Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Making Myself at Home

I was back at the Bintang supermarket by early afternoon on morning three of my month-long stay in Penestanan, a small suburb of Ubud, Bali. Just yesterday, I'd been delighted that the Balinese coffee I'd purchased had come with instructions.

1) Mix 1 tsp coffee with one cup of hot water. You may also add sugar and milk.
2) Let coffee settle to bottom.
3) Drink. Do not drink the sediment at the bottom. 

Great! I’d been willing to give it a try. I'd had this style of coffee in East Timor a decade ago and it had been all right. You just mix in the finely ground coffee powder with hot water, then don't drink what's at the bottom of the cup. No problem. 

Then, the morning—blech. Maybe I’d had a bigger coffee cup in Dili. I got to the bitter grounds in just a few gulps. 

I'd consumed bad coffee all around the world during my travels this year, after more than a decade of carrying my own along. I had a marvelous little mug-with-plunger I normally carried, but the years had made me lazy and I'd taken to drinking whatever yucky instant coffee was on offer. But I didn’t want to do that for a month of working in my own apartment.

Because—as I told a travel writing friend years back for his coffee article—it's not the coffee, it's the ritual. I like the morning ritual of making coffee.

After ingesting bitter coffee grinds and working for a while, the bungalow cleaner showed up at my door, so I knew it must be time to get out of the house. I headed down the little path beside a brook, then back through the rice fields, finding my way along the ridge past a cute organic cafe and what looked to be a harmonious life-affirming self-healing hocus-pocus inner woo-woo style yoga place (I like yoga but I prefer the straightforward kind). Eventually, I found a small staircase that went down to the main road right next to the supermarket, which was in a plaza with ATMs, a few restaurants, and a couple of shops. 

Inside Bintang, I browsed the cheap plastic products and kettles, searching for a coffee press. This store didn't have one, and why would they? The locals drank their coffee Balinese-style. I settled on a twenty-cent plastic strainer and some coffee filters as a temporary solution. I'd check the shops downtown and the local Starbucks—surely I'd find a coffee press somewhere. I thought affectionately back to one I'd found at a dollar store (well, euro store) back in Barcelona during my three-month stay there in 2004. 

I hoped my system would do the trick. I headed back up the little staircase to the ridge, through the rice fields, past the yoga place and organic cafĂ©—mmm, banana and cashew milk smoothie!—and back to my new apartment. 

Where the owners were performing the new house ceremony. This consisted of many offerings, some chanting, and bells being rung. I was relieved to not have any responsibility for this or the daily offerings. Kadek's daughter took care of placing leaves, rice, or flowers at the altar next to my building.

I christened (in my head, not out loud) the two plastic animals in attendance of the ceremony. They were now Phoebe and Zan. I headed upstairs.

An afternoon rain kicked in later in the afternoon, after the ceremony ended, but in spite of being cooped up indoors, I simply wasn’t being productive. So when the showers let up, I walked to Ubud’s center.

I crossed the bridge near the bottom of the Campuhan Steps and passed a green snake on my way downtown. I took a right at the center and headed down Monkey Forest Road, motor scooters zipping by me as I tottered along the uneven sidewalks, occasionally stopping in coffee shops and small supermarkets in hopes of finding a coffee press.


I’d stick with my plastic strainer and coffee filters.

I stopped in a mobile phone shop and got an Indonesian SIM card. The man behind the counter activated it and turned on my data for me. This worked out great, but I immediately lost the slip of paper he’d written my phone number on. I’d have to go back the next day and ask him how to find it on the phone.

I was handed no less than 11 spa flyers as I walked down Monkey Forest Road today. Now, I knew what "ear candling" is, but what could "belly candling" be? I had no intention of finding out, even though I planned to enjoy a number of local massages and manicures.

I stopped by a local restaurant and tried to sign up for beginner’s Balinese cooking class on Friday. “We’ll have you making the following delicious traditional Balinese dishes in no time: Nasi goreng, krupuk, peanut sauce, fruit in coconut milk, chicken satay,” said the brochure.

“Sorry, we’re sold out,” said the hostess. But Ubud had plenty of other classes here...silversmithing, wood-carving, fruit-carving, batik...I signed up for silversmithing, then headed back to Penastanan, hiring a motor scooter taxi to take me home.

And later that night, I learned a valuable bit of information as I sat in the artificial light on my verandah.

Mosquitos don't like me. I've barely been bitten, ever, as an adult. I only haphazardly pay attention to anti-malarials in Africa and sometimes don't even bother to take them along. 

But it came to my attention, at night in Bali, that if nothing else is available, mosquitos will put up with me. They'll take what’s on offer if they have to. 

Like coffee drinkers and Nescafe.

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