A cry for Bali

Bali is not paradise in the classical sense. However, it is an island that nurtures, sustains and perpetuates an enchanted existence disconnected from a reality that many have to live with in other parts of Indonesia.

As the years roll by, development continues to race towards incomprehension. It is slowly leveling the vibrant ethos and in some areas replacing verdant surroundings with concrete monstrosities that are flaccid in nature. These contorted aberrations on the Balinese landscape are desecrating the island of the gods and one wonders whether the day of reckoning will come when Goddess Bali awakes from her slumber to return her home to a pristine land.

The surreptitious inroads into sacred areas is alarming and deeply saddening.

A beautiful people being corrupted by insidious consumerism with the all pervasive motto – In God we trust, rest cash – being the recurring theme.

Ancient Balinese architectural concepts like Asta Kosala Kosali have been swept away by those that seek to transform the isle into the ultimate paradise for the rich and famous, while education standards,  minimum wage is wanting and the lives of ordinary folk being increasingly intruded upon and disrupted by groups of carpetbaggers who seek Avalon in the east.

Village folk still cling precariously to their language, Balinese, to float on the surface of cross fertilization of cultures that is flooding homes with street jargon from all over the world including other parts of Indonesia. Children who once spoke their mother tongue fluently are now being enticed into the ever growing circle of hip youngsters. A circle that is pretentious in word, dress, music and morals, all this borrowed from visitors.

And as the dilution of a beautiful ethos continues, the deteriorating state of the environment is best reflected in reports emanating from Udayana University – statistics that are revealing, disheartening and prophetic.

So how long can this  enchanting isle sustain the juggernaut of avaricious progress? Some assume that this will carry on ad infinitum. Others believe that the boiling point or breaking point is a few years away.

But who is listening?

Who will draw the line and prevent further maiming of the sensual evocative senses of Bali and its gracious people?

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

Expats in Bali

This is the first in a series on expats who are quietly helping to raise the standard of living for the less fortunate on the isle. These expats belong to international clubs; are successful business folk putting back part of their earnings into non-profit social development programs; and individuals living in Bali for a long time who feel that they must contribute to the welfare of the islanders.

Sometime ago I heard it on the grapevine that Ibu Sarita Kaul of Rotary Club Seminyak had started a program for clean drinking water in a village in Sibang. As there is no piped water, the villagers collect water from the nearby river; boil it before using it for cooking and drinking. Some of the villagers are too poor and hence can’t afford the high cost of fuel so they don’t boil the water prior to using it. The result being that many women and children suffer from stomach ailments.

Curious to know more about the project I met Sarita and requested her to accompany me to the village so that I could speak to the villagers to understand more about what was going on and how it was benefiting the rural folk. She told me that the project involved the production and free distribution of cement biosand filters for drinking water to all the homes in the village, which is close to a 100.

The cement biosand water filter works on the principle of filtration of contaminated water through sand and gravel without the use of any electricity or burning of fuels. The process is proven to remove about 90% of pathogens in the water. It has been tested by governments, research and health institutions in laboratory and field trials. The filter has no moving parts; can be used with any available water source; it is small and takes up little space; and is a household level technology that allows end users to independently maintain and operate the filter.

On the last day of May we drove to the village so that I could meet Bapak Astra in whose home the filters are being manufactured. In fact, as his contribution to the community he has allowed the free use of his Bale for this purpose. Astra is an elderly subsistence farmer with great dignity and an acute understanding of survival.

He showed me a water filter in operation and the metal dies that are used in the manufacture of the cement contraptions. Apparently, the Pilot Project of 11 such filters has been successfully carried out; 10 pieces are in an equal number of homes and the 11th has been installed at the Banjar office. Astra understands the concept of clean drinking water, as he is involved in organic farming.

The head of the Klian Banjar, I Wayan Dharmika and the village schoolmaster I Wayan Tantra were instrumental in convincing the 44 heads of the families in the area to adopt the scheme. Astra told me that Tantra with his large black rimmed spectacles and who is affectionately called professor by one and all is the self appointed accountant for the project. He keeps a cash ledger that records an excruciating blow-by-blow account of all expenditure even if it involves such sums as rupiah 200!

