Bali, Part 1: Stone Eyes & Smiles

Over the end of last year, I finally set my foot upon Bali, Indonesia, for the very first time. The hype for this place has been unbelievable, friends from all over the globe insist this is one of the most memorable places they’ve ever been to.

The modest and somewhat messy airport of Bali betrayed the fact that this is a major destination for international tourists. Once you step out, tropical greeneries, blue skies and stone sculptures await you. Take a look again at the picture above, I can’t think of many other places in the world where you could stumble into a cafe and find a grand Lotus pond that leads into such a grand structure. We were just astounded by this sight.

The seeds of my fascination with Bali was seeing the distinctive sculpts of Bali’s mythical creatures when I lived in Indonesia for the first 10 years of my life, before moving abroad. Balinese style of stone and wood sculptures are among the most iconic looks around, remaining virtually unchanged through all these years despite constant exposure to international visitors and influences. They’re immensely popular around all regions of Indonesia, you’d see them adorning business desks and office doors everywhere . Their popularity also extends to my favorite Japanese artists.

Growing up with Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball, I can’t help but notice the explicit references to Tenka Ichi Budokai being based off the distinctive look and feel of Bali. For the curious, look no further than the first 15 volumes of Dragon Ball.

Tenka Ichi Bodukai, Dragon Ball by Akira Toriyama

If the gates and the temple-like structure in the background isn’t enough proof for you, the civilian to the left of Goku is modelled after the casual local look, the stocky man at the registration booth is wearing a traditional Balinese get up and for the last clue, look at the sticker on Muten Rōshi’s suitcase.

Balinese has its own brand of Hinduism and it has remained strong throughout its history. The locals’ skills and their reverence for their culture is what we have to thank for the wonderful sculpts. Since I set foot, I was in constant joy and excitement from being surrounded by these sculptures.

Seeing them in stores or on someone’s desk is nothing compared to the sensation of being surrounded by a plethora of them in various sizes and finish. The sculptures are beautiful work, the level of craftsmanship on the entire island is just astounding. The choice of materials and style ages gracefully; each additional moss seemed to only make these statues more vibrant. I did not see a single traditional Balinese sculpture that wasn’t interesting to look at.

At rest, these sculptures have so much strong, dynamism to each of them. All of them emits exuberance yet are masterfully reined in. The facial expressions are impeccable. They hint of an ancestry rooted in Chinese and Hindu art. The eventual style though is uniquely Balinese, the strong gaze coupled with the intimidating yet welcoming jaws are unmistakably Balinese. All I could do was to soak up what made these stand out to me and what made them such visually arresting work.

At the end of our first day, I made a quick impression of what Bali showed me.

It was an exhausting first day: off our morning flight, blanketed in humidity and surrounded by the bustling energy of Ubud. Bali didn’t fail to light up the smiles on our faces. It was just hard to be in a sour mood, surrounded by such a welcoming culture and to be in Bali with such lovely company. The rest of the trip proved to be just as wonderful as the first day hinted at.

Stay tuned for more.

Posted Friday, January 20th, 2012 under Sketchbook, Travel, Work: Personal.


  1. Nice write up and amazing photos! I’m fairly convinced that Bali is probably the coolest looking place on Earth. I love the tie-in with Dragonball. Its such a beautiful place! I’m glad that your surroundings sparked creativity! Then again, how could it not!

    Until next time!

  2. Wow, that first pic was just near a cafe? I assume being in Bali must be a lot being in the Louvre. Just wall to wall beauty across every square inch.

    To throw in even more Dragonball trivia, that guy to the left of Goku is based of Toriyama’s tour guide when he visited Bali.

  3. Lateef, it’s a beautiful place, I haven’t seen that much temples and guardian statues in one area, the next post will have more on the statues and how the locals adorn them.

    Darius, yes! That was a cafe, on the sides of that pond are verandas where you can either sit or lie down at. The pond is full of cichlids that periodically bob up from hiding. Kind of creepy but pretty at the same time. It’s packed wall to wall with all these mythical figures staring at you… And hahaha, that’s awesome. Also, the sticker that says “Bali”, below it is the word “Wayan”, it’s a common Balinese name. Maybe it’s the name of his tour guide?

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