My Week with the Stars

Aren’t we all information junkies? Everyone isn’t addicted to the same kinds of inputs, but think about it? What feeds your ‘need to know’ appetite? For me, a hit of astrology once a week from Pam Younghans, and a monthly tuneup with Virginia Bell, just to make sure I’m firing on all celestial cylinders, helps me chart my course.

So this morning when Pam’s post hit my inbox I read with some trepidation knowing the kind of week I have ahead of me. After translating her trines, alignments, squares and quincunxes for each day into language I can understand, here’s the week at a glance:

Monday:   Bite off more than I can chew

Tuesday:  Shift into high gear, passionate and determined to succeed

Wednesday:  After breathless Monday and Tuesday, come down to earth

Thursday:  Realize must make changes to sustain desired course of action

Friday:  Reassess values, restructure life

Saturday:  Confront resistance to change, re-claim self-acceptance and individuality

Sunday:  Excitement reinstated. Connect with others who support my brand of insanity.

So it’s Monday here on my side of the world, Monday noon actually, and I see the day unfolding exactly as predicted. But armed with a preview of what’s to come, I’ve done a really smart thing. I’ve leaped ahead to Sunday and called in reinforcements so I can shift my destiny into a more desirable track. That’s the beauty of information. With the right resources I don’t fall victim to chance. Or as Carl Jung said, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

It’s all about consciousness, isn’t it? Awareness? Tuning into more than just the lowest vibrations, the most basic frequencies? There are limitless opportunities to expand what we know, advantages to stretch our comfort zones and see what lies beyond. That’s how I got to Bali. I stretched.


The Balinese Male Mindset

When told that as a foreigner with a retirement visa I was eligible for government medical insurance in Bali, I was skeptical. It seemed so out of the realm of possibility that I did nothing about it for months. Then I discovered that Ketut and his family could also be covered, and the cost was minimal. After hounding my neighbor for details, I cornered Ketut.

East meets West.
Leo meets Capricorn.
Stubborn meets equally stubborn.

It isn’t that he didn’t think it was a good idea, it was just a NEW idea, and one that he didn’t know how to navigate. So we did our dance. I’ve learned that the Balinese male mindset cannot be railroaded. It’s better to ask questions. Rather than saying I don’t know a Balinese man is more likely to text any number of contacts until he gets an answer he likes.

So it went for several weeks, I’d ask, Ketut would text, and information slowly accumulated.

As the facts leaked in it appeared that it would involve a trip to the hospital at a neighboring village to pick up the registration packets. A date was set to go but a prudent call to the hospital indicated that the office was closed. The next day Ketut was too busy. A few more days passed, then he showed up one afternoon with the forms. He’d gone with a friend who had done it before and knew the routine.

The second thing I’ve learned about the Balinese male mindset is that once the procedure is clear, things happen fast.

Day One: Packets…check.

Ketut immediately summoned his wife. Komang and their daughter arrived drenched from the hour long motorbike ride in the rain. “Tomorrow make photos and I take back to hospital,” he tells me. All of us needed passport type pictures and copies of important documents to submit with the government forms. Komang brought theirs with her.

Day Two: Ketut was busy all morning but early afternoon he told me that they had taken their showers and were ready for photos. We set out,  Komang and Nengah on one motorbike, Ketut and I another. We were in and out in about 30 minutes, pictures in hand, total price $4.50.

Back on the bikes we went another mile to a copy shop,  22 copies, 20 cents. At that point Komang and Nengah said goodbye. They hsf done their part. Ketut and I returned to the house and assembled the materials. The forms were filled out and he was ready to go back to the hospital when I handed him an envelope.

“Here’s the money. I want to pay for one year, not every month.” He frowns.

“Very expensive, not possible today.” It’s my turn to frown.

“Why not?”

“Today Hari Buda Cemeng Kelawu, cannot pay big money.”

“Buddha? You’re Hindu. What does Buddha have to do with anything?”

“This special day, Hindu ceremony give money only to god, cannot make big money go out.”

“I’m not Hindu. Maybe it’s okay for me?” Ketut has a repertoire of faces. The one he wears now is familiar. It’s a half-smile with lowered eyes that tells me he’d very much like to do what I ask but there’s no way in hell he’s going to.

