Full moon, Goa Lawah and Offensive Behaviour

The wealth of Balinese religious ceremony and the calendar of events which structures the life of the Balinese, both religious and lay, is impressive. We wake up early and note that the gardener is working dressed formally in a white udeng (Balinese male head wear), a double layered heavy sarong and a freshly pressed shirt. The young women in the restaurant serving breakfast from 7 am are dressed in tight fitting sarongs, kabaya and sashes, their movement graceful and appearance more curvaceous, as they busily bring trays to their guests. Every month, Balinese dress in ceremonial clothing to celebrate full moon and at some point in the day, they will visit a local or family pura ( temple).

On full moon two days ago, we left Sanur to travel up the east coast of Bali towards Amed, a long drive with many interesting spots along the way. We stopped at Goa Lawah Temple, one of the most important temples in Bali, perhaps second only to Bersakih, the mother temple. Goa Temple translates to bat cave, and it is in this darkened cave that Hindu priests conduct religious ceremonies on a raised platform. Goa Lawah temple was established in the 11th century by Mpu Kuturan, one of the early priests who laid the foundations of Hinduism on the island. It’s a popular stopover for holidaying locals, who arrive with offerings and prayers before continuing their journey. Every month, many Balinese visit the temple for full moon ceremonies, but prior to their visit, they must first walk to the sea opposite, wash their feet and collect holy sea water to sprinkle on themselves, a necessary cleansing ritual before prayer. Every six months, a much larger ceremony is held where Balinese from all over the island will visit for the day. It is a holy shrine, akin to Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral or Rome’s Basilica di San Pietro.

Although we came prepared with our own sarongs and scarves, always tucked away in a bag for temple visits, we accepted the sarongs and scarves offered at the entrance gate. These days, the most famous temples charge a small admission price which involves dressing the tourist appropriately in a sarong and scarf: this ensures that tourists will not offend with inappropriate dress, and at the same time, raises funds for the upkeep of the grounds.

Despite this, some tourists offend through their behaviour. Picture this: within the darkened cave, a priest dressed in white makes offerings to the Gods, holy water is sprinkled, bells ring, incense is burning, and basket offerings are laid at the altar. Soon a small black bird will be sacrificed. The locals sit on the ground below, mostly dressed in white and gold, hands raised in prayer. Reverence and auspiciousness can be sensed, understood and respected by most of the tourists who, like me, stand and observe from a distance, taking photos from the rear of the temple. Then, out of nowhere, she arrives: she places herself midst the the faithful who, along with the priest, will form a backdrop to her poses for instagram. This young, ignorant young woman gives tourists a bad name.

The looks on the faces of the Balinese says it all. It is no wonder some Balinese Regencies are considering barring tourists from temples completely. Can you imagine this happening in the middle of a mass, or other religious event in a European church, mosque or synagogue?

Life and Death in Bali

Over the years, I’ve witnessed many cremation ceremonies in Bali, from one massive ceremony for a royal prince in Ubud years ago, to the smaller weekly cremations at a nearby temple. Often, you hear a cremation ceremony before you see it- a loud percussion band echos through the nearby streets, alerting all to the procession on its journey to the sea, down to the pura dalem, the temple associated with death. A special ancient instrument called a gambang is only played at cremation ceremonies. A large wooden xylophone with bamboo keys is struck by one band member holding two wooden hammers in each hand. Cremations are dramatic and colourful religious events, and westerners may attend if dressed correctly and maintain a respectful distance from the main family groups.

Last week’s ngaben, Balinese for ashes, was a well planned and anticipated event involving the cremation of around 500 bodies. A madeeng was held the day before the actual burning at the seaside temple. Thousands turned up for madeeng, with everyone dressed in their finest white and gold ceremonial outfits. Above a sea of white umbrellas, below 5000 people either marching or forming guard as it circled three times around the main streets, along the main Bypass road, and then back into the suburb.

A Balinese cremation can be extremely costly. It is important to put on a good show, to impress the spirits but also to maintain prestige in the family and community. For poorer folk who cannot afford $25,000 or more, group cremations are affordable but still very impressive. Bodies are buried for a period- often for two years or more- until the family can save up for a ceremony in conjunction with other families in the banjar or local community.

Sapi’s last day. This cow has had a very good life. It is his last day before being sacrificed.

