Sarah Jane Doe

Monthly Archives: July 2012

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When I meet people from Melbourne here in Ubud, they’re invariably my own kind. The transplants. Cultural ‘fugees to Melbourne from Sydney, Canberra, Tasmania, and attractive little regional centers up and down the Eastern seaboard. ‘I’m from Melbourne.’ When we say her name, it’s with the smug, reverential certainty of the newly married, the teen model, the Scientologist.  Even though we are all here escaping her winter, our love for the same four or five postcodes and CBD is as bold and indelible as a full-face tattoo.

Like the other come-latelys, I love Melbourne as only someone who hasn’t grown up there can. I never had to play junior AFL in grim little sportsfields with burnt off grass and fresh-from-Mongolian-tundra winds reaching through my polyester school shorts. I was never bored at her suburban bus stops, never drank underage in her shopping centre carparks, never crowded around a bar-heater to watch Neighbours like a whole city taking communion in inflammable tweed dressing gowns. Never had to spend weekends driving to visit nameless cousins or liver-spotted senior relatives in places I once heard described as ‘Trading Post suburbs.’ eBay postcodes. Car sales suburbs. Whole lot of cul-de-sacs in search of a milk bar. I have never seen this Melbourne.

I didn’t grow up thinking that my private single sex school – or absence thereof – was the most defining part of my life from age six till the end of University, and now, in my 30s, I’m not duty bound to open with this fact at parties (you still do, Melbourne, you still do). Nope. None of those things. I got to turn up just in time to steal a piece of her cut-price inner city during an odd month at the end of 2007 when, globally and nationally, it had never been a better idea for two semi-employed young people with aspirations of working in ‘The Arts’ to buy a whole house 4 km from the GPO and incur a mortgage less than the cost of rent on a Sydney apartment. I know it was a one-time-only deal, but it added to the sense that we were colonisers in a land of savages wholly unaware of their own bounty.

Oh, Melbourne. You had a thousand tiny cafes and bars and cafes that were also bars and they all let us drink outside. One was in an alley with milk crates for seats and it only served tinnies from an esky. It wasn’t self-conscious. It wasn’t po-mo, it wasn’t a stunt. It was convenient and low tech and served Uni students. We were hooked. We didn’t understand that you didn’t understand that this was not how life was lived elsewhere. That elsewhere there may have been other bidders for that old Victorian cottage with an 80 year-old elm tree and the romance of a broken-off name; a back yard lost under a cloud of honeysuckle; and the thrill of pulling up old pennies, marbles, smoking pipes and porcelain dolls heads along with the sunken flooring, all within walking distance of the delights of your city center; your universities, bars, parks, pools, museums and galleries. Oh, Melbourne! We sat on our front step drinking limoncello, looking about in wonder and disbelief, longing to toss a glass coke bottle in from the sky just to see what you would do with it.

Now you know what we know, but we’ll never let you go. We’ll insist that you’re undiscovered, secret, and a sign of our rarefied taste. Just like we do with Ubud, as we shout her name over the teeming traffic, the tour groups, the touts and the throngs of the tribally tattooed. The Ubud/Melbourne transplant set. Melbudians. No one has ever loved so wisely and so well.  Or with more humility*.

*Note: by ‘humility’ I mean that we are poised to accept whispered praise and sidelong glances of admiration with all the grace and shy-eyed discomfort of a Vegas showgirl or a US Olympic swimmer.

This is your captain speaking

‘Welcome to Denpasar airport and the island of Bali, where the local time is 7 p.m. and the weather is a fine and mild 26 degrees.

On behalf of Captain GrooossmetterwhitzelIfrunke and the crew, we thank you for choosing to fly with KLM. If you don’t recall making the choice to fly KLM, we thank the internet search engine you used. We’d also like to thank Air Asia for neglecting to service this route adequately, as well as our corporate lawyers and the strange protectionist policies of various countries and agencies for allowing us to get in on this air-space stitch up. Danke!

