Sunday, October 12, 2014

One Day in Kuta is Enough

Two fans are blowing from above and I'm still covered in sweat. I ordered a hot coffee, a decision I am already regretting and the drinks haven’t even arrived yet. Here they are and they are gorgeous and piping hot. Great.

I'm not in love with Kuta. Walking down the streets is a never-ending sales pitch. I am constantly bombarded with people trying to offer me a taxi ride, take me into their shop, sell me things from baskets balancing on their heads, or hand me flyers for resorts or tours. Those guys are the worst because they say “I'm not trying to sell you anything,” but they won’t simply let you take their flyer and walk away.  Oh no. If you let them put it in your hands that will start their sales pitch. It gives them an excuse to talk to you longer. To waste your time. One of them gave us a phony lotto card, and surprise, we were big winners. We just had to go with him to his resort to claim our prize. No thanks. I took the card with me back to the hotel, and peeled off the aluminum paper which was hiding our “prize.” It was $500-off coupon for the $12,000 timeshare they were selling. Just what I don't need.

Now I never let anyone put something into my hand. I don’t look them in the eyes, and I try not to even look into their shops to avoid for fear of being mercilessly sold to. The fear keeps my head low and eyes to the ground. It keeps me from absorbing everything to experience here. I don’t want to erect mental walls to prevent strangers from talking to me.   I gaze and wander freely, not have my thoughts interrupted by peddling merchants.

It hasn’t all been bad though. I rather love Indonesia for reminding me of Pakistan, the good parts of it, and Taipei. The gritty streets and haphazardly erected stores feel like South Asia. But the street traffic and noise pollution reminds me of Taipei. Even from the second floor inside a cafĂ©, the deep base of truck engines and roar of motorcycles drowns out the music and voices from below. 

 I awoke at 6:00 am and gingerly skipped around the hotel room until I got myself up at 7:00. At 7:30 we were the first two people at the breakfast buffet where I learned that Indonesia sauces are both spicy and sweet.  At 8:30 we began our walk around the neighborhood. It was still too early for tourists to be awake and the merchant were sleepy themselves. The air was cool and the sun hadn’t yet started burning the concrete streets. We followed the smell of salt to the ocean. As I walked along the brick road that edged the shoreline, I thought about cities.

Cities is the developing world rejuvenate me. They are dynamic, unstable, in a constant state of flux. They oscillate between tradition and innovation.
Their chaos gives me energy.

Once a city becomes too developed, it ceases to change. Instead, the hoards of people who come and go must conform to the city’s unwavering grid of buildings and regimen. The buildings have been built. The structures have been decided. There is little room for change. Tokyo is such a place. It hasn’t changed since it was built up, almost in its entirety, in the 1980s. Having wandered those streets once at the age of 15, I could still easily find y way using  only my teenage memory.

But cities of the developing world are an entirely different matter. Its dwellers flocked from the countryside with big hopes of better lives. Their hope is palpable. It tastes of salt and sweetness. People come to developing cities to be changed, and they in turn, change the cities. Their hands build up the towers and tear them down. It’s like watching evolution unfold before my eyes. Everyday the cities morphs into the creation of its dwellers. It churns and bubbles and shape-shifts almost by the hour. 

- Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014, Mugshot Cafe, Kuta, Bali

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