Clash of Cultures

The day began badly. A notice from a nearby housing development announced that non-estate residents should cease using a particular private road which links nicely to several public roads.

Despite its blind hills and corners, the private road gives much less perilous access to most places than the public route which involves tricky negotiation of a major Ungasan intersection at which a local retailer has sponsored the insanely impractical placement of a temple which further obscures driver vision and obstructs traffic flow.  What idiocy.

Desire to conserve an existing but poorly placed temple is understandable; hazardous placement of a new and blatantly commercial one is daft and reckless. Both the road and temple are small but irritating examples of insufficient thought for the future.

Our life-preservation policy is to continue to use the shortcut rather than drive blind through the chaotic crossroad. Besides, if they close the private road, how will the estate residents get out? Tee hee.

We headed from Ungasan to Canggu on an 85-minute nightmare drive marked by congestion and outrageous risk-taking, especially by helmet-less child bike-riders intent on snatching the lead. It seemed to be the first truly warm day for months, and our aircon failed to fire.

Our sodden clothes dried during the open-air meeting and later, as we relaxed under a shady palm, I showed the Playmate a tiny bird ambitiously collecting relatively huge strands of dried grass for its nest. “Oh look, it’s dropped it,” I murmured at the precise moment at which I heard and felt the plop, splatter and oozing of a large deposit of purplish, fruit-based avian waste all down my long, white sleeve. Yuk.

We braced ourselves for the sweltering, nerve-wracking safari home during which traffic on Sunset Road leading to Simpang Siur was at a standstill and an obnoxious truck smashed our side mirror, and I said sorry to placate the glassy-eyed, offended perpetrator.

Contain the costs of this culture or risk its demise

Home at last, shaken but unscathed, our housekeeper announced a changed work schedule to accommodate the Rp4 million ceremony her balian (practitioner of traditional magic) had decreed must occur because he’d cured her daughter of fever by sprinkling the child’s head with holy water and instructing mum to purchase various expensive temple offerings. Mum’s part-time salary is Rp700,000 a month. For the ceremony, Rp500,000 will buy a suckling pig; Rp1.5 million will buy other food and offerings; and Rp2 million will reward the balian, she said. The family had just hosted two pricey weddings. How do the Balinese cope with the cost of their culture?

We decided to cope with the tensions of our own day by enjoying a quiet dinner in the calming environment of a local cafe. We’d just settled into sofas on the terrace when a minivan at the garden’s edge spewed out eight Bintang-wielding, excessively raucous, beachwear-clad and highly inebriated Australians. It’s a mystery of linguistics that their confused and slurred rantings maintained that sharp Aussie twang that pierces the eardrums. “If the air was Edam,” said the Playmate, “it would be in shreds.”

The cafe’s host sensibly drove the unruly herd into the back room and shut them away, out of sight but still within earshot. However, needing an audience, and help in reading the menu, they executed an uncoordinated escape during which they staggered about, yelling, knocking over furniture, daring the women among them to remove their bikini tops, which one did, and removing the clothing of a male who was less capable of resistance than a jellyfish.

“Not a good look, Fred,” sighed the cafe’s delightful Sumatra-born proprietor, sinking into my sofa. “I have a headache. I have never had this behaviour before. Why do they do it?” Because it would not be tolerated in their own country, we suggest.

The loathsome party carried on, spoiling the evening of the other visibly edgy guests and creating such an appalling scene that they immobilised the entire staff, who stood about open-mouthed, wide-eyed and rigid with disbelief. The Australians’ parting gesture was to demand eight separate bills and then get the owner to total the eight so they could split it evenly.

Everyone relaxed as the beer-brandishing Aussies tumbled into their van. Take them to Kuta next time, I willed their driver. While the experience was excruciating, it gave us a chance to develop the theme of culture with the owner.

If I’m not wrong, I ventured, Balinese culture is protected because its young woman almost all want to marry Balinese men. “It’s changing,” he said. “It’s attractive for Balinese to marry into non-Hindu religions because the marriage costs are much lower.” What a travesty – that the financial requirements of some priests and balians, the very upholders of Balinese Hinduism, are driving people from their religion and weakening their culture, already under threat from Bali’s changing demographics due to inter-island migration.

Wake up, guys. Obsession with your personal pocket is putting culture and religion at grave risk. The superstitious nature of many Balinese will prohibit them from containing the costs of their ceremonies and the price of their spiritual advice. It’s up to their leaders to introduce ceilings to make Balinese Hinduism affordable and sustainable.

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