16 August, Indonesia – ‘All Over The Place – Asia, part 2’

Happy Indonesian Independence Day! Well, actually it’s tomorrow, but that didn’t seem to stop the people we met celebrating it today.

Since we landed in Bali I’ve noticed a lot of Indonesian banners and flags hanging about the place, with festivities spread throughout the week. They’re still obviously very happy about gaining their independence from the Japanese (and formally the Dutch) in 1945. And it’s clearly big event in schools, because as we arrived at 7.30am in a school playground 10 mins drive from our hotel, games were already underway. We immediately dived into a cracker eating competition, where large rice crackers had been hung from washing lines and kids were racing to see who could eat them the fastest with their hands behind their backs. Then it was on to a marble and spoon race (maybe eggs are in short supply?!) and we also tried our hands at a spot of “bottle fishing”, where you try to lift up a bottle by lowering a string through the neck with a small piece of twig tied to it.

It was all very charming in the dusty courtyard, with smiling laughing children surrounded by tropical trees and plants and the sun beating down, and even more delightful once we reached our second location – a beautiful rocky beach lapped by foamy waves. There we shot the intro and a few other bits for our compilation show, before relaxing in the shade at a rather chic beach bar for lunch. With a little time to kill before the heat died down we made our way down to a large yellow footbridge by the river and drank thick Bali coffee in a shack waiting for the start of our final event of the day – the greasy pole climbing competition.

Apparently the Dutch used to amuse themselves by putting desirable objects at the top of a pole covered in grease and would then sit laughing as the locals tried to find ways of getting up there to get their hands on them. It was obviously a bit patronising and humiliating, so once they had their independence Indonesians would reenact these competitions as a rebuke to their former masters. Here on some of these smaller islands they still carry out the ritual, and to begin with we watched with some amusement as teams of children and teenagers climbed on each other’s shoulders to get up the greasy bamboo trunk set up in the dust by the riverside. At the top was a kind of wheel with tickets having off it, and if you managed to get someone to the top they could pull off one ticket for a prize, with prizes ranging from bikes to electric fans and bits of furniture. To be in with a hope of getting someone to the top you had to stack people up in at least a 4 person tower, which is a lot of weight for the guys at the bottom to be holding, with everyone slipping and sliding the whole time as they lean on the pole for balance. It’s obviously quite dangerous (you could easily break your neck falling off) and at one point I thought one of the guys had broken their back as they all collapsed in a heap at the bottom. But after 30 seconds or so he hopped to his feet and had another few goes over the next hour so I guess he must have been fine.

Anyway, there was no way I was going up there! But luckily for the purposes of this Main Event, Naomi and I didn’t have to. We chose our teams and then gave ourselves the job of holding the people at the bottom’s legs steady while the human pyramids formed. There was no clear winner, just like the rest of the events that day, so unusually for ‘All Over The Place’ we called it a draw. If this is the last series (God forbid) then this will have been the last Main Event, so to end it on draw seems quite nice…

Once all the tickets had been picked the last boy to get up there waved an Indonesian flag as they all sang the national anthem, and we made our way back across the yellow suspension bridge as the sun set over the water, looking forward to our day off and thinking how lucky we had been to see a side of life here that tourists don’t often get to witness.

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