Rhythm of Gamelan

Our stay in Bali was brief, one note in the music of a gamelan, but in that short time we once again experienced the vibrant life there that continues on even now, like the never ending notes from xylophones, gongs, strings, and bamboo flutes, flying over the rolling hills.

Those notes are intermixed with the interjection of young children’s shouts of “pagi!” as I ride past on my bicycle, flying down the mountain. The ride is like life itself- I can’t slow down, I can only call back to the children, “pagi!” A young girl, practicing her English calls out “what is your name?!” and before I get a chance to reply I’ve sped past, already regretting the loss of that moment.

But sometimes, time slows along with the gamelan- as you relax quietly in a spa while the clouds roll in and eventually shed their dark but beautiful tears, dimming the sky temporarily but painting everything green and fresh in their wake. As the xylophones fall into the pitter patter rhythm of rain and the huge droplets fall in sheets outside, everyone holds their breath for the crazy dancer that will surely appear soon.

Like the crazy, intense dancer’s eyes, there are parts of the Balinese experience that are not as relaxing. Holding tight to the handlebars of my bike, I maneuver around trucks, people, and motorcycles. Motorcycles packed as you’ve never seen, carrying cans of fuel, whole families, sheets of glass, mountains of balloons- all adding to the chaos of the street. My hands become numb in their hold on the handlebars of my bike, and my ears too, from the loud gongs and drums. Some of the crazy dancers I’ve never seen- the sketchy rock climbing, river rafting, zip lining experiences I wouldn’t attempt in this place. But throughout it all, there are little surprises- mouth-puckeringly sour passion fruit, fiery sambal, and cooling mangosteens.

Everyone watches the show differently. Young dancers in the corner quickly lose interest as they move on to the next thing, braiding each others’ hair or giggling silently. Some people sway with the music, barely staying in their seats as they’re tempted to get up and dance. Some quietly observe the synchronous moves of the dancers and become thoughtful with the repetition of the music. Unlucky are those who miss the dance altogether, so eager to share the experience with others that they overlook the moment. But no matter how, everyone feels the beats of the drums in their bones and the dancers’ rhythms in their hearts. Everyone flies down the mountain. Faster, faster, faster.. until we can’t slow down. We must remember to look for those places where the path levels out to slow down our bicycles and listen to the rain and the soft beats of the gamelan, because we know it will always speed up again.

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3 thoughts on “Rhythm of Gamelan

  1. That’s my favorite song… 🙂 Also amazing how the gamelan seems so discordant, like life, especially life in a developing world, but then somehow there are these moments where the cacophony synchs up, revealing this captivating melody. I love your metaphor of the music of life.

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