Monday, May 31, 2010

Balinese Cockfight (with apologies to Geertz.)

Yesterday we went to another trance possession ceremony, this one in Denpasar. But the thing that really took me out of my comfort zone at this one was the cockfighting. The Balinese have this marvelous way of mixing the sacred and profane. So while those in the inner temple are concerned with prayer and other sacred pursuits, in the outer temple there is a cockfight tournament and market and the place is absolute Bedlam.

Hundreds of men gather around the cockpit which is about 30 feet across and underneath the usual open pavilion. Some sit at the front, most stand and those that can afford it buy a plastic stool for Rp. 3,000 (30 cents) to stand on so they can see better. Around the back, women ply their trade selling drinks and snacks.

To one side sit the officials with a gong for calling the rounds. In the ring, about a dozen men, big fat, hard, betting men, and short, wiry, hungry men. Not your usual temple goers. These cock fighters, spur tiers, and referees all gather to sort out who will fight whom, everyone is looking for an even fight with well matched birds. The birds are about 8-12 months old and have been lovingly cared for by their owners. The handlers hold their cocks at shoulder height, gently under the belly of the bird, with the razor sharp spur on the left leg held away from the body. This protects the bird and handler and also displays it to the crowd. Other handlers retire to the edge of the ring to tie on the spurs.

The ring clears and the two handlers and referees strut around the ring gathering the money to support the main bet. This could be Rp. 7,000,000 at this temple (about $7,000. But this is chump change at another temple cockfight where the locals invite big gamblers from Java, the main bet can be Rp. 700, 000, 000.) Once each bird has accumulated enough money, the bets are opened to the floor and all hell breaks loose as the crowd wave their right hand to the left or to the right (indicate which bird they want to bet on.) The minimum bet is Rp. 10,000, a dollar, usually even odds. Sometimes it is easy to find a taker, other times the crowd has decided on a favorite and you can't place a bet. For the record I, with the guidance of our driver Nyoman, parleyed Rp. 50,000 into Rp. 200, 000. I gave Nyoman Rp. 100, 000. He will save it for his daughter. All this time the handlers are holding their cocks closely together, almost in pecking range, and are riling them up with pinches, feints, and ruffling of feathers.

The fight begins. The two men move with their cocks to opposite sides of the ring and let them go. the birds immediately rush at each other and jump, slash, and peck for their lives. Often the fight is over very quickly, in seconds, with a mortal wound from the spur. Sometimes the fight lasts a round or two. Occasionally, the two birds tire and refuse to fight. In these cases they are placed together in a bamboo cage and fight to the death, or until one cowers in defeat. During the whole thing the handlers bob and weave as though fighting themselves, the crowd roars, and the blood is up. The fight is the blood sacrifice at the temple.

Outside the ring the processions of Barong from local villages, accompanied by the syncopation of clashing cymbals and gongs of the traveling gamelan, continue to wind into the temple, the priest intones over the sound system. All this clashes with the roar of the cockfight and the sensory overload of a Balinese ceremony is achieved.

The defeated birds are plucked at ring side and taken home by the victor to be eaten. Imagine what it must be like, the cock you have lovingly raised for a year crows in the yard, you have millions of Rupiah in your pocket, and you are eating your defeated opponent -- smells like victory.

Here is Geertz's article.

The betting...

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The flight ....

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The ignominious end of the defeated.



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Friday, May 28, 2010

Tourism in Bali

We are staying at the Puri Bagus Candidasa resort, so this is a perfect opportunity to write about tourism in Bali, with the caveat that I have been here all of twelve days. So take these thoughts as the first impressions of an ill-informed neophyte.

There seem to be three kinds of tourism here. The majority of visitors come for relatively cheap fun in the sun beach vacations. This place is pretty close to Australia and to the economic powerhouses of east Asia. The second is cultural tourism, centered around Ubud and Balinese art, music and religion. The third is high end resort vacations in tropical paradise. Finally, I suppose you can also add the ex-pat community. Foreigners who have moved here.

Tourists are coming from Japan, Australia, Malaysia, Taiwan, China, Europe, particularly the the UK, France,and Germany, the U.S., and from other Indonesian islands, particularly Java. Millions of people come here for vacations every year.

