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Indonesia Part 4 – Batik Art, Kecak Dance and Paddy Fields (by Bean9)!

Here is Bean9’s first ever blog entry about our adventures in Bali.

The last stretch of our time in Indonesia we spent in Ubud, Bali. We had only two days here, but we filled it with fun activities, including Batik art, Kecak dancing and a wonderful bicycle ride to see the Indonesian rice fields and Hindu water temples.

Day One:

On the morning of our first day there, we set out from our lovely villa on the outskirts of Ubud to the busy centre of the city. Ambling down the bustling backstreets, we had to jump to one side and then another to avoid being run over by motorbikes! People drive crazily in Indonesia, even on the backroads. Suddenly, Daddy noticed a small sign with the words ‘Batik Art’ pointing down a tiny alleyway that was squished between two buildings. Mummy had booked us a course in this style of art and one of our teachers was waiting for us next to the sign.

As he took us down the alleyway, we passed temples and statues covered in offerings of flowers and rice in little woven reed baskets. Walking through this holy place, we reached the end of the lane to the art studio.

After we all introduced ourselves, we started the art straight away. The first step was to draw our basic design. The teachers provided us with fish, bird, plant and animal books to inspire our artwork. I drew a frog on a branch with shapes surrounding it, Mummy opted for a Moorish Idol, Bean 8 a Komodo Dragon and Daddy used objects around him to create overlapping shapes. They were very keen for us to finish this step rapidly as there were many more parts of the Batik art process to come.

The next step was to outline our drawings in hot wax – anything covered in wax in this process would be a white colour at the end once the wax was boiled off. We applied the wax using a canting, which is a pen-like tool used to apply the liquid hot wax in the batik-making process. This was difficult as it was hard to keep your hand steady and not make blobs on the paper. You also had to change the wax in the canting every 30 seconds, so it remained at its hottest. To practise, we used a pre-prepared canvas with various shapes drawn upon it, then it was straight onto the real thing.

After we had completed outlining our artwork, there were many blobs dotting our canvases. The teachers burned these blobs off with heated spoons and cooled them with water. Next was the painting. Everyone achieved the process in slightly different ways so I will explain the way I did it.

I painted my canvas in the normal way, blending, mixing and smudging the colours, but refrained from painting my background at this stage. My canvas was left out in sunny spot to dry (Bean8 used so much paint, they had to use a hairdryer to dry his out!) and the teachers then painted it with a fixing solution while we all ate lunch together. I was also fascinated to watch a lady making a basket full of Hindu offerings to sell in the town. They were so delicate!

After lunch, I used hot wax to cover the parts of my picture I’d already painted to stop the strong black and background colours I was next to paint from running onto them. Once the black and background colours had been painted on and had dried, I coated the background in hot liquid paraffin. This was to prepare it for a crackle effect. To achieve this, I scrunched and twisted the canvas (once the paraffin had dried) to make little dents and scratches in the background. At this point, the teachers then dipped the whole canvas in a green chemical, then rolled it in blue dye, which stained the spaces made by the dents and scratches giving it the crackle effect. The concluding step was to dip it and leave it in boiling water to remove the wax from my picture revealing it in its full glory!

Here’s our four final creations:

I loved our creative day because we worked together to learn a new style of art with two lovely and patient teachers!

We set off back to our villa to relax until the evening when we’d planned to watch a Kecak dance which is a special dance telling a Hindu story accompanied by a male chorus called the Gamelan Suara. Bean8 and I played in the swimming pool and then I wrote in my diary whilst Bean8 drew accompanying pictures.

Just before we were about to leave for our evening meal, the heavens opened, lightning crackled, and thunder rumbled. The rain gushed down in waterfalls on our heads drenching us despite our umbrellas and mad dashes to run for cover. We made it to the taxi before the worst of the storm occurred. Arriving in the city centre, we ran to the nearest restaurant for another tasty dinner. The rain was still so bad that we needed umbrellas to march through the ankle-deep water just to get to the restaurant’s toilets!

Fortunately, by the time we left the restaurant, the rain had slowed considerably making it easier for us to walk along the uneven muddy pavements to the temple where the Kecak dance was to be performed. As we waited in our seats, the lights suddenly dimmed, and we could see by candle light only. About fifty half naked men traipsed onto the stage in front of us, sat in concentric circles, and started swaying, singing and humming different harmonies in perfect alignment. It felt like the music was drawing you in and it had you captured in its oscillating beat.

