At the beginning of my fourth week in Bali my husband came to join me on my travels, with full anticipation and excitement of riding a bicycle downhill, from the top of Batur, an active volcano in northeast Bali. It is a well advertised tourist activity. Although I loving try to support my husband in his bike riding activities, I really don’t enjoy long and somewhat dangerous treks on the bike.On the morning of the bike tour, I thought that I would ‘brave up’ and join him on the ride. Reality hit me when I saw the truck full of bikes, felt the gnawing pain in the pit of my stomach and tried the ‘oh, so different from home’ bike they had taken out of the truck for me. I rode about a block (or less) on this new bike and felt unsafe. I thought, what if the brake fails, or there are too many bad roads and steep hills? I dismounted the bike and parked it by the truck.
I felt our bike guide was a kind and loving man, since I had been with him all morning as we rode up the volcano in his van. I approached him, “Are you going to have a vehicle traveling down the mountain with the bikers?” I asked.
“Yes, my driver over there will drive that car.”
Not wanting to be labeled a quitter, I smiled at him. Then I took a deep breath to make my ‘caring for myself’ statement, “I do not want to ride the bike down the mountain. I want to ride with the man in the car. Would that be okay?” I asked.
“Of course” he answered with a puzzled look on his face, “but are you sure you don’t want to ride the bike?” He questioned, as if trying to understand.
“Yes, I am quite sure” I responded, and I walked up to the empty car with the driver standing beside it. The tour guide said something to the driver in Balinese, and the driver looked at me.
“You can get in” he replied with a smile. My mind was creating a secret plan. It was as though it was supposed to be this way. I would be the ‘event photographer’ and capture the countryside as we drove along. I knew that it would be difficult for my husband to take pictures while on a bike with his point and shoot. I imagined him going down the hill at barreling speeds, hardly using his brakes, creating a rush of adrenaline within his body and feeding his need for adventure!
The group of four bikers was off, and I followed feeling very safe in front seat of the car with my driver, a young handsome Balinese man. I turned to introduce myself and tell my story. He responded that he only knew ‘little English’ and so we rode in silence. The trip was somewhat uneventful and I tried to use discretion about how many times I rolled down the window to take a picture from the air-conditioned car. We had lost track of the bikers and I pretended I was on my own private tour of the area. After about fifteen minutes I saw a beautiful field of marigolds and asked the driver if he would stop so I could get out of the car to get a better picture. Apparently he understood, because the car slowed and stopped along the road. I carefully climbed over the ditch to get a better camera angle. After I finished clicking through ten frames, I turned around and the group of four bikers had stopped next to me. Apparently we are taking the same route, I said to myself. I would have something to share with my husband after all, two different experiences on the same path.
I didn’t see the bikers again until I finished the journey down the mountain. Some of the streets were tarred, but many were dusty, narrow and pitted with large holes. I complimented myself on my decision to ‘take the easy way down’, and hoped that the others were having the time of their lives.
At the bottom of the hill was a huge temple. My driver and I had vacated the car and I noticed that he was having a cigarette break while watching me photograph the temple. In the distance near the temple I could hear the voices of children, and then noticed a man talking to a group of 12 to 13 year olds in a school yard quite a distance away. I photographed the scene and then used the zoom on my camera to get a closer image. I was in the space of – ‘myself’ doing whatever I wanted.
The driver and another man approached me, “Come, we go now” he said in broken English, and then introduced me to his friend, and explained that I would continue the tour with him. The new man, Nyoman, turned and I followed.
“Oh, Nyoman, you are a third born!” I replied, remembering the story that all Balinese people, both men and women are named one of just 4 names: Wayan, Made, Nyoman or Ketut, in that order. Simple reasoning made Nyoman the third child in the family.
“This is my village” he said. I could tell he was very proud. As we walked the dirt path to the village, he would smile and nod to people as we passed. Occasionally I would stop and photograph an interesting person or scene. Once he stopped and said something to a friend in Balinese. The only word I could understand was “American” so obviously he was talking about me. I continued the fantasy that I was a famous photo journalist on a special assignment.
Part of the bike tour included a trek through the Sawah (rice field) which I wrote about in a previous blog. After the hour-long trek, we were back near the village. Nyoman smiled and seemed to light up. He pointed, “Look, my company!” he said. I looked through the distance at yards and yards of green fields. I could not see anything that looked any different.
