No, you don’t understand…

Stretch reality, expand it until it becomes unreal, a thing so far removed from the familiar that words of explanation cease to exist.

I awaken at 6:00 a.m. to the hollow wooden echo of the kul kul and a chorus of roosters. Morning. The fingers of the great coconut palm brush my window, whish, whish, and clouds in the east blush golden. My feet meet the silky chill of the tiled floor. Curls of sweet cempaka incense from morning offerings tells me that Pasek has already appeased the gods on my behalf. I pad to the bathroom and assault my face with cold water.

Yoga pants and sports bra await. Yawning, I slip into clothes and push the wall of sliding doors aside. A rush of morning air carries the scent of onions and garlic frying and the gossipy blither of sparrows busy vying for best nesting rights under the eaves. With a practiced flick of the wrist, my mat unfurls and I step into place for morning sun salutes. Today I do the sequences quickly, pushing myself to wake up.

Forty minutes later, muscles warmed and mind clear, I open the front door. Sitting in bags, striped black and white and one shocking pink, are papaya, salak, jackfruit, sprouts, spinach, cozy brown eggs from chickens that have never known captivity, and sweet kue. I didn’t order kue, but periodically the irresistible, fattening delicacies appear. Mmmm yum! Shallots and garlic round out today’s picks. Ketut asked for my shopping list last night so he could visit the Ibus’ produce trucks before sunrise.

The teakettle whistles. Scalding water with one part Nescafe and one part Torajan coffee, mixed well and allowed to settle, brings me fully into the day. I answer e-mails then pick up writing where I abandoned it the night before. Half-way through morning Ketut appears to cook rice, vegetables, and tofu for the noon meal. Before he begins, one-quarter of the papaya is sliced into a bowl with a spritz of fresh squeezed lime juice. Breakfast is served.

“Have program?” he asks while he chops and minces.

“How about flower shopping? Go to Mas?”

“What you want?

“Short flowers, red, yellow, for the garden.”

“Maybe grass?”


“Ya. Two meters make many many.” It’s clear to me that I have a fuzzy idea of what I want but Ketut has the master plan. I don’t pursue with questions.

At noon we set off by motorbike to the nurseries in the next village. The woodworker shop where I left a sketch and a request for a quote is on our way. We swerve in and stop so I can check to see if there’s a price assigned to my drawing.

“Bapak belum,” says the little moonface in pigtails. (Daddy not yet.) The shy older girl says nothing and both turn back to the cartoon characters shouting at each other on the rabbit-eared t.v. We press on.

Another mile down the road lush, well-ordered gardens appear on the right. “Grass here,” Ketut says. In the States I’ve seen turf rolled into neat bundles and delivered by truck to create instant lawn. Of course that’s what I expect. Dumbfounded I watch as the stooped Balinese man marks off two meters of ground cover and skims it from the earth into a pink plastic bag in exchange for 50,000 rph. ($4.75 U.S.) An hour later we’re on our way back to Ubud. On the bike seat between us is the bulging bag of sprouting earthen knobs, and atop that, the yellow and red blooms of ten plants bob gaily like the flowers on a clown’s hat. For a split-second I imagine us tooling down Nicollet Ave. in Minneapolis. A Neil Diamond song runs through my head,

It’s Love, Brother Love, say
Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show
Pack up the babies and grab the old ladies
And ev’ryone goes, ’cause everyone knows
Brother Love’s show…!

Why that song?

Back at home Ketut serves up lunch then heads to the garden. I resume writing. The sounds of drumming and male voices in a staccato kecak chant jolt me from my altered author state. Gede and Kadek, the staff from Rumah Jepun next door, and Alit from Rumah Kita on the other side of me, are helping Ketut prepare the ground for grass. Ketut scrapes and chops at the hard-baked earth and shovels it into buckets.