“Not so good,” he says.

Tomorrow will be Day Three. Ketut will take the forms, the photos, the copies, and the cash, and go to the hospital. Then we’ll wait a month and he’ll go back to pick up our little plastic membership cards. Four people will be covered for anything and everything medical that can possibly happen to a human being in Indonesia, all for the equivalent of $12/month. I love this place. I love it’s inconsistencies, it’s inconveniences, and it’s incomprehensible devotion to a belief system that multiplies the inconsistencies and inconveniences exponentially.


Offering for Hari Buda Cemeng Kelawu

And I love Bali’s inclusivity, but I’m still mystified as to how Buddha figures into this Hindu ceremony.

It’s cloud illusions I recall, I really don’t know clouds…at all


Joni Mitchell. Moons and Junes and ferris wheels…what great lyrics. She moves from clouds, to love, to life and finds they’re all illusions. Songwriters can get away with that. So can poets. I tried.

According to An illusion is something that isn’t real. It may look real, but it’s actually fake — just a crafty construction or fantasy. There are other, more academic definitions, but I like this one. I spent many years trying to look real, or the version of real I wanted everyone to believe. I craftily constructed myself to align with my fantasy. It was hard work and the outside was forever at odds with the inside.

There was huge fear attached to the vulnerability of being known. Some early programming had to be dislodged before I could accept my true, gritty, unenhanced, self. But what freedom when that was finally possible! What ease. The illusion of life became real life. The illusion of love became deep, honest, true love. And the illusion of clouds…


Eight Degrees South of the Equator

P1090651Today the clouds are heading at me on stiff breezes out of the east. Winter is coming…I can feel the change. It’s mid-autumn here. March, April, and May are precursors to the winter months: June, July, August. It’s still a challenge to wrap my head around the backward and upside-down reality of living in the southern hemisphere.

As if to herald the new season, one that is more inspired and prolific than the past three months have been, I woke up in the night with a sentence in my head. It’s a great sentence…so great that I got up out of a dead sleep, turned on the light, found pen and paper and wrote it down. Here it is in all it’s brilliance:
The moments exist in picture without story, devoid of memory, bone minus flesh. 
Now you tell me, is that or is that not a great sentence?! Too bad I have to be asleep to come up with such artistry. But I know exactly where it belongs in the memoir so I’m turning there now, to plug in that literary bit.
But before I go, I scribbled a poem recently. Maybe you’ll enjoy…
P1090121I crack an eyelid.
Through east facing windows
the ink of night
pales at the horizon.
A rooster crows,
then another.
Without warning,
summoned by their cry,
a fringe of coral
singes jagged palms and rooftops,
shoots to ragged clouds.

The sky explodes in color,
softens and is gone.

Tropic sun crawls heavenward,
drags relentless heat
through daylight hours
then slips into decline,
slight breezes in its wake.
No lingering twilight.
A dog barks.
It’s night.

That’s how it happens here
eight degrees south of the Equator.

March 29, 2015
Sherry Bronson


I slept with him

And now that I have your attention…

It’s no secret that I adore Ketut. My blogs have been littered with his name since I met him three years ago. Clerks have asked me if he’s my husband. “No,” I say. “My son.” It amazes me that a man 35 years my junior is considered more likely to be my husband than my son. But here, a gaping difference in ages is not uncommon. And it’s not just ancient men with young, nubile women. In Bali, ancient women with hot-bodied young men is just as likely.

But I digress.

At 3:00 that afternoon my phone rang. It was a friend who had arrived a few days earlier and her voice was strained. “Sherry, I’m in the hospital in Denpasar and I’m really scared.” Nightmarish scenes flashed through my mind. A motorbike accident topped the list. But it turned out that a bite she’d gotten while still at home in California was infected. The doc in Ubud referred her to the hospital in Denpasar for surgery.

It’s one thing to go to the hospital in America. There are stringent laws governing everything from the hand sanitizer by the doors to hairnets for the kitchen staff. Not so here. Nowhere is developing country a truer label than as it applies to health care in Bali.

I asked her if she knew whether or not she would be put under for the surgery. She supposed so. That’s all I needed to hear. “Okay, I’m coming,” I said.

“Oh, you don’t have to…”

“Yes, I think I do!”

