Posts Tagged ‘ceremony’


Is Sari Site Sacred – Or Just Another Shakedown?

October 12, 2012

In the emotion-charged swirl of the tenth anniversary of the Bali bombings, many have come to Bali to pay tribute to the victims of an insane attack by anti-Western fanatics in 2002.

The deaths of 202 people from 22 countries, and the injuries sustained by another 240, left emotional scars on thousands of families and friends of the victims. The Sari Club in Kuta, site of the blast, was practically destroyed, along with the lives of the victims, and the peace of mind of their families.

The relatives and friends of those killed want closure. The survivors, and those close to them, want closure. The citizens of those countries where their murdered compatriots once lived want closure. But they’re not getting it, and perhaps they never will.

Yes, the cowards who, in pursuit of some warped religious-political agenda, thought it was perfectly acceptable to use powerful bombs to destroy hundreds of innocent lives are dead or in jail. Yes, there is a monument to those who died on a street corner nearby. Yes, there was a seismic shift of attitudes towards terrorism in the region, and a push to reduce the chances of such an outrage occurring again.

But to many of those affected, these responses, while comforting to some degree, did not bring closure. It was strongly felt by many that the Sari Club – the epicentre of the outrage – was a sacred site. They wanted the place where their loved ones died to be honoured with the creation of a memorial Peace Park, a place of contemplation and a reminder to all that violent political tactics achieve nothing in the long run, except to demean the perpetrators and their causes in the eyes of the world.

To many of us in the West, final closure is intimately tied up with places. We tend to place a great deal of importance on the sanctity of final resting places, and on the emotional power of memorials at actual sites where people perished. These provide both a spiritual focus and concrete anchor points for our thoughts and memories and prevent them from becoming too quickly diluted by time. They are how we show respect.

To this end, and with the support of the Australian government and Bali’s Provincial administration, plans were drawn up and $1,000,000 raised to implement a proposed Peace Park on the Sari site. Many words were spoken, many meetings were held, endless negotiations were entered into. It was classic NATO – No Action; Talk Only.

Ten years on, the Sari Club site is a filthy wasteland of unevenly packed dirt. Part of it is being used as rat-infested garbage dump. Motorists pay money to leave their cars and bikes all over it. A slum-like corrugated iron shack sells snacks and drinks. There is no signage and no-one shows any sign of remembering that 202 people were killed here 10 years ago. Oh yes, and since Bali has no public toilets, an area to one side has become a stinking, de-facto open sewer where those with full bladders can urinate on the ashes of the dead. The much-vaunted Peace Park has become a Piss Park instead.

What happened?

Well, for one thing, this is not a Western country. Attitudes and cultural mores are very different, and this includes attitudes to death. One Balinese explained it to me thus: “We are used to death. We die early. We die in accidents. We don’t really have graves, or memorials, or monuments. We have ceremonies.” He went on to use the term ‘continuous remembrance’, which I took to mean that the ‘monuments’ to those who die here are both internal and intangible.

That explains part of the laissez-faire approach to the disgusting junk-yard that is the Sari Club site, and the foot-dragging delays in creating what would be a true memorial in our eyes.

But the real reason why nothing has been done is that the money isn’t flowing –  the one  constant that flows through the veins of  the Indonesian body politic.

According to media reports, the land is privately owned by Tija Sukamto, a reputedly rich Javanese businessman. He in turn is said to have leased the land to Kadek Wiranatha, one of Bali’s richest tycoons, and a powerful and influential figure here. The amount raised by the Australian and Bali governments – around $1,000,000 – represents a fair market value for this land, perhaps even a little above. However, both men have steadfastly refused to sell, at least at the price being offered.

Instead, they are demanding $7,200,000 – a price which even the Governor of Bali has described as “crazy” and “unbelievable”. Why? Because they can. It’s their land. It is not sacred to them; it is sacred to us. They know that, and in their eyes, it is a perfect opportunity to drive up the price.

In my opinion, it is a battle that we supporters of a Peace Park can not win. We are motivated by sentiment, emotion and respect for the dead; they are motivated by profit. You don’t get to become successful in business if you let hard-nose financial decisions be swayed by emotion. Don’t blame them for that – it’s the way business is done here.