Sarita told me that a grant had been received from Rotary International, Chicago, USA for the further manufacture of over 250 biosand water filters. On successful completion of the project that is due to commence in a week other villages would be brought into the scheme.

On being questioned by me about the production of the filter Astra said that two farmers were sent to Lombok for training. Lombok is the place where Sarita saw the filters in operation, the design being that of Cawst (Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology, Canada).

The two farmers dispatched for training had never been on an airplane nor travelled outside Bali so the experience left them in a suspended state of exhilaration that lasted for a few days. Even now there is a glow on the face of Ketut Arianta, one of the farmers who was introduced to me with much fanfare by Astra.

Marian Hjelm, a homeopath from Seminyak and the person who brought the plight of the villagers to the notice of Sarita, and who had accompanied us to Sibang, told me that the two said farmers had visited her home immediately on their return from Lombok to narrate the experience of flying near Mount Agung and to share their feeling which was like traversing an astral plain! She added that they returned to the village to a heroes welcome.

This water filter project is not about personalities or publicity. It is a humane response to the need of the usually ‘overlooked’ less fortunate people on the isle who honestly, diligently and in a community spirit eke out a living with dignity and pride.

Bali is like an oasis in the desert of a world fast losing itself due to the continuing erosion of social structures. It helps keep a lid on insanity in community values. This island is probably one of the last refuges for many of us expats. So let us continue to protect it and to alleviate any human suffering that occurs ever so often.

I will sign off now with the haunting words of Bapak Astra – “This is my home, my family, my land. Without it I am nobody and I will cease to exist.”

Note: at the time of going to press the villagers have informed me that pests have destroyed their rice crop. They will now need to buy rice from the market. The price of rice has risen sharply due to the fuel price hike.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

Silence of the lambs

First May or Labour Day as it is popularly known is celebrated across the world. Many dismiss this as a throwback to communism when rights were more apparent than duties.

Here in Bali free trade and enterprise is the corner stone of a prosperous and growing economy based primarily on the fruits and offshoots of tourism.

This island had tragically suffered in the past due to mindless ideology that resulted in death and huge losses for the then thriving travel business that brought millions to its shores in search of a heavenly experience. It directly affected the livelihood of all and percolated down to the masses i.e. the workforce.

However, as the years rolled on business revived albeit sluggishly but has not reached its previous level of high energy and big profits. The side effects of this growth has brought about a form of inflation that presently out runs the wages paid to the workers, thereby creating an uneven balance – monthly salaries lagging behind inflation.

This is not a criticism of the powers that be but a reality that we have to face in our daily lives wherever we are in the world, including Bali.

Basic costs like the increase in price of cooking gas and food grains etc., has created a piquant situation whereby workers are now spending a higher percentage of their earnings on food; Added to this is the stark reality that the basic minimum wage is not paid by many commercial establishments in Bali even though there is an existing Law – an allegation levelled by some workers.

This not my rendition of the truth but that of a young working couple, who shared with me some facts of life on the isle. While their beautiful three and a half year old son sat on my lap and nibbled on a chocolate biscuit we chatted in a warung about religious beliefs, the role of the Banjar and the community at large. Soon the conversation veered towards tourism, the price of food and the sudden rise in the cost of living.

Then Dewi uttered the words, “We are living on borrowings because our salaries pay for only half our monthly household expenses. The rest we have to get help from our families.”

I requested them to give me an approximate breakdown of their monthly expenses for the readers of The Bali Times. The basic cost of living for this Balinese couple, their small child and two aged parents is approximately:

Rice US$27/-: Vegetables/meat US$20/-: Cooking oil/spices US$22-
Electricity US$ 9/-: Water US$ 8/-: Transport/petrol U$ 22/-: Medical US$ 22/-
Ceremonies US$22/- : Bank US$47/- instalment towards loan for motorcycles.
The total is US$ 199/- whereas the combined salaries of Made and Dewi is US$140/- per month. Their earnings work out to US$2.40 per person per day! (US$ 1 = lDR 9000/-).

