Bali: A Truly Memorable Cultural Evening

One of the stunning opening acts accoompanied by Balinese gamelan music. Hauntingly, beautiful to behold.

This is my third post on my brief visit to Bali for the Asia-Pacific regional meeting on Global Ethics in tourism.

This temple made an awesome and beautiful backdrop to the stunningly colorful performances that followed.

We managed to  make it to the cultural evening. Upon arrival at the festival we were whisked through to our seats before the event begun. Apparantly, this was no ordinary cultural evening. It was a culmination of several cultural events which you can read about in this article in the Jakarta Post.

This was the Opening of the 33rd Bali Art Festival with the theme ‘Desa, Kala, Patra’. We were so fortunate to be invited to this grand opening.

This was one of the posters I saw on the way in…

This was the explanation of the ‘Desa, Kala, Patra given by Mr Putu Wijaya, the Balinese playright of international renown at the inception of the Bali Art Festival a few years back:

“For the Balinese ‘Desa’ (space) is essential to indicate origins, links and directions. By tracing their space the Balinese discover their linkage to their homes, origins, ‘braya-pisaga-semeton’ (society, neighbors and family) and even with their guests. The space is also linked to ‘kala’ (time). Night and day, morning and afternoon, today and tomorrow can change, take form and make those links to time perfect. Finally ‘Patra’ (identity) also means situation and condition, instigating that space and time can be harmonized with what is taking place.”

“‘Desa-kala-patra’ is a value and at the same time, a universal approach. That it grows in the soul of the Balinese people, does not make it the sole property and right of the Balinese. Bali is only one of its choices, because this island is a meeting place for different races and ideologies from all over the world. ‘Desa-kala-patra’ comes to life not because it is discussed, taught, and made a doctrine, but because it is practiced. ‘Desa-kala-patra’ is like a formless soul that freely resides within the bodies of the Balinese without them being aware.”

After the President’s speech the concert began.

H.E. Mr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, President of the Republic of Indonesia giving the keynote address.

I am so glad we took the trouble to at least look culturallly appropriate, especially with the VIPs there and the President. This was a bonus and although I was not sitting too close to the stage I managed to take a few shots with my Nikon D90 which went with me wherever I went. I didn’t want to miss any great opportunities for taking nice shots.

The formal attire that evening. I was fascinated with the colors and styles down to the elaborate hair. Balinese fashion on display.

What fascinated me was the attire. The men in long-sleeved batik shirts and the women in exquisite fabrics that adorned their beautiful figures – these were figure-hugging and very elegant. They had beautiful hair adornments and the men wore Balinese ‘turbans’ on their heads.

Some of the VIPs that evening with the organizers of the event. Note the batik attire.

My limited Bahasa Indonesia captured some of the official speech by the President and others but not entirely – guess am out of practice. Nonetheless, the presence of the President at this festival was very important to everyone and especially the organizers. His presence no doubt gave the opening event  a very high profile and to the planned cultural and artistic events for that festival period.

One of the Balinese epics…awesome.

I was sitting too far away from the centre of action but managed to capture some of the beauty of the concert as it unfolded.

…the epic unfolded…

The setting was so apt. We found ourselves facing a temple which was appropriately decorated. A fitting backdrop to the performances that followed. 

Group after group took to the stage and entertained the audience. I was in 7th heaven! This is the life, I thought to myself.

Colour, sound and action!

We were given more small boxes which contained fruit and traditional sweets as well as bottles of water so we did not go hungry during the concert which took several hours.

I really felt looked after.

This was my only shot of the Balinese gamelan orchestra. I had to use the zoom and from where I sat not a bad shot although I’d have liked to take it from another angle.

The performances began with the unmistakable haunting sounds of the Balinese gamelan orchestra. These are instruments that resemble zylophones and there were the gongs.

Another performance graced the stage. Just love their costumes…so beautiful and delicate.

I was fascinated with the dancing and the epic story that was related through dance. The colourful costumes, the dances and the atmosphere was sobering.

