what dreams we weave

We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;—
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems
-- Arthur O' Shaugnessy

on our second day in Bali, after a heavy breakfast (i ate like there was no tomorrow), my wife and i piled onto the car and went with Mr. Lucky and Mr. Made on a roadtrip around Bali.

first stop was to see the famed Barong and Kris Dance at Kesiman, Denpasar.
The dance, it turns out, is actually sort of a dance and a play and a theatre musical rolled into one.

it's all pretty serious, almost ritualistic stuff, with the dialogue often times taking on a chanting sort of cadence throughout the play (or at least that's what i think).  and all the while there's some intense musical score accompanying the action, provided by a live gamelan.

honestly though, it was a little difficult to understand what was going on in the play.  we were seated about 20 feet from the stage and i couldn't hear what the actors were saying.
not that it would have mattered: it wasn't in english anyway and my sanskrit was a little, well, non-existent.  

so i ended up having to figure out which act we were in by comparing what the programme said should be happening with what was actually happening on stage ("act three, monkey dies, hey i don't see any dead monkeys anywhere.  maybe they've hidden the bodies?")

as far as i could tell, there was a heroic monkey and evil dancers and an evil king demon and an evil witch, a big, powerful, benevolent shaggy looking lion-like thing (the Barong) and a bunch of half-naked guys stabbing themselves with knives (later on i find out they were trying to stab themselves because of an evil magic spell.  but because they are also under a good magic spell, their knives don't work on themselves.  i think that the good magic spell has a serious design issue.  why even let the guys stab themselves in the first place, when the good spell could just cancel the evil spell from the outset?  it saves a lot of people a lot of stabbing effort and is just more streamlined and effective.  i want to talk to the wizard in charge of the spell to suggest a rearchitecture).  i googled it afterwards and it turns out that it is a classic good versus evil story, with mythological underpinnings, and with good winning out in the end.


the barong dance and its colorful cast
the ladies in the middle are evil spirits, welcoming smiles not withstanding.  the two guys in the red robes are evil emissaries. the guy with the long blond hair is evil too (his sharp claws are a dead giveaway).  the guy with the long brown hair is also evil.  only the half naked guys with the long knives are good.  


looking back, i realized, what the hey, nearly everybody except the monkey, the lion and the guys with knives, are evil yet in the end good prevails but not without sacrifices.  so i guess the play says something about how evil can be pervasive in the world but with some effort good will win out.  (judging from this review, "theatre critic" is not a career choice in my future i think).




the barong: good and heroic and takes down evil demon kings like it was his business (it actually is).
plus he's a nice guy: he'd had autographed this picture too if only he had hands, instead of clawed feet.

after witnessing a shaggy lion save the world, we head on back to the car and our guides take us to one of the many places where batik is made.

batik is pretty funky stuff.  first, the colors, the designs and patterns, these are not just randomly splashed onto the cloth.  The colors mean something (they represent the Hindu trinity, if you must know), and the patterns mean something, and ultimately certain patterns and designs can only be worn by nobility.  It is ceremonial cloth and i understand it is possible to tell people's rank judging from the pattern he or she is wearing.

Second, batik is handmade.  While there are now machines that churn out kilometers of the stuff for commercial sale and consumption, good quality batik is handmade.

A deliberately designed handmade cloth is pretty amazing in and of itself, but when you consider how intricate a batik fabric can be, and you see one being created, the whole thing is just mind blowing.


small circle, small circle, big circle.  repeat one million gazillion times
the richness, depth, and intricacy of a batik pattern alone is staggering, if we actually take time to look at it deeply.  it's even more amazing if we realize that all of it is handmade and not randomly mechanically stamped onto the fabric by a monster etch-a-sketch high on peyote.

but what takes the cake is that these guys, these batik-weavers, create the designs from their own imagination.  there's no paper pattern or picture, or signed off technical design specifications to copy from.  they sit down, take the fabric, and just begin drawing and staining the patterns onto the fabric.


each dot, each stain, lovingly crafted by hand. 

i can probably grab a pen and start drawing random lines and shapes on a piece of paper.  i can assure you, i'd just end up with a sheet of doodles and gunk.  nobody would look at it or even glance at it, much less wear it.  (my shrink would, though. look at it i mean, but that's only because i pay her to do it.  she probably wears dolce and gabbana, not other people's doodles).

but these guys create handmade cloth worn by royalty from their own minds.



each line, each stroke, etched with consistency and design
the fabric, too, is handmade on a wooden loom.  we were told, a day's effort of weaving will produce just 3 meters of batik cloth.  let me say that again: 8 to 10 hours' worth of effort will net you just 3 meters of batik.  that's barely enough for one shirt.

for a while, we watched as the lady worked the loom, methodically, delibrately and saw the cloth very slowly take shape.  only then did i really understand what the word "weave" means.


each strand, each yarn, purposefully woven into the whole.
being on a tour has a way of jolting you back into reality: after being mesmerized by the batik weavers, our guide politely informed us that we had a schedule to keep and so had to move on to our next item in our itinerary, the silver smiths of Bali.

these guys are in a different league altogether, as they can take a mangled heap of metal, and twist and turn and pull and something beautiful comes out.  (i'm not even going to talk about what happens when i try twisting and pulling things.  something usually breaks, and it's not pretty).

from pieces of silver, to small trinkets...
the silver trinkets in Bali are very intricate (and that is the understatement of the year)  and the quality of the work is outstanding.  i can say this because i routinely look at silver shops both in manila and in singapore just because i'm easily distracted  ("ooooh, shiny!").  the ones i've been to will have large signs saying "laser technology etching" or some such, to imply i guess a degree of precision and quality.  

the shops in bali have no such signs, and judging from the simple huts, i have my doubts there is a particle accelerator anywhere in the vicinity.  nevertheless, i must say i was blown away.  

our host at the shop told us it takes about three days to complete a set of earrings, much like the one here:


...to intricate pieces...
i am still trying to imagine how long it takes to create something like this.


to the stuff of dreams.
i was beyond amazed when i saw this ship: the level of detail is mindboggling.  and when i was editing the picture to add it to this blog entry, my jaw dropped even more: i had zoomed to check if the picture was sharp enough and saw that the cables holding the sails together are indeed cables: you could see the that these have a twisted texture on them (click on the pictures to zoom and see for yourself).  i am still deciding whether i'd be more amazed if the twists were etched onto the silver or if they were really fine lines of silver actually twisted together.

it was soon time to leave again, and as we sat in the car, i realized it was just midday and already my jaw hurt from dropping all morning.  we check Mr. Lucky's list and up next were the woodcarvers and the paintings in Ubud, and a holy mountain spring temple, but not before having lunch in a fog shrouded restaurant beside a mountain pass.


[to be continued]
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