Chapter One


THE FLIGHT WAS INTERMINABLE. It seemed a satisfyingly difficult start to adventure; twenty-four hours without sleep, stops in Hawaii and Guam, seat backs that didn’t recline, and an overheated cabin. I was jammed in next to a window, and I watched below as we descended. The seas lightened from deep blue to turquoise, spidery rows of breaking waves appeared, then a long line of white cliffs. Clouds covered what must have been the main part of the island, but I could sense a dark form hulking underneath, and for just a moment I caught a glimpse of a volcanic peak rising above it all. Dark jungles, lost temples, mysterious tombs; all still invisible from the plane window. I could imagine them, however, legacy of National Geographic.

Despite strenuous warnings of disaster from professors, friends, and family, I had earlier ditched career plans, left graduate school at UCLA, and returned to UC San Diego where I had been an undergraduate to take a research job to earn money for travel. I had no defense whatsoever to general observations that I was being stupid, but in any case my advisors had always told me I was poor at taking advice. Officially, I was on a leave of absence; privately, I strongly suspected I would never be back.

After eighteen months, when I had saved what I judged to be enough, I bought a backpack and two budget travel guides—two because I wanted to be thorough in my preparation—and I booked a ticket on Garuda Indonesia, the Indonesian national airline, which ran a weekly charter flight to Bali from Los Angeles. It didn’t really matter to me where I ended up, however. By a coincidence I knew someone in Bali, an Australian friend who had been a roommate for a few months the previous year, but of all possible destinations, I chose Bali only because it was far away and the ticket was cheap.

Adventure would mean risk, and discomfort, and uncertainty, I was sure, and I looked forward to it. As the plane’s wheels touched down, we all broke out in applause as if we had already endured a remarkable ordeal. We coasted to a stop, the engines cut, and everyone rose impatiently, gathering luggage from overhead bins. All backpacks. Tourists didn’t take charter flights, they carried suitcases; travelers carried backpacks, and we were destined for overland buses and cheap rooming houses and nights on the floors of train stations. The exit ramp bumped against the hull. I clearly remember my excitement as I caught my first breaths of foreign air, an initial hint in a warm and humid puff as the crew opened the cabin door, and then a full wave rolling in with the reek of jet exhaust and the sea.

I stepped out onto tin stairs in steambath heat under a blast of tropical sun. Within moments, rivulets of sweat rolled down my neck and back. At the bottom of the ramp, a guide in brown military uniform waited to lead us on a long trek over cracked asphalt and weedy patches, through a landscape so bright the air itself seemed to burn white hot, and we followed him like cattle into a shabby warehouse of a terminal. My head swam from the heat and lack of sleep, and I lined up obediently for the immigration counter. Prominent over the desk behind a wire mesh screen hung a cartoon of a bearded Western hippie guy and hippie chick with sandals and cut-offs and long hair and love-beads. A big red X crossed through them with a warning: “Hippies not serve in government office.” The immigration officer looked me up and down severely as he flipped through the empty pages of my new passport, and then, with a dramatic flourish, he reached for his stamp and banged it down with crisp authority. I was here.


Nothing could have prepared me for the heat or the noise or the chaos outside the terminal. A storm of Balinese, travelers, motorbikes, and backpacks swarmed around me, and people I had met on the plane were swept away in the crowd as if carried off in a flood. I had never considered what I would do once we landed or how I would find a hotel. It was unbearably hot. Everyone was talking at me. All I wanted was a room somewhere to collapse for the next twenty-four hours, but I could see no kiosks advertising rooms and no buses to get away, no taxis.

I had waded only a few feet into the melee before two grinning Balinese boys seized me by either arm, shouting gibberish, while a third maneuvered behind me and tried to pull the pack from my shoulders. I slowly realized the words were English.

“Hello! You want losmen? I take you very good place!” while the other boy yelled in my other ear, “What you name? You come with me!”

I wrestled for my pack and tried to make clear I would carry it myself, but as I turned toward the boy behind me, he kept hold and wheeled around with me.

Losmen! Homestay! Very cheap! You like!” yelled my guides. The boy with my pack still had a firm hold.

Everything was happening too fast, and I felt as if we were dancing in a sauna. I tried to look beyond my boys and saw only a sea of more Balinese guides and American travelers clamoring and wrestling for luggage. Other teams started toward me but my captors fended them off; I was already claimed, and not knowing what else to do, I gave in. They led me through the struggling mass while the boy with my pack eventually bested me for control, and we ended up in a dirt parking lot with hundreds of motorbikes and Toyota pickup trucks.

“Here, you here!” said my guide as he mounted his bike and pointed behind him.

Numbers two and three mounted another bike with my pack and started off. I had been warned about this in the travel guides, I thought, envisioning them riding away and disappearing forever into the dust with my pack after my first fifteen minutes in Bali. I could only hold more tightly onto my shoulder bag containing my passport and traveler’s checks and camera. I climbed on in desperation, trying to keep sight of my pack, and off we went. Within minutes we were sailing down sandy pathways through palm groves, past thatched huts and people in sarongs and water buffalo and rice fields and temples, amazing temples, and cows and dogs.

We stopped at a small collection of shacks standing alone in the midst of stubbled rice fields. A low raggedy stone wall surrounded a dozen thatched roof huts, and a black, muddy slime pen in the corner held what appeared to be a monstrous sway-backed pig. Scrawny dogs circled and yelped from a safe distance.

The boys and my backpack were already disappearing through the gate while uncountable kids and moms and dads, all wearing sarongs and only half wearing shirts, came boiling out with huge smiles to greet me, everyone talking at once in what could have been English or Balinese or Swahili, but grabbing my hands and shouting questions and leading me to one of the huts where they sat me down on a low bamboo chair next to a bamboo table with a gigantic thermos and poured out a steaming mug of tea.

