Friday, June 22, 2012

Tri Hita Karana

In Balinese Hinduism, the Tri Hita Karana (derived from Sanskrit) translates to three, welfare and cause - the three aspects that bring about well being.

These harmonious relationships are:
(1) Spiritual environment (Parahyangan) = the relationship between humans and God; (2) Social environment (Pawongan) = the relationship of humans with other humans; and (3) Natural environment (Palemahan) = the relationship between humans with the environment and all creatures.  

The harmony among these three aspects benefits human spiritual, mental and physical well being.

Darrell and I are daily witnesses to the amount of time and energy devoted to the rituals of their faith.

Alter outside our room in Ubud
We watched as Kadek said her prayers and placed her offering on the alter. She also placed another offering on the floor to appease the demons.

A lovely offering including a Ritz cracker!
From our place in the outskirts of Ubud, we walked to the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary. Balinese Macaques, (Macaca fascicularis, also known as long-tail macaques), are important in Balinese culture and you can see many monkey statues in Bali. This small sanctuary had over 600 monkeys clustered in three groups using different areas of the forest at different times of the day. Conflicts arise if they are in the same area at the same time.

The macaque behavior was fascinating to watch;
here they are rolling stones over and over on the sidewalk!
According to the literature we received at the Sanctuary: The adult males weigh 8-10 kg, have large canine teeth, broad shoulders and facial hair that resembles a mustache. The females are smaller (4-8 kg) and have long facial hair resembling beards. Macaque society is matrilineal with male macaques usually migrating in from other areas and attempt to associate themselves with the female matrilines. Mating occurs year round but most infants are born between May and August. Macaque mothers range from very protective to very permissive with their infants. Many females who are not the mother spend time holding and caring for infants and sometimes males will as well.

Macaque posing on one of the many monkey statues
The Balinese we have met have been honest and hard-working. After our visit to the Sanctuary, we took a walk through the rice fields in Ubud and were offered a $1 (10,000 rupiah) coconut to drink from and then eat. Darrell accidentally paid her $10 or 100,000 rupiah. (You can see it is hard to keep track of all the zero's especially as the bill color is not consistent!) The woman returned the bill to us, which she probably didn't have enough money to give change for, and which she could have just kept. Darrell replaced it with a 20,000 rupiah note so at least she was rewarded for her honesty!

Preparing a coconut
Balinese try to harmonize any conflicts with their faith, and there are obviously conflicts due to the pressures of tourism. While tourism has increased the overall economy for the Balinese it has also threatened some of the traditional ways. I will have more on rice farming later, but there is a large problem now with rampant development of homes right in the middle of rice fields (including the home we are staying in). You can see this home, labeled "For Rent", is completely surrounded. Also, as new roads are put in, the water channels to the fields can get clogged with debris making it impossible for enough water to flow.

Home in rice field, sign says "For Rent"
Darrell and I have our own less holy trinity for Bali. This picture shows the ever present motor scooter, the mangy sleeping dog, and an offering. I guess they do represent, in some weird way, the relationships to God, to other humans, and to other creatures... Bali in a nutshell!

Three huge aspects of Balinese society

Friday, June 15, 2012


Since I am already hopelessly behind anyway, I am deviating from my normal chronologic order of events and sending you straight to Bali. That means I am (for now) bypassing our amazing experience helping with research on a small island in the Great Barrier Reef, plus the exceptional experience of cutting vegetables and serving meals for over 400 mountain bikers and support personnel on a fundraising bike race across the Kimberley in the far NW of Australia. More on those later...

We arrived in Bali four days ago and our heads are still spinning. The sheer number of people is staggering. Especially after driving across one of the more barren and unpopulated areas on the planet... Thankfully, the people are kind and often smiling, and we are warming up to a culture far different from our own.

Once again we booked some of our places through airbnb, and we promise to buy stock if they go public. Our first place was a room off a surfer's house, with our own entrance. Here is the view of the pool.

Our garden pool in Sanur, Bali
We entered through a small double door that is around a corner so the bad spirits couldn't follow us. I guess the baddies have a hard time turning. They also have a hard time getting over the tall walls that enclose most homes. Our entrance was near an alter so that may have protected us as well. It was a quiet haven in a busy neighborhood!

Fishing boats on the beach at Sanur
We purposefully chose to avoid Kuta, the busiest tourist area of Bali frequented by partying Aussie surfers, and went to Sanur where the smaller beach attracts a quieter crowd. There is a strip of hotels along the beach where you could pretend you were in Bali, but if you didn't leave the hotel grounds you would miss the wandering chickens, skinny dogs, playing children, and colorful offerings in front of all the small shops.

An offering to appease the demons
A significant portion of many people's days (especially the women's) goes to creating these offerings. Some go on the ground to appease the demons and some go on the alters of gods and goddesses in the pantheon of the Balinese Hindu religion.

All dressed up, fed and smoking a cigarette!
Alters and temples are everywhere. A tree can be a temple, decorated with the black and white checked cloth like you see above. The black and white crosses to make grey which represents a fundamental part of this religion - the balancing of good and evil, black and white, yin and yang. Within all good there is some bad and within the bad there is some good. That is my understanding, though take everything I say with the caveat that I am a poorly informed tourist in a wonderful place...

Both Darrell and I are more comfortable in the wilds of nature than in the throes of humans, and there are people almost everywhere here! The streets are especially insane with lane lines being a mere suggestion of where traffic should flow. Motor scooters are ever present and weave between cars and trucks on every road. We've had two "drivers" and they have both been very adept at avoiding accidents while actually moving down the road. I wouldn't have escaped the airport from the sheer fear of driving in this madness.

Transporting rice and coconuts on a quiet stretch of road
We spent three days in Sanur and then paid one of the ubiquitous drivers to take us to Ubud, the artistic center of Bali up in the hills away from the sea. Our new airbnb host is a Norwegian that calls himself "Dr. PhiloArt" and has his own self-realization gig going on here. His home has two extra rooms he rents out with views over the rice paddies, so - unless you count the cacophony of constantly crowing roosters, and madly croaking frogs - it is another peaceful haven on the edges of a crowded town.

Dr. PhiloArt's home, surrounded by rice fields
I haven't mentioned the delicious local food, the overall affordable prices despite my complete inability to barter, or other aspects of Bali we are learning to appreciate. But I will leave you with two more images showcasing the juxtaposition of modern and old, and the sweetness of rice fields in the late afternoon sun!

The old and the new - balance in Bali

Late afternoon in the rice fields