.” And then, trying to understand it she turned to us and asked, “Why? Why did he do it?”

It felt strange that our teacher was now asking us the questions. None of us knew this staff member’s cousin, and none of our Indonesian language was good enough to try and explain the reasons a person might commit suicide, particularly when there wasn’t even a word for suicide. We were suddenly put in the position of trying to justify this western phenomenon.

I’ve joked before that Balinese people are always happy, and it’s sort of true. If you’re unhappy there is a direct reason for it—whether this reason is, like Nita’s, being scared to ride your motorbike alone to a party, or, like Gusti’s, having evil spirits that you must be cleansed from. A priest, perhaps unlike a therapist, will tell you the direct cause and provide you with direct instructions for cleansing yourself of it. Unhappiness here is not a natural state to be in. The western idea that people could be depressed because of the wiring of their brain or simply a general malaise is something that is really difficult to explain.

Although none of us could offer any reasons, our teacher jumped to her own conclusion and said, “Maybe it’s because he was on the cruise ship and far from his family for too long. That’s not good. When people are away from their families, maybe their life is very easy but their mind is not easy.” Sara, the other Watson fellow in my class, and I exchanged looks. Let’s hope it was more than that.

Because this man committed suicide, he will not have good karma and will probably be reincarnated as an animal rather than a human. This also means his name won’t be passed on to a relative.

After a day at Gusti and Tika’s house last week, I learned some more about how exactly the baby’s name is chosen at the three month ceremony. Although I’ve previously mentioned the system with the alphabet and the candles, what I hadn’t realized, is that at this point it’s already been narrowed down to a few names. The priest at the three month ceremony will not only suggest names based on the Balinese calendar, but also reveal what ancestor the baby is a reincarnation of. The name that the parents choose should echo this relative in some way. By the time the ceremony rolls around, the parents might already have a guess at what relative the baby is a reincarnation of (usually it’s someone who has recently died and who hasn’t already been reborn in the shape of somebody else). Parents can shorten the process by starting to think of names that mirror the names of their ancestors before the ceremony and then suggesting them to the priest. Once a short list is formed, then candles will be lit above each of these pre-approved names.

A Balinese priest at a wedding I attended last week in Celuk.

Because these relatives will always be reborn (if they’ve had a natural death), dying isn’t a big deal here. I talked about the joyous celebration of the cremation a few weeks ago and the ways in which people’s memories are taken care. But sometimes it is still shocking to me how well people move on. My friend Oka, who has been raising his two year-old grandson since his son died last year had tourists coming for mask making lessons the day after his son died and did not turn them away. The other day, I was talking to a driver I met about his family and he told me he had two kids: “Putu and Komang.” These names alone indicated to me that, like Wayan, he had had a child in between them who had died. He confirmed this and told me that his son had been a really sick toddler and died at four years old. “I’m really sorry.” I told him, unsure of how to respond to a stranger offering me this information. “Tidak apa apa” he told me, which is a common expression meaning, “no problem.”

I know that the driver didn’t actually mean that it was “no problem” that his four year-old son died. I know it was a way of saying, “That’s life” or “There’s nothing you can do about it”, or “It was hard at first but I’ve moved on,” but still, that kind of acceptance, that reaction, is something I continually marvel at here. I could not ever imagine a parent in the United States having that reaction, and I don’t think it’s because Balinese people love their kids any less.

I think that this acceptance might be more of a necessity in a society that has a much higher mortality rate than the United States. I wonder how much of this attitude has to do with the fact that people need to have beliefs that will allow them to move on with their lives in a place where unexpected loss is, unfortunately, a relatively common occurrence.

I don’t think I can say that naming alone acts as consolation for the loss of a loved one, but I do think that there is immense satisfaction in the belief that someone’s spirit will live on in the body and name of a relative. I don’t think that it’s a terribly different concept from a parent in the United States naming their child after a deceased relative. Isn’t there the same (perhaps unacknowledged) hope that it’s not just a name being passed on, but a spirit somehow? The idea that someone is carrying on a name seems more important than the name itself—don’t people want Robert Jr. to take after Robert in some way?

If you look at reincarnation as a process of naming, it is a belief that transcends cultures, even those that have remarkably different attitudes towards death. And it seems that for most Balinese people, the belief that one day their spirit will be alive again is, rather miraculously, reason enough to be happy.

