Funeral chasers

16 Jul

Yesterday was the Royal Cremation Ceremony in Ubud. As best as I can tell, the cremation ceremony is the funnest celebration of all the Balinese parties (and there are a LOT of them), for two reasons: 1) it’s the great celebration when the soul finally goes up to heaven so it’s a time of great joy and 2) it doesn’t happen right at death, but sometimes 5 years later (based on some kind of alternate calendar), so the sadness is often over by then. We heard a great celebration in our village a few days ago with tons of people partying and parading in the streets, gamelan music and singing, which was, indeed a cremation ceremony. But yesterday’s was a BIG one. It was the cremation ceremony for the former King of Bali, another royal family member and 70 more deceased from surrounding villages who decided to jump on the bandwagon and be part of the king’s big party. The last royal cremation was in 1999, so almost a decade since Bali has seen a party like this one. Over 300,000 people from all over the world were coming to Ubud to see the elaborate procession, so we had to at least check it out!

The whole island was in their ceremony clothes – headwrap, sarong, and sash for the men, and lacy, long-sleeve shirts, sarongs and sashes for the women. (the head is heaven and the feet are evil spirits, so the sash literally “cuts off” the lower, base emotions and tendencies). All the children on the island got out of school early. Scooters topped with families of 4 poured into Ubud. We drove to Laka Leke restaurant (more on that later), parked the car, and walked through The Monkey Forest (think Indiana Jones lost temple with hundreds of monkeys trying to steal your cameras and hats) to the packed streets of Ubud. The spectacle starts at the Royal Palace on the main street of Ubud, and involves about 70 elaborate floats that are carried, not rolled, with two main “bades” or giant temple-looking structures, each being 11 tons and 7 meters tall, with the coffins atop. There are also 2 giant, equally heavy sarcophagus bulls and dragons. The bades are carried by 250 men each, with a fresh 250 men swapping in every 100 meters. We were at the palace, so really only got to see everything leave the station, so to speak. After leaving us, the parade wound 2km to the royal crematorium where the whole thing was set ablaze. More info here: . It was hard to see it all, but good to see a bit of it and even better to just be part of such a monumental event in Bali history!

After the parade, we walked back to Laka Leke restaurant, a serene oasis between the Monkey Forest and rice fields, only a block off main street of Ubud. Then a quick stop at Goa Gaja or “Elevant Cave” – a temple inside a giant elephant mouth cave and beautiful bathing / purification pools that were built in 1100AD, but only discovered deep inside the jungle in 1930 and excavated in 1950. Then home to our house, a plunge in the heavenly cold pool, and anther Made dinner to die for. Spicy, flavorful chicken curry, with rice, fried tempeh and a green bean and shredded chicken side salad. We just might steal Made away 


Walking in the Padi

16 Jul

Took a beautiful morning walk (sometimes jog) yesterday along the tiny narrow streets through “padi” or rice fields around our house. It seems some of the most innovative technologies on the island are those dedicated to chasing birds away from fields that are close to harvest. Yesterday I saw: 1) a lady crouched in the fields, popping up and scaring birds with “yah!s” and handfuls of pebbles, 2) an old woman with a 10 foot long pole with a noisy garbage back tied to the end of the stick so she could swat them away, 3) fields dotted with 100 baggies on sticks, so the wind can swat the birds away 4) Scarecrows – all wearing little pointy woven “Chinese” style hats, 5) wind-powered noise makers – the wind turns a propeller, which makes a spoon turn around and smack the bottom of a metal coffee can. In this windy season, you can hear these noisemakers’ clink clink clink clink almost all night long, and 6) the winner of the tech innovation showcase: a system of pulleys and strings and trashbags tied to strings, all controlled by a little man in a little grass hut in the middle of his padi. He pulls one string in his hut, like a brakeman in a locomotive, and the entire system of strings and noisy bags jiggles and wiggles and shakes and the birds flee in fear. Very cool.

Sam has been getting Bahasa Indonesian or Indonesian language lessons from our driver, Ketut, for the last week. Sam is really getting good! He can say whole sentences and probably knows 200 words and phrases by now. I’m totally impressed. I’m not speaking much, but I’m hearing all the lessons and my mind is a jumble of sounds and useful phrases and menu items and esoteric phrases (which of course Sam has to learn too – dead chicken, beautiful clouds, favorite mountain, etc.). On my walk yesterday, I hadn’t really starting thinking yet, so when someone walked by me and said a broken “good morning”, I tried to reply in Indonesian with good morning (or hello or how are you or ANYTHING appropriate) but what came out was “soto ayam”, or “chicken soup”. He laughed riotously – was certainly a highlight of his morning. Sam retold the story to Ketut who laughed even harder.

Life in Balance

16 Jul

Bali life is all about balance. Pray to the good gods every day and give offerings to the bad so that they spare you. Black and white fabric (good and bad) is wrapped around all temples and statues to symbolize the integration of the two. It is probably not a coincidence that, because Bali is right on the equator, days and nights are exactly the same length, all year round. The sun comes up at 6:30am and it sets at 6:30pm. It’s all nice and balanced.


16 Jul

This is going to be a whirlwind series of posts, as the days and noteworthy events that I really want to write about are stacking up behind me like New Yorkers behind the turnstile to the subway train. Writing takes a lot of time. So does relaxing/doing nothing and experiencing things. Bali is all about balance, so I’ve been trying to makes sure I make time for all of it. Wouldn’t want to be out of balance in Bali!

