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Rhymer´s Travel Diary: Entry 21, July 24, 2002
The Costa del Oz, Childish and Monkey Behaviour, Dead Chicken II
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The Costa del Oz

Ahhh, Bali. When you're used to places where there's only one place to eat in town, where everyone wants to talk to you (because they're interested, not to sell you crappy souvenirs) and where you smile at every other westerner because there are so few of you, arriving in Bali is a culture shock in the real sense of the expression. From somewhere where nothing is designed for your convenience to a place where everything is. For a while, I just wandered around the tourist capital, Kuta, looking like a complete fool as I gawped at all the consumer-orientated stuff, grinning like an idiot and saying hello to complete strangers. I soon got the message though: the strangers didn't make eye contact, the locals tried to sell me fake sunglasses with fake cockney accents and Kuta itself is about twenty square kilometers of touristy sprawl. See one block and you've seen it all.

Bob and Paula

As usual Jane was going to dump me in a cafe while she looked for accommodation. But, before we could finish our drinks we'd been adopted by Bob and Paula. They were a pair of boozy, vaguely racist ex-Yorkshirefolk who'd moved down under to become boozy, vaguely racist Kiwis; sometime later, circumstances had forced them to move to Perth, where they had become boozy, vaguely racist Aussies. Bob said he liked Bali - so much so that they'd been here 17 times. Imagine! And he was happy to give us the benefit of his experience: Bali, he said, could be very dangerous - 'and they're so bloody backward.' Luckily, he continued, grinning and gesturing expansively at the caf?-bar we were sitting in, 'we've got them well trained here.' Naturally I tried to explain to Bob that we had been in 'Indo' for two and a half months, that I now spoke passable Indonesian and that...Bob silenced me with a dismissive wave of his hand, 'Don't you worry,' he said, 'we'll look after you.'

As far as I could see, having Bob 'look after us' meant having him yell loudly at foreigners on our behalf. 'Make sure its cold enough' bellowed Bob as he ordered another beer (as they say, Bob was always ordering another beer); a cursory bottle count revealed this was his fifth of the lunchtime. Recharged, Bob began chatting to Jane - she to his face, he to her chest. So I talked to Paula; struggling for an opening, I asked her if she'd been anywhere else in Indonesia. 'Oh, no,' she said, 'very dangerous.' Not even to neighbouring Lombok? I queried. 'Catch Malaria the second you get off the boat,' she replied. I said that I'd had a very pleasant and Malaria free holiday there a few years back, but she wasn't listening and instead started telling me how cheap the fags were in Bali. At this point Bob interjected: apparently Jane's chest had told him I was going to Australia.
'Which bit' he asked.
'Sydney' I said
'Don't like Sydney,' he replied, 'You get all sorts there.' It took me a couple of seconds to realise that Bob meant all sorts of chinks, coons, pakis and other assorted undesirables. 'I'd have you all over the threshold of my house' continued Bob, inclining his head towards the restaurant staff, 'but I wouldn't have any of their kind.'

After we'd enjoyed another half-hour of Bob's strident views, he did show us to a decent, well-priced hotel, where he thankfully left us. And I was trying to work out whether I should feel bad about finding Bob quite as unpleasant as I did. After all, for all his bigotry, he had been very helpful to us and was the type of people used to refer to as 'salt of the earth.' But it really wasn't that difficult a question: Bob might have been pleasant to us, but if we'd been black he would have probably left the bar when I sat down.

Neighbours

At the guesthouse, our next door neigbour was Alison, a no-nonsense Australian who lived in New Zealand. Alison had been to Bali 19 times (thus beating Bob by two). When she told me she was buying handicrafts for her business back home, I mentioned that I'd seen some terrific woodcarving on some of the other islands. Alison replied that she'd never been outside Bali: 'Not safe for the white woman'. Oh, Christ, I thought, here we go again.

But, although she could be a little narrow minded, Alison wasn't a moronic bigot like Bob - in fact, she was going out with 'G'day,' a local bloke. But what really made Alison was her taste for melodrama - she had a way of sensationalising the mundane that made even the rainiest afternoon like a soap opera 'Jane' she'd say, tilting her head towards Marcus the surfer, 'there's something about him that just doesn't add up. He's not right.' Jane would ask her to elaborate: 'I mean', Alison would continue, 'he's spent 5 million (about #400) in two weeks and he doesn't drink! There's something funny going on, I tell you.' Then there was another couple, her friend Marianne and husband Eddie. Marianne was a great girl, but 'he's a wrong 'un, I tell you. He's the jealous type.' Every incident, no matter how trivial, was of earth shattering importance and Bali was peppered with pitfalls awaiting the unwary westerner. Whenever we got bored a conversation with Alison soon convinced us that, beneath its dull exterior, our little guesthouse was a tinderbox of intrigue and scandal.

