English in Ubud, I´ll give it a try…

Halo! Motorbike? Where you going? Taxi? Maybe tomorrow? Where you come from? Transport? Bemo? Massage? Manicure? Finally, a gamelan starts whispering in my ears. I look around to search for the rehearsal for tonight´s presentation. My hearing has not yet mastered in Balinese music. It´s just an album being played in the poorly lighted batik store. The salesgirl is sitting on the perfectly swept porch, braiding banana leaves in a triangular 3d shape for tomorrow´s ceremony. The tipat will be filled with rice and offered to the Gods. Or to the Demons, she´s still not sure.

Next door, a man is sitting outside of a typical Indonesian store with wooden mask of different shapes and sizes hanging all over the walls, cleaning gently one of the pieces with an old blue cloth while an older man, who appears to be his dad, cleans his nails with a stick. Did you carve it yourself? No, I bought them from my friend. Apparently, everyone here is brothers, sisters of friends. Even when they don´t know each other. I still don’t know if it´s cultural of if their English vocabulary lacks another word for it.

On the other side of Hanuman Street, a driver found a good spot to park his brand new car amongst heavy scooter traffic. Before soaping it, he carefully gets the rice offering from the front window and replaces it in the sidewalk. Now he´s ready to soak the car. The soap and water go down the street until they find an opening in the road that takes them to the river passing underneath it.

Further ahead, two young women are sticking coconut leaves together in this beautiful sharp shape called canang while chit chatting outside a store with beautiful Balinese patterned dresses and loose pants. A friend –or someone that hired them to do it, I still don’t know at this point – is getting married tomorrow and this will be in the front of the family compound. Why do you put it outside, what does it represent?, I ask. ‘Maybe I don’t know. My boss.’ She definitely didn’t understand my question and I obviously do not understand her answer. We nod and smile and I keep going.

A smell of old newspaper doesn’t knock before entering my nostrils. I am outside an old bookstore with used books. Sweedish, French, German, Dutch, English. ‘50% return’, the sign says. The responsible for the annex explains me that there are many expats living here and that the only ones who return books. I try to start a conversation, but she is too busy explaining tourists about the tours she offers. Rafting, cycling, shuttle bus, rent motorbike, trekking tour, taxi service.

I have to watch my step when leaving the place. The sidewalks are a mess and it´s very easy to trip and fall amongst so many misplaced rocks and holes in the ground. I reach Jalan Rayan,the main street. A western mid aged woman starts her scooter right next to me. She´s been living here for a while. How do I know? She doesn’t look back before getting on the road. The long line of scooters doesn’t seem to bother. This is how it works here.

When hitting a smaller street, the sound of the traffic vanishes. Cucurucko! Hens and birds chant to me. The smell of smoke gives space to incense and sweet flowers carried on the top of old Balinese woman dressed in their typical lace outfits.

I am in Ubud, where the tradition and modernity, spirituality and consumption, Balinese and westerns get together in a harmonious disharmony.

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