Sarah Jane Doe

Category Archives: Bali

You put the lime in the coconut

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Bear with me on the present tense from a year ago. It’s now the start of a long, cold, wet Melbourne winter and I’ve had some requests for tips on Ubud, where everyone wise is headed in the next few weeks. So, cast your minds back to be in the moment with me. I will do the same. It’s raining and 11 degrees today. I just might cast back and stay there.

Yesterday I met a real pain in the ass. Doesn’t happen much in Ubud. If you don’t like the smiley vibe here, you tend to just…leave. This guy had been here for a day and a night and he hated it. In fact, I think he’d spent 23 hours thinking about what he hated and writing these things down. In blood. During the 24th hour he went looking for someone to vent to and he found me.

I was an easy target. Sitting under my bower of passionflowers at Bar Luna, smiling into the afternoon sun, thinking about Bali. Thinking about France. Laughing at an email. Waving to a friend piloting a slow scooter down Jalan Coutama. When people walk past here, they smile and say hello. It’s nice. I smiled. He said ‘Can I ask you a question?’

I said ‘Sure!’

A few of my friends operate an unofficial bule embassy out of Bar Luna and I felt I owed it to them to keep their desks warm: I prepared answers to the questions I’ve heard a few times before from this perch – ‘how do you extend your visa?’ ‘Where can I get good coffee?’ ‘Is that organic beer OK?’ ‘Is there a toilet in there?’ ‘When is happy hour?’ and ‘Did we know each other in a past life?’ (not-even-kidding-a-little-bit).

‘You look happy. Why is everyone so happy here? It’s vile. It’s a vile place.’

‘I’m sorry?’

‘Yeah, I prefer Kuta. At least in Kuta you know it’s going to be hell. But this place pretends it’s heaven. It’s a disgrace. It revolts me.’

‘I’ll take that as a comment.’

‘What?’

‘OK, well, I’m happy because it’s warm, friendly, relaxi –‘

‘It’s not relaxing. It’s busy.’

‘This is the centre of town at the height of tourist season.’

‘Yeah. It’s busy.’

‘Go just outside of town, take a walk down –’

‘But you like it here. I can tell.’

‘Yes, I really do.’

‘Huh. What’s it like in there?’

‘Great food, great coffee. Lovely staff.’

‘Yeah, right. They just want your money you know.’

‘Yep. It’s a business. It’s a cafe.’

At this point, the three piece acoustic guitar band at Bar Luna start playing ‘Don’t worry be happy.’ (not-even-kidding-a-little-bit. 10 July 2012, one of their best ever sets). The dudes harmonised their whistling in a way Bobby could be proud of. I was proud too. I puffed out my chest. I gestured at the guitars, ‘Look, it’s happy hour. The band’s playing a happy song about being happy. Come in, get a drink with a fresh lychee in it. Give it a chance,’ (this is how happy I am here – I invited this nasty little man in to my happy from his unhappy).

He just snorted a real snort at me and said ‘They’re ruining this song,’ then he said ‘and I heard there was a Starbucks here.’

I felt my stomach plummet – how could I mount a case for Ubud-as-heaven when he already knew its most horrible secret? There really is a Starbucks here. It’s even got this fakey-temple thing going on. It’s just awful, truly awful. So. Tragic. I hung my head and mumbled that I’d heard there was one. I felt all my pride and Ubud-love deflating.

‘Yeah, well can you tell me where it is? I want a real coffee from a good place.’

‘They only want your money you know.’ (hey, I’m not that happy.)

After giving Mr Sunshine directions and a tight-lipped wave goodbye, I thought I should publish the ‘Few days in Ubud’ quick-list I’ve put together for some friends. That way, if you turn up after being stuck in traffic behind a tour bus for hours in indifferent weather, you can cheat your way to happy-in-Ubud without wasting time on bad snacks.

Here we go.

Coffee: This is important to me. Good strong coffee gets me really, really high. I love drinking it. The comedown is just as severe as the upswing however, and it takes real fortitude to get me through the giddying trajectory of any day that includes coffee. That’s pretty much every day. I live like an addict. Lots of self-loathing, promises, shakes and headaches, dry-mouth, snapping of elastic bands on wrists, the joy of abandoning myself to the high, the self- loathing and repeat.

