Catwalk in Bali

This week’s column is dedicated to Rabu, a kitten that was rescued from a gutter in March when he was just a few weeks old. His mistress Désirée who worked in the café that I had walked into at Padangbai sometime ago introduced me to him. The small furry creature with warm watery eyes jumped onto my lap and as if on cue went to sleep. Some months later he was dead, crushed under the wheels of a speeding sepeda motor.

He was named Rabu because he was found on Hari Rabu (Wednesday). Rabu came into the life of his mistress at a time when she was confronted with the ever-changing vagaries of life fraught with fragmented relationships coupled with living in a foreign country. He was a true friend that never judged Désirée but accepted her human frailties just as he ate whatever was put on his plate at mealtime.

Désirée was with me in Ubud sampling the Nasi Campur at Indus when she got a telephone call informing her of his death. The tears came thick and fast.

This may sound inappropriate at this juncture but I am not a cat person. I find their nocturnal wanderings and piercing stare disconcerting. It is as if they are able to travel back and forth between the worlds of the living and dead. So when I encountered Rabu and Désirée’s grief I began to wonder whether cats, like dogs also went to heaven.

Jeroo, a Balinese woman who often does my laundry, was appalled when she heard about Rabu’s death. She promptly instructed me to find out about the fate of his remains as Balinese consider the cat as a creature that signifies wealth. Therefore if a cat dies at anyone’s hands the offender must seek forgiveness by burying the cat under a tree in a small ceremony with offerings placed on the grave. It is believed that the tree would bear succulent fruit.

On making the call I was told that the motorcyclist had carried away Rabu’s body to perform the compulsory ceremony. This is as per the standing orders of the Desa Adat.

The cat is called Kucing in Indonesian and Meong in Balinese. Jeroo told me that at feeding time the cat is summoned in Balinese with the words Pis Meong. Pis means money. So in essence the death of a cat in Bali denotes bad luck – impending loss of wealth.

Many years ago archaeologists discovered a cat cemetery in Beni-Hassan, Egypt, with 300,000 cat mummies. The Egyptian Goddess of love, Bastet, had the head of a cat. In the time of the Pharaohs, to be convicted of killing a cat usually meant a death sentence for the culprit.

In the medieval ages cats were seen as a personification of Lucifer and therefore were burnt alive. Their screams were purported to be that of the Devil. It is said that Devil worshippers revered the cat and usually kissed it under the tail i.e. on the anus. They also used them in animal sacrifices. Black cats in particular were associated with witches. Some historians claim that the persecution of the cat drastically brought down its numbers thereby increasing the population of rats; the result being the onset of the plague that decimated the population in Europe.

The mark of ‘M’ on the Tabby cat’s forehead is believed by some to be the initial of Mother Mary who blessed it for comforting her baby son Jesus Christ. According to some followers of Islam the ‘M’ stands for Mohammed, the Prophet, who had a deep affection for cats. To substantiate the claim of some of his devout followers for his fondness for cats I quote from the net – “Prophet Mohammed apparently loved cats and rather than disturb his sleeping cat, Muezza, he once cut off a sleeve of his robe which she was sleeping on when the call to prayer sounded. It is also said that the reason he loved cats was that one saved his life from a snake that had crawled into his sleeve. Legend says that Prophet Mohammed blessed cats with the ability to land on their feet. One of his writings tells that he had a vision of a woman punished in Hell for starving her cat to death.”

And then we have the legend of the sacred cat of Burma.

Centuries ago, in a valley nestled the temple of Lao-Tsun. 100 yellow-eyed white cats with long silken coats guarded it. This was the abode of the golden goddess with sapphire blue eyes who watched over the transformation of souls. Whenever the head monk Mun-ha knelt in prayer his faithful companion, Sinh the beautiful temple cat sat by his side. The legend has it that on a fateful moonlit night when Mun-ha was in deep meditation the temple was attacked by marauders. Mun-ha was killed. At the time of his death Sinh placed his paws on the master’s robes and looked towards the golden goddess. Instantly his face, ears, legs and tail became a velvety brown colour of rich earth, but his four paws that rested on his master remained perfect white, a symbol of purity. The colour of Sinh’s eyes became that of the golden goddess – sapphire blue. The following day the temple glowed with the transformation of the 99 white cats. Sinh, the 100th cat, never moved from his place and stared at the spot where his master was slain. Exactly seven days later Sinh died. And on his death carried his master’s soul to heaven.

Cats and their association with humans can be traced back thousands of years. For example, the Cahokians’ god of the earth was depicted as a cat-headed snake.

The many legends, myths and religious connections with cats makes me wonder whether I have been wrong all along about these felines who always behave like they are bestowing a favour on humankind by accompanying us through the journey of our mortal life. Have they been sent by the Gods to keep tabs on us?

