Posts Tagged ‘villa’

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Your Call Is Important To Me

June 9, 2013

Your call is important to me, and that’s why I won’t answer it. I get voice calls on my hand-phone all the time. I ignore them, not because I’m a curmudgeonly old fart (which I am), but because it doesn’t make any sense for me to answer your call. And it’s not because I wish to emulate those execrable call centres who tell you in unctuous tones: “Your call is important to us”, and then leave you on hold for the ninety minutes it takes for some earnest character, for whom English is a fifth language, to pick up and tell you why he can’t help you.

My voice call avoidance behaviour is partly a matter of motivation. At least 70% of my voice calls are from people I don’t know, and who are trying to sell me something. Regardless of the pervasive ambient noise problem here, I won’t answer calls from unknown numbers, or from those whose caller IDs are blocked. Life is too short to waste on dreamers who believe that I want to give them money, or that buying their insurance policy will somehow enrich my life. How will it do this when I have to die to get a payout?

No, I don’t answer because my phone usually rings when I am riding my bike, and I am way too busy avoiding other riders who are texting and talking because they have answered their phones. Just because they are dangerous lunatics who can’t concentrate on actually driving while talking doesn’t mean that I should become one too. So while you fume at the manifest unfairness of your call going unanswered, I am occupied in staying alive and relatively un-maimed.

And when I have parked my bike and I am sitting in some restaurant or bar, I don’t answer my phone either, simply because there are probably only two venues in the whole of Bali that are quiet enough to hear you, and I’m rarely in either of them. I’m so deaf now that I wouldn’t understand most of what you say even if I did pick up in such noisy environments. Do you really want a conversation that goes:

You: “Hi, Wayan here, apa kabar?”
Me: “Um, no this is not Wayan, it’s Vyt, and yes, I’m in a bar. Who’s calling?”
You: “Wayan!”
Me: “Why? Because I want to know who I’m talking to!”
You: (Gnashing teeth) ” No, it’s … doesn’t matter. You free there tonight?”
Me: “No, not three, I’m here alone …”

And so it goes. Any conversation under those circumstances will end in either tears or homicide.

Once I am actually at home, where it is comparatively quiet, the situation theoretically should be better, but in practical terms rarely is. The rushing sound of water from my pool produces white noise which is perfect for masking critical mid-range vocal frequencies. The dog next door is psychic, and with devilish cunning, only barks during critical words in conversations, rendering the meaning of sentences unintelligible. Bali’s air traffic controllers only schedule aircraft to fly overhead when I get a phone call. The ringing of my phone immediately triggers a need by some locals in my lane to rev the shit out of their motorbikes just outside my gate, or some clown to begin fogging the place, and all of these sonic distractions serve to destroy any chance of meaningful conversations. But that’s not why I don’t answer my phone at home.

It’s because Telkomsel, my lovely provider, has somehow managed its tower coverage so that their normal 4-5 bar signal everywhere else in Legian drops to 1-2 bars in my house. Voice calls drop out, or they are so broken up as to become auditory garbage. Sure, if I stand on tip-toe on the edge of the south-east corner of my pool and connect an earth wire to my left foot, I get a reasonable signal, but only if I hold my mouth right. That’s why I don’t answer my phone at home.

My eyes still work – not very well, but they are good enough to read SMS messages, as long as I take my glasses off and squint a bit. The trouble is, no-one who rings me, and gets no answer,  seems to consider the possibility that sending me an SMS might actually be more productive. I used to reply to missed calls with an SMS explaining that I can’t hear voice calls, but inevitably this would trigger yet another voice call. Sigh. I don’t do that any more.

Now all I have to do is to work out how the hell to clear my phone log of 1,679 missed calls. Last time I tried, I deleted all my contacts by mistake. Actually, that might not be such a bad thing …

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The Changing Of Lovina

April 18, 2013

Every so often one needs what my avian friend Hector refers to as a Short Essential Break.  These SEBs serve to reset perceptions, decompress from the daily chaos of South Bali, and just do some inspired blobbing.

My most recent sojourn was to Kalibukbuk, known to most as the central hub of Lovina – the generic name for a ten kilometre stretch of closely-spaced villages west of Singaraja. It’s a low-key place – which for me is its attraction – and it’s different enough from South Bali to make it either a pleasant stop-over or a destination in its own right.

