Monday, October 25, 2010


First of all, this week was big for us because we finally succumbed and rented a motorbike. In all the years we've been coming here we've walked everywhere and gotten a car & driver when we needed to go out of Ubud or up to our house on the north Coast.  We like walking--it's the only way to really see life in the villages and all the street activity.  But we are busier now than ever before and have to run into town for one thing or another often.  It's a small Honda Vario and we park in the supermarket parking lot which is a five minute walk from our house.  We're going to have to share it, because neither of us want to ride on the back as the other drives, so when we both need to go into town, like we do often for dinner, we still walk.
Foundation for the Outside Wall
Residence for 7 Workers and Land

Worker's Abode
Back to the business at hand.  The workers have been arriving at the site a few at a time and we are up to eight right now.  They have erected a plywood shack to live in during construction, with electricity, a gas burner and of course, a water dispenser.  All eight are sleeping there and with another four or five arriving shortly we don't know just how many will sleep on the site, and how many will sleep elsewhere.  Trenches have been dug, and cement is being poured into the trenches.  These cement-filled trenches will form the base of the foundation which will be raised about 2 feet above ground level. [I have been learning to work with the metric measuring system and I'm getting pretty comfortable with it.]

 As the foundation is being laid work has started on the guest bungalow, and soon the digging will commence for the swimming pool.  I built a house in Marin County in 1977 and I tell you construction techniques here are quite a bit different than in the States.  The biggest factor affecting the build is the fact that vehicles have no access to the house.  All materials--sand, cement, cinder blocks, rocks large and small, pipes, rebar, et al. are brought up a steep set of stairs, than go on a five minute walk on the heads of women--always women.  Why?  I wish I had the answer. It is literally back-breaking work and I'm sure their husbands don't say "...but look how good it is for your posture."

We have been looking at plumbing fixtures and furniture, but I'll let Barbara write about that--it's her thing.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Let the Building Begin!

The building has begun…with women carrying rocks from Kintamani (volcanic mountain) to use for the foundation on their heads, and men digging ditches for the wall. The outline of the house was drawn with wood sticks and string. How will this ever become a house? Wait and see….
We had a bit of a cultural issue the other day, when the landowner told us that the land was actually .8 are more than we had thought.
When we purchased the lease in May, we ‘assumed’ that we were paying for the entire parcel. We didn’t know the exact size at the time, but was told that it was about 5 are (1000 sq meters per are). After the architect came out to measure it last week, it was discovered that it was in fact 5.8 are. So, we went to the agency that had drawn up the contract, and was told  that they had been aware of the size when the papers were originally signed….but, had neglected to tell us about it. They didn’t feel that it was negligence on their part not to have disclosed this. (In the US, this would have been grounds for a suit) But, as they said… what could be done with .8 are ? …and, it was up to us to decide which .8 are he was to get.
However, we didn’t want to have this hanging over our heads as an issue, and phoned the landowner to find out what he would want to sign over the additional land to us. Turned out, it was very little money….so, Henry drew up a contract, gave Sadi (the landowner) the money…and everyone was happy. I’m sure that a situation like this in the US would not have ended as quickly and painlessly. The landowner in question had inherited this parcel from his father. As the father has 3 sons, the land was divided up somewhat unequally. This son just happened to get a slightly larger piece then the others.
So now, full steam ahead on our building project! But first, some changes in the design. We have now decided to add the second storey onto the house for
both the view and future rentability. This is now the 6th or 7th change in the design, but the architect seems to take it in his stride. So tomorrow, Komang will come back with yet another design. This must be making him crazy but you’d never know it. He smiles and quietly says that he’ll return the drawings tomorrow with all the changes.
He also told us today about importing workers from Java. It seems that he has a 10 person crew that he brings over from Java, whenever he needs workers to build. He insists that the quality of their workmanship is superior to the Balinese…except for the wood work, in which the Balinese excel. So, we then asked him where they would stay….Seems that the wall will go up and that 2 workers will stay here nightly to guard the building materials. The other workers will stay at ‘base camp’ wherever that is? Komang pays for their transportation, food and housing…which is all included in our costs. So, our crew will be here in the morning! That’s in addition to the diggers and the carriers.
Today, the women are bringing in the sand for the concrete. Much of the house will be constructed of concrete ; the stairs, counters, sub-floor, and foundation. We are trying to stay close, so that we can both see the progress of the house and answer questions as they arise. We also have a site manager(Gede) in addition to the architect and his partner Chipta (the engineer).
So, it’s almost like a well choreographed dance or orchestra, ensuring that everyone plays their part and contributes to the whole. 