[In case this post has put you in a melancholic mode, hit play to hear the song above. It's been my happy song for the last few weeks and has quickly risen to being the most played on my new computer. These listening sessions may also involve some dancing in my room when no one's at my homestay but I'm not fully owning up to that yet. Shout out to the legendary Thomas Edward Buffalo Powers (speaking of fantastic names) for sending it along to me. Enjoy.]

Sunday, August 28, 2011

One Month Watsoversary

It is absolutely unbelievable to me that exactly one month ago at my parents and I were having a tearful goodbye at the Burlington airport. While I want to say that the time has gone quickly, it actually feels like I’ve been gone much longer. So much has happened since then. The thought of eleven more months of this is exciting, but, to be completely honest, exhausting more than anything else.

Sara, the other Watson Fellow in my language class in Ubud (I’m still not over the random events or alignment of stars that had to happen for us to meet), and I went out last night to celebrate both of our “one month into our Watson” days (hers is on the 24th, mine on the 28th); a celebration I have termed a “Watsoversary.” While we celebrated last night with drinks and a dangerously delicious banana dessert at Bar Luna in Ubud, we decided that it’s a monthly tradition that we will both have to continue as we move on to our other project countries. A lot can happen in a month, and although I’m having a pretty fantastic (and surprisingly easy) time and I’m not exactly counting down the weeks until this adventure of a year is over, every step of the way truly feels like a triumph. Because, let’s face it, I’m 22 and alone and all over the world and can’t go home for a year. And I know I know I know it’s an amazing opportunity, but it’s also a little scary sometimes.

I want to also use my Watsoversary as an opportunity to slow down for a day and check in with myself each month. Here goes. In the last month I have:

-Set foot on three new countries (Japan, Singapore and Indonesia) and set foot on one new continent (Asia).

-Learned more of the Indonesian language than I ever thought I would. The other night I wrote a three paragraph essay on “keluarga saya” (my family) for my teacher and was positively beaming because this was a skill I never predicted I would pick up in my life.

-Watched eleven teenagers have their teeth filed, a King’s mother be cremated, and a priest perform a Balinese wedding ceremony for a young couple.

-Become used to drinking drinks I thought at first were way too sweet, and become used to eating food I thought at first was way too spicy. Also accidentally eaten a dish with fresh pig’s blood in it. (I didn’t find out until later).

-Seen colors I have never seen before. Seen an active volcano. Seen the Indian ocean.

-Ridden a motorcycle for the first time (although I have yet to ride one by myself).

-Made a Balinese mask and attended many cultural events that have broadened my definitions of performance.

-Gotten used to a simpler lifestyle: no makeup, no hair product and my leg hair has never been longer (Ironically, I’ve also received more marriage proposals in the past month than I’d ever had in the twenty-two years and five months leading up to it).

-Developed creative (and pathetic) traveling strategies like washing my clothes by showering with them.

-No longer think twice about going places on my own, eating in restaurants by myself, and making my own schedule.

-Been more in touch with my body. I know that this is an extremely cliché to be writing from Ubud, Bali where every westerner here seems to take classes in at least four different yoga studios and frequents raw food cafes, but I think this is more a product of traveling on my own than Ubud itself. I’ve found that because I’m setting my own schedule, I pay more attention to what I want and need. If I’m not hungry, I won’t eat until 9pm. Alternatively, if I’m exhausted, I’ll go to bed at 8. This means I am constantly checking in with myself to figure out what in the world I’m doing; I need to pay attention to myself in order to figure out which local restaurants have inexpensive food that also sits well with my stomach, whether I am sick or injured enough to go see a doctor or I should deal with it on my own, and how to wisely spend my money.
I’m finding when you’re traveling by yourself, you have to be your own first AND second (and third and fourth) opinion and as a result I have to pay more attention to my basic bodily needs like food and sleep and sickness and hygiene when I’m setting my own schedule in a new place.

-Heard new stories, learned new names. I’m still struggling to figure out what exactly “working on my project” entails on a daily basis because my conversations and subsequent writing so far have been so informal. It’s challenging for me not to feel a little aimless at times, or like I should be doing more. But I feel confident in saying I’ve been enjoying my conversations with people and learning a lot about how names and processes of naming reveal an immense amount about a particular place. I’m discovering more and more that perhaps my study of names is a way into a place, rather than an end in itself.

