A Day in Bali

Driving in Bali can be terrifying.  There are few traffic lights, mopeds weave in and out of traffic.  On the mopeds are either tourists in a rush with little sense of traffic laws, or local families and workers sometimes piled five deep on a single moped (carrying groceries).  Stray dogs run about.  People stop suddenly to drop off or pick up.  The lanes are narrow.   Sidewalks fit one person wide, so in crowed areas there is a lot of overflow into the street.  There are a lot of one way streets but mopeds go wherever they want.  For this reason we hired a guide for the day to take us to some sites of interest.  In driving there was every reason for our driver to be triggered by traffic events.  If some of these happened in the states, there would have been volcanic eruptions of attitudes, honks, and fisticuffs.  But here, our driver Daiwa said: “What good would anger do?  I have to drive every day.”  This seemed to be a reoccurring theme in Bali.  They gave polite toots of their horn to indicate, I’m here…look out….I don’t want to run into you.  Excellent manners, go-with-the-flow mentality, and I’ll take what I can get.  It is no wonder that people from all over the world flock here to get away from it all.

It is also because driving is so crazy, that many tourists hire driver for the day.  There is tons to see.  Hundreds of temples, waterfalls, animal parks.  We hired a driver, Dewa, for the day for three activities.

Mom, Dad, kid 1 and kid 2 in the family car moped. This is a typical one way street. Cars go one way, mopeds go both, and people cross wherever. I don’t know what this sign meant, but it certainly summed up driving in Bali

Many locations of Bali are tied to its  UNESCO world heritage site status.

The subak reflects the philosophical concept of Tri Hita Karana, which brings together the realms of the spirit, the human world and nature. This philosophy was born of the cultural exchange between Bali and India over the past 2,000 years and has shaped the landscape of Bali. The subak system of democratic and egalitarian farming practices has enabled the Balinese to become the most prolific rice growers in the archipelago despite the challenge of supporting a dense population.

Tanah Lot Temple

Gate Entrance to Tanah Lot.  This style of gateway is ubiquitous throughout Bali.  Whether it be the entrance to temples, city limits, or even some homes, they are everywhere.  Their origins are unknown.

Iconic and one Bali’s most important temples, it was a must see for us.  The temple was established in the 16th century, as legend has it, by fisherman who were visited by the famous Hindu traveler Niartha.  After visiting and taking refuge in the interesting rock formation, told the fisherman they should build a shine to him there.  And they did.  The temple is located on the southwest coast and took nearly an hour to get there.  Timing was important because if the tide was high we would not be able to access the temple.   We arrived as the tide was rolling in and we crossed the ankle deep water to the temple entrance.  We had to wear sarongs in order to enter the temple.  We also had to be blessed and donate a little for the blessing.  The blessing consisted of drinking from the water pouring out from a spring, having a priest say a prayer for us, and then having some rice pasted to our forehead and a fragrant flower put behind our ear.

We then went up the steps to the secondary entrance of the temple, which was barred off.  Only priests were allowed in there apparently.  We headed back and the water was a little deeper now – knee deep.   We took some more snaps and as we went up the steps, a large wave came in and knocked several people over.  No one was dragged away, but there were quite  a few flip flops and hats floating around in the water.

Tamun Ayun

According the literature at the gate, the Tamun Ayun was build in 1627 as a shrine to the ancestors of the Mengwi family.  The temple is still in use today for ceremonies.  The gardens are immaculately kept and the stone work on the shrines in front of the pagodas is truly amazing.  An art class was painting various scenery and icons within the grounds.  We peeked over the shoulder of each artist and were taken by their talent.

Traditional Masks representing Balinese mythological figures

A sign of respect when entering a temple is to wear the traditional sarong.  We all purchased some at the market so we may enter the temple.  I felt a little goofy, but I certainly didn’t want to offend.  Some temples offered a rental if needed.  Some temples required full Adat (a sarong with a sash and head wear).  We choose not to wear those. So we didn’t enter those temples.  Many in Bali are deeply religious.  Prayer offerings are done on doorsteps daily, and many people have a shrine in their house and care that they make offerings and prayers to daily.  I watched some of the tourists in the temple.  I was struck by how many of them thought it quaint to disrespect the temple by not wearing proper attire, and then strike yoga posses in front of shrines as if to say: “Hey look at me being religious in this sacred place”.

Jatiluwih Rice Fields

I wasn’t expecting to get charged a fee for driving by rice fields, but we were.  I found it irritating.  Then I saw the rice terraces of Bali.  Expansive.  Majestic.  They have been in place for over 2000 years, the community established collective agreements on water and irrigation centuries ago and model communal farming.  There were several walking tracks available.  Periodically there would be a small open air cafe for people to rest and take in the expanse of it all.