All of this is having a huge impact upon the island. Some positive, even if most tourist dollars stay in Bali for less than 24 hours before transfer to Jakarta or to Japan and destinations elsewhere, this industry is bringing a lot of jobs and money to the Balinese. Tourism is also bringing new ideas and opportunities to the Balinese and while that is not always positive it seems clear that some, perhaps many Balinese find that refreshing. Tourism is also building infrastructure, some of which can be used to meet the needs of ordinary Balinese. Finally, tourist interest in the environment and in Balinese culture seemed to have led to an increased sensitivity and interest in maintaining the environment and Balinese culture.

But it is also pretty clear, in fact it is blinding obvious as soon as you leave the airport that there are significant negative impacts as well. Western tourists bring western consumption expectations with them. This is having a huge impact on water use, electricity consumption, land use, and transportation (to and on the island.) Culturally, tourists come to Bali to see and experience this unique culture and form of Hinduism. But by our very presence and interest we impact on that culture. Ceremonies that were purely Balinese are now attended by foreigners with varying levels of knowledge of and sensitivity towards the ceremony and the people involved. Like European cathedrals, Balinese temples are overrun with people whose relationship to the space and the activities conducted there is very different than that of the local population. Aspects of Balinese ceremony and culture have now become performance or product for tourists and have been radically changed in the process. Hoyt contends that change is inevitable and the the Balinese may be strong enough to find a way to incorporate change brought by tourism on their culture and still maintain control of that culture. I would argue that while cultural change is inevitable, change brought about by post-modern global tourism is almost inevitably corrosive. Environmental change is perhaps the most destructive. Over-consumption by tourists (like me), pollution, the impact on global climate change of simply flying here, all negatively impact the island.

I am living in an object example now. I am sitting by the pool, using the wifi (and too much water and electricity) in a resort hotel that is constructed on a global model and has little connection to Bali. The beach has eroded away because someone mined the coral. The coral reef we went to yesterday evening was gorgeous, the best I have ever snorkeled in (above? over? Whatever!) but then I have only snorkeled in the Dry Tortugas. Seriously though, amazing. Acres of coral, feet from the beach, shoals of brightly colored fish, Mark followed a turtle. Just amazing. But as we swam we had to wave away the plastic garbage floating in the water. Exactly the same stuff Mark and I collected yesterday. Some of the coral was bleached and some had been damaged by boats that have come here to deliver tourists (like me) to the coral reef. Unusually, in my experience, one sees few offerings around the hotel grounds. There are few holy places, and few people employed by or connected to the hotel who feel the sense of connection to the place and culture that would lead to the leaving of daily offerings.

Ironically, it is now May 31st and since I began writing this post we have returned to Ubud, traveled to Denpasar (more on that in a later post) and now find my self at another beach resort hotel in Livona. This is first Internet connection I have had since Candidasa. The experience is much the same. Not much beach, buffet lunch, swimming pool with bar, 1970 - 80's resort experience, twenty middle-aged German tourists all drinking Coke, plonked down in Bali. These experiences have been the least satisfying of my time in Bali.

With one exception. Margaret and I walked out of the hotel in Candidasa through the banana groves and along the cost to the water temple perched on the promontory where the caretaker priest welcomed us and allowed us to take photos and patiently answered all out questions as we gazed over the sparkling Indian Ocean towards the island of Nusa Penida and watched Balinese cows graze on the hillside as the tropical breeze .lofted the cotton awning over the open-air temple.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Little Taste of Home


During the prayer service at Selat Pecan the woman I sat behind was wearing a Mickey and Minnie hair clip.

Chemical Baggies

Today we drive to Candidasa for a few temples and some snorkeling. So Mark and I collected plastic garbage on our regular running route this morning. There is a real problem with plastic garbage on the island. The Balinese used biodegradable containers and wrappings for centuries (banana leaves etc.) and they composted after use. Now they use a lot of plastic (though not as much as the average American) but have continued to toss their waste aside.
The waste we gathered (about 20 lbs in two miles) consisted of plastics bottles, individual candy wrappers, individual hygiene product wrappers, and a large number of small clear plastic bags that the farmers use for agricultural chemicals -- chemical baggies.