P1090582I located Ketut and told him the problem. He didn’t know that particular hospital but I pulled up the address online and in a matter of minutes we were on our way. At 4:30 we found her in an ice cold room the size of a shoebox. She was hooked to an antibiotic drip and so happy to see us. We were told that surgery was scheduled for 8 p.m. “Ketut, you can go back to Ubud,” I said when I realized that there was a long wait ahead.

“Oh, no. It’s okay,” he said.

“It’s many hours. You should go.”


Inscrutable man. So many times I’ve wished I could peek into his mind and understand what transpires there. The tone indicated it was no use to argue.  I scooted onto the back of her bed. Ketut perched on the edge and we chattered and joked until 7:00 when the surgical prep team arrived and rolled her away.

“Should be finished by ten,” one of the white lab coated attendants said as the gurney disappeared behind a pair of double doors that swung shut behind them.

The café in the lobby had an extensive menu and seemed like a good place to pass the time. Service was slow, a fact that I appreciated with hours of waiting looming before us. The food arrived and we dragged out the process of  eating as long as possible, then opting to escape the stuffy confines of the hospital, we strolled outside and sat on the curb, sucking in exhaust fumes and watching the guard direct traffic. Fatigue gathered between my shoulder blades. The long bike ride and worry for my friend were taking their toll. “Ketut, let’s see if we can find a comfortable place to sit.”

The open waiting area on the second floor had chairs, but comfort wasn’t the goal when they were designed. Ketut settled himself and didn’t move. I, on the other hand, squirmed, contorted, and flopped around like a fish on land but couldn’t find a position that worked. The hands on the clock crawled. At 10 p.m. bleary-eyed, I approached the women behind the desk and inquired about my friend. She punched a series of numbers into the phone, and rattled off a question in Indonesian then smiled and said, “She just begin surgery now.”

“Oh no!” I groaned which brought Ketut, frowning, to the desk.

“You okay? Problem?” he asked.

“They just started the operation. Still two hours more.” I could feel muscles seizing up in my lower back. A couple more hours in those chairs…but what other option did we have?

I lowered myself back into the cracked plastic covered seat, shifted to the right, the left, hooked a leg up over the sharp wooden arm, lowered it again, kicked off my flip-flops, pulled both legs up with my feet tucked close to my butt, and rested my head on my arms folded over my knees. I hadn’t expected to sleep, but thirty minutes later a sound startled me awake. Ketut, in the chair beside me, was out cold, snoring.

For about the zillionth time in my tenure as an ex-pat in Bali, an intense rush of gratitude careened through me for the man asleep beside me. Spending the night in a hospital in Denpasar is not part of his job description. It’s not even close. But he’s wired Balinese, and while the western mind is all about individuality and independence, the Balinese value community and interdependence. Those beliefs form the foundation for every selfless decision Ketut makes, and I am the direct beneficiary of that.

At midnight we got word that the operasi was finished. At that hour the hospital was shrouded in a tomblike silence. We approached the door to her room and slowly pushed it open. I expected, if not sleeping, at least a groggy face. “Hi Sherry!” she chirped, flashing a huge smile. After two hours in the operating room she looked far fresher than I felt.

“They didn’t put you under, did they?”

“I don’t think so,” she said, and I exhaled a long breath of relief.

“You look great, and, if you don’t mind, I think we’ll go home now!”

We bid her good sleeping and found our way to the parking lot. Sometime during our night vigil it had rained and the helmets hanging on the motorbike were soaked. “Oh good,” said Ketut. “Make head not hot.” Laughter erupted out of me.

“Really, Ketut? Is everything always good news?”

“Ya,” he said, and with that we headed for home.

Banking in Bali – not for wimps

I procrastinated, mind muddled with indecision, putting it off, putting it off. In the U.S. a trip to the bank is a tidy business. Everybody speaks English. People specialize. You’re questioned and funneled to the appropriate desk. There isn’t a lot of room for creativity so it either can, or it cannot be done. End of conversation, thank you very much, and you’re on your way.

Indonesian banking doesn’t ascribe to that model.

I wanted to close one account and open another. But something in the back of my brain prompted me to be sure I allotted enough time, and I should probably run through my Indonesian vocab before I ventured into something beyond deposits and withdrawals.

