The House That Jules Built

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IMG_0330A couple of blocks from the beach, we drove up a quiet residential road, lined on either side with old-growth towering banyan trees, the sidewalk edges painted with tell-tale ‘no parking’ stripes. On cue, both cars slowed down across from a gated house and idled at the side of the road for a few moments. A few of us got out, crossed the street, snapped photos, peered into the front garden. We weren’t trespassing, but how we would have loved to take a little peek inside…

A taxi pulled up in front of the house. A young womIMG_0332an inside glanced up at me, paid her fare and opened the door. Our eyes met. Do you live here? I dared to ask. Yes, she replied in perfect English, looking at me curiously; I grew up here, it’s my parents’ home. I lit up, rambled away with a story – our story, then turned to look for the others. She lit up herself, recalling her childhood and the history of her home (the name she knew well); then invited us to enter. With surprise at our well-timed arrival and appreciatiIMG_0341on (though somewhat shy to bring in the troops), we followed her inside.

The house had been in her family for generations; first purchased by her great-grandparents. It was the first one erected on the street, surrounded at the time by nothing other than sand. As the first residents, her great-grandparents were permitted to choose their own address; they picked 100. IMG_0337

For many years the house had remained in its original state, used by her ancestors only as a summer residence. Since the house had been empty for much of the year, the neighbors had nicknamed it… the witch’s house. She laughed at the memory. Since then, the house had gone through extensive renovations, extensions, modern updates. But still, everywhere, the roots remained. Original windows and ceilings, subtle – and recognizable – signs of the architect’s touch were evident everywhere.

IMG_0334She spoke of the house, her home, with such loving memory, that I’m sure we were all grateful that this beautifully designed house had ended up in her family’s hands for so long. It was clear that they had treated it as a gem, with great care, to be treasured for many more generations to come.

For us, it was a walk through time, and more personally, through a slice of our own personal history. It was one of the houses that Jules, my late grandfather, built.

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From the Inside, Looking Out

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From the moment I entered the airplane last night, I sensed an unmistakable frenzy. Instead of being greeted by a cheerful crew of flight attendants, there was chaos, mayhem, those attendants running ragged, trying to store, pile up, stash away the food, drinks, duty free, blankets and trinkets. Immediately I realized that something was amiss. It took me a little while to realize what was up…

After asking a fellow passenger to lift my carry-on/ roll-on bag into the storage bin above, I settled my magazines and ‘stuff’ onto my seat. It was getting close to midnight, departure time inching that much closer – and still something was out of whack, not quite aligned. There’s some kind of regular rhythm, a typical way and pace of boarding passengers and prepping for a flight that was in this instance missing. But I couldn’t put my finger on it… until I peeked out the window.

I couldn’t have been less prepared for the sight, of an ambulance pulling up just below my window; lights flashing, guards and airport crew at the ready. Everything happened in quick succession, like clockwork.. and yet, to me – so gripped with the sight – it all moved in excruciatingly slow motion. Attendants withdrew a young man strapped to a stretcher, the space around him enveloped in tubes, a mask and infusions. The stretcher was rolled onto a Thai Airways mobile carrier, hydraulically lifted to the side mouth of the plane (normally used by catering and cleaning crews), and the patient rolled out of view of passengers.

IMG_0304I would only learn later, much later, after landing, and while passengers patiently awaited the stretcher’s priority disembarkation, that the young man had been diving when struck in the head by an errant surf-boarder, causing him to lose consciousness and drown, only to be rescued shortly after. After a month long stay in hospital, he was being evacuated by air, to a hospital closer to home. The prognosis, I learned from the head of crew, was grim. His wife, still reeling from shock, was by his side, eager to bring him home come what may.

The sight of the ambulance and all the activity outside my window wasn’t quite a deja vu… it was more like a replay, but viewed from the other side. The young man once was me – at the very same airport. Five years ago. Also in the middle of the night (from the little that I recall). Being flown to the other side of the world. Medical escort. Painkillers. Ineffective catheter replaced with incontinence pads. More painkillers. Being rolled in, out, up and down on a stretcher. Being hooked into the plane, curtained off from curious or prying eyes. Not knowing which was was up, down, front or back. Medication-induced confusion and extended sleep.

