In former times a great society would announce a visitor’s entrance into its domain by means of a very prominent and inspiring monument: the Great Gate of Kiev, l’Arc de Triomphe, Grand central Station are some notable examples.
Bali has a new International airport that attempts to do just this. It has very clear symbolism built into its main arrival hall, but this is subjugated by its utilitarian purpose of getting visitors in and out as quickly as possible. It is probably asking too much from the airport to provide a notable or coherent first impression of the island.
There are, however, 3 sites located directly on the airport’s boundary that unintentionally provide 3 vivid clues to life on Bali. The first site is located on a small plot of land on the northwest corner of the intersection between Jalan Badera and Jalan Tuban. This small parcel of land contains three buildings, a Hindu temple, an Islamic mosque, and a Christian church. These three houses of worship are basically located at the same place, they are so crowded together that they most likely share electrical and plumbing facilities, they at least have a common parking area. In Indonesia it is not uncommon to see houses of worship from various faiths located side by side in a peaceful coexistence, a sight that would be unthinkable in many countries. The Indonesians are justifiably proud of their religious tolerance. These three buildings are also a reminder that Indonesia is a religious society, the belief that God does not exist is incomprehensible to the vast majority of Indonesians, and technically illegal. Many public gatherings begin and end with an ecumenical prayer, this is also true of the public schools as well as with many private parties.
The second site is a white concrete statue located across the street from the temple, mosque and church. This imposing, larger than life statue depicts the legendary mythic hero Gatot Kaca defeating his opponent in the climactic battle of the Mahabhrata, one of the bedrocks of Asian mythology. This statue is a favourite gathering place for local people, especially when it is illuminated by spotlights in the cool of the evening. Gatot Kaca is shown in his full glory pointing his finger arrogantly at his opponent. He is a fine figure of a man, but this hero is totally imaginary and has never walked the face of the earth. This statue is a reminder that myths conceived in the distant past still have a powerful hold over the popular imagination. There is a deep feeling in Bali for mythic worlds and there is a powerful attraction to the stories and lessons of mythology.
The third sight is located further down the road, it is a life sized statue of Col. Ngurah Rai, a modern mythic figure for the Balinese. He is seen in a casual, almost matter-of-fact pose, portrayed as a very real mortal man in contrast to the glamour and theatrics of Gatot Kaca. Ngurah Rai was a guerrilla fighter in Indonesia’s war for independence from the Dutch after the Second World War. Together with his small band of fighters he fought to his death to secure the sovereignty of his island and nation. His statue is an unassuming, but nevertheless stark reminder of the price paid by an earlier generation of Indonesians in winning their independence only a half century ago.