Home Sweet Home? Ubud
New Year’s Day seems an appropriate time to head to Bali and start a new life – and, let’s face it, getting on a plane somewhere and not getting off it for another few weeks is an easier resolution to stick to than, say, giving up smoking.
The plan is to head to Ubud, which we loved so much when we first visited that we came back and spent a couple of months there, and get a place for a month or so. Zac will choose a school, and then we will work out whether we live in Ubud or some unspecified Balinese elsewhere.
One thing I learnt in Harbin? Find the school first and work out the house thing after that. Otherwise you’ll be getting up at 5.30am to catch the school bus, and that would never do. Not that most schools in Bali HAVE buses, but you get my point.
We’ve been talking about Green School, which is by far the best-known of Bali’s international schools, with a bamboo campus in the rice fields out of Ubud. Yet, the closer we get to Bali, and the more digging I do with folk who actually live there, the less appealing Green School sounds.
“They spend a lot of money on PR,” one remarks darkly. “A friend of mine heard about them from a PR in ROME. But they haven’t qualified to offer the IB.”
“I love Green School,” says another. “But the middle school isn’t there yet. I pulled [redacted] out, because it wasn’t working.”
“It’s really not good for teens,” says another. “Lots of families come for six months to a year, for their kids to have the Green School experience while they do a sabbatical, so they’re constantly losing their friends.”
Still… There are other international schools, and we can check them all out. It all feels, as I bullshit my way through checkin at Adelaide with a booking screen open at the purchase stage of tickets out to Singapore, perfectly doable.
This does not, as I had feared it might, feel like a hideous mistake – just a process which requires fine-tuning.
It’s only, frankly, when we hit Ngurah Rai airport, where the immigration queue spills through a vast, new and entirely unorganised arrivals hall like bad-tempered chocolate sprinkles on a lollipop, that I realise a) New Year’s Day is a public holiday here too and b) all the bloody schools will be shut. (Yes, this also happened in Harbin, and no, I did not learn from this mistake.)
I’ve booked a hotel for the first couple of nights, but neglected to arrange transport. Prices, it appears, have gone up. I haggle, irritably, in a mixture of abysmal bahasa and pidgin English for half an hour or so until I find someone who’s prepared to take us for only 40% over what we paid last time, rather than double or triple, and load our bags, the largest of which, as a quality Dahab purchase, no longer has a single working handle, into the boot.
At the hotel, there’s an oddly Balinese delay. “Can we check in?”
“Oh, just wait, please.”
We wait. And then we wait some more. Zac has designs on Taco Casa, and time is ticking.
Clearly, there is a problem. But everyone’s too embarrassed to tell us what it is. “Someone may have your room already,” murmurs the girl, eventually.
“Oh,” I say. I’m not particularly flustered by this. “So we can’t stay here?”
“Wait a minute, please,” she says.
We wait some more. Arrangements are made with a place round the corner, and round we toddle, emerging on the street to find a ceremony in full sway.
Whew! I think. I still like Bali. And, over nachos and tacos in Taco Casa, Zac and I concur that Bali feels like home. Not exactly home, as we don’t live here yet, but certainly familiar and home-ish. This does not, as I had feared it might, feel like a hideous mistake – just a process which requires finetuning.
“Great!” I say. “How much?” “18 million,” he says. I run a quick calculation. That’s £900, plus or minus, or $1400. AKA, absolutely bloody mental.
Next up? House-hunting. Previously, when finding accommodation in Ubud, I’ve gone the old school route – looking on the signs on boards around town, at Pizza Bagus and Bali Buddha, at the Bintang Supermarket, the odd very out-of-date one in the library, and asking touts.
I ask the guy where we’re staying whether he knows of a house. He actually has one. Result! “It’s a one bedroom villa with a swimming pool in the rice-fields,” he says. Despite the fact that it’s the rainy season, and the rain gods are pissing like stallions out of a surly grey sky, I rather fancy a pool.
“Great!” I say. “How much?”
“18 million,” he says. I run a quick calculation. That’s £900, plus or minus, or $1400. AKA, absolutely bloody mental. £900 a month will find you a mansion in Bali, still, if you know where to look, which clearly I don’t. It’s also over 100 times what we’re paying per night for our room.
“EIGHT million?” I repeat in bahasa. I understand this sum to be about right for the monthly rental of a one-bed with a pool.
“Eighteen million,” he replies in bahasa, pulling out his mobile phone and typing in the number lest I should be confused about the zeroes (not an uncommon issue in a nation where the smallest coin in general circulation is 100, a trip to the cashpoint involves extracting millions, and change is quite often given in sweets).
My jaw hits the floor. “Would you like to look at it?” he asks, optimistically.
“No thank you,” I say, with my best attempt at quiet dignity. “That’s outside our budget.”
Apparently everyone in Ubud Community comes from places where burglary doesn’t happen and nobody ever gets their bag snatched, which is odd, since I’m sure quite a few are from London, like me.
This, gentle reader, is a mistake. We are transitioning from travellers to expats, so, like a good little expat, I join all sorts of Facebook groups. Bali Expats, Bali Housing and Accommodation, Ubud Monthly Rentals and…. oh dear god, Ubud Community.