My face was glued to the window. I gazed out with empathy onto the heartbreaking scene, with a wish that, as my angels had become known to me through trauma, so would this young victim one day come to learn of his….

The Protest Zone

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IMG_0238If you’ve read previous entries about my earlier visa runs to, and stopovers in, Bangkok, you might remember that each one of my visits has included at least one trip to Lumpini Park, an oasis of glorious green – in the heart of this bustling metropolis. I always look forward to that time in Lumpini as a necessary and peaceful break from Bangkok’s incessant noise, nose-clogging pollution, pungent smells and IMG_0273bright lights.

And so, this morning, my last in Bangkok, I set out as usual with book in hand, intent on spending a few quiet hours in a corner of the park; reading, writing, practicing yoga and watching the elegant swans (and swan-pedal boats) gliding around the waterways. Alas, it was not to be…

IMG_0196Bring on the army. Bring on the banners, the bullhorns, the flag-waving yahoos, flimsy-mask-wearing cowboys on motorbikes. A sea of incomprehensible Thai signs flood my vision – with an occasional English phrase thrown in, possibly for the occasional tourist or journalist who dares enter the ‘zone’.IMG_0203

I’d been under the impression, obviously mistaken, that the camps of government protesters had been set up in other parts of the city. Or that they had taken a break from their protesting to return to a semblance of normal. Not so.

IMG_0210The Park was taken over by the People. Nearly every inch of grass. Gone, hidden, submerged beneath bubble-like tents; stomped down by chairs, tables, pallets of water, boxes and plastic bags filled to overflowing with flotsam and jetsam.IMG_0272

Indeed, a massive tent city had been erected on the grounds of Lumpini Park, transformed into Ground Zero for one of the factions. These red-white-blue beribboned activists, eager to overthrow the current government, have been squatting on these grounds for close to three months and managed to bring much of the city to a standstill in a move they defiantly call “Bangkok Shutdown.”IMG_0275

But what am I to make of it? I confess that, where once I read the newspaper avidly and even muddled my way through a 2-year stint in television news, when I felt compelled to have a firm hold oIMG_0265n the news of the day, cynicism and fatigue had set in since then; so much so that neither domestic and international politics are of great interest to me these days.

With civil unrest escalating around the world, in Asia, the Ukraine, India and elsewhere, I’m befuddled in Bangkok. Here, I can’t even keep track of the protesters’ sides and demands: yellow arm-banded bandits, what do they want? And the red-sIMG_0263hirts, what’s their beef? Why are these provocateurs not dressed in either, but rather in tri-colored anti-government clothes and paraphernalia?

Some had set out on their daily protest, trucked out in droves, waving flags and blaring out protest messages to passersby and vehicles on thIMG_0213eir way. Others stayed behind, catching up on sleep or tuning into a running loop of previously taped speeches which were broadcast (to a nearly empty crowd) on massive screens. Still others remained in their tents, headed out for showers or food, while still others cleaned their ‘gardens’ or focused inward on their martial arts practice.

IMG_0223I value the rights of citizens to peaceful protest, and I appreciate the urgency with which these Thai people have gathered to make themselves heard. There is no denying that the sheer impact of their numbers (some say in the hundreds of thousands in this park alone) can move mountains – perhaps also pressure those in power to resign.

But without minimizing the import of this protest, I can’t help, on some level, in some part of my peace-seeking soul but wish that they’d camped out elsewhere than on the great and once-green lawns of Lumpini…

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Time to go to ‘other places’…

The Masked Men of Siam

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IMG_0081You’d never believe that this bustling nation is under siege – by what looks like a roving gang of bandits in Bangkok. Sure there are women among them, but the hidden faces of the men (though certainly there are lady-boys among them) have been that mIMG_0161uch more… visible.

They are a growing breed, these shrouded types: Taxi and tuk-tuk drivers, bus drivers, policemen, traffic cops, newspaper deliverymen, pizza deliverymen, hawkers, laborers, even the corporate white-shirts (complete with shoulder bag and dangling name tag) are everywhere sporting face masks.

