The flight was pleasant enough. For once I managed to sleep as soon as (before?) we took off and well into the flight. Airports and airplanes make me feel a certain way; a certain lightness that has to do with the idea of leaving your life and worries for a while, yet a certain heaviness of leaving the familiar. I had trouble getting past the fingerprint scanner again.
After we touched down, I was immediately reminded of how different Bali is meant to be. All this time I had in mind a relaxing getaway – all palm trees and cool breeze and a clean environment to fuel clear thoughts. So you can imagine how unsettled I was when we were greeted with a crowd of Indonesians advertising tours, taxis, and trinkets of all sorts. Right away we went into haggling which as always makes me feel uncomfortable, but more on that later.
The ride wasn’t ideal. It was warm, crammed, and slow. And the sights didn’t offer much, only to reinforce how far this was from my imagined holiday. However, things began to look better as we approached our destination. The greenery thickened around us as the grey buildings dwindled. It was like a portal, really. “Looks pretty idyllic,” I mentioned.
We stepped out of the confines of the taxi into a nice breeze. With a porter waiting upon us at a rustic entrance, it felt like our holiday was finally starting. Our villa was great. Literally at the doorstep of nature, it was the perfect getaway from the hustle of life. However our peace was short-lived.
We entered the small private the pool that we had to pamper our bodies after the morning of travelling. Dad was with one of the staff in the villa to install the extension we requested. “We didn’t ask about the BBQ,” Mum suddenly mentioned.
“Oh yeah!” I quipped. I had been keen on it since before the trip and was now excited as we revisited the prospect. “Let’s ask him when he comes out.”
Mum was trying to explain what we meant when I first smelt the smoke. To cut a long story short, there was a fire at one of the other villas and 10 minutes later we were standing aside in our swimwear watching the scene, like the useless inquisitive tourists we were.
It was an interesting scene to start off our trip, if anything. Brown-skinned locals were leaping from the walls and the roof and running around, some barefoot, some in mere slippers. They carried pails and hoses and fire extinguishers. Excited speech darted around the entire event. It felt very much like a village response to a local crisis, which I guess in many ways it was. Dad later complained about the unprofessionalism of it all but I felt it was made up for in another quality altogether: a mix of courage and camaraderie and resourcefulness.
Seven or eight of them stood on the straw roof now, pouring water on the source of the smoke (we never did see the fire). One stood on the nearby wall of the villa, tossing buckets precariously to his buddy on the roof. It was amazing that they hardly spilled much water. The person who stood on top of the steep grass slope that acted as an opposite wall was shouting commands in a quick and indiscernible Malay. A Caucasian next to him however spoke slowly and in a heavy accent, drawing out his words. Apparently he was some sort of fireman back home at an oil rig. He kept saying things like “Easy, easy. Slowly. Too fast and we will have too much oxygen.” I thought he was a very odd addition to the event, with his white skin and his slow speech and steady approach. I kept wondering if the man on the slope was actually translating what the white man said, or if he was just patronizing him with the occasional sentence of agreement.
We slept the rest of the afternoon away and took the 4 o’clock shuttle bus to Ubud centre. We walked along the street and visited the shops. Nothing spectacular. The haggling was uncomfortable though, as I mentioned. As much as I am aware that this is the way things are done, much like Australians expect people to come later than the stipulated time as I learnt last week, I still can’t get over the unabashed nature of it all, not to mention I feel so absurd squabbling over 10 000 rupees which upon reflection I realise is only a little more than a dollar. Their joy at our patronage only makes me feel more like a disgusting stingy rich kid. But my parents would never let it go with no haggling, or even subpar haggling, so oh well I just have to stick to keeping out of it while they do the thick-skinned work.
There was a dilemma as to what to eat; an Indian place or a Japanese place. It’s funny how we end up eating anything but local food. Anyway, the three of us wanted Indian but Dad wasn’t that keen. He acquiesced though and so Indian it was, although I had my reservations about Dad. True enough, he was practically exuding a bad mood for like the first 20 minutes. It made me really uncomfortable but in the end I guess he got over it and it was a pleasant meal. We then whiled away our time but still managed to be late for the return bus because we discovered too late a suitable massage place. I hope the angmohs in the bus waiting for us weren’t peeved. I couldn’t tell from the German conversation in the back (which I could not catch a word of) nor the silence of the others.
All things considered, it was a pretty pleasant first day.