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Ubud: Learn, Play, Love

Here we are in Ubud, Bali, the setting of the “Love” part of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, “Eat, Pray, Love”.

So far, I have not left my husband to go find my Phillippé (for those of you who are worried).   Should I decide to follow in Gilbert’s footsteps, however, I would apparently have plenty of company here in Ubud (women of a certain age looking for romance . . .).  Actually, I wonder where they find the energy in this lethargy-inspiring climate!

Learning would be the best way to describe our first week here;  this country is full of complexity and contradiction.  First of all, our bodies still learning to function in this very hot, humid climate (first lesson, drink water constantly).

Other things we are learning:  to sleep with the night chorus of frogs, birds, and cicadas, and the sunrise crowing of roosters.  To walk on the road without being hit by a scooter.  Our first words of Balinese (matur suksima = thank you) and Indonesian (dri-makasee = thank you).  That the questions, “Where are you staying”, or “Where are you going”, are polite conversation and do not require a precise answer.   That every day brings new religious ceremonies, holidays, and offerings.   And learning the market value of items versus the “tourist price”.

Although the kid’s main “homeschooling” task has been keeping a daily journal, I’d like to think that they are accomplishing lots of “experiential” learning.  Vivianne is amazed at the many life-forms in the jungle:  beautiful flowers (falling from trees throughout the village – really), banana and coconut trees, salamanders, monkeys, giant millipedes, huge butterflies, dragon-flies, tropical birds, bats, and ant super-highways.  She was somewhat traumatized in the monkey forest, by a macawk who jumped on her head to steal and eat her brand-new flower hair clip (yum, styrofoam).

Théo, ever the 7-year old boy, is fascinated with the scooters, the tilling machine used to plow the rice patties, spectacular lightning and thunder-showers, the RC car with flashing lights owned by a boy down the street, and the way our hotel staff fold napkins and towels into hats, butterflies, and swans (he is now begging me to buy him an origami book – internet will have to suffice for now).

Last night, we attended a traditional Balinese dance performance, where every eye and hand movement has meaning.   The kids were seated in the front, the best seats in the house, and were transfixed for 90 minutes.   They were previously able to take a Balinese dance lesson, so Théo was thrilled when they did “his” dance, a warrior dance.  Of course, they were just as thrilled with our bedtime ice-cream snack.

On another level, we have been confronted with some third-world realities, such  kids and babies without helmets on scooters, roosters spending their days in tiny cages (we haven’t told the kids about cock-fighting), poor old ladies begging for money, a slug crawling in the lettuce in Vivi’s sandwich (she handled it quite well – even ate the rest of the sandwich!), washed out roads and rubbish in alleys, and people grabbing our arms, begging us to buy stuff.

But this is Ubud, so this all coexists with 5-star restaurants, the Nike store, Billabong, and high-end spas and villas. Central Ubud is very touristy, especially since the Gilbert book publicized it widely.  Spas promote “eat, pray, love” treatments, and one can buy any variety of souvenirs blaring the slogan.  It is obvious however obvious that the country-side, and the “real Bali” (where the tourist buses don’t go) is never very far.

These are of course just my first impressions.  We are hoping to both gain a deeper understanding of the culture and country, and to venture further afield in the next few weeks.

Next up is Nyepi, a religious holiday starting tonight with a parade of monster spirits (people have been working hard on the styrofoam and papier-mache monsters all this week).  The monsters are later burned to dispel evil spirits.  Tomorrow is a day of fasting, rest, and purification dedicated to the Gods;  everything in town is closed.  Tourists are given a break, so if we stay in the hotel compound tomorrow, we will still be able to eat.

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