We got off to a great start towards Java at three o’clock in the morning. We were well loaded with small articles of luggage and we stumbled over the square to where the bus was waiting. I fell into the drain beside the road and I swore badly, without the satisfaction of being understood. Even at that time, the streets were not empty. The markets were beginning. Shapes were moving through the early dusk, small women supporting huge and heavy baskets.

Soon, as the bus swung onto the open road, rain began. It rained on me too because I sat directly underneath a ventilator which was not properly closed. In the darkness, I stood and pulled it shut. When I sat, the greasy metal arm from the ventilator fell on my head. Betty slept. I watched the raindrops falling into the beam of the lights ahead.

Our trip to Jakarta had begun and, as yet, we took it lightly. It was wonderful to see Java from the western tip of Bali. Rising out of the plain, Mt. Merapi stood above us, iron-grey, awe inspiring. Java was heavy with mystery.

As you travel west in Bali, you notice the change of character in villages; there are fewer temples, more small mosques, fewer roofs of thatch and more of clay tiles, fewer women with baskets on heads, more carrying their baskets slung from their shoulders in sashes called selendangs. Although there is a boundary of water, Bali merges gradually into Java.

At Gilimanuk, our bus was loaded onto a fat and dirty boat and we followed. We lent on the grimy rail and watched Java and the narrowing stretch of oily sea. On the Java side, the bus hit the road again, with loud music piped for our uncertain benefit. There were new wonders on the road,: great Brahmin cattle yoked to wide-roofed drays, stately, slow and sculpturesque, that made their way slowly, as though hours were minutes, and centuries were years.

The bus took us to Banyuwangi. There we boarded a train, sat as straight as soldiers on rattan seats in one of the second, or was it third class, carriages. And so we sat for eight hours.

Javanese gentlemen sit cross-legged on these seats and seem more comfortable. We, and the irritable Javanese women opposite us, hung on grimly, numb-bummed. But discomfort is a passing thing. Long, long after our circulation had returned, the marvels of the Javanese landscape stay with us. There are the textures of gorges filled with palms, the lights of the forests where sunlight filters through, there are the villages of tiled cottages, bird cages slung on poles high above rooftops so that the birds enjoy the view.

Eventually, we limped off the train at Surabaya. A travel expert had told me exactly what to do. `Outside the station’, he had said, you will find a bus labelled Mutiara. Get on it’.

Miraculously, outside the station there was an old bus labelled ‘Mutiara’. We got on board. It whisked us away. To disaster, as it turned out, because we were not meant to travel on the Mutiara train at all.

`This ticket is for the Bima train’, said the uniformed man when the bus had put us down at another station. Bima and Mutiara take different routes and start out from different stations.

`When does it leave?’ we asked.

`Three minutes.’

`What platform?’

`The other station.’

Here was a pretty fix. We had booked sleepers on the Bima train, now pulling out of Surabaya. I lay the blame squarely on the Bima people and our adviser in Denpasar.

Mutiara did manage to find us two reclining seats in a second class train and dinner was served free of charge on the night train to Jakarta. Things were looking up. We sat opposite a young girl student who spoke good English. But at one point in the conversation, Betty went strangely quiet. Her face coloured and she began to splutter and cough. She had bitten on a chili. Our night was not good. Betty was ill and once the train staff had gone to sleep, I had great difficulty in finding a glass of water or a cup of tea. Eventually, I woke a brigandish man who turned out to be a friend in need.

At station stops, women selling jackfruit passed the windows; the great fruit balanced on their heads. In the morning we saw the northern plain of Java, flat as flat except for an occasional soaring volcano. Armies of harvesters moved across wide fields of rice, slowly and deliberately.

A night trip on a train is always followed by a feeling of fellowship amongst travellers. It is as though we had shared one gigantic bed. Conversations started up. We talked long with the man behind us who was Balinese.

Betty still felt bad when we arrived at Jakarta. Mutiara (generously, I thought) refunded us the difference in fares between their train and the one we had missed. This did cheer us up. We left the station light-heartedly.

Hundreds of becak (pedicab) drivers waited outside and they jostled and pushed and crowded us. When we insisted that we needed a taxi they crowded us to the taxi rank and pushed us into a waiting cab. As we drew away, several tukang becak leered through the windows. They were shouting: ‘Terima kasih, terima kasih’.

`Why are they thanking us?’ asked Betty.

`I really couldn’t say’, I said. We found later that we were being thanked for Betty’s expensive and only cardigan which I had, until then, carried in my rucksack. ‘Terima kasih’ indeed.



Six days in Jakarta, `City of Victory’, making seemingly interminable rounds of Government Departments, scattered wide afield, gave us a chance at least to get to know the transport system and also something of their bureaucracy. I am an impatient creature and I was chafing at the bit. I tried to adopt a little of the Indonesian attitude ‘pelan pelan’, to take it slowly. There were endless opportunities to admire the beautiful country, the great wealth of tradition and culture; many times I looked into people’s faces to see simplicity, warmth, interest and delight. Mostly their movements are graceful and serene, their faces unlined. They have a philosophy, so it seemed to me, which brings happiness in an acceptance of what is.

But around and around we went. The Department of Immigration, The Department of Culture, The Police Department, The Department of the Interior, and our sponsor The Department of Science all had to be visited, several times in some cases, and satisfied that we were who we were and doing what we said. Sometimes satisfaction took the form of a financial contribution. At last we were armed with a sheaf of necessary documents and lists of people we must visit in any centre in which we planned to work. All this ‘toing’ and ‘froing’ was doubly frustrating as all business comes to a halt at 1 p.m. Even the museums close their doors, something we had cause to regret, because our brief look at the Museum Pusat, the Central Museum in Jakarta was tantalising. It is filled with a marvellous collection of Hindu-Javanese antiquities and a vast wealth of archaeological treasure. If you visit on Friday morning you can have a conducted tour with an English speaking guide.

Though we saw few Europeans in the streets and public transport of Jakarta, we met up with them in the sumptuous, extravagant hotels. Jakarta is proud of these ‘world-standard’, towering monuments to tourism. Sheltered by glass and gilt, you can feast in luxury on menus which cater for a world-wide taste, at a price, of course. A glance at the canals in moon-light cannot reveal the unbelievable sludge and stench and the fact that in last night’s storm there was flooding; we were caught in a storm in the central city area only a minute’s walk from our hotel, but we didn’t get home for hours. The water was soon waist deep and the canals rose to enter hovels which line their banks, home to thousands of impoverished Indonesians.

Jakarta seemed a city of extreme contrast, wealth and poverty exist side by side. It seemed a city struggling to the west, but it is a city which commemorates in abundant, huge postrevolutionary sculpture the `new’ man, the freedom fighter, victory over communism in the bloody 1967 coup.

Friday was our sixth day in Jakarta and at twelve o’clock we were handed our last document completed. By 1 p.m. we had packed our far too many bags, bits and pieces and were off to catch a bus to Bandung, so-called `Paris of Java’ and approximately one hundred and eighty kilometres south-west of Jakarta. We had paid for our over-land ticketing throughout Indonesia before leaving Australia, but sure enough we found we would need an extra one thousand rupiah to do this trip. No bus was available so six passengers and their luggage were piled into a Holden taxi.

We had as a fellow passenger a blind Javanese gentleman. I sat next to him and was delighted to meet him. He spoke excellent English and had been to New Zealand for two extended periods, the second two-year period had been to study the violin which gave him a great deal of personal joy. He spoke with concern and knowledge of the problems of his people and he saw the time as one of great change. We talked and I saw we were passing spectacular scenery. Tunnels of tall trees gave way to hills and mountains as we climbed to the Puncak Pass. Beyond Puncak we saw the massive rim of the volcano Gunung Gede.

Meanwhile we all realised we had a maniac for a driver, bullet shaped head and beetling brow. He hurtled along. He screeched to a halt inches behind other traffic.

Our speed at times was over ninety miles an hour. He placed absolute reliance on the car, which I hoped and prayed had tyres a little better than many we had seen with tread worn to canvas.

David said, `As this may be our last drive we should enjoy it’. I urged him to DO something about the driver. Our blind friend just accepted the `impatience of the driver’.



On our last day in Ubud, we sat and talked with local men on our front veranda.

`You must be careful in Java’, someone said, `Be careful of pickpockets. Never leave your luggage unguarded. There are gangs who specialize in stealing luggage: they carry suitcases with a few rocks inside to exchange for cases which are similar.’

`And’, said another, `if you are wearing spectacles, do not lean out of the carriage window as the train moves off, or a thief might grab them and stand there smiling and waving goodbye.’

`And’, said yet another, `in a crowd, a whole gang might gather around you and jostle you and . . he mimed two fingers creeping into a pocket. `Always keep your hand on your bag, Nonja Betty.’

`You will find the food much spicier in Java’, said one. `And much hotter’, said another.

`And,’ said yet another, `if you reach Sumatra. ..’ and he mimed a hot mouth by fanning with his hand.

`The girls are very pretty in Java, Tuan’, said one to


`Our girls are too stocky’, said another. `The girls in Central Java are prettier. You’ll see for yourself when you get to Jogja.’

