Last night I had a dream. Dead bodies were laid out on the stainless steel tables, and the smell of death was strong on the nose. Sana was looking around the morgue for a condom. Fucking a dead 78 year old holy man wasn’t going to go down well.
Last night I had planned to visit the holy man at the hospital. I followed the Mad Hindu on my bike. I called it a night when my head lights turned off and I nearly crashed into a parked car. Ten minutes later Sana called me. The holy man had died.
Being a Hindu is hard work. Ceremonies take time and effort and cost money. I’m the official photographer. It doesn’t feel good walking on shallow graves of the dead in a pair of flip-flops. Did I just step on a skull? I keep on tripping over the grave sites. I hear giggles. The villagers are cutting me some slack.
Two handlers holding flame throwers pump diesel through a hose before they light up the holy man. I’m smoking. I take a few steps back just before powerful jets of flames spew out clouds of fury. The two operators are both working over the body, making sure it’s burning evenly, and I’m trying to avoid the licking flames. Sweat is dripping off them. The temperatures are extreme. Occasionally they stop to light a cigarette.
As the hamstrings burn barbecued legs lift up at 90 degree angles. Ten minutes later the skull explodes. Close family members brave the fire. They walk around the cremated body paying respect. Some offer water and rice at the base of the dead man’s legs. As the wind changes, flames dart at them. The body smouldered for an hour before they collected the bones.
The cremation left a pungent smell of charred pork. The villagers line up for pork on a spit in the temple compound. The ceremony isn’t over. The family will take the bones to the beach. They will wash the bones in the ocean and ask for blessings from the Water Goddess. Tomorrow the bones will be taken to the Mother Temple for more ceremonies before the remains are buried.
At the family’s house Miss Big Tits helped me shake off the gloom. I’m being a sleazebag and the Balinese are amused. I take more video and photos. She’s a gracious model. I show the men my latest pictures. The men mutter “susu gede.”
Sana tells me I shouldn’t speak gutter Balinese at a funeral. If I’m embarrassing Sana then all the better. Sana is on his best behaviour.” His wife is monitoring him. He is looking at Miss Big Tits almost wistfully. Alone he’d be doing motor boats all over “susu gede.”
Bali. How can one word can conjure up so much mixed emotions? Bali the Island of the God is propagated in magazines and blogs, flogged to death in the name of tourism. In air-conditioned luxury cars and upmarket foreign ghettos the ugly side of the island is easily filtered. Every so often we get a glimpse of beauty, a Balinese temple, or a street procession. Snap goes the camera of the illusion of Paradise. Then windows go up to keep the cool air in.
Bali is a potholed rubbish dump. Dusty in the dry season and muddy in the wet, it’s an Indonesian island of different races and creeds. The Hindus coexist with the Christian and the Muslims. It wasn’t always that way. In some ways, the Hindus have an upper hand. That’s just another illusion though.
In reality the Balinese are the hobbits, industrious and merry while we the tourists are the encroaching army of Dark Lord Sauron. Ubud is a western city transplanted in a poverty ridden island.
I’ve spent the last few days on the Hindu beat. I shower and wash my clothes, trying to wash out that smell of human flesh. I wear a sarong, wrapped by a sash and a head cloth for Hindu ceremonies. But sometimes there’s no time to change into respectable garb when a flash Hindu event happens on the streets. Sometimes spontaneity dictates going with the flow, and absorbing what’s going on around you without wearing a sarong.
I’m sure I’m getting older. I’m the ignored in a horny landscape of glamorous youth. Ubud is full of young backpackers. Young bearded men are riding on Hondas fuelled by testosterone. They are so healthy and well dressed, and I swear their beards are oiled. The antennae of the bearded youths are honing in on oestrogen emissions. Glamorous blondes and brunettes wardrobed from the latest issue of Cosmopolitan are flashing flesh. Starbucks, you are missing out on the action.
Ubud used to be a quiet place. Sanur, the barber of Peliatan has every reason to hark back to the earlier days of bare chested Balinese selling local produce at the market. Progress is marching forward and Ubud is becoming as ferocious as Kuta. Even the betel chewing folk have been banished to the city’s limits. We pass another five star hotel that has sprung up. “It was built on land that was a cemetery,” says Sana. I know. I pissed on burning remains as the hotel was being constructed.