I couldn’t help wondering how we could showcase some of our stage plays written by PNG playrights such as Kasaipwalova, Tawali, Kaniku, et al and how we should stage these in the villages and communities througout PNG.

The grand finale when the cast assembled on stage. What an evening, what an eye-opener. Part of the Bali experience. Without a doubt!

One thing for sure during this visit, we were very well taken care of.  Balinese hospitality knows no bounds. What a gracious people. What a privilege indeed.

On our way back to our hotel, the Grand Bali Nusa Dua, I reflected on the cultural extravanganza just witnessed and I realised that the opening of the festival showcased the profound spirituality of the Balinese.

Bali: At The Melia

The north side of the Melia Hotel Bali. The grounds were so quiet and beautiful.

This is the second post on my visit to Bali last June – a year ago. My, how time flies.

On Friday evening (on the day we arrived in Bali), we were told that we have been invited as participants to the regional meeting to attend a cultural festival which will be opened by The President of the Republic of Indonesia.

This was news to us as we were not told earlier when we checked into our hotel – the Grand Bali Nusa Dua. We also had not received copies of our programme in Bali for that weekend apart from attending the inaugural Global Ethics on Tourism meeting at a neighbouring hotel.

We only found out when we sauntered into the Melia Hotel Bali about 4.00pm or thereabouts. This hotel was the location of our regional meeting the next day, Saturday. The announcement that we were going to a cultural festival that evening was really a surprise and a half!

Entrance to the Melia Bali – the gong seems to be a common feature in most Balinese and Indonesian establishments. They use it to announce the arrival of an important visitor.

Thank goodness we are from Papua New Guinea which has a blessed word-of-mouth culture and are not so hung up on a written programme so we had no problems as we switched on to our coconut wireless and asked around to find out what we were supposed to be doing. One thing we realised we had to do was wear something decent and dignified as we were going to be in the presence of so many VIPs and in a manner speaking we too were VIPs that evening at the cultural festival.

We scrambled to find suitable attire for the occasion. We looked around and at eachother and wondered whether we should attend or not. We could have laid on the excuse that we did not have the right kind of clothes for the event or we could have decided simply not to go. However, I reckon since we were the only ones from the Pacific Islands region and besides we were Papua New Guineans, such excuses are lame and embarrassing. So we bit the bullet and decided we were certainly on that bus to the festival. We might learn something valuable about Balinese culture – that made up our minds for us!

The grand foyer at the Melia Bali. Loved the high ceilings and open design.

We had to think on our feet – there was no time to return to our hotel so the best thing we could do was purchase batik clothes.  Batik is generally accepted as ‘formal’ wear so that was easy – but where to get batik-wear was the million dollar question. Thank goodness there was a souvenir shop at the Melia so we went in there pronto! After getting in and out of several outfits we settled on a blouse for me and a shirt for my colleague. At last we were set and felt confident that we can now join the other more formally attired fellow participants.

A very valuable lesson for the future – advise all participants of the programme apart from the programme of the meeting proper for which we had traveled over 8 hours (including the overnight stop in Singapore) from our country via Singapore to participate in.

One word to describe this place – grand!

We joined the others were were already assembled at the hotel entrance and waited for our bus to arrive.

A stone sculpture on the grounds of the Melia Bali.

By the way, we found out that we were not the only ones looking for something descent to wear to the festival and that made us feel better. Another delegate to the meeting was also looking for something descent and more Balinese or Indonesian to wear. We didn’t feel too bad then.

As we waited for the bus I spared a few minutes to take these shots.

This beautiful sort of parasol caught my eye. Very ornate set.

This hotel is bigger and grand than the Grand Bali Nusa Dua but I wasn’t disappointed at all – just glad that I could wonder around and take some shots of the Melia Hotel Bali.

I’m always fascinated by hotels especially the architecture and the materials used. The Melia was no exception. I guess hotels anywhere always try to find the edge that induces tourists and those like us attending conferences and so on to feel like the hotel is a ‘home away from home’ and in some instances that is the case. I find that hotels in Asia actually fit into the category of ‘home away from home’ come to think of it.

