Monday, February 29, 2016

The first day of autumn

Today is the first day of autumn. I love autumn’s cooler nights. I love the way the angle of the sun changes and it starts to hit different places in my house. The quality of light alters as well. The sky seems bluer than it does at other times of year. No doubt there’s a scientific reason for this but I’m not concerned to discover it. Trees start to colour their leaves red, orange and yellow before discarding them in a brown skirt around their trunk. No less joy than I recall as a child is had walking through piles of leaves when I don’t have to sweep them up. Sweeping them out with my feet and legs, noisily crunching them underfoot is still a delight.

I’m enjoying the library at school and taking advantage of the new range of books at my disposal. I’ve started on my ‘to read’ list.

I devoured Lily Brett’s ‘Lola Bensky’ and even looked for more in the library. Margaret Attwood’s ‘Cat’s Eye’ I read because I’d heard of her for many years though had never read any of her books. Robert Dessaix I had also heard of but could get past the first few pages of ‘Night Letters’. Perhaps when my bedside piles of books withers down somewhat I’ll try something else of his.

Right now I’m the middle of Marina Keegan ‘The Opposite of Loneliness’ which is a collection of essays and stories from a young American writer who died young a few years ago. I like her work so far -earnest without being pappy and definitely relatable.

 A recurrent theme I’m finding is that I enjoy writers who keep things simple for me as a reader. By no means am I suggesting that it is simple to write such simplicity though. There are no words that I need to check the meaning of, no tricky action to follow that my ‘dyslexia’ would trip me up with. Word use is concise, efficient yet still eloquent. This is something to aim for myself.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

no latte for Lily

Short Fiction 

Lily was wiping down the tables, her regulation green cleaning cloth was the standard Starbucks green to match her shirt and peaked cap. The wide arc of her reach she was sure was only spreading the germs across the table rather than actually removing them. Who really knew what was in the label-less spray bottle they were issued with.

Her manager, Howie, may have been outwardly enthusiastic for all procedures Starbuckian but surely no person was actually like that. Perhaps he was an automaton, she daydreamed, installed by the Head Office hierarchy to brainwash the employees. She wondered if his bed linen at home was also Starbuck green. Did he dream of matcha green tea lattes or mocha frappes with a caramel twist?

She roused herself from her mental tangent to see Howie tapping his watch in her direction. She glanced up at the omnipresent clock behind the till and was grateful to see that her time was up. It was a job she had to keep reminding herself to be grateful for. It wasnt glamorous and it wasnt even engaging most of the time but it did mean that she could pay the rent to do the things that she wanted to do.

At high school when the careers counsellor was doing the rounds with her class, Lily had foolishly said that she didnt actually want a career. Such talk wasnt acceptable at the private girls’ school that her father worked 6 days and 1 night in order to send her to. Lily had only wanted to practice her art. She never bothered to think about the fact that this world required an income in order to navigate it successfully.

Apron swiftly removed as she ducked behind the counter and into the staff room, she clocked out, hat thrown in her locker and well-loved denim jacket thrown over her shirt to disguise her uniform. She had a date. A coffee date of all things. Lily didnt even drink coffee. She wasnt exactly thrilled that Mr. Potential had chosen this Starbucks as their meeting point but she always let her dates choose the meeting place and she would privately judge them as they did so. Perhaps they could grab a quick takeaway and go for a walk. The sunshine of an autumn afternoon was always her favourite time to walk. The quality of light was so crisp that it made colours seem richer and more distinct than any other time of year. The sky never looked as blue as it did on an autumn afternoon.

She took a couch near the front door, sinking down into the soft pleather cushions and dug out her phone to send Mr. Potential a text letting him know she was there. No response. Okay, she waited a minute. Who these days doesnt have the phone glued to their hand? she thought.

She wondered about a follow up text to let him know she was on the first couch in on the right but thought better of it. Dont want to appear too eager she decided. A bit of Facebook browsing to take her mind of it. Seven minutes later, she glanced up at the clock behind the till just in case her phone clock was wrong. It wasnt. It never was.

She checked Messenger, her emails and all the other apps she used but there was no message from whom she was now beginning to call Mr. Not -so –potential.

Who chooses Starbucks as a place for a first date anyway she thought.

Almost half an hour had passed and she was sick of the inquiring looks from her co-workers she decided to step outside. They knew she was single and dating but she didnt anyone else judging her dates. Her mother was bad enough, asking too many questions, expecting each new suitor to be the white knight to save Lily from this eternal hell of low paid work. Lily wasnt looking for a white knight. She fancied a co-conspirator. Someone to join her own adventures, someone to nourish her, someone to tend to her wounds, someone who would turn up to a coffee date on time for starters.

One more text to Mr. Not-so-potential so, hi. Just checking that it was today we were going to meet?

Nothing. No response. She wasn’t just being stood up physically but she was also being stood up digitally. She checked his profile on the dating website. She typed in his moniker – nothing. No profile appeared. That was odd.

She walked up to the corner and back down again. The sun had started to drift down pushing its rays through the leaves of the trees. Shafts of yellow, orange and red danced in the gentle breeze. She pulled her jacket tighter around her, doing up the buttons to keep in her warmth. Melbourne autumn days definitely provided a taste of all four seasons in the one day. Layers were her sartorial friend.

One more trip to the corner and then Im out of here she thought.

The day was cooling quickly as she walked the dozen or so paces to the corner. She loitered. She turned and looked down both footpaths but Mr. Not-so-potential was nowhere to be seen. She dug her phone out of her back pocket, its blank screen giving her nothing.

Forty minutes. An eternity. she decided. She threw her phone in her bag disgusted at its lack of help and walked off towards her flat. Stuff him she thought. Mr. Absolutely-no-potential just lost his chance!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Dreaming a reality - draft 2

Dreaming a reality

Six months or so after I separated from my husband, his father died. He had been ill for about 18 months with mesothelioma so his death was not unexpected. What was unexpected was being banned from his funeral by my mother in law. This man I had known for 16 years and was grandfather to my daughters. This man who I had accidentally walked in on whilst he was showering because he’d forgotten to lock the bathroom door. This man who had never said a harsh word to me. This was the man I was not allowed to say goodbye to.

My in laws were British if that helps explain some things. Ironically my new partner hails from England but his parents are so much warmer and friendlier than ‘being British’ might presume. My ex in-laws were cool and formal to begin with and things rarely changed went up from there. Both my own family and theirs had two daughters and two sons but they couldn’t have been more different. Upon arrival at my siblings’ or parents’ house, you were greeted in the driveway, escorted inside, your parcels taken from your hands to be replaced immediately by a drink and something to eat.  Our impromptu drop-ins were greeted with a smile, a cup of tea and an offer to stay for a meal. I couldn’t imagine any of my family moving further than an hour’s drive from one another let alone half across the world as my in laws had done – twice.

When I left my husband, I’d not moved very far at all from the marital home. I had read research that linked close geographical proximity to the ease of separation for the children. In fact, we had even done some joint counselling when we first separated to put in place strategies for making it smooth for our young daughters. Being brutally honest, I never meant to leave my husband permanently. I wanted some space and time apart so that I could hopefully rediscover what it was about him that attracted me in the first place. Domestic routine had clouded my eyes. I wanted to date him.  I longed for the simple experience of seeing him across the street and wanting to call out to him. I wanted there to be things I looked forward to tell him about my day. I wanted to be excited. I didn’t think it was too much to ask.