Made told me that their families who are farmers often gave them some vegetables and fruits. They also got meat from the family on Galungan and Kuningan. In return for this occasional assistance Made works in the field cutting grass for the cows prior to leaving for his job every morning. This was how they could make ends meet. Luxury – like a family outing to MacDonald’s or any fast food outlet occurred once in two months.

Dewi felt that the minimum wage for the work she did in a restaurant should be US$80/- for eight hours plus medical benefits and paid maternity leave. Although she showed her displeasure at being paid below the minimum wage she was grateful to her employers who gave her food on the job.

I sat and heard this couple speak eloquently about their life with great dignity even though the resignation to a life living on the edge was apparent on their faces. However, they appeared happy and content in a curious sort of way that defied logic. This was a side of Bali I had not known – the silence of the lambs.

After leaving Made and Dewi with her slumbering child in her arms I drove straight to a well known restaurant, ordered a meal and asked to speak to the owner who I knew to be a fair and just person. I told her about my meeting with the couple and requested her to throw some light on the facts I had collected.

“ Mark please understand one thing, you can’t just speak to one couple and then start confronting me with what they said. We do a lot for our workers. Do you have any idea how many ceremonies there are in Bali? We have to employ twice as many people as is required because the workers are always off on some ceremony or the other. It is their culture, their religion that we must honour. Our limited resources are stretched when we have to employ nearly double the staff we actually require to run this restaurant. If I paid them what you say should be a fair amount my business will close down. Now am not defending our low wages but we do give them food and yes for deserving cases we pay the medical expenses. When business nearly came to a standstill some years ago we never retrenched the staff. They got their salaries on time. The result was a huge overdraft with the bank. We have to recover these losses. Do I have to spell out the fact that the tourist trade has only in the last six months registered a reassuring increase. The forecast for this year is bright and we hope the trend continues and there are no hiccups.”

The paradox in paradise is evident wherever one looks. The beauty, the ugliness smothered in a joyful and woeful blend of culture and commerce. Where will this lead to could be anyone’s guess.

Let us pray that Bali returns to the dizzy heights of yesteryears so that we can all go home with full stomachs and money to spare in our pockets.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

Gamelan Master – Tjokorda Raka Swastika

The Gamelan Master speaks exclusively to Mark Ulyseas

Introducing Tjokorda Raka Swastika of the Ubud Royal family, a Gamelan Master, who I met in the palace garden to talk about his art. This is what he had to say to the readers of The Bali Times.

It is a short introduction to Gamelan. The music has intrinsic religious significance and is an integral part of Balinese culture. This short passage from our conversation does not do justice to the art. But for the sake of brevity we have confined ourselves to presenting it only as an introductory piece so that anyone not conversant with this religious art will begin to understand the complexities of Gamelan music.

This is what the master had to say to the readers of The Bali Times.

I learnt Gamelan from a local guru Dewa Nyoman Sura from Pengosekan Village about 5 km from Ubud. In those days, there were no children Gamelan. I hung around the musicians and watched them play.

In the 60s there were only two Gamelan groups in Ubud – one belonged to the Ubud Kaja (North) and the other Ubud Kelod (South).

Gamelan is the traditional music of Indonesia (specifically Bali and Java). Gamelan means the traditional ensemble of instruments. For example, in Bali Kendang (drum), Reong (kettle gong), Gong Kempur (medium gong) and Kemong (kettle gong).

The materials used in the Gamelan are metal and wood. Prior to the use of metal we had bamboo Gamelan as seen in the Gambang Ensemble.

The metal used for instruments is made of the Panca Datu – 5 elements of tin, copper, iron, silver and gold.

Gamelan is played on religious occasions as it is one part of the rituals viz.:
Dewa Yadnya (God ceremony), Resi Yadnya (Prayer ceremony), Manusa Yadnya (Human being ceremony), Pitra Yadnya (Soul ceremony) and Buta Yadnya (Devil ceremony).