If you need it too, Bar Luna is the best, by far. Their strong latte and house-made shortbread mini-cookie is a sublime coffee experience. Seniman is also wonderful – part design studio and coffee laboratory, and both spots are tucked away in relatively quiet spots and have wifi. Juice Ja and Kafe are my other hideaways for real coffee, and both serve delicious food and juices (Kafe has much better food, Juice Ja has the better location). The green tea espresso frappe at Kafe is the stuff of breakfast dreams.

Snacks: one of the reasons people are happy here is that we eat tasty food all day. Just cruise from one long meal to the next. There’s a lot of high quality produce and flavours to be had for crazy small sums of money, particularly if you are used to eating out in a big city. What would cost me $40 in Melbourne costs me $4 in Ubud. As a consequence, I spend my time snacking in fancier, more obvious spots. You can get a tasty meal here for 70 cents, but that’s not on my list. My list is not going to be liked by people who think it’s sacrilegious to eat Mexican food in Indonesia. I care not. You’re on holiday – eat tasty things that make you happy. It’s not a competition. The Lonely Planet fairy will not appear and award you anything for eating tepid gado-gado at every meal.

Juice-Ja – these guys have a great soto ayam (local chicken soup) and will even serve it piping hot for breakfast. I’m a big fan of it for breakfast or lunch with a whole young coconut to drink on the side. Their juices are great too, and it has a lovely vibe. Jalan Dewisita, near Havana.

Bar Luna – the nasi campur is the best in town. The coffee is the best in town. Breakfasts are great and so are the delicious tropical cocktails – 2 for 1 during the long happy hour from 5 to 8, so a lychee breeze and a watermelon martini will set you back about $5 for the pair. This is great for Bali, where mixed drinks can be surprisingly pricey. Jalan Coutama.

Taco Casa and Grill – better Mexican food than I’ve had anywhere in Australia. I’m a big fan of the shrimp quesadillas, and I always order the fresh ‘lemon’ juice (an incredible iced lime slushie – don’t fear the ice in any of these places) The burritos are great too. So is the guac. It’s all great. Jalan Hanoman, next to Pizza Bagus.

Kafe – Yum! Healthy, delicious, nutritious, tasty. Everything here is good. Wash your meal down with a green tea espresso frappe in the morning, juices the rest of the day, and a Storm beer (the Pale is great) at whatever is beer time for you. Jalan Hanoman.

Clear – best at night, when it’s all lit up and fancy. This and Havana are great date nights. Wide selection of treats. Jalan Hanoman.

Havana – what’s a Cuban salsa bar doing in Ubud? Who cares? The band is fantastic, the swivel-hipped staff will have you dancing, and despite the fact that those two sentences would normally have me cross the street to avoid a place, it works on holiday. It’s often the last place to close, and in a town with sleepy nightlife, that’s important. Jalan Dewisita.

Kue bakery, has a daily edition of the international edition of the New York times, and a pleasing array of snacks including a sandwich with melted brie. Yeah.

The sate/satay guy deep underground in the wet market – this guy has great satay and he’s a sweetheart too. More of an in-between snack than a meal, just head down into the underground local-ish part of the touristy main market in town. The satay are always cooking over hot coals, just follow your nose. Jalan Main, underground at the markets.

Take the through-the paddy-fields walk to Sari Organik, but keep going further to Pomegranate, a massive favourite and very peacefully away from it all.

 Other top tips

Yoga Barn – Just do it. It’ll be great If you’ve never done it before, do an intro. I did it one day when I was at half-lung capacity from flu and I finally learned the basics properly. After a few months of practice at all the classes on offer, I’ve never looked or felt better. Twas grand. Jalan Hanoman, be very careful of the broken footpath getting there, and look for the ‘Siam Sally’ sign to find the entrance. Every other Monday night the Yoga Barn run open-air movies on comfy cushions, with organic popcorn served in half coconut shells to the sounds of a thousand crickets in the paddy fields  and a water fall rushing below.

 Orientation

Jalan Main  (self-explanatory) is like the body of the octopus and all tentacles come off in this way. First is Monkey Forest road, all the way down to literal Monkey Forest. Busy and crazy. Leads to the soccer field, always a good landmark.

On Hanoman, you’ll find the Yoga Barn, Clear, Kafe, and Sisi and Nanan and Puspita for shopping (sweet, Japanese designed silverwear and clothing).

Jalan Coutama is my favourite little street by far. Just wander.