P1070473The three volunteers relocate the contents. On the return they pound a wild beat on their empty bucket drums and fill the afternoon with the syncopated chak-chak…chak-chak-chak… that they’ve heard since before they could walk. Primal energies churn through my nervous system. There is something deep in my cells that knows the language of drumming, knows that understanding its message meant survival. I close my eyes as the force of their sound vibrates through me.


The performance is by them and for them, but I’m the lucky bystander and when the camera appears smiles beam upward.

Last night this same group gathered around my table to play Uno.  We’re vastly different in age, cultural background, education, and life experience but at the core, our hearts desire the same things, community, acceptance, laughter, love.


As the sun and heat intensify, Ketut lays down the clods, pressing them into moist, loosened earth. Now I understand his cryptic, two meters make many many. He’s already planted about four meters and that pink plastic is still half full! I hurry downstairs and slip into my garden flip-flops . It isn’t until I’m eye level with the artful ‘ruin’ in the far corner of the plot that I notice the cheerful yellows and reds embedded in their new home. I had imagined stewing, contemplating, The yellow here? No, over there? No…. But I’ve been spared the indecision and it’s perfect.


“Wow Ketut! I love it! Amazing job!” He knows he’s good, but you can never give a Leo too much praise. He poses for the camera looking like something from The National Geographic in the rolled up ‘PINK brand’ sweat pants that some guest discarded, with his t-shirt swathed around his head.

“Facebook?” he asks.

“Absolutely! Okay?”

“Ya, okay!” His grin spreads wider.


My phone tings and there’s a text from Nina. Join me for a cocktail? I leave the garden and go around the corner to her kitchen. She dusts off the tiny blue stool that we both know is my spot. I sit, sipping a Mandarin orange juice shot through with mango vodka and marvel at the way she can talk, gesture, drink, and cook all in the same breath. We remark again at the fate that made us neighbors and agree that our friendship is a happy accident. We share the knowledge that people who haven’t experienced this kind of life cannot possibly understand its rich rewards.

At dusk I toddle home and hear the trickle of the water hose as Ketut gives the new plantings their kiss goodnight. An hour later he appears, showered and fresh. “Want fish?” he asks as he scans the contents of the refrigerator.

“Yes! Great!”

We feast on Lake Batur bounty smothered in Balinese sambal, and a savory mix of sautéed veggies over rice. At eight he closes the sliding doors and heads down the hallway. “Want door lock?” he says as he lets himself out.

“Please. And thank you for everything.”

“Ya. Good night. See you tomorrow.”

It’s a snippet, a typical day in a life that I could never have imagined for myself. Ketut is staff. Every foreign resident in Bali must employ at least one Balinese person. He has his own bedroom and bath on site. He shops for me, cleans, gardens, cooks, and carries me on the back of his bike wherever I need to go. He’s up at 5:30 a.m., to the market by 6:00, and sometimes he’s still hauling me to and from engagements at midnight. He manages my life so it’s a seamless, effortless, joyous event. But he’s also my friend.

How did this happen?



A Wedding in Paris – Serious Bling!

Thanksgiving Day 2014, Joy and Kellen are getting married…in PARIS.

This is 14 months, almost to the day, of Jenny and Kennen’s wedding on the good ship Jeremiah O’Brien near Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. In fact, Kellen informed me the night of that wedding that he was going to propose (with my permission) to Joy during their trip through Napa Valley the next day. (Actually, I lied. He didn’t ask permission. He knows I adore him. End of story.)

Joy’s gown is fabulous. I’ve seen pictures. And her accessories look like something out of a Hollywood set. Needless to say, we don’t have to ‘dress down’ for this wedding. Joy wants se camper, (tasteful of course) glitz and glam.

So here I am in Bali trying to prepare a wardrobe worthy of the occasion. November in Paris is cold, really cold compared to the tropics where the thermometer hovers around a cozy 85+ degrees F in November and rarely falls below 75 even in wintertime. So the first item on the list, before dress, shoes, or jewelry, is a coat. Right. Good luck finding a warm coat in Bali.