For those passengers who have never flown KLM before, we are delighted to have had the chance to impress you with our Smurf-blue everything, our disconcerting sense of humour (did you like how the Captain laughed at his ‘jokes’ all the time? In two languages? No other airline offers this, we are loving of ourselves in this minute!), and the hilarious accents of all on board, especially the cabin crew who made the safety instructions sound like they were being spoken backwards, underwater, with a suffocating catfish lodged in their throats.

If you are connecting to an onward flight, KLM thanks you for flying with us and wishes you a safe and pleasant journey. Hopefully you’ll catch the end of Albert Nobbs on the next plane.

If this is your first time in Bali, KLM welcomes you to the one that got away. Did we say that out loud? For the ease and comfort of our passengers during their visit, we wish to advise you that the local language is simple and the primary industry is you. That’s bule. Say it: boo-lay. It means white but not whitey, so don’t be offended. And it’s OK. Everyone’s winning. Your country is cold and expensive and you’ve had to outsource. In doing so you’ve become a major resource. We are letting you know so that you stop trying to get everyone to just ‘go about their business’ while you take artful photographs of them. You are the business. Luckily for you it’s a family business, so as soon as you join in you’ll become Balinese much faster than by poisoning yourselves at five cent food vendors. Go to the 50 cent food vendors and create a micro economy, we dare you.

If you are returning to Bali, KLM would like you to acknowledge that the Dutch got here wayyy before you. We had Bali on vinyl. Accordingly, if you are returning to Bali after a few years away you may also wish to claim bragging rights to the island, such as the man in seat 18 C who is currently reminiscing about how Ubud used to be a ‘sleepy little fishing village.’ Ubud is a mountain town, hat-of-ass. Apart from paddy-eels, the only live fish in the Ubud area are the small flesh-eating kind in those streetside-stunt-tanks that bule wish to put their feet in to have their dead heel-skin eaten in gross-bule-flesh water along with other bules, and the sleepy golden koi in ponds for bule to look at while taking the shoes off those same manky feet outside of Yoga Barn. It was never a fishing village man, get over it or get off my craft.

If Bali is your home, KLM wishes you a warm welcome home. As you have just travelled with us from outrageously expensive Singapore, we predict you are still laughing about how wonderfully cheap it is to live, eat and drink like kings in Bali, unless you are earning rupiah, in which case you might be understandably glum that Singaporeans have none of the natural resources that you do and technically should be your poor and awkward neighbours but instead have a populace dressed largely in stuff created under the LVMH umbrella of wanko-luxe, while drinking water right from the tap and never smelling their own – working – sewerage systems. Don’t worry, the bule find your lack of access to these things ‘charming’ and, as I’ve just pointed out, they’re your primary industry. What’s a little dysentery between friends every now and again, eh? It’s the only way it travels after all. Everyone else chooses to travel with KLM*.’

*Note: this author would certainly choose to fly Royal Dutch again, having been roundly charmed, not least by their offer of ‘red wine, white wine, or Amarula Cream?’ with dinner.

Bring your daughter to work day

sarahjanedoe and her Dad at work together

It started with a text from Dad. ‘In Singapore. At hotel shaped like boat. Come on over.’ I’m a sucker for two things: my Dad and themed hotels. Themed anything really. But mostly Dad.

I was reading this on a tiny island off the Indonesian coast. From a beach-shack breakfast with only the waves and some piratical island cats for company, Kelly and I caught a horse taxi that she accurately described as being disconcertingly like Santa’s sleigh into ‘town’, then a boat to the dock of Padang Bai on Bali, then a ‘transport’ to Ubud, checked into a room, walked the length of Ubud to eat at Taco Casa and Grill (best Mex ever), where I decided to give in to the growing idea to follow Kelly out of Bali (but not home to winter, no thanks) and onward to that boat shaped hotel. We checked out. We got another ‘transport’ to Denpasar. We ran around the airport trying to get me a ticket on the last flight out in a series of foolish escapades, stolen wifi, and sweaty trips between terminals which ended with a very strange but successful phone call to an office in Qatar (bless the Qataris for not believing in Sundays).