Since my last trip there, things have changed a little. The sleepy little strip, with its super-low meal prices, its laid-back sellers of knick-knacks,  and its providers of friendly service at approachable prices seems to be starting to develop a ‘down-south’ mentality. Of course, I would expect prices to be higher than last time. After all, Lovina is not immune to the cost increases experienced by the rest of Bali. But the cancer of opportunistic greed seems to be creeping in here slowly and surely.

Local friends here blame the new North Bali airport – a pipe dream that will take a long time to be realised. Even the concept itself  is still in the dreaming phase, much less the realities of infrastructure development or transportation logistics. Yet the mere possibility of its future existence seems to have driven land prices through the roof, and created unreal expectations of a tourist bonanza (and its attendant opportunities for charging high prices) decades before the first tourist plane touches wheels to tarmac.

This attitude seems to have permeated the low-level hawker industry too. As I stroll around, an optimistic purveyor of coral gewgaws tries to sell me some trinkets, worth maybe fifteen thousand rupiah each, insisting that he never bargains, but sells only for fixed price. He tells me, “I will only sell for thirty, no less.” After bargaining for some time with ‘he-who-never-bargains’, the price drops to twenty each for five items. Still too high, so I start leaving. “Twenty each”, he insists, “but you can have one more for free.” I weaken, agree, he bags the merchandise and I pull out the negotiated 100,000 rupiah.

He looks at me with a mixture of disbelief and horror. “Where is the rest?”  I tell him that’s it. “What?” he says with just a hint of fake anger. “You agreed! $20 each for five!”  After I stop laughing, during which his stern facade slips only a little, I thank him for the entertainment and start leaving. He only lets me get a few metres before he acquiesces, grumbling, to the negotiated price – in rupiah. “Pelit”, he mutters as I leave. Yes, stingy I might be, but not yet that completely stupid as to fall for a bait-and-switch scam.

Kuta-style hawkers aside, the place has a relaxing ambience not found in the Deep South. That evening, I savour the quiet at my hotel’s beach-side bar, sipping a wee scotch and gazing over a sea, smooth as trowelled ant’s piss in the lambent evening light. No surf, no surfers – just a few fishermen knee-deep in the shallow waters two hundred metres from shore, bamboo rods held with casual patience. Glorious.

Next day, needing to rent a scooter to visit friends three or four kilometres away (and way too far to walk in my current state of sloth) I find a bike rental place, and discover that the previous day’s hopeful vendor is not an anomaly. After negotiating a ridiculously high price for a day’s rental down to something merely over-priced, I pay and get the keys. It’s 11 o’clock in the morning. “We close at 8pm. Please bring the bike back before then”, says the proprietor.

I explain that, no, I will bring it back at 11am the following day, because I rented it for a day. “Ahh”, says the nice lady, “You are from Legian.” I am nonplussed by the non-sequiteur. Seeing my confusion, she explains, “In Legian, a one day rental is for 24 hours. In Lovina, one day is 12 hours. So I leave, she calls me back, and grudgingly allows that, just for me, she will arrange for the earth’s rotation to be shifted back to a 24-hour cycle, but just this once.

Before she can change her mind about re-writing celestial mechanics, I take off, and immediately marvel at the handling of this little bike compared to my own. It feels as if the road consists of  a bed of lubricated ball-bearings. The steering responds like a startled cat on shabu-shabu, and the brakes are … well, hesitant. I stop and check the tyre pressures, which are unfortunately OK, which means the problem is more deep-seated. Never mind,  it adds a frisson of excitement to an otherwise quiet day, even though I feel like a rhinoceros strapped to an office chair that has been suddenly catapulted out into traffic. At least I have a helmet …

That night, I talk to some locals and expats, and discover that ‘Joger-style’ village greed has surfaced here too. (In the South, the Joger company chose to close down one of its outlets rather than bow to the endless and increasingly rapacious demands for money from nearby villages.)

Here in Lovina, the story goes that a developer in the final stages of construction of a high-class 8-villa complex has just been hit with an economic body blow. Just before its official launch, the local village has apparently demanded ‘village fees’ of 30 million per villa, per month, regardless of occupancy.  Interesting to see how that pans out – if true, 2.88 billion rupiah per annum would be a nice little windfall for the village – if the owner can avoid bankruptcy, that is.

