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Sunday, March 26, 2006

DO NOT FEED THE MONKEYS!!!

I left Singapore, watching the city disappear as I passed overhead in the plane, looking like a replica of a model community made of plastic below me. The perfection of the trees and lakes and buildings below, it’s just fascinating to see in person, Singapore is sterility redefined.

Arriving in Bali, I was excited. Everyone has the most wonderful things to say about Bali and I was eager to experience it for myself. Being the end of my trip, I splurged and checked into the Oberoi on Seminyak Beach, the east coast of the island. It rained much of my time there, but the Balinese style villas and resorts were so peaceful, filled with lily ponds and dark cobblestone walkways throughout the grounds, foot-high torches lighting up the paths at night, service unmatched with suntan lotion and water spritzers refilled hourly at the pool overlooking the beach all day long, ice cream cones of sorbets given at 11:30 AM and 3:30 PM to all guests, ten minute massages in the AM and PM at poolside, as well. It was blissful. And the shopping in Seminyak was insane. The home d├ęcor is so colorful and airy, the clothes all authentic Scoop Beach-esque tunics and tank tops, tissue paper skirts and sarongs, beaded flip-flops and necklaces, for a fraction of Scoop prices (needless to say, I did VERY well here in Bali shopping since the rain kept me a slave to the stores), the art post-modern and intriguing. The restaurants along the beach and in the town are divine, the first New York level of food and service yet. And the two Barbie twins at the pool by day, whose bodies folded up perfectly like beach chairs with nary a roll (you know the type), frolicking topless with their perfect tits and asses around a wrinkled and sun-exposed Speedo-ed playboy of, at the very least, 70 years old, had the attention of both staff and guests alike…especially when they sat around Grandpa and caressed each other, then alternatively caressed him. Yeah, the beach side of Bali was great for a few days….

BUT, the real Bali is to be found in Ubud, the interior of the country, an artist community of perfection and culture that absolutely mesmerized me. I could’ve easily stayed in Ubud another week, it was one my favorite places on this trip. I was in love with the people, the landscape, the culture, the little touches of the city and know I will absolutely be coming back to Bali, and spending a lot more time in Ubud when I do.

Ubud is one of those small towns with a ton of charm. The narrow, one-way streets are lined with shops, cafes, art galleries, and villa resorts. Every day, as the town comes to life, small offerings of flowers and incense are placed in doorways, giving the entire town the smell of freshness and flowers. In every shop, in every home, Balinese traditional music plays in the background, a mix of Enya-Enigma type dream music with xylophone and drum beat accents. You almost don’t hear it, and then, when you do, you can’t help but smile – it’s so calming. I checked into a resort where they upgraded my room to a suite (they do this a lot in places where tourism has suffered from either the tsunami or terrorism) that had a verandah which overlooked a rice paddy. Every afternoon, I read on a lounge chair and watched the sunset while the Balinese tended to their paddies below me. Each morning I would either take a drive or a bike ride out of town through the countryside and talk to the people – the Indonesians are the friendliest, warmest people I’ve encountered out here. Their smiles and genuine desire to help you embrace their island is so refreshing, they don’t hawk you (except on the beach side), they don’t beg, they don’t pester, they are just as interested in you, as you are of them, and want to learn simultaneously from the interactions. I talked to so many different types of people, artists, locals, shop owners, holy men, it was amazing. Everyone was approachable and equally interesting.

I indulged in daily Balinese massages, then a run, then took my breakfast, (which I will miss terribly while I’m home for two weeks, the AM spreads) where a couple was on my same schedule EVERY DAY. The British woman of the pair (Cher, a complete clone of Heather Gitlitz) was chatty chatty Cathy, who didn’t shut up from the second she sat down, talking about nonsense to the guy who, I SWEAR, was nodding off during her rants. And the same schtick happened every morning, she would hem and haw over eggs or pancakes, eggs or pancakes, when the waiter would come over to her. “I just dunno today, should I greet the morning with some eggs, or should I allow the pancakes to win out? Hmmm, what do you think?” in her grating British accent. Oh my god….kill myself. She was always done up in some ridiculously formal skirt of a silk or satin, a lacy shirt AND…Tevas. It annoyed the hell out of me. She carried an umbrella for walking in the sun. But, not a pretty little parasol, it was a golf umbrella that could house a small army underneath. Each day, I dreaded getting to the dining area, she killed my tranquility.

