Tuesday, 8 January 2019

1988 Hong Kong, Bali

26.5.88 Hong Kong

I write this sitting on the Star Ferry.  The humidity is 98%.  Opposite, Hong Kong island lays wreathed in low cloud, obscuring the new tall skyscrapers.  I cannot believe that I am really here.

The flight was marred by the fact that I was unable to secure a window seat, so I couldn't watch the world go by.  I cannot understand the mental dwarfs who can pass up the chance.  They seem happy enough to sit in a metal tube for 24 hours, watching movies. While outside, Asia slips by.  Morons.

The landing was one of the bumpiest I have had – it took two approaches because of the heavy rain.  Hong Kong was hidden in very low clouds; it looked like a miserable English winter's afternoon.  But stepping outside the airport terminal showed me my error.  It was a huge, hot, enveloping bath.

The taxi drive from the airport to my hotel was fascinating.  The flats near the airport looked like something out of Bladerunner: old, decayed, sinister.  Great ribbons of roads cut through them: the car was very much king here.  Surprisingly, the Hong Kong drivers were very restrained – little honking of the horn, with only the taxi drivers really aggressive.  The interior of the car struck very chill – the ubiquitous air conditioning was on full blast.

The driver spoke little English.  He had his radio on, which was Hong Kong pop music, noticeable for the refrains in English.  The Chinese language used for the continuity sounded musical: I wondered how they managed the pitch variation when singing.  The traffic was bad, but it all seemed of a piece with the thick rain, the dense air, and the drab surroundings.

Nearer the harbour, things changed.  We started winding down narrow streets festooned everywhere with huge signs and neons, mostly in Chinese ideograms.  Then we arrived at the hotel, near the harbour facing Hong Kong island, quite flash – roughly three star.

Then on to the Star Ferry – the wrong one, as it turns out, heading across to Wan Chai, not Central, which I see rear away from me.  It all looks very spectral: the skyscrapers, far more varied than in New York, with this heavy veil of mist hanging over them, and just visible behind them a hill of surprising greenness.

I walk back along to Central – through another boring part of Hong Kong, mostly building sites, then take the metro at Admiralty back across to Kowloon.  I pass beyond my stop and get out at Jordan Street.  The Rapid Transit system is impressive.  Fully automated with credit card type tickets, the trains are built in Britain – Metro-Cammell or some such – are spanking new, clean, etc.  Also reasonable prices.  Up by Jordan I get lost wandering west instead of south.  Things get less and less Western and more and more intimidating.  I felt very alien there, as in Harlem, though it was nowhere near so bad as there.

On the way back to the hotel I stumble across the Beijing restaurant in Granville Road.  A slap-up meal, and far more than I can cope with.  The waiters rather supercilious; I get this feeling from the Hong Kongers generally.  There seems to be no enormous amount of love lost between them and Brits.  Shadow of '97 perhaps…? I pass Mody Road on the way home.  Back to the hotel for a kip.  My body still thinks it's 8 in the morning.  The room is freezing thanks to the air conditioning.

Out in the afternoon on the right Star Ferry.  The skyscrapers really are very appealing - unusual shapes, surfaces, all crowding down to the shore.  Perhaps it is the latter fact which makes them aesthetically more pleasing than in New York. (Believe it or not, Vivaldi's "Four seasons" is playing.  O culture clash…)  It is ironic that the best view is from Kowloon: the view from these grand buildings is rather dull.

The ferries are very cheap: about HK$1.  There are actually two classes: upper and lower deck.  The seats tip forwards and backwards, saving the boat from needing to turn around.  What a job going back and forth tens of times a day.  This ferry takes me straight to my goal: the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank headquarters, designed by Mr Foster.  It is rather grand, but a rather surprising dull grey colour.  Vague forms move inside.  Walking under it reveals a secret: it is hollow to the roof.  For all its differences, it does remind me of the Lloyds building – here other buildings cluster around it, as with Boston's financial district.

I sit in Statue Square, and watch the big double deckers – again, built in Britain – as well as the dinky trams.  I take the Rapid Transit system to Wan Chai, then walk east.  It feels very alien, with the buildings getting tackier, the shops poorer.  I saw one block of flats about 20 stories high – but only one dwelling wide – crazy.  Cars, mostly Japanese, zoom everywhere; they seem fairly tolerant of pedestrians.  It is queer walking along all these pukka-named streets.  A schizophrenic place.

