Well, we’re here again. This time, my wife and I have brought along our three children, ages 11, 9 and 4.
I’m always reminded about what I consider the two faces of Bali when boarding our plane from Perth. There’s the usual conversations overheard such as ‘Is Bali a country, or is that Indonesia?’ and the different stories of the travellers eager to arrive in the island of the gods.
There’s the father next to me who is bringing his wife and three teenagers with him. He is looking forward to staying in Kuta, drinking cheap beer, getting a suitcase full of cheap DVD’s and making comments such as ‘They speak funny over there in Bali’.
Then there’s the girl in her early twenties who we consoled on the flight home six months ago, who told us how a week of late night drinking, over-enthusiastic touts pushing their driving services ‘Transport, Boss?’ and eating cheap food from those multinational chains had made her question the ‘hype’ of Bali.
That’s one type of Australian traveller. Then there’s those who, like me, come for the cultural experience, the chance to try local foods and do our best (albiet poorly) to integrate with Balinese life. Okay, so I’m not entirely fluent in Bahasa Indonesian, and I do like the occasional western food, but I try my best to be culturally sensitive and enjoy my holiday in Bali style.
I’m reminded of the two sides of Bali even more so, when watching a conversation on Twitter around a week ago, where someone responded to a tweet about a friend going to Bali with ‘Why bother, it’s all full of Australians?’. The funniest part was this person admitted to having never been; only judging Bali based on the nightly news media in Australia.
Could we be aqua gliding? I search my tired memory; is that a fictional term? Did I concoct it, or was I privy to the term on some car documentary in my past?
I consider language, and decide the words irrelevant. What is important is that it’s after midnight, the headlights are incredibly dim. We’re hurtling along the thin back roads of Bali, most of which are unrecognizable to me in the unusual-for-May rain downpour that faces us.
We’ve just arrived. Twenty minutes ago, my wife and I exchanged Bahasa pleasantries with our driver, before exhausting our limited vocabulary. We’ve now resorted to English, of which we believe our driver understands at least half of the conversation.
If we’re not dodging the itinerant dogs on a late night hunt for food, we’re hitting large oil-slicked puddles which I remark could be Agung, Bahasa for river. Our driver laughs, yes, Agung, he says, laughing merrily as if I were the first to relate large puddles to other water masses.
It’s close to half past twelve. We’re on a midnight trek to reach our destination in Nyuh Kuning, just outside Ubud, before we either hit a puddle that consumes us, or that the tiredness of our flight hits us like a wall.
His Toyota Kijang is merely a few years old. It’s in relatively good condition. Balinese sure look after their motor vehicles I say to myself. The scene is replete with the quiet sounds of cassette-driven Gamelan music, before the sudden intrusion of some bad nineties western track, which happens to be our drivers handphone ringing.
I’m relieved in the fact he has silenced the phone and is silently looking ahead into the heavy raining darkness. After an improbable amount of time he says ‘Yes, they’re here, we’re on our way’, and I realize he is on the phone and more interested in the conversation that the shockingly uneven and sometimes missing bitumen spreading in front of him.
I look out the window, relishing the street side art that are the bamboo poles for Gangulang, an important ceremonial day in the Balinese calender, two days from now. Or is that one day? I’m confused with the days and dates, even though my flight was a paltry four hours, and within the same time zone. It may be the fact I haven’t slept in what feels like an eternity.
I tried the fitful middle-seat sleep routine on the packed budget airline flight. The girl from Prague beside me is happily sleeping; her head facing me, her breath reminiscent of the airline lamb shanks meal she consumed not long ago. My vegetarian sensibilities kick in, and I try to turn away. That dance seemed to last days in the few hours between meal and stowing our trays for landing.
We slow down for a dog that is urinating in the middle of the road; under the sole streetlight seemingly in this village. It looks at us unconcerned, and wanders off to the side, as if we’ve inconvenienced his display of manly urination to his unseen friends. Steam rises from the road that we can barely see.
Our driver is fascinated with the fact we’re visiting his village no more than six months after we were last there. He informs us of his holiday rental home that he owns. I politely suggest that we should visit for a look over the next few days. He proudly describes how his current tenant — another Westerner — has been living in the house for eight years now. I silently decide to skip the house tour; it may be some time before the place is accepting new blood.
We’ve made a bond. It could be a late night mateship thing, but our driver shares with us his story. The bombings in Bali in 2002 changed his life forever. He was a woodworker, far from the destruction of Kuta, in the beautiful surrounds of Ubud, however the tourists stopped visiting after that day. No tourists, no sales. No sales, no work.
He is now an entrepreneur, although I didn’t explain the word well, so he is left wondering what I mean. His wife, two children not dissimilar in ages to my own and he are busily making a new life.
He drives his car for the hotel we’re staying in, mostly picking up passengers departing late flights, such as ours. He explains that every day this week, he is at Denpasar airport, holding a typewritten sign with a name, arriving after midnight back in his village. During the day, starting early whilst it is still cool, he works the rice field adjacent to our hotel. He owns two rental properties in the same village, both of which are enjoying high occupancy.
He has a modest cafe outside his two story house, which we pass for a late night inspection along the way. His wife and sister works there, whilst the two kids are in school. Entrepreneurship runs in the family; his brother owns the motorcycle rental company we’ve arranged two bikes from.
He dreams of opening another wood working shop, maybe near the Monkey Forest, where the tourists who are now returning in better-than-ever numbers can view and buy his wares. I wonder aloud if he has time with all these other jobs, to keep his hands on the chisels. He answers that he hasn’t the time now.
We fall into contemplative silence, and moments later, we pull in to the driveway of our hotel. Ninety minutes since our journey began, we pop the boot, remove our luggage, and shake hands. We exchange good byes and farewells. His van descends into darkness.
10. As per point 9, I caught an underground train to get from the arrival gate to customs!
11. They are serious about Typhoons. We had a typhoon signal whilst i was there, and just about every foyer has a sign go up warning people.
12. Although Cantonese is the main language, most people speak Mandarin (and English) as well.
13. Sundays are the maids day off. You can see thousands of maids flock to public spaces such as parks on Sundays.
14. The Big Red Bus tours are seriously cheap, and worth the ride.
15. Make sure you visit ‘the peak’. It’s a grand view of Hong Kong from up there (see the photo above as an example).
16. Hong Kong has over 7 million people in 1,000 square kilometres, making it the “world’s most vertical city” – it sure is packed in!
17. Because of the SAR (Special Administrative Region) status of Hong Kong, Facebook and Twitter are accessible. The infamous Chinese internet filter doesn’t reach Hong Kong, yet.
I would definitely recommend visiting. The east meets west feel to the place makes it comfortable for someone who doesn’t want to face culture shock, but still different enough for those who want that shot of culture.
I’ve covered Singapore before, and although I spent most of a day in Macau, those facts will have to wait for another blog post.