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You are here: Home Blogs RMS Bali (2004-10-24 to 2004-10-31)

Bali (2004-10-24 to 2004-10-31)

by Richard Stallman Contributions Published on Jul 12, 2010 03:14 PM
It was horribly hot in Denpasar when I arrived, just as it had been in Java, Malaysia, and Singapore. But I expected it to be comfortable in Ubud, which is at a higher elevation. I arranged to stay in a really nice home-stay place, where I stayed the previous time, around 7 years ago. I was comfortable there without air conditioning on my previous visit.

But it turns out that that was during the cool season. Now it is the hot and rainy season, and Ubud too was unbearably hot for me. I had to tell the host (who somewhat remembered my previous visit) that I could not stay there this time. We went back to Denpasar and I stayed in a hotel that Deepak, organizer of my visit, often uses. I was rather sad about that. But next day we found a place in Ubud with air conditioning that I could stay in. We also went that evening to a professional dance and music performance, which Ubud has many of. This performance started much later than the announced time, which we didn't think was surprising.

The next day we asked around, "Where is there a temple ceremony?", but we could not find anything for that day--only for the following day, in Tegallalang, around 20 minutes drive away. So we decided to go to the performance of Sekar Semara Ratih, which is a professional group that often plays interesting recent compositions. We had about 30 minutes before the official starting time, so we decided to have a quick dinner first. If we didn't get there on time, well, they'd probably be late.

Unfortunately we got lost for a while driving around eat, and it took a little longer than we thought. And this group started precisely on time, or so it seems, so we missed a couple of pieces. But we saw most of the performance, and the dancing was exquisite.

That evening at around 11, alone in my hotel room, I felt like drinking something other than water. So I went out of the hotel, and across the street I found a cafe that was still just barely open enough that I could get bottles of iced tea. While drinking them, I pulled out my computer to start doing email. This led to a conversation with the waiter, Gusti, who studies computers in his spare time, and I explained the ideas of free software to him. (This was the first time I had explained it in Indonesian, and I felt quite proud of being able to do it.)

When I told him about my plans to visit the ceremony in Tegallalang the next day, he offered to take me there on his motorcycle. I thanked him, but I said there was a difficulty: Indrio, a student from Java, was also visiting with me, and we were planning to go there together. Gusti said that was no problem; his friend would go with us, and together they would bring us both.

The next day, Indrio was surprised when I told him that I had already found transport. We all went to Tegallalang, and there we learned that we needed certain kinds of ritual clothing in order to be able to enter the temple. We were not prepared. It took a certain amount of time for us to find ways to buy or borrow what we needed, but eventually we were able to enter.

The temple was an amazing crowded scene, packed with many groups of making various sorts of contributions to the ceremony. In one spot, a gamelan was playing; in another, there was wayang; other groups were singing. They did all these things independently, and so close that they interfered audibly with each other. Some people had brought animals that would be eaten after the ceremony, including goats, ducks, geese, a pig, and a large turtle which I hope is not an endangered species. These animals were finely decorated.

After leaving the ceremony, we visited a field which contained a large tomb (people who died fighting for independence from the Dutch, Gusti said), but was mainly used for soccer.

Gusti's friend Wayan invited me to a ceremony his family was having in a couple of days, and I was supposed drop in at the cafe before 11pm the next day to get back in touch. However, I didn't make contact for this. That evening Indrio got in touch with some students who brought me to a ceremony in Payangan, another town, and we got back too late.

Although this time I had some of the necessary ritual clothing from the previous time, it wasn't enough. The village police, who were sheltering from the rain in a little hut outside the temple, told me I needed some more; one offered to go get what I needed while the others invited me to sit in their hut and wait. I spoke with them for a while, then answered more email.

Once I had the necessary clothing, they helped me put it on, and we joked about whether the sarong was too small or my belly was too big. Then I was able to enter. A gamelan was playing, and twice processions arrived from other temples, carrying idols of two gods, who were visiting this temple for its ceremony. I listened and hoped that at some point there would be dancing as well.