On dealing with touts and beggars

This largely happens on on Jalan Dewisita. Just be friendly. This is a small town, not Kuta. You’ll run into these people again. They aren’t too persistent and occasionally you do want a ride or whatever they offer. Chill out. No one is trying to get the better of you. Remain smiley and kind. Remember your manners, these are people too. Also, you are on holiday. So, maybe the knife sellers are the only ones to ignore – but no one else needs to be ignored. No one should be ignored! It will just ruin your mood.

Jalan Main leads down to Campuhan, and on to Penestanan.

Spa-ness

For nails, great massages, soaking in deep copper tubs and all kinds of lush (and cheap!) treatments, visit Sedona.

For massage in exotic, jungle-cave surroundings that won’t cost crazy prices – Tjampuhan

For the best wax, particularly intimate waxing (in fact, don’t go anywhere else for this) Skin is by far the best choice. They have the best kinds of nail polish too.

Most important tip – Smile. Breathe. Make your own list and make it better. There’s so much left out of this one. x

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

 

 

Throwing up is hard to do

Fresh ginger and Leatherman multi-tool

See this picture? Yeah. Two days in to some nau-sea-sickness, I took this picture to document my beautiful, natural Ubudian recovery. I had fallen, sure, but I was on the mend. At that stage I liked to think the fall had been a controlled descent. I did my best to lie down gracefully with my feet elevated after throwing up my bright green salad lunch and a double-cold-pressed-cashew-milk-coffee in Alchemy, wherein my super-cool author lady luncheon companion Sarah did me the supreme honour of turning promptly from willowy, hilarious glamourati into level-headed-mother-of-young-child-used-to-dealing-with-vom, and arranged an immediate and graceful evactuation of the premises.

I went home and vomited a lot more. I’m not a vomiter. It’s hard for me. Takes a long time. I spend hours adrift on the Sea of Nau before the main event. A day passed. I began to get extremely thirsty. My lips chapped. Every swallow of water made the sly promise of staying down only to collect into enough volume for a high-velocity torrent a few hours later. I took the anti-emetic Stemetil that I had wisely packed for a tropical excursion (despite only having suffered ‘traveller’s sickness’ three times in fifteen years and countless trips overseas) and threw those up too, until none remained. Thirstier and thirstier, I looked at the rattan ceiling and composed impassioned correspondence to the manufacturers of Stemetil suggesting fundamental changes in their delivery method. Topical lotions, single-use-syringes, fast dissolving wafers. Eye-drops. Lip-balm.

At the point where my eyes had begun to shrink into their sockets and my pee was clinking into the bowl as crystals of uric acid, I summoned the fortitude to look at my swimming computer screen and Google ‘how keep watr dwn f ur dyin’ and the wisdom of the internet responded with ‘small spoonfuls water’. The internet also delivered a truly terrible story of two Canadian sisters who had just died in their hotel room in Thailand and – because I catastrophise, especially when ill – I went down a black, black hole of what-ifs that only ended once I remembered I had repatriation insurance so at least my pale little body wouldn’t cost anyone money to ship it home.

Then I cried. Well, I tried too, but I had no water for tears. The internet said this phenomenon is followed shortly by death. I screamed (whimpered) for my housekeeper Nyoman, who came in tut-tuting with a flask of boiling water and some ginger and rosella tea. He changed my sheets and cleaned my bathroom with surgical attention, and sent my clothes off to the Ubud Eco laundry, because y’all might remember from previous posts about my first world problems that the toxic-avenger smells of the detergents they use in Indonesia make me gag even on a strong stomach.

I started to feel better. Determined to Definitely Not Be Ill Like Losers Who Aren’t Real Travellers And Such, I took myself on a small quivering excursion to Bali Buddha, where I bought some organic ginger. Once home, I remembered I’d packed my favourite multi-tool, the Leatherman aka ‘Leathery’, and peeled the ginger and took this smug picture of my clever, natural, grown-up approach to wellness and self-sufficiency.

At about 3 a.m. (nothing good ever, ever happens at 3 a.m. unless you are on your honeymoon) I had a seizure. Before I could think what to do next, I had another one. As it subsided, I realised my body was so indescribably freezing that I needed to get extra blankets, jeans, my leather jacket – possibly lie under the mattress itself – all things which were not possible because my limbs were now suffering intermittent spasms like the aftershocks of a powerful earthquake that I had no option but to ride out in cold, dark terror. I thought about the Canadian girls and I thought about my family and I thought about how nothing like this had happened to me before and I thought about how human I was and how small I was and I called for my Mum in my head and I said the Boy’s name aloud to prove I was real and then I passed out.

