There is a lonesome wing on the Western end of Bangli Hospital through which a cold wind howls in the dark of the night. If, perchance, you peer into the gloomy interior you may just happen to catch a fleeting glimpse of a shadowy figure or two. With sunken eyes and shambolic walk, a dribble from the side of the mouth, an incessant mumble and maybe the odd hysterical scream they huddle in the shadows unable to face the world as we know it. These are the detritus of a society where money speaks volumes and the loss of money speaks at even louder volumes.
This is the Homebuilders Wing. A place where those who were brave enough to attempt to build their own villa in paradise are protected from themselves. A home away from home, as far as possible away from home.
It needn’t be this way. No, I don’t mean that perhaps a high cliff, a gas oven or perhaps an overdose of syrup of figs can provide eternal relief, no I mean that it is remotely possible to reduce the stress that causes these terrible cases of human tragedy.
How? Well look around. You don’t see many Balinese in the Homebuilder’s Wing now do you? They’re all Tamus in there aren’t they? The reason is quite simple. Traditionally the wonderful people of this beautiful place build a house as a work in progress. We foreigners tend to have a black and white view, the house is either ‘unbuilt’ or ‘built’ and the shortest period between the two is to be pursued at all costs, yes all costs, lots and lots of them. Perhaps it is something to do with the fact that in Northern Europe living without a house has a distinct tendency to freeze off one’s gonads. In the outdoors process of building quick movements are required to ensure a good flow of blood is maintained to preserve those precious jewels and ensure offspring are available to continue the housebuilding line.
Here in Bali housebuilding is not an unfinished or finished sort of business. A house is an ever evolving and changing entity. They often build their houses progressively. Traditional Balinese houses have a series of buildings set within a compound and they tend add buildings as they can afford or need them.
It goes like this. The family have a compound. They start off by building a rough wall around it. At first this will probably be quite basic, some foundations, concrete posts and beams and some concrete blocks to fill in the panels. At some later (perhaps much later) stage this outside wall may get a layer of cement render, perhaps some stone cladding or nice coping stones on the top. Later again, as money becomes available or a special event approaches, a Balinese gate might be added.
Inside the compound a similar process is followed.
The design of traditional Balinese houses consists of a number of separate buildings each for their own purpose. A family temple is always in its own space in the corner closest to the home of the Gods, Mount Agung, other buildings have their own specific place in the compound.
The purest part of the compound is the corner nearest Mt Agung which,in Ubud, Deenpasar and anywhere on the main island of Bali south of here, is the North East corner. The least pure corner is the opposite one furthest away from Agung and this is where the toilet and bathroom are placed. Next to the toilet on the Southern wall you’ll find the kitchen and next to the temple on the northern wall you’ll often find a very well decorated building in which only old people and small children are allowed to sleep.
On the Eastern wall is the place for a bale in which the dead are laid out prior to cremation. Bedrooms are usually placed on the Western wall. If you want more information have a look at Made Wijaya’s classic illustrated book about Balinese traditional houses.
As with the outside wall the building of the house itself is often a progressive process. Important buildings might be built first and others added later as money or need arises. The buildings are often in a basic form at first then stone facings, wooden components may be added later. Later still a skilled carver may be commissioned to come and add the carvings to stone cladding ‘blanks’ around doors and windows. As time progresses the rough outer wall might (or might not) get finished and a Balinese gateway added. As a family grows more rooms may be added to the compound. A traditional Balinese is a work in progress and evolves as life progresses.
My landlord’s house looked all complete to me but then, one day, sumptuous wood carvings arrived, doors, windows, posts even ceilings which took his house to a whole other level of Balinese beauty.
At this point it is interesting to note that many Balinese consider our that our trendy minimalist style is for poverty stricken people. White painted concrete is the cheapest form of building you can get. Even a very ordinary house here has to have some stone cladding, carved doors and roof ornaments.
Taking a leaf out of the Balinese approach may provide a number of benefits. You might start by building some basic living quarters and what will later be a guest bedroom and bathroom. You can then move in and build your house around you. You will be onhand to more closely watch the subsequent work as it progresses. You can concentrate your attention on one area at a time and, if building in Bali is a new experience and a steep learning curve, you can learn your lessons without the whole project being jeopardised.
You can also start off by constructing just the basic buildings at first then, as time progresses, you can add the finishing as you go, nice floor tiles, some stone cladding on the walls, nice carved wood. This approach can remove a lot of the stress of the building process and Bangli Hospital will have fewer inmates.
It might also be a good idea to break your project down into specific portions for construction such as foundations, structure, roof, walls, joinery, plumbing, electrical installation and internal finishing. However if you do break the project down just be aware that you should still carry out a complete costing of everything before you start so you know how much the whole project is going to cost. The time to start trimming the budget to suit your overstrained wallet is at the start of the project not halfway through.
Once you have the total cost you can then break down the project into smaller components allowing you to let several small contracts and manage them individually. This means you are not overwhelmed by the size of the whole job, you can watch each portion in detail and you can monitor performance and change the contractor if you are not happy. If you are really on top of things you can select different contractors according to the type of work they are good at. Electricians are not generally very good at installing roofs (funny that) and, surprisingly, joiners don’t usually make the best brain surgeons. It is rather unnerving when you arrive on site one day to find the man that was digging holes for the foundations now has a screwdriver in his hand and is installing the main distribution board.
It is important to have priorities in this process, the building structures and base elements should be built of high quality remember you can always change the windows and doors but if the base structure is flawed it is not easy to repair.
So you see that while building a house all at one go can be a traumatic experience the good news is that you can break it down into separate buildings and into separate skills leaving you with small bite sized chunks of work that wouldn’t even stress a chihauhau in a washing machine.
If one day you find yourself in the homebuilders wing you’ve only yourself to blame.