Another stone sculpture outside the hotel. Stone sculptures seemed to be a common feature at this hotel and my hotel. The black and white checkered fabric seems to be a feature at this hotel too.

Our bus eventually arrived and as we clambered onto the bus, I wondered what the rooms at the Melia were like and what the rate per night was.

En route to the festival we were served an early dinner in woven baskets on the bus.  This was a novelty for me and I marvelled at the simplest things which the Balinese do as they extended the hand of friendship and hospitality wherever we went during our brief stay in Bali.

This was also unexpected but I was pleasantly surprised as lunch was a fair few hours ago on the flight to Bali from Singapore. Oh yes, my colleague and I were upgraded to Business Class in Singapore so you can imagine what lunch was like especially on a Singapore Airlines flight – one word “sumptuous!”

I loved this sign – written with stones, on sand, and decorated with a flower. Lovely and elegant like everything about this hotel.

The journey to the festival went smoothly and once again I felt so privileged to have been there and to have enjoyed the cultural programme besides even though we were not made aware of it when we arrived. I guess it was clearly a case of being at the right place at the right time.

I’ve added the Melia Hotel Bali to my list of possible hotels to check out next time I plan to visit Bali.

Bali: Loved It!

The welcome sign above the gate entrance as we manoeuvred towards the main road beyond – I was in Bali at last!

This is Part I of a couple of articles I wanted to write on my weekend meeting in Bali, Indonesia almost a year ago. I was one of the participants at the regional meeting on tourism ethics.

The tourism slogan greeted us at the entrance as we drove through and into the thick of the Friday afternoon traffic enroute to the Grand Bali Hotel – Nusa Dua.

I attended the regional meeting on Global Ethics in Tourism June last year. The meeting was jointly hosted by the United Nations World Tourism Organization and the Indonesian Government on the alluring and beautiful island of Bali.

Papua New Guinea was the only Pacific Island represented at this regional meeting.

One of the most amazing sculptures I’ve seen in a long time. This is Bali, Indonesia. Rich in history. I wondered what this scupture depicts but did not have the time to ask – it was on our way to the hotel.

Upon arrival at the Ngurah Rai International Airport (sometimes known as the Denpasar International Airport) we were whisked through customs and immigration formalities and onto our bus. Denspasar is also the capital city of Bali.

It was a very hot day but being from Port Moresby we rose to the challenge. In the bus, the aircon kicked in soon after so we were saved from having to change our clothes yet again in less than 6 hours!

About 45 minutes later we arrived at the Hotel. It was another welcomed sight and again the formalities of checking in and getting our luggage delivered went swimmingly. This was paradise – smoothness in getting through these formalities was expected and it was delivered.

In Bali for that weekend’s meeting, the Grand Bali at Nusa Dua was our home. You can read about Nusa Dua here.

I was once again struck by the seeming chaos on the streets where more than one person is riding pillion on a motor bike – hundreds of them darting in and out of the traffic and in between buses and cars as we wove our way towards Nusa Dua beach.

I wondered how often there were accidents. My recollection was that very few but once in a while when an accident happens it is a very big thing and quite saddening as it is preventable!

One of the stone sculptures in the hotel lobby. Impressive. One is reminded that Balinese are Hindus.

My colleague and I were accommodated in the Grand Bali Nusa Dua and grand may be a bit of a misnomer but the rooms were so spacious I could have my whole family sleeping in this one room.

Spacious rooms, clean and comfortable with wooden floors – love wooden floors. This was my home for the weekend.

The rooms were cool with no views to speak of but I was very comfortable. The aircon was working and that was what I needed at the beginning and end of each day.

Another one of the stone sculptures. Impressive and awe-inspiring. I was under no misapprehension that the Balinese are a very spiritual and religious people.

I took quite a lot of photos upon arrival at the hotel and realised that I was in tourist mode. In fact one of the great things about this job is that you can be ‘on duty’ and be a tourist at the sametime. An enviable position to be in no doubt.

I also went for a foot massage which is my favourite thing whenever I am in Southeast Asia. It is a soothing sort of thing to do and it kind of introduces me gently to the rigours of meetings or shopping whichever I happen to be in that country for.

