Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Very Bali Birthday

(Or as Christine says, “Celebrate, Bargain, Swim: One girl’s search for the greatest birthday ever.”)

I was sad when I came to the realization that my birthday in Indonesia wouldn’t be taking place at the same time as my birthday in America. In fact, only 12 of the hours would overlap.

But… then how would I possibly be able to bask in all the glory of my one special day? And that was the moment I decided I was going to take advantage of my birthday this year.

My plan was to begin “my birthday” at midnight in Bali, which makes sense. But instead of ending 24 hours later, I would still consider it my birthday until 12:00am on November 8 in America. Bali is one hour ahead of Palembang… so that meant… I was officially declaring this my 37-hour-long birthday.

But THEN we went to dinner at around 8:00pm on November 6… and saying, “Hello, Mr. Waiter! It’s my birthday!” just sounds soooo much better than saying “Tomorrow is my birthday.” So I did.

And, thus, I managed to squeeze a solid 41 hours of birthday in for myself.

Heh heh heh.

Bali would be wonderful it weren’t your birthday. It would be wonderful if it weren’t the only time you’d felt warm bath water in a month. It would be wonderful if you weren’t there with your favorite fellow ETAs. But the stars aligned. And it was wonderful.

We met up with my aunt’s best friend’s sister’s best friend when we landed in Bali. (Did you follow that?) Isn’t that funny? Someone at least four steps removed from me became my closest friend in a place I’ve never been. That has to be one of the coolest parts about traveling. Marilyn was so kind and so welcoming, and her house was INCREDIBLE!

She’s lived nearly everywhere in the world, and has the neatest things hanging and sitting all over her house to prove it. That’s how I want to be when I’m older. “Oh, did you mention Italy [substitue any other cool place]? Yeah, I lived there for a few months when I was younger.”

Her house is just a few minutes away from Jimbaran Beach. You can walk, and so we did. The ocean water was literally warmer than my shower water in Palembang. There were people milling around, but it was mostly empty. The weather was perfect, and for the first time in 2 ½ months, the sun was hitting my legs and shoulders. It was the sort of scene that makes you want to take big, deep breaths so you can fill as much of your lungs with sunshine as possible.

Jimbaran Beach... ahhh.

We played around, got sunburnt in about three minutes, and then headed to the hotel. It was… nice. I think it’s safe to say that a $75 room in Bali doesn’t get you quite as much of a deal as a $75 room in Bukittingi. Our door had only a padlock on it, and the showerhead was the hand kind, it didn’t hang on the wall. But hey… there was hot water and wireless internet around the pool. It takes less to make me happy these days.

So we went out for a delicious dinner on Friday night, where I truly did bask in the glory of my special day. The restaurant gave free tiramisu and limoncello… mmm. Then we walked around and explored the nightlight in Seminyak.

An interesting note: I’m pretty sure Raj stepped off the plane in Jakarta on August 30 and began anticipating our trip to Bali. He read books, he scanned articles, he researched online. He decided we’d stay in Seminyak; apparently the Goldilocks area of Bali—not too touristy, not too elite, but juuust right. Somehow, though, in all his reading, Raj must have skipped an important part of the travel guide: Seminyak is the heart of gay Bali.

Which made my birthday AWESOME. Raj was slightly appalled; the rest of us were delighted.

If there’s one thing Balinese gay men love more than each other, it’s celebrating birthdays with a bunch of American girls. I was plopped onto barstools, showered with free drinks, flamboyantly serenaded, ushered onto stages, and overwhelmingly cherished.

"You are the dancinggg queeen,
young and sweeeeeet, only twenty-threeeee."

(As a side note, one of the free drinks I received had “arak” in it. This is something else Jared warned me about before I came to Indonesia, and I’ve heard a lot more about it since I’ve been here. It’s basically moonshine since affordable alcohol can be so hard to find. But when people make it in their backyards, the alcohol content is incredibly high and they put other illegal substances into the mix.) Seven people died drinking it in 2004, and more have died since then. Generally, it’s completely safe if it’s served in a bar… but it’s still a little eerie. And a tiny bit thrilling.)

