The plan was simple. I arrive on a Friday afternoon, I party over the weekend, I move to a quieter part of town, I work by the beach, maybe sign up for yoga and attempt to eat healthy. Simple. The week ahead was supposed to be simple. Instead, this happens.
I get up on Friday at some ungodly hour to catch my flight out and arrive in unbearable heat. Trust me to wear sneakers and jeans to Bali. I arrive at the hostel, 150,000 rupiahs poorer but a lot wiser. My taxi driver teaches me that bak is used instead of encik. I tell him I might fall in love with Bali and never go home. He tells me to not fall for javanese boys because they’re not good. I tell him not to worry, I don’t think they’ll find me attractive anyway. We laugh.
The hostel is in the heart of Kuta, near Sky Garden, the busiest club in town. I check in, change, grab a map and wander the streets. I start to sweat and have not stopped till today, six days later and only because it’s been raining. I soon find an alley that all the bikes seem to turn into and follow suit. It’s quiet, a welcomed relief. I find my first warung and devour my first meal at 3pm. It was the tastiest soto I’ve ever had.
After lunch, I try looking for the main Kuta market, you know, to catch a glimpse of “local life” only to find that it’s closed because it’s Hari Raya Hindu or Hari Raya Kuningan or Hari Raya Gulingan, the three seem to be used interchangeably. I speak to the sweetest lady in the market, who was on her way out. She decides to sit down and I learn how to say thank you in Balinese and she learns that I’m travelling alone from Malaysia and my name is Nicole.
Since the market is closed, I decide to go to the beach. That is why I chose Bali in the first place. But as always, I got distracted. I ask a lady in the shop opposite the temple if I can enter, even in a short dress. “Boleh, tak apa“.
The steps lead up and over and soon, I see a courtyard filled with sand and a group of young girls playing. Across the courtyard is another walled up courtyard that is probably the inner sanctuary or some sort, from which I see all sorts of figures and statues reaching for the sky behind the wall. I look at the bunch of girls. They smile at me, I wave back, and one by one, they yell hello.
We talk and talk and talk. They question me no end about my marital status because I’m 23 and don’t have a ring on my finger. “Ada suami tak?” “Datang cari suami?” “Mengapa tak nak kahwin?”
I laugh and ask about this and that, they tell me this and that, mostly about Upin dan Ipin. We sit on the sandy courtyard and I ask them about the statues around us and the festival happening tomorrow. They say I must come back at 7pm tomorrow to watch the traditional dance, I tell them yes, pinky promising all of them.
It’s 5pm now and they head home. I walk along the street with Indah, the sweetest of the girls and she tells me the beach is up ahead before waving goodbye and riding off on her bicycle. This was the second last time I saw her.
At the beach, I am approached by way too many surfing instructors. I politely decline them all until I meet David. He asks me where I’m from and I reply accordingly. He tells me he worked in Johor’s kelapa sawit plantation a few years ago. It was hard work and he could only keep it up for 8 months. He’s been an instructor for three years and he likes it because he gets to meet people from everywhere and learn every language that finds its way to Kuta beach. He tells me to speak to him in English, he wants to practice.
I buy a drink from him and end up watching the sunset with another beer. Behind me, his friends with long sun bleached hair play the guitar, the bongo and the ukulele. They serenade us with songs from Bali and Sumatra, where they’re from.
That evening, I meet other people too. Line (pronounced Lina), also known as Coco from Denmark and Michelle from the Philippines, who currently resides in Singapore. She flew over as soon as she finished her final paper for her psychology diploma. We chat and decide to go out for dinner and drinks.
At 8pm she’s already waiting for me at the lobby. I’m rushing because I’m running late. We head over to Kopi Pot for dinner and it is beautiful and delicious. Sky Garden is next and we enjoy the night with each other till we lose each other on the dance floor. I learn so much about her, she’s pretty amazing.
I stay in the club till three, till my clothes are soaked in sweat and my makeup smudges. I resemble a crazy person with my man bun because I never look as chic as the other girls around me, mostly tall and blonde and tanned. But I don’t care.
