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A Wedding in Bali

2008 June 1
by rob

May 22, 2008

Today I was to fly to Bali. But first, I had to fly to Singapore. Why was that? Because I made two mistakes:

1. When I booked my flight out from Kuala Lumpur on the Air Asia website, I accidentally chose “Singapore” from the drop-down box instead of “Denpasar” (the main airport on the island of Bali). Ooops. I was astonished by the cost of the fare. It was only CA$40! I thought I was getting a great deal. Of course it was a cheap fare. It was a short distance on a route with heavy competition. By the time I noticed my mistake, it was too late to correct it.

2. Instead of checking if it was cheaper to fly directly from KL to Bali and just forget about the mistake ticket, I just decided to book an onward flight from Singapore to Bali on Valuair. It was still cheap anyways. Oh well.

So, I left my KL guesthouse at 6:30 AM and hustled to the bus station. I only had 10 ringitt (CA$3) left to my name, so for breakfast I just grabbed some tea and buns from 7-11. Normally I try to avoid eating from 7-11 (except for Cornettos), but I didn’t have a choice this time. Oh well.

I made it to the airport on time. I ran out the last credit on my Malaysian SIM card talking to Justin Lee from the waiting room and hopped a plane to Singapore. I would have about eight hours to hang out at the airport. Normally, I would try to make the most of such a long layover in a new city, but I decided to just relax at the airport. I would be in Singapore for a few days next week, so I could see the city then.

The airport in Singapore was NICE. It was shockingly clean. People have always made bold claims about the cleanliness of Singapore, but it was something else to see it firsthand. Everytime I went to the bathroom in the airport, there was someone cleaning it. The floors in the airport were so sparkling I could almost see my reflection in them.

I found a supermarket in the basement of Terminal 1. That was a pleasant surprise: an airport with cheap food available. I planned to visit this supermarket in the future, too, since I would be passing through this airport again.

I arrived in Bali pretty late. The line to clear Indonesian immigration was more of a mob. It had none of the organization that I liked in Singapore.

I was in Bali for the wedding of Asad and Anjali Jobanoputra. Asad was a friend of mine from University. The wedding organizers had organized shuttles from the airport. I talked with a few people on the bus — they were all members of Asad’s extremely large extended family — many of whom were on Bali for the wedding. Including people on the bus, and people in the hotel lobby, I quickly learned and forgot about twenty different people’s names. However, at this point it was 11:30 PM and it was all too much for me. I went to my hotel room and passed out.

May 23, 2008

My bed was so comfortable. It was easily the most comfortable bed I had slept on during my travels. I’m used to sleeping on all sorts of beds in all sorts of places now. It was not a practice I used to be very good at. It’s the weirdest feeling to wake up in the middle of the night in a dark room and think, “Where am I?” Sometimes it would take a few minutes of searching my mind and looking at my darkened surroundings to reason out where I was at the moment before my mind would be settled. The longest I had stayed in one bed since January was only eight days (in Chiang Mai). Dealing with this weirdness was now a fact of life. Thankfully, my hotel room in Bali was luxurious enough that I slept very sadly and didn’t have to be jolted from my sleep by my own uneasy mind in the middle of the night.

Yes, my room in Bali was very nice. Our hotel (the Hilton Conrad) was also very nice. I’d be confident making the bold claim that it was the nicest resort hotel I’d ever stayed in. I would never pay to stay at a place like this in my backpacker life. Good thing that I wasn’t paying for it. For the next four days all of my accommodation and meals were completely taken care of. I was a wedding guest and life was good.

I got myself cleaned up and roamed down to the breakfast buffet. When I got there, my eyes glazed over with desire. It was the stuff of dreams. I pranced around on the buffet tables showering myself with croissants, prosciutto, blue cheese, and olives. I slathered myself in French press coffee while dousing myself with cottage cheese and apricot jam.

Okay, that didn’t really happen. I didn’t strut on any buffet tables.

The food was really good. This breakfast was the first of the buffets. For four days in a row, I’d eat from buffets three times a day. It was a wedding and the food was fantastic, so I indulged. I ate a lot, I admit. I guess I’ll have to diet later.

One thing that I didn’t have for the wedding were traditional Indian clothes. It seemed most everyone at the wedding, except for me, had traditional garb to wear for the wedding. I didn’t have anything like that. Hum. What should I do? I didn’t want to be a knob and wear shorts and t-shirt at a five-star wedding like this? The solution was actually very simple. I exited the hotel and walked into the adjacent town, Nusa Dua. I found a shop that sold sarongs and other traditional BALINESE dress. If I couldn’t wear traditional Indian dress, then I would wear Traditional Balinese dress instead. More about that tomorrow, though.