Flimsy things, made of IMG_0091paper-thin cotton, purchased for pennies at the market, endowing the wearer with mistaken belief that they are safe from harm. Other cover-ups, thick layers of rubberized neoprene or full-face balaklavas made of synthetic materials, stick to nearIMG_0104ly molten skin, causing uber-perspiration (let alone creeping suffocation) in temperatures soaring towards 100°.

False illusions spread like wildfire in the oppressive, smog-filled heat.

How ironic, that this covering up of faces, is steadily growing in what once was known as the Land of Smiles – a result not only of the mind-numbing and lunIMG_0073g-squeezing increase in pollution (although, undoubtedly and in part, attributed to this grim reality); but seemingly also as a response to, or identification with, the opposing factions in the ongoing red-shirt/yellow-shirt game of thrones.IMG_0113

On Bus #2 (the only line I am familiar with in this city), I see the same white-shirted fare collector one day after the other. He plays the weatherman too, adjusting his accoutrements according to the expected temperatures. On the first day, he wears one of those flimsy things; but on the second (in response, I imagine to the elevated humidity) he’s brought out the saving-grace goods: a dampened face towel that he repeIMG_0119atedly soaks, wrings out and places on his scalding, balding head.

Once in awhile, during my many walks in the city, I’d stumble across a brave soul, defiantly bucking the trend. His vest says it all.IMG_0125

Other times, I’d spot a man or woman who’s managed to hide themselves away, even temporarily, in an effort to cool down from the stifling heat, take a break from the crowds, the noise, the burning haze. But nobody did it better than this little girl, concealed under a table with her MIT-designed green laptop, at a busy intersection, her mother nIMG_0128earby.

Despite all the hustle and bustle going on around her, and amidst the noxious fumes, the tricks and the trades, the steaming sidewalks, itinerants, crying babies, the vendors and hordes of tourists and pimps, she still managed to find her secret garden. Amen to the resilience and imagination of little kids.

As for myself, I fit right in. My trusted little mask, the one I bought in Singapore, (for use in Bali) passes the Bangkok-test: in a land where so many faces are now covered in masks, I barely attract any attention. It seems that my ‘alien’ look blends in quite well amidst the local bandits after all.

Buddhas covered up too...

Buddhas covered up too…

Nu, Where Am I (Going)?

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You know how every once in awhile, signs appear in your life, like fortune-telling fairies bearing hints of what’s to come?

IMG_9978In my case, certain stores have been foretelling my immediate future… or maybe I’ve just been more attuned to them.

IMG_3017If you walked down the streets of Ubud – such as been my daily ‘habit’ over the past three years – you might like me do a double-take, and imagine that you might have landed in Israel rather than Indonesia. What’s with all the Hebrew signs? IMG_9453

A shop called Kus-Kus sells clothing – rather than coconuts. And Ken-Ken is one of the most common phrases in Basa Bali – but it also means “yes yes” in Hebrew.

Some examples are puzzling while others make sense: Moti, Nava, Adi and Gili are all common Israeli names, while Adi is common among the Balinese as well. But I’ve not yeIMG_9976t stumbled across an indigenous Moti or Nava on this island – nor do I know if either word has a Balinese meaning. As for Gili, the word translates from the Sasak native language inIMG_9564 Lombok to “island.”

My favorite find of all, is this delicate script painted towards the bottom of a storefront window: nu. Just yesterday, for the first time, I stopped for a moment to peer inside and noted that they sell hand-made crocheted goods. I’ve never seen the store actually open during daylight hours, but one day if there are signs of life inside, I will walk in and ask about its meaning. Surely it can’t be in Hebrew: Nu = So? Now What?!

However, on the off-chance that there’s some connection to Hebrew (and Israel), I’ll take it as a premonition and good omen: Five more sleeps… (NU, where am I going?)

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What Do You Mean, You Can’t Sit?

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IMG_0009Earlier this evening, I decided that I was in the mood for yoga. I sauntered over to the nearby studio – one of the busiest in town – for a relaxing restorative class. As always, a large regal-looking statue of Ganesha (the Hindu deity who is purported to be the remover of obstacles) held court at the front of the class, surrounded by garlands of flowers, incense and candles.

