Monday, October 12, 2009

Watching the dawn in Sanur

Well I struggled awake this morning at 5:00. Not because I had been anywhere the night before (for too long anyway) mind you. Just some vivd dreams kept me awake at times in the night. My old nightmare used to be about a white Tyrannosaurus Rex chasing me (must have mashed Harryhauser movies with the Moby Dick novel I was reading at the impressionable age of 8). Nowadays its about putting things down and leaving them somewhere, fruitlessly trying to locate them. Basically how I go about every day in my waking hours.

Struggled awake anyway and was out by 5:20, biking over in what I hoped was the general direction of Sanur so I could catch the dawn as the sun rose on the east side of Bali, Sanur being on the east coast of the long promontory that is the site of most tourist development in Bali.

The road was calm, not the daily frenzy that makes Bali's main roads resemble Jakarta. This helped, because finding your way and driving on the left (wrong) side of the road and dealing with traffic all while trying to find mostly imprecise road signs is, frankly, a challenge. Best time to explore is the very early morning. Problem was, I was too late, of course - the sun rises earlier than the forty minutes or so I was taking to discover the way to the open beach at Sanur. One false turn, one rapid rush to shelter to escape a light rain shower, and I made it.

The horizon was deep with dark storm clouds, the sun itself barely glimmering through the foreboding, high fronted clouds. I had hoped for a bright and sparkling dawn; instead it was a turbulence of stirred emotions, the sun battling with tempest. I set up the tripod, which had rattled its way with me on the bike, and tried to shoot for something interesting.

There were people out early - teenage girls resting in the two kiosks atop a stone platform, mothers walking their babies into the warn, shallow water, fishermen-turned-guides readying up for another catch as they shuttled air cylinders to day trip boats moored offshore. The most bemusing was a group of five middle aged Japanese tourists sitting in shallow water in a rough circle, discussing something with great earnestness. All the while the skies above us wheeled with dark clouds that threatened a deluge, held magically at bay by the sun's yellow light. It made for some interesting and unexpected contrasts.

After a couple of hours, I headed back home, fulling expecting a tropical rainstorm to chase my heels and beat on my back at any moment. It didnt't happen, the clouds lightening and slipping away from this part of the island.

In the late afternoon I went over to the beach at Seminyak to shoot the sunset. This time the clouds had lumped themselves together; the sun was hard pressed to make any meaningful light - everything was flat and faded away.

I hadn't been on the beach this side, which essentially is the same as at Kuta but further up. The sand itself is coffee colored, with strong accents of dark grey. Maybe it lightens in the day, but the areas where many of the locals were playing very intense games of beach soccer were almost coal dark with volcanic ash. The beachfront was alive with people. Other than the soccer players, there were hawkers offering ship-shaped kites and rings of dried biscuits as tourists ran, walked and jogged their way along. The water often curled in deep along the broad fronted beach. Playing at my feet, it was the softest gentlest touch - until it tugged away to return to the ocean and then I found the sand pulled away from under me. Red flags advertized t regular intervals that it was dangerous to swim in the ocean. With the fast currents and booming surf I could understand why, but this didnt stop children running into the rippling eddies, or their parents build sandcastle follies, or the determined brave the surf to ride atop a board in the last moments of the day.

With many days in the sun, at work and at play, the youths are tremendously athletic and deeply tanned. Their bright-dark eyes and a winningly welcome smile truly makes you feel you are in some Pacific island, so maybe the old refrain about this being Bali, not Bali Hai, is a little mistaken. There is a certain redolence, a pleasure in the moment, a glance of an eye, that is the hallmark of all tropical idylls. I could certainly live here awhile and let the turbulent world without remain there, jut over the horizon with the storms that threatened all day, but somehow left this perfumed, graceful island alone for another day.

Again going home to dump the foto gear and download fotos, I also picked up my laundry so I'm set for the week ahead. Twice now, as I bike over, I can hear a frenetic chirp in the fields. I first thought this was some sort of bitd, bt it turns out the sound comes from a small frog, severla of twice I discovered crossing the bumpy, potholed track that leads up to the main road.

Dinner was at the Cosa Nostra, an Italian pizzeria with wood fired oven. I had passed by several times, only to see it is mostly empty even though another Italian pizzeria on another crossroad to Raya Seminyak is overfull. This time I stopped to see if the pizza was any good. It was - the dough is fine and the topping is OK, which outside Italy is always a challenge. They need to add a little more olive oil and basilico, but otherwise OK. And yes, the owner is Italian - but he doesnt work here. Seems to be a rule, this.

