The Far Side – So Near
By Vyt Karazija
If ever I needed any reminders that Bali is a quirky place, these last few days have served to disabuse me of any notion that people here are reading from any conventional script, except maybe one of high farce. Every single day on the island provides vignettes of absurdity, of course, but when these come in unexpectedly concentrated clumps, I feel even more like an actor in a Mr Bean movie.
I finish breakfast, and am nicely full. But not quite having woken up properly, I am still a tad taciturn. It is, after all, not yet midday. I proffer a Rp50,000 note for a Rp35,000 bill. The cashier is aghast.
“You have no small money?”
“This is small money,” I reply.
“No, this is big money,” she says, her eyes big as if to emphasise the point.
I am tired of always being expected to have exact change for everyone from taxi drivers on down, so I tersely ask ”Don’t you have a cash float?”
“No, I can’t swim,” she responds without batting an eyelid. Having zeroed in on the word “float,” she has instantly segued to a response to my perceived non-sequitur as if this was perfectly normal. I am impressed with her thought processes.
Temporarily baffled, I struggle to explain that a cash float is what you start the day with in the till, so you can give change. I can see from her expression that she is visualising a cash float as some weird bule practice, presumably one involving a litre or two of water in the cash drawer with some banknotes floating on top. She explains, as if to a child, that they don’t do this, because they can get enough small change from their first few customers. Ah, why didn’t I think of that?
Mesmerised by this exchange, I wander off to the local cushion-making specialist to order a mattress pad for my somewhat-hard sun-lounge. We spend 20 minutes going through the specifications and measurements and agree on a reasonable price. He wants to copy my specifications down on his order form, but I tell him to use the diagram I have prepared previously.
“But I have to draw this on the order form,” he wails.
I prefer him to use my sheet, because it clearly states that I want a complete mattress pad of specific dimensions. He is clearly distressed.
“Staple it to the page in your order form,” I suggest. I’m trying to avoid the frequent Bali transcription errors that have messed up more than one custom order. I also ask him whether, when ready, the completed mattress will fit on my motorbike.
“Oh, yes, of course, – easy!” he says, seemingly relieved to be handling a simple question. However, having seen what the locals happily cart around on their bikes, I have my reservations.
Two days later, I go back to pick up my order. A beautifully crafted mattress cover awaits me, made exactly to specifications, except that it’s empty. There is no foam pad inside. “Oh no!” is the horrified response to my obvious question. “You only ordered cover! Foam is extra!”
So I ask to see my order in his book to prove that I ordered a complete item, not just the cover. Guess what? My spec sheet is not there anymore. He shrugs and insists that he quoted only on the cover – and proves it by showing me his copy, which contains the word “cover.” I check my carbon copy and it also says cover. Damn. Now I have to find somewhere in Bali that cuts foam to size; so much for one-stop shopping. At least he was right about it being easy to carry on my bike…
A fruitless two hours spent online and browsing local directories reveals that apparently most businesses don’t bother advertising. Especially purveyors of fine foam. I mean, why spend the money? Everyone knows where they are, right?
That evening provides more snapshots of life in Bali. I watch a local youth weaving dangerously down the road on his bike while texting. He is wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the legend: “Total Stability.” I see a tourist riding pillion, covered with recently healed scars on his forehead, ears, jaw, shoulder, knees, ankles and feet. My view of all these unmistakeable hallmarks of a bike incident is unimpeded, because he is wearing only shorts. No shirt, no helmet and no shoes. He looks relaxed as he drinks from a bottle of Bintang. Faith is a wonderful thing.
I consider dropping into a pub for a quiet one, but don’t stay. Everyone is yelling, apparently because they can’t converse at a normal levels, because everyone is yelling. Why don’t they just … never mind.
I ponder the logical circularity of this situation, as well as the absurdities of the last few days, as I ride home. As I get to my gate, I get an SMS. It says: “Your mattress cover is ready.”
Strangely enough, I don’t even blink. I mean, this is Bali, and it’s been a perfectly normal day.Filed under: Vyt's Line