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?


Women and dishes…a love affair

A new shop appeared on Monkey Forest Road about six months ago. In and of itself, that’s not newsworthy. Sidewalk shops and cafe’s in Ubud come and go all the time. But this one was different.

I was going along at a good clip, as good a clip as I can while being on high alert to every hillock and open chasm in the sidewalk. As I passed what had been a construction site for weeks, I did a double-take. There, sitting outside the spiffy new shop, was a white bench with a pillow on it. The pillow cover looked like it had been crocheted out of large ropes of multi-colored fabric. It was so un-Bali!

Since I was going nowhere in particular, and on no set schedule, I checked the name of the shop, BaliZen, and wandered in. It took me two and one-half seconds to know for certain that this shop was owned by an American…an American with exquisite taste. I sniffed and sucked in the delicious odor of quality.

My eyes scanned the contents. There were hand made bedcoverings, fanciful lanterns in patterned fabrics hanging from the ceiling, a daybed in seafoam green with white accents, home goods of every delicious shape and description, and…dishes.

Before I moved to Bali I sold or gave away all of my beloved  dishes.  My mother had multiple sets of china, she still does. One mother-in-law had an absolute addiction and stored boxes upon boxes of expensive table settings under her bed. But since coming here I had been operating with the leftovers from the previous occupant.

I circled the store many times that first day, imprinting the different patterns of the plates and bowls on my memory. There was a chinoiserie motif in granny-apple green. The bold red paisley dishware had darling scalloped bowls. My eyes feasted while my heart lusted, but I walked out empty handed.

In the months that followed, every time I was a little at loose ends, I’d stroll to BaliZen and spend 30 – 40 minutes surrounded by casual elegance. I don’t know when I knew, but at some point it settled into my bones that I wanted dishes, and if I was patient, the perfect pattern and color would appear here, at BaliZen.

Yesterday I told a friend about my favorite shop. “Let’s go!” she said, so we did. And there, displayed to perfection, accessorized with impeccable care, were my dishes. They were bold but tasteful and the right shade of Bali bed blue. It was love, quick and sure, as I gathered them up and presented them to the darlings behind the counter who have greeted me kindly every time I enter and leave the shop without spending a dime. We all knew my time would come.


It feels strange to be in love with blue. It started with the bed. When that electrifying color moved into my space I knew I’d either love it or re-paint it. Whether it has to do in part with the fact that it’s Ketut’s father’s handiwork, or whether my taste buds are changing, I don’t know for sure. But I have grown irrationally fond of Bali blue. Now the plates reinforce that color.


One post of the Bali blue bed as I shoot past it to the new dishes

The only thing that causes mild panic to flutter around my heart is the fact that I’m accumulating belongings. I’ve sworn off ‘things’ and have chosen to live a simple, uncluttered life. Oh, and by the way…did I mention my fabulous new chairs???


Have I Married You Yet?

I’ve learned not to take offense when people call attention to the number of marriages I’ve entered and left. I can’t fault them for being a little shocked and more than a little curious. After all, I seem so normal. And although my Capricorn sun cringes at every indication of my tarnished past, my Leo moon can more than handle the spotlight.

So the other night at a very merry un-birthday dinner with friends (remember Alice in Wonderland) the talk turned to writing as it is wont to do in these circles. My memoir was up for discussion. One of the gents and I made an identical comment in unison and he turned to me and said, “Are we married?”

“Not yet,” was my instant comeback.  Being the sharp tack that he is, he got excited.

“That should be the title of your book, Have I Married You Yet?”

After the laughter died down, I have to admit that I gave it some thought. But to me it sounds like the name of a lighthearted, comedic story. Mine is far from that. Out of curiosity I checked Amazon for the titles of best-selling memoirs. Here are a few of them:

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings


The Motorcycle Diaries

The Color of Water

Running With Scissors

Coming of Age in Mississippi

Not a shred of humor.

I’m torn. What do you think? I’d like to hear opinions other than my own. Anyone who cares to weigh in with a comment or suggestion, please do. Does Have I Married You Yet? sound like a full-on comedy or could it work for a story that has humor only in moderate doses?




Every page was once a blank page


thW05OAYQLEvery page was once a blank page, just as every word that appears on it now was not always there, but instead reflects the final result of countless large and small deliberations. All the elements of good writing depend on the writer’s skill in choosing one word instead of another. And what grabs and keeps our interest has everything to do with those choices (Quote from: How to Read Like a Writer)

I’m writing an autobiography. You may consider that the ultimate in narcissistic self indulgence but let me assure you, it’s not. It’s a white-knuckle, teeth gritting, experience. And I find that in the process of constructing a narrative around the events of my life from this distance and perspective, I’m reshaping the stories I’ve been telling myself for decades.