I walk out along Hennessy Road, and back along Lockhart Road – the "girlie bar" district.  But it is all very mild.  I get the impression that Hong Kong is quite repressed, though I expect there are some rougher areas if you know where to look.  Then back on the Wan Chai ferry, the air cooling (slightly), and the evening growing surprisingly dark for only 7pm.  It is quite a contrast to Skye last week which remained equally light until 10pm.  It just goes to emphasise the old latitude thing.  And also the fact that I have got about in the last two weeks.  All in all, the humidity – up to 99% according to the news – was quite bearable.  I was conscious of a thin film of sweat on my face, but nothing pouring off.  The strangest part is breathing: you cannot quite catch your breath as you can with clean, cold air; it is like inhaling foam rubber.

27.5.88 Hong Kong

I take up my pen for the first time today, which otherwise has been spent wandering with two free hands.  But now I am moved to write by the sight before me.  I am sitting on the brushed steel rail which runs along the promenade on Kowloon, just south of Chatham Road.  Behind me is a great hulking block, but in front lies a totally magical Hong Kong.  The air is now marvellously clear – a gibbous moon and a few stars visible – so the Christmas tree lights opposite shine with a hard brilliance.

To the left, the upmarket blocks of flats of Causeway Bay.  Their lights orange compared to the harsh white strip lighting of the office blocks.  Then the huge neon signs blaze: Toshiba, Salem, Excelsior, Sing-a-ling Club, Citizen, YKK, NEC, Ricoh, Fuji, Polaroid, Hitachi, Goldstar, C&W, Canon – a galaxy of multinationals in their reds, greens, whites and blues.  Then on to Central and the financial district, quiet now except, perhaps, for the cleaners.  Further west, more neons.  Above is the peak, with pearls of lights marking the hill.

Ferries, pleasure boats, tugs and crazy-looking junks sail past.  A huge air conditioning unit blasts behind me.  As my eyes grow used to the light, the few clouds glow in the moon's rays.  A tug is pulling a massive floating structure (a crane?) towards me, slowly, almost imperceptibly.

I have cheated by coming back to the Beijing restaurant in Granville Road.  The food was so good, and the place so obviously patronised by the Chinese, that it seemed wilful to go elsewhere.  Everyone just as surly, but an iota more helpful.

The day began with difficulty: I slept well considering I am seven hours out of kilter, but my body was reluctant to rise.  After breakfast I booked a trip to Guangzhou in mainland China tomorrow: there is only a limited amount of wandering I can do in Hong Kong.

Then I walked up Nathan Road, taking the Rapid Transit to reach up to Sham Shui Po.  Just outside the entrance is the Golden Arcade – where all the famed software copies come from.  It was rather disappointing from the outside – and inside was pretty quiet too.  As well as computer equipment, there were plenty of other trinkets.  I was confused at first, since all the top software appeared to be there are manuals – but paperbacks.  Eventually, I twigged: these were pirated printed copies; discs were either in the back of the book, or given out later.  So far as I could tell, prices translated to around £1-2 per disc.  All the latest stuff was there, all copy protection removed.  I watched in amazement as an urchin sat there copying further discs.

Back to the hotel, across on the Star Ferry to Central.  I went into the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank headquarters.  Not as impressive inside as out – almost too successfully subtle.  But neat.  Then on the Peak tram to the top.  Implausible ride at a very steep angle.  Mostly seems to be drawn up by counterbalancing tram on the way down.  At the top, plenty of tacky shops.  The view from the observation platform was pretty impressive, though.  I ate upstairs in the restaurant where the sight was even better.  I watched plane after plane take off and land. The hills behind Kowloon were still shrouded in mist – an apt metaphor for what lay behind.

Down via the Peak tram again – it's too humid for heroics, even going downhill - and then on to a normal tram.  I went along to Causeway Bay, and the park there.  The latter is pretty impressive, mostly given over to football pitches and idiots with toy boats, engines squealing all the while.  A wander though the Mayfair of Hong Kong, into one of the big Japanese department stores – nought special.  Then back to the hotel.