-On that note, I’ve also stopped planning ahead.

-Learned how to talk to strangers.

-Said yes more than no.

-Tried take all of this with humor.

-Discovered how to get a new ATM card internationally shipped to you.

-Learned how to battle the Denpasar visa extension office. (Fingers are still crossed).

-Been constantly reminded that most things are out of my control and learned to have a more relaxed attitude.

-Learned more about Hinduism and Buddhism and visited some incredible sacred spaces.

-Made new friends and redefined my definitions of friendship. When you’re traveling on your own, you real
ize you don’t really have to know people to get a meal with them, or hold their baby, or ask for help or share a taxi ride or talk about personal details of your life soon after you’ve met.

-Been treasuring my communications from home. It’s absolutely true that traveling from home makes you understand home better than you ever did when you were there. Every seemingly trivial thing—every blog post comment I get, every e-mail, every facebook photo shared from my friends—has come to mean so much more to me. (And hey guys, you mean a lot to me, please figure out this hurricane thing). I’ve said it before that I think that the only reason I can go through this crazy year with confidence is because there is so much support love emanating from home to me. My grandmother said before I left that she wished she believed in angels because if she did, she would hire one to follow me all around the world this year. Not to be too sentimental, but the truth is, I feel like I do have one, she’s just made up of the voices and faces and skype dates and e-mails of all of you. I love home. I would go there in a second if I could, but I am glad, in many ways, for this imposed timeline of a year. I know I’m lucky in that way. I have met many westerners in Bali who, Eat Pray Love style, seem like they are here because they are running from something. This realization has made me even more grateful that I am not. Instead, I like to think that I am not running from something, but genuinely, and tentatively, taking more and more steps towards

Happy one month Watsoversary. Thanks for reading.

Friday, August 26, 2011


I know much more about the love lives of the three teenagers at my homestay than they might want me to. This is largely due to the fact that their parents like to come upstairs some evenings to sit and talk to me about their children’s heartaches. And, let’s be honest, I completely play into it. Having just come out of a small liberal arts college, I find myself facing a serious dearth of gossip.

My conversations with Made and Kadek mostly focus on their son Wayan’s “broken heart” from a girl who, as Made puts it, “jumps around” as well as their daughter Nita’s serious relationship with a boy named Indra from Taro village. Koming, at twelve years old, is saved from these heart to hearts, at least for now.

I have learned a great deal from listening to Made and Kadek about their own wishes and fears for their children. Most Balinese parents hope for sons. This is not because they believe girls are inferior, but because there is a tradition in Balinese families that the wife will move in with her husband’s family. If you have a son, he will live with you forever and you will, essentially, (and in some villages, legally,) adopt his wife. Her husband’s ancestors become her ancestors, and she lives with his family for the rest of her life. When I think about parents in this situation, in some ways, it is no wonder that they hope for a son--a son means they can hold onto their child for longer. With daughters, there is always a letting go.

My Bahasa Indonesia teacher told us that there are some families who have tried to change this, and sometimes, families with daughters will try to arrange a marriage for their daughter to have her husband come live with them. Usually money is a pretty good incentive. However, a man who moves in with his wife’s family instead of the other way around is often stigmatized.

Made and Kadek are prepared to let go of their daughters eventually, but they both have expressed to me that they hope they don’t get married anytime soon. They both adore Nita’s boyfriend Indra though. Kadek tells me he already feels like her son. I’ve met Indra’s family at the house a few times, and last week Made and Kadek invited me to go to a ceremony in Indra’s village of Taro.

When the evening of the ceremony came, I began to realize there were some complications. When I came back to my homestay after a day out, Nita was in a terrible mood. It was the first time I’d seen a Balinese person over the age of two be anything but extremely friendly (I’m actually not exaggerating). As it turned out, the ceremony was going to be an all night affair. Nita and her parents were in the midst of discussing if Nita could stay in Taro all night, and if so, how she would get there and back. Through our conversation, I quickly realized that in inviting me, her parents were also hoping I would pay for a driver for Nita and me. It was yet another one of those awkward situations I perpetually find myself in here, where despite close relationships with people I’m reminded that I am also a source of income for them.

