Hati Hati – Watch Out You Could Fall in Love

Hati HatiAll over Bali are signs warning you to look out for THIS and THAT. Hati Hati: Watch your heart, be careful of holes in the roads, dangerous animals, intersections, or road works. Hati, Hati! There are no signs though to warn you not to fall in love with this amazing country. And … not falling in love with Bali is, according to my experience, an impossible feat.

I’ve thought long about what it is that makes Bali so loveable to me, the Francophile, who could live exclusively on baguette, camembert, and a light bordeaux. If you are looking for those things, forget Bali. The bread?…Na!, The Cheeses?…forget about it! The wine?…Not really! Other countries have beaches, warm weather, and lush vegetation too. Other countries have rubbish piles everywhere. Maybe not as many as Bali, but I blame the tourist industry for that sorry state of affair. There should be a sign warning of tourists (me included, a blessing and a curse all in one): Hati Hati>turis!

It’s the people. People shaped by the land and shaping the land in return. People whose life centres around their spirituality. Where else do you find a temple in almost every household? Little shrines and places of worship and offering in practically every shop, every house, every drive way? People, whose daily actions are deeply entwined with thanking their Gods for the gifts they received and with protecting them from evil spirits to take hold in their lives and the lives of loved one.

Take for example the Tooth-Filing-Ceremony mesangih or mepandes. It is a more than 2000 year old tradition that predates the arrival of hindu-ism and involves the filing down of the upper front teeth. These teeth symbolise greed, anger, jealousy, in general the more savage aspects of human nature. By filing down the carnivorous canines and incisors, the person is thought to be freed and protected from these unwanted traits of human nature. The ceremony is a rite of passage into adulthood and represents a path of social and spiritual well-being.

You may say “So what?” I think it’s an amazing tradition. It is actually one of the main celebrations a Balinese person is going to have. The whole family comes together, maybe even others from the village. It involves not just the filing, but an intricate ritual, temple service, blessings, and a feast.  What I find so amazing about it is that in the consciousness of Balinese people the base nature of human beings has been recognised very early and declared as unwanted. There is a conscious effort to rid oneself of these ‘evil’ aspects and strive for honour and integrity.

I believe that this striving can be felt and experienced when we come in contact with the people from Bali! Suksma, Eka, for teaching me about this!

The Real Bali

P1020999-0I have been here in Bali for 7 days now and have seen some very beautiful places and learnt a little bit about a culture that is so excitingly different from my own. Of course I have seen the spots that most tourists are lead to. The temples, the rice fields, and the temples. Places with huge parking lots filled with busses and taxis, brimming with lightly clad tourists swinging their cameras relentlessly at everything even remotely native. I suppose everybody who comes here wants to discover ‘The Real Bali.’

I am no exception. Besides going here to the dentist, who, I have decided is half God, half Magician, I want to see the real Bali too. The one I glimpsed in “Eat, Pray, Love”. I wouldn’t mind having deep conversations with a wise elder, being shown un-lived potentials, and biking through beautiful tropical landscapes. I wouldn’t mind being scouped up by Javier Bardem ( even though he is not Patrick Swayze), to a remote little something with no walls, flowy curtains, and a promise of adventure.

Lamentably, that hasn’t happened – yet! “Shush, longing heart, there are still 7 days to go. Who knows!”

Maybe that kind of real Bali can only be detected with the help of a 30 head film crew that has oodles of time to research and create what they are looking for. The average tourist will have to content with what big international hotel chains and tour operators have in store for us. On TripAdvisor I have read people calling some of these places and malls ‘ tourists rip-offs’. What do they expect for their $5 U.S.? Antiques instead of mass produced masks? Nobody is forcing anybody to buy anything.

In the meantime I enjoy what I can glimpse and detect from what I think real Bali is. People with a deep sense of tradition and spirituality, who carve a living out of the resources this beautiful island provides. Private temples that are not just decoration but an integral part of Balinese daily life. Last but not least the non-tiring friendliness and hospitality of the Balinese.

I can already see that my next couple of teeth need attention in about two years to give me a valid excuse to come here again!

Body Delights: Balinese Massage

imageI don’t give away a secret when I tell you that when you reach a certain age the body demonstrates its reluctance to be wielded around like in the early twenties by creaking, hurting, and refusing to work (like my knees after sitting for an hour in one place), to list just some few dilemmas.

