It was the 26th of November 1971. I was leaving Kuala Lumpur on my way to Bali and I was exhausted. I had spent several days in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur – meeting my late wife’s family. Dorothy had died in 1969.
In Bangkok I had met Dorothy’s sister, Gladys, her brother Austin and his family. I also met her father’s concubine. Her father had died a few years earlier.
In Kuala Lumpur, I met her mother, who being a devout Catholic, had refused to live with her husband after he followed the old Chinese tradition of taking a concubine. I also met her brother Frank, her sister Ruth and their families, and many uncles, aunts and cousins. I also had a reunion with my fellow workers at the University Library where I had been a Peace Corps volunteer from 1963 to 1965.
I boarded my flight going to Bali and introduced myself to my neighbor. I don’t recall her name but I do remember that she was a retired ballet teacher from California. After a few pleasantries, I promptly fell asleep. As the plane landed in Bali I wondered what I was doing here – thinking that I was so tired that I could only sleep.
My plan was to spend one night at the Bali Beach Hotel and then go north to Ubud which is a town famous for its arts and crafts.
Traveling by bus to the hotel I heard the sound of cymbals, drums and gongs which got louder and louder. It was a funeral procession. Balinese are Hindus (a slightly different version than India’s) and cremate their dead. Funerals are an occasion of pomp and ceremony, when the deceased (often several at a time) are ritually cremated in extravagantly colorful rituals. They are elaborate – and expensive – affairs. Fatigue left me as if a switch had been turned on.
The bus had to stop to let the procession of about a hundred people pass. Color exploded before my eyes. There was a cacophony of both color and sound. The men were wearing sarongs with white tops and the women were wearing sarongs with no tops. While bare breasts were outlawed in the 1960s, these women had not gotten the memo. It was difficult to concentrate on the colorfully decorated platters of flowers and fruit balanced on their heads.
It was unexpected and thrilling to experience this procession.
The hotel was wonderful. The lobby was open all the way through from the street side to the beach side. A gamelan orchestra was playing. Gamelan is a term for various types of orchestras played in Indonesia. It is the main element of the Indonesian traditional music. The instruments in a gamelan are composed of sets of tuned bronze gongs, gong-chimes, metallophones, drums, one or more flutes, bowed and plucked string instruments, and sometimes singers.
To hell with the hostel in Ubud, I was staying here! I would get to Ubud somehow.
Early the next morning, I rented a motorbike and as I was leaving, the ballet teacher from California came out of the hotel. I asked what she was doing for the day. When she replied “nothing,” I said “hop on and let’s go to Ubud.” She got on and off we went. She was a delight and adventurous, suggesting many diversions off the main road, through padi (rice) fields and villages, I would not have these by myself.
Ubud is a wonderful town and we spent most of our time in the large market which sold everything from sarongs to oil paintings.
On the way home, a motorbike passed us and I could see the two young boys pointing at my feet. Perhaps they had never seen such big feet as well as two large orang putehs (white people) on such a little bike. They slowed down and, as we passed, I pointed at my feet and said in Malay “kaki panjang” (long feet). Well! We now had some friends. We kept exchanging places – sometimes leading and sometimes following. Each time we would chatter back and forth and I was able to practice my minimal Malay language skills. Bahasa Melayu and Bahasa Indonesia are practically the same.
Suddenly our motorbike stopped – for no apparent reason. Never fear – the young boys turned around and came back to help us. They knew what to do. I think that they took out a spark plug, probably spit on it, replaced it, and off we went. They followed us to the hotel where I exhausted my Malay vocabulary before their leaving and with my saying a heartfelt “terimah kasih” (thank you).