Thursday, April 15, 2010


I woke up at my hotel in Kuta, Bali at the usual time and in the usual state. It was 10:40, just in time to get an order in for the free hotel breakfast. Like every other morning in Kuta, I nursed a reasonable hangover.

On vacation, I wake up well over 2 hours earlier than I do in real life.

The highlight of the previous night had involved striking out with a couple of gorgeous Swedish girls. Make no small plans, I guess. At breakfast, I met up with a buddy whose name I had forgotten. He had been my fellow Swedish girl spurnee the night before. I left my large backpack at the hotel’s left luggage, and carried only a pair of small day packs. It was time to get the hell out of Kuta. It was time for a night off from the bars and and the clubs and the girls. It was time to go to Ubud.

Ubud is an arts-focused city in the Balinese interior. I caught a minivan up there. I was the first passenger. The other three passengers that we picked up were all girls, all traveling alone, and one was too cute. Gaw. It was too early, I was too hungover. I put on my headphones and listened to the Adam Carolla podcast for the hour and a half journey.

I found a serviceable hotel, the Gandra House. It had nice gardens, a chill vibe, free breakfast, cold showers, and no A/C for 10 bucks a night. The woman who ran the operation was super nice, after I checked in she brought me a thermos of hot tea. I left one of my daypacks in the hotel, and headed off into Ubud with the other.

As I walked, I realized I had taken George Carlin’s “degrees of stuff” routine about as far as one could take it. In my daypack, I had my Lonely Planet, my wallet, my iPod, my hotel key, my camera, some sun screen, some smokes, and the book I was reading at the time, “The Sun Also Rises.” Outside of the books and the sun screen, this is the stuff I have with me all the time anyway. Back in my hotel, I had my larger daypack with clothes, my alarm, and toiletries. In Kuta, I had a large backpack with most of the clothes I had brought on the trip, more toiletries, my camera charger, my DS, and any souvenirs that I had thus far acquired. In Seoul, I had most of my “real” stuff, like my computer, my current books, and the rest of my current clothes. At my Mom’s house in Baltimore, my Game Cube, N64, Super NES, PS2, the lion’s share of my books, the remainder of my clothes, all my CDs and DVDs (and VHS tapes and cassettes), my paper documents, and photo albums awaited my return to the States. Any junk mail I may get finds its way to my Dad’s house in Florida, as it is currently my official address. The junk mail can be united with some of my old toys, like Legos and whatnot, and grade school yearbooks. No doubt collecting dust in my cousin Liz’s attic in the South Side of Chicago, I have my night stand, a horribly obsolete TV and printer, another 40% of my books, all of my old maps, and a shoebox filled with random keepsakes from the 80s and 90s, possibly including notes from ancient ex-girlfriends. I feel the worst about that stuff, it’s been there 4 years now. I just hope Liz hasn’t thrown away the shoebox, maps, or books. Across town on the North Side, my cousin Jess looks after my bed, my NES, and all related NES peripherals and games. An $8 cab ride north, my brother lounges on my awesome red leather chair, my pride and joy in 2004 and still an all-time top 5 chair. Back in Kansas, my buddy Daniel continues the extended loan of my camping gear.

TL;DR I had stuff in ten places, spread across six cities in three countries. And Jack says I have my shit together.

Sometimes, I miss April of 2006, which was the last time that all that stuff but the Legos and grade school yearbooks were in one apartment

I walked to the Puri Lukisan museum. Unlike Denpasar, it was completely tout free. I admired Balinese art in sweet silence for an hour or so and lazed through the flowery landscaped gardens. Kuta has its good points, but it’s uglier than a 1993 white college basketball big man. Ubud looked fantastic from every angle. I walked on to another museum, dedicated to the Spanish painter Blanco, who had set up shop in Ubud in the latter third of the twentieth century. The views of the rice paddies in the distance were sublime, but Blanco himself was a little boring, a poor man’s Dali in both talent and eccentricity.

I hit up lunch at an Indonesian suckling pig restaurant. I arranged for tickets to a traditional Balinese dance show with my hotel. I checked out the city market. I got my first Balinese massage, as my feet were killing me and because there weren’t any annoying touts around trying to sell me a massage every 5 seconds like they do in Kuta. Ubud ruled.

I headed out to the show in the evening. The program included a kecak dance and a fire/trance dance. The venue was in the round (well, really a square) and involved folding chairs on risers. I sat down on a chair in the corner, between a group of old Canadian ladies and a couple of girls. I talked to the Canadian ladies and the girl to my right before the show started. The girl wasn’t all that cute above the neck, but was rocking the always winning combination of Chuck Taylors and a short skirt. Her friend was less talkative.

The show started. A kecak show consists of 50 or so Balinese dudes singing, chanting, and making hand movements while sitting in a circle around the actual play. The actors don’t speak, but wear lavish costumes and act with large gestures as the chorus sings and chants. They told a story from the Rama Epic, based in folklore from India. I knew this from my program of course, otherwise I would have had no clue what was going on.

During the climax of the Rama show, the actors did speak to each other, in Indonesian or Sanskrit or something. However, as the singers came to a quiet part, one actor, wearing a large king mask, broke the fourth wall and said “hello!” to an audience member. The tourist laughed. The actor followed his greeting with “My friend, transport?” Killer joke, as tourists hear just that every 39 seconds in Bali.

Next came the fire/trance dance. The chorus moved to the far side of the space, and the actors left. 18 inch high metal barriers were set up in front of the chairs. Somebody gathered a large pile of wood into the center of the stage, and it was lit ablaze. As the bonfire burned down to coals, a man with a giant horse head strapped to his waist began feverishly dancing around the coals and fire, barefoot. Once the fire had burned out, he hopped up to the pile of coals and kicked them, punted them really, right toward my section. Everybody jumped. The 18 inch barriers were no match for the coals, and one hit one of the Canadian ladies. She was spooked, but fine. The girl in the short skit moved to the back row. Somebody swept the coals back to the middle of the stage. The dancer kicked the coals again, this time trying not to boot them over the barrier, but one or two still went.

I’ll take flying flaming coals over American insurance laws any day.

The man kept repeating the process. He’d kick the coals, and embers would fly. I was too transfixed by the visuals to worry about the danger. Once the coals were out, the house lights came up. The man removed the horse head and sat down. He looked as though he really had just come out of a trance. The soles of his feet were jet black.

The show was over and the crowd dispersed. I made brief pleasantries with the Canadian ladies and the girls and headed out alone. I was eager for a smoke. Cigarettes are terrible in Indonesia. Indonesian lights are harsher than Korean or American regulars. Still, as I was on vacation, and because it’s legal to smoke pretty much everywhere, this 90 minute show was by far the longest I’d gone without a smoke for the whole trip, airplanes excepted. My lighter was acting up, so it took a few seconds to get situated. By this time, the two girls had left the theater. I began walking home, and they were walking in the same direction. It occurred to me that it was silly to walk 6 feet in front of them in silence, so I paused a beat and said hello.

Looks like this will be a two parter.


Brad said...

I just read that too, The Sun Also Rises. I currently have pretty much all my stuff in my house.

Brad said...

I suppose Hemingway wrote it naked, standing with his typewriter at waist level.