27.5.88 Shekou, China

Shekou, at the museum of the terracotta warriors from Shaanxi, but only a few are there.  The shop at the museum has that empty forlorn air, like those in Moscow.  Lots of bikes everywhere, plus Japanese cars.  It all looks like a showcase city – new and gleaming, with surprisingly modern architecture.  The museum itself is rather poor – just emblematic.  The vegetation is lush.  On the way here, the coastline reminded me of the odd mountain in a Chinese scroll painting.  To the kindergarten.  Fairly obvious propaganda visit – smiling kids, gleaming buildings.  Shekou is an artificial town, drawing in people from all over China.  Could it be a privilege?  Kindergarten hours 7.15am – 6pm.  There are beds, naturally. 

Outside, traffic lights are ignored.  They are horizontal in design, not vertical. Then to the market.  I love the smell of markets – the fish, the meat.  The food looks relatively good here.  The presentation is very good – especially the vegetables.  Noticeable the use of Roman alphabet for cachet – even Western goods.  It will be interested to see how this all compares with further in.

Canton centre.  Special bicycle lanes here – there are two million bikes for four million people in Canton.  Tree lined streets, building sites everywhere.  Far more skirts here – even miniskirts, frilly petticoats etc.  No guns.  More old buildings.  No private cars, but big articulated buses with women drivers.  No air conditioning.  More traditional architecture.  All police and officials very young.  Girls in shorts.  Ads on hoardings. Arcades as in Turin.  Also like India.  TV aerials pointing towards Hong Kong.

To the top of Liurong Temple (nine stories – I sweat at last).  The view shows a fairly nondescript but very large city of tower blocks – and yet more construction sites.  A few patches of very green trees; this is a fertile land.  The Pearl river is bright yellow, from the rains presumably.  Earth around here is bright red.

China Hotel, near the station is very large and very bustling.  Marble everywhere, over the top chandeliers.  There is even a palm court orchestra – which immediately makes me aware of the actual distance I have travelled.  And it makes me homesick.  Army officers in reflective shades and trainers.  Water buffaloes – but not in the street, as in India.  The queerest vehicles: engine open to the winds, monoptic, like a tractor with steering pole.  An old design apparently.  BP, Volvo here.  Coke everywhere.  Smoking not as widespread as in The Gambia, say.  Everyone so young.

Guangzhou station – once upon a time, I imagine this could have been sinister. Now it just feels third world à la New Delhi.  Again, all the functionaries look like teenagers.  At the door of each carriage, a young lady to check our tickets.  Inside, quite civilised – all pale colours – and the omnipresent Marlborough ads.  As ever, the magic of trains wafts over me: I feel this is the real way to enter Hong Kong.

After the meal at Dong Guang Hotel – good but not as good as my Hong Kong meals – we went to Canton zoo.  I dislike zoos: the sense of animals imprisoned, their lost natural dignity.  Seeing big cats pace, "als ob es tausend Stäbe gäbe", mad with their incarceration.  Seeing monkeys, such clear relations to us; seeing pandas, like great, heavy, sad people.  What was ironic was that as Westerners, we were scrutinised even more closely by the Chinese.  Curious beasts indeed.  To the Liurong Temple again.  The smell of incense – brings back memories of the mosques.  Behind the tower, three enormous and impressive Buddhas, gilt and impassive.

China will be good when they finish it.

30.5.88 Sanur, Bali

I have stood on the seashore of many lands, but never before here in Bali.  Writing the word feels strange: as even I am assailed by utter disbelief that I am really here.  Somewhere, deep inside me, I feel I am still in London, that this is some amazing backdrop, complete with huge humidity, and that if I wanted to, I could turn the corner and find myself back home.

Standing by the pounding sea, I am reminded again of "Dover Beach", and those perennial questions.  I think of memory, and my Walks with Lorenzetti.  It seems to be one of my central problems: how can we hold experiences – that is, hold on to life itself?  Same thoughts on the plane from Hong Kong: perhaps one reason why divorce is so disturbing is that it represents a fragmentation of shared memories, a deracination.  Lose your other half – significant words – and lose your life.  But what about death? How can we face death, holding all these memories – or not? Particularly since death so often seems to be a process of degradation of selfhood.  I would maintain (currently) that the only hope is to preserve memories in some (semi-)permanent form.  And I think Proust is wrong: involuntary memories are not enough, simply because they are involuntary, and so cannot be called up at will – when you need them.

Bali smells different.

