A young devotee relaxes before the start of the tooth-filing ritual.
“B.T.” is the new Balinese buzzword for bad mood, derived from the Jakarta slang expression “Bete” for “Bad Trip” (Jakartans are erratic spellers).
For centuries the Balinese youth have been blessed with a positive mental attitude and now this: is depression the new blissed out?
Of course it’s only a passing fad ─ its WAY too humid to be ‘hang dog’ for too long, and there is so much to be positive about at the moment. Tourism is booming on the island (they’re dropping like flies in the queues at immigration), palace princesses are on every corner dressed like saucy show girls, and “Cowboys in Paradise” is soon to be a major motion picture staring one of the Scriber boys.
One wonders how “B.T.” became so popular?
Since the release of “Eat Pay Leave” the rise in spiritual tourism ─ standing on one leg and being ‘feathered’ by a rogue yogi ─ has contributed to a general swelling, island wide………., in anxiety and activism.
Last month, for example, a gang of yoga hags stormed the new Starbucks outlet in Ubud, protesting against God knows what ─ club chairs and decent music??
Perhaps it’s too late to stem the tide of commercialism in Ubud ─ in the 1970s the coastal Balinese referred to the Ubud Balinese, rather unfairly, as “money eyes” ─ but for the romance tourism sub-industry, it’s never too late to start dating.
Dating.com, the interactive watchdog for ‘Ugandan affairs’, says that the surge in Sugar Daddies in Seminyak can be detected from outer space!
It seems that the influx of Daddy-chasers ─ teen predators from Java mostly ─ has reached epidemic proportions on the west coast and is more threatening to the pandanus groves of Legian Beach than El Ninjo or erosion.
Signs have gone up on Jalan Dyana Pura. “Caution: Old gays in tight jeans cross at night.”
In a related development it has been observed that Facebook is now littered with the jottings of Balinese teen-angels (men, 18 plus) who have found true love in Hamburg and Düsseldorf (for some reason geriatric Germans get lucky): these Balinese youth often return home with rhinestone-encrusted lederhosen and B.M.W.s
By and large, though, the Balinese teenagers are very busy in the village, with youth group and cultural commitments ─ making giant kites, attending gamelan and dance rehearsals, and heavy petting in a temple setting (being full-blooded and fancy free).
The few youth who end in the meat markets of the Gaza strip do so with great theatrical flair and enterprise, for a few years, but generally end up, like everyone else, at 24, back in the village with two kids and a lot of Balinese cultural commitments.
It’s a life.
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Last month I attended a mass teen-tooth-filing in Keliki Village well north of Ubud. There were assembled five Brahman tooth-filers and one high priest, for a production line ─ seven mattresses end on end ─ of 80 teenagers in white and gold dress, all beautifully behaved.
Being a highland village everything was regimented and done to perfection ─ the highland Balinese do the most exquisite offerings and temple decorations.A gamelan played by the roadside just across from the temple’s entrance gate; anxious mothers squatted in rows on the grassy verge along the temple’s front, like anxious mothers at the dentist anywhere.
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When not attending ceremonies most Balinese teenagers are lost in cyberspace and can be found broadcasting text messages as they wander aimlessly around air-conditioned malls. Even at cremations, body-washings, and in processions of gods, teenage Balinese of both sexes can be found texting, furiously, as the demons and deities swirl around them.
Now read on:
3rd October 2010: To The Ubud Palace for a celebrity wedding.
In 1979 a sweet Sydney girl named Jane Gallespie married a dashing prince from Ubud.
Over the past 30 years they have been blessed with three children and have created a number of successful businesses such as the Ibah Hotel in Ubud and the BIKU tea rooms in Seminyak.
Today their second son, Tjokorda Bagus, is to marry Jakarta film star Happy Salma.
I arrive at the palace gates to find packs of paparazzi ─ not from Jakarta, but mostly Koreans and Japanese in shorts keen to get snaps of the arriving Balinese glitterati (Ubud is a leading force in ‘kebaya-glam’).
Palace doormen in purple jackets emblazoned with fake gold medals beat them back.
Inside is a wonderland of Balinese floral decoration and European statuary, illuminated with coloured spot lights for the occasion.
I find Jane, now Jero Asri ‘The Perfect One”, in the top ‘family’ courtyard with her perfect family which includes a perfectly formed grandson carrying the family kris.
Jero Asri with the newlyweds and a royal family aunt
LEFT: Jero Asri with her grandson, Adi.
RIGHT: One of the stalwart palace doormen at the Ubud wedding.
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7 October 2010: A mass tooth-filing and high priests’ Ngasti (Soul Purification)
at Geria Begawan, Ketewel
The lovely Dewa clan of Ketewel traditionally have their own high priest.
The last high priest or Begawan, as he is known, passed away last year and was cremated in a magnificent ceremony.
Today is his Ngasti and 125 ‘followers’ (souls of the deceased) are lined up in the grandstand of the gods, to follow him to the saintly strata of the afterlife.
During the morning I find myself ‘following’, three times around the holy enclosure, behind an albino water buffalo with gilt horns and a high priest.
Amongst the ‘following spirits’ is one of my gardeners Dewa Nyoman Balik whose cremation is recorded in the original Stranger in Paradise 1979 – 81 (on pages 240 - 241).
I was reminded of the fact that a Balinese ceremonial cycle sometimes takes 30 years to complete.
Dewa Matram, just back from Naples, Florida, at the big Ketewel Ngasti.