The Balinese temple of Tahna Lot (Photo L Percy November 2010)
From the time I was a child, my late father, a retired Royal Australian Navy Commodore, instilled in me a respect for people . I didn’t ever see anyone as being “different”.
In the early ‘60s my father was at an officer training college for the member countries of the Commonwealth. He was joined at the college by officers from countries as diverse as India and Pakistan, Colombo (Sri Lanka) Malaysia, Singapore and England. My parents were great hosts and so our home became a “drop in centre” on Friday nights for many of these officers who were unable to bring their spouses with them to Australia during their training. These same gentlemen taught me to eat curry, even for breakfast, taught me to play the piano and immediately after lessons learn to correctly and politely eat rice in my fingers in banana leaves. And to never be judgemental.
These same men went on through the later ‘60s to fight against each other in wars, and for some of them to be killed. A life lesson for my sister and I from an early age.
A couple of weeks ago I was exploring the north coast of Bali – unknown to many fellow Australians who choose to stay in the southern areas of Legian and Kuta.I was delighted to find that those sharing our resort and fascination at the coral reconstruction project off the nearby beach were mainly French and German tourists. It took a few days for my "cultural compass" to centre on the European languages being spoken, as opposed to the Aussie accents I had expected to hear. No complaints though!
Taman Sari, Pemuteran (Photo L Percy November 2010)And I had the chance to learn more about Balinese culture, again away from the tourist areas. After learning about the centuries old Indian influence history of the Balinese people, the remaining inherent caste system, the enduringly central role of the family and the worship at the home temples, I was even more respectful of the gentle pride I encountered in those I met in Pemuteran.
Pemuteran is a much poorer region than the tourist area of southern Bali. The streets are often unpaved, the drains open, the stalls saddened by dying fresh produce. But actually that is to my untrained eye. There is no sadness in the people, only in the dried fish and wilting vegetables. The local Balinese are full of enthusiasm, about the reef restoration project, the weather, their fish...their lives.
It has long been said that the people of Bali are gentle and peace loving. But for me it was the smiles, the gentle gestures, the encouragement after a few days of my attempts at the language…the inherent kindness of a people who on the face values of the Westerner have so much less than me, but as I learnt, in so many ways, they have so much more.
Tahna Lot (Photo L Percy Novenmber 2010)
My visit to northern Bali was a reminder of the lessons I was taught before the age of 10 by among others Colonel Sherry Singh, the turban wearing Indian, and Colonel Saewo Edhie of Indonesia who I clearly remember gave me a lovely gift for Christmas in 1965.
I was to learn even more when I visited Labuan Bajo on Flores Island a few days later.