Paddies and Pedi’s

Well I may have judged Ubud harshly. I think I might have been tired or the rapid change from disciplined calm in Japan to frantic mayhem here was a shock, because today was a lot more enjoyable. 

We walked into Ubud again, as its only down the road. Knowing what the traffic was like, maybe I was more mentally prepared, we dodged in and out to get to a beauty parlour. Aimi wanted/needed to get her nails… swapped… changed… polished… painted…? I dunno, but it took over an hour and as far as I can tell they just came out a different colour. AHH! YEAH ALRIGHT! STOP POKING ME…. A very lovely colour, it is too.

Most of this time, I was in the Museum Puri Lukisan looking at a collection of Artworks going back to 1900’s. From my understanding a man called I Gusti Nyoman Lempad born in 1865 around Bedulu (near Ubud) became an undagi (master) in traditional Balinese sculpture, carving, dances, architecture and funeral rites but most notably, art. Later in his life he became more interested in painting once he was introduced to western art influences of Walter Spies. Using mainly Chinese ink on paper, Lempad’s sharp lined and intricately detailed work was mainly of religious scenes and Balinese folklore and mythology. Whereas Spies and later Rudolph Bonnet had colourful and softer, more realistic style from Europe. 

Tjokorda Gde Agung Sukawati, a well liked and successful local political leader, became king of Ubud. He was introduced to Walter Spies by his brother and found that the western world knew little of Balinese art and the people of Bali knew nothing of western art. He spent much of his life promoting and encouraging artists from both worlds to come together and learn from each other. Simultaneously, this encouraged tourism to Bali and spread Balinese art to the world. As part of this, Spies, Bonnet, Lempad and Sukawati founded the museum and art association I was wandering around and called it Pita Maha. It has since opened and closed a few times and been renamed, but Pita Maha is also the name of our hotel.

After the political fallout from WWII it must have been an incredibly exciting time. Artists coming to collaborate from all over the world, tourism picking up in the late 60’s and taking off in the 70’s. Local people prospering from the new wealth coming to the country. And now over 80% of the income of the Balinese people is tourism related. As we are walking around town, not only are some international brands making a presence here but, there is a lot of building work going on. 

After a tasty sandwich I went and met up with Aimi who now had sparkly bits on her fingers and toes. On route I picked up another Geocache. It was hosted in a tourist information shop and the owner of the cache was there! Ant, a German, now living in Bali with his wife, runs the shop but had to move the cache inside after the public access original was stolen twice. But because of this, the cache has a huge logbook, plenty of swaps and lots of red and white bracelets inside!

We then set off to have more of a look around the stalls and souvenir sellers. A lot of the artwork I saw and decorations on temples and entrance ways have scary faces and masks carved into them. There is a belief in Bali that humans turn into demons to do bad things to their fellow man under the spell of black magic. So in mimicry, these are carved into the temples and entrances to scare away the demons from entering. We found lots of beautifully carved wooden masks and statues, but it took a while to find one small enough to be plane travel friendly.

From here we walked up out of Ubud further in a circuit. The road got narrower until it was only suitable for scooters. And then the path became a narrow track between rice paddy fields. It was only suitable for walking, but of course scooters still made it up here.

Finally we had escaped the mayhem and found some tranquillity. It was nice just wandering along the path, following its winding route through the fields. The path was recently laid slabs of concrete with finger engravings of messages drawn in during the casting process. These made a beautiful, solid and unique path with irrigation channels of water bubbling along beside it. It was particularly interesting to see the different stages the fields were in. Some being ploughed, some fallow, some planted in neat and tidy rows. Having done some research it takes over 5000 litres of water to produce just 1kg of white rice. Presumably operating your fields in sequence where you are a different part way through the growing cycle in each paddy, gives you steady work and steady yield of rice. But I’m not sure. We have been finding it tricky to find a tour or guide who would be knowledgeable on these topics, enough to answer questions. Most “tours” are actually just drivers.

Returning to the hotel we went and got ready for this evening’s meal. It was a special one because a local group were putting on a traditional music and dance show with the buffet dinner. Aimi looked spectacular in the white and blue floaty dress she got in Thailand over a month ago, but she doesn’t believe me.

5 guys made up the orchestra, sitting behind 2 xylophones, a gong, bongo drums and a box with tiny cymbals on it. The music is unlike anything I’ve heard before. There is barely a distinguishable melody, just rapid and consistently fast beating of the xylophones with hammers that look like pick axes. Occasionally they will miss one beat before changing tempo or volume, seemingly at random. But they do it in perfect time, so it must be a well known song… to them. Mostly it sounded loud, clangy and off tune. But the gong was deeply sonorous and amazing. I loved hearing that gong in the background, I’ve not heard anything like it in Europe.

Then the dance started with 2 girls who were determined to lodge themselves in our nightmares. They were dressed colourfully and artfully, with beautiful makeup and dresses. But the way they moved their heads and stared into your soul with those eyes…. Eyes so wide you could see white all the way around the pupil. Eyes that looked crazy, attached to sharply flicking heads in time to the off canter music. Their hands too were doing a strange crab pincer movement with their fingers held at incredibly uncomfortable angles. 

I should know because, of course, later in the evening, when a dancer imitating an old man came out, he brought me up to have a go. When I did stand up, he feigned shock at my height which made everyone laugh. It was funny interacting with this “old man” wearing a crazy demon mask with white hair. It was all mime and copycat, but I got put into position and then tried to keep beat with the music. It was very difficult but good fun, Aimi was laughing so hard at me. At one point he seemed shocked at my hairy arms! Everyone there had a go either with the old man or with the girls dancing, with varying degrees of aptitude, but all round hilarity.