Past the guys who at night are tearing up the paving stones on the sidewalk so as to make the road a chaos for the next few weeks, and I return home again. To find my Mac charger/transformer is blown. Grrr.....

Lunch and a chat

I woke up late this morning, having had but one small beer at a bar in Seminyak last night. Walking out of the house I looked up and saw the high billowing, brilliant clouds that are the hallmark of tropical islands. I realize with another quizzical smile that, by some really convoluting twists of fate that I actually live and work here. Much more fortunate than the English guy who gets to live on a semi-deserted paradise island in the Barrier Reef.

The shrine and offering stones in the enclosed garden here are bereft and abandoned. The grace and beauty of offering flowers to propitiate the local gods is such a delight that I'm tempted to ask Wayan, my across-the-street neighbor, if she would be so kind as to feed the gods at the same time she comes to clean house every morning.

As always, the sun is high in the sky by an early hour. At 10am it has already struck shrine that sits on a platform above the garage space in the house diagonally opposite mine - its everdark stone a strong contrast to the clean blue sky behind.

I have some work to do in the office. Once done I bike over to the laundry stall to pick up my last batch of laundry. As I walked up, the woman attending the stall jumped up from the mattress on which she had been lying, suckling her young infant. The baby refused to let go, mewling when she tried to adjust her garb so as to maintain modesty while letting the baby continue to suckle and serving me at the same time. It was an effort she barely managed.

Four shirts, one T-shirt and two pairs of socks and two pairs of underwear, all done in a day and costing 17,000 rupiah - about 1.80 USD. I think its does elsewhere too, as the listing of items has a laundry in Denpasar marked on it. Not bad at all.

I returned some minutes later with the next batch. This time the old crone who was there the first time had returned. I saluted her with 'Siang!' (afternoon!) and shook her hand, as I would in other cultures. Seems to work - she cackled with humor and said something in Balinese to the same attendant.

Another scramble from mattress, but this time without baby attached. My bran is elsewhere and I actually take the bag of laundry back in my hands, so she has to lunge out and take them from me. The old woman reeled back in mirth. I'm getting terrifyingly forgetful...

I decided to see if I could find my own way to the bungalow I will be renting from the end of next week. It lies in a complex of small bungalows just off Jalan ---, the road that heads to Denpasar. I missed the entrance the first time, but carried on for a kilometer or so more as the road itself was a delight of artisan stores of all types and manners. Wooden carvings jostled with stone relief, ceramics, furniture. All for the local market and export. Behind the soft, dark browns of sun bronzed carvings, verdant fields of rice grass growing tall, palms curving their frond heavy trunks in the light wind and the constant light, bright blue of the sky behind.

Reluctantly, the road being so interesting, I turned around and headed back to find the entry to the bungalow complex. Found it second time around, headed in, located the bungalow I'm to stay in and introduced myself to my future over-the-way neighbor, who was most bemused by the immediacy and intrepid style of my walking up and saying 'Hi!".

I biked over Sunset Road down Jalan ----, over the intersection with Raya Seminyak and headed for the Cosa Nostra pizzeria, as I was hungry and tempted to see if their pizzas were any good, given there is a large pizza oven installed in the corner. Maybe its the time of day, but yet again there was no one seated and eating. So I decided 'not today' and headed back up the street, past the bars and towards Raya Seminyak.

The cellphone rang, I pulled over and as I did so two women seated at a table at the Warung Austria called out 'its your girlfriend!' It was Ilham, so they were way off. Call over, since the two women were still joshing "you like sweet girl? or you like a beer?" It was done with such a humorous touch I asked them "hey you still serving food?" "Yes we are" "Good, Im hungry!"

Went for grilled chicken and french fries, along with lemon juice and a 'Copi Bali', which is the local mix of roast coffee and maize. Rough but flavorsome. Katie, the younger of the two, decided to sit herself opposite me and ask the usual - where from, how long will i stay in Bali, do i like it ... At the end the conversation was about culture, origins of Europeans, difference between the gods and God, beauty in Brasil and the cost of becoming a ladyboy in Thailand.

