It’s a spicy Indonesian beef dish, and I’ve eaten it several times, but more importantly its name has a great ring to it, and I haven’t been able to stop ringing it since I’ve been here.
“Beef ren-dang,” I say as I saunter through the hotel, barely picking my feet off the tiled floor.
“Beef ren…dang.” I’m a bit delirious, most definitely sleep deprived. It feels like I’ve been in Bali for a week. It’s only been three days and not even full ones at that. I’m trying to keep track of time, but it’s been a pointless endeavor. As I’ve travelled, time has slowly slipped into a thick gelatin warp.
Today is…today. Yes, today is, uh…today, and that’s enough.
It’s always a bit strange arriving somewhere at night, which is what I did. Muggy and sweaty and buggy and over a million taxi drivers grabbing and whistling and touching. Pick me, choose me, want me. Fuck, I didn’t even know an appropriate price for a cab. Upon arrival, I changed my Australian dollars into rupiahs and was instantly a millionaire. Stupid. That’s a con. Any place where cups of coffee and laundry cost thousands of dollars is begging you to abandon your grasp on currency and value.
I paid two-hundred thousand for a cab, which was a struggle in itself – and probably too high, but I was tired and it was late and Indonesia. Three different people circled me, doing their best hustle routine as I emerged from customs. They wanted me to pay fifty-thousand for the cab from the airport to Canggu, and I don’t know exactly how I landed on two-hundred but I did and I was pissed off about it. I was not budging. Of course they caved once I started to walk away.
The ride in was slow. Eleven at night and still bumper to bumper traffic. Unbelievable, really, and hectic, anxiety-inducing. Roads are just a little too small to allow for normal flow of traffic and there aren’t lanes. The lines are physically painted, but seldom obeyed. Quickly, it became clear that Circle K was the ruling convenient store in this for foreign land. Seven-Eleven has been defeated. I’ve never seen so many Circle K’s, nor have I seen so many people sitting in front of them, smoking and drinking and spending time.
“Beef ren…dang,” I say again as I fumble with dishes in the communal kitchen. There’s watermelon in the fridge and I take a piece. Then another. My plan today is to try to do some fishing. Preferably alone. It’s hard to be alone in this place, Canggu. Of Kuta, Seminyak, and Canggu – the three cities I’ve visited – Canggu is the most peaceful and uncrowded, which is saying very little. Kuta is a rotting apple core. Seminyak more like a discarded coffee cup, sitting upright and in good enough condition, but stained. Canggu is like a used spoon sitting on the brink of the sink. A wash needed but with useful potential.
It’s a lawless place and in many ways like Mexico, although as if it’s been shot in the vein with a dose of hipstery style and bloggers and girls trying to Eat, Pray, and Love. There’s trash everywhere and the water is muddy and murky. This is the most touristy part of Bali, I imagine. Actually, I know that. I’m excited to get out of here and find some crystal clear water and quiet.
“Beef ren…dang,” I repeat, now outside, lethargically flirting with a dip in the pool. Finally, I let my weight swing and drop me into the water. This is nice. This is very nice. “Beef rendang, beef rendang.”
For my first day, I had two goals: surf and get a straight blade shave. Everything else would be gravy. The surf was easy to accomplish and the waves were good and cooperative at the first beach I checked. To help, I had enlisted the service of a young squire called Rocky. Truthfully, I didn’t enlist anything, more he immediately started following me around. His English is scattered but he’s happy to hang around and help, it seems. Of course, occasional tips help his enthusiasm. I’m a millionaire, remember?
I acted out what I wanted, sliding an imaginary razor over my head. He understood and told me to get on the bike. Okay. Speeding through Bali on my newly hired squire’s motorbike, I outweighed him by a hundred pounds, at least, and it was clearly a bit of a struggle for him to handle the bike. Had I wanted I could have taken us down with a slight shuffle of weight. I didn’t want that, so I stayed straight and balanced.
