Tuesday, April 23, 2013

While gratitude had been coming up constantly from the moment we left North America, it was especially hard to forget about it in a place like Bali. And I don't mean that in a flakey, neo-spiritual way. It's literally hard to forget it.

In Balinese Hinduism, tiny trays made of banana leaves are filled with flowers and incense, little mounds of sticky rice or bits of chicken. To thank good spirits and appease bad, these toast-sized baskets, an inch deep, are placed in and around homes and businesses. Hindus are expected to share of their good fortune in this way, a portion of their meals, or a few blossoms, at least three times a day.

The preparation of these offerings is a common business enterprise; expertly-woven baskets filled with flowers pre-trimmed from their stems or stacked with shredded greenery and sticks of incense. When there's no time to make your own, these fully-completed offerings are available for purchase by busy locals: The conveniences of modern life in Bali. It became quite common to see little smoking heaps of frangipani at each entranceway or at the mouth of a stream, or to return to our rented villa to find a neighbour had laid these blessings at our doorstep, taking up the slack of a couple of bulés. As you skip over the physical examples all day long, it's impossible to avoid thinking about gratitude.

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On our very first day in Bali we headed to a local warung for a bite to eat. The place was empty and we walked the long pathway from the street to the covered area at the back of the lot. We noticed a young man flitting about, clearly gay, and he noticed us too. The other employees scattered and let him take care of us. 

He was frantic. Anyone who's ever been a gay guy near another gay guy who wasn't often near gay guys knows the energy he was exhibiting: He was excited to see us, to share in our space. It was immediately very, very sweet. He had a bit of schmutz on his face, so I grabbed a tissue and plucked it from his cheek, eliciting a squeal from both him and the girls nearby, "Oh my goodness! You make me so blushing!" This was Danny*, 23, and he would describe us as his new best friends within the hour.

We ordered food and he asked to join us at our table. He fired off questions, barely waiting for answers. Where we're from, our ages, if we wanted to party. He asked if we were a couple and, eyes wide, marvelled at the fact that we've been together nearly 10 years. He launched into a story of his ex who was an older Australian bulé he'd worked for, and over time had fallen in love with. He told us (with a cartoonish level of despair flashing across his face) that Mark had gone back to Sydney where he was in a terrible accident, suffering amnesia. Mark no longer remembered Danny, the sweet-faced Javanese boy who'd cleaned his pool. We wordlessly went along with his story, understanding the occasional importance of denial and self-preservation. We simply told him how sorry we were that such a thing had happened and asked him to tell us more about himself. 

Danny left his native island of Java in 2011, heading to the gay-friendly Bali to work and to party. He broke up with his girlfriend and left without telling anyone much of anything. This is not to say he isn't close with his family; with an identical twin brother and some sisters, his is as tightly-knit as most Indonesian families. But kids in Java do not come out to their parents. In Jakarta, Indonesia's capital, LGBT citizens are labeled as cacat, their homosexuality considered a mental disability; they are not protected under the law. Here in Bali Danny is living the high life, visiting bars and flirting with boys, both at the clubs and at this restaurant at this very moment. He sings Nicki Minaj and Kelly Clarkson songs at the top of his lungs; American pop culture is his lifeline. 

We asked about his options. Danny could go home and come out to his parents but he'd surely be turned away, or at the very least misunderstood and thrust into religious therapy. Or he could continue to skim the surface of this long-distance relationship, leaving them to wonder about him, and perhaps return home every once in a while, disappointingly unmarried. His third and most-viable option was to marry a woman, like most gay people did. Danny shrugged and buoyantly sang a barely-perceptible verse of an ancient Mariah Carey song. 

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It was a stark reminder: How grateful I am to be Canadian. Even in America, where gay rights are not quite where they should be, most people I know aren't forced to make these tough choices. For a great number of us, our decisions revolve around which designer suit to wear or the density of our butter cream frosting. Familial abandonment is more and more rare, and lots of us will, instead, spend hours helping our very-supportive grandmother decide between the classic boat neck or the rather-daring V. Although the American government lags behind, many of us have the great privilege of living our lives without fear of persecution. I'm not suggesting that any of that is enough, but it's something to think about.


1) Locals are brusque with each other often mumbling and forgoing pleasantries completely. But not in a mean way, just sort of no-nonsense.

2) Streets and ditches are filled with trash and burned weekly. 

3) All along the roadways, small shops sell Absolut Vodka or large water bottles filled with gasoline. 50¢ per litre. Often children under the age of 10 are operating these "gas stations".

4) Fact: Chantal Kreviazuk's cover of "Leaving on a Jet Plane" is playing at all times in a bar or restaurant on this island. 

5) Parking near beaches or on busy social streets costs 2000 Rupiah, or 20¢ and is often charged by a random entrepreneur who has set up a barrier. 

6) Infrastructure cannot keep up with traffic, so there are often jams. Roads are a disaster, pot-holed and treacherous. But there is no road rage, no honking. Just patient, resigned, sweaty waiting. 

7) Infants who are riding with their parents on mopeds are usually bedecked in a toque or  bonnet instead of a helmet.

8) While 87% of Indonesians at-large are Muslim, a staggering 93% of Balinese people are Hindu. As Islam began to overpower Hinduism in 16th century Java, Bali became a refuge for Hindus and gets its moniker, Island of the Gods, for this reason.

9) There are over 20 000 temples on the island of Bali. Bali is roughly the size of Prince Edward Island, or the state of Delaware.