Everyone shouted out their names and introduced themselves, some of them several times, as I repeatedly told them my name, which no one could pronounce. The children found the name “Michael” hilarious, and one boy ran up and jumped up and down in front of me, pointing to his chest and shouting something over and over—presumably his name, although I couldn’t have pronounced it even if I had a chance to get a word out.

Eventually, after a marathon of introductions, the crowd began to thin and drift away, until only one little girl watched me shyly from behind a post at the end of the porch. I was on a veranda fronting a series of four little rooms—four doors, four small barred windows. Kind of like a prison barracks, I thought. Four bamboo tables, each with two bamboo chairs and a large thermos on each table. It was a remarkably uncomfortable chair, much too small for me, with a bamboo round poking into my back at the shoulder blades and another round pressing into the backs of my thighs.

I was very tired, and I was hot and sticky and so exhausted I felt sick.

One of the women appeared again with a towel and two more children hiding behind her sarong and motioned me to follow. She led me around the back behind the little rooms to a smaller hut and opened a tin door. “Mandi,” she told me. The bare concrete room had apparently once been whitewashed, but now the walls and floor were covered in large patches of various shades of moss and mold. There was a hole in the floor in one corner and a large square concrete basin in the other. The woman gestured me over to the basin. Two goldfish swam in it, and the entire room was strangely tranquil and cool, lit only by narrow rays of light filtering down through gaps in the roof.

The woman took a plastic dipper from the edge of the basin and mimed scooping out water and pouring it over her head. Then she mimed climbing into the basin and shook her head and hands—clearly a no no. I nodded, I understood.

She and the children left me there, and I stripped down and dipped out the cool water and poured it over me, sluicing off the dust and sweat with water that felt as deliciously cold and clear as ice water. Then I stumbled back to my room and lay down and slept as if I had been clubbed.


I startled awake to a croak like a banshee in my room, “Tok krak...kraak…kraaak!” My heart pounded from the shock of it, and in the dim light of a kerosene lamp—someone must have come into my room and left it while I was asleep—I could see the shadow of what looked like a small alligator with a massive triangular head on the wall opposite the bed. The creature clung there motionless while I watched. The most extraordinary racket echoed through the night—roosters, although looking out the window I could see only inky blackness—and the lowing of cows and barking of dogs and more grunts and squawks against a background of what must have been ten thousand frogs. Somewhere from far away sounded the steady beat of a gong.

The room resembled a prison cell from the inside as well. The small window was barred. A bamboo table in the corner held my backpack, and another small table next to the bed held the kerosene lamp and a large mug of water with a metal lid. The bed itself was made of rough unpainted boards with a thin cotton mattress. On the concrete floor next to the bed smoldered a spiral of what appeared to be incense.

Or maybe a monk’s quarters in a monastery would be a better description, I thought. The room was simple, and except for the cacophony outside and the alligator on the wall inside, it was calming. I took a sip of water from the mug. It was warm and tasted of smoke. I lay back down and watched the alligator. A tokay, it was called, a kind of gecko. I knew because I had read about it in my guide books, though it was bigger than I expected. It slowly crawled up into the thatch, but I couldn’t go back to sleep.

A monk’s quarters. Yes, I was happy with that. That also had drawn me to Asia, but these thoughts often came to me most clearly in these hours before dawn.

It wasn’t just adventure, but I hadn’t told anyone. At the university I had drifted toward the sciences because they were clear and beautiful and meaningful. I liked the philosophies, and I read them, and not just philosophies of science, but of the religions. I was never comfortable, however, with the long airy discussions of erudition that sometimes stretched late night graduate parties to the small hours. I expected truths to be unsaid things. Despite my professors’ best efforts, my grandma taught me that. Maybe I was feeling a little homesick, because I was thinking about her.

In her home I grew up surrounded by pictures of Jesus and plaques of the Lord’s Prayer and the heavy Bible sitting always at hand beside the sofa, but Grandma never said a word to us about that. She wanted nothing to do with churches, wanted no truck with ministers or preachers, they only got in the way, she said—one of the few times I ever heard her talk about religion at all—and how on earth did they think they could help her talk to Jesus by trying to stand in the middle? My uncle Donny used to say “yeah, Mom’s one of J.C.’s biggest fans, talks to him every day even if she won’t join a fan club!”

She disappeared quietly into her bedroom several times a day, and I knew she prayed there, though she didn’t tell us about it. Then she came out and fixed us a lunch of fresh sweet corn and sliced ham and iced tea so thick with sugar you could nearly stand a spoon up in it, a good rib-sticking Arkansas lunch she said, because they had moved to California from Arkansas when my mother was just five years old, and they showered us with love.

I didn’t want to join a fan club, and I was not a person to sit at a guru’s feet and listen to talk—“blather” my other Irish grandma would have called it. But I did expect something, some kind of clarity, something Zen. Something silent like the Japanese tea ceremony would do. Maybe there was a Balinese tea ceremony. My Grandma served us tea, I thought, and maybe it always comes down to serving tea to those you love—but now I was definitely homesick, and very far from home.

These were early morning thoughts. I would have to get over them, and I tried to think of other things. Eventually the sounds of uproar in the night began to change as the animals sensed the dawn.

The sky had lightened outside my tiny window. I heard the household stirring, and a fresh thermos and some small cakes appeared on the table outside the door, and I sat in the little chair with the bamboo digging into my back and thighs and enjoyed watching my first dawn in Bali. It was 6:00 AM, and it was already hot.


I soon found that my losmen was indeed cheap and friendly, but not ideally located. It stood by itself amidst palm and banana groves twenty minutes walk from the beach, but walking twenty minutes in that heat was enervating. I tried it only once.

Most travelers stayed in a village a little farther north. At the time I didn’t know it was famed as one of the three “K’s” of the hippie trail: Kashmir, Katmandu, and Kuta. Kuta not only had homestays near the beach but also little cafes and yoghurt shops and used bookstores and telex offices and all the other essential services for backpack travelers.

On the second day I decided to look up my Australian friend, though all I knew, after checking the address on a postcard he sent last year, where his return address was “Poste Restante,” was that he lived somewhere in the village of Kuta.