I was frustrated as we kept trying to brainstorm ways to get to Taro and back. Nita was too scared to drive her motorbike that far in the dark alone, so if I wasn’t going, she wasn’t going. She began to cry and I was angry because I felt like I was in an unfair position. Wanting to remedy the situation, I agreed to pay for a driver there for us, and a driver back later that night for me.

Nita quickly forgot her tears and went about getting herself ready for the ceremony. Because there was now a car coming anyway, Kadek decided to come as well. We put on our kebayas and sarongs and sashes and Nita did my hair and makeup. By the time we left, it was two hours after we were supposed to be there. I felt like I had a pound of Balinese makeup on my face and was exhausted after all of these negotiations, communication barriers and emotional drama. Kadek and Nita fell asleep in the car and I made awkward conversation in Bahasa Indonesia with the driver while I sulked in the back seat.

Taro, the village where Indra lives, is about an hour outside of Ubud and much more rural. Stray dogs lined the streets and there were rice paddies between each house. The temperature had dropped and we were shivering in our sheer kebayas by the time we got out of the car. We went to Indra’s house and then finally made it to the ceremony.

Even when had arrived in the village temple, I still had no idea exactly what this ceremony was commemorating or why I was really there. People were sitting on the wet ground and the temple was covered with offerings. Nita and Kadek got us all bubir ayam (“chicken porridge”) from a street vendor and I tried not to cringe as the woman doled out the unidentifiable food with her bare hands. I sat on the cold ground and my eyes watered because of the spicy food and I could have laughed thinking about how much work it had been to get here just to sit on the ground. It turned out the dancing wouldn’t be starting for hours, long after I had gone home. We sat and waited until a priest came around and put holy water on our heads. We lit incense and stuck it in the ground, and when it was burned halfway, Kadek decided it was time for us to go back to Ubud. Nita would spend the night in Taro.

We got up, holding onto each other, and then I realized that Kadek had to say goodbye to her daughter. Nita walked us to the street but then quickly ran back to meet Indra inside the temple again. Kadek and I walked back to the car in silence. I realized that we were both picturing Nita with Indra’s family that night; how she would watch the dancing until she couldn’t stay awake any longer and then curl up at Indra’s house; how Indra’s mother would become her mother, Indra’s grandmother her grandmother, Indra’s uncle, her uncle. Nita wouldn’t be back in Ubud until sunset the next night.

I knew it wasn’t the first time that Kadek had said goodbye to Nita and left her at Indra’s house. I knew it definitely wouldn’t be the last time. And I knew that she seemed fine with it. She knew, like all parents seem to know, that one day she would have to say goodbye.

On the car ride back, as we wove around rice paddies in the dark and had the windows down despite the cold, my reservations disappeared and I was so glad to be in that car with Kadek as she silently said one of what will be many goodbyes to her daughter. I let my reservations go and enjoyed the drive and decided it was worth the the 10 US dollars that I would pay for it. I decided that sometimes it’s worth eating unidentifiable chicken porridge and possibly paying the digestive consequences for it later. I decided that it’s worth having holy water on your face even if you’re not exactly sure what it signifies or what you even believe. And I decided that in a small way, I was helping Kadek hold on for a little longer.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Name Post: The Futility of Phone Books

Although my experience in Bali has shown me that names here are anything but formulaic, there is still the question of how a community operates when most of its members have the same public name. Despite the fact that most people here tend to have four names each, their birth order name is the one most commonly used outside the family.

A few weeks ago I met a kind man in the village of Singapadu who wanted to help me with my research and donated a few old phone books to my cause. While I was grateful, when we went through them together what I found most interesting about them was how completely useless they are here. Phone books in Bali seem to operate not as an attempt to help people find each other, but solely as a way to mirror the western world. There are pages and pages of “I Made Anantas”, (male in the Sudra Caste, second-born in their family, creative name meaning “dragon”) even in the same village. If you were actually trying to find someone in Bali, the last place you’d look is the phone book.

That might be a slight exaggeration, but if you think about it, a person named “Wayan” in Bali shares his or her name with over a quarter of the population. Even if you know a person’s gender and caste (giving you the prefix to “Wayan”) you’re still not getting very far. John Smith in Connecticut has nothing to complain about.