Was this overly dramatic? Hilarious in hindsight? I’m not so sure. I don’t think I know where the edge is with illness anymore. I do know I woke up. A day later. On my back. In a watery gruel of feces. Cheeks plastered with vomit that I was very lucky not to aspirate. The pain in my muscles and bones was like nothing I’ve imagined in the realm of natural illness. I was surprised they could bear my now 52 kilo frame. This, along with the sudden plummet of core temperature, spelled dengue ‘bone-break’ fever to the admitting hospital, but no rash developed so they didn’t test for it. There’s a current outbreak and the only treatment is ‘fluids’ anyway. They sent me home.

I got worse. I went back. They tested my blood for bacteria. They tested my poo by handing me a pair of disposable gloves and a plastic jar and asking me to ‘shit in my hand’ and wipe it in the container. The toilet was dirty, the walls were peeling. They offered to hospitalise me and I responded the best way I knew how. I threw up on their floor and went home again. On the way home I checked my phone and the picture of the ginger and knife flashed up. It looked like my intestines and what was happening to them. It became totemic of my failure and misery. It made me throw up to look at. It made me throw up every time I thought about it. I tried to delete it and failed at even that.

Over the next five days lots of people helped me. I emailed the test results to my two mates who happen to be a boyfriend/girlfriend trainee-doctor-duo who tag-teamed a long distance diagnoses and prescribed the magical tummy-bomb Flagyl that worked overnight. Despite enduring non-stop nausea of the kind documented by my pregnant friends that made me swear with every wobbly breath that I’d never allow myself to get knocked up, the fact that one of these doctor friends is going to be a pediatrician also made me swear to have children just so they can get sick and I can take them to her.

The Boy called my sister-in-love, who went straight from handing in her final essays for her postgrad on-something-too-complex-for-me-to-understand to a medical center, where she talked a doctor into the codeine and Stemetil not available in this country. She got on a plane with them and arrived expecting to nurse me instead of hang by the pool in matching bikinis as planned, without so much as a shrug. Every member of my family who knew, every friend at home, every new friend in Ubud – all of them flooded my online areas with goodwill and love. Thanks all. Thanks and thanks and thanks.

And sorry I didn’t respond. It’s just that throwing up is hard to do.

 

Home in away

hydrangeas in ubud

Every morning I wake up in away. Far, far away. Mornings are my favourite time of the day in Ubud. The light is brilliant, faceted, aquamarine. The air is always perfectly still, scented with the incense and petals arranged on thousands of tiny, banana-leaf-plate offerings made to The Gods Who Eat Flowers For Breakfast. Roosters are laughing, hens are chuckling, and doves with giant bells round their neck are humming softly. Dogs set off trotting on adventure, and on my way to second breakfast, I invariably pass a cat with the wind up its pants, whipping through a paddy chasing butterflies and trying not to get its feet wet.

My bright rubber thongs flap along past freshly washed doorways on quiet streets, and most stores are still sleeping with signs saying ‘we’re open when we’re open’. My spot at Bar Luna is always free, waiting for me under overhanging masses of passionflowers. Children walk past in adorable school uniforms, giggling and singing and disappearing into laneways. A little boy casually puts a wooden flute to his lips and produces an exotic tune so magical and deep that I want to snap every plastic recorder in the Australian primary school system and replace them. Immediately. Away gives home such a beating sometimes.

But coming to the end of my first month here in Ubud, I’ve found home sneaking in here and there. I have taken to buying bunches of hydrangeas at the morning fresh food markets. These giant pastel stems look as incongruous as I do next to all the bright oranges and reds of the tropical fruit and flowers. I had no idea they even grew here. They look like summer holidays at my Nan’s house, and my bedside at home in Alfred Cottage.  I put them in my Ubud bathroom and their big puffy faces never fail to make me smile.

I’ve ferreted out the only three coffee spots capable of producing a cup like Fitzroy’s finest (Bar Luna, F.R.E.A.K. and Seniman) and find I can no longer start my away day without a strong home latte. Piling two teaspoons of rough brown crystals (or lumps of sticky palm sugar at F.R.E.A.K) on to the heavy foam, I watch until my sugary Atlantis is swallowed with a plop. Stir. Sip. Repeat. Home*.

