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10 (Illegitimate) Thoughts on Bali

September 22, 2016


I was recently in Bali to celebrate life and time. During my solitary sojourn, I experienced things and had a lot of thoughts (mostly illegitimate ones). Here are some of them.


First of all, one can’t help getting affected by Balinese Hinduism resonating from every single nook and corner on this Island of the Gods. Looking at a pura (a Balinese Hindu temple) that perched quaintly on top of the 70-metre-high cliff in Uluwatu, I was emotionally captivated in the spiritual world full of charm and magic (I was told that, out of respect, a Balinese building should not be taller than a pura). Each time I stumbled upon Canang Sari offerings and walked past a throne of Sanghyang Widi Wasa donned in poleng cloth, I thought to myself, “Could a place get any holier?”


Of course, one of the main reasons people keep flocking to Bali is to savour her natural splendour that it is almost a crime not to stop and admire her spectacular beaches, stunning landscape of hills and mountains, and, not to forget, extremely poetic sunsets. As I was enjoying the chilly weather in Bedugul and walking around the iconic Ulun Danu Pura built on the shore of Lake Beratan, it dawned to me that I could be in paradise. For a moment, I thought I was talking to Ida Batara Dewi Ulun Danu, the Goddess of the Lake, and then I heard myself saying, “Dear lake charmer, help me to keep going in Bali, and help me not to stop exploring this beauty.”


But when I get back to reality, I saw Bali as an abroad version of Australia. I was pleasantly surprised to bump into Australia’s Commonwealth Bank branches and ATMS in many tourist-packed areas (4 branches and 62 ATMs to be exact!). It was also equally comforting to hear familiar Australian accents on the street, talking in their typical high-rising intonation. Cruising along the chaotic three kilometer-long Legian Street and walking past a huge variety of western shops and modern bars, I was lost in a sea of Aussies. And I kept thinking: “Am I in Melbourne?”


As expected, Bali is so well designed for foreign tourists (Bali received more than 4 million visitors in 2015, thanks to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love). Well, it was easy to forget that I was actually in Bali when I toured around Kuta, the most highly developed area in Bali where shopping galas, nightlife jollies and lower-end party cultures concentrate. In fact, I quickly learned to simply say “liburan” (to go on holiday) when asked by the immigration officer about my reason for visiting Bali, which made me wonder: “Would I be deported immediately if I say that I want to make money in Bali?”


Talking about money, I was endlessly lured by many strangers for massage or tour deals. I admired their persistence to say the least (one particular Ketut practiced her best diplomatic skills for good 15 minutes before walking away). Some deals were just ridiculous and costly. I remember being forced by a local guide to try lavish seafood dinner at a high-end restaurant in Jimbaran Bay. On another occasion, I was “charmed” and led to join a pricey water sports package in Tanjung Benoa. I declined politely to these deals and told myself: “You are smarter than these sneaky dealers, Hilmi!”


Yes, the thing about traveling alone is that it can be both adventurous and dangerous. I was tricked by an innocent-looking money changer in Kuta and lost Rp200,000 during the transaction. I was ripped off by a supir (a local driver) to pay some “convenient” fees for a half-day tour. No, I was not discouraged by this “street robbery” as I was learning an important lesson – Bali is full of well-rehearsed schemes and acts, both for the cunning locals and a bold naïve tourist like me. Standing at the edge of a high cliff in Uluwatu, I imagined myself shouting my heart out: “I love you, Bali, but now I am going to scheme you back!”


So this is how I schemed Bali – I made the best out of my time in Bali! And this place quickly enchanted and hallucinated me with its traditional myths. The Barong Dance, the most well-known “lion dance” in Bali, casted a spell on me with its classic story of the good (Barong) triumphing over the evil (Rangda). The Kecak Dance, a traditional Balinese “exorcism” based on the Ramayana Hindu epic, hypnotized me with its endless chanting of “cak”. Accompanied with the empowering sunset, I thought I fell into a trance. I saw Laksamana, one of the characters, and asked unguardedly, “Did you come from the Malacca Sultanate?”


But when the illusion was gone and I was sober, I could sense some sort of melancholy and loneliness about Bali. I remember seeing a number of banners on the street depicting the movement against the reclamation plan for Teluk Benoa. Being a carefree visitor, I felt a tad guilty when thinking about the locals who are not happy with the government’s plan to turn Bali into a giant “tourism playground”. As I was admiring the dramatic Tanah Lot temple placed on a magnificent rock, I heard a distant voice saying, ”Help me restore and preserve this old temple,” upon which I lamented, “What a ruined and lonely world we are living in.”


Alas, Bali will remain strong and mighty despite being overdeveloped. During my visit to the Monkey Forest in Alas Kedaton, I was informed that Bali has a strong underlying philosophy that protects the relationship between Man, Nature and God. This special ally with natural environment makes Bali a secured, calm and mighty place (and I had a special moment with a mighty monkey too). I particularly felt this mighty feeling when I was wandering around the Taman Ayun Temple of Mengwi. Looking at the huge royal water temple surrounded by a beautiful garden, I couldn’t help thinking: “I want to build a mighty house here.”


I finally realized that I had been dreaming in Bali when I was having a taste of Luwak Coffee at the Bedugul Coffee Plantation (this civet coffee is the world’s healthiest and most expensive coffee). Immersed in the wonders of Bali, I think I invested too much emotion and imagination in this dreamy island that is also part of Wonderful Indonesia. As I was getting on the plane to return to Malaysia during the wee hours of the morning at the Ngurah Rai International Airport, I heard myself whispering quietly, “Thank you for safeguarding me, dear Angels of Bali. I will definitely return to keep on dreaming.”

Photo: Having a moment with a mighty monkey in the Alas Kedaton Monkey Forest, Bali

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Azrai permalink
    September 22, 2016 9:41 am

    Thank you for sharing your moment in Bali. A very thoughtful writing, making reading it a such a pleasure.

    Liked by 1 person

    • September 22, 2016 9:37 pm

      You’re welcome dear Azrai. Thanks for still following my ramblings after all these years. It’s my pleasure to share.


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