How I Nearly Killed a Goldfish by Flushing the Toilet
It’s raining. No, it’s pouring. Sheets of water crash down from the dark skies. Theka and I try to find shelter in a mechanic shop. The average Balinese motorcycle driver is undeterred, he just puts on his raingear and keeps ploughing through the waters at 30 miles per hour. Unfortunately, Theka does not have raingear. He hardly has shoes. Theka is the receptionist / housekeeper / gardener / breakfast cook in my $2 accommodation in Kuta and when I checked in he offered to take me to a Balinese funeral in his village. I eagerly agreed.
The next morning we jump on his bike, he hands me what he calls a helmet, what I call tupperware. We make it an hour or so outside town when the skies open. Unfortunately, our small shelter has a leaking roof and is slightly downhill from the road, so within 20 minutes the formerly dry place is close to being flooded. Theka tries to move his bike to higher ground and gets completely soaked. We have the option of staying here and getting really wet feet or moving across the road, uphill, and getting really wet feet in the process. We decide for the latter.
By now the water stands about two feet high and we have to lift the bike to keep the engine from getting wet. My shoes are still somewhat dry, and I decide to keep them that way, so I take them off. We lift the bike and stand in the middle of the stream/puddle while the traffic around is is still going full speed. I cannot help but laugh, this is just is too funny. A white air-conditioned bus shuttling tourists from their “original Balinese lunch” to the “traditional Balinese dance performance” passes and “Heinrich” or “Erika” with their stick-on names tags stare at these two laughing guys wrestling a bike out of the mud. I can catch a glimpse of their expressions. They sure would not want to change places. Neither would I.
There are three types of tourists here. People who pay $500 per night, people who pay $50, and people who pay $5. On my trip I am happily morphing between the groups. I had a tour of the Peninsula in Hong Kong, a “Singapore Sling” at the Raffles in Singapore, stayed at The Oriental in Bangkok and had lunch at the Amandari here on Bali. All these hotels have a real “sense of place”, your money buys an experience that is real, and sanitized. You get the dances, you get the art, you get your own western-style toilet with soft toilet paper.
John, the GM of the Amandari tells me that his clientele, who pay $1,250 per night in the two bedroom villa overlooking rice paddies, want the authentic Balinese experience. So the Amandari is built between a villa and a river, the villagers cross through the resort to do their usual offerings, get water, spread ashes of their deceased. I tell him that my accommodation that night is roughly $1.25 and we agree that also might provide me with an authentic experience. No soft toilet paper, though.
In fact, towel and toilet paper have to be negotiated separately, often they are not included in the price of the room. At The Oriental there are two shower heads in the shower at different heights and angles so you can choose if you want to stand or sit. They also provide two pillows of different firmness so you can be sure of a good night’s sleep. These days I am happy when I have more water pressure that the usual trickle.
So far my luck of the draw has provided me with sit-down toilets, not the traditional squatting kind. Usually the toilet here is basically a hole in the ground. A concrete water basin to your left serves a toilet paper substitute (use with your left hand only, please) and the ladle in that basin serves as the toilet flush. On my bike tour around Ubud I stop at a roadside shop for water. I ask to use their toilet which is near the pig stable. I want to flush, i.e. scoop water from the basin but luckily look inside the ladle first. A big pair of surprised goldfish eyes stare at me. I stare back, equally surprised. We both think: “What the hell are you doing here?” I set him free and get on my way, knowing that this is one of the questions I will never find an answer for.
Before I take advantage of the Happy Hour at Ziggi’s on Lovina Beach, when the beer price drops from $0.80 to $0.50, I want to check out the sunset. I run into some 200 people sitting solemnly on the beach, in traditional sarong and headgear, apparently also waiting for the sun to go down. I sit and a friendly Balinese asks if he can practice his English with me. He explains that what we are witnessing is the second part of a cremation ceremony. Some 10 bodies were burnt this morning and now the ashes are spread. The actual deaths occurred sometime ago (often months) but the families have to save money to afford the cremation, so the dead get buried and when money is available they are unearthed again and burnt. Some ashes are spread in the mountains, and some in the sea which is what is happening here tonight.
A small five man orchestra provides traditional Gammelan music, meditative in its monotony. Only now that the ashes are spread can the spirit of the deceased actually be reincarnated. The family members set little floats containing flowers, incense and ashes into the ocean where the current draws them away. My friend points up to show where the spirits will go tonight. I follow his gaze into the the cloudless Bali sky. The music of the orchestra fades as the priest starts his prayers. Millions of stars twinkle. What a perfect night to set the spirits free.