All I can conclude at this stage is the fact that Rabu brought me closer to understanding another living and loving creature on this isle. And for this I am thankful to that furry little feline who now lies buried under some tree in Padangbai.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

With you, for you, always – Bali Tourist Police

The author  wishes to thank the police personnel of the Bali Tourist Police, Kuta and in particular: AIPTU I Wayan Wira, BRIPKA Yuni Rahayu, AIPDA I Nyoman Sudata and AIPTU Ayu Mulyati for their kind assistance.

We’re all going on a summer holiday
No more working for a week or two
Fun and laughter on a summer holiday
No more worries for me and you
For a week or two

We’re going where the sun shines brightly
We’re going where the sea is blue
We’ve seen it in the movies
Now let’s see if it’s true

Everybody has a summer holiday
Doing things they always wanted to
So we’re going on a summer holiday
To make our dreams come true
For me and you

-Cliff Richard, Summer Holiday

Holidays can be a life changing experience especially if one is either raped or had money/belongings stolen. The Bali Times has often carried reports of tourists losing their belongings to tricksters prowling the streets of Kuta.

Tourists are flocking to Bali like never before. The good times are rolling once again. And with these good times come a number of undesirables who prey on the unsuspecting holidaymakers.

Just the other day while lounging with a few Kuta Cowboys on Kuta beach discussing the pros and cons of whether marriage is an acceptable option if a single woman became  pregnant we were interrupted by a uniformed policeman who sat down next to us. He was an officer of the Bali Tourist Police. I struck up a conversation with him and before I knew it we were on our way to the Post to meet the officer in charge.

The Police Post is a short walk from Macdonald’s towards the Legian beach hotel. Arriving at the office I was offered a Bali Kopi and introduced to AIPTU I Wayan Wira. The unassuming chap was most helpful when I enquired about the work that he and his staff are doing. He told me that their job covered the following:

01.    Giving information to tourists about legal, medical and other services.
02.    To guard tourist areas.
03.    To track down and arrest any criminals masquerading as tourists.
04.    To cooperate with tourists and help them in the event of an accident/theft/murder/problem with hotels etc.

Not convinced that this list covered everything I requested Wayan Wira to give me a more detailed dos and don’ts for all tourists and expats living on the island. This is what he had to say.

01.    There have been instances where persons hiring out scooters/motorcycles/cars to tourists have asked for their passport as security. This should not be done. Instead a photocopy of the same would suffice.
02.    Anyone hiring a vehicle must have an international driving license.
03.    When transacting business at a Money Changer one must check the amount received. There are cases where people have been cheated because the Rupiah 10,000 note and the Rupiah 100,000 look quite similar. Once the victim has left the premises there is little the police can do.
04.    When using a taxi please write down the taxi number and the driver’s name. This would help in the event any belongings have been left behind in the car or if the driver has overcharged you.
05.    When using an ATM ensure no one else is in the booth. Don’t forget to take your ATM card out of the machine. Tourists have been known to sometimes leave their card behind in the machine. The result being a forgone conclusion – theft.
06.    In the past pickpockets operated with impunity on the beach. Nowadays with the arrest of the ringleaders crime in this area has come down drastically. In spite of this Wayan suggests one should not leave one’s belongings unattended for even a minute.
07.     Drunkenness is a common feature with over indulgent tourists. Prostitutes operating in various places single out these people and befriend them. It is only the following morning that the person realizes that his wallet/passport and other precious belongings have been pilfered.
08.    Any persons trying to sell drugs to you should be reported to the police immediately. Please don’t be afraid of reporting such instances.  The police have special squads to quickly act on such information and to apprehend the dealers. You will be protected by the police.
09.    Do not accept cigarettes, food or drink from strangers. In a restaurant don’t leave an unattended drink on the table while going to the toilet. Unscrupulous people are known to put substances in your drink to drug you and then rob you.
10.    Get a local cell phone number so that it is easier and cheaper to communicate with the police.
11.    Please keep the following telephone numbers of the Bali Tourist Police with you while traveling in Bali:

Kuta Tourist Police Post
Jalan Pantai Kuta
(0361) 7845988

Sanur Tourist Police Post
BK3S Post, Jalan Danau Tamblingan
(next to Bali Hyatt Hotel, Sanur)
(0361) 8531960

Nusa Dua Tourist Police Post
Bundaran Tugu Mandala Kawasan BTDC Nusa Dua
(0361) 7442622

Ngurah Rai Airport Tourist Police
Airport Police Sector Ngurah Rai
(0361) 751 023

Tourist Assistance Centre
Bali Regional Police
(0361) 224111

The tourist police who speak English have been known to help tourists who have had problems with hotels, tour operators and transport agents.

