My friend Paul leased an old 2 storey, 10 room Kos (a bit like an Indo motel) in Seminyak. If you’ve ever seen ‘The Block’ you’ll know just what I mean – a bit of a dump but in a good location and good bones. Paul got a local builder Mr Sapta and started some of the demolition works, but then needed to head back to Australia for a while. I agreed to help out and finish it off for him. Now, I’ve done some renovation in my time but the differences in culture, language, and construction gave a whole new meaning to a ‘fixer-upper’!
The property is owned by a Balinese family so there were many spiritual issues to address and traditional ceremonies to be performed. Before work even began we had a ceremony, which in simple terms told the spirits we would be disturbing their place for a while and politely ask them to be tolerant and not interfere as they would be happy with the end result. When we started the pool, which was dug by hand we had another ceremony to tell the ground spirits we were about to disturb them and request they move away and not to interfere until they are invited back.
As part of the plan some walls were demolished including a kitchen wall which despite repeated instructions remained stubbornly in place without explanation. Why not gone? Was my frequent question. Well, it turned out kitchens – the place of food preparation and cooking is the domain of a special spirit which has a responsibility for the health and wellbeing of the residents, so that wall could not come down until the spirits were appeased and relocated.
While I have enough street language to get by, building terminology required a whole new vocabulary – roof, ceiling, wall, floor, windows, doors are simple enough. Do this before you do that, or do this after you do that is OK as well. But the devil’s in the detail as I soon realised the limits of my vocabulary and even sign language when I needed to provide specific instructions for the workers to follow.
Now sometimes the boys would frustratingly show no initiative and just sit around and wait for instructions, and at other times they would be maddeningly proactive. Like when you’re not on site and they pour a concrete floor or put in a ceiling, but before the plumbing and wiring is in place. ‘Tidak masalah, Boss’ – no problem, Boss and then the apprentice would happily spend two days chasing out the concrete or poking holes in and then patching the ceiling to run the pipes and cables. Of course, even sourcing materials had its own challenges. Steel battens and plaster board easily ordered and delivered last week. New order this week- okay Boss, but no can deliver, hmmm, it seems the delivery driver had gone back to Java to visit the family and no one was sure when he might return!
While there is probably a building code in Bali, the workers and trades are rarely qualified and rely on experience. To further complicate matters most perform multiple trades – so a plumber might also be an electrician, as well as install the AC and TV. A concrete worker would do demolition, block work, form work, rendering and tiling. And of course everyone is a carpenter providing you lend them a hammer, a handsaw and some nails. The workers are typically from Java and live on site, using spare rooms for sleeping, cooking, washing and praying.
They have few possessions, but they are happy and fun to be around, always wanting to practise their English, chatting and joking often in Javanese, and always happy to share a cup of thick Java coffee when I was around. No protective gear, thongs are universal foot wear, t-shirts pulled up over the face are dust masks, and no eye protection, despite this, there were no injuries. When Paul visited, much to the workers’ delight he would bring protective masks, gloves and glasses. But within a few days they would be abandoned or lost or perhaps sold.
Prior to Paul moving in, we had a big ceremony followed by a community celebration to inform the spirits the job was finished and to welcome them back to the newly renovated building. The ceremony also drove out any bad spirits that might still be lingering. The jobs completed the Villa looks great, Paul has moved in, the spirits are happy and I’ve added an Indo reno to my resume. Would I do it again, of course but only if the spirits are on side.
And 12 months later
Cinta the owner calls Paul and tells him its time to again bless the spirits, the house and those that live in it. So another day of celebrations and blessings, and yes it seems this is going to be an annual event.