Published: October 27th 2010October 27th 2010
Mr Scabby drops by. He is broke. ‘Give me a job,’ he says. I can’t, even if I wanted to, because today I am meeting Dorothy. Dorothy is a Couchsurfer who has lived in Bali for 11 years or so and set up a school. I’m not exactly sure where she lives, but she’s coming to meet me in Ubud.
We have coffee and mosey around looking for lunch. I ask her what the Indonesian word for spoil is, because I’ve been trying to explain it to the son and heir, and he doesn’t get it. He thinks it’s paying compliments to a woman, but the concept is more than that - I tell him he could spoil his mother. He just looks confused.
Dorothy tells me the word is manja. But she says, spoiling is not part of Balinese culture. Balinese men don’t do this. And she would know, having been in a relationship with one for seven years. She cared about him, but in the end the cultural differences were too great. Today, she says, I will manja you. So she does, buys me lunch and then Italian ice cream. When I see the son and heir at the mini mart later, I tell him all of this and he looks even more puzzled.
‘Women want a lot of manja,’ he comments resignedly. ‘But women can manja men too,’ I tell him. His eyes roll back in his head.
Tickets for this Ubud readers and writers festival are hugely expensive - for me at least, staying in the cheapest accommodation in the country. I find a couple of book launches to attend though, and I am amazed to find that there are free cocktails, canapés - it’s like being back on the arts circuit in Melbourne.
One launch is for a book by a Palestinian architect and she talks of the challenges of living in the West Bank. I’ve been there, and I’m interested to hear what an educated Arab woman has to say about the eternal conflict. As one of my Israeli friends says: it’s about the land. Too many people all want the same tiny chunk of dusty earth.
Go to find Mr Scabby to establish what’s happening the next day, and discover the outing has been cancelled. I’m a bit pissed off that no one bothered to tell me. But it’s been raining a lot, maybe a trip on a bike would have been more punishment than pleasure. Dorothy says she’ll come to Ubud and meet me instead and I decide to go and stay with her. I was going to go to Lovina and see the dolphins (not the coffins as I thought the Frenchman on the fast boat said), but maybe we’ll do that later in the week as a group and then I’ll go to the port where you catch ferries to Java.
Dorothy is having building work done and caring for the world’s most neurotic cat. Her place is not easy to find - my driver asks for directions at least eight times. Dorothy has only been there a few weeks so she’s a bit vague about it all. I certainly have no idea.
It’s a nice little house though and she’s enclosing the rooftop area to make a big living room. The cat, Jay, is hiding in the storeroom. Dee inherited the cat from a woman who needed to return to Australia, and her life revolved around feeding Jay sirloin, roasting chickens for him and never having visitors because he didn’t like strangers.
Dorothy takes me to surf hangout Echo beach for lunch when I arrive and later Jay emerges to eat a bit of steak and look disgruntled. If Dee shuts the storeroom door he miaows and paces. He is a weird cat. He’s lost weight and has a loose paunchy flap hanging underneath him. Whatever his previous owner did to him has made him completely neurotic.
At night he has a special cushion thing that has to go on D’s bed and he sleeps on that and if he can’t he gets upset and miaows. The second night I’m there he gets roast chicken for dinner and he doesn’t even eat it.
Dee finds some worm tablets while she is searching for calamine lotion and kindly hands them over. She’s so good to me. ‘Don’t get used to it,’ she warns. One night she rustles up a very fine lasagna and even some red wine to go with it.
Her ‘housegirl’ Made, comes every day to clean and chat. She’s 24 and seems younger. Her husband Putu, does IT things, but he drives me to Seminyak one day, and Sanur the next so I can pootle around there. I like Sanur, it is quite tranquil and there is a long, paced beachfront walk which is very pleasant, lined with beach, shacks and hotel pools. It’s like a calmer, more tasteful version of Gili Trawangan.
Then Richard returns, he’s Dee’s other guest who has been in Singapore. The room I’m in was originally his, so I move out. The couch is a bit lumpy, so I end up in Dee’s room where her bed is a bit crowded. There’s me, her, a bolster, the cat’s bed and the cat itself. It’s all arranged to make sure he’s comfortable. ‘He’s the king,’ says Dorothy. ‘And we are his harem,’ I added.
Jay prowls around and miaows a bit, but it’s fine. The next night Dee decides he can’t sleep in the bedroom anymore because she’s tired of his fur everywhere. So she sleeps on the sofa and puts his bed next to it so he’ll get used to being in the living room. He’s a lucky cat.
We have a relaxed couple of days going to Echo Beach and fiddling around on the internet. I walk around the neighbourhood and the Balinese stare at me. Then they want to know where I am going, who I am staying with and whether I have a husband.
In Asia everyone is concerned with whether I have a husband. When I say I don’t have one, they usually say: ‘Why not?’ Usually I reply: ‘Just lucky I guess.’ That can really make the steam come out of their ears.
But eventually I have to get organized - my visa will run out and I need to get to Malaysia. Plus, I left my Cambodian krama (scarf) in Ubud and I want it back. I think if I get a lift to Ubud, then I can collect my scarf and get a bus to Lovina. I need to do this by say 11am.
I think it’s organized, but then it’s not, and there’s this young guy I met in the street who could drive me, but he’s not answering his phone … Dorothy says not to worry, the universe will provide. Hmmmmmmmmmmmm. I’d like it to provide before I go to bed.