Bali Dispatch #4: Village People, Hidden Art and Selling Out

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Imagine having no last name and more than 25% of the population having the same first name as you…

That’s how it works in Bali. Here, kids aren’t given any old name. Each of the first four children, in any family, receive the same name. The first kid goes by Wayan, the second by Madé or Kadek, the third by Nyoman or Komang and the fourth by Ketut. Instead of last names or family names, at three months, parents then choose a second name that represents either a quality they’ve noticed emerging in their infant child or one they wish the child to embody.

One person’s second name we met was Apple, because she apparently looked like an apple. Another’s was the Balinese word for Wisdom. So, with so many people sharing the same first names and having no family names, how do tourists and Balinese know where to find each other? Part of it lies in the community structure.

Villages, Crafts and the Rule of 150.

Balinese villages are organized on two levels. By family and by craft. When Balinese marry, it’s not unusual for the wife to move into the compound of the husband. And, it’s also very common for that compound to belong to the husband’s parents, and for them and all other male siblings to live there with their families. The set-up is part a function of tradition and part about the huge different in how much money it takes to buy your own home in Bali versus how much the average Balinese person earns.

Each family compound is surrounded by the compounds of other family members until a community is formed. They generally top out at 150 people before needing to form a new community, often just next door or across the road. Which is kind of fascinating, because 150 is a bit of a magic number in the world of corporate culture. There’s strong research that shows coherence falls apart once you exceed that number.

Between 7 and 10 communities of 150 or so people then come together to form a village. Each compound has it’s own temple, and there is one large temple around which the entire village life is conducted. By the way, when I talk about building, almost every structure is either partially or entirely open-air. When issues need to be resolved or ceremonies and celebrations need to be had, like the one that happens every 210 days in the name of Dewi Saraswati, the Goddess of Education, the entire village is called to the temple.

Each village is also known for creating something common to all communities. For example, we were driving along the main road in a village and everywhere you looked, thousands of massive stone and cement statues lined every shop. This, we learned was the stone carving village. Another was known for silver jewelry. Others for umbrellas, batik, woodcarving and more. Our driver, Wayan Santika’s village was known for painting.

The Driving Artist.

Turns out, the wonderful driver and guide who helped us get to know Bali had been painting since he was 10 years old. Driving was his way to supporting his family. He learned the craft from his dad, who also painted his entire life, but earned a living as an elementary school teacher. We asked Wayan if we could come visit his home, meet his family and also see his paintings. He agreed and we spent a wonderful afternoon with his parents, brother, sister-in-law and their kids.

And, when we saw some of the painting created by both Wayan and his dad (also Wayan), we were blown away. They use a process where they draw very fine, meticulously-detailed outilines in pencil on canvas coated with the filmy stuff that cooks off of rice.

They then ink over the pencil. This is done by taking a black, rectangular dry ink stick, grinding the head into a small saucer along with a few drops of water, then taking a cue-ball like black stone and grinding the ink in a mortar and pessel motion for one-minute to get it soft and consistent enough to use.

Next, they dip a fine, metal-tipped quill-pen into the ink and redraw all the pencil lines with ink. Then comes shading with that same black, then finally the color is applied. But, they work with such detail, in order the get the acrylics they use workable on a fine-enough level, they need to be watered down a lot. And, that means each color must be applied 3 to 5 times to get enough saturation.

The final product takes months to create and an insane amount of patience and vision. Papa Wayan, who was about to turn 60 and retire involuntarily from his 40 year career as a school teacher took me around to the side of the main sleeping building where a small, simple, partly-open workshop with a corrugated tin roof presented itself. This was where the two Wayans painted together.


He showed me his colors, a small tray of 4 or 5 tubes of acrylic paint, and demonstrated how he grinds the inks, applies the shades, then the color. Every drop of ink and squeeze of paint was precious, both because of the commitment to the artform, and because, in relation to what most artists in Bali earn, paint is very expensive and cannot be wasted. I have to confess to that making me feel a bit sick about the plastic container loaded with some 20 or 30 tubes of acrylic paint that sit rarely used in a cabinet in my apartment in NYC.

Before leaving, we ended up buying two paintings that were quite striking, one from each Wayan. According to Balinese tradition, we should’ve negotiated a much better price. But…seriously? SERIOUSLY? Though the paintings themselves were breathtaking, knowing the stories behind them and the men who created the canvases, along with their families, lent so much more to the experience.

Incidentally, if you’re heading to Bali and you need a driver/guide or are interested in authentic Balinese art, you can find Wayan Santika at wayansantika@hotmail.com or  call/skype him in Bali 081 7974 0580.

Balinese Dance and Gamelan Music.

