Posts Tagged ‘Nyepi’


The Great Nyepi Escape

April 29, 2013

I usually enjoy Nyepi Day, Bali’s annual Day of Silence, when all are confined to their domiciles for 24 hours and no noise, work, fun, or illumination is permitted. It is an opportunity to reflect and allow the stillness to enter you.

Despite having honoured this day for the last  four years,  sequestered alone in my dwelling, this year the prospect was a little more daunting. A few minor technical hitches – such as a broken stove, a malfunctioning DVD player and no hot water – would have made the enforced isolation more unpleasant. OK, OK – I’m a wimp.

My brilliant solution of checking into a hotel with expansive grounds, where guests can wander around freely during Nyepi, came to naught. Bali’s hotel prices are just too high for me now. Expansive grounds come with an expensive tariff, and of course the Nyepi lock-down means you have to book two nights. As it turned out, going off the island – to Kuala Lumpur – ended up being cheaper for four nights at a hotel, including airfares, than staying in Bali.

So here I am in Malaysia. Ten minutes to get through the immigration formalities, an automatic, free visitors’ visa, luggage waiting for me on the carousel. A train station right in the terminal, and a 25 minute, 57 kilometre trip to KL Sentral on the KLIA express.

The KL traffic is busy, but free-flowing, with amazingly disciplined and courteous drivers. Drivers stop for pedestrians on crossings, they stop for red lights, they wait for traffic to clear before pulling out from the left, and they park properly. The streets are wide and clean and clearly signposted. I don’t see a single piece of trash on the footpaths.

It’s weird being in a place where everything just … works. The electricity stays on, water quality is good, places are open at their designated hours, and everything in my little hotel is as it should be. Well, most of it – my room’s air-conditioner control panel appears to be connected to a Bali-style ‘Wishful Thinking’ module, which in turn is connected to nothing. Like governments, I suspect it is there purely to give us all an illusion of control.

But no-one controls the weather, and at this time of year, there is rain. Lots of it. Regular as clockwork, the customary 4pm thunderstorm hits the city, often violently. Today’s is massive, with lightning striking every building around me every few seconds. I notice that all the smart birds are diving from the tops of tall buildings and taking refuge at street level. They don’t look happy, and they’re not smiling – but how can one tell? I mean, they have no lips …

I witness two hippy types, presumably with an IQ far lower than that of most of the birds, dancing in the rain on an 8th floor roof across the street. Faces upturned towards the continuous bolts of lightning, they wave their arms towards the raging skies as if in supplication to their gods. They are far closer to heaven than they ever imagine. But someone is looking after these dolts, and they fail to be vapourised in an incandescent ball of energy. I confess to feeling faintly disappointed.

While Bali is dark and silent for Nyepi, Kuala Lumpur is pumping. Checking out the restaurants, I find one called the White Raja. Ah, OK, Indian food. Then I look closer and notice that it’s actually called the White Raja – Borneo. Right, it appears that we have Kalimantan food with an Indian influence. Possibly with some traditional Dyak fare? Interesting. So I check the menu. It’s Italian.

Never mind. I find a basement under one of the plazas which is crammed with every imaginable type of food stall, each one serving delicious food. While English is widely spoken in KL, the locally-patronised food stand owners tend to stick to Bahasa Melayu – or Chinese, or dialects from the Middle East. Fortunately, even though they struggle to understand my Bahasa Indonesia (which is no surprise; people in Indonesia have the same problem) I can make myself understood.

I think I’ve worked out the secret. If I Anglicise every 5th word, add “lah” to every 3rd word and excitedly finish every sentence with “!”, they seem to understand me better. Or I could just stop torturing them and speak English …

After dinner, I find a footpath bar close to my hotel, and kick back with a wee drink while watching the passing parade. Suddenly, my ears are assailed with a strange, eclectic mix of Euro-Arabic-Latino-style music. Shortly thereafter, a figure materialises in the gloom of a doorway to one side. I see a hint of sinuous dance movements, a silhouette promising sensual delights, and a tantalising glimpse of a deep décolletage. And then the lighting improves, and an … apparition becomes visible.

He, because it definitely was a he, is about 190 cm tall and is dressed in a frilly, black, deeply low-cut top revealing astonishingly profuse chest hair, black leggings and a strange sort of fringed tutu. His dancing is a cross between belly dancing, erotic salsa, and pole dancing. Pelvic thrusts of an energy and amplitude that suggest a serious future back problem seem to hypnotise the rapt female patrons of the bar. The first unexpected thrust makes me inadvertently swallow one of the ice-cubes in my drink.

But that isn’t all. Every half-minute or so, he emits a shrieking ululation of a frequency and volume high enough to coagulate eyeballs for a one kilometre radius, as well as instantly kill any birds that have survived the earlier lightning storm. The first of these lifts me  completely of my chair, and I spill my drink. I discover later that this is a Zaghrouta – a traditional Iraqui cry of great joy.