His friend is actually his friend, the barber, although much older – it wasn’t a ploy or plot for my life. The man’s name was Edi. A kind, detailed man who keeps his barbershop in pristine condition. The beard sculpt and straight blade cut would cost 55,000 rupiahs, which is less than five U.S. dollars, dependent on the current exchange rate.
Edi is a master of his craft, his brow constantly creased in intense focus. Not once did I feel like he would make a wrong cut. A steady hand and love for his work had done him well. I was also probably the first customer he’d had in a while. There was only one chair in the place. Afterwards, I took his photo. He grabbed his scissors and threw a cloth over his arm like a waiter in a fancy restaurant. In front of the chair, he posed stoically, looking like a man who was meant to cut hair. He was very appreciative that I would take his photograph. I’ve find most Indonesians are. They think fame comes with the picture.
Once done, I woke up the young squire, who had fallen asleep on the lone couch in the shop. Tough work taxiing around the largest human in the village. To the beach! I told him, for an ear of corn and a Coca-Cola before another surf. He obliged and we sat at a little wooden bar on the beach watching the surf. The corn and coke cost a dollar each, which is pricey for there.
“Beef REN-DANG!” I say, wading in the deep end of the pool. I laugh because I think I’m funny, or I think “beef ren-dang” is funny, at least. “Cangguuu,” I yodel. This is a new one that has just occurred to me. I think I’ll switch to that catchphrase for a bit.
That evening I met a Dutchman with big plugs in both ears and tattoos from neck to toe. His name is Jelle, pronounced Yellah, and he hails from a small town outside of Amsterdam. Despite his appearance, he’s a kind man and eager to make new friends. His English is good and he knows Bali well. “Beers?,” he asked. Yeah. Sure. He’s actually the person who introduced me to beef rendang. Thank you. You’re welcome.
Jelle makes an exception to his rule: only girls allowed on the back of his motorbike. We taxi over to Echo beach to a wide-open bar called Old Man’s. You’ve seen it on the internet, I’m sure. Two for one happy hour, and we took advantage of it. I spoke to an Australian girl nearby. She was horrible. The absolute pits. She was a self-righteous bitter young lady. Pretty, but one of those people who think her plight in life is more poignant, more relevant, and far more difficult than anyone else’s. Every single thing I said, very light stuff, was met with a rebuttal about Aboriginal rights or racism or India or German guilt. It was great. I loved it like I love splinters.
Hey lady, you’re sipping a $2 strawberry margarita in Bali.
Jelle got so drunk he began pirating, bucaneering around the bar, one eye closed (not by choice) mumbling things in Dutch. I had to send my new friend home in a taxi. I stayed, however, and moved with the crowd out onto the beach when Old Man’s closed at midnight. A DJ played sewage music while everyone danced in the rising tide and flooding lights. Surprisingly, not that many stars in the sky. I bowed out quickly, hopping on the back of yet another man’s motorbike. I’m seeing a trend, here. Three dollars for the ride.
When you ride a motorbike through town it feels like you’re in a parade. Especially near five in the afternoon, when the streets are instantly inundated with every person that can possibly fit out on the roads. There’s a shortcut from my hotel to downtown Canggu and it’s only wide enough for one proper car. Legally, it’s been designated as a one-way street. That, however, does not stop traffic from flowing in both directions, which causes comedic traffic jams. So crowded and lawless, one must laugh or be swallowed up by the crowd and dumped into the rice patty ravines lining both sides of the thin road. Cars and bikes are regularly spotted tipped over in those ravines. Still comedic, I tell you.
“Cangguuu,” I say, now out of the pool, towel wrapped around my waist. I want to make a cup of coffee, but the coffee is shit. I have a motorbike of my own now, and I’ll probably pop over to one of the many shops down the road for a cup. It took me two days to rent one. Left side driving and chaotic, but it’s easy. It’s always easy until it’s not and you’re in the rice patty ravine with a broken leg.
The day after Old Man’s was spent at the beach. Surf and feed and relax. There’s an old man with a cart down there selling bowls of home-cooked Indonesian food for a dollar. The locals down there eat it and now so do I.