By three, I’m exhausted and happy. I’ve had my share, I’m full. I head out but am followed by a boy who I met earlier on. He doesn’t leave me alone. I tell him to fuck off about a million times but he doesn’t. He tells me I’m beautiful and that he has to follow his feelings. He follows me out into the street and I’m still telling him to go away. We go into a Mini Mart nearby and I tell him to look at my face because under the painfully bright white lights, “this is as good as it’s going to get buddy”. He laughs and pays for my things despite my protests. He doesn’t have a wallet, he uses his money belt, but of course.
We go for a walk and turn down a dark road. I learn that he’s from Chile. We’re talking and I’m distracted. I hear the whirrs of an engine starting up and see the lights of a motorbike. I see the reflection of a helmet and the silhouette of a person heading in my direction.
I feel the strap snap, it’s the crispest sensation, like breaking Japanese Pocky sticks between your fore finger and thumb. Just like that, my bag, my cards, my money and my phone were gone. I don’t know how long it took me to realise what had happened but when I did, I yelled “EH FUCKER” and chased the silhouette. It soon disappeared into a crowd of motorbikes and that was that.
I plopped down in the middle of the road, face in my palms telling myself to calm down while swearing profusely. My cards, my phone, my money, my tampons, my ear plugs, my IC, my phone, oh god my phone, did the asshole take my moon cup too? He took my makeup, bastard. And that bag, it was mummy’s, or ahmah’s, damn it. What to do what to do what to do. I need to lodge a police report oh god oh god oh god.
The Chilean comes up to me and asks what happened, “He took my bag!” shocked that he didn’t notice the whole scene unfold. We’re still in the middle of the dark road and bikes whizz past us until a bak stops right in front of me and the Chilean tells bak about the last 5 minutes. We hop on his bike and head to the police station. Bak asks about the contents of my bag as we’re speeding and turning down different lanes. I tell him everything, in between thanking him at least 20 times for his help. He hears about my cards and says we need to cancel them immediately.
He pulls up at the nearest bar that’s still open at 4am, hands me his phone and tells me to call the bank, now. He tells the others what has happened and everyone steps in to give me advice. The Chilean is told to look for a number to call as well and he does. Others try calling my phone, there’s no answer. I try the number on the bank’s website, again and again and am constantly directed to an Indonesian speaking automated service and then told to wait for an indefinite amount of time. Two things here that we should note: 1) HSBC needs to sort out their emergency services and 2) maybe there are just too many people who lose their shit on Friday nights.
The Chilean manages to speak to someone from the bank and passes me the phone. I struggle to understand the Irish man on the other end, trying my best to decipher his words over the crackling phone line and noisy bar. I’m passed on to someone else and spend the next hour on the Chilean’s phone with the bank, swearing and apologising, losing my mind and calming down again. All this while, the lady on the other end is nothing but gracious and helpful. We end up in the lobby of my hostel, where it’s quiet and I can hear her clearly. The Chilean sits beside me, trying to be as supportive as one can even though half drunk, tired and stuck with a stranger. I’ve forgotten his name by this point.
Once I hung up, I contacted my family via Facebook and filled them in. I return to the bar where I received help and thanked them. Someone asks if I want mushrooms. What. A. Dick.
I agree to see the Chilean tomorrow, he’s given me his number. I go to bed, or try to. Damn it, I don’t have my key card to enter. I wash my face, hands still shaking as I process the events of the last few hours. How will I wake up tomorrow? I don’t have an alarm clock. I don’t even know the time now. Oh god.
I get to bed, but dare not fall asleep. What if I oversleep? The windowless room is darker than when my eyes are shut. I’m confused for a while as to whether my eyes are still open. It’s just things that you’ve lost, I keep telling myself. They’re just things. But I’m far from home, I don’t know anyone, I have little money and I don’t know my way around. I think about it and realise that for the first time in my life, I am truly scared. Fearful really. I don’t have a safety net anymore, that was my phone. I am so scared and I can’t do anything about it. My father is usually the first person I call and cry to but I can’t reach him, not now when I need him most. I can’t even cry. I contemplate getting the next flight home before falling asleep a few times and waking up to violent jerks.