Boutique shops riddle the town. I’m seeing middle aged western women on the back of bikes of local studs more often. Grey nomads parade, mutton dressed as lamb. They never contemplate how stupid they look. Money cocoons their stupidity.
The well-heeled tourist traffic guarantees beggars a good income. Cashed up tourists have just ducked into Bread Life for a western fix. The beggars from East Bali pounce. Sana knows this syndicate. “Yes they borrowed the child,” he confirms. “They make good money. They only work at the busy bars and restaurants.” Location location location. Even impoverished East Balinese beggars know that.
Outside a Delta mini mart I watched the world go by. I was eating an ice cream and thinking over what I had seen. Should I be repulsed or sad? No time for reflection. Sana is still thinking about the Chicken Farm. It’s temporarily closed.
I’ve had my Ubud fix for this month. I’m yearning for the grit of East Java. The simple dusty warungs. That’s where I belong. I go to the communal baths for a reality fix. Its about three kilometers from the Mad Hindu’s home. Look what the ‘cool’ crowd are missing out on. This is the real Ubud and I’m not about to tell them about this hidden gem.
The water cooler conversations of the communal baths are as stimulating as ever. “Have seven girls from Bandung,” says one of the more colourful characters. He’s talking into his money bag. “You want foreigner?” he asks one of his Karaoke girls. It’s a long walk back home.
Today Sana had a village meeting. I wasn’t invited. He didn’t tell me what it was about. The Balinese food I ate for breakfast isn’t agreeing with me. My day started, as any good Bali day should, at the cold springs. I had been lazing around the cold springs for a good hour now, and I really needed to take a shit. “Be very careful, it’s slippery,” said a Balinese as I made my way to the edge of the waterfall where I took a dump. He looked concerned the turd was going to float his way. He introduced himself, “Simon is my name.” He wanted to shake my hand. I said it wasn’t a good idea.
“Most Balinese men come here to escape their women,” Simon told me, and pointed at a young man bathing. The man looked miserable, and not talkative at all. “He had a big fight with his wife today.” He said not many foreigners come to bathe here. “Balinese think you are a poor tourist if you bathe here.” Later he said people were asking if he had brought me here.
I really took a liking to Simon. He told me his mother is Hindu, his father is Buddhist, “and I’m a Christian.” I suggested he come back to Sana’s house for a coffee. “Not a good idea, “he says. “Now that I’m a Christian I’m not welcomed in the community anymore.”
He takes me to his family’s warung on a busy road leading into Ubud. He lives near a black volcanic beach five minutes from Gianyar. His mother is making rice crackers at the back of the house. He shows me his father’s Buddhist shrine.
Every two years he pays 10 million Rupiah rent for the warung on his mother’s property. “I’m now considered an outsider. My brother takes all the proceeds. It’s something that I have come to learn to live with.” He’s not too concerned he can’t live in Ubud anymore, he says. “Every morning locals go down to the spring water for a bath. I have a pair of binoculars and get wonderful views of naked women.”
Everyone says hello to Simon as they pass by. He makes jokes to other pedestrians and yells across the street. He’s very fond of catcalling the foreign women. He really doesn’t seem like a pariah at all. A Hindu priest stops for a chat. He’s out for his nightly exercise. He asks if I have a Balinese wife.
Simon has teeth problems. “See my left jaw, it’s swollen. Balinese believe that the cold river water will help reduce any kind of swelling.” He speaks fluent French and shows me his official government translation card. His real name is Made Julio. He converted to Christianity six years ago.
The traffic is still hectic in the busy artery where life flows in and out of Ubud. Simon looks pensive. He gets around to telling me what he really wanted to tell me. “I was in a coma for a week. My wife was sitting next to me. I couldn’t move my body but I had mental faculties. I was aware of my surroundings. It was a Sunday night. I had a vision from the holy spirit. I was in the garden of Eden. It was paradise, and the higher power spoke to me in my language. It wasn’t English, French or Indonesian or Balinese. It was a language we both understood.”
Simon paused. “He said to me do I want to live. Of course I did. He said he could grant me life if I converted to Christianity. I agreed. He said to prove that I would be a follower of Jesus Christ I was to pull off the tubes keeping me alive once I came out of my coma. I woke up and violently pulled off the tubes. I was alive. Blood was squirting everywhere. I used my arm and swiped a glass off the bench to wake up my wife. It was midnight. She was startled seeing squirting blood and me alive. I was weak so I couldn’t just get up. I told her to call my brother to take me home. I was so confident that I had been given a second chance. Two days later I had all my energy back. I was cured.”
