Saturday, 14th January, 2017
My Near Death Experience
The day started off with some lively banana pancakes at Rai House Sanur, made with rice flour which I really liked. Every morning offerings are put out along the sidewalk, at the front of houses, on car dashboards. Flowers and a bit of breakfast are placed inside a small box woven from banana leaves. Each colour of flower has a different meaning, earth, air and the like, representing a balance. The offerings are meant to appease the black magic that could haunt them. Each home is constructed around its own temple and has statues representing the gods. Their religion is called ‘Balinese Hinduism’. As these offerings are everywhere and important, pedestrians have to be careful not to step on them.
Throughout the day we noticed quite a few people taking a broom to the sidewalks and gutters. It seemed an odd practice, especially for a place where trash was thrown so casually away. They sweep up yesterday’s offerings and the fallen leaves to use as compost and give back to the earth.
Being mindful where we stepped, Courtney and I headed for the beach. The way lead us out the alley and down a road. It was as wide and as cared for as a rarely used suburban street in America or Australia but in Denpasar it was crowded. Motorbikes wove through cars. Some carried a single person, others a whole shop, the goods packed neatly away. Many people plopped their small child in front of them and another person on the back who held things.
The thing about traffic in Denpasar is that, though at first it seems wild and unorganised, everything flows smoothly. Honking is common. A series of “watch me, I’m gonna do some mad swerving” and “I’m coming around a blind corner”. Helmets on motorbikes are required. I haven’t seen a single accident since I got here. The closest it’s come is some stupid foreigner thinking the green man meant she could cross. This is not the case. If the driver thinks they can make it, they go. As I step off the curb two motorbikes brake and a white car keeps going, halting suddenly just beside me. My hand rests on the hood and I stare for a moment, check the light is green and hurry off the road.
In review: GREEN DOES NOT MEAN GO.
After watching the locals Courtney and I learned the trick to crossing the road. Cross with the traffic. At the busy intersection between us and the beach, markets and restaurants, we wait. When traffic floods in one direction, cutting off the cars that would hit us, we scurry across. If we’re just trying to cross a road, not an intersection, we pretty much just have to wait for a slight gap on the nearest side and start a slow walk across. The cars would rather stop than hit you if you give them time.
We’re Kind of a Big Deal in Denpasar
We finally make it to the beach. It is beautiful. There are some beaches on Bali that are flooded with rubbish, so I hear. Though the streets did have a lot of litter and little piles of rubbish were gathered in the corners of walls, the beach itself had nothing to avoid. Further down, the small tourist strip is raked clean.
Finding an area free of boats and fisherman, we dump our stuff on the sand and head into the water. It’s absolutely refreshing after the fifteen minute walk through Indonesian summer heat and humidity. It’s not much more than I’m used to in Australia but Courtney could not have gone on. A local swims over, one of only a dozen or so people enjoying the morning at the beach, and makes small talk with his limited English. He points out the fasts boats that go to Lembongan Island, a couple of jet skis and explains the scar on his shoulder was from getting clipped on the shoulder by a motorbike.
Done swimming, we dry off and decide to head back to Rai Sanur House for a shower and a change before lunch. Courtney is stopped before we make it off the beach. A very small Asian woman holds out her camera.
“Sure!” Courtney agrees to take a photo for them but the woman shakes her head. She wants a photo of herself with the tall, gangly white person! This is very amusing, but Courtney agrees. Seeing she’s friendly, we’re taken up by a dozen or so people gathering around us to have their pictures taken. It goes on for about five minutes before, laughing and thanking each other, we head our separate ways.
Shopping for Home
My craving for local food I couldn’t pronounce had to be delayed. After a shower and rest in the air conditioning we headed out, braving the traffic to find McDonald’s. Courtney ordered the well-advertised ‘prosperity burger’. The image suggested an oblong bun and beef patty with chips laid on top. The reality was the chips were onions. Courtney fixed that, quickly scraping off the onion and filling the burger with chips. However, the result was still underwhelming. Ah well, what’s good for you does not always taste great. At least she will have a prosperous life.
My less adventurous choice of the strawberry sunday was welcome in the middle of the day and even that tasted different. I don’t know how the flavours change but if you sat an american, an Australian and an Indonesian sunday from McDonald’s in front of me I could tell the difference from a taste.
The afternoon was spent on the beach walk. It’s filled with small shops, eager to sell and ready to target tourists. Though I’m sure two young white women looked like an obvious mark it was easy to spot less obvious tourists. The people in Indonesia have a very distinct way about them. The confidence of being in your home city, the dark brown of their skin and the shape of their bodies means spotting tourists from Japan across to America is no challenge.
One women kept stride with us, asked how our day was, where we were from. It wasn’t the first time someone going in the same direction had decided to make conversation with us so when she suddenly declared we should look at her shop and whisked us down a side alley we were taken by surprise. The road, which I would have passed over entirely, was crowded with little shops. She walked us past half a dozen before turning us into her shop. It turned out to be a fortunate detour as she sold exactly what i was looking for, some beautiful sarongs.
- note – you’ll see below the statues all wear checkered sarongs. People would never wear checkered ones, but other patterns and designs.
This item has baffled some people I’ve met. For those of you who don’t know, it’s basically a long piece of cloth that you wrap around your waist as a skirt. if you’re creative you can turn it into a dress. I found a soft blue one for myself and mentioned I also wanted one for my mother.
Oh! We have a whole special rack for those filial children. “Here are the sarongs for the mother.” Here were the nice sarongs, long and beautifully painted. The art is done by tracing a picture in wax over the cloth and then pouring small amounts of dye on and stroking it across with your fingers to shade it. The wax keeps the dye off, leaving the some parts white and creating a beautiful design.
A dress also caught Courtney’s eye and another round of bargaining began. This woman employed a tactic that would have worked on me in a heartbeat, but Courtney saw through the pleading eyes and the “okay, okay, you win, *names higher price*”. She brought the sarongs down to a decent level and we extracted ourselves from the alley with what remained of the day’s allowance.
Lessons and Suggestions
- Green does not mean Go. Keep a wall of traffic between you and the traffic.
- Smile. The people are friendly.
- Remember to bargain and escape quickly if you don’t want to buy.
- Watch where you step. Religious traditions are important here.
This is only a third of my day in Denpasar. I’ll post more when I’m not about to pass out from exhaustion. Keep an eye out for those animals I promised, a strange dining experience and the unique Balinese home.
If You Missed It : Arriving in Denpasar, Indonesia