Monday, December 3, 2012

10 Things I've Learned in Bali (So Far)

1. A true-blue Taurus, I'll always be something of a slave to luxury. But as posh accommodations go, I officially prefer rustic charm to sleek modernity, and I'm willing to shower outside in order to get it.

2. Mountains or beach? Unless there are tall land masses looming majestically and dramatically in the background, if you've seen one beach, I'm afraid you've sort of seen them all. Start climbing!

3. That said, if you must stay in tourist-heavy Kuta, Legian or Seminyak while in Bali, get a room with a view of the water. If you don't mind paying a bit more, there's far less traffic -- human and vehicular -- along Raya Pantak Kuta than on the neighboring shopping streets, and any beach is best enjoyed from three stories dusk.

4. When bartering with shopkeepers, threaten to walk out empty-handed at least once. After you agree on a price and pay it, if they're frowning, you've done a good job. I still can't believe that kid actually expected me to pay $150 for a pair of Tiger trainers that were so obviously a knock-off. Despite the scowl on his face when I left, I'm pretty sure that the $35 I ended up paying for them was a better deal for him than it was for me.

5. If you ever decide to open a bar or restaurant in Bali, and you want to make the stuff you're selling seem cheaper than it is, quote the prices American-style: Don't include the tax and service charge. Unfortunately, add-on fees of up to 20-something percent (plus, in some cases, 3 percent more, if you're paying by credit card), makes Bali much less of a bargain destination than Thailand. Massages are cheaper but only better if you prefer a weaker touch by a distracted therapist; taxis, though far from pricey and with a lower starting rate ($.50 as opposed to just over $1), are still more expensive; and you can't buy a four-star meal on the street at 3am for under $3.

6. Apparently, Indonesians also have a better command of English than Thais. Most taxi drivers and Circle K employees in Bali can hold a basic conversation in English, while in Bangkok, most of the cashiers in the supermarkets and 7-11s that I frequent have to point to the price on the register to communicate the total. Considering the amount of tourism that Thailand attracts, it's a mystery to me why fewer locals there seem to speak English than in any other Southeast Asian country I've visited, which I guess makes Thailand the Argentina of South America. (By the way, Indonesia is Brazil, Malaysia is Colombia, Singapore is Chile, Laos is Uruguay, Vietnam is Peru, and the Philippines is Venezuela.)

7. In hotel speak, a "soft opening" is like when a Broadway show is in previews. The Amaroossa Hotel in Nusa Dua had only been in its preview phase for one month when I arrived, so the fluffy white towels still left lint all over my body, which, though annoying, is less so than the stale mildewy towel scent that one occasionally encounters in more vintage establishments.

8. I took a class on the Hinduism in college, but I don't remember anything about menstruating women not being allowed in places of worship. I wish the hotels I've stayed in while in Bali had a copies of the Bhagavad Gita in the night-table drawers. I could use a refresher crash course.

9. "Your Drums, Your Love" by the British duo AlunaGeorge, which I heard for the first time when I saw the video on VH1 yesterday, might be one of the best singles of 2012 that you've probably never heard.

10. For a place where there are so few black people (I think I've only one other black person, a guy who was also staying at the Haven Seminyak when I was there my first two days in Bali), and where many people acted like I was the first one they'd ever seen in person, the Balinese have a surprising appreciation of hip hop, and not just Nicki Minaj (unfortunately, the only rapper of interest among the Thai crowd). My cab driver from Ubud to Legian had the B-boy look down, complete with the cocky walk, studded ear and Rick Ross on his booming system.

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