Published: April 18th 2009March 26th 2009
The best day of our life will probably pass us by without us realizing.
Was it the morning after I lost my virginity and tasted appreciatively the sour memorable lick of pink grapefruit, when for the first time I listened to Etta James’ At Last
and felt the words were mine? Did it come about on holiday in a small fishing village on Crete’s south coast, posing with my sister and my best friend draped in bed sheet togas against ruins light gold by a lingering sunset, sunbathing in the nude that afternoon among a flock of shaggy haired goats, dining that evening on fresh seafood, delectible cakes and much laughter? Was it a perfect day the summer of ’96, my coming out, in Berlin, bathing on the flachdach with Mariluz, drinking strong coffee, smoking Gauloise, dancing late into next day’s dawn? Was it Mount Athos, a day I challenged my fear of the unknown and travelled eight hundred years back in time? Was it age fifteen, my first travel overseas, waking early morning in Kyoto, sitting still by the window, drinking in all the shapes, sounds and smells of an unimaginable world? Was it long ago before I governed
a little overdressed for a trance beach party
my own footsteps? A sports day at Beach Grove Elementary, its memories already faded, only the round edged sepia prints tucked in an album proof of my greatest happiness, June sunshine, a three-legged race, a ribbon pinned to my chest, hotdogs and long johns? A Christmas when Pappa was still alive, Aunty Wendy and Uncle Gary still married, my cousins Chris and Jamie still years away from disappearing? Was it something I saw? A sun rising above the mist-enveloped temples of Bagan? An Eiffel tower light for the new millenium peering acros the metropolis to a private party atop Montmartre? Something I felt? Was it a weekend’s happen-chance Romance in Seoul? An affair in Seattle? A first time in Stockholm? In Paris? Peking? Tokyo? A best friend sharing Amsterdam? And Barcelona? London? Was it making love to Moon? To Eric? To Bernardo? To Wim and Tim and Nico? To Shakespeare? To a blind date? To a name I’ve forgotten? Something I tasted? Was it sex or drugs? Love or childhood innocense? Intimacy? Friendship? Adventure? Was it not yet?
Is it a fool who considers what to remember the moment before his death?
Drawn by the cock’s crow, shortly
after five a.m. the sun peers its unremitting expression, rising above the tiled rooftops. The roads in Surabaya rumble from an early hour, major arteries grow hot with impatient horns and cough exhaust, the maze of side streets and back lanes edging kampung after kampung clog with wide trucks, flow with revving motorbikes, squeezing past slow sedans. Eddy, my adopted young brother, friendly, stylish - he wears a streak of blond in his long bangs, a little naïve and troubled but well meaning, fetches me on his sugar daddy’s new bike, a rolls royce among the usual honda or suzuki 100s. A rucksack filled with munchies, toiletries and a change of clothing, bare essentials for the Gilis, hangs off my shoulders. The nauxious fumes stirred with roadside warungs boiling pots of kacang ijo or bubur ayam has become familiar, the strangst sights or behaviours have become my normal, as has the chaotic fashion of merging traffic and the coexisting of disparate social strata within such close quarters. We pull up to the airport an hour and a half before the flight, departing on schedule.
A discount rack at the bookstore in the departure lounge is selling several interesting titles
by popular Indonesian authors. The girls working the insurrance counter vie for my attentions. By chance, though neither elderly nor accompanying small children, I’m among the first to board the plane. A slim young woman wearing a black silk jilbab takes the seat next to mine and we share the armrest with little difficulty. I fall asleep. A forty-five minute flight reduced to under ten minutes. My steps lead me across the tarmac, through the airport, through the gauntlet of hotel swindlers, package conmen, dishonest taxi drivers packed shoulder to shoulder. Beyond the car park painted blue with idle taxicabs, my footsteps stop at the curb where a passing motorist pulls up, “ojek?” The man asks 50,000 to Bangsal - even an honest taxi is 70,000. My fellow passengers loiter by the baggage carousel hands on hips while my holiday has already begun. The backroad to Bangsal passes a market teeming with becak, their drivers in various skilled positions of inactivity, cuts through a block of rattan furniture workshops and follows beyond Mataram the lush banks of a winding river, climbs in slow loops past simple shacks selling cheap bottles of a cloudy local tuak. At monkey pass small groups
Trawangan, Meno & Air, seen from the NW aboard flight bound for Lombok
of youths and middle-aged couples relax in the cool breeze and offer kacang to the furry creatures poised along the narrow shoulder. The ojek driver delivers me straight to the port ignoring the jackal packs of ticket swindlers and the holler of a cunning satpam.