31.5.88 Sanur

I rise at 6.15am – the day starts early.  A wander along the beach, the sun already warm.  Alit's Beach Bungalows are surprisingly attractive: lots of native touches, the bungalows arranged randomly here and there, greenery everywhere, lovingly tended by armies of men in neat sarongs.  After breakfast, to the beach in front of the Hotel Bali Beach – a monstrosity, but by the best sand. The rest of the beach is tastefully developed: the other hotels mostly bungalow types, all surrounded by neat lawns and trees.  The weather is quite strange.  The sky is full of large clouds which tend to vaporise as they go along.  There is a very pleasant breeze which mitigates but does not entirely hide the fierce heat of the sun.  The sea is warm, with some quite big breakers.

I sit now in the Mango bar and restaurant.  For some reason, early Beatles blares over some hefty speakers; it seems oddly appropriate.  There are very few people around, despite what my taxi driver said – he clearly thought that any tourists were too many.  Ditto the restaurant, which is quite forlorn with the music.

I have begun to appreciate the terrible power – and prison – that is money.  Everything here is so cheap for me, it is almost not worth haggling.  But to pay so easily is almost an insult to the people.  Little girls come along offering postcards and model prahus, with their characteristic outriggers – the latter for a dollar.  It seems churlish to refuse them what is for me so little, for them so much.  Money isolates you; it is a prison for the vast mass of humanity.

5pm.  Because the sun sets so early, the late afternoon in Bali is tinged with a gentle, rather English melancholy.  To match this melancholy, I am drinking tea – without milk or sugar – at La Taverna bar.  Above me, nine long curved banners crack in the wind on their bamboo poles; reminds me of the battle scenes in "Potop", my favourite epic Polish film.  Kites are flying too: the strong sea breeze is perfect for them.

Looking out east, I see the islands to the south, and north I am shocked to see a huge peak rising up out of the clouds.  At first I think it is Lombok, but then I realise it is Agung, the great volcano which erupted violently 25 years ago.  It looks pretty damn impressive in the clear blue – but hazy – sky.  The sea, now far out, roars distantly.

Leaving my chill air-con room to walk into the great warm wet blanket of the night is a crazy experience.  It is now just gone 10pm.  The cicadas, inevitably, whirr.  I am sitting outside on the veranda of my bungalow – mercifully, there seem to be few mosquitoes (famous last words).  I have spent the last two hours down on the beach, which is a total, and unutterably wonderful cliché.  After eating in a restaurant on the beach with a baby gamelan (too few gongs), I wandered out on to the beach.  The moon was full (it was a festival last night), and scattered its light like aluminium foil on the sea.  It was so bright you could have read by it.  The wind shook the palm trees, the pennants I had sat under earlier shivered in the breeze. Magic.

Even though Sanur is Bali's second tourist centre, it is relatively unspoilt.  Sure, people try to sell you stuff, but are quite good humoured when you say "no".  The gaily coloured prahus are functional, not just decorative.  If this is developed Bali, it augurs well for the undeveloped parts.

2.6.88 Tintagangga

It is probably entirely appropriate that I should visit Tenganan first on my trip round Bali, driving in an air-con jeep.  This is supposedly the real, old Bali.  It is a village built on the side of one of the lush forested hills – the road up was pretty murderous.  Inside the walled town there are four or so rows of houses, interspersed with long open halls, familiar from other cultures.  Bamboo gamelans play, hundreds of cocks shriek, swarms of dragonflies flash by.  There are curious wooden Ferris wheels, the like of which I have never seen.  Four single or double hanging seats, whirled around by hand.  Kites are flown by kids, mangy dogs snooze in the shade.  It feels pretty real, despite the signs of English, the café and the TV aerial.  Two girls carry huge piles of coconuts on their heads – many, many pounds.  The village street moves up in broad steps, in terraces.  Most houses are thatched, with wood, stone and brickwork.

The palace at Amlapura.  Ruins mostly, but noble ruins.  Great cracks in the brickwork, plants growing up everywhere.  But it looks like the backdrop to some enchanted tale.  Opposite, a huge tree – bigger than an oak, with dead creepers falling from its branches.