In a sense many of the Aussies and Kiwis we met were antipodean analogues of the British in places like Spain, Greece and Turkey. For them the country beyond their resorts may as well not exist. When they asked where I'd arrived from, I initially explained that we'd been through 'Indo' from Sumatra to Papua, before flying into Bali. But this was like one of those conversational faux pas that polite people just ignore. Of course when pressed, most of them did have opinions - often strong - about the hearts of darkness that lay just beyond Bali's sunny shores, but of course, none of them had actually been there. Then they'd start telling you about how dangerous Bali could be again.

For all this Kuta is a nice enough place. Despite the obvious parallels, it's nowhere near as obnoxious as the brasher European resorts. Although there's plenty of drinking, it's pretty low key compared to the moronic Lineker's bars and beery beachside breakfasts of the Costas. Perhaps this is because Kuta started as a surfers' resort, not just a place to get pissed in the sun. And, it does have a very nice beach. It was here on our third day, while out surfing - I surf no so much like the guy in the Old Spice ad as the people who use the product - I genuinely almost drowned (perhaps Alison was right about Bali being dangerous after all). Indeed, the only thing that prevented me from doing so was miraculously managing to stay calm and doing all the things I must have subconsciously learned while ogling Yasmin's tits on Baywatch.

Good Behaviour

After a few days of this, we needed a little more, so we called Gary, the American behavioural researcher we'd met on the plane from Papua to take him up on his dinner invite. Gary wasn't staying in town, but out at one of the isolated and fantastically expensive resorts up the coast, 'C'mon over' he said, 'I'm bored out of my tiny mind up here.' Gary's hotel was indeed fabulous - the reason he was staying in this plutocratic place was because his research was funded by an American heir to a baking fortune. This guy occasionally like to join Gary on his fieldwork, so Gary was constantly booked into hotels out of the pages of Conde Naste Traveller. As he pointed out, it was the kind of place you'd come on a honeymoon, and certainly no place for a man on his own. 'I just want a coffee shop where I can hang out' he lamented. Instead he had overly attentive in traditional Balinese dress ready to indulge his every whim, his own private hot tub and fresh flowers floating in his bath every morning.

As might be expected, dinner with Gary (in our own private dining room, natch) was good fun: undoubtedly the best food we ate in Indonesia and very interesting. Although we talked about all manner of subjects, what I really remember is his advice for preventing kids becoming crack addicts, sluts, etc. Education, he said, is, in itself, less important than communication. Here he cited the example of exercise - how many people know you should exercise regularly (everyone) and how many actually do it? No real surprises there. But then he said, regardless of gender, the child's relationship with its mother is key. Dad is far less important and needs to be around, but not much else. Should I ever become responsible enough to reproduce, I am going to remember this iron clad excuse to sit in front of the TV on my arse whenever anything to do with sex, drugs, etc needs explaining to the kids. After all, by talking to them, I wouldn't want to risk turning my children into crack whores, would I?

Primate Behaviour, Dead Chicken II

Up until this point, we'd only met two Americans in the whole on Indonesia and they'd both been great company. But all this was about to change as we headed up to Ubud, Bali's self-styled cultural capital. It used to be fashionable to describe Ubud as the 'real Bali', although as Ubud is now nine square kilometers of arts and crafts shops, most people have ditched this conceit. Except, of course, the American and Japanese tourists who throng the place, convinced they are experiencing something very, very special. These are presumably the same people who think that the Cotswolds is the real England. To see these guys at their best, you need to head down to Ubud's 'monkey forest', a park of about ten acres, five minutes from the centre of town. And there you get one of those anthropological jokes that seems too good to be true. Huddled around in groups (the alpha males with digital camcorders) jostling for the best position, these comedy tourists are far more amusing to watch than the monkeys who are fat, overfed, lazy and bored. Best of all is that many people take guided tours of the monkey forest - as you can walk around it in about five minutes, I can only assume they need a guide to explain the difference between a monkey and a tree.

Although many people make great claims for Ubud, we found it a bit dull. So we took motorbikes and headed north towards Bali's highlands and volcanoes. Again these nice enough, though nothing really impressive. And I guess that's the problem with Bali. If you haven't been anywhere else in Indonesia it's probably pretty cool, but if you have, it's all a bit of a letdown. Neigbouring Lombok has a better volcanoes; Sulawesi and Papua have more interesting cultures; Sumatra has better lakes; even the hot springs on Bali are only just lukewarm. Most of Bali seems like a tame, watered down version of the rest of this fascinating country. That said, on our way back from the North, we did manage to get hopelessly lost and so found the real Bali. This is a land of small villages, Hindu temples and impossibly cute, Astroturf-green rice terraces - it's well worth a visit. Best of all, about half an hour away from Ubud, Jane ran over a chicken with her moped, bringing the poultry body count up to one fowl apiece.