*Note: this description of ‘home’ as good strong coffee and hydrangeas is probably not a platonic ideal – what’s ‘home’ for you gentle readers?

Yogier than thou

sarahjanedoe at the Yoga Barn

This is a phrase I’ve come to hear often on chat sites and travel posts about Ubud. It’s also popularly modified as ‘more yoga than thou’ and ‘pretentious asshats’. I’ve been practising yoga for nearly four years. Let me tell you what’s wrong with that sentence o’mine. First up, everyone keeps telling me yoga means ‘practise’ so that’s just a terrible tautology right there. Also, I could count the times I’ve ‘done’ yoga during those years on my (splayed, energised and enlivened) fingers and toes, one go round only. I started doing it in 2009, stopped mid 2010, picked it up again early this year, sweated through it, quite love it. And this is significant because I’m allergic to exercise. In the literal sense, not in the bad 90s sitcom humour one. Exercise makes me cramp and want to be sick and run away (amble away).

But yoga? Yoga makes me feel great. Not in a self-deprivation/Nike commercial/wheat grass shot this-must-be-good-for-me-because-it’s-so-shit kind of way, but in a whole-cake-to-myself way.  It’s like Valium. With a lot of sweat. But still. Valium. If someone told you that on the other side of an hour and a half of some funny bending, stretching, a few oms and shanti-shantys (as far as I can tell these are  sacred Indian songs of the sea) and a bit of a group- nap that it would feel like a post-coital glow plus three Valium, you’d probably do it. Yeah, you would. If it was the only way to get caffeine, I’d do it (everyone would do it). It’s great. Great! It’s just a terrible damn shame about its press.

I’ve been hanging around Ubud for three weeks now, frequenting some stupendously good cafes and eateries that get reviews like ‘would not look out of place in L.A., New York or Sydney!’ which is crap because they would look wildly out of place; the food and juices are far better, more varied and so cheap you could just return the enormous menus and say ‘yes’ and still have change. So, you know, you do. Work your way through the tumeric, honey and lime cooler to the green tea, espresso, white chocolate and soy frappe, before ordering a cheesy burrito with a side of bacon (because you can). What does this have to do with yoga? Well, a lot of us are going to yoga. And then coming to these cafes (particularly Kafe), setting up with a laptop, the International Herald Tribune and saying ‘yes’ to the menu. And if you look at the internet chatter about Ubud, this equates to the kind of assault on the traditional tourist culture of Bali (Bintang singlets! Plaited hair! No chilli in my NARsee GOREing, and turn up Khe Sahn!) that deserves the pointy end of the scorn stick.

Punters report annoyance that ‘their’ cafes are overrun by yogier than thou types, typified by ‘yoga clothing’, and ‘smiling’ and general…’yoga-ness’. As far as I can tell, none of these people are trying to convert anyone to downward dog or doing much of anything except for smiling and eating their organic red rice in silence (the smiling is true, they keep getting us to smile in class – the Yoga Barn philosophy roughly equates to ‘soft eyes, soft face, soft throat – can’t lose!’) so I was surprised to hear this level of crank about it. Especially when many of the regular Yoga Barn attendees are, like me, stealth-yogis. We are the great untanned. We do not glisten and glow, we sweat and redden. We have no kundalini tattoos. We don’t have beautiful posture and Portuguese  accents or a sitar. Many of us have old injuries to get past or some serious Western weight to attend to, and – hey, we might not be hot but we aren’t stupid – a massive platform above a waterfall, rice paddies and expansive koi ponds with top teachers seems like a great place to get started.

So if you wander into Clear or Kafe or Bali Buddha to get a snack and you see some gorgeous, honey-limbed thing twisted into happy-pretzel on a cushion and this inexplicably GIVES YOU THE SHITS, just remember the wise words of Eleanor Roosevelt: ‘No one can make you feel less-yogier without your consent.’*

*Note: I’m paraphrasing slightly, but everyone knows Eleanor was boss at yoga.

Living a fantasy

Now that my blood consists more of antibiotics and anti-mucoids than cold and flu germs, a walk past this little stationary shop here in Ubud filled me with heart and purpose: I’m here to write! Yeah! Fist-pump! Back to the room, dig out that manuscript, on with the show!

