Saturday, July 5, 2014

When I Hear Gamelan Angklung and Semarandana

Balinese Angklung
The Balinese interpret the gamelan angklung as very sad music and only within the past year when I was in Bali have I started to empathize with that same feeling. Otherwise, you would the very opposite when you first hear it (see example below). The angklung is the gamelan used for funerals; the gamelan of death. When I first started to play it, the only thing that would come to mind is how much like little bells everything sounded. I could only hear the higher instruments (also because our bass-line instruments were out of tune with their resonators) and so that made me think of happy music. Once I was able to sing the bass melody and see the funeral rites performed did I start to feel sad inside. At the same time, I think the music has a cheerful tune to let the spirit move on to it's next phase of life.


Balinese Semarandana, in Çudamani
The Balinese Semarandana has a very alluring and mystical quality for me much more powerful than all other gamelan I've encountered. I wonder if this has partly to do with my nostalgic connection to it as the first gamelan I played during my first trip to Bali. The first program I joined in Bali with the Çudamani Summer Institute in Pengosekan and I had so many great memories with the people I got to learn gamelan with as well as my teachers and Balinese peers. But this feeling of elicited hypnotic nostalgia came to me even during the first day. I had probably heard the gamelan once before in Berkeley but that set didn't elicit the same emotion as the set at Çudamani.

The first piece we learned to play was for a dance exercise, Tari Desar Wanita Satu. I can remember the first patterns that I interlocked with on the gangsa. I can remember the warm sun and the ceramic tiles we sat on. The large gamelan instruments covering us as we sat cross-legged on the floor (or tried to). The Çudamani practice space with its large trellis overhead hung flowers for all the bees and butterflies. The teachers in front of us directing and listening to our every strike of the golden keys.

It still feels like a very protective womb. Once I hear the sound of this Semarandana set, I feel encased in a setting where no where else have I experienced such comfort. There is also something to be said of the program at Çudamani where we were very warmly offered one of the tastiest Balinese lunches I've ever had during my stay on the island. Surrounded by our Çudamani study mates and our Balinese family, the music of the Semarandana brings up these memories from the well of sweet memories from Bali.


The people were just as nourishing if not more than the food itself. The home of Pak Dewa and Ibu Emiko was very supportive in a world we were just getting to know. We were all Bali babies at that point.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Translating Bali to America: Thinking of Pop-Up Museums

There was so much art as a way of life in Bali. Everywhere I went, everyday I walked around, I saw people playing music or making offerings. Then at the temple ceremonies which numbered more than one or two a month, I would see dances, shadow puppets, and so many people all the time.

The culture is so rich in Bali. I look back now while I am in America and it feels so empty and isolating. Where are all the carefully crafted objects, movements, or sounds?

The Balinese Life, Religion and Art

     When I lived in Bali, the main attractions for me were the temple ceremonies. I still think of them everyday I live my life in America. One of these ceremonies are odalan, or temple birthdays. When there was a full moon or a new moon, the local Balinese of the village would go to their temple during this time. As an outsider, it seemed to me like it was mandatory for people to have parties. All your neighbors that you knew would come to this one place to pray and socialize. During the event, everybody would wait for the priest to come so people can start to pray and the next step in the whole ceremony could begin. But while waiting, you would either find your friends or enjoy the gamelan music and dance.
     The women of the village had to make offerings and bring it to the temple. Thus all the women at the temple would see all the work every other women did. There was so much tradition compacted into this one event that happened every six months. Add on other major celebrations and you have the Balinese going to these temple ceremonies much more often than we may see our neighbors next door.

Translating into America

If I tried to explain it in American terms, it's like many of our holidays we have on the calendar had all of the district come together in one area. There would be people playing music and performing dances and plays. There would be so much of the practice of art everywhere. Everything we would see during these events would contain something very deep and unique to a part of our locale because the people who attended were mainly within a 5-10 minute driving distance away. The performers would also be from the same locale.

So where is this in America? Where can you find these art forms? Mainly in festivals and museums. They're very specialized locations and times so the exposure is very compact but I think the outreach needs to be extended even more.

So the question then becomes how would you get people to gather in one place and practice "culture"? I would like to try bringing the place and time towards where the people currently hang out.** This is downtown. We could have activity tables where people could participate and learn about other cultures through practicing the basics of art.

These types of events already happen (but are not focused on spreading awareness about different cultures). One thing that I have found near to me is my Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History. It's a museum that recently implemented a philosophy of having people practice art while they discover other artists' work within the museum. Then there's an event that I would like to model from: The SCMAH Pop-up Museum.

Stories + Art + Objects

I wonder how it would go if I focused on art from different cultures/locations and had people try their hand at it? How easy it was for me to jump into a music or dance rehearsal in Bali, I wonder how it would go on the streets of the San Francisco Bay Area...


