What It’s like to stay with a Balinese Family: Learning the Balinese Culture

I remembered back in 2015, when I just had the huge event in my life (my broken marriage), the only thing I did every morning was cry, think, pray and daydream. All of them being done during mornings. When I have finished and exhausted all my energy doing all these draining activities, I will become numb and sometimes just stare into space. and will revert back to daydreaming. In one of my blissful childlike dreams, I envisioned myself spending my time in Bali walking along the beach or treading a dirt path surrounded by paddy fields This vision was so strong that I can even feel the wind caressing my face. I have always wanted to travel however, while I was in that relationship, I didn’t have the opportunity to do all the things I want because of stress from being a wife and priorities that should come first before anything else. I didn’t have any problem being a mother, it’s being a young wife that made me so bitter about life back then.

Now that I got my freedom back I promised myself that I will enjoy life as much as I can and learn new things too as I continue with my journey. Call me a late bloomer but I am happy to be one. I’m actually aging backwards which for me is a good thing. It makes me feel more positive and vibrant. Based on feedback, they say I look even younger now compared back in those 14 years of being stuck in unhappiness My transformation is considered a miracle. All traces of stress can be seen on my face like that slight incision dug between my eyebrows from frowning and crying, puffy eyes from the lack of good night’s sleep and dry, unhealthy skin. I also used to smoke a lot (almost half a pack a day) but after a few months of coping, I am a totally renewed soul. Told myself I’ll kick ass from now on and do what I love doing. Start from ZERO. Scratch. Clean slate.

This Bali trip is one of them. And this isn’t just about traveling because I want to see beautiful places but I want to travel to learn and blend with the locals. I started journeying solo last 2016. I have gained friends from all these short journeys. Collecting tapestry of experiences and social graces are more rewarding than posting photos just for the heck of likes and follows We are sadly becoming slaves of social media and everyone is chained to this shallow thinking. A person can only fake engagement for so long before getting bored and tired. I’d rather do this because I feel passionate about it and I know that it can shape me into a better person.

Since I will be traveling solo, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to connect with locals in Bali. I joined the couchsurfing just to try it out and unbelievably, I got several locals and even foreigners living in Bali who wanted to host me. I carefully checked all their profiles and exchanged a few words with some of them. Channeling my instincts, I chose this one Balinese old man named Made Suamba, a professor and a linguist from Ubud who seem to be quite interesting. He totally stood out from all of the locals and foreigners who offered to host me. The promise of learning the Balinese culture and arts in an authentic way and not from tour guides got me all psyched up. So all has been arranged and planned and I will be staying with him after my 3 nights at my Airbnb in Seminyak.

ARRIVING IN GIANYAR UBUD

Armed with wit and street smart skills, I braved my way to Ubud via Gojek. While I was in Seminyak, I was thinking whether to ride the Kura Kura bus or Grab but Made Suamba told me to better install Gojek because this is much cheaper and widely used in Indonesia.


It is cheaper indeed! I was able to book a Gojek motorbike for only 44k IDR from Seminyak to Ubud compared to booking a Grab car that costs 80K. I’ve never tried the Habal in Philippines but here in Bali, it is required. Everybody rides the scooter or motorbikes because the roads are all narrow plus the traffic can be really insane, especially in Kuta area. My Gojek driver was an Indonesian female and surprisingly a fast driver too. I thought my heart will fly out of my chest when she navigated her way in between cars and trucks. We zoomed in past several temples and rice fields while I held on to her waist for dear life. She was really friendly and was sharing her life to me and said that one of her dream is to marry a bule (foreigner) preferably an Australian guy. She said she’s trying her best to learn English and as soon as she finish her schooling, she will make sure to find a good office job and work for an Australian company. A pretty achievable dream I told her. I mean, Bali is jam-packed with tourists and expats and everything you can think of. Funny how we all have different levels of goals and same goes with how we perceive success. For some people, when they achieve something like getting a job, getting married with kids and living happily ever after is a perfect picture of success. And that’s totally fine. As for me, well I have a loong list and I am just as restless as all the others out there trying to accomplish and hit the targets.

She dropped me off in front of this village temple and I asked the locals who were gathered outside where I could find Made Suamba’s house. One Balinese woman pointed at a large red gate. Good thing that the gate was slightly open and a little boy was playing inside with his dog.

Meet Natan, Made Suamba’s son
Natan created an Ogoh Ogoh puppet . It’s a mythological demon.

