“Hello, album, you looking, album, lady….”

From Cat Moore

“Hello, album, you looking, album, lady….”

She’s old (I think- how fast do people age here?) and smiling large, toothlessly. Her stall, like many, coconut wood spoons, vanilla pods, balm and the beautiful leaf bound albums she’s caught me looking at. I’m trying to buy an orchid for David, but the smells and textures are distracting, not to mention the constant helloing. We’ve already refused spices (“can’t take home”) and soap (“sudah punya banyak”) when she notices my gaze and gestures at the intricate covers.

“No camera, I protest, almost outsmiling the old Ibu, but think to ask “notebooks? For writing?” (miming for good measure) and of course she not only nods but thrusts one under my nose.

I buy three for good measure, refuse soap again, and race to the nursery before I become trapped somewhere else. But I have a magic book to begin, and my smile isn’t just for Ibu. I can’t wait to open it.


Earlier, in the back of a “bemo” up the hill, we practice our Indonesian with the grinning driver. His grin may be enhanced by the 1000 we have paid (about 3 times local price) but I imagine he’s always pretty chirpy, and like everyone here he’s graciously accepting of our terrible Indonesian. The conversation seems doomed to rapid death once we’ve exhausted the familiar topics- country of origin and absence of “anak” on our part, number and ages of “anak” on his, “mau ke mana?”, “di mana tinggal?”.

At this point the conversation takes an unexpected left. Names fly, connections are made, “aduh!” this is Wayan’s brother we’re talking to! Yes, everyone on the island is Wayan’s brother, but in this case it’s Wyan Astawa, manager of Pacung Indah and friend. We outdo each other in excited introductions and laughing apologies- he attempts to hand back our money, we refuse.. ..

I’m glowing with the unexpected feel of community, ready to ride the market wave with smile and grace. Stepping out of the bemo I swear I’m floating, no matter my clumsy white bulk.

The market sprawls under the heat, innumerable varieties of fruit and colour enough to stop traffic- well, not Balinese traffic!- batiks of every shade and texture rippling temptingly at me. I want to touch everything, absorb the patterns the way I’m drinking in the overripe scent (2 parts fruit-and-flowers, 1 part poo, a dash of human odour, coconut cooking oil on a wet earthy base). I’m Selamat-Sore-ing everyone I pass, in answer to their hellos, when two young girls answer with “Selamat Siang”. Siang? I’m thrown, briefly, mind races- what time is it?- but they cackle hysterically. After a moment, so do we. Got us both, cheeky brats. We see the same girls twice more the same afternoon, and each time they giggle siang… Selamat pagi, I learn to reply, which cracks them up further.

Even funnier is the young dude selling watches who has learnt an impressive collection of irritating ocker phrases- “ozzie ozzie ozzie oi oi oi” being my personal favourite. Then hetells us he’s from Brisbane- and cacks himself at his own joke! Watches forgotten, we chat haltingly about Australia. It seems our friend is desperate to go- not surprising, is it. Life here is pretty, it smells good, but damn people work hard. And they watch enough tv to want the western fairytale. (Hey, maybe I should try watching more tv?? It’d probably help…)

As we leave, he calls “seeya later alligator!”






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