When we got to the village Nyoman told me to wait here, by the side of the rice field for a short while and a driver would come and get me. And then, as I watched the rice fields, the bikers came into view. They were riding their bikes on the narrow rows of seared grasses where I had walked. They were hot, sweaty, and very thirsty. I smiled and thought, you made the right decision. Then about five minutes later my original driver appeared to take me someplace else. I was blindly following strangers from place to place.
The next part of my adventure brought me to another highlight of my day, the Artist. I have loved art since I was a little girl. I love the way the paint forms on the paper and all the colors, brushes, mediums, and papers we use to create art. I had a brief knowledge of the traditional Balinese art, and now I had a chance to experience it and ‘meet the artist’!
Wayan, the artist had the most beautiful smile and welcomed me to his home. He told me that he was an artist and an art teacher, and pointed to a long set of tables at the end of a building.
“These are my students and my wife” he said. I asked him if I could take some photographs.
“Of course”, he said in perfect English.
After I finished photographing the young boy students, he explained his craft to me. He was one of the last traditional Indonesian painters alive, and it was very important for him to continue to teach the young children in Bali this type of art. He told me he exhibited in America; he also had his paintings in galleries throughout the world. The paintings the children were working on were on paper and exhibited bright colors and a balanced composition. I was amazed at the discipline of the children as the focused on their work.
“Are they using black China ink?”
“Yes, with acrylics”, he answered. I thought to myself, apparently the west has caught up with him, as he no longer uses natural dyes from plant sources.
I remembered reading about Bali art. Prior to 1920s, Balinese traditional paintings were restricted to what is now known as the Kamasan or Wayang style. Those paintings were visual narrative of Hindu-Javanese epics: the Ramayana and Mahabharata, as well as a number of indigenous stories, such as the Panji narrative. The paintings are old and were made with natural dyes. Some hung in an art museum I visited in Ubud. The paintings were produced collaboratively, and are mostly anonymous. In the 1930’s the art form became liberated, and the Balinese artists began to paint scenes from rural life. These new artists were called “young artists” because of their new style of painting. The objects in these paintings included birds, flowers and animals.
In the 1950’s the artists incorporated perspective and anatomy in their art. The Ubud artists have their own collection of artwork which is different from the work in Sanur and Batuan, other towns in Bali. (Wayan didn’t relay those facts to me. They came from the Ubud museum and the internet.)
When the bikers arrived at Wayan’s home, we ate lunch together and Wayan disappeared. I listened while the bikers talked about their experiences, and my husband leaned over and told me that the ride was quite tough and I had made the right decision to ride in the car. “I know” I replied, smiling to myself.
When we finished with lunch Wayan returned and asked if we would like to see his private collection.
“Oh yes” I answered with glee. Then the bikers and I settled around one of the long tables. Wayan went to the cabinet at the end of the room and took out a stack of paintings, one more detailed and as precise as the next. Some were as small as a large postage stamp. He set them out on the table for us to admire. Then he took one painting of a traditional Indonesian couple and set it alongside me.
“This is the work of my wife” he said.
“How much does she want for it?”
“Three hundred forty-two thousand rupiah.”
Mentally I calculated that to be about thirty-four American dollars. I felt as if I were at a silent auction and no one else was saying anything. The bikers stood up to leave and Wayan started to gather up his paintings and put them away.
“I’ll take it!” I found myself blurting out, very surprised that I had spoken.
“Would you like it signed?”
“I will sign it for you, with my wife’s name.” he said, and he moved to another table. He took out a brush and some white paint. In the tiniest painting you can imagine he mastered a signature. “I will wrap it for you to take back to the States” he said and he left with the painting.
He handed the small package to me and we thanked each other, him for my purchase, and I, for the art education and the lunch. Then I turned and followed the bikers to the van. I noticed the sweat on their shirts that had collected under their arms and in the middle of their backs. I had a wonderful day, was cool and comfortable, had some great photographs and a beautiful painting to treasure.
I guess if there was a moral to this story it would be one of self-preservation, or better known as ‘taking care of yourself’. Do you notice how many times daily you do something because someone else wants you to? Maybe you look outside and know it would be a great day for a walk, and instead you start the laundry. Or a friend calls and goes on and on when your favorite show is starting? I am not saying that we be unkind or disregard the needs of others. I am suggesting that every day we consider what we want and what is important to us. Loving yourself daily … something to think about.
Village wood worker
Cyclist coming from rice field
Traditional Balinese Art-Anak Agung Gedi Meregig. C 1980’s. From the Ramayana epic. Hanoman is top right, attacked by monkeys.
The Artists Wife