Sarah Jane Doe

Tag 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.

 

 

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’).

Room for coffee and deserve?

sarahjanedoe in Ubud

Room for coffee and deserve?

It’s been less than a week since I ran away from winter and started this blog in Bali. Each day that’s passed has seen a gradual loss of order, makeup and clothing. The thousand cords accompanying hyper-modern life (all my devices apparently need to talk to each other if not to the wall socket, and they require a career puppeteer’s worth of wires to do so) are now out of the careful figure-eights I learned at film school and into a mess of squid-ink linguine in my bag.  Day two saw the abandonment of perfume, day three concealer, and by day four using my duty-free mascara purchase seemed as ridiculous as applying any of these things and hopping into the shower. Even regular underwear has now migrated to the deep space in my luggage occupied by on-plane woollens and chic silk dresses designated optimistically as ‘For France’.

The gain column is much larger. Embarrassingly large. I think that adverb is why it’s been so hard to write about. And why the collective noun for riches is often ‘an embarrassment.’ Too many beautiful things are happening (and/or being eaten) over here in Bali. Sunshiney roads and vintage cars deliver us to suckling pig and lobster dumplings, sunsets and new friends, Baja fish tacos and fresh sugar cane spritzers, ceremonies, house parties, deep jungle pools and airy mountain-top retreats. Every hour of the day brings a new treasure more shiny than the last. And it’s been making me uncomfortable. Do you really want to know how perfect my tamarind and lemongrass juice was this morning? How wonderful Alejandro’s coffee was at Bar Luna? Or how many colours a simple frangipani can arrive on your doorstep in? Do I really want to write about it?

In the middle of happy baby pose at the incredibly beautiful Yoga Barn yesterday, our incredibly beautiful instructor asked the incredibly beautiful bodies in attendance to feel the incredible beauty of where we were; to feel the warmth and softness of the air, to see the lotus blooming on the water-ponds around us, to understand the blessing of living in Ubud and practising yoga. And my growing discomfort ratcheted up to stomach-ache level. Then she said something that gave me the name for it. ‘Feel the magic of this place,’ she said, ‘and know that you deserve to be here.’

I do. Feel the magic. Get that I deserve it. But doesn’t everyone? Deserve means to be worthy, to be entitled, not by chance or luck but work and merit. There were roughly thirty souls getting bent and blessed out in the Yoga Barn yesterday. It seemed like a lot at the time, but it’s pitifully few. It might not be everyone’s idea of the perfect afternoon, but it must be for many more than were there. Don’t most people deserve to feel limber and luxurious, loved and limitless in tropical paradise on a Tuesday afternoon? I worked hard for it, but I know that most people work much harder than I do. So when does everyone else get their great coffee and deserve? And is it wasteful of me not to enjoy it for this reason? Or do I turn into an unthinking lotus-eater* the second that I do?

*Note: deep-fried lotus-root is currently one of my favourite Bali bar snacks. It may be too late in the literal sense.

Getting away with it

sarahjanedoe wakes to the first morning in Bali

I woke up today and opened the windows to my new life for the next few months. There was a cool breeze bringing incense and bird calls in, and a surprising silence apart from the water in the fountain outside my room. And into that silence I said ‘Fuck. Yeah.’ And I had this tremendous full-body tidal wave of a particular feeling that I think is called Getting Away With It. It’s not  a snaked-the-last-good-car-space-at-Warringah-Mall-at-Christmas kind of getting away with it; not that kind of pedestrian fist pump we all know and love. This was big. This was grand.  This was I’m-a Russian-cyber-criminal-and-that-transaction-in-Bern-just-went-into-my-account level of getting away with it.

So I tried to make sure I wallowed in it, rubbed it all around, saved it for the inevitable morning I’ll wake up with that feeling I think is called Totally Shafted. Because when things are going this well, it’s good to know it. To really know it. And then order pancakes for breakfast.