Jason (name changed), a first time tourist, spoke to me on Kuta Beach about how he was grossly overcharged by a nearby hotel despite the fact that the room rate was confirmed via email to him prior to his arrival in Bali. The hotel went so far as to seize his luggage. Jason reported the matter to the Tourist Police who acted promptly in releasing his luggage and ensuring that the hotel abided by the rate agreed by email.

So whether you are on Kuta beach, at the airport or sunbathing anywhere in Bali you’re rights as a tourist are protected. All you have to do in the event of an unforeseen problem arising is to call The Bali Tourist Police and they will sort things out for you.

In the words of Wayan Wira, “People are known to take short cuts by attempting to bribe officials or police personnel. This is very dangerous. It could lead to more complications. If anyone has a problem while traveling in Bali please call us we will help and guide you. We are with you, for you, always – as our motto is Safety First for All Tourists – domestic or foreign”.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

Expats in Bali

This is the first in a series on expats who are quietly helping to raise the standard of living for the less fortunate on the isle. These expats belong to international clubs; are successful business folk putting back part of their earnings into non-profit social development programs; and individuals living in Bali for a long time who feel that they must contribute to the welfare of the islanders.

Sometime ago I heard it on the grapevine that Ibu Sarita Kaul of Rotary Club Seminyak had started a program for clean drinking water in a village in Sibang. As there is no piped water, the villagers collect water from the nearby river; boil it before using it for cooking and drinking. Some of the villagers are too poor and hence can’t afford the high cost of fuel so they don’t boil the water prior to using it. The result being that many women and children suffer from stomach ailments.

Curious to know more about the project I met Sarita and requested her to accompany me to the village so that I could speak to the villagers to understand more about what was going on and how it was benefiting the rural folk. She told me that the project involved the production and free distribution of cement biosand filters for drinking water to all the homes in the village, which is close to a 100.

The cement biosand water filter works on the principle of filtration of contaminated water through sand and gravel without the use of any electricity or burning of fuels. The process is proven to remove about 90% of pathogens in the water. It has been tested by governments, research and health institutions in laboratory and field trials. The filter has no moving parts; can be used with any available water source; it is small and takes up little space; and is a household level technology that allows end users to independently maintain and operate the filter.

On the last day of May we drove to the village so that I could meet Bapak Astra in whose home the filters are being manufactured. In fact, as his contribution to the community he has allowed the free use of his Bale for this purpose. Astra is an elderly subsistence farmer with great dignity and an acute understanding of survival.

He showed me a water filter in operation and the metal dies that are used in the manufacture of the cement contraptions. Apparently, the Pilot Project of 11 such filters has been successfully carried out; 10 pieces are in an equal number of homes and the 11th has been installed at the Banjar office. Astra understands the concept of clean drinking water, as he is involved in organic farming.

The head of the Klian Banjar, I Wayan Dharmika and the village schoolmaster I Wayan Tantra were instrumental in convincing the 44 heads of the families in the area to adopt the scheme. Astra told me that Tantra with his large black rimmed spectacles and who is affectionately called professor by one and all is the self appointed accountant for the project. He keeps a cash ledger that records an excruciating blow-by-blow account of all expenditure even if it involves such sums as rupiah 200!

Sarita told me that a grant had been received from Rotary International, Chicago, USA for the further manufacture of over 250 biosand water filters. On successful completion of the project that is due to commence in a week other villages would be brought into the scheme.

On being questioned by me about the production of the filter Astra said that two farmers were sent to Lombok for training. Lombok is the place where Sarita saw the filters in operation, the design being that of Cawst (Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology, Canada).

The two farmers dispatched for training had never been on an airplane nor travelled outside Bali so the experience left them in a suspended state of exhilaration that lasted for a few days. Even now there is a glow on the face of Ketut Arianta, one of the farmers who was introduced to me with much fanfare by Astra.

Marian Hjelm, a homeopath from Seminyak and the person who brought the plight of the villagers to the notice of Sarita, and who had accompanied us to Sibang, told me that the two said farmers had visited her home immediately on their return from Lombok to narrate the experience of flying near Mount Agung and to share their feeling which was like traversing an astral plain! She added that they returned to the village to a heroes welcome.

This water filter project is not about personalities or publicity. It is a humane response to the need of the usually ‘overlooked’ less fortunate people on the isle who honestly, diligently and in a community spirit eke out a living with dignity and pride.

Bali is like an oasis in the desert of a world fast losing itself due to the continuing erosion of social structures. It helps keep a lid on insanity in community values. This island is probably one of the last refuges for many of us expats. So let us continue to protect it and to alleviate any human suffering that occurs ever so often.

I will sign off now with the haunting words of Bapak Astra – “This is my home, my family, my land. Without it I am nobody and I will cease to exist.”

Note: at the time of going to press the villagers have informed me that pests have destroyed their rice crop. They will now need to buy rice from the market. The price of rice has risen sharply due to the fuel price hike.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om