The only officially scheduled wedding event that day was a Pirate Cocktail Cruise. Buses shuttled the wedding guests to the dock. Traditional Balinese dancers greeted guests boarding the ship. Shameless Rob got his picture with them.

I had the misguided notion that I would be the only non-Indian at this wedding. No one gave me this impression, except myself. It turns out that I was quite wrong. Although most of the guests WERE Indian, and WERE from Asad or Anjali’s extended families, there were an assortment of friends and business associates too, coming from everywhere in the world. I found it hard to break the ice with the family members themselves. I befriended a few of them, but not enough to really feel like I could join their cliques. Thankfully I had more luck befriending the other dissociated guests. I even found University of Waterloo people to hang out with. On the pirate cruise, I hung out with Greg and Katie from Waterloo.

The cruise was a lot of fun. It was probably my favourite single event from the wedding. Lots of people were wearing eyepatches and other pirate regalia. I tried to wear an eyepatch for a while, but had to take it off. I decided it was much too challenging to wear brand new contact lenses, an eyepatch, and drink at the same time.

Someone I had once run into on my travels had said that Indian dance culture is stuck in the 70s. I saw a lot of evidence to back up their statement. There was an Indian Techno Dance Party on that boat, and a lot of the music was very disco-esque! I didn’t care! Dancing to it was so fun! There was a band from Mumbai, and the singer was very flamboyant. He went right into the crowd of dancers and danced with them!

The boat cruised noisily through the night. I spent time talking to various people and shared some of my travel stories. It was rare for me to be the ONLY backpacker in a sea of “package tourists” and I was somewhat of an oddity.

I was still getting used to my contact lenses and spent a lot of time just “looking at things” to test them. I was pleasantly surprised at how many stars I could see from the boat. I spent some time staring lazily at the constellation of the Southern Cross. Bali was located in the southern hemisphere, close to Australia. Soon I would be back there.

May 24, 2008

The Indian Wedding demanded many ceremonies. I didn’t know what most of them meant, but I tried to see as many of them as I could. The ceremony in the morning was a happy one where any (and many!) of the women wedding guests could give their blessings to the wedding couple. They would feel them a piece of chocolate, put a piece of something on their foreheads, touch their heads, and put turmeric powder on their faces. Some of the aunts sang in the background most of the time. It was a joyous time and I was happy just to sit there and watch it.

Oh, you wanted to see me in a sarong? Here it is!

Oh that’s sexy.

There was a henna painting ceremony at lunch time, too. I didn’t get any henna (it seemed to be reserved for the women), but I did get my photo with Asad again.

Looking good, slick. Oh, Asad looks pretty good, too. He seemed to have a dozen very swanky Indian outfits and changed several times daily.

That night there was a dinner and dance. Most of the dances were traditional fun wedding dances, like one dance where people formed circles and banged sticks together.

The highlight of the evening was the ROCK AND ROLL FAMILY! Apparently most of the Toronto crew of Asad and Anjali’s friends had been practicing for months to produce an elaborate “Baliwood” dance routine. So good. So well done! They did an encore performance. If anyone has any video tapes of this, I want a copy.

I went clubbing that night with some of Asad’s family members and a cool guy from Mumbai, Ruchid. Clubbing was lame though. I didn’t enjoy the music and spent a lot time waiting for some of the clubbers to finish daring each other to do pretty stupid things. I had been a party to some of these dares back at the hotel already. I was dared to eat spoonfuls of chili sauce (easy — I didn’t even hiccup). I was dared to dance on a chair in a sari (a women’s traditional robes in India) as part of a bachelor’s party. There was no way I would do that. When I refused, they kept bugging me about it, offering me more and more lavish rewards (“six beers, no, a whole case!”) It went on long enough that I got very annoyed and it left a very sour taste in my mouth about the whole thing.

May 25, 2008

It was the big day! The day of the big wedding ceremony!

Many people started to gather at the appointed time, however the festivities started late. I should not have been surprised. It seems that every event in the wedding started late — usually by about an hour. It was the Indian way, it seemed. Dinner was often served very late, too — usually 10:30 PM or later. By the end of the wedding, the late starts for everything got to be very frustrating. I tried to take advantage of it by starting to show up to events half an hour late, but even that wasn’t enough. Oh well!

When things finally got under way, the festivities started with a beachfront parade! The guests were separated by family association. I was with Asad’s family. A drummer lead the mass of dancing and marching people to a gate where Asad had to negotiate with Anjali’s immediate family for Anjali’s hand in marriage. He would be taking her away from them, and he had to compensate them for it. Some money was exchanged (I don’t know how much, but I’m sure the payment was symbolic in nature) and the games continued. Anjali’s made several attempts to grab Asad by the nose to show her new dominance of him in the home. With each attempt, Asad’s men would hoist him up by the legs to defeat her. Finally, she was hoisted up, too, and succeeded.