I really hope that this bit of news is not true. Let’s hope it’s one of those legendary ‘misunderstandings’ which are so common here. It would be a shame for Lovina, and its future, if what appears to be an emerging hardness of spirit and Kuta-style opportunism kills the friendly and laid-back character of the place.

One wonders though, if it is the impending, though distant prospect of a North Bali airport that is causing this sea-change, or whether it is something deeper and more pervasive that is happening in Bali. I guess only time will tell.

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The Tangled Skein of Bali’s Rubber Time

April 12, 2013

They say things happen in threes. In Bali, long periods of peaceful inactivity tend to be punctuated by bursts of craziness when everything seems to happen at once. And when they do, it’s usually not in threes –  five or more minor crises can manifest themselves at a time here.

Much of this is caused by Indonesia’s penchant for jam karet – rubber time – where appointment times are adhered to, but with several days’ margin of variation. But knowing that foreigners are likely to get severely bent out of shape when agreed meeting times are unilaterally ignored, many locals have taken to adopting the common courtesies of at least messaging a change of plan, although this is often done an hour after a scheduled appointment.

I have a number of local acquaintances here who occasionally seek advice or assistance on various matters such as business ideas, overseas contacts, computer or web skills – in fact anything which is a little outside the ambit of available help here. When I have time, I am happy to help if I can, as long as it doesn’t involve my dipping my hand into my pocket. For people I know, any topic is fair game, as long as it is scheduled between items in my own onerous schedule of sleep, eating, naps, writing, blobbing, or compulsively going out for my afternoon coffee. I seem to average a meeting of this type perhaps once a fortnight, but this week was the one that broke the mould.

On Sunday night, I get a message from Person A: “Can I see you about … ?”
“Sure”, I reply, “When?”
“Now?”

After we establish that ‘now’ is a tad late, and that I’m busy anyway, we finally settle on Monday at 1pm. On Monday morning, I get a call from Person B. “Can I see you about … ?” Turns out that the only time Person B seems to have available is … 1pm. I suggest an alternate time of Tuesday at 1pm. Agreement is reached, and I pencil in the time.

At 1:30pm on Monday, half an hour after the scheduled appointment, Person A messages me: “I can’t come at 1pm today.” Yes, I guessed that. “I will come tomorrow at 1pm”. I explain that I will be busy at that time, and am met with stunned disbelief. A time for Wednesday is set.

Late on Monday afternoon, Person C sends me a message: “I am coming to see you now.” I explain that that is not possible, because the only thing that will drag me away from my afternoon coffee is for a major lottery win, and even then only if they actually have the money with them. An attempt is made to get me to agree to a dinner ‘meeting’ that night. I decline; the only thing worse than a ‘business dinner’ is that modern abomination, the ‘business breakfast’. Besides, I already know who will be stung for the bill. We negotiate a mutually convenient time for Thursday.

Tuesday dawns bright and clear. I do a little preparatory work in anticipation of my 1pm meeting with Person B, regretfully turning down a social lunch meeting for that day with a visitor from Australia. Person B is a no-show. At 3pm I get a message saying that he can’t make the 1pm meeting. Yep, I’d figured that out all by myself. “But I will be there tomorrow at 1pm.” Well no, Person A is coming on Wednesday … We sort that out and re-schedule for Friday.

On Wednesday, Person A, already re-scheduled from Monday, fails to either show up or leave a message. Strangely, I somehow expected this, so I get on with a well-deserved siesta, which is interrupted by Person D, who really, really needs to see me on Thursday. I don’t even try to make an appointment, but tell him to call me next week.

On Thursday, Person C calls and wants to come on Friday instead. She gets the “call me next week” treatment as well; I am becoming somewhat jaded and more than a little terse.

On Friday, Person B misses their re-scheduled time as well. That means that I have not had a single person turn up this week at the time arranged. That’s OK, I have no expectations anyway. I meander off for my caffeine fix and ponder the mutability of time in Bali. I realise that there is no point in making appointments here. If all my people had just materialised at my house when the whim struck them, I probably could have attended to them all without a single clash or overlap. Time consciousness is probably just a Western affectation anyway.

