Recently I was invited to conduct an Anti-Aging workshop at the annual scientific meeting of Indonesian dermatologists. Although my workshop was on using Live Cell Therapy for Anti-Aging, I took the opportunity to impress upon them the holistic approach to health and rejuvenation, including the importance of qi-enhancing exercises like Qigong.
Bali is an enchanting Island. While we are now lamenting over the loss of luster from our own Pearl of The Orient ( Penang ), Bali has obviously taken over as the darling of tourists and travelers looking for enchantment, mysticism, spas, sand, surf…and a lot more. It has its own unique identity, and the Balinese Spas and Balinese Gardens are sprouting all over the world. But there’s nothing like the real thing, as the saying goes.
The Santika Beach Resort where I stayed is cleverly blended amidst the lush trees and, like most hotels there, comes with beautiful gardens and swimming pools. The sea splashes right up to the edge of the Sunset Restaurant, where a romantic candle-lit dinner would make your trip most memorable. Its Kunyit Restaurant is set in a true Balinese Garden, carved out of ornate trees. I enjoyed doing my Qigong exercises under the trees, by the swimming pools, and doing the Amazing Qigong Walk along the paths to the beach.
The people are most friendly. Although Malays, they are mostly Hindus ( Agama Hindu Dharma ), though their religion bears little resemblance to mainstream Hinduism but is described as a mixture of Hinduism, Buddhism and their own ancestral Spritism. They are a very devout people, and hotel staff and waiters can be seen doing their morning prayers, even right by your side in the restaurants. Most shops and houses have small alters in the courtyards, much like the Chinese alters that we are familiar with, except that theirs are always made of concrete.
The island is also famous for its temples and shrines, befitting its Island of the Gods title. Some of their gods and spirits are similar to the Hindu deities, but many are uniquely Balinese. They believe very strongly in mysticism, magic and spirit-worship. The good spirits guard the hills and mountains while the ogres and demons populate the seas. Some of the temples are a must on the tourist itinerary.
The hotel staff was ever polite and helpful, always gesturing and bowing with their traditional greeting. The men were in sarongs, and wore a flower on one ear. The women were graceful and wore a perpetual smile on their faces. It is no wonder that they are famous for their pampering and massage skills that have made the Balinese Spa such a successful phenomenon worldwide.
Dancing is another skill associated with the Balinese. The traditional dances are regularly presented at the larger hotels for the convenience of tourists, though you can opt to visit the villages to witness the dances being performed in their natural surroundings. I am most enchanted by the Kecak dance which is the most famous of the dances, and which I only saw on TV previously. The dancers invariably enter a trance-state when performing this dance. Other dance-dramas are usually of stories from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and local Balinese history.
Bali is also famous for its woodcarvings, paintings and batik weaving. A visit to the different villages offers the opportunity to witness these handicrafts being made by the skilled craftsmen and women. Each village has its own specialty. A visit to Bali would not be complete without bringing some of these items back as souvenirs.
Although Balinese food is the usual offering, other varieties of Indonesian fare are easily available. Pork is a favourite food for the Balinese, so Muslims like me have to be cautious about our meals. The ubiquitous KFC and McD ( both halal in Bali ) are available for the less adventurous. Muslim Nasi Padang restaurants are the other options. More western ( and Japanese ) restaurants are sprouting to cater for the exploding tourist industry. Five and six star hotels are becoming a common feature.
Having seafood at the Jimbaran beach is another must for visitors. The tables were set right across the sandy beach, and the guests on the last tables even got their feet wet. We were there at night, and they had a spotlight shining at the waves which made the whole experience seem like something unreal. The beach was of course jam-packed with hungry tourists, mostly from Japan and Australia. On one side was a gamelan ensemble playing traditional Balinese music, and on the other, a lively guitar-strumming foursome singing familiar oldies from table to table. And the food? Simply marvelous! Our travel industry has a lot to learn from them.
One of my favourite drinks is the avocado drink. You may not know that it is rich with antioxidants, and some say, is an aphrodisiac. The last time I enjoyed it fully was in Tawau, Sabah where it was served in 1-litre mugs. In Bali, I had avocado juice at every meal. Avocados rank highest among the 20 most commonly eaten fruits in important phytochemicals and nutrients including: alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lycopene, glutathione, beta-sitosterol, lutein; thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, biotin, Vitamin E, folic acid, Vitamin K, pantothenic acid; potassium, and magnesium. Avocados are also unique among fruits because they contain healthy monounsaturated fat. Avocados act as a nutrient booster, allowing the body to significantly absorb more heart-healthy and cancer-fighting nutrients found in fruits and vegetables. Thus, pairing avocados with antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables provides you with a delicious heart-healthy and anti-cancer meal ( reference : www.avocado.org ).
I also learned at the dermatologists’ congress that applying olive oil is as effective as using dexamethasone ( a popular steroid drug used by doctors ) cream or ointment for the treatment of skin allergies and inflammation. Another plus for natural therapy!
The official opening of the congress was held at the magestic Garuda Wishnu Kencana Cultural Park ( better known as GWK ). It is a magnificient monument carved out of the mountain, with huge monoliths ( each the size of a triple-storey house ) lining the landscape, with a huge bust of a Hindu god atop one of the monoliths greeting the visitor, and an even bigger Garuda ( the mythical Balinese eagle ) overseeing the main arena where the ceremony was held. The scene reminded me of the settings in the The Lord of The Rings movie. The GWK entrance also had twin towers ( much bigger than the ones at the entrance of Lucky Valley ) reminiscent of the movie.
As I was busy with the medical congress, I did not have enough time to investigate the local healing practices, but I did find out that Cosmic Qigong ( described as “internal power meditation” ) is being taught there. As I have been invited to help set up an international Anti-Aging centre in Bali, I will definitely be going there more often, and hopefully will have ample opportunity to learn about their healing traditions. I will also have the time to try out the catapult ride in the centre of the busy Kuta tourist area, or even the only sea-side bungee ride in the world. There are indeed many interesting things to do in Bali. Those of you who love swimming, surfing, snorkeling, sea-walking ( like aquanauts ) and diving should pack your bags and start dreaming of Bali Hai now. Those of you who are water-shy like me can still enjoy the unbelievable undersea beauty when you get on the tourist submarine ( one of only two in the world ).
Om santi, santi, santi.