Said yet another: `I think in Sunda the girls are even more delicate than in Central Java’.

We pondered for a little on this. I thought the girls of Bali seemed quite beautiful; in fact the Balinese in general are a handsome lot of people. But there is one girl I remember as being particularly beautiful. We would see often on the road to Denpasar, where our colt transport slowed down for roadworks. She carried loads of rock balanced on her head, which made me think of models in training who balance books to improve their postures.  She was as good looking as any model or film star that I had seen.

When we left Ubud, we had to charter a colt to take us to Denpasar. Our luggage had grown. Betty had bought a huge basket, two beautiful small bamboo percussion instruments, male and female, called guntangs and two large bamboo instruments on the xylophone principle, called tingkliks. I had two flutes of course, but they were small and fitted in my little rucksack.

At our small hotel, our arrival created some interest. The boys crowded around and talked knowledgeably about tingkliks. `These are used for the dance Joged Bumbung’, one said. ‘Ah, there will be a Joged Bumbung at my village tomorrow night. I could take you to see it’. So on the following evening, we set out, again by bemo, to Sempidi. In the wide village roadway, large enough to be called a square, there were people in groups and bright light from petrol lanterns.

Our friend, Made, took us first to his house. His poor house, he called it and it was certainly simple, small and thatched; but it was beautifully kept and the ground around was swept clean as could be. His small wife greeted us very shyly with her head bowed and looking at us solemnly. The only words she spoke were of greeting and farewell.

The Joged Bumbung had been arranged by the Girls’ Club of Sempidi. Made took us to a pavilion where a welcoming committee was passing out rice cakes and orange soft drinks. Benches were placed in rows and there was a banner with the initials of the club and the words for welcome ‘Selamat Datang’. The girls serving the refreshments were dressed in their best kebayas and kains. The boys sat on the benches and were served. When we arrived the ones nearby engaged us in conversation. It was all as polite and respectable as a church fete in a country town.

In the open air, small crowds gathered round games where you bet money on numbers. One game was for children and the stakes were low, the next took in a little more money and, hidden behind a compound wall, was a small huddle of grim men, squatting round a shaded petrol lamp, intense in concentration … the big-time gamblers. A young man of the village had drawn me aside to show me this little bit of night life. Betty had sat herself down beside the area marked off with poles and hanging lanterns where the dance would be performed.

`I will show you my humble house’, the young man said and, lighting our way with a torch, he took me on a tour of buildings in his family compound. There was a large shed where harness hung on pegs and behind it, in stalls with bamboo rails, were a mare and foal, a yearling pony and a stallion, all munching at green grass which had been cut for them. My new friend carried a torch and as he walked he flashed it about. In a small pavilion, the light caught the figure of an old, old woman gazing out at us. `My grandmother’, said the youth.

Where he led, I followed. We mounted the steps of yet another pavilion. `My mother’, said the youth and he flashed his torch into the eyes of a woman stretched out on a cane bed. She was bare breasted and beside her lay a baby. The unfortunate woman sat up, tousled and alarmed. We were introduced, both embarrassed. But it was not the mother who was on display, it was the baby. ‘Adik laki laki saya’, the youth said with warmth,  ‘My little brother.’ and he held up the child for me to see. I held out my arms for him and he was given to me. He was soft and warm and firmly fleshed, knuckling his face. When I held him, the mother smiled for the first time.

When I took my place beside Betty, the dance, the Joged Bumbung, was about to commence. The stage was similar to what we had seen at the Topeng Dance: a small tent with a curtain for entrances, a rectangle marked off with tall poles on which hung lamps with mantles glowing white. The orchestra was made up of tingkliks like the ones Betty owned and of sulings like mine. The players sat low behind the instruments looking about in a distracted way as they played; Balinese musicians often seem to be thinking of something else while they play intricate music. The music of these bamboo instruments was soft and woody.

The first dancer emerged, moving with little steps, placing her feet gently, while her arms swayed and her hands twisted and flicked like the hands of a Hindu Priest performing sacred mudras. She was small and vital, perhaps thirteen years old.  On her head was a golden winged head-dress with blossoms arranged within it. From amongst the blossoms stood two sticks of smoking incense.

The girl’s body was tightly bound in rich cloth with a golden thread and kain wound tight around her thighs. Her black hair hung in a thick tail to her hips and was decorated with frangipani flowers. The backward curve of her hands, like the curve of a pagoda roof, was repeated in her hollow back, her slightly bent knees, her upturned toes. The dancer became a series of graceful undulations which matched the music and the movement of the dance.

And crushing close to the stage were the boys of the village, who must have seen the dancer differently from the way we did. We saw only the dancer; they saw her as a village girl dressed up and dancing. They knew her as we did not and they jeered a little, though without cruelty. The little dancer smiled self-consciously.

After she had danced for a while, she looked directly to her audience. As her eyes travelled along the front rank of the crowd, it gave, rippled a little like grass before a breeze. She circled the stage, looking outward she circled again and always there was the ripple of the crowd before her gaze. Then she stopped.

The boy in front of her shrank back, to be pushed forward again by the ones behind. The little dancer tapped him lightly with her fan. The boy shambled on stage, hanging his head and grinning foolishly. He lifted his arms to allow the dancer to tie a sash around his waist, and then as though this one act had caused the transformation, he looked up into the girl’s eyes and they began to dance.

The Joged Bumbung is not a serious dance. Mention it to the Balinese and they smile: `Yes, Joged Bumbung, good fun’. There is no story, so how could it be taken seriously. It is a dance of flirtation. As he dances the boy makes sly passes with his hands towards the girl’s breasts or thighs and he tries by intricate movements, turns and feints, to catch her off guard. She fends him off with a tap of her fan and turns away haughtily.

Three girls danced during the evening and each one, out of sheer politeness, tapped me. I accepted and when I rose there were jeers, and cheers, from the little boys.

No doubt the audience saw a clumsy, comical, white faced man going through grotesque motions. From the puzzled expression I can remember seeing on my partners’ faces, they saw the same thing. But seeing it from the inside I was a Balinese dancer; my dark eyes and teeth flashed, muscles rippled under my brown skin, I moved to the music and wooed the maiden whose eyes were claimed by mine.

I was tolerated more than enjoyed and each time I danced it was for less than a minute.

Among the Balinese men, some dancers were much better than others. One man who was tapped, struggled out of the grip of his friends and fled. Twice the dance was taken to a final climax. Two of the male dancers were exceedingly good. Their eyes and teeth did flash, they danced with graceful vigour and took control of their partners. When this happened, an old man who squatted nearby, tossed a branch of green leaves onto the ground near the dancing pair. The young man picked it up and furiously beat the girl. Then he hurled her to her knees. The girl kneeled, head bowed. The man, his anger spent, smiled at her then gently moved around her, wooed her, cajoled her sweetly till she was on her feet again.


It was David’s night. I was full of admiration too, for the beautiful girls and men so lithe and virile as they danced. The dance was fun, the men abandoned in their wooing. Yet superb technique made each movement secure, controlled. But it was midnight and the dance was over. We had to go home and the last bemo had stopped several hours before. What to do? While we dithered the situation was in hand, motor-bikes and drivers appeared beside us.

Off into the dark night I roared, my hair flying in the cool wind. The stars were big and bright, lighting the road as it wound through the forest like a ribbon. I was exhilarated like the dancers. Swerving to turn a corner I saw behind, the lights of the bike that carried David. He drew abreast and he and his driver passed us, speeding on to Denpasar. At once my driver slackened pace and I was startled as we drew to a halt.

He turned to me and I understood he was offering himself to me, at a price I can’t recall, should I desire. I certainly did not. I urged him to hurry on to David who would be looking for me and who held the money should he wish to be paid for my transport.

He kicked over the motor and we started off again but we gathered little speed. My high spirits were numbed as again, and yet again, he repeated his proposition. He even offered time to pay. He said he would collect the cash next day. I never wished to see him again and whipped him home with warnings of my husband’s fury.

The lights of Denpasar that night were spectacular and a feeling of calm took hold of me. We reached the main street of the city, but instead of taking the turn for the short route home, he stubbornly persisted with his offers as we toured the suburbs. Maybe his tank was low but at last he turned into Jalan Diponegoro. And I was home at last. David was not there; he was out searching for me. The driver did not wait. Without his money and without stopping the motor he roared off into the night.




One day, while I was sitting outside the place we called the rumah gong, waiting for my lesson, an old man in a white turban came striding along the road and stopped directly in front of me. I was holding my flutes. From inside the music room came the sound of Betty’s lesson: the syncopation of the Legong Dance repeated again and again.

The old man stood close, within a yard of me, thrust his face towards mine and glared into my eyes. I said `Good morning’, and smiled politely. He turned his head to glare at the rumah gong, then again, he glared at me, quite balefully.