There’s a new shop across the street from my bank. I complete my transaction and wander over for a look. To my utter, joyful surprise there is a rack of down, thigh-length jackets, and not mere jackets, but jackets with a detachable down vest inside! I go faint. But ecstasy is short-lived. They are all size large and the sleeves reach past my fingertips by a good four inches. “Ohhhh,” I moan. “Do you have a small size?” The clerk is sympathetic but assures me that this particular coat comes only in large.

“You can try our store in Denpasar. Maybe they have small,” she says, slipping a flyer with the address into my hand.

Ketut gets directions to the shop and on a morning drenched in sunshine, we set out. All the main streets are one-way in Denpasar, so we do a few loops around the designated area where we’ve been assured we will find Toko Millennia stopping four or five times to seek additional guidance. At last we pull into a two-story strip mall parking area and ask once more. There are no signs anywhere to indicate what retail opportunities await. “Oh yes, that way,” says the parking attendant. The lot is empty. Ketut hooks the helmets to the bike and we enter the building. A guard points us to the escalator at the other end of an open area. We pass empty space after empty space in semi-gloom. It’s a mall burial ground and we are the lone living souls there to pay our last respects. At the top of the moving stairs, like a beacon from heaven, the glow of Toko Millennia welcomes us inside. “Creepy,” I say and Ketut agrees.

I hold my breath and skirt the perimeter of the large, well lit store. About 3/4 of the way around, there they are, a whole rack of the coat/vest combo I’d seen in Ubud. For just a heartbeat I wonder why they’re in the men’s section, but dismiss it as unimportant. I find the color combination I like, gray coat, gold vest, and try it on. Large. Okay, maybe black and silver. Large. A petite clerk eyes me. “Do you have small?” I ask.

“No Ibu. These for man. No small.” My heart thunders to my feet. Of course. “Maybe you like woman jacket?” she shyly asks.

“Oh! You have this for women?” It’s almost too good to be true. In the next breath I see that it isn’t true. The woman’s jacket is a completely different animal, streamlined, a dark slate color with detachable hood and detachable rabbit fur outlining the detachable hood. But it’s down-filled, and there’s only one. I slip it on and turn to the mirror. Hmmm. It fits me like an Italian leather glove. I twist to view the back. Nice! For the first and only time in my life I don’t even glance at the price tag. “Yes, I’ll take it,” I tell the smiling girl.


Back at home I review my list. Coat. Check!

It’s one thing to shop for an item when I know exactly what I want and where to go to get it. In such cases Ketut is a perfect escort. But I need shoes. There is no way I’m going shoe shopping with a Balinese man. I discuss my dilemma with Nina. “We need a girls’ day out!” she says and actually seems excited about the idea. We pick a date and she tells me the stores we’ll be visiting in the Mal Galeria. “So make a list of every girlie thing you want to get and we’ll do it all,” she says.

Yesterday at 9 a.m., helmeted and happy, I climb on the back of Nina’s red and white Scoopy and off we go. The miles fly by as we chatter about hypoglycemia,  the feng shui of color, and other topics that would never pass muster with Ketut. First stop, the food court. Over my Cap Cay and Nina’s Nasi Goreng Spesial, we plan the attack, a swing through shoe shops to see what’s available, then on to Hypermart, Ace Hardware, and back to shoes for the kill. As we browse footwear I’m surprised at the number of options I have and the images of spike heels, platforms, and wedges swirl in my head as we move on to Ace.

The display at the front of the store stops me cold in my tracks. Drills. I have plaster walls and stuff to hang on them. There’s one drill in the community and multiple building projects. Waiting for that tool to show up at my house could take weeks. As I finger the drill bits and marvel at the sale price two gentlemen join me at the display. The elderly one, a shock of white hair and cancerous purple lips in a liverspotted face, invades my personal space. “Where are you from?” he croaks.