Gamelan in Bali is also performed in temples when sacred dances take place. Of course it is played for the performance arts elsewhere.

The Gamelan vocal is also part of the Panca Gita.

I have been performing the Gamelan for 30 years and have taught students from Australia, Japan, Holland, Denmark and England.

In 1986 I visited Tokyo along with the Gamelan group from Ubud. It was for an International Music and Dance Festival. Since then many Japanese have visited Ubud to study the art. Many have been my students. Three years later in 1989 I performed in Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Holland and Finland. In 2000 I taught Gamelan for three months in Sydney. Today there are two Gamelan groups in Sydney, one started by the local Balinese community and another by an Australian. I performed at the Summer Festival in Fukuoka, Japan, in 2003.

Presently, I am concentrating on teaching and the future progress of children’s Gamelan. The 1999 Bali Arts Festival held in Denpasar saw my students represent the Gianyar Regent team, which won an award.

In 2005 the children group, Cenik Wayah, who were trained by me represented the Gianyar Regency at the Bali Arts Festival and won an award.

Now I am also training women in the art of the Gamelan.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

Wenara Wana – The enchanting forest

Mark Ulyseas in conversation with I Made Gunarta, a resident of Jalan Hanoman, Ubud, who is the Marketing In Charge for the Sacred Monkey Forest since 2003.

The sacred monkey forest is an integral part of Ubudian life and history. To understand the essence of its existence we spoke to I Made Gunarta about the well-known facts and the offbeat anecdotes that make it an enchanting forest. It became a tourist attraction during the days of Walter Spies in the 1930s at a time when oddly enough there were no monkeys! About four-dozen monkeys were introduced in the 1970s. Now the simian population has grown to 300 and still counting.

The soul of the enchanting forest is the Old Pura Dalam Agung Pandantegal Village Shiva temple. The monkey is believed to be the spiritual guardian of this temple.

The Shiva lingam in the temple’s precincts is believed to be very old and it is thought that Hindus who arrived from Java many centuries ago made this lingam, as the materials used matches the lingam at the Campuhan temple which was the first base camp of these followers.

Adjacent to the Shiva temple are two other temples – one is the Prajapati Temple dedicated to Durga on north east side of the graveyard, the other one is the Beji Temple dedicated to Ganga. The holy spring water at this temple is used for spiritual cleansing by devotees prior to praying at the other temples.

Many a mortal has felt the presence of a spiritual force that apparently resides in the enchanting forest. There are stories brought down from family to family about the misadventures of those who had inadvertently taken leaves and wood from the forest without its prior approval. This is a bit weird but consider this story of Made’s grandfather I Nyoman Linting who was part of the Mancagera – a group of people chosen to service the temple. As a young man eager to do his duty for the temple he proceeded to cut a tree in the forest. The wood of the tree was required for the making of Gamelan. What happened next defied logic as the tree when cut fell in the wrong direction at the very last minute trapping Nyoman underneath. His still body was carried home covered with a banana leaf as the villagers assumed he would die of his wounds. However, he survived the accident but was partially paralysed on his left side.

Made recalls the story of the merchant who on the way through the enchanting forest to the local market picked up some leaves near the graveyard. Suddenly without any reason she began placing her goods on the graves as if laying out her produce at the market place. She assumed she had reached the market. A passer-by noticed her odd behaviour. The merchant was immediately taken to the priest at the temple who told her that her actions were sacrilege, as she had not asked the spirits of the forest for their permission to take the leaves. And that was why the spiritual force that resides in the trees possessed her.

The trees of the enchanting forest are considered by the Balinese to be sacred. No one is allowed to either collect leaves, bark, trim or cut trees without seeking the temple’s permission by praying, making offerings and consulting the holy priest. The wood from these trees (especially the Pule) is used in the making of Gamelan and masks for Barong and Rangda.