Earlier that day, we’d also gone to see a Balinese dance performance at a well-known temple and outdoor performance area. The costumes were incredibly elaborate, the dance and the show was presented as a story, much the way a Greek tragedy would unfold, except with more acts. It was amazing to watch how much weight they gave to the placement of the hands and feet and to see how each hand position changed with each movement of the body.

In yoga, there is an entire practice called “Mudra,” much of which is derived from Hindu, that associated a wide variety of hand positions with specific changes in the body’s energy and vital status. I thought I recognized some of those Mudras as the dancers moved the show forward.

And, the “band” jammed behind the actors and dancers to ethereal Gamelan music that’s really hard to describe without hearing it. I’ve shared some images in the gallery below.

The Brooklyn-Bali-Berlin Furniture Connection.

A little more than a year ago, I shared a video interview with my buddy, Jason Lamberth, who makes furniture out of giant teak trees that were buried by the Dutch for shipbuilding years ago, recently discovered, dug-up and reclaimed. Back then, Jason was about to move his family from Brooklyn to Bali, where his workshop is.

They had an incredible year-long adventure (which I’ll write about another time), but by the time we arrived, Jason’s wife and kids had just moved to Berlin, where he was about to follow, then spend large chunks of time bouncing between Bali, Berlin and NY. Check out the pics of his workshop and some the the stunning teak furniture he’s creating in the gallery below.

Location Independence and Workflow Project.

So, if you’ve kept up with earlier dispatches, you already know that finding good internet connections, let alone places where the lights stay consistently on has been a challenge. Uploading video and audio from hotels, houses and even upscale resorts in central Bali was essentially impossible. Even text posts with images had its challenges.

So, partly in an effort to remedy that and in to find places where there were more kids for my daughter to connect with, we headed from the heart of Bali down to the coast where far more “real” tourists tend to frolic with higher expectations about conveniences and less interest in the heart of the Balinese culture and people.

We started out in a big resort that looked great, boasted in-room wifi, had tons of families with kids and was very affordable. Or, so the brochure said (noticing a pattern yet, lol?).

While the grounds were quite lovely, the rooms were so nasty I chose not showering for 3 days over having to use their shower…and wondering if I’d come out with some rare tropical fungus. And, mind you, I’m a pretty clean guy and this was in the tropics where “bathed in sweat” is a persistent state of being!

The wifi worked…when it was turned on every day…after 11am. And, the only place you could get it was down by the pool. I’m fine working with noise around me, so it wasn’t a problem getting everything I needed done for my own ventures and my clients, once I settled in. But, my one attempt at a skype call from that location ended up in a quick rescheduling.

After 3 days, we couldn’t take the room and most of the “kids” were actually late-teens on holiday, partying from Perth, so we gave in…and took our selling out to a whole new level!

People, Productivity and Luxury.

We moved to the Intercontintental, a massive 5 star luxury resort on the ocean in Jimbaran, about 45-minutes away from our previous scary place.

Died and went to travel heaven. The rooms, stunning. The grounds, awe-inspiring. The food, yum. Activities, lots (my daughter actually participated in a baby turtle release program that was run in conjunction with a local conservation group). In-room wifi, four bars.

We made instant friends with a couple from Western Australia, which is where most of the folks who visit this part of Bali are from, since it takes only 3 hours by plane. Actually, my wife made instant friends, then brought me into the loop after a morning on the computer in our room. And, they had a daughter the same age as ours, both girls had to be pulled form the pool hen it finally closed at 7pm.

I came to three realizations as the day unfolded.

One, much as we love exploring culture and new places and the idea of roughing it a bit…we’re still travel wusses at heart, meaning we still really like the nicer things in life. It’s very weird to own up to that when you’ve just left a part of a country that still lives around the poverty-level. But, it is what it is. And, I suspect that after this trip, we’ll find ourselves being more actively-involved in helping to have an impact on people and families who are less fortunate, one person at a time.

Two, at least for me, I create better when I’m able to build a consistent routine…and I’m not sweating like a bastard all day long. Which is why I kept rotating around to try and create routine and find cooled places to settle into whenever and wherever possible. Thankfully, too, being on the water brought a constant breeze, which changed the way I experienced the heat fairly dramatically.

And, three, no matter where you go, it still always comes down to the people. Our two best days in Bali were when we spent time with Wayan and his family and when we spent time with our new Aussie friends.

I’ve been asked many times what the best part of being an entrepreneur is and my answer is always that you get to pick the people you surround yourself with. It’s no different in life than it is in business. Nothing matters more than the relationships and experiences you build with great, likeminded people.

Great people can turn a bad trip or job into a rich adventure. And evil people can turn what looks on it’s face to be a dream job or trip into pure hell.

Which brings me to some changes we’ve made in our trip.

