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.