Silence is Golden


Titbits from his regular diet of worms


The Cage, Bali

Wednesday, Mar. 7, 2018


IT’S Nyepi in ten days (Saturday, Mar. 17), the annual day of silence in Bali, by the island’s traditional Hindu Dharma religious and customary rites. This requires a twenty-four-hour period in which no work is performed, no noise is heard, and no lights are seen. It is a sacred time for Hindus and demands respect and observance from everyone on the island.

There are benefits from the day for everyone. There’s no traffic, so the road system copes very well with the load it is required to carry. The airport is closed, so the tourist sluice is temporarily dry. There is no lighting (except that required by international regulations at the airport and the ports) so the night sky is fully visible. If it’s not cloudy, the stars are magic.

Here at The Cage, we are not Hindus. Neither are we Jewish (you’ll never see us holding a scroll and bashing our heads against the Western Wall in al-Quds) nor Christian (we don’t fast during Lent) though we are “Kristen” for Indonesian bureaucracy’s benefit, nor Muslim (we never kill goats for Eid al-Adha). So we shan’t be engaging in twenty-four hours of quiet spiritual reflection, which is the formal requirement of Balinese Hindus for Nyepi. But no noise will be heard beyond our property boundary, no visible light will show, and we won’t be having a party.

We might, if it is ends up being too hard for the island’s ISPs to switch off their signals as they are under pressure to do, quietly use our Internet connection. We may even listen (quietly) to some music. We shall certainly eat, bathe, and do all the other things in the normal daily routine of well-mannered unbelievers. In the evening, we shall marvel at the stars. That’s what we do every year.

Last year the silence of Nyepi in our little bit of our banjar was broken only once. This was by the Pecalang patrol that motored loudly down our track in the middle of the evening, flashing their torches to see if anyone was illegally illuminated, and the neighbourhood dogs, which quite understandably made a dreadful racket about this disturbance.

Nyepi observance varies according to local tradition. In one place we know of, the restriction used to be only that you should not leave your village. Some of the observance is informal, too. We generally stay home these days, but one year we went to Candi Dasa and stayed at a small resort within that “Obyek Wisata”. We and all the other guests were chivvied out of the restaurant by 7.30pm and sent stumbling off in the dark to our bungalows where no light should be shown. We sat quietly on our terrace thereafter and enjoyed the partying of the hotel staff, who observed the holiest night of the Balinese year by purloining all the pool toys and splashing around noisily in the big pool for hours.

Cover Up, There’s a Dear

WE do love a good rant, as regular readers will know. And this time, we’ve got two to report – one from our favourite feisty American surfer-ecologist Mara Wolford, and the other from a lovely little to-and-fro on a Bali expat Facebook page.

Marvellous Mara’s is about surfboards and the unreliability of friends: see “Hang Ten”, below. The other is about dressing appropriately in the immediate vicinity of temples. In the old days, when respect was an obligation you owed to others instead of a right you demand from others, there might have been fewer problems. But (not to put too fine a point on it) appropriate dress for such occasions involves managing to put on something that doesn’t show everyone quite so much of your bum, even if you do come from a land down under where (as Men at Work sang in one version of their fine paean to the antipodes) women glow and men plunder.

The glutinous maximus may be the strongest muscle in the human body, but it is seldom able to prevent heavy buttock droop, particularly in those whose diet chiefly comes from FastFoodInc, purveyors of grossness to Their Majesties The Common Herd. It’s predominantly a western thing – although locally the backsides of some motorbike riders seem to be expanding – and thus is another visual pollutant courtesy of the age of mass tourism.

Body shape should not be dissed of course. We are all what we are. It would be impolite and disrespectful to comment subjectively. It should be said, though, of the apparently endless range of such endowments, that self-respect needs to get a look-in too. Near nudity is fine on beaches – if local laws permit and you’re not from the growing cohort of full burka bathing enthusiasts – but you’re not paying attention if you think going shopping covered in less than most people put on as underwear is anywhere near acceptable.

We’re not prudes. Though we do remember the lesson drummed into us in our formative post-pubescence, in a world now long gone: the shorter the skirt, the lower the price.

It’s Unarchipelagic

SPEAKING of burkas, which is a difficult thing to do if swaddled in one, it was interesting to read the other day that the State Islamic University in Yogyakarta has banned the garment from its campus. Yogya is a special region of Indonesia in many ways, not least because by custom its hereditary Sultan is always the head of government. It’s an example of how Indonesia can manage its diversity. Aceh is another, though that compact, more recent, had particular religious-political and economic reasons behind it after the long insurrection, and is showing some less than pleasant results.

The burka is primarily desert dress, its origin flowing (pun intended) from the need to cover up against the super-fierce heat of the dry-climate sun. It has acquired religious significance since, even though the Prophet, when he said that Arabian women should cover up, was only saying they should put an end to their Neolithic practice of going about bare-breasted. In an Indonesian context, where (somewhat naturally) traditional modes of dress are not Arabian, though they often include head-coverings, the burka is Unarchipelagic. It’s good to see that someone’s found the fortitude to act upon that fact.

Barnyard Barnaby

SINCE we’re on matters of prurience, an area of life that apparently fixates many, a word about the former deputy prime minister of Australia, now backbencher, Barnaby Joyce. He was never a household name as leader of the coalition National Party, until his private predilection for unzipping became public property. His disgraceful conduct in having an affair with his media adviser, and her pregnancy, showed him to be unfit for high office. He’s now made it worse by promoting speculation that the baby may not be his. In effect he has slut-shamed his lover and – much worse – created a situation in which an as yet unborn child is already invidiously a figure of public notoriety. In short, he’s a shit: he’s Barnyard Barnaby, the Hayseed Hemlifter.

Generally speaking, the sex lives of others are private matters. They engage only those people, except for vicarious moral, ethical and financial obligation to the established partners of the participants if the sex is (as it is put) illicit. But such sex and longer love affairs happen in every society, for many more reasons than base lust. (And while we’re about it, let’s be honest and award base lust a place in our humanity.)

The “one and only” rule created by the control systems societies put in place for religious and patriarchal reasons is widely observed in its breach, and by a large plurality. It was ever thus, since legislating for what the fun police tell us is morality is a waste of time and an infringement of liberties of much greater value. We just gossip about others more widely and publicly these days, here on Planet Banal.

Of course, it is delicious if a defaulter is discovered who has made a political career out of stern patriarchal moral imperatives. Feet of clay discovered in such luminaries make their entire existence farcical. But that’s less about the sexual aspect of an affair than it is about their character. That handy old rubric – let he who is without sin cast the first stone – is what is best applied to one’s desire to comment on the behaviour of others. How people deal with breach of trust, sexual or otherwise, within their own relationships, including whether they even regard it as such, is something for them, not for public discourse.

Hang Ten

DOING so might encourage the others, to reprise the old aphorism. Our feisty friend Mara Wolford, now back in Bali from a spell in the United States of Trumpism, reports having gone to look for surf boards in Kuta, and at a brace of boards an old, and now presumably former, friend has stored for her. Hers had been taken out of their covers and left unprotected in the full glare and flow of the weather, and were functionally ruined. The fare in the shops wasn’t much better, apparently: roughly built, horrifically decorated, etc.: The sort of thing, or so we gathered from reading Mara’s magnificent mouthful about it all, that a girl just wouldn’t surf on.

We are not surfers, though we deeply respect people who are. We wonder how they can stay on their feet, how they pick a wave that will carry them shoreward so they can paddle out again, and we still have no real idea what a wipeout is. But we do understand quality, and how, in mass-market Bali, that is more than ever what you find very difficult to get. Hrmph.