Since I was lying down (and slightly dozy) when the lovely instructor from Oz spoke up, I didn’t have a chance to speak with her privately – as I am wont to do in a new class. As everyone but me sat with backs straight on their mats, teacher-T glanced around, asking if anyone had injuries. Here we were, sprawled about the top floor of the shala… about forty or fifty of us. I hesitated for a moment, then raised my hand and voiced my simple truth: I can’t sit, but I can modify the poses.

At which point, teacher-T did what anyone who’d heard this line for the first time might do: She politely ignored me and, shuffling herself around on the bolster, asked: What if you placed another bolster on top, would that help? Sensing the quiet echoing and wafting amongst the disbelieving (?) dozens of eyes surrounding me, I paused and said: Actually, I can’t sit at all, in any position. I have to hand it to T; she didn’t skip a beat, smiled, nodded and said something to the effect of: ok, we can check in later about that. Then, she let me be.

On my way home, it dawned on me that the same scenario (more or less) played itself out, at the same studio, with two other teachers, over this past week. The first time was the toughest: A couple of friends had recommended that I try out a beginners’ Pilates class. I hesitated because I know that the practice is all about using and improving the core – which, in my case, has been significantly compromised. I wasn’t sure if it would be possible for me to do most of the poses, nor whether it would be wise to attempt a type of body-work-out that might possibly cause further damage.

A pigtailed and elfin-like teacher, G showed up a few minutes before class, whereupon I approached her and briefly explained my injuries and limitations – including not being able to sit. I asked if I could watcIMG_0011h the class for a little while to gauge whether I might be willing to try her next class. From G’s face alone, I quickly deduced that she was – what, affronted? Or perhaps shocked that I would ask such a question? – in any case, she seemed quite displeased at my request. Bottom line: she wanted me to pay because, even by merely watching, I would be absorbing her class.

I decided to overlook her puzzling comments, and see if she would allow me to watch for a short time nonetheless. Finally, she relented, but not without her face letting me know quite transparently that she was harrumphed… and that it was really not cool.

Fast forward to me crouching in the corner of the studio while G strode around the class, instructing those present how to place their mats and sit. She glanced over at me, as I tried to be as inconspicuous as possible in my crouching position, and in an almost bellowing voice, G blurted out: You can sit on that folding chair next to you, you know! All eyes – vwoom! – turned to me. Thanks, I said, but actually I can’t. Why not? was her somewhat miffed answer. It suddenly became patently obvious to me that she hadn’t heard what I explained earlier; either that, or…

Sitting.. who doesn't sit?!

Sitting.. who doesn’t sit?!

Then, a couple of days later, I tried an Anusara class with a substitute teacher, visiting from Denmark. Blonde-haired N invited everyone present to gather around her – for what I realized is typical in Anusara, a little ‘talk’ preceding the class itself. (Here again, I’d forgotten to speak with N privately before class). While everyone sat up on their mats, I moved up quite close to N’s side, and crouched down with my back against a column.

N glanced over at me, smiled and suggested that I might want to get comfortable because it would be quite a long ‘sit.’ Thanks, I said, but I’m ok.. and I can’t sit. And then, as if I’d said something incomprehensible in a foreign language, N continued: You can grab a couple of blocks then, and use those.

I was, with N, at the front of the class, and could almost see the oh-so-many pairs of eyes on me. Oh no, not this again… Really, I said, I can’t sit at all. At which point, I could almost swear that I saw a look that asked: “what’s up with you?” before she turned back and faced the class.

And so, dear yoga and Pilates teachers everywhere: I get it. I get that you can’t wrap your heads around what I say. I get it that I might as well tell you that I can’t breathe – while you see me breathing in front of you; or that I can’t stand, when you can very well see that I am standing right in front of you too. I mean: does that even make sense? Does such a thing exist, not being able to sit?! How crazy… I know I might not always be as patient with you as I wish I was, but really.. I’m just doing the best that I can with the “reformed” sacrum that I’ve been gifted. And, believe me, I’m just figuring it out myself as I walk the uncharted waters of this path, my ‘new normal’ kind of life.