For foreigners who wish to attend Balinese cremations or preceding events, appropriate dress is essential. The dress code is simple. Women should wear a sleeved tshirt, shirt or lace kabaya, if you happen to have one, and on the bottom, a sarong, tied with a sash or scarf. Men should wear a plain cotton shirt and sarong. If not, long trousers are acceptable, along with a sash. It is important to observe the rituals from a distance and stay away from the actual burning ceremony, and generally not get in the way of the family. Attending a madeeng requires a similar dress code, though this event is not strictly religious, but does form part of the overall ngaben. Despite dressing for the occasion, you’ll still stand out as an oddity. I know Mr T always feels a little ill at ease in his funeral sarong- it’s never really tied properly, and he whips it off as soon as he is away from the ceremony. I wear a modern stretch fabric sarong that isn’t as comfortable as plain wrapped fabric in the midday heat, but at least it stays on and I don’t feel compelled to wear trousers beneath it. Being discreet, respectful and courteous to those around you goes a long way at a ceremony and makes up for your awkward appearance.

Having said, this, there are plenty of tourists who do the wrong thing, mostly through ignorance. Below, this bikini clad woman walks into a Balinese Temple area during a busy cremation ceremony. She continues on her path, determined to get her precious photo. Invariably, it is the European tourist who is completely ignorant and ethno- centric when it comes to Balinese culture, religious ceremony and dress code. For some reason, Europeans find it troublesome to don clothes after the beach. Photo taken, September 2018.

The ugly tourist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In My Kitchen, September 2019

I’m in Bali still, which reminds me of a good song about London. A long stay of about 3 months is only made possible thanks to my beautiful kitchen here, which has become an anchor and refuge, a place to make a comforting meal, making this house a home. It is a galley style kitchen, and came equipped with very few cooking tools. To the existing small saucepan and frying pan, I added a pasta pot and a small wok. It surprises me how little you really need. I did visit a huge kitchenware shop in Denpasar, Dapur Prima, for a peruse, but only bought a jug for my palm sugar syrup, a few heavy spoons, ( I despise Uri Geller light weight spoons), a soup ladle and a grater. Storage containers to hold pantry odds and ends have been re-purposed from empty 2 litre wine casks, ( we have resorted to wine casks, given the price of wine in bottles ) ice cream containers for packets of rice and pasta, along with recycled durable brown paper bags to store a few potatoes. This takes me back to the sensible way we re-used most of these items in the 70s and 80s, before kitchenware became a fashion accessory. We used large wine cask boxes to store files and magazines, often nicely covered in wrapping paper for teaching topic notes, ice-cream containers for oddments  in the pantry or for pegs in the laundry, and if we were lucky enough to buy wine in bottles, we would take them to the Scout bottle dump, where they would be sold to raise funds. A crate of lemonade in bottles was delivered occasionally in summer, then swapped when the next load was ordered. Newspaper and cardboard went to the Australian Paper Mills in Alphington to be recycled. Little plastic pots were used for plant cuttings, glass jars used for chutney and jams or for shed storage of nuts, bolts and seeds. Old suits and clothes were made into children’s overalls –  my three children wore these when crawling about on our brick floors. Handmade clothes were seen as more desirable than a piece of junk from Target. Recycling, re-purposing and re-using was a natural practice then, but now the need has become more urgent. A new generation needs to learn the ropes in this throw away era, while the older generation needs to re-acquire the values and practices it once held so dear. I hope to start afresh when I return to Australia and attempt to move closer to zero waste.

Apart from a country wide ban on single use plastic bags, Indonesia, and Bali in particular, has a scheme in place for collecting plastic bottles and cans. I save mine for one of the collectors at the beach. See Plastic bank in Indonesia. Over the past few years, I’ve often met an ancient woman, poor and dressed in a faded tattered sarong and white shirt, walking up and down the beach path all day, rifling through rubbish bins, dragging a huge bag of rubbish behind her. She is a street recycler and is part of the local scheme that offers a cash incentive for returning plastic bottles and cans. When her bag is full, she takes it to one of the plastic banks a couple of kilometers away, and then returns to start another round. Her toothless smile is radiant, as she greets us with a selamat siang /sore ( good afternoon). I find her enchanting, beautiful and her energy amazes me. I sometimes wait around on the beach in the afternoon, with my bag of recycling, to add to hers. Since this scheme was put in place, Sanur, a beach suburb of Denpasar, has radically improved. Primary schools also have recycling days for bottles and cans. Slowly the banana leaf wrappings are returning. Indonesia is determined to change it’s relationship with plastic. With a population of over 270 million, their need is even greater.