MEETING MADE SUAMBA AND HIS FAMILY

I was greeted by Natan, Iya and Made’s parents. When Made arrived, I was guided by his father to go to the kitchen first and told me to remove my shoes before entering the kitchen, which I politely obliged. I asked them why I would need to enter the kitchen first and remove my shoes before going inside the Sleeping Pavilion and he said that this is to cleanse and leave any negative imprints that I got from outside. Makes a lot of sense on a Hindu belief perspective.

THE BALINESE HOUSE

A Balinese house is comprised of families living in an enclosed compound. The house has a distinct characteristic of traditional aesthetic principles and structured depending on which caste (Balinese rank) they belong to. The Balinese follows an architectural guide called Asta Kosala Kosal inscribed in a lontar. and as you may notice, it is built quite differently as each part of the house are separate. There is the kitchen located in the south, a family temple for praying, a sleeping Pavilion for guests or for the head of the household and a ceremonial pavilion.

The main house consists of 3 rooms.

The family temple
The Sleeping Pavilion

The Sleeping Pavilion is my current room. The exterior is a century-old design heavily influenced by the Hindu traditions. as well as Javanese elements while the interior of the room is simple like a typical regular room.

That evening, I was asked to join the family for a hearty dinner of Balinese food while exchanging stories about the Balinese culture and the Philosophy of Hinduism, including the wisdom from Brahma and the bhagavadgita. I shared some of my experiences with the Hare Krishna and it’s evening kirtana ceremony that I attended, learning the Hare Krishna mahamantra with a japa mala and compared insights about the different methods of meditations subjective to a certain discipline. For Balinese, they have different interpretations of how to serve the lord Krishna but somehow they all have the same ideology. Hindus sees the Universe in terms of karma, a repeated cycle of being reborn. For these people, life is a constant offerings and rituals and it must be performed in a systematic order with the right intentions.

Other than talking about Hinduisim, Made also shared some of his Couchsurfnng experiences and he was totally disappointed with this one particular incident with a guest (a European guy) who only used his house for sleeping and never even interacted with Made and his family, literally dumping his luggage and stuff while all day he was not around and would only arrive at Made’s house past midnight. Some people can be such an ass This is the only downside with Couchsurfing because there are so many possibilities you’d encounter guests who would give you such problems, so I guess it’s best to filter and carefully check the profiles first. It’s also important to share a few conversations before accepting them to your home. In my case though, I created my profile there only to interact with locals and join events but I wasn’t expecting a lot of people were willing to host me. It was a wise decision that I chose Made Suamba. One thing is that he can be trusted and it reflects through the positive references seen on his profile. I guess for you to have security and peace of mind if in case you will also try Couchsurfing, make sure that you have a back up plan and book a hotel in the event some problems arise between you and the host. Also, make sure that you tell someone where you will be staying so that if an emergency occurs, your friends or relatives will actually know where you are.

WHAT”S MY DAY LIKE IN A BALINESE VILLAGE

During the day, I mostly just help nenek with washing the dishes. Made and his wife are out working while the kids are at school, so it was just me, nenek and kakek at home. It was a bit difficult to interact with them because they cannot speak English so I just help out around the house like simple washing of the dishes and cleaning my room. During the afternoons, I ride the bike and explore Gianyar, pedaling my way through Sukawati and even got lost looking for the nearest beach and ended up in Sanur Beach, which is in Denpasar, far from Gianyar already. It took me about an hour and 20 minutes to reach the said beach and I was sweating and smelling shitty but the experience was totally rewarding. Imagine biking under the scorching sun in unfamiliar streets with motorcycles speeding along behind me, not aware that I could easily get killed.

My wheels in Bali
They call it Art Market but when I checked it out it was all fruits

Chinese tourists all flocked the fruit market

Took some crappy photos in between my little bike stops

I dunno why I took a photo of this lol

The story of this painting? The artist fell in love with a Brazilian tourist. He often sees the woman buying something from the market and living alone in Ubud. He tried talking to her but his English isn’t good so he tried expressing it through his art. And guess what? The Brazilian woman noticed the painting and bought it and the artist had a chance to profess his love to her but unfortunately, the woman isn’t interested.  I’m really nosy so forgive me.

These 2 toothless lolos got me even more lost. One lolo keeps gesturing that I need to turn left after the intersection while the other lolo keeps saying I should turn right. And it was so funny because, upon arriving at the intersection, I met this French dude in front of this minimart while I was standing there contemplating whether to turn left or right. You see, angels appear everywhere when God detects that you are in need. Only he will challenge your wit and decision-making skills, So I was there, drinking my bottled water and looking so ugly and sweaty, and looking like I’m about to pass out, while this dude seems to be looking for something also.

