A Legacy

The most intriguingly named road in Ubud is probably Monkey Forest Road. It’s one of the most pivotal thoroughfares here, and connects 2 of the others. It bends like an elbow right where the namesake is, and rises up from its sunken nook in both directions past upscale clothing stores and restaurants -once you’ve cleared the tacky souvenir shops. Unlike the rest of the street, it’s dark here, and shadowy, even a little spooky. The forest itself has paved trails and steps, an ancient outdoor temple, and lots of grey monkeys. They spill out into the front street and surrounding area as well, sitting atop the shops, loitering on the sidewalk, sauntering across the street, or scurrying about however they please. They are both fun to see and a bit menacing, and are quite in charge of the situation. Just going past this bend on the scooter has an added sense of adventure to it.

It took a couple of weeks to stumble upon the football (soccer) field, further north alongside Monkey Forest Road. Rare is the large corner plot of open space, not being used to grow rice, and smack in the thick of things. There are no fences around it or bleachers on which to sit and watch the infrequent games -except for a short stone wall that grows out of the gentle slope of the street. But it is a valued piece of property, appreciated by many. It is apparently involved in an ongoing battle about paving it into a parking lot. The owners -the banjar of men from the village- want it left alone. Across the field from Monkey Forest Road, hugging the other side, is a row of eateries, with open terraces and bars that overlook the field. One in particular is a groovy huka-hangout named XL. Inside are lots of adjoining rooms with short, rounded walls, pillow-lined couches, aquariums, tributaries, arresting art on the walls and ceilings, fine food, and mellow, live music. It’s fabulous, in a great location, and is not expensive, yet I’ve never seen more that 8 people in it at once. Perhaps it earns its way later at night.

Next door, there’s an open passageway that is not apparent until you’re in front of it. It heads away from the football field, past a small, narrow warung with wooden masks hanging on its wall, and wraps around into a quiet compound and courtyard with deep red marble steps and a dozen hanging bird cages. It is in this hidden and serene nook of Ubud where you find the Pondok Pekak public library. It was founded in 1995 by Laurie Billington, an American expat from Montana who married a Balinese man, Made Sumendra. By Bali custom, she moved into this, his family compound, where they created this library. She passed away in 2009 at a young age, but her legacy continues. The small, lower front room houses maybe 5,000 books. The large back room and stage is where the children’s library is, and where classes are given. You can learn Legong dancing, or how to play the gamelan, or how to create offerings or carve fruit. I’ve taken 2 wood-carving classes there and will resume working on my gecko as soon as my thumb fully heals. Note to self: the cutting tools are sharp -especially the scooper. Hand positioning is important!

Upstairs is where the Indonesian language classes are held, and where Jennifer and I can be found 3 days per week. We are 3 weeks into our 4 week class. There are 7 students in ours, from 26 years old to 66, representing Europe, Australia, and San Francisco. Our dedicated teacher, Nyoman is a 44 year old wife and mother, who rides her motorbike an hour each way to teach us. She has a wide smile and easy laugh, and is patient with our slow responses and stumbles. She lets us veer off course with questions about Balinese culture, or stories about our experiences here, but writes new words onto the white board as they arise. We have booklets and materials, and cover a lot of information in every 2-hour meeting.

The class has taken over our lives for these past few weeks, as the lessons require a lot of studying time. We know that this is a short window of opportunity that will have a big payoff if we are willing to let go our natural inclinations to explore and experience our surroundings. Already we are having more complex conversations with the locals, which only encourages us to keep at it. We know that we are still just beginners, but remind each other about some of the things we find ourselves saying -sometimes even correctly! It really helps to study together at times, as well as alone.

Indonesian is an ancient language. Often, the plural of a word is said by saying the singular word twice: Child is Anak: Children is Anak Anak. Or Friend, which is Teman, becomes Friends as Teman Teman. Many tenses and subtle qualifiers used in other languages (especially English) are just dropped altogether, and so the literal translation of Indonesian sentences often sounds primitive. But there aren’t a lot of rules to learn, and the spelling and pronunciation is fairly straight forward. All this makes it a relatively easy language to learn once you’ve memorized, say, 500 nouns and verbs. And, the Indonesian language is very similar to Malay, so our future travels to Malaysia will be made easier by the work we put into this class now.

I’m looking forward to an unstructured life again soon. But I’m surprised by how much I’ve enjoyed learning and studying Indonesian. I actually look forward to keeping up with, and improving upon my language skills after the class ends next week. And I am indebted to Laurie Billington for her vision and dedication.


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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kathy Phillips
    Jul 03, 2013 @ 03:34:06

    Thank you so much for this blog. It is such a pleasure to follow your and Jennifer’s adventures. What a gift to be able to take such a great language class.


    • Matt Sarconi
      Jul 05, 2013 @ 05:22:48

      Hey Neighbor (tetangga)!
      Yes, we really appreciate this opportunity. A year ago we had no reason to think we’d ever visit Indonesia, much less be learning the language.

      One of my favorite movies is The Year of Living Dangerously. One sees characters from that movie frequently.


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