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Corkorde Mas and Betty
Corkorde Mas and Betty

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Betty and David welcome you to our new website. In these pages we intend to make some of our work available: music scores and discs as well as books and music dramas.

We will make available Powerpoint videos which may be used as visuals to accompany performances of Betty’s music and we intend to write our own blog on various topics, mostly to do with the arts. We will change these articles every couple of weeks. We do hope you will enjoy our site.