Posts Tagged ‘vendors’

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The Bali Incendiary Wallet

October 19, 2010

Sitting close to the street in any of Bali’s open-air restaurants lets you experience the endless variety of the personal retailing brigade at work. Want LED flashing eye-glasses? They will arrive. Want some of that snake-oil liniment to rub over yourself or your loved ones? A customer service representative will be with you momentarily. Need CDs, or DVDs, or hip flasks, or plastic cars, or soft toys that shriek annoyingly in your face? Rest assured – a vendor will materialise to talk you into buying something you don’t need. You will even get regular doses of carefully crafted pathos from tiny children selling pieces of plaited leather (the purpose of which utterly escapes me) and “mothers” begging for alms for their rent-a-baby props. All this during a single course too.

So one night, after numerous encounters with purveyors of fine rubbish, I see this guy come in waving a wallet. He has a shoulder bag with many more. As his target table of diners looks away to discourage him, he flips open his demo wallet, which spews forth a huge ball of fire. “Magic wallet!” he cries to the recoiling throng. “Amaze your friends!” The newly-galvanised customers (mainly the guys) are now intensely interested. I am too, (maybe it’s a boy thing) but I resist going over to find out how this thinly-disguised instrument of warfare actually works. I don’t actually want one – I can quite easily burn through my cash here without benefit of a fire-starter in my wallet.

The fireball it produces is brief, but hot enough to singe nasal hairs, eyelashes and eyebrows completely off the unwary. And it’s big enough to do damage to one’s forelock, if repeated tugging while toadying up to Immigration officials to get your KITAS renewed hasn’t permanently dislodged it. I get to thinking – if the guy is selling ordinary wallets, he has hit on a great promotional gimmick to attract the attention of his customers. Some – those without collateral third degree burns – might even buy one.

But if these things are actually designed as flame-throwing wallets – with gas, or lighter fluid, or even napalm as the fuel, then we have a small problem on our hands. They might be useful as mugger deterrent devices, but I think of small children, bored with mere matches, playing with far more dangerous flaming devices. I think of inebriated bogans lighting the faces of their friends for a lark. “Ooh, sorry mate. Didn’t mean to coagulate your eyeballs.”

But most of all, I think of a ‘harmless’ incendiary wallet which would probably not even attract a second glance from the same airport security people who confiscate our nail clippers. And I think of the subsequent fireballs in the inflammable confines of a crowded plane at 36,000 feet. Or the possibility of accidental ignition while in one’s hip pocket.

OK, I have an over-active imagination. But could someone please reassure me that these are just ordinary wallets being sold by frustrated fire-eating circus performers, and not the real thing?

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The Other Bali – Life Outside Greater Kuta

July 4, 2010

The tourist sitting on the next bar stool, leafing through brochures,  discovers that I live here. His eyes light up and he says:  “What’s this Bedugul place like? Or Lovina – we’re thinking of going up for a few days”. “Umm …” I reply, “I’ve never actually been there. I, er, sort of hang around Legian and Seminyak. I haven’t gone much past Umalas really …” I trail off, embarrassed.  “How long have you lived in Bali?” he asks. I tell him a year. He leans back on the stool and looks at me as I was a new species of mildly toxic toad. “Soooo … you’re not interested in seeing more of Bali apart from just the South?”

I am stung. I am interested, but the terrible twins, Procrastination and Sloth, have conspired to prevent me from ever making the effort. I have all the excuses – the roads are terrible, the traffic is a nightmare, it will take too long … I mean, how many rice paddies do I want to see in one day? But as it turns out, like many preconceptions, these were utterly wrong. Having had my wake-up call from the barfly (thanks mate!) and even more encouragement from friends, I hit the road, and discover what a treasure I have been missing.

A mere 50 kilometres north of my usual stamping ground, I see Bedugul for the first time. It’s cool – the place is 1500 metres above sea level. The markets look interesting, so I bargain hard, my negotiating skills honed on the demanding strop of Kuta, and force a vendor to reduce a bag of cashews to a mere 35,000 rupiah. “Small bag”, says my Balinese driver, trying to keep a straight face. “You want I get more? Cheap?” Naturally, I humour him. He comes back with a bag four times the volume. “15,000”, he informs me laconically. He has the grace not to smirk. Harga bule; harga lokal.

Then he takes me to Kebun Raya Eka Karya – the Bedugul Botanical Gardens, established over 50 years ago. Inside the 120 hectare site (that’s 297 acres!) is a veritable wonderland of vegetation. 650 species of trees, 500 types of orchids. If you teleported a person in here, they could be forgiven for thinking they were in New Zealand, or South America, or even the famous Botanical Gardens of Palanga, Lithuania. The only thing that is familiar there is a traditional Balinese house hidden in the grounds, which accommodates 12 people . And you can rent it! Where else but Bali?

Heading North again, we see spectacular lakes – Bratan (with its 11-tiered water temple), Buyan and Tamblingan, while passing terraced rice paddies of the most brilliant shade of irridescent green I have yet seen in Bali. The road, which is surprisingly good, winds in savage switchbacks through the 1220 metre mountain pass. Motorcyclists, just as crazy as in the South, overtake blithely on blind corners, swaddled in parkas, coats and scarves. For me, it’s a pleasant 22 degrees outside, for them, it must seem like Mawson on a motorbike.

Descending to sea level again we head towards Lovina. Another surprise. It’s not a ‘town’ as such – more a series of villages that have coalesced into a picturesque 12 kilometre strip. But it’s laid-back and friendly and the coastal scenery is impressive. Restaurant prices are half that of Legian and the food is excellent. The vendors are astonishingly relaxed too. “I have sarong. You buy?” I politely decline. “OK, no problem”, she says. What? No badgering? No pressure? I like this place already. Accommodation is nice and cheap too.

I briefly consider observing some dolphins. The operator informs me that his boat departs at 6am, which means having to get up at 5am. I don’t do mornings at the best of times, and that time is ridiculous. The dolphins miss out on seeing me. Tidak cetaceans this time.

The next day, we swing through Singaraja on the way to Lake Batur. I don’t see much of the place, but what I do see is clean. No rubbish bags, no litter. We need to kidnap some of the people responsible and bring them back to South Bali to teach us how it should be done. I’m impressed. But when we get to Kintamani, I am less than impressed. Oh, the scenic vista of Lake Batur and the volcano is wonderful, but some of the people make me feel as if I am back in Kuta Square. The place is packed with tour buses, restaurants with a view are way overpriced for the unappetising kludge they serve, and the vendors are intrusive, persistent, whiny and aggressive. And there are scam artists, who ‘repair’ vehicles they themselves damage.

I come back to the car unexpectedly, and there are a pair of seedy-looking gents crouched beside the back wheels. “What are you doing?”, I enquire. “Ahh, just checking your tyres, boss”, says one. “And your friend on the other side?”, I persist. The other entrepreneur sheepishly approaches, putting something shiny and sharp back into his pocket. “Tyres OK?” I ask, simultaneously shocking them by treating the pair to a quick photo opportunity. “Yes, yes”, they say in unison, backing away. “They will stay OK, ya?” I say firmly. It’s not a question, and they know it.

It was a very short trip, but it got me out of the ghetto. It gave me a tiny glimpse of the richness and diversity of Bali the Island, rather than my narrow picture of Bali, the tourist enclave. I know there is much, much more to see and learn. And I’m really looking forward to doing just that before too long.