Jelle and I meet a new friend called Jose, from Argentina. They’re both older than me, which is good because I look older than both of them. The three of us will go to Seminyak that night, a twenty-minute scooter ride. There’s a kitschy beach club there, Potato Head, and the drinks are expensive, not for the U.S. or Australia, but outrageous by Bali standards. I didn’t bring enough cash with me. No cards or phone or wallet. After our condemnation of Potato Head, we biked over to a place called La Favela. The place also sells expensive drinks, and so we concoct a plan to drink on the stoop of the mini mart across the street, watching the people go by and smoking Indonesian ciggies, the ones that make your lips sweet.
La Favela is quite literally the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland mixed with alcohol and taller ceilings. I liked it. I was lost most of the time, as the décor was flush and symmetrical throughout.
We lost Jose. To be honest, I didn’t really look for him. I knew he’d be alright. He was one of them cagey Argentinians. He likes Messi, but loves Maradonna. Says all Argentinians agree with him. That must be nice.
Jelle and I will stop at a Warung (restaurant) on the way home. The place looked closed but we went in anyway and bought food. Jelle swears it’s the best beef rendang he’s ever had, repeatedly claiming himself as a connoisseur of the stuff. I’m not sure, though, because the next night, as we’re at dinner with a group of people we’d just met (Jose, too), he grabs my knee in a panic, fear burning in his eyes, and he will proclaim his chest to be hurting and it’s really bad. His right arm, too. He thinks he needs an ambulance.
“Really?” I will ask, skeptical and thinking he may have just eaten his beef rendang too fast.
“Yeah, I do. I do right now.”
The place we were at, the people there, were inept and wouldn’t listen to me as I told them I needed an ambulance – now. They wanted money, so I ran across the street to a nicer spot. Fortunately, the glasses-clad man at the front desk was competent and responsive. He had a car, not an ambulance, there for us in two minutes and we were on our way to Canggu Medical, which is like a walk-in clinic. The pain was getting worse and Jelle didn’t have his passport. It wasn’t a problem so long as we could pay. I only brought a little cash, so I wasn’t paying.
They gave him a shot of something that the young doctor said would help. She’s been practicing medicine for three years, she told us. It didn’t work, the shot. Next, they gave him some simethicone. It didn’t work, either. He was beginning to get very scared. I was worried it was a heart attack. He revealed he has a herniated stomach and suffers from intense acidic attacks. I still think it’s a heart attack. The pain was getting worse despite the doctor’s efforts and before long we were on our way to Siloam Hospital in Kuta.
Jose and a young Portuguese girl (I don’t even know her name. Still don’t) met us at Canggu Medical. It was regular ol’ team, I guess. The four of us took a taxi to Kuta and got Jelle in the emergency room. His vitals are good, but the doctors there are also worried it could be heart related. The pain was increasing still. He declared it felt like an elephant was sitting on his chest. Arms were still hurting, too. Both are symptoms of a heart attack. The doctors plugged him into some wires and took his blood to run tests. They were hesitant to treat him before knowing what was wrong. I told Jelle he had to ask for something to soothe his gastric pain, something like Pepto Bismol but stronger, clinical. He did and they brought over several shots of pink stuff.
We were there for five hours before he started to feel better. The blood work came back healthy. While there, at a hospital in a rotting apple core town called Kuta, we had a screaming baby put on oxygen, a passed out old man, and a drunk Australian girl with a bump the size of a grapefruit above her left eye. Scooter fall. Grapefruit is not an exaggeration, either. She quickly decided she didn’t need any treatment, nor could she pay for it, and stumbled out of there with her equally drunk and Australian male counterpart.
That’s how I spent last night. I was supposed to go to bed early. I wanted to get up this morning and go fishing. Jelle told me this morning that he almost went back to the hospital by himself as the pain suddenly returned. I’m wondering if it has something to do with anxiety, panic. Maybe. He feels better now, though, which is good.
“Cangguuu,” I say, sitting quietly at the kitchen table, fighting flies and sweating. It’s time to go fishing, I think. “Beef ren-dang.” Yeah, let’s go fishing.
