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The International Writers Magazine: Denpasar - Bali

• Fred C Wilson 111
I’ve studied up on Bali; it’s all good. The scenery, indigenous art galleries, Hindu temples laden with ancient artifacts, the spicy foods, exotic markets, black rice, and the wonderful folks who make up this beautiful place. I had to see for myself; one summer my wife and I decided to go there. For the topographically challenged, Bali is part of Muslim Indonesia though most Balinese are Hindus or Christians. Since I was a kid I have longed to experience this mystical place for myself. I was living my fantasy; my long seeded dream of crossing the Equator to visit this magical isle became a living reality. I had achieved my objective.

Bali Museum

Leaving Brunei we deplaned in Denpasar the Balinese capitol. My wife and I checked into our hotel and showered. We arrived in Denpasar in the early afternoon but weren’t tired. The short hop from Brunei to Denpasar precluded any jet lag we would have suffered.

Bali Hotel Our small hotel was two blocks from the beach. We decided on a short walk to get a feel for the place. We had 3 ½ days to tour the island. We wanted to use our short time wisely since we didn’t make plans to return there any time soon. If you think Bali is a collection of ‘native’ huts, ancient temples and sights that would make Indiana Jones blush you’re sadly mistaken. Save for a few outlining areas Bali is 21st century.

The walk along the beach and through the city was an experience. The scenery told us we weren’t in Chicago . Our hotel was in a rustic section of Denpasar. The small neighborhood streets, older buildings, outdoor market, the 7 skimpy clan dancing girls who posed as I took their picture were a page out of a 19th century edition of National Geographic.  

The architectural style of the buildings was a varied mix of contemporary, Balinese, Indian, with Islamic touches. The side streets were small yet filled with all sorts of vehicles. Thanks to improved nutrition the people were about the same height as your average American, mostly brown complexioned and with more than a few tourists from Australia.   Bali is a casual country where jeans, short sleeve shirts, and Western skirts are the order of the day. Only the Aussies looked and acted like ‘tourists;’ insular and snobby. The lay of the land was new to us. We didn’t wander far. An hour later we returned to our room. I sat at a small desk and started writing my Brunei article; my wife was engrossed in the Balinese version of ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire?’

We had dinner at a seaside restaurant. Back home ( Chicago ) we’re big on buffets; ‘Old Country Buffet,’ ‘Viceroy of India ’ and ‘Little Quiapo’ comes to mind. The tourist strip along the beach is lined with all-you-can-eat buffets. We selected one at random. All I remember was the food was tasty, cheap and plentiful. After dinner we sat along the shoreline and watched the stars twinkle over the blacken ocean. Once ‘home’ we watched more television. Balinese TV shows are pretty much like the stuff we get back home; plenty of game shows, news programs, brain dead commercials, cultural and sporting events - the primary difference being language. 

We hired the same guy who drove us to our hotel to show us around. A tall skinny young man he was friendly to a fault, knowledgeable on Balinese history and culture, spoke excellent English, a good driver; the perfect tour guide. We paid him by the day. He lectured us on Balinese history when we stopped to visit the various points of interest.

Our first stop was the Pasar Badung Market. That place should be on any serious tourist’s bucket list. Both outdoor/indoor markets were crowded, clean, had stalls selling a wide varieties of rice, open bags filled with pungent herbs and spices, several varieties of fish, boxes and packets of local foods, and a veritable zoo of live food animals. Balinese vendors are eager to assist you in making your selections.
Pasar Market

In contrast to Americans Asians want their foods fresh. Fruits, vegetables, and meats are purchased, prepared and eaten FRESH. Anything canned, frozen and processed along with other cancer causing condiments gets no play in the Orient. My Asian wife, wonderful woman that she is, is a shopaholic. Our budget prevented her from buying up the whole island. When I shop I’m in and out of most stores in a matter of minutes. I settled for a bag of black rice, extra rolls for film and a statuette of Hindu deity Ganesha a gift for my now ex-Indian son-in-law.

Bali Museum Bali is a photographer’s paradise. I took several rolls of film during our stay. I’m an artist/photographer. I’ve exhibited my stuff in some of our state’s premier art shows with a few out-of-state exhibits under my artistic belt. We toured the Bali Provincial State Museum , Taman Werdi Budaya Art Center , Tilem Fine Art Gallery and a few other galleries along the way. We stopped at a post office where you had to glue your own stamps to your letters. We left the post office around Noon. Our guide drove us to the outlining areas for another round of shopping and sightseeing.

Unlike most high toned stores in the State Indonesians have a section reserved for non-shoppers. I sat watching a martial arts movie while my beloved enriched the local economy. There were block upon block of stores that sold everything; local products, warehouses that stocked art objects by the thousands, textile factories that specialized in batik ware, and yards of rare silks. Bali is a shoppers dream but it’s not Asia ’s version of ‘Maxwell Street .’ Balinese prices are competitive akin with our prices back home. The variety of fine things for sale is endless. Something you should know; Cash is queen in Bali. Stores and restaurants prefer cash to credit cards. It takes up to 45 days or more for credit card transactions to clear; you can’t blame shop keepers not wanting to wait.  I love Asian cuisine; I like it hot and spicy! We lunched at a roadside restaurant. I had a traditional Indian curry so hot it made my head sweat. My spouse opted for something mild. I drank two bottles of the local brew she preferred Coke.

