Friday, 30 March 2018

Bali: literary festivals, biking and active volcanoes

A weekend in Bali? People go to Bali to party and dive but also for yoga and culture.   I visited in Oct 2017after a week working in Indonesia in Surabaya, East java.  I have links with Indonesia because my grandfather was a water engineer there 1920-45.  His passion was sewerage so I was pleased to see many functioning toilets.  Indonesian food is a treat for me. My mother took us as a family to Indonesia (1985) to see her childhood home.

I experienced the beach and party vibe in Seminyak. My room had a mural of a skateboader. I spent 3 nights in Ubud, Bali’s cultural centre and renown for temples and art galleries. Ubud readers and writers festival was in full swing when I arrived. This was established to encourage people to come to Bali after the terrorist bombings in 2007 and is now a fixture on the Ozzie literary scene.  Highlights were the discussion on short story writing by a trio of female writers from The Phillipines. Tibet and Brazil.  The Pilipino writer talked about the difficulty of writing as a lesbian in The Philippines. I enjoyed seeing photos from Muhamed Fadli who over 3 years captured the history of Banda, the remote nutmeg islands.  A jeans wearing Balian feminist talked about the challenges Balian women face daily with endless Hindu rituals to perform.   Senior journalists from BBC World service in Jakarta and the E. Asia al jeezra head were energized by the communication revolution from The Net.  But verifying stories remains a challenge and more stories have a human aspect. The lack of a free press in many countries in the region was discussed.   Sophal Ear also gave a moving account of his flight from Vietnam in the 1970’s, now a Harvard academic and working on human rights.  I enjoyed an interesting session of new Australian cartoonists.  The festival had frisson of danger with the Agung volcano threatening to erupt; we had regular evacuation drills, less stressful when there are no walls and next to paddy fields.  But this made visitors more welcome. Being at a festival as a solo traveller is good because one talks to people easily.  I tried out a bamboo bike, with a clunky looking but nice pale wood coloured frame and metal wheels.  The bike handled well and I could imagine riding one in London. 

I stayed in a beautiful hotel with a large paddy field at the centre.  The architecture of the hotel was Balian.  Food in Ubud is interesting with the chefs trying out various Indonesian fusion styles such as cucumber soup. 

The Puri Desai museum is a world class museum built in Balian vernacular style, it has a wonderful collection of traditional and modern Balinese art with depictions of different scenes from the ramayana and mahabaharta.  The four buildings each had beautiful stone carvings. I chatted to an elderly Balian artist who was there selling modern pieces.  He had been on art fellowships to Austria as a UNICEF ambassador.   Neka museum gives a fantastic overview of Balinese art; with many modern works, and a gallery of work by the Dutchman Arie Smits who spent his life in Bali, and painted bright, colourful works.  I noticed that being Hindu liberated artists in Bali and they used art to explore their environments with beautiful results.  This is a contrast with Indonesia where the Muslim prohibitions on art inhibit such work.

I ran out of time in Bali and on my last day could do either yoga or downhill biking which I did with Balibreeze tours.   We had a beautiful drive up past green paddy fields and were driven to the highest point in Bali, here we breakfasted and looked out over the Mount Batur volcano. We had a 3 hour downhill ride, my fingers were stiff from holding onto the brakes. Religious practice is strong here, all family homes have a temple in the courtyard . The women have many religious temple duties including sourcing correct oil and flower offerings. The rice fields were empty because everyone was preparing for a big 6 monthly festival. The Banyan trees are wrapped in holy cloths. Higher up the mountain veggies and spices were being grown and marigolds for religious ceremonies. Lower down there were endless rice paddies producing 3 crops per year on this fertile land.  It was a beautiful way to see the villages.

I finished my Bali stay with a excellent fresh fish supper on the beach close to Denpaser airport.

I had an unexpectedly good time in Bali.  Hitting the literary festival was perfect for me. I also enjoyed the art galleries and food. I was interested to see how being hindu has realised people’s artist selves. I loved seeing the rich green landscape on the bike ride. It also reinforced for me the strength of religious practice there.

Oct 27-30 2017

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