Back to Bali, Back to Spirituality

There’s magic in Bali. Some of it may be what we westerners consider a kind of witchcraft. When a baby is born, the family buries the placenta outside the front door of the house (they believe the placenta is a part of the baby’s soul). When a person dies, s/he gets cremated with offerings from the home and village. The ashes are ritualistically prayed over and combined with more sacred items (special oils, talisman, coins) which all make sure that when the spirit gets reincarnated, the person is reborn to the same village. So basically, if reincarnation exists, and people are continually reborn into the same family or village, that explains why there are so many stubborn Balinese running around.

Pregnant women can do no wrong here, they are forgiven all past sins and fawned over like goddesses. Our cook here at Jiwa Damai, Astri, is pregnant and you can feel the energy in the air. The men gravitate towards her, visiting her in the kitchen to chat and get her anything she needs.

Baby’s feet don’t touch the ground the first 6 months of their lives. This happens as part of a bonding ritual of children to their family, and because they consider the ground unclean/impure. It also means that Balinese children don’t develop the same way western children do: they never crawl. There feet are blessed during a ceremony after 6 months, and then they can touch the earth for the first time.

The mother also cannot enter the family temple or go out of the house for 2 months after giving birth. She and the baby are considered unclean, and take part in a variety of purification ceremonies. If being confined indoors with a newborn for 2 months isn’t the ultimate test, I don’t know what is.

You must keep contributing to the clan you were born into , regardless of whether you are living in the village. If you work on the day of a ceremony, you have to get off work and go. Workers at Jiwa Damai use all their vacation days for ceremony attendance. If you are not present, you’re fined. They exile those Balinese who miss one too many ceremonies. Once you are ostracized from the village, you cannot be buried or cremated there. This means your soul can never come to rest.

Wandering around Ubud solo, I was my most observant self. I watched as each shop worker came outside and placed and silently prayed over morning offerings. Many merchants will give the first customer a better deal because they believe it will bring good luck to them for the rest of the day. The offerings sit in the path of western feet, and soon get tromped on. But no matter, more offerings will come out again at noon.

I went to the monkey forest – which in my opinion is a ripoff, there are monkeys at every temple if you’d like to see some – but quite by accident, I didn’t pay. It cost 20,000 RP. I just wandered in, unaware of the ticket window and apparently authoritatively enough that no one stopped me. Basically, it’s a walkway through the jungle with a bunch of monkeys hanging out, waiting for you to feed them bananas. As a result of being over fed to keep more and more coming for the tourist attraction, most are real fatsos.

Admittedly, my heart went out to a baby monkey who was enjoying a banana, turned his head to look at me, and in that moment another little monkey snuck up and stole it out of his hand. He took chase, screeching, but he never got that banana back. Whlie I’m confident he didn’t starve, I still felt a little guilty…

At a silver shop, I chatted up the woman who worked there and left with an invitation for a home-stay and an opportunity to cook dinner with her. I was told that these generosities aren’t extended to the Javanese, or to Russians (of whom there are many. So many, in fact, that many hotels won’t take them because they leave such a mess).

While in the states I often mourned the behavior of other US tourists, here the Asian tourists in Asia commit many of the same awful tourist offenses. The Chinese, I have found, don’t go anywhere unless they are in an enormous group. I have navigated through them or around them many times, just to try to get ahead of the gang. Regardless, I have more photos of Asia with Chinese tourists in them than I care to count. They are also aggressive. Chinese tourists will elbow you out of their way if they feel it’s to their advantage. Be ready.

Traveling with Carlin at the royal palace in Bangkok: “Who just shoved me and poked me really hard? Was it that little Chinese woman?”

Yes. Yes it was.

In any case, the Chinese also love to play with monkeys in the monkey forest. So I bobbed and weaved around them as usual. One man said, “I think I could spend all day in here!” I know it’s fun to watch one monkey pull another’s tail, but come on.

In my opinion, monkeys are aggressive. Also, they might have rabies. Ah! Rabies! The most underrated disease in the west, but a very real and scary one in the east! One monkey scratch and you’ve got a whole bum load of vaccinations coming your way…I may or may not have convinced myself for about 2 hours that a 4 month old puppy gave me rabies. Don’t make fun. I’m still vaguely terrified of a Cujo-like, Chuck Palahniuk inspired, frothy death.

Back to Bali, Back to Spirituality. You feel it everywhere. In the rice paddies, the jungle and the town.


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