What we did not find were any condoms, needles, aluminum cans, or any broken high end plastics (cell phones, sunglasses, etc.) It was also interesting how little plastic garbage there was in light of that fact that they do not seem to ever collect it.

You can learn a lot from garbage.

The Future of College Libraries

Today I spoke to a group of librarians from Udayana University at the new campus at Bukit Jimbaran Badung, near Denpasar about the future of libraries. Here is my PowerPoint. No surprises here for anyone who has talked to me about the future of libraries recently.

The librarians' questions were good and perceptive. They were particularly interested in embedded library instruction, partnerships with faculty, library automation, the library as place, and working conditions for U.S. librarians.

Jaya took this picture of us all with his iPhone.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Procession in Mas

This afternoon we went to see a procession in Mas, a village in Ubud region. This is one of the iconic sights of Bali. Women processing to the temple with very tall offerings on their heads. Each neighbourhood gathers at the community center and then they all set off to the village center and then to the temple, accompanied by a marching band. We were told that the offerings are as tall as the family can afford. They are constructed around a banana stem and the fruit, chicken, and cakes are attached with bamboo spikes. Each offering is topped with three Chinese coins (the round ones with a square hole, these commemorate a marriage between a king and a Chinese princess (but don't quote me on that.) The offerings will be stored at the temple overnight and then taken by the family and eaten at about 5 a.m. tomorrow.

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Monday, May 24, 2010

And now for something completely different ....

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The Water Temple Tirta Empul at Tampaksiring

Today we went to the Water Temple, Tirta Empaul, and also visited the healing waters there. This was very special, again outside my comfort zone in the sense that it challenged my simplistic dismissal of all things spiritual. The temple is located at a spring. The water from this spring is channeled (the Balinese really know how to manage water) into a series of pools fed by multiple water spouts.
We entered the pool area in just our sarongs and sandals, and prayed in the Balinese manner. Men cross legged, women kneeling. Each with a small bowl containing flowers, a bouquet, and an incense stick. After wafting the incense over us we extinguished the stick and prayed with hands clasped in front of our foreheads, then we prayed again with a frangipani flower between our hands, then with the small bouquet, and with two petals, and finally with empty hands one more time.
Then we entered the left hand pool, walked to the first spigot, clasped our hands in prayer one more time and ritually washed our heads five times. Then proceeded to the next spigot and so on. Each spigot was labeled in Sanskrit and Balinese with the particular power, so some we avoided (cremation etc.) The repetition, the rain, the constant falling water, the communal nature of the act, the coolness of the water, the echo of the pool enclosure, all added up to a quite remarkable experience.
From Bali Photos

As Hoyt reminds us, Balinese Hinduism is a religion of orthopraxy (correct ritual practice and behavior), unlike Christianity's orthodoxy (correct belief or thought.) The ritual is important, not the thought, which is why a bunch of westerners like us can be so accepted, as long as we
do the right thing.

Hunting the Durian

One of my goals for Bali has been to taste the fabled Durian. Today I succeeded. As we drove back from the Batur volcano, our driver Wayan Sarma, stopped at a roadside stand and helped us select the best fruit. Here is the video. Because of the smell no one wants to transport these fruits in the passenger compartment, so instead he secured it inside the engine compartment and off we drive. Once back at the hotel, Margaret cut the beast open and we all dug in, I have also posted the reviews here as soon as I can. video video

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Reading in Bali

This short video is a great example of one type of reading practice in Bali and I think it is a great example of the totemic power of reading. The sermon is being read in Sanskrit, and translated and interpreted by a second "reader'" in High Balinese.

I used to think that it was unlikely that anyone, other than perhaps a few priests and priests-in-training, hearing these performance understood what was being read or the translation. But today our driver, Nyoman, translated some of the interpretation for me and said that most people understood High Balinese, but did not use it. That doesn't change the point though, what was important was to hear the words in the original and in a revered older language. Another example would be jewel-encrusted codices paraded through medieval European towns but not read, the Latin Mass, or Tibetan prayer wheels.