The small rented house I had moved into was in the next street. Without fences, the children could easily come and go between the houses. The fall of the land mean that neither house looked out directly onto the other so some privacy and distance could be had. This was the first time I’d ever rented a house in my life. I was in my early thirties and living on my own, albeit with two young children half of the time, for the very first time.
Soon I had managed to secure some part time work and as it turned out I was working the day of my father in law’s funeral. Serendipity was in my corner that day, as the carport at my new accommodation   fell down crushing the unpacked boxes and detritus from moving that had been left underneath. If I wasn’t working that day then I certainly would have been home, car parked in the carport as it wasn’t as if I had anything else to attend – like say a funeral.

My two primary school aged daughters had free choice as whether or not to attend the funeral.  Although it was a scheduled school day, they had been sat down and explained what was going to happen, who was going to be there and what their options were. They had been sheltered from their grand-dad’s illness until it was impossible to keep the secret any longer. We had wanted them to continue to have positive interactions with their grandfather rather than be worried about every little cough. They were both still young and this was the first death of a close family member that had really any significant impact on them.

Separating from my husband was one of the hardest things I had ever done, so this was a time of heightened stress for all of us. I endeavoured mostly just to get through each day whilst shielding from daughters from how strung out I truly felt. I wasn’t sure what normality meant anymore. I mention this because, with hindsight, I can see that small things had an amplified impact on me emotionally. The day of the funeral came and went and I did what I usually did – went about my life in a numbed state. The next day came and went, then another day and another day as they have a habit of doing.

 I don’t recall precisely the first time it happened. I was most likely running errands at the local shopping strip.  I was going about my business with my head down, a habit I had recently developed to avoid making eye contact which would lead to unwanted conversations. This was a dangerous place. I might run into other school mums who would adopt the concerned face whilst asking ‘how are you...really?’ nodding with their head to the side to indicate sincerity all the while hoping for some sign of a break down to gossip about later at the school gate.
Further ahead on the street, portions of beige or grey clothing and balding head were glimpsed through moving bodies. Immediately, I knew logically that it couldn’t be my father -in-law as he had been buried months before. That didn’t stop me pushing past people trying to get a closer look. If I could just get closer, then I’d know. Stepping left and right, two paces ahead, then stop, wait, now to the left. It was like playing a three dimensional game of hop-scotch to no avail. I stopped in my tracks, breathing heavily. At only five foot tall, it’s hard to locate people in a crowd and I’d lost him.
What made me think it was David?  It’d odd how little can be seen of someone we know so well for us to recognise them. It’s not just what their hair colour is, or the style of clothes they wear or even their gait. I’m curious about the idea of doppelgangers. If there is someone or multiple some ones like me out there in the world, do they walk like me? Talk like me? Laugh like me? Or only look physically like me? Maybe there’s a punk me, a nerd me and a hipster me. That’s quite a comforting thought really. Seeing David’s doppelganger in the same suburbs was too coincidental surely.

This would happen a few months later and months again after that. I kept trailing the Davids I saw, going into shops I had never been into and down streets I’d never walked. I began to get used to it and no longer found it strangely confusing. I began to just smile to myself knowing that I was seeing something no one else could see. In fact, I think I began to find it mildly comforting. Maybe we don’t disappear into thin air when we die after all.

 Life went on and ‘us little three family’ as I began to call us got on with things. School, work, newly formed habits of how we spent our time filled out lives. Six months down the track, we moved out of the temporary rental property and into our own proper home. I’d come to realise my pipedream of wanting to date my husband was something that only I had wanted. He didn’t want to date me. He wanted to still be married to me in the same manner it had previously been. He couldn’t see the need for change. One year on with divorce formalising things and life started to develop its own rhythm.

It was probably five or so years later than I had the dream. I have always loved my wild and crazy dreams though I’ve always felt I’m really the only one who finds them interesting. Dreams are like illnesses, few people really care enough to want to know the details.
 In my dream, I was in a crowded public place. It may have been a small town festival in a park or field somewhere. It’s one of those places that feel familiar even though I can’t tell you exactly where the place is. There were many people surrounding me and him, though he was at the same time separate from them. Slowly I approached, as I had done so many times in real life, though this time I was confident it was him.

It was one of those golden autumn afternoons with the sun low in the sky. “David?” I asked as I reached out for his shoulder, though I already knew it was him. He turned to face me. The sun was behind him, its glare making it difficult to discern any facial features. I moved around so I could clearly see his face. The fading sun formed a corona around his head.
He was smiling at me with that warm smile he always had. He was looking down towards me taller than he really was in life. He didn’t say anything to me. That’s not what this dream was about. He looked the same as he always had for the 17 years that I knew him. His photo-reactive glasses half tinted in the setting sun, a small breeze lifting his comb-over in an almost comical way. His short sleeve business shirt that he wore over his white sensible singlet.

I started with what I knew I was here to say.
“David, I just want to thank you for all that you’ve done for me and my daughters. I am so glad that I had a chance to know you. You were a fabulous grandfather to the girls and they are better for knowing you. I am better for having known you. Thank you”

There. It was done. I turned and walked away. I had had my chance to say what I needed to.

I awoke with a smile on my face and a calm start to my day. Rarely did I ever wake early and refreshed in the mornings but that day I did. 

Never again did I see my father in law in the street. I didn’t need to.

Monday, February 22, 2016


It was an item on his bucket list. She was just a passenger along for the ride. He was travelling to the States for work and decided to extend the trip to take advantage of the great Aurora season.  The best time of the month at the best time of the year and they could be in one of the most likely spots on earth to experience it. Far out in the depths of the Yukon Territory they’d be many miles from the nearest town or neighbours. “It’d be a shame not go” he said

Minus 21 degrees was going to be a little colder than she was used to or in fact had ever felt before. He had measured them up and organised the snow gear complete with boots to be there waiting for them. She never fitted into standard clothes easily. She was short and what was politely termed curvaceous. The jacket sleeves reached down passed her knees and the legs were bunched up over her boots that she found it difficult to walk. Of course, out there, there wasn’t really anything to walk to.

Plentiful supplies of booze and food were purchased from town to see them through their five days at the cabin. Dropped off by a large SUV, it would return a week later to pick them up. They had their phones in case of emergencies. Deep wide tyre tracks were all that was left as the truck has disappeared through the black, spiky forest. Expanses of endless white fields merged with the snow covered mountain ranges in the far distance. Soft pinks and lilacs filled the sky as the sun set on their first evening in the log cabin.

Retreating inside, he poured liberal amounts of wine whilst she put out a platter of cheese, meats and bread to nibble on. No stereo system to fill the silence, they resorted to cable TV as their soundtrack for the evening. Food Network shows on repeat would amuse at first, only to grate in the coming days.

Before they left Australia, they had embarked upon their first counselling session together. It was at her insistence. He couldn’t see any problem. She didn’t want things to go on like this.

