Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Foreign Relations

Yesterday evening, I decided to take a stroll down at Sindhu Beach. This is really the first beach in Sanur proper, if you're coming in from the east, and it was surely one of the first developed beaches, being close to the Sindhu traditional market in the older part of town. I used to go to this beach nearly every day to swim and lie in the sun. Funny how those activities fade away. The truth is, I very rarely visit the beach at all anymore. I always wondered about people who lived at the beach but said they never went to the beach. How can it be? Well, it can. It may be partly because prices are high in the beachfront cafe. One can find a cheaper, larger cup of coffee in the town. It may also be because the beachfront has become so built up over the last six years. The beach itself often seems obstructed by restaurants and hotels. Of course, it may also be that I've grown lazy. At the beach, you have to park and walk to your cafe. In town, you park in the lot and walk in the door. 

In any case, it was nighttime when I parked my motorbike and walked the beachfront path up to the Grand Bali Hotel - the first built in Sanur, if I have my facts straight. What strikes me about this stretch of beach, as with most in Sanur, is that there is almost no one to be seen. The restaurants are deserted, tables and chairs lounging alone under soft lights, hosting no one, gazing woodenly on the sleepy tide as it whispers ever so softly on the sand. There is no surf in Sanur to speak of, none of the crashing waves of Kuta and Seminyak, for Sanur and its beaches lie on a bay. For this reason, it is my favorite swimming spot. The big waves require too much effort, slapping you about till you're dizzy. Here at Sanur, you just wade it and lie back and drift about, barely having to move your limbs to stay afloat. 

As I walked past these empty establishments, I thought how very expensive it must be just to have them there on this prime oceanfront property. And one has to wonder about the freshness of the food for those who do stop in to eat. 

But of course the good news is that this absense of human life makes for a wonderfully peaceful stroll. It feels almost as if you are on a deserted island (which is filled, for some reason, with deserted restaurants). A boat bobs at the shore here and there and the breeze sighs in the tangled limbs of the trees, and far out to sea a constant light crawls along the horizon, as steady as a star, moving east. 

On the way back, I pass a couple of the more popular places. Ah, so this is where the people are - strangely alarming in their evening gowns and collared shirts and white trousers. Is Gatsby having a party tonight? Staff members bustle about in their equally stuffy clothing. It's a carefully tailored picture, right out of a brochure, with hanging lanterns and candlelight and clinking wine and brandy glasses. Yes, someone is spending money after all. 

My beach stroll had suddenly been infected by opulence. It was time to go to the bar in town. 

It has been a long time since I consumed any alcohol, mostly because it tends to give me a splitting headache nowadays - even with half a glass. But I thought I'd make an exception this night. I stopped at a bar that used to be called Angel's, but now has been bought and renamed The Place 2 Be. Unspired, but the the beer is the same. Also, unspired. The main beer here in Bali is called Bintang. I believe you can also get Corona these days, at the double the price of Bintang, more or less. And Corona is hardly the king of  beers, is it. Which should give you an idea of what the more cheaply available Bintang tastes like. 

In any case, I sat between an Englishman and an Iranian, as well as girls from Solo and Bandung, who smooshed their way into the spaces between the the spaces between the Englishman, the Iranian, and I, conspicuously holding up whiskey tumblers that were tragically empty except for the icecubes clinking in the bottom, and beguiling us by turn in broken English with tales of inordinate interest in our countries of origin followed by melancholy descriptions of personal loneliness and loss, which might be ever so successfully mitigated, one suspected, by the purchase of a whiskey to go with their ice. I wonder, is that why she kept lifting her glass for a toast, without mention of what was being toasted?

Now don't get me wrong. These are nice enough girls, and have, after all, taken the trouble to learn more of English than most locals know - and aside from that, they are paid some humble amount to do just what they were doing - bring in customers, help them stay longer, help them buy more beer, and, sure, even the highly priced whiskey. It all goes into the same pot, and the proceeds are divied up later. 

In any case, the girls soon discovered that I have no money and I actually live here and speak Indonesian and am married to an Indonesian, which must have struck them as rather dreary, as they soon moved off to another table. 

Which gave me the chance to have an uninterrupted, non-clinking conversation with the Iranian gentleman beside me. He is 65, and he is here with his family on vacation - wife, son and daughter. It seemed to him, as it does to me, that he was 30 years old just yesterday, and yet here he is, inexplicably aged. Nonetheless, he was enjoying himself and his family vacation. They would be here, he said, for a month. It was small talk, really, a discussion of commonality, with nary a mention of Iran or America other than to state their involvement in our origins. The details of the plane trip seemed more pertinent. 

In the end, having reached my two beer limit, we clasped hands and held them clasped for some time, punctuating parting words. And it occurred to me at that moment, that if anyone, anywhere for any reason has a problem, let them come to Bali and meet for a chat and a beer. The foreign part of foreign relations will soon fade away. 

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