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A Balinese Beauty Is Born

Dress-up is big in our household. Sami and Miranda have a special bin – okay, it’s really more the size of a closet – okay, it really IS a closet – full of all kinds of dresses, skirts, and frou-frou that are called into service almost daily in all manner of creative ways. Open their bedroom door too quickly, and you never know whom you might meet!

In addition to being a denizen of dress-up, Miranda has also long been interested in history and social studies. So when traveling, her chosen souvenir is nearly always a native costume of some description (you may recall her hand-sewn Uighur dancing dress, a souvenir of Xinjiang). While shopping in the Denpasar market, we were on the lookout for one of the gorgeous and glittery outfits we’d seen worn by legong dancers – who are always young girls about Miranda’s own age.

Way in the back of the second floor stalls, in a dark and very narrow aisle where it seemed like no fresh air had penetrated for decades, we found what we were looking for. Miranda and Sharon immediately got the stall-keepers started on finding a kid-sized costume. We moved fast, and kept our questions to a minimum, because the second we stopped moving in that airless, humid corner, we were drenched in perspiration.

The ladies jumped into action, swaddling Miranda in the first of several lush layers of rich fabric. Balinese dancing is pretty much all about the arms and fingers, with the trunk almost always straight-backed and perpendicular. We’re not sure if the dance style evolved from the way these garments were worn, or whether the costumes were designed for this style of dance, but either way, since they originated in the pre-safety pin era, they stay in place only thanks to sausage-tight wrapping. The sausage being, in this case, Miranda!

Sharon got short of breath just watching her. “Keep breathing, honey! You’re doing great!” Between the humidity and the Scarlett O’Hara-like tightening of each successive layer, passing out seemed like a real possibility!

After the purple had been snugged into place, the ladies began to wind a 12-foot band of gold cloth around Miranda’s middle.

“This is just like the girls we saw at the restaurant!” she exclaimed, getting excited about the overall effect. The final layer was a wider cloth in a rich, deep red wrapped around her chest and then deftly folded so that it cascaded over her shoulder.

The wrapping complete, the ladies showed her how to properly position her arms and fingers.
The crowning touch, literally, was a set of paper-thin leaves of gold foil mounted on metal stems and stuck into a makeshift ponytail.
(Another stall offered ready-made buns just in case one's own hair was insufficient. We passed on a purchase, but got a giggle out of them!)

And voila!

A Balinese beauty is born!

Faint from the heat, Miranda couldn’t wait to get unpeeled at the market, but as soon as we got back to the hotel Sharon wrapped her up again to pose for some pictures (though Sharon had to use about eight safety pins borrowed from housekeeping to achieve the same effect. The shopkeepers had used just one).

Note the delicate finger positions! Also note her attempts to duplicate the Balinese bug-eye so essential to the legong – and surprisingly hard to pull off by white westerners!

The Balinese beauty is now at home in Beijing. Where will she turn up next?

Next: The Tsunami strikes.


Bali chapter shortcuts: Intro Xmas Eve Zoo Temple Market Balinese Beauty Tsunami
Batik Monkeys Rafting New Year's Biking Elephants Sea Sports Cremation Dress Up Missing!

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