Expat Facebook groups can be mines of information and even pull together to help compatriots in distress, but, read collectively, can plumb the shallowest, nastiest depths of the human soul. (I believe Asian expat groups are especially bad, and hear that Singapore Expat Wives is in a class all of its own.)
Ubud Community’s preoccupations could be loosely summarised as stray dogs (collecting, feeding and adopting puppies, then trying to offload the full-grown version on departure), chakras/crystals (and every permutation you could think of on the above, plus some you certainly couldn’t), crime and staff, not in that particular order.
Ecstatic dance sessions, shamanism, fasting and wheatgrass pop up with wearying regularity, as do burglaries and street crime. Apparently everyone in Ubud Community comes from places where burglary doesn’t happen and nobody ever gets their bag snatched, which is odd, since I’m sure quite a few are from London, like me.
Someone is selling a spiritual healing technique that is a guaranteed cure for AIDS, cancer and mental illness. I almost get in a fight with him. Someone else is endeavouring to hire a maid for approximately half Bali’s legal minimum wage on the grounds that that’s what Indonesians pay. I refrain from getting in a fight with her.
I am on the verge of joining the Bali Crime Reports Facebook group, just to push my blood pressure that little bit higher, when I realise we need to be out of this place tomorrow, we haven’t got anywhere to live, and I really shouldn’t waste any time on Facebook fighting.
Just scrolling through them makes me stabby. “Meat-free, alcohol-free and smoke-free space…” “suit conscious yogini….” “sacred geometry, perfect yoga space…” “suit single female, must love cats…”
I turn my attention to the myriad Bali accommodation groups, joining a few of the South Bali ones just to see what it’s like. Ubud housing ads are even worse than Ubud Community.
Just scrolling through them makes me stabby. “Meat-free, alcohol-free and smoke-free space…” “suit conscious yogini….” “sacred geometry, perfect yoga space…” “suit single female, must love cats…” “smoke-free house share with single yogini and friendly Bali dogs…” The geography centres on spots like Yoga Barn.
What’s particularly galling about this Ubudian cod-spirituality is that I’m fairly sure most of these conscious yoginis are letting out their spare rooms for considerably more than the rent on their entire villa.
Frankly, after only a few hours on Facebook, I am beginning to think that, while I’m extremely happy visiting Ubud, I do not want to live there. Further, I’m beginning to remember that the town basically shuts down around 9pm, and that tourist buses cause gridlock between approximately 10am and 7pm.
The housing ads down south look so much more honest. The geography is straightforward – houses are close to A.N. Other beach, A.N. Other bar or A.N. Other restaurant. Not one has sacred geometry, or requires any form of consciousness other than that required to get to the house and hand over the dosh.
In Bali, street numbering, in the rare event it exists, is largely random, street signage is vanishingly rare, and the shop signboards the casual visitor looks at for an indication of which road they are actually on can have wildly differing interpretations of the road name.
Anywise, I go back to old-school, hire a bike, buy a SIM card and tootle around. I’m looking for two bedrooms, cheap, reasonably central and available at once. There are some tempting yearly offers – a house in the ricefields with rentable guesthouse for around £5,000 ($8,000) per year.
But in Bali yearly rentals are paid upfront, my limited cash is earmarked for school fees, and, anyway, I’m not sure I want to live in Ubud anyway. I ring up, for the hell of it. It’s gone.
I ring up a few places, in fact, to find them gone. Ulp.
Onwards and upwards, and to the Bintang supermarket. Housing ads seem to be in short supply, at least on the cheap and monthly end of things, but there’s a little two-bedroom house with an outdoor kitchen and living area, set in what looks like someone’s garden, for 3,500,000 rupiah (£175 / $270) per month, plus electricity.
We toddle down, and meet our prospective landlord at Kimia Farma, which is the nearest convenient landmark. (In Bali, street numbering, in the rare event it exists, is largely random, street signage is vanishingly rare, and the shop signboards the casual visitor looks at for an indication of which road they are actually on can have wildly differing interpretations of the road name.)
We follow him down the road and up his driveway, and in we go.
Sold! To the bule with the feral long-haired child on the motorbike! I hand over two million, which is what I have on me, and say we’ll move in tomorrow.
This is, indeed, his garden. Ketut is a doctor, with three daughters, and a lovely wife, Komang. They live in a substantial, three-storey house with a little house in the garden.
The little house has two decent-sized bedrooms, with a bathroom (with tub!) in between them, a sitting and dining area on the front verandah, and a kitchen round the back. The sitting area looks out on a green and pleasant lawn, with frangipanis, standing palms and the family temple.
The kitchen is basic, with utensils easily sufficient for the amount of cooking I intend to be doing (cereals, and possibly pasta if Zac insists); Ketut and Komang are providing bedding, though I’ll need to buy towels; there is a desk in the room Zac earmarks as his. Zac tests the wifi, and finds it good. We like the family.
It’s not a long-term solution, since I want the option of having friends over, getting horribly drunk and behaving disgracefully on my verandah, and even I wouldn’t do that in someone else’s garden, but it’s nice, and it’s cheap, and it’s available.
And so it’s sold, to the bule with the feral long-haired child on the motorbike! I hand over two million, which is what I have on me, and say we’ll move in tomorrow. We are not, let us say, encumbered by a great amount of stuff.