‘Apa kabar?’ I said, for lack of anything better, `What news?’ The old man shook a fist towards the rumah gong, then towards me. `Oh?’ I said. He pointed in a jabbing way at my flutes, then mimed the playing of a flute. His eyes rolled, his head wobbled, he held his elbows high, he lifted his shoulders and leaned a little sideways in a burlesque of ecstasy. Suddenly he hurled his imaginary flute down. He leapt into the air, thrusting off with one leg and holding the other high with knee bent and foot upturned. As he leapt, his arms rose and became wings and his expression turned mawkish. In this way, he leapt high, flapped slowly and bird-danced gracefully in a circle. In front of me again, he pushed his face to within inches of mine and glared. I nodded emphatically. I was sure I had his message: `Your music is for the birds’.

The old man walked away in the direction from which he had come. Every few yards, he stopped and looked back at me. In spite of his glare, I felt no real anger coming from him, but something benign, perhaps sympathy. Soon, he was out of sight. I was sitting, holding my flutes, with something to think about.

Pak Raka Suling, would stroll gracefully on the roads. His abstracted manner, the carriage of his head and his long, dark sarong gave him a monkish air. Sometimes he would visit us at night appearing suddenly from the darkness, to discuss music. He would listen to tapes of European music and if we asked him, would repeat the melodies on the bamboo flute.

Sometimes when we met on the road, he would take my arm and we would stroll with measured steps.

`l like to talk’, he said; but it was difficult to go beyond domestic conversation. Raka’s sense of humor was keen, but we saw it only when he talked with others, for he liked to play on words, using the words of the Balinese and the Indonesian language. We were not up to that.

One day he explained to me the story of a song Puh Sinom, an involved sad story of love, of the town, of the forest, of a ring by which a parent recognised a long lost child. He played the tune on the suling, then sang the song. As I write, I hear it played on a tape recorder: twining forest music, and Raka’s voice rises and falls and wavers like something wind-blown. Now the lament is taken by the flute.

Very early every morning, Raka passed by, walking towards Campuan Village and his rice field. To late risers like ourselves, who did not see him at work he seemed to lead the life of a gentleman.

We saw dances: the famous Kecak at Bona village, the Ardja at Peliatan. This last was so crowded that we had to stand huddled in a dense crowd or watch from a distance. While we were in the crowd, I saw a tall English tourist bumping viciously with his elbows at the ears of little boys who pushed beside him. And wonderful to relate, a small Scottish woman who stood beside him, punched the tall man just as viciously in the kidneys so he grunted and mumbled.

When we sat at a distance, a young Balinese man edged close to Betty and offered himself for just one dollar – she refused politely.

One dark starry night, Raka took us to a tiny village nearby we walked through the cremation grounds and our torch lit a small, green snake on the road. In the village centre a flimsy pavilion had been built to cover the dancing area. Bright spirit lamps hung on bamboo poles lit the many brown and few white faces of the waiting audience.

One of the Europeans was an American student of the dance who had been in Bali for a year; another was the clean cut American Buddhist Abraham, who bowed over his finger tips with an expression of sweetness. The leader of the gamelan came forward and clapped Rake’s shoulder. `We are good friends’, he said to us.

The instruments of the gamelan were carved and decorated in red and gold. There was a small tent arrangement, the dressing room, with curtains leading onto the earthen stage. We sat on a low, brick wall. The show would begin in Bali time. We waited. Little boys laughed at us without malice and made feinting snatches at my cigarette. To save our supply we took on a schoolmarm attitude and told them they were far too young to smoke. They postured, and repeated our words.

We waited. Little girls stood still and looked at us with big brown eyes. Even amongst the children, males and females know the female place.      •

We waited. Men squatted with their hands dangling between their knees and turned their heads about slowly, looking at nothing. Raka looked straight ahead. The Europeans had to make small talk with one another. ‘

We waited. Women holding, and not holding babies, stood back where the light begins to fade; lovely round, placid faces, short noses, wide mouths, smooth foreheads with the hair pulled back to great buns.

The gamelan began to play. It was an easy going syncopated melody with the gangsas dinging softly, but now and again it broke into a passage of agitated, clanging sound.


It was almost midnight and the moon had risen. It hung directly overhead, a floating, golden ball. The moonlight caught the silver thread of the curtains making them gleam; I glanced away then back. The curtains fluttered. I stared and could not look away as a finger, then two, shimmering in the light of the moon, jewels and their own motion, parted the curtains almost imperceptibly.

The fluttering curtains stilled the fluttering tongues. The only voice was that of the gamelan as it rose, fell and hovered, like the hand parting the curtains. Time seemed suspended too. The known hand drew our concentration to an unknown figure. My whole attention was on the figure which now emerged and moved with audacious confidence. As I watched, I shivered. The body was exquisitely costumed. An embroidered cloak hung from the shoulders, the outline of the kris jutted below the shoulder. The ankles were circled in gold and the feet were slim and bare, toes upturned. The figure moved superbly circling the pavilion

It was not a man. It was a presence. The white mask was covering personal identity. The man had become the mask. The presence moved triumphantly, the smile was enigmatic and the bulging eyes glowed. I felt uncertain, apprehensive of the figure and its influence. I turned away. I felt I must leave, but I realised 1 could not go alone through the forest at midnight. I turned back. The spell had broken and 1 saw a man.

He retreated to the curtain and disappeared. The audience stirred. The gamelan stridently announced the characters in this night’s performance of the Chronical Play of Bali, a living history of royal families and kingdoms, of facts, legends and miracles, the TOPENG.

I did not tell of what I had experienced till long after. I did speak though with the American student of dance, the lady from New York who had fallen in love with Bali, the dance, and her Balinese teacher. `Tonight’, she said, `we saw the master of the Bali Topeng. He is an old man now, loved and revered by the Balinese. He carved the masks he wore tonight. I saw them in the tent just before the performance; they were covered with white cloth. The dancer  unwrapped  the mask and gazed at it for some time before he put it to his face,.’ she said, `At that instant, he was transformed. He had taken on completely the character of the mask’.


Now, the cremation bulls were almost complete. The great, generous wooden forms had been covered with black velvet; the horns were bound with gold. The bulls smiled and showed their mouths’ red interiors and the thin, red pizzles were thrust close along their bellies and were tasselled and lined with golden thread.They had become something else; cartoon figures. The bull that belonged to another village was sent away. ‘Theirs was the better one’, someone said and l asked why. Like a cattle judge at a country show he walked around the Ubud bull and piled up penalties:`Head too small, body too long.’

On the night before the cremation, there was a show of wayang kulit, shadow puppets, in the palace grounds. It went on to the early hours of the morning. Children squatted close to the screen and followed the story closely. The Dalang’s voice rose to grating heights and gutteral depths as he took the different parts. His torch flamed brightly behind him, his small gamelan beat out a constant rhythm.

Above was a full moon. The palms were black against a bright sky. We could see the men in the wantilan still working on the bull. Dogs barked in the distance. Once in a while a motor-bike would sputter past.

Next day, we were told that the cremation ceremony would begin at 11 a.m. maybe, and we were there on the street on time. The tower stood on the road before the palace. Two great wings spread from near its base and the pagoda-like top was crusted with carvings, gilt and coloured decoration. It stood in a carrying frame of thick bamboo poles. Along the road was the bull, also on a frame.

Tourists blocked the road and stood in the way of each others’ cameras. A Japanese family lined up in different combinations to be photographed in front of the tower. This was the great day. Time wore on. Police arrived to control the traffic. Buses put down loads of foreigners.

`Plenty of tourists’, I said to a Balinese bystander. `Too many’, he said spontaneously, then he looked embarrassed. A very white man with a small beard had dressed himself in a conical hat and a kain which he pulled up between his thin legs in the way of a warrior. A blond little girl trailed at the end of his arm and behind was his wife in slacks, a towelling hat and sunglasses.

A very pleasant Englishman leaned on the base of the tower. `What are you doing there?’ someone called. `Spoiling photographs’, he said.

Tourists arrived in cars and on motor-bikes. Plump Dutch ladies in sun hats strolled along the road and poked in and out of art shops. `When will the ceremony begin?’ `Maybe twelve o’clock’, said the Balinese.

A couple of woodcarvers wandered in the crowd, each carrying a piece of carving for sale. We knew them slightly and they knew that we were not potential customers. One came and stood for awhile with us. `How is business?’ we asked him.


The stocky, crew-cut Frenchman was there, booted and braced, enjoying the atmosphere. We had not seen him for awhile and he told us about his adventures on unruly motor-cycles. The crowd was swelling. Now there were Balinese waiting. `What time is the ceremony?’

`Maybe two o’clock.’

A gamelan arrived and the players all in small turbans and blue shirts sat on their haunches beside the wantilan. The village men, who were to carry the tower and the bull, milled about, many of them in kains with bands around their heads, barefooted. Pak Rake Suling was with them, looking not so professorial. Pak Rake, landlord, passed by, very elegant in a long kain and turban. There were boy scouts and, because the dead man was a hero of the revolution, soldiers.

We foreigners were here simply for the spectacle; we were very lucky that a man had died. . I had never known the dead man , nor had the other foreigners; but I did begin to think about him.. He had died conveniently and we were crowding into his cremation ceremony. It didn’t seem quite right.

, One of the tourists said with an air of importance: `I have arranged it so I can take a photo of the body before they close the coffin’

`Here comes the body’, said another.


