The last month in East Asia.

One week in Taipei, Taiwan,
and a short month in Bali and Lombok, Indonesia

Oceania

Taipei 29 Sept - 5 October

At that time, in 2001, one could not book a flight directly from Beijing to Taipei; one had to go via Hong Kong. I had unexpected difficulties to book a ticket from Hongkong to Taipei, so I arrived one day late to the Taipei County International Kite Festival, but on the flights going there I for the first time understood the worldwide impacts of "9/11": much stricter security checks and there was only plastic cutlery for the meals on both flights.

There were many wellknown international kite fliers present at the kite festival, but unfortunately the weather was not the best: rain and very strong winds on the rather narrow beach. I got my Uptions (current name 'ReTurn') thoroughly crashed.

After the kite festival we were invited to an excursion in what I believe was a volcano crater and later a visit to Jioufen kite museum with the master kite maker Huang Jingzhen.

I stayed on a few days and explored Taipei, and also enjoyed a tea tasting session with Angela Wu and her kite festival staff. I wish I could have bought a tea cup set (with the sniffing cups), but that would have added too much weight to my luggage.

As the date was now well past the equinox it was high time to follow the Sun to the southern hemisphere.

Gallery for pictures from Taipei will open in new tab.

Bali 5 - 13 October and 23 October - 3 November

The kite season in Bali had finished, but Bali has so much more to offer. My friend Nyoman Adnyana had in Taipei invited me to come and stay in his house and participate in a big ceremony, which turned out to be a great experience.

For some reason I have always liked the art of Ikat weaving. Ikat is a dyeing technique where a pattern is tie-dyed on the warp/weft before weaving. Bali is one of the only four places on earth where Double Ikat can be found: The pattern is tie-dyed on both the warp and the weft before weaving, making the weaving extremely precision requiring. There is only one village in Bali where this is done; in the village of Tenganan. The double ikat in Tenganan is called Geringsing and each piece of cloth usually comes in three "earthy" colours: pale yellow, red and black/brown.

Tenganan is a in may ways remarkable village. [From Wikipedia:]

The people of Tenganan Pegringsingan are called Bali Aga - the original Balinese. They descend from the pre-Majapahit kingdom of Bedahulu. There are strict rules as to who is allowed to live in the village. Only those born in the village can stay in the village and become full members of the community. There are rules regarding marriage and anyone who marries outside of the village has to leave. A strict protocol regarding marriages among the kin groups have steered the Tengananese through the genetic perils of intermarriage although with increasing contact with he outside world these rules have relaxed somewhat.

By virtue of their magical qualities geringsing are not only capable of keeping impurities and danger out of the village, but also shield and protect humans from harmful influences during rites of passage as they transition from one phase of life to the next.

The Tengananese receive their first geringsing at the hair cutting ritual. The cut hair is placed in a basket which is placed on a folded geringsing on the alé tengah, on which the Tegananese both enters and leaves the world.

In the ceremony that admits a boy or girl to the youth association of the village, they are carried dressed in geringsing cloth on their father's right shoulder. In the concluding ceremony of teruna nyoman which is the initiation, the candidates wear a geringsing and a keris or dagger.

For the tooth filing ceremony, an essential rite of passage for all Balinese Hindus, the participants' pillow is covered by geringsing.

After death the genitals of the deceased in Tenganan are covered by a geringsing hip sash. These cloths may not be used again and so usually are sold. For muhun soul purification rites, an effigy of the dead is carried in a geringsing shoulder cloth.

In the wedding ceremony the groom invites his in-laws to visit his parents home where the couple, dressed in festive geringsing clothing sit while relatives bring symbolic gifts which are placed on a geringsing cloth.