With Nicola, that angel who tried to figure out where the nearest beach is. Lol

I asked him where I can find the nearest beach and he told me there’s one if I turn left but the beach isn’t that beautiful with black sand. If I turn right, I’ll find the Sanur beach which is better than the one he mentioned. I chose the Sanur beach but then of course, I would need to pedal an additional 20 minutes to reach there. It was all worth it in the end although I only spent 45 minutes since I need to go back to attend the Odalan Ceremony. Going back is much easier because I know my way already. 

Sanur Beach in Denpasar

BEING CAREFUL WITH YOUR ACTIONS

For the Balinese, it is important that you show politeness and respect to the elderly. I was reprimanded by Made when I instinctively reached out and touched the pretty flower tucked in nenek’s hair. I was really not mindful and was too excited in seeing nenek so pretty with that little flower tucked in her bun that I didn’t know it’s disrespectful to just touch an elderly’s hair without asking permission. The act I did was really childish and careless. I was so embarrassed but Made understood that I am just not aware of the traditions they have for which I shouldn’t worry about. In the Philippines, we have our usual “mano” wherein we take the hand of an elder and bow while pressing their hand on your forehead as a sign of respect. Sort of like that I guess.

OFFERING

In a Balinese culture, it s a must to give daily Canang Sari or offering to the god Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa. The philosophy behind the offering is to show self-sacrifice and love for the gods. You’ll often see them in front of a temple, a house or a business establishment, or almost anywhere really.

Offerings

Like a real farmer

I am spellbound by the beauty of this daily rituals that they perform. During mornings while I try to reflect and spend my time alone riding my bike, I often see these little offerings perched in front of the houses I passed by. The Canang sari looks so beautiful made of banana or palm leaves filled with freshly-picked flowers, each of which has it’s meaning and significance. You’ll also see some portions of food and an incense placed on top of this offering. The smell of flowers and incense hovered in the morning air adds to my relaxed state of mind and keeps me positive throughout the day.

flower-shaped rice cake

THE ODALAN CEREMONY

The Odalan Ceremony is an occasion where the Balinese people gather and celebrate with the gods for three or more days. The ceremony consists of a few rituals and performances like dance and music with the Gamelan instrument (which I was able to learn but just the basic melodies) The philosophical aspect of the Odalan is all about maintaining the harmonious balance of positive and negative elements. This is being held in the banjar temple and all Balinese are dressed to impress with their traditional costume complete with flowers in their hair. As expected, the offerings are always present during these occasions. The Balinese women carries a basket of offerings on top of their head which consists of fruits, rice cakes and flowers and this is being placed strategically on each parts of the temple.

Like a real Balinese lady

They dressed me up like a real Balinese lady. People there thought I’m Javanese and was speaking to me in their native Balinese language. Well, Indonesians and Filipinos look so much alike and maybe that’s why they were smitten by me in that sense.

FINAL THOUGHTS

With Made Suamba

Made Suamba told me that being open minded isn’t something that he practice. In his own understanding, open mindedness can sometimes lose the self respect we have.. It may give us freedom but we blindingly struggle for the right direction in order to find the appropriate path. He shared a story about a German couple who was caught having sex in one of the temples here in Bali and he felt so bad about some tourist disrespecting their culture and belief. Ignorance isn’t an excuse. So if that is what open mindedness means, then he is better off being close minded. We all have different interpretations and I respect his opinion about this. I consider myself a bit of a complex individual only because I am not easily swayed with certain ideologies. I tend to be less critical and try to understand any supporting evidence of a certain theory or belief. Call me eccentric or queer but I love digging information and doing research first before accepting certain facts.

Living in a very laid back island seems like time is in slow paces which allows you to achieve that “live n the moment” philosophy It’s like God adjust and synchronize the Universe to be in tune with the lifestyle of the people here in Bali. Each day is lived in fruitful ceremony and careful planning. From morning to evening, the activities are all methodical and orderly. And they all do this in harmonious unity with a positive smile on their faces. My introvert self always seek to find some breathing space for ponderous quiet moments and Ubud is the perfect setting for this. For some reason, I kept being pulled back from practicing meditation. Maybe, I should really sign up for Vipassana soon.

I will treasure this experience and I felt so lucky to meet so many interesting people in this overrated island called Bali.

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