I arrived here in Singapore at 2 a.m. and met Dad at a hotel shaped less like a boat and more like a futuristic disaster movie of impossible proportions. It’s not a building so much as a giant, towering spectacle, styled like Gattaca meets Battlestar Galactica. My dirty feet with their Bali induced Haviana perma-tan were as out of place in the pristine lobby as I was, fumbling through wads of the smallest denominations of Indonesian rupiah and shaking half the sand of Gili Trawangan beach out of my hair. I met Dad with a hug and a high five for completing phase one of hi-jinks. As I made myself at home by stealing his Qantas First Class upgrade trophy (silk slippers) and donning a fluffy robe, I grew nostalgic.

‘It’s just like when we used to go to Tampa! Remember Tampa? We’d watch basic cable and drink no-brand ”hot tea”. Afterwards I’d put wet toilet paper in my ears to drown out your snoring. Then in the morning I’d drop you at work, borrow the Jeep and drive to Krispy Kreme. Get a dozen warm and an endless cup. Make fun of a copy of USA Today till lunchtime.’ I grew wistful. ‘Those were the days Dad’.

‘They sure were, Sweet.’

I don’t think Dad’s had a gig yet that I haven’t crashed. And he’s a water treatment engineer, so this means my happy snaps are often interspersed with pictures of giant pipes, bores, and odd shaped holes in the ground. Other people see waterfalls where I see hydro-electric schemes (water still falls down in a pleasing way). One year Dad went back to Uni and I crashed that too. It was Harvard. Well played, right? It allows me to say things like ‘When I was at Harvard Business School’ and be technically correct. I really take over, too, during the crashing, and Harvard was no exception. Did my laundry there. Ate all my meals at the dorm dining hall, went to the classes and tutorials where I opined about the case studies I’d watch Dad prepare the night before. Went drinking with his new friends. I even had his bed while he slept on a rolled out mat on the floor. ‘Night Dad.’ I’d call from above. ‘Do you reckon our homework is good for tomorrow? Dja do a good job?’

‘Yes, Sweet.’

I don’t really know how we got away with it. Most families are probably just too well-bred to try, and the Harvard post-grads were all too well-bred to call us on it.

Dad’s reward for this kind of regular intrusion is a partner in crime who shares a love of Asian food for breakfast as well as the same blend of curious dorkdom in all things. When we find a movie like Groundhog Day on in-room telly we settle in and sigh contentedly together without needing to seek approval or permission. At Harvard, we had to work hard to avoid culture and taste. It took us a good few days to locate a movie theatre showing Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit, instead of art-house flicks and the latest in contemporary European cinema. The theatre turned out to be in a highly dubious neighbourhood and involved an on-foot expedition travelling the wrong way along the kerb of an unattractive freeway, a short climb down a rubbish strewn embankment in the rain, and some squeezing between a variety of chain link fences. Later, full of popcorn and with the mysterious curse of the were-rabbit finally solved, we didn’t have to check in to see if the other had found the experience worthwhile. It was obviously the best thing about our Harvard experience, and this was a school that served us poached wild-Atlantic-salmon fillets with potatoes au gratin for play-lunch.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of when Dad first took his daughter to work. It was in Alexandria, Egypt and I was four.  Armed with some small snacks inside the relatively new technology of a zip-lock bag, I set forth with optimism about my career as an engineer at my father’s side. We were out on the road together, under our own steam, stopping to inspect important things like Possibly Friendly Animals, and, once or twice, a man digging a ditch or measuring a length of agricultural pipe. Throughout the day, I was told that I was clever and interesting and very useful. Indispensible really.  It made quite the impression. That’s why I’m so pleased to be in Singapore navigating the room service menu and writing Dad notes on hotel stationary that read ‘KPIs for today include bacon.’ Really, I don’t know how the man manages to do his job without me*.

*Note: I’m not an engineer. Sadly, I don’t even like graph paper.