Many of you are writers so you’ll know that wonderful feeling when you pull out old work and look at it with fresh eyes and delight yourself. Hungry for this sensation, I put a tissue up each dripping nostril, turned the fan up to causing-the-woven-rattan-ceiling-to-tremble level and told the warring Asiatic squirrels in the coconut tree to keep it down, or else. Then I settled in to immerse myself in my own brilliance.

This is what I read. ‘Exposition, exposition, exposition, quip, exposition, exposition, cliché.’  Notes, notes, notes, ‘Filler, exposition, exposition, cliché, filler, exposition, exposition.’ And repeat.

In case you don’t believe me, here’s an example of just how bad things currently are. The names of my two chief evil-doers are Karl and Darius. I might as well have called them Cruel and Devious and been done with it. Our hero? Bastian. Last bastion of hope, freedom, and terrible punning nomenclature. I could cry (I may have cried).

For a life-long lover of quality fantasy fiction, this is pretty terrible news. After deciding I didn’t have the energy or implements to kill myself (I also like my housekeepers so much I hate troubling them for extra loo roll, so corpse removal would really be a whole new level of imposition) I read on to see if anything could be salvaged. Around page 87, one  of my appallingly named characters finally stops being a caricature and becomes a character. My sigh of sheer relief was fulsome enough to give the squirrels pause and this writer a glimmer of hope for the next few months of work.

Still – ouch. What happened? My only comfort is that the very first part of Game of Thrones wobbles in the same way. Lot of good versus evil, a direwolf for every child, exposition, exposition, cliché, exposition – and then good old George R.R. Martin seems to forget that that he’s setting things up for a ‘Fantasy Series’ and lets his characters run free. To, I would argue, the benefit of all mankind.

Shippey, my favourite Tolkien historian, writes that successful world building happens when the author stops giving us backstory and prescription and simply offers us a ‘corner of the eye glimpse’ of the world they’ve created – the kind that intimates that all sorts of complex events and histories have occurred; that fabulous cities exist, and people have loved and lived and died in them. For reals. It’s going to take some serious time for me to do this. Meanwhile, a little help from my fantasy-loving friends would be hugely appreciated. Names. Some masculine, some feminine. And it will be the last thing I beseech-th of thee-th*.

*Note: by ‘last’ I mean until I need help naming everything else and then move on to help with the religious-exclamations-occuring-in-slang-speech-of-the-currently-unnamed-eastern-most-city.

New moon party

I’ve been pestered for photos of the special Ubud party I tailed my brother to last Saturday night. Turns out the only publishable one I have is of the new moon, visible through the clouds hanging over the trees on our mysterious route there (complete with secret hand-drawn map).

This moon was the only light to reach into the absolute darkness of the jungle on what turned out to be just a short ride from my tiny new home in the heart of town. After much giggling and carry on, including several false starts, false arrivals, and me learning the bahasa Indonesia for ‘I’ve got a little problem in the back’ (my front-seated brother to the driver, often and unfairly) we finally hit the mark and turned with purpose onto a single lane cut straight across an inland ocean of floating rice crops.

Tiny fireflies turned into fields of ‘lampu’; little covered candles that numbered into the high hundreds. Our new Swiss friend Alejandro later described the end of his ride on his scooter through the same darkness to come upon the phalanx of gracious, uniformed attendants greeting us at the front of the huge main house as ‘beautiful…’ in an accent that serves the meaning much better than if you imagine mine.

Inside, one of the guest DJs played a particularly inspired swinghouse set and smiling staff refilled drinks in a whirl of iridescent limes and sparkling ice cubes. The pool glowed in the exact same shade of  blue as the Bombay Sapphire bottles clinking around it, but much more than high-quality liquor and fancy water features, the luxury of sheer space cannot be overstated. All around us the still, high water in the paddy fields reflected the new moon like endless tiny mirrors on an Indian cushion, and we were all we could see of the world until the darkest edges of the jungle. A glowing heart of music and pinwheeling limbs on a tiled platform high above radiating terraces, it seemed quite possible that we were all there was, and this was the only party on the planet. Yes, it was smugalicious.

