Returning from my morning swim in Penestanan, I ambled up the incline through a gully that lies between Campuhan and Ubud’s Jalan Raya, a short stretch of jungle-thick trees overhanging the road from steeply angled patches on either side. It was too early still for an umbrella. I was deep in thought as I walked. Then, without warning, a chunk of grey cinder block came falling, seemingly out of nowhere, bounced onto my right shoulder and off onto the sidewalk.
My first reaction was: oh! a bunch of naughty boys, standing on the road above, throwing stones down at unsuspecting tamu (foreigners). Craning my neck, I didn’t see anything at first; then stepped back slightly onto the road (to ensure I wasn’t going to have a head-on collision with a speeding motorbike). No sight of boys, girls, any human being. But one step further back and there he was, the little culprit: a rooster, snooping around, unintentionally knocked over a broken piece of rock.
So here’s my existential question of the day: What do you do when you’ve almost been knocked out cold by a ROOSTER? Why, like so many stranger-than-fiction incidents that happen in Bali, laugh it off of course.
What do you do when you trip over yourself, fall down in full view of two or more Balinese, and they begin to giggle, laugh and stare? Well, I’d say that – after a brief period when you are likely to be uber-irate – you pick yourself up, brush off the dirt and keep on walking.
Or if your daily walks are interrupted by the strangest manner of obstacles; not only rollercoaster-grade steep inclines and descents every few meters on the sidewalks, nor motorcycles, cars and food carts parked smack dab in your path, but also gaping holes filled with tree limbs or brooms, signaling to the oncoming pedestrian – if their attention could be caught in time – that a flying leap (or sidestep into oncoming traffic) is in order? Don’t you just have to shake and scratch your head, keep safe and let it go?
What do you do when you discover that the person staying in the room next to yours is paying close to half the price that you’re dishing out (no, it’s not happened to me… yet)? You eat humble pie, realize they’ve done a better job negotiating a lower rate, and either suck it up or set about re-negotiating with the owners.
What do you do when, after getting lost amongst the rice fields, you re-emerge into civilization only to discover a multi-million dollar palatial residence in mid-construction, slated to be the future home for one of Ubud’s so-called princes, and largely subsidized by tourists’ ‘donations’?
And what are you supposed to do when, for the eighteenth time in a day, a bored taxi driver waves his laminated four-color flyer IN your face, shamelessly flogging his services thus: “Sexy driver, sexy price, sexy tour” and calls out “Yes, transport? Taxi? Where you go?” moments after you have walked by? You might breathe deeply, wish that you were capable of escaping this relentless noise pollution, then turn to the guy and say: Mungkin punya anda kapal, pesawat udara atau helikopter? Maybe you have a ship or airplane or helicopter?
There are endless opportunities in this city, on this island, for misunderstandings, for getting one’s feathers ruffled, for losing one’s cool. I’d gander that most ex-pats would agree. And yet, turning these incidents on their head, seeing them from a nonsensical or ephemeral perspective, remembering that most Balinese are not endowed with the (same) common sense that Westerners tap into, helps us laugh them off (often), forget (most of the time), and just carry on.
Indeed, as I turned the corner to my street, a tune swept into my mind, causing me to break out into (quiet) song:
AND SHE WILL ALWAYS CARRY ON
SOMETHING IS LOST
BUT SOMETHING IS FOUND
THEY WILL KEEP ON SPEAKING HER NAME
SOME THINGS CHANGE
SOME STAY THE SAME
And for reasons that only made sense later, I found those lyrics so utterly RIGHT. ON.