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October 2002



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The Sounds Of Bali

The sounds of Bali are many and varied.  They include the usual melodies visitors associate with Bali, from the drums and gongs of the gamelan orchestras, to the different languages one hears while walking around the island, to the sounds of the rice blowing in the wind or the crashing of the waves on the white sand beaches. 

Around my house now is a unique time for sounds.  The rice is just now being harvested.  Leading up to this community event, you can hear several sounds associated with the rice.  Besides the very relaxing sound of the rice blowing in the wind (the rice grows to a height of 2 feet or so and is close planted).  It must sound similar to the sound of the wind blowing through the wheat fields in Kansas. It is a light rustling sound.  As the rice nears maturity the local birds start taking a particular interest in it. So there are the sounds of all the birds, their chirps, calls, and the sound of the flocks flying over the fields.  In the US we have scare-crows.  Straw stuffed into old clothes and propped up to look like a person standing there.  This scares the birds?  In Bali, they take several approaches.  One involves stringing twine all across the fields between bamboo poles.  It’s done in such a way that the twine is one continuous line.  Attached to these strings are pieces of  plastic (that’s one way to re-cycle) that flutter in the breezes.  The wind blows and moves the plastic, making a noise the birds seem to be startled by.  In addition, they tie tin cans on the poles as additional noise makers.  Since the twine goes from one pole to the next and so forth, one person can sit at the top of a field next to a bamboo pole and shake it causing ALL the poles and plastic and tin cans to move and make noise.  I’ve seen rather large fields protected in this manner by only one farmer.  When that just doesn’t keep the hungry birds away, farmers will wander around their fields calling out to the birds.  “HUH, HOO, HAY,…”.  I don’t speak enough Balinese to know for sure, but I think it’s something like “get the hell away from my hard earned food”.  Something like that.  Bali is blessed with an incredible number of different colorful birds.  As I sit in my bedroom on the second floor, there is a tree outside my window that is always filled with chirping birds.  I finally purchased a book to help identify the different species.   As they say in the movie Animal House “Knowledge is Good”.

The second set of sounds one hears now is the sounds associated with the actual harvesting of the rice.   Groups of seven or eight women come walking into the fields in the mornings.  They carry all their tools with them.  Sheets of plastic; large bamboo baskets; and a small table.  They all are dressed to the hilt.  Even with the warm tropical air and the hot sun beating down on them, they all have hats and heard scarves, long sleeve shirts, long pants, and even gloves.  All this clothing is to protect them from the rice stalks, which can be sharp, and the rice husks that can irritate their skin and lodge in their hair.  They then break up into teams.  One team has sharp, hand held scythes for the cutting of the rice stalks; another team carries these stalks to the third team which beats the stalks on the table causing the rice to fall into the baskets.  The last team takes the empty stalks and stacks them up near-by.  The women change teams often and, as they work, are all chatting and laughing and smiling.  As each field is completed, some of the team moves to the next field, while a few stay to remove the husks from the rice.  This is done by placing a mound of rice onto a large round banana-leaf tray and then tossing the rice in the air.  The wind blows away the lighter husks leaving the heavier rice kernels to fall back into the trays.  At the end of the day the rice is put into large bags and carried away to dry in the sun while the rice stalks are gathered up and either spread over the empty field or taken to be used for animal food and other purposes.  The fields are left with some of the dry rice stalks sitting on top of the soil.  These stalks are then partially burned to form charcoal and then to be re-incorporated back into the fertile soil to be broken down in preparation for the next rice planting.  This will happen in about one and a half months.

Now that the fields are empty of the growing rice, the third and final stage of this rice cycle begins.  And with it two of my favorite sounds on Bali.  Ducks and frogs!  Ducks are brought in to do their work by a local who supplies the ducks for free in exchange for the rice the ducks find that fattens them up.  They quack all day long as they work their way through the fields finding lots of rice left on the ground to eat.  Their varied quacking really sounds like talking to me.  “Quack, quack quack.  Quack!  Quack ‘quack QUACK, quack”.  Ducks are the closest thing man has to a ‘perpetual motion machine’.  While they are in the fields eating the leftover rice, they are also eating insect larva and insects (so they are an insecticide); they are also contributing ‘fertilizer’ to the soil; and lastly, after they get big and fat from all this eating, they themselves are eaten!  Wow!  At night they are led back to their little temporary enclosure to rest for the next day which starts again at sun-rise.  While they are resting at night, the frogs take over the choral duties.  The frogs also eat insects, so they help the ecology like everything on Bali.  The frogs come in several sizes.  The littlest ones, about an inch across, seem to make the most and the loudest of the crocking noises.  At their peak, all the frogs can be really loud.  It really sounds like a complete chorus of sound.  Each type of frog contributes their own unique sound.  Some are the altos, while others contribute the bass sounds.  It is a true 360o chorus in the night.

So Bali is filled with one continuous musical orchestra and choral group!  From the man-made to the animal-made.  From the sounds of the day to the sounds of the night.  The many Sounds Of Bali.  Life is good!

Images and short movies (with sound)1 on the web site:

Movie of the harvesting: (1)

Movie of the ducks: (1)

Page of images of the entire rice cycle: 

Image of a small offering temple in the field:

(1)you will be prompted to save the file (I suggest on your Desktop), then double click on the downloaded file to launch your video software which will play the short film!

Until next time….



As you have heard by now, Bali was rocked by 2 explosions last night in Kuta. Kuta is about an hour drive south of where I live. It is the most densely populated by tourists. Mostly Australians, but also, mostly young. There are a half dozen discos there and it was at one of these discos that the explosion happened. It was right in the middle of town. It has been reported that the government has severely limited the access both into and out of Bali right now. This is not meant to be long lastly, but only to help capture these bastards.

At this point I want to go on record as saying "I was wrong". Previously I had stated that this sort of thing could NEVER happen here. Well I was wrong! Bali is still one of the safest places on earth. But this is a terrible thing that has happened. The Balinese people really do depend on tourism, and this will really hurt that. There haven't been many Americans here since 9/11; but there have been plenty of Australians and Japanese. This, I fear, will limit that immediately.

I noticed after 911 (I arrived here 9/20/2001) a huge increase in both police and military presence in Bali. Many stationed at major intersections and in the larger towns and villages. I think that will happen again. I have just returned from Sanur (west of Kuta and Denpasar) and have not seen any increase, yet.  However, I did read a quote from the Indonesian President (Megawati), who is half Balinese, that an increase in security is inevitable.

It is hard to imagine how anyone could think that this cowardly act could further their cause. It seems to be such a stupid thing that you wonder how anyone so stupid could actually carry it off.

For further updates, check out they seem to have the most up-to-date info.

Well, I am off to give blood.

Thanks for all the emails asking how I am. I am fine, just a little disappointed with the human race :-(


Click on Image for full size map

This is a map showing Kuta and the damaged area. If you know Kuta you know that this is the very center of town. So these cowards not only killed innocent men, women, and children of many religious beliefs; they also destroyed the livelihoods of many, many decent hard working folks, many of which were Muslim!

Please contact your local Red Cross and give blood - designate it for Bali.... Thanks!


P.S. I've added a clock showing the current date & time in Bali to both web sites. See: and/or



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Click on the Image for full size!

Rice Harvesting

Well, it's there somewhere above Australia and below Singapore...

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