This is our fifth full
day here and we are finally acclimating. It's not that our room
or board have been an issue, but our heads finally seem to have
settled down and in. For me, the parts of Asia that are not first-world
are not easy. It has taken some days to get reacquainted with the
sights, sounds, and smells of the region, enough for them not to
be quite so discomfiting. We are staying in Ubud, the declared cultural
center of Bali, far from the madding surf crowd in the southern
reaches of Bali. We wouldn't want to be near them in the best of
times, and of course it helps that they've already proven to be
an attractive political target.
Speaking of which, would
someone please take the US, British, Australian and Canadian governments
out behind the shed and give them a sound paddling for their silliness
about "dangers" here? They have massively damaged tourism
here, with aggressive warnings for people to keep away from Bali.
I completely believe that I need to watch my wallet and even that
there is some reasonable chance someone might mug me.
||But what we are
seeing here and how we are being treated lends zero credibility
to claims that our person or our property are in as much danger
here as they are in any number of typical U.S. cities -- from
regular street crime, never mind political bad-guys. (It occurs
to me that my awkward effort to avoid the inflammatory T word
could readily trigger a digression about the real dangers caused
by US foreign policy, but we are on vacation, so I'll avoid
wandering down that path.)
||The guys on the
left look pretty mean, right? I mean, dig the shades and the
attitude. Clearly we needed to steer well clear of them. Well,
it's just a pose. I had to wait quite awhile to get them unaware.
Whenever they saw me trying to take a picture, they were like
the kid on the right.
Even the run-up to the
July 5 national election here does not seem to be prompting any
additional public tensions. Speaking of which, the local comments
are tending towards the view that this is the first real election,
with competition between the current president and an ex-military
guy being legitimate and even close. Given how poor tourism is in
Bali now, there is some hope that things will improve after the
election. Signs of road and building primping give substance to
We have been taking advantage
of the reduced tourism here to play things rather casually. Over
the Internet, I got us a reservation for the first 3 nights at a
place that was very expensive, for a basic room. An outrageous US$
60/night. Most decent places go for $30-40.
We have is a large,
bright, airy one-room stand-alone building, with hot water (a
distinguishable feature around here), a telephone and aircon.
Our first full day included looking at quite a few such places
and we found ourselves really liking our current digs the best.
Much more comfortable, but not over-the-top fancy, although
some might say otherwise.
||We are next to rice
paddies, with warbling creeks of irrigation. And this place
does have the word "villa" in its name; indeed
we have our own cottage, close to a small number of its siblings,
but there are real villas in the multi-hundred per night range.
So we negotiated an additional week at US$45/night. Now, you
might wonder why I prattle on about the price.
Well it's about the role
that negotiating plays in the culture.
We were on our porch
having breakfast this morning when one of the part-time employees
wandered by and we got to chatting. The result of this is that he's
going to drive us around tomorrow and when we asked the price he
quoted a number that was out of line with what I would have expected
-- not a lot of money to us, but far more than the going rate. I
paused for just a moment, trying to formulate a response. He immediately
prompted us that of course we should negotiate the price with him.
No one is supposed to take the "first price" as anything
other than an opening gambit. I had the distinct impression that
he would have been very upset if we had just agreed to the price.
And the bargaining is often downright fun. Not a cutthroat, new-york
style, but a kind of banter and laughter style. Much of it is entirely
ritualized, and the only awkward part is when someone does not play
or gets the tone wrong. I was distinctly put off by the manager
at a local Internet cafe who quoted a per-minute access price that
was about 10 time too high, would not give me a reduced hourly rate
and would not negotiate. So I got my own dial-up account for the
month, instead. (By the way, Indonet customer service was absolutely
first-rate. Extremely diligent, emailing me instructions, calling
back at each step of the procedures, which were a bit distinctive.
Setting things up took about half a day, total, most of which involved
my walking down to a bank to deposit the fee in Indonet's account.)
Ubud does have its negatives.
It has two main streets that are always very noisy, strewn with
guys constantly asking if you want transport, and no alternate streets
that allow us to avoid them. And almost everything on these streets
is for tourists. Yuck. (The nasty part about the transport guys
is that it is rude to ignore them. We have to say "no thank
you" every time and for some reason I kept forgetting how to
say thank you in Bahasa, so the whole thing is a constant effort.)
On the other hand, we are doing pretty well with our few words.
Some of it is a bit different from the Malaysian we know but we
are learning. As with Malaysia and most other places, they have
hellos that vary with the time-of-day. Their sequence goes:
- Selamat pagi
- Selamat siang (between
11am and 3pm)
- Selamat sore
- Selamat malam (after
Loosely translated, these
- "Good morning"
- "Thank you for
sharing this murderous heat with me"
- "Thank heavens
it is finally cooling off"
- "Good evening".
Really, at 11am everyday,
someone throws the master switch and it is almost instantly and
thoroughly painful to be under the sun. Shade is ok, most of the
time. But earlier in the morning it is simply fabulous. Breezy and
a perfect temperature.
By the way, while we
are taking folks out behind the shed, let's find whoever created
the myth that roosters crow at dawn. Folks, roosters crow all
the fucking time. On the other hand, dawn really is marked
by a wonderful burbling of large quantities of some bird we have
not yet been able see. Whoever throws that nasty switch at 11am
throws a really nice one an 6am, waking these guys up. Light, resonant
sounds that are entirely too lovely, as they chirp to each other.
We also have a
house geckho under the eaves. He barks periodically and I
always get a smile from a momentary flashback to our apartment
Malaysia. (We have a couple of plastic geckoes strategically
placed in our house in Sunnyvale. Visitors don't notice, but
we like the reminder.)
Jackie was less
enthusiastic when she discovered him contemplating the comfort
of our suitcase.
So, morning has chirping
but evening has buzzing. Flying, biting, stinging bug-critters,
really excited by the likely delectableness of ourselves. We leave
the room open during the day, but at night I try to lock it up tight
-- which is not really possible given the, ummmm, porous design
of the walls -- put on the aircon to make it unpleasantly cold for
the critters, and remembering Jackie's innovation from Malaysia,
I turn the ceiling fan up pretty high, to make it tough for them
to fly around. This all works quite well, so they warm up by crawling...
into bed with us.
Now that is something
our governments issuing warnings about!
That, and the bloody
- - - - -
Yes, we've done lots
more, but this is already long and it's taken me all day to get
this far. More about places, people and reactions, later.
Jackie says hi to all.