Then, while I am having my coffee, I get four separate messages in the space of ten minutes, from each of A, B, C and D, all basically saying the same thing:

“Where are you? I am waiting outside your house, and you are not here! … and who are all these other people?”

I smile and continue with my coffee, then wander off to dinner. I might reply in an hour or two. If I feel like it.

Isn’t karma a real bitch sometimes?

 

 

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When Security Sanctions Sabotage Smooth Sending

April 14, 2012

My guests have left;  the last minute rush to collect belongings before they head off to the airport is over, and peace once more descends upon the villa. All nooks and crannies where overlooked items might lurk have been reluctantly scrutinised by the temporarily-resident Teenager (as requested by his mother) and declared, “like, totally empty” by the exasperated youth, who appears to find the whole notion of double-checking to be completely redundant

“Are you sure you’ve checked that you have everything?” his mum asks, which is the trigger for the obligatory teenage eye-roll and an expressive and prolonged “Maaah-a-um!!!”, a wail which first descends, then rises in pitch. This is apparently teenage verbal shorthand for “I just can’t believe that I am fourteen years old and you still don’t trust me to do the right thing and you’re implying that I’m a moron who can’t do anything right and I can’t BELIEVE you’re picking on me like this!”

So it’s half an hour before my guests are due to fly out, and I’m quietly relaxing in the villa when the phone rings. Not my phone, mind you – The Teenager’s phone. It’s sitting on the table, vibrating and emitting all kinds of bright colours and complex sounds, as expensive smartphones are wont to do. “Yeah, I know, I left my phone. My bad. Anyway, it’s not my fault; it’s the same colour as your table.” Having established that the responsibility for his misplaced phone is purely mine because of my inconsiderate choice of furniture, he calmly requests that I nip over to the airport and return it.

My bemused explanation that he has already passed through passport control, and is actually in the departure lounge, and that his plane leaves in twenty minutes, and that it will take me thirty minutes to even get to the airport is met with disbelieving silence. He is massively disgruntled. I am philosophical – to me it’s just a phone; to him, it’s a digital lifeline to his friends. “And it has all my contacts!” he moans.

Next morning, I discover that his idea of ‘scrutinising’ his room at the villa does not extend to checking power-points, where the power supply for his mum’s computer is still plugged in. He apparently ‘borrowed’  it for a late-night Facebook session and ‘forgot’ to put it back. Sigh.

I stay philosophical. I would have been happy to eventually send the phone to him (after a suitable delay in the interests of a good dose of Adlerian consequential punishment), but I can’t leave his mother with a rapidly-depleting battery for her work laptop. I call DHL, the international courier service, who tell me to package the items securely and bring the parcel to their office. Fortunately, their branch office is only minutes away.

An hour later, after modifying a cardboard box, wrapping the bits and pieces in bubble-wrap, securing the box with gaffer tape, wrapping the whole shebang in brown paper and vast quantities of sticky tape, I present myself at the Legian DHL office.

“You have wrapped the parcel”, says the chap on the counter, frowning. I agree, I have wrapped the parcel. “You must open it now so we can see what is inside.” I stare at him. “But you told me to package it securely!” I protest. “Yes. Easier for you to carry”, is his response.

Fortunately, I don’t open it before telling him it contains a phone and power supply, which turn out to be items apparently equivalent to the devil’s spawn, and which can not be accepted by them under any circumstances. He explains that it has to be taken to their head office, for an exorcism, or “security checks”, or some-such nonsense. Head office happens to be located at the airport, in the cargo road side street off the main terminal road. I am rapidly losing my calm, philosophical demeanour.

Forty minutes later, having fought my way through traffic, I arrive at the aforementioned cargo road. But it is no longer open, being blocked off by a large set of  corrugated iron gates and various ominous-looking notices. Feeling a tad snarly, I ride into the forbidden area anyway, to be immediately surrounded by a phalanx of security guards who eye my little brown paper parcel with deep suspicion. I explain my mission, but they insist that I can not enter this area, even though my ultimate destination is only one hundred metres up the street, which is ‘closed’ despite being visibly open.