Here’s the rub – and no hard feelings! Really, truly, I cannot sit. Not in the traditional sense of the verb. And, would you believe it: my nonsensical-sounding impairment even has a name (finally: Sitting disability). You see, there’s simply not a whole lot I can do about it. Unless, of course, Ganesha will manage to clear up this little so-called obstacle…

This is one way I 'sit' in a car.. (in Bali at least): kneeling facing backwards!

This is one way I ‘sit’ in a car.. (in Bali at least): kneeling facing backwards!

Silent Days & Go Go Nights

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IMG_9922Yesterday evening, as I crouched against the sidewalk at an intersection in town, I overheard a brief exchange between a barefoot and distraught and yoga-mat toting tourist and a flashlight-wielding pecalang (village security guard). Where do I go… I’m looking for the go-gos! The bewildered guard, dressed in the customary poleng-style sarong, black t-shirt and udeng, directed her to his partner standing nearby. She pleaded with this guy too, where are the go-gos?! He chuckled and replied, ah, you look for ogoh-ogoh, ya? He barely had a chance to point down the main road before she sped off on foot.

I held back from interfering to explain to her that ogoh ogohs were at that very moment marching down the side road, towards us. In fact, even under the cover of darkness, they could be seen everywhere. All around Ubud, all around Bali. You’d pretty much have to be cooped up indoors to miss any of the.. go-gos!

IMG_9539Today is Nyepi in Bali. The Lunar Near Year – according to the Balinese Saka Calendar, a day traditionally devoted to fasting, self-reflection and meditation. It is also the island-wide Day of Silence, a day on which all human activity comes to a full stIMG_9626op. Cars, motorbikes, trucks, bicycles, all transport is rendered immobile for 24 hours. Even the airport in Denpasar shut down from 6 o’clock this morning until the same hour tomorrow; indeed, Ngurah Rai Airport is the only in the world that closes all operations for a full day. (Apparently, this annual one-day curbing of all transportation on the island has been scientifically studied, and estimated to significantly reduce the emission of greenhouse gases.)IMG_9601

The days leading up to Nyepi are equally full of ceremony – and water, holy water that is. Starting from Melasti, the day on which the Balinese head to beaches around the island, bringing sacred objects from their village temples to be cleansed in the ocean. A procession of Balinese, their prIMG_9617iest, elders and village chiefs head to the ocean’s edge for a sacred ritual, to dip the holy objects into the water thereby symbolizing their purification.

After a high priest has chanted mantras, conducted prayers and sprinkled holy water on the hundreIMG_9689ds gathered, the villagers amble down to the ocean (the women, often carrying high towers of offerings on their heads) with plastic bottles and cups in hand, to scoop up water deemed holy by virtue of the priest’s presence and prayers.

The evening before Nyepi is known as Ngerupuk, when massive sculpted fiIMG_9536gures are paraded through towns to exorcise demons.

The buildup to the great ogoh ogoh parade starts in late February, when the young single men of each banjar begin planning and building their respective ogoh ogohs – the monstrous-looking fabulouIMG_9940s fiends and assorted creatures, constructed out of wood, foam, wire, paper and gobs of paint. These giant figures, some based on classic Balinese myths, have fangs, bulging eyes, bulbous breasts, and massive heads of hIMG_9925air.

 

Local children gather around the construction areas, more enchanted than frightened off by the towering creatures. Parents regularly ferry their infants and young children on motorbikes, stopping in front of countless works-in-progress in banjar after another, to marvel at the larger-than-life monsters.IMG_9542
The ogoh-ogoh effigies are designed to be as ghastly as possible, to scare off evil spirits thought to be lurking around the island on the eve of Nyepi. Mounted onto bamboo platforms, and carried by a dozen or more youth, they are paraded around every village, creating a spectacle that attracts locals and tourists alike.

Often, upon reaching an intersection – where, according to superstition, evil spirits are well known to linger – the carriers will swing the platform around wildly a few times to shake off bad karma. If you didn’t know better, you’d think the circus is in town.. and it’s gone mobile, bringing the carnival atmosphere to a banjar near you.