When I moved back to San Diego eighteen months earlier, I had taken a room with my friend Tony, a graduate student from Scripps. Tony was a surfer and had been to Bali, and he had met Michael McHugh, an Australian surfer living in Bali, and as often seems to happen with surfers, when McHugh unexpectedly showed up in San Diego, he looked up Tony and moved in with us.

McHugh found the California waves laughably small, not even worth the effort, but he hadn’t come for the surf. He was recovering from a bout of hepatitis that had nearly killed him in Bali. Most days he woke about 10:00 AM, drank tea and read thrillers until mid-afternoon, then prepared a dinner of chicken and rice and went back to bed. He also ate Vegemite, a remarkably vile paste of fermented vegetables he had apparently brought with him in huge quantities and which I eventually learned was the national dish of Australia.

But gradually he gained strength and became more active. I helped him buy a broken-down Volkswagen van with which he planned to tour the West Coast, selling batiks and clothing and trinkets from Bali at flea markets along the way to support himself.

He also explained he was just getting away from Bali for his own sanity. He had been sick for nine months, and a Balinese girl, Madé Jati was her name, not only nursed him but also decided to marry him. She referred to herself as his wife and McHugh as her husband, and McHugh felt he needed to cool her off. She sent frequent postcards, and he sometimes showed them to me. Her use of pidgin English was funny and her spelling was phonetic, but it was all understandable and charming.

“So why don’t you marry her?” I asked. “Why run away?”

“Ah, mate, don’t even think of it. You can tell them you’re going to marry ‘em, but you don’t want to really marry ‘em. No telling where that would end!”

He showed me her picture. She was very pretty, exotic with the sweet and smooth round features of Southeast Asia, long black hair and large dark almond eyes and an infectious looking smile, as if the camera had caught her in the middle of a laugh.

Maybe he wasn’t ready to be tied down. Neither was I, but looking at her picture I couldn’t help thinking that I would have married her. I had been through enough relationships already, a couple of them torrid enough that the neighbors complained. I hadn’t minded, it was a college town, but next time I wanted to fall in love. Looking at her picture, I thought if he doesn’t marry her, someone else surely will.


The village of Kuta was not big; a few dirt roads converging on a large banyan tree at a crossroads with the glint of brilliant turquoise waves breaking over white sand another half mile on. No electricity, nothing more than a dusty Balinese village on the sea with family compounds and temples set amongst palm groves, just like several other Balinese villages I had seen, but in this case interspersed with thatched roof homestays and little cafes furnished with handmade wooden benches. I asked around at a few cafes and quickly learned that McHugh lived at Losmen Jati on Poppies Lane, only a few hundred meters down a sandy alley from the main road.

He was astonished to see me. I had my backpack with me because I was planning to find a new room, but McHugh called some children over and waved his hands and said something like “Kak kak, chak chak, snee snee” with what even I recognized as an atrocious Australian accent, and the kids grabbed my pack and ran off with it. “They have a losmen here, mate, you can stay here, good as anywhere else. They’re all the same.”

And it was true. Losmen Jati had the identical uncomfortable bamboo chairs, the identical thermoses of hot tea, the identical monks’ cells with barred windows and rough concrete floors, as my previous losmen, but it faced across a little garden to a courtyard with a collection of small thatched buildings comprising the family living quarters. Like every other Balinese home I had seen so far, each room stood as a separate building. My new room was in the family area, standing by itself near the temple on the east side and the cow and pig pens to the south, and it had a sand floor and veranda like the other rooms on either side of it. It seemed the luxury of concrete floors was reserved for the losmen guests.

I rejoined McHugh on the losmen porch, and as we caught up on events we were soon joined by a couple of American travelers, Sue and Lewis from San Francisco. They were planning a trip to Singaraja on the north coast for the next night and soon suggested I might like to come along. They had already booked a Land Rover with a driver, but their plans were still in flux; they had originally planned the trip with McHugh and his girlfriend, Madé, but it seemed there had been a fight, and McHugh was leaving in an hour for a surf trip instead, and Sue had talked to Madé and she was planning to go to Denpasar, so they had room for me if I wanted to join them.

“Is that the same Madé you were running away from when you were in California?” I asked.

“Ah, mate…it’s an endless fight,” and he gave a rueful laugh.

“And you haven’t married her yet, I guess.”

“No, and not about to!” He had a good thing, I could see. Except, apparently, for endless arguments, as Sue pointed out. But aside from that, he was living rent free in paradise, surfing each day, taken care of nights, when they weren’t fighting, by a beautiful Balinese girl. Why ruin it?

The offer of a trip to the other side of the island sounded good, and so I said, “sure, why not?” and we talked for another hour until McHugh had to go.

I rose soon after McHugh left to return to my new room. “You need to meet Madé,” Sue told me, holding out her hand to stop me. I was dripping with sweat and thinking of the cool mandi dipper bath the kids had shown me. “She said she’d be back soon.” I sat back down, reluctant to delay my bath, but I wanted to meet her.

Sue was a nurse in San Francisco, a Chinese-American girl born in Chinatown, and Lewis, burly and thickly bearded, looked exactly what he was, an unpublished poet and owner of a bookstore. He was finding Bali hugely inspirational, and he recited to me bits of his latest poem. He had been impressed by the advice given him yesterday not to walk under the palm trees—the coconuts could break loose and fall unexpectedly, and it happened at times that a chicken or a dog or even a careless Balinese was killed by a falling coconut. I hadn’t known this but found it a useful piece of Bali lore.

“Scratch the sky, dance the wind,

Coconut falls,

Earth mother drink blood.”

Wow. What a terrible poem, I thought to myself. I smiled and nodded appreciatively.

The afternoon was wearing on, the sun sinking behind the coconut palms to the west and the day possibly cooling, when Sue said, “Oh, here comes Madé Jati!”

