By Richard Boughton
In olden days I used to occasionally hear it said that one who lives at the beach never actually goes to the beach. This was in the US, by the way, where beaches are generally far away from the lion’s share of the nation’s populace.
These are the domain of the few who happen to live on the edge (geographically speaking), while the rest find themselves separated from surf and sand by amber waves of grain and purple mountains’ majesty (as the old anthem has it).
Nonetheless, I found this notion suspicious at best, very possibly wholly fallacious. What, to live by the sea and the fresh salty air, the foamy whispering of the tide, the awesome crash of white-topped breakers and yet not set foot upon the sand? It cannot be!
Why, then, have these people lied, I wondered? Do they seek to devalue the thing in order to keep it all to themselves, to protect, with premeditated greed, their purchase on the pleasant shore, their place in the sun, so that more will not come and altogether spoil what must surely be Eden?
I reckoned this was the case, anyway. Until I came to live in Bali.
At the outset, I did take full advantage of my new proximity to the beach and the sea, and it seemed for a time to be all that I had imagined it would be – proof, moreover, that those lucky folks back home had been either bald-faced liars or simply dull of spirit.
Not a day did I spend in my house or in the town without making a special point of going down to the sea, to bask in the sun, to lie back on Sanur’s calm, buoyant, salt-leavened waterbed and, floating face up, gaze at the tropical heavens and the coming and going of all their pillow-like dreams, chariots and dragons and sails and sheep.
I must down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship, and a start to steer her by…
And then two things happened, more or less at once.
The one was that I was told I could not sit (much less lie) in any of the 52 generally unoccupied chaise lounges on the beachfront without paying Rp30,000 (US$3.50) to the restaurant that owned them. This despite the fact that I had already paid for coffee, and sometimes breakfast (albeit, admittedly, the cheap continental one). Highway robbery. What avarice is this? Clearly there is a matter of principal at hand. All I want, after all, is a tall ship, and etcetera.
The other development was that I began, little by little, and then by ever-increasing degree, to prefer the dry and comfy path-side table to the gritty sand, the gritty towel, the sticky surf, the beating sun.
Oh, I still go down to the beach, but the salt surf and the downy, white puppet shows in the sky have somehow been left behind; for more often than not I will be found sitting at a table at Luhtu’s café, sipping a coffee, reading the Jakarta Post or The Bali Times, my back to the breakers and the bubbling tide, watching instead the passers-by on the footpath, the tourists and the locals, the sellers and their children, the health-nut Europeans who jog by in Nike gear, dripping and huffing, dripping and huffing, teeth clenched in bitter determination, little knowing where they are.
I ask you, how many Balinese folk do you see jogging under the dripping son, Nike gear or not? I mean, really.
What is more interesting, after all – the march of the surf or the march of humankind.
I wonder if those couch-potato fat-cats in America knew all this from the start.