>> We are in Ubud, where we have come to spend the day. This, of course, is Eat Pray Love territory — the place where Elizabeth Gilbert found an ancient Balinese medicine man, a village healer and a Brazilian lover. Nothing as esoteric informs our ambitions for the day: we are here to shop, shop, shop.
But, where on earth do we start? The upward winding road is already cluttered with humongous warehouses selling exquisite furniture to decorate a hundred Goa homes and hotels. (The redoubtable Bina Ramani, design whiz of beautiful Goan homes is at this very moment, we are informed, in Ubud no doubt buying up the countryside) but furniture is not the only item on display: masks, antiques, statues, leather goods, cane articles, carved wood, silverware and batik all of a high standard and in huge numbers catch our eye and make it very difficult to carry on without stopping and buying. What is odd in this abundance of local talent is the advent of big name western brands that stand out like a sore thumb. We spot a Paul Smith, Ralph Lauren and yes, even a Starbucks as we trundle on. To our credit we don’t let their presence distract us from the local and the handmade, and going by their footfall, neither do the other tourists.
A word about the tourists: mainly Caucasian and well heeled even when they’re schlepping. We are interested to observe that far from the tattooed beer bellied denizens who make their way to Goa, Bali draws a more clean cut and gentrified breed of holiday seeker. The Bump says that Australia is the biggest provider of tourists to this island city, followed by China and Japan. Well, the people we meet in the shops and on the streets certainly represent these statistics — well groomed and well toned Australians with a smattering of the Chinese and Japanese upper classes who display their branded accessories with newfound flair. Everyone is polite, well behaved and self absorbed. We think of the plumber, electrician and gravedigger of the Goan holiday experience and wonder where we go wrong.
Perhaps this is good a time as any to ring up the small matter of sensibility. Why is it that the further east you travel from Bihar — the birthplace of Buddhism, the more apparent its influence? The people of Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia and Japan have struck us as being far more peaceful and Buddhist than the inhabitants of the birthplace of the Buddha.
At the spa where we are afforded some out of body experiences, we observe the masseur as she conducts the simple act of removing the eye mask from a fellow guest’s face before concluding the session. Two-and-a-half minutes are how long she gives this simple but significant ritual.
Two seconds in India if you’re lucky — of course accompanied by a long ramble and then a whine for a tip. Let's admit it — gentleness and subtle thoughtfulness is not our strong suit.
But, of course, the serpent is not a stranger to paradise. “I am 200 per cent Hindu,” offers our taxi driver on learning we are from India. A great community relationship is about to be established before our companion interjects to establish his Muslim credentials. The cab driver maintains a sullen silence after that. Bali's mainly Hindu populace maintains an uneasy truce with the Muslim majority of the mainland. Welcome to the ugly face of communal tension, which mercifully doesn’t carry a ‘made in India’ label!
But all can be forgiven to Bali if one considers the things: it’s ambience (clear skies, blue waters, magnificent flora and fauna), it’s talented craftsmen — and it’s unsurpassable cuisine! Why on earth have the cuisines of Thailand, China and Japan gained such international currency?
For the last few days we have dined on the freshest of seafood, vegetables and soups — reminiscent of the best of Indian, Chinese, Thai and Japanese...
Where are the great restaurateurs and trendsetters? Why have they given short shrift to Indonesian fare? We lodge our official protest on these pages.
But for all its splendour and riches, the one drawback that Indonesia faces is its currency: the cheapest things are valued at hundreds of thousands of rupiah! No matter that translated that amounts to a few dollars. To visit Indonesia one must be a maths whiz or carry a calculator constantly. And be prepared to feel very very poor after you’re told that the hat you’ve purchased is — one hundred thousand rupiah!
Existential poverty! Mercifully we are turning to India soon where we can still hold our own against the dollar — barely!