My own joy is tempered somewhat when I try to go to sleep in my room later, only to discover that not only is his performance continuing, but the walls of the hotel are completely transparent to the sonic barrage. As I watch my bedroom walls tremble, their paint flaking off, and my bathroom fixtures fracture into shards of porcelain, I am struck with the thought that George Bush was looking for the wrong Weapons of Mass Destruction. The real ones were larynx-based, completely hidden and totally transportable all this time.

Zaghrouta aside, KL was a great short break from Bali. Perhaps I shouldn’t compare the quality of infrastructure with that found in Indonesia, as the circumstances and mindsets are so different. It is amazing what a genuine pursuit of excellence can achieve – and of course, the will to improve things. It is a shame that some of those in power in Indonesia are so consumed with antipathy towards Malaysia. They could learn so much.

Will I come back for next Nyepi? Probably not. I sort of missed the silence.


Some Post-Nyepi Reflections

March 25, 2012

Another Nyepi has come and gone.  It was a time of quiet darkness, the freedom from the incessant chaos of traffic and people on the streets providing a balm for jaded souls. A Day of Silence, introspection and respect. Except, of course, for those who seem to be exempt from respecting the strictures that this day imposes on the rest of us.

Like the local lads in Buleleng who rampaged through the streets of the silent Nyepi night on motorbikes, attacking rival communities, hurling insults and missiles, and co-opting reinforcements to swell the numbers of those engaged in this desecration.

Like the police and paramilitaries who responded to this affray not with mediation, counselling and diplomacy, but with gunfire. Gunfire on Nyepi Day, no less!

Like some Balinese children and teenagers, caught up in self-righteous vigilante hubris – and believing that they have the same rights as adult Pecalang – rampaging noisily down streets, hammering loudly on doors and demanding that lights be doused.

Like the Pecalang who believed that young children under their supervision, should be permitted to play in the otherwise empty streets while their charges socialised, chatted and played cards.

Like some insensitive bules who perhaps thought that they had been quiet for long enough by 11 pm on Friday night, and were therefore justified in letting the sound of their loud, drunken arguments escape their villas and pollute the still night.

Like the few errant mosques, whose clerics arrogantly permitted amplified sounds to sully the silence despite all prior polite requests for quiet – and despite Bali’s already generous concessions which allowed Muslims to walk to mosques in the name of religious tolerance.

Like surfers and visitors to Medewi, who freely used the streets and beaches all day.

Like some restaurants in the same area, which were open for business on the Day of Silence.

And like a few non-Balinese households, who believed that their brightly-lit, noisy houses were as exempt from silence, darkness and respect for local customs as those of their compatriots in other parts of the archipelago.

Visitors, tourists, expats and most Indonesian non-Hindus have, in the main, always shown respect for Nyepi, observing its restrictions with good grace. But now, with breaches and exemptions on the increase, some people are starting to question whether the Balinese take it all that seriously themselves. And if they don’t, why are the rest of us bothering?

I think that the spiritual currency of this special day is being slowly devalued – and that makes me sad.

RELATED POST: One Day, Will We Commemorate Nyepi Day With A Minute’s Silence?


Fighting The Fear Factor – Phobias In Paradise

November 7, 2011

So I’m taking a short-cut home one night after a late dinner, and turn the bike into a somewhat dark lane in Seminyak . It’s around midnight, and my headlight illuminates a young woman standing stock-still in the centre of the road. She has long black hair covering most of her face, which is slightly averted, but I sense that she is staring straight at me. Her dress is of pure white and imbued with a dazzling intensity. It reaches down to the ground, seeming to blend seamlessly into the very cobblestones  of the lane.  Her garment shimmers and undulates like sunlight on the top of a cloud. Although she is clearly female, not a single detail of the contours of her body is visible.

Right, I think – another lost Eat, Pray, Love acolyte wandering the streets of Bali, looking for salvation, or enlightenment, or … something. Yet she doesn’t seem to have that New Age look about her, and she’s a hell of a long way from Ubud. In fact, in the two seconds it takes me to draw abreast of her, I decide that she’s quite creepy and I ride past without pausing. I feel an intense psychic pressure boring into the back of my skull and write it off as the effect of too many scotches at dinner.

“You are lucky you are not dead! It was a Kuntilanak!” says a shocked local friend the next day. Another one, the horror evident on her face, says, “A Pontianak! You met a Pontianak! She would have ripped out your belly if you had stopped!” It turns out that those who believe in Indonesian ghosts apparently have a overwhelming fear of these apparitions. Reputedly women who have died in childbirth and become ‘undead’, they terrorize villages as they seek revenge. Legend has it that they target passing men. Lucky she wasn’t on a motorbike.