And so it went on until one by one the littlest flowers begin to wilt, falling gently into tiny sparkling heaps of stardust and sequins on the cabana chairs and pool lounges dotting the large estate. Not one Cinderalla misplaced her Loubs, but Very Expensive bags overloaded with smart gadgetry and scented like duty-free counters lay abandoned all over the place, and I spend a good twenty minutes reuniting the soft, fleshy petals of quilted Chanel with the correct Sleeping Beauty after deciding I was clearly the Fairy Godmother of the piece.

Somewhere in all the excitable kissing and meeting and greeting and sloshing of drinks a (probably very limited edition, elite, single origin) flu virus was also passed around. So this Saturday night I’ll be enjoying my cocktail of antibiotics, distilled water, paracetamol and pseudoephedrine alone in my room, but if I turn the music up and close my eyes, I can still picture the new moon and the lampu, and that’s enough*. For now.

Note: by ‘enough’ I mean please-send-six-boxes-of-Nurophen-Plus-and-the-next-four-seasons-of-Friday-Night-Lights-terimah-kasih.

The trouble with trouble in paradise

I’ve been dying to use the title ‘trouble in paradise’ for quite some time now. Exciting, isn’t it? The juxtaposition? Trouble! Egads man, where? Paradise! (dramatically sharp intake of breath) But by Jove, that’s the very last place you’d expect to find it! And just like the Twisty-and-Fanta shellacked readers of the Herald Sun, I still get a shiver every time I see ‘trouble in paradise’ writ large in Times New Roman.

I forget where I first read it. It was probably a re-issued Nancy Drew title, or perhaps the local paper in the Sydney seaside suburb where I spent my adolescence. It’s the kind of phrase the avid reader/junior writer regurgitates with ease and pleasure for use in a school assignment. I remember itching to pull it out during my first job as a journalist for a small newspaper in South West Florida. The paper was circulated amongst honeymooners and retirees on a beautiful barrier island, and contained a lot of earnest stories about the superior quality and affordability of holiday accommodation and eateries. Looking for real action, I ‘embedded’ myself for 24 hours with the emergency services at the local fire-station.

All kinds of unexpected things happened during each of those hours, and I went back to the office ready to pump out an authentically shiver-laden ‘trouble in paradise’ piece, only to discover that I wasn’t allowed to write any of the good bits (‘You want tourists and snow-birds to read this? Are you gosh-darn kidding me? Show it to advertising – those guys sure need a laugh today’) so it came out with a ridiculously long and bland title (slapped on by our roundly-despised acting editor) that went something like ’24 hours with people who are allowed to use sirens and can cut your car in half please drive carefully on our island home turn to page 11 for your Dairy Queen voucher’. Thwarted.

So here I am in paradise; real, proper Paradise™ with faultless weather, swaying palms and exotically beautiful inhabitants who smile all the time and wear colourful costumes and get about with a lot of things on their head like tropical fruit and monkeys. And where’s that editor now, mm? Hopefully not still correcting someone else’s film review from ‘on celluloid’ to ‘on cellulose’ and then claiming this to be the fault of her ‘Apple MacIntyre’s spellchecker’ when a hundred emails are received from nasty old Republicans with too much time on their hands joyfully denouncing the author’s apparent ineptitude at discerning between film and paperstock.  Nope, she’s nowhere to be found and it’s highly unlikely she’s even heard of Webby Logs, so here it is:

Trouble in Paradise.

I’m a big lover of both frogs and fireflies, and at first I was thrilled with sightings of each of these creatures in the dark, swaying paddy fields of Ubud at night. But now? Well, there are just so many of both that I fear I might tire of them, and nothing spells ‘trouble’ quite like ‘passé-firefly’.

One of my chief reading-over-coffee pleasures is a physical copy of The New York Times; a newspaper where they still have those super-fancy extras like sub-editors, and journalists who travel outside the tri-state area and stuff. I can’t find it anywhere in Melbourne so it was a very pleasant surprise to discover that I can get daily copies here in tiny Ubud for about $3 from a hawker up on the main street. However, what was a simple joy has now become fraught and complex – today my new friend Alejandro told me about a lovely bakery where I can get copies for free and spend my $3 on a smoked salmon sandwich with fresh sourdough while I do. So now every time I read it I have to feel guilty that the poor streetseller has probably lost my business for the next few months, while I ingest a totally non-macro-Zen-Ubud recipe of fluffy white bread and Philly. Thanks Bali. Way to make me feel disgusted with myself yet again.