They’d met through friends at a club, like many do, and things were light and fun to begin with. They knew they had their differences. She had kids. He didn’t want any of his own. He’d lived alone for eight years. She’d dated for the last five. They had a great time together going out with friends for dinner, drinks and parties. She long ago learnt not to bother planning a future too firmly as things never worked out that way. The only thing he planned ahead was holidays. She loved getting away though always looked forward to returning home. He put off returning to reality as long as he could.

Sitting there on the simple wooden chairs in their tiny cabin, with their wet snow gear draped on whatever spare surface could be found  ‘Bobby Flay’s BBQ Bonanza’ rolled on into ‘Cut-throat Kitchen’ marathons. The small tinny TV blared at them, images flickering with the camera zooming in and out trying to create drama from a piece of grilling meat. Outside the darkness rolled in, blanketing the sparse forest surrounding their quaint little cabin.

It was only recently that things had started to turn sour. It was the little things. It usually is. He wanted to go out and some nights she wanted to stay in. She worked weekends. On Friday nights, he’d start drinking the moment he arrived home from work even when they had a big night out planned. His glass would never empty and he’d put on dance music so loud that the neighbours started to complain. It was his Friday night, he said. He was allowed to let his hair down, not that he actually had any. Often she gave in and they went out, dressed to the nines.

 It was only when they were at the club that he became sullen. His chin never inches from a drink; he’d look over the glass watching her. She was a social butterfly and loved the chance to meet new people or catch up with old friends. Middle suburban mum during the week, this was her chance to transform.
She smiled. People bought her drinks and admired her outfits. She preened and spun for her admirers. He leaned against the bar in the corner and scowled. Occasionally he tried the same act but he came off more like an inebriated bumblebee.

 That was when his sulking would really kick in. How come she got the attention and he didn’t. He tried flirting with other women. Many times, people would ask her what he was on. Once his dance moves were enthusiastic and earnest. Now she just felt pity.

Naturally the best viewing hours for the Aurora Borealis would be in the middle of the night. She said that she’d turn in and he promised to wake her if there was anything to see. Solar flares had been active these last few days so things looked promising. The wine bottle clanked in the sink as he reached for a second one. Lights were turned off and he methodically donned his snow gear before stepping out into the black moon-less night. He sat in his chair and hunkered down to wait and watch.

She tossed and turned on the too firm bed. She stretched out to use its full width. Her mind tossed and turned also as she thought back over the last few days. Busy with the machinations of travel, they’d not fought or discussed their counselling session the previous week. She didn’t know if this was a promising sign or not.

As they were passing through town earlier that day she recalled seeing a paddleboat stuck in the frozen Klondike River. Klondike was a name she’d heard of but without context, it had meant nothing. Stuck in winter ice, the historical wooden boat hadn’t gone anywhere in a long time and wasn’t going anywhere soon.

Not long after they arrived in town, they’d found a saloon bar to perch in with a tasting paddle of local beers and the Super Bowl beamed in  live. “Go 49’ers!” they both shouted echoing the raucous rooting of the local clientele. Whitehorse, Canada was as foreign to her as suburban Melbourne would have felt to their new found bar mates. She played along anyway. She knew how to do that.

Unable to easily drift into slumber land thanks to her active mind, she put on her snow boots by the door and threw a thick warm blanket around her. One step into the dry crunchy snow and despite her layers she feels too exposed.
 “Anything yet?” she asks, knowing the answer would be negative. He shakes his head as he looks up at her. She sits on the edge of his chair, his arms not moving to make any more room for her. He fills his glass with more wine but offers her none. It’s that kind of quiet that is deafening in its heavy solid silence.

“I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t be out there either” she thinks when she realises she can’t hear the sounds of any wildlife. She stays only a few minutes and turns to go inside the sanctuary of the lighted warm cabin when she can bear the frigidity no longer. “Too cold. Too quiet. Too still.” she thinks.

“At least there shouldn’t be any tantrums tonight” she says hopefully out loud to no one but herself. Those nights they would return to his place after too many drinks at a club and he would start in. All she would want to do is sleep and all he would do is rage at her for her lack of attention. It seemed he would rather wait until things had gone too far before he said anything. She never knew when a night was going to turn pear-shaped. She never saw any warning signs. At least with her children, she had learnt to recognise the tells beforehand.

She only realises that she was asleep when he shouts from the open door  “Come quickly!” Groggy, she puts on her thick puffy jacket, grabs a scarf and beanie and threads her feet into the boots just inside the door. Turning the light off to enhance the view, she walks away from the veranda to maximise the view of the sky. Turning this way and that, she’s not sure exactly what she’s looking for. She’s seen photos of the Northern lights and knows they’re large wispy green waves of light. Do they move? Do they only last momentarily like lightning? There are some stories she’d read about eerie noises accompanying the lights. She can’t see anything. She can’t hear anything.

At last, he has put down his glass and takes her shoulders in his hands. He turns her slightly and points low towards the horizon. “There” he says quietly. Leaning against him, he rests his cold chin on her bed-warmed hair and without speaking they watch the ribbons of pale green light dance languidly in the sky. In the morning he will show her his photos of the evening.
All she can think is – “some realities delight and some disappoint.”

Musings on my first formal education class in over 20 years

Frustration and a small degree of amusement that I couldn’t get into my Mac to work. I opened it up and didn’t even know where the power switch was located. Eventually I found the close screen button in the corner. Scrolling up and down the page with two fingers was shown to me at the end of the session. Could’ve used that earlier.  The lad sitting along from me fielded my simple questions with no hint of annoyance.

“Why do you keep putting the windows at full screen ?” he asks.

 “So I can see what I’m writing” I say.

For not the first time that morning, I think maybe I should go get my eyes tested during the week.

I don’t exactly need hand-holding but it would have been helpful if the admin had spelled out precisely what format the password needed to be in to be accepted. Computers tend to be fairly black and white. They like their 1’s and 0’s in the absolute correct order.

So I’m in and I’m hoping to have a browse around this thing at my leisure. Although the machines must remain at school (and I signed a declaration to such effect) I think next week after class I’ll hang in the library and do my homework. Both me and the slim silver Mac need to get to know each other.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016


Seated on our green cotton bolsters in the yoga shala or yoga room, the goddesses are assembled in a circle ready for our group meditation. Loose light clothing and the obligatory mosquito repellent to scent my ankles and neck and I’m ready to send love and good vibes to my compadres. Laura, our yoga goddess, looks calm and relaxed in her stretch leggings and loose singlet. Pale blonde hair pulled back off her face, she is the epitome of a yoga teacher. Tall and slim her lithe limbs appear so at home in poses that confuse and elude me though she continues to encourage us “no matter what body turned up for you on the mat this morning.” This morning to finish off our week’s retreat, we have an OM circle. This mantra chanting is supposed to provide vibrational healing both mentally and emotionally.

Laura explains how the session will run with a short personal meditation then the OM circle with the use of mala beads. Mala beads are a string of 108 beads and a central ‘sumeru’ or summit bead.  Essentially the string of beads is a tool to keep the mind on the meditation practice. Made from woods, seeds or crystals, the beads are held in the right hand, rotating them around the circle but never across the summit bead. As to why there are 108 beads on a string of mala beads? Well, there are no doubt 108 answers to this question, most playing with the mathematics of the numerals and how they intersect with the universe.