The dancers slowly twirled and twisted their way on to the stage. Through their movements combined with the human Gamelan music, they told the Hindu story of Prince Rama’s wife Sita being kidnapped by the evil Rahwana, and her ultimate rescue by forces of good. The dancers used very intricate dance movements; one of them looked like her hand was in many places at once! I have never seen a person’s hand move that quickly before. They leaped and danced through the story with many more dancers coming on including two men dressed as monkeys and a little girl with bells attached to her feet. There was a man covered in feathers meant to represent the Garuda bird (the king of all birds), a monkey wrestling a demon and a priest tempting Princess Sita out of her magic circle. The whole dance felt electrifying – you felt as if the story was really happening before your very eyes!

As the tale concluded, the stage was cleared, they set up a huge mountain of coconut shells and lit them. The flames licked the husks and soon the pile was ablaze with red hot fire. A man ran onto the stage riding a hobby horse and didn’t stop, he hurtled right through the fire and kicked it all about! I was surprised that the hobby horse, made of straw, did not catch fire. As he was in a trance from the repetitive humming of the men, he felt no pain and so ran through the fire again and again. The men who had started the fire even had to restrain him from running through it too many times. His feet were as black as the thunderclouds from earlier on! The purpose of this dance is assumed to protect society against all evil forces and epidemics.

This conclusion was rather startling but overall it was a superb performance, like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It’s really to hard to put what’s it like in words – it was truly thrilling!

Day Two

In the morn of the following day, we set out on a guided bicycle ride to explore the different Hindu temples and paddy fields, the Indonesian name for their rice fields. These fields can be tiered or flat and are watered by a stream of rainwater that floods from one field to another. Our first stop was a village temple, one of the three kinds of Hindu temples. The others are family temples (in your own home) and public temples which any Hindus can attend. Only people who are born in the village can use the village temple. Our guide, although Hindu, could not use this village temple as he was from a different town. He explained about the various sections and that the courtyard outside was bustling and noisy but as you get closer to the centre of the temple, it becomes quieter. The very middle section is used for concentrated praying and so is silent.

Our next break was by a paddy field where the guide showed us a water temple positioned in which the locals put out offerings each day. At the same time, they check on their water system which is essential to the growing of the rice crop. Nearby the temple, we watched a lady washing her clothes by hand in the stream of water. I also washed my clothes this way using water from a well on another Indonesian island we visited – Hoga Island. It was extremely fun as I’d never experienced this way of washing clothes before – drawing water up from the well and scrubbing the clothes with the soap.

Then we stopped off at a part of a temple which is used in the Hindu funeral process. They burn their dead on a funeral pyre within 24 hours of their death just outside this place. Nearby were some enormous banyan trees, the overhanging branches drooping around their gigantic girth. These are used to build the pyre. We witnessed a funeral pyre being constructed out of bamboo for an Ubud royal family member on the street outside the palace. It was gargantuan!

The funeral pyre under construction outside the palace in Ubud’s busy centre

We continued cycling through the villages, free wheeling down the steep hills to crazily career up the other sides of these road valleys without pushing the pedals once. The heat of the day was unbelievably intense. We were sweating waterfalls! Eventually we arrived at our final destination – a famous tiered paddy field. Running down the many steps, we gazed upon the muddy water streams quenching the plants’ thirst!

The way back was much easier as we zoomed past shops full of wonderfully creative handmade artefacts at great speed, showing us just how much we’d travelled uphill on the way there. We stopped off at a market selling durians – its disgusting odour is a hundred times as potent as rotting food! But we tried it! Bean8 and Daddy loved it while Mummy and I hated the taste. It was like eating a smelly creamy type of off cheese! It’s the Marmite of the fruit world.

The durian tasting

On the last stretch, we visited Petulu Village in which were many white herons and egrets soaring in the air or resting in the trees. If we had visited this place at sunset, we would have seen thousands of them darkening the sky in their return from the paddy fields. Just before we arrived back at the villa, Mummy fell off her bike while she was taking a photograph and, in trying to save her camera, created a gash down the back of her leg! Poor Mummy! Despite this, we all had a wonderful morning. We’d fully packed in our time in Ubud as we were leaving for the airport directly after lunch for our final destination on the big adventure – Bangkok!

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  1. It’s no wonder durian is banned on most of their public transport systems.
    Perhaps we should ban Marmite on ours!

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, although marmite’s no way near as smelly as durian! Love from Bean9 xxx

  2. What a wonderful report. I am sure you enjoyed making a Batak picture, what a complicated procedure, I should love to see it. Weren’t the durian fruits unusual all smell and no taste.

    1. I am grateful for your comment, I hope you liked my post. The batik picture was complicated but very fun. The durian tasted almost as terrible as their smell, although daddy and Bean8 loved it! Love from Bean9 xxxxxx

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