7 - Tegallalang & Tallywacker (Bali, Indonesia)
My exploration of Balinese driving culture continued. Learning curve? Yup. Wheels brought freedom, freedom to investigate and experience. New friends, funeral invitations, douchebaggery, and so much more.
by The Nostomaniac
WITH A MOTORBIKE SECURELY UNDER MY CROTCH, I continued to explore the island (the southern tip and area around Ubud). The “nerve-racking” phase would continue for some time. Flabbergasted. That’s how I’d describe my feelings on the conspicuous lack of mass casualties. Pleased, but flabbergasted. Imagine stacking your entire family (father, mother, two kids) on a moped for a casual spin around the neighborhood? And you know you’re good when you can negotiate traffic at 40 mph while chatting on a cell phone. Four rolled-up mattresses strapped to the back? No prob. Or how about chickens, a food stand, or twelve crates? Ain’t no thiz-ang.
I know. I’m the quintessential Western ethnocentrist tight-ass stick in the mud. But there has to be a vague objective standard of bad idea, right? Heaps of folks drive like dipshits back home. It’s just a different brand of dipshitery. How can driving the wrong way on the highway seem like a good choice? Are they intentionally playing chicken with whitey (i.e. me), or is it normal to come as close as you can to a head-on collision before swerving? Dunno, but it sure gets the heart pumping.
Still, it got better day by day. Whilst trolling the streets of Ubud on my 125cc mega-hog, I often couldn’t fight the urge to hum the Sanford and Son theme. Irrepressible. Relentless.
Tegallalang, just outside Ubud, is where you’ll find postcard-worthy rice paddies, steps and all. I meandered. I detoured. Nooks. Crannies. This is the primary advantage to motorbike rental, and why I risked life and limb. My deviations usually occurred right after thinking, Hmmmmmm…wonder where that goes? I’d end up on a small village road rarely seen by tourists…or at least that’s how it felt. Curious glances abounded. How might I react if a stranger ventured down my little road in Upstate NY doing three miles an hour on a moped while gazing around like a toddler in a funhouse? Ire and suspicion would be the norm. Being a mega-mutant (by their standards anyway) probably didn’t help.
The meandering paid off. As I dawdled for a few photos one fine morning, a gentleman approached and invited me to his home for coffee and bananas. Coffee and bananas? Like peanut butter and jelly. Ketut was proud of his bananas. Rightly so. They were delicious. And Balinese coffee? Excellent. Strong, but good. His English wasn’t great, but we communicated well enough. I was mutilating the Indonesian language, so I used the exchange to add a few phrases.
He offered to show me death. I accepted. In nine days time, there would be a cremation ceremony in a nearby village. Bali’s unique form of Hinduism requires a unique form of death ritual. None of the solemn, morbid hogwash we get in the West. A literal celebration. Honor the dead. Usher them to the afterlife. Move on. Hell, if it’s good enough for David Bowie, it’s good enough for me.
And the celebration is open to the public. Tourists aren’t just welcome, they’re encouraged. A week earlier, I’d been invited to one, but the sweltering heat persuaded me to wait for cooler climes. In hindsight, that was stupid. In hindsight, lots of shit was stupid.
I’d read and heard (word of tourist mouth) the ceremonies were a spectacle. And expensive. Only the higher castes (i.e. higher income bracket) can afford to hold the ceremony contemporaneously with a person’s death. The lower echelon put their relatives in the ground for up to five years until there are enough bodies (i.e. contributing families) to cover the combined cost of a joint ceremony.
At the time, I was torn. Although I couldn’t deny my curiosity, it was hard to overlook the morbid nature of the event. Imagine your relatives passing away and then encouraging total strangers to have a look-see. Or picture going on vacation and hoping someone from an affluent Balinese family kicks the bucket during your stay so you can check that shit out.
“So Ketut, I hear your brother was hit by a bemo (bus). Cooooool. Mind if I drop by the barbecue?”
“Mom, you’ll never guess what happened. Cattle trampled my friend Wayan, and I get to watch his family charbroil his remains. How awesome is that? Don’t worry, I’ll take shitloads of pictures.”
It’s full on. They wash the body in front of the crowd, carry it to the place of cremation via procession, and light it up inside something that resembles a Mardi Gras float, often in the likeness of a bull. They also crank “Light My Fire” by the Doors over loudspeakers. Well, not really, but that would be a nice touch. Fair to say I was intrigued.
How’s this for a flashbulb memory? A Balinese man’s tallywacker. Rounding a corner on my motorbike, I encountered a man standing, more or less, in the road going wee wee. Inadvertently, my eyes rested squarely on his junk. Awesome.