We each will chant ‘OM’ as a group 108 times. At each interval of 5, one goddess will lay down in the centre of the circle face up with arms outstretched palms upwards. Each will experience the circle differently. No expectations and no pre-conceptions .Focussing on my breath and centring my mind, I get better at the whole omming thing as the chant progresses. When I’m tapped gently on the knee, it’s my turn in the centre. I feel the cool hard floorboards beneath me. Across my skin I sense the breeze from the fan or as I like to think of it the breath of the divine Goddess blowing her healing energy into my abdomen. The work of Papa Bagus yesterday is supported by the Goddess circle this morning. There’s no pain in my intestinal region only a strong awareness of this area.

When we’ve reached the final bead, we are lead through a short prayer and an awakening ritual ready to prepare us for the day ahead. Hands together palms touching at heart centre and gently rub them together to warm then place over our closed eyes, let the early morning light filter in as I slowly blink my eyes open. Stretching the limbs and we all wander over the few paces to our breakfast table.

Platters of brightly coloured tropical fruits are offered up each morning for our viewing and consuming pleasure. Dragonfuit of such a strong shade of fuchsia with tiny black seeds that it looks like a child coloured it in. Snake fruit with scaly brown skin and an off white fibrous perfumed flesh. Mango is less creamy and sweet than I’m used and slightly astringent. Papaya perfectly ripe and not the least bit funky. Mangosteen is a delight once you cut through the thick skin and reveal its sweet white flesh. There are also the tastiest eggs poached or scrambled as you like, seedy brown bread and juices in new combinations each day.

Sitting here at the table, I think about how I’m going to miss having a selection of tasty healthy foods prepared freshly for me at each meal. There will be no limitless spa treatments at my disposal. I, personally, will miss Yeni’s strong fingers tracing the muscles of my back.  My white cotton sheets won’t be changed each day with the corner turned down and a small inspirational affirmation card on my pillow. The lyrical sounds of the housekeeping staff talking to each in Balinese will no longer be a soundtrack to my afternoons lazing on the couches in the lounge.

Good thing I’m looking forward to going home.

Papa Bagus

The small studio is half hidden under more vines and bamboo and I open the French doors and part the cheesecloth curtains to the side. I don’t really know what I’m in for but being open-minded I’m pretty up for whatever might come my way. I’m here for a consultation with a traditional Balinese healer. The other night Kat’s testimony was so compelling that I implored Adriana to see if the healer can find a time to fit me in. A short solid man not much older than myself, though I’m really only guessing, greets me. Softly spoken, his English is much better than my Indonesian. Pak Bagus, or Papa Bagus as the retreat managers refer to him, is dressed simply in a once-white t-shirt and blue batik print shorts with the standard bare feet.

“Why are you here?” he asks simply.  I choose not to dwell on the more philosophical sides of the question but briefly tell him about my diverticulitis last week. Basic words and some hand gesturing later he nods and directs me to lie down. I place my iced water on the side table, untie my sarong and lay face down on the massage table. He places his hands on my back at different intervals and blows gently upon my skin. Soon the pummelling and kneading begin. Without any massage oil, his hands soon warm up even more from the friction of his movements. Over the next two hours, I am alternatively poked and prodded, stroked and manipulated sometimes to the point of discomfort. I can’t decide whether he’s trying to work the bad stuff out or work the good stuff in.

Occasionally I draw in a quick breath when he works on a painful spot. He’s quick to explain that my outer thigh muscles are tender because they correlate to my stomach infection. “Big infection” he repeats time and again. These spots have been tender for quite some time and I know our body bits are all inter-connected but it’s reassuring when these things are reinforced. I roll over at the requested time and the procedure is repeated. Muscles are held first, breath blown then long firm strokes followed up by massage and manipulation with oil. For the first time in my experience, all the massages I am receiving in Bali my stomach is getting its fair share of attention. Papa Bagus is no exception.

I’m glad of this as his ministrations certainly ease some of the tension in my belly. He closes his eyes and his lubed up hands explore, press and release sections of my abdomen. “You tell me if pain” he says and I nod enthusiastically. As he holds firmly in the certain spots just above my pubic line, I feel sharp twinges on my lower left side. I tell him straight away. He nods but doesn’t really let up the pressure. This happens a few more times and I wonder why I’m supposed to mention the pain. Most likely as a distraction technique, he asks me about my family – children, husband and so on. I answer without going into too much confusing detail. He tells me about an Australian group he was dealing with last week and I interject with “It’s my first time in Bali actually.”

“Why?!” he exclaims.  I quickly apologise and explain that I was never interested in the beach and Bintang style of holiday and I didn’t understand what else this island had to offer. I make sure he understands that I recognise my folly and will endeavour in the future to dispel this belief amongst anyone I meet. I wax lyrical about Ubud and its stunning natural beauty, the artisans we’ve seen, the friendly generosity of the people we’ve encountered and the incredible food we’ve eaten. I hope I’ve convinced him that this will not be my last visit to Bali.

Like a rotisserie chicken, I’m oiled and turned, seasoned with spices and turned again. Meanwhile he expounds on his unique skills set “Astrology, astronomy, massage, healer, ceremony “. He pauses for no doubt dramatic effect “magic..”. I leave this last one in the air.

When my time has elapsed, I slowly sit up and find my sarong. Straightening my dishevelled underwear he adds a few last minute prescriptions. “Massage. You need massage in Melbourne. Who can do that?” I reassure him that there are plenty of places I can get massages. He also does his best to explain that I need to work on my gut bacteria. This actually isn’t news to me as I’ve been suffering the last few years every now and then especially with fermented products. Digestively speaking, I’m definitely still very much a work in progress.
I thank him, palms pressed firmly together in front of my chest fingers skyward as is the custom. I slink off back to my room before I have to encounter anyone.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Night swimming Bali style

The gin was only partly to blame really.  We’d brought a litre of Bombay Sapphire with us from Australia from the airport duty free. Imported alcohol is heavily taxed here so although cocktails made with their locally produced spirits are reasonably priced and the local Bintang beer is very cheap, wine and imported spirits are in the out of reach category mostly. The juicy fragrant limes purchased from Denpasar market for ten percent of their Australian cost, cold tonic water with generous amounts of ice and the smiling kitchen staff have mastered the art of a perfect gin and tonic.

A round of drinks before dinner for all the goddesses gathered on the lounges is a perfect conversational lubricant. I suggest that the wines that were brought in by Sarah and Fiona should be opened and placed on the table to share. Holding back and being polite isn’t really my natural style so I walk around the raised bench to the fridge, grab the bottles and do it myself.  Indonesian sate sticks with noodles and snake beans will be perfect with the Koonunga Hill Sav blanc and Cape Mentelle Cab Sav. Both chilled from the fridge, a bucket with iced water is organised to stop them heating up too quickly. The menus here at the retreat are not well described by the word gourmet. Fresh, local and mostly organic produce is combined into a changing selection of meals. The poached eggs I have each morning for breakfast as the most flavoursome I’ve ever tasted.