People who suffer from some illnesses seek the healing powers of the forest. They visit the temple with offerings and after paying obeisance to the gods and seeking the priest’s permission they venture into the sacred forest to gather the leaves, bark and roots to be used as herbal remedies. Entry into the temple by women who are having their periods or anyone who has a wound is denied, as blood spilt in a temple is food for the ghosts.

The total area of the sacred forest was 10 hectares. About four years ago 3 more hectares of land were bought. These 3 hectares are presently being used by school children who are taught yoga every Sunday. However, saplings will soon be planted on this land to extend the forest. In addition to this about 1 more hectare will be purchased. Thus expanding the forest to 14 hectares.

A special committee manages the sacred monkey forest. It oversees preservation of the forest, health of the monkeys, maintenance and promotion as a tourist attraction.

On the 23rd of December this year the committee is launching a tree adoption program whereby people who want to participate need only to pay Rp. 200,000/- per tree for adoption. A sapling would be planted in their name and a certificate of ownership would be given to the donor.

Another program that is in its infancy is the purchase of organic household waste for the purpose of composting. Presently, about Rp 25 Juta is being spent on the purchase of compost for the forest. The option being considered is utilising this money for the purchase of household organic garbage that can be dumped in compost heaps in the forest. The residents in the surrounding areas would benefit financially from this program in addition to understanding the concept of preservation of the forest through the use of biodegrade able materials.

The Wenara Wana is truly an enchanting forest that holds within its embrace sacred temples and spirits of the trees with the simian guardians holding forth. Those who venture into it must understand that there is a power far greater than man and paying obeisance is the only path to living in harmony with the gods.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

A Bohemian Rhapsody – Amed

Finding Neverland has taken me many years, across continents and through the minefields of social disparities and conflict of interest. Now I rest my weary self on Milton’s Paradise regained, eight degrees south of the equator. The spirits of Bali hold me close to their bosom magnifying the good and bad within me. The choice is there for us all. Many intrepid travellers have fallen by the wayside; others have created a niche for themselves surviving on the nectar that the island has to offer. Circumnavigating Bali in search of this nectar I come across a place on the north east coast that nestles on the rocky side of hills overlooking the azure sea. Amed, the seventh heaven, which lingers in a time warp embracing the rustic beauty; the innocence of village life wrapped up in breathtaking landscape with Agung the sacred (the largest volcano on the island) looking down benevolently on the mortals below.

Driving for two and a half hours from Ubud in the hills down along the coast past Candidasa and Padang Bai I make the mistake of asking a Balinese for directions to Amed. The reason is that the Balinese understand directions based on the NSEW system and not by road names. So off I go down a northerly direction along narrow roads hugging the hillsides along the Mediterranean like coast. The long drive takes me through villages, across bridges partly submerged by flowing streams and children bathing in the gurgling waters. The countryside is alive with the wind whistling through the trees, the raucous sound of birds and the clinking of coca cola crates being unloaded at the warungs by the roadside. One cannot get away from consumerism that eats into the island’s life. Passing through a village I stop to light a cigar and to take in the fresh sea breeze. Nearby four Babi Gulings (suckling pigs) are being roasted over a pit lit by coconut husk. One of the four men who are rotating the large bamboo skewers gives me a toothless grin and asks for a cheroot. I reply in the negative and instead offer him a cigarette. The bond is made and soon I am sitting on my haunches rotating the skewers and chatting in sign language with the aroma of sizzling pork permeating the air around us. I am invited the next day for a feast in the village. It’s a celebration after a cremation. The Balinese sometimes bury their dead when they cannot afford the cremation and after a period dig up the body (when money is available) and then cremate it. In Bali people spend a fortune in cremating their dead. It is more important than marriage! In fact banks offer loans at reasonable rates. In the small warung across from where we are sitting are youngsters gyrating to the song “It’s my life”. They know what life is and accept it without any pretensions. I am still attempting to comprehend the subtle nuances that make their lives so fulfilling.