The guards wave me back the way I came. I request explicit directions to the DHL office, and their response is more arm-waving and an elliptical “follow the road”. Thanks guys, I’d figured that part out for myself. I am nothing if not resourceful.

So I follow the road and end up at the entrance to the airport itself, where an amused security chap tells me that I have missed a small gang off the main airport drive, which leads to the cargo road I am seeking. I tell him that I didn’t see any signs. “No, no – there are no signs!” he laughs. I feel like assuming a foetal position on my bike, rocking gently and sucking my thumb, but I resist the urge to be immature about this.

“How do people find businesses on the cargo road if there are no signs? I want DHL, but that’s where the main Immigration Office, all the cargo shippers and the police station are as well”, I whinge plaintively. He laughs again. “They don’t!” he says with a cackle. “They all end up here!” He then informs me that to get back to the invisible lane, I have to go back through Tuban and circle around for another attempt. I calculate that will take about twenty minutes, or forty if I miss the damn thing again. I go home instead.

On the way, I fulminate about the madness of an airport reconstruction project that is so chaotic and badly-planned that not only do people have to spend extra time navigating an incomprehensible, unsignposted traffic layout just to make their flights, but that makes surrounding businesses become almost inaccessible. I grizzle to myself about visitors who leave things behind in a place where simple problems morph into bigger problems while one is trying to fix them.

I conclude, bad-tempered, nasty person that I am, that I don’t really care that someone needs their phone or computer urgently, and resolve to send the forgotten bits in my own time, and only when I am good and ready. Besides, people are way too reliant on their computers anyway – let them suffer; why should I put myself out anyway?

So after a total of two hours in hot traffic, I finally get home – only to find that my laptop battery has inexplicably died, and my power supply is overheating. Oh no! My laptop! My life!

Karma can be a real bitch sometimes.

 

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Fire – But What Happens After The Inferno?

December 9, 2011

The heat is sapping at just past mid-day, and I’m finding it hard to focus on work. The pool beckons, and it’s a toss-up between a cooling dip and just drifting off for an early siesta. A waft of smoke blows into the villa, its mixed aromas of burning leaves, wood and plastic creating a surge of annoyance. I snarl. The neighbours are burning garbage again. How inconsiderate.

But it’s not a rubbish fire at all. The smoke intensifies, and from my distant past as a volunteer fire-fighter comes an olfactory memory I prefer to forget. I recognise the unmistakably acrid smell of a dwelling on fire. By this stage, there is panicked shouting, and by the time I throw some clothes on and get outside, the air is thick with smoke. My lane is only fifty metres long, but I can’t see more than ten metres in front of me. Last June a neighbouring villa caught fire, but swift action by locals, who rushed selflessly to help, prevented a calamity.

This time, there is no chance of that. Eyes streaming and handkerchief pressed over my nose, I struggle to the end of the lane and see that the little warung on the corner is well alight. No-one can get close because of the radiant heat, collapsing roof timbers and explosions of flammables. The people in the villa behind the burning warung are mobilising with garden hoses, but this seems like such a puny defence. I am hoping fervently that no-one is trapped inside, because survival would be impossible.

Once around the corner, I get a clearer view and am shocked to see that not one, but all seven shops in the small block between my lane and the next are well ablaze. Shop owners are desperately trying to salvage valuables and stock. They seem to be risking their lives for mere goods – but the reality is that it’s not just things they are trying to save, it is their livelihood. As the toxic fumes thicken and swirl and I start to feel faint, I belatedly remember the dangers of smoke inhalation . After a sudden whomp! as a gas bottle explodes, spraying bits of shrapnel and belching great gouts of flame, I beat an undignified but sensible retreat to safety.

Miraculously, the fire brigade arrives within ten minutes and the scene transforms from chaotic panic into a well-organised drill. The Bali fireys are great, quickly assessing the fireground, checking for anyone trapped, rolling out the hoses and wasting no time in getting water on the fire. They are efficient, calm and relaxed.

They haven’t lost their sense of humour either. One of them has a momentary problem with the water cannon perched on top of his fire truck, accidentally swivelling it down as he struggles with a control to start the flow. As the valve snaps open, the sudden water blast from the misdirected nozzle scores a direct hit between the shoulder blades of his commander standing on the road in front. He is the first to burst out laughing at this unexpected incident. Maybe that’s why he’s called an incident commander. But I’m glad no-one takes a photo – the sight of firemen cackling uncontrollably while fighting a serious blaze would no doubt have been gleefully seized on by certain sections of the Australian anti-Bali media.

