Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Bamboo Bliss

I’m not great at vacation. Sure, I love hanging out at the pool or lying on the beach with a book as much as the next person, but part of me is always a little restless feeling I should be improving myself, musically or otherwise. But I was determined to relax here in Bali and just… well, hang out at the pool with a book! That’s how Talia and I have spent the last three mornings and then we set off walking and see what awaits. And each day has had it’s share of culture as well— a women’s gamelan on Monday, a tourist shadow puppet play yesterday and today, a lesson on the bamboo xylophone called the tingklik.

That’s what I came here to study 28 years ago with my friend Pam Hetrick. Her husband Michael Tenzer was a founding member of the Bay Area Gamelan Sekar Jaya and throughout the seven weeks here all these years back, he kept us on alert about what was happening—  temple festival here, a cremation there, an Arts Festival further down the road. We were all poised to spring— and this in the time before instant messaging! Word just got around and we were drenched in cultural experiences and happily so. So that’s made it more challenging to just be here and be happy reading, walking, talking and eating.

But thanks to long-time Sekar Jaya teacher Dewa Berata, I just had a tingklik lesson at his beautiful house, back in that old familiar setting that I love so much. A little nervous having not learned a new gamelan piece in almost three decades, but some muscle memory kicked in and I have to say, I did pretty well. Even Talia was impressed!

We decided to walk back via the Monkey Forest and stopped on the way to get some fruits at a stand. As we neared the forest, I heard a yelp and saw five monkeys surrounding Talia having knocked the bag from her hand and run away with the goodies. And then saw them do it again to a guy further down the road. (Future Bali travelers, don’t buy fruit near the Monkey Forest!).

My first day here, I felt that the sprawl down the old main road wasn’t as bad as I feared, but since then I’ve been down the four or five perpendicular roads to the South and that’s where it all has gone down. What used to be some lazy little paths with a few stores and lots of rice fields now is store after store after restaurant after restaurant after café after café that makes Carmel, California look like a dinky little tourist town.  Though occasionally you can still find a footpath alley that gives a moment of Zen temple serenity, walking the roadsides (not really much of a sidewalk anywhere) is like Broadway at rush hour. And the main drag was already bumper-to-bumper at 2:30 in the afternoon! So combine the postcard beauty of terraced rice fields with New York at its most crowded and you get a feel for the contradictions here. (Though I have to say, the cab drivers here are much better-humored. And though the traffic is intense, no one seems particularly stressed since there still seems to exist the hang-out rubber-time what’s-your-hurry? feeling here. )

Tomorrow we’re going to be genuine tourists, hire a driver and see the guidebook temples and other sites. But Friday I have another tingklik lesson. Hooray!

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