I Looove Lettuce!

It took this snowbird fleeing our Canadian Winter to make me realize I love lettuce.  The year was 1996 when we fled to Indonesia to spend three unforgettable months in Bali.

We lived in Sanur village within walking distance to the beach and its many famous restaurants.  Kuta Beach, only about a half hour away, is the more famous one. Crazy nightclubs crowded streets, restaurants, shopping, tourists, and the place to party and have fun.   Sad to say Kuta Beach was also the site of a terrorist bombing on October 12, 2002.

It was in Bali that we met our Dutch son, Duncan (See post: A Most Unusual Birthday) and together we discovered Bali.  We had some remarkable experiences among which were:

Attending a funeral rite including the burning of the body;

Visiting Pura Besakih, the Mother Temple, while an important religious ceremony was in progress;

Being served tea on the beach in raised, open, luxurious Japanese tea house  tent-like structures at the magnificent hotel in Nusa Dua;

Getting a spontaneous invitation to an afterbirth ceremony and family celebration;

Getting up close but certainly not personal with a Komodo dragon on Komodo Island;

Watching the amazing carvers in Ubud bring out the most intricate art from pieces of wood;

Dining on fresh caught fish at Jimbaran Bay.

Our travels took us everywhere.  Duncan was our intrepid driver, bobbing and weaving among the multitude of motorcycles carrying entire families on one small scooter.

But back to lettuce.  When we had arrived in Bali we were given brochures full of information for foreigners.  They stressed drinking bottled water and not using ice that was not made from purified water.   In fact, in our apartment, though there was a fully functioning bathroom, we were brought pitchers of boiled water every morning to brush our teeth.

In Balinese culture there are the sacred elements of which water was perhaps the most revered.  It was the lifeblood, the cleansing power, a major highway to Nirvana.

Every rite involved water.  Everything was done by, in or near the water. Everything!

All three of us, as seasoned travellers had not drunk any water nor ate anything that was not peeled, boiled or cooked. Sure there were ‘western restaurants’ and very upscale hotels which we frequented.. However, even in those establishments I could not and would not eat anything raw. Thus for three whole months I did not have a raw salad. You can cook tomatoes, pickle cucumbers and boil all kinds of vegetables but, as far as I knew no-one yet had discovered a way to boil lettuce.

We had arranged to stop in Hawaii for two weeks on our way home.  The plane landed.  We got to our hotel and as we registered I asked about restaurants with a salad bar.  Hotel receptionists are used to a variety of interesting questions.  I was told that there were quite a few restaurants in Honolulu with salad bars.  I smiled politely and told him that after unpacking we would come for directions to one of those restaurants.

After a 12 hour flight from Denpasar to Honolulu we were tired and hungry so it was not long before we were ready to go out for dinner.  We went to the Reception.  There was someone new at the desk.

“Hi. Would you direct us to a restaurant near…”

“Oh, yes, Ma’am….

“Excuse me.  It must have a salad bar”

A curious glance then: “Sure, ma’am.  Do you want seafood, a steakhouse or one with local specialties?”

Bert:  “We are not fussy.  Any of those will do…”

“But it must have a salad bar”, I interjected.

The look has gone beyond curiosity. “Should there be anything special on the salad bar”?

Now I am wondering about that question but decide that maybe she thinks I am a vegetarian.

“It must have lettuce.”  The woman behind us giggled.  The Receptionist’s eyes blink, no doubt to contain her own laughter.  I reviewed the whole conversation in my head and thought perhaps they would decide to ask this crazy woman who seems to have an abnormal fixation on lettuce to vacate the premises.

I laughed and said: “I have not had lettuce in three months and have discovered that I really do love it. There was an undertone of relief as with a smile she said: “Then we must get you to a salad bar right away.”

The Meander:  Prior to our Bali winter lettuce was just lettuce. I ate it.  It was a triviality. However no food has ever tasted as good as that lettuce on that salad bar.  We take so much for granted that sometimes it takes loss for us to appreciate what we have.



A most Unusual Birthday

We were in the middle of eating an authentic delicious gourmet Indonesian dinner in Sanur, Bali. It was Valentine’s Day and Duncan, our ‘Dutch son’, met only a week previously, was celebrating his birthday.

He had asked the hotel owners Semadi and Rini, to prepare a special Indonesian meal to mark the occasion.  You can do that when your winter home/hotel is family owned, small, where staff and guests mingle, and guests are treated like family. There were eight of us including Semadi and Rini.

We were teasing Duncan about being a Valentine’s baby when I made the observation that my birthday was also a special day as I was born on the first day of Spring, March 21st.  A look passed between Semadi and Rini.  Rini sighed and when I asked what the matter was she said: “That is Nyepi, our Day of Silence our Bail New Year.  This year (1996) it falls on March 21st”.

Nyepi perhaps the most important religious and culturally significant day of the year.  When a Balinese say it is a Day of Silence they mean it.  No driving except for emergency vehicles, no planes arriving, no cooking, little or no work, no entertainment.  You stay indoors.  There are no Hindu ceremonies on Nyepi in a country which has ceremonies happening almost hourly somewhere on every other day. Devout Balinese Hindus will fast and not speak on Nyepi.

Hotels receive special permission to provide services but tourists are asked to respect this important day and so service is minimal. You are not allowed to go to the beaches. Anyone on the street must have permission from the town council to be out and about and there are security forces to enforce the laws.  I could not wait!