More ruins at Ujung – the water gardens.  These too have an unearthly air about them, like Mayan temples.  The forest seems to be gradually claiming the land back.  Agung lies shrouded in a heavy cloud; out to sea I can just make out Lombok.  There are tiny clumps of people toiling here; why?  Growing rice? Hopelessly trying to stem the rot?

I sit now in the balcony bar of my hotel in Tirtagangga (sounds strangely aboriginal).  A refreshing breeze blows.  Before me, the water palace, around lush rice fields and coconut trees; further, the sea.  Everywhere the tinkling of water – a Balinese Villa d'Este.  The hotel is the Kusuma Jaya Inn, brilliantly situated right on top of the water gardens.  7000 Rp., including breakfast – about £2.40.

"Driving in Bali" – hardly a best-seller title.  The traffic near Denpasar was pretty bad, many lorries, narrow roads.  Further out, things are quieter, but the road gets dodgier.  The air-con is a boon.  I switch it off occasionally when it gets too cold, but soon break into a sweat.  The jeep handles rather oddly, and has practically bald back tyres.   I passed several temples on the way but restrained myself in the knowledge that there were many more.  I did miss the bat cave, but can probably survive it.

Klungkung was interesting.  Its main street had a kind of two-tier arcading, wood-faced.  Then into Candi Dasa for lunch.  Quiet but cheerful, with relatively tasteful losmen (hostels) along the road.  At the splendidly-named Bugbug, a tiny village past Candi Dasa, a spectacular view down a river valley to the sea hemmed in by abrupt hills.  (Also a good view east of Klungkung: a big girder bridge over the river Yeh Unda).  A huge fish blinks darkly in the pool to my left; beyond, there are lily pads.  After Tenganan and Amlapura, down to Ujung, then to here.

3.6.88  Tirtagangga

Definitely different here.  First, the room.  Obviously once had a mandi (a large tank of water used for washing yourself), now there is a WC, but the tank is still there. Cold water only – great for the shower.  Electricity only came on at 6pm, a thin wavering light.  Mosquito wire netting, then shutters.  The room is very bare: A low wooden bed, no real mattress – rather like the takhta of Uzbekistan.  Tiled floor.  During the night, a mad chorus of frogs.  Their regular beat overlapped, producing a surreal kind of Steve Reich-like phasing music.  The sound itself was like a wood block.  Also the inevitable cicadas – and the bleedin' howling dogs.

Before supper, a long walk down to the next village.  The rush of water from rice field to rice field, luxuriant.  The next village regarding me suspiciously, people sitting around in the evening; I wonder what they do day in, day out? Everywhere, stalls selling Coca Cola: if anything remains of Western civilisation after Armageddon, it will be a Coke bottle.

On the road, first to Candi Dasa, in the hope of a sunbathe, but the tide was in.  So to Bebandem, Silietan, then Sibetan, Selat, Bangbang, Rendang to Besakih.  These felt very off the beaten track. And yet the houses were all very solid – there seems no grinding poverty here.  And even the smallest children in the smallest village know "hello".  On the lonely steep road to Besakih, the jeep's engine starts cutting out.  My heart thumps.  I get there, but my confidence has been shaken.  I sit in the restaurant very near to the Besakih temple, with a stunning view over a simple bridge in a deep valley, trees rising up the steps.

The temple at Besakih itself was inscrutable.  Only followers of the faith were allowed into the innermost courts; from the outside everything seemed thatched pagodas and covered areas.  Hardly Westminster Abbey stuff.  Ridiculous though it may sound, my main discovery there was the salak fruit.  This has a mottled external appearance, cracked open to reveal white segments like a garlic clove.  The texture is hard and crunchy – and the taste something like a pineapple, but milder.  Totally addictive.  Also tried mangosteen, not so impressed.  Fruit is very cheap and plentiful here – no surprise.

Turning up from Peleluan after Klungkung – I went the long way since I no longer trusted the car
I hit a traffic jam of a kind.  It was a cremation procession.  Earlier in the day I had passed several other funerals, but this one looked bigger.  At first I tried to get past, but hearing the siren call of the gamelan, I got out and started recording.

After the traditional fooling of the spirits by charging hither and thither, the long procession was led off by a huge palanquin with the body.  It was around 20 feet high, and decked out in the brightest, gaudiest colours.  It was carried shoulder-high on stout bamboo poles.  Behind came other objects on poles.  At the back were the gamelan players, striking as they moved their cymbals, gongs and metallophones.  They played more or less the same piece all the time, pausing slightly only to allow traffic past. 