At 12.30pm the next day, I make my way down to sort out a new key card to my room. I get changed and dressed and get on my laptop. I try calling the Chilean on Skype but the one time it goes through, he can’t hear me. And I feel silly, calling a stranger with terrible handwriting. I try calling again but it doesn’t work. Neither does Skype SMS. So much for my genius plan.
I get a few angry messages from my mum, typical. My dad, the more understanding one, tells her to calm down and gets down to business with his questioning. If you ever need to feel shittier than usual, my parents do a good job. It doesn’t take long for the endless “I told you so” to stop and they resume being supportive and helpful.
We FaceTime and we talk things through. My mother calms me down and says she’s already called the bank on my behalf to make sure I’ve done everything I needed to do. She tells me we can sort everything out when I get home. She says I need to get some food and find the police station to make a report. I need it to replace my Malaysian IC and driver’s license. Okay, I sigh, dreading facing the outside world. Terrified actually. She prays for me and tears roll down my eyes. I don’t like crying in front of my parents so I keep silent and put on a “normal voice” as I say “Amen” and “Bye mum”.
By the time she hangs up, I’m sobbing uncontrollably, so much so that I take off my glasses to wipe my tears. I don’t want to go out. I don’t know where to go. I can’t get a cab, I might need the money later on. I’m hungry and tired. I just want all this to go away. And then I see a figure of a man, just standing by my table. Does he want to share a table with a sobbing girl? Is he insane?
I put my glasses on and it’s the Chilean. I’m so relieved. There are no romantic feelings here, just an overwhelming sense of security from a complete stranger.
“Do you want to go for lunch? I thought I’d come by to check on you.”
I nod. I tell him I need to lodge a report at the police station and he says we can go there first. I quickly get changed into something decent and run down. Relieved to have someone else with me. I thought he wasn’t going to show up, after all, he really didn’t need to. He was, after all, just a stranger – that I was incredibly rude to.
We walk and I assume he knows the way and he does. I don’t have to think for a while, I just hold on tightly to the straps of my foldable backpack. We finally make it after too much walking and he patiently waits while I speak to the inspectors on duty.
We go for lunch at a warung he’s been to twice. I learn that he is obsessive, loves yoga and is a pescatarian. After lunch we hang out and get caught in the rain. We sit down outside another warung to wait for the rain to stop. I hear a bunch of girls screaming and laughing in the rain. It’s them, the cheeky monsters from the temple riding their bicycles in the rain. I don’t call out to them because they’re gone within a flash. I sit there reading my Kindle and him reading something about quantum physics and the super mental in Spanish.
We look for the temple again and when we arrive, a little before 7pm, and find men outside in white t-shirts, white head turbans and their sarung. There are no celebrations or dances, there are no laughing girls playing in the sandy courtyard.
Written on Thursday, 25th February 2016.
As I read what I’ve written, I notice how I’ve selectively omitted the bad things, like being asked “Mushroom?” too many times, having ladies come up to me offering a massage and even touching me despite me saying no, having a local boy take a picture of me by the beach without my consent and in a very creepy manner, I should have thrown his phone in the water. I’ve left out how my hostel was unhelpful and how the fear made me reconsider life in South East Asia. I forgot about the French guy who was so drunk he danced like he had no bones. It’s as though one big bad thing just overshadowed all the smaller, equally weird and bad things.
I’ve learnt that for every bad person in the world, there are a hundred good ones to make it better. Or rather, it takes a hundred good ones to right the wrong that’s been done. I learn that when you trust in God (or the world/universe, depending on your belief system), you will be given the help you need when you need it. Not any more, not any less. I’ve also learned that having a sense of humour is helpful and that when I depend on me, it is a terrible idea.
That night, I get home and jump in the pool to cool down. I successfully get lost in my book for 20 minutes. I find a computer and tell my parents “I didn’t come all the way here to chicken out”. I won’t take the next flight home. No. Because my journey in Bali has just begun.