Thursday, August 30, 2007

On the Move

I'm leaving Candidasa tomorrow morning.

After one day, I decided that there is no way I can get peace in this town. Although the town is idyllic and beautiful, every man is either leering at me or trying to rip me off. Here are the highlights:

1. Though I have a budget hotel room, it has a beautiful canopy bed and outdoor bath, which I quite liked. Until I pulled back the sheets and saw, though clean sheets had been laid, the mattress padding had a palm-sized faded blood stain in the middle of the bed. Now, the thought that a woman might have been menstruating and slept here didn't bother me. It was the other thought--that a woman was in pain because some fool didn't know what he was doing--that disturbed me. The next day, they changed the mattress padding and sheets and left a hibiscus in the middle of the bed, which I thought was sweet until I picked it up and noticed it was covering up a small hole in the sheet. I don't know whether to applaud their cleverness or distrust their chalu-ness. Is it too much to ask for clean towels and sheets for $30/night? I think the Rough Guide and backpackers the world over have made traveling into an experience for students or the super wealthy. What happened to clean, safe, budget travel?

2. My first night here, I received a flyer for happy hour and dinner at a local restaurant with legong, or traditional Balinese dancers. After a comical dance lesson in Ubud, I thought it would be good to see what legong actually looks like, and since I had just arrived, it was an easy decision for dinner. The restaurant had 5 dancers perform, the first one being 9 1/2 years old and increasing in age. After each performance, the children/teens would come to each table to "shake hands" (i.e.- see if you will give them money). When I asked the first one if she's in school, the waiter says yes, but she dances every night. So when does she study? In the morning, from 7am to 12pm. Homework time? Well, her mother and father don't work, ever since the bombings in Bali. This information then confused me since the socially conscious tourist in me is against encouraging children to make money over going to school, but the trauma psychologist in me want to support a family trying to recover.
But then, the last performer (who was a young woman) began dancing, and was technically quite good, until she randomly picked up a scarf to drape around an old Australian man's neck and bring him up to the stage, for some combination of Balinese and belly dancing. Let me back up and explain that legong is a dance akin to bharatnatyam and is performed in the temples for auspicious occasions. At no point is it supposed to be cheap, tawdry affair to satisfy tourists who want a Polynesian temptress. Until now.

3. The hotel had arranged for a tour yesterday of the surrounding area, which included the oldest village in Bali, water palaces made by the former king, and a temple on the top of the tallest mountain. In all fairness, these were beautiful places. But the tour guides conspired to irritate me as much as possible. I don't mind if they asked for a fixed price for giving a tour, but they don't and then ask you for more money no matter how much you give them, saying, "Thank you, now I can buy my children rice tonight." Cha-lu. Not to mention that when I get back from one of the tours, my driver is talking with a throng of other drivers, and they all unabashedly stare at me in the most lecherous way possible. When I asked the driver, "Can you tell them not to stare?," he just laughs. Which makes me think that he was party to a frat-like conversation about me. (I admit that this thought is a bit paranoid, but that doesn't mean I'm wrong.)

4. Although it cost 35,000 Rupiah to get a taxi from Ubud to Candidasa, and the hotel in Kuta tells me it will cost 50,000 Rupiah for a taxi from Kuta to the airport, the hotel manager here tells me it will cost 300,000 Rupiah for a taxi from Cnadidasa to Kuta tomorrow. Now, 300,000 Rupiah is about U.S.$30, which is not bad, but how can a trip that takes 2 hours cost six times as much as one that takes 1 hour. Then the manager and his sidekick tell me I can go find a taxi elsewhere. But here's the problem when you travel alone as a woman: there seems to be no regulation of taxis here (people who have vehicles offer a ride) and is it really advisable for me to get in a car with a strange man? So, I will suck it up and pay the exorbitant fair, though I bargained them down to 250,000 Rupiah. (I've found that saying I'm Indian helps in haggling since they then know that I'm not a clueless Westerner only thinking in dollars. I also heard that it's better to think of it as hiring a driver rather than catching a cab.)

Now, I admit, I should probably be more open-minded about my experiences here. Perhaps good service is not culturally expected here, just like yelling isn't really yelling in India, or how in Mongolia, people don't wait in lines but just rush to get what they want in throngs. Perhaps, using your children to emotionally manipulate tourists into forking over money is considered a good business tactic. Perhaps, leering at women and offering coconut massages is a compliment. But, my friends, I have hit my limit of cultural understanding. So I will go to Kuta and be surrounded by Australians and surfers. At least I'll know when to be offended and when not to over there.

PS- For my non-Hindi-speaking friends, chalu can most closely be translated at guileful, but encompasses a measure of manipulation and cleverness that no English word possesses.


Emily said...

Ugh. Staring. Being ripped off. Staring. AND we have to bear the children?


I'm glad you are getting out of there. Bitterness only comes in one flavor, and I don't have to tell you which one...

sherif said...

oh it's akin to bharatnatyam. now i get it.

Rashmi said...

Minny - I love your blog! What an enriching experience. I'm proud of you for being the strong independent woman that you are. Have fun in Kuta!

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