The gamelan was playing dramatic passages. Reports from firecrackers sounded from inside the palace. Men came forth bearing a shape in a shroud. It was not a body, just a dummy, a decoy for evil spirits. The crowd relaxed. `That wasn’t the body.’

The real procession came quickly, again to confuse the spirits. Jubilant, shrieking shouts rose from the bearers. A small procession of stately women bearing offerings walked behind the coffin.

`That must be his family. The women are crying.’ With cool curiosity, we watched the women cry. The body was real then, and had been a man, and people cried about it.

Njoman, the houseboy, was close beside us and he stayed near for the whole of the afternoon. When we looked around he smiled at us gently. He would not be included but he stayed at a little distance, always with us. He would accept a cigarette then retire just a few paces. 




The coffin was carried up a long bamboo ramp and placed in its compartment half way up the tower. Live chickens were hung by their legs alongside it. There was a great noise of yelling and yipping like, Cowboys and Indians, and the bearers took up the tower. It leaned this way and that and then moved off quickly and smoothly along the road. The bull was way ahead and out of sight. From the village to the cremation ground was a distance of a kilometer or more and every inch of the road was jammed with a slowly moving river of people. Motor bikes overtook us on either side.

In the middle of the crowd was Hans Snell and his wife and children. We saw Nyonya Raka watching the procession from a house along the way.

A handsome, haughty young Brahmana priest, with a walking stick, stalked past us. The crew-cut Frenchman forged past bravely on a motor-bike, riding pillion to a Balinese boy, his eyes glinting excitedly behind thick lenses.

We turned with the procession into the cremation grounds. The crowd was filling the green field. The tower and bull had come to rest; the bull under a decorated canopy. Sellers still mingled amongst us: melancholy carvers, women with sweet foods and fruits, women with batik printed materials in bundles on their heads. We sat on a grassy bank, far back from the ceremony but in good view. Njoman sat just a few feet away.

The coffin was carried again down the ramp and the body placed in the bull. Several white clothed men were working over it, purifying the body with water.

The Hindus regard death simply as an important event in man’s life. The man’s death and cremation were well ordered. Being of the Ksatriya or princely caste, and rich, he was able to be burned only a few days after his death and his soul was released.

Cremation is so expensive it places a great burden on the ones left behind. Wasi, a bright and pretty widow who supports herself and children with a warung on the main road, told us of the thousands of dollars it had cost to cremate her husband. A painter had sold padi fields at his father’s death, then the rest of his padi fields to pay for his mother’s cremation. Often, poor people must bury their dead and wait, often for many years, for a communal ceremony.

`The Balinese love ceremony’, we say lightly. For the Balinese, ceremony is a necessity. Religion and ceremony have preserved the harmonious community which was the Balinese way of life long before the coming of Europeans.

Tourists stood in line beside the canopy of the bull, loading up their cameras for snapshots of the dead man. Few people stayed for the firing of the bull and the tower. When the ceremonies of purification and the speeches of the army had been made, they began to drift away. So did we; it was late afternoon and we were tired. We walked back to Ubud and Njoman walked a little to one side and talked with us, giving us the Indonesian names for whatever we pointed out


`Ten years ago’, said Anak Agung Raka, `Ubud was very beautiful. There were no motor-cars. You would see farmers carrying their ploughs and flocks of ducks walking along the middle of this road’.

As the days passed, our vision of the village changed. The picturesque remained picturesque, but had less impact for us. The village was no longer a stage set built for our own act and the people no longer bit players. We were the exotics and we began to realise it.

Life had been adapted but not changed; not yet at any rate. Every three days was the market; every day, the people carried water from the spring, worked in the fields, placed offerings of flowers in temples and shrines. Tourist buses seemed incidental and so did we. The rhythm of village life goes on. Life begins, life ends.

At Puri Kawan, there were preparations for a wedding. Two men with a pig for the wedding feast, trussed in a basket and slung on a pole, ambled towards Puri Kawan and passed four laughing men who carried a log to be the coffin for the man who had died so recently.

Men prepared the wedding food. They were split into groups: one making pork sate for Hindus, another preparing chicken for Muslims, another making plates from palm leaves, another preparing little mountains of rice (they are called mountains, gunung). A man pounded pork in a vat with a heavy pestle, which rose and fell rhythmically; another stoked a fire under a cauldron. Curly tailed, white dogs sniffed about and little brown, straight haired children wandered. I took several photographs, (which, like most, did not come out) and drew the scene to the great amusement of the children.

Among the workers was a large and genial man, Njoman Roda, whom l already knew quite well. As l was a suling student, he had written out, in his own style of notation, the suling part for the Legong Dance. We had asked him if he knew a frog song (Betty loved the musical frogs of Bali) and he had immediately written out a two part song, not in notes but in proaks and prouts. He decorated the whole thing (an exercise book) with charming drawings of frogs and at the end put in some information about the betting system at cock-fights. `How much do you want for all this?’ we had said. He put up his large hands, palm forwards: `You decide’.

Now, in the compound, Njoman put his educational turn of mind to use and took me around the working bees. `Here, we are making plates from banana leaves.’ They were square plates, green, clean and disposable. `Here the men are making mountains of rice.’ The white rice grew in tight, high mounds on the green plates. ‘Here, they are preparing pork sate.’ Under a thatched roof, a large group of men were shredding pork. It went then to a tub where a man pounded it to pulp with a great pestle, and from there to a vat over a roaring fire. `Here they are preparing chicken for muslim guests and here you see is your friend, Raka.’ It was Raka Suling, master of music, taking meat from the bone and smiling widely.

I reported all this excitement to Betty, but she was suffering from an upset stomach and did not want to see pork being pounded. Betty had in fact been suffering with her troubles since shortly after our arrival. I always sympathised; but I noticed she chose and enjoyed the spiciest food. While she rested I was free to sit in the sun to draw. The children came around me and  giggled at my work. I took a few photographs which did not come out and had a good time.

Nyonya was with the other women, at the hotel where the wedding would be held. They were making cakes and coloured rice wafers. She brought us small glutinous rice cakes wrapped in banana leaves. They were very good and I ate Betty’s as well as my own.

For lunch, we had mountains of rice and pork sate (pork grilled on skewers). This time Betty could not eat hers. Nor could she go to the reception held that night, the eve of the wedding. It was a quiet and dignified affair; not many people. We drank soft drinks, ate biscuits and sat talking. I was the only European and the Indonesians, wonderfully polite, talked slowly and carefully so that I might understand. The bridegroom was a handsome boy with slightly aquiline features. The bride was a beauty in the Balinese tradition; small features in a small, round face. She was a well known Legong dancer.

On the next day, the wedding day, we saw them both in traditional finery and looking wonderful. On his back, the bridegroom carried a sacred dagger, the kris. The wedding was held on the hotel veranda. A long table was decorated with fruit, flowers and rice offerings. A Brahmana priest sat, with his wife longside to assist him, chanting mantras (incantations) while his hands performed mudras (visual prayers), the beautiful movements from which dance movements derive. The veranda was crowded with guests, Indonesian and foreign. The Gamelan played tirelessly.

Misguidedly, Agung Raka had suggested that I take photographs. I joined the crowd of photographers and I jostled and craned. The light was bad, everyone else seemed much taller than I, so I had very few hopes of success. Much later I found that a smaller lever on the camera was in the wrong position: I had wondered why the film lasted so long.

Balinese landscapes are still. The earth dominates as it does in Balinese painting. You might look across a gorge to another hillside and the figures of farmers on the terraces are as small and as brave as ants. Rivers cut deep ravines through the black soil. The colours are rich and sombre: blacks, greens and ochres.

The Balinese care for their land with tenderness and awe. The terraces may be centuries old, but little of their soil is lost. Women harvest the rice: because women, like the earth, are the bearers of life. And the women hide their blades in the palms of their hands so as not to frighten the live rice stalks. They cut the rice gently, with respect.

Religion is woven through every day life. In the fields, are tiny thatched temples slung between pairs of living trees. Each village has three temples; representing birth, life and death. Each family compound has its temple. Offerings of rice and flowers in small, square trays of plaited palm are made from morning to night. Old women sell offerings to passing motorists and to the drivers of bemos.

In parts of Bali, the life is relentlessly hard. From a mountain village the farmers, men and women, might carry their produce over a mountain range to market; this takes one day; the market itself spends another day; there is a day for work in the fields, then the produce must be carried over the range to market.

 Life is designed carefully to fit in with nature. Before the buildings in a compound are erected, a priest advises where to place them so that they are in harmony, so that the thoughts of the inhabitants will be in harmony and there will be peace.


rice terraces sepiaBETTY:

Our small house had two rooms and two verandas. Our bathroom was the usual Malay kind: tiled floor, square concrete cistern of water with a dipper and a lavatory just higher than the floor. There was no running water. Water was brought each morning by Njoman, the servant of the house, who came with cans of spring water on his shoulder pole to fill our cistern. The small verandah was almost completely filled with a large table, which left us just enough room to sit. The ledge of the verandah was decorated with flowering shrubs in pots. Sitting at the table we looked out to the plaited bamboo walls of warungs.   Across the road, we could see the village temple kul-kul, under a small thatched roof, it stood in silhouette against the ornate temple door which was framed again by a dark banyan tree.