She was more striking than her photograph. Eyes dark as night, cinnamon skin, glossy black hair to her waist, and a brilliant white smile. Not tall, maybe five feet, but full figured. She had just come from the temple and wore a sarong and kebaya top, the traditional Indonesian dress, and it fitted her tightly and clung to her. She looked like one of the sacred nymphs carved on jungled temple walls come here to life.

She was laughing, something Sue had said, though I wasn’t listening. I held out my hand and Madé took it, but I didn’t release her, and she left her hand in mine and we stood looking at one another.

Lewis was oblivious as he introduced us. “This is Michael, from California!” he said. “He’s going with us to Singaraja later!”

She started to pull her hand away, but I held it and watched her, and she gazed back at me just as directly.

“Since you and McHugh don’t want to go,” I added.

“Not want to go?” she said in surprise. “Who say I don’t want to go?”

“You did, Madé,” said Sue. “You were arguing with McHugh, and you both said you weren’t going with us.”

“Oh, that,” she said.

I still held her, and she didn’t try to withdraw her hand.

“That mean nothing,” she added. “I don’t want to go with McHugh!”

“I thought you made it pretty clear…” Sue started.

“We fight, we always fight, he dog, I cat! I do what I want!” I hadn’t taken my eyes off her. She turned back to me. “Do you want me to go?” she asked.

“I thought you just said you do what you want,” I answered, “so what’s the difference? What if I said no?”

“Then I go anyway, even you don’t want me!” she flared with a laugh.

And so—within moments—it was settled.


I didn’t sleep well that night. I wanted to believe it was the jet lag, but something more was bothering me. I hadn’t intended to do that; it was instinct, and she had moved nearly as fast as I had. But now that it was done, I began to feel bad about it. I knew where we were heading, and I needed to justify it. McHugh was away, he wouldn’t know, they fought all the time anyway, they weren’t married and never would be, she was as much at fault as I was. I had a lot of excuses but they didn’t matter.

I tried rationalizing that McHugh had made it clear he had no intentions of marrying her, but that led to the absurd conclusion that my sleeping with her would be an act of kindness. Even I was not so egocentric as to believe that.

She was my friend’s girl, but it was wrong according to whom? I asked myself. To my morality derived out of Arkansas? This was Bali, this was Asia, I thought. A different morality, different culture. Then I had to laugh at myself, because of course it was not culture that filled my mind when I closed my eyes and tried to sleep. It was Madé and her silky skin and the treasure promised by that sweet rice smell when I stood near her. Anyway, it had nothing to do with Madé or Asia. The betrayal of my friend was what bothered me, and he was Australian.

Sometime in the early hours I talked myself into it. I knew I would, I just had to go through the motions and rationalizations, and I don’t even remember now what they were because they were exceedingly complex and wouldn’t be worth repeating even if I could remember, and yet they provided me enough of a fig leaf. Only the end result was important, and that was to hell with my friend because I wanted her. Then I finally fell asleep.


We set off early the next morning in the open Land Rover. Sue and Lewis sat in the back. Madé might have squeezed in next to Sue, but I thought it considerate to suggest Madé sit in front with me, though it would be a tight fit and she would have to sit partly on my lap. Madé accepted before Sue could make room for her in back.

Singaraja was four hours away, up over the central plain through gently terraced rice fields—sawah Madé told me they were called—with distant volcanoes rising blue in the distance. We soon reached the foothills where the sawah were ever more steeply terraced, dropping away into misty valleys and rising over our heads in endless emerald ranks. We passed through villages every few miles, each with its own unique style of gates and shrines, and temples beyond number at the centers and edges of the villages or standing off by themselves in the sawah. Flowers bloomed everywhere. Sometimes we had to slow as the road filled with processions of people dressed in brilliantly hued blouses and shirts, both men and women wearing sarongs, and the women balancing massive offerings of fruits on their heads.

Passing over the many rivers on slender steel bridges like tracery, or riding along canals carrying water through the sawah, we came across girls and boys bathing as if out of some vision of Eden. At the top of the pass over the mountains, monkeys scampered beside the road, holding out their hands for the peanuts Madé brought for us to toss.

We stopped at an open-air market in a mountain town, and Madé took a complete delight in everything, enthusiasm like a child at showing us through the marketplace. She bargained with the vendors and laughed with them and bought bananas and other fruits, many of which I had never seen before. “Salak—snakeskin fruit,” Madé showed me, “you open like this.” She broke off the end and began to peel off a paper-thin skin that did indeed look remarkably like a sharp-toothed brown snakeskin, and revealed several hard white lobes. She held one up to me and I took a bite. It was crunchy and tart, like a crisp apple, but with a mixture of other tastes I could not quite identify—strawberries, or perhaps ripe peaches.

Down from the market we passed into a valley with a lake, and on a small island stood a temple with several pagodas or meru—I recognized it from picture postcards for sale all over Kuta. We climbed an even higher pass on the other side of the valley and started down to the north side of the island.

Bali was a cliché, a paradise too perfectly rendered. A brilliant blue sky with billowing clouds arched overhead, the intense tropic sun raked our skins and deliciously cool mountain breezes soothed us again. Even the odors were overwhelming, incense as we passed temples, frangipani flowers, rotting fruit from the open-air markets, the occasional violent stench of pigs, and then, as we started down through the foothills to Singaraja at the edge of the sea we could now glimpse sapphire in the distance, a heavenly perfume I had never experienced before.

“Coffee flowers,” explained Madé. “All this coffee farm.”

I breathed deeply, my head almost swimming with the sweet, heavy scent, nothing like the smell of coffee, but something like a perfume for Gods.

A flashing downpour of rain caught us and we were suddenly soaked, but before we had time to pull over and put up the canvas roof, the rain was gone and we were back driving through bright sun again.

Her smile was every bit as dazzling and infectious as I had first seen in her photograph two years earlier, but now it was come to life. She laughed at herself when she couldn’t find the words she needed in English, and I took to suggesting nonsensical endings to her sentences when she couldn’t complete them, and then she would laugh and agree that yes, that was exactly what she meant to say.