More later, as always.
I’m heading to Balikpapan, Indonesia, and so my days here in Melbourne are quite literally numbered. I didn’t plan or expect to leave to Bali – or leave Melbourne, actually – so soon, but the timing feels correct. Not right, but correct. My compatriot is leaving the country, as well, but to New Zealand to restore an old World War II plane. He’s unclear of his plans, but I imagine it has something to do with gold. Old planes and gold go very well together. I’ll link up with him once I’ve spent my time in Indonesia alone. Being alone and quiet in a foreign country sounds nice, and so that’s what I’ll do. Trying to keep it simple, although simple rarely persists. That whole monkey wrench kind of thing.
Last night we went to a disco and got ourselves to where the lights looked pretty like stars and the music was never loud enough. Darts were thrown and also smoked on the roof before we retired back to an acquaintance’s loft for wine. It was in celebration of yet another Australian holiday. Australians take holidays seriously. Let’s discuss.
For Easter Sunday, they are allotted both the preceding Friday and that Monday. Same treatment for holidays like Christmas, New Year’s, and Memorial Day – which is actually called ANZAC (Australian New Zealand Army Corps) Day. Armistice Day had competed for a time for the country’s attention, but it’s since been surpassed by ANZAC. They, Australians I mean, pay special attention in remembering the Battle of Gallipoli, an amphibious assault on the Gallipoli peninsula in modern day Turkey during the first World War. It was the crucial battle, and victory, in the Allies’ fight against the Ottoman Empire, and subsequently led to Allies’ occupation of the territory. This occupation coalesced the Turkish people, spurring them to fight for their independence, which they achieved in 1923, coinciding – and a major factor in its happening – with the abolition of the Ottoman Empire and caliphate.
The Battle of Gallipoli is considered the galvanizing moment of Australian and New Zealand pride. It is with this pride they take a holiday every April 25th – to remember and reflect and get absolutely shithouse wasted.
It’s an Australian’s civic duty to take the holiday, and they oblige. It is also an Australian’s civic duty to vote, and the country has made it illegal to abstain from the process (fines are issues for delinquents), also a national holiday. This seems fitting and logical and it is remarkable that such a day does not exist in every single voting country around the world. One would think, or hope, or even suppose, that political participation would be encouraged and shepherded into existence in just this way, yet the opposite seems to persist so often. Hmm.
Back to the holidays, however.
Two holidays specifically set the Australians apart from other frequent holiday-takers. The first one is set aside for the Australian Football Grand Final, which would be like the American Super Bowl or World Series. Can you imagine the jollity? Of course you can. Even without holiday status, the Super Bowl sees plenty.
The other holiday designated is for the annual horse races, the Melbourne Cup, held on the first Tuesday of every November. Think the Kentucky Derby except the entire country files in to scream for it. The more holidays, the better.
Saw the sun rise this morning. Also, smoked too many cigarettes. Everyone here smokes darts constantly. Despite their being taxed so heavily, I honestly haven’t met one Australian who does not smoke cigarettes. I figure I’ll go to Bali, buy as many packs of cigarettes I can manage – I hear they are about a dollar per pack – fly back to Melbourne and hawk ‘em for $6 each. Say I bring back two-hundred packs of cigarettes, and sell them all. That’d be…you can do the math. Not a bad scheme, should it work. I know, I know, there are laws and regulations against how many goods one laymen can travel across country lines with, and I’m vaguely aware of them, but wiggle room is always afforded to the ignorant. Ignorance!
I’m in Sydney now. It’s sunnier here. I think I’ll go to the Opera House before I fly to Indonesia.
All for now.
More later, as always.
There was a fountain that I sat near, drinking a beer, and just sitting. It was a sad fountain. It possessed three levels, each smaller and taller than the one below it. Statues of men and women and children were displayed throughout the fountain. They were all lost in deep thought, seemingly reliving the mistakes they had made the night before – that’s how I saw it.
