Thursday, August 28, 2008

Kecak fire dance

We had heard that seeing the kecak fire dance was one of Bali's traditions not to be missed. The venue they hold this performance at is spectacular - high on the cliffs above the ocean, with a temple in the background. It was beautiful at sunset, and that's when they begin the show each night.

The dance showcases the story of the Ramayana, which, among other things, involves the kidnapping of a beautiful woman, changing oneself into a deer, tortured singing, and a white monkey who sets everything on fire. A typical Saturday night back then, I assume. The performance doesn't include any music. Instead, the rhythm is provided by about 50 men who are seated in a circle around the torch and small performing area in the middle. They are dressed in the traditional Balinese black and white checked sarong, and continuously chant "chak-chak-chak-chak" over and over which sounds pretty impressive with that many voices at once. With a lot of arm movements and swaying, they provide both the music and the backdrop for the dancers.

One of the things that makes Bali so different than the rest of Indonesia is their religion. Bali is a Hindu majority (93%) while the rest of Indonesia is a muslim majority (86%). This makes everything, from their way of life to their culture and art forms very unique. To see a map which shows Bali (shown in green) in comparison to the rest of Indonesia, click here

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Uluwatu reprise

We tried to take my parents to the hidden beach we went to with my sister. When we finally got all the way to the bottom where you duck inside and under caves to reach the beach, to our surprise the ocean was surging all the way up into the caves. We couldn't get to beach because it was high tide. So we decided to go all the way back up to the very top and kill some time watching the surfers. It's a gorgeous view and those surfers were really good!

After a couple beers the tide had receded enough so we were able to make it to the beach for swimming!

Monday, August 25, 2008


My parents came to visit last month, and they wanted to see a lot! Wouldn't you say 5 cities in 2 weeks is a lot?

We did some things with them in Bali that we hadn't done before. We went to a gorgeous temple on the west coast of Bali, called Tanah Lot. The temple itself sits on a huge offshore outcrop of rocks. During high tide you can't get across to the temple. At the base of the rocky island, poisonous sea snakes are believed to guard the temple from evil spirits and intruders. There is said to be one giant snake which also protects the temple, but to see it you had to pay money and enter a cave. Indonesians are very creative when it comes to making money. The funny part is it was mainly Indonesian tourists paying to see the snake!

When we travel outside Jakarta, Indonesian tourists always want to get a photo with the white people. Many come from small villages and may never see people other than Indonesians. You'd think we were famous or something. It's cute the first or second time, but at some point you just want to say "no more photos, please!" But when children want a photo, we usually cave.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Joys of Bureaucracy

One of the funny things about the Foreign Service is that as soon as you start to get settled in a place, you have to start getting ready to move to the next place. We've been in Indonesia for more than a year now and have about 10 more months here, but right now, we've been busy trying to choose our assignment for when we leave.

The way it works is we get a giant list of all the jobs in the world for which we're eligible and they tell us to rank our preferences. There are hundreds of jobs on the list, but only a very limited number work with all the rules that are involved. For example, because they taught me to speak Indonesian, they won't teach me another language from scratch for our second tour. If I speak a language at a medium level of proficiency, they'll give me what's called a top-off course to get me to the minimum job proficiency.

Last month when the list of jobs was sent out to us, we saw that there were tons of jobs in Brazil and one in Portugal. I fought through the bureaucracy and was able to get a last minute language test scheduled, so I crammed for a few weeks, hired a tutor for a couple hours and then took the Portuguese test since I studied it in college. They had to mail the tapes back to Washington to get the results, so hopefully I'll get a score that will allow me to put jobs where I'll need to speak Portuguese on our list. We're up against a ticking clock though since the bids are due in just a couple weeks.

The other bureaucratic rule we have to deal with relates to timing. They don't want to leave embassies with staffing gaps if they don't have to, so they only let us bid on jobs where the person working there now will be leaving right before we're scheduled to arrive. So right now, we're ranking our favorite 20 out of 35 or so options. We'll post something as soon as we know how things turn out...