The other day I spoke with my Bahasa Indonesian teacher, Nyoman, about her name and she was explaining that if someone came to her village (Tabanam) and asked where Nyoman was, everyone would laugh, because every family has a Nyoman. Instead, you could use the last part of her name, “Sudiadnyani”, but those names aren’t frequently used outside the family. More likely, what you’d do is try to describe Nyoman through what she does. As in, “Does Nyoman live here?” “Male or Female?” “Female.” “Which Nyoman?” “The mother of four boys.” “What does she do?” “She’s a teacher in Ubud.” And the conversation would have to go through her relationships with others in order to communicate exactly who she is—woman, mother, aunt, daughter, citizen of Tabanam, teacher in Ubud. Although it can make for difficulties in tracking someone down (a friend and I could not figure out for weeks if we had met the same “Ida Bagus Anom” or not), there is also something that also makes so much sense about this system. Because what exactly do each of our names stand for, if not for who we are in our relationships to other people?

Just as the name Wayan places someone as the first-born in their family, the titles people call each other also depend on their relationships. Although in the United States, it might be considered rude if you didn’t know the first name of a friend’s mother, in Bali, it would be considered completely polite to just refer to her as “Sarah’s Mom”. In fact, if I’ve met Sarah’s Mom through Sarah, calling her “Ibu Sarah” instead of using her first name would make a lot more sense.

It might be oversimplifying to say that an ideology of individualism in the United States is what contributes to the impulse to make names stand alone there. Although Americans are often named after their family members, most often these names are also meant to stand on their own, regardless of context. Parents might shy away from giving their children names that are too popular. While I share this impulse, and tend to prefer more unusual names in general, I wonder what it is that’s at the root of worrying so much about individuality. I remember in my elementary school classrooms, the kids with common names were grumpy about having to go by “Hannah H.” and “Hannah C.” to differentiate between them. That kind of anxiety about sharing a name would not be understood here. Neither would the idea of monogramming. It would seem absolutely ridiculous to get a pencil or notecards with the name “Wayan” on it.

It is perhaps, also oversimplifying when I say that it makes sense to me that names here are dependent on people’s relationships to each other because this is a more collective society. Oversimplifying, but maybe true. Just think of the 1500 men taking turns to carry a dead body in a 100-foot tower to be cremated. Think of the fact that there are no homes for the elderly here and very few daycares. Think of the idea that every month everyone in the village gets together and establishes regulations and rules and celebrations for them to live by. Think of how much collectivity is involved in performance and art.

These naming patterns speak volumes to the ways in which these cultures and communities operate. In Bali, people are always defined in relationship to each other. When a baby is born, they are a reincarnation of an ancestor. Sons never move out of their parents houses. If you can’t have your own children, it is expected you will adopt. When you share a name with most of the population, it is a given that there are more important things than your individual identity. It makes vanity license plates look pretty silly.

©nabj 2011

Monday, August 22, 2011

Ubud Update

Due to a recent city-wide (and unexplained) power outage, a subsequent lack of internet, and a general flurry of recent activity, it’s been a while since I’ve posted. There is a lot to talk about. In addition to the cremation, here are some highlights and lowlights of the past week:

--Highlight: First off, happy late Independence Day, Indonesia. I hope these photos can capture the spirit of the day. I spent a while wandering around the muddy football field watching these young boys try to scamper up a greased pole in order to reach prizes (blenders, DVD players, t-shirts, etc…) at the top. It took about an hour before the little guy in the last photo conquered.

--Highlight: Another highlight of last week (and one of the ultimate highlights of my trip thus far) was attending a tooth filing ceremony. My Bahasa Indonesian teacher is from Tabanam, a village about an hour and a half outside of Ubud. She had to miss class for this ceremony and invited us all to come along. A tooth filing ceremony is essentially a coming of age ritual and party (think a bar mitzvah but with public body modification) that happens when boys’ voices change and girls start menstruating. Sometimes families can’t afford the ceremony right away (renting an outfit for a teenage girl costs 1,000,000 ruppiah alone!) so they will come together with some other families in the village and share the costs. This particular ceremony had five teenagers (2 boys and 3 girls) who were undergoing the process. My whole class dressed in our appropriate outfits and spent the morning practicing our language skills, taking turns holding our teacher’s baby, and dodging marriage proposals. Our class has now caught onto the Balinese style of humor and I’ve learned that when someone asks me if I want a Balinese boyfriend the easiest way to be the life of the party while letting people know you're not serious is to say, "No, I want 5!"