Conversation flows as easily as the wine. We retire to the comfy couches and I curl my legs up and underneath me, partly to protect them from the hunting mosquitoes. Laughing abounds and some women peel off to retire for an early night, whilst others hunker down with another drink. Nadine insists she’s driving even though her bungalow is only a few metres stroll along the private lane. Sarah has already stated that she doesn’t drink so I’ve only a few of the goddesses left open to my corruption. Slowly they disappear one by one until I’m sitting here in the evening’s heat with an empty glass.

I look around the now deserted retreat and soak in the beautiful natural setting. My eye catches the light reflected in the pool. Set down between our room and the communal area, its cooling waters tempt me. I realise that I’m still wearing my bathers underneath this loose top. Peeling it off over my head I drop it on the thick soft grass. I lower myself in quietly and begin my expert dolphin moves. Diving down to touch the pool floor and rising again with my head breaking gently through the surface. I picture my moves as sleek and graceful as any sea mammal.

The quiet is peppered with the sounds of insects and the water rippling out from my fingers as they push through the water. I float on my back looking upwards. There’s so much ambient light in the area that only a few stars are visible in the sky. The knot where my bather top ties behind my neck is bulky and awkward as I try to arch my head backwards. So I untie it and also the clasps behind my back, flinging the wet top onto the rattan sun lounges. Diving below the surface once more the cool water swirls around me.  A few laps around the pool and no one has appeared from their villas. Rows of pendant lights hang outside the villas illuminating the path beside the pool. I wonder where the switches to these lights are.

Climbing out at one corner, I go the stairs and search for the light switches. Palm flat to the wall and quickly they are extinguished. Only the lights inside the pool remain on. The ability to turn these off eludes me. Bather bottoms whipped off and I dive back into the pool. So refreshing the feeling of water on my skin is a luxury. High vine covered walls and lush canopy of trees add to the secluded atmosphere of my private night swim. I know logically that I’m in a busy Indonesian holiday area but right now I’m only aware of myself and the light cool water on my skin.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The art and romance of Balinese cooking

A seemingly young boy, though he legally has to be 17 at least in order to hold a driving licence, picks Simone and I up from our villas a couple of hours after breakfast. Our Balinese cooking class scheduled for today is to be held at Hotel Tugu Bali in Canggu Beach. Sleepier than Seminyak it draws a less of the Aussie bogan and more of the surfer type though it is still a month off from the start of surfing season (the busiest time in Bali which stretches til mid September) as Joyce informed me yesterday.  I start to wonder what a season means in regards to surfing. Is it when the particular style of wave begins to appear or is it in regards competitions? I don’t actually care enough to seek the answer out though.

Greeted on arrival by our chef de jour, a short woman introduces herself as Sri. Iboe Soelastri, I later discover is the cooking guru who won’t allow Sri to finish a dish until the perfect taste profile has been reached. Following a recipe is all nice and well for us simple folk but being guided by over forty years of experience, our guru advises of more salt or sugar or lime to balance. This much older woman of indeterminate age would chop the beef and chicken with a cleaver to a fine mince, whilst overseeing our ministrations from the corner of her eyes. She had mastered the subtle skill of wielding the large sharp knife through the meat with one hand whilst her second hand massaged and rotated the meat but also watching our preparation so the pace of the dishes was on time and in order.

Our first dish was to be a minced spiced beef parcel wrapped and steamed in banana leaves. Banana leaves are ubiquitous here. Folded and made into boxes to hold offerings of flowers and incense , lining the steamer basket and placed underneath dishes for presentation, they literally do grow on trees. In the segregated boxes next to our chopping boards lay a rainbow of ingredients. Garlic, smallish shallots, long thin red chillies, green chillies, small orange hot chillies, fresh tomato, kaffir lime leaves and their small fragrant fruit, large wedges of fresh coconut, Indonesian bay leaves, lemongrass stalks, shrimp paste, palm sugar, candlenuts, ginger, galangal, lesser galangal, turmeric, coriander seeds, and two types of peppercorns.

Sri shows us to how to rub the long red mild chillies between our hands back and forth. This loosens the seeds so when you slice it open they fall out easily. Lemongrass will get the root ends bashed firmly with the handle of the knife to break up the fibres. Some of the bulbs get peeled and some don’t and I can’t see a pattern but I duly do as I’m instructed. Large shards of coconut were grilled over the open flame, slightly catching alight adding a lovely charred edge.

Under the low roof of our open air kitchen, the heat is getting to us. The sweat doesn’t take long to drip down my back between my shoulder blades and run down my thighs. My linen skirt and loose top cling to me now damp skin. I’m thankful when they produce refrigerated wet towels to cool ourselves with. I keep reminding myself that one of retreat co-ordinators referred to this season as winter this morning as she wrapped her scarf around her neck. I see local people in jeans and jumpers and shake my head.

We grind our spice pastes on a lava stone mortar and pestle unlike anything I’d ever seen. About the size of a dinner plate, it is mostly flat with small pits. The technique involves a rocking back and forth of the pestle and long dragging strokes. The chillies and shallots release their juices to help bind the pastes. Some pastes were fried off in coconut oil, others boiled in water to achieve a more mellow flavour.  We take many photos of different stages to illuminate the recipes we are provided with at the end. We amateurs are relegated to chopping the chillies, garlic, galangal and so on then many sweat inducing minutes of mortar and pestle work. Absent-mindedly I wipe the sweat off my upper lip with my hand and soon the familiar warmth of chilli burn is felt on my skin. Next time, I’ll use the edge of my cheesecloth apron.

Nasi goreng Jawa or fried rice and lawar kacang panjang or snake bean and toasted coconut salad are our second and third dishes that flesh out our Tugu cooking class. Mrs Mandy and Mrs Simon (sic) are then served their creations in the cool dark restaurant of the hotel. We only manage to make small in roads into the consumption of our delightful meal as it’s only 11am and we’ve not managed to work up enough of an appetite. Kindly they prepare the remainders for us to take back to the other goddess at the retreat. Before we are delivered back, I can’t resist a stroll down to their private beach for a stickybeak. I know I said that I’d be content not to step one foot on the beach this trip and technically that is still valid. Across a back lane there is a large lawn area with sun beds, raised open daybeds and the obligatory hotel staff to indulge your every whim. Under the oppressive sun, I looked out towards the grey sand and gently breaking water and decided that nothing was to be gained walking another 200m to feel sand under my toes. I was more than happy to leave the skin cancer seekers to their own devices.

Food packed up and driver summoned we’re very happy to be ferried in air conditioned comfort back to the retreat where the quiet and mostly empty grounds are now a familiar sight.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Day two of being a goddess

Glowing like a goddess from my facial I realise that I mistimed the whole lunch nap thing and emerge from the spa room bleary eyed from the bliss state of being pampered and find my way to the lunch table. Hair askew with moisturising cream in the roots around the edge of my face, I’m instantly glad of the women only casual in house atmosphere. Joining me at the long table are goddesses still in their bathers and sarongs and those in the robes also direct from some spa treatment.

Changing my seat location at every meal I’m trying to not get caught talking to the same lovely ladies, with but engage with some quieter types or those who came with another. As I am attending this retreat with my sister, some expect us to do everything together but we can talk to each other anytime in Melbourne so we are both more likely to seek out new friends in the making. Today’s food is to be Indonesian and Nadine is excited to learn it will be Gado gado for lunch. Hailing from South-east Asia originally herself, it is a dish she was hoping to seek out. The resort brought it to her. Essentially a salad with bean shoots, tomato, green beans, tofu and hardboiled egg with a spicy peanut dressing. It is both cleansing and filling at once. Local tea with lemon is a refreshing accompaniment.