Finally (because I’d hate to disturb you with any more outrages, gentle readers) the relief at having a kilo of my dirty clothes returned to my room washed and pressed for $2 evaporated when I ripped open the plastic to discover that the smell of a thousand colliding artificial fragrances did not. After a restless sleep last night in PJs that inspired a kind of olfactory claustrophobia akin to having my head stuck in a feedbag of laundry powder, I anticipated the showdown with the host of my domicile this morning when I’d have to try to explain that I wished my clothing to be less clean in future. After rehearsing various scenarios and fretting about the outcome, I presented the complaint using words from two languages plus a little dance and some rending of the fabric on my back and was told ‘OK, you want not so strong smell? OK, OK, so sorry, no problem!’ All that catastrophising for nothing! What, does he think I do that kind of worrying for free? Ubud – writers’ paradise? Maybe. But with trouble, I tell you. With a lot of trouble*.

*Note: the use of the word trouble in this instance may actually be limited to things that, outside Paradise™ would be labelled ‘minor annoyances’ or ‘petty grievances’ (abbreviated simply to ‘petty’).

I can haz party?

i-can-haz-party

I’m going to a party. A big party. The kind of house (luxury villa *cough*) party you see in the movies – hosted by DJs who’ve flown in to Ubud with their friends and followers and models and drivers and the models’ luggage and drivers for the models’ luggage. I’m not on the door per se, but my brother is (of course he is – from about three different directions) and I suppose I could pass for some kind of agency chaperone for one of the youngest beauties if there’s any trouble. Anyway, it’s great news because I LOVE PARTIES. Parties are boss.

I have been attending and enjoying parties my whole life. Ages three to ten were particularly hectic. My brother and I were on the exbrat scene, and we hit it pretty hard.  It was always tough to calm down during Monday nap-hour after Primary Colours 101 or Macaroni and Paste: Drying Times, when your head was still full of the action, the music, the sweets, the games. You gotta put a little distance between you and that Canadian kid, you’d tell yourself, his reading level is so not where it should be. Yes, he plays the tambourine like it’s Bowie to his Jagger, but that’s not enough. When the Korean twins celebrate their fifth, they aren’t gonna mess around with the guest list and you know this. Start saving your Great Work! stickers for them and hey, check out that Play-doh they’re always snacking on. Shared diet tips are a great in.

Sometimes I confuse how much I truly love going to parties with having a party, and I say things like ‘let’s have a party!’ and then I do things like invite people to have a party. Crazy, right? Because suddenly I’m having a party. And I can’t be allowed to have parties. This having-a-party thing attacks me so often you’d think I’d learn not to do it but, unfortunately, it’s still happening. If you are ever invited to one of my parties (if that’s not already all of you reading this, stick around a few days) here are some tips to help us both get through one.

Don’t arrive early. (Or on time. Or close to on time.) Startled and trying to cover it with false bonhomie, I will scream your name so loud that your family members in other states and countries will flinch and shiver and worry about you. I will then steer you around my house/other unlucky venue for the next hour while I apologise for everything in it; for its lameness and its poor lighting, for the cleanliness and quality of the substrate and garden tap, and I will insist you are going to have a shit time and I’ll apologise for this too. At the same time I will fixate on various guests you may know or have heard of who haven’t arrived yet and insist to you they are definitely coming, and perhaps we should call them every few minutes – call their friends, their boss, the police, check for downed bridges, whatever – to make sure they are seconds, seconds away from coming to your aid.

Don’t arrive late. I will believe I forgot to invite you and I’ll invite you another sixty times using all of your numbers and devices and a carrier pigeon with a razor sharp beak. I will also send the police to check for you and I will further torture the already-arrived guests by having them search the internet, emergency frequencies, and satellite imagery from weather monitoring stations to establish for certain that there are no downed bridges.

Don’t arrive. If you come to my party I will forever believe you had a terrible night filled with the kind of insufficient heating/cooling/ice/music/drinks/food/games/dancing/conversation/hook-ups/lighting and lolly-bags that will make you think I’m bad at parties and, ergo, a bad person. To save you the further awkwardness of ending things first, I’ll have to cut you loose the next day and we’ll never be friends again*.

*Note: in this case ‘again’ means until I forget I can’t have parties, which is usually such a short duration of time that you won’t have noticed we aren’t friends anymore. This is actually great because I like to have parties and I’d SO love you to come.