Suksma Bali:

Finally Ensconced

21 June 2004


(© 2004 by David H. Crocker: We are in Bali for 5 weeks. These are my random comments on the experience. Suksma is Balinese for "thank you". Balinese is distinct from the national Bahasa Indonesia, a very close cousin to Bahasa Malaysia, where "thank you" is terima kasih. Click on an image to see a larger version. Please send comments or requests for full-resolution versions of pictures to:


This is our fifth full day here and we are finally acclimating. It's not that our room or board have been an issue, but our heads finally seem to have settled down and in. For me, the parts of Asia that are not first-world are not easy. It has taken some days to get reacquainted with the sights, sounds, and smells of the region, enough for them not to be quite so discomfiting. We are staying in Ubud, the declared cultural center of Bali, far from the madding surf crowd in the southern reaches of Bali. We wouldn't want to be near them in the best of times, and of course it helps that they've already proven to be an attractive political target.

Speaking of which, would someone please take the US, British, Australian and Canadian governments out behind the shed and give them a sound paddling for their silliness about "dangers" here? They have massively damaged tourism here, with aggressive warnings for people to keep away from Bali. I completely believe that I need to watch my wallet and even that there is some reasonable chance someone might mug me.

  But what we are seeing here and how we are being treated lends zero credibility to claims that our person or our property are in as much danger here as they are in any number of typical U.S. cities -- from regular street crime, never mind political bad-guys. (It occurs to me that my awkward effort to avoid the inflammatory T word could readily trigger a digression about the real dangers caused by US foreign policy, but we are on vacation, so I'll avoid wandering down that path.)

The guys on the left look pretty mean, right? I mean, dig the shades and the attitude. Clearly we needed to steer well clear of them. Well, it's just a pose. I had to wait quite awhile to get them unaware. Whenever they saw me trying to take a picture, they were like the kid on the right.

Even the run-up to the July 5 national election here does not seem to be prompting any additional public tensions. Speaking of which, the local comments are tending towards the view that this is the first real election, with competition between the current president and an ex-military guy being legitimate and even close. Given how poor tourism is in Bali now, there is some hope that things will improve after the election. Signs of road and building primping give substance to the hope.

We have been taking advantage of the reduced tourism here to play things rather casually. Over the Internet, I got us a reservation for the first 3 nights at a place that was very expensive, for a basic room. An outrageous US$ 60/night. Most decent places go for $30-40.

We have is a large, bright, airy one-room stand-alone building, with hot water (a distinguishable feature around here), a telephone and aircon. Our first full day included looking at quite a few such places and we found ourselves really liking our current digs the best. Much more comfortable, but not over-the-top fancy, although some might say otherwise.
We are next to rice paddies, with warbling creeks of irrigation. And this place does have the word "villa" in its name; indeed we have our own cottage, close to a small number of its siblings, but there are real villas in the multi-hundred per night range. So we negotiated an additional week at US$45/night. Now, you might wonder why I prattle on about the price.

Well it's about the role that negotiating plays in the culture.

We were on our porch having breakfast this morning when one of the part-time employees wandered by and we got to chatting. The result of this is that he's going to drive us around tomorrow and when we asked the price he quoted a number that was out of line with what I would have expected -- not a lot of money to us, but far more than the going rate. I paused for just a moment, trying to formulate a response. He immediately prompted us that of course we should negotiate the price with him. No one is supposed to take the "first price" as anything other than an opening gambit. I had the distinct impression that he would have been very upset if we had just agreed to the price. And the bargaining is often downright fun. Not a cutthroat, new-york style, but a kind of banter and laughter style. Much of it is entirely ritualized, and the only awkward part is when someone does not play or gets the tone wrong. I was distinctly put off by the manager at a local Internet cafe who quoted a per-minute access price that was about 10 time too high, would not give me a reduced hourly rate and would not negotiate. So I got my own dial-up account for the month, instead. (By the way, Indonet customer service was absolutely first-rate. Extremely diligent, emailing me instructions, calling back at each step of the procedures, which were a bit distinctive. Setting things up took about half a day, total, most of which involved my walking down to a bank to deposit the fee in Indonet's account.)

Ubud does have its negatives. It has two main streets that are always very noisy, strewn with guys constantly asking if you want transport, and no alternate streets that allow us to avoid them. And almost everything on these streets is for tourists. Yuck. (The nasty part about the transport guys is that it is rude to ignore them. We have to say "no thank you" every time and for some reason I kept forgetting how to say thank you in Bahasa, so the whole thing is a constant effort.) On the other hand, we are doing pretty well with our few words. Some of it is a bit different from the Malaysian we know but we are learning. As with Malaysia and most other places, they have hellos that vary with the time-of-day. Their sequence goes:

  • Selamat pagi
  • Selamat siang (between 11am and 3pm)
  • Selamat sore
  • Selamat malam (after dark)

Loosely translated, these are, respectively:

  • "Good morning"
  • "Thank you for sharing this murderous heat with me"
  • "Thank heavens it is finally cooling off"
  • "Good evening".

Really, at 11am everyday, someone throws the master switch and it is almost instantly and thoroughly painful to be under the sun. Shade is ok, most of the time. But earlier in the morning it is simply fabulous. Breezy and a perfect temperature.

By the way, while we are taking folks out behind the shed, let's find whoever created the myth that roosters crow at dawn. Folks, roosters crow all the fucking time. On the other hand, dawn really is marked by a wonderful burbling of large quantities of some bird we have not yet been able see. Whoever throws that nasty switch at 11am throws a really nice one an 6am, waking these guys up. Light, resonant sounds that are entirely too lovely, as they chirp to each other.

We also have a house geckho under the eaves. He barks periodically and I always get a smile from a momentary flashback to our apartment Malaysia. (We have a couple of plastic geckoes strategically placed in our house in Sunnyvale. Visitors don't notice, but we like the reminder.)

Jackie was less enthusiastic when she discovered him contemplating the comfort of our suitcase.

So, morning has chirping but evening has buzzing. Flying, biting, stinging bug-critters, really excited by the likely delectableness of ourselves. We leave the room open during the day, but at night I try to lock it up tight -- which is not really possible given the, ummmm, porous design of the walls -- put on the aircon to make it unpleasantly cold for the critters, and remembering Jackie's innovation from Malaysia, I turn the ceiling fan up pretty high, to make it tough for them to fly around. This all works quite well, so they warm up by crawling... into bed with us.

Now that is something our governments issuing warnings about!

That, and the bloody motorcycle traffic.

- - - - -

Yes, we've done lots more, but this is already long and it's taken me all day to get this far. More about places, people and reactions, later.

Jackie says hi to all.