Satiated from lunch I retire to those inviting big white couches to contemplate a post-lunch nap seeing as my pre-lunch one didn’t eventuate. My phone alarm sounds as I realise that my time for the antioxidant green tea and honey scrub and massage is now. When fitting in a nap is the trickiest thing for the day, I decide that things are pretty damn good. Leaving my things where they are, I walk a dozen paces barefoot to the air-conditioned spa rooms upstairs above the yoga room.

My spa treatment this afternoon is courtesy of Yeni. I’ve had her before when I had the facial this morning.  Her thin, supple fingers are surprisingly strong and she manipulates my limbs and muscles easily. My body is engaged and so my mind wanders. I wonder if her loved ones ever get to experience these magic fingers. Often the builder’s house is never finished just as the chef never cooks meals at home. She leans in close and whispers into my ears. “Excuse me, Miss”. It is enough for me to know how this progresses and I roll over onto my back whilst she raises the thin batik printed sarong of brilliant blues to preserve my modesty.

On the bed in the next curtained massage zone are the sounds of the heated lava stones being moved firmly in long strokes along the body of another goddess. At first, my mind guessed that someone was playing billiards. The solid clicks as they meet along acupressure points, took my mind unwillingly to a billiard table. Heavy solid coloured balls rolling along the felt meeting in all the wrong spots. Improved circulation and not a gambling debt was the intended of outcome of the Sacred Stone Masssage.

After the initial massage Yeni applies a rough scrub of crushed dried green tea leaves and local jungle bee honey, she lets this rest on my skin then slowly rubs it in and off with long firm strokes. A grand mess is no doubt made all over the shiny white tiled floor than she will sweep clean later. Floors are swept and mopped every day and sometimes multiple times a day. This whole environment is neat and clean but it never feels overly pristine and alienating. I have trouble relaxing in a place where I feel that I am the messiest part. The retreat facilitators generally walk around barefoot and that immediately sets a relaxed vibe to the place.

Invigorated and revitalised, I am sent on my way with instructions to shower the remainder of the scrub off. Instinctively I go to smell my arm and it is sweet and almost fruity. I’ll skip the tasting bit. Our shower is a large flat rain head of a shower set over pale tiles surrounded by a bed of smooth river stones. A large potted palm in the corner adds to the understated luxury. The heat and humidity of Bali in February mean that I find myself here multiple times a day. Straight into my still wet bathers and into the pool I dive, two steps from our door so no sarong is required.

The intoxicating smell of frying and pounding of spices and herbs which emanates from the open sided kitchen has stimulated my stomach and I figure out that dinner is two and a half hours away. I ask the very accommodating kitchen staff for a plate of freshly prepared fruit. So colourful and tasty, I am brought lychee, mangosteen, papaya, mango, banana and watermelon with a couple of wedges of the small juicy limes that seem to accompany everything here. Squeezed over the flesh just before consuming, it lifts the tone to a slightly higher level. These tropical fruits cannot even be purchased in Melbourne in this good and ripe a condition. 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Bali Goddess Retreats

Bali Goddess Retreats

Fans circling lazily overhead and a large gin and tonic with lime slowly warming at my side, we four women are on the communal rattan lounges resting on large soft white cushions.  Mostly from Australia but also from further flung fields, this women only retreat draws goddesses from all around the world. And that is what the staff refers to us as although it would seem an affectation back home, it rolls off the tongue here in situ. Being lead around the crowded, dimly lit market stalls Adriana was skilful at twisting her hips left to right, ducking underneath the baskets improbably loaded on the heads of goods carriers.  Turning around every now and then, she kept a steady eye on her market goddesses. Our translator and chief haggler, she knew which way to steer us in order to locate the best value product.

Our lunch banquet was as colourful to the eye as it was on the palate. Water spinach with peanuts and chilli sambal. Coconut, bean shoot and seaweed salad with a lime and lemongrass dressing. Whole fried fish with tomatoes, shallots and chillies. Grilled chicken with traditional aromatic Balinese spices (turmeric and garlic was all I could determine). More fish, this time pounded and wrapped in banana leaves. Andini , our second resort companion, starts to talk about her family and food and her whole face lights up. She has a real spark in her eye and her smile gets even broader. With so many aunties, her chaotic family seems like it’s never dull.  She was a treasured birth as her mother had trouble conceiving. Nadine, Katherine and I are touched by the sharing of such an intimate detail. I look at her round face so sweet and child-like and I imagine her mother cupping her cheeks with affection.

Katherine has recently started working at a veterinary surgery and was surprised to discover how much she enjoys it. Puppy cuddling is a mandatory part of the job description. Tough gig! Recently moving back from the big city to her country hometown, she is a simple girl who has visited here before and wants to get more out of her trip this time.

Apparently it’s Saturday night and I only know that as other goddesses enquired of our gracious hosts when the microphone MC of a party next door started up earlier. Norwegian students are celebrating the end of their month long Bali study tour. All the required permits were sought from the local government so any complaints we might have would fall on deaf ears. The individual areas operate very much along self-determined lines with garbage collection, security and even the postal service having their own distinct way of doing things. Village life still very much being very much still village life even though the villages have blurred at the edges and become one larger busier town or city. 

An outsider could never tell where one community stopped and another began.
Sarah is a registered nurse who has recently completed further nursing study. Burnt out and fatigued, this Bali getaway is a gift to herself aimed at recharging her batteries. She comes up with the catch phrase “Art has no borders – unless it’s framed!” Mindfulness colouring book and stacks of coloured pencils are positioned around the communal area. More than a time-filler, these books seem to grace everyone’s laps at some point in time. As the hours lengthen and the women one by one have headed off to their bungalows, there remains only three hard core goddesses colouring in to their heart’s content lost in the process.

I wonder how our Yoga instructor Laura is getting along figuring things out in Bali. Transplanted from Melbourne only two months ago from a busy corporate life in medical sales, she made the leap into a foreign land. The infectious grin that is plastered across her face even during complicated yoga poses and her cool relaxed demeanour in the high humidity don’t betray any concerns. Either a complete lack of prior investigation or a hell of a lot of research would have to have been in play for me to make such a huge move.

Over breakfast the next morning, I ask her more about the move. Doubts were raised continuously by others in her life and she hop-scotched between home and here six times before she managed to shut out those other voices and relocate with true intention. The newly built house in outer Melbourne was leased and a mostly Indonesian residential area of Kerobokan was chosen as her new home base. She references a partner when talking about the move but never mentions him or her by name or feelings or reaction on the move.

For now I sit in the corner of the property on a raised bale bengong or daydream gazebo to pay witness to the morning’s goings-on. Housekeeping staff in cool white cotton pants and cyan blue batik print shirts start their morning cleaning routines. Some of the other goddesses are on a shopping crusade, navigating their way via unnamed roads, seeking out a good/known version of coffee to hopefully return with souvenirs. Later upon travel home, they will no doubt regale their loved ones with grand stories of their trek brandishing their trophies as proof of prowess. Other goddesses are already at work pampering their body with some of the selection of unlimited spa treatments. Anti oxidant scrub with green tea and jungle bee honey or ocean scrub with salt and coconut oil promise to slough away your old world, so you can be truly present in this other world. The Jet-setter hour long massage has been designed to ease any neck or head tension that may have accumulated from the commute to this island on indulgence.

