Things always look better after….
…a sunrise run. …a foot massage. …a dance in the rain. …a chocolate milkshake. …a frozen margarita. …a bubble bath. …a green lollipop. …a bear hug. …a tummy rub. …a catnap (meow).
What makes you smile?
One of our Bali adventures was a side trip to a coffee plantation. I didn’t realize until much later that we saw no plantation. We walked a path through a jungle, were given a coffee and tea sampler and were invited to buy stuff before being shuffled back to the bus.
We did, however, see some of the famous coffee poo cats, which it turns out are civets of some sort.
This is a sleeping civet.
And this is their poo.
Unfortunately, the poo reminded me of a chocolate peanut roll my grandma used to make at Christmas. At the same time, I couldn’t help but think of Twitchy’s poo, which is so lethal that it can wake me from a sound sleep when she produces it. I also have a hard time enjoying things that cost more than they should. Even in the middle of nowhere Indonesia it was nearly $5 to try the cat poo coffee. Having had $20 coffee here in Japan back when that was a thing to do, I can with confidence say that the experience was over-rated. So I gave the cat poo a miss.
Later that night, a few of us ended up at a convenience store where I discovered that one of our group, despite being a dedicated marathon runner, is a closet Snickers addict. She was delighted to find some on sale, but again I declined. I make it a rule to avoid doing things abroad that I can do at home and Snickers are widely available here. So I got something else.
When I got back to my room, this guy was sitting on my desk, and since he asked me politely, I let him hold my Nockers.
On Lombok island, we stayed at a boutique resort hotel called the Puri Mas. Run by a somewhat crazed Belgian, a former ballroom dance champion, it is made up of small bungalows that follow a winding path down a hill from reception past an open air restaurant to the ocean, where the surf seems to be up around the clock. I didn’t get a garden nor ocean view, but I did have…
…a private, partially open air meditation space, which was…not unattractive.
Just up the road a piece from the hotel was its spa, where this guy…
…pointed me toward this room…
…where I had my first nekkid full body oil massage.
I lay down on the table. The massage guy touched my right shoulder and whispered, “Wow.” I whispered back, “Yeah.” And he said, “OK, its time for some Lombok magic.”
“Well, all right,” I thought. “I’ve heard variations on that before. We’ll see.”
And then he did. Hocus pocus. Abracadabra. Voila.
I don’t know how he did it. All I can say is he poked and prodded and climbed around on the table and on me until he gently tucked a misplaced muscle back into place. When he was done, I floated off the table and sat on the porch eating slices of papaya and listening to birdsong and feeling bemused. All I could think was, “Well, If that doesn’t beat all.”
Massage guy also recommended a special Lombok chicken dish, which I tried, of course, since he clearly had direct lines of communication with some greater good. There was an outdoor cafe just down the beach from the hotel, the kind where the roof is made of woven leaves and the floor is sand and the tables and chairs are pieces of bamboo lashed together.
Perfectly complimented by a cool bottle of Bintang, it was grilled chicken breast in a spicy sauce similar to Indian butter chicken but made with coconut milk. I have forgotten what it’s called, so If anyone can tell me, or better yet find me a recipe, I will write an ode to the greatness that is you.
I know it will never taste as good in my Tokyo kitchen as it did when I ate it with sand between my toes and a touch of tropical sun on my nose and the lingering touch of Lombok magic on my skin. I learned this from the almighty Mai Tai, which is a delicate kiss from Adonis on a beach in Thailand but a sticky groping by a clumsy teenager in a bar in Roppongi, but I want to try to make it anyway.
I will try almost anything.
I arrived at Denpasar just after midnight, tired but relaxed, knowing that someone would be there to pick me up. I went through the magic doors and there was a long line of little brown men holding pieces of paper with people’s names on them. Mine was not among them. I checked up and down the line a couple of times to make sure. The only contact information I had was the phone number of the hotel but I had no phone and no local currency. So I stopped walking and thought, “Well, this is a pickle.” But then friendly taxi man came over and asked where I was going. “Sideman, and someone is going to pick me up.” He said, “No, no. It’s much too late. They’re not coming.” I insisted that they would and got out my itinerary. Nice man that he was, he called the hotel, who said the driver would be right there. Turns out he had been driving all day and had fallen asleep in the van. No harm done, and I’m glad to know that I don’t panic easily.
After all of that, we rolled into the hotel around 3:00am and I was fairly bleary by then, but was greeted by a woman named Ayu who took my hand in both of hers and a wave of warmth and sincerity shot up my arm and directly into my heart. “Follow me,” she said. “I’ll show you to your room.” And this is where we went.
The understated beauty, the simple elegance, the sense of fun all reached out to me. It’s hard to describe the way Bali fills up your senses. It’s not just the scents of lotus and jasmine flowers but also the constant burning of incense with an undertone of steamed rice. I see ranges of greens rising above the rice paddies, highlighted with bright flowers in tropical hues, and all the while there is the sound of running water.