After another ceremony were Anjali put a garland of flowers around Asad’s neck to show her dominance over him we were treated to the actual ceremony. It was long, involved many prayers in Hindi, and involved the whole family at different times. Thankfully, for us regular guests, we had masala tea and sandwiches to tide us over. After the couple was finally locked in the bonds of marriage, fireworks were launched to celebrate the occasion.

May 26, 2008

The next day, I went shopping for souvenirs with Greg and Tracy from Waterloo and Haidee and Andreas from Toronto. To be more specific, they shopped for souvenirs while I hung out and was harassed by vendors. Well, not really harassed, but continually pestered.

Hello? Looking? Yeah?
Hello? Shopping? Come in?

Casual window shopping was not possible in Bali. If you even approached a vendor’s stall, they would always stand up and approach you. You couldn’t just look at things quietly by yourself. The shopkeepers ALWAYS pestered you. The ones in Bali were particularly aggressive and sometimes grabbed you by the arm to get you to go into their shops full of cheap tourist crap, as if their stall had different cheap tourist crap from any of the other fifty vendors in spitting distance.

Sarong? Cheap cheap!

No thank you, I already had a sarong.

In fact, I was the only one at the wedding sporting a sarong. No one else decided to wear traditional Balinese wear. I received many compliments. The son of one of the MC’s asked him “Who was the Scottish Uncle?” (any older man is an “Uncle” in India). This kid thought I was wearing a kilt! Ha ha. No no, it was a sarong.

That night were the final two receptions. The first one started an hour late. I was talking to Ben from San Francisco. He told me that he had showed up on time. The only other person who showed up on time was the wedding planner. None of the hotel staff were even on time. Ben said that the wedding planner looked “perturbed.” I assume Ben was being polite and the wedding planner was more than perturbed.

The wedding was fun, and all, but I was tiring of it. Talking with the family members wasn’t that fun, in the end. I enjoyed talking with the other Waterloo and Toronto more, but didn’t get to hang out with them enough to fill enough of my time. The pulsing Indian techno music was fun at first, but had grown old for me. The frequent tardiness was frustrating me. I wanted to move on.

Oh yeah, and the final wedding dinner was served late, too. The final buffet was served around 11:30 PM. I ate dinner with Ruchid (the dude from Mumbai). Rumour has it that many of the wedding guests danced until 6 AM. I wasn’t into it. I went to bed at 1 AM. I had a lot to do the next day.

May 27, 2008

The wedding was over. Many of the guests were flying away from Bali today, including me. However, my flight wasn’t supposed to leave until 10 PM that night. I hadn’t really seen any of the island yet, so today I wanted to go on a full day tour of the place!

I had been shopping around a bit the past few days to try and find a good deal. The first guy I talked to wanted 500,000 rupiah (CA$55). Way too much. The next guy I talked to wanted 300,000 rupiah (CA$33). Much better. It was hard to find a tour for a really good price since I was the only guy going. It would have been cheaper to go on a tour with people, but I didn’t know anyone else to go with.

The day before, though, I ran into this other wedding guest who said him and his brother were thinking about doing a full day tour on the same day as me. They found a guy who would do a full car load for 450,000 rupiah (CA$50). Split three ways, that would be the cheapest option, by far. He said he had to meet up with his brother to work out the details and would get back to me later. Well, he didn’t get back to me until like 10 PM that day. He let me know that his brother had planned a trip with someone else and I wasn’t invited. That’s just another example of my inability to crack the wedding guests’ cliques. I needed to get out of here. Argh. I wish he had told me earlier. I tried to call the guy who offered me the 300,000 rupiah rate, but he wasn’t answering his phone. I felt shafted. Argh.

So, today, in the morning, I got out of bed early, finished packing, and hit the street to find another option for the tour. I couldn’t find the guy who offered me 300,000 rupiah, but I found someone else who offered me 350,000 rupiah instead. It would have to do. It wasn’t so bad, though. The guy who offered me 300,000 would probably have shown me around in a crappy car. I was very surprised to see that my tour vehicle of the day was a proper and new minivan with air conditioning. My guide spoke English very well, so that made me feel better.

Our first stop was Kuta Beach. Kuta was the main “tourist” beach on Bali. It was supposed to be beautiful and have excellent surfing. I needed to see it. We battled through a lot of traffic to get there. On the way, the tour guide showed me the cafe that was bombed by terrorists in 2005. He told me how he felt that day. He couldn’t believe that such a thing was happening on his island. It made me sad that people still think that they can change the world in a positive way by bombing people indiscriminantly. Bastards.

Kuta beach was pretty though. It was worth the slog trough traffic to get there.

