By Tony Greenwood
For The Bali Times
PERTH, Australia ~ The first thing you notice in Bali is the collection of cats and dogs roaming the streets. They don’t seem to belong to anyone in particular. Rumor runs wild among the tourists. They are mobile, takeaway animals; they can be plucked from the street at any time and eaten by some person from the hills. Satay puppy dog, as we all joke as we see a little old lady with no teeth cooking on a small, smoke-ridden fire.
Then goes the story, don’t kill a stray cat or dog; itâ€™s someoneâ€™s grandmother or someone from the afterlife. Pick which one of these stories to believe. The truth is these cats and dogs probably did or do belong to someone or some village. They just roam the streets and dodge the cars and motorbikes, like us, looking for a meal or a nice cool place to sit and dream the day away.
Then you head to the back laneways and see a rooster in a rattan basket – no food, no water. Poor bugger. You go to pat him and he nearly takes your arm off. Heâ€™s a fighting cock, bred to kill. Cruel, yes, but thatâ€™s Bali for you, or any part of the world, really.
Small cages are hoisted meters into the air, the melodious coo of a dove bringing a smile to your face. The chance to look into the sky brings your attention to the hundreds of other birds that fly around in Bali. You then note many other simple things that you had missed: a gecko scoots across the path; a motorbike buzzes by with babi guling in a saddlebag. This is Bali.
This what we come here for – the culture, the experience. Take all of this out of Bali and you don’t have a tourist attraction.
My family and I head to the Denpasar market (Satria), where thousands of birds are up for sale. We hold our breath in fear of bird flu or some other nasty disease. I peep into the back room of one of the bird stands: a mattress and a bedroom is neatly tucked away, and by chance I ask, â€œDo you sleep here?â€ to the very slim man with a clove cigarette hanging from his mouth. â€œOf course; itâ€™s my home. I live here.â€ My mind ticks away. Imagine doing this back in Australia.
Take a trip to the bush or the outbackÂ of Australia, and itâ€™s not too much different to what you see on the streets of Kuta or Legian.
A naughty little monkey catches my eye. My kids scream with joy, â€œLet me pat him!â€ With great caution I edge my hand closer and closer to pat the fluffy little creature. Itâ€™s been your life fantasy to have a monkey. â€œ$20 Australian,â€ shouts the man. Oh, only if I could smuggle him home. What a treat.
A nasty smell is emerges as you hold the little bundle of joy. Heâ€™s pooed. Filthy retch. I hand him back in disgust, my dream of ever owning a monkey quashed.
Made the driver buys us a drink from a small stall next to a man selling worms and crickets, baby rats, too.
Come on, gang, itâ€™s back to the hotel pool for a nice Bintang thatâ€™s surely safe.
Bali is what you make of it. The people in Bali make Bali what it is today: mystical, paranormal, historical and exciting.
We leave thinking how can they afford to live, poor buggers. I also think, â€œPoor us, heading home to the rat race we call home.â€
The writer is owner of Peel Zoo in Western Australia.