Sunday, September 1, 2013

Singapore/Bali trip diary - day 9

Among our ongoing sources of amusement on the trip: my hopelessly untapped list of things I brought to do – a big pile of reading material and the DVD of the Holocaust documentary Shoah, all nine and a half hours of it (well, I’d wanted to see it for years, but kept putting it off because of the length – with two day-long plane rides, I thought this would be the ideal extended window, if admittedly not the optimum setting otherwise for a Holocaust documentary). At the time of writing, at least half of my reading material is still unread (and I’ll be irritated if any of that comes home because, of course, more will have accumulated in the meantime) and I’ve watched a pitiful 48 minutes of Shoah. Still, we have a lot more travel time in the near future. On the bright side, I’ve promptly written all these journal entries as I go along, and I’m about as up to date with web reading as I would be at home (we haven’t switched on the TV even once, neither here nor in Singapore).
Anyway, that’s hardly the main priority on our daily agenda. I think today was the first day of the trip I woke up to daylight rather than darkness, albeit barely; Ally woke up several hours later, having been up for a while during the night. We caught the 11 am hotel shuttle into Ubud, and started walking in the opposite direction from the other day, toward the notorious monkey forest. Every source tells you to enter with care because the monkeys can be aggressive; anyway, we’d already had an adequate monkey-viewing experience in Singapore, so we didn’t bother. Even in the streets around the monkey forest though, you have monkeys blithely wandering about and sitting in the street, not worrying about the traffic or anything else, like the kings of the world. Maybe a few of the monkeys have been trained to act this way to attract the tourists, I don’t know.

We wandered the streets of Ubud a bit more, but it got repetitive pretty quickly. The town is usually described as an artist’s colony or suchlike, but we should have learned by now that this is inevitably code for endless stores, some of them perhaps selling items of quality and originality, but most just selling mass-produced crap, and as a whole offering no real incentive to investigate which is which. As you walk along, you constantly have to step around the little offerings of flowers and other organic material placed on the edge of the road, sometimes accompanied by the smell of incense (we occasionally came across them in Singapore too); the Balinese population is well over 90% Hindu, and maintaining these offerings and carrying out other rituals and ceremonies can apparently consume a large part of the day. Some people seem to invest more care into the appearance of the offerings than others do, although I guess they often get stepped on or otherwise mistreated.
Ubud also had the first signs of outright poverty we’ve seen on the trip, with women and their young children begging at the side of the road. There are areas of Bali where such a sight would likely be much more common, and some people think coming here is morally tainted unless you’re meticulous about how you spend your money. On the other hand, immigration has been swelling in recent years, most of it driven by job opportunities flowing from tourism, and it’s plain that the West itself has lost all practical interest in matters of ethical distribution of wealth. I wish I had a coherent formula for resolving these problems, but like most people, we just try to apply our instincts the best we can (probably far from ideally).

We found another trail, to the west of the one we’d taken previously, this one going along a lush river valley filled with coconut palms and studded with impressive homes. We passed many local kids, often paired off into couples, hanging out oddly close to the main path; our guess was that custom or parental decree or suchlike dictates that if you’re going to go on a Sunday afternoon date, you have to stay in plain sight (one boy at least seemed to be trying to persuade the girl to deviate from this, but without success). We brought some drinks at a little store along the way, and a group of women were trying to haggle about the price of water and orange juice (this seems to me a poor way of applying one’s instincts, just saying). After they left, the shopkeeper asked us where we were from, and then asked us whether the women she’d just been dealing with were from France, which I took to speak volumes about her impression of them. I told her I thought they were Russian, although I wasn’t sure.

We had a few more nice views of ricefields along the way, but it soon became somewhat less scenic, marked more by the noises and activity of everyday life (motorcycles, as always, being a big part of it), albeit always pleasant and interesting. Eventually it just turned into a road and didn’t particularly seem to be going anywhere, so we retraced our steps. We then visited the Blanco Renaissance Museum, dedicated to the works of artist Don Antonio Blanco, the self-styled “Dali of Bali.” It’s a helter-skelter collection, consisting primarily of skillful but unexceptional female nudes, and a lot of outright wackiness, such as collages devoted to King Kong, Mick Jagger and whatever else might have entered his head. More context might have been necessary to explain why this indicated the work of a “Maestro” rather than that of a mere regional oddity. Anyway, it’s always nice on a vacation day to mix things up a little.
We had a late lunch/early dinner at a restaurant that felt grafted onto the side of the gorge, looking down into the river. As usual, after a while, it was just us and the staff; in general, Ubud feels geared up for twenty times as many visitors as were there today (well, to be more precise, that’s true for the number of restaurants and retail outlets, but not as much for the width and condition of the sidewalks). We caught the last regular shuttle back to the hotel at 5.25 pm and spent the rest of the evening here. I curtailed my nap and Ally didn’t have one at all; around 9 pm, we ordered dessert, and instead of sharing just one dessert as we nearly always do, we ordered two and shared them both, so there you go, we’re losing all restraint now. And we drank some wine. We spent some time speculating about future trips we might take, which in no way indicates we’re done with this one yet.

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