What a difference a day makes

sarahjanedoe and Kelly in Ubud

‘What a difference a day makes’. I wonder who said that first or if it’s just some ancient, amorphous truism? A sort of collective, hive-mind blendy? Because even back when life was cave and tundra, every day was different. People still woke up, broke up, got knocked up, knocked out, got high, felt low. Some days are dramatically different from the ones before. Car crashes. Windfalls. Breakages. Breakthroughs.

This past week I started writing a post titled ‘Today is the Greatest’. I was so busy having my Greatest day that the post didn’t get finished and, by the next day, things had swung unexpectedly toward the Worstest. Then whoa, back again.  Big week. I’m quite tired from all the difference a day makes (note the ‘from’ not ‘of’. Never ‘of’).

So it’s been a sadistic kind of treat to watch it happen to someone else, even if it’s my much adored sister-in-love, Kelly. She arrived a week ago from the middle of winter in the middle of the night to the middle of a new country and the middle of my health crisis. Probably not what she’d expected when reading about my sunny, happy, blissed-out life here in Ubud.

I reacted to my fast-improving health and the 100% increase in loved ones from home by attempting to have about four Greatest days in one. I met her at the airport with a cool-ass driver and an ice-cold beer (a tradition started by my brother for all new arrivals to the island of Bali), whizzed her to a luxury hotel, woke her about six hours later for breakfast at Sea Circus followed by sugar cane espresso cocktails on the beach at Ku De Ta and a ride in Tanky, the vintage Mexican VW, up the winding mountain road to Ubud. All before midday. Sounds great, right? Right. But I was still nauseous, she was jet-lagged and the rice paddies were all being burnt back so that a thick wet haze of stale smoke hung over everything.

I decided to fix this by applying a liberal dose of Yoga Barn in Ubud. As soon as Kelly fell from Tanky’s sweet, rattling embrace I marched her down Jalan Hanoman in search of inner-peace. This is the busiest street at the busiest time of the busiest part of tourist season (turns out I Rumpelstiltskined myself during the whole amoebic dysentery thing. I woke up to find it was school holidays in Australia and the whole of that island had moved to this one, en masse. I even ran in to the girl who serves me at my local bakery, Dench. She recognised me right away – apparently my North Fitzroy hangovers look sama-sama to my almostdiedovers. Classy.) and, ergo, it was pretty busy.

Whole chunks of footpath on Jalan Hanoman are missing, with drops ranging from mere ankle-breakers to lose-your-relatives in pungent, watery depths of tropical mystery-mess. You need to dodge dogs, their poo, their chicken friends, and the motorbikes they chase, as well as looking out for various things – corners of signs, burning sticks of incense, odd bits of temple – waiting for the chance to take a chunk of scalp or nick an eyeball.

After twenty minutes of this, walking single file with me shouting out commands to enjoy oneself and see how amazing everything is in Ubud, a querulous little voice behind me asked ‘So, ah, you find this relaxing?’. I was surprised to admit to myself that I did, or at least I had up ’till now. I’d re-set. Forgotten my initial fears of death and dismemberment on Jalan Hanoman and couldn’t see it as anything other than the Happy Path To Yoga Barn. How could I help Kelly to feel this too? I shouted at her some more and forced her full of treats and yoga. By bedtime, I’d run out of ideas (and my throat was sore).

The next day, I came upon Kelly in a sunny, quiet little street in a cafe she’d found her way back to by herself. She was curled up in an egg-shaped rattan chair with a giant Murakami book balanced on a cushion and a large beer perspiring gently on the table in front of her. She looked up at me from a post-yoga puddle of limber limbs, smiled like the sun, and announced she intended to order cake. I couldn’t resist asking if she ‘found this relaxing’. What a difference a day makes*.

*Note: I’m certain this will become the title of a terrible movie about the power of positive psychology and the endless randomness of Western-asshat life, probably starring Tom Hanks with some small earnest child coming-to-a-plane-near-you, so before it does, let’s get it out a bit more. It feels truthy and important.