Love Balinese Style

I don’t know how snakes and snails do it, nor how dragonflies or butterflies do it, but for the past five minutes I’ve been watching a couple of pigeons outside my window do it…cooing + flapping wings = flirting and mating, that is. Bali’s also been an easy enough place (i.e. you can’t avoid it) to see dogs coupling, their touching butts and bored faces a signal that the deed is nearly done.

It’s gotten me curious about customs of mating and dating in Bali – at least where cross-cultural pairings are at issue.

A few days ago, Kadek’s friend B and I were walking down a quiet road lined with paddies, banyan trees and homes of locals; not a foreigner in sight – unsurprising as we were in Mas. In broken English, peppered with a nervous laugh so typical of the (sometimes) shy Balinese, B tried to explain how he had recently fallen in love with two foreign women, one Austrian the other Japanese; and how they had both broken his heart – pata hati (crushed heart).

B then proceeded to ask, what about you? Not sure what he meant, so I asked… to which he replied (with a giggle): Do you want to be my girlfriend? Like a scene straight out of a grade six, after-the-dance, dialogue between two shy tweens. To say that I was baffled would be an understatement. The directness of his query caught me completely off guard. Ummm.. hmmm… what to say, what to say…

So I gave him an answer which, in retrospect, would qualify as nothing more than a pitiful response; a futile attempt to be clear about my intention to remain just friends, and yet not hurt his feelings.

That exchange was a bit trickier than another awhile back, which made me realize just how different men approach the topic of relations; here, more often than not, they do not beat around the bush; they just get to the point whatever the outcome may be.

A local taxi driver that I’ve hired a few times recently sent me a series of text messages in quick succession that, at the time, I attributed to despair. Putu’s sense of urgency also took me by surprise (shock more like it). I saved a few of his messages (mainly because of the curiosity factor):

Amit you can help me you have girl friend available because I want get girl friend but not Balinese

(to which I replied: why not a Balinese girlfriend?)

I don’t like Balinese girl I like foreigner girls also older than me please

(I didn’t have anyone in mind, so I didn’t reply)

You can help me amit? Find foreigner girl

(And then this one)

Amit I am really need your help to get girl friend I don’t care where she from but not Balinese

Shortly after which I ran into Putu lazing at his usual corner of the street and asked him why it was so important that he only have a foreign girlfriend. Is it because you want to leave Bali? I asked. Yes, he said without skipping a beat, and Balinese women want too much from me, I am not rich enough.

Poor Putu & B, their hopes transparent, their hearts broken their notions of love and romance dashed; speaking so honestly of dire loneliness, desire – and an image of mated bliss that appears within grasp, just a text message away… but yet so illusory.

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