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Published: September 5th 2008
Day 3: Bargaining Into Retreat A
hard bargain to beat—morning coffee, tea and breakfast in Bali. At the table there is an assortment of weary eyes detached from their bones. This is us—Laura’s retreat group—most still jetlagged, hovering above hot drinks with susu dan gula
(milk and sugar). Then with a little more flare and color, there is papaya, watermelon, pineapple, honey melon, and lime squeezed over white plates like morning clouds over the rice paddies. With sustenance, we wake, smile and laugh. Off to yoga led by Laura DeFreitas
at The Yoga Barn
We work out the caffeine and sugar. We further stretch our bodies with Laura’s adjustments and loosen our minds into pending freedom. The roosters crow beyond the coconut palms. The birds flutter above the grasses. Crickets sound a choir in the reeds. No music, no sound. Just Bali. We are in Bali and we have flown over the Pacific and China Sea for this—we want all of Bali. Nothing else seems to matter but this one practice at this one place. And we let go with Laura’s guidance, deepening our breath into the tropic air.
A swim and breakfast replenishes, and a 10:30AM workshop with
Judy Slattum of Danu Enterprises
enlightens us: The art of bargaining. Jack the great American explorer—the wanderer of Bali living a dream of sun, waves and arbitrary adventures—initially informed Laura and me about bargaining: “Offer half price,” he said. “And go from there. It’s their game. They love to bargain with a courageous foreigner.”
“Yes,” Judy confirms. “It is a way to get to know the shopper. The Balinese want to know who you are, where you’re from, where you’re staying, and more. They come to know you and are happy to sell their merchandise at a bargained price. It’s a social interaction, so shoot for harga pagi
, or morning price.”
Laura and I had previous experience. Having been in Bali for two and a half weeks prior to the retreat, we shopped our way through Kuta, Legian and bits of Ubud. And now we were receiving the full cultural index. Judy continued, “When the shop owner returns home at the end of the day, according to their custom, it’s an honor to be able to share your details with their family. They want to talk about you as if they know you as a friend, and to them…
you are. You’ve made that connection by being open and friendly and sharing whether or not you’re married.”
By noon we hit the streets of Ubud ready to give away our secrets to any shopkeeper. The weather is overcast: hot, muggy, humid. It’s November weather, the locals say. The weather changes every year; these days it’s as unpredictable as your neighbor. By the time we reach our first shop along Jalan Hanoman
, the first thick drops splatter on the cracked sidewalks, which resemble a war-ravaged pathway. Chunks of concrete, cement and tile rise like a mountain range causing us to focus on our feet to avoid landing face down in the offerings. Hati hati
, or danger signs, are posted over massive holes where tributaries of run-off sweep below. The sidewalks are awaiting graves of broken ankles and cracked shins, not because of a lack of care and funding, but in fact, it is done with purpose. When the heavy rains bring torrential streams the streets become blocked. Offerings, trash, Bali dogs, plastic bags and bottles clog the flow like busy beavers. Therefore, they tear up the walkways, scoop the trash into the passageways below, and habis
(finished). The holes
are left for the future passerby.
We make it to Gemala Jewelry
without any missing persons. Inside we are introduced to the tedious skill of the silversmith (in which the roadwork obviously lacks). We have an insider’s look at the melting, molding, meddling, and making of fine silver. The fire torch blows. The solid silver liquefies. The compressors roar and flatten. The mallet hammers and the tweezers tune with perfection. We are amazed at the minute details and the steadiness of the hands required for creation. So we huddle over a fluorescent tube light and stare as the artisan tweeds and twiddles the silver pieces into jewelry. Then, with new appreciation, we descend downstairs into the air-conditioned hall like honeybees to the stacks of display cases.
Sizing, purchases, gifts and individual embellishments—outside the rain passes, but thick humidity resides. We truck down the streets and discover more artistic luxuries inside the Agung Rai Museum of Art
(where a current exposition of Walter Spies hangs) as well as a local weaving shop. But the day has just begun. We put our bargaining skills to the test.
Judy Slattum’s skill is
Balinese culture. It is one reason why we are here—all ten of us.
But her supreme
specialty is the Balinese mask. Inside the vans, we pull into a palatial compound in the Ubud region. Like all other family compounds, it is a simple walled property with a main bale
, the family shrines, a raucous dog whom I befriend, and various rooms for sleeping. But what is unique is the art adorning its red brick walls. Here we stand inside the home of the island’s most renowned maker of sacred masks.
The details are astonishing. The complexities too vast to grasp in the hour we spend listening to Judy’s rundown, sitting as I hang on to my camera’s lens searching for composition. But in short, the mask (topeng
) of Balinese culture is in another realm of this physical world. They are theatrical, used in processions, ceremonies and dances. They depict the good and the bad, spirits and witches, deities and characters of the great Hindu epics: The Ramayana
and The Mahabharata
As we careen homeward on our own epic adventure, tired with our bodies, sluggish in our full brains, the group makes one final stop at a painter’s home. Then rest and relaxation. Night comes and the schedule reads: Legong
. It is
a traditional dance with a bewitching tune struck by the gamelan
. Therefore, in the back alleys of Ubud we find ourselves observing those detailed masks (both demonic and serene), admiring the elaborate costumes in motion, watching frangipani petals fall from women’s hair, refreshing our souls with a few large Bintangs. Day 4: Offering Routine I
’m hungry with last night’s beer on my breath. It is 7AM. The order proceeds:
1. Coffee, tea and fruit
2. Yoga w/Laura DeFreitas.
3. 10AM breakfast after a few strokes through the pool.
Breakfast is a duo of Balinese delicacies—pancakes made of rice flour (lak-lak
) and rice balls with a stuffing of palm sugar syrup rolled in coconut shreds. Both are died with green pandan
leaves, which create a presentation of an eerie Halloween treat unsuitable for the hypersensitive mother and child.
Of course, I indulge in these little secrets. I’m talking about the sugary green coco rounds oozing with brown syrup! I gorge myself as others fork their balls and shoot its juice at one other as if shouldering culinary Super Soakers. I quaff my sugary coffee and think little of my spiking blood sugar levels. Keep chowin’.
Thankfully, Judy shows up for our workshop—the last of our language lesson. This slows down my appetite, yet I’m giddy in my seat, feeling the full effects of caffeine and sucrose enveloping my attention span. The others notice. They gawk at my impassable sweet tooth. And oddly, they choose without hesitation to continue supplying me my juice.
Time passes. Judy departs. We have downtime to swim, refresh, scrape the sugar from my gums and shower. By 1:30PM we gather back under the bale
for a workshop in offerings. Together we learn to make the square baskets we see outside every home and shop and along every street and shrine. Woven with palm fronds, the canang
is then filled with raw rice and an assortment of flowers—plumeria, frangipani, and hydrangea.
Next, with parting clouds and giggly words, we leap for the lounge chairs. The day passes without further schedule—only swimming, lounging, reading and independent exploration. 7PM: Laura and I steal away for a luxurious dinner at Lamak
. Click here to read & see Day 5 on the slopes of Gunung Agung
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