Two young men arrive to complete their grounds-keeping duties. Bundles of stiff reeds make short work of the fallen leaves and flowers. The neat lawns are once again spotless. Bamboo blinds are raised on the yoga room to allow fresh air in after the morning’s Yin session. Yin yoga is calm, quiet stretching with some guided visual prompts to help focus and centre your poses. Somehow I can cope with this small demand on my body before my regular morning cup of tea. Nothing is compulsory at this retreat and seems not too much to stretch myself to try something new that fairly much all the other women here seem to value and prioritise.

A low flying helicopter flies overhead interrupting the gentle drip of the morning’s rain from the overhead foliage onto my gazebo roof. So out of place a noise here, we all stop and look up to watch it pass. It’s now gone and we are back to our activities already.  Joyce steps out of her office and talks briefly to one of the two young men about what I don’t really know. Gestures are made by both of them indicating mid-calf level but whether it’s about the length of his pants of some shoes, I cannot make out.

Our guest relation and co-ordinator, Joyce greeted us all on arrival and before she mentions it I can already tell by her friendly inclusive hug and way she speaks that it was she who communicated with us by email beforehand. “Oh, you’re Amanda” she says and immediately I implore her to call me Mandy. A note is made and she never uses anything else. I give my full name when filling in forms or to people I don’t or won’t really know. Straight away, I feel that I want to hear her call me Mandy and not Amanda. During the orientation before our first dinner together, she explains how the week will flow then starts off the getting to know session by telling us a bit about herself. She is Indonesian but not from Bali originally. She moved from Sumatra to Bali 13 years ago and by chance met the retreat’s founder, Chelsea on the beach one day.

 Theoretically I know Bali has beaches because of my mind’s singular image of a Bali holiday is bogan Aussies drinking Bintang on the beach. I will be perfectly content if I don’t step foot on a Bali beach. I like beaches generally speaking but my version of beach joy doesn’t generally involve sun or Bintang or other people. Beaches are best windswept, empty and cool. Walking slowly along the sand just at that edge where it’s not too wet and the waves get you or not too soft that it begins to feel like exercise. The reward for your wander is to just sit and watch the timeless waves roll in ceaselessly. There’s nothing more simple and direct to make me believe that I am just one small part of a very large world that exists before me and is content to go on without me. Joyce talks about Chelsea as being one of the most inspiring women she’s ever met. Perhaps she is part founder and part guru.

The sun fortunately stays behind the light grey clouded sky for most of the days so far and I’m grateful not to have to remember my hat and sunglasses every time I step out. The gentle rain adds a soft soundtrack to our days and its presence almost demands we take things slowly and adjust to island time. Shoes are optional and now only the third day in, many goddesses are traipsing around happily barefoot. Folded towels are placed on the tiled floors at the entrance of each pavilion to keep things clean. It’s a custom I’m easily converting to.

I sneak away from my bale bengong to get ready for my goddess glow facial from which I shall emerge hydrated and toned just in time to sneak in a pre-lunch nap.

Friday, February 12, 2016


It’s beyond lush. It’s fecund. When my back is turned, I’m sure the plants are growing taller and winding their tendrils around whatever outcrop they can find in their fervent search to conquer all. I feel that if I sit still enough for long enough I might be able to even hear them grow. I didn’t know there were this many greens in the world. Each leaf is slick with the fine rain. If I didn’t know better I’d think the plants were artificial. They’ve been allowed to grow just wild enough to complete the illusion that I’ve just walked onto a movie set.

Veritable rainbows of cheap plastic ponchos are what the locals use to cover up during now, the wet season. We visitors let the rain cool and dampen us knowing it’ll dry quickly. There’s a sense of smug satisfaction in not caring about getting wet. We’re on holiday – who cares? There are deep and wide gutters to catch the downpours of the wet season  and large storm water grates which no doubt catch a drunken reveller or three on their way home from the numerous bars on the main strip advertising 2 for 1 cocktails at happy hour. The bars are squeezed between the market stalls all selling the same items and the touts attempting to convince you that you need a taxi. Occasionally there is a gate left ajar and I side-step out of the stream of tourists to peer into someone’s life for a few moments. Scrawny chickens dart out of the corners and there’s always a panting dog laying on the ground somewhere. It’s dark back there and the relative quiet is inviting but I don’t dare step across the threshold. Better to discretely peek into the world than to step inside and break the spell. I’ve read enough stories to know which side to stay on.

Inside our resort compound I sit on the wide tiled veranda of our bungalow. A chilled wine in my glass of the one bottle that I bought from Melbourne airport duty free. I couldn’t resist pink wine from the Yarra Valley where we have family connections. Our bungalows are built on the grounds of the old Lotus palace. The Lotus temple next door is thankfully free of rabid monkeys that exist elsewhere. Those grey freaky fuckers climbing all over stuff can stay away from me thank you very much. The resort staff calmly wanders the paths meandering around the pavilions and many statues that sit amongst the foliage. Their bare feet barely make a noise on the stone paths. Folded, gilt-embroidered fabric headscarves, white linen shirts and sarongs, they carry themselves with a grace foreign to me.

Today’s soundtrack features the melodic beats of small drums in the distance, mixed in with calls of birds I do not know. Driving up from Denpasar to Ubud, we witnessed processions of young boys decked out in their Sunday best walking along the streets. Smiles from ear to ear as children and mothers alike squat on their front steps to watch these boys perform. Yesterday was the start of a holy festival lasting two weeks and the street poles are festooned with elaborate bamboo structures that rise three meters and more into the air. I can imagine them dancing in the breeze should there be any.
Dinner and the obligatory Bintang beer has been ordered, so it’s adieu from me for now – or whatever the appropriate Indonesian phrase should be.

Overnight the dying leaves have fallen and white delicate flowers, which once I discovered are called plumeria in Hawaii, but here and in Australia are known as frangipani. The paths are littered most prettily. I’m sure it’s not just my artistic eye that sees the beauty in the everyday things here. Each corner of life here is adorned. Every few meters along the street, statues are enrobed in patterned sarongs and offerings placed at their feet. Structural posts on the each of the pavilions are carved just so. The doors to our bungalow have not a single square inch plain. Gold and red and black with borders and leaves with smiling or laughing or threatening gods stare at me when I go to close or open the doors. Two narrow doors, both must be opened to enter or exit.

 It was after 5 am when we woke and all was still and dark. Knowing that this was my chance, I got hastily dressed and ventured into world. Only a few cars and scooters on the road moving much quicker now the rest of the town is still in bed. Shops are shuttered, their advertising muted in the blanket of night. It’s still cool and the air smells fresh as I breathe it deeply in.

