A world of contradictions, contrasts, & beauty

A few weeks have passed since our trip to Bali, but I feel like I’ve only begun to digest the vast range of experiences our class had together on this intriguing island. Sure, I’ve lived there several years, but these were among the most fascinating and intense (and exhausting) weeks I’ve spent there. I learned lots of new things and delved much more deeply into Bali’s confluence of nature and culture.

The range of our experiences was pretty awesome (literally! <– the old literally) when you think about it.

Here we are studying the scope of Bali’s productivity, with cacao,


roasting coffee,


growing & drying rice (ok, so the latter pic is from after students left, but we saw tons of rice),



and everything in between:


…and learned a little about cooking:


and put a lot of it in our stomachs:


We had various guest lectures by local experts:


…including this one (w/ a nice shot of our wonderful group–click to see the glow):


We learned about conservation of rice fields, forests, and various other parts of nature, including sea turtles:


and poor communities in remote mountain areas:


…and got our hands into the action by learning to play music and to dance,



…and got up close with some wonderful performances that were little like anything we know in California,


Include a private performance by a shadow puppet master that we commissioned to thank community members for all their help and sharing their knowledge with us:

We saw the key role of water in action all over the island:



including the blast of a tall waterfall,


…and celebrated our time as a roving in-situ learning community,


The spirit world came alive one night in the temple of the dead as we watched dozens of people going into spirit possession trances, only to be brought back by lay priests and their holy water:

We came into closer contact with the cycles of life (here, a family & community wash the body of their recently deceased, youthful mother):

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We studied organizations attempting to use ecologically sensitive production methods for local consumption & export (here’s the bamboo chocolate factory at Big Tree Farms):


..but we also saw environments being trampled by rapid expansion of towns and lack of garbage control, even right beside our own accommodations,


But organizations such as Kaltimber and the Green School (below) are fighting against such problems:


One of the eye-opening experiences for me was to come upon a completely Christian village, Belimbing Sari, near the trail head for our lowland rainforest trek. There, we could see traditional Balinese stone carving of images of the Crucifixion,


and the Last Supper,


…complete with Balinese clothing, nature, & ornamentation.

I couldn’t possibly give a complete sense of what we covered. This is just scratching the surface of what we learned and experienced, as we who traveled know. I think these experiences will serve throughout our lives as a trove of resources to think about culture, human-nature relationships, their failures and successes, and the range their possibilities.

I’m grateful to the people (the rice farmers, the musicians, the artists, the coffee growers, the cooks, the hotel staff, the teachers) AND the (rest of) nature of Bali for all they have given the world–and us on our little trip. We worked to be good ambassadors, and we hope we have left a positive imprint and somehow benefited the island.


The Upset of Balance in the Tri Hita Karana

Tri Hita Karana is a term we all heard multiple times throughout the trip. It’s one of the most central concepts to Balinese life and philosophy and it refers to the harmonious and balanced relationships between man and god, between human beings, and between humans and the environment. It literally means the three causes of happiness and is one way that the Balinese try to live a balanced life but Pak Raka Dalem tried to show us that this balance is now threatened in Bali.

He showed us that it is easy for the Balinese to know what Tri Hita Karana means and know the three types of relationships they should cater to and honor but that it hard for people to actually live these ideals out in everyday life. There is an increasing amount of environmental problems in Bali. In Pak Raka Dalems lecture he pointed out that people increasingly don’t care about the environment, there are water shortage problems and water carrying capacity problems brought on by tourism and heavy amounts of development, deforestation, seawater intrusion and beach erosion, harvesting and destruction of coral reefs, and problems with waste and pollution.

Hearing his lecture was a bit disheartening because I was trying to see Bali as a sort of paradise. They’re philosophic and religious beliefs, if enacted in real life, could easily lead to and create a kind of paradise on the island where the people live out these peaceful, balanced relationships between nature, each other, and god. If the Balinese have these beautiful beliefs and aspirations, why are they causing and suffering from the same environmental problems and dissociations the rest of the world is facing? Why are the realities of the island so conflicting with their principle belief of the Tri Hita Karana?