One of the statues, a gargantuan man, looked as if he was standing in the shower, glaring into the past, remembering the horrible, horrible things he’d done. The nostalgic look inward caused his eyes to whither with hazy emptiness as new details made themselves known, slowly and one by one. The water stream from the showerhead sprayed down on his head incessantly, making breaths wet and sometimes hard to attain. A hand rested on top of his head, frozen, mid-shampoo. He hadn’t meant to keep it there like that, but as he began to recount the night prior the hand forgot its duty and stopped in its tracks. I knew the look. I knew the hand.
We ate a lot of food last night, or I believe it was last night. The nights are starting to blur together. We did eat fried chicken and French fries at 4am. I also drank a Sazerac around that time. It’s a whiskey drink with a touch of vermouth and absinthe. I’m not sure why I ordered it. It was good and southern and French, and the place stayed open all night. Near impossible not to turn a profit with a 24-hour liquor license. I’d like to have one someday.
There was kangaroo steak at one point, earlier in the day at the Napier Hotel – a rundown place that used to serve as a brothel and gambling den before it cleaned up its act and stuck exclusively to cold beer and kangaroo. The “roo”, as it’s called, was surprisingly delicious. I imagined it would be tough and gamey, but it was cooked expertly and proved incredibly appetizing.
I learned several interesting things about kangaroos that night. Conversation tends to flow freely about the animal one is cutting up with fork and knife before them for the first time.
Kangaroos possess extraordinary breeding qualities, which likely correlates to their widespread occupation of the red island of Australia. When baby kangaroos, called Joeys, are born they are no larger than an egg, and are shot directly and effortlessly into the mother’s pouch, where they attach to the teat and feed until sizeable enough to leave the pouch. She doesn’t even have to stop hopping to give birth, they say.
Mother kangaroos also possess a rare ability to pause their pregnancy, and thus the development of the embryo, until their pouch becomes vacant of the previous Joey. Kangaroos are permanently pregnant, mating immediately after one Joey is born. The ability to pause the development of an embryo is to ensure a mother’s pouch is open for the incoming Joey – kangaroos only hold one Joey in pouch at a time.
Aside from humans, kangaroos have no true predators. That being said, every human I’ve met has a story about a dad, uncle, cousin, or brother either killing, fighting, or wrestling a kangaroo. They try to tear your chest out, apparently, and occasionally they’ll lean back onto their tails and use their feet to punt an opponent.
“Any full-grown bloke would be okay against a roo,” said one of my new Australian friends when asked if a kangaroo attack could be fatal. “A smaller girl might be in trouble, though…but like one person every decade is killed by a kangaroo, maybe,” he declared.
Everyone drives trucks equipped with massive “roo bars” on the grill. You can imagine why, I’m sure.
The Australian government will periodically initiate kangaroo culls with trucks and helicopters.
“You’re mad, ya’ damn bastard.” This phrase stuck to our heads like the hand of that giant statue of a man in the fountain mentioned earlier. “You’re mad, ya’ damn bastard.”
It’s a line from a horrifying movie about Australia called Wake in Fright. I recommend it. Every kangaroo killed in the movie was actually killed, something that could never happen today. Warning: During the making of this movie animals were harmed.
Sometime in between the early morning fried chicken and the kangaroo steak, we ate a burger with an egg in it. It was from a place called Danny’s Burgers. No gimmicks or fancy sauces or schemes, just good Australian beef and fresh ingredients. There is a biker gang, similar to our Hell’s Angels, that regulars Danny’s spot.
For breakfast, a late one, we ate arepas and empanadas. Beef and chicken. As I’m writing this now, all that beef and chicken and kangaroo and burger and beer sit inside my gut, its effects spreading throughout my body, pulling it deeper and deeper into a sort of coma, which will be followed by strange dreams of a fight I get into with Kevin Garnett because I won’t allow him to tattoo my entire right leg. The dream, however, ended with him hugging me. I’m not sure what that means, but I don’t think it can be good.
That dream won’t happen until a bit later, though. For now, I’m going to drink this cosmopolitan that someone just ordered me. Bourgeoisie.
For the record, I haven’t seen one kangaroo since I’ve been here.
More later, as always.