On Wednesday this week, stamina summoned, resolve fortified, I finally decided that the time had come.

SecurityDay 1:

A security guard opens the door to the bank, greets me, and asks my business. I tell him, in Indonesian, that I wish to speak to Putu, my personal banker. I’m invited to take a number and have a seat. When Putu sees me she motions me to her desk. I tell her what I want to do.

“Yes, of course.” She flashes a gorgeous but professional smile. “You have passport?”

“Not with me.”

Her smile turns to a most apologetic frown. “Oh, sorry Ibu, must have passport to change account.” I thank her and leave.

Twenty minutes.

Day 2:

I have a meeting in the morning so the trip to the bank will have to wait until afternoon. Ketut gets me there  around 2:00. The bank closes at 3:00. Plenty of time.

The security guard routine is always the same. I greet him and he ushers me straight to Putu’s desk.

“Hello Ibu, you have passport now?” I assure her that I do.

“And social security number?”

“Social security number?”

“Yes, new law, July 2014, U.S. citizen must have social security number on bank account.”

“Okay, I know my number, let me write it down.”

“Oh no, Ibu, must have card.” My mind does a random search of its memory banks and I see the card, tucked into the Birth Certificates and Marriage Licenses folder, in a file drawer in Minnesota.

“Not possible,” I tell her. But the brain, still grinding for solutions, remembers that I have my tax returns in a Word Document on my computer which I happen to have with me since I needed it for the meeting. “My social security number is on the computer. Maybe you can look?”

She agrees. I pull up the tax return and there they are, the nine digits that identify me to the IRS no matter where I might be in the world. Putu locates her iphone, takes a picture of the document on the computer screen and asks me to, “Wait moment.” She leaves her desk. Fifteen minutes later she re-appears. “So sorry to make you wait. I must send to main branch in Denpasar. If they approve then it’s okay. But sorry, Ibu, not possible today. Bank is closing.”

One hour.

At 9:00 p.m. that night I received a text from Putu. My unorthodox presentation of the social security number had passed muster. If I would come back tomorrow we could proceed with my request.

Day 3:

I’m on a first name basis with the security guard and he waves me though without comment. Putu introduces me to another banker who will do the paperwork. Kadek is all business. Within minutes there is a formidable stack of forms in front of her. She pulls them out at random, filling in a little here, a little there, shuffling them, stacking them, unstacking them. Settling into the chair I shove my Western brain under the rug and take out my evolving Indonesian brain. It’s the one that says, “Tidak apa-apa,” No problem, about every inconvenience that arises no matter what.

With that letting go I become aware of the spice-sweet scent of incense. A young man in a sarong is making his way through the bank with a tray of small offerings. I hadn’t noticed before, but every desk and teller booth has a footed stand. He places one of the fragrant gifts on each, sprinkles it with holy water, then with hand movements more graceful than I’ve seen on any dancer, he entices smoke from the incense to waft upward toward the deities. I love this, I tell myself, as I float a million miles away from bank accounts.

footed offering platesAnd then something else catches my attention. All the personal bankers are women. The tellers are women. And the manager who hovers in the background with a name tag indicating her superior status, is a woman. The offerings are being made by a man, often a woman’s role. Balinese reality is shifting and in this case, in a positive direction.

At that point, Kadek places the forms in front of me and I land with a thump back into banking world. As she gracefully indicates the blanks for signatures I’m reminded of my years in real estate sales: sign here, and here, and here please, then here, and I’ll need your initials on all 256 pages…

Two hours and 30 minutes.

When I leave the bank, relief lifts me like a helium balloon. It’s done, and it only took three days, three hours, and fifty minutes. Not bad. Not bad at all. Tidak apa-apa.

Attempt to Break and Enter Thwarted

The approach to the Indus Restaurant’s broad staircase flanked by two lions, and the grand rotunda with a full-winged Garuda, awes me. It’s the same every time.

Tonight a friend is treating me to dinner at this elegant site. We sweep past masterpieces of Balinese art in the yawning gallery space and pause before descending the second flight of steps. Overlooking the vast, grand restaurant itself, I suck in the magnificence of the view. It’s not only the stunning decor, and it is stunning, but the vista just beyond the terrace makes this a one-of-a-kind experience in the Ubud area.