Monday, October 11, 2010

And Now for Something Completely Different...

The Ubud Writer's & Readers Festival

What a festival!  Five days, 140 authors from all over the world and hundreds attending.  Barb and I and our crew of four ran the information booth (and t-shirt sales), and since we only worked four hours each day we had time for many conversations with authors, book launches and discussions, plus a couple of parties at night.

Since there were a number of authors of books we had read we made time to hear these writers.  There was Christos Tsalkis, author of The Slap, a novel set in Melbourne, in which a man slaps his friend's kid and how that slap affects the lives and relationships of a number of people--very well realized and an excellent novel.

Barbara saw a conversation with Louis de Bernieres, author of Birds Without Wings and Corelli's Mandolin. "Very entertaining, funny, self effacing," Barbara says.

I saw and spoke with Ma Jian via his lovely translator/wife.  I recently finished his marvelous novel, Bejing Coma, based on his experiences in Tianenmen Sq during the massacre in 1989.  The story is told through the the thoughts of a student 10 years later who has been in a coma since being shot in the head during the crackdown.  [Note: Ma Jian knows the new Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liu Xiaobo and he related some anecdotes to me.] It was truly a thrill to meet Ma Jian.

A few of the many other authors and events we saw:

Slides and a dance performance from the people of Suva, an outlying island in Indonesia.

Conversation between an Israeli (Etger keret) and a Palestinian author--this conversation was funnier than you might imagine.  We bought the most recent book written by the delightful, charming and very funny Palestinian woman, Suad Amiry.  She said that during the siege of Ramallah in the late eighties her mother-in-law had to stay with her so she was under two sieges--one by Sharon & one by her mother-in-law! Hence her first book--Sharon & My Mother-in-Law. Wish I had the time and space to write more about her.

A walk through rice fields with a group of international poets.

Memoirists discussing their works and how they approach a memoir.

Bali: Past  & Present--panel with 5 ex-pats who have lived here for 20 years or more.

Food writers discussion-a Vietnamese restaurant owner from Sydney, a writer from the UK and the owner of one of the most popular restaurants in Ubud.

Witnesses of War--Kate Adie (senior news correspondent of BBC), a Croatian writer who witnessed the war in Yugoslavia and a Burmese author.

Conversation with Tom Keneally, funny, interesting Aussie author of over 50 work one of which is Schindler's Ark--you know what movie was made from this book!

Plus many more conversations and discussions and a few book launches at various restaurants around town with free food and drink!

I am sorry I missed Rabih Alameddine, due to scheduling conflicts, because I loved reading his book The Hakawati.  A Hakawati is a storyteller in Arab countries and this book is stories within stories upon stories--some present day some from times unknown.  A good read--I recommend it to anyone who enjoys this kind of book.

My favorite quote of the festival came from Ma Jian, who lives in London with his wife and four kids.  When asked how he felt living so far from China he said that he knows more of what is happening in China than does his sister who lives there. He said "...the further one gets from the mountain the clearer the mountain is delineated".