A little white car, which I have often seen parked in an awkward position at the entrance to the lane, is blocking access to the extra appliances that are now arriving. It’s also in danger of either catching fire itself, or being crushed should the wall of the building collapse. After unsuccessful attempts to locate the owner, the police, who are now in attendance, decide to shift the car. I am expecting use of a cunning, ‘police-only’ method of quickly breaking in to the locked vehicle. But no, they elect to use a ‘master key’ instead. A Bali master key apparently consists of an enthusiastically-wielded axe, which makes short work of the laminated side window, and the car is quickly pushed out of the way.

Frankly, if this approach was used on all badly-parked cars in Bali, the entire parking chaos problem would be solved overnight.

Finally, after an hour, the main fire is out. The crew is on mop-up duties and the police are sealing off the scene with yellow tape. Neighbours and shop owners are standing silently by the side of the road, staring in shock at the devastation. Fire-blackened, saturated goods lie in dismal piles on what is left of shop floors. Warped and melted roller shutters form grotesque sculptures; sad monuments to lost livelihoods. A cell-phone shop owner clutches the few boxes she has managed to save and stares fixedly into the ashes of her dreams.

At night, the scene is even more surreal. As I return from dinner, I ride past fifty or so people sitting silently on the opposite footpath, staring into the still-smoking ruins. I recognise some of the local shop owners, but no-one is in the mood for conversation. Apart from a small police presence, the rest of the onlookers seem to be family or friends. Perhaps they are there to give moral support, maintain some sort of vigil or pray. Maybe they’re just there to ensure that the wreckage of their lives is not made worse by overnight looting.

Few of the affected would have had insurance. For most of them, loss of their shops means complete loss of their livelihood. What little money these people have is tied up in stock. They subsist on their meagre revenues, which have now disappeared. What do they do now? Will their banjar offer financial support? Are there other sources of community assistance? Should I, as a neighbour, offer assistance? Is there a local disaster fund? If I donate money, or raise money from others who would like to help, how do I ensure that it gets to those affected without it vanishing into the pockets of ‘commission-takers’ or other opportunists?

It has taken an event like this to bring home to me how coddled I am as an expat. I take insurance cover for granted and I can afford smoke detectors and fire extinguishers. I understand the risks of unattended candles and incense, and I don’t have to use dangerous spirit stoves or dodgy gas bottles. But in my local community, I am probably in the minority.

And I am ashamed to realise that I have lived here for nearly three years and I still have not made the effort to learn how local communities cope in times of personal traumas like this. Sad, isn’t it?

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The Heat Is On, And The Animals Are Attacking

October 23, 2011

The season has turned in Bali. The long, relatively cool dry spell has snapped virtually overnight into the hot and humid interregnum that precedes the rainy season. It’s 33 degrees and the humidity is hovering around 80%. Life, never running at a cracking pace here, has slowed down to a crawl.

People snooze during the day to conserve energy in the sapping heat. Walk into a market stall and you will find the owner asleep on the floor. Go into any office to pay a bill or attend to some incomprehensible Bali-style documentation, and you will find at least five people slumped at their desks, too tired even to log into Facebook, which in cooler times appears to be an activity mandated in their job description. Three more, totally catatonic, will be staring sightlessly at a television, while four others will be in a back room on a ‘break’. A break from what? And one, exuding an air of patient resentment, will be on the front counter, attending to a huge queue of sleepy, resigned customers. Only bules complain, and they are politely ignored while they sweat and fidget in the oppressive conditions.

The heat, during the few weeks before the rains come, is a time of watching tourists’ children wail with frustration as their melting Magnums fall off their sticks and dribble ice-cream and chocolate on those just-purchased tee-shirts that will forever retain the stains. It is a time of beer becoming too warm to drink before a small bottle is empty – even for Australians, normally astonishingly rapid imbibers who can make a bottle vanish in less than three minutes. It is a time when motorbike seats feel like barbeque griddles, capable of frying a couple of eggs and a sausage in five seconds for the unwary. Fortunately, it is also a time when one’s pool has finally heated up enough to allow a refreshing dip without shrinkage, full body goose-bumps and a reflexive gasping for air.

