Saturday, August 04, 2007
Bali Kopi (1995)
Bali Kopi--or is it, Kopi Bali? No matter. I just read that the Excelso brand is the Indonesian equivalent of Starbuck's. Oh, well...Hoping--wishing--that I'll return before too long: twelve years is long enough, don't you think? I wonder if Ktut is still driving his bemo in Sanur?
I had already spent almost three weeks in
My psyche craved rejuvenation. What better source for this than the Grand Bali Beach Hotel in Sanur? This sparkling new complex stands on the site of the old
My Balinese teacher-friend and erstwhile tourguide drove me to Sanur. My capriciousness was working to his advantage: he was excited at the prospect of my staying at the
My room overlooked the ocean. That first morning, during low tide, I observed Balinese and tourists alike wandering far out on the sandbanks. The sun had already risen, but the horizon was still a mixture of blue, gray and pink. The slightly murky water hazily reflected the sun’s rays. A picture of tranquillity. I contemplated wandering outside myself.
Instead, I had breakfast at the Bali Kopi coffee shop. As the American Consulate is next door to the hotel, I went over and hoped the Consul might be able to help me with my project. He wasn’t in.
Feeling dejected for the umpteenth time this trip, I wandered into the street. What could I do next? I knew I wanted to go to Denpasar to do some book shopping and to Kuta to get coffee and buy a Hard Rock Café T-shirt for my assistant postmistress back home. Most of all, I didn’t want to pay the hotel taxis’ prices—after all, I was no longer a tourist.
Thus I found myself on the street when, lo and behold!, I spotted a bemo. A bemo is a minibus/van, a widely used means of transportation on the island. Very crowded on market days, these vehicles are often filled to the brim, with humans and fowls alike. I approached the driver and attempted to bargain, to get a “good” price for the trip to Denpasar and back. We agreed on 15,000 Rupiah (Rp.), roughly equivalent to $7.50 before the recent economic crisis. We were off and running!
My driver’s name was Ktut, which means he is the fourth (or possibly, eighth) child in his family. Of medium build, a little stout, and fortyish, he spoke (and, it turned out, understood) a negligible amount of English. I asked him to take me to the Gunung Agung and the Gramedia bookstores. As I had never explored anything before in Denpasar besides the airport, I was content to just sit back and enjoy the breeze, the sights, sounds, and smells of the capital of
In a very nice, very friendly, very Balinese way, Ktut asked me if I liked
Ktut had reached a major street. He drove up and down it slowly. I began to realize he did not know where the bookstore was. He began to stop anyone on the street, trying to get directions. Finally, we got some help. It turned out we were on JALAN Gunung Agung—in other words,
I had screamed out, “TOKO BUKU (bookstore)!” a few times already. In case it’s not obvious by now, I really don’t know Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian Language). We were well matched: me, with my Indonesian; Ktut, with his English. As frustrated as I was, I nonetheless realized I was beginning to have FUN! Another amazing realization hit me: Ktut was having fun, too! He nodded in (mock?) exasperation during my rantings and ravings. And then, grinning broadly, he retaliated with an expression of his own: “
Ktut kept a patient vigil in his bemo as I shopped. It was still early in the day when I rejoined him. A brilliant idea popped into my mind: why not hire him to take me to Kuta so I could get the T-shirt and coffee, after all! Even before we left the parking lot, we had made a new deal…for Rp. 15,000 more. It was on to Kuta!
Why didn’t I want to spend more time in Kuta? Kuta is the most commercialized spot on the
Street vendors now hound you with trayloads of fake designer watches and other cheap knockoffs. Many of them are professional pickpockets. The Balinese say they all come from other islands, particularly Java. The shopkeepers’ philosophy is no longer, “How much do you wish to pay?”, but, rather, “You’re not offering [us] enough.” And then, there’s the Hard Rock Café.
I had promised my assistant postmistress a Hard Rock Café T-shirt. The Kuta location was the logical choice. I handed Ktut a “to-do” list: Hard Rock Café; Excelso (the coffee store); and Baliku (a clothing store where wonderful cotton batik kebyar [mixed batik] garments are sold). Items one and two were easy—we both grinned happily when I returned to the bemo with my Bali Kopi. By the time we got to item three, the clothing store, I had decided I wanted to go to not just any Baliku, but to the GUNUNG Baliku! The one almost right in front of us was not good enough!
We reenacted our Denpasar scenario. This time, I screamed out, “GUNUNG TOKO BALIKU!” The poor man struggled heroically to comply with my request. I stuffed an extra Rp. 5000 in his pocket as a reward.
No two ways about it, I was having fun! It was getting late. Ktut had been at my beck and call for over five hours. He wasn’t complaining, but I’m sure he’d had enough. As we drove back to Sanur, I got one of my last glimpses of the Balinese countryside: the perfectly aligned and sculpted rice fields and terraces are still there. The roads and highways are still thronged with humanity: on foot, on bikes, on motorbikes, in an ever-increasing number of cars. At sunset, I could still see farmers—men wizened more often than not by the sun, rather than by age—carrying bags slung over their shoulders, coming out of their fields with scythes and other tools of their trade. Sarong-clad men, doing traditional work. My Balinese teacher-friend had informed me that the men still wear traditional clothing within their family compounds, but that, in their outside work, pants are now much more the norm. “But aren’t the sarongs more comfortable?” “No.”
Back at the
The next morning, at low tide, I wandered far out on the sandbanks myself.
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