Sleep is for wimps in Bali. We were up the next morning at 7:30am and quickly on our way to Ubud. Get ready for a busy day:

Christine gave me a beautiful pink, purple, and green batik scarf: my first birthday present! Her students helped her pick it out. I would have worn it all day if I hadn’t been so sweaty.

First, we stopped for a gamelan performance and barong show. The coolest thing about gamelan is that it’s music that’s just supposed to be beautiful music. It doesn’t tell a story, it’s not supposed to imply an emotion… it’s just nice to listen to. Of course, THIS show did put a story to the music: the ancient battle between the good, ornery Barong (half-dog, half-lion) and the evil witch Randga.

Next we stopped at a place where you can watch women make “batik.” (More on batik in my next posting.) Batik is a huge part of Indonesian culture. It’s cloth made with wax and many colors and complicated patterns. Vera Bradley bags, for example, would be batik. I didn’t buy anything, though, because it was all mega expensive. We also stopped at a huge jewelry studio and shop; most of the products were sterling silver and also disappointingly overpriced.

Next up? The Monkey Forest Sanctuary. It’s exactly what you think it is. There were just tons of monkeys everywhere—running around and begging for food and fighting with each other! Christine was scared to death. One monkey even jumped on top of a girl’s backpack, opened the zipper, and stole some wet wipes before running away.

Monkey kisses. Muah.

There were signs posted everywhere about “monkey safety,” including “Never grab a monkey. If a monkey gets on you, drop all of your food and walk away slowly. If a monkey jumps on you, stand still, and walk away slowly.” I’m not exactly sure how you walk away from a monkey that’s on top of you, but luckily it wasn’t something I had to worry about.

After that, we were starving. We’d all watched Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations on Indonesia before coming here. (Thank you to my roommate Leslie for cleverly finding out when it would be on and setting a timer.)

Anthony Bourdain... you got nothin' on me.

Tony eats at a place that serves Babi Guling, pork soaked in delicious spices and covered in coconut water as it’s roasted over four hours over an open fire. You even eat the skin, and it tastes like pork and sugar and fruit. Keep in mind, Muslims don’t eat pork, so this is the first we’ve had pig in 2 ½ months. No bacon, no sausage, no ham, etc. So sad.

I'm just missing the sweet Hawaiian shirt.

Honestly, it was a tad disappointing. The skin was really hard to chew. The meat itself was tender and delicious, but the restaurant coated it in these spices that detracted from the natural flavor. Oh well, it was still awesome.

Next we headed to a nearby traditional market. I bought a bunch of things for souvenirs for all of YOU, and I got a small original painting of a cute pink and red happy little pig to commemorate my visit to Indonesia’s only non-Muslim island and my subsequent gorging on its native food.

The Hindus in Bali take offerings to the gods very seriously. There are small offering plates—with crackers and candy, interestingly—at the door of every home and business, and in the four corners of every house.

If I were a god, I would absolutely accept candy as an offering.
Or Diet Mountain Dew.

And now, the Very Coolest Thing I’ve Done So Far In Indonesia.

Hopefully you’ve heard of Eat, Pray, Love. It’s a novel written by Elizabeth Gilbert, in which she travels to Italy, India, and Indonesia and spends four months living in each country. In Indonesia, she searches for balance and finds it on the island of Bali. She meets a lot of interesting people. One of those people is Wayan, a medicine woman, who is Gilbert’s friend and cures her of various illnesses.

Well, Mom found Wayan’s address, and we went there. It was just that easy! In the book, Wayan can’t afford to keep her house, so Gilbert’s family and friends raise the money to build her a new one. And there we were—standing in front of the house! We walked in and saw a few Indonesians. “Is Wayan here,” we asked. “Yes, I am Wayan,” she answered, entering cinematically as she walked down the stairs.

I think she was a bit apprehensive about us being in her home until we each agreed to do a full-body reading with her for $20. That includes a health screening, fortune-telling, a body and face scrub, a light massage, two health drinks, and a week’s worth of vitamins.

She was eerily accurate. She told Christine not to eat peppers, having no way of knowing she’s allergic. She knew that Christine had recently ended a 3 ½ year-long relationship and that she’d worked two jobs since graduating from college. She knew that Dani had worked many different jobs all throughout college and had four very good friends. I went last.