I’ve taken up the same position on my veranda at the small round marble table and I sit back and watch the day dawn. It’s only the three hour time difference that allows me to this. My body thinks it’s already 8.30am. I’m not sure that in the short time frame we have here in Bali my internal body clock will adjust but I’m not complaining as it will gift new experiences and perspectives of an otherwise hidden part to this Balinese world. There’s a rooster crowing in the distance and other faceless nameless birds in the trees closer commence their morning song. Through the thick foliage I can start to discern the sky growing lighter and lighter. I am the only person I can see. I know I’m not alone as I can hear gentle movements of sandals on stone.

 The morning chorus is slowly getting louder as more birds join in the song. Someone is turning off the lights which have illuminated the paths and pavilions during the night. In the bungalow next door, two men, who are possibly Scandinavian from overheard snippets of conversation, leave their bungalow to join the early morning walk to the rice paddies just outside town. The sky is pale in the early light and the low insect hum is being drowned out by howling dogs.
My sister went for a morning run before both the air and the streets heated up. Down almost empty streets she ran, passing a small food market, avoiding the barking dogs and circling back to our bungalows. Meanwhile I sit on the veranda and wait. We’ve tried to order tea from room service but it’s either slow in coming or the message got lost somewhere along the way. I’m not much bothered as I’ve nowhere pressing to be and no immediate plans for the day.

The tea arrives in a utilitarian stainless teapot; the cups are standard hotel issue which means multiple refills are needed before I feel that I’ve had my much anticipated morning tea. The milk is made up from powdered milk so it’s overly sweet and there’s no cooling effect on the hot brew. I’ve come to like tea in other countries. You never quite know what to expect. In Japan it was strong and almost fruity with lots of milk – most fortifying in the afternoon when I stepped out of the cold, driving rain into the tea shop haven. I couldn’t resist the dainty sandwiches of crust-less fluffy white bread with whipped cream alternating with thinly slices strawberries or kiwi fruit. Here in Bali, the tea appears strong by colour but not by taste, though it is quite tannic as afterwards my mouth feels tight and puckered. I’m grateful for the large pot to slack my thirst.

The sun is making an appearance this morning pushing its way through the trees. Shafts of golden light puncture the thick foliage. The flying insects stop bothering me as they retire for the day. A young girl in a bright blue and green saronged outfit carries a tray laden with flowers and food in banana leaf trays to deposit on the steps of each bungalow and pavilion as an offering to whatever gods oversee us here. My shocking lack of knowledge about local Balinese culture rears its head so many times during the day as questions spring into my head with no one to ask.

I think I will seek out the local art museum today and try to fill some of the gaps in my head. If this trip hadn’t been sprung upon me so suddenly then I may have looked in Bali and its people a bit before we left. As things turned out, my niece discovered at the check in counter that her passport didn’t have the necessary 6 month validity in order to travel to Indonesia. Tears flowed from both my niece and my sister at the shock of the mistake. A mother and daughter yoga retreat in Bali had just evaporated in front of them. Flights were delayed by the helpful customer service assistant, a phone call from my sister to me securing that my passport was valid for enough time and I discovered that I was travelling to Bali the following morning.

So that is how I come to find myself sitting in this movie set perfect location, in a country I know so little about watching the world go about its business . I’d be perfectly content to sit on this shady veranda, calling room service to bring me food and refreshments when I want them and occasionally launch myself into the pool to cool down. If I never left this spot, I’d already know more about Bali than if I was still at home in Melbourne. My version of this Bali is calming, ritual filled and eye-pleasingly colourful. The constantly changing noises, the warm moist air and the rich quality of light - I can feel them soaking into my skin as here in my chair.

 If I stayed here long enough, would I develop tough feet walking barefoot as the locals do? Would I adopt the brightly coloured sarong which allows air to flow whilst remaining modest?  I do know that the things that seem so insignificant and quaint whilst visiting might start to grate and annoy with time. The shower where only half the water seems to make it into the tub doesn’t bother one bit right now. Crumbling footpaths are easily stepped around for now would no doubt represent a greater significance later. The animated sounds of the Indonesian language are very entertaining to listen to but my complete ignorance of even the smallest and simplest of phrases would soon alienate me.


No wifi so I can’t check in which is fine as the disconnection helps me anchor myself here in Ubud. I pour another cold frothy Bintang beer in the frosted glass. Set back from the main road this multi level restaurant clings to the sharp rills of one of Ubud’s side streets.  Many water courses flow along and under the roads. We landed in the middle of the wet season and I can’t imagine this place any other way. It’s fertile and damp with wildly scented air - spicy sate, meats grilling, incense burning on the offering plates and sweet, sticky fruit. There’s also an underlying smell that took me days to pin down. It’s the rich smell of decay. The heat and the humidity take its toll on everything from the fallen leaves and flowers, the street-side offerings of the previous day and the rubbish that accumulates in gutters and more.

Staff lounge in their chairs idle checking their mobile phones. There’s no reason I should expect Balinese connectivity to be any different to Australian. The constant rain pours off the thatched roof conveniently providing a curtain to the raised seating platform upon which we chose to eat our midday meal. The sound is at once comforting in its familiarity and isolating as it softens the noise from the road up the moss covered steps.

It was down those same steps we ventured taking them slowly with two paces, their rise being higher than what we are used to. Taking the chance we walked away from the main road drawn by the darker unknown gully beyond. Beneath the trees and their parasitic vines, the lay of the land cannot be known.
Tiny white ants scurry along the low squat table as I write. They don’t seem interested in my local beer or the simple yet tasty food we ate. Gado gado, a salad with tofu in  a smooth peanut and coconut milk dressing and Ikan Pepes, sliced fish in a strong spicy tomato sauce were stand out dishes from the locally influenced menu. No pizza or burgers for us whilst in Bali. In fact, we made a plan to avoid any restaurant that had these on the menu. The food was m much more tempting to us than the local insects thankfully.

We were attracted to the elevated pavilion which over hangs the river slightly with foliage covering enough for me not to have to thin k about and question its foundations. Construction is fascinating here in Bali. Bamboo is often used as scaffolding and the vast majority of the work is done by hand with men lugging baskets of rubble and supplies on their heads. Branches are fashioned into a low railing perfect for leaning against. Cushions are covered in the ubiquitous black and white check I see adorning statues at the gates of each temple or compound. Personally I wanted to push the sarongs aside to pay witness to what was underneath. I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

At the fabric gallery we visited earlier in the day down a narrow side road, I learnt that white symbolises righteousness, truth and purity. Black is part of the Lord Vishnu, part of the holy trinity worshipped at every Hindu temple.
Whilst my sister takes advantage of the AUS $7 massages next door, I sit and soak in the early afternoon. One chilled Bintang beer at hand and the minutes into one another. I can see how days pass into weeks and then into months too easily here. I’ve already chosen my balcony and room further up the ravine where I want to while away a whole chunk of time. I just know that I’d lose track of days and even start to eye the incomers badly. Bloody noisy Australian waltzing in like they own the place showing no respect! I don’t like this future self too much.

Instead I’ll pack up my journal, pay my bill in multiple hundred thousand of rupiah and stroll back to our resort so we can meet our shuttle to Seminyak. The bill was summoned and I discovered only cash was acceptable here so I’ll wait for my sister to return from her massage before we stride into the un-named masses. For now, I’ll sit cross legged and watch the stumpy tailed feral cats scamper along the tilled roof tops in search of any forgotten food. Thin and small they are no patch on my two fat cats lazing about at home.