Saturday, October 9, 2010

2nd Posting from Barbara

We have now met with Komang (our architect) and Chipta (our engineer) multiple times. They return every couple of days with and updated drawing of our house, including all the changes we decide on during our meetings. We initially wanted to build a 2 storey house in order to take advantage of the ricefields and views of the volcano, Mount Agung, where the Gods are believed to dwell. It would face East and allow us to see the sunrise from our bed each morning. But the cost was more than we had budgeted, and so we have to come up with another plan.
We tried to think of various ways to cut back and discovered that building on one storey would be less expensive. So, we now are planning on 1 bed and bath for the main house….and a guest house with one bed and bath as well. We also had to reduce the total size down to about 1,600 feet…but since the house will flow into the terrace area, and there will be high ceilings, white walls and floors and lots of windows, hopefully, it will feel much larger than it is. There will also be fairly extensive gardens, a pool with a bale (small meditation platform in the pool), and a lotus pond. Finally, we are satisfied with both the price and the plan!
All that needs to be done is approval of the final drawings, a signed contract, and we can break ground to start the foundation in a couple of days.
Look at our architectural drawings to get a better idea of the design of the house and land.
PS...We are also looking for a name for the Villa, and could use some help with it. We've toyed with names in Sanskrit, Indonesian, Indian Gods and Goddesses etc, but so far nothing seems right. Henry's sister Joan, though of one that used the first initials of all the kids names....and that is definitely in the, please, give us your recommendations, suggestions and ideas....

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Hank's First Post--Settling In

What we're going to do is this--we will both write posts, so ideas, thoughts and observations may overlap.  I'm not going to read Barbara's posts so I may repeat some of what she has said--so be it.  I want to express my thoughts on all that is going on here and now.

A little background.  We spent the summer wrapping up our lives in Santa Fe by selling most of our stuff--furniture and personal items, and packed 23 boxes to ship to Bali (where it is now in storage behind the house we're staying in).  What we sent here is a lot of kitchen things, linens, towels, rugs and many paintings and artwork.  We rented the house in Santa Fe, visited our kids in Denver and Seattle and made our way to Bali.

After a couple of weeks settling in, we rented a small, but new house right next to our plot of land.  This two room-plus house has a small swimming pool, air-con and after we installed wi-fi (pronounced wifey here), and a satellite TV to go with our new flat screen we are feeling pretty comfy. We have a view of rice fields, which I absolutely love--they are so green and beautiful just before harvest and represent a fascinating and intricate culture which is unique to the Balinese.  They also go thru a 3-4 month cycle so they are always changing--I love when the ducks are brought in to clean up the fields after the harvest. 

Site of our future home
Our plot along the path with a sharp drop to a river on the left

Our plot of land (and the house in which we are staying) are along a quiet, motor-free path and a short walk in one direction to a couple of cafes, small restaurants and yoga studio and a walk in the other direction to a fairly large supermarket.  This store has almost everything we need, so we are there often.  We make our own breakfasts, but almost always go out for dinner (so many restaurants to choose from), because they are cheaper that what can make at home, and the menus offer a lot more than what we can come up with.

So now--we interviewed a few couple of architects and have settled on one mid-thirties guy and his engineer.  They seem very talented and we have checked out some of the places they have built--very good work, indeed.  After five revisions of our concept we are about to settle on a final plan in the next few days.  Due to our limited budget, and the spiraling costs of materials here we have had to re-think our dream house and cut back many areas--the biggest loss being the elimination of a 2nd story.  Instead we will build a small, free-standing guest cottage--a big savings.

We have been busy here, and will be busy for the foreseeable future.  We have spent time organizing our retirement visa, which we will get in November.  Beginning Wednesday we are both the coordinators on the Information Booth at the Ubud Writer's and Readers Conference, now in its 7th year.  The conference is an extremely adventurous undertaking with writers  (and readers) coming from all over the world.
We will be working there but will also have the chance to attend seminars, discussions, interviews, book launches and parties of one kind or another day and night.  There are more than a few authors of books we have both read and really look forward to seeing them.

Dressed for the Ceremony
Balinese Hinduism has many rituals, ceremonies, holidays and celebrations.  It turns out yesterday was one of the only days this month in which we could consecrate the land--that is, converting the land from a rice field to a home site.  So the family that owns the land (we just lease it) brought in a priest and made all the arrangements for a proper ceremony.  This is all much too complicated and  mysterious to go into here, but suffice it to say that the baskets of fruit, fragrant flowers, incense, bells and dead chickens was all we needed.  Lots of chanting and sprinkling of holy water and rice made it all a great experience.