We’re escorted to a table by the rail overlooking the Campahuan River Valley. Just as menus are placed in our hands the rain starts.

We’ve come early on purpose. There’s a lot to catch up on. So we scramble to a grouping of cushy settees under shelter of the roof to wait out the downpour with a couple of cocktails and an appetizer. My friend has a Margarita. I opt for a benign little number called Killer Coconut.

P1090263The combination of Bicardi Rum (75% alcohol) and Midori Liqueur (20% alcohol) makes my head hum.

Hours later, after a satisfying meal of chickpea curry, raita, chapati, and a shared caramel custard reminiscent of creme brulee, a band sets up. Seductive Latin rhythms begin and professional dancers hit the floor. Entranced, my eyes follow the sensual interplay between the stiletto-ed beauty and her alluring Don Juan. The first number ends and a second begins, slower this time. But when the music starts for the third set, the dancers’ eyes scan the audience for guinea pigs. It’s our signal to leave.

The downpour has slowed to a mist. We catch the shuttle to Casa Luna, a sister cafe, then disembark to walk the remaining distance home. At the corner we part ways. It’s still early and Taxi? or Massage? queries ring out as I pass holding my long, swishy pant-legs at mid-calf to avoid the sludge.

At last I turn off Monkey Forest Road and slosh the muddy lane, breathing a sigh of relief as I round the corner to see the familiar garden lamp and the stairway to my home.

At the top I drop my umbrella on the landing and use both hands to fish the key out of the coin pouch in my billfold. Coin pouch…coin pouch…? I unceremoniously dump the entire contents of my purse and verify the unhappy truth. No coin pouch. No key.

Ketut has a spare. He left earlier for a day off with his family in Kintamani but maybe it’s hanging with the other keys in his kitchen. I hurry back downstairs. Mindful always of the security of his beautiful B and B, this door, too, is bolted.

My mind spins. How tough can it be to pick a lock?  I try a bobby pin, a nail, a random piece of wire, my hands sweating in the sticky night. But nothing makes the door spring open.

Okay, so lock picking isn’t one of my skills. What about the window over the stairs? I could slide my feet along the ledge…grip the insides of the frame and hoist my body through the narrow…very narrow…opening.

P1090266From the landing it appears to be my best option. I move a few steps down and grasp the sill while hoisting my left foot to the ledge. The right foot follows suit. I’m suspended over the stairway and the bottom of the window is still above my bustline. I can do this, is the last thought before I remember Killer Coconut. Could my judgment be just a tad bit impaired? Are my reflexes all they should be if I start to lose my balance? But that drink was hours ago now, followed by curry and dessert. Surely the effects have worn off? Surely the alcohol is out of my system, all 95% of it…! A wave of vertigo crashes over me and I remember that I’m terrified of heights. My body goes weak and shaky. Get off the ledge you idiot! 

The right foot searches for the step. I stare straight ahead, afraid to look down. Ah! There it is! I creep back to the landing and ponder my momentary lapse of sanity.

A quick check of the clock on my cell phone says it’s now 10:45 p.m., too late to enlist the help of a neighbor. I descend the stairs to the terrace and consider other possible points of entry. If I stand on the bench and…

P1090267or maybe the roof to the kitchen window…

P1090268or a ladder…I think there’s one in storage….I check storage and there are three ladders, all far too short.

P1090270The truth settles over me. My house is secure. I can’t break in and neither can anybody else without equipment and advance planning. In the midst of this inconvenience I feel happy about that.

The room that Jessa and Dan occupied until this morning is unlocked. There’s a king bed with a satiny-soft duvet. I let myself in, lock the door, and draw the curtains closed. A hot shower leaches any remaining energy from my pores and I exhale exhaustion as I pull the blanket over me. A quick text to Ketut: Forgot key. Door locked. I’m in the blue room, lets him know not to be surprised when he finds an unexpected guest in the morning.

Light seeps in as the cacophony of dawn erupts. Where am I…oh. Right. Just then there’s a polite tap on my door. I slide it open and peek out to the grinning face of Ketut. Good morning! he says. Then, in his finest schmoozy-guest voice, You want breakfast?


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