Bali on Parade

Trip Start Jun 02, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Indonesia  ,
Sunday, November 25, 2007

In Bali, Indonesian culture blends with western culture much more than in Sumatra, where very few tourists can be found. Here, you'll see surfers with dyed blonde hair, piercings and dreadlocks on the beaches, or rocking the old-school rapper style, baggy pants and baseball caps turned sideways, in the clubs.
Yet the culture is also uniquely Balinese. It is predominantly Hindu-married women wear white bindis between their brows, and men wear headwraps or flowers in their hair. The manifestations of worship are evident everywhere. Statues of gods and goddesses lounge under trees or fiercely guard entrances to temples to scare away evil spirits. They coil and twist through the trees, outward manifestations of all our hopes and fears. 
At an internet café in Kuta, I paused from my messaging on facebook to watch a girl standing before an altar on the wall, made like a chair for an invisible miniature god to sit in. In one hand she held an offering of flowers, rice, crackers and incense set in a small square dish woven of palm fronds. With the other, she flicked water from a frangipani flower in an arc over her head, sending beadlets scattering over the altar and her long black hair. She told me after that the offering was for good luck from the gods.

While this was a quiet testament to the culture of Bali, by far its most exuberant display was the parade for Bali Fashion Week.
The parade began as I sipped an iced cappuccino in a local Indian restaurant. Bringing up the front were the village elders, men chanting and dancing with traditional Balinese sarongs wrapped around their waists, black and white checks symbolizing the balance of good and evil.
Behind them trailed a train of frolicking human creatures, a fantastical spectacle like a Caribbean Carnival, in costumes bursting with feathers, mirrors, shower hoses and other recycled objects used in the most innovative ways. Every face was a marvel of artistry, with sparkling eyes and megawatt smiles appearing in the midst of painted swirls and glitter. They emanated a glorious, exuberant energy that caught the crowd like a brush fire all the way down the street--the essence of the Indonesian spirit at its best.

The flames of enthusiasm flew even higher at the sight of four fly-girls in black bondage gear on the back of a truck, a dancing advertisement for Mr. Dolphin tattoo studios, complete with a giant replica of a tattoo needle. The crowd roared at a little pot-bellied, knobby-kneed man in a Superman suit cavorting with glee amongst the girls like a sprite on ecstasy. That little guy had moves.
Bringing up the rear of the grand finale was a troupe of Indonesian punk rockers, pierced, tattooed and gelled, one in a full-on Mohawk the likes of which I haven't seen since the punk rock days of London. When they saw my camera trained on them, they took their eyes off the girls for a moment to pose.
The sacred, the fantastical, the sensual, the zany...Bali is where the west and the east meet to create a culture so rich and colourful, it has made the island singularly unique in Indonesia, and the rest of the world.
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