Saturday, December 31, 2011

Campaign update: 5% there!

Happy 2012! Hope you had as much fun as I did, surrounded by a cheerful crowd at last night's joged dance where (unusually) Classically-trained Balinese dancers snagged men from the audience to dance with them, to the riotous amusement of onlookers.

The first response to the challenge has come in from Munduk visitor Abe Minzer of Colorado, totaling $100 with my family's matching gift. Keep it coming quick! Just 4 more days before I have to skip town for visa renewal.

Also, check out my Soundcloud (right task bar) for that gorgeous flute solo I mentioned in my original open letter.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Collection for new instruments campaign update

Fantastic news on my fundraising campaign to buy instruments for my teacher (see my Facebook Page for details)! My beloved family has given a generous matching challenge: they will match every dollar that you give up to the goal of $2000. 

Your gift will now go twice as far, whether it's $100 or $20, it will have the impact of $200 or $40. We really want to see this happen. It would be not only a purchase but an investment because my teacher regularly needs these instruments to play gigs. Since selling them a year ago to help pay medical expenses for his late wife, he's had to rent to play gigs and been unable to teach visiting students like me.

Email me for the US address if you want to mail a check, or Paypal directly to my email address. In the next few days I will upload a particularly mesmerizing selection from a live recording last week at a gender wayang gig at the local hotel.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

If you neglect your pious duties in Bali, the spirits may out your misbehavior to the whole village. Just as I was pondering my thus-far secular appreciation of the arts on this visit...

This was from a ceremonial performance earlier this month, but in the same (acoustically faulty) pavilion where three dancers from different dances, all of whom had gotten costumed at the house where I'm staying, fell into trance. It was a routine performance for tourists at the hotel.

I first noticed something when, at the start of a mask dance, Pak Terip left his instrument and hurried backstage. His body language told me something was amiss, but I thought maybe the mask dance wasn't going well and he wanted to check in with the other dancers. Another dance later I saw him just behind the curtains talking to someone with the arm of a dancer pressed against his back. It was actively following the accents of the dance onstage. I assumed they were just being playful.

But during that very dance, Wirabuana, one of the pair of unison dancers flared out with exaggerated movements at extreme positions; at the final gong, the other dancer closed her stance and exited while she arched backward like a scorpion's tail, hands still fluttering -- her fan dropped and before she could follow, two men stepped forward out of nowhere, caught her, and carried her backstage.

A long-time German expat next to me remarked that trance often happens here. I tried to gracefully end my sound recording and go backstage in case I could be useful. Backstage a lot of men and women rushed about, though calmly. After a few moments, Terip's son Putu left his drum to come backstage and shouted something at the top of his lungs before entering the little house where one of the women was trancing out.

If you haven't seen it before, trance is more like a grand mal seizure than anything else you've likely seen. For these dancers, the movements alternated between that, wild crying, and traditional dance movements. It can be distressing for a foreigner to witness, and is why I at first thought she was fainting from illness.

After the concert ended and tourists went back to their cottages, Pak Terip and Putu spoke in high Balinese with the spirits, finding out where they had to make offerings, and promising to do so.

It was common knowledge among friends and family that these two sometimes forgot to pray, as the commentary ran through the night. Terip admitted it last happened to him at the Arts Festival in Denpasar when six dancers fell into trance after exiting the stage. He admitted to a feeling of apprehension when he sat down to play last night and realized he had neglected to pray for some time. And the dancer whose head he held backstage was the calmest of the three, he claimed because he was the one the spirits wanted. They are direct descendants of a priest, and in combination with taksu, likened to the inspiration of the Greek Muses, are vulnerable to "miscommunication" (Terip's word choice) with spirits.

So, before you listen, I suggest, for pious types, setting right your practice. [Link is coming soon]

Here's the women's gamelan which won last year's competition at the island-wide arts festival.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Meet my Balinese family

Family has a way of defying every level-headed attempt at delineating boundaries, establishing independence, and showing affection. It is with this bone-deep sense of belonging that I apply the term to my Balinese hosts. They've changed since I saw them four and a half years ago: both my teacher and his son have been widowed by sudden illness within the past seven months and they and the son's small children are relying on a sister-in-law to keep it together domestically.

I'm still getting my bearings on Day 3 in the village. There's passable internet at a couple of places, the Balinese can be cloyingly hospitable even as internet operators. I walked out of the cafe with a gifted salak fruit today. Yesterday I had supper very late because an aunt I somehow gave away my love of noodles and had a bowl in my hand before I'd known what I was being asked. After stopping briefly at her tailoring storefront, I saw the niece and another woman I didn't recognize carrying bucketfuls of dirt to the construction site (pictured) below. I wanted to help them, not least because I've had no exercise since leaving Bandung, but as they had just filled up their buckets and there were no extra containers, I followed them empty-handed.

I've mostly gotten my level back since the end of CELTA. Job hunting is a serious habit for me and I've had to remind myself not to get too discouraged when I meet dead ends. I have the rest of the month to get the full picture of options, including volunteering to teach and teaching theater improv and Classical music.

I'm glad to be here alone -- on my first trip I was always accompanied by a white guy who'd been here much longer and knew the languages better, so Balinese usually addressed him whereas now they either bother to try my Indonesian or they don't.

I can tell it's a long coming out process as most locals read me as male but some remember me from before. I actually pulled the legal document to get my teacher to start answering correctly when others ask about my gender. I figure he should know, since they have to register when they have a guest staying at their house and as far as Immigration knows, I'm male. Aside from that, it's no matter: the strange cultural practices Balinese're accustomed to witnessing from visitors far exceed transgender, and I know that's saying a lot. It really doesn't insult me the same way that the family sometimes makes mistakes about my gender. For example, they've suggested a compromise for traditional ceremonial clothing where I tie my sarong in the male way but don't wear the male headdress. I guess it'll be the ultimate sign of their acceptance when they put that on me...

The view from my balcony, left.

This is the sister-in-law who has been taking care of me at the house. Fortunately it seems some other family members, particularly the kids, also eat the abundant veggie food she makes for me. That's granddaughter #2, who is surprisingly calm and quiet. Unsurprisingly, she's completely adorable. Here's the proud grandpa, a quiet sweet man who enigmatically patted me on the ass last night:

This is the eldest son who got seriously ill after his wife passed away suddenly. He's still quite thin compared to how I rememeber him but now in better spirits. The big pictures are Bagawan Baba, explained to me by the young man to took me to prayer as a godfather of a minority of Bali Hindus.

This is the big cheese himself. Last night at women's gamelan I witnessed a cool moment when he paused for a few seconds while we practiced a repeating section, then taught an improvised counterpoint on 10-key jublag. When I expressed surprise about that and the 8-key jegog, he answered that it's traditional. (For the uninitiated, whenever I've noticed those instruments before, they had five keys each.)

Life in Munduk isn't the same without my teacher's wife, and life in the family compound is startlingly quiet without dance lessons by the son's wife and rehearsals in the (now under construction) sanggar.