Vignettes From Bali

Notes I made that time I tried to live in Indonesia.


The River

Gangs of monkeys strolling over our balcony on some unnamed mission. Naked Indonesians bathing in the running stream below our window. Sounds of scooters buzzing. Horns baying. And birthday-suit children splashing around while their mothers scrub their clothes with stones and soap upon a large rock in the water.

Ladies In The Paddy

North of town it’s quiet and the sun feels hotter. Confused roosters, buzzing flies and the swash, swash, swash of ladies in the paddy beating third-world bouquets of rice frawns against a box. The soft grating of the beaten off pellets in the round sieve. Crack go the stalks under bare, leathery feet. How many grains have come off I wonder? How deep is the universe?

The Soup Cart Man

Under the arch of the paint-stripped doorway, young Balinese girls waitressing at Cafe Havana practice their salsa steps. A soup cart man rings an old bell to announce his presence. Smoking a cigar stub on the moonlit road out front, I buy a street girl a bowl of Bakso for 10,000 RP. Walking home it starts to rain. The drops pelt with fury. After two minutes we are soaked through and can’t even feel the rain anymore. But it’s warm and it’s nice. Ankle deep, the water rushes down hill, past us, toward the monkey forest, through its green swarm and onto forever. We get home. Drip, drip, drip the roof leaks.

Rice-Field Queen

Wading in the pool like a tourist, my skin begins to redden. She walks over, a princess, a rice-field queen. She carries offerings to Gods I will never fully understand. Not like she does. I can smell jasmine. She holds something between her fingers and waves it before a shrine, a mini-temple. Its stone skin baking like mine. Incense smoke wafts up like dancing ballerinas. Rising, she walks to another shrine. I haven’t moved.

Poets Of Classic Rock

Paint rips away from the shutters on the wall. It looks near intentional in its perfection. Two Balinese men sit up front with guitars. Strumming sour. Phonetic covers of American classics fill the air like a musty fragrance. Now ‘Wish You Were Here’. The sound is so off it becomes something new and right and fine like a honky-tonk piano. Or like crème fraîche. Mix-matched tables scattered about, confused. The second man never opens his eyes. He just plays. An old ball cap, worn low, casts a shadow like a thousand years. Now ‘Let It Be’. Small water glasses like shots. Now ‘Knocking On Heaven’s Door’. Eyes still shut as fat tourists waddle in. Now ‘Layla’.

The Detour

The pitted road is blocked ahead. From here it’s all colour and movement emphasized by the glow of a plunging sun. An elaborate carpet of unknown obstruction. Closer, ornate umbrellas gesture, up and down, tassels hanging, figures beneath hairy animal costumes dance, up and down, sarongs swing and white head-dresses reflect the sun’s hellish glare. And music, oh, the music. Steel crashing together, hands on skins, confused wooden xylophones all folding together in accidental brilliance. Even the stray mutt takes his friendly fleas on a detour. A local says in contorted English: ‘The God’s Are Visiting’.

Kopi Bali

It’s grainy on the tongue and wet. Like eating mud as a kid. It stirs looser than it tastes. But it tastes rich and deep like a good old wine. Mixed in is condensed milk, viscous, sugary, maple syrups good twin. Stirred together, it’s thicker. Small grains hang up by the rim like distant stars in a forgotten galaxy trillions of lightyears from man in the deep inky night. Near the bottom, a layer of dark sludges oozes as I rotate the cup. It’s almost a religious experience. A million granules of roasted prayer. Velvety worship spinning in a cheap porcelain cup.

Kecak

Licks of fire dance up into the balmy night air. Rings within rings within rings of men chant exotic grunts and distant chirps. A rhythmic sort of machine gun from a hundred hungry mouths. Licks of fire dance on. Burning coconut shells scatter across the tumbled stone under a blackened foot. Embers play along the way. And the gods move like serpents in the middle of it all. Their faces painted white. All the mossed-over statues lining the drunken alleys animated by the heat of orange flame and the melody of chant more than a thousand years old. A resurrection of song and movement. And the whole fiery scene burns off into time like a fog drifting away.