Becoming Balinese, Part 1
Usually, when I travel, I have a pretty good idea of what I want to do each day, where I want to do it, and when it will be done. I’ve done tons of research and know just about all of the options. I create and follow a loose, but busy itinerary that will cover every sightseeing opportunity and eating experience to get the maximum “benefit” of each place.
This trip is different.
I have almost three weeks in one place. And not one thing planned. With all of the stuff I had going on these last few months, I have had precious little time to devote to travel planning. I wasn’t even sure until two weeks before departure that I was going to be able to go here at all. I know that there are many things to do, but heck, some people do Ubud in one day, so I figured I’d have lots of time to rest and see what comes up.
The one thing I most wanted to do was to try to be Balinese. I wanted to immediately transport my experience from tourist mode to “I live here” mode. I wasn’t sure exactly how that was going to be done, except to begin in a guesthouse, rather than a hotel or hostel. A guesthouse where my host was someone who actually lived here and knew their way around.
Staying at The Nest was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. And it’s funny, although I’ve learned a bunch from my expat host Kevin, my first real Balinese teacher/friend/tour guide has been the lovely Kadek, who makes our breakfasts, cleans our rooms, and sets out the offerings. We had a talk yesterday and made some plans to go to some of the Hindu temples during the upcoming 2-week full moon ceremony period. Most Balinese are Hindu, so that’s where I’m going to start as I become Balinese. I really know very little about the Hindu religion, except that it’s extremely colorful and they have many gods and great stories for every one of them.
But first, to go to the temple during the ceremony, you need special clothes. Kadek brought some of her mother’s clothes for me to borrow, but alas, they were too small. What to do? Have one specially made, of course! When she was done with her work around the Nest, we hopped on her motorbike and made our way to the market. Not the touristy Ubud market, but the local Gianyar market, about 20 minutes away.
The motorbike ride was a thrill in itself. There are more motorbikes than cars here, and almost everybody has one. Before I left Virginia, I had thought I might rent one just to zip around on, even procuring the required International Driver’s license from AAA. However, after careening down the road on the left side, sometimes almost knee to knee with the motorbike riders next to us, cutting in front of trucks or going around practically on the sidewalk, I think I’ll take a pass. I’m holding on to Kadek for dear life!
We park the motorbike at the market and it is a burst of vendors, colors, and smells. Not rotten or sewery smells, though, Bali smells sweet and full. We wind past the fruit vendors to the stalls inside until we get to her friend’s fabric shop.
The kebaya (what women wear) is made up of 4 main pieces. We begin with the lacy fabric for the jacket, the one thing that has to be custom made. What color do I like? Blue. Ok, which blue? So many choices!! Finally we find a color that suits. Now we need a sarong, a big piece of fabric wrapped around like a long skirt. Searching through piles and piles of possibilities we find a gorgeous match. Now the belt, which pulls the whole outfit together. Kadek’s friend finds the perfect one. Last but not least is the underwear. Since the top is lacy and see-through, they use a corset, black, to make sure the shape over the skin-tight jacket is, uh, womanly. Sort of a Balinese spanx, there’s a band around my midsection that must be pulled tight and hooked up, then zip up the middle, flattening the belly while enhancing the bosom. Wow, all this for less than $50.
From here, we buy some mangosteens (yummy fruit, I get a lesson on how to choose the best ones) and back on the motorbike, out of the market, back to Ubud, and out to the rice fields where the tailor’s shop is located. It starts to rain, no biggie, just pull out the poncho and we’re good. My grip on Kadek’s hips has relaxed to the point I’m not even really holding on anymore. Just lean into it, yeah.
No one at the tailor’s speaks much english, but they are all smiles and we exchange names. I get properly measured as Kedak gives her directions. The sewing machines are old Chinese models that are operated by treadle. Soon we are finished and with a flurry of thank you’s and goodbyes we are back on the motorbike heading back to the Nest.
Mitsuyo is waiting and we chat a bit then head off to early dinner. This time, it’s a different Mama’s, same street, but a few doors to the right. Mitsuyo is sort of a regular here and knows the owner, Manik. Manik is the 6th Mama sister, the other Mama sister is the 2nd. We eat another incredibly delicious Balinese meal and share stories. A rainbow appears. Wow. We find out that this full moon ceremony begins this weekend with people going to pray at a home temple. If you live in a Balinese family compound, there are 4 or 5 homes surrounding a courtyard where there are various small temples and at least one large one. Manik lives just across the street and we are invited to her home tomorrow for our first ceremony. We’re on!
Back to the room for an early night. I’m starting to feel less western already.