Geringsing is very old; it is mentioned in poems from the 14th century, and there are about 20 different patterns. The making of a Geringsing cloth is a very time consuming and labour intense task as I learned from Mrs Nyoman Diani:
  • Only Balinese cotton is used which is hand-spun.
  • The thread is soaked in kanalunt or tangkih for 42 days. After that it has become pale yellow.
  • The dried thread is put up in a spool.
  • From the spool the thread is put up in a frame for the weft. The width of the frame is the intended width of the finished cloth. The thread has to be put on the frame with utmost care so the threads come side by side with equal tension.
  • Similarly the thread is put up in a much wider frame for the warp. The width of this frame is a little bit more than half of the intended length of the finished cloth since the weave is a circle.
  • Tie the pattern on the weft using plastic ribbons in two colours: red and black. The black plastic ribbons is for the parts which will remain white, while the red plastic ribbons is for the parts which will be coloured red.
  • The pattern is tied on the warp in the same way.
  • The warp and the weft are dyed in indigo bugbug for two weeks.
  • The red plastic ties are opened.
  • Then the warp and the weft are dyed in red colour for three days, each day dip the thread bundles three times.
  • The warp and the weft are then rinsed and left to dry in the Sun.
  • When the dyed thread bundles are dry they are stored for six months.
  • After six months the thread bundles are dye again in red colour for at least 3 days.
  • Then the black plastic ties are opened.
  • The thread bundles are then dried.
This was only for the colouring of the warp and the weft! After all the thread bundles are dried the warp thread is with extreme care put up in a back-strap loom in continous rounds, i.e. not back and forth on a front side, taking care that the dyed pattern is always perfectly aligned. The weft thread is put in a weft shuttle.

Then the actual weaving can start. The weaving needs so much concentration to make the pattern on the weft perfectly match the pattern on the warp so the weaver can only work for a few hours per day. It may take several months or up to a year to finish a big piece of geringsing. In the finished piece the warp is uncut, i.e. it is circular or round.

Naturally, with this very time consuming and labour intense work of art each piece that is for sale holds a quite high price.

More information on Tenganan and the Geringsing and Geringsing in Wikipedia in new tab.

Gallery for pictures from Bali will open in new tab.

Lombok 14 October - 22 October

The Banana Skin Kite

On the last kite festival of the Sari's Flying Circus tour in 1995; the one in the crater of Mt. Bromo, I had seen a kite that I fell in love with. It was a simple wing and the skin was made of skin from the banana plant. The kite fliers were from the island of Lombok (next island east of Bali). The kite was called Layang Goang (kite that makes sound), and I later learned that this kite type in Bali is called Pecukan, and when the skin is made of banana plant skin, like the Lombok one, it is call Kerikan Gedobong). Mr. Eiji Ohashi also liked the kite very much. Later, when we had arrived in Bali, I organized a day trip to Lombok for Eiji and Eiko Ohasi and me for a short visit to the village Lendang Nanka where the kite maker lived. The school teacher Mr. H. Radiah, who spoke good English, gave a short demonstration on how to prepare the skin from the banana plant and also told us how the flying string was made. This being a short one-day tour I felt I had not learned enough, so I returned now to Lengdan Nangka, six years later, for a longer stay.

One cloud high.
The kite Layang Goang is traditionally flown in Lombok when the rain season is approaching. It is flown at a very high altitude, up in to the clouds. The purpose of flying it into the clouds is simply to see how soon the rain is coming: if the skin of the kite is wet when they bring it down they know that the rain is imminent. As kite string they use a self made string of cactus leaves (see below); short pieces tied together to form a long string. When you ask how long a string on a reel is you'll get the reply "One cloud high".

Making a Layang Goang.

Making the banana plant skin.
The banana plant is not a tree, it is technically a huge herbaceous plant, meaning it doesn't have a woody stem. What looks like a trunk is thus not a woody stem but a pseudostem; a compact assemblage of overlapping and spirally arranged leaf sheaths forming a stalk. As the plant grows, new leaves erupt from the inner top of the stalk. Each banana plant bears one bunch of fruit only once, but it is not only the fruit that is edible: the whole stalk is edible and slices of a stalk sheaths are often used in local cooking.

The leaf sheaths on the stalks have two skin layers with a cell structure between the layers, and it is the inner of these two skin layers that is used for kite making (and other things). This skin is in Lombok called keros.

The making procedure of keros follows these step:

  • Select a leave sheath on a banana plant and cut through the leaf sheath with two cross cuts, up and down, with a space between the cuts of approximately one meter.
  • Peel off outer sheath skin between the cuts.
  • Peel off the cell structure between the two sheath skins.
  • Make sure all the surface of the inner sheath skin between the two initial cuts is smooth and free from cell structure remains.
  • Leave the inner sheath skin to dry for three days on the banana plant.
While the skin is drying there is a good time to make the frame of the Layang Goang.

Layang Goang frame.
The frame of a Layang Goang consists of only three pieces of bamboo: one spine piece and two cross spar pieces. The ends of the cross spar pieces on each side of the spine are twisted half a turn towards each other, slightly split and then joined in a nifty way. The wings are bent upwards with strings tied from the wing tips to the spine, and then the tips of the wings are made more pointy by tying a tensioning string about 30% from the wingtip. For the three point bridle a fourth piece of bamboo is used as the upper part of the front bridle, tied to the spine with a 1 cm flexing string (this is different from the Balinese Pecukan where the bridle is all string). The rear part of the three point bridle has two bridle points tied at approximately 30% of a wing width from the spine.