Our days began with breakfast at a large plastic covered table. Njonja, (the word translates as Mrs.) Raka’s wife left at six o’clock for Denpasar where she was a kindergarten teacher. She brought our breakfast just before leaving. The five Raka children were up early too. Young Oka would come smiling to collect our lamps. It was his job to fill them and clean their globes. The two little girls would be sweeping the bare earth of the garden with hand brooms made from the spines of coconut leaves.

In fact the whole village was awake, in its quiet way at five o’clock. I enjoyed being up early and made use of the time by writing up notes of the previous day. David accustomed to working at night for a morning newspaper, emerged heavy and yawning. Agung Raka worked in his garden. Sometimes Denik, or other visitors came to talk over breakfast. Figures passed quietly on the road. The white house dog, which was rather ugly, sniffed about and ate the small offerings of rice which Njonja had left about for the gods.

Our breakfast was usually fruit-salad, pawpaw, banana, and melon, all sprinkled with coconut, lemon and sugar. Afterwards there was either fried eggs or omelettes, sometimes pancakes as a treat, occasionally toast. Always there was tea. When we had finished breakfast, the thermos flasks were refilled with tea and returned to us.girls grain

My first music lesson each day was at eight o’clock. As I walked out of the front gate of Puri Kawan, the warung owners greeted me: `Good morning. How are you? Where are you going? Ah, to study music. Good, beautiful’. David carrying drawing paper and pens in a small haversack would accompany me as far as the wantilan when he would stop to watch and draw the cremation preparations. Half an hour later he would arrive for his lesson. We had two music lessons, morning and evening. The rest of the time was easily filled. We, too, walked purposefully and slowly to definite destinations. In the village itself, there was enough to occupy us: people to visit, conversations on verandas, things to see; and we could walk to other villages close by or make expeditions by bemo to other parts of the island.

Every few days, both, or one of us, travelled to Denpasar to pick up mail and do other business. David often made the trip alone. I think he fell in love with a little girl who laboured on the roads. Always, the bemo slowed down as it passed over the roadwork and always she was there, under a wide, straw hat, carrying rocks. He always mentioned her, but he never spoke to her and never knew her name. He called her Sophia. She really was beautiful.

Often at night, we would sit on chairs and mats on our front veranda which looked onto the garden. Often Pak Raka, our  landlord would join us as well  as Pak Raka (Suling) our teacher. We would play bamboo musical instruments and the children, too, would come to listen and play. Darkness would fall and the lamps were lit and cicadas and frogs would sing.

There was no kitchen in our house. For lunch and dinner we went to one of Ubud’s eating places. In one direction was Tjokorde Mas and Menara Lodging House, in the other Njonja Made Tjanderi’s Homestay, both of which we could afford.

Life amuses Tjokorde Mas. He would greet us from afar and come to sit with us to talk and chuckle about music and the Balinese way of life. He is an expert on both. Tjokorde Mas, born a prince, does not know his age exactly. He is a very active man. He has a domed forehead and lively brown eyes behind horn-rimmed spectacles. `I am not an academic’, he protests when he talks of music; but he looks professorial. After all, he was a lecturer in Balinese music at the University of California, Los Angeles, for four years. Tjokorde Mas is the founder of Mudraswara Society which aims to document and conserve the traditional music of Bali. He is a director of the art gallery of Ubud, and manager of his grass roofed lodging house which stands right beside the rice fields.

‘Pelan, pelan’, he said, whenever I spoke of my music studies. `Slowly, slowly. This is Bali.’

`Don’t you ever get tired?’ I asked him once.

`The Balinese are never tired’, he said. `If I feel tired, I have a sleep, so if I’m awake, I’m not tired.’ And he chuckled loud and long. `That is how it is in Bali.’

The McRoberts family, father, mother and ten year old daughter, were travelling overland to England. All their luggage was carried on their backs; rucksacks, father bear, mother bear and baby bear sizes, and that was something I admired. Though, by now, their journey must be over, I think of them as an indiscernable dot moving slowly, very slowly, across the map of the world.

We had dinner together, on their last night at Ubud, in a small gazebo, half surrounded by an ornamental pond covered with lilies. All this is annexed to Tjokorde Mas’s dining-room lounge theatre. We had ordered, twenty-four hours in advance as the menu instructed, a traditional Balinese meal of smoked duck.

There was yellow rice and sate ayam (chicken on skewers) and very many small dishes of sauces and spicy little vegetables and then there was the duck, very beautiful. We ate slowly until late.

A choir sang to us from the pond and the padi fields, frogs answering each other, and like the Balinese music in syncopated rhythms.

`Do the Balinese take their music from the frogs?’ I asked Tjokorde Mas later.

`Of course, of course, everything from nature.’

Our meal was the traditional one for the day of Sariswati, the Goddess of Learning. It is always prepared by men. Of course we were having it a few days late.

`It is an offering’, said Tjokorde Mas, `Just as the dance is an offering and as the music is an offering. But with the meal, we offer it and’, he chuckled wickedly and shrugged his shoulders, `we eat it’

Tjanderi’s place is called a Homestay and is a family compound, where all the pavilions are used as guest houses. Young tourists living inexpensively use Tjanderi’s. There are Americans who seem to be able to wander for years and then in August there are the French and Australians  come at all times.

Tjanderi herself is a gentle, homely soul and perhaps this is why she attracts the young-away-from-home. At odd moments, when she is not cooking, she comes quietly and sits at your table.

The Americans seem to take their travel seriously. There was no difficulty in eavesdropping on their conversations. Sometimes they were competitive:

`Have you been to K.L.?

‘Oh yes, K.L.’s great! I was in East Africa last year.’

`Oh yea? Did you meet a guy … what was his name?’ Sometimes they were very quiet: a small thin girl whispered to us about her time in Nepal; she was travelling alone and had been doing so

for more than a year.

Abraham was an American traveller who had been in the east for a long time. We met him first at a village performance of the Topeng dance and he attacked us, in a soft, sweet voice, saying the life that we were leading was quite materialistic and futile. He was studying Bhuddism. He wore a sarong close to saffron in colour and, whenever we saw him, he carried an open umbrella to protect himself from the rain, the sun, or just for ceremonial purposes. He always smiled sweetly and bowed over his fingertips. Mostly, we would find him standing close to a group of Balinese as though eavesdropping. He would have to fly back to Singapore, he told us, just to renew his visa for Indonesia. We envied him in a materialistic kind of way.

At Tjanderi’s we met a Canadian girl, very shy and solitary, who was a graphic artist and gaining a lot from being in Bali.  We also met a stocky Frenchman, with thick lenses and his hair en brosse, who travelled somewhere different every year. He had a licence to ride a motor-cycle, but had never ridden one before. He was terrified of his own machine. There were many Australians, as one would expect, mostly travelling cheaply and discussing prices and expenses.

No matter how foreigners try to blend with the landscape and the local people, they are always conspicuous. A sarong seems to accentuate a European’s foreigness. Very few of us have the natural balance, carriage and movement of the Indonesians. Foreigners have become part of Ubud’s atmosphere. Apart from the tourists there are several foreign permanent residents, as well as students who stay for a while to study the dance, the music or weaving.

The painter, Han Snell, has gained Indonesian citizenship. He came to Indonesia, very much against his will, as a conscript in the Dutch army, loved the country and fell for a beautiful Balinese girl.

We walked uphill on a stony road beside the same fast stream that gurgled past Puri Kawan. Women were bathing, lifting their sarongs as they submerged their bodies. A small girl fell in beside us, asking, as usual: `Where are you going?’ She accompanied us politely right to the doorway of the house of Han Snell.

There was a souvenir shop, a long driveway bordered by clipped lawn, something we did not see often in Bali. Another pretty girl directed us through a gateway across a highly polished floor of an open pavilion and on to stepping stones across an ornamental lily pond with a graceful statue, and then into the painter’s gallery.

Among all this elegance, Snell’s paintings and prints looked elegant too. They were linear and restrained. When he exhibited in Tokyo, he was described in the press as one of the most exciting painters working in Asia. Soon, Han Snell arrived and he sat us in the pavilion with the polished floor and offered us drinks. He was impressively large with a head of blond curls, nicely greying. He wore a sarong, which might have been a toga.

He spoke of his struggling times, as painters seem to do, with a little nostalgia. After spending a year in Java, he arrived in Bali with just three thousand rupiahs (about six Australian dollars), which lasted him just one month. Fortunately, he met a Balinese aristocrat who became his patron, offering friendship and a place to live and work. He developed his talents in isolation, seeing only book reproductions of the European masters; Matisse, Dufy and Picasso impressed him particularly.

It was a very lonely life. It wasn’t possible, he said, to have love affairs with Balinese girls. He had been in Bali for eight years, when he fell so deeply in love with his young model that he took the bit in his teeth and bolted with her in Balinese style.