10) Bali reminds me of Cuba or Mexico, feeling more Latin than Asian. The native languages have a lot of rolled R's and soft vowels. The food is also vaguely Caribbean with lots of cloves and nutmeg.

11) Local business seems to lack uniqueness. Four huts schilling the same fruit, three meters apart are common, or shop after shop selling the same chintzy Bintang t-shirts.

12)  Jeff's blue eyes were very interesting to people. They would often stop and stare.

13) You can rent a 1500sqft house in Bali for $1400 a year

14) Seminyak, about 20 minutes from Sanur, has a really terrific gay scene. A strip with four clubs all vying for your attention gets going around 11pm each night, offering some truly outstanding drag queens (get Rupaul on the phone!) and generous cocktails. It's easy to spend a night bouncing between the clubs.

15) We rented a scooter the entire time we were in Bali. As far as we're concerned, it's the only way to do it. You can see so much more and venture off the tourist track with ease. Bikes cost between $3 and $5 per day, which is ridiculously cheap. Of course, be wary of road conditions, wear helmets, and watch for Balinese police corruption. We were pulled over on our first day in Sanur and extorted for 300000Rp ($30US). This is classic Bali, but jarring nonetheless. He told us we made a turn when we shouldn't have or didn't when we needed to (it's still unclear) and then pointed at words like "jail" and "Indonesian tribunal" in his little notebook. He then told us he "could help" if we placed $30 in his book (not in his hand! He was no amateur!) and we would be on our way. A shitty moment in an otherwise wonderful time.

LOCATION: Ko Phi Phi, Krabi, Thailand
DATE AND TIME: Tuesday, April 23, 2013 5:00PM Thailand Standard Time/Monday, April 22, 2013 6:00AM EST

Please keep up with my Instagram feed for daily bits and bobs.

Location: Sanur, Bali, Indonesia
Accommodation: Villa Sanur 
We stayed in a private villa in the heart of a very traditional neighbourhood. We were definitely the only bulés in the area and liked that very much. While there were many, many crowing roosters at all hours of the day and night, this annoyance was off-set by being tucked into and immersed by the local culture.The property is exceptionally private and we were hard-pressed to leave the quiet relaxation of the pool (or to put on pants.) It was quite luxurious with two beds and a bathroom, but we managed to negotiate a great deal with the owner as it is the low season in Bali. 
Food: We ate many meals at a local restaurant down the street where we made a few friends. They specialize in Manadonese food (Manado is the capital city of North Sulawesi, another Indonesian island) and served great dishes for under $5, sometimes less than $2. We also ate from food carts that set up shop at dusk, acting like drive-thru restaurants for locals. For $1, you get 10 small chicken skewers with peanut sauce. A ridiculous value.

Location: Lovina, Bali, Indonesia
Accommodation: Villa Shanti 
Another private villa off the beaten path, Villa Shanti was similar to the first in Sanur, though with the added benefit of a house staff and the convenience of its owner living next door. Breakfast and daily tidying were provided by Kadek, which was weird at first, but we got used to having someone at our beck and call. (Make sure to tip like Rockefellers on your way out!) Joseph, an American expat, and his Javanese wife Shanti were super friendly and took us to many places we wouldn't have otherwise visited. They generously schlepped us up into the mountains, off to the hot springs and to many great spots for food. It was a really great way to immerse ourselves and stay off the tourist track.
Food: Because this portion of the trip was so much cheaper than NZ and Australia, we ate all meals out. In fact, it's cheaper and easier to eat at restaurants than it is to buy groceries and cook. Some notable return-visits in Lovina: JB's Warung (a terrifyingly shabby place that served great - of all things - pizza) as well as Cosy Restaurant near the beach. 

Location: Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
Accommodation: Casa Ganesha 
Our first since staying in Sydney's Grace, Casa Ganesha is a fairly traditional hotel accommodation. There are 24 rooms in 12 small buildings, so it felt like bungalows with the perks and infrastructure of a hotel. Breakfast was included in the $40US/night and we stayed 7 nights. Its location is good - very close to the tourist strip, though also near the edge of town for a quick escape from the hustle. It took us a couple of days to adjust to the glut of Elizabeth Gilbert-looking SWF's, but as soon as we started driving out into the countryside every day, we were happy to balance the conveniences of a hotel with the access to actual local culture. 
Food: We had so many great, simple meals in Ubud. Because it has exploded since the release of Eat, Pray, Love (the book, then the movie) there are hundreds of boutiques, restaurants, and lifestyle centres catering to the abovementioned neo-spiritual white woman. It's a little gross, but can be avoided. While we always aim to eat simple, local (cheap) food, we had one memorable meal at a place called Nomad on the main drag. Jeff and I shared the Balinese tapas tasting and were pleasantly surprised. 

Before leaving Bali, we returned to the first property in Sanur for a few more days. It was, once again, an excellent time. Between Ubud and those few in Sanur, we spent a three days on the Gili Islands, an archipelagic trio to Bali's east. I'll post about that soon. 


Crossing My Legs (September 2008)
Milking It (March 2009)
10 Years Later (October 2010)
Brian and Chris (August 2012)

*Names have been changed.


  1. Thanks for sharing the story about Danny. I saw your tweet on it and was curious about it. Also loving the 'bulletpoints'; I loved noticing those little things in my travels that were never in the travel books.

  2. the Density of my buttercream frosting stresses me out weekly. Thanks for putting it into perspective buddy.

  3. Danny sounds sweet. I hope you partied with him :)

  4. I know we've talked about how great this story is, but I don't think I mentioned how I keep coming back to look at the photos. xo and there's a time and place for buttercream ;)