 

In my Balinese kitchen, I spend as much time sorting through flowers as I do preparing food. One of the morning routines I’ve adopted since coming here in July is collecting spent flowers along the paths in the morning before the gardeners sweep them away. These flowers last for one day. They are arranged in a saucer, bowl or platter, and placed on a fabric background: I then photograph them and post to Facebook, my daily antidote to bad news. Called the Dharma project, I have now posted 31 arrangements: each photo is chosen from a selection of 10, and explores the way colour changes with different backgrounds in the morning light. It is also a spiritual meditation on life, death, order, and transience.  If I miss a day or two, the cleaning staff bring me flowers. I am touched. Balinese make daily floral offerings: canang sari follow set rules in terms of arrangement and colour whereas my arrangements are usually based on what falls from above each day, although I sometimes resort to a little selective pruning.

I’m very partial to kue tradisional, traditional Indonesian cakes. These sweet morning treats were available at the market last week- boiled sweet agar- agar ‘snakes’ with freshly grated coconut. I remember buying them in the 80s and 90s when they came wrapped in banana leaves: now they come in little cellophane containers.

These little sachets of Terasi come in chocolate wrappers, each one containing the right quantity to toast before adding to your sambal. Made from dried prawn, Terasi is a very stinky condiment and an acquired taste. I have very fond memories of my children as teenagers, taunting each other with an open block of Terasi. There is nothing more rousing than a putrid block of compressed fish waived under your nose while dosing in the morning. Now my eldest two children, who are in their late 40s, still play Terasi and fish sauce games when they get together at the beach camp.

I love these ceremonial dishes used by Balinese women to carry flowers  offerings at small temples. The silver ones are usually left on top of family shrines and contain all sorts of oddities- everything a spirit could want, perhaps a cigarette, wrapped sweet, crackers, a jar of soy sauce, or a favourite drink. I use these bowls constantly in my kitchen, for washing vegetables or prepping the myriad of ingredients required for an Indonesian sambal cooking paste, for collecting flowers, or to store shallots, garlic, ginger, turmeric, galangal, white pepper and chili.

Candlenuts and garlic ( above) are an interesting substitute for pine nuts in pesto, made in the uleg.

 

One dish I enjoyed making recently was Terong dan Tahu Balado, eggplant and tofu balado. Balado is a Sumatran word, a Padang cooking term meaning red sambal. I love the long thin green eggplants here and hope to grown them when I return to Australia. They don’t carry any bitterness, and soften easily when cooked. They are also the perfect eggplant for light smoking. I used my Aldi fake Nutribullet for making the balado sambal. It churned through the shallots, garlic, long mild chilies, terasi and tomato in seconds. My stone Uleg looked on dejectedly, feeling suddenly obsolete, a kitchenware anachronism.

The two photos above are not from my kitchen but from Massimo’s Italian restaurant in Sanur. On the left, is Amarena ice cream with Chantilly cream and Amarena cherry syrup, served in lust- worthy Amarena blue and white bowls. And on the right, burrata with rugola. This cheese is made daily and served with home made chunky bread, and a bottle of EV olive oil and balsamic to apply your own dressing.  In between this entree and shared dessert, we ate a wood fired Napolitana pizza. This is the sweet Italian-Indonesian life, la dolce vita,  away from my kitchen. I have a regular table, naturally. Massimo is from Salento in Puglia, but has been operating his Italian restaurant in Sanur for more than 25 years, is married to a Balinese, and has Balinese- Italian children. Many of his recipes emanate from Salento. His business now includes many sidelines, including the production of gelato, hand rolled pasta, wood fire pizza and cheese- making, including some hard cheeses. A booking is required at night, but I like to pop down there at lunchtime when the big barn of a place is almost empty.

Easy Indonesian style Tomato so

This Indonesian style tomato soup featured in my recent post. A quick and easy soup, it really does require luscious vine ripened tomatoes and fresh stalks of lemongrass.