The procession moved up around 1.5 miles, until it finally cleared the village boundary.  These are marked, as is the entrance, by a pair of stately pillars, ornamented in the characteristic Balinese fashion.  Then the cortège turned into a field.  There two bamboo structures stood.  The gamelan stopped playing, and like bands the the world over, the players had a drink and a fag.  Meanwhile preparations were being made to transfer the body from the palanquin to a Pegasus-like dragon, which had been carried up and now stood under one of the bamboo structures.  A bamboo ladder was placed against the palanquin, and the body carried across to the compartment in the Pegasus.  The gamelan had by now decamped.  Preparations continued in wrapping up the body, making offerings, breaking pots and much more.

Then another group arrives, bearing a black bull, plus another huge palanquin.  Rather dramatically this nearly topples and falls several times – it requires a good 30 men to carry it and right it when it starts to wobble.  The same process is then gone through with the body conveyed on this palanquin.  There seems to be a new gamelan, which has arrived with this – or it is maybe the old one, I wasn't sure: they all look the same to me...  Anyhow they did not stop once they got here, but played on and on, the piece repeated hypnotically over and over again.  Finally, the great moment arrived.  First one pyre, and then the other, was set ablaze.  The air danced around them, and soon all the finery was charred tatters.

During all this, the increasing number of tourists, drawn like vultures to carrion, behaved abominably.   Apart from treating the whole thing as if were a display for them, sitting on the pyres and generally photographing everything, their persons were offensive enough.  Men with huge paunches perched precariously atop ugly, ill-fitting shorts; fat women with white varicose-veined legs.  The Balinese must despise us – and rightly so. 

Then on to Penelokan.

4.6.88  Penelokan

Penelokan is reached by a long, long road which is up all the way.  On either side it is green and fertile. Nothing prepares you for the top: happily there are no glimpses to spoil the effect.  You drive into Penelokan, swing round on to the main drive, and there before you is the most spectacular view in the world.

Penelokan sits on the rim of a volcano which exploded and collapsed in ancient times, leaving a huge caldera several miles across.  A new core has formed – still active
– and there is a huge shimmering lake to one side, which forms a blue crescent.  On the face of the volcano stump, solidified lava flows can be seen – one has cut into a hill of vegetation.  The ridge of peaks stands out like a sawtooth – it reminds me of Sligachan on Skye. The whole effect also recalls Dal lake and the surrounding mountains.  It is totally breathtaking. 

I write this on the very top of Mount Batur, in the middle of the caldera.  The view is stupendous: the lake curves away in front of me, Lombok is visible mightily in the distance, the lava flows glower around me – and disconcertingly steam issues from the rocks of the inner core.  From my central position, I get a feeling for the massive nature of the eruption.  Terrifying…

Ascent was bad enough: much of the ground was what looked like cinders – which is what it was – but razor sharp.  Nearer the top, the path grew vertiginously steeper and dustier.  But the descent was worse, with the land shifting under the feet. 

After the descent, I drove on to Air Panas, the hot springs.  These were rather disappointing, so after some prevarication, I decided to drive further along this road to the caldera's opposite rim.  Apparently from here there was a fine view down to the east coast.  Alas, despite trying two roads, I could not find it.  Perhaps this is as it should be: every such visit should leave loose ends for next time.  Then back along the road past Kedisan, and up the steep road to Penelokan.  Here my poor jeep really laboured; I had visions of being trapped in the caldera – perhaps not such a terrible fate.  But finally up to Penelokan, where I ate in the same losmen where I had stayed.  Then on the road.

As I ascended even higher along the rim, the weather drew in.  Descending the long winding road the other side, I found the weather unimproved.  It was quite cold – as it had been during the night, and on the exposed summit of Mount Batur.  Everywhere naturally very green; but more than that, everywhere looked very, well, suburban.  Partly this is because Bali is quite densely populated in certain areas: village gives on to village.  The houses are well-built for the most part, of bricks and stone, with panes in the windows.  But more than that, their gardens are alive with colour.  If I knew more about gardening, I  might recognise them as varieties from Surrey gardens.  In any case, they are all well-tended - or seem to be: perhaps the climate does it all.  But it is the flowers that make Bali look so comfortable compared, say, to rural India.