Ceremonial decorations in the family's temple.

Waiting for the ceremony.


The filing begins.

Feeling her teeth post-filing. I love the expression on her face.

The Priest.

Our teacher Nyoman with her youngest son of four.

After the girls had their teeth filed their father carried them back to their seats.

Me & Sara, the other Watson Fellow who, completely coincidentally, is also in my language class.

--Highlight: New Friends & Adventuring: I have been meeting a lot of incredible people, other visitors as well as locals. My friend Matt from language class has been staying with me for the past week or so and it’s great to get to practice ordering food in our limited Bahasa Indoensian together and have his help battling the Balinese cockroaches in my bathroom. Matt is here as an instructor for “Where There Be Dragons”—an amazing program run from Colorado that sends kids ages 17-22 on semester long programs in cultural immersion in the developing world. Through him I’ve also met some other travelers and yesterday we pooled our money in order to take a trip with my friend Wayan to see some sights around Bali. I found the mountains and rivers and rice paddies to be a welcome relief from the masses of tourists in Ubud.

Matt, me, Rebecca and Alora, completely blocking Mt. Batur.

Me and the Mt. Batur volcano

Going to the Mother Temple, Besakih. The photos below are from various points of the climb to Besakih on Mt. Agung.

Above: the view from the top. It's a pretty magical place.

This photo is from the drive to Sedimen. I don't think I'd seen this color green before.

Goa Lawah: The Bat Cave Temple (If you look closely, you can see some bats).

--Lowlight: The Balinese cockroach who seems to want to make the underside of my toilet seat his home. Need I say more?

--Highlight: Having been in Ubud long enough that I am now giving other tourists directions. (It feels really good to do that).

--Lowlight: Visa extension nightmare. Major lowlight. As of January 2010, it became possible to extend a 30 day tourist visa in Bali but most people here still think it’s not possible to do it yourself; a myth that's encouraged by companies who do this kind of extension for tourists (and charge around $90). Armed with advice from some fellow travelers and the Lonely Planet, I decided to brave the long lines and red tape and go myself. I took a shuttle bus from Ubud to Denpasar (an hour and a half ride), then a taxi from the Denpasar airport to the immigration office. It quickly became apparent just how much of a hassle this was going to be. There are some complicated rules for the visa extension application in order to get you to spend more money (you have to buy a specific pen to use, the application can only be sent in in a red folder, etc…). Worst of all, there was a small paper sign (not advertised anywhere else) that a visa extension submission could only happen until noon, whereas a visa pick up could only happen after noon. Because I was there at 3pm, it meant that my entire 4 hour round trip to Denpasar and the 200,000 ruppiah I spent on it was entirely futile. To make matters worse, they demanded I come back tomorrow morning because soon their office is closing for Ramadan and if I don’t put my application in before they close for the week, they’ll charge me extra for having an overdue visa. So I’m facing an identical trip there tomorrow and I'll have to miss my language class AND fork over another 200,000 ruppiah for transportation there. We'll see if I still end up saving money doing it myself or not. The saga continues...At least tomorrow I'll be armed with my red folder.

--Highlight: Some recent naming stories. Like the Balinese guy who worked on a Carnival Cruise Ship in America that went to Costa Rica and named his daughter “Rica” after his time there. And the Balinese family I recently talked to who liked the American tradition of having a family name and as a result they used the same word in all of their sons’ first names to tie them together. The sons have already told their mother they’ll pass this name onto their children. The name is “Jala” which my Bahasa Indonesian teacher says means “net” because their father is in the navy.

Some girls at the tooth filing ceremony who were eager for a photo.

--Highlight: New clothes. Kadek took me to a tailor in Mas she’s known since she was a girl to get a “Kebaya” (traditional sheer shirt worn by Balinese women) made for me. Coupled with a sarong and sash, I am in proper attire for any temple ceremony (wedding, tooth filing, cremation, you name it). I’ve only had my outfit for a week but have already had four occasions to wear it. My homestay family really enjoys playing dress up with me. Nita likes doing my hair and make up and Made likes teasing me around the house saying, “Who is that Balinese woman? Have we met? Where’s Nell?”

With Nita.

Reading over this list, I'd say I'm quite lucky.

And now it's bedtime with an early rising tomorrow for a trip to Denpasar complete with my red folder and my crossed fingers.

©nabj 2011