Near the end of Pak Raka Dalem’s lecture, he gave a grim response to the silent questions and concerns I was having. Because of fairly new economic pressures, Pak Raka Dalem says that people don’t care about the environment anymore. It seems that economic pressure has entered into the cycle of life in Bali and has disrupted the Balanced aligned by the Tri Hita Karana. People are increasingly not caring about the environmental aspect of the three causes of happiness. The economic is replacing the environmental and there is no longer a harmonious balance on the island. Its scary to see such a lush and abundant island and society beginning to face the same problems that America and a lot of the world are facing. It seems that people on the island might be charging towards the slippery slope that leads to destruction and dissociation from their natural environment.  So much of Balinese culture, religion, and daily life depends on things in the natural environment and its disheartening to think of what could happen to such a luxurious and exuberant culture if their main source of life force, nature itself, is harmed and destroyed. DSC_8480

Being back in America

So I’ve been pretty sick since we all got back to the good ole US of A. It took me a solid two days to get out of bed and I am now sitting in a small cabin in the middle of the redwood forest. Some of my friends and I wanted to go on a camping trip and while we were trying to come up with places to go it was very apparent I was no longer in the abundant, jungle wilderness of Bali.

In the lovely state of California if you want to go spend time in nature you have to drive a couple of hours and then possibly pay a large fee to camp at a lot in the well known camp sites. Sometimes you even need to make a reservation for a camp site months, even up to a year, in advance to stay there. The necessary planning and money and time that’s involved on some type of nature retreat really exemplifies what Pak Ken was trying to highlight for us while we were spending time in Bali’s lush jungles: America has a pretty apparent disassociation with nature. Here, nature is such a separate entity from us its often necessary to travel hours away from where you live and work and live out the majority of your days to feel like your in this thing we’ve deemed “the wilderness.” Luckily, our friend has a cabin that he let us use so we were fortunate enough to get a relatively cheap, fairly impulsive getaway into the redwood forest.

Its been pretty weird since I’ve been back. All of the things that Ken said we would feel coming home are pretty spot on. Its hard to sleep at night because there’s no sound or intrusive sign of life outside my windows that I got used to and started to enjoy while I was in Bali. I really began to like that there was no stillness or silence in Bali; it was strangely comforting. I also feel this weird loss that I don’t wake up surrounded by such a massive social scene. I mean this morning I am fortunate enough to wake up to 6 girls in the single tiny room in a cabin but the first few mornings waking up pretty much alone in a quiet apartment made it really apparent that I was back in the real world and it was kind of sad. 

It’s hard moving through my very average days back home with people that could care less they’re passing by me in a store or on the street. I think I will always miss the penetrating sounds and life that thrives in Bali, but I am glad to be home. Its hard to compete with American luxuries like tempurpedic mattresses and steaming hot showers with amazing water pressure but I’m also incredibly thankful for the perspective that traveling gives you. To come home to America and know that everyday things we have here are luxuries within the context of the rest of the world is one of the most grounding experiences and hopefully it will allow me to live my life a little bit differently.


Tokays and Bintangs

One of the questions Ken asked us our first week while we drove through Ubud was, “Is this Bali?” To answer it you have to consider what is Bali really? You could start at the paradise resorts built by and for the westerners since the Dutch PR campaign of the 1930’s. Or could go further back and say the hindu culture, brought to Bali by Javanese aristocrats, intellectuals, musicians, and artists, who were fleeing Islam’s growing influence in the 15th century, is representative of Bali. Of course you could also argue that the true ‘Bali’ can only be seen in the Bali Agga, who’s ancestors inhabited the island before the Javanese exodus, and the subak system which was created around the 11th century. There’s no concrete answer. Personally, I found Bali to be a mixed bag of East and West. Two things I saw consistently around the island, which I’ll forever associate with Bali, were Tokays and Bintangs.

