Hands-on in Ubud
| After more than a week of lolling around
in the sun and sand of Sanur, Sharon and I thought we could all use a change
of pace. We drove up to Ubud, the famous arts and crafts center of Bali,
with the goal of joining in one of the many hands-on workshops there. We
wanted to try carving wood, creating temple offerings out of flowers and
palm leaves, or making batik, the intricately-decorated and brightly colored
cloth for which Indonesia is famous.
The girls were, however, less than excited about our plans. They were quite happy with an endless stretch of days that involved nothing more strenuous than deciding which of the hotel’s three pools to plunge into first, second, and third. They viewed our attempts to inject some interactive, inter-cultural activity as counter to the whole point of a relaxed family vacation. When we told them that the next day we would take an hour-long car ride to Ubud to find something to do that did not involve a pool, a deck of cards, or a book, there was much protesting.
The next morning in Ubud, we walked up and down the small town’s main streets for over an hour, searching out interesting places for hands-on stuff. The girls trailed behind. It must be said that there was whining involved – about the walking, the heat, their parents’ weird ideas of fun, etc.
We first checked out the art museum, which we had been told had excellent hands-on cultural classes. True - but the girls adamantly refused to declare enthusiasm for any of them. “It sounds boring!” “FOUR HOURS to make temple offerings? That’s WAY too long – I don’t wanna!” “Mask-making? Count me out!”
Sighing, we headed for another highly-recommended place, a small community center-cum-lending library. The friendly director had a lot of great-sounded ideas for the girls. When we turned around to ask them whether they’d like to try a Balinese dance lesson, they’d vanished – up the stairs to the library, where we found them both nose-deep in books! Nothing against reading, but not exactly the kind of cultural experience we had in mind.
So you can imagine our surprise when, a little while later, as we were walking down winding, hilly Monkey Forest Road, they both exclaimed, "Ooo! That looks like fun!" We grown-ups did a double-take and quickly back-tracked to a tiny street-side workshop offering make-your-own batik.
The kids didn’t notice any of the goings-on around them, focusing quickly and intently on their projects. The first step was deciding what to paint. After rummaging through a huge pile of patterns, Sami decided to trace a sun-and-moon template, while Miranda forged ahead with her own unique design commemorating our visit.
Next, the teacher stretched a piece of ordinary white cotton sheeting over a homemade light box made of cardboard, scrap wood, and a light bulb. The paper-based design was placed directly underneath the cotton sheet, so the girls could easily trace it with pencil.
Once the design was on the sheet, the girls proceeded to the next step -- applying molten beeswax to each traced line. The teacher was well aware of the potential for dangerous burns, and he was careful to show each girl how to hold the special tool for applying the hot wax. It looked very tricky, and fortunately the teacher encouraged them to practice on a scrap of cloth.
Scattered around his shop were patterns for extremely intricate designs that would have taken hours just to trace; now, seeing the delicacy of the hot-wax process and realizing what a long and tricky task it would be to outline one of these complex patterns, let alone paint in each tiny section, the reasons that batik is so expensive (relatively speaking) became much clearer!
After a fair bit of experimentation by both girls on the scrap piece as well as their own designs, the teacher helped things along, finishing up the hot wax process for them. He made it look simple - but now we knew better.
By now, they girls were more than an hour into the process, and not a whine had been heard! They were having a great time despite constantly wiping the sweat out of their eyes. Their shirts were soaked through. Perched on a stool with a book in hand, I was also hot and sweaty. Sharon checked in now and again between rambles up and down Monkey Forest Road, where she pretended to shop but probably was just ducking into every air-conditioned store she passed.
Promptly at five, we headed back up the hill to the workshop. The girls’ batiks had come through the boiling process successfully; the wax outlines had melted away and the colors had deepened into jewel-like tones. We were amazed at the transformation, and the girls were proud of their work, enthusiastically thanking their teacher and then posing in his courtyard alongside the drying laundry.
As things turned out, we grown-ups were right: a little hands-on cultural activity did provide a needed change of pace. And the girls were right, too - the two-hour, spontaneous session in the informal workshop ended up being much more fun for them than the high-end museum classes, which took a much more serious “cultural” tone.
And we all experienced one of Bali’s most distinctive characteristics: the notion that art can happen anywhere, and even the most basic materials can, with a little time and inspiration, be transformed into something beautiful.
Next: The Monkey Forest