Going Native in Bali
Learn as you go!
By Sandra Scott
James Michener may have had Bali in mind when he penned,
“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the
people, you might better stay home.”
is the epitome of every vacationer’s dream - beautiful beaches, emerald seas and
a plethora of first class resorts. But to visit Bali without learning about the
unique culture is to miss the essence of Bali.
Learning the culture doesn’t mean moving to Bali; in fact,
it requires little effort, but the reward factor is high. The opportunities to
learn the culture are many and, in some cases, it isn’t even necessary to leave
cocoon-like existence of the resort.
Conrad Resort makes it easy to learn about Balinese dance. As the warm
afternoon breeze makes the white curtain of the bale whisper, the dance
instructor swaddles 5-year old Mathilde and her parents in traditional Balinese
dress explaining each article of clothing. First the kamen (skirt) is wrapped
tightly around forming a skirt, then sabuk prada (belt) wrapped tightly around
the waist and then upward to form the bodice covering for Mathilde and her
mother. The selendang is draped over the shoulder and finally, the bunda mas,
the headpiece completes the outfit.
the dance lesson begins. First there is a little hand talk - learning how to say
“Hello” with your hands. The music starts and awkwardly at first we try to mimic
the soft gliding steps of the instructor. Her arms move as if fluttered by a
gentle breeze. The clothing feels like a bandage wrapped too tight. Slowly we
relax, we begin to feel the rhythm of the gamelan, the Balinese orchestra made
up of bamboo xylophones and gongs.
In the evening professional dancers do a modern
interpretation of the traditional Balinese dances, and many movements are
recognized from the lesson.
Balinese dances have a religious significance. Dance and drama have played an
important role in Balinese culture through the years. It is through these
theatrical performances that the islanders learned the tales from the Ramayana,
Mahabarata and other epic stories from Balinese history.
Most resorts including Nusa Dua Resort and Le Meridian have
specially constructed Balinese theaters and present Ramayana on a regular
basis. Ramayama, a Hindu story written in the 3rd or 4th century BC, is a
classic romance. Rama, an incarnation of Vishnu is robbed by his father's second
wife of his rightful position as heir to the throne of the kingdom and is
banished to the forest. His beautiful and faithful wife, Sita, and his younger
brother, Laksmana, accompany him. Trials, separations, and other tribulations
ensue. Fortunately, guests are provided with a synopsis of each scene so the
story is easy to follow. Again, dance movements are recognizable.
One of the very best ways to learn about a culture is
through cooking. The chances that you will dance Balinese style once you return
home is slight. But, you can always stir up memories of Bali by cooking a
Bali not only operates an excellent Balinese Restaurant but it also offers
regular classes in Balinese cooking. The day starts with a trip to the market
to learn about the different vegetables and fruits and to get the freshest catch
of the day. Back at Rumah Bali, the Balinese Village, the preparation
Learning to cook Balinese food is to learn about the
culture. Since most of the Balinese are Hindus whereby food offerings are
presented to God, all phases of of food from sowing to eating are actions that
are related to God. Eating is not a social activity. People eat when they are
hungry and usually alone.
day at the Conrad guests learn the art of Balinese flower arranging and the
knowledge Balinese culture grows. The small palm frond basket filled with
flowers seen in front of the shops, by trees, and in so many places now take on
a new meaning as guests learn how to make them and their purpose - offerings to
the Hindu god.
Ask the staff at any hotel to teach you a word or two each
day. Start with “hello,” “thank you,” and “you are welcome.” They will be
thrilled you are taking an interest in their ways. Everyday it is a new
experience, a slow but steady way to learn of the culture. You are ready for a
more intensive Balinese learning experience.
La Meridian Resort it is only a few steps to Tanah Lot sea temple, suspended on
a huge rock offshore. If hearsay is to be believed, there dwells inside one of
the shrines a huge snake, discreetly left undisturbed by the Balinese. Built in
the 15th century, it is one of the most holy Balinese temples. Luckily the
ceremonies are frequent. Just dress modestly and join the throng of people
making their way to the water’s edge. You can join in the prayers and continue
onto the island,
is accessible for a short time during low tide. Or just sit on one of the rocks
and absorb the ambiance of the ceremony. Sunset is the best time to visit, when
the golden and red sky frames the temple and the waves crash into the rocks.
Bali will entrance you but learning about the culture will
make you make you feel as one with the Balinese. You may leave Bali, but Bali
will stay in your memory – the whisper of the dance movements, the colorful
stories, the smells of the food, and the learning will make you understand and
appreciate the uniqueness of all cultures.
If you go:
Nusa Dua Resort:
Bumbu Bali cooking school:
For more information check:
Images by Sandra Scott
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