It’s an unsettling phenomenon. Writing my life has forced me to choose words to describe characters, situations, and the emotions around them. In order to select those words, I am forced to return to that time and re-live the feelings. But I’m in a much different place now than I was then, so the information I bring to the process casts it in new light.

It’s the ultimate therapy. First I question, Did it really happen that way? and I have to honor what comes up. But when I begin searching for words things get sticky. I go deeper into the emotional memory to find clues for the framing of it. Then without warning, it takes on a different energy. Even though I’m the author…even though it’s my story…the words I choose have such power of suggestion that my understanding of the event expands and I see it with different eyes.

The transformational nature of writing continues to delight me. Turning feelings and thoughts into words changes those feelings and thoughts. Some of the impetus is transferred to the page. It can be a shocking surprise to read what comes out of my pen, or the keys of my computer. When that happens, a delicious thrill shivers through me. It’s as though a hidden part has been revealed, a secret I wouldn’t otherwise share.

I have filled this blank page with countless large and small deliberations. Words. They’re what I love about writing!

Writing for Self-Discovery — Destination:DreamCatcher! Retreat March 15-21, 2015 in Bali

A Downward Dog View of Yoga

The ex-pats in Ubud have an uneasy relationship with the yoga crowd that floods the streets with nubile bodies in leggings and sports bras. There are good reasons for this. I’m guessing that the median age of the ex-pat population here approaches 70 so maybe there’s just a speck…a smattering…of jealousy? But to give them credit, these people did not grow up in the era of self-discovery with the influx of mystical influences from the East. Even some of the younger ones roll their eyes and avoid organic and raw food restaurants known to cater to the heightened awareness  crowd.

So this morning when I opened an e-mail from my sister in Northern Minnesota, and read a poem she wrote recently, I knew I had to post it for two reasons: first, she’s a great poet and has published her work in a book, Musings of a Damsel, Reflections of a Crone (click the link to see more), and second, because it’s so true and I knew if I could relate then many others would too.

My Inner Eye
by Gwen Lee Hall (pen name: Wendolyn Lee)

My friend is into yoga; she practices faithfully.
She tells me it’s done her a world of good, and it would be good for me.

I resist, but she has an answer for every excuse I know.
Yoga can take me places I never dreamed I’d go.

It will open my breath, open my mind, teach my soul to fly.
I’ll see things I’ve never seen before when I open my inner eye.

And so I cave. I buy the mat. I learn a pose or two,
And sure enough, the part about my inner eye is true!

Downward Dog on the livingroom floor, I see popcorn under the chair,
Dust bunnies under the sofa, wads of puppy hair…

So today I’m getting my exercise with a dustpan and a broom,
Seeing things I’ve never seen, right here in my livingroom.

Thank you my friend; I now include yoga in my routine.
My inner eye gets a workout, and my livingroom is clean.

Drinking from Blackwater Pond



Mornings at Blackwater
by Mary Oliver

For years, every morning, I drank
from Blackwater Pond.
It was flavored with oak leaves and also, no doubt,
the feet of ducks.
And always it assuaged me
from the dry bowl of the very far past.

What I want to say is
that the past is the past,
and the present is what your life is,
and you are capable
of choosing what that will be,
darling citizen.

So come to the pond,
or the river of your imagination,
or the harbor of your longing,
and put your lips to the world.

And live
your life.

I may have said this before, Mary Oliver is my hero. She surprises me. She uses common words in uncommon ways so I have to pay attention. I can’t get lazy and just assume I know where she’s going.

This poem is particularly significant as I prepare for the Destination:DreamCatcher! Retreat in Bali. Ms. Oliver speaks of ‘the dry bowl of the very far past,’ and ‘the river of your imagination…the harbor of your longing.’ Then she urges that you ‘put your lips to the world and live your life.’

What I love about this is that you realize from her beginning stanza that the world is Blackwater Pond. It isn’t clean or clear. Rather, the trees weep their leaves into it’s depths. Wild creatures swim and feed in it’s murkiness. It’s gritty and real, and this is what she suggests that you put to your lips and drink. 

When you do that, as she did every day, you connect with the present and move beyond the distresses of the past. You begin to see things differently, to imagine, and to dream, until finally you are capable of making different choices. You begin to live your life.

Give yourself permission to let go of whatever is holding you back. Don’t allow the past, or your perception of the present, or your mistrust of the future, to confine you.  Your life can be so much bigger than that.



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