Dressing the Layang Goang frame with dried banana leaf sheath skin.
The skin is simply glued to the frame. In old times glue from trees was used but nowadays a synthetic rubber glue, like Castol, is used. The "outside" of the skin (on the side other than the cell structure) the skins will have got different colours during the drying process, so it is important to select a piece with a good pattern for the spine and then skins with as symmetric patterns as possible on each side. The "outside" of the skin shall face away from the frame while the "cell side" shall face the frame.

  • Select a piece with good pattern for the spine and cut an approximate spine length of it.
  • Put glue on the "cellside" at one end of the skin and fasten it to the cross spar over the spine (split the skin over the spine).
  • Measure with the skin over the spine where the other cross spar will be and put glue on the "cellside".
  • Glue this second end of the skin to the frame after splitting the skin down to the frame. Trim the excess skin.
  • Select two matching pieces of skin.
  • Glue each one of the skins with a 20% overlapping of the centre skin on either side of it onto the frame in the same way and trim the length.
  • Continue in the same way of selecting symmetrically matching skin pieces and gluing them onto the frame, alternating on the sides of the spine, in the same way as the first side pair.
  • When the skins cover the entire frame let the glue dry.
Note that the skin pieces are only glued to the frame and not to each other, meaning there is "negative" venting on the wing.

Adjust the bridle point so it is just in front of a wing tip.

Making a kite string.
The strings for flying kites on Lombok are traditionally made of the fibres of a cactus type, banar or ambong ambong; they said its is similar to pine apple, but I also think that the leaves looks similar to pandanus. These leaves are not very long, maybe 60 - 80 cm, but the fibres are very strong! The core of the leaves are twisted/spun into a two stranded short string.

  • Cut as long pieces as possible of the banar leaves.
  • Soak the leaves for about a month in water.
  • Cut off the thorny edges. There are thorns on both side edges but also along the middle underneath.
  • Remove the skin on both sides to leave the fibrous core bare.
  • Soften up the core by hammering it.
  • Drive a short pole into the ground and split the top of the pole.
  • Pull the banar leaf core through the pole split to squeeze out all water.
  • Roll one leaf core with the palm of your hand on your leg to spin a strand.
  • Roll a second leaf core of the same length to get a second strand.
  • Put the two twisted strands next to each other and then spin/twist them together, using the palm of the hand, to a piece of two stranded string.
  • Continue spinning/twisting leaf cores until you have enough many pieces of string.
  • Tie the pieces of string together until you have "one cloud high".

Gallery for pictures from Lombok - the sounding banana skin kite will open in new tab.

Whisteling Pigeons

While the banana plant skin was drying and the cactus was being soaked I took a bicycle and went round the nearby sight-seeing places. But the most fascinating was actually the early mornings and evenings in the village of Lendang Nanka itself. Each evening around sunset I heard a mysterious whistling sound from the sky and I soon identified it as coming from a flock of pigeons. Several of the villagers kept pigeons, and at sunrise and before sunset they let the pigeons out for a free flight, all pigeons with a whistle or flute around their neck. (Note! This is different from the Beijing pigeon flutes which are tied to the tail feathers.) The female piegons had whistles, greneng, with multiple flutes: three, five or seven, made of brons or brass, while the male pigeons had a larger single flute, sendari, made of horn, wood or brass, around their necks. Often two or more flocks would join in the sky to create a huge whistle orchestra before parting and returning back home. Sometimes a pigeon would by mistake follow wrong flock home, but that pigeon would be taken well care of until next flight.

The sound of a whistle pigeon flock is amazing; all the different tunes that increase and decrease in sound level as the flock flies against the wind or with the wind. The sound is quite faint and not easy to capture, but it is amazing how high up a flock can be and you can still hear the sound. I did not make any recording myself, but I did however find a recording of whistling pigeons made in Bali on Youtube: Pigeon flock Bali (some annoying commercials in the beginning).

One morning when I went out to listen to the pigeons' morning concert I had another extraordinary experience. It was just before sunrise and as I walked the narrow village road towards a place where I knew pigeons would fly, a large group of white dressed women came against me and passed me. They had been to the early morning prayer, dressed in their white praying gowns and white hats. It was like passing through a flock of angels!

Gallery for pictures from Lombok whistling pigeons will open in new tab.