By the time the processions end, the precisely-made offerings – with burnt coconut husks, flowers, eggs, fruit and rice – have all been placed on fanciful trays, shrines and on the street; the ogoh ogohs are set alight, the locals and travelers turn in for the night, the streets are strewn with used plastic bottles and cups, many lights switch off and the usual rumbling of bikes and cars winds down.

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Once in awhile, strange things happen in the days and hours leading up to Nyepi: a chicken is seen crossing a roof (probably to see the ogoh ogohs on the other side), a dog is spotted on top of an entryway, or the power goes out – as it did last night, as if a reminder to all of the coming darkness.

And then, today, a true gift from the island of the gods, a day of unparalleled silence, a stillness that almost defies description, a lighter load, a large swath of peace.

IMG_9945In the early morning, I quietly saunter out to where the path meets the road, but mindful not to step onto the road. The bamboo curtains of the warung across the road are tied up. A dog sleeping on the road looks up at me momentarily, as if to challenge my presence in taboo territory (dogs, apparently, are exempt).

I glance down the road in one IMG_9942direction, then the other – whereupon my eyes land on the pecalang out on morning patrol. With staff in hand, he silently motions to me to return from where I came, and I gesture back a promise that I will not step out further. The dog settles back down, but keeps watch until I turn back.IMG_9947

Nyepi is arguably my favorite day on the Balinese calendar. In fact, it’s the day that I most long to prolong on this island; with its endless precious hours of quiet, clear sky, glorious birdsong – unheard on most days, chirping cecak and the unmistakable sound of palm leIMG_9946aves fluttering in the breeze.

 

 

It’s a blissfully enforced day of contemplation, reading, reflection, solitude – or a day on which you can immerse yourself in… absolutely nothing. But even more than a day of rest for the population and deities, it’s a much-needed break for the earth, sky and water.

I’ll bid you all adieu, so I can go and stand outside in the cool evening air, the near-perfect darkness and be grateful for the blessings of nature’s purest gifts. Ahhhh… and amen. IMG_9661

Bali Bagel Lab

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Warning: You might not want to attempt this at home… Then again, why not?

IMG_9756You see, I really don’t know the first thing about making bagels. But lack of experience should never hinder one from setting one’s sights on the impossible – or questionable undertakings. At least, in theory.

Which is why it made perfect sense to me to ask Toni if I could try out my experiment in bagel-making at his…ummmm… pizzeria. Really, why not? Well, it turns out (duh) that pizza dough is not quite the best substitute for bread dough. In other words, you might want to stick to pizza dough for making pizzas and.. well, you get the point. But I wasn’t going to be put off by such banalities. IMG_9751So when I arrived at the pizzeria this morning with a small packet of my dried ‘secret ingredient,’ Toni kicked his staff into high gear. Putu, who was folding napkins, was delegated with the task of providing us with nourishment: a late-brunch of pasta and sorbet; while Sony was sent out to start up the pizza oven (a little earlier than usual), then to help me prepare the dough, roll and shape the bagels, and then slide them into the oven.

IMG_9758Toni and I dug into our respective pasta dishes with gusto, while intermittently glancing over at the oven. It was clear that Sony was out of his element; an Indonesian trained to cook Italian food was now being thrown into the deep end – asked (with no prior experience of bread-making) to whip up a batch of strange-looking bagels. What we (tamu) won’t throw at them.. and how they will (usually, gladly) acquiesce…IMG_9760There was much to- and fro-ing: A befuddled Sony tentatively withdrew the only-slightly hardened but still-doughy rounds out of the fire, walked over to us, displaying the strange-looking nuggets to us with a face that belied his puzzlement. Toni cut one of the bagels in half, then sent Sony back to the oven, with instructions in Indonesian that I barely understood.

IMG_9757By the time Toni and I had spooned up the last of our (two each, mamma mia!) dishes of pasta, Sony was more bravely heading back towards us, a hint of a smile spreading across his face as if to say… ahh, I think I know what you’re getting at.

IMG_9759Alas, the nuggets were uber-hard, the dough (as mentioned above) had proven itself inadequate and the fire too fiery for the project at hand. And yet, I could almost sense that Toni was intrigued… A seed had been planted, as much in his head as mine.

