Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Bali Day Two

(Now with Photos!) I did not realize I’d be posting here so regularly, but while I’m having all of these new experiences, I’m also having the desperate desire to “talk” about them with people I know, and this is about as close as it gets. I’m finding Ubud to be a unique, exciting and challenging place. There are a lot of fine lines that I’m confronting on a daily basis. I think as I figure out “the rules” of the place, things will become a bit easier, but for now there are lots of questions on a day to day basis. I’m figuring out, for example, my relationship with Wayan, who works as a paid driver but who has also become my friend. He often texts me now to see how I’m doing, and I need to figure out how much of this is a friendly gesture and how much of it is that he’s looking for work Or, in all likelihood, both. I’ve found that many of my interactions with Balinese locals here lead to these kinds of questions because in Ubud there is a massive divide between visitors and, essentially, those who work for them. In some ways, it makes research from a sociological perspective pretty difficult because I can’t blend in, and because most of the locals assume they know why I am here and what I am looking for. It is difficult to get it across that I would rather talk about Balinese families in their kitchens than visit a resort in Kuta. And if I were them, it would indeed seem like a strange preference.

I am glad to have lots of time in Bali to figure out some of these rules for living here—when to take my shoes on and off, remembering to brush my teeth with bottled water, and avoiding stepping on the offerings left outside any business or home. Despite having a lot to learn, I do feel like I’ve come further on my project just through my conversations with people.

I spent the morning walking around Ubud trying to get a little bit oriented here. My breakfast is included with my homestay so I had a leisurely breakfast on the balcony overlooking the family compound and watching as the kids headed out to school and the roosters walked around the yard. I find the roosters much more pleasant in the daytime when they are not waking me up every few hours. I also made friends with a couple from Amsterdam who are staying in the only other available room at my homestay. After a walk around Ubud, and a lunch of bakso (a very popular street food of chicken soup with noodles), Wayan and I met up because he said today would be a good day to meet his family.

In my ride with him from the airport, I had a hard time figuring out how to explain exactly why I was in Bali. To say I was doing sociological research on names and identity was somewhat impossible given our communication barriers. After trying a variety of options, we both came to the agreement that I was here because I got money from a Foundation to study Balinese culture.

However, on the way to his house today, Wayan insisted we stop at a “Foundation” as he said, “like the one you have.” The Foundation we went to was a little different from the Watson Foundation, however. This Foundation is a home for sponsored orphans and a school for them, as well as a school for children who are differently abled and who may not be able to attend public school. I was glad we made the trip there, but it was a bit of a surprise when we pulled up there on the motorbike.

The place was called the Yayasan Bedulu and is run by the WINS project. I was really impressed with how they had the whole place set up. The founder, Ketut, took me around and showed me how they work. Like many orphanages overseas, it’s basically funded by Americans who choose to sponsor a child for about $33 a month. One interesting part of the site is that they have separate classrooms—one for kids with down syndrome, one for kids with autism and one kids with cerebral palsy; in some ways, (for better or for worse) much more specialized than most classrooms for differently abled kids in the United States. The organization also tries to save a few dollars a month from each sponsor’s donation so that the kids have the option of going to university when they finish high school at the Yayasan. I said I might be interested in going over to play with the kids again and spoke with two French girls who had just graduated high school and were volunteering there for a few weeks and teaching English two hours a day. I also came at the right time to see a musical group from Chennai who were visiting to give a music performance for the kids. The children sang their own version of the Indonesian hokey pokey.

After the visit, Wayan and I got back on the motorbike and went out to his family’s compound in what I think is Siangan. It is a very different place from Ubud where people are used to seeing visitors every day. I caused somewhat of a stir there. Wayan’s great-grandmother glared at me and began to come after me with a stick because she assumed I was Wayan’s girlfriend on the side, and children from all over the street came to look at me through Wayan’s gate. Many of them were his daughters’ friends and they all came in and I gave them stickers I had brought with me. Instead of thinking me strange or scary, they seemed to think I was the funniest thing they had ever seen. Actually. These kids would take one look at me and fall on the floor laughing. I’m not sure if this ended up being more entertaining for them or me.

They loved the stickers I gave them and really liked taking pictures of themselves on my camera. Wayan’s two daughters (who I had heard a lot about) were wonderful to meet, and I got to hear the stories of their names (more on that later). His oldest, Luna was pretty skeptical of me, but Komi (who is about a year and a half), just wanted to cuddle. She cried when we left to go back to Ubud. When we drove away on the motorbike, all the kids in the neighborhood came running after us. It is a strange feeling to be such a spectacle.

When we got back to Ubud and Wayan dropped me off, I got out my wallet to pay Wayan, feeling a little awkward about paying him to go visit his house and an orphanage to study “Balinese family life." I felt like such an outsider and there was something that seemed terrible about (essentially) paying in order to see how other people live. I already have mixed feelings about sociological projects for that reason, and I think my own role as an outsider studying other cultures is a complicated challenge that I'm going to be grappling with my whole year.

Wayan stopped me and told me to put my money away. “When you have job in USA and are very rich, you come back with your rich husband and spend lots of money all over the world. Don’t worry now.”

Thank you, Wayan.



  1. Loved this entry. Maybe a kerchief is in your future.

  2. Exciting to read and beautifully written.