There is excitement all around.  The kitchen staff has been preparing meals for two days and today is March 20th.  Bert and I are up at dawn as we have decided to drive to the Mother Temple, Besakih at the foot of Mt. Agung to witness a bit of EKA DASA RUDRA the 100 year ceremonies and sacrifices. It would take a book to write about the religion of Bali. Suffice it to say that I learned as much as I could in the three months we lived there.  It is all a question of balance between heaven, the earth and nature.  There is good and there is evil.  Accordingly, good cannot conquer evil nor can evil conquer good therefore it is imperative that one respects both.

It was an excruciatingly slow but fascinating drive to Besakih. It seemed all roads led to the Mother Temple and it was a sight to behold.  The beautifully dressed and adorned young women and young men in their sarongs marching up to the temple are indescribable.  The costumes had all the colours of the rainbow and more. There were colourful umbrellas, flowers and garlands and towering headdresses.  The fruit and flowers, effigies and offerings were also colourful. To see them all kneeling, actually sitting in large groups at the temple complex was overwhelming.

Sad to say we did not see the sacrifices as we were too early and I am not sure we would have been allowed to observe them.  Also, we had to leave to get back to watch the Ogoh-Ogoh parade.  As we walked around, the Balinese people, warm, extremely friendly, happy and most welcoming explained the ceremonies and celebrations and told us we had to see Ogoh-Ogoh.

What is Ogoh-Ogoh?  Ogoh-Ogoh are giant statues of demons that represent all that is ugly, negative, and evil.  They are the ugliest creations anyone can imagine.  They are paraded through the streets the evening before Nyepi.

Ogoh-Ogoh sit on large bamboo frames, carried by young men.  For many weeks groups from the various communities have been creating them.  They are grotesque, the stuff of nightmares.  Imagine the most vivid depiction of ogres, horror, and phantoms.  They are terrifying, gaudily painted and menacing as they come weaving down the street. This is evil imaginatively portrayed.  This is their night and they tower over us.  They can be five metres high!  They will rule until sunrise.  It is a fearsome spectacle.  The parade usually ends at a field where they are burned.

The festivities now over, everyone go home to prepare for Nyepi. You must be home and silent so any negativity or evil spirit still wandering about cannot find you and enter your body to corrupt you or bring you bad luck for the coming year.  It is thought that when the evil spirits come out they will not see anyone around, decide that Bali is empty and leave.

The next day, Nyepi, is a day for introspection and meditation and silence.  For three days before this day you have cleansed yourself, you have been to the temple with your gifts and have acknowledged the evil ones and now this day you pray, fast, meditate and think good thoughts for good luck in the coming year.

My cold birthday dinner was eaten in half light. It was very quietly shared with all guests and staff in residence at the time.  Silence was broken by close family and friends including our new ‘son’, calling to wish me a happy birthday.  The conversations were very short.   It’s Nyepi, after all.

I would not have missed this for all the tea in China.

The Meander:  The festivities and Ogoh-Ogoh were far more interesting than Nyepi.   A Bacchanal is fun. Being good takes some effort.  In retrospect we  have a similar celebration but without the demons.   New Year’s Eve is certainly the night to let loose, to have fun and throw off the shackles of the old year.  Come New Year’s Day we get busy with the good resolutions.

We are still Mum and Papa to our Dutch son.

(Pixaby images)

Travel Language

Travel language

Bert and I are multilingual speakers in travel language.  Bert actually is proficient in seven languages and I can get by in three and a half. Travel language is different in that it means being able to greet, ask a few very important questions and say goodbye in the language spoken in whatever country you are.  Given our passion for travel we have mastered the stock phrases like  good morning, yes, no, please, thank you, where is the bathroom, a beer please, my name is… in many languages.  

Greek is Greek to me.  Here I was throwing around Kalimera,  Efharisto and parakalo with aplomb to our waiter who was so impressed he offered to teach us more Greek.  He showed us what those words looked like written in Greek.  I looked, I saw and decided this was unconquerable. I was reminded of the oft repeated verse of my high school days when I was studying another ancient language.

Latin is a language

As dead as dead can be

At first it killed the Romans

And now it’s killing me.

Now take Swedish.  Please. It has special significance.  We have family there. I love to hear Swedish spoken but I find it very difficult to learn.  My niece and I have a continuous game.  When we are together I have to say sjukhus and she has to say unbelievable.  For some reason those words are unpronounceable to us in each other’s languages.  She cannot get those syllables coming out the correct way and when I say sjukhus it comes out  ‘cookhouse’.  You should know that sjukhus means hospital. Dissected it seems logical,   sjukhus = sick house= place for sick people = hospital. The Swedish mouth says it so ‘Swedely’.  Coming from my mouth it is bizarre to say the least.  If you are sick would you choose to go to a cookhouse?

Our winter in Bali gave us an opportunity to enhance our vocabulary beyond the norm.  The official language of Indonesia is Bahasa Indonesian, but there are over 300 dialects spoken. We were in Bali so we tried to speak Balinese.  One bonus of our diligence is that  as cruisers we travel on ships with Indonesian crew and they are always pleasantly surprised when right away I greet them in their own language. I can also tell the Balinese the order of their birth by reading their name tags.

In South Africa I seem to understand more than I should in Afrikaans but not isiZulu, the most populous language. Afrikaans is similar enough to the Dutch language that although my husband did not teach me much Dutch I can maneuver through it somewhat. I do not speak Dutch but I could find my way around in The Netherlands and, surprise, South Africa.

The Meander: Travel language is minimal communication that brings a great reward.  Say the simplest word or phrase in the local tongue and the smiles get bigger, the help is forthcoming, the warmth spreads and the welcome more expansive. The effort is very much appreciated