The ten-year stand-off can only be solved by one party beating a strategic retreat. In my view, insisting on the Sari Club as the only location for the Park is only going to drive up the price further. Let’s find an alternative site at a reasonable price, because the spiritual significance to us trumps the physical location.

Let’s do this quickly, so all the parties can at least get closure, if not comfort. And if Tija Sukamto and Kadek Wiranatha miss out on their $7.2 million windfall, or even fail to get market price for their land, well, that’s just business.

Or maybe it’s Karma.


Round The Island – Getting Away From It All

September 12, 2010

The wanderlust has struck again, the driver has been duly booked and here we are – off on another trip to see more of the Bali beyond Greater Kuta. My friend, her teen-aged son, a small senile dog and yours truly are bumping over an endless series of roadworks just outside of Sanur, trying to work out why a divided ‘highway’ would be carrying two-way traffic in both eastbound and westbound lanes. And why every few kilometres, the traffic flowing in both directions in the two northern lanes is being diverted across to the southern roadway – as is the traffic in the adjacent parallel roadway. The regular cross-over points as we switch roadways are a nightmare of slow motion near-misses, merges and Bali-style ‘give way to the might’ manoeuvres.

No-one seems think this is unusual. I ask our driver: “Why we don’t just stay in the Padang Bai-bound left carriageway? The Sanur-bound traffic could use the other one.” I also wonder why there are alternating stretches of recently poured concrete and bare, bumpy earth. Don’t you normally build roads as a continuous ribbon? But my questions are met with shrugs that would be Gallic if they weren’t so Balinese. The Teenager remains oblivious to the chaos, nose deep in his laptop. I think he is Googling Bali road systems.

A rest stop in the port town of Padang Bai is illuminating. Our warung of choice, overlooking the bay, has what looks like a mid-day party in progress. Six locals are sitting around a table, and from the volume of their conversation, they have been there for some time. Anything that is said, even a grunt, seems uproariously funny to all the others. This may be because they are engaged in some sort of complex drinking ritual which leaves us watchers spellbound. First, the waiter brings six small Bintangs and places one in front of each participant. Then a cut-down two-litre soft drink bottle is produced and ceremoniously filled with beer from all the small bottles. When this improvised plastic jug is full, a shot glass magically appears, and receives a splash of a mysterious dark-brown liquid from another bottle kept under the table. Then the shot glass is topped up with beer from the ‘jug’ and one of the party downs it in one gulp to deafening cheers from his mates.

The process is repeated until the jug is empty, which is the signal for the waiter to bring six more Bintangs. We watch mesmerised as each party-goer rapidly gets through three bottles of beer and the group signals for another round. But just then, a mournful hooting sound drifts across the harbour – apparently the signal that the ferry to Lombok is ready to depart. The revellers leap up, clutching a fresh bottle each, and lumber somewhat unsteadily towards the ferry. I notice for the first time that they all have company T-shirts proclaiming them to be ship’s crew. I resolve that any future visit to Lombok will be by air.

We drive on through picturesque Candi Dasa and cut inland. We are staying at sleepy Amed. I hear the diving is excellent, but as none of us have the time, inclination, or training we content ourselves with relaxing, eating and talking to the locals, who are wonderfully hospitable and friendly. They are fascinated by our little Jack Russell, who is so different to Bali dogs that they are not convinced that it is even a dog. There are times where I have my doubts as well, because she behaves like an elderly aunt.

Another scenic drive brings us to Lovina for the next overnight stay, followed by a meander along spectacular mountain roads past the prosperous-looking village of Kayu Putih and the magnificent Lakes Tamblingan and Buyan. We pass amazing rice terraces suspended high on sheer hillsides. The Teenager is too busy to see them, because he is Googling for images of  rice paddies for his homework. At least he is impressed with the temple ceremonies at Lake Beratan, although the wonderfully syncopated complexities of the massed gamelan orchestra don’t seem to move him as much as the sight of nearby food stalls. But that’s understandable – he is a teenager, he hasn’t eaten for nearly 40 minutes, and is probably starving.