Ah, the joys of house staff

12 Jul

Time to talk about house staff.  Sam and I were both pretty uncomfortable with the idea of house help.  Would it feel intrusive on our privacy?  Would we be self-conscious about our consumption and excesses in the eyes of people with very little money?  Would we even want a cook? I LOVE to cook and will finally get a chance!  Why would we even NEED a nanny?  I never get to be with my kids for weeks straight – this will be a treat, not a chore…


Yeah, well we were all wrong.  Staff is GREAT, and we could really get used to this.  Ketut is our driver and takes us and picks us up from wherever we want.  He navigates these crazy, lawless and signless streets and teaches us the language and tells us about the real Bali (many generations of his family have lived here).   When he is not driving us around, he is tending to the pool every day, watering the grounds, gardening and weeding constantly.  Jungles don’t just look immaculate by themselves, it appears.  He works non-stop from 8-5pm and does overtime and even over-nights if we want it / need it.  So would we need a Ketut back in the US?  Well, we certainly need a grounds-keeper (or five) and a pool attendant, but maybe not the driver.  Wait – all those trips back and forth to common threads!  And all my long drives to SF during which I do nothing but listen to radio static.  We totally need a Ketut. 


Then there is Made (mah-day) who cleans and cooks.  Before this trip I couldn’t imagine what could be cleaned in a house from 8-5, six days a week, but now I do.  She sweeps and mops every floor surface inside and out each morning.  She cleans all the bathrooms each day.  She makes all the beds immaculately.  She goes shopping or has food delivered to the house.  She sets all the table for each meal, clears the tables and cleans up the kitchen.  And she COOKS.  She makes great Balinese food.  Last night was the best.  Soto Ayam or classic Balinese chicken soup.  (Here’s the recipe, before I forget:  Boil a whole chicken in water, ginger, greem inions, red onions, lemongrass, lime leaves, turmeric and coriander.  Strain it to get the broth.  Shred the white meat from the chicken into a bowl.  Then fry a bunch of red onions til flavorful and crispy and put them in another bowl.  Chop up cilantro and put that in a bowl.  Dice some tiny hot orange chilis and put that in a bowl.  Then make up some thin glassy rice noodles and put them in a bowl.  Then boil some tiny mung bean sprouts and put in a bowl.  Finally, hard-boil some eggs and put them, whole, in a bowl.  Then get your own bowl and assemble your soup.  Noodles, chicken, 1 egg, cilantro, crispy onions and chili, then pour the broth over the whole thing.)  Oh my, was this delicious.  So, we totally need a house cleaner and cook.


Then there is Ribka – nanny, laundry, ironing and kid cleaner-upper.  She lives on the property in her own house but comes over to open up the house each morning.  She cleans the playroom, which is inevitably a mess, and plays with kids and gets them breakfast while we shower and leisurely emerge.  Each day the laundry in all the hampers disappear and 3 days later we get washed, line-dried and ironed clothes back in our drawers.  Seeing Rowie’s messy basketball shorts all starched and ironed makes me smile.  But it’s quite nice.  50,000 rupias, or about $5.00 buys us a date night out.  We kind of have a Ribka in Laurie and Robin, and for this we are so grateful.


So, in short, I’ve got an all new outlook on house help.  A quite positive one.  You don’t love your kids less if you use staff.  In fact, it takes a lot of the stresses out of parenting and life in general, so that you can be more “present” when you are with them.  Now if only staff cost the same in the US as they do in Bali…

To the Mountains

11 Jul

A quick post, as we are trying to get our early today while kid energy is good.  Yesterday was pretty neat.  We headed to some beautiful horse stables and each kid got to ride ponies around the grounds for 50,000 rupies or about $5.00 US.  um, yeah – things are cheaper in Bali.  then we headed to the “mountains”, in the direction of the mountain town of Ubud.  We took backroads and got to see a bit more of countryside — more steeply terraced rice fields and more steep jungle vallies and ridges. I glanced in a guide book from the back seat and it said “stop on the way to ubud and have lunch at Amandari”.  We looked up, saw the sign and turned in.  Turns out, Amandari is one of the most expensive luxury resorts on the whole Island.  $1200 per night or so.  Well, the place was amazing.

We brought Ketut, our driver, with us, and we all hiked down steep stairs to the bottom of the ravine to where white water rapids are.  There was a beautiful shrine buried in the mountainside from the 6th centrury or so.  After a steep and whiny climb back up, we sat and had a way too expensive lunch at their amazing restaurant overlooking the pool and jungle, but it was REALLY good indonesian food.  Ketut ate the most expensive Soya Atam (traditional soup) he’s ever had in his life — I’m sure he went home and told his family all about it.  It was very cute — they served bread with olive oil in little bowls and he was baffled, “is it honey?”  When he found out it was olive oil, he was just as facinated.

We headed into Ubud and chose the wrong street to walk around on — packed with traffic and tourists.  But the place is clearly beautiful — houses and restaurants perched high up on jungly cliffs, amazing purras or temples (still haven’t been in a temple yet — we need traditional clothing to enter).  Kids were tired so we had to head home, but we definitely go back to Ubud soon to explore more.

Reminders to self — I need to write about the joys of having 3 full-time house staff

Horseback riding and a sick Rowie boy

10 Jul