“This won’t work in America unless you change the cord, I suppose you could change the cord, but it might not work anyway.”

“I live here.”

“Oh. In that case, this is a very good drill for you.”

Nina and I edge away from the display and the over-eager gent. “Someone should look at those lips,” she says. “Did you see how purple they were? I’ll bet he has cancer and nobody’s told him. He really should have those checked!”

“Nina!” I don’t usually bark at my hypochondriac friend, but she’s like a pit-bull on a rabbit when anything medical hit’s her radar. “Let it go!”

“Yes, but…”


“Okay, okay!”

She locates the bath area for me and I find the perfect shower caddy and adhesive hooks. As we’re checking out she says, “Did you want that drill?”

With a drill and shower caddy in tow, we head back to shoes. Now it’s time to get serious. We return to Matahari, the Macy’s of Bali. “Show me what you like so I can help you look,” she says, and I point out black, fully enclosed pumps with a little detailing.

We separate and I find myself face-to-face with a Peter Keiza display.  “Wow!” I breathe to no one in particular. The shoes are over-the-top show-stoppers, silver heels, rhinestones, studs, bling on top of bling. Dazzled, I turn away and find Nina who has a handful of possibilities.

“What size?” she asks.

“No idea.”

“38? 40? Let’s try 38.”

“How about 40, I say. I like that pair,” I indicate one of the choices she’s snagged for me. She hails a clerk and issues the command to fetch in her perfect, fluent, Indonesian. He scuttles away.

“Will you watch my bags for just a sec?”

“Sure,” she says and I’m off like a bullet lured by the Siren call of Peter Keiza. I grab several glittery choices and race back. “Oooh!” says Nina when she sees them. Bless her for not pointing out that what I have in my hand in no way resembles what I indicated to her that I wanted. I try them all, several different sizes in each style, and settle on one of Peter’s.

When I approach check-out the woman who is about to ring me up says, “Do you want 20% off these or a second pair free?” Huh? Does any self-respecting woman opt for 20% off when she can have two pair for the price of one? Not likely. The second time I appear at check-out with two brazen bling-y Keiza selections, the ringer says, “You qualify for 50,000 rupiah off your next purchase. Here’s the coupon but it must be used today.” I shoot Nina a disbelieving and apologetic grimace.

“You go ahead and look,” she tells me.”I’m going back to Hypermart to buy a CD player. Just come up and meet me when you’re finished.”

Somehow we manage to pack two shoeboxes, a drill, a CD player, a shower caddy, and 5 shirts that I didn’t mention, onto the bike along with our own tired bodies for the hour drive home. It isn’t comfortable, but it is an accomplishment. As we pull into Ubud around 5:30 the smell of wood fired pizza assails our noses. “Mama Mia’s! Limoncello! Beer!” we chortle in unison. Nina swerves the bike into a parking spot and moments later we’re wiping road grime off our faces while toasting an excellent end to a perfect girls’ day out.


Thank you, ace biker mama and patient friend, Nina! You’re the best!


You only think you know what you want: Lesson 2

A flyer sits in my e-mail box. It’s from a friend in Australia who holds retreats in Bali. Spring is in the air…it begins. For a hair’s breadth I think, “She needs to update her website. It’s September. Spring is in March…April latest…OH!” Whoops! Southern hemisphere, the seasons are up-side-down. She’s absolutely right, in Australia (and Bali) it’s spring.

This gives me pause. How often, I wonder, do I pass judgment based on my frame of reference?


It’s one thing to study different countries and cultures in books. It’s another thing entirely to relocate your life to a place on the opposite side of the equator from the familiar comfort zone. My understanding of how things should be is challenged daily. Two recent occurrences come to mind, ceremonies and sleeping arrangements.

