The Balinese live within a highly complex matrix of social and spiritual contracts and obligations. Nothing is more important than community, and Balinese community is inseparable from religion and ceremony. The Balinese wrap their lives in purpose, and always know where they are going. They are constantly aware of where they are at any given moment in relation to their family and to the divine. This awareness and purpose gives them balance and structure. They cannot relate to the concept of being adrift; of living spontaneously and untethered.

As you encounter Balinese people, there are a few questions that you are asked -over and over and over. They are not being nosy, but instead are trying to understand your personal coordinates as a means to knowing you quickly. “Dari mana?” asks where you’re from. Yes, they partly mean what country, but even more vital to this question is where was your last destination: the store; work; the bank; etc. This is important for them to know. It reveals a glimpse about your personal structure. “Mau ke mana?” means where are you going? Similarly, they want to know your present purpose -and they really, really want you to have one. Sometimes I tell them “Saya pulang” meaning that I’m going home. Or “Saya ke rumah makan” meaning to a restaurant. But usually I give them the answer that they least prefer -but have become used to hearing from the visitors: “Jalan-jalan”, which means that I’m just walking -aimlessly, spontaneously -untethered. The Balinese are very polite people, and usually just nod their head. But sometimes they say the phrase out loud along with me and offer a resigned smile at yet another lost guest.

I love to walk, aimlessly, and to just explore the nooks, crannies, hills and valleys, off the beaten path (I loved to drive this way too -and now scooter). I have a good sense of direction and visual memory, and get my bearings quickly, though half the fun is not knowing what’s up ahead or around that corner, across that bridge or up that hillside. It took a few weeks to figure out what I needed to take with me as I head out the door. That small waist pack that I almost didn’t even bring here has become a constant companion, and can easily store a surprising amount of things, including my umbrella, flashlight, Swiss army knife, repellent, water jug, bandanna, wallet, phone, lip balm, whistle, plastic bags, harmonica, sunglasses, and peanut butter sammies. I usually just wear shorts, a tee-shirt, and sandals.

A word about these sandals. I’ve had them for years, and they’re still so comfortable and in great shape. Each has a strap that goes around the back of the heel, which keeps them snug. Ordinarily that strap is considered a feature, but here in Bali, its a liability. Most everyone wears sandals here, even when they are dressed up for ceremonies -though the women often wear fancier shoes then. Most businesses and dwellings require that shoes and sandals be removed before entering, and most people take about 2 seconds to do this, without looking down. Picture me, every time, needing to first fidget with the front straps, and then scoop my finger around back and pry each foot out -which takes some real effort and time, while others around me wait, and watch and give me a “that type of sandal?” smile. This routine got old quickly here, but I’m still going through these motions -and getting those glances- because I love my Chakos! I jalan-jalan in them everywhere, even in rugged jungle explorations -though I’ve realized that I really should wear shoes or boots that protect my feet in those situations because there are a lot of critters out there, large and small, and a lot of muck.

I’ve never met a narrow path or stairway that I didn’t like, and Ubud is full of them: shaded, paved walkways pass between houses and then open up into rice fields, with grassy berms that terrace past ducks and small isolated shacks. Some rice paddies are contained into small lots, while others terrace far off into the distant jungle. Often, the paths have delicate images of flowers or butterflies embedded in them, made of tiny stones. The paths criss-cross with other berms or paths that lead past huge flocks of mucky ducks and Balinese farmers of both genders, to the edge of lush jungle river valleys, or they wind through small village communities. There’s a lot to see -besides beautiful, terraced rice paddies. Big spiders, snakes, flora and fauna, crowned rooftops, volcanoes, shrines, stone carvings, dangling coconuts, papayas, and bananas, and lots of roosters -sometimes in baskets.

The wonderful sound of running water is everywhere, both in the villages and out in the country. Most paths are accompanied by tributaries -often on both sides. They branch off frequently, sometimes plunging down a steep channel towards a distant lower community, while also forking onward to meet up with more tributaries, coming and going in all directions. The means for watering Bali’s rice fields is complex, and depends on an elaborate system of funneling water that flows down from the volcanoes to the far reaches of the island. The water that runs alongside my walking path has already passed a lot of rice fields, and will likely pass many more before fulfilling its destiny.


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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. artmarysf
    Jul 16, 2013 @ 15:41:45

    Love your blog 🙂 Oscar sightings ..he looks good. Beautiful photos .


  2. Matt & Rita
    Jul 16, 2013 @ 16:09:51

    That is a wonderful post, Matt. That’s what I love most, when you can gain insight into another culture and compare and contrast it to our own. Sounds like you are in your element . . .


  3. Kathy Phillips
    Jul 19, 2013 @ 02:29:41

    Thanks Matt for your vivid descriptions and insights. Oscar and Ozzie visit Sophie almost everyday. Both seem to enjoy wandering as well. Kathy


  4. Sally Northcutt
    Jul 22, 2013 @ 17:04:25

    Beautifully written, Matt, and very inspiring, especially the deep emphasis on community. You and Jenn are leaders in creating community! Love to you both. Sally


  5. Gene Williams
    Aug 01, 2013 @ 02:13:06

    Just signed on w/WordPress. Been checking out your blog pretty faithfully. Things sound–and look–fabulous. Not sure how I feel about jalanjalan though… Hope the torpor is lifting! Love your eye for photos, your feel for words and people.


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