Requiem for a family holiday in Bali

Oh Bali.

You are gamelan wafting on the late afternoon breeze. You are a hawker selling honey from a bucket still buzzing with bees. You are the offerings that contain incense sticks, a shot of coffee, three wrapped sweets, a small bag of blood, some biscuits, and a cigarette, because Made says, “My God likes a smoke in the morning”. You are condoms in the Circle K mini mart called Oh Sutra! You are all the meals I bought for my toddler, which he refused to eat. You are cheeky kids throwing a line in for fish pond koi. You are a chicken perched on the front step of a Ralph Lauren outlet store.

You are dirty beaches. You are a gigantic statue of a man riding an elephant-fish (or is it a fish-elephant?) You are my son, issuing a volcanic vomit over an entire restaurant table after a “mixed juice”. You are my daughter getting the paparazzi treatment from Chinese tourists on an Ubud street. You are frangipanis under a burning sun. You are coconut husks drying on a string. You are $12 massages and delicious chicken on lemongrass skewers. You are my sister-in-law inventing games in the swimming pool. You are a hive of Balinese men and women doing secret temple business, sorting rice, butchering pigs, and folding banana leaves. You are my two-year-old learning to speak Bahasa better than the rest of us, all bagus and baik baik and tema-cussy.

You are banana pancakes for breakfast. You are luxury villas with struggling septic systems. You are street side vendors selling Bintang singlets. You are the people who buy them. You are fried chicken restaurants called “JFC” and “Ayam Pop”. You are greasy mie goreng. You are the neighbourhood-owned skateboard, carved entirely out of wood. You are Little Tea moving only at two speeds: running or being carried. You are my brother staring at his daughter with a look of the purest delight (and just a touch of Bali belly). You are a basket overflowing with pineapples. You are a family of five on a scooter with no helmets. You are fish steamed in banana leaves. You are painstakingly intricate textiles from all corners of Indonesia, Sulawesi and Aceh and Yogyakarta, and you are cheap, polyester sarongs imported from Taiwan. You are gelato in the flavours of salak and durian and soursop. You are my little boy asking for the fiftieth time, “Where’s Ketut?” You are my daughter eye-gouging her cousin and stealing all her toys. You are a shop window displaying bikinis available in either Xena Warrior princess chain mail or raw hide brown pleather.  You are teak joglos with woven palm frond doors. You are the dubious tap water that my kids insist on drinking in great mouthfuls. You are toddler tantrums in the middle of the street.

Etched in the cement, “When I follow my heart, I wake up in Bali”…

You are precarious electrical wires and open sewers and a wheelbarrow fixed with reflective foil and a piece of string. You are noodle carts and sate vendors set up on the edge of the sand dunes. You are stone statues under tassled silk umbrellas. You are a delicious cafe breakfast with a side of exhaust fumes. You are a Royal Wedding Eleganza Extravaganza, with teenage boys in formal wedding make up and old ladies gussied up in their best polyester lace. You are rutting roosters. You are the backpacker set dressed like the cast of Friends, all jean shorts (jorts?) and bandanas and straight legged pants. You are the duck with the mullet, who bursts into a restaurant expecting to be fed (and he is).

You are the shit from the duck, which covers Little Tea’s feet and coats my dress when I pick him up. You are the same shit that then rubs from my lap onto Baby Tea before I’ve noticed what happened, thus sending me back to our accommodation to change my dress and the babe, all the better for her to throw up on me again.

You are the rice paddies gleaming in half-cut morning light. You are the construction site my son has mistaken for a sandpit. You are the stalls selling penis bottle openers in all sizes and states of erection. You are a beach walk punctuated with copulating monkeys. You are the Malaysian tourists at the airport who generously share their sweets with Little Tea even though he spits those lurid pink biscuits straight into my hand. You are the book Stuck, by Oliver Jeffers, which we read about fifty gajillion times. You are the petrol sold street-side in glass bottles.

You are ornate doors. You are temples on every corner. You are the chicken that crossed the road. You are the chicken that…didn’t. You are my toddler watching so much Thomas the Tank Engine on our IPad that Mr Tea says “That IPad is like cocaine”, and Little Tea says without even looking up, “No, I don’t like cocaine, I just like the IPad.”

You are warungs made colourful with plastic packets of food in all shades of the rainbow. You are the drivers who step out of cars on one lane streets to move motorbikes so they can continue driving. You are wizened backpackers covered in coconut oil on rented banana lounges, pretending that the sand isn’t burning and the sea isn’t filled with plastic. You are the airport security officers who wave us straight through the shortest queue. You are the highest flying kite, the one made from two garbage bags and string wrapped around an old can of Lift.

You are all of these things and, of course, you are none of these things, none of them at all.

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