A ‘Hood In Flux

After two months away from Bali, my home for more than 6 years, I’ve returned and begun to settle in. Only this time, there’s been a seismic shift.

Sure, I’m thrilled to see that the markesa (passionfruit) vine has spread its leafy wings across the top of my entryway. And Blackie, despite my two-month absence, greets me by leaping wildly as I crouch down to pat her. It’s been wonderful to see friends again, return to a morning yoga practice, and I’ve almost melted into the table for each massage. And I’ve thanked my landlord profusely for doing the unexpected during my absence; replacing my bathroom sink with a functional wooden commode – way more than I could have hoped for.

I’ve enjoyed catching up with some of my Balinese neighbours – the laundry ladies, my tailor (who danced for me), the skinny local who high-fives whenever he drives by with a smile that beams me up, the metal-smith with perpetually blackened hands, the priest’s wives (yes, 2 wives) and my Israeli-Indonesian friends, whose family, despite three kids sprouting fast, manages to squeeze all five of them onto a scooter at once.

But.

The bottleneck on the road a stone’s throw from my house has worsened. Measurably. Gridlock, once concentrated in Ubud’s center, a short drive down, has migrated its noxious fumes, noises and oversized tourist buses all the way up here – not long ago a sanctuary of calm amidst green rice paddies.

This tiny excuse of a barely-two-lane road forces everyone to jostle for space at once. It’s fraught with a cacophony of loud sounds and unsightly sights; souped-up motocross-worthy motorbikes, rambling stray dogs, kids racing each other on bicycles, delivery trucks, pickup trucks, garbage trucks, (monster trucks are waiting in the wings), trucks bearing chickens, pigs, trees, Balinese families dressed in traditional costume – all of whom try to skirt around massive mounds of black volcanic gravel that effectively block off an entire lane, while workers unload bricks, beams and boulders. Then, accelerating, they leave massive black clouds of lead trailing behind. Everyone seems to be in a hurry.

From precisely 8 am until well past quitting time (exceptions are legendary here), I’m completely surrounded by incessant hammering, banging, drilling, circle-sawing, tile-cutting and lathing. Screeching sounds appear in the bonus round. It’s deafening.

The Kicen Laundry, once quietly nestled at the roadside, between and across expansive rice fields, is now all but swallowed up by the incessant commotion, dust and debris at its doorstep: non-stop construction of homes and a garage across the road – plus the unimaginable: a new road that someone just decided needed to be made and now layered up with limestone (Got a permit? Zoning regulations allow for this kind of thing? Probably not. But really: who cares?).

This adhoc road runs parallel to, and cleanly abuts a narrow stone path with a row of homes hedging one side of that path, all the way to the jungle at the back end. Until now, until this nonsensical road appeared, a wide and willowy swath of rice field ran all the way until… the horizon line. Even the sunrise is being dug up, disappearing from view.

As if all that weren’t enough, a new restaurant has popped open almost overnight (hello, zoning laws?), between the laundry and a house under boisterous renovation. They’ve barely raised their bamboo shades, planted flowers, laid bricks and tablecloths, and already they’ve posted a sentry waitress at roadside who wastes no time inviting me in as I saunter by.

The place is, curiously, called Warung Titi. Any day now, social media will be burning up with selfies snapped in front of the sign.

On my way home, I spot a trio of twenty-somethings hanging out on a field, one of whom wields a massive camera and lens. Another, barely out of high school, is doing some kind of new-agey twirl with skimpy clothing and midriff in full view, for the photographer’s benefit. I’m momentarily struck by the sight of them flailing about – on sacred land that holds the village cemetery. The following day, in the same spot, a young man kneels with his infant daughter in his arms, urging her to empty her bowels.

I’m not sure what the Balinese make of all these bulés who frolic for photo-ops or crouch to pee atop their ancestors’ graves. (But it made me cringe.)

Still, all that pales beside this: A few nights ago, at a distance of perhaps 50 meters away, I heard unfamiliar sounds (in these parts). Extraordinarily loud voices. Laughing. Hysterics. Yelling. Until almost 2 a.m. Unheard of in this neighbourhood. I wondered: Locals or foreigners? Hmmm.. the latter. What do those sounds remind me of? Oh yes: Animal House. Frat parties. Drunken raucous students. Beach week. Cheap beer. Vacation. Oh no.

Wait a minute. Sounds like… Seminyak. Legian. Kuta.

A day I’d rather forget is the one when my little corner of Ubud, that once was quiet Kutuh, morphed into just another Kuta. And so it goes…

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