Going Silently into the Night

I had one quite magical evening last week, an evening when I really felt like I had stepped out of my everyday life and into a rare and fantastic occasion.

I have my neighbours to thank for such a special evening as they had hired a dalung, or shadow puppet-master, to entertain guests and as part of a special ceremony for one of the brothers who had been away for many years.

I’d seen wayang kulit performed briefly before, but never so up-close and personal as it was the other night.

Actually, I was a bit afraid of having it so close as I’d had some pretty crazy dreams in the past thanks to wayang kulit plays. I don’t know if you’ve ever fallen asleep to the rising and falling voice of a shadow puppeteer, but it doesn’t generally set you up for a restful night’s kip.

Watching the wayang kulit in our neighbour’s compound felt cosy, intimate and like we were part of a ritual, which only a relatively small number of people in this world will ever get to experience.

We were also allowed to walk behind the screen and watch the dalung and his assistants at work. I sat with my daughter Lola, both of us captivated by the man sitting in the flickering light, telling a story he’s told thousands of times before.

The atmosphere felt a bit like special nights back in the Isle of Man (where my parents live) like bonfire night, when people wrap up warm and gather for bonfires and fireworks.

Kids get to stay up late and eat sweets they wouldn’t usually be allowed and there is a warm and fuzzy community feeling.

Obviously one of the lovely thing about nights out in Bali is there is no having to wrap-up warm, although saying that, the longer I’m here, the more layers I seem to need at night.

If you haven’t guessed, I’m a night owl (or used to be before I had my daughter), so occasions when I can be out at night taking in the sounds and smells feel special to me.

Before I came to Bali I was a lover of all the noises, smells and happenings of the city at night, and now, even though I’ve left all those special city feelings far behind, I love Bali just as much for all its night charms.

Bali is a quiet place at night and people don’t generally stay up very late – would you if you were getting up at 4am to start the day’s chores?

Daytime is social time and visiting and hanging out with neighbours is usually done in the morning and then again in the late afternoon, and early evening after sleeping during the hottest hours of the day.

The Balinese find nighttime a threatening time, when people are most vulnerable to malevolent spirits as well as tricky spirits who like to pull pranks and confuse people.

I’ve occasionally been told off by my in-laws for being outside the compound around dusk, when I’m told spirits are at their most giddy.

Night ceremonies, dances and plays are some of the few occasions when villagers of every age stay out late.

At my house, just set back from the rest of the family compound, we don’t hear any voices at night, only the sound of the river and nocturnal animals.

It’s a world away from New York traffic and all night revellers in the streets. But wherever I live I like to have some sort of nighttime noise to keep me company.

In the Isle of Man I couldn’t be happier that all the windows are double glazed, but it takes some time to get used to the complete lack of outside noise.

I like to be lulled to sleep by the warbling voices from temples and stories being read out in a language I don’t understand.

The sounds from the shadow play didn’t go on very late into the night, but the chance to watch so closely, breathe in the calm atmosphere and see the kind and gentle face behind the characters’ voices made for a perfectly sound night’s sleep.

Filed under: My Compound Life

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