For an illiterate population or a primary oral culture (which is what Bali would have been when Hindu texts were introduced to the island, perhaps around 800 -- 1100 C.E) the technology of reading and writing -- which enables people to move information through time and space outside of the human brain -- was magical, and those that controlled the technology, the priests and the rulers who employed them, were anxious to keep it that way.

Mass illiteracy is not the case today in Bali, but remnants of these practices remain in this kind of activity.

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Jaya at Selat Pecan.

Dr. Cokorda Bagus Jaya Lesmana is the son of Professor Surayni, a leading Balinese psychiatrist and a psychiatrist himself. He is a friend of Hoyt's and I met him at the ceremony at Selat Pecan. video

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Biting the heads off chickens

This afternoon Hoyt took us to a temple ceremony in Selat Pekan up in the mountains. This was the first time we have had an opportunity to attend such an event that was not designed for tourists. There were hundreds of Balinese there and just a couple of dozen tourists.
The event began with Sanskrit chants and sermons, then prayers, then a long kind of mummers play with kings and demons, and lots of comic relief, and then the main event, a variant Barong dance, during and after which a number of men went into trances. This was quite well organized with a clear group of men officiating. They held the trancees (is that a word?) down -- not an easy task, or at least they made it look theatrically difficult -- and emptied their pockets, not sure if they did other things as well. Then let them go and gave them large knives (which a number of us thought was inadvisable since they then proceeded to charge the crowd, but it certainly added to the excitement of the evening, to most people's glee.) The officiants then dangled live chicks in front of the trancees and also bottles of arak -- Balinese moonshine -- because the possessing spirits love blood and alcohol (reminds me of this song.) The trancees, about five guys at this point, would grab the chicks and bite their heads off, then proceed to eat the birds heads and all. One guy must have eaten a dozen chicks. Finally, they are woken from their trance with holy water and weariness and proceeded through the temple gates and the evening is over. At which point we all stream out of the temple.
Generally a good time was had by all, exciting, communal, gossipy. It reminded me of a bullfight.

The most powerful point for me was when the temple guards forced everyone to crouch down below the spirits and Barong (no one could be higher than a spirit.) They were more successful with those people nearer the action. There was this wonderful transgressive amoeba-like quality to the crowd, everyone wanted to stand up and see but also were scared to exceed the gods or defy the guards. As we crouched down we needed more space and the crowd was pushed back. As we rose, we pressed forward. So under the hot lights in this enclosed space on a tropical night we wavered back and forth as the gods moved amongst us and the Barong paced around.

Next I will post a couple of videos from the event, so stay tuned.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Traditional Healer

In another trip outside of my comfort zone, Hoyt took us all to a traditional healer, Cok Rai. I will share Micki's video response when I can get blogger to accept such a big video. But in the meantime let me tell you about my experience. Cok Rai was a superb listener and observer and he very quickly understood quite a bit about each of us. i think this comes from natural empathy, careful observation, and long experience. Hoyt would say I am safely staying in my western rationalist comfort zone and that I should at least consider that he has some other power that is best understood from within a Balinese worldview. Perhaps so, but I think my rationalist explanation still leaves him as an amazing guy. He spent a lot of time poking me in an eclectic mixture of pressure points that seem to be based on Chinese and Indian Vedic medicine. Ultimately ending up poking me between my toes with a stylus, each point connected to a different internal organ. I have one problem, a memory lodged in my head (luckily it has not progressed to my chest) that I need to let go of.

After lunch we went to a mask maker, I Wayan Muka, in Mas. Masks are a common component in Balinese performances. I was amazed at how he was changed by simply putting on the mask and dancing, which is his specialty. But these tourist things, however, accomplished leave me cold. When I have some time I will have to blog about tourism in Bali, or at least my uninformed early impressions of same.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Micki on the traditional healer

