Today in Ubud, my parents, me and a group of strangers are imprisoned in a hotel, like contestants in a Balinese episode of Big Brother, doing things like this:
The outside world is a deathly quiet ghost town with nothing but the ring of the insects and the occasional bark of a dog to break the silence. It’s a bit odd. I keep expecting Davina McCall to pipe up from a speaker and announce that one of us is getting evicted.
The reason we’re all 24-hour captives in this gilded cage is because today is Nyepi, the Balinese day of Silence, when everyone must stay hidden from the dark forces that threaten to inhabit the island. Yes. There are monsters at large, and as long as we stay off the streets, sip ginger tea and read books on sun loungers, everything will be alright tomorrow.
Nyepi always follows the dark moon of the spring equinox, and opens a new year in the Balinese calendar. Last night Ubud came to life with all sorts of scary gargoyles in a show that put my dear home town’s annual festival, The Spalding Flower Parade, to shame.
Huge exorcisms are held before Nyepi, usually at a cross road, which is where demons like to hang out (don’t ask why, they just like them). The Ogoh Ogoh (massive demonic structures that disturbingly feature things like this dripping vagina here, and droopy nipples) symbolise the evil spirits we must seek to banish from our world. Loud banging, blazing torches and fireworks help to scare them off. They also scare the shit out of tourists. And small children. It’s pretty awesome.
Today,… as I write in secret from my padded chair by the pool, hiding from the monsters like Anne Frank in a penthouse, I can breathe easily knowing that at least the Pecalangs (traditional Balinese security men) are out there, patrolling the streets. They’re making sure that nothing and no one disturbs this day of silence, so there’s no gamelan, no whizzing motorbikes, no Legong dancing and no one… absolutely no one is having sex, because that’s not allowed either.
The Balinese, and everyone else in Bali today are keeping the lights low in their houses and meditating. And maybe updating Facebook. And maybe blogging. Either way, we are all maintaining this symbolic control over ourselves and the “force” of the demons that may otherwise try and take over. Even the airport is shut so as not to attract attention.
One has to wonder how the UK would deal with something like this…
“Excuse me sir, what are you doing on the street? There are monsters out here!!!”
“What? Don’t be so ridiculous. I’m off out to buy the Daily Mail,”
“But sir, I’m a special policeman trained for this very day. It’s my job to protect you from the demons. Please go back inside.”
“Are you one of those crack addicts from the derelict warehouse round the corner?”
“You are aren’t you. You’re a hopeless crack addict. I hope you get eaten by your own inner demons. God bless you though. I’m still off out to get the Daily Mail.”
I’m feeling rather glad to be in such a spiritually sensitive community today, where everyone is being very respectful and quiet. Just don’t tell anyone I’ve been on the Internet. Apparently demons can travel via WiFi.