But, then, I’d head off onto my day, and forget the bothersome Brit at breakfast. The temples you can find throughout the city and countryside are all gorgeous, and the villages where the Indonesians live were fascinating, each family has it’s own temple, in addition to their living quarters, the tips of which peek from behind the walls of the family compounds. Driving around is a treat, just taking it all in. One of the highlights I was told I had to see was the Monkey Forest, which is a forest of just that, monkeys living in the wild around three Hindu temples. There’s thousands of them and I couldn’t wait to go into the forest. On a trip to Costa Rica a few years back, Ilana and I were a monkey’s plaything (or two) when we found them there, Lukoff hedging off getting rowdy with them, us making fun of her for being apprehensive around the cute little monkeys. Well, Lukoff, you were the wiser. Here’s my Monkey Forest story:

So, I head into Monkey Forest, at the end of aptly named Monkey Forest Road. As you approach, there’s at least 10-15 monkeys hanging around the entrance, waiting for the tourists to feed them bananas. ALL the guidebooks say specifically “Do not feed the monkeys,” and there’s a sign on entry saying the same, but RIGHT UNDER the sign, is a vendor at a little folding table with a sign that reads “Official Monkey Forest Bananas” and is piled high with bunches of about 20 baby bananas. Everyone entering is buying bananas and feeding, taking pictures with and running around with the greeter monkeys. Ok….so, I buy some bananas. If I don’t use them all on the monkeys, I’ll have them for myself to snack on, right? So far, so good. So, I take my bunch, all ready to go play with these cute little guys, like in Costa Rica, I’m a monkey expert. I’m THE monkey girl. As I start giving out the bananas to the monkeys that are jumping on me, climbing up my skirt, sitting on my shoulder, I hand my camera off to a Japanese (maybe Chinese) tourist close by to snap a few pix of me in my monkey glory. A large, hulking monkey approaches. I have two bananas left, one in each hand. I bend down toward him and extend my left hand to him, holding my right a little farther out. He takes the one in my left hand, but reaches for my right hand. WHY I didn’t just it to him, I’m not sure. In my mind, possibly I thought I needed to ration the bananas in an attempt to “be fair” to the other monkeys. What logic is this? They’re monkeys. Well, the monkey didn’t like the logic either, because as he climbed over me to get the other banana that I pulled away again, he FREAKED OUT, and…attacked me. He grabbed my right arm with both hands, and started scratching me, then, biting my arm over and over again, like it was a piece of corn on the cob, jumping up and down all the while, screeching. All of his monkey friends are gathered around watching, clapping, screeching too. All I kept seeing were these little teeth, going into my arm, over and over again. WHAT THE FUCK!?!?! I’m being mauled by a monkey, in Bali, now. Right now. The Japanese (Chinese, maybe) tourists are bugging out, the guards all come running, my arm is scratched open and bloody, and the monkey, both bananas in hand walks off, giving me dirty looks every few minutes as he saunters back into the forest. Calm (why, not sure…?), I walk into the ticket booth, where the staff cleans and dresses my wounds while I ask if the monkeys have diseases. “Like rabies?” you mean, says one monkey forest man. “Sure,” I say, “oh, and like…AIDS.” To which, they say – “no, no, don’t worry, monkeys safe.” So, with a bleeding arm (I cannot be deterred), I re-enter the forest, after getting a refund for my bananas, politely handing them back, and go see the temples. I’m like the walking warning sign for the rest of tourists, different languages being whispered in the ear of the apprehensive partner to the other, as they nod toward my shredded forearm. As if to say, “Look at her, be careful with those bananas, hon.” Quite a day, to say the least. My massages suffered, as my masseuses couldn’t adequately rub my right as vigorously as they rubbed my left arm, and I felt slightly off-kilter after each session, but hey….at least I got all my shots before I left, right. Lesson to all, unison now… DO NOT FEED THE MONKEYS.

At night, I took in different dance ceremonies (there are about 7 different types of Balinese dances performed every night) followed by tasting menus at a variety of local haunts. Balinese dance is an art form, the way they move their bodies, focusing on details like wrist and ankle flicks and rapid (and slightly freaky) eye movements to convey emotions, were mesmerizing. Sure, there were a few too many ants for my liking generally, in Bali, and the heat was overpowering, giving me little water blister rashes when I ran, like in Peru on my Macchu Piccu hike, and obviously, the monkey situation, but overall, Bali was absolutely amazing. A perfect way to wind down my Asia trip.

Now, back to Singapore for another night with Pam and Rich. Then, to Bangkok for a spa day at the Banyan Tree, then one more island to go before I’m home. Can’t wait to see you all. Three months in Asia, while amazing in SO many ways, is a long time. I cannot wait for a fat-ass steak. And a veal chop parm. And a cheeseburger from PJ Clarkes or Melons. Ok, making myself hungry. The consolation – I have pad thai in my future in Bangkok.

xo

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