You could be walking down your street in Ubud and just before turning the corner towards Peliatan, your attention might be called to a plethora of motorbikes parked nearby, causing you to pause and question: what gives? Then you might spot Dewa standing amongst the group of men in this otherwise empty tract of land (with some covered shacks) and when he sees you, his gaze will have that unmistakable essence of “oops, I’ve been found out.” When he sees that glimmer in your eye, he’ll rightly understand it to mean that you have every intention of finding out what’s going on. So he’ll motion to you to enter.
Once inside, you’ll see some men dressed in sarongs and udengs, the rest in casual everyday clothes. A few temporary stalls will have been erected, to provide food, drinks and smokes. Even the coconut-water seller from Lombok will be there.
Two of three crowds of men will be huddled together, calling out and motioning this way and that – so that you might be tempted to imagine they are discussing politics or sports. But, when you stand on your tiptoes and strain to look over their shoulders, what you’ll see is this: a large mat spread out on the ground, lines drawn across forming boxes, within which is illustrated a single character from the Ramayana story. By then, you will already deduced that this is nothing more than an open-air gambling den.
Generally speaking, gambling is illegal in Bali, but with the cops (or pecalang, banjar security guys) duly paid off, all bets are – so to speak – off. So Rupiah bills in small and large denominations continue to flutter down from everywhere, many settling down on the Barong character.
Another time, you might stumble across an even larger gathering of men, engaged in an altogether different activity. Picture, if you will, 350 mostly elderly men in white robes and ceremonial canes, gray hair bundled up into knots on the crowns of their heads, chains of gold and colored beads dangling from their necks, seated in rows upon rows of folding chairs under the shade of the bale at the pura dalem. Their drivers (one protectively guarding his black Hummer), wives and many other circle around, looking on with reverence and anticipation at this unprecedented meeting.
Imagine a G7-like meeting but for the Balinese Hindu community – many of whom also live in other parts of Indonesia.
You’ll soon discover, and only by chance (because Wayan gets the scoop) that this Pedanda Summit has been convened in order to harmonize and standardize the production and/or sale of ceremonial offerings.
I kid you not.
Apparently, the price of offerings is higher in Ubud than elsewhere, creating disparities and economic inequalities among Balinese families and communities; moreover, the elements (primarily coconut and palm fronds, flowers and leaves) that comprise the various offerings differ from village to village. And this, as trivial as it might sound to a Westerner, is the root of a problem so pervasive on the Island of the Gods as to necessitate an urgent meeting.
Alas, my camera was not in hand because my laptop was and I am medically and physically unable to bear the weight of both… but here, at least, is a look at some post-pomp rainy scenes from the morning after.
You could also be heading out the door to the supermarket and, just by chance, you’ll glance over into Cat’s open garage in time to be startled by a sight that takes a moment or two to register: Four white newborn Bali puppies huddling close together in the dank and dark space, for warmth and comfort. You’ll wonder what to do and quickly you’ll realize that you’re not properly equipped to deal with this. So you’ll dial up BAWA, the Bali Animal Welfare Association – a.k.a. the people to call when you’ve discovered dogs that may have just been abandoned. Fortunately, I added BAWA to my cellphone contact list long ago because here, in Bali, you could easily come across a scene like this any time.
About 30 minutes later, 2 young Balinese men arrived in a white van, dressed officially in BAWA t-shirts. They brought blankets and bottles, fed the pups and settled them onto a large patch of padded blanket, where they continued to cuddle together with eyes closed tight. While we discussed what to do next, their mother showed up, looking on from a distance. With her nipples dangling low, the bitch barked up a storm, then turned around and sauntered down the road.
The BAWA-man suggested I check in on them to see if their mother had picked them up – and if not, they would return to collect the quarter later on.
And so, the huddling continues here and there; for money, for spirit, for love and comfort. May they all find peace…