In the morning, I sit on the terrace and soak up the atmosphere. The moss on the gently swaying trunks of coconut palms and papaya trees winks in the early morning sunshine under a clear blue sky adorned with the faintest brush strokes of wispy clouds. All around is an orchestra of crickets, birdsong, rooster crows, gekko chirps and flowing water, always the sound of flowing water. Just outside my room, a staircase of terraced rice paddies brimming with water and life makes its way down the slope. It begins to rain, the drops adding syncopation to the orchestra of sound, the concentric rings they make forming popcorn patterns on the surface of the water, always changing, each unique.
Despite the drought on other parts of the island, at that altitude the ever flowing water seeks lower climes, meandering from the heights through rice paddies, the myriad swimming pools and carved stone fountains, always flowing, always seeking, somehow seeming to know its destination.
The earth is sodden, so the many buildings that make up the hotel complex are connected by rutted stone and concrete walkways. One quickly learns to carry a flashlight and walk gingerly, especially in the dark. On the first night, I stumble on the way to dinner, scrape my elbow and bash my knee. The knee is all right, jut bruised, but for the rest of the trip I can’t put my weight on it. One of the women in my group notices me icing it down and asks what happened.
“I fell, that first night,” I said. “Didn’t you notice me doing very strange yoga?”
“Yes, I noticed,” she said. “I just thought you were doing really advanced poses.”
There is something almost mystical about doing yoga in those surroundings. I work my way into a pose then look up. The inrush of sights, sounds and scents fills me with both joy and a profound longing, as if I could somehow know everything that can be known, see the ageless connections among all living things and find peace, a peace that reaches from the bottoms of my feet through the top of my head and out into the infinite universe.
As nice is it is to be back home, it was very hard to leave paradise. I will have a lot more to say about that. I need some time to come up with better words than “beautiful”, “exotic” and “delicious”.
Here are a couple of teasers:
Three cheers for Korean Airlines. The nice check-in man at Denpasar airport put a special red SHORT CONNECTION label on my suitcase because I only had 45 minutes between flights at Seoul. I wasn’t particularly worried about it but I was seated at the very back of the peanut gallery and one of the lovely cabin attendants was worried. Twenty minutes before we landed, she moved me to first class, my very first time to sit there. I didn’t get any special service, but I did get to play with the buttons on the seat AND use the exit for fancy folks.
The cabin attendant was also worried about my suitcase and told me to enquire at the boarding gate, which I did, but the guy rather facetiously said I’d have to enquire at Narita, which in the end proved unnecessary. My Residence Card and I sailed past the hundreds of Korean tourists waiting in the FOREIGN PASSPORTS line and my red-tagged suitcase was already dancing around the carousel when I got to baggage claim. I zipped through customs where the staff are always delighted with foreigners who can speak Japanese, and hopped on the Narita Express which whisked me homeward, past the familiar rice paddies and tiled roofs and winding narrow roads, so much like Indonesia and yet so very different.
Much as I love to travel and see new places and try new things, it’s a pleasure to be back where I know how things work. I know where and how to buy a sandwich and a train ticket and can do those things without drama or fanfare. I always forget, when I haven’t traveled for a while, just how difficult such things can be*, and while it is a pleasure to cope with them to whatever degree of success, it is also a pleasure when they are easy.
*Most of our meals were group affairs, but one evening we were on our own and eight of us ventured out to find a restaurant. People were tired and kvetchy and couldn’t agree on where to go. I don’t have much patience with that sort of thing so went to the supermarket, where I wandered around for half an hour and ended up with a bag of potato chips and a bottle of Bintang beer. I recommend the latter; the former are better avoided. We live and learn.
Once in a very long while the celestial orbs put down their toys long enough to smile on someone who really needs it, and she has the good sense to offer thanks as rich and deep as a chocolate fudge volcano.
I hate sales calls. Really. I truly despise them. The whole concept of inviting yourself into someone else’s private residence, and insisting that they buy stuff they didn’t ask for is so invasive that I am truly offended.
On the other hand, one of the few advantages to being a befuddled foreigner is that I can pretend I don’t understand when I don’t want to. But I at least try to be civil. After all, these people are just doing their jobs. I doubt many little boys and girls look up into the night sky and dream of becoming telemarketers. There must be some reason why they ended up there. Perhaps they were politicians in a previous life.
But there are limits. The one who just called blathered away at me about high speed internet service then asked me if I was the “internet user” in the house. I told her politely that I had no idea what she was talking about. That’s what I said, too. “I’m sorry. I don’t understand what you’re talking about.” Her response was, “When will there be someone there who does understand Japanese?”
I don’t know about current telephone etiquette in other countries, but as far as I know, that took rudeness to an echelon so highly elevated that I’d be surprised if an atom of oxygen has gotten to the silly woman’s brain in the past several decades.The Japanese that I spoke was perfectly fluent. Maybe it’s high speed internet that I don’t understand. Or optical fibers. Or any of the other words I pretended not to understand.
So I told her there wouldn’t be anyone like that here until at least next week. She said she’d call back but I doubt she will. After I hung up, it occurred to me that maybe she did know I was lying and was playing a cat and mouse game of who can out-rude who. I hope I won.