Entrance to the spa where I had my foot massage – reflexology is a great way to unwind and discover somethings about the way your internal organs are connected to pressure points in your feet! An amazing experience each time and this was not my first time to treat myself to such a luxurious start to my weekend in Bali.

I went to the spa before the evening’s programme. I was glad I did because that was the only time I was able to enjoy being pampered. Oooh lala.

Our meeting was scheduled for all of Saturday (which was the next day) and over the weekend so there were not many guests in our hotel. The meeting was held in another much bigger hotel and most of the other participants were accommodated there.

Beautiful stone sculptures in the hotel gardens. Did not have time to ask about this, wish I had. Am sure it tells a love story perhaps.

I was trigger-happy and my Nikon D90 was working overtime.

Believe it or not, this is the swimming pool. The colour reminded me of one of the rivers in West New Britain, Papua New Guinea.

The hotel grounds were so beautiful and tranquil. I was glad we stayed here. But then again there are so many hotels large and small spread across the Nusa Dua beachfront and no doubt other beaches in Kuta and Legian, as well as all over the island of Bali. This was a tourist mecca.

The rooms were on the left on this floor. Lovely wooden balustrade.

Wooden houses, floors and so on hold a special fascination for me but we were here to discuss the global code of ethics in tourism and I wondered whether the use of large amounts of wood in hotel construction was going to be sustainable in the long run. Food for thought.

The view from my balcony. Couldn’t see the sea from here but then again with all the beautiful things to see inside and outside the hotel, I was not at all disappointed.

I took quite a few photos around the hotel because I’ve never been in this hotel before and secondly, because I wanted to capture some of the spirit of the place.

I came across this stone carving on the facade of the garden wall on my way back from the spa. Don’t know what it signifies but it seems like a common design on their wooden masks which are used in their elaborate dances.

The stone sculptures are everywhere but again I did not have the time to ask.

Another stone sculpture. Am not sure if these depict their Hindu gods.

There was no time to ask and also there was a slight language barrier. I think the Conference organizers hired university or secondary school students to man the number of ‘help desks’ set up to fascilitate our hassle-free stay at the hotels where the participants were staying and most of these kids could not speak English or if they did it was spoken haltingly.

Another stone sculpture – the detail is incredible.

That wasn’t a problem on the whole but I could not ask many questions outside the usual stuff like asking for directions and when the bus will arrive and so on. I found these help desks very comforting – a lot of people engaged to ensure that we did not want of information. My attempts, haltingly at Bahasa Indonesia did help.

At the hotel lobby. Beautiful and intricate carved stand for the vase of beautiful fresh flowers which graced the lobby area.

One of the things I loved about the hotel was that it was open on all sides. Which meant there was a free flow of fresh air.

My colleague ‘man blo maunden’ in the lobby getting settled in and making sure the camera is primed and ready for action. We were also tourists there.

The breeze flowing through large windows and doorways, reminded me so much of the South Pacific Forum Secretariat in Suva.

Fresh orchids in the lobby – a welcoming sight and feeling, for sure.

We left the Grand Nusa Dua on Monday morning when hotel staff were back at the posts and the hustle and bustle of preparations for a number of meetings in various wings of the hotel.

The new week had begun and soon our meeting was a blur in the past and tranquility of the weekend.

Looking down from the hotel lobby.
Another view of the hotel from the south side of the pool.
A stone carving ‘holding’ looked as though it was propping up the ceiling on the front, north facing. The carving of the bowl left me wondering as to what the bowl was for. Didn’t get the chance to find out. Perhaps one day when I return as a fully-fledged tourist, I might remember to ask.

The weekend meeting in Bali was a wonderful way of ending the week – part of it was spent in Port Moresby.

During our short stay in Bali and as part of the social and cultural programme of the meeting we were treated to a number of cultural performances. It was one of those memorable times I’ve spent in any one place where it was short enough to take in as much as I could take in of the place thanks to my faithful Nikon D90 and the other was long enough to enjoy what the place had to offer. 

Terima kasih banyak…