Someone said that to the Hindu, life is ceremonies and everything in between is just filler.  The truth of that statement cannot be fully appreciated until it’s experienced. In my white Anglo-Saxon Protestant past, church on Sunday was the tradition. It was an hour of sitting in respectful silence and listening to the sermon with the occasional call-response or hymn to break the monotony. When the pastor said, “Go in peace, serve the Lord,” it was my signal to stop daydreaming, find the page for the last song, and make sure my legs hadn’t fallen asleep.

Not so the Hindu. Rituals are not an hour on Sunday morning. Ceremonies can last hours, days, sometimes even weeks. The priest may be ringing his bell and chanting Sanskrit prayers but men and women continue to gossip and laugh and virtually ignore him.


At first I’m appalled. What disrespectful people! How can they offend the priest like this? Why doesn’t he say something? All the while I sit piously, hands folded in my lap, paying rapt attention. But the holy man never appears to be offended and as soon as he finishes he joins in with his own jokes and good humor.

I’m an expert at imposing assumptions from my narrow experience on a culture that doesn’t share that experience. Their reverence is shown in ways that I’m only beginning to understand. But I’ve taken note and I’m loosening up.

Yesterday posed a different problem, however, and I tried to play the I’m-not-Hindu-so-that-doesn’t-apply-to-me card. It had to do with the orientation of my bed. The Balinese are adamant about sleeping arrangements. The bed must be positioned so one’s head points either east or south, and I’ll qualify that by saying it depends upon where a person lives on the island in relation to Holy Mount Agung. In Ubud, Agung is to the east. Because of the configuration of the bedroom, however, I want the head of the bed on the west wall.

“Not possible,” says Ketut.

“I know, I know,” I gear up to hold my ground. “But I’m not Hindu so it’s okay for me.”

“No good,” he continues. Impatience rises up at his inflexibility on this topic but I try to reason with him.

“Look, if I put the wardrobe here on the short wall, and the bed here, it’s easier to get to the bathroom. Otherwise too crowded.”

“Ya, but no good.”

I want to say, Why not, dammit?! But instead I offer a meek, “Why not?”


“Machine. Too much noise. No sleeping.” For a few brief seconds I try to make sense of how a machine has worked it’s way into this spiritual conversation. Then it dawns. The neighbor’s washing machine is directly behind the west bedroom wall. An early morning spin cycle, a little off balance, would be sleep disturbing. I feel the defeated grin spreading across my face as I shake my head.

“Why do I even argue with you?” It’s a rhetorical question, but Ketut has the answer.

“Maybe you forget machine,” he says.






Diplomacy Bali style, you only think you know what you want!

The jungle has it’s place. My idea of a garden, however, is more orderly, manageable, controlled.

In the months preceding the acquisition of the small plot of land adjoining mine, I visualized, sketched, imagined what my garden would look like. Ah, lovely! A solid base of mosaic stone pathways known as batu sikat to create the backdrop for potted palms, bougainvillea, gardenias, and other tropical varietals. It would go from this, its current jungle-ish state,


The ‘before’ look of my future garden

to something more like this.

Garden plan

The basic idea

I show my drawings to Ketut who will be instrumental in manifesting the vision. (In other words, to him falls the questionable pleasure of uprooting and relocating the jungle and transforming it into planned perfection.) “Oh,” he says, with that tone that I’ve come to recognize as not being quite on my page. “No small mountain???”

For the sake of clarity, the Balinese style garden is a series of earthen mounds. In the center of each is a tall tree that is bordered by leafy plants in varying hues of green, red, and yellow, which are again skirted at the lower level with shorter flowering shrubs creating a mountain affect.

Julies garden

Balinese style garden

There is no question that it’s beautiful. But I want something  different.

“No small mountain,” I say, with the inflection of voice that leaves very little room for doubt. “I want pots, not mountains.”

Ketut is thoughtful and quiet.

“What are you thinking?” I get wary when there’s no give and take.

“Oh ya,” he says, and nothing else.