Elopement is not unusual in Bali, but this one came as a shock to the girl’s poor mother. When he comes to think of it, says Snell, he would not like one of his daughters to elope with some young painter, poor, unknown and foreign. At that point Ne Made, Madam Snell, the subject of our conversation, entered and we turned our eyes towards her. She was all we expected, graceful and beautiful.

Across the Campuan River there is a long steep stairway which takes you from the road to a wide plateau. We took the stairs slowly. Old women with loads on their heads and tiny children zipped past us. David climbed manfully, clutching his asthma inhalant, and I rested halfway. We had left our bicycles at the bottom of the stairway.

On the plateau there is a great view of green terraces. The pathway across the plateau leads between padi fields and the earth underfoot is damp and dark. We passed the studio of another painter – there is a pocket of good young artists here.

Walter Folle’s house is on the fall into the next watercourse. His house is small and tall, an arched frame, one great room and sleeping galleries. Again, there are wide lawns, a pond with a bamboo bridge. Walter Folle was still asleep and my collaborator seemed to envy him. We arrived very pink and ruffled and were greeted by Walter’s wife all smooth, cool and brown. From where we sat, we could see her village, nestled in palm trees. While we drank coffee, a tall old man carrying coconuts on a pole, passed by, he was stooping now and again to answer the questions of a small, curly haired blond girl who trotted beside him.

`My father and my daughter’ said Walter’s wife, who was due to have a second child. In fact she was overdue and taking it calmly. Balinese friends had told us she was very beautiful, and that was certainly true.

Her little girl had been born in the rainy season. At that time there was no bridge at Campuan, and, in labour, she had climbed down the steep, sixty foot high bank of the river and had crossed the shoulder deep, fast running water before walking on to Ubud, where the baby was born soon after. ‘No trouble at all’, she said. The Balinese are rural people and they have rural charm and stoicism, but they are also a cultured people, for culture is born in the villages.

On our way back to Ubud, we stopped at the Campuan Hotel for lunch. One of the hotel’s bungalows was once the house of the famous foreigner Walter Spies. When we talked of Balinese painting with Han Snell, we had discussed Walter Spies. He was a painter, musician and naturalist, the son of a German diplomat. He came to Indonesia soon after the first World War and when the Sultan of Java asked him to organise a western orchestra he made an intensive research into Indonesian music. Walter Spies eventually settled in Campuan where he made the first recordings of Balinese music, made a study of patterns of Balinese life and art, created the Bali Museum in Denpasar and became its first curator.  His teaching has remained an important influence to visual artists.

From his thatched house, Walter Spies once looked across luxuriant green plant life, growing tightly into the head of a gorge, to the paler green of padi fields under a wide sky. And so did we when, at lunch, two sweet, pretty girls in coloured kebayas, sashes and kains, pitter patted about and talked to us in quiet voices. There were flowers in the dining room, hanging birds’ nests as well as the bamboo instruments called tingkliks.

I had forgotten my umbrella at the Folle’s house. The two girls went off to get it. I could picture them arm in arm, heads close together,  smiling and giggling; they would be in silhouette as they crossed the rice fields on the plateau, and bright as butterflies against shadow, as they descended the stone stairway. No wonder foreigners like Bali.


menara sawah brown

BETTY SUGGESTED that I, too, should learn an instrument. I was pleased with the idea really; though I put on a show of reluctance. Pak Raka suggested I learn the Balinese flute, called suling. This was his speciality. In fact, we sometimes heard him spoken of as Raka Suling, which reminded me of the Organ Morgan in the Dylan Thomas play. He promised to have a couple of flutes for me next day, one male, one female. So we left the music house with happy faces. The way home was past the banyan tree of the kul-kul, which had sounded relentlessly the day before, and past the village hall, the wantilan, where there was a crowd of men. Two great tree trunks, had been unloaded on the raised floor and in a walled yard behind the wantilan was a new pile of bamboo poles. Preparations for a cremation had begun.

Already, we were a little bit known in the village and people walking on the road and warung owners called to us politely, always asking where we had been and where we were going. This is the way of villagers. We walked on past our cottage towards Menara. Across the road from the Lodging House was a signpost announcing Ubud’s Museum of Art. A pathway led down stone steps, across a bridge over a deeply cut stream and mounted the opposite slope. There was a small box office with the price of admittance, 100 rupiahs, written on its side, but nobody to take the money.

The whole hillside was a beautiful, planned garden of palms and ponds and trellises. The three thatched buildings that house the art collection stood against the sky.

We had almost reached the central building, when a small, thin, barefooted woman in a kain and kebaya appeared on the path before us. She was smiling widely and bobbing her head obsequiously. She carried a ring of keys and when we had paid our entrance fee, she unlocked a carved door.  It is a large collection. The museum was established to retain some of the best painting and sculpture in Bali and the works have been donated by artists and collectors. Painting for its own sake has not a long tradition in Bali. In the 1920’s and thirties, European painters arrived and succumbed to the beauty of the island. They passed on some of their knowledge to the Balinese, wisely teaching craft and not aesthetics.

This museum, so close to the source of the work is exciting. From the front veranda of the building, you look down on the village of Ubud, a textured landscape crowded with vegetation. From the windows at the rear, you see the sinuous lines and shining water of padi fields under a wide sky and a tiny thatched shrine between living trees. The paintings are filled with imagery direct from the same scene. We were alone in the museum. The old woman who had let us in seemed to have melted back into the landscape. We wandered slowly over red-tiled floors in luxurious silence

The collection is remarkably good. Most of the pictures are literary, illustrating old Hindu legends or village life. The one clearest in my memory is a painting by Ida Bagus Widja of Batuan. The canvas is large and crowded. The focal point, near the centre is the dance of the mythical beast, the barong, and from this centre, the composition radiates. From edge to edge there are small, small figures; dancers, musicians, trees, houses, cattle, monkeys, padi fields and flowing water. But the painting is not haphazard, it is beautifully organised. Like Bali (which tourists remember as brightly coloured), its colours are mainly muted. It is a painting of the whole world of Ida Bagus Widja.

Another day, when I visited the museum, there was a band of men working, without risk of exhaustion, in the garden. They shouted jolly greetings as I passed. This time it was an old man who let me in. Like the old woman he smiled and bobbed and stooped a little to be sure his head was on a lower level than mine, and he called me ‘Tuan’ as though I belonged to a higher caste. One of the gardeners had followed me. He invited me to sit down and talk about the paintings. He too loved the painting by Ida Bagus Widja.                      He said: `I have one of his paintings in my collection’.

I asked him, `Are you a painter, too?’

`No. I am just someone who works.’

`Why do so few people visit the museum?’

`Because the guides like to take the tourists to the shops that pay commission’, he said.


