Becoming Balinese

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December 20th 2011
Published: December 20th 2011EDIT THIS ENTRY

Hindu statueHindu statueHindu statue

Seen at all major intersections
Since I last wrote we have switched continents and definitely changed lifestyles. The last two weeks in Sydney were similar to the first one- rainy and cold. Much of it was spent planning for Asia, although I did get the chance to catch up with some old friends and teachers from when I studied abroad. It felt weird to say goodbye to our Australian housemates since we had spent so much time over the past few weeks with them, but I know we will meet up again in the future.

The flight from Sydney to Bali was 6 and a half hours, and did not include a meal or movies. While JetStar offers the cheapest prices around, you really don't get much for your money. Once in Bali, we breezed through immigration and customs and headed outside into the most unbearable humidity I've ever felt in my life. We hopped in the cab and stared in amazement out the windows at our newest destination. Kuta is a tourist town, over-run with Australians on holiday and packed with more shops and souvenirs than your eyes can focus on. We were dropped off at Poppies I Lane, which was more of an alley than a street, and followed the twists and turns and walked back and forth for an hour before finding our homestay. We immediately met Arindra, a Javanese woman from whom we were renting the room, and Arun, an Italian traveler who was renting the room next door. We went to Gong Corner (our soon-to-be-favorite restaurant), for some much needed water and food before heading to bed.

* A note on Indonesian currency: 1 USD ≈ 8900 Rupiah. So when we converted $200 at the airport, we became instant millionaires. To add to this illusion of wealth, meals averaged around 20,000 Rp (~$2.20) and accommodation for 2 was 150,000 Rp/night (~$16.50). Life was good....

Days in Bali were hot and humid, requiring you to shower at least 2-3 times. This was not, however, to remove the stickiness, because it never went away, to freshen up since you sweat through your outfit after the first 10 minutes outside. We spent our first two days on the backs of Arinda and Arun's motorbikes, zipping around the island from Uluwatu down south to Ubud in the center. Driving in Bali is exhilirating (read as horrifying). There are no stoplights, traffic signs, or speed limits. Driving occurs on the left, unless you are passing or just don't feel like you need to follow this rule. Motorbikes have the right of way because they are smaller and faster than anything else on the road, and they clog the roads in thousands. Basically, you drive however you please and try not to get hit. But Arindra led the way, and being from Indonesia, her motorbike skills were far superior to anything I could've attempted, so I felt safe with her!

In Uluwatu, we visited a Hindu temple and watched the wild monkey population steal from the purses and backpacks of unwatchful tourists. And yes, they know how to open your candy bar, don't think plastic will stop them. From there we went to Balangan Beach, a much nicer beach than the crowded ones by the resorts in Kuta. At the beach, we went for a swim in the, wait for it, INDIAN OCEAN. I have officially been swimming in three of the world's oceans!!!! It was much warmer than either the Pacific or the Atlantic, most likely due to our proximity to the equator. It was not, on the other hand, the cleanest
Uluwatu TempleUluwatu TempleUluwatu Temple

Arun, Tay, and I
water I've swam in; plastic bags and wrappers and bottles litter the waves and coastline. Unfortunately, this is due to the lack of trash disposal and recycling facilities and/or capabilites on the island. Trash (paper and plastic included) is simply dumped in piles along the streets, houses, beach, etc and burned. This is something that intrigued me, in my quest to make the earth greener. Projects are in mind for this.

In Ubud, we were hit with torrential down pour, so the trip was cut short. We still got a chance to stop at a silversmith, visit a waterfall, eat at a road-side food stall, take pictures of some rice fields, and drive down the row of art and furniture shops that the town in famously known for. As I write I find it hard to properly convey to you the cascade of new sensations that came with this trip to Indonesia. The new sights, tastes, sounds, the differences in language, culture, religion. By far the biggest difference, or at least the one that takes the longest to get used to, is the smell. Smells ranged from sweet to spicy, delicious to nauseating, pleasing to disgusting within the span of a few paces. I am finding this true now, even in Singapore.

After these two busy days we decided to take it easy and bum around Kuta for a day. So of course Tay decided this was the oportune moment to get a tattoo! This turned out to be one of the best ideas yet. Not only is the tattoo beautiful (see picture), but we ended up making friends with the 5 guys who worked there. The next three days were spent hanging out with them, mostly at the shop, talking to other people who walked by, such as Bart from Vancouver. He was a squat man with huge muscles, about 40 years old, single (maybe divorced), and an Eat Pray Love enthusiast like myself. He had just moved to Bali to live here for 4 months...doing nothing. Basically mid-life crisis. But with an awesome sense of humor and always a smile on his face. Then there was Martin, a 12 year old local, fluent in 3 languages, and an excellent fireworks salesman. He was witty, brilliant, talented, and confident, all rolled into one little pint sized body. He entertained us with jokes and guitar playing, and one night even bartending (although he is smart enough to say no to a drink when the older guys try to peer pressure him).

By the end of the week we knew everyone on the whole block, from the waitresses at Gong Corner, to the other backpackers at our hostel. We felt like, well, locals. We had even tried the local alcohol, the lovingly known Arak, a lethal 160 proof fermented coconut juice. It doesn't get better the more you have. We learned that the hard way and avoided it after the resulting hangover. Besides drinking and loitering at the tattoo shop, we also made the 3 hour trip north to the remote village of Pupuan. Our boys took us to another temple, where we had rice stuck to our foreheads after they made there offerings (think Ash Wednesday). Then we arrived at one of their houses, where his mother immediately began to shower us with sodas, fried banana chips, and dragonfruit. We watched as the seniors in the group played cards and the children ran around playing games, no one except of 5 boys speaking any English. Eventually we were invited to watch a healing ceremony for one of the boys, and we piled into the tiny sideroom that had been converted into a temple/shrine (excuse me for my religious ignorance on the correct term). Though we didn't understand a word of the entire ceremony, it was still powerful to watch. Before it ended we were called out by the rest of the boys to go for a walk; there are some things that outsiders are just not privileged to be part of. But I cannot complain, because these people so openly accepted us, and even showered us with gifts, that I could not ever have asked for any more from them.

If you can't tell from this entry, let me emphasize here that Bali was an amazing experience. Leaving was done heavy-heartedly. I hope the pictures I've added reinforce the beauty and awe I have encountered in the past week.

Additional photos below
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20th December 2011

You guys look excellent and the Bali blog is fantastic! Love you both!

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