Our builder, Wayan, is a leader in his local village and twice a year hosts a Balinese ceremony.
(Photo: Wayan to my left, his partners, and the site foreman – in a striped shirt)
Wayan invited Shelly and I to a post-ceremony celebration of music, dance and Balinese cuisine at his home. It was a privilege to be a part of his extended family. Everyone was generously and genuinely willing to open their hearts to us.
The construction crew is an extended family, from Bali. They work seven days a week and camp out on the property in very modest conditions. They work incredibly hard and yet they do not complain. They do require time to go back to their villages for ceremonies of various types, but otherwise they work reliably and formidably.
Shelly and I decided that since phase one is complete and the concrete floor slabs are in place, we would treat the crew to food from the vendors at the beach. On Sundays the locals come to relax and there’s a half-dozen or so food vendors to keep the crowds happy.
In general the client (such as myself) doesn’t interact with the building crew. And I am naturally limited because the crew doesn’t speak English. The process for communication is that I talk to the builder (who can speak limited English), who then talks with the crew foreman, and from there the work gets done.
Shelly and I also bring food treats and old clothes to the crew every now and again, and I’m the type of client who likes to visit the building site daily, to see the progress and learn the details.
So treating the crew like regular folk and appreciating their contributions was something that we wanted to formally acknowledge at the beach gathering.
The heartwarming moment for me was when they told me to stop spending money on them. At that point I has spent about 300,000 rupiah ($20 USD) on bakso (meatball and noodle soup), grilled corn, martabak (veggie mini-pancakes), drinks, etc. The crew knew I wouldn’t say no if they kept eating and drinking. But they didn’t want to overdo it.
I mean the guy is as far from an Indonesian hero as possible on the surface, but perhaps because of his Swiss Army Knife, his duct tape and paper clips, MacGyver’s ingenuity elevated him into a universal male idol.
The contractor that the builder and I were referencing is this guy (next to the man in the white shirt);
He built his digging machine by hand so that holes could be dug 5-6 meters deep for steel and concrete, supporting the above-ground columns that will secure the structure. The photo below is of a steel frame getting ready to be lowered into one of the 46 holes the contactor dug for us:
The effort is muddy and physically demanding, but every day the contractor pressed on, digging 2-3 holes a day.
To build his contraption the contractor essentially took a large portable engine and attached a gear system to a custom-made blade and pipe, supporting it on either side with steel posts. The mud would cake up and the blade had to be cleaned regularly:
My builder and I calculated that after 25 jobs or so his investment was fully recovered.
In Bali only tall buildings need holes dug deep into the ground. Typical one-story villas don’t require more than a meter or so of hand-digging for the foundation. I imagine if all villas required deeper holes then a commercial hole digger would be made available for contractors. And if course you can buy an auger machine from a first-world country, but the price point makes it impossible.
Balinese are an island culture, but one of their many unique qualities is that spiritually they look to volcanos (skyward), instead of the sea. It’s not that they don’t like the sea. It’s just that the volcanos represent spiritual elevation and a home for their gods and ancestors.
From this point of view, flying kites is an ideal activity for the people of Bali.
And as a tourist, its an easier way to interact with Balinese culture than attending religious or dance ceremonies. I highly recommend it.