Ubud – Best of all Worlds

Mark Ulyseas

The Bali Times

When the managing editor of The Bali Times William Furney suggested a weekly exclusive on Ubud, I was hesitant as it appeared to be a daunting task – circumnavigating the wondrous roads along the ricefields, treading softly around the personalities of royalty, priests, artists, writers, poets and finally arriving at watering holes that held within their hallowed halls (if you can call them that) self-appointed guardians of Ubudian life.

Ambush was an ever-present danger what with the well-travelled expats and the living culture of the Balinese that contains the spirit of the hills watching my every move as I traversed the many jalans dotted with restaurants, bars, hotels, galleries, shops selling handicrafts and garments and the main market for farm produce on Jalan Raya.

It has taken a few weeks to sum up courage to begin the arduous task of recording for posterity a town’s history and activities that has gained a formidable reputation in the international arena as one of cultural nirvana.

But what makes Ubud so special? Why are so many creative people attracted to it like bees to nectar? Are its holy temples spiritual magnets that draw people from all over the world, particularly those who are seeking a meaning to the universe like the painter from Sumatra, Agustian, featured on this page?

The main facet of this charming town is its people. From Tjokorda Raka Kerthyasa and Asri Kerthyasa (the prince and princess of Ubud) and members of the royal family to the rice farmers, interspersed with a large helping of local and foreign residents. Ubudian diaspora is one of a kind because the Balinese have managed to bridge the gap between Eastern sensibilities and Western everyday existence. The combination of a relaxed, laid-back atmosphere, the religious ceremonies, processions and cultural extravaganzas has created a delicious recipe for the continuous feast of living life with a meaning.

For instance, if you walk down Nyuh Kuning, you will come across a medical centre for women called Yayasan Bumi Sehat. It is owned by every man, woman and child of the Banjar Nyuh Kuning. The centre was founded by Robin Lim, the legendary midwife from the United States who has along with her Balinese associates been responsible for the safe natural birth of over 2,000 babies in Indonesia. The clinic opened four years ago to provide prenatal and postnatal care for Balinese mothers and their newborns. It strenuously promotes natural birth and breastfeeding. This year Bumi Sehat won the Indonesian government’s prize for the best yayasan (foundation) in Bali.

Robin has been instrumental in introducing water births at the centre, babies born under water to reduce the trauma when first introduced to the world. The yayasan’s Aceh clinic that has been built and supported by the Balinese is a fine example of everything that is good and wholesome about this island. The yayasan also employs people who go around the banjar continuously clearing the garbage and in particular all plastics. Some members of the banjar claim that Nyuh Kuning is the cleanest banjar in the whole of Ubud. Incidentally, Robin Lim is the author of a number of books on prenatal and postnatal care. Her book After the Baby’s birth, published by Celestial Arts, Berkeley, California, has become essential reading for aspiring midwives.

Last year she won the Alexander Langer International Peace Award. Robin was chosen because of the work she was doing with the families suffering economically due to terrorism in Bali and the survivors of the earthquake and tsunami in Aceh. Her opening address to the Italian parliament said it all. “I accept your hospitality on behalf of Ikatan Bidan Indonesia (Indonesian Midwives Association),” referring to the work done by her associates in Bali and Aceh without whom she could not have been effective. If you want to know more about this wonderful lady and how to help Yayasan Bumi Sehat, check out their site, www.bumisehatbali.org.

From pregnant mothers and safe natural births in Nyuh Kuning to the preservation of a species in Syan is what Ubud is all about. The other day I met Carolyn Kenwick, who has been involved in the Begawan Giri Foundation and in particular its work for the preservation and rehabilitation of the Bali Starling. In 2005, the founders of Begawan the foundation, Bradley and Debora Gardner, decided to move all their growing numbers of Bali Starlings that flourished in cages on the Begawan Giri Estate in Ubud to Nusa Penida so that they could be released back into the wild.

Today, according to Carolyn, who lives in Syan and works for the foundation, headquartered in the same place, more than 80 birds have been released into wild, and the ongoing Bali Starling Recovery Project has been successful under the aegis of Bayu Wirahudya, who is the founder of the Friends of the National Park, Nusa Penida.

Talking about birds, one cannot avoid mentioning the bird and butterfly man of Ubud, Victor Mason, who at one time in his illustrious career sold champagne across Southeast Asia. He has written a number of books. The one that springs to mind is Butterflies of Bali, a well-researched and elegantly illustrated book. He has just returned from a rather exhausting, month-long sojourn in the remote areas of Papua and is busy writing another manuscript. We are anxiously waiting Victor Sahib’s new book. If you are in Ubud, go on one his famous Bird Walks through the ricefields. You will be pleasantly surprised at the many species of birds that Ubud has on display.

I was speaking to Made, who is the manager at the Dog Adoption Centre on Jalan Raya Delod Tunduh, Desa Delod. He told me that the centre rescues, nurtures, rehabilitates and offers dogs for adoption. And contrary to what some self-appointed expats on animal welfare have to say about street dogs, the Balinese are involved in this centre because of their concern for these animals. Two full-time vets, Drs. Kemal and Jaya, operate the daily clinic.

The head of the banjar has adopted a street dog from this centre. Balinese often arrive unannounced to adopt puppies that have grown into healthy, well-fed and well-looked-after pets. I spoke to Linda Buller, who founded the centre and she told me that expats are the worst offenders when it comes to the welfare of pet dogs. They leave the country and abandon their dogs to the elements. The locals bring the dogs to the centre for shelter.

A new twist in the street dogs saga is the poisoning of dogs in Ubud. Late at night, unscrupulous elements from outside Ubud have been systematically poisoning the dogs. They are known to rip out the stomachs and sell the dogs as meat elsewhere. Many Balinese have lost their beloved pets. The end result has been watch parties that go out at night to catch these offenders in the act of killing the dogs. Linda informed me that some months ago, a few such criminals were caught and beaten up by the locals and then handed over to the police. She said the success of the centre is due to the fact that the Balinese have an inherent respect for all life on the island.

Not far from Campuhan Bridge up the road to Penestanan is a warung called Mendez, named after the proprietor, who is a young bloke from Java. He started this warung with the idea of serving his renditions of Balinese and Javanese delights. I dropped in the other day to savor some his concoctions, with arak bottle in hand, courtesy of Wayan, my Balinese landlord.

Warung Mendez, to me, looks a bit like an Indian Dhaba (roadside eatery on an Indian highway). The mud-colored walls and the wooden furniture was comforting. No, this is not an advertorial. And yes, I did for pay for my nasi, ayam, oxtail soup and beef spareribs. Mendez told me that he was previously the chef for Warwick Purser at his estate in Yogyakarta, where he cooked for visiting foreign dignitaries. He spoke of competition from the fancy restaurants in Ubud. I dispelled his fears by telling him that the warung would make a profit as the eclectic, discerning mix of Ubudians would, as time went on, patronize his warung once word got around about his culinary expertise.

Religion, royalty, culture, art, music, food and farming all come together in Ubud in a perfect blend, spiced up by the Balinese way of living in harmony with the material and spiritual world.

If there is a voice out there in the Ubudian hills that wants to be heard on any subject concerning Ubud, please do write to me at ulyseas@gmail.com or editor@thebalitimes.com.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

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