Working Hard, Playing Harder: International Team Bali

Several “international incidents,” involving my Dutch, Australian, and Balinese friends, filled every spare minute of free time during my last three weeks in Bali.

In between reading descriptions for 500 Italian farms, searching through hours of airfare data for cheap Asia to Europe tickets, learning the science of web traffic, researching future job opportunities, furiously turning out blog entries, keeping in touch with loved ones, trying to solve the complicated Schengen puzzle, editing my little sister’s college essay drafts, and battling a misery-inducing internet connection… I got my tourist and social-butterfly groove on!

The Characters:

The Dutch:

Lady members from the Aussie, Dutch, American, Balinese International Team. Lara, Anna, Me, Oka.

The no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is, McDonald’s-loving Anna and mischievous, fun-loving, teddy-bear Ben were the soul of our little operation. Motivated by waning vacation time and only a few days remaining in Bali, they gave the rest of us plenty of excuses to get out of the house.

The Australians:

As far as variety goes, the Ross-McGlynn family is spicy! With young teenagers Lara and Hamish in tow, Sue and John have established a second headquarters for the family business in Bali under the premise of a test year. With Sue in the U.S. on business, the out-going, amusing, analytical, nap-loving John held down the fort during the majority of our adventures. Daughter Lara is sharp, sophisticated, and still adjusting from a suddenly vaporized social life. Son Hamish is fun-loving and boyish in every sense of the word. Toward the end of our days, Sue returned with her tinkling laughter and love of learning to add even more life to the party.

Male members of the international team, with 'Dutchie' Ben... ? In the bathroom? Taking the photo? John, Pat, and Putra!

The Balinese:

Putra and Oka, owners of the compound where the Dutch, Australians, and we Americans live, are the proud parents of three young ladies ages eight to 16. Putra is a mellow, conversation-loving, natural comedian whose props are a cup and saucer of coffee and a menthol cigarette. Oka is a fireball of energy and enthusiasm with a double-time stride necessitated by perpetual high-heels. The girls are usually behind closed doors watching movies or doing homework.

The Story:

For twenty-one days, we became one big family on vacation. Highlights included an epic Garage-Denpasar-BBQ day, three beach trips, compound parties, and an almost-never-ending round of goodbye dinners.

One of the test-objects Putra chromed at his garage!

A simple request spiraled out of control into a wild, action-packed day. Anna only wanted to find out where to buy western-quality meat for four of us (Dutch and Americans) to BBQ. The first clue the scene would radically change? Oka’s response, “Okay. I call for you. How many kilo?” Ten minutes of back-and-forth and suddenly there were ten kilos (22 lbs.) of meat on the way for a full-on compound-wide BBQ! But first we had to check out Putra’s garage, try to resuscitate an iPhone that had gone swimming in soup, and visit the National Museum.

Putra is on a mission to bring chroming technology to Bali. He’s designing an airbrush system that will make it possible to chrome anything from a car to a stone statue. Why? Well, besides the fact that “it looks very nice,” Hindu/Balinese go to great lengths and expense to gold leaf shrines, parts of houses, and the like.   It takes days and a mighty sum to do something the size of a headboard. With Putra’s technology, the same result can be accomplished in minutes and for a more modest fee. His “garage” is a compound in itself, with myriad labs and personal projects in every bay, room, and building. The grand tour took almost an hour!

Basically a Balinese gargoyle at the National Museum

At the end, we loaded ourselves in the car and listened to the Dutch retell their sad iPhone story. Both Anna and Ben were overjoyed to move into an apartment in Bali after months of living in hotel rooms and eating restaurant food. She made a slice of Dutch heaven – a popular soup – for dinner one night. She set a bowl in front of Ben who scrolled through a few iPhone screens before it slipped from his hand and into the watery abyss! When it wouldn’t turn on, Ben thought they should try and recharge it. He waved Anna aside, plugged it in, and heard the tell-tale popping of electricity combined with water. Today, Putra’s Denpasar friend would try and bring the phone back to life.

