[read earlier parts of “In Bali With Baggage” here]
I will give travel this: it gives us an excuse. It allows us to get away with things we never could back home. In Bali I can have beer with my breakfast. I can take three baths during the day. I can spend a great deal of mid afternoon time staring at a tree and thinking about trees without the risk of running into an old friend from high school or an ex-girlfriend’s father who always suspected I was a flake. Travel is permission to be absurd, to play, to make believe, to see that all things are make-believe. With its technicolored currency, Balinese rupees seem like the money in a 1960s LSD-inspired board game. It seems like the kind of money Ringo would use to buy magic seeds in “The Yellow Submarine.” By which I mean to say that we are reminded in travel that even the things we take most seriously, that we see as irrefutable metaphysical bottom lines, are relative. When we travel, we look at ourselves differently in the mirror. We talk to ourselves differently in the shower. We dream differently. What does it mean to dream upside down, on the other side of the Earth?
It is with these thoughts in mind that I decide to explore Bali’s nightlife. I should here say that I am not the type. My “going out” shirt makes me feel like I’m wearing a sandwich board that reads “What’s the use?” and bassy dance music makes me feel like I’m locked in a Polo cologne saturated car trunk. But partying is serious business in Bali. And partying means getting F’d up. Magic mushrooms are legal and bars have banners hanging outside that say things like, “All you can drink 100 k” which is about ten US dollars. And there’s “sexy partying,” too. In a horrible place called “Double D” there’s a huge poster on the wall with a quote from Michael Jordan, “Playing every games [sic] like it’s your last.” And just below it, a man approaches trying to sell me Viagra. He calls me brother as the song “Ice, Ice Baby” blares from ceiling speakers.
The streets of Bali seem to throb with bass. It’s the kind of thing that normally sends a “Retreat! Retreat!” message to my brain. When I think about all the things that bassy dance music has kept me from – the women I might have met, the pants I could have bought in stores I was too terrified to enter – it just seems unfair. Not tonight, though. I won’t let it.I sit down at a place called The Espresso Bar and watch a Balinese man phonetically sing the deep tracks from Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.” It is across the street from a place called Bounty, a foam bar disco with a sign above the door that reads, “Snow on the Bar Party.” Since I’m all in, I cut out and head to my first foam party, but when I get there it isn’t like I imagined. The floor mostly looks like an apartment laundry room when one of the machines has overflowed. There are suds, but you’d probably have to roll around on the floor like a rutting pig to get the full effect.
I watch a guy seated at a table who could pass for an old boiler repairman in a Mike Leigh film. He is seated with a woman who looks like a Polynesian weather girl. What is the story here? The man is actually picking his nose right now. Like he’s back home watching TV.
After spending most of the night pretty much hiding behind a cigarette machine, I realize that in Bali or back home, I’m just not much of a nightlife kind of guy. I decide that tomorrow I want to see the other side of Bali – the spiritual side. Tomorrow I want to see temples. Tomorrow is a new day and the great thing about a new day is that it actually is a new day.
Check back tomorrow for part seven of Jonathan Goldstein’s series “In Bali With Baggage,” or follow the daily-updated thread here.
[Photo credit: Flickr user Carl Ottersen]