** (Ultimately, I would imagine these multi-cultural centers in every bigger neighborhood/district so people can easily walk to these places and be able to meet their neighbors everyday. Once these multi-cultural [or single-cultural] centers grow, their art can dialogue can also evolve past the basics. I dream of a day when we can truly see how diverse and different everybody is - to see all the special qualities that make us so complex. And then from there we can see how similar we truly are.)


- Discover a pop-up museum
- Ask the MAH if they've ever done culture-centric pop-up museums
- Update: Read Nina Simon's The Participatory Museum (+ Online Resource)

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

My Friends' Questions About Darmasiswa

For the Darmasiswa at ISI Denpasar and may this information be more pertinent to all Darmasiswa:

Some things that my friends have asked me about Darmasiswa:

Did you have housing near ISI or did you have to find an apartment?

On the very first day we came to Bali (or the day I arrived back to Bali because I had already been there), our advisor Komang had only given us a list of addresses of possible kos to stay at. However, they were only addresses without phone numbers and so we were also given an option to either rent out a room at the university dorms (which hardly seemed a welcoming space since it was still the off-time and you would be the only students in the dorms on campus...).

Luckily, I had reserved my spot at Ibu Arini's or Ary's kos beforehand. This is housing borders ISI, but we had to walk a long backroad to get to the campus since they blocked the other gate that was more direct ever since the student riot in around 2008 or 2009 around the Rektor Rai situation.

Was housing expensive?

Ary's kos at the time cost me 800,000 rupiah (IDR). During the 2012/2013 Darmasiswa Year, your scholarship was 2 million rupiah a month. The exchange rate to the dollar made the rent roughly a little more than $80 USD.

Did you have a roommate or live alone?

The rooms at Ary's kos were designed for a single person, so I lived alone in my room. But there were 10 rooms total during this year. Since then Ary has probably moved into the house he constructed within the kos so that adds one or two more extra rooms to rent out + another one that he had finished during the time I was there. In any case, there was at least more than 8 of us living at the kos other than Ary and his family.

Going back to the first day in Bali after the orientation in Jakarta, the sunlight was getting orange and I had just walked out of the compound when down came walking a number of the Darmasiswa and I had invited them to check out Ary's kos. After that, Ary let five or six of us other Darmasiswa stay in the kos for that period so they would have a place to stay or also give them time to check out other places tomorrow.

After six months, many of us would be living together in that kos and many times a month, we would have Ibu Arini visit which I was very grateful for. One of the nicest and most heart-warming Balinese I've got to be with.

Did you have to go to the orientation in Jakarta?

No. There are reasons you will experience that will make you not like the orientation as I didn't as well. But I will tell you it gives you a chance to network with Darmasiswa from all over the world and you also get an immediate sense of the program and how everything is organized (because it's organized Indonesian style). It's probably a fraction of the sense of all the people joining this program but that fraction is still very powerful.

Did you have enough money to get a motorbike?

Yes. I went with one of my Balinese friends sometime around November and he helped me look for a second-hand motorbike. I got a Yamaha Xeon 2010 (I think) for 9 million rupiah (a little more than 900USD at the time). This motorbike has a bit more horsepower than the usual motorbikes but it was also the less popular brand at the time so the motorbike decreased in value faster. It was bright green and I called it Leaf. “I'm a leaf in the wind was my motto” as I drove around the roads of Bali.

I'm seriously considering doing Darma Siswa next year and would like to pick your brain about it.  I'm sure you had ups and downs, what were they?  How was picking up the language?  What was your living situation like?  Were able to travel while there?  How was the school load?  How much money did you bring?  You went to Bali, correct?  I'm considering going to Sunda.

About the Darmasiswa, since it is late I will be as succinct as I can but please ask more questions if they come up:

Ups and Downs:
UPs: Year-long visa, and living with Balinese families and going to ceremonies, meeting Darmasiswa as well as those outside of my university and seeing ex-pats and all kinds of people in Indonesia, traveling to Solo for a month, studying movement over there, meeting the Bali celebrities/great teachers and people connected to Gamelan Sekar Jaya and so forth, if you go to Bedulu, Bali, go and see Diane Butler, making friends having them as family in Indonesia, getting to really know some Indonesians and hang out with them, a year is a good time span to not be in a rush and really soak in the tempo of Indonesian life. If you're in a city, you won't recognize it as fast as if you're in the village -- there's still tons of villages around, go and see! -- also getting to be in a different state of mind and thinking differently about religion