Simon believes he now has special powers. Recently he visited a very sick man. “He couldn’t walk. He was frail. I breathed into him, and in the name of Jesus I told him he would be cured. That was three months ago. He’s always visiting me and offering bananas and Balinese sweets.”
I’m liking Simon more and more. He seems like the best kind of Christian with a streak of the Balinese rascal in him. He seems very much at peace with who he is. He said God had brought us together. I said it was lucky I needed a crap or otherwise I’d have never met him. “Yes,” he said, “God does move in mysterious ways.” Simon knows his stuff.
His pedigree puppy jumps up and licks me to death. “It’s had shots, so no need to worry about rabies.” Simon’s French friends bought it three weeks ago for about $US300 at a market in Denpasar. “They wanted to take the dog back to France. Apparently immigration wouldn’t let them take it aboard the plane.”
The puppy is keen to get off the leash and play, then dashes back under its shelter. “He doesn’t like flies.” A large black dogs waddle past. The puppy is out, barking, and wants blood. “It’s not afraid of any dog.” Simon is a bit like that.
According to Simon after October 4, 2009 his life got better. A French couple from the church bought him a house and land. “I now own my own house and I have one hectare of land in Tabanan.” He gives me his number. He also puts a sticker of his piano tutorial school on my bike. “I have thousands of stickers and billboards all over Bali,” he says. “You can easily find me on Facebook, YouTube or Twitter, just type in Les Piano and I’ll be number one on the Google search ranking in Bali.”
The road leading into Ubud is busy. A couple of kids passed by with a head stone, a minute later, a bamboo fence. Hot on the children’s heels an adult carried a flame of slow burning wood. Colours of the spectrum flash by as the whole village of Peliatan make their way with intent down the main road of Ubud. It’s the Balinese way, a slow pace at first, which picks up to a fast shuffle.
As I finish my coffee Sana passes me. He’s holding hands with another male villager and giggling like a school kid. All I could do was take a quick photo and then they were gone. Sana’s secret village business has been exposed. Now I know where he is going. So much for a quiet moment and avoiding cemeteries.
Simon is off to the market to busk. He’s a piano teacher and web designer and writes Bali culture stories in French for a Swiss publisher. “Everyone is jealous of me. They think I converted to Christianity so that I could get money.” He pulls out his violin and plays me Joy to the World. It’s a small and intimate recital. Even the puppy enjoys it. Simon wants me to visit his Church this Sunday. He’s going to show me Hindu Christians.
I offer to pay for the coffees. Simon won’t have it. His wife Elizabeth won’t accept my money either. I go over the road and buy him a packet of Marlboro. “If you give a Javanese one cigarette, they are so happy, it’s the thought that counts.” I had given him a pack. It’s great to meet a Balinese who smokes real cigarettes. “Yes, I’m not a big fan of clove cigarettes either,” he says. He proudly tells me he smokes two packets a day. I think we have something in common. He says I haven’t seen the end of him.
Simon’s put his best foot forward and I’m impressed with him. But I need to sound out Simon with Sana. I’m not sure if he’s just another con man. I follow Sana. He’s long gone now.
Cock fight ring on the left, straight ahead the rice fields and Yoga Barn. To the right, a new community building half complete. I turned into the Dura Palem, or cemetery. Those trees reach the sky, feed on the dead. I’m sitting watching a football match on the oval. I’m monitoring the burial of the holy man’s bones.
The blessings. There’s no time for being discreet. I walk up in my civilian clothes, shorts and a dirty T shirt. I demand my blessings too. A lady catches on. She wants me cleansed from this dirty place. A man sprinkles holy water on me with a bushel of rice. The lady gives me rice to put on my forehead and to eat. Now I’m cleansed. No evil spirits latching on my back.
Simon texts me. “I’m home now. Meet you tomorrow midday at the communal baths.” He wants to show me a meditation centre set up by the Suharto government that’s only ten meters from the baths. “No need to pay. It’s free.”
When the music dies in Bali so does the island. A lament, discordant at first, and then another harmonious outburst, the ensemble of 30 musicians offer fuel to the spirits who rejoice at the musical offerings. Balinese music is linear and evolving, but maintains a strict adherence to the dancer’s cadence, playing out Hindu epics or courtship rituals.
Bali Dreaming:Into the Heart of the Hindu Gods is available on Amazon