Collectively Asians are intensely religious or put on a pretty good show. In the Philippines there’s always the outdoor Santo Nino shrine with skinny candles and joss sticks flickering and scenting the air. In Thailand fruit laden Buddhist shrines are displayed prominently in hotels, shops, and even on the streets. In Islamic Brunei Muslims pray before and after each plane flight, in Bali there are a variety of Hindu shrines in restaurants, shops, other public places and in Latin America Catholic shrines abound.
Bali Trad

Oddly enough in the West even the mention of religion is taboo; just my observation. The Balinese are extremely tolerant towards ALL religions. As a show of good faith our guide drove us to and from church on his Sunday morning off.

The next day after breakfast we went sightseeing. Our guide drove us to a temple that featured wild monkeys. These tiny primates would approach tourists, beg for food but often bite the fingers that fed them. Our guide warned us never to touch the monkeys. We didn’t and took pictures instead. This wild space was on temple grounds. In Bali when you visit a Hindu worship site you are required to wear religious garb a green sarong before entering as a proper sign of respect. No micro-miniskirts worn in Hindu holy places. The two priests guarding the temple grounds really freaked when they saw me. I’m a big guy. The two men had to struggle to fit all of me into the green liturgical wraparound. Once they accomplished their Herculean task I politely bowed, placed the suggested donation into the box provided, toured the sanctuary and took plenty pictures.

We completed our day with a trip to Sanur Beach for a short snack and an open boat ride on the Indian Ocean . We a mile out to sea when a large freighter passed only yards from our small row boat. The rough waves nearly tipped us over. Sensing danger our rower high tailed it back to shore. I’ve scuba dived/snorkeled. My wife’s a non-swimmer despite my many attempts to correct that situation. I say if you can’t swim LEARN HOW!

On day three my wife, guide/driver, and myself had an American style breakfast at our usual beach haunt. Later we visited Bali’s Provincial State Park and the Pure Jagantnatha Temple ; we shot rolls of film. Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim nation though Bali is overwhelming Hindu. As in Bangkok, Thailand some outward display of piety is expected from visitors and locals. In Thailand it’s considered respectful to remove your shoes before entering Buddhist sanctuaries. Tourists occasionally forget so the locals remind them; disrespect of holy places has led to arrests, hefty fines occasional beatings.

Bali If you’ve been following my articles in ‘Hackwriters’ you’ve noticed that I warn international visitors to observe three rules: don’t disrespect the host country’s government, women, and religion. Most tourists are respectful and dress appropriately though I’ve noticed some visitors entering Christian churches in cut-off jeans, tank tops, micro-miniskirts, toss coins in Baptismal fonts for ‘good luck’, and take photographs during the solemnest parts of the services.

We returned to the city for a side tour of Denpasar’s Catholic Cathedral. The huge building was built and furnished in a combination of Hindu and Balinese style architectural and interior design styles. The artistry was a treat.

On the way back to our hotel we encountered a group of people preparing for a traditional Balinese funeral where the bodies of the dead are placed in colorful wooden effigies in similar fashion as certain African tribes, marched in public processions, then cremated in the Hindu manner at designated spots similar to India. I watched a young foreign couple help with the decorations. According to our guide it takes weeks to properly prepare for funerals. Kite flying is big in Bali . We watched open truck loads of mostly young people carrying large kites. They were in route to a kite flying competition. What struck me as odd was those awkward giants actually flew.

Denpasar’s central business district was a taste of Chicago . There were KFC’s, MacDonald’s, pizza parlors, super markets, convenience stores, banks, department stores, and junk food palaces that lined both sides of the street. After days of eating Balinese I just couldn’t resist the local KFC. Whenever I’m in a different country I always shop, stay and eat with the locals. The prices cheaper, food tastier and the variety of items are out of this world. People world wide have the same stores though the inventory differs. Case in point; in Acapulco, Mexico they have Wal Marts, Citi Banks, Sam’s Club and the aforementioned American fast food restaurants the only differences the items are catered to local tastes. In Bali ’s KFC the chicken tastes about the same as it does anywhere however the sides are rice and or other local delights instead of fries, Mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, biscuits and gravy. Soft drinks tastes the same everywhere except in Hong Kong where I think they use the original Coke Cola recipe where you get a buzz that’s out of this world.

On our last day we managed to do other sites. I purchased a Balinese devil mask which I later sold on Ebay. I didn’t buy gold at Melati’s Art Shop; pricy. We ended our afternoon with a lavish meal and more souvenir shopping at the posh Nusa Dua Beach Hotel. After spending the afternoon there it was back to our hotel to pack our stuff before being driven to the airport for the short flight back to Brunei . We gave our remaining Balinese currency to our guides along with some greenbacks, thanked them for making our stay a pleasant one and vowed to keep in touch once we arrived back in Chicago. After an hour wait we boarded our Royal Brunei flight back to Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei . Unlike other airports Balinese Customs officials check your luggage then seal it with a plastic strip. Seeing the government strip other Customs officials never bother inspecting our stuff. The Balinese method saves time since your luggage isn’t subject to further custom checks.

We enjoyed Bali . The island scenery and wonderful people would always remain with us. To learn more about this special place and where to stay go on line and visit some of the many websites on Bali , Indonesia . We made good on our words to our former guides and wrote them. We sent our lead guide a gift for his son’s coming of age as a Hindu male upon our return to Chicago. Our departure was gratuitous. *

A month after we returned home our favorite restaurant was bombed by Islamic terrorists. Hundreds lost their lives, injured or left maimed. Bali before the blast was the epitome of the laid back life style. After the terror bombing we never heard from our distant friends again.     
© Fred Wilson March 2014

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