The Beautiful Games

By Hannah Black
For The Bali Times

SILAKARANG ~ Have you ever had one of those paranoid moments when you feel like everyone is staring at you? If you haven’t, perhaps it’s time you went along to a village volleyball match, just for the experience.

Any other sport would do as well, I assume. I’m just most acquainted with volleyball – my husband Ongky being freakishly tall for a Balinese man, at 185 centimetres, and therefore much in demand in the sport.

Admittedly, the first time Ongky took me to a game it was way off our turf, in the wilds of Denpasar – a national tournament no less – but even with female teams taking part, I was probably one of three women in the crowd and most certainly the only white face.

We’re lucky in Silakarang to have a really fantastic volleyball court enclosed by concrete stands for spectators and all fixed up with the loudest generator in the world for lights at night.

Being the best court around, the village often hosts tournaments set up by ours or nearby villages; in this case only half the spectators stare at me, because the other half are totally used to me.

It really is a good time going to watch sports here: there is a really fun atmosphere, lots of kids running around and sellers with fruit, sweetcorn and satay. All in all, it’s a pretty wholesome family event.

There is a tournament running in the village at the moment and I’ve taken Lola, 18 months, to watch a couple of times. She points out her daddy and gets carried off by someone new every two minutes for a wander around and to play with the other kids.

I’ve had a really great time watching my husband play, not just because he’s very nice to look at, but because it’s a really lovely feeling to watch him as part of a team.

The Balinese are definitely team players, perhaps because their teammates are generally family, lifelong friends and neighbours. I can only hope this trait is passed down to our daughter.

The volleyball court also doubles as a great place for concerts and is often rented out for punk and hardcore nights, a wonderful opportunity to sit and watch Bali’s youth dressed for a night out at the famous New York punk club CBGB’s in 1976.

Mohawks squished by motorcycle helmets, tartan trousers strung with chains and ears pierced by safety pins stroll by; it’s all very surreal.

But back to sports. Like me, you may have been stuck in interminable lines of traffic in the past week or so only to find, when you finally get to the cause of the blockage, a group of youths marching and chanting military-style “yaay Indonesia” songs.

At first I thought this was some kind of über-patriotic march reminiscent of the pemuda rakyat (communist youth organisation) of the 1960s, but Ongky set me straight by telling me it was training for a competitive walk for Independence Day on August17.

Village youth walk from Tabanan to Denpasar, starting early in the morning and finishing late in the afternoon.

Imagine instead of stuffing their faces with cotton candy and hot dogs, American youths were to walk 20 miles on July 4 – not likely.

It’s a pretty healthy way to celebrate the founding of an independent country; perhaps there is cake at the finish line.

The school I teach at was holding a badminton tournament in the run-up to the 17th, which caused quite a stir.

The English department has won the women’s doubles two years running now, a tough defeat to swallow for the badminton-crazed Indonesian teachers; so perhaps when the Mandarin department get involved, things will really get nasty.

Before I came to Bali, I don’t think I’d ever really been to watch or take part in any sports, except in school or to watch the boys on the local football team play (for the love of the beautiful game obviously).

It’s easy and fun to get swept up here in community spirit and competitive sports with so much of it going on.

Of course it’s also really great for getting used to being ogled; you may want to try it out sometime in your local banjar, just for the experience.

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