We heard Tokays our first night. We just didn’t know it. Some correctly guessed the loud noise was emitted by a gecko. Others guessed it was a bug or even a goat. Once the class learned it was a gecko, the call became familiar and comedic. The tokays repeatedly yelled their own name like some modern day pokemon. The only thing more fun than hearing a random, “Tokaayyyyy” was mimicking it. The tokays were everywhere. They served as a constant reminder that nature was right outside (if not inside) my room. All of Bali was like that. Nature was a part of it and not easily ignored. Besides the tokays, everything was just so green. A bright, vibrant emerald punctuated with colorful flowers. I couldn’t help but feel like a small part of the greater web of life surrounded by that color and tokay cries. I also couldn’t help but feel welcomed to join that web of life. Everywhere we went we were met by smiling Balinese faces, and sometimes a “Hello! How are you?” Every house or ceremony we entered we were quickly offered tea, coffee, and fried bananas if we were lucky. It wasn’t just places we were guests at either. All over the island people were more than ready to smile our way. I have literally never met met a more inviting, inclusive people than the Balinese.  In this sense I found Bali to be a community based, Eastern holistic society living along side ever present nature.

Equally as prominent as the tokays were the bintangs, large and small. They were found throughout the island, from restaurants in Ubud to mini marts in Munduk. Even though it was called the beer of Bali it is actually produced by a subsidiary of Heineken International, a Dutch brewing company. The beer is Western, not Balinese. There was more physical evidence of Western influence than just bintangs. I frequently saw the resorts and villas which cater to tourists or expiates, and exacerbate water scarcity issues. When the class entered a house or ceremony we were served plastic bottles of water alongside tea and rice-cakes. Bintang and water bottles joined the wrappers, bags, and cigarette butts that littered the streets and rivers of Bali, and piled atop its massive landfill. The trash serves as a reminder that that the West has introduced products that aren’t always reconcilable with Balinese nature. I saw positive Western influence as well as well as negative. Many westerners brought their know how and ideals to Bali, leading to the Biorock and Ubud’s animal shelters. Indeed many of the expiates we met were working toward such ideals as women’s’ economic empowerment, recycled and sustainably sourced timber, healthcare for the poorest people of the population, organic farming, and the conservation of land and culture. Whether your buying a bintang or organic garlic cashews it’s clear that Westerners have ingrained themselves in Balinese life.

Going from the island of tokays and bintangs to Clovis has been a bit of a culture shock. It hasn’t been hard, but rather disorienting. There’s no Kajah or Kalod, no mountains, sea, or even much green. Just flat land, gridded streets, blue sky, and aloof people. The negative impacts of the Western world are much more removed. I don’t have to see the landfill or the amount of trash people create. I just have to put the bins out every Wednesday and it’ll be driven out of sight and out of mind. Nature is also much more removed though. Unless I feel like going for a long drive, I won’t see the cultivated land where my dinner was grown. There’s no constant chirping of bugs or birds, and lizards spend their days quietly under rocks. It’s not totally different though. Taking a walk I can see palm trees, citrus trees, beech trees, and evergreens. A wide variety of plants with various uses to learn about. When my sister’s dog ( a queens-land heeler mix) barks at a great dane and its owners, they just laugh and smile while telling me how their little dog back home also overestimates its size. I think there’s nature and inviting people to be found in the West. They were abundantly clear in Bali, along with the bits of Western influence, but acknowledgment of their presence is something I’ve brought back with me. That and the lasting memory of Tokays and Bintang.

Balinese Divisions and Interconnectedness

Today we heard a talk from someone working with the Yaya San Foundation. I forget his name. It was something like Pak Raka or Pak Raya, but I’m not sure. Anyway, a majority of the talk focused on Balinese culture with a brief history lesson on the origin of key concepts in the culture. We had heard about most of these concepts before, but the way he explained them really helped clarify how they all relate to each other.

