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A cremation
Adi at the bookstore up the street scribbled a map on a piece of paper: right at the statue, left at the traffic light, elephant cave on the right, holy water temple 10 klicks up the road.

So to the elephant cave, and after buying my ticket and descending the steps I find, as per usual, a clutch of guides waiting to latch on to tourists. One of them, whose name is Made, asks me how I'm doing, and, unusually for me, I actually engage him in conversation. He ends up walking me around the cave and temple complex, giving detailed and precise information about everything we saw.

Made's easily the brightest guide I've had on my trip. His speech patterns are the same as most Balinese English-speakers, but communications are nearly frictionless, and he uses words like "auspicious" and "microcosm" in ways that clearly aren't rote. He's 21, and studies English and religion at his local temple. University is out of the question, too expensive.

At the end, of the tour, Made asks if I'd like to attend a cremation ceremony at his village the next day. Remembering something from the guidebook about cremation being the most ... something of Balinese religious ceremonies, I said yes. Next morning Kristin and I jump on the motorbike and meet Made at the elephant cave, and then follow him through a net of little roads past rice terraces to his village.

Most Balinese are Hindu, and the main purpose of the cremation ceremony as Made explained it to us is to help the dead person's spirit move on to the next world. There's a torch to light the way, since the spirit world is dark. The body is spun around many times on its way to the cremation site, to prevent it from finding its way back to its home in this world. There's a lot of unnecessary shouting. It's a decent party.

Made can't quite believe that Kristin and I aren't dating. He asks a couple times, laughing before and after the question. He thinks Western men are lucky - the idea of sex before marriage intrigues him greatly. He thinks Westerners in general are lucky: money, the ability to travel, personal freedom. Kristin points out the parts of Balinese society that she thinks Made's lucky to have: the close-knit communities, the relaxed rhythm of life here. But we both have to agree, we were born lucky.

Two wooden bulls containing the remains of the deceased burn quickly, assisted by gas tanks. A light dusting of ash scatters over the crowd as we leave.


last timestamped: 22:24:35 10-Apr-2008
in categories:Travel/Vagabond'08

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