I didn’t spend long at the beach, though. I just wanted to take pictures and move on. From there, we drove through Bali’s big city, Denpasar. There wasn’t anything I wanted to see in the city itself… it was just another big Asian city (been there, done that!). It started to rain, so we stopped off at silversmith studio so I could see silver jewelery being made by hand. I looked at the attached shop, too. They wanted me to buy some silver jewelery, but, of course, I politely declined.

We kept going and visited a traditional Balinese Hindu temple. I’d seen many Buddhist temples so far in Asia, but this was the first Hindu one that I had been able to enter and explore. I was able to see lots of statues, carvings, and other art. The statues in the temple were very similar to the one that grace the whole island. Everywhere you went in Bali, you’d see art just like this:

I didn’t stay at the temple long. I still had lots to see. From there, we drove to Ubud. We made a quick stop at the post office to pick up postage stamps. My tour guide dropped me off at the market for shopping. I was very disappointed by the market. People I had talked to before had said that it was a cool place to shop and see traditional Balinese stuff. That’s not what I saw. It was all tourist souvenir trash with the same kind of pushy vendors I’d seen a million times before. Lame. At least I found really cheap lunch. I had very very little Indonesian cash (rupiah) left, so spending as little as possible was the plan. The vendor was serving some kind of soup with balls of weird meat (chicken and fish, I think). I asked him how much it cost. He said 100,000 rupiah (CA$1.10). That was way too much for my blood, so I walked away. As I departed, he called out, “5000 rupiah!” Sweet! Half price! I was sold. I ate my yummy soup sitting on the steps of some building. I had to shoo some vendors of tourist crap away while I was eating. These people were so relentless, *sigh*.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait there very long. I ate up my soup then we left. We drove farther into the interior of the island and stopped by some beautiful terraced rice paddies. They were stunning. The view was only spoiled by more pushy walking vendors. One guy actually wanted my to buy a full wooden portable chess set! What was I going to do with that?!

We kept driving. The centre of the island was filled with mountains and volcanoes. We climbed higher and higher. The land around the mountains and volcanoes are filled with all sorts of farms and plantations. We drove past fields of cabbage plants, orange trees, pineapples, flowers. The landscape was stunning. I only wish it wasn’t raining!

Finally, we reached the edge of the 13-km wide caldera of the volcanic Mount Batur. It was gorgeous here. We couldn’t go anywhere close to the volanco itself, but being on the edge of the caldera offered enough sights to make me happy that day. There was a majestic volcanic cone in the centre, a big lake around it, and many trees and grassy fields around the lot of it.

Yes, of course, there were hawkers here, too. There was a restaurant where lots of tourists were eating. The buffet looked pretty tasty. I asked how much it cost. They told me that lunch would cost 75,000 rupiah (CA$8). That was more more than I had! Good thing I had that noodle soup in Ubud!

Oh yeah, and, of course, the caldera had the most people hawking tourist trash of all the place I had seen on the island. As soon as I stepped out of the van, about five of them descended on me. As always, I pretended that they didn’t exist and walked past them. Bali was a very beautiful island, indeed, but I definitely feel that it’s been spoiled by the tourist industry. The number of people that live off the tourist industry there is astounding. I definitely felt like I was being treated like a “walking ATM” there.

While we were driving around the island, I had let the tour guide know about my appreciation for fine coffee. He said that there was a coffee plantation nearby that we could sample the local coffee for free. I was all in! That plantation was nice, too. There were many fruit trees and spice plants. My tour guide told me a story of how birds eat coffee berries from the trees. After the birds digest the fruit, the seed passes through the birds’ digestive systems. The farmers can then pick up the seeds and make them into coffee. Sounds yucky, but the coffee did taste good. I also sampled some locally made hot chocolate, ginseng coffee, ginger tea, and lemongrass tea. Everything tasted great, but the only “new” taste I had that day was the ginseng coffee.

There was only one sight left for that day. All over the island, we had driven past huge banyan trees. I wanted to see one of these trees up close. These trees were like a miracle of nature to me. They dwarf everything and anything around them. Just how big were they?

That little blue thing in the bottom left corner was the normal sized minivan that I had been touring the island in all day. That massive green thing filling the photograph was exactly one jumbo sized tree.

The only thing left that day was for me to fly back to Singapore. My flight was an hour late, so I had lots of time to explore the shops in the mall. I sampled some liquors in the duty free shop and bought a bottle of the new Absolut Mango vodka for Scott Faber in Singapore. I sat down for a long time and played Puzzle Quest.

Oh yeah… even in the AIRPORT, the haven of waiting rooms and isolation from the outside world, there were people pestering me to buy crap. No, I did NOT want a foot massage at 11 PM at night. ARGH!

One Response leave one →
  1. Andrew permalink
    June 6, 2008

    Hey Rob!
    Lisa and I honeymooned in Bali and really enjoyed that post. Totally agree about the vendors! But we still really miss it — its so beautiful there!


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