We also talked of how Moslems and Islam is viewed in the world, Katie and Lulu both being moslem. As I find everywhere, there is always great frustration that Westerners they meet are so fearful and suspicious of anyone moslem - that all are blamed for the actions of the few. The feeling of raw injustice is everpresent. Lulu, the elder, chimed in with her thoughts from time to time but it was Katie who led the conversation.

Katie comes from Lombok, the island to the east of Bali (Lulu too, I think). Pleasantly beautiful and quite alive, Katie came across to Bali three months ago to look for something 'better' than in Lombok, which is a little surprising as Lombok's tourism is growing also nowadays. Better turns out to be a waitress in bistro owned by an Austrian and managed by quite a hard faced woman, who turned up during the course of my lunch. Katie is intelligent and interested in the world: I hope she does better than where she is right now.

After lunch I went in search of the facial and massage parlor, the owner of which I had met yesterday evening. No luck - the address was a fiction and another turned out to be a restaurant. I gave up and went shopping in the Bintang supermarket instead, buying stuff to keep me going another day.

Sorting out the mess

A check back with Chase in the US to get a replacement card sent out and I'm told I have to wait until the International Desk begins work at 9am in the morning - Chicago time. That's 10pm Bali time. I've found US banks tend to have worldwide images but scratch underneath them and they are remarkably domestic in operation. I'm even told they can't or won't send replacement cards outside the US, only for this to be contradicted by the next person down the line.

Anyway, it appears that I left the card in the ATM as it wasn't used after my withdrawals. Im getting terribly forgetful - or there's too much on my mind and not enough is sticking.

Short term needs have been very kindly taken care of, so Im OK for the moment, though most of the funds go home to care for people there. Im the reverse of the third world immigrant moving to the developed world to earn good money to send home. Im a 'first world' guy in a developing economy sending funds to others in the 'first world' - and quite frankly much more enjoying this latest adventure than being stuck back in the 'first world'.

In the evening headed off to a bar in Seminyak but didnt find much enjoyable so headed straight back home.



Early this morning I went to several ATMs to pull money so I could pay the rent on the bungalow I've taken from October 15th for two months. That done I went to work for the day, part of which took me to meet with --- Bagus ---, head of the Bali Tourist Board and owner of a really beautiful resort in Sanur called ----.

In the course of exchanging cards (rather my accepting his, as I have none left of mine) I saw my credit card was no longer there. My worst fear had happened. Disaster! I've lost my card, and my only access to funds.

It either fell from my wallet (most unlikely) or I left it in the ATM (most likely as I'm forgetting several things nowadays, more than usual). I try to call the US, but unsuccessfully, so I call the office to inform them and see if I've left it on my desk for some stupid reason. Not there.

I carry on with the meeting and head back to the office. Double search. Nothing. So I call the US and finally get through to one department of Chase to kill the card. Tomorrow I have to see what I can do about getting a replacement and getting through the next couple of weeks before it arrives.


Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Househunting in Bali

Well what a surprise! This morning I got a call from the guy I had tried to call yesterday when I saw his announcement regarding a place to rent for two months from October 15 to December 15. Exactly the price I'm OK with and the timeframe I need.

We arranged to meet up later in the day, which we did. Ryan, a guy from Pennsylvania that runs an export company supplying artisan work to the States these last four years, has to head to Japan as his wife is expecting their child, she being Japanese. The place is a small bungalow at the end of a small complex of bungalows, which in Indonesian is called a ----.

Fine enough place, certainly big enough for me, though a little dark. But I won't being staying in it much during the day as either I'm at work or I will be out exploring. There are no long nights here - the sun is long gone by 7pm and sunset rushes after at breakneck speed. It's a deal, at 6 million rupiah for two months - approx 300 USD a month.

During the day a local guy turns up with a motor scooter for me, at a monthly rent of 600,000 rupiah (60 USD more or less), negotiated down from the 650 he first asked. Next month I'll get a better deal.

So, within 24 hours of being on the ground. I have accommodation and transport sorted out. That has to be a record!

In the evening I head back to Bintang, the supermarket on Jalan Raya Seminyak, to buy some supplies for the house.

In the warm night air, a bare whisper of a breeze touches the heavy, rippled tongues of leaves on the tall standing trees planted by the street wall. Two dogs bark at each other and the sky, a baby cries and its parents hush to still its worries. In the background the constant dull whirr of motorbikes and cars.

And indoors the buzz of small mosquitos, one of which has really jabbed me on a nerve. The nerve!