I’m a Capricorn – the epitome of disciplined self-control…!

What high expectations I had for the regular Friday afternoon meetup with my neighbor. Our weekly chats run the gamut from current Visa regulations here in Indonesia, to quirky relatives, to where to buy the best bunkus in Ubud. If you aren’t familiar with bunkus, they’re cone-shaped packages of rice with various toppings: vegetables, chicken or pork, spicy noodles, egg, with a few mystery ingredients thrown in that you’re better off not questioning.

Besides stimulating conversation, I usually furnish beer or wine and something crunchy to munch on. Today it was Thai peanuts with lime leaf, carrot hummus, and krupuk – special crackers from the granny down the road who sells them in her tiny shop.

This time though, instead of Bintang beer, or Anggur Merah, the 14.7% alcohol Bali wine, I had a real surprise for my friend. Pu Tao Chee Chiew. I found it on a recent excusion to Grand Lucky, a grocery store that stocks things not available anywhere else in Bali. The name sounded like an exotic Chinese elixir and when I read the label and saw 37.15% alcohol I grabbed two bottles.

I feel the need to add a disclaimer here. Perhaps I’ve mentioned alcohol in too many posts lately because I had a very discreet email from a reader who wondered if I’d become a bit too dependent. I felt like saying, I’m a Capricorn, the epitome of disciplined self-control. There’s no way… but I didn’t. I decided to write this blog instead because I know she’ll read it and have a good laugh.

Here’s a snapshot of my life.

Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday – wake up. Journal. Do yoga. Meditate. Eat breakfast. Write. Take a nap. Read. Eat dinner. Answer emails. Shower. Go to bed. No alcohol.

Every Friday – wake up. Journal. Do yoga. Meditate. Eat breakfast. Write. Take a nap. Prepare snacks and some fun alcoholic beverage for the four-hour chat with my neighbor.

So…about my neighbor…

This woman is one of the busiest people I know. She works two online jobs, cooks for her husband and daughters ages 5 and 13, tutors a Balinese child in English, helps with homework assignments, writes middle grade fiction, and I’m sure I don’t know the half of it. How she carves out time every week to entertain me is one of life’s greatest mysteries. Of course, I do ply her with alocohol…

Speaking of intoxicating beverages, I introduced us to Orang Tua – translated Old People – a wine with a nasty flavor reminiscent of the hot grog we had at Christmastime in the Midwest. I’ve served Brem – a thick-ish, cloudy rice wine, and Anggur Merah, a decent red grape wine made in Indonesia. But when I told her about my latest find she was as intrigued as I was.

She arrived and settled into her usual spot just as the afternoon rain started. I popped the cap and poured sparkling amber liquid into two glasses.

“Mmmm. Bubbly. It looks like beer,” she said.

We toasted then took that first tingling swig. “Oooo, sweet.” She licked her lips with only a slight grimmace. “Like dessert wine.”

“Or communion wine,” I added. “Or like drinking perfume.” A cloying floral bouquet lingered on my tongue.

There wasn’t much else to say about it, so we turned to the snacks and commenced our animated give and take filling each other in on the events of the week, which, if you recall what my Saturdays through Thursdays always look like, could put a caffiene junkie to sleep. But her lively stories more than make up for my yawn-worthy tales. Most importantly, we laugh a lot.

Around about the third hour of chatter, my guest frowned. “How much alcohol did you say was in this stuff? Thrity-something percent?”

“37.15 %. Why?”

“Well, I must have built up a heckuva tolerance because I don’t feel a thing.”

I took a minute to assess my own buzz but found none. “Now that you mention it, neither do I. How can that be?”

She reached for the empty bottle. “This is it, right? Let’s have a look.” Still frowning she sqinted at the small print,then exploded into laughter. “Guess what?”

I shook my head. “No idea.”

“This says fermented green grapes 37.15%. But up here at the top – see?” She twisted it so the label stared me in the face and pointed.

There it was, the sad truth if I’d taken time to actually read what it said. Mengandung Alkohol 5%.

“What?” I shrieked. “Five percent? That’s less than Bali beer. And I have another bottle of this worthless (expletive deleted) in the fridge?”

My feeling of betrayal was short-lived. We laughed until our sides ached.

So please, for anyone out there who might have wondered…I thoroughly enjoy my two glasses of wine once a week. But if my neighbor can’t make it for some reason, Friday joins the rest of the non-alcoholic days. I find no pleasure imbibing in solitary. And as for that extra bottle of Pu Tao Chee Chiew…it’ll make a great gift.

Arak Attack!

I have to write this quick, before I sober up and refuse to admit that I’m subject to such excess. Tonight I ordered a glass of Balinese rice wine. Brem. It comes in red or white. “I sorry, no have,” the wait staff was apologetic. I perused the menu, searching for an alternative. Beet juice, turmeric and ginger, lime fizz…nothing quite does it when all you really want is Brem.

Bali has another alcoholic drink. It’s notoriously potent. As I scanned the options I saw that Arak was one of the offerings in the extensive list. “Well, why not,” I said to myself. “No Brem…I’ll try Arak.” For the sake of the story, you need to know that I ate papaya for breakfast. Later in the day I had a slice of whole grain bread and a cup of coffee. So when I started sipping my glass of Arak with a little lime juice squeezed into it, the time was about 5:00 p.m. After two swallows I knew I had alcohol in my system. I was there to discuss joint business opportunities with a new contact.

Within 15 minutes a stunning young woman wearing a scarf that identically matched her crystalline blue eyes, arrived. She ordered the beet juice so I distinctly had the advantage. I was far wittier, more brilliant, and knowledgeable about life, love, (or is that liberty?) and the pursuit of happiness than anyone else she could ever have possibly met. However, I’ve been around awhile and I know my limitations. When my lips go numb it’s time to shut my mouth. So I did, and listened. Over the next two hours I sipped, listened, nodded, and sipped a bit more. She was delightful. We exchanged cards and she departed to keep a dinner date with her husband.

I sat as dusk gathered. The wait staff brought out candles and the tables flickered in the evening glow. I ordered a Greek salad. It arrived, neatly wrapped to take out, and I stood to leave. My eyes crossed. I took a step, stopped, focused, and took another step. I felt like two people, one of whom was stone cold sober, observing and aware of what needed to be done, and the other quite decidedly fuzzle headed and not firing on all cylinders. The two of us had a quick pow-wow and it was agreed that the stone cold sober one would walk us home. Thankfully it wasn’t far and she did a good job. Once inside the house, the full Arak attack took over and fuzzle head wasted no time. She fumbled with the knot securing the bag of salad, tried to remember where the forks were kept, and settled for a soup spoon.

I don’t drink much. One beer, one glass of wine, and I’m good. But all alcohol is not created equal, and let’s just say, Arak is in a league of its own. I’m glad I tried it. The closest thing to it, in my limited experience, is Scandinavian Aquavit…nasty stuff that should be outlawed or just used in place of diesel fuel. Arak doesn’t bite. Arak just slips down with a cozy burn. But it should come with one of those cautionary FDA labels…take only with meals…do not drive or operate heavy machinery. And I would add, WARNING: may cause temporary fuzzle-headedness!


Arak Production

Arak Production


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