A day passes and Ketut’s industry is beautiful to behold. The jungle, like Bali magic, disappears and I venture into the cleared space to reintroduce my plan, just in case. Ketut speaks first. “Ya, three small mountains, one here, one here, one there.” I decide to go the route of diplomacy.

“Ketut,” I try to be patient. “Tell me what you see.”

After a brief explanation I see the same thing he sees, a traditional Bali garden.

“I don’t want small mountains, just pots. Many batu sikat and pots. Is that possible?”

A small “Ya,” is my answer.

Another day passes. More space is cleared and new plantings appear along the back wall.  It’s taking shape. With drawing in hand I once again venture into the clearing, drumming up the necessary resolve to hold firm with my vision.

“It looks beautiful, amazing!” I tell him, and it does. But I don’t see any indication of a design that includes my decorative pathways. “Where will we put batu sikat?”

“Oh, very expensive,” he says.

“How expensive?”

“Maybe broken.”


“Ya, land very soft, easy make batu sikat broken. Maybe a little a little around pot. And here small mountain…”

The end of this story is obvious by now. In true Balinese fashion, Ketut has given me what I want, his way. He never tells me I can’t, but with gentle stubbornness he guides me to reach that conclusion all by myself. I have to loosen the reigns. When I do the results are always spectacular. The creativity that erupts in such abundance in this culture astounds me. I have no doubt my garden, when left to Ketut, will be a thing of wondrous beauty. I’ll have a few pots, he’ll have a few mountains, and I’ll believe it was all my idea in the first place.


Ketut hard at work in the new garden

The Big Fat Full Moon

What’s more romantic than moonlight?

My father proposed to my mother on a bridge with the reflection of the moon on the Mississippi River below. She loves to tell the story, how she didn’t answer right away so he took her by the shoulders, peered into her eyes, gave her a little shake and said, “Say yes.” She did, of course.

But I haven’t had any proposals recently, and tonight is Purnama, the ceremony that celebrates the full moon.  Here’s the culprit, just an hour ago, smiling down on my balcony.

P1070350I have no curtains, shades, blinds, or draperies of any kind on any windows. I love light, most light, that is. Moonlight is different. It’s blue. Blue light is not my favorite, neither the eerie illumination from the moon, nor the cold neon glow from the cool color light bulb I bought by mistake. And when it should be dark outside but my house is bathed in that phosphorescent sheen, I don’t sleep. When I don’t sleep, I do other things, like think.

So while I was not sleeping last night as the moon approached full, I contemplated the Hindu calendar that pays homage to the lunar cycles. Purnama is the full moon ceremony, Tilem celebrates the dark moon, and they alternate every fifteen days.

All Balinese ceremonies, celebrations, and rituals have a meaning and a specific purpose. I’ve seen the women walking to temple with offerings on their heads around 8 p.m. on the moon nights. But I never thought to ask why.

So after Ketut finishes arranging a potted bougainvillea at the bottom of my stairway, I snag him. “Tell me about Purnama and Tilem. What are the meanings of those ceremonies?” Sometimes I ask him questions pertaining to rituals and he’ll think for a minute, make a sheepish little laugh and say, “What it means? I don’t know.” This time he explains in some detail and I come away understanding that this ceremony, like many, ensures the balance of opposites, light and dark, life and death, good and bad, happy and sad. If a person is experiencing sadness now, he is told not to worry because soon he will be happy. And if happy, don’t get too excited because it will change. He ends by saying, “Always like this,” and I don’t know if he’s insinuating that from the beginning of time this is the way it’s been done or if every fifteen days it’s always the same. It’s because of the possibility of various interpretations that I decide to check the internet. Google agrees with Ketut but goes on to elaborate.

P1070343Balinese people believe that at the height of the full moon and the peak of dark moon, clusters of galaxies emit a certain energy that affects the lives of living creatures on earth. Therefore, the people of Bali begged (pray) that the energy provided will be positive energy for life.