So when you are in Bali, as I am at the moment, and you have a creaking body like mine, you most certainly want to go and get massages. Because they are really affordable here, you want to get lots of them! Being out shopping at the Bali collection, the mall connected with the Nusa Dua resort group of hotels, just short of having a heat stroke, I dashed into one of the many day spas offering all kinds of massage…and an air conditioned reprieve from the heat.

Now, I am what I call a substantial woman! More a Wagnerian Valkyrie than a delicate Meg Ryan. Picture that on a massage table and this little Balinese girl, that barely reaches my bra-line with her eyes. How on earth are they going to get the accumulated knots out?  Let me assure you, I unravelled THAT mystery in no time!

Before I knew it this tiny half-sized person jumped on the table with me and half straddled me. I fleetingly assured myself that I wasn’t in one of THOSE establishment before I received the pounding of my life, administered with everything she had available. Elbows, fists, and some very hard bits of her hand, which name evades me at the moment. I was once in a violent relationship and my then partner was an amateur compared to the pounding she dished out. Keep breathing and avoid tensing up, it hurts less! HOLY SMOKE! And all for NZ$18!

My body feels as if I fell into a fountain of youth afterwards!

It has been my second massage here, and I am gladly singing the praise of these amazing people.  I have been told there are lots of places where you get them cheaper, but then, I refuse to barter for a cheaper price with people who have to save up for ten years to afford the airfare to New Zealand.

But independently from this obviously totally noble gesture of mine, I think I have discovered the secret behind the ability of Balinese dancers to twist their bodies into all those amazing positions! They all must have these little devils jumping around on their backs making sure they stay supple! I am here another 9 days, I think I am going to squeeze in a handful of massages before I dash home to winters New Zealand! And then I show my peeps what this re-juvenated body can do!

Taumaruni on the Main Trunk Line

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(Taumarunui, Hakiaha Street, June 2014)
I don’t know whether to believe in rebirth and several life-times. Maybe I should because there is no other explanation for my relationship with Taumarunui.

I heard about the place 20 years ago and we bought a little cottage there  as a ski hut – Mt. Ruapehu ski fields are 30 minutes away – and sold it again 13 years ago. Ever since I am ‘home sick’ for it.

Last weekend we went to the ‘Mountain’ for a break. The moment we left Te Kuiti and got onto the hills on that 70 kilometre stretch to Taumarunui, my heart did all sorts of jumps, from delight to joy to love to sadness and a deep-seated pull with a strong sense of ‘coming home’.
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Travelling In Style

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(Lounge at Singapore Airport)
If you want to travel in style – trust me – you better have enough money to fly at least business class. Anything less is torture. You better stay at home.

I, of course, did not heed my own advise. I booked my flights in the most crazy way, all with the intention to save a few bucks. When my husband heard of my travel arrangements, he rolled his eyes … you know the kind of rolling that earned Anastasia Steele a severe spanking. But I digress.

Even though I am usually not endorsing big companies, this post will end up to be a praise of Lufthansa – a partial praise would be more correct. Why, because their inland planes suck. There is no softer or kinder way to convey it. They have all the trimmings of a normal air plane, BUT the layout of the seating is designed for the transport of people not taller than 135 centimetre or 4 foot something. So you can’t sit and you can’t stand because that is forbidden during flight. Unless you want to use the ‘facilities’ which of course are – again – for little people. I still don’t know how the 300 pound heavy passenger fitted in there, he barely made it through the aisle. And I won’t even talk about the food. I won’t!

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Wedded Bliss

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If you walk the streets of any village or city in the morning and you don’t see people scurrying home with a long stick of bread under the arm, followed by the distinct whiff of freshly baked wholesomeness, a smell that quickly captures unsuspecting passers-by, you are not in France.

Unlike us culinary savages, no decent French Femme will be caught serving for breakfast ordinary toast, baked by the thousands in sterile food plants, cut into even slices by machines, to be imprisoned in plastic bags with the label “Big Fresh” or something to that tune.
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Marseille the enchanted city

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Have you ever been in Marseille? No? Oh, that is sad, because you missed something very – – – what is the right word? – – – enchanting! Ever since I fell in love with The Count of Monte Christo 50 years ago I wanted to go there … and yesterday I finally did. Accompanied by two wonderful friends who were willing to show me around, I went to follow in the footsteps of Edmond and Mercedes.

Don’t tell me they are fictional characters! I am sure many Edmonds and Mercedesses have lived here over the centuries. Maybe they went by other names, but they will have laughed and cried, loved and suffered, while the Chateau d’If four kilometres out at sea will have reminded them of one of the most read love stories ever written.
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