Sadly, we could only stay at the Intercontinental for one-day. I’m writing this from a cabana…at the Hard Rock Hotel Bali on the beach in Kuta…which is about the closest thing to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, circa 1988 I’ve ever seen. It’s a madhouse, but it’s got a ton of energy, the biggest pool in Bali, a town that’s buzzing with bodies, great wifi and, yes, even some serious shopping.

And, like it or not, it’s yet another expression of what parts of Bali have become, a tourist mecca and a linchpin in the country’s ability to survive economically. It’s one of the four Balis we’ve discovered.

Plus, we’re only here for 2 days.

Heading to Australia.

Why’s that? On the 20th, we’re jumping from Bali over to Melbourne, Australia for a whole bunch of reasons that include spending time with friends, connecting with and giving a talk to the vibrant social media community there and interviewing a few people for my book. Plus, my daughter spent a month studying Australia in school this year and we thought it’d be great to enrich book knowledge with actual knowledge.

One last thing as I wrap this week’s dispatch…

No matter where you go, in any of the four Balis, the tradition and ritual is just below the surface. Incense burns, Gods are worshipped, temples adorn every building, even waterparks and malls…even the Hard Rock.

This journey continues to be filled with surprises at every turn. But, stepping back, what an adventure it’s been…and there’s still more to come and share.

Stay tuned for next week’s dispatch. And, if you’re in the Melbourne-area, come play with me, Stephen Johnson and a cast of social media characters on Thursday night at 7pm.

And, here’s this week’s expanded gallery (click on any image to enlarge it)…





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10 responses

10 responses to “Bali Dispatch #4: Village People, Hidden Art and Selling Out”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by remarkablogger, Grant Griffiths, kurio's resource, TwittyBean, Santi Chacon and others. Santi Chacon said: Bali Dispatch #4: Village People, Hidden Art and Selling Out: Imagine having no last name and more than 25% of th… http://bit.ly/cBE67m […]

  2. Great post. Most people find it difficult to bridge the gap between western convenience and local culture in Bali. If you move too far towards a local existence, the western facilities you want are not there. Go too far the other way, you might as well be in the West.

    Over a number of trips there, I’ve managed to find a great balance of the two and it really can be done very economically.

  3. Evan says:

    Melbourne will be a shock after Bali – it has serious winter.

    I grew up in Sydney – Melbourne’s great rival. Sydney has the harbour, a less nasty winter, a more vibrant culture (I’m not biased, just sayin’ you understand).

  4. Eileen Gordon says:

    Outstanding post, Jonathan. I’ve been particular about following your recent travels. One paragraph was better than the next. I’m a travel wuss, too. Don’t sweat it (no pun intended). And I love the idea of mixing it up…a few days immersing myself in the culture, and then back to wussy land. Brilliant way to have the best of both worlds and still get to see the real deal. Hats off to you.

  5. Daniel says:

    Your tales remind me of a trip to Belize me and my (then to be future) wife took. Apparently one hotel considered the application of copious amounts of sand to be the final step in making the bed ready for guests (we weren’t anywhere near a beach). But we were young and adventurous and didn’t have a kid in tow (yet), so it was easier to roll with than it would be now, and there were other great things happening to take the edge off the not so great aspects.

    Have fun in Australia! I’ve always wanted to visit!

  6. Joel says:

    Glad you’re enjoying your time in Bali and making the transition well. Have a good time in Australia!

  7. Bytta says:

    As an Indonesian who lives in Melbourne, I can tell you that the contrast is fascinating. Most people will say that their city is the best, but then it depends on what you’re after.

    Melbourne’s charm is understated, unlike Sydney’s loud display. If you are into art, theatre, opera, vintage items, quirky designs and hidden bars (so hidden, you’ll miss it if you blink), then Melbourne is your destination. Great restaurants, authentic food and awesome coffee (i recommend Jasper in Brunswick) are also our signatures.

    This is not a place where you go for a quick “one night stand” type of holiday. Melbourne is like a quiet, charming long term partner that nourishes your soul :).

    Oh yeah, and see you tomorrow.

  8. Clare says:

    Sorry that you don’t plan to make it to Sydney. A missed opportunity for me.

    Just started reading the PDF download of the start of your Career Renegade book and am feeling inspired and unlikely to take action all at the same time.

  9. Melissa K says:

    Hello Jonathan, is it possible for you to publish where you will be in Melbourne? I’m not on Facebook, but live in Melbourne and would like to come and see you.

  10. […] some new internet projects. And I was woefully reluctant to abandon the dream even when I saw Jonathan Fields’ post about his flee from Bali for lack of good internet just weeks before I was due to leave. I thought “Eh, it can’t […]