Remember the song, “Bali Hai may call you, any night, any day … In your heart you’ll hear it call you, come away, come away?”
PCEC members Pat Koester and Donna Westendorf answered the call to visit Bali during Songkran last year, and they shared their experiences as guest speakers at the Sunday, November 11 meeting of the Pattaya City Expats Club.
Pat started the presentation with a video of the Legong, a Balinese Classical Dance performed by young girls in which every blink of the eye, every twitch of a finger has a meaning. Pat said she and Donna decided to avoid the most crowded part of the island where the top-end tourist beach hotels are located, and headed instead for the area called Ubud, the cultural heart of Bali.
MC, Richard Silverberg opens the meeting by explaining the significance of Remembrance Day, also called Armistice Day and Poppy Day, and in the US called Veterans’ Day. Richard called for a moment of silence, marking the anniversary of the end of the ‘Great War’ on November the 11th, 1911.
On their first night in Bali, she and Donna and about 20 other tourists were taken by van through the dark countryside to see a performance of Bali’s mesmerizing Kecak Fire Dance (commonly known as the “monkey dance”), which features a “choir” of 80 shirtless men who sit in circles around a tree of fire and slip into a trance as they sway and chant “chak-a-chak-a-chak,” imitating a troupe of monkeys, while dancers re-enact the Hindu epic Ramayana.
Donna described a visit to a typical Balinese family compound, a high walled enclosure with a number of small, special purpose buildings. Family compounds are joined together, so that entire sections of streets and roads are lined with high walls punctuated by occasional gates. It is rare to catch a glimpse of the interior of any compound. So Donna and Pat were delighted to learn of a compound in a rural area that the family has opened for tourist visits. A family member served as a guide and explained the various rooms (bale) within the compound. One of the rooms is designed for ceremonial occasions, such as a Tooth Filing ceremony that follows the rite of passage to adulthood. The upper canine teeth are filed down to the same length as the front teeth – to symbolize eliminating the individual’s “wild” nature with such characteristics as lust, greed, anger and drunkenness. In the corner of each family compound is a temple with shrines to various Hindu gods.
This family compound had a shop featuring a Balinese Coffee made by a very unusual process. An animal similar to a mongoose thrives on the ripe coffee bean cherries. While the bean is in the little guy’s stomach, it undergoes chemical treatment and fermentation. The still intact beans found in the droppings are collected from the forest floor, then cleaned, roasted and ground, just like any other coffee. This exotic, bitter coffee is Kopi Luwak (aka cat-poo coffee) and sells for about $15 per cup. (Donna and Pat decided to forgo the pleasure.)
Chair Pat Koester & friend Donna Westendorf had a trip to escape Songkran earlier this year, and in this week’s presentation they told us of their adventures on the picturesque island of Bali.
Across the road from the family compound, an elderly man was making wood carvings, one of the crafts for which Bali is most famous. Donna decided to purchase one of his carvings, and suddenly the empty rural road was filled with vendors with various hand-made crafts, who surrounded Donna in hopes that they had found a gullible tourist. Although it was an amusing incident (especially for Pat), both Donna and Pat agreed that the high pressure sales people that they encountered throughout were the only unpleasant part of the trip.
Another highlight of the trip for Pat occurred one day while she was walking down a back street in Ubud that was lined with a wall fronting family compounds. Pat noticed a lot of people going in and out one of the gates. She asked what was going on, and they said they were preparing for a birthday party. She asked if she could go in and look around, and they said sure. So she was able to photograph the elaborate preparations, as well as the family temple area.
Pat ended the presentation by sharing tips, including how to get reasonable flight and room rates. A number of members had visited Bali, and during the question period they joined in sharing tips for getting the most from a trip for anyone who might hear Bali Hai calling to them in the future.
In commemoration of the Nov. 11 Veterans/Remembrance Day, MC Richard Silverberg asked members to observe a moment of silence.
Richard updated everyone on upcoming events and called on Roy Albiston to conduct the Open Forum. Questions were raised and answered regarding visas, banking and other aspects of Expat living in Thailand, Pattaya, in particular. Read more about the Club’s activities on their website at www.pattayacityexpatsclub.com.
Bali’s mesmerizing Kecak dance, or “monkey dance” is a must-see.