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

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