Today we had an interesting encounter with a Balinese man Komang, 29. He lives in a small village of 2000 people, Calo (pronounced like the Hindi word for ‘let’s go’, challo!). He travelled the world for four years working on various cruise liners, learnt to speak four languages during that time and recently returned home this year, in August, to marry his high school sweetheart. They are expecting a baby in April.
Our friends and current house mates, Adam and Zsuzsi befriended Komang a weeks ago, while we were on a visa run to KL. Today, they decided to meet to catch up and also because Adam (a filmmaker) wished to shoot Komang’s family harvesting rice for a feature he is working on.
We followed A&Z, through a wonderful series of rural roads north of Ubud, past rice fields, gorges and rivers. The tourist density once you get ten km away from town drops dramatically, and you’re left with lots of simple villages and a glimpse into what life must have been like before the explosion of visitors to the island. Forty-five minutes later we found Komang in Calo, in his corner of paradise.
Like most Balinese, he lives with his relatives in the family compound – his parents and their children and wives, plus his uncle and their children and wives. The family owns a plot of land that encompasses a side of valley. The land drops dramatically into a space where their rice fields lie and where you find a gentle river fed a holy spring around which a temple has been built. The view from the summit of his princedom is amazing.
Komang is a kind and interesting character. Unlike most Balinese, he’s seen a lot of the world firsthand. He left Bali in 2010 to work on cruise liners as a waiter. He told me he had been to lots of places, but spent most of his time offshore in Italy, Spain, Iceland, Brazil and Argentina. He loves Italy – and in fact speaks Italian along with Spanish, Portuguese and English. He told us that he’s even been to Budapest on a cruise down the Danube!
“What were some of the good things and bad things about your time on the cruise?” I asked him.
He was quite circumspect and replied:
“The good things are, I got to see the world and get paid good money for it, I learnt many languages and now I have friends from all these places. I like Italy and Japan – the Japanese are very polite, very courteous. It’s a very clean country.
The bad thing is that when my family makes a ceremony, I cannot be with them. And that made me sad. The ceremony is the time we come together, we cook together, we eat together, and I could not be a part of that. Bali is the best place, because Bali is where family is.”
It was an answer of great maturity. Instead of focusing just on the individual grandeur of the adventure he had had, he acknowledged the profound downside of long-term travel: being away from home means you miss out on creating shared memories with those closest to you. Komang had been to Rome, Venice, Budapest, Tokyo and Sao Paola, but his favourite place in the world remained Calo – a tiny village in the middle of Bali. Since we have gotten to Bali it’s been quite clear how strong the concept of family is in this culture. Families live together in inter-generational compounds and they take care of each from birth to death. Family is the sustainer of tradition, and I suspect that it is what has kept Balinese culture so robust despite the mass exposure to Western tourists and expats. Komang is yet another example of this feature of Balinese life.
He spent some time showing us around his land. We walked through the high jungle plateau where he hopes one day to build a yoga retreat, then through to the fields where his aunt and uncle were laboriously cutting and harvesting the rice. We walked down to the river and then ended up at the temple which, like many temples in Bali, is fed by an underground spring. He had helped to renovate it on his return to Calo in August and now it stands as a beautiful symbol of his family’s faith and culture. We took a bath in the holy water and meditated in this small perfect temple surrounded by nature.
At midday, the rain began to pour down as it does now during the monsoon. Right now, the mornings are clear and sunny but some time in the afternoon the rain begins, and it doesn’t stop for hours. Typically wherever you are when it starts, is where you have stay put for a while. Our place today, was a small hut overlooking the valley. We had four coconuts. It could’ve been worse.
As the rain poured down in buckets, we got to chatting with Komang. He told us about his wife, Ayu, and their hopes for the future. She is pregnant and they are thinking about moving to Denpasar, depending on how her job hunting goes. She is trained as a nurse. At the moment he is freelancing as a driver. Interestingly, he gets most of his referrals from his best friend, who turns out to be the son of Papa Nyoman, the reflexologist and owner of Sandat home stay which I wrote about in a blog post in August.
He showed us photos from his recent wedding, two weeks ago, and described the touching system of social protection in villages like his. When he got married, his family and other villagers helped him out by providing supplies for the party, such as food and decorations. He’s not expected to pay them back directly, instead when those that are unmarried have their weddings he will pay it forward, and provide for their celebrations. He compared it to weddings in the west:
“In your country, you have a wedding and you have to pay for your own wedding. Maybe it is only a small amount of money, so you have to have a small party and it that lasts for only a few hours. In Bali, we prepare for a month and have a long wedding!”
In Bali, a wedding is about the community, as much as it is about the couple. To Komang, it seemed bizarre that we would prefer our individual independence so much that we would voluntarily forego the chance to bring people together over a month.
Finally he told us of the incredible story of his grandfather, who died four years ago. According to Komang he lived to 110 and was not sick for a single day of his life, except at the very end. On his death bed, he turned to Komang and said that he couldn’t be happy unless he knew that Komang would get married. So, Komang brought around his then girlfriend, later his wife, Ayu and said:
“Grandfather, this is Ayu. I’m not getting married to her, but I will one day.”
His grandfather who hadn’t got up for days, sat upwards and used his fading strength to greet Ayu – the woman who will, this April, bear his great grandchild. It was clear that this gave great comfort to Komang’s grandfather, and for the first time in days he decided to eat and drink.
Shortly afterwards, Komang was driving Ayu to the airport, since she was studying in Java. Along the way he received a call from his dad. His grandfather was fading fast. Ayu prayed for Komang’s grandfather to survive until Komang had the chance to drop her at the airport all the way in Denpasar and return to Calo. It is a four hour return journey.
Komang rushed back to find his grandfather still alive. He quickly changed into his traditional sacred dress and entered the chambers of his dying grandpa. Within a few minutes he was dead, but he had a chance to see him once last time alive. Ayu’s prayers had worked. Understandably, Komang became very upset and burst into tears.
He continued his story: “I was crying, but I know I didn’t need to cry.”
Then with a statement that reflects the wisdom of generations of Balinese culture, he finished:
“Death should be a happy experience. Death is the ultimate freedom.”