Half-hour later (which feels like an eternity in serendipity) I carry on my journey along the coast past Selang, Lipah, Lehan, Bunutan, Jemeluk to Amed. Even though the names change from area to area the whole strip along this coast is loosely called Amed. The beaches are lined with brightly coloured fishing boats and the surrounding area has some of the best coral reefs. In fact coral from these reefs have grown over a Japanese shipwreck from World War II that lies submerged in shallow waters metres from the beach.

I am waved down at a warung called Wawa Wewe One (in Balinese it means – like this like that) by Wayan. a young bloke with pants hanging precariously on his lower hip, boxers shorts showing and a t-shirt that reads Born to die rebel for Life. After a warm Balinese smile, handshake and greeting me Om Swastiastu he is sitting in the car directing me to the Wawa Wewe Two hotel down at Lipah beach. Wayan informs me that the area is predominantly rural with fishing, cultivation of peanuts, corn and rice. The entertainment being cock fighting and Saturday night live at Wawa Wewe One.

I check into Wawa Wewe Two that has a number of cottages built at different levels overlooking the rocky beach. The balding Rastafarian Made (pronounced as Maaday), who is the proprietor of the hotel, has a perpetual grin on his face. Initially I mistake it for dementia but then realise he is in a perpetual state of exhilaration. Saturday night at Wawa Wewe One café is made up of a live band, gyrating local and expat hipsters with lots of Arak thrown in. The “throbbing musical evening” commences with the band playing songs in slow motion! Methinks it’s the magic mushrooms which the locals eat here. But as the evening wears on everyone is on the dance floor swinging to “Sweet Home Alabama”. Even the pet dogs are on the dance floor. The following morning I witness the fishing boats returning with their catch and landing on the beach where the hotel is situated. The eight fresh mackerel that I buy for ten thousand Rupiah makes me wonder as to how these fisher folk exist on such meagre earnings. Their catches are quite small but the dignity with which they conduct themselves is truly inspiring. Putu, the head cook and bottle washer, serves me a breakfast of fried fish and rice with a large dose of potent sambal. As I don’t eat fish I hand the fabulous spread to Wayan. Putu, observing this tells me to “waitamoment” and soon serves me an English breakfast. God save the Queen! From now on I name Putu, the Queen of Amed and bestow on her the honorary title of “waitamoment”.

Later in the day Wayan takes me into the hills to village Bangli in an area called Toyemasem where four holy springs are located. I park my trusted and rusting Feroza on a side road and carry on foot across the rice fields up into the hills. We reach the temple dedicated to Goddess Masayu. Its not really a temple in the true sense of the word but a grey stone carved column. Wayan gathers a few wild flowers and hands them to me along with some lit incense sticks. I place these offerings at the foot of the column and pray for my family to the sound of the stream rushing by and the giggling of the village children observing me and whispering “Thakur Singh”.

The springs are located at walking distance from each other along the steep hillside. I taste the water from them and wash my face hoping to be absolved of my iniquities. What I experience dear reader is one of wonderment. The water from each spring tastes different: sour, bitter, sweet, and sweet salty! You must visit this place. There is a presence here that I cannot explain but which I can feel deep down. As we walk back I sense a presence watching my back. I convey my apprehension to the villager who is our guide and he tells me the Goddess Masayu is benign and that I should not be afraid.

On our return drive to Wawa Wewe, I ask Wayan about the phenomenon and he nonchalantly informs me that the Balinese practice a form of animism and therefore their form of Hinduism is partly different from that in India. This simple village lad has just enlightened me without even knowing it. This is the nectar I was looking for in Bali: The simplicity of living woven into a rural existence on the threshold of modernity, yet retaining the beauty of life.

For lunch “waitamoment” serves us corn and rice, seaweed salad, grilled chicken in peanut sauce and topped with the potent sambal which I immediately term “after burner” because the effects are felt only the following morning. Who cares? We tuck into the spread washing it down with local arak diluted with orange juice. An hour later I am lying comatose on a deck chair next to the infinity swimming pool that seems to meet with the sea on the horizon. The warm afternoon sun is comforting and I feel myself drifting into a luxurious slumber. Minutes later I am rudely awakened by “waitamoment” who has a hot cup of tea in her hand and a smile that livens my mood. She grandly announces that there is a Metajen (cockfight) in the village, which is commencing under the hour, and that Wayan will take me to the venue. So I dutifully sip my tea and await Wayan’s arrival.

