Friday, July 25, 2014

Bali-Frangipani Memories

Long after some idyllic holiday, fragrant memories linger. Show me a champakali and I’m back in Bali. July 2008.
The Westin Resort Nusa Dua, Bali

The music plays on in memories corridors, excited by a passing scent. In Bali you are captive to the Gamelan and to Frangipani. 

We had a light bite at KLIA before boarding the fairly small plane but I love Malaysian airlines- the staff is always very sweet and attentive and so we were airborne with our copies of the day's newspapers open at the Sudoku page. 

Lunch was quite awful but a good chill beer will help anything down and so I enjoyed my window seat to the hilt and had fun interacting with a cute Chinese baby boy. He was part of a family group consisting of a mother and two other sons –they live in France and had travelled down to meet the grand parents for the summer vacations. The landing was spectacular- with exquisite views of volcanoes and high mountain pools wreathed in filmy clouds as the plane almost plunges into the very ocean.

We reached Bali at a little before dusk and the hotel transport ferried us across the short distance to Westin. The welcome was exotic to say the least with pretty girls in Balinese costume greeting us with flowers and musicians playing the haunting melodies of this magic isle.

is played to welcome guests in some Balinese hotels. This music will follow you throughout your stay, be it while shopping or during some exotic excursion. And this music, the verdant landscapes and the exquisite beauty of the dancers will all be forever enveloped in the perfume of the frangipani. 

This fragrance follows you wherever you go during your time in Bali. Wafting down from trees, it comes to nest behind your ear. You are often given this flower as a token of welcome.

And, suddenly, you too become exotic. Loathe to leave, you may end up buying some Plumeria hair bands or clips. I did! 

I wore it over and over for years until people began smilingly identifying me by the hair tie.

Of course it broke at last and, one day, a couple of years later, I saw a young woman in Gurgaon sporting something similar. I went up to her eagerly and asked where she’d bought it. She looked mildly uncomfortable (obviously!) and said that it was not “from here”. I smilingly persisted and broke into a loud exclamation of joy when I wrung it out of her that she’d got it from Bali. 

The hotel room was superb –perhaps not as fancy as Nikko hotel in KL but still high class- well, sadly we only had the one bathtub soak as I found that the room had separate beds. Of what use is a romantic holiday if one has to either huddle on one bed or sleep apart?! And so I got a change of room but,  alas, that one had no bath tub- sigh!

The first evening or two, we visited the nearby Bali collections
- a little shopping village all decked out to please the tourist. A shuttle bus takes folks from all the nearby hotels there and back but the restaurants at Bali collections also offer free transport if one eats there. So the first dinner was at one such place where we had a hilarious waiter and a truly delicious dinner (the wine was strange but offset the food fairly nicely). I'm afraid I do not quite remember what we ate- for the sights and sounds and smells all weave a hypnotic spell. But the "blachan" (I assume it was that- a kind of red chutney which is laced with dried shrimp paste) was spicy enough here compared to its tamer counterpart in KL and less stinky. Sprouts form an integral part of most Balinese meals as, of course, does sea food, and some strange stringy greens (sea weed?).

The next evening we ventured to a shopping complex a little farther afield and I bought some flip flops with the frangipani flower on them as well as one pretty dress. 

We also located a nearer market and did some more shopping there. But all these areas are mainly created for the Western tourists – a whole lot of them from Russia or some Baltic states and the rest from Australia, Germany etc. But there are also a significant number from Korea and Japan and China. Indians are greatly liked by the Balinese and this made my visit more joyful.

Well, except for the last 2-3 days of the visit, my life consisted of shameless lolling in the hotel.
I lazed on the beach and had a nice tan to show for it- I dared not venture into the sea for it looked very different from the one in Pondy where I spent many years as a child. The beach is always full of local vendors selling sarongs and kites and luring one to go for a glass bottom boat cruise to some tortoise island- alas, having no company, I could only lust after the idea!

Bali is where the senses come alive. Inextricably woven into the fabric of experience, sights, sounds, and smells will adorn your visit, while the gentle breezes caress your skin. Heaven is lounging on a beach for a relaxing massage. I didn’t go for the massage but the setting on the Nusa Dua beach was divine. The link has a picture just above the heading Nusa Dua. 

So, after a truly queenly complimentary breakfast at the hotel, I would either do a workout at the gym, go for a swim in the pool, read a novel from the small hotel library which is full of Russian, Dutch, Korean and other books mostly, or lounge on the beach amidst the other "corpses" ( men and women all worshipping the sun rear end first on the lovely loungers which just cover miles and miles of silken sands).

It was around the middle of the stay that I sallied forth to discover the Ramayana Mall in the main city of Denpasar, a mile's drive from the hotel. Well, the Mall did not have anything I wanted to buy as its products were mainly of the kind locals would require but I got a good look at the city and the passing scenery. 

I lunched on very local fare- something which seems to be chicken liver inside a kind of what looks like a wicker ball made of chicken flesh and Siapi which is what Indians call paya. 

I flaunted the odd word or two of Bahasha Indonesia thanks to my stay in KL. And I was very deeply moved by the sweet harmony between Hindu and Muslim in Bali. People would recognize my friend as "Islam" and she was treated with tender respect and once when she wanted to try some street food called Nasi Padang, some girls rushed to stop her shouting "Islam" for that food might not have been Halal. In that scene, the girl who was selling the food stuffs pointed at herself and said Islam and so did some other girls and the two who had rushed to save my friend from the non- halal food giggled and said they were Hindu- then we shared with them the fact that I was Hindu and she Muslim.

