Kecak Kecak, Quack Quack

Trip Start Sep 17, 2007
Trip End Oct 08, 2008

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Flag of Indonesia  , Bali,
Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Ubud is considered something of the cultural center in Bali.  It is also the center of a very big art scene.  It used to be a small village, but has grown so large it has overwhelmed the four villages around it.  So now it is super-Ubud.  We arrived on the Perama shuttle from Padangbai.  We went and found a hotel, got soaked when it decided to rain as we went back for our bags, and then relaxed until the rain exhausted itself.  We were near the infamous Monket Forest Sanctuary, and evidently the monkeys considered their territory a little larger than the people did.  While leaping across the rooves above us, they sent very large tiles hurtling off the roof.  Our hotel guy seemed to take it in stride.  Apparently it happens a lot, judging by the stock of roof tiles he has. 

The Hindu-Balinese culture is very strong here.  Every shopfront and house has a personal shrine out front.  Several times a day the owners burn incense or offers something to these personal shrines.  Every morning they construct intricate offering baskets of flowers and the occasional coin.  They set these in front of their door on the sidewalk.  Every single day.  It is a wonderful custom and perhaps one of my favorite things about the Balinese.

I wanted to do a couple things while in Ubud.  One was to walk around in the rice paddies.  The other was to see the Kecak dance.  So we got tickets for the night's performance (there are several cultural performances every night all over Ubud) and headed out on a random trajectory.  We ended up on a ridge walk.  It was really quite striking scenery.  We headed off the main road, past a temple hidden in the forest, and emerged onto a sharp ridge between too rivers.  It was entirely covered with a brilliant green grass, with the occasional palm tree spaced evenly along the stone path.  The land fell away to either side and then rose up, covered with trees.  So why weren't there any trees here? 

The road led to an artists village, which meant people tried to sell us stuff.  But after that we emerged into an amazing rice paddy view.  My favorite part was the ducks.  Raising flocks of farm ducks is something of an Ubud specialty, and often you will see groups of ducks feeding among the rice paddies.  It seems to be a perfect combination, and their quacking and waddling really adds a peaceful dimension to this place. 

We were accosted by a crazy-eyed man who seemed very intent on climbing up a tree to get us a young coconut.  We ran away from him.  We turned back the way we had come when it looked like the rain was going to catch us again, but it held off until we got back.  We once again avoided the crazy coconut man. Back in Ubud we passed another American whom we had met before we started the trail.  He asked us if we had seen the crazy coconut man.  Apparently he does it to everyone.

Amidst the pouring downpours we found our way to the Kecak dance temple.  Apparently selling performance tickets is a pretty big commission racket in this town.  Our hotel owner wasn't happy when we said we got our tickets somewhere else.  And even as we were walking to the performance we passed four or five random guys trying to sell us tickets. 

Because of the rain, the Kecak dance was inside a big pavilion.  The only source of light was an array of candles in the center of the floor.  Other than that it was dark.  At the appointed time the Kecak "choir" piled into the pavilion.  There were perhaps 30 of them.  They circled the candles and started chanting.  Soon enough the singing flowed into the trademark "Kecak Kecak."  One guy chirps, "Kecak Kecak" quickly, which is the cue for the entire group to roll into a rhythmic chattering that is an amazing and hypnotic sound.  It was very strange.  The dance is a part of the Ramayana, telling about a battle involving the monkey king, Hanuman.  The Kecak dancers represent the monkey army.  For some of the dance they would sit in a circle on the floor, kecaking away, while a pair of dancers would act out the story in the middle.  Although we couldn't understand most of it, it was still pretty fascinating to watch.  The second part of the dance involved two very small girls performing a dance and then falling down and being picked up.  It was a little weird.  More interesting was the fire trance dance that involved a man dressed up as a horse and a very large fire of coconut husks.  He danced around it for a little while, then quite unexpectedly kicked the flaming coconuts everywhere.  Then he proceeded to dance on them.  In bare feet.  Whenever he kicked the husks, burning fibers would rise in a shower of glittering sparks.  It was pretty magical looking.  And it was fun to watch the people in the front row flinch whenever he aimed a flaming coconut in their direction.  They were apparently in a trance, these last two performances. 

The next morning it was raining again.  I was not very happy with the weather, since it wouldn't let me wander around randomly like I wanted to.  Instead we took a very sad looking bemo up to Gunung Kawi, which turned out to be a rather nice trip.  This temple is a series of giant stone memorials cut into the cliffs.  To be properly attired we had to borrow long pants or a sari and a sash.  Donation expected of course.  The memorials were very cool but the scenery was also amazing.  This is what I thought of as Bali.  Rice fields, beautiful green jungle, rivers and waterfalls.  We were led to a waterfall, past homemade bee hives and rice paddies.  It was quite an impressive place.

Coming back to Ubud, we went back to the hotel to relax a bit.  I was inside on the bed and Erin was sitting outside on the front porch.  The young guy managing the hotel came by, then decided Erin looked friendly enough and decided to ask about some American cultural habits that had been bothering him lately.  Despite the language barrier, Erin decided to give it a try.

What followed was an extremely lengthy and generally confusing exchange, from which our hotel owner no doubt got a very strange and twisted view of what life was like in America.

Some questions were simple enough, but surprisingly hard to answer.  Such as: can women wear bikinis in the United States?  Erin pauses, then answer carefully: yes, they can wear bikinis pretty much anywhere if they want to.

Some questions were a little more complicated.  He seemed very interested in the difference between good girls and bad girls.  Erin never quite could figure out what a bad girl was.  A prostitute I suppose.  Nevertheless, he seemed to think good girls wore white dresses.  Erin told him bad girls wore white dresses too.  But sometimes bad girls dressed up like good girls but their clothes were see through.  I'm sure this helped.  Bad girls suddenly became waitresses.  Do waitresses go home with customers?  Well, it's allowed I suppose.  But it's more likely that customers go home with other customers.  His eyes boggled at this.  Women meet strange men and sleep with them? (he couldn't say sex without apologizing several times).  Erin launched on a very long and complicated explanation of the term "one night stand."  This led to many side issues, such as if the woman had a baby.  And what the man thought.  And would that waitress want money?  No, its just for fun, said Erin.  In fact, the woman would be angry if you tried to give her money...

I sighed and rubbed my eyes.  Our new friend left thinking that in America every woman walked around with a bikini, and if the waitress wouldn't sleep with you some other customer would.  Oh and the woman would usually keep the baby. 

I really hope he never makes it to America unless he gets a second opinion.  Or perhaps a couple opinions. 

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