Monday, December 24, 2012

Monkeys, Fire, and Sightseeing in Ubud

Part 1: What's Bali like?
Part 2: Food and Sleep

Note: there are some bad words in one or two of the videos, and one photo might not be appropriate for young children that like to ask uncomfortable questions.

We hired a cab to do some sightseeing.

One of the places we went is Tegallalang, as much known for its stretch of shops as the rice paddies carved into the hillside. We made the mistake of not actually seeing any shops before we went back to the car to make contact with the driver (who had rather suddenly disappeared), and we were whisked away to another sightseeing spot. Too bad.

We also didn't expect to be charged a parking fee on the way in, but it was only a couple dollars, and hopefully goes toward a good cause.

Another place our driver brought us is a temple known as the Water Palace. Beautiful grounds, as maintained and landscaped as any temples I've seen in Japan.

I felt bad for the handful of animals caged on the grounds (especially the cockatoo), but the plants and architecture were beautiful.

I'm constantly impressed with the colors and intricate detail.

For lunch, we were brought to a restaurant that apparently all the tourists are brought to. Someone flashed our driver a thumbs up as we pulled into the parking lot, I'm still not sure how to interpret that.

This is, by far, the busiest place we'd seen all day. ALL foreigners.

We mentioned that we'd like to see a place to get wood carvings, so the driver said he knew just the place and brought us to RAI Wood Carving, where he clearly knew someone. It was kind of in the middle of nowhere, possibly on an unmarked road.

In theory, all the carving was done on site, but it's a pretty good guess that this guy wasn't spending his afternoon carving until we pulled up. A very talkative little man gave us a grand tour (and a really hard sales pitch). He started with the woodcarver, who may be an artist of considerable skill, but it's a pretty safe guess that he wasn't hard at work until our car crunched gravel in the lot out front. (Tourists! Places, everyone, it's showtime!)

Over-the-top presentation and unsolicited trivia aside, there were several enormous showrooms with beautiful carvings made of several different types of wood. Some were hand-sized, some were taller than I am. There were statues, masks, doors, and elaborately carved furniture.

It's a store, but very much like a museum, too.
Again, the detail is amazing. This statue is life-sized.

This is a door! Lots of carving for something you use to get out of the place you currently are.

I was aghast at how much they were asking for a small statue, even though I knew that the price was inflated. We ended up offering what we were afraid was an insultingly low price (compared to the sticker on the bottom), and we felt pretty awful. But they accepted, then just about jumped for joy.

We got a better-than-internet-store rate, but we could have probably started at half of what we offered and they still would have been pleased. I hate haggling.

Monkey Forest is a tourist destination and local landmark. For a small admission fee, you can walk around the park where monkeys roam free, doing as they please. Which can include stealing your valuables if you don't keep an eye on them, or attacking you for food if you try to hide some in your pockets.

I don't trust monkeys to begin with, but they mostly seemed not to care that people were around, unless you threatened his preciousssss.

In a less-traveled part of the park was a temple setting straight out of Indiana Jones. The temple building itself was closed except for ceremonies, but the surrounding area was covered with statues and stone and creeping vines.

No monkeys here, but it was a pretty walk.

Near a different, larger temple on the grounds, there were even more statues. Statues upon statues, even!

I'm pretty sure this is a Balinese Luck Dragon.

A statue of a monkey hiding from the rain on top of a statue of a snake/luck dragon.

Some are more surprising than others.

The end of the snake is the torso of a two-headed something-or-other.
I'm sure it's a well-known story, I just don't know it.

Art imitating life, or life imitating art?

I have lunch with you, but it's like talking to a rock.

Boars and tigers also make appearances at the Monkey Forest temple.
A stylized boar and tiger are often part of ceremonies as protective spirits.

Like I said, the monkeys were pretty chill around people.

Back on foot in downtown Ubud, we strolled past a lot of small shops like this. Most stores sold linen clothing, silk scarves and dresses, art, and/or silver jewelry. It's an odd mix of tourist-fancy and what you might expect to see in a developing nation.

In the posh part of Ubud, as modern as any typical beach town (where we saw no less than four Polo stores), a street fair was happening. My snack of choice: roasted corn on the cob, smeared with some sort of mildly spicy paste.

More or less like a street fair anywhere in the world. Obvious knockoff cartoon characters included.
We got there just as a dance performance was starting. We said to ourselves, "Hey, a chance to see some traditional Balinese dance. Cool!" And indeed, the first minutes seemed to be a tribute to one of the traditional stories, complete with Monkey King costume.

Then it went in an artistic direction I can only describe as "traditional Balinese dubstep." I was particularly surprised with the language in the English-language soundtrack. (NSFW unless muted.)

Our other experience with Balinese dance was a Kecak Fire Dance at a palace. When we saw "Fire Dance," we expected something fairly dynamic, waving torches about and the like. Maybe something akin to belly dancing.

What we saw instead was a Greek-style chorus providing the soundtrack to the interpretive dance retelling of a famous story. It was a cultural experience, for sure, but it wasn't quite as lively as I thought it might be.

Following the first piece was something described as a "trance dance." I envisioned something fluid and soothing.

I definitely didn't read the description closely enough. The premise of this piece was a man who is lulled into a trance while riding a horse, and becomes a menace to himself and others until wrestled (after 20 minutes) off his horse and to the ground. Or something like that. At any rate, you can guess the moment that made sure everyone in the audience was awake.

The first time he kicks the glowing coals at the audience, you can hear several beer bottles being knocked over in surprise.

On our last night, we walked around until dark and finally saw a great sunset. I wish we'd seen more of them!

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