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Balinese Brownies

Sometimes, you really do reach the ends of the earth.

Terraced Rice Paddies in Bali

Not in the sense of Timbuktu or The Boondocks or Trashcanistan (as some of my Jihadi-bullet-dodging friends might call a certain place). But in the sense of finding a culture and way of doing things that seems to work just fine but are utterly different from what you know.

Bali was like that for me. How different is it? Here are just a few of the big differences:

  • Bali is half-way around the world To go straight there, I’d be on the ‘Down’ elevator for a long time.
  • Where I live, winters bring more than five feet of snow. Bali is as close to the Equator as makes no difference.
  • Only about 2% of Americans work in agriculture, but we are the world’s largest exporter of food. Most of the 4 million Balinese work in agriculture but export little of what they grow.
  • A big part of American society works tirelessly to erase anything Judeo-Christian from public view. Almost every Balinese, from cops to truckers to wood carvers to desk clerks to simple laborers makes a small, colorful, daily Hindu offering of food and flowers both at home and where they work.

Balinese Brownies Dancing

There is much more. In architecture, dress, what the sea looks like, a thousand different smells, how it feels to walk through a forest, colors, what insects sound like, weather – most everything is different from anything I’d experienced. And taken in all together, it’s an out-of-culture sensory joy ride.

Bali is even an anomaly in Indonesia: a 90% Hindu island in the middle of a 90% Muslim nation of islands.

But at least one cultural thing in Bali has an American parallel. Groups of young girls under careful supervision get together regularly with a common purpose. Around where I live, teen girls are often Girl Scouts, and the younger girls are Brownies. In Bali, the girls join small Balinese Dance troops instead. There, the young dancers don traditional clothes in the brightest possible colors, wear elaborately detailed accessories and put on more stylized make-up than Lady Gaga in an Entertainment Tonight segment.

The girls are just about to giggle

Despite how the girls might appear to some Western eyes, their little dance troops are every bit as wholesome as being a Brownie or Girl Scout. When the young ladies perform their very precise and stylized dances, they control every movement and facial expression. But when ‘off duty’, though still in costume, they chirp and giggle and exclaim and chatter and point like happy young girls everywhere.

I was privileged to see three different troops of these Balinese Brownies perform after dinner on three different evenings. What a fascinating, ends-of-the-earth treat! The shows were every bit as entertaining as most of the performances in the hit TV show, Glee, minus the constant pederast-voyeur raunch and gatling-gun snark.

You should see for yourself sometime.

  1. May 18, 2011 at 2:36 am

    I like what you say about Bali. We also saw several dainty dancers perform. The Monkey Dance etc – It is a country I would like to return to!
    Our first time there was in 1996. We went on a cruise from Bali to Australia, sailing through Indonesia, stopping briefly on many idyllic uninhabited islands to see the bird and plant life.
    Actually you have inspired me to start another category called Travel!!
    Elin

    • May 18, 2011 at 10:01 am

      Yes, the dancers are amazing. We saw an adult troupe as well performing a stylized play. I’ll post some images from that eventually. But the music… that was hard to get past for me. I appreciated it intellectually, but found it quite distracting from the play/dance. I don’t attend atonal symphony or atonal jazz either for the same reasons. I’m just a creature of melody. harmony and counterpoint where music is concerned.

      Good for you on the Travel category. Sounds like you have lots to share. It will be fun to read the backstory on your videos.

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