Do Balinese go on Holiday?…..


To an outsider it may seem that Balinese life is just like one big holiday. “Life’s a beach (literally, I suppose, in the likes of Kuta, Sanur and the like) for the Balinese – they seem to be forever enjoying themselves with ceremonies and celebration, and I always see people sitting idly on the roadside…” the tourists cry, half drooling with envy.

Even under the pressures of survival in the tourism-based economy, the Balinese are highly skilled in the art of cruising through life, preferring “adeng-adeng” (slowly, slowly) to rushing and forcing things to happen. Where they can, Balinese will avoid stressing themselves out with overwork in a constant attempt to accumulate wealth, as most of us do in the West. Since Balinese put religion and the community first before personal monetary gain, working 50-hour weeks as many of us do is less important. At the other end of the scale, people don’t take time off for pure r ‘n’ r as we know it.

The Balinese are simply too busy with their complex Çaka (Bali-Hindu) religious calendar to take time out for a designated ‘break away from it all’. Rarely a day goes by where my wife’s family is not preparing for some particular impending religious ritual. This is particular true for my grandmother who is a lay-priestess – every day is a flowing stream of prayers, rituals, ceremonies and anticipation of all of the above.

In fact, a deliberate, planned holiday break for sunbathing and spa treatments is as confounding to the average Balinese as the constant stream of offerings, devotion and ceremonies is to the average visitor to the island. This is not to say that family members don’t spend time with each other outside of their own community. Where do they go and what do they do? More sociological mysteries unravelled in the next issue of Kulture Kid…

You tourists who come to Bali purely for sun, sex, shopping and slosh – the cringe-worthy, sunburnt, hair-braided, whining, alcoholic ‘muppets’ who always end up sitting next to me on international flights – I forgive you for not realising that this wonderful island is actually home to an indigenous people with glorious cultural traditions. But only because your eyes aren’t trained to stray any further than the top of a beer can…

And without getting into the details of how blatantly different (and utterly valid, I might add) cultures, and hence mindsets and world-views, are across this planet, the way Balinese ‘holiday’ themselves and the way you ‘holiday’ yourselves are not likely to be the same.

So where do Balinese go to ‘get away’ once in a while? Beaches and picnic areas, especially the botanical gardens at Bedugul are favorite destinations, but staying overnight is almost unheard of, except perhaps with family who may happen to live in the area. Couples may be seen gingerly holding hands and cuddling, but never getting into gratuitous PDA as may be considered the norm in our home countries. Sunbathing, except for health reasons, and parading around in bikinis and thongs is definitely not the lingua franca of the Balinese beach break. People modestly swim in t-shirts and shorts and there is no showing off of the ‘body beautiful’ à la our beaches back home. Popular holiday food is grilled corn basted with chilli sauce and sweet glutinous rice cakes. Beer is not on the menu on any Balinese holiday bash.

Any ‘holiday’ longer than a day will be focussed around religious pilgrimages. Top-of-the list Bali-Hindu missions include Semeru, Bromo and the large temple in Jakarta. Most people will go by bus; however the wealthy will fly, some even making the ultimate Hindu pilgrimage: India.

Overseas holidays are reserved for the super-rich and probably not on the wish-list of the average Balinese, since their way of thinking still very much revolves around the community. Anyway, if everyone was going overseas for holidays all the time, who would run all the ceremonies?

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