UBUD, BALI: The last time I saw a rice paddy was when I was in one in the Philippines. I was in seventh grade at Jose Abad Santos Memorial School planting rice with our nature-loving, bonhomous teacher, Mr. Modesto Manglicmot. It was more than a decade later when I saw one again, and that was when I went to Ubud with a friend. Artini Cottage, the place we were billeted at, was literally next to a rice paddy, which was like finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. You’ll understand this euphoria for rice paddies once you’ve lived in a tiny country enveloped by buildings and any whiff of bucolic air wafting through the air comes only after you’ve crossed the border to another country.
I loved the rice paddy in my school; there was no bickering or teasing or fighting. No one was the popular girl or the weirdo or the nerd. Everyone was on the same field when it came to planting rice. It was exhilarating being out in the open under the vast blue sky, breathing natural air. My thoughts were free to flit about and I didn’t have to contend with class bullies at least for several hours. Not to forget that I liked Mr. Manglicmot – he was in his element outside of the classroom, and he never failed to astound me with his bonsai skills. I wasn’t much of a green thumb.
Being in Ubud surrounded by blue skies, greenery and rice paddies is like being in a yoga class particularly during the meditation part where you’re silent and completely lost in your universe finding the balance, forgetting about and forgiving the past, facing the present and forging your future. You exhale anxiety and bitterness, inhale serenity and acceptance; you exhale hatred and inhale love; you exhale negative energy and inhale positive vibe. Being in Bali’s quaint town was like how Percy Jackson of Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief was whenever he was wrapped in water. I felt revived, the physical and mental fatigue melting away like butter; I became focused and calm in the midst of the vicissitudes in my life. It’s no wonder that Ubud serves as my healing place because the town, according to my research, was originally the source of medicinal plants and herbs. In fact, the name Ubud is derived from the Balinese word ubad or medicine. Also, as stories have it, the meditative aura of Ubud is attributed to an eighth-century Javanese priest Rsi Markendya who was said to have been meditating at the convergence of two rivers at Campuan where he founded the Gunung Lebah Temple, a destination for people with spiritual inclinations till today.
Peeling my eyes off the rice paddies, Ubud is an interesting place to explore. Firstly, it is one of the recognized arts places in Bali and also one of the most developed tourism sites of Indonesia that, thankfully, has not yet become the chaotic places one usually wants to get away from. Let’s put it this way: it attracts my kind of tourists – the ones who love serenity and appreciate the arts. Artists have fallen in love with the place such as the late Don Antonio Blanco who never left when he arrived in the 1950s. His Blanco Museum is one place not to miss (see blog post “The Don of Bali”).
Second is the Monkey Forest, a sacred nature reserve at Padangtegal housing a temple and around 340 macaque monkeys who won’t hesitate grabbing anything from you. Visitors are cautioned not to befriend the simian creatures because they can get aggressive and start climbing all over you. But you can give them treats like the bananas sold at the entrance, just not peanuts. The reserve is running a campaign called Save the Planet and Monkey Forest Sanctuary, a carbon emission program to curb the carbon debt and maintain the monkey forest. One just had to work out how many trees to plant or donate Rp150, 000 to the program and receive a certificate of acknowledgement afterwards.
Third is the Ubud Market. Right in front of Ubud Palace, it’s the mini version of the gargantuan, headache-inducing Chatuchak Market in Thailand that’s packed with numerous stalls selling all conceivable bric-a-brac to be given away as little presents or become part of one’s memorabilia as well as ethnic decorative objects for the house. I picked up organic soap bars packed in fours and a pair of inexpensive beaded thong slippers selling at Rp35, 000. What I like about Ubud Market, which I never fail to visit whenever I’m in Bali, is the simple fact that you can go back to the stall you wanted to buy an item from but was unsure at the beginning unlike in Chatuchak where you’re forced to get it on the spot despite the niggling doubt hovering over your head because you will never locate the stall again.
Another wonderful thing about Ubud Market is the row of shops at the side. Even if you’re not big on shopping, it’s just great gawking at the creative stuff that people make and sell. Ariani’s Collection is the one store that I’ve never failed to go back to ever since I discovered it. Their beaded cloth bags are simply unique and eye-catching. I was in luck that day because the owner, Ibu Ariani, was the one who attended to me that Saturday afternoon.
With the soap bars, beaded slippers and beaded cloth bag in my hand, it was time to leave Ubud and head back to Kuta. I’m good with my rice paddy dreams – for now.
DIRECTORY Ariani’s Collection Jl. Monkey Forest, Ubud, Bali Tel: +62 361 978 208 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary Padatangal, Ubud-Bali Tel: +62 361 971304, 972774 E-mail: email@example.com Web: www.monkeyforestubud.com Hours: 8am – 6pm (daily) Fee: Rp20, 000 Ubud Market Jalan Wanara-wana (Monkey Forest) Ubud-Bali
Photography by Liana Garcellano