“I teach you Indonesian,” Madé said. I could feel the heat of our legs and wetness of our skin, whether from the rain or from our sweat as we pressed tightly together.


Saya,” I repeated.





Saya chinta padamu,” she put it together.

Saya chinta padamu,” I repeated. “So, what does it mean?”

She repeated it again, her hand pointing first to herself, then to me. “Saya chinta padamu… I love you.”

I couldn’t have improved on that line if I had done it myself. “That’s a very useful phrase to know,” I said. “Saya chinta padamu, I’ll have to practice that.”

“You practice with me, okay?”

Sue and Lewis withdrew discreetly at the hotel in Singaraja as Madé and I booked a single room. The houseboy led us through a garden bordering the beach where waves gently broke on black sand, and each touch of Madé’s skin against mine as we bumped together on the narrow path was electric. Our bungalow faced the sea and the houseboy flung open all the louvered windows as we entered. As soon as he left I pulled them all closed again, and by the time I turned around, Madé had removed her dress.

 “It’s very hot,” she said.

It was indeed. A lazy ceiling fan circled over the bed, and we soon lay under it in the tawny stripes thrown across the sheets by the louvers, both of us covered in fine perspiration.

But I found my conscience was not as discreet as Sue and Lewis had been. I thought I had completed a long talk with it the night before and battered it into submission, but I was wrong. Because now when it came down to it, and I was aching with desire, I couldn’t perform. Performance is all it is, I argued to myself. But I was lying, because I knew the feeling well, and it was guilt. It had nothing to do with her. Even betraying a girlfriend I could manage; had managed in the past, I must admit. My problem was McHugh. This was wrong. I couldn’t do it.

Madé was very nice as we lay together, but I was frustrated by desire which never slacked and a conscience which refused quarter for all that. It was so maddeningly unfair. I had made my choice. Being unable to consummate it was no moral victory because the intent was already there, and now I was denied enjoyment of what should have been a well-earned reward.

But we lay together in the bed, talking through the afternoon, holding and caressing one another as the lights and shadows crawled higher on the walls while the sun sank toward evening.

“It’s because you good man,” she said. “I know…”

Not that good, I thought. Just physically incapable of carrying out my bad intentions due to a guilty conscience.

“I tell you why,” she said. “First time I see you, I know something. I know I will fall in love with you.”

I tried to make light of it, though my own heart was beating far too fast. “I thought you were just being friendly,” I said. “Balinese are very friendly, my guide book says so. Maybe friendly Balinese girls often take strangers to spend the night in Singaraja hotel rooms.”

“Not that friendly!” she laughed.

“You are.”

“To you. Only to you. Because I know.”

But of course, that was impossible. I didn’t believe in love at first sight. Or I hadn’t ever believed it before.

I asked her about McHugh.

“I’m with him and not with him. Not so good. I can’t talk to him.”

“Maybe it’s your English. It’s terrible.”

“No,” she laughed, “because I can talk to you. Anyway, we talk okay, he know what I mean, and I what he mean, but all is only argue. I loved him before, crazy for him. But not him to me. I want to marry him but he only say in Bali ceremony, not really marry. We do things, go places, I help him with his business, but we don’t even make love ever anymore.”

“Even so, I don’t think he would be happy that I’m here with you now…”


“Do you still love him?”

“I think no more, only what left of love. Only because nothing else can do.”

“Of course you can do something. You’re twenty-one years old, you have many choices.”

“I want to feel real love, not only pretending anymore.”

“Are you going to leave him?”

“Do you want me to?”

“No. What would we do then? I can’t move to Bali.”


I didn’t know why, as I thought about it. It wasn’t as though I was tied down to a job in California. But I wasn’t ready for it.

“I’ve only been in Bali three days. Maybe kind of fast to decide that.”

“I know. I’m only talking. Just wishing.”

We talked through the evening and the sunset and into the dark, and Madé dressed and went to find the room boy and order a dinner. He brought us nasi goreng half an hour later, Indonesian fried rice, the first time I ever tasted it, and it was delicious and searingly hot. We bathed together after dinner, in the mandi dipper bath, and then we lay back down and in minutes we were wet once again with perspiration.

It was as though she needed to talk and needed my closeness. She wanted to have my arms stay wrapped around her. There seemed a sadness in her, beyond the laughter and exuberance, and I felt as though I was holding something wounded.

“Tell me how it was growing up,” I asked her.

She did, she needed to tell me, and I told her about life in California, and she was curious about everything in America. “I go there someday. Maybe we go there.”

It seemed impossible to imagine. “If you weren’t with McHugh…well, let me dream about that.”

“So why you leave school if everything good?” she asked me later.

“I didn’t leave school. It was college, graduate school. You know?”

She did.

“I’ve been in school ever since I can remember. I’m twenty-six now, and never been out of school. I guess I learned a lot, but maybe not everything I need to know. I wanted to do something.”

“If I have a chance, I stay in school.”

“When did you leave?”

“I was thirteen. To work on the beach and help Memé, my mother. Selling things. Because no money for school.”

Fifth grade. But clearly she was intelligent. She seemed hungry to know about the world, and she drew information from me like she was starving.

That was the real reason she stayed with McHugh, she told me. He would show her the world. He was doing a business and she helped him, and she could make money for her family because he paid her, and he said he would take her places someday, to Australia and America.

“In two months he will take me,” she said.

“Well, I can’t do that,” I told her. “Stay with him.”

The hotel generator went off at ten and the fan stopped. Not that it had helped much anyway. We had a candle on the table, and the flame barely moved in the slight breeze reaching us through the louvers. Both of us were slick with sweat. We talked until early morning hours, and then she slept in my arms, and I eventually fell asleep too.

The waves lapped on the shore, gently here; it was a quiet sea in Singaraja, facing north toward the Java Sea, not south toward the Indian Ocean as on the other side of the island in Kuta, where the waves came rolling in swells all the way from the Antarctic. We both woke, still in each other’s arms, before dawn. A mosquito coil glowed in the dark. Not incense as I thought that first night, but the coil had a pleasant perfume in its scent as well.