When you consider that the 2,740,300 Hindus on Bali, are all taking offerings, going to temple, and praying in the blue moonlight tonight, that’s a lot of concentrated focus on a very small island. No wonder the energy here feels different. Where else on earth is it prayed in from the galaxies?!



What’s the worst that can happen?

Are you passionate about your life? What exactly does that mean? Should I be? Passionate?

From where I stand, it looks like there are a scraggly few who can proclaim that they’re living the life of their dreams. Why is that? I can think of only two reasons: 1) They don’t know what they want, or 2) They’re afraid to do what it takes to have what they want.

Many, and I was one of these, live with their eyes on tomorrow. Tomorrow things will be better. That’s deadly. It keeps you from living in the present and it delays action indefinitely because, as they say, tomorrow never comes. For a very long time I didn’t know what I wanted. I was afraid to dig too deeply looking for it for fear I would see the truth of how miserable I really was.

And there’s something else. Some people fear that if they go for it, go all out and follow their dream, they’ll find out that it’s not what they wanted after all. That’s a scary enough thought to keep you stuck exactly where you are. So what it really boils down to is only one thing: fear.

I like the What’s the worst that can happen? game when confronting fears. So what if I follow my dream and find out it’s not what I really wanted? What’s the worst that can happen? What if I dig deeply for my truth and realize I’m miserable? Don’t I already know, on some level, that I’m miserable? What’s the worst that can happen?

Most fears are irrational. When they’re put to the What’s the worst that can happen? test, they lose their power because the worst that can happen is often quite manageable.

I’m not questioning anyone’s belief system, but in the absence of proof to the contrary, it appears that we get one shot at life on this amazing planet. We get one chance, a brief span of generally less than 100 years, to explore the grandeur of earth’s terrain, experience the cultures of people different from ourselves, delve into the mysteries of our existence, and eat snake for breakfast. (If you haven’t tried it, you must. It’s one of my favorites.)

And here’s the last test. Do you laugh every day? Not just a chuckle, titter, or giggle, but a belly laugh that makes your tear ducts overflow? If not, you need people like this in your life.

the happy one!P1070336









You’ll find them when you find your joy, when at last you can say, “This is it! This is who I was meant to be. This is MY BIG, BEAUTIFUL, PASSIONATE LIFE!”


Travel Guide Barbie

Few things are more terrifying than a trip to the hair salon. I can say with absolute honesty that I’ve never walked out of an appointment satisfied. I’m always convinced I could have done it better myself. (Overly confident? Narcissist? Confirmed do-it-yourselfer! Yes!) So for the past several years I’ve applied Nice-n-Easy #108 Natural Reddish Blond every couple of months with deeply satisfying results.

Fast forward…Bali.

I’ve been here for two years. When friends or family ask, “Can I bring you anything from the States?” I’ve begged them to load up on as much #108 as they can comfortably stow in their already overcommitted luggage. In exchange I play tour guide, help them find drivers and navigate the unwieldy currency exchanges. To date, my sassy hair has gotten by on the good graces of visitors. Then that thoughtless company discontinued #108. Trying creatively to meet my needs the last shipment via Jan’s suitcase held various alternatives. Bless her for trying.

Those events propelled me into panic. I’m not about to give up my vivacious strawberry blond-ness without a fight.

I began my search locally and realized in short order that a natural red-blond hair color could not be found in this village. Ubud is a thriving tourist center that caters to Asian women who all have dark hair. The products I found were in shades of mahogany, burgundy, pinky-purple, and brass.

I was three months into my last color job. Desperate, I got a lift with a friend to the upscale Mal Galeria in Denpasar, an hour’s drive from Ubud, and began the inquiry. Matahari had hair dye but nothing permissible. The apologetic clerk suggested Hypermart. The name, at least, sounded promising. Reality was a bit something else. Picture Walmart times ten and you’re close. The battalion of check-out counters with lines stretching to oblivion made me re-think going natural. As I did a No way! about-face my eyes caught sight of a small pharmacy tucked into a niche on the left. It’s worth a try, my ever optimistic self said.

