Letter from Bali – I
I bring you a little update from the land o’ milk n’ honey, or to be more accurate, UHT milk n’ liquid sugar with a lid on top to keep the ants out.
Our tropical year has begun in earnest! Two weeks now in sunny Bali where the temperature is 27 degrees today and will be, eh, 27 degrees tomorrow and at Christmas we are reliably informed is, you guessed it, 27 degrees. No no, there is variety. Yes, you see it rains sometimes here, mostly at night while in November through February we can expect it to rain sometimes, mostly at night and yes then there are the ‘winds’. Sometimes it can be windy, two or three days a year this can be the case, we are told, because if nothing else around here, we like variety in our meteorology. So what happens under such conditions? Life baby, life. Every freakin’ thing grows and everywhere and all the time. Palms and rice and fruit and flowers and things you get in pots for your window ledge in Vancouver grow here 10’ or 20’ or 30’ tall outside. I was strutting to the pool yesterday (what else?) and was almost brained by a falling coconut dislodge by a bird (bastard!). There are insects with peculiar geometries, caterpillars with hairdo’s like raster dudes, and beetles and such with horns and spikes, but the food chain regulates itself and the anti-gravity geckos make meals of everything so that the evening sky is almost free of human pest. If you are a flying insect and the reptiles don’t get you then the webs of the occasional spider await. These bastards are the size of dinner plates (the beast itself, not the web), and I suspect would have a go at anything beneath the size of a seagull. Yea gads! Won’t kill people we are told, no no, they like to drag you to their lair and play with you for a few years instead! Luckily these are few and far between, probably because the lizards come in bigger varieties too. A relative of the Komodo wanders around, haunting river basins. We spied one that was six feet long and at first glance looked like a crocodile, you could saddle it. Lock up your cats! What else? The people are genuinely pleasant and laid back. This is what distinguishes this place above all.
Is it dirty? It is dirty, yes. Garbage collection goes one of three ways. Uno. It is organic so it rots or is devoured where it lies. Dos. It is not organic or eaten quickly enough so it is burned in a heap at the side of the road or in a ditch or by a field throwing ash and smoke and casting plumes of smoldering plastic across the playgrounds of the young. Tres. It is not organic or dry or we are out of matches so it is heaved over a wall, often into a river where a bridge gives a convenient launching site. Mounds of unsightly waste pile up, much of it plastic, left to stack and choke the streams for millennia or until a more enlightened view to sanitation is adopted. Here is an obvious dislocation between the sell (a tropical paradise) and the reality (a rubbish dump in every stream). Is this a lack of education? A lack of alternative? There is no garbage collection I have witnessed, there is no recycling program I have seen. Where is the government and what are they doing?
Is there poverty? Yes. A few beggars, as many as in downtown Vancouver, nothing like in India. Cell phones and scooters are endemic. Temple and family life is all prevalent. The children are educated (as an aside, in preparation for upcoming celebrations on Indonesia day – fly the flag – be proud! – the streets are full of classes of schoolchildren doing marching practice. With the traffic situation this surely amounts to abuse), small shops and businesses line every yard of every road. We are 2 KM south of Ubud centre and 25 KM from the main city of Denpasar and rice fields fill the intervening miles but let me repeat that last sentence because it is true and defines the landscape and economy both. Small shops and businesses line every yard of every road in every direction. Well mostly. The people are poor by North American standards but they do not want for food or education and there is a lively economy. The social and familial and spiritual activities of the locals are rather mysterious but seem rich and extensive and they are a happy bunch for their circumstances and tolerant of all the annoying tourists.
The place is not without its stresses. The invention of street signs and numbered buildings has yet to arrive to much of the island. Roads (the same road that is) may go by different names. Every driver will tell you he knows where everything is and then proceeds to stop and ask people the last 2 km of your journey but you can’t get lost forever, you are on an island after all. Think that is quaint? Try phoning a taxi and getting him to pick you up, even without language issues. The envelope that went missing with the streets signs also contained the laws and regulations of road use. In order to overtake on a street wide enough to fit almost half the traffic on it, one need only honk and accelerate and drive out. The truck or bus or 20 scooters bearing down on you from the other direction will likely return to their side of the road (which is almost 70% wide enough to contain them because you are on a ‘good’ stretch) and no one will end up mangled and bleeding in a ditch (where lies the Komodos and wild dogs amidst the burning debris of a million plastic bottles!). I haven’t seen an accident but I know why everyone gives offering on a daily basis to every single shrine to every god and demon in terrestrial or celestial residence.
Two weeks here and the kids are romping in the pool and making friends, we have a house and stable if slow internet, a fridge full of beer (Bintang forever), and the biggest worry is how much the maid/cook is expecting for a Christmas bonus. Just stay out of the spider webs. Attitude is everything, everything after you’ve paid through the nose that is, and the locals are friendly and cheerful and not in your face. That has allowed us to arrive at our current happy place – two weeks here and settled in.
Know that it is 27 degrees and I am holding a beer.