DOWNs: ISI Denpasar, like many of the Darmasiswa institutes don't actually give you much academic support (this is partially a PRO because I was able to just go out and find my own teachers and have more of a free schedule than those who had to take language classes with the program), the program seems very unorganized so it will start off kinda slap-dash but once you find your own teachers and what you wanna do there, i think it's easy to soar through; now I'm just coming to realize one of the biggest culture shocks for me in Bali was how they treated money-- to me everybody seems to try and rip everybody off - so it's always nice to have an Indonesian friend around to make sure you get proper treatment especially when there are those who try to siphon money from tourists because they think they have all the money to buy the world; wifi, internet, and cell-phones are very prominent around the cities (but this is also a good thing if you need to get in contact with family or friends)

Picking up the language: it's easy to get the basics of Indonesian down to get to a good survival point. Indonesians are also friendly in helping you out to learn the language if they aren't embarrassed to correct you. if the place isn't already international with some knowledge of English, you'll make friends easily who can also help you along the way

Living situation: During my Darmasiswa time, I lived close to the university for the first 6 months and then I moved to another touristy area in another city/village. I stayed close to the Darmasiswa who were serious about learning music there and we all got to hang out and learn about Bali and music together (a lot of unserious Darmasiswa just use it as vacation time)

Traveling: Yes, you do get to travel. Many of my Darmasiswa friends vacationed around the island and got to visit the home of some of our Balinese friends in North Bali (ISI Denpasar is South Bali). Some also went to Sumatra, Jawa, and Lombok. I went to Solo and we all went to Yogyakarta for the closing ceremony.

School load: non-existent. it was many all practice if there was class. They had us start on a gamelan but then the teachers started to be absent all the time so the students wouldn't come and we all gave up on that. It's still pretty corrupt in terms of teachers and pay. Teachers in the university come for the money. So most learning was done outside the university.

Money: Bring extra money. The stipend they will give you will cover food and rent at the minimum. I suggest bringing at least 1000-2000 USD on top of your plane ticket.

NOTE: If you're going to West Jawa, be careful with the month of Ramadan, you'll be hard pressed to find food-- but by then, you'll probably have found in friends to take care of you or travelled to somewhere else.

Are you able to visit Pengosekan frequently or is that too much of a hassle cause its far away? I have heard from Emiko too that Darmasiswa is very much about independent learning and finding teachers on your own like you said. Are you living in like an apartment or small guest room? Is driving the motorbike feeling more comfortable or just scary as always? Are you trying to learn indonesian or just picking up pieces of the language while you're there? Are you mainly hanging out with english speaking friends or balinese people?

Are you able to visit Pengosekan frequently or is that too much of a hassle cause its far away?
I've gotten used to the drive now. It's 30 minutes from Denpasar. however, I've decided to move to Pengosekan because that's where two of my teachers reside and it's their gamelan that I'm focusing mainly on. I get a bit tired after a drive so sometimes driving isn't the best option but the half hour goes by quickly.

Are you living in like an apartment or small guest room?
I live at Ary's Garden. Ary is the son of Ibu Arini and so I'm basically on her land. It's a wonderful place close to ISI and also a serene garden to live in. The housing is a room and a bathroom. Living like the Balinese is great, me thinks, much more outside nature and less house to hide in. Here's another important note: finding housing at first was a bit difficult. All ISI gave us was a list of addresses for available housing - no phone numbers ... so we all had to walk to these addresses. Luckily, someone from Sekar Jaya had hooked me up with Ary, so I already knew where I was going. There are many places to live close to ISI but finding them at first was a bit scary for the Darmasiswa. --They're currently renovating their dorms, so I have no idea how that's going to turn out.

Is driving the motorbike feeling more comfortable or just scary as always?
I felt like I got a good grasp of the motorbike after a month of picking it up. It was a steep learning curve and everybody falls, just like riding a pedal bike, but the Balinese look out for you in traffic. -- It was very scary at first but the thing now is to not get too comfortable and always be on the look out. It's very easy to be on a motorbike and lose perspective of the road when you think you have a grasp of the motorbike. Motorbikes can weave in and out of traffic a lot more than cars can do that in America and there's a very different driving culture here. It's much much much more dynamic. One trick is to approach slowly and calmly when weaving through traffic. Notice the condition of the road (potholes, raining, pedestrians, intersections and many places where vehicles are entering traffic) I haven't found a comfortable way to not have a motorbike in Denpasar. It's like one of those convenient but inconvenient technologies nowadays... like cellphones.

Are you trying to learn indonesian or just picking up pieces of the language while you're there?
I'm trying to learn Indonesian... ISI only helped out a bit for the first couple of months. But I have some books in Indonesian that I bought. Going through them slowly because I spend more time on music...

Are you mainly hanging out with english speaking friends or balinese people?
Mainly hanging out with English speaking friends. I'm trying to make an effort to hang out with Balinese people ... but the circles that I'm in just make it so easy to only need to speak English. I like the pembantu at Ibu Arini's though... she doesn't know English so I get to make offerings and speak in Indonesian with her and she shares gossip with me.