I asked in pidgin Indonesian if they had hair color while pointing to my head. After a quick stop at shampoo and a few more meager attempts to communicate, I was led to the back of the shop. There, in a cluster of the usual sultry mahoganies and sables, I saw an incongruous label sporting a cartoonish red-head with enormous eyes. Her hair, Sweet Apricot, was the right color.

schwarzkopf-fresh-light-hair-color-sweet-apricot-L_p0018326099I blinked several times and she was still there. May I look? I said. The name on the box was in English but everything else was undecipherable. Is it for children? I asked. The question seemed reasonable enough to me. The imp on the box was a cartoon after all! What guru of marketing would put a video game type character on a box targeting…Asian teens and young adults? Didn’t they invent the gaming phenomenon? Of course! Brilliant!

The clerks were discussing me, looking at the box, then pointing to my head. This good for you, the older one said.

Now there was no way out. The 95,000 rph price tag translated to about $9 U.S. Shelling out a fist full of 10,000 rph notes I thanked the smiling clerks, tucked my tail, and left.

The box lay hidden in a drawer until last night. A glance in the mirror at my two-tone hairline, dishwater meets redhead, sent me digging under a bag of cotton balls, bandaids, and miscellaneous other supplies. I pulled out Sweet Apricot and was appalled anew by the image. It’ll be okay, I said, Relax! You can do this!

I opened the package and organized the contents in an array before me. The design of the applicator bottle seemed to have significantly superior engineering to the single aperture squeeze thing I was accustomed to. The hermetically sealed packet of plastic gloves weren’t the whisper thin, wrist length throw-aways that Miss Clairol sees fit to supply. They stretched all the way to my elbow and were textured for a non-slip-grip. Sweet Apricot was dead serious about protecting the delicate hands of it’s users.

A quick Google Translate provided instructions that sounded familiar. It’s just hair. As I thought it, I wondered how many times I had breathed out those same three words prior to a disaster of epic proportions.

I’d stalled long enough. With the picture directions spread out on the countertop, I noticed a punch-out circle in the box just the size of the applicator bottle. I was instructed to remove the circle, secure the bottle in the opening for stability, then pour in the color cream, cover securely, and scramble. (Google translate isn’t perfect.) I did as I was told.

You don’t need a blow-by-blow, but the experience was shocking. Once again my sub-grade expectations put me to shame. The solution didn’t singe the nostrils like the Nice-n-Easy brand. It smelled good. The comb-like applicator was 100 times better than the Clairol product and delivered the color cream in an even, perfect flow through its teeth. The goo stayed in my hair and didn’t dribble down the back of my neck or under my chin. Of course all that would be moot depending upon the final outcome.

When I finished, Ubud was experiencing one of its humid, evening rain showers so I knew my hair wouldn’t dry until morning. Final judgment would have to wait.

As the sound of roosters and a chorus of frogs heralded sunrise I stumbled to the bathroom mirror. Spikes of shiny plastic Barbie-doll-ish hair sprouted in all directions. But the color wasn’t a normal Barbie color. It was more like Roller Blade Barbie or Mud Wrestler Barbie. I found myself once again squinting and rubbing my eyes. Maybe after a cup of coffee…?

P1070235After coffee I loved it! No more imports of inferior products from America. No more impositions on the good will and big hearts of Bali bound travelers. I’ve found my color at last, Sweet Apricot!

When I skyped with daughter, Joy, this morning she thought for a minute then christened me, Travel Guide Barbie and I’m okay with that. I’ll still do the tours, arrange drivers, and help with currency exchanges. And I’ll do it with gratitude for my friends who are planning future trips to Bali, because I’ve yet to find a workable alternative to CoverGirl #210 Perfect Point Plus Espresso eyeliner pencil!



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