Sarah Jane Doe

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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

 

 

 

 

 

Advice for the new lover

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For the five or six months of your pregnancy that is visible to the outside world, the outside world will attempt to warn you about what’s coming next. People who have a limited grasp on logic or have grown up oddly sheltered from common expressions such as ‘you can’t be a little bit pregnant,’ or skipped health classes in high school where a bored/embarrassed/somnambulant PE teacher explained the one-way street that is second trimester pregnancy, will take it upon themselves to offer the kind of advice that’s as useful as winding down the window of a car shouting ‘Bridge out ahead!’ and waving gaily like smug Samaritans as the train carriage you are strapped into hurtles  toward a chasm with comically bent tracks disappearing into oblivion. In short, it’s not helpful. There’s no way out.

The warnings about the pain and practicalities of childbirth are useful.  I took them seriously enough to introduce myself as ‘Epidural’ upon being admitted to the labour ward last month in the throes of pain that was, as the warners described, indescribable.  But what you largely get warned about is nothing you can medicate away or buy swaddling linens made from sustainably sourced bamboo for.  What you get warned about is so fundamental and irresolvable that it feels more like condolences than advice.  Pregnant! The hands flutter to the mouth or heart. The following is issued, in no particular order, or all at once:

‘It’s like a piece of your heart is outside yourself forever, and you have no control over what happens to it. You’ll never sleep properly again. You’ll have to consider someone else in everything you do for the rest of your life. You start making concessions from the moment they arrive. You’ll do things for them you’d never do for yourself, and then they’ll rip your heart out with a few thoughtless words.’

Baby advice? I could read that out as a wedding speech. And although you can stop that particular train in time, nobody tries to warn you about falling in love. When you say ‘I’ve met someone,’ with shining eyes, no one says ‘Oh God, clearly you don’t value your sleep, free-time and autonomy, eh? But I’m sure you’ll be a great lover, no really, it’s just that, well, it’s so much harder than you think, and no one ever tells you, they just sell you this myth of loverhood like it’s the be-all-and-end-all, when honestly, your life will just never be the same again. You’ll never be the same again. Once you look into their eyes and see that recognition back at you – oh, it just turns your world upside down. You’re powerless. Good luck. It’s a special club, not for the faint-hearted’.

No one says that. No one even offers you as much as a day of new lover leave for all the sleep you’ll miss in the first delirious month, or practical advice on keeping your fluids up to prevent cystitis. New parents don’t sleep. OK, but for how long? Because when you fall in love, it usually ends with someone sharing your bed and disrupting your sleep for the next conceivable ever.  The only break you get from this is when they aren’t sharing your bed and despite your longing for your own bed again, you’ll do anything to avoid your lover sleeping on the couch or in another bed somewhere because the pain of that will keep you awake anyway.  But people rush past these immediate and obvious realities. Instead they merely squeal and want to know your potential heartbreaker’s star sign, occupation or postcode, as if any of these things were important and could provide some prophylaxis to the black chasm ahead. As if anything could.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a romantic. A lover. An idealist. A dreamer. I have so much hope I had to give up scuba diving. My glass is full to the meniscus. But falling in love? My condolences. The very best, truest, longest loves end when one lover dies. Yep. Every time. So the holy grail of happy endings is a terrible accident in which both lovers are simultaneously incinerated with no knowledge of the other’s pain, or a suicide pact. If those are your best outcomes, I don’t think you need me to walk you through the worst. Open a newspaper. Or a novel. See any French film. Sit next to a divorce lawyer on a Sydney to Melbourne flight. Re-read the letters you wrote to the first person you ever loved. Scary, isn’t it? Much more frightening than a little being designed to love you and be loved by you for the rest of your life with no preconditions or preconceptions. Much tougher than that. So my advice? Keep your legs crossed, your eyes closed and your heart shuttered. And never fall in love.*

*Note: By never, I mean truly, never fall in love. Because even if you think you can handle being in love, it often leads to parenthood. And the thing about parenthood is that there’s always a piece of your heart outside yourself…