On our verandah, parpardelle con napoli, a good old fashioned standby, and a bottle of Two Islands Pinot Grigio, a wine made from Barossa grapes in Bali.

If you’ve read this long rambling post, thank you. I know, it seems to be more about the urgency of dealing with recycling than kitchen things. But then, most of our recycling problems start in the kitchen, ours or someone else’s, if you  happen to eat in restaurants. I usually try to make my posts ‘plastic free’, but not wishing to appear hypocritical, I’ve included some lovely Balinese items that came wrapped in plastic, cellophane or plastic foil.  It happens here and it happens at home, and then I wonder where it’s going to go. The header photo was chosen after Dale, from daleleelife.101, mentioned recently that it looked like a fruit salad of flowers. And thanks once again Madame Sherry of Sherry’s Pickings for hosting the monthly In My Kitchen series.

Easy Tomato Soup Indonesian style

When we eat at home in Bali, I invariably make a soup. Some of these soups are easily converted into wet style curries by adding two tablespoons of coconut cream at the end of the cooking. Served with rice, a little shaped mound on a plate, Bali style, you simply add a few spoons of the soupy curry to the top of your rice and not the other way around. I have seen many Westerners add scoops of rice to their bowl of soup/curry and I always wonder if they are trying to make rice soup.

Tomato soup, however, is never served as a curry. Although a very Indonesian recipe, I like it served western style, with a little garlic bread or toast. It is based on the classic duo, purple shallot and garlic- those two sisters, bawang merah and bawang putih. Each time I make this, other herbal and spice elements creep into the initial stir fry and come along for the ride. I have finally settled on this simple and quick recipe. It takes around 10 minutes all up, and doesn’t involve making an initial paste or sambal.

Tomato Soup, Indonesian Style. Serves 2 -3 .

  • 2 tablespoons of cooking oil of choice
  • 6-8 small purple shallot, finely chopped ( note, Indonesian purple shallots are much smaller than most found in Australia. See photo above.)
  • 2-3 garlic, finely chopped
  • one small hot chili, finely chopped
  • a small knob of turmeric, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2  lemon grass stems, thick white part bashed then finely chopped, the remaining stems knotted
  • 1/2 kilo fresh tomatoes in season, roughly chopped into small pieces.
  • salt
  • freshly ground white pepper
  • 1 packet Indo Mie or instant noodles

Add oil to a small wok and heat on medium. Add the shallot, garlic, chili, turmeric and lemon grass. Stir fry gently until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and raise the heat a little to get the tomatoes shedding their juice and breaking up. Add salt, pepper and the knotted lemon grass. Add water, around 4 cups or so. Cover the wok with a lid, reduce heat and cook for 5 minutes. Add the Indo Mie/ noodles, cook for a further minute or two. At this point you can decide whether to add the contents of the little packets that come with these noodles. I like to add the white powdery packet and soy sauce sachets into the soup for that old Indo Mie hit. Stir through, and remove the lemon grass knot. Serve in big bowls.

 

Portraits from the Sanur Festival, Bali 2019

The Sanur festival is one of the highlights of the annual secular calendar in Bali. Now in its 14th year, this year’s festival was held over 5 days, from August 21 to August 25, and included a huge programme of cultural, environmental and sporting events, including a jukung race, windsurfing and surfing competitions, fishing competition, an early morning beach clean up, a turtle release, photography exhibition as well as food and music events lasting well into the night. This is very much a local festival, and not targeted towards the tourist, like many draw card events held in Ubud. Having said this, some foreigners do attend and are encouraged to join in, especially in events such as the clean up programme, the fishing comp and other international sporting events. For me, the highlight of the Festival was the cultural parade on the last day. This took place in a nearby street: various teams from the district banjar had been rehearsing their band and barong dances for months ahead.

20190825_205117Most of these portraits were taken as the young men eagerly awaited their turn to perform in front of the judges. Some rehearsed their percussion, others were nervous, or eager to get going.  The street show lasted for two hours- bad luck for the bank up of traffic, diverted through the narrow lanes near the traditional market. Once each new group moved into position to begin their performance, the intensity was transporting. These young men dressed in black and white outfits definitely stole the show. Pure percussion- loud, electric, erotic, thrilling. Terima kasih banyak.