As I waited, I saw two western women enter along with a Balinese woman. She seemed to be explaining things to them in English, so I asked if I could listen. She said I was welcome. She mentioned that she had visited Java for a dance competition and that her group had come out very well. The western women asked if she were married, and she said no, that nobody wants to marry her. She said that whoever married her would have to live in her house, and nobody wants to that. I was dazed by her beauty, but not so much I couldn't recognize that she was also incredibly sweet, intelligent, and apparently talented as well. It seems unbelievable that there is any man in Bali who doesn't want to marry her. She gave her name as Kade and suggested that I come back the next evening, and said that she would be dancing at 9pm or 10pm. Then they left.

It ultimately turned out that there would be no dancing this night until 2am. We didn't want to wait that long, so we went back to Ubud. We got back at midnight, and Gusti was no longer at the cafe. I asked the one person there to tell him I had come looking for him. In fact, with the rush of events, I never had another chance to see him. I would have liked to say goodbye and thanks, at least.

The next day, I gave my speech at Udayana University in Denpasar, and also obtained the rest of the necessary ritual clothing. I made sure to get back to Ubud by 8 so as to get to Payangan by 9. Deepak came along this time. Two groups of girls danced, the first ones around 7 years old, the next group around 13. The first ones were just beginners, but they were still able to contribute to the ceremony by dancing. In the west, girls that age might be learning ballet or some other kind of dance, and the school might give them a chance to put on a performance, but it's just a school thing. These girls were real participants in a real ceremony.

Finally, two women arrived in rich costumes. I couldn't see them very well, as they sat down in a dark area behind a cloth screen. but I thought one was Kade. When she entered and began dancing, I was sure. This dance was combined with singing, and told part of a story. (They spent hours presenting just a few episodes; they didn't try to do the whole thing.) The effect was beautiful, but the singing was in Balinese, not Indonesian, so I didn't have the slightest chance of understanding it, and neither did Deepak who grew up in Java. And then two comic actors came out and began kidding each other in Balinese. The crowd was soon laughing out loud, but the only part I could understand was when they switched to Indonesian and started briefly joking with me. (Like most of the audience, I was just a few feet away from them.) It got to be boring, and I knew it could easily go on for an hour. After a while I got tired of waiting for it to change, and decided to move.

However, I saw that people were freely going to speak with the dancers who weren't currently on "stage", where they were sitting on the other side of the cloth screen through which they entered and exited. It screened them only from the stage area.

So I said hello to Kade and told her, "I think I understand now why nobody wants to marry you and live in your house. There must be a raksasa (mythical demon) living in your house. Nothing less would be enough to discourage men." When she understood what I was saying, she thanked me for the compliment.

She explained the story to me a little, and what would happen in her next scene. Then it was time for her to enter for another scene, so I walked a few feet away where I could see the "stage" better. After she exited again, I stopped by to say farewell. Another actor/dancer exited, and said hello to me, asking where I was from; she told me he was her father. "So you see in my family we all have the same hobby", she said.

The following day was my last complete day in Bali. I went with Deepak and a Balinese computer professional on a trip to the mountains. They felt it was necessary to head south to Denpasar in order to get the right road north; they worried that the East-West roads might not be good enough. (The roads I saw in Bali were all ok.) On the way Deepak checked his mail and found that my absentee ballot had still not arrived. I won't be able to vote this year. (I've read reports of many delays in sending absentee ballots, and reports that in some states this happens only in places likely not to vote for Bush.)

We visited a place near the north of Bali where there are several large lakes among the mountains. We drove to a long ridge just north of the lakes; look south and you see the lakes below and the mountains behind them, their tops lost in clouds; look down to the north and you see the coast, except there was a cloud in the way everywhere that day. There were clouds in some of the valleys to the south also. It was beautiful, and I wanted to take a picture, but my camera had ceased to work. New images simply came out black.

So we sat around for a while, and I tried the camera again. This time it worked. I quickly took all the photos that were possible from there, and we moved a little ways to a small hotel where we sat and I had tea. Then it was time to return. As we drove down from the ridge, we passed a troop of monkeys that lived off food that people gave them. We stopped to watch them, and some came over to us, so Deepak handed them crackers which they took with their hands. It would have made a great photo, but my camera had once again gone dead.

I'm editing my draft of this article in a hotel in Singapore. A few days ago a newspaper printed an an article saying I was going to give a speech here about "intellectual property". People need to learn to recognize the deception in that phrase.

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