Then, as we approach Mengwi on the way home to the chaotic south, something happens that stops our hearts momentarily. While gridlocked in traffic, we see a little girl, maybe five years old, squatting on her haunches on the side of the road overlooking a deep river valley. She looks like she is poised on the edge of space, toes hanging over the precipice, staring out over the drop. We are frozen. Our driver calls out to her: “Hati hati! Be careful!” Her startled response to his warning is to jump up, overbalance – and disappear into the void. We scream; the driver fumbles with his belt, ready to leap out of the car and run to the edge.

But she suddenly reappears, facing us, arms wide, laughing with glee. She has jumped down to a hidden ledge just below road level, then, after an exquisitely-timed delay, popped back up to see our reaction. Balinese humour. I debate whether to make an appointment for a new pacemaker or hurl her into the valley myself.

But it sort of feels like home. You know – sitting in a traffic jam, breathing exhaust, watching the crowds, and being the victim of yet another practical joke. At least I know I’m back in South Bali, where the chaos and the quirkiness is a way of life.


The Only Watch You Will Ever Need in Bali

January 31, 2010

Our Western notions of time do not transplant easily to Bali. My pre-Bali life was characterised by what seems now to be an obsessive desire to know which particular instant of time I was inhabiting at any given moment. For me to be comfortable back in my past life, I needed to constantly know the day, the date and the precise time, preferably to the millisecond. I actually thought it was important then, but now I can’t remember why. Bali has cured me of the reliance on such a fine temporal granularity. What is the use of knowing the exact time when that knowledge is obsolete by the time the universe delivers the next second? Or the next minute, or the next hour?

This prison of time-obsession kept me constantly stressed. Am I late to meet someone? Is my watch showing the same time as their watch? Why hasn’t the tradesman shown up yet?  Is it time to wake up? And even when I had no deadlines, I rushed and worried from sheer habit, never letting my body and mind travel at its natural pace and rhythm.

My first trip to Bali, perhaps twelve years ago, was an eye-opener. There I was, in Kuta Square, head down, and walking ridiculously fast, when my path was blocked by a large police officer. He spread his arms wide to stop my instinctive dodging manoeuvre and with a look of vast concern said: “Slow down, slow down …“. When I looked at him blankly, he just said: “This is Bali“. I still didn’t get it. He asked me where I was going, and I replied that I was heading to Matahari to do some shopping. He just looked at me. “And when do you need to be there?” I couldn’t answer him – I mean, it’s not as if I had an appointment in the shirt department or anything. He then said something that began to change the way I think. He said: “If you walk slowly, you will feel better. And Matahari will still be there when you get there”. I walked more slowly, felt less stressed – and guess what? It was still there when I arrived. Bali is full of little epiphanies like that.

A year or so later, back here on holidays, I had become less time-conscious, but was still a neurotic basket case by Bali standards. I actually tried to buy a stop-watch here, but the concept of having a device that could measure vanishingly small increments of time was so foreign to vendors here that they were utterly bemused. A store assistant told me that she knew what one was, but couldn’t understand why anyone sane would want one. The watch-sellers on the beach were even more in the dark. I carefully described the function of a stop-watch to one of them and thought that I saw the light of understanding dawn in his eyes.

Him: “Ahh, you want a stop watch!”
Me: (Jubilant) “Yes, yes – a stop watch!”
Him: (Pointing to his friend) “You go to Jimmy. All his watches stop. All my watches are go-watches!”
The accompanying cackle told me that I was yet again a victim of that very special absurdist Balinese sense of humour.

The Bali Time watch

The only watch you need in Bali

And now, after having lived in Bali long enough to dispense with seconds, minutes and even hours as a way to measure the progress of my life, I give those of you – who are still making the transition – a solution to help you cope. Eight months in development, this amazingly inaccurate device will not only tell Bali time, but help you with your Bahasa.

My invention (Patent Pending), The Bali Time watch, has a 24-hour face, but no fine calibrations at all. It only has one hand which points to (more or less) the broad zones of any full day here: morning, middle-day, evening and night.

As an added bonus, there is a countdown timer to let you know when your pembantu and other staff will disappear from your villa or place of work. Certainly beats the 20 minutes warning you normally get.

And trust me – you will never need a timepiece with any more precision than this. After all, this is Bali.