Corkorde Mas and Betty
Corkorde Mas and Betty


We stayed for three days in Denpasar, dodging traffic, then moved on eagerly into the countryside on a route to the north into Bali’s interior. The village of Ubud was our destination. Colts,  trucks canvas covered behind and fitted with benches, left from a crowded narrow street, Jalan Kartini (after 5 p.m. it always became even more crowded as a night market).
Young boys cast about in the main street calling the names of distant towns and villages. ‘Ubud-Ubud-Ubud-Ubud’ we heard. ‘Ya, Ubud.’ we answered. Two youths took our arms and piled us onto one of the colts, which soon left with all the drama of a stage coach in a western film. Our boy was on the rear step hanging by one hand and leaning far out, he was shouting: ‘Ubudubudubudubudubud ubudubud’. Whenever the truck stopped, he ran off like a sheepdog in all directions to round up passengers for Ubud..
We were pleased when he failed, because, when he succeeded, we had to shuffle ourselves into a tighter weave. There was our hillock of luggage, and several women had brought along the large round baskets they carry on their turbaned heads. A bundle of hens, small and brown and tied by their legs, gazed mutely from the corner in which their basket had been thrust. A large, large fish lay for a while along the seat. Juices oozed from him to a puddle on the floor. I gathered my skirt close, my bare shoulders were pressed against the warm shoulders of my neighbours. Amongst the baskets and produce we left the dreary dust and smells of Denpasar and hurtled headlong into green hills and sunshine. There was rhythm in the movement from lush forest to shining padi fields to villages with houses hidden behind mud walls. Our spirits soared like the coconut palms.
Our assertive and agile colt boy shouted instructions to passengers and also the driver; he gathered our fares, and happily assisted all loading and unloading. Before we left the hotel, Amos had briefed us on local fares. I was careful to hand the boy two hundred rupiah, exactly the right amount, avoiding the hassle and bargaining that so far had been part of every small journey we had taken. I was baffled about prices and was at a disadvantage in the bargaining which seemed part of every purchase.
We stopped at a river where the old bridge would take only one line of traffic. A new, concrete bridge was being built, so up the steep river bank women toiled, with trays of stone and gravel on their heads. Far below, in the water, naked villagers bathed, ignoring one another and the passing traffic.
The road to Ubud was a tourist track, a pathway of culture… for sale. Elaborate art shops stand out from the common village warungs, at times they were often set quite apart amongst the padi fields. Sleek airconditioned buses passed us and disappeared: a little further along the road we would pass them again, parked beside another art shop.
In an hour we had driven the twenty-five kilometres from Denpasar to Ubud. This was the end of the trip. The village featured in tourist brochures as a centre of fine arts and crafts. There were palaces and warungs, village temples and a large wantilan, a great thatched, open sided pavilion that served as a meeting hall, concert hall and theatre. We got off in the centre of the village and asked our way to the Menara Lodging House.
Menara’s foyer cum lounge cum dining room is a series of three overlapping roofs on high poles over three levels of packed earth floors. The sides of the building are open to the world. The extraordinarily thick thatch of the roof is made of lalang grass, marvellously simple and ingenious, it is a typical sight in Bali. At the high end of this open area are flat cut-outs, painted as temple doors which serve as an entrance for dancers; and propped up, a large barong, the mask and shaggy body of a mythical beast, under which two dancers can hide. Off to one corner is the office, walled by bookshelves. The proprietor, Cokorde Agung Mas, sat at a big brown desk stacked with papers and surrounded by drums.
Back in Sydney, Richard Murdoch, the renowned musicologist, had written two words on a slip of paper: ‘Mas, Ubud’, he handed it to me and said, ‘Look him up.’.
To come across him like this, the first man we spoke to in Ubud, was a surprise. Unfortunately, at that time he had no room for us. `But no problem’, he said, `I’ll send a boy to find you one’. A young man sauntered into the sunlight and we sat down to black, grainy Balinese coffee, steaming and served in a glass. Milk is scarce so it’s invariably black tea or coffee either hot or iced. I wound my handkerchief round the glass so I could hold it to drink. This amused the Balinese who wait till the contents of their glass are luke warm.
Very soon the young man came back, smiling broadly and he had been successful. His name was Denik. He was stocky and strong and hefted our baggage easily to take us to our new home.
It was only a short way along the road, through a gateway in a high wall. `Typical Balinese house’, Denik said. It was a fine little white cottage set in a family compound of small square pavilions in a well- loved garden. The earth was dark and packed hard. There was not a blade of grass, but frangipani, bougainvillea, hibiscus and roses bloomed profusely. There were coconut palms, breadfruit and banana trees and a dark green citrus tree with fruit, like lemons but as large as coconuts. It was a fruit good for tummy troubles I was told. Along the western boundary ran a swift flowing, gurgling stream. Nothing could have been better.
Our host was busy, in a gentle way, perfecting his garden. A tall man and extremely thin, Anak Agung Gde Raka greeted us quietly and apologised for his clothes. He wore a conical straw hat, shirt and shorts. His wife beamed at us softly. Later, when we were settled and resting on our back veranda, he came and talked. We would value our talks with Raka.
That day, a regular, relentless sound, at intervals of five seconds, was always in the background. A wooden, ‘toc … toc … toc’. It was not an insistent sound; it was there with the rustle of leaves or the crow of distant cocks. A man of the village had died. His knell was sounded on a wooden bell, a kul-kul. It hung high up on the trunk of the sacred banyan tree we could see from our cottage.

The main street of Ubud, being part of a long main road, is never empty. Farmers from villages further along the road come jogging to the market their produce bobbing on the ends of springy shoulder poles. Women with great baskets on their heads, kains (single bolts of cloth) wound closely on their thighs, walk strongly, staring into the distance, straight ahead. Now and again, young men or tourists on motor-cycles roar past. Busses halt and tourists file down and follow their guides to the art shops.
This is how we saw it on our first morning in Ubud.
Tjokorde Mas had offered to introduce me to a good musician. His boy, Denik, came to escort us to meet my teacher, (a relation of our landlord). It was raining. We walked under umbrellas to a plain stucco building in a side road. This was the rumah gong, the home of the instruments of the gamelan.
Pak Raka, his name was exactly the same as that of our landlord, came from the opposite direction. He too carried an umbrella. He wore a long woven kain and, amazingly, a heavy roll necked sweater. He was a man of good looks and dignity with a fine-boned face, erect carriage and, like his relation, Agung Raka, the air of a philosopher. Inside the rumah gong, dim light picked out the bronze of instruments scattered about the floor: the line of small pot-like gongs of the reong, the great gong itself, the keys of the metalaphones of different sizes. Different sexes too, for the Balinese and the Hindu religion preach duality and instruments are in pairs of slightly different pitch, male and female.
My instrument was to be the metalaphone called gangsa. Two of these were placed facing each other. Pak Raka sat me on a low box at one, the female, and he settled himself, cross-legged on a mat behind the male. David sat on a stool to draw the scene. I think he was a little nervous.
Pak Raka took up a small mallet, something like the picks of mountaineers, and l took up another. He played a succession of notes and I repeated them. So we progressed and I learned from memory. I had to. Music is taught aurally by a patient and thorough repetitive process. The traditional music of the gamelan is recorded in the mind not on manuscript. When I did well, Pak Raka smiled with his brown eyes and it was worthwhile. I wanted to please him.
In fact, in most ways, it was much like music lessons I have known since I was three years old. I was excited and stimulated by the sound. It pleased me. I was eager to follow where he led.
There were differences of course. After we had been playing for a little while, people appeared. There were faces at the windows, old faces and young ones; four little boys wandered into the room and squatted and stood, watching and listening, behind Pak Raka. A young man with a fighting cock in the crook of his arm came close and squatted by me. When he was asked he put down the bird, took up a pick and helped to demonstrate a passage of syncopated and very subtle rhythm. For the whole of our time in Ubud, this young man would always stop his work, his motor-bike or his conversation to come and inquire about my progress, politely and seriously.
My conversations with Pak Raka were odd. While he spoke Balinese, Indonesian and only a few words of English, I spoke a few words of Indonesian and understood nothing of Balinese.
David and I had made a big effort to learn Indonesian, attending classes for several months before our visit. We practiced conversation and vocabulary daily. David has a natural ability with languages and was soon far ahead of me. Unfortunately what I had learned seemed to vanish now I was confronted with the reality of having to speak it. I began to understand the huge problem and loneliness of non-communication.
But for Pak Raka and me a curious new language evolved. We developed a distinctive rapport. Facial expression became exaggerated but totally readable. Gestures were important. And of course we spoke with each line of music. We were soon friends, we were intrigued with the situation, aware of each other as musicians. We walked together, Raka speaking in Balinese, while I spoke English. We laughed a lot.

Anak Agung Raka
Anak Agung Raka

DAVID: Cock-fighting and traffic dodginggirls pounding rice

Next day, our new friend, Alit, called for us early. We caught a bemo into town, and wandered, retracing our steps, changing our minds.

Near the centre of the town is the old palace, Puri Pemecutan, which is preserved as a museum, and is a fine example of pure Balinese architecture. We heard music as we wandered through its gateway. We came upon a class of tiny girls dancing in a courtyard. The dance continued without pause; but all the dark eyes swept towards us, one movement, one solemn regard. In a neighbouring courtyard, two teen-age girls were pounding rice with long pestles: `thud, thud, thud, thud’, in a simple unbroken rhythm. At every beat the pestle changed from one hand to the other, its bounce began its upward movement. The girls were young, straight and handsome.

Alit guided us down a side street, where hideous pigs ran among small warungs; at its end was a large, thatched pavilion and  from it came the sounds of men shouting and cocks crowing. This was Denpasar,s cock-fighting arena.

We sat with other spectators on plank benches. Betty was the only woman in sight, for Balinese women seldom watch the cock-fights, and ouirs were the only pale faces. Two men in sarongs squatted in the arena, fondling and teasing their handsome fighting cocks.

They blew down their beaks and ruffled the feathers of their necks to excite them and carefully and, with a sense of ceremony, bound  sharp blades to the cocks’ right legs. The birds were held high to be presented to the crowd. Then the betting began. Male voices calling the odds, rose to a babble then a deep roar. Somehow amongst it all, bets were made directly, one man to another. Nothing was written down all was remembered.

`What if the other man does not pay?’ we asked a man nearby. He was shocked. `That would never happen in Bali’, he said.

Boys came round selling food to munch while we watched the slaughter. There were small mandarins and salacs, like tiny scaled animals. Flat baskets were piled high with little, whole, smoked chickens and the baskets emptied quickly.

Quiet fell. The men with their birds faced across the square arena. Quiet, quiet, then the cocks were released. They faced, they circled, there was a flurry as one bird leapt across the other, there was a stab with the spur. The crowd yelled.

A fight was over when one of the cocks was wounded and unable to stand. Gambling debts were collected, food was sold and another fight began. Some of the fights were mercifully short. Sometimes, when a bird would not stand up to his opponent, the pair was locked in a small basket, where there was no escape, and to the feeling of violence was added a feeling of terror.

We were in the male domain. Men about men’s business walked slowly, sat calmly, talked solemnly on serious themes. They drew deeply on sweet-smelling clove cigarettes and looked about with the self-assurance of men being manly for men. The cocks ruffled their feathers and crowed. The men love their birds. Later, in the villages, we would see  men by the roadside, siting with their champions in their arms, content in companionship. The cocks, they said, like to watch the people passing; it keeps them amused

Denpasar has its corners and alleys and buildings which are quiet and charming; but, in the daytime at least, it is the traffic that holds your attention. Many of the streets are one way only and traffic circles the city in a solid flow.. Pedestrians give way to bicycles, bicycles to motorbikes, motor bikes to cars and trucks own the road. A driver’s job  is to sound his horn, loud and often.