5.6.88 Singaraja

Up at dawn and down to the beach at Singaraja, near where I am staying.  An overcast sky covering the sea with a silver sheen.  Because of the reef there are no waves; on this calm, mill-pond surface the prahus hovered like pond-skaters.

After dinner, back to the beach.  Again the prahus are out on the water, visible by their lamps.  They look like Chinese lamps strung out on a line.  Lightning flashes far out to sea, huge silent illuminations of clouds.  Overhead the night so clear you can see deep into our galaxy, which always terrifies me.  Two shooting stars.

6.6.88 Singaraja

In to Singaraja early.  A local policeman very understanding when I drove down a one-way street the wrong way.  On the beach all day, with hazy sky and clouds but the same deadly rays.

At the end of the day, tea on my balcony.  It is amusing how soon we impose little structures on the day in faraway places.  Afterwards I watch the sunset from the beach.  Spectacular: although the sun is obscured, its glorious reds and pinks are picked up by high clouds all around me.  As the sun sets, the boats with their lamps set out.  One interesting thing about this coast: fisher people live on the beach in huts, and ply their trade directly with nets and prahus


North lies Borneo, and I think I see Java to the East: this is the end of the world.

7.6.88 Singaraja

The morning overcast, with high cloud.  I decide to drive back a day early.  The stay here has been a perfect antidote to easy Sanur, and the rigours of Penelokan.  The drive up into the hills is interminable; second gear most of the way.  Lush landscape around me.  I drove through the quaintly-named Gitgit, then on, past a sight of Lake Buyan.  Finally down to Lake Bratan.  The temple Ulun Danu at Candikuning was serenely beautiful.  Constructed down to the lake in the characteristic pagoda style, two of the temple's courtyards were actually islands.  Very peaceful here – until a school-party of kids turn up.  These seem much more Westernised and street-wise – from Denpasar?

I decided to go out on the lake.  I hired a canoe with a paddler, and we pushed off.  Lake Bratan turns out to be much bigger than it looks.  The sun went in and the boat's seat grew harder.  Over the other side, the vegetation is extraordinary: the sheer walls are thickly covered with greenery, even though they seem almost vertical.  Very rich land around.

Then on the road, all the way down to Denpasar.  Again struck by the lack of outright poverty everywhere.  On the outskirts of Denpasar, I hit traffic in the built-up areas.  But even this looks nothing like Jaipur, say.  So to Alit's again.  Homecoming. 

In the evening I decide to see the Wayang Kulit puppet show at the Mars hotel just down the road.  Alas, there were only two of us, so the dalang – puppeteer
is reluctant to perform for such poor takings.  But talking to him, he invites me to a birthday ceremony he is conducting tomorrow in a nearby village for a baby girl.  Normally I am chary, but this seemed genuine.  I will give it a go.

8.6.88 Denpasar

A trip into the depths of the country.  First down main roads, then side roads, then stone tracks, finally mud tracks – paths I wouldn't have taken a Chieftan tank down, let alone an aging Suzuki minibus.  The village of 10 huts is small, but very neat and tidy.  I meet the puppeteer's grandmother, and his great-grandfather – in his 90s, and pretty hale.  The child, a girl, is six months (210 days) old, and going through the second of her birthday ceremonies.  A gamelan is playing – on a tape – and a cock crows interminably.  Theoretically, there should be a daytime puppet show, but apparently the villagers can't afford it.

The shrine area is raised up six steps.  Within, there are about seven shrines, five thatched, one of which is shrouded with a white cloth.  There are typical palm-leaf boats.  The purification ceremony begins with the poor child doused in holy water by the dalang; she only cried a little.  Then up to the shrine.  The sky is now rather ominously covered in grey clouds: this morning there was a tremendous downpour at dawn.  Mangy dogs, a dead duck strung up, incense.  I am offered a kind of ginger beer, plus "Marie Special Biscuits".  To the constant ringing of a tiny bell, the priest intones: dominant, sub-dominant, with a few leading notes and tonics at moments of heightened excitement.