While we waited, I got my long-awaited, over-rated visit to the national museum. Thankfully, I’d read a classic novel set in Bali (Vicki Baum’s Liebe und Tod auf Bali). Thanks to the historical education I gained from Baum’s book, I understood and had a vivid context in which to place the items on display. The thing I’d most wanted to see: the Lontar books. Lontar is a type of palm tree in Bali that looks like a Cabbage Tree (NZ) or Joshua Tree (US) relative. Like the New Zealand Cabbage Tree, the leaves do not readily biodegrade: I’ve read it takes hundreds of years in a compost pile. So, the Balinese ancients inscribed important texts on the leaves and bound them together in a kind of venetian-blind-style sheaf. Amazing and inspiring!

Putu (Putra's staff) manning the grill.

Although exhausted from all the running around, we arrived back at the compound knowing meat doesn’t BBQ itself! We grabbed a case of Bintang Beer and set up shop on the patio, grilling pork belly, pork skewers, beef ribs and chicken well into the night, laughing, telling stories, and merrymaking. We even got the Australians to join us and ended up forming a Bali-exploration-and-surf team.

Over the next week, John (Aussie Dad), Lara & Hamish (Aussie kids), Anna & Ben (the Dutch) and I (Pat snagged some solo time at home) made multiple beach trips – Sanur, Belengen, and Canggu for you Balinese surfing buffs out there. Canggu Beach hosted my inaugural surfing attempts. Until I finally caught my first wave, I never understood why people rave about surfing. The thrill of the waves hooked me instantly. Later that week at Belengen on the surf-famous Bukit Peninsula, I spent hours in the crashing water. Mostly I got tossed around in my brand new bikini*, but I loved every second!

Ready to do battle with the waves and not show strangers my lady-bits in the process!

* A new bathing costume has been six years in coming. The one I owned I purchased in Brazil where “itsy-bitsy” and “teeny-weeny” are generous terms for what they call a swimsuit. I bought the absolute largest bikini I could find, which isn’t saying much. I then spent years making people blush because I was too cheap to replace something that still served its purpose. Now, finally, the stitches are coming undone, the elastic has started to droop, and Blue Glue Inc. in Ubud sells affordable bikinis in sizes that fit tourists!

Belengen - my favorite beach that we frequented. It's where I finally understood "the drop" and where heaps of European tourists can be seen ignoring guidebook advice that sunbathing topless in Bali is rude.

Our surfing days often ended with Pat joining us for culinary indulgences. One evening, Putra and Oka threw a sweet-sixteen party for their eldest daughter. We rubbed elbows with all the guests enjoying the bounteous spread and spent another late night opening up stories from our pasts and swapping thoughts about the future. On another night we even taught the Aussie kids to play Texas Hold’Em!

Before the Dutch left, Pat and I struck out alone one night to attend an anniversary party I’d been invited to through Couchsurfing. The celebrating hosts were a 60’s couple who split their time between Bali, the U.S., and Wales. Dozens of expats turned up to fill banana leaves on wicker plates with local and international potluck food. I spent half the evening trying to remember what to call the Western faces who had been renamed at Ashrams in India. I found myself wanting to say, “Oshmidavi? Are you sure your name isn’t Ken?” Judy from Georgia was my favorite character of the night – loosely connected to the group via her fascinating daughter who teaches at a university in China. She moved to China to live with Megan and is still adjusting to “the way they do things over there.” I offered her my sympathies via my FedEx story. My mother forgot her wedding ring here when she came to visit, and I walked over fifteen miles, hired a taxi for an entire day, and took five trips to the local FedEx office before the precious cargo set off on its highly-anticipated journey!

The pool at John and Sue's new villa - fun!

The days after the ex-pat-filled anniversary party were our last with the Dutch. To bid them farewell, the whole Aussie clan (Sue returned from Australia halfway through the week), the Dutch, Pat, and I spent an evening playing games at a pub. Between the foosball, ping-pong, and pool, we enjoyed a few heavily taxed adult beverages. The Aussies were next to go – Sue and the kids on a visa run to Singapore, and John back home to manage the business for month. Our final night together entailed mojito lessons by yours-truly and a fine, simple cuisine on the expansive verandah.

With three days remaining, I did what one does when preparing to move one’s life from one foreign country to another: check exchange rates, gather city information, research accommodation, make lists, pack, distribute goods to be left behind, and wish there was enough time for one more walk on the Campuhan Ridge. After a final feast of Mackerel in Pindang and Nasi Jengo with Putra and Oka, we took our first steps toward Europe with a three-week layover in Thailand. Stay tuned!  ♣

See Bali-sized beverages, a spider the size of my face, and international beer-slamming demonstrations in this facebook album.

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