Thursday, August 18, 2011

Traditional American Pastime

The second week I was in Bali, one of my newfound friends and I started this (very had to be there) joke about "traditional Balinese 'insert item here'". Each year hundreds of thousands of tourists flock to Bali to get a glimpse of Balinese tradition- whether that means crashing a funeral (yes, this actually, truly happens) in order to witness a traditional Balinese cremation or donning a crappy beach sarong and heading with your bulky camera to Pengerebongan "trance" festival (more on this in an upcoming post).

This almost lustful drive for an 'authentic' Balinese experience has had some interesting consequences; tourism has driven mutations of Balinese culture to the point that, according to Degung, if you ask 'what is tourism?' and 'what is culture?', you get the same answer.

Example, you ask? Take Galungan: once again according to Degung, the ceremony used to involve several tantric elements, including the sacrifice of animals. However, having the streets run with blood wasn't something that was considered to be much of a crowd pleaser for us folk of Western origin, so the 'tradition' today no longer includes those more visceral elements. Another case in point would be the 'traditional' Balinese massages that you can get at the countless spas that dot Kuta, Seminyak and Sanur beaches. In Balinese tradition, to wash another person's feet- at least, someone who isn't dead yet- would be to lose one's dignity. Feet are considered the most unclean part of the body, and yet, in the 'traditional' Balinese massages available for about US$6 an hour, most spas include a foot bath where the masseuse washes the patron's feet, often in a flower laden tub. This 'tradition' has nothing to do with anything evolving out of Balinese tradition, but has come into being as part of the constructed 'culture' in response to tourists' perceptions of Bali.

The (admittedly lame) joke evolved out of this hijacking/appropriation of 'traditional Balinese culture', and quickly everything was 'traditional': if nothing is traditional, clearly, friends, everything is traditional!

"Look, a traditional Balinese pothole!"

"A traditional Balinese cellphone store!"

"Traditional Balinese McDonald's!"

"Traditional Balinese sex tourism!"
(G-d bless Kuta)

And my personal favorite: "Traditional Balinese exploitation!"

All of this got me to thinking, what's traditionally American? As my culture shock continues to abate (well, sort of...I have yet to cook American food, eating much tempeh and cooking much curry), I've been on the hunt for things emblematic of my culture. So, what better way to celebrate being home then heading out to see my Redlegs play the Nats? Two really bad ball teams + one lovely fab fiance + one view of DC skyline= bliss.

If only they served nasi campur at the ballpark. Just doesn't quite have the same ring as peanuts and cracker jacks, I guess.

Very, very American pastime: Evan, Fab Fiance and I with Abe Lincoln.

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