39 - Galungan’s Island (Pura Samuan Tiga, Bali, Indonesia)
Country road take me home…to Ubud and the immigration fustercluck. Theories are like assholes. Defecation merit badge, anyone? A festive festival and a “Meeting of the Three.”
by Mr. Nos T. O’maniac
BONDOWOSO TO BALI. Ubud almost felt like home. I will remind the reader I needed to return to Ubud (where I kept my passport) to complete my second visa extension. Allow me the indignity of quoting myself from an earlier post:
“The social-cultural visa is valid for two months but eligible for four one-month extensions. Not ideal. Why? Well, imagine having to be in a city with an immigration office every month. The entire trip would have to be planned around renewals. Um, can you say deal-breaker? But wait…
There was a grey-area workaround popular with the foreign kids. You leave your passport in the safe at your visa agency (Balimode for instance) and keep copies of passport plus visa with you at all times. In addition, you carry a letter from your agency explaining the procedure and where anyone interested can find an updated visa. (Copies do expire at some point, however.) When the time for renewal is at hand, your rep takes the visa to immigration and, viola, visa renewed. Visa agencies in Ubud had safes packed full of foreign passports. That’s why they charged a premium. A real service industry. The cost for self-renewal was much less, but one then had to face the bureaucracy, a language barrier, and suffer the inconvenience of personal appearances. Where’s the fun in that… or the bribes?
There was one exception: the second extension. For that one only, you must show up in person for a photograph and a fingerprint…”
Immigration was (still is?) a supreme fustercluck. The upside? This would be the last time (theoretically) I’d have to deal with this nonsense assuming I continued to stay under the radar in Java and Sumatra (my follow-on destinations). As inconvenient as this was, I was grateful to see my Balimode friends again.
My visa renewal escapade went like this: A Balimode employee accompanied me to immigration. He presented my paperwork while I waited patiently to be summoned forth for photo and fingerprint. I deduced that each agency has its own man inside. Not a government employee per se, more like a liaison I should think… maybe. I wasn’t really sure and got the sense asking about details was socially verboten. Just to recap, there’s a man working in a government office not employed by the government. What could go wrong? Sole purpose? Process tourist visa-related issues. He dealt with actual immigration officials who then expedited the paperwork. If I’d attempted renewal on my own, we’re talking communication clown carnival, and the operation might’ve taken days to complete as opposed to half a morning. I’m assuming all the moving parts get their share of grease. I even suspect the process gums up deliberately for those going it alone. Everyone wants their cut. Just a theory and theories are like assholes, sooooo…
I suppose I could bitch, chew, and complain about the underlying corruption and inefficiency, but in the end, it highlighted and underscored my Bali shenanigans. Had the process been streamlined in accordance with logic and reason (six-month visa, one-time fee, so on and so forth), I would’ve missed out on many a cultural interaction, not the least of which was my interactions with the cast at Balimode. Yes, it made things difficult, but it’s hard to imagine it any other way. I was grateful. Dead horse? Beaten.
I considered altering my master plan. Though I had no wish to divorce the Phantom, I did consider logistical alternatives. As it stood, I would renew my visa and return to Java, then on to Sumatra. Somewhere along the way I would jettison the bike and fly to Bali from Sumatra (Medan?) before leaving Indonesia. This was a solid blueprint. Still, a part of me wanted to ditch the relatively well-traveled areas and explore the margins—Sulawesi, Kalimantan, Irian Jaya, Moluccas. Air travel was the way to go, allowing me to cover more ground. Had the visa situation been more amenable to travelers of my ilk (i.e. long-term, take your sweet-ass time, smell the lotus flowers), I would’ve stuck around and explored those places when the Phantom and I parted ways. I didn’t have the constitution for another “Red Umbrella” visa fandango followed by a series of bureaucratic renewals.
Plan “A” won the day though in a moment of weakness I considered bailing on Indonesia altogether and heading to, drumroll, Myanmar! Why? Eh, why not? That would’ve been stupid. Not my usual kind of stupid. The wrong kind of stupid. Stupid, stupid.
This layover had another advantage—I needed a diagnostic check. I’d been feeling run down for months and often felt like I’d taken a sleeping pill when such was not the case. My batteries were low. Turns out, I was a wee bit anemic. This explained all the naps and prominent motivation troughs over the months. Remedy? Multivitamin, ya big doof… which I brought on the trip but had been neglecting to take.
I availed myself of the BIMC Hospital in Kuta. It’s a modern affair and offers all the necessities/amenities. This makes sense as it was established with foreigners in mind. The cost? Consultation, blood test, thyroid test, glucose test, and stool check added up to about US $130.00. A mere pittance by US standards. A night in the hospital, had it been necessary, would’ve run about $500. Not cheap but not insane either.
Let’s talk stool sample. You’d think the poop holder would be, at the very least, larger than the pee pod. Logistically, there are aim and accuracy issues I need not highlight. Not so at the B to the IMC. Same size or smaller in my estimation. Apparently, they’re used to folks shitting like elves. Personally, I just assume shit in a box, not a cup, but who the hell am I? We make do, adapt, and overcome. Not sure how but I managed to hit the target, temporarily pinch off the spigot, finish the load, and cap the container without pasting feces all over myself and surroundings. Is there a merit badge for that? Well, there should be.
One good diagnostic deserves another. One for me. One for the Phantom. We were both running rough around the edges. So, to the mechanic… four separate times, three straight days. Sometimes it felt like half my time in Bali was spent in the bike shop. (Context? Go here and here.) It wasn’t nearly as vexing as it should’ve been and became a sort of perverse diversion. By the conclusion of my sabbatical, we were both back on track and ready to show this world a thing or two.