But while the seasonal warmth causes people to slow to the speed of three-toed sloths, it seems to be causing a surge in animal activity. My villa has become a veritable nature reserve, with strange beasts manifesting themselves unexpectedly from the strangest places. My Domestic Infrastructure and Support Manager (formerly known as my pembantu before she discovered Bali’s version of Political Correctness) is ready to find a less stressful job. In the last week alone, she has been startled by bats, mice, monitor lizards and giant red dragonflies. Each time, she emits a shriek followed by a voluble stream of something that sounds suspiciously like cursing in Bahasa Batak.

It’s late at night, one week  ago, and I’m sitting at my computer engaged in some serious political research. Well, OK, I’m on Facebook, but I’m planning to do some research later. The garden and pool are in darkness and I’m engrossed in my labours. Suddenly, I hear the slithering of  something in the bushes near the pool. I hear rustling leaves, crackling twigs and the eerie sound of scales rasping on the stone coping of the pool. Spooked, I turn on the lights. Nothing. I have a good look around. Still nothing.

So the lights go off again, and it’s back to work, albeit with some disquiet. Then, without warning, there is the unmistakable sound of a large tongue lapping the pool water, accompanied by lots of slurping and soft grunting. Eyes fixed on the source of the noise, I reach across and snap on the outside lights, ready to catch the damn Komodo dragon, or whatever it is, in the act. Nothing. I cautiously circle around the pool with more bravado than sense, brushing past some shrubbery. Instantly, a swarm of what appear to be Special Forces paratrooper ants descend on me and start stinging mercilessly. Brushing them off doesn’t work, so I jump in the pool.

Then I think – sweet Jesus! That Komodo thing might actually be in the pool! With me! Thoroughly rattled by now, I  exit the water like a breaching whale, regroup and try to continue working. I have a broom handle close at hand, ready to defend my territory. Ten minutes later, there’s that slurping sound again. This time, my weapon clutched in a nervous fist, I flick on the lights and catch the culprit red-handed. We look at each other and both pause for a long moment. With a flick of its bushy tail, the squirrel darts into the shrubbery, looking back only once, presumably to see if I am embarrassed. I am. Well, it sounded big and scaly …

The next morning, barely awake, I open my bedroom door and pad into the open-air lounge. A dead twig lies on the floor in my path and I am about to brush it aside with my foot. Except that it suddenly writhes and coils, rearing the upper part of its body high in the air and spreading its little hood. It’s only about forty centimetres long, but it’s angry, and strikes at me twice before I do an uncharacteristically fast tap-dance and retreat to safety. The potential squirrel-killer broom handle from last night is out of reach, so I pick up the only thing at hand – a feather duster. Yes, I know – don’t say it. I really don’t like killing things – not even snakes – but this little reptile is so aggressive that it’s too risky to do the nature show thing and pick it up for disposal outside. So I brain the poor thing with the handle of the duster. Sorry snake, but in this villa, nothing that gets between me and my morning coffee gets to live.

Probably because I have sadistic tendencies, I leave the body arranged neatly in a life-like pose on the front steps of the villa. Later that morning, when the Domestic Infrastructure and Support Manager arrives in her usually sleepy state and is fumbling for her key before looking down, I am rewarded with an immense shriek. That alone sort of made the whole episode worthwhile.

I blame Bali’s current spell of hot weather. People are more somnolent, animals are more active. Things jump and crawl out of bushes and out from under couches a lot faster. We tend not to react, or think as quickly. I guess the price of living in a warming paradise is eternal vigilance. I’m certainly a lot more cautious now. And I know that my pembantu is watching me now with even more suspicion than she shows for the other creepy-crawlies around here.

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Making Nutty Assumptions Can Make You Sick

September 19, 2011

Bali is full of little pitfalls for the unwary. From the weapons-grade sambal that will flay the skin from your mouth and dissolve a substantial part of your digestive tract, to motorbikes that charge unexpectedly out of shop doorways, this place has something to trap everyone. I’ve learned to avoid many of this island’s idiosyncrasies over the last few years, but a new one just snared me.

