It's funny how close places seem when you fly. You close your eyes, and voila! -- it's like a super-long elevator ride, and you're already there.
"Third floor: men's clothing, home furnishings, Hawaiian Islands. Going up! Next floor: Bali."
THIS flight, though, took almost two days because I had to wait overnight in Taiwan. That was a weird stay, because I had to go straight from the airport to our hotel and couldn't leave until my next flight, which was 18 hours later. On that imaginary, super-long elevator ride, it was like the doors opening up between floors to a storage area, and you know China is somewhere else on that floor but you can't see it. Really frustrating!!
Before that , we landed in Japan for about an hour. That was truly amazing. For a long time as we were descending, all you could see was endless hills and hills and hills, with every square inch of flat land between them covered with farm plots. As we got closer and closer to Tokyo, electrical transformer towers appeared, then LINES of them, and the houses got denser and denser and denser...It's hard to imagine how so many people can fit into such a small space and really incredible to actually SEE it!
And now, I'm in Bali -- and can finally show you some photos!!
It's important to know, as I write about Bali, that it is only one small part of the whole country of Indonesia. Think of Indonesia as being like the United States (a country); then Bali is kind of like Hawaii (a state). (Bali, though, is even smaller than Hawaii -- yet it has more people!) You wouldn't describe the United States to somebody by only talking about Hawaii, right? In the same way, you don't know about all of Indonesia just by learning about Bali. But it's a start.
In fact, Bali is much more different from other places in Indonesia than, say, Hawaii is different from California, mostly because it's had a lot longer (hundreds, and even THOUSANDS of years) to become different! (Unless you talk about INDIGENOUS peoples of Hawaii and California, who really do have different cultures even today.) When you go from Bali to Java (the next island to the west), you hear different languages, eat different foods, see different clothes, observe different religious practices, and learn different stories about their past, their heroes and their villains. But there ARE similarities, too, because the dominant Balinese culture came from Java a few hundred years ago! But I'll tell you more about Java when I travel there next week.
For now, though, I'm in BALI -- so let's talk Bali!
I chose to come to Indonesia first because I've been here before and can carry on conversations in Bahasa Indonesia. So, it's an easy place for me to start a hard trip to a lot of new places. I have a lot of friends here, too, so I can count on some free meals and good times. It IS hard to figure out how to see everyone, though, when you only have two weeks!
I also chose to come to Bali first because it's the time now (on the Balinese calendar) of a special holiday called Galungan. You can see that it's Galungan everywhere you look, because the streets are gaily decorated with penjor (the hanging things in this photo) and the temple shrines are wrapped in brightly-colored cloths.
Every so often, but at least once or twice a day during the ten days of the holiday this year, you'll see a procession of musicians and women carrying offerings to accompany the barongs that come out to visit different temples that are special to them. Some come from many miles away to visit!
You can see a barong in the first of these three photos. Can you recognize where the influence for the barong might have come from? If you think it looks a lot like a Chinese dragon you might see in a Lion Dance during the Lunar New Year, you're right. China is one place that has had a big effect on Southeast Asian cultures, since it's right next door to the region (though pretty far from Indonesia itself).
One of the most interesting things about Southeast Asia to me is how
its really rich cultures, with beautiful music, dance, art, architecture,
clothing and other forms of expression are a result of the mixing of many
different influences. I think they're especially meaningful for students
in California to study, not only because there are many people of Southeast
Asian ancestry in California but also because California today is a place
where many cultures come into contact. There's a lot of possibility
for us to learn from each other and create new ideas for living and expressing
ourselves, as Southeast Asians have for thousands of years. This
"cultural diffusion" is one topic I'll be studying and sharing with you
throughout my trip.