Ubudians in the Hills of Camelot

By Mark Ulyseas

For The Bali Times

This is about cross-cultural fertilization…

The land of the rising sun in harmony with the morning of the world.

Of course, one can’t overlook the ubiquitous watering hole.

The jazz, sake and vodka.

Occasionally, I have spent leisurely hours wallowing at my favorite watering hole, downing gallons of draft beer and discussing Sartre while nibbling on chicken satay and pontificating on the travails of living in Camelot (often referred to as Ubud), complete with its bars, nightclubs, restaurants, art galleries.

Talk is cheap but liquor is quicker, as Doc. Dwarka (a visiting Ayurvedic specialist and doc to us) would declare. And what would I say? That my watering hole has now become a Chinese restaurant. In fact, one has to wrestle with the Sino customers to get a seat: you know, like musical chairs – the music being the sizzling sound of pork chops on the barby.

It was here that I had breakfast with an acquaintance, Chris Gentry, the other day. The mornings being the only time the irregulars can get a look-see. Over a meal of ribs, tuna sandwiches, fried eggs sunny side up and crispy bacon, washed down with large tumblers of Bloody Marys, we moan the intrusion into our watering hole by invading hordes of tourists from the Asian mainland. The time is 9:30am. I feel it is going to be one of those days when we will be here till closing time, a comforting thought considering the mayhem that surrounds us all in our daily grind.

Then Chris, in his inimitable bedside manner, gives me a few unsolicited ideas for future columns. I patiently listen to him wax eloquent on Ubudian society.

“Mark, do you know that there are over 150 Japanese women who have married Balinese and are living here in the villages in and around Ubud? My wife is Japanese, so I know.”

“I haven’t seen any women dressed like Japanese in Ubud, let alone elsewhere in Bali,” I reply.

He extols the virtues of the Japanese women who have married Balinese men and have adopted the local culture. They live like Balinese in thought, word, deed, dress and are indistinguishable from the locals – unlike many other expats who have retained their culture in terms of dress and lifestyles and some even their names, Made Wijaya, a friend, being the exception.

Isn’t this ironic as it was only in the last century that the Japanese invaded and occupied Bali? One can still see the tunnels that they built near Klungkung during WWII.

History is the sacred cow often sacrificed by the hands of forgotten memories. The spirits of the innocents who were killed in WWII in Bali must be keenly observing the migration of people like birds, the comings and goings of generations of foreigners on this island, probably pondering the rationale for the bloody past and the incentives for wars.

Just the other day, Graham, a buddy from Ibiza who spends six months a year in Ubud, took me to As One Lounge and Gallery to meet the Japanese couple that run the place – Chika Asamoto and her husband Hutomo Ishii. If you are a jazz fanatic, this is the place to hear Chika on the sax performing with local and visiting musicians. And while you sip sake, you can converse with Hutomo about his artworks, which grace the walls of the lounge. He is an artist who is in love with Bali.

Speaking to Chika and Hutomo, I begin to realize that time is only the vehicle; the essence is the heart of the people who adopt Bali as their home. They bring with them a culture and an acceptance of all things Asian that makes this experience so enriching.

A month ago, Jill Gocher, a photographer friend, took me for dinner to Hyroshi, the Japanese restaurant on the high street. Unfortunately, as I don’t eat seafood, the dinner was nasi bungkus with ayam for me. But the experience left me wondering about the Japanese who have settled in Bali. What has lured so many back?

Chika and Hutomo, the soft-spoken, hugely talented couple, don’t carry with them the burden of history. What they have brought to Ubud is the intrinsic passion for culture – art, music and the best sake in town.

Let us revert to Chris Gentry, an American who is married to a fine Japanese lady and resides in Ubud. Okay, I’ll not go off on a tangent on this one but suffice to say, Bali is the prime meridian between light and dark. Those who venture onto this isle must understand the rules of peaceful coexistence. Methinks Chris has got it down pat.

It is 6pm and doc grabs a copy of The Bali Times from me and starts reading it aloud. He abruptly stops and remarks, “The world is [expletive]. Take a look at this…” He hands me the paper, pointing to the Health page, which carries the news item “Doctors use Vodka Drip to Save Tourist.” Apparently, a man in Oz who tried to kill himself (like we all do while driving in Bali) was resurrected from near death by a constant drip of vodka for three whole days. Hooray! Our endless days of depravity have finally paid off. All along, we assumed that vodka would be the death of us. In fact, it has given life to someone, albeit in tragic circumstances. But on the flip side, can you imagine the hangover he must have had?

“So, doc, what do you have to say about this?” I ask.

“Absolute vodka saves absolutely,” he replies while sipping his sinful martini.

The morning has now become night, Chris has left and there are only a few stragglers, like doc and yours truly, sluggish at the square table.

Quietly, doc confides in me his dream to set up an Ayurvedic retreat somewhere in Europe. I announce that I plan to visit Japan to find out why my favorite Japanese writer Yukio Mishima – author of The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea – committed hara-kiri in his mid-20s. Oh well, we are like two sodden souls waiting for the Day of Atonement.

Later in the night while returning home, I hear Chika playing a soulful rendition of Louis Armstrong’s What a wonderful World, her saxophone wailing in the night. Whether it is real or imagined, I don’t know, but it strikes a chord in me. Could it be that the Morning of the World and the Land of the Rising Sun have found peace in each other … in Camelot?

To Chika Asamoto, her husband Hutomo Ishii and all the wonderful Japanese who have made Bali their home, I bow and say…


Thank You.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

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