She asked, “now can you?”

“Probably,” I said. “But we aren’t going to. This is all too much at once, I’m sorry, but that’s not why. I may be a person to wander into things, and maybe it will hurt me, but I don’t want to hurt anyone else.”


“Or you. Or not even me. Three days in Bali, we don’t know what we’re doing. You’re still with him, and he’s my friend, and I’m not ready to do this.”

“We didn’t do anything,” she said, “but it doesn’t matter because everyone will think we did.”

“Well, it wasn’t because we didn’t try.”

“That’s okay. But I think I’m going to fall in love with you.”

“I’m not sure it will do us any good, but I’m feeling the same thing.”


We returned from Singaraja the next evening. Ninety-six hours in Bali and I was afraid I was falling in love. It was a moral thing I had done, or failed to do, I wanted to convince myself, trying to ignore that only my subconscious guilt rather than my conscious will had stopped me. I made a half-hearted effort to keep a distance from Madé. I was entirely unsuccessful; when I walked to the beach, she soon followed on her motorbike. When I went to a café, Madé soon appeared to join me, and I was glad she did. So I gave up, and we walked on the beach, swam, talked into the night.

McHugh returned from his surf trip a week after we returned from Singaraja, and he quickly picked up the signals, probably not only of the attraction between Madé and me, but also of my sporadic attempts to control it and avoid Madé, and an uneasy triangle developed. We didn’t talk about it. He and I remained friends and spent long hours together, but a new tension was always there.

So I stayed on, contrary to my original travel plans, and maybe contrary to my judgment. But whether we fell in love or not made no difference. I would enjoy being with her for now, I told myself, and nothing more would happen.


Madé’s family took me in as one of their own and made a special effort to make me feel as if I belonged, and I took part as best I could and began to settle into the rhythms of Bali. From my room on the east side of the courtyard I could see all the activities of the household, and I was fascinated by the daily rituals. Everything seemed so elemental, as if stripped to essentials, and at some level the essentials were what I had come for. Madé’s mother began before dawn, lighting the fire in the brick stove in the kitchen shed and boiling water for coffee and tea and steaming a large pot of rice for the day. Madé’s younger sisters, Nyoman Suti and Ketut Nerthi, placed small offerings around the compound, in the family temple, in front of each door, at the well, in front of the gate, and finally at the crossroads at the end of the dirt lane that ran down to the sea. Madé never placed offerings, I noticed, though I was unclear why.

With the light of dawn, Nyoman or Ketut or their mother began sweeping the courtyard with handmade brooms, picking up every leaf and scrap fallen during the night. Balinese homes had dirt floors but were scrupulously clean, and the chickens were immediately chased from the verandas and rooms if they tried to enter.

Sometimes her father returned home from fishing soon after dawn and spent an hour spreading his net to dry across bamboo stakes near the pig pen beyond my room. Next to the pig pen, Madé’s pet monkey howled as soon as he saw the household stirring until someone brought him his breakfast banana. I expected at first to find him a cute and playful little monkey and I tried to make friends with him, but he wasn’t really; very few monkeys are. He was obnoxious and nasty, and he threw feces at me if I walked near without keeping an eye on him. I once saw him leap onto Madé’s little brother, Dianuh, when he wandered too close and bite Dianuh’s ear so deeply that he ran shrieking away in terror with blood streaming down the side of his face.

Perhaps he was unhappy at being kept near the stench of the cow and pig pens; I became a little testy myself and sometimes had to abandon my room when the wind came from the south. In truth, the cow was not bad; she had a grassy smell, and in fact she was a beautiful cow, tan and cream colored like a deer and with large, liquid, heartbreakingly soulful eyes. An English veterinarian later told me that Bali cows are not really cows at all; they are a related species, occurring in the wild throughout Southeast Asia and kept domestically only in Bali. The San Diego Zoo keeps several which they call “Forest Banten,” but in Bali they are just called sampi, or “cow.”

But the pig was extraordinarily ugly, with a scabrous hide and a huge hanging belly that dragged the ground. Tufts of stiff hair grew out of its ears and nostrils and from random patches on its head, reminding me disturbingly of the school bus driver who had always terrified me in the eighth grade. I was fortunate never to really warm to the pig, because during my second month in Bali I was woken shortly before dawn by an unearthly squealing and shrieking, and I rushed from my room to find Madé’s father and uncle slaughtering the pig in front of my veranda. They singed off the hair and gutted and roasted him right there in the courtyard later that day for a ceremony. I was delighted to eat him. Ugly in life, but delicious cooked, and after that I no longer had to leave my room when the wind blew from the south.

And of course, her family took me to temple. I was in Bali for the holidays of Galungan and Kuningan, and although Madé couldn’t explain to me what they meant, and what little I heard sounded complicated, I enjoyed the ceremonies.

Traditionally on Kuningan, families visit a temple called Sakenan on “Turtle Island,” as Madé called it for my benefit, though I later wrote down its real name of Serangan in my journal so I would remember. Madé invited me to go with her family, and she let me know that McHugh would not be going because he never went.

Madé and her mother dressed me in a sarong for the journey. Rather a silly one, I realized later, the type sold for tourists in the shops on the main Kuta road, and my legs stuck out like two white pipe cleaners where the sarong was ten inches too short. Madé’s mother did the best she could, retying it properly lower on my hips while the kids laughed hysterically. I suddenly knew how our German Shepherd must have felt the time we fastened a party hat on his head with a rubber band and took him to school for pet day.

But eventually I was presentable, and feeling equal parts spiritual and goofy, I piled with the rest of the family into the back of a bemo—one of the little Toyota pickup trucks with a camper shell and benches that served as public transportation—and we headed for Sakenan. Thousands of Balinese were gathering on the mud flats next to a mangrove swamp, carrying massive woven baskets of offerings and queuing for the dugout canoes that would transport us to the island several hundred meters across the channel.