Waiting under an hour at the jetty for the next public boat to Trawangan, I purchase a few staples in the shop where I’m undercharged. The old Nonya selling coffee and nasi campur fixes me a strong cuppa Lombok and we share a laugh over the Canadian tourist who’d mistaken Nonya for a panhandler. A friendly young man squatting next to a tarpaulin spread across the pavement covered in cheap plastic toys, jewellery, hairbrushes and bobbles offers a chance to practice my Bahasa. “Trawangan,” he says, “very busy, many Balinese on holiday.” “Nyepi…” Nyepi is the Balinese Hindu New Year lasting four days, of which the third, falling under the new moon, Thursday March 26 of this year, is a day of silence. The beaches and streets must be kept silent, even non-Hindus and tourists must follow these customs and stay inside. It is believed that homeless evil spirits aroused and driven away by
the previous two days of ritual now wander the heavens searching a new home. The spirits can see no sign of human activity on Bali so leave the island in peace. It is a time of purification and contemplation. A short jump across the Lombok Straight, however, less inclined Balinese and tourists in the know prepare to make a whole lot of noise late into the night.
No eye candy aboard, my gaze fixes on the horizon, falling and rising as the prahu rocks across a calm enchanting sea. Without a reservation I v-line through the commercial strip soon sweating and burning beneath merciless midday UVA and UVB rays. The bungalows the far side of the island are less than spectacular; more cramped than cozy, simple wood structures with salt water mandis packed inside a colorful garden. I retrace the coast road back to the jetty and purchase an island hopper ticket for Gili Air where the same style accommodation costs half the price and provides greater peace and privacy. I shall, however, have to relinquish easy access to the Irish pub and the sushi joint next door, shall have to go without the traffic of commercial exchange, the
sightseeing touts, the bracelet and sarong hawkers, the pushers, the peddlers, the red-skinned trucker mouthed gangs of blond surfers and the bronzed young fashionistas bored of Ibiza - not to mention my collegues’ contest of debauchery.
Gili Air has a fraction of Trawangan’s entertainments, neither is the beach bathed in hotties nor are the parties very spectacular or the restaurants equipped with TV sets. Personally, I’ve issues with TV sets on tropical beaches. Tourists venture to Gili Air for peace and quiet, more often than not to recover from Gili T’s endless party. The smaller, less popular island offers the visitor who makes an effort a less commercial relationship with villagers. My second trip to Gili Air, I know precisely where I’m headed, Salibose, the last accommodation on the sunset side, a bit of a hike but worth it. It must be siesta. There’s nobody about, nobody to answer my calls except a young man sound asleep under a thatched gazebo, red-eyed, confused and defiantly undistured from dreamless sleep. I find an empty beachfront bungalow, let myself in, shower, unpack and roll myself a spliff on the verandah. How easily, how quickly nine-to-five life slips from mind.
how I spent much of the day
young staff stir from their siesta to find a squatter in bungalow #3. A young woman returns along the beach to the hut next door. Her name is Judit. She's travelling alone. She's from a small town outside Barcelona, enjoying the fifth of an eight week vacation in South Asia. I meet a young man from Fukuoka, Chun, a Korean-Japanese, also travelling solo and staying in the bungalow the other side of mine. The three of us will make the most of a quiet tropical beach-front veranda, smoke too much, drink too much, and redefine relaxed in terms unfamiliar to the western world.
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