I left the pizzeria, not only satiated from the final sorbet send-off, but with the hope and belief that, if I could just get the dough done right, mix in that secret ingredient (and a few others), there’s a very teeny tiny chance that I just might be onto something…IMG_9768Stay tuned. The Secret Ingredient(s) & Bali Bagel Lab Project, Phase II, returns this summer…

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A Semblance of Home

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Every so often, liviIMG_0101ng in Ubud, but more specifically WALKING in Ubud, tests the limits of my patience – and my definition of home.

I get tired or frustrated by all the hawkers and taxi drivers that wave me down, then start up one-sided conversations with me – all in a bid to get my attention and fare. Occasionally, I plug into my MP3, but on the days that I do not, and when I’m not in the mood to play along with their antics, I can get worn down fairly easily. Sometimes it also magnifies my sense of solitude. Which is why it’s so important for me to pay attention to the flip side and the minutiae…

By the flip side, I mean the Balinese locals who are my acIMG_9409quaintances and friends, the ones I’ve met outside the realm of money-exchange; or at least whom I’m no longer bound – and our relationships no longer defined – by the almighty rupiah.

Last week, a day after my friend L left (after visiting me for 2 weeks, I felt her absence sharply), I walked about and bumped into a number of locals I’d not seen in a long time: Dewa (who was once a massage therapist of mine), then Ike (with whom I lived for awhile last summer), and then Komang – who I knew had mIMG_2730oved to North Bali, but was now also separated from her husband, and came to Ubud for a few hours to run an errand.

Such sweet meetings left me feeling stunned and appreciative that these friends, whom I’d not seen in many months, stopped and greeted me as if I’d just seen them the week before.

A few days later, a man holding a TIMG_2790AXI sign, walked by me, waved and seemed surprised that I didn’t recognize him. I’m the driver that always says hi to you, he exclaimed. I didn’t want to burst his bubble, telling him that he is one of maybe 137 taxi drivers in this town that say ‘hi’ to me – followed by the inevitable, yes, taxi please? I nodded, apologized for my oversight and smiled as we parted. Even then, though not, strictly speaking, a friend, here was another local who recognized me and stopped to say hi.

Then yesterday morning, not more than five minutes after I’d left my front door on my way to yoga class, Dewa (another Dewa) called out to me from behind as he approached by motorbike, then slowed down to fill me in on his English teaching stints and upcoming retreats. And, then moments after he scooted off, I turned the cIMG_3332orner, heard more honking and again heard my name called out; it was Tami – driving a spanking new white car instead of a motorbike – on her way to work. Despite the line of bikes behind her, she slowed down long enough to wave, smile and ask: apa kabar? (how are you?)

And finally, just this morning, on my way back from a movement and art session, the incessant honking behind me was followed by a white pickup truck slowing down beside me, hands flailing inside and out the windows, and a familiar voice calling my name. It was Gede, visa agent and driver extraordinaire, dressed up in traditional garb, smiling from ear to ear as he passed; an unimaginably long bunch of palm leaves (I think?) piled into the back, a mass trailing out and onto the road. Nothing unusual about the sight – as long as you’re in Bali.

As I continued to walk, Gede kept honking and wIMG_2657aving out the window. I ambled down a quieter stretch of road on the way to yoga, pondering these spontaneous outbursts of kinship and unexpected encounters. Although I would generally say that, by sheer numbers, I know more expats in Ubud than locals, these mini-reunions left me wondering… not only that I’ve lived here long enough to have developed a semblance of home, but that as in all things in Bali, culture, and religion, we learn to acknoIMG_3296wledge that our lives are comprised of balance, reflected most tangibly in poleng (customary and, at times sacred, B&W checked material): black and white, good and evil, positive and negative, easy and hard, joy and struggle.

The taxi drivers and hawkers, they are reminders, as much as my Balinese acquaintances and friends are, of this fine and delicate balance. And of the vagaries associated with the place I now call home..

So, what’s your (current) definition of HOME?