“We lucky,” Madé confided. “Later when tide goes out is only mud we have to walk!”

I followed her family and twenty other people into a dugout and we started across to the island. On the other shore we joined a procession heading slowly into a temple complex ahead of us. There was no regular program I could see, though everyone seemed to know where to go and what to do. Ten minutes walking brought us to a large sandy courtyard where a dozen temporary bamboo platforms stood before an ancient-looking gate. Most platforms held mounds of offerings, but on two platforms priests sat, motioning in intricate patterns with their hands, tossing flower petals and ringing polished brass bells periodically to punctuate their chants as they muttered in low, guttural voices.

Hundreds of Balinese sat on the ground in prayer, but there was no room for us, so we stood near the wall and waited. Priests wandered through the crowd sprinkling water and handing out bits of rice and string, and as they finished, whole groups would get up and leave.

I followed Madé and her family forward to a space vacated by another family, and Madé motioned me to sit. I knelt as they did and Madé’s mother laughed. “Not like that,” said Madé, “that for girls on knees. Boys sit like that,” and she pointed to her brother sitting cross-legged.

I readjusted myself. “Here,” Madé handed me a palm leaf basket filled with flowers. I took it, but I didn’t know what to do with it, and while I was looking around at the others, Madé’s mother handed me a stick of burning incense. Trying to look nonchalant, I placed them both on the ground in front of me, copying Madé’s sister and brother.

They began making motions over their incense as if rinsing their hands and then wafting the smoke upwards. Suti took a plastic bottle passed by her mother and held it over the incense, then up to the temple, then squirted several drops on the ground near her palm leaf tray of offerings and passed the bottle to me. I tried to copy her but couldn’t remember exactly what she had done, and when I squirted the bottle toward the ground, an unexpectedly large stream of red liquid extinguished my incense and drenched my flowers. Madé’s mother laughed and passed me another stick.

“Now we pray,” Madé told me, “like this,” and she gathered up several petals from her tray and held them in her fingertips and lifted them up above her head and closed her eyes. So I gathered a few petals of my own and held them up as she had done.

Then I realized that I really didn’t know how to pray. What was I supposed to be doing? The priest was mumbling and ringing his bell on the platform in front of us, and I sneaked a look to the side to see what everyone else was up to. They still had their hands up toward the priest, and I decided I had better keep my eyes open until I figured this out.

Was I supposed to be saying something in my mind? Grandma never told me how she prayed or what Jesus said in return. Anyway, who was I praying to?

Everyone tossed their flowers away and grabbed more and raised their hands again, so I hurriedly did the same, but found myself just as bewildered as I had been the first time. I tried to assume a suitable reverential attitude but found myself speculating about metaphysics, possibly containing all sorts of interesting questions in its own right but clearly not prayer.

I quickly followed the family and tried to catch up as they tossed and refreshed their flowers again, and then everyone began making other beautiful motions with their hands, and a priest came up to us and began sprinkling water over us.

“Hold up your hands, like this,” whispered Madé. “Now hold it out, no, other hand top, right hand!” and the priest poured holy water into my cupped palm. “Now drink,” Madé said.

I wondered whether it was purified, but everyone else sipped their water and so I did the same, figuring if we all got diarrhea tomorrow we would at least know where it came from.

We moved on from there to several other prayer sites, and along the way someone tied cotton string around my wrist and stuck rice on my forehead. I didn’t make much progress with the prayer, but I was figuring out the flower and water bits. My gestures were still not graceful or beautiful, however; obviously it would take practice.

The tide was indeed out when we started back for home. The channel now was only fifty meters wide, but the dugouts couldn’t come all the way up to the shore, and we had to traverse a hundred meters of deep black muck to reach them. Pilgrims still coming were covered in ooze, but they sluiced themselves off with dipper baths from big pots placed on the shore before the temple. We didn’t care, we were finished and going home, and we waded through the mud happily and tracked it into the bemo, where Madé’s mother passed out fruits and biscuits from the offerings. The Gods had already taken the essence, Madé explained, and we got to eat the rest. A remarkably practical solution, it seemed to me.


Over the next two months, Madé told me a lot about herself. Her stories were part of how I knew her and part of how I fell in love with her. Twelve years later I wrote a description for a press release in which I presented Madé as an icon for our business, and though the description of the founding of the business itself was fanciful and the language appropriately purple, my description of Madé was only slightly romanticized:


“Madé Jati grew up the second child of nine in a poor fisherman’s family in the beach village of Kuta. She recalls now how her father would come home from fishing with his catch in the small morning hours. Her mother would start the wood fire, while Madé and her brothers and sisters sat up sleepily where they had been cuddled together on the large woven pandan mat that was their bed. Their thatch hut was soon filled with the delicious smell of the fresh fish roasting, and they would eat their late meal to the accompaniment of the dull roar of waves breaking against the shore at the end of their lane.

“They were poor and sometimes that roasted fish in the midst of the night would be their only meal of the day. Yet she and her sisters learned to dance, took part in the beautiful temple ceremonies, helped their mother make the intricate daily offerings that they placed in the family temple, at the gate to their home, at the crossroads of the path that led down to the sea, and at the shore to thank the sea for the blessings it gave.

“Sometimes, when the family needed extra money, Madé and her mother would gather flowers from the wild hedges that grew in abundance about their home, and early the next morning they would rise to catch the pre-dawn truck (there were no buses or cars then) into the market town of Denpasar. There they would set up on a mat beside the road to sell their flowers to the women hurrying to do their market shopping in the cool hours before the sun rose above the horizon. The flowers would save the women a half-hour gathering their own flowers at home for the day’s offerings. Madé and her mother would finish before the morning was well underway, and then they hurried home again where Madé could ready herself quickly to reach school still in time for the morning lessons. The money they made in the market was saved for the important holidays of Galungan which came twice a year, when each child would wait with mounting excitement imagining the new sarong with which their mother would surprise each of them on Galungan morning.

