It’s been almost four months since my trip to Singapore, Indonesia and Bali. I have been to Singapore as a kid, so this as my first visit as a grown up. Indonesia and Bali and even Singapore to an extent has left an indelible impression on me. I feel a strange impulse to go back there again. I think it was the Bali countryside and the polite Indonesians…but the place tugs at me for some strange reason. I was analyzing this the other day and I realized that what really struck me about these places was that though some of these Oriental cities and towns were as modern as any European or American city and town, they were strangely very homely! The people spoke their own language and though they wore Western clothes, their Oriental culture was very evident and entwined in their lifestyles. These places had achieved a very “local modernism” unlike India where being modern means aping the West.
Their unique traditions were seamlessly blended into daily life without being too overt or too covert. Like for example when we landed in Singapore in the morning we went to this small Breakfast place in the airport run by an elderly lady. The small restaurant was very well done up, but the lady was praying in front of a small altar. A tiny non obtrusive altar. She continued praying at her own pace and it was so interesting to watch her that we didn’t disturb her. She finished her prayer and then made us sit and made small talk while she cooked breakfast for us. I couldn’t believe I was sitting in the Changi Airport!!! Her demeanor was matter of fact like a mom cooking in her kitchen and she was not too friendly or aloof. I felt right at home!
Later in the day when I went into Singapore city with my friend, I noticed that guys don’t look at you like they are seeing a woman for the first time. They do look, but it is a polite appreciative look. In front of a KFC or Mac joint (I am not sure which), there was this huge crowd of young Singaporeans sitting on the sidewalk. The guys merely glanced appreciatively at us and we felt emboldened enough to look at them in their faces, something I would never do in India. Some gave us a friendly wink, we grinned right back…in my case it was a thankful grin, a very thankful grin for the appreciation and the fact that they respected me enough as a human being by not taking me for granted and approaching me. What an awesome awesome feeling!!
As soon as you land in Bali, you see small coconut leaf baskets, (the type we make small footballs with in Kerala), with food, flower and other offerings like incense, kept discretely around the airport. These are offering to Gods. The Balinese follow a Ramayan based Hinduism, which is very different from the Hinduism practiced in India. It is more like Buddhism actually and again very personal and unobtrusive but very evident. You got to see to understand.
The Balinese men are so respectful and the more dashing among them are to be found at the tourist places like Kuta. But again, it was looks of appreciation towards us, sometimes they asked names and no more and by the end of our stay, the whole crowd of guys that hang around Kuta had nicknamed us Miss Bombay! It’s not like we had beauty pageant winner looks, but merely their way of identifying us. Bombay is synonymous with India here. The moment they know that you are Indian, there is a feeling of camaraderie, as India is synonymous with Hinduism, the Balinese religion that they are fiercely protective off. Please don’t expect them to identify you as Indian, as not much is known of India here. Subtle hints about your Indianness will make people regard you a little differently from other tourists. And we used this to great advantage :p
When I hear our elders complain that their grown up kids and grandkids would rather go to Veegaland for Onam and Vishu and Christmas, I begin to appreciate the Orientals and the importance they give to their customs and culture.
All in all a very nice and warm experience. I wish India will also go the Oriental way when it is a fully advanced country. Right now our people are beginning to shed their Indian-ness real fast and our lifestyle is more or less like that in the US of A. Wish we could find work, life and cultural balance like the Orientals.