I first came to Bali in 1974. As in all things, it was a very different place then. Huge potholes in the roads, that would swallow the behemoth American cars that served as taxis in those days. Impalas, Dodges, Chevies lumbered down tiny roads driven by cheerful Balinese who could barely see over the dash.
Kuta was Bemo corner, Poppies, TJ’s (I think) and not much else. Except for dream waves with not another soul to be seen. And the Balinese of course. Those happy, smiling, wonderful people who looked upon us as crazy foreigners.
Legian, Seminyak, Canggu, Nusa Dua were still rice fields, and Ubud was glorious in its innocence.
Anyway, I kept on seeing these wonderful gates, Balinese gates, so when I decided, many, many years later to retire here, I decided to build one.
I spoke to Kadec, my manager/nominee/friend/sane person, and asked him to arrange the building of one at Alassari Plantation. This was not long after we had shifted here, about seven years ago. I was still new to the Balinese way of life, in all its intricacies, romance, and cultural and spiritual nuance.
“Decky”, I said.
I know. The appalling way we Aussies have of giving everyone a shortened nickname. Mind you, the whole village calls him that now, even his mother.
“Decky, I want to build a Bali gate. I think it would look great down there. We could come off the road and build a path up to the house.”
Decky looks at me, looks to where I am pointing, and nods. You get a lot of nods in Bali, and that is because you will almost never get a shake of the head. Saying no is rude and considered embarrassing to you. I didn’t know this then.
I sit up on my deck and watch as Decky, and the crew he has gathered, unload the bricks, sand and whatnot ready for building.
I sit there for three days. No gate. I had even drawn up a plan for the gate. Simple, unadorned mud brick. Nothing difficult. I wander down.
“Problems?” I ask. Everyone looks at everyone else, but me.
I wait. That’s your first lesson in survival in Bali. Patience.
“Well, Bapak. We can’t build the gate there.” says Decky. “Why not? It’s not steep?" I said. “No, it is because of the spirits” says Decky.
Being unfamiliar with spirits in those days I look around. Then I look back to Decky.
He explains, “Every property has spirits living on it. They protect your place from any other spirits that try to enter. It is OK to have one entrance to the property, even two, but this will be the third entrance, and the spirits will not know which entrance to guard”
“That’s not good.” I say. He nods, as does everyone else.
I really wanted that gate.
“What about if we build it here?” I ask, pointing to its present position. Everyone breaks into relieved smiles. “Yes. That would be good”, says Decky.
So I got my gate, and it doesn’t actually go anywhere, but I love it. Now, that is a life lesson I could have done with a half century ago.
P.S. You may have noticed, in looking at the photo, that it is not a simple unadorned mud brick gate. That was my next lesson. No Balinese is going to build you something that is simple and unadorned. Given the money, they are going to give full reign to their natural creative selves, and carve it.
When I asked where the shapes for the carvings came from, expecting to hear that it was passed down the centuries and had special significance, they pointed to the leaves of the trees that were closest and said, “No. We copy the shapes of the closest leaves to the gate.”
Bali, and its people, have a certain way of dismissing the insanity we have gathered over the years, that we carry with us, and making life simple again.
*Story by Craig Glenister, your host at Alassari Plantation