 

A Slightly Manic Morning

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So if you get a virus when the internet at your guesthouse has suddenly cut out, with no explanation, and no notion of when it will be up again, and then you venture over to your trusted little computer store tucked away in Peliatan, you might find yourself squatting in their back room, where the four technicians are normally squirreled away for most of the day, unless (like today)  three of them are out on ‘house calls’ and the fourth, who should have shown up at 9 is now not expected to arrive till one hour later, apparently because his motorbike broke down (one of many perfectly acceptable excuses for delay in Bali – along with a ceremony or funeral), so that you’re crouched down in that rabbit hole all by yourself, surrounded by towering shelving units, stacked up to the ceiling with ancient hard drives, outdated ink jet printers, keyboards now sprouting mold and crumpled pieces of paper where once there were number keys, faded but unopened cardboard boxes piled high, power bars, digital doodads, computer screens, all framed by the graying hospital green paint peeling off the walls, a pair of fluorescent green plastic stools, a poster advertising the ASUS brand – together with the requisite skimpily-clad model with windblown hair, barely still taped onto the wall, giving you that come hither look which I’m assuming is meant to be shorthand for buy me, and an empty cartridge holder now containing the remnants of several cigarette butts, poking out like a mini sculptural testament to the recycling possibilities of used computer parts.

A mid-size fan, designed for a desk, is instead mounted on the outer edge of the shelving unit, teetering precariously above your head, creaking as it turns its wiry face from one wall to the other, blowing the occasional poof of air across the top of your head.

You’d be right to expect, on an otherwise normal Monday morning, that the internet connection at this hole-in-the-wall shop would be up to par and foolproof (because, did I mention that it’s a dedicated computer repair shop, never mind that an internet tower of skyscraperian heights looms right across the street) but of course things are not as they should be, because internet connection in Bali is never ever guaranteed (never mind what others might make you believe) so much so that even a rain shower is a perfectly acceptable excuse for the internet to be down.

So you wonder what you’re supposed to do when you’ve miraculously succeeded to track down a live human being on the other end of the line, yes at the 1-800  number you dialed for technical support, and the internet is failing, and your pulsa (phone credit) is getting eaten away while you wait so patiently for the good angels of the internet to do their thing, and you realize that it’s a perfect opportunity to ask the very patient Jorge on the other end of the line, who has by the way, at this point already quite swiftly in the 2.5 seconds of internet connection that did work, managed to take over control of your computer remotely (which is just fine by you, because quite frankly with a virus of this magnitude, you want nothing more than to hand over ALL control of your laptop to anyone who might understand what needs to be done) and when you ask Jorge what the internet is like in his part of the world – oh, by the way, Jorge, where do you live? – and he replies that the internet connection in the Philippines is pretty good and reliable, but you hear a lilt in his voice, or is it a sigh of sympathy, because it’s entirely possible that word has already made its way to Manila, to his colleagues, that the internet in your particular pocket of Asia is not quite up to their speed, but he is kind enough not to snicker in your ear nor to question how long it might be before the internet is up again, so you continue with the chitchat, while you do double-duty asking Nengah when the internet might work again, and he flashes a big smile that needs no words and you plead with Jorge to stay on the line because lord knows how long it will take to get through technical support again if your call disconnects (which it finally does, but only because your cell phone has suddenly dropped on the ground, breaking apart, causing you very nearly to fall into panic mode, but Jorge saves the day by typing very quickly into the dialogue box (in the nano-second that the internet is back on) that you’ve not lost him which makes you breathe such a loud sigh of relief that a few other technicians saunter into their office that by now you have completely taken over, but they just smile and leave no doubt wondering when the tamu (foreign) woman who is squatting on the floor amidst a jungle of not-so-high-tech gadgets and gizmos will finally take her leave so they can get to work.

Eventually, as most things do, the internet is back on, Nengah cheers, Jorge does his thing on your laptop, which affords you some time to lean back and watch with awe (and total incomprehension) at the movement that swishes across your screen, message and folder boxes opening and closing, with the occasional question that Jorge types into the box awaiting your reply.

And all the time, you glance over at Nengah’s screen atop the table, cautiously waiting, praying, hoping that just this once, OM please shanti OM, the internet will stay afloat and that your man in Manila will shake out that virus, clean out your discs and your drives and turn out to be the blessed, unseen and unsung hero to avert further panic, sign off and save the day (and your data).

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