Eventually, the ceremony was finished with caterwauling from the much put-upon child.  Then there was the obligatory food for the dalang (and me as guest).  This is after we have given the child her prezzies – six glasses from me, so she'll probably turn out an alcoholic.  I wonder what she'll think in years to come when she looks at the glasses.  I ate gingerly.  As on Dal Lake in Kashmir, I was conscious that not to eat would be a terrible slight; but I did wonder about the effects on my digestive health.  Luckily we were in a hurry: it had started to rain in spots, and the plucky little Suzuki would not get up the seemingly vertical hills with wet mud under its wheels.

We made it – just, as the rain came bucketing down.  But then the puppeteer wanted to show me his village – only a few minutes away if walking, but miles of non-roads.  Again, I would have liked to say no, but… There was the inevitable coffee and weird rice cakes.  His home consisted of around seven small buildings around a courtyard, each building with three or so rooms.  There was also a central meeting room where most people gathered. 

On the hectic drive back to Denpasar in the glooming, we stopped off to buy some gamelan cassettes, first in Tabanan, then in Denpasar itself.  Certainly a fine selection, but will they last?  Tape quality is not a priority here, I fear.  An exhausting but fascinating day.

9.6.88 Sanur

After all the culture yesterday, I allowed myself a sunsoak today.  Water very low all day – neap tide or some such.  To cap my visit here, I went out on a water scooter.  It was about 4.30pm, and the tide was coming in with the wind from the south.  It seemed very choppy – although it probably wasn't – and it beat the hell out of me on the machine.  Quite a frightening sensation – because its dynamics were so new.  Turning the handle at first did nothing, and then as the craft responded, it felt as if it would overturn.  Cutting across the waves over the reef, the machine proved hard to turn: with the result that I thought several times I'd hit the reef.  It became better towards the end, as I gained practice.  And then, down to the Hyatt for a spot of paragliding – i.e. dragged after a speedboat under a parachute at about 50 feet.  Rather dull really, but a nice view of the coastline and further south.  Still, one more experience ticked off the list.  Pity about the water skiing, which I didn't get around to…

In the evening to the Mars hotel where the dalang had his Wayang Kulit show.  I arrived there about 6.45pm, and was greeted by the puppeteer.  The gamelan (two players) tinkled away inside; through the little theatre's gauze screen, an electric light bulb could be seen.  But when the performance began, this was replaced by a much more attractive spirit lamp which lurched about atmospherically, if alarmingly close to the gauze.  The dalang sat under the lamp, and manipulated the puppets, struck the gedag puppet box as he punctuated and emphasised the action, and spoke the words – impressive stuff.

First the Kayon tree of life puppet floated around.  By moving parts of it away from the screen strange blurred effects were created.  Later, the heroes Indra and Arjuna were introduced.  They shimmered wonderfully as the lamp shook.  These characters spoke in Kawi, a standardised form of old Javanese, and the whole effect was rather like Japanese Noh drama: very hieratic, with extreme vocalisations, sobbing notes etc.  Watching the performance, I found that I forgot the dalang was there, and really believed in all his characters.  Some moments – like the battles with arrows flying everywhere, or the refined discourse of Arjuna, were really gripping.  I could see how this art-form could exert such a hold on an audience which better understood the stories and gestures.  This was part 100 or something: evidently the story advances at each performance.  It will be interesting to compare the human shadow show – wayang wong
tomorrow night.

10.6.88 Sanur

A totally perfect day as far as the weather was concerned: Mount Agung clear as never before – even Mount Rinjani on Lombok visible in the morning.

In the evening, to the Hotel Pura Bali, to see the wayang wong performance.  A big gamelangamelan gong, what I normally associate with gamelans – the other, smaller kind is called angklung.  About 24 players in the
gamelan gong, all from the dalang's village – including his dad, the blacksmith.  The puppeteer narrated as usual, but this time humans mimed his words.  Beautiful movements and costumes – the leading lady around 15, tall, with her black hair to her knees, possessed a real grace.

11.6.88 Denpasar

To the airport, stopping off for some salaks.  A cloudy day.  Taking off and wheeling north, the clouds looked like pairs of dancing snowmen.  Agung stands out proud above the clouds; Batur in all its magic is clearly visible; Rinjani in the hazy distance.

Now I am in Hong Kong, stretching my legs during a ten-hour wait for my flight back to the UK.  I am eating at – where else?
the Beijing…

1992 Indonesia I: Lombok, Bali
1992 Indonesia II: Yogyakarta, Solo, Jakarta

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Moody's Black Notebook Travels

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