Mind you the authorities here frown upon cockfights and when I write about it, it is not to glorify this blood sport but simply to convey how rural life often comes in conflict with perceived western notions of right and wrong.

The Metajen (cockfight) is held at the local meeting place on the beach a few km from the hotel. We arrive to the cacophony of voices and the shrieking of cocks, with intermittent oooohhhhs and aaaahhhhs.

Wayan introduces me to Kadek, one of the main promoters, who is famous for his cocks that win most of the fights. Witnessing a few wins by his cocks I promptly give him one of my Ramayana cigars to the delight of the onlookers, light it for him and rename him Don King.

Before each fight there is much discussion as to the contenders. When this is decided a man carrying a leather purse opens it and flips through the felt pages that have very sharp knives mounted on them. The knives are as sharp as scalpels. The contender’s leg size is measured and then the appropriate knife is tied onto the leg with red thread. Soon both gladiators face each other to the loud shouts of “Menang” (win) and “Kalah” (lose). Like the gladiators in Roman times it is a fight unto death. The vanquished is soon cut up and taken away for someone’s dinner while some of its feathers are given to the owner of the winning cock. Don King loses only two of his gladiators out of the ten that he has entered in fights.

I have to leave the coliseum as the sun is setting and Wayan is keen to show me the peanut, corn and rice cultivation before I head for home. Back on the road the silence in the car is deafening. Wayan slips his cassette into the tape deck and soon life around returns to normal with the reggae beat of “Welcome to my paradise”.

The rest of the evening is spent walking the fields of dreams with Agung the sacred glowing in the setting sun. Nightfall is minutes away when I turn onto the highway to head back to Ubud. Wayan alights from the jeep and folds his hands saying “Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om” and I reply “Suksema” (thank you in Balinese).

Night blankets the countryside as the headlights of my car weave patterns on the darkened road. Another day in paradise tomorrow is yet to come.

Jane the hairstylist and her yellow scrambler.

Talking to Jane, a forty something, over dinner the other night, I couldn’t help wondering as to why she ended up as a hairstylist in Bali. Her face is creased. But her blue eyes and sudden gentleness of speech is comforting. Her unmistakable Australian drawl is soothing on the brain.

So what’s the story? I ask her.

She stretches her long legs, leans back and to my astonishment rests them on our dinner table. I look at her disapprovingly. Oh no one cares a xxxx here, the Balinese need the business and I need a break, she drawls. I came here with my Brazilian boyfriend who on arrival took to the streets photographing everything, including the aftermath of the first bomb blast at the Sari Club. He made a killing. Sold them pics to CNN for ten grand, US not Rupiah. After the money ran out his interest in our daily xxxx also ran out. He fancied the Balinese girls. You know, what’s it with these guys? All the men I have met here come for the girls. Some marry and settle down breeding they little off springs. Others just return to where they come from. Us (western women) rarely get lucky with these guys. Probably we are too xxxxx for them. They need that little woman on top them who wriggles and shakes like a fish out of water cooing sweet nothings in a foreign language.

I look embarrassed. What could I say? I didn’t utter a word.

Look at you, what the xxxx are you doing here? She waves to me.

Oh, I reply, just recovering from a twenty-year marriage. I came here from New York when I left Calcutta. What I am going to do here I still don’t know. Maybe I’ll travel across the island and meet some of the expats who have become more Balinese than the Balinese themselves.

Don’t tell me you are going to meet them? All I know is that they are a lotta hot air in sarongs, yap, yap, yap that’s all they do, people who are losers in their countries land up here, she says vehemently.