Near the beginning of our Rice Paddy trek

I watched farmers plant and till and listened to Sharleen reinforce the importance of not wasting even one grain of rice.  “Look at how hard they have to work to produce that. Every grain matters.”  In the beginning , she sped ahead of us a little taking it all in snapping pictures.  Stopping to show the girls how hard this work is.  Something else was going on here.  Sharleen’s grandmother PoPo worked in these fields. Not in Bali, but in China.  PoPo toiled, deep in muck, in 100 degree weather.  She tilled by hand, cut by hand.  She bled and struggled with hunger every day to make a better life for her daughter – Sharleen’s mom Lonnie.  Lonnie worked as a seamstress because she was talented and saved herself from having to work in the fields.  Long hours, eating little to save money to immigrate.  They both immigrated and toiled and struggled to help give Sharleen a better life then they had.  I watched Sharleen walk amongst the fields touching a part of her past that she left behind when she was a child — knowing that if her mom and grandmother hadn’t worked as hard, or weren’t as courageous as they were, she might very well be working in a field like this.  I saw within her the fire to make opportunities and experiences for Kylie and Alyssa that she did not have.  I felt more than lucky to have such a strong woman in my life.

The girls took it all in — the process, the difficulties, the heat, and how different a lifestyle the farmers lead.  It wasn’t just the luck of the draw that they were born in the USA, but it was the cumulative effort and determination of three generations of strong women that brought them to point they are now.

Posing with the Goddess of Rice: Nyi Pohaci Sanghyang Sri

(I may have made some typos here as I transcribed it off a photo, but the gender switching pronouns are either intentional, or a product of translation.)

The story behind the goddess of rice

Once upon a time, there lived a supreme ruler of the heavenly kingdom names Batara Guru.  One day he ordered the gods and goddesses to do devotional work to build a new palace that was more magnificent in the heaven.  He also threaten to cut the hands and feet of anyone who was lazy to work on his orders.

He is Antabog, a snake deity who is anxious about the threats made by Batara Guru.  Knowing the condition of his body without hands and feet, of course he will find it difficult to work.  However, if he doesn’t work, he neck will be beheaded.  Haunted by fear, he went to seek advice from Batara Narad, who was the brother of Batara Guru.

Arriving at Batara Narada’s residence, he conveyed about what made him worried. Hearing Antaboga’s outpouring, Batara Narada was confused and had no solution. Then Antaboga cries lamenting the bad luck that must befall him.  Unexpectedly, the tears turned into eggs with very beautiful skin.  Seeing the miracle, Naraa Narata suggested that the egg be given as an apology for not being able to help build the palace.  Without thinking, he hurriedly put the egg into his mouth and went to meet the Guru Batara.

On the way there is a crow that greets Antaboga.  However, because there were three eggs in his mouth, Antaboga became reluctant to speak and continued walking.  Unexpectedly, the crow was disappointed to think Antaboga was arrogant and attacked Antaboga until two eggs in his mouth broke.  One egg is left out that might save Antaboga from punishment.

As it turned out, Batara Guru happily accepted the gift and told God Antaboga to incubate him.  Time after time, finally the egg hatched a baby girl named Nyi Pohaci Sanghyang Sri.  The child was appointed as adopted son of Batara Guru and Empress.  He grew into a beautiful woman.

It is told that Batara Guru gradually liked Nyi Pohaci Sanghyang Sri and wanted to marry her.  The gods in Khayangan felt anxious about this, afraid to present a disaster in Khayangan.   Finally they planned to separate the Batara Guru from Nyi Pohaci Sanghyang Sri by putting poison on Sri’s Nyi Pohaci Sanghyang drink until he finally died.  To get rid of the traces of their cruel deeds, the body of Sri Nyi Phaci Sanghyang Sri was brought down to earth and buried in a hidden place.

It is said that the tomb of Nyi Pohaci Sanghyang Sri was the overgrown with rice plants which were very beneficial for humans on earth.  Since then Nyi Pohaci Sanghyang Sri or the goddess Sri was dubbed the goddess of rice.

I include this at length here as it reinforces the importance of rice and farming for the Balinese people.  They have managed to feed a very dense population through grit and hard work…all maintaining a positive composure and outlook on life.  This isn’t a government run rice field.  There is no bureaucratic organization “helping” these farmers coordinate their activities.  They do it on their own in harmony with each other.

We took a four kilometer exploration of the rice terraces.  It was worth every rupee.

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