So there I am, lounging in a luxury villa near the Canggu Club where friends have ensconced themselves after arriving in Bali for their first visit. I’m there partly to do the ‘Welcome to Bali’ thing, and partly because they think that I might be able to give them the inside scoop on how things work here. If they thought that I would be able to steer them away from falling foul of the more dangerous aspects of Bali, I am ashamed to say they were sadly mistaken.  I am unfortunately blessed with an overweening arrogance about my ability to navigate all of Bali’s little surprises, so my hubris occasionally results in less than fortuitous outcomes.

One of the party had thoughtfully picked up a few nibblies from the deli across the road, and as we chatted, he produced a sealed packet of nuts. “What are these?” he asked. “I’ve never seen these before.” A quick glance was enough for me to quickly identify them as macadamias, although the price seemed uncharacteristically low. “But is says here on the label that they’re …” I cut him off with a dismissive wave. “Ah, that will just be the local name for them”, I airily inform him. I’d forgotten that a  ‘quick glance’ is not a wise strategy to employ in identifying any food in Bali.

So we sit around for a while, munching on the occasional macadamia and talking about all kinds of Bali stuff as one is wont to do in these circumstances. The nuts are pleasant enough, but they feel a little oily and ever so slightly bitter. They also don’t quite have the creamy texture that I remember from the last time I could afford macadamias. It’s just Bali, I think to myself – they’ve probably been sitting on the shelf for a few months. Five or six nuts later, it’s time for me to head off.

As I dodge suicidal drivers on the twenty minute ride home, I feel the first stirrings of that unmistakable Bali ‘uh-oh’ feeling. Sharp fingers of discomfort begin to coil like snakes through my gut, turning quickly to serrated knives which seem to be carving my intestine into small chunks. My whole alimentary canal also appears to have liquefied and turned icy-cold, while my skin burns and starts sweating. I need to get home, right now. I suddenly morph into a typical Bali rider, dealing with the usual traffic jam outside Bintang Supermarket by dodging between cars like a lunatic, overtaking everything, mounting the footpath, scattering pedestrians and generally being one of those riders I so love to criticise. My vision blurs at the edges, leaving one clear image of a toilet at the centre, which has become my sole focus in life.

Fortunately, the only muscle in my body that still has any tone left after two years of sloth and gluttony is my sphincter, and I just manage to make it home without a catastrophic accident. And I’m not talking about road crashes either. After the traditional Bali palliatives of Entero-Stop and charcoal tablets have worked their magic, I’m back to semi-normal after a few hours. Then I get a call from my friends. “Are you OK?” they enquire. “Nearly all of us got bad Bali Belly after you left, and the only thing we had in common was eating those nuts …” Aha! I think. Obviously bad hygiene practices at the nut packing plant. It must be E. coli, or salmonella, or some other rotten Bali bug.

Well, it wasn’t. It was my stupid assumption that we were eating macadamias. So I consult a Bali food oracle – my Domestic Infrastructure Support Manager (she doesn’t like the term ‘pembantu’). I describe the offending nuts and ask her if she has heard anything negative about them. She seems puzzled. “No, they are not macadamia, they are kemiri – really good for making sambal.” I tell her that we were less than impressed with the ones we ate at lunchtime.

She looks horrified. “No, no! You must cook first! Cannot eat from packet – they are poison!” Belated research reveals that when raw, they contain saponin, phorbol and other mildly toxic purgatives. I can personally vouch for the truth of that. I discover that you can mash them up and use them as soap. They also are rich in heavy oils, to the extent that people apparently string them together, light them and use them as candles. One would think that the name ‘candle-nuts’ on the packet should have given me some sort of clue. One would be wrong. In Hawaii, they were also used to make varnish, and even canoe paint. Needless to say, you do not eat them raw. I feel sick all over again.

It’s not the only mistake I’ve made here, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. What’s next? A bag of stuff that looks like peanuts, but are actually layer pellets? I know petrol is sold in vodka bottles here, but at least it doesn’t look like vodka. But what if I ever find kerosene being sold in gin bottles? I may not live through the experience.

If you are coming to Bali, by all means ask me for advice. But if you value your health and safety, I suggest you don’t trust anything I have say about any food or beverage here.