Though trying to limit the distractions these days, I deliberated until the last minute whether to invest today in either an out of town appointment or sods law, the precisely conflicting timing of the Chinese Grand Prix, the second to last of the season and possibly the championship decider. I surprised myself then in plumping for the effort required to get myself 26Ks out to the village of Pampang, the draw of a regular traditional song and dance performance proving too alluring given that the guidebook promised "these are not made-for-tourist performances and the ritual is unadulterated". The winding undulating trip took me past ramshackle mainly thatched roof shacks, many of which were unusually now staggered on hillsides in groups of 5 or 6, and clearly too squat to be conventional longhouses I could not be sure what their usage was. A covered cattle market was another rare sighting and the palm groves of Sabah had clearly not filtered down southwards. The road to Pampang steadily deteriorated until the last few Ks descended into a bad joke. Men concocted a slapdash and seemingly pointless roadside wall together whereas the horrendous broken surface should have surely been their priority. Perhaps I should have been forewarned by the preceding series of professionaly produced signs, but arrival at the prescribed longhouse where the performances took place immediately saw me presented with a visitors book to sign and excruciatingly a demand in English for 5,000 Rupiah. 5,000 Rupes was nothing, but it certainly wasnt my idea of unadulterated and I winced at being cast into such an obvious pantomime. On another day I might have even foregone the whole charade, but I paid the pennies to realise that I was perhaps fortunate to have arrived a little late and so only caught the tail end of the cavalcade. Though there were only a couple of other white faces inside the garishly overdecorated arena in yellow and white, I sat determined not to get sucked into what had obviously become a sell out, most probably due to the very homage paid to it by the guidebook. As the village elders with requisite elongated earlobes sat by, another 2 played Sape guitars for the village kids to mull around to. Costumed in overelaborate beaded finery or feather covered warrior breastplates, their lame, mischief laden gyrations had me begging for something more akin to the truth, and though I was momentarily beguiled by ladies proffering feathers or kids porting ghoulish masks, one a fantastic tusked wild boar representation, I sat begrudgingly with my chin in hands at the nonsense. Perversely I even became much more interested at investigating the sham, noting for example that the reported "longhouse" was actually a Dayak stylised stage evidently custom made. Though its effigied wooden stilts had character, it was devoid of decoration around the back and no true longhouse would ever be built like that. Though I well understood and appreciated the chicken and egg argument that tourists had undoubtedly precipitated the descent into showbiz, I still struggled to accept that the local peoples desire to retain their culture and get by meant that they had sold out to the devil. Adjacent trinket stalls demonstrated its corruption beautifully in women trying to sell me all manner of keyrings for example, just what every longhouse dwelling Kenyah Dayak needs, I was also offered a Perang (sword) ridiculously completely covered in beading. The ladies were probably surprised to hear the Bahasa rebuke "Saya becuk orang perang" (I'm not a warrior). For good measure some of the kids came to me in turn to pester me for photos, though this time I knew that it was motivated by financial gain. Most distastefuly, a perfectly translated board decreed prescribed tariffs for snapping men with long earlobes and people in traditional costume, also declaring that reprinting for promotional purposes was only permissible with prior agreement ie. payment. My camera stayed stubbornly and firmly in my pocket despite the odd temptation. How soon would it be I wondered before they slapped a standard and habitually extortionate camera usage fee onto the entry charge and the 5,000 became inflated to 50,000.
Dispirited by the whole experience, I tried to retrieve something from Pampang in noting the still prolific incorporation of carved totems and high roofs into local architecture, but an immediate and doubtless infrequent Kijang was too good to resist despite wishing to search out some more genuine touches. The blazing heat must have really hit me since I conked out upon my return, and I later tried to redeem something more from the day, only succeeding in patronage of a very rare thing, a modern cinema with a film I actually wanted to see. "The Good Shepherd", a tough espionage thriller was perhaps too compounding for one already so cynical, but it sure beat wasting another night traipsing around in search of non-existent beer or football on TV. One favour my trip to Pampang had done was to bless me with a discarded tourist map of the city, and though crazily only written in Bahasa and of an inappropriate scale, it related the alleged existance of a few pubs besides hitherto untold attractions. Thanks presumably to Ramadan the pubs were all shut however, a little ironic given that that was precisely why I needed one so much. I stayed up all night to write that night, and it was these very words which were prompted by an air raid siren at 4.30am, presumably warning of the impending renewed fast ahead. I knew for sure now that it was not so much the privations of travel or of being tired of the whole affair, though somewhat, I really had by now been thoroughly sickened by the perversities of that ridiculous belief system. Self enforced hunger and dehydration in raging heat, rising in the middle of the night to perform inane rituals, the profligation of fixed ideas, even the film had been savagely edited lest I be led astray by the devils influence. And yet the poor irritating guys sprawled behind me at the cinema had probably come to see an English language movie just to ogle Angelina Jolie as much as anything else. Bali started to sound better than ever then as my original reservations at hitting a major tourist destination evaporated in anticipation of a more amenable culture and strangely, a refuge in Hinduism of all things. The only enduring problem was my protracted failure in establishing how to get there!