I have been quite busy the past few days. Trying to set up a commercial kitchen in a foreign country without use of the language is a challenge indeed. Today I spent the day driving around to kitchen supply stores, supermarkets, and open air markets to find ingredients and equipment. We may be almost set up now. In the midst of this shopping adventure we took a break at a local Warung (cafe) on the side of the road for a lunch of chap chae, stir fried local vegetables and tofu in kecap manis (soy sauce sweetened with palm sugar) with, as always, plenty of rice. The warung was high up on a hill with an open air bar seating, overlooking the rice paddies and garden where all of the food was grown. We got a tour of the tiny property from a crazy Australian man who was living on the property in a shack, doing tests in organic rice productivity. The land had two cows, the urine of which was turned into urinol fertilizer, the back end was turned into manure, and the cows also plowed the rice. The water to irrigate was taken from a local creek and filtered by strategic water weed planting. The human toilet waste was composted into a plot of land which was growing special plants for the cows to eat. It goes in, it goes out, it goes in, forever. It was a cool little self sustaining agriculture project.
I have been riding my motorbike to explore a lot more. The motorbike is key here. Roughly $1 for a liter of petrol and you can go miles through the jungle and around the hairpin turns of Bali. I used it today to haul back my five gallon water jug and strange assortment of groceries. It is interesting what finds its way into a grocery bag, when you’re in such a foreign land. Mangosteens, delicious melons and weird hairy fruits, weird green vegetables I do not fully understand, the freshest spices on earth, Javanese chocolate with cashews and ginger, peanuts, and slightly soured tofu. How do I make a meal with this? All of the tofu here smells mildly like it is rotten to my nose, but I have had it in so many meals now, and been assured it is fine by the Balinese. I think it is just Bali style to have pungent vinegary tofu. Now, I am starting to like it. With the grocery receipt they gave me Durian fruit flavored candies. What a cruel joke. If it wasn’t bad enough to sell a fruit that smells like rotting gym socks, they had to improve upon it by making a candy out of it? Maybe I will finally learn to like Durian while I am here. … Maybe.On another note, beer in Bali is no dream come true, but they do have one half way decent microbrew called “Storm” beer that I have enjoyed imbibing once or twice.
I’m still trying to figure out what best characterizes the Balinese people, as I have experienced them so far. What stands out most is an overwhelming humbleness. Everyone seems to carry themselves with graciousness and kindness. It makes sense that so many people worldwide want to come here. Never would you find yourself cheated by the price of something in a shop or at a market, or unable to find a friendly face when you are lost and confused. There is also a dignity to the Balinese way of life. The government is a mess, and the streets are in disarray, but still the people will sweep them and trim the bordering grass out of pride of place. People engage on a daily basis with their families, their community members, and their belief systems. It’s no secret as to why this is alluring to western people whose lives have often become more formulaic and devoid of spirit, love, honesty, peace, and community. As wonderful as it is here, it also attracts a lot of new age people who want to lose themselves in someone else’s cultural identity, in an effort to find their own. It seems strange.
Everyday as I ride to work, I pass by two distant (and active I am told) volcanoes, through jungles, and past rice fields. When the rice is picked, they burn the fields. Fire is symbolic of purification here, and there is always something burning in Bali. Trash burns in the street, coconuts burn for offerings, and rice fields burn for soil rejuvenation. There is always a fragrant fire smell everywhere you go, which I have grown to love. It perfumes the thick humid air like a natural incense which mixes with the constant smell of agriculture and slightly soured coconuts. I tried to take pictures to recreate this whole magical experience, but it was impossible. Enjoy these photos anyhow until next time. N