Consecrating the Land
Wish you could hear the bells and smell the flowers and incense


Sunday, October 3, 2010

Barbara's Post, Oct 3
Who would have thunk it? A middle-class, Jewish girl from the bowels of Brooklyn, building a house in Bali. But, it’s been a long journey, and a consistent dream which began 35 years ago the first time I visited the Island of the Gods.
I had left the Peace Corps, where I served in Micronesia, was pregnant with my first child, and started traveling with my then husband through Southeast Asia, before having to settle down and raise a family.
In 1975, Bali was a sleepy island, and Kuta and Legian were quiet beach towns. Ubud didn’t even have a paved road or electricity, and the only places to stay were losmen or homestays.
But, I was fascinated by the culture, lush setting and people of Bali, and if I hadn’t been pregnant and had only a 60 day visa….who knows what might have happened and how this might have ended.
So, after many years of living in Northern California, Seattle and Santa Fe, I am now back in Bali working on building a house. Not actually building a house ourselves, but having one built for us to our specifications.
Henry and I have been visiting Bali for the past 12 years and finally decided that the US had become too expensive to live in, the economic climate, too unstable to work, and the politics too crazy.
So, about four months ago, we started looking for some land, and low and behold, found the last piece on the Campuan Ridge pathway, in the ricefields. It was affordable, and we were able to get a 25 year lease with an option for 25 more. So, I’ll have to live to at least 113 in order to benefit from this agreement.
We then signed the contract and went back to Santa Fe for the summer, in order to earn enough money to pay the land lease within 90 days as specified. Henry and I spent every weekend this past summer either working the flea market selling clothes, Balinese jewelry etc, or garage sales selling our 30  years accumulation of furnishings, housewares, art etc.
Let me tell you a little bit about Penestanan. Ubud, the cultural heart of Bali is made up of 17 villages or desas, Penestanan being just one of them. The ridge where we’ll be building is inaccessible by either car or motorbike. There are two stone staircases which leads up to the ridge from the main street, so all our building materials will need to be carried up to the site on the heads of women. That’s right! No other way to do it.  
The ridge has it’s own personality and is very popular with ex-pats, who often live here full-time. It is like a small community with a couple of small warungs (restaurants), a laundry service, a yoga studio, meditation with Swami Ji, and beautiful ricefields slowly being eaten up by the construction of Villas. We are sad to add to this destruction, but our ricefield had been cited for sale and hadn’t been planted for several years.
View from the back of the house
 So, as I said, there are many ex-pats living here, Australians, French, Germans, Italians, Dutch and a few Americans. There ages vary, their interests as well. Most are on business visas, trying to find a reason to remain in this agricultural paradise.  All this variety makes it interesting for us!
Our house for the next 6 months
Anyway, we arrived about 2 weeks ago with the hope of finding an architect to build our dream home. We had envisioned a 2 storey home with a view of the ricefields, a pool and lotus pond, very open, airy and light. We rented a teeny weeny house with a pool for the next 7 months and have actively been trying to make it our own. We've already unpacked some of the items from our home that we brought with us and are now eating on familiar dishes, and have a good set of knives for cooking. You wouldn't think that little things like that are important, but believe it or not, they are (at least for me).
We spoke with two Balinese architects and an American woman, who had been living and working in Bali for the past 7 years. The challenge was to build us our dream on a paupers budget. As it turned out, we had to rethink our dream and have finally come up with a plan, that is a bit of a compromise, but will make us happy and our pocket as well.
We are still going over the drawings, but have chosen the architect and the basic design of the house. It wasn’t easy, and I’m sure somewhere down the line there will be more revisions and changes to take place. This week we plan to sign the contract, outlaying the design, cost, timeline etc, and the building can begin as soon as two days later.
But first, we have to have a ceremony to consecrate the land. Only a small one of $100 to satisfy  the landowner and the spirits. It is mandatory, and there will be another larger one upon completion of the house. There will also be a small shrine erected in the corner of the garden, so that the spirits can continue to be placated and kept happy.
So, step number one starts tomorrow…..keep tuned for more news!