The Hinduism here is hardly recognizable to us! Although the temples look like those in Kerala as do the landscape and villages… For example, we had quails eggs on sticks like lollypops which were coated with beef paste- nothing to write home about frankly, that one! Otherwise it seems more like Ladakh or Bhutan or even Nepal…

The photo to the left shows some offerings placed on a kerb. I did not get the chance to visit a Balinese temple but some houses seem to have the concept of having a small temple in front of the house.

In many taxis and shopping centres Hindu music was being played. I recall the Gayatri. 

Later when I read a book by a famous Indonesian writer, I gathered more insight into how Hindusim traveled there and how the mythologies morphed. Most roads have some statue depicting some sequence from Hindu mythology.

The last two days were hectic but enjoyable with organized tours- the first one was a long ride to a village where we dined at the residence of a prince 
and were entertained with many lovely dances and a special 'trance dance" drama that was thrilling. All the villagers had gathered around also to watch from discretely. 

Must visit spots include the Garuda Wisnu Kencana Cultural Park. This special park has a huge statue of Visnu. 

We were greeted at the entrance by a "creature" which you can see in the second photo above. I also recall a giant Garuda. It is, all in all, an enchanting excursion.
There is also a small zoo somewhere which we only visited to have lunch. 

Let’s not forget shopping! I wish we’d had more time in Ubud where I picked up a couple of tops to wear with jeans.  A lot of strange monkeys roam around Ubud. 

Ubud is where I would hang out most if I ever get to go there again. It has so much to see and do. Most of the shopping can be done there but there are also other places to visit in that locality.

There was a most memorable dinner as the sun set over Tanah LotEven at 
Tanah Lot, we were greeted by the famous monkey dancers. 

This is another splendid place to stroll through and evening is the best time to visit it. Before you enter the complex there is a sprawling local market and inside there was a large snake near the entrance. But nothing can compare to the breathtaking experience of sunset from Tanah Lot.

A mere bus ride through the green paddy fields delights the heart. The sky is alive with kites

I was also most taken up with the Rudana art gallery framed by green fields, where, in the courtyard, artists worked on beautiful projects. 

Almost each paragraph here would require its own blog entry! But I leave that task to you, dear reader, hoping this blog entry of mine will inspire you to fly to Bali and I look forwards to reading all that you will post and enjoying all your photos.

One whiff of a Frangipani flower is enough to put me back in a Bali state of mind!

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Christine Jordis- Myanmar Through Very Jaundiced Eyes

This is my second Christine Jordis. The cover looked inviting. The title, Promenades en terre bouddhiste. Birmanieeven more so.

Alas, a brief saunter through the pages left me feeling far from any Buddhist serenity. Flipping to the end in case I was too hasty in my judgement, I continued to want to punch the author silly. 

Rangoon, 2003, mostly describes train journeys. A couple of pages are devoted to a young man from the military who is lounging (Christine finds this abominable) on a berth. A young woman with a cute baby enters the compartment. It is his wife. She lets loose a tantrum. The sequence ends with the youth lying near his wife and looking up at her and his child. Our prurient Jordis finds that there is a lack of modesty in this "joute érotique". What the White blather rafting?! 

Grabbing a good handful of my store of Buddhist Samata, I took a deep breath and delved into the book at random. Counting to ten didn’t help. Ma Hnin Khin, une femme independente, is a chapter lovingly devoted to the demonising of a myanmarese lady. This poor woman has a malicious smile, her very entry into the author's life is imp-like, and, horror of horrors, she speaks at least three languages (French, English and German)! How in the name of every colonial god can such base creatures dare to possess any skills?! It's a chapter where the author's full blown paranoia takes on gargantuan dimensions.

Christine Jordis epitomises what a good many “white” folk do. I’m often told by some of the latter that they are not personally responsible for the misdeeds of their forefathers. Fair enough. Yet a few laws making certain terms politically incorrect seem only to have thrown the onus on the victims. Thus, Indians beat themselves up about being racist. Rather unfair, what!

To return to my White bête noire, Ms Jordis has the unfortunate gift of despoiling every Asian land that she visits. Her book about Indonesia, Bali, Java in my dreams, painted a very depressing portrait of a people and a culture I found entirely enchanting. 

And Myanmar being a country my husband has visited and raved about, I blindly picked up Promenades en terre bouddhiste since it purported to be about Birmanie.

Damn but the woman just loves to hate us Asians! All the women in her Promenades en terre bouddhiste are depicted as malicious slant eyed sluts. Actually, if one just takes an anthropological stand, one could say that this presents a fascinating insight into human female behavior. The young women of Myanmar seen through my husband’s camera lens looked so innocent and pretty that I did feel a qualm. Could it be that Jordis’ journeys through these lands left her feeling insecure?  

I have observed that, often, “White” men and women visiting the Far East and other such “exotic” destinations, end up making money out of these jaunts.  A book about some art form or aspect of culture, and, nowadays, a website where an Indian can even learn how to tie a sari. An almost obsession to co-opt anything that seems worthwhile. “You may have done all this but, by writing about it, I display a superior claim to it”. And so they teach you Yoga, how to play the sitar and, even, how to cook your own dishes.

What is wrong with such cultural give and take, you ask? Nothing. Save that when an Asian or other such does anything of the sort, cries of “plagiarism”, monkey see monkey do and similar expressions of mocking outrage stream out at us. Also, give and take takes on a very nasty flavor if one converts it to take and give. Remember how cloth was taken and clothes were given? Geographies were taken and readymade enemy nations were given?

Jordis is in direct lineage of those who once claimed that there was scientific evidence to prove that some races are inferior. She travels and writes for the primary purpose of showing down the peoples she visits. She is, in short, a rather unpleasant visitation.

With her connections she gets away with published books in inviting covers. A fulsome over ornate style serves to voice her mourning of neglected colonial architecture and, if such an appetite moves you, her books might enlighten you about various authors from the colonial times.