Chapter 1 Our Northern Neighbour
Cloud hung along Bali’s shore line: a white rim of sand, a dark line of palms. In the distance, somehow reptilian, an iron grey peak thrust its head from the cloud. ‘The plane circled low over a landscape wonderfully delicate: green light and wet rice fields shining like panes of glass, the fretted texture of dark palm trees, small clusters of thatched roofs. This was even more than we had expected of the land described as a paradise. This was the magic of Bali.
Our interest in Indonesia came from a realization that most Australian people, including Betty and me, knew very little about our nearest neighbor. Words tell us something but show nor can photographs convey the feel and fibre of a country. Even when we had studied the language, Bahasa Indonesia, eaten Indonesian food, sung Indonesian songs with people who came from Indonesia; we were not prepared for what we night find in that island nation so close to ours. One Sumatran man told us, in his forthright, Sumatran way: “You can call us an underdeveloped nation, a developing nation or a third world nation, whatever you like; what you will find is a green land, full of smiling children”. And that was good enough for us.
At Ngurah Rai Airport, long grass grew between the runways and an old man who wore a conical hat and held a sickle stood still as stilland didn’t turn an eye towards the line of hot and sweaty tourists that straggled across the tarmac. ‘Selamat datang’ (‘Welcome.) the customs man said and he waved us on without inspecting our baggage. Jostling boys, who hoped to carry our baggage, assailed us, with fingers jabbing at chests: Me! Me!’. It was hot, we sweated in a long queue, to change crisp travellers’ cheques into wads of many soft little banknotes. A driver pounced and almost dragged us to his taxi and, once we had paid the boy who dragged our baggage, we were on our way to Denpasar, fast, with the car’s horn blaring.
The road ran between rice fields and lines of coconut palms, through villages where, thatched family dwellings and tiny pagoda-like temples could be seen over thatched, high walls of clay.
Farmers in rice fields guided ploughs behind pretty Balinese oxen and women walked beside the road with grace and easy rhythm. They wore sarongs about their thighs, turbans on their heads, hair pulled back in chignons, and they balanced great baskets on their heads Colours were muted; ochres blended with umbers and greens. We swerved around great a pig that snuffled the road and the driver blared his horn.
To our surprise, a slight and urbane young man had slid easily into the car beside us as we left the airport. He laid a gentle hand on my arm. ` Kecak dance tonight,’ he began, ‘you will see it. Must not miss Kecak. Tonight! Only 3,000 rupiah each, You must see… tonight.’
`Yes, tonight, you must see.’
‘No other night?’
‘No., tonight you must see! Three thousand rupiah. Good price! Good price.’ .
At our hotel the same young man followed us right into our room, still insisting that tonight was the night and the price was right. he wore me down, in the end, I was tired. ‘Oh well, why not? I counted out twice three thousand rupiahs.
That was when Amos, the hotel manager, arrived. He, a small, slim, gentle man, bowed politely, took hold of my elbow in a kindly way ‘Tuan, is “rip¬off” an expression you have heard?’ The seller of tickets vanished, like Balinese magic. We had arrived.