The lady in waiting in a sarong comes over to the table and points at the half eaten food in my plate. You like, yes? Yes I like, I said. Looking down at the chicken Satay I remember what Jane told me an hour ago. She said that imported dogs particularly retrievers were kidnapped and if the ransom was not paid the dog ended up as Satay. Very often the kidnappers didn’t wait for the ransom. They just sold the dog to people who made very nice Satay.

Satay is small-diced pieces of meat neatly skewered on what looks like large sized tooth picks, roasted and then smothered in peanut sauce. Luke warm or cold they are served with Balinese pink rice and sautéed vegetables. A large prawn cracker is used to decorate the dish. It is called Naser Champur and is the popular staple dish on the menu at all Warungs (local Bali restaurants that are clean and hygienic).

Satay served at the Warungs is not dog meat. Some locals at festivals who can’t afford the regular meat like chicken, beef or pork eat the dog meat Satay.

I was speaking to Made the other day. Quite a few men and women are called Made (pronounced as Maaday). This Made is a Man Friday at the Villa Sangah where I have hired a small bungalow in the villa complex. Made told me that the street dogs living in the Villa were not allowed to roam the streets outside prior to a big festival. Often if imported dogs were not available, the locals ones were slaughtered.

At the Villa Sangah there are two street dogs. Xena, a black and white obese xxxxx and the other xxxxx, Jassy, a black mix-Indonesian dog with a blue-black tongue. These two xxxxxxx of Bali keep me company.

Jane punches me playfully on the arm and points to my laptop. Show me what you’re up to, she says, and then starts picking her teeth with the Satay stick. Reluctantly I remove the laptop from its case, place it on the table and put it on. Suddenly, a few of the waitresses rush to our table to look see what’s being shown. One giggles and says, Shahrukh Khan? xxx, you can’t get away from those bloody Bollywood movies!

Glancing through the pics in Photoshop, Jane remarks, you did all this? She seems a bit incredulous. I keep quiet. I am too tired and desperately need another whisky to wash down any glimmer of the past that may suddenly arise and make me puke again.

I come from a very rich family, she says. Dad is an uncouth xxxxxx and has a very sharp tongue. I think he loves me, but he never seems to show it. He’s does import export.

Will you ever go back home to kangaroo land? I ask her, while taking a sip of my whisky on the rocks and scratching myself.

Naa, don’t think so, just want to save money and go to India to buy some jewellery to sell here. Will you help me with your contacts? She looks hesitantly at me.

Yes, of course, I say, and then launch into the whole drama that is India, the depths of despair with doing business in a country I had left months before. She looks at me and strokes my long white hair. Poor chap, she says tenderly, when was your last xxxx?

I am taken aback. I don’t answer. What could I tell her? The truth? That it was a few years back?

I want to have two boyfriends, she says, gazing into my eyes intently. Will you like to be the other one?

I nod my head. She laughs. What’s it with you Indians, you always shake your head in such a manner that no one knows whether you are saying yes or no.

I look past her towards the dark deserted beach and say to myself, I don’t know.

Jane tells me about her yellow scrambler bike and how she bikes around doing the society ladies’ hair: Cutting, curling, blow drying, colouring and sometimes shaving. She likes her job. Her flat with four bedrooms and four ACS are a luxury. She likes her little world. Everything is neat and tidy. But she is getting old and her trembling voice betrays her false bravado. I think the rumbling engine between her legs, warm, reassuring and where she is always in control, is really her comfort zone; the place she feels at peace is on her bike doing her rounds to all the Villas.

The bill arrives. It’s three hundred and fifty thousand Rupiah (US$ 38/-). I pay it and walk out with her.

She jumps into the cab I am sitting in and kisses me with her warm wet open mouth mumbling good-night and then she saunters to her yellow scrambler, puts on her yellow helmet and roars off into the night.

The cabbie asks me, where you go? You follow her?

No! I say, I go Oberoi.


Yeah, I say, we are on a xxxxxxx island, how many oberois could there be? I say under my breath.

The evening ends with a displaced Indian and a tall Aussie, both marooned eight degrees south of the equator on an island called Bali. Both waiting for something to happen. Waiting.

End of story.