By Mark Ulyseas
For the Bali Times
Staying for long stretches in Ubud tends to addle the brain. One needs to get a regular infusion of reality in paradise to keep from becoming a catatonic lotus-eater. The combination of heat, noise and heavenly bodies in the right dosage does the trick. And what better place to get a shot of adrenaline and a good massage for the ego than on Kuta Beach, my regular hangout ever since I discovered Nyomanâ€™s stall that sells cold drinks. Next to him is Madeâ€™s fruit stand that serves mind-numbing Gado Gado. The chillies help in dispelling all perceived notions of machismo in me.
The other day when a close friend decided to become a distant friend, I was at a loss for words and, worse still, was marooned in Camelot with a bruised ego. Added to this, the knights were conspicuous by their absence. So I got into my trusted rusting Feroza, held together by a coat of paint, and drove down to reality. On the way I passed a cremation. Good omen, I thought, maybe the Gods favoured me on this day. No such luck. I was caught overtaking in the wrong lane by a cop who was intent on taking me to jail. After frantic sign language I was let off with a smile. The secret of my escape from Alcatraz was my deep understanding of smiling in Bali. Every Balinese seems to have an elastic jaw. The moment they come in contact with you it widens into a wondrous smile. So if in trouble, smile first, talk later. Believe you me, it works.
I arrived in Kuta to the sound of banshees screaming into mikes and the wail of an ambulance pelting down the road. Yes, I had forgotten that Kuta Karnival was on. Kadek, the toothless wonder, who doubles up as a parking attendant, greeted me, â€œHaylow, Mac, where you go?â€ referring, of course, to my month-long absence. I tell him, â€œTimbuktu.â€ â€œOh,â€ he replied, and walked away.
Once on the beach I felt life returning, with the sound of waves and urgent requests by Wayan, who forever wants to massage me. I tell her itâ€™s my ego that needed massaging. â€œOrkay, Mac, take shirt off,â€ she commanded. Obediently I removed my shirt and sat there like a zombie being rocked back and forth by the gentle massage of Wayan, her hands kneading my shoulder muscles into pulp.
Half and hour later I felt refreshed by all the kneading and Gado Gado, washed down with Bintang. The warm feeling encompassing me was not my ego but the chillies making their presence felt. The attention I received from Wayan and Nyoman made me feel loved once again. Leaving my shoes at the stall, I walked along the waterâ€™s edge towards Legian. I was half tempted to recite out aloud John Masefieldâ€™s poem Sea Fever. I mutter a stanza:
â€œI must go down to the seas again,
to the lonely sea and sky,
and all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
and the wheelâ€™s kick and the windâ€™s song and the white sails shaking,
and a gray mist on the seaâ€™s face and a gray dawn breaking.â€
Passersby looked at me in amusement but I didnâ€™t care if they thought I was the Mad Hatter. I accepted them with their g-strings and companions who were usually topless wonders – nothing to write home about. Really, whatâ€™s with these young girls who have the pressing need to walk around without any tops? Decent folk canâ€™t walk on the beach without having body parts displayed in all shapes and sizes as if they are going out of fashion. Methinks itâ€™s the ego. We all seem to have that feeling of wanting to be accepted, even the daft muscular men who jog along the stretch in the noonday sun, the heat that makes oneâ€™s eyebrows crawl.
A few minutes into the walk, an orange helicopter flew low overhead, just like a scene out of Baywatch. Sunbathers on the beach were abruptly awakened by the throbbing beat of the blades. There was much excitement amongst the bikini-clad and other creatures. James, a Kuta Cowboy friend of mine, walked up to me and announced that three people had drowned some days before. â€œThey dunt listen. No swimming when flag is there,â€ he said. Oh well, itâ€™s that same old feeling of â€œDonâ€™t tell me what to do I know bestâ€. Ego? I suppose so.
Further down I walked past a couple lying on the beach. They appeared to be in extreme disrepair. The heavy toll of surfing had sapped their energy. I waved to them.
â€œHiya mate, want a beer?â€ asked the Amazon.
â€œOk,â€ I replied.
Three beers appeared out of thin air.
â€œSo what are you doing in Bali?â€ I asked, adding whether a bloated ego was essential to being a good surfer as it kept one afloat in the surging waters.
â€œSurfin, mate. See the sea. Itâ€™s the last frontier. I love it. Riding the wave reminds me of a power greater than me. And ego? Nah, you canâ€™t survive out there with it. You will drown. The sea is the biggest ego of all mate,â€ she replied.
At sunset, while returning to Nyoman, I got into a conversation with James, who extolled the virtues of the ego. He felt that without it he would not have had the power to pick up girls on the beach. I wondered whether we were talking about the same thing.
At the end of the day, Self and Less should become one word. Then and only then will we be able to comprehend the ego.
In the meantime, we should gravitate to massaging them and open a string of massage parlors and name them Ego or Igo. Reflexology for wounded egos could be a combination of spicy Gado Gado, Bintang and Wayanâ€™s deft hands.
Kuta Beach to me is like a bitch in heat drawing people into its embrace, cradling the weary, rejuvenating the tired souls and massaging the egos with its wondrous array of peddlers and fiddlers on the beach. For without the ego, we no go to Kuta. And Kuta then will cease to exist. Better we keep ego and go. What say you?