I wanted her to look at me and say, “Oooh, Katie, it is your birthday, I see, no?” But she didn’t. I guess November 7 isn’t written on my hand anywhere.

She said I need more calcium and water in my diet, and I shouldn’t eat so many sweets. Well, that part would apply to nearly everyone, wouldn’t it? She said, “You think too much. Your stomach gets sick so much because you worry.”

She told me to watch out for my left knee.

The palm-reading portion of my treatment

Then she started on the fortune-telling. According to Wayan, I will have two long-term jobs in my life: one full-time and one part-time. I’ll make a lot of money, especially at the part-time job.

“Ooh,” she said, turning my hand on its side. “You will spend a lot of money, too.”

“Uhh… like… too much?” I asked.

“No,” she said. I breathed a sigh of relief. “You make many investments. You love to make investments, buy property. Maybe you also will play poker a lot.”


“Oooh,” she said. “You have had many boys in your life.”

Hey, lady. Watch it. “Have I?” I say.

“Mmmhmm,” she answers. “Five men have loved you already. Five men have loved you deeply. But you have not loved even one of them back. Not deeply. You have not known true love.”

Umm, ok? “Do you think I WILL someday know true love?”

“Yes,” she said. You will be married two times. The first time, for 8 years and 3 months. Maybe 8 years and 6 months max. That is all. It is no good. And then after that, you meet your love. You are happy then for the rest of your life in your second marriage.”

I sigh. “What about babies?”

“You have… two eggs.” She looks at me intensely and her eyes flicker between my hand and my stomach. “No, you have three eggs in you. But one, it is not strong. It will not live.”

“Like a miscarriage?” I ask.

“Yes, a miscarriage.”

At this point, I wonder if someday I really WILL have a miscarriage, and if so, I wonder if I'll remember this moment, when everything in my "real" life seemed so far away and a miscarriage didn't seem like it would bother me too awful much. I bet I'll feel differently about it then.

She proceeded to tell me that I have three really good friends in my life right now and that I would have my two children in my first marriage and that I haven’t met either of my husbands yet. She said soon I’ll meet someone I’ll date for three years. She promised he’d be a good person and that we’d truly love each other. But I don’t marry him, nope. Then she slathered some smelly creams all over us, literally pushed about 30 vitamins into our mouths, slapped some sticky tape onto our knees, and put leaves on our bellies. She said not to take anything off for at least two hours. It was all so… surreal. It was exactly what I imagined it would always be like to actually talk to someone you met in a book.

Our trip was over soon after that. That night we went out to eat at a truly horrible seafood/Thai restaurant, but by that time, I was satisfied with my birthday already.

We briefly considered turning in early, but Christine said, “Katie. It is your birthday. We must go to Kuta.” So we got a cab (that took nearly an hour to go five miles), and we headed to the most touristy, most crowded part of Bali.

Here’s the thing about Kuta: everyone there is beautiful. It’s like the Land of the 6-ft-tall Gorgeous Women. Conversations were literally taking place in a layer of oxygen 8 inches above my head. I felt like I needed to start breathing through my nose and saying, “Sorry I’m not dressed real cute… I got mah nice clothes dirty in the monkey forest!”

Christine and I walked around exploring all the different bars and clubs we’d been reading about for months in Lonely Planet. People were breathing fire and dressed up like pirates and dancing with basketballs in unison! We saw the places that were bombed earlier this decade, the incident that single-handedly delivered a fatal wound to Bali tourism. (We didn’t stay very long in those places.) We ate chocolate gelato at 1am and ended our night with a swim in our warm, clean hotel pool.

23 is going to be a good year.


  1. You ARE the dancing queen. You look so happy.

  2. Beware the evil moonshine brew. LOL...

    If I get to Indo to spend time with you... WE'RE GOING TO BALI! :-) You know why. ;-) So, Raj didn't know everything about that place huh?

    I look forward to your posts. I've been anxiously waiting for this one - I wanted to hear all about the great time you had for your birthday.

    Other than the heat and the lack of "good" food, this is all so amazing. I want to be there with you.

    Kisses and love...

  3. Crazy¡ Sounds like you had a great birthday!