My recuperation required a rice field residence and so it was. Back in tranquilizer mode and it was glorious… mostly. There was a rooster. He was a fucker. Chickens abound in rural areas and they cock, doodle, and cluck at all hours of the day and night. Full moons were particularly cacophonous. I’d grown accustomed… mostly. There was a cock with an infinitely irritating demonized bastardization of the standard “cock-a-doodle-doo.” More like a “cock-a-doodle-haaaaaack” ending abruptly in a choking gag that resembled a dying declaration… if only. Every forty-five seconds like clockwork starting at 5:30 am or sooner my personal evil robot bird alarm clock with a broken snooze button activated. Dark thoughts skulked within. I dreamt of tying the sucker to dynamite for some exploding satay or chicken confetti. Not just a solution, but a warning to all his fucker friends in the Chorus de Poultry.
Spend time with Asians in Asia and you’ll likely end up in a karaoke room. It is an immutable cultural precept. Asians and karaoke go together like honkies and indoor shuffleboard… or honkies and karaoke… honkies and darts… Asians and badminton. Team Balimode led me to such a place. Basically, you rent a small room containing a couch or two, disco lights, and the karaoke apparatus (TV, speakers, etc.) for a set period and sing until your heart’s content. Not really my cup of tea, but I was more than happy to spectate. In fact, I enjoyed the hell out of watching them enjoy the hell out of it.
And then I had one of those days, one of those days that starts in one place and ends somewhere else entirely. Go with the flow. Cloud of obliviousness. That was me in “Ubud” mode. Relax and take it easy. Questions required effort. I knew I was meeting Agus. I knew I was going to his home in Bedulu. And I knew there was a ceremony he wanted me to see. As I mentioned before, Bali’s 210-day Saka calendar is jam-packed with ritual celebration. I didn’t realize I’d be witnessing the day of Galungan ceremonies commemorating the triumph of Dharma over Adharma (good versus evil) when the spirits come home on a ten-day furlough and descendants are required to lay out the proverbial red carpet. This happens twice a year and is second in importance only to Nyepi (Saka New Year). Prayers are prayed. Offerings are offered. Sacrifices are sacrificed (pigs, chickens, etc.)… I had the perfect rooster in mind.
Though the festivities are celebrated at temples across the island, Pura Samuan Tiga (Temple of the Meeting of the Three) is the place to be, a skip and a hop from Agus’ home. Cinderella couldn’t go to the ball dressed as a vagrant. Agus had just the thing, enough traditional Balinese vestments to cover our own “Meeting of the Three” (Me, Agus, Dhemy). I spent forty-five minutes getting slutted up for the proceedings.
I relinquished photography duties to Dhemy, an experienced photographer himself. He was delighted when I suggested he take my camera and have at it. The majority of photos are his handiwork. This, too, was a welcome development, affording me a chance to let the moments flow through and around me without having to focus on ‘carpe’ing my diem. Many times, I had to rein in my tendency to overcapture and loose focus on the present. Thankfully, in this instance, I had Dhemy’s aid.
The festival was, indeed, festive. Processions, prayers, offerings, music, dancing, cockfighting, and gambling were all part of the mix. What’s a family affair without cockfighting and gambling? I saw the latter but avoided the former. Angry roosters with sharp blades tied to their feet for tearing each other asunder did not tickle my fancy. I found it odd that Balinese Hinduism, suffused with deep-seated animistic beliefs, would allow such bloodsport. Is karma not, after all, somewhat of a bitch? Of course, in the interest of decorum, I kept this to myself.
I guess the spirits also demand games of chance be played in their honor. Gambling is technically illegal, but so is the rooster rumble. Besides, Galungan only comes twice a year, so live a little, right? Fuck the roosters and show me the money. The game of choice was so easy a child could play. And, in fact, children were playing. After a quick census, I deduced maybe half the gamblers were under the age of ten. The makeshift outdoor casino was nothing more than a plastic mat with two rows of six cartoon figures and a set of three dice with identical pictures. I’ve no idea what or who the figures represent, but I did chuckle at the one I’ve affectionately christened “Big Titty Bitty.” Rules were simple: Throw your rupiahs on the mat and hope your picture turns up on the dice. Winner, winner, chicken dinner!
*Photos by Dhemy
There was a vague familiarity with the scene, a strand of acquaintance I couldn’t quite put my finger on. And then it struck me—The Clinton County Fair. It had the feel of a local “festival” (I use the term loosely) back home, albeit a much classier version. All the fun. None of the carnies. Food stalls. Craft stalls. Parades. Personalized key chains on sale. Even the gambling brought back memories. At a church-sponsored town picnic (Redford Picnic if you’re ever in the neighborhood) from my youth, I recall games of chance as well, all with Jesus’ blessing. Step up to a board with the numbers one through ten along a track where a small car was pushed until it stopped on a number. Place your money on the winner and you double it. Every bit the sophistication of the picture-dice game.
The Balinese people clearly enjoy these festivals… I think. That’s what I remember, but a closer scan of the photos might lead one to conclude otherwise. Not a lot of smileyness. All the effusiveness of a Catholic mass. I guess days are for the dead, nights for the living. Welcome to the party. Nighttime brings the juice… more gambling, imbibing, chicken MMA. I was just thankful for the invite. A good day. A very good day.