Not being a believer in ghosts, I still think she was just a particularly scary Gilbertine. But the experience did serve to remind me that I’ve met many people here who have some pretty powerful fears and phobias. Some, like the fear of snakes, wasps or bees are understandable, related as they are to self-preservation and avoidance of pain or anaphylactic shock. Some are cultural, like the fear of dogs, or the reaction of small children to Ogoh-ogohs, those huge Balinese monsters of legend.

Likewise with the pervasive fear of the dark displayed by many locals. I had a live-in pembantu who kept her room light on all night. Any power outage would result in screams of fear until she found her flash-light to ward off the terrifying dark. My villa is a haven of relative silence – but the lack of community noise scares some locals who have told me, “I could not live here. It is too quiet – I would be afraid.” They must be glad Nyepi Day comes only once a year.

But other phobias are beyond my ken to grasp, although obviously very powerful for those so afflicted. I think spiders are cute, but I have a friend who lapses into a catatonic trance at the mere sight of one. It takes at least thirty minutes before he is even capable of speech. I love storms – the more lightning, the better – but I know people who cower in locked rooms at the first distant peal of thunder. I know a fearless and adventurous woman who is terrified of mice. A single rodent glimpsed in her peripheral vision will cause her to execute a leap on to a chair – from a standing start – that would be the envy of many Olympians. She flatly refuses to come down until the offending animal has died of old age.

The teenage daughter of a friend is a spectacularly confident young lady, über-cool and totally together – until a butterfly flies towards her. Then it’s bedlam of monumental proportions as she tries to to scale barbed-wire fences and run through masonry walls to put some distance between her and the attacking lepidopteran.

Yet another educated, confident and otherwise secure person of my acquaintance appears to be scared of nothing on the planet. She happily jumps off tall towers, only prevented from dashing her brains out on the ground by a large rubber band attached to her leg. She climbs ridiculously steep and rocky mountains in the dark, and can rappel like a commando. Most impressive of all, she can negotiate Jakarta traffic with equanimity. But the sight of a millipede, even one that has been dead for six months, will provoke a panic attack that only two hours of meditation and a cylinder of pure oxygen can assuage.

I do sympathise though, I really do. I know that aversions and phobias can be extremely uncomfortable, but I also know that repeated exposure to the offending stimulus can do much to habituate the sufferer. It worked for me – my aversion to Bintang singlets was so debilitating that I was actually forgetting to enjoy Bali. But continual exposure to these disturbing garments – impossible to avoid in much of South Bali – has de-sensitised me to the point where I can now see one without flinching. Much.

Who knows? The technique might work for ghosts, snakes, spiders, mice, millipedes and butterflies too. At least it would be nice to see my fearful friends relax a little.


The Post-Nyepi Breakfast Debacle

March 6, 2011

It’s the morning after Nyepi, Bali’s annual Day of Silence. A quiet, introspective day was followed by an uncharacteristically early night. After all, there is only so much you can do by yourself in the dark. Finally, at six thirty (barely light here), I give up on my natural inclination to snooze until mid-morning and heave myself out into the still-quiet Legian morning to track down some breakfast.

The trouble is, all of my regular breakfast haunts are closed until mid-day because of the post-Nyepi Ngembak Geni custom of visiting family to ask for forgiveness for past transgressions. As I have no family in Bali, nor will I readily admit to any transgressions, this means I have to find a new purveyor of fine breakfasts which is open early.

So I find an establishment (the identity of which will remain undivulged to protect the guilty) which is open at 8am , park myself in the suspiciously empty dining area and peruse the very limited breakfast menu. Yikes! Fifty-five thousand for an ‘American Breakfast’! The alternative seems to be something consisting of something normally found in a horse’s nosebag, together with ‘milk’ that has never seen the inside of a cow.  I opt for the eggs, tea, fruit juice and toast combo. Big mistake.

The tea tastes as it has been stewing since the day before Nyepi. Even my usual three big spoons of sugar don’t help, particularly as I am unable to get all of the ants out. Never mind, I’m told that tea with formic acid is the new health kick. The ‘orange juice’ is actually cordial – and I don’t mean in the friendly sense either. It is so watered down that it is practically a homeopathic remedy. The toast is stale and dry, and its accompanying butter pat is best described as borderline rancid. At least the omelette can’t be as bad – I mean, how can you screw up an omelette?

Trust me, this place can. This creation was perfectly round, perhaps 3 millimetres thick and of a consistency most reminiscent of hard rubber. If I hadn’t already taken a bite out of it, I could have taken it home, dried it out for two more days and kept is as a spare front brake disk for my motorbike.  And of course,this being such a high-end establishment, the bill for this morning’s indulgence came complete with hotel-style taxes and surcharges, inflating the price to 68,000 rupiah. Hell, I could have got a massage for that. I wish I had.

I shouldn’t have been so damned lazy. The next time my usual places are closed after Nyepi, I will cook for myself. Or maybe I’ll just find an unsuspecting family here and ask for forgiveness for imaginary transgressions. They might take pity on me and feed me.