On my way to the past

There is a part of my history that I heard bits and pieces about but that I never fully researched or discovered: Indonesia.

My grandmother from my dad’s side was born in Sidoarjo, just below Surabaya on Java. Indonesia, therefore, has always had a pull on me, even though I never really took the time to properly research anything about it. But when I was planning this trip I, of course, had to include Indonesia as well.

I started out on Bali because that was the cheapest to reach from New Zealand. Bali has the reputation of being very touristy, but the people that I’ve met that have been there all loved it. I went to Ubud, a city near the centre of Bali.

It was crowded and full of white girls in yoga pants who were there for a longer time to study/practise yoga. Traditional Balinese restaurants stood side to side with westernized caf├ęs and shops. I thought it was actually quite a good mix. The atmosphere was relaxed even though the swarms of scooters made traffic loud and hectic. I asked the hostel owner’s son what he thought about the amount of tourist. He said that tourism was Bali’s industry and that they didn’t have anything else. Besides, cultures mix and change all the time, so he didn’t mind that the tourist changed the way Bali was. That was how culture was supposed to work. Maybe I shouldn’t have asked somebody whos family works in the hospitality industry.

I arrived the day before Kuningan, the last day of a Hindu holiday week. I saw my host make little baskets of leaves and when I asked her where they were for, she told me she made them for the temple she was going to visit tomorrow. Feeling bold I just asked if I could come along. I could! If I wore a sarong, but she could lend me one.

In the morning I was allowed to have a look at the little family temple behind the house. Balinese houses are built in compounds where the whole family lives. In the centre of the compound is always a temple and a space for “earthly” ceremonies like weddings. During Kuningan, you were supposed to visit the temples of as many family members as you could. When I say family, I also mean your cousin five or six times removed. People on Bali (and probably Indonesia in general) keep their families close. They will even marry distant cousins to keep the family ties close.

After the prayers in the big temple, I was invited to come to the family home of my host. When girls marry, they will go to live with the family of her husband, that’s why our host didn’t live in that house anymore. It was a lot of fun to just hang out in somebody’s house on Bali. The family was very friendly and made me feel right at home. On the way back we passed a procession with several Barong (the animal costume things). The barong are paraded around town to chase off evil spirits. Later, one of those processions passed right in front of the hostel!

The whole day was a very cool introduction to Indonesia in general and Bali specifically.

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