The concepts all have to do with division. First, the human body is divided into 3 parts: the head, the body, and the feet. The head is the most holy and the feet are considered impure. Second, the family compound and village are divided into 3 spaces: Perahyangan, Pawongan, and Palemahan. The first is holy space, where temples are built. The second is living space, where people reside. The third is working space, where the kitchens and gardens are located. Third, relationships are divided into 3 ( and given the same name as space): Perahyangan, Pawongan, and Palemahan. The first is humans’ relationship with God, the second is humans’ relationship with humans, and the third is humans’ relationship with nature.

There are lots of other subdivisions of 3 in Balinese culture, but I found these to be the most interconnected. In general they show two trends a progression from the individual ( the microcosm) to the universe ( the macrocosm), and a retrogression from the divine to the impure. While I admire the interconnectedness of the culture, I was a bit peeved with the relation of nature. It is the third relationship considered, therefore analogous to the impure feet. Furthermore it is related to the work space, making it seem as if it’s merely something to be worked or exploited. This initial impression of Balines culture sounded a lot like the Western, conservation ethic. Clearly there is more to it though. The Western world has exploited natural resources within its influence whereas the Balinese have created a sustainable, largely agrarian culture. I think the difference is the emphasis on interconnectedness. Space and relations are divided into 3, but even that ranking system is as part of many systems which make up the greater whole, the universe. Nature is a part of this universe, and thus an integral part of the Balinese world. The Balinese do work the earth and benefit from nature, but they do so in a sustainable way that has lasted thousands of years and could very well last thousands more. Nature is the third relationship, but it’s still vital. A person needs their feet to make a living, a Balinese needs their garden and kitchen to live, and humanity cannot live without nature.

It’s this worldview that causes the Balinese to successfully work with their environment. It’s the Western disconnect, the worldview of the individual as the most important aspect of life and nature as only extrinsically valuable, that causes the Western world to act as if environmental degradation will have few consequences for humanity. The Balinese are parts to a greater whole. Westerners try to be the entire whole.


Snorkeling was such an incredible experience. I didn’t think I was that good of a swimmer, but I figured out how to breathe and conserve my energy fairly quickly. The first day we went snorkeling, we had the pleasure of seeing the Bio rock which is basically a manmade system in which coral can thrive in the ocean. It is very unfortunate to hear that many of the coral reefs have been destroyed with specific types of fishing (such a dynamite), use of coral for building, and it is nearly impossible to replicate the process of a reef. Fortunately, there have been a group of Balinese people that have made this idea become a reality. Using Handmade metal structures and electricity, they have been able to attract the coral to these metal structures and create an environment in which they can thrive in a safe and protected area. The next day we went snorkeling again to see what a natural coral reef looks like. Although they look similar, there is definitely a difference in the two (the natural looking better). Regardless, it is fantastic that man has found a way in which they can preserve sea life and allow it to thrive! This is another prime example of the Balinese working directly with nature in order to preserve and enhance the lives of not only themselves, but sea life as well. ImageImage

The wonderful smell of garbage

Bali was absolutely incredible! The views were beautiful, the people were incredibly nice, but unfortunately they are not well educated when it comes to trash. Many Balinese people have been practicing composting as well as burning their trash, which definitely worked 20 years ago, but with all the tourists coming into the country and the constant industrialization, those practices are just not cutting it. It is upsetting to see plastic being burned and even used to cook with like in this picture of pigs being roasted. 


Not only is it unsanitary, but it is also hard to walk around Bali and see these garbage piles everywhere, and knowing that you are contributing to this mess. It is not 100% certain, but I am pretty sure our garbage at one of the hotels was being thrown into the river and even our plumbing and sewage was going straight into the river. Nature is everything to the Balinese, and it is clear that the community needs to be educated on how to properly dispose of trash and other waste materials. Image