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.
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.
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