The main street, Jalan Gadjah Mada is low in line, grey in colour. One shop is like another, wide doorway without windows – caves of commerce. First floor verandahs supported by square pillars cover the pavements which are high, rough and rutted. At the town centre, a bridge crosses a muddy river where bamboo grows, litter floats and citizens bathe and launder, the city’s water supply, and beside the river is a great, crowded, market where the air is loaded with aromas of many kinds of spices. Brown women walk, poised, with great baskets on their heads. There is wonderful movement and we brush close against others. There was always noise in Jalan Gaja Mada: record shops play rock and roll at unbearable levels, horns blare, engines scream.

Souvenir shops stand in lines and in them souvenirs stand in rows: Balinese art reduced by repetition to souvenir status. Ebony statues are smooth and elegant, but the silhouette is lost in sanding. Herons, frogs and figures from the Hindu stories are repeated again and again, exactly alike, with never the mark of a chisel.

`They think that if it’s smooth it’s good’, the painter Affandi said to me some months later, `That is why I prefer exotic art.’

Mostly the paintings in shops are similar, a repeated formula. A lot of work goes into it, as people say, and they buy the time and effort cheaply enough. On the pavements eager salesmen pursue defensive foreigners. Salesmen display carvings or paintings, or bolts of cloth, and stand grinning and dangling at the doors of restaurants where tourists drink iced fruit juice and try to ignore them..

With Alit, we took a bemo to Kuta Beach – well known Kuta Beach, where young tourists surf and are said to smoke pot. `I think’, said Alit, `a European village would look like this’.

Perhaps there were fewer thatched roofs than in other villages, no mud walls. Alit saw something which I could not. It was Balinese to me, not so different from parts of Denpasar.

On the beach, girls wearing sarongs balanced baskets on their heads. Their limbs were handsome, their eyes were dark, and there was some defiance in the way they stood. They were selling shirts, skirts, and sarongs in batik patterns. When we sat on the sand,  one of them came and sat beside us. She unloaded her basket of shirts. She was good looking and flashed charming smiles. Her friends stood a little way off and watched. When we did not buy, she reloaded her basket on her head, flashed us a scowl and left, leaving us feeling a little guilty.`She is cross’, said Alit in a small voice.

`Alit’, I said later, `would you like some money to spend on something?’ I began to pull a note from my pocket. Alit was horrified and stopped me quickly with downturned hands. He glanced about.

`Please do not give me money, Mr. David’, he said, `People will think I am a guide’.

Money creates a barrier which is hard to penetrate. There is an uneasiness, a wondering about motives, about correctness, a fear of offending and a fear of misunderstanding. In Bali it can inhibit both the local people and the tourists. When we were to leave Denpasar, we quietly gave Alit a small gift. He smiled and smiled and we said sentimental good-byes.

We thought we would see him again; he had given us his name and address. On a later day, we lost the small piece of paper. Four months later, back in Australia, a letter arrived from Alit. He hoped he had not offended us. `Please answer this letter’, he said. And we have been friends ever since, while he has married, become the father of a daughter and an important bank official.






flute and basket

Betty: Meeting Alit and seeing Denpasar by night

Our hotel was a small one, in a Denpasar suburb,  nothing smart. The mattresses were a little  hard and the bathroom had just a large, square, concrete cistern of water, with a plastic dipper for dousing.

We went out to explore the town. In front of the hotel, was a grassy square where children were playing. `Hello turis!’ they called out to us and, smiling widely, reached out upturned palms. They were beautiful children, Siregar’s smiling children, against a background of green.

Small, shrill, three-wheeled trucks  with stuttering, two-stroke  engines, careered on the streets. Bemos they were called. They sat six passengers in reasonable comfort on two benches… even more with a bit of a squeeze. They followed routes as would our buses and were the usual, least expensive and most convenient public transport in Denpasar. Lithe boys stood on the hind step, hanging on,  eyes out for custom. One such boy  waved us to his bemo. We asked for the post office, because that was an Indonesian word we knew,  and he nodded vigorously. We sat close against the comfortable thighs of turbaned women who regarded us without expression.

At the cross-roads in Denpasar is a large four-faced statue, Tertagangga that looks, at the one time to North, south, east and west. The main square of the town spreads over maybe ten acres, and along one side of it are the low decorated roofs of the main Hindu temple of Denpasar..

The post office, mother substitute for tourists, squats close by, behind a wall and a carved gateway. Her grounds were deserted and her faded doors closed tight: the day was a Balinese holiday. Nevertheless, we were not alone for long. In through the carved gates sped a bicycle with a young boy astride it; he circled us three times, braked, dismounted and, speaking English, introduced himself.

`Sir, Madam,’ he said, ‘from which country do you come?  I would like to show you Denpasar and explain anything you want to know.’  We were a little taken aback; but we liked this boy immediately. ‘My name is Alit’  he said,  ‘I am not a tourist guide and I do not want money’ then softly,  ‘but I would like you to help me with my English.’

Alit wasted no time:  ‘The population of Indonesia at the last census was almost one hundred and twenty million people.’ he began. We would learn more from Alit as he would learn from us.

He suggested that we go that night to Denpasar’s great temple on the alun-alun. There would be gamelan music and shadow puppet peformances of the Mahabarata, for this was the day to honour Dewi Sariswati, the benign and beloved goddess of the arts, of learning and literature. Nobody should pick up a book to read on her day; but a new year of reading would begin with the rising of the sun.

When Alit arrived at our hotel to escort us, other tourists were quite cynical.: `They’ll always say they just want to learn English!’ they said knowingly. ‘In the end, they want your money.’

In the town centre were small, colourful  pony carts, called dokkars, drawn by pretty ponies with bells and pomp-poms on their harness. Crowds of people in bright clothing walked slowly across the grass of the alun-alun. Beside the temple walls were sellers of food and drink: turbaned women knelt behind low tables, fanned charcoal fires and sticks of sizzling pork.

Women wore bolts of cloth (kains) in batik patterns wrapped about their thighs and reaching to their ankles and bright, patterned, narrow sleeved blouses called kebayas. Men wore neat shirts over their kains,  which they had tied carefully to fall in pleats in front and  on their heads were embroidered cloths tied intricately. They were good looking people, colourful and happy. Girls walked arm in arm with girls and boys with boys.

A large, white screen for the shadow play was built high on a bamboo platform ande penyors, long tasseled bamboo decorations, curved gracefully beside the carved gates. From inside the temple came the sound of chanting. We were intrigued by what might be going on inside the temple gates. Alit thought it should be all right for us to see whatever  ceremony  was happening.  He went away for a few minutes to check, then led us into the temple grounds.

When Alit took us through a narrow doorway, we saw a crowd gathered around an open-sided pavilion. Inside, an old man sat, cross-legged at a low table, reading from a Sanskrit text. To his left another man sat, repeating each sentence, actively and artistically, giving dramatic life to the reader’s monotone. His voice rose and fell, richly resonant.

The performance was pleasing to us and even more appreciated by the Balinese spectators and participants who obviously understood every subtlety of the text. Facing the two at the table sat a group of six men, deep in meditation, perhaps even trance. One was a particularly distinctive man, dressed all in white, with his long grey hair was pulled back in a knot. I watched the graceful movement of his shapely hands with their inch long finger-nails. His eyes, in a refined face, were black and intense.

Quite suddenly, the chanting with its dramatic repetition ceased. Beautiful, slim young girls, richly dressed in glittering sarongs and kebayas (long-sleeved, fitted blouses) and embroidered sashes binding the waist, approached the pavilion, then stepped on to the dais. The girls had thick black hair, lustrous in the soft light, coiled at the neck and decorated with frangipani. They placed food  in silver bowls before the men, who first cleansed their mouths with water, then broke their fast.

David had taken out his sketch-book, and was drawing,  His concentration was intense and seemed to suggest there was not a moment to be lost.  I could only marvel at his industry. Soon he attracted the interest of others:   I looked around to see him surrounded by small boys.

I stood on a step of the dais intrigued by these new sights and sounds, but soon I had an uncomfortable feeling. I had become aware that my presence was considered an intrusion. Strangely enough, David had the same feelings at the same moment and, with one accord, without speaking, we turned to leave.

Talking later, we agreed that the feeling came from the old man, a pedanda or priest of the Brahmana cast. His appearance and gestures both fascinated me. I was watching him intently when his glance caught and held my gaze. His eyes were burning with a fierce light and I under­stood at once that we were not wanted there.  I understood why: we were a distraction and apart from that, our heads were on a higher level than that of the sitting priest.  We were ill-mannered. we had not shown proper respect, we were not wearing temple sashes and we had received a silent, Oriental admonition that we would not forget.

The Wayang puppets would perform until morning. We were too tired to last the distance. We returned to our hotel and wearily lay on beds covered with just one sheet. I wrestled for a while with a hard bolster, a `dutch-wife’ they call them,  and finally fell asleep.