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Running in Rice Fields

Mark and I found the most amazing run this morning. The hotel staff recommended a run through the rice fields in Ubud. About 3 miles. We ran through a neighbourhood of the usual B&B's and art galleries and then the road narrowed to a track and then to a muddy lane and we suddenly rose up into the rice paddies. we were running along the dikes that separate the rice fields, past coco palms and small compounds. Ducks were working eating bugs and weeds in the flooded fields and leaving their fertilizer behind them. Cocks crowing, We ran up one irrigatin system and then down another and could see the subak system at work. It reminded me of a similar system in Colorado created by the Spanish, but on a much more sophisticated level.
The run was a real mixture of pre-lapserian rural idyll and post-modern responses to globalization. About half way through we met a young man tending an art gallery, yes, an art gallery in the middle of a rice field! But he was also watching his water alarm a simple water balance that continuously filled and emptied and rose and fell, hitting a bamboo pole as it did so The regular "thock" notified the farmer that the water was still running (and thus that his neighbour had not cut off this water supply yet.) We also saw a man shinning up a coco palm after the ripe coconuts above and small fields of mustard greens and soy beans amid the rice.

It ws a run I will always treasure, but as Hoyt said, in ten years time those fields will probably all be art galleries. bali is a strange experience.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Outside my comfort zone

One of the points of these trips is to get you out of your comfort zone. So there we were this afternoon lounging in the pool of a truly superb hotel in Ubud (I will post photos later. I was dumb enough to forget to bring the doo-hicky that allows me to download photos from the camera -- so i will take some with the flip tomorrow. Stay tuned.) Trying to work out how this could possibly be outside of our comfort zone.

Then we went to get ceremonial temple clothing -- sarong, saput (over-sarong), and prayer sash, udeng (hat.) So there we all are choosing colors and styles, mixing and matching, and feeling foolish, but also somewhat peacocky in our finery, at least the men were. That was a little out of my comfort zone.

The reason we got this garb was to be able to attend and participate in an "opening prayer." A prayer tat the Balinese use to begin all kinds of activities, including a visit like ours. Again, photos to come, but this was way out of my comfort zone, old materialist that I am. The service consisted of interlocking prayers from the temple priest, offerings by the family, and various ritual actions by the audience/laity. So all our senses were engaged, hearing the prayers being snug to the sound of bells, the smell of incense, the incredibly rich visual environment, feeling my sorry butt on the hard floor and the feel of flowers between my hands as I pray. I can't wait to share some of these with you.

While we were waiting for the temple priest to arrive we watched a troupe of young girls practicing their dancing with the local gamelan orchestra in the district community center, an open pavilion on the street. These children were totally unconcerned with the audience, in fact pleased to have one. There level of skill was remarkable. Again, photos to come.

Running on the beach at Sanur


Mark Anderson and I went running on the beach at Sanur before dawn today. There were crowds of boisterous young Muslim people who came on big tourist buses and watched the sun come up. Lots of people were delighted to see two lumbering western tourists doing such a silly thing as running on the beach and greeted us with hellos and good mornings. Each beach restaurant, hotel, and house had numerous offerings and shrines clothed in distinctive clothes with lots of offerings placed about.

No pictures I am afraid, I could not run with the camera. So just my memories, but here isan accurate one from someone else.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Why are you going to Bali?

In Orlando airport I asked some of the group why they are going on this trip. Here is John Houston's answer.


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Saturday, May 15, 2010

The road to Bali

On Monday I leave for Bali, Indonesia on the latest Rollins faculty trip. Each faculty member goes with a particular interest. I have two, the first is traditional Balinese writing and reading practices, Lontars, and reading groups, and the other is tropical vegetable gardening.

I am taking a laptop and flip camera with me and will try blogging from Bali as we go. I could have done this all from my phone, but Verizon would have charged me an arm and leg, and probably screwed it up anyway. One non-blog example: they put skype mobile on their phone and then only let you use it via their phone system, for which you need an international plan. Dumb.

Wish me luck. By the way, you know where the title of this post comes from.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Olin Library on the iPhone

The Olin Library have now been added to the Rollins College iPhone App. You can search the library's online and physical collection with R-Search, search individual databases or the online catalog more selectively, check your account and renew books, access online reserves or your interlibrary loan materials, ask a librarian for information, and more. Download this free app here using iTunes, or search the iTunes Store for Rollins College.

Next steps: a website tuned for access form mobile devices, and apps for other phones, particularly the droid.