Friday, July 22, 2011

I Love Bali

At this very moment, I'm sitting at the Laughing Buddha Bar, located on Monkey Forest Street in Ubud, Bali. I shit you not. I just finished my fourth Arak Obama (Arak is the local Rice liquor), since this drink is 2 for 1 during their happy hour, and I just had to. Also it's a great drink, think Mohito with a shot of cranberry. The music here is super chill, with hints of Bob Marley, Jazzy and latin elements all mixed in. Plus I'm sitting on the most comfortable couch I've encountered in my life...and trust me, I'm a good judge of these things. The light is dimmed down a bit to add a calming, intimate quality to the ambiance. Very good vibes indeed.

Probably the perfect place for me to hang out for my last night in Bali, and last night in Asia (well tomorrow I'll be in transit and sleeping in Singapore's airport) to round off an incredible 11 month stint (actually 10 month, if we consider my month back in the States). I also couldn't help myself, since I got those 3 little laughing buddha statues from this random Indian man in KL last August, and I did have some incredible luck this past year, so why not honor this great symbol.

So I've been in Ubud for 4 full days now, and it has been amazing. The ideal place for me to finish off this year (naturally). Let me paint a picture of this place, what I've been up to here, and why I'm so in love with Bali.

I did minimal planning for this trip, and I thought this would be the right way to go about things. Day before flying here, I called the number for this homestay (Putu Putera) I had found out about online, as being a cheap and authentically Balinese place to stay. I arrived late in Ubud from the airport in Denpasar, and got to Tebesaya street where my homestay was. There was some sort of show going on in the middle of the street, and it was impossible to find the address of this place. This show involved elaborately and colorfully costumed people with equally elaborate and colorful painted faces. People donned in very traditional Hindu wear crowded the all around the 3 meter radius of this show, with hysterical laughter echoing the streets. What a welcome for me, right?  But where would I stay that night...after some more searching, I decided to just settle for a different homestay, since there was one at every turn. I ended up at Nyoman Mama's Homestay. Mama was very nice and immediately showed me to my room. I was so struck by the whole ambiance of the place- the altar, statues, strong very traditional looking and I thought at first about whether this was real/authentic to the culture or potentially a tourist gimmick. Pretty soon just walking along this block and seeing people sitting around this show, I realized this was the real way of life here, and that made me exuberant to be in the midst of such a beautiful society and culture. For a short while I chatted with Mama's daughter, Maddie, about her experiences working in Washington D.C. and her decision to go back home, to her much more relaxed, more culturally rich, less workaholic, home, here in Ubud. Then I was encouraged to enjoy the last night of this show, which is a typical way of celebrating and blessing newly erected buildings here in Bali. Just wish I understood all the jokes that incited this furry of laughter erupting every few seconds. I mean gestures and the face paint were enough to do it for me.

Bali -2

Bali -7
Bali -9
Mama later explained just how tight-knit these communities are, and how she has held her homestay since the 1970s, when things started to get touristy here.

Next day I oriented myself around Ubud by just strolling around, taking it all in. I was amazed by all the shops displaying art of many varieties, whether they be paintings, wood carvings, countless other trinkets. I instantly felt myself become connected to this place, but there's no surprise there. Felt very inspired by the energy of this place, and whipped out my camera to see what I could capture. I stumbled upon this pond, full of ducks, and right near some rice fields. Here's what I ended up with:
How did the duck cross the pond?
Bali -18

Anyways, I just took it easy my entire time in Ubud. Walked around, found cool places to hang out in, did some writing and reading, started putting this year in perspective a bit. Did pretty minimal thinking about starting school, since there's not much I can really do now to get myself ready aside from making the most of this relaxing, heart-warming experience. Also I found the homestay I was originally supposed to stay in (it was next door to Mama's homestay but slightly hidden), and ended up living there the rest of my time in Ubud. It was about half the price of Mama's, though kind of nicer and more homely. Basically Maddie, the woman who runs the place now, just had some spare rooms on the second floor and made a bed&breakfast out of it. Banana pancakes and ginger tea to my heart's delight.

But my second full day here, I did this bike tour around rice paddy fields outside of Ubud. It's through a company called P.T. Bali Budaya, which started the first ever Eco-cycling tour here. This tour has gone on to become pretty famous, even recently written up in the NY Times. I was told it was a must-do, and I was not disappointed. 35km, mostly downhill, alongside 8 dutch tourists, while Balinese kids run up to give me high-fives. This is the stuff of Life.

I found Ubud really similar to Bhutan in some sense, though with a more alternative and far more developed flavor. For one, the internet here made my heart skip a beat. It was unsettlingly quick, which definitely made me think about how overwhelming NYC might be, and that adjusting back might present some challenges. Some weeks or months back, I thought that it would be so great to have high speed internet again- that I would not have to waste time waiting for sites to load, etc...but then recently, I realized in that time I would usually spend waiting, I usually would think and reflect a lot...but when things load instantaneously, there's no time for contemplation, it's just constant external stimuli being fed to my brain...sounds exhausting to me. Gosh I guess I've changed a bit.

Other highlights of my time here:
-best chocolate mousse since London last year (top two ever)
-best coconut pie at a modest Indonesian restaurant called "Bendi"
-excellent Blueberry muffins
-met Wyman (common name here, since every first born child is named that), a friend/driver who showed me how the Balinese do their spectacular wood carving. It can take well over a month to complete many of these beautiful works.
-everyone here wants to drive you around town, sell you some nice art, rent you their bike, and prepare you some food...for a cost obviously, but I marvel and how much these guys diversify their work.
-tried kopi lewak, which is coffee prepared after having been digested and fermented by the intestinal tract of the civet cat (then cleaned diligently). The taste was not noticably traceable from its origin, if you catch my drift...less sour, more bitter than other unfermented coffee blends.
Bali -19

- made a dent in this great book I'm reading. It's called work, sex, money: real life on the path to mindfulness. It's everything I've been working for and the journey of self-discovery I've been making this year starting from past years. All summed up pretty well in this book. Well more than summed's fleshed out brilliantly, eloquently, more specifically, concretely, with more wisdom than I've been able to really do on my own...I've sensed these changes in me...but reading these words is just music to my ears because i know it rings so true for me...for what im shooting for with my life. What is all this mumbo-jumbo I'm rambling about. Simply put, Lucid Living distilled in layman's terms:

It's about seeing the energy and creativity inherent in everyday life situations. Being aware of what's going on around you and in your life, right now, this very second, and engaging with it, providing the path of least resistance, and funneling all of your creative wisdom and sense of humor into this very moment. Pretty straightforward, right? It should be, but it takes some work to get. Also takes a certain emotional intelligence to begin to take the right approach to this philosophy. So that's been the secret to my year in some least how I set out to make this year work for me.

oh shoot...the five key on my laptop just snapped off...Now I'm gonna be hard pressed to express laughter in thai (5 in thai is pronounced "ha" and this is why Thai people sometimes write or type 55555 to express laughter online).

By the end of this post, I've moved to xl lounge shisha bar. There's a live band here playing very feel good music...One Love....let's get together and feel alright...

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