Tuesday, January 27, 2015

[BALI] The Half Naked Men Were Chanting

By half-naked, I mean middle-aged men with a red flower on the left ear. I just wanted to make that clear, lest your imagination paints you a different scenario, like that of a portion of Orchard Road when Abercrombie is on sale. No, it was nothing like that. The chanting went something like "Kecak, kecak, cak, cak, cak, cak." I thought they were just prepping for a traditional Balinese version of Let It Go, but they never veered away from the "Kecak, cak, cak" lyrics that they were reciting with conviction.

What I find more amusing than the dance itself were the reactions of the people in the audience. There was a mix of East Asians, Caucasians, and Muslim women that night. Around half had their cameras in the air all the time, while the other half had a more flabbergasted expression accompanied by a thought bubble spelling the letters WTF in 12" bright red Verdana font. Somewhere in the crowd, a pair of tourists was laughing. I stared at the stage and waited for the dance to begin.

Such cultural differences are usually what make a trip worth all the trouble, regardless how funny some of them might be. In the case of the Kecak dance, what I am amused of is the fact that this is a tradition practiced here for a long time now. Well, if only they had electricity in that period, these men would be busy posting selfies and playing Farmville, but because they knew better, the creative output stemming from their bored existence eventually led to something we are enjoying now.

I was thinking what artistic contribution the current society would be giving to the one after it. 100 years from now, when people look back to the 2000’s, what would they see aside from the multiple Starbucks or Magnum selfies we have posted on our Facebook walls, which may I add could be wiped out in one fell swoop by an electronic Armageddon? At least, the Kecak survived up to now, along with the many artistic treasures our ancestors have given us. Oh no, was I profound there for a moment? Apologies!

The Ramayana is integrated into the Kecak dance, and it was confusing at first because the male roles were also played by women. For a while there I thought it was an updated LGBT-friendly version, until I realized that it was already the actual presentation. Another curious thought is whether those men chanting really do so because it is part of their daily routine belonging in the same culture, or are they just actors being paid to entertain us? My thoughts were interrupted by a sorority of mosquitoes feasting on my leg.

The Kecak dance was the obvious highlight of the day's itinerary. It also happened to be the last attraction of the day before dinner, which was held in an empty restaurant at Sanur. I was the only guest, like, seriously. As for the other stops in the tour, I did not get to enjoy them that much, but perhaps other family members would have if we came together. I guess this is just one of the downsides of traveling alone, but I had to go somewhere, right?

The first stop in Ubud was the Batik shop where you can witness the process of weaving the cloth as well as the addition of intricate designs all made by hand. My mother, for instance, would have enjoyed that stop. As for me, I did admire the Batik paintings but since I was not buying anything it just felt like a filler to beef up the day's itinerary. What I was thinking of back there was if I could bring lots of those materials back to Manila without being harassed by the reptiles at Customs.

The second stop still involved shopping, this time for silver. Ubud is known for its production of the precious metal, and the shop we went to had demonstrations on how they craft the jewelry. It is pretty impressive and does require a lot of skill. Again, my mother would have enjoyed the stop, given how she is the big fan of jewelry and not I. If you love silver, do consider this place. They even allow haggling so if you are in the mood to shop, you would definitely enjoy it.

The next stop was the waterfall, which was one of my favorites for the day. Although not as impressive as those I've already been to around Southeast Asia, what I liked was the hike because I actually had to do something other than having to decline special offers to buy anything in order to help the livelihood of the locals. Waterfalls are challenging because you have to be careful in traversing those rocks, hoping the green molds making them slippery would not lead to your untimely death as you get dragged downstream by the current.

My tour guide was a bit reluctant to do some muscle stretching so I told him to just stay put. What I did, instead, was follow a group of Chinese tourists who were being led by their guide. What? I like ambushing unsuspecting tourists by suddenly striking up a conversation with them in their native tongue. I was busy trying to stay alive, though, so the interaction was rather minimal. Again, the difficulty level of this waterfall is set to low, and the current is not even that strong to kill you.

Another thing worth noting is how the rocks are strategically placed to block your impending death down the stream. The stream has been set up by Mother Nature to be easily traversable. If you suddenly slip and fall down, rest assured that there would be a big rock somewhere to block you. As for swimming, there are mini pools where you can take a bath, but the quality of the water does not seem too good for such activity, so I’d say just enjoy your time there and chillax before your hike back to civilization.

The least enjoyable stop would be the rice terraces. I have not been to the one in the Cordilleras so I did not really know what to expect, which is perhaps why I expected too much. I seem to have forgotten that the only thing you could do with rice terraces is to turn them into a wonderful backdrop for your been-there-done-that selfie. It does make sense. Imagine if people were actually allowed to go down to the terraces, what tragedy would that be for the local community?

We had to drive for around forty minutes to reach those terraces, but we only stayed for less than ten because it suddenly rained and I found the lack of possible activity rather unappealing. The tour guide wanted me to buy something, perhaps so I could enjoy or something to that effect. No, thanks! This is perhaps when I started to once again ruminate on the basic tenets of tourism. In order to be a good tourist, should we make it our goal to help the livelihood of the locals by buying their products?

What if you just want to take photos and that already makes you happy with your trip? What if, instead of an eco-trip, you love frequenting malls to shop? What if you just like to take a stroll and observe what is happening around you, just like I always do? What I realized in the end is that there are no hard and fast rules in being the ideal tourist, nor should there be. We all travel because we can, and as long as we are not causing any damage to anyone but ourselves, it is absolutely our call.

Again we drove away for half an hour or so, this time to see the monkeys! I know that I already saw and even played with a lot of them yesterday, but this is one of the activities I enjoy. Bali has a lot of monkeys because it forms part of their natural habitat, and the local populace is just so supportive. Besides, they also earn from the tourism that their simian friends bring about. As for me, I am just amused on how they act like humans. After all, they just fell one step short in the chain of evolution, right?

It was the same drill as that of yesterday, except that this park is way bigger. I thought that this Monkey Forest was the one they used in Memories of Bali, but I never did find that place. I guess I might have seen it wrong. Maybe I should watch the drama again. Aside from the monkeys, the place also serves as some sort of religious burial ground for some tribal group. I did not bother to delve into the facts anymore because I went there for the monkeys, not for the people.

There are more foreigners at the Monkey Forest than at Alas Kedaton, but since you will be busy observing or feeding the monkeys, you would probably not be bothered by the tourist infestation. Just make sure to follow the rules so you would not end up going home with rabies, or a severed limb. The park has a lot of attendants to help you anyway in case a monkey decides to pick a fight with you.

[BALI] The Half Naked Men Were Chanting

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