“In Balinese there is no word for ‘stranger’; tourists are called tamu, literally ‘guest,’ a guest to one’s home or one’s village. In the 1960s when foreign guests began to arrive in Madé’s village, the local people took them into their homes. In the hot afternoons, when most Balinese took shelter from the sun, the guests would go down to the beach and burn themselves on the sand. No one knew why they did this and the Balinese felt sorry for them. Madé would go down to the beach with a tray of cool drinks, fresh fruit, and a few sarongs to offer them. The tourists bought the drinks and fruit to relieve their suffering, sarongs to cover themselves from the burning rays of the sun.

“Madé’s mother set up a small shop on the edge of the sand, a simple thatched roof, a table with a row of soft drink bottles in the center, a bench for the guests to sit. The guests often stopped at Madé’s mother’s shop for a cup of coffee or a soft drink and a bowl of her black rice pudding. Madé remembers sleeping on the sand under the table while the strange-looking foreigners talked their incomprehensible language far into the night. Sometimes she lay awake listening, making sounds like they did and pretending to herself that she could talk their odd language.

“Some of the guests stayed for weeks, some for months. They became friends of the families that took them in. Some wanted to buy the local handicrafts to take away and resell in their own countries. Madé helped them find things to buy, helped organize their purchases, schedule deliveries. By the time she was seventeen, Madé had her own small business making lace blouses for the guests to buy.”


It wasn’t just me—all the bules in Kuta were enchanted with her, women as well as men. (Bule [pronounced boo-lay] is the Indonesian term for white foreigner. It is like “gringo,” not necessarily derogatory although it is sometimes used that way. My statement in the press release that there is no Balinese word for stranger is technically true, but the tone of disdain that can be packed into a pejorative “bule” out-expresses “stranger” ten times over. And the Balinese really did know why the bules lay on the beach at midday; they just thought it was a stupid idea. Press releases are marketing tools and aren’t known for scrupulous honesty.)


The household wasn’t entirely harmonious. I greeted Madé’s father, Nyoman Ada, whenever I passed him, but he seldom acknowledged me with more than a grunt. I found it disconcerting and wondered whether he resented my presence in his home.

Soon I noticed that McHugh didn’t receive even that; he lived in a room facing Madé’s parents only fifteen meters apart, and her father and McHugh passed one another constantly throughout the day and never spoke. Sometimes her father grumbled under his breath or slammed his fishing gear around as McHugh walked by. Having his daughter’s boyfriend living in the house would do that, I figured, and I wondered if he was also upset with me because I was a friend of McHugh’s.

McHugh snorted when I asked him. “Bloody sour old fart he is, mate!”

“You’re living in his home,” I reasoned.

“Everything upsets him. He was like that from day one,” McHugh answered. “With everyone. He’s got a war going with every member of his family. He doesn’t talk to his brothers, some problem they’ve had forever. And he and Bu Kempu across the road have hated each other since anyone around here knows. She keeps poisoning his dogs but he gives it back just as strong. So bloody hell with what he wants.”

Later Madé gave me more background. “We only move back here last year because Memé ask me to,” she said. “Before we in Mimpi Bungalows and Bapak never talk to me for two years. Even before when I was fifteen he mad at me. Before he throw rocks at me when I go out at night. I have to hide in the bushes to get away.”

“He threw rocks at you? I can see how it might bother a father for his fifteen-year-old daughter to be sneaking down to the beach at night,” I pointed out.

There was more to the story than that, though I couldn’t quite piece it all together. Madé was twenty-one now. The rock throwing had started when she was only fourteen or fifteen years old and still lived in the home. She scampered away through the bushes in the night, to meet, she confessed tearfully one evening, her first lover. He was a Swiss man, and he was in Bali on vacation, and he said he loved her, and she fell in love with him and trusted him. When his holiday was over he had to go back to Switzerland, but he promised he would be back soon, just as quickly as he could return to Switzerland and arrange to come back to Bali. But he never did, never came back, never even sent a letter. He just disappeared. “So I am just stupid little Bali girl,” she said. “Just toy for someone vacation.”

Her father was angry with her. Everyone was angry. Even her sister Suti who had always been so close wouldn’t talk to her anymore, until one day their friends grabbed them on the beach and tied them together face to face until they promised to make up and be sisters again.

Madé’s father kept to himself, but Madé’s mother was sweet. Sometimes Memé brought special little cakes to me, and she was endlessly busy cooking or sweeping or making offerings even late into the night by the light of a kerosene lantern if she had nothing else to do. She had eight children, Madé told me, though I couldn’t always keep track of whose children were whose because there were half a dozen others running around as well, and Madé’s mother was pregnant again. Ten had been born, Madé said, but numbers five and six died when they were only a few weeks old. They were boys, and the first four before them were girls, so her father took their deaths particularly hard. Madé was a little girl then, only six years old, so she remembered clearly how her father cried.

It had been hard for her mother, too, Madé confided. She felt particularly close to her because her mother’s life had been so difficult. Her father kidnapped her to marry her when she was only fifteen years old. That was a typical Balinese marriage custom, though not so much anymore. Her mother had a boyfriend she hoped to marry, but her father saw her in the next village, and so he gathered some friends together and they kidnapped her one night and took her away to a hut so her family couldn’t find her. After three days they were considered married, nothing anyone could do after that. The boyfriend never married, Madé said. He was still around, and sometimes he and her mother met and talked in the banjar—the neighborhood organization that helps every Balinese family with ceremonies and rituals—and Madé could see something still special and sweet and sad between them.

Watching Madé’s mother, I couldn’t see sorrow in her. She was surrounded by family, and she laughed a lot and seemed happy. “She is happy,” Madé agreed with me. “Only not with the man she wanted to married, but still happy with big family.”

I asked Madé whether I should move out, but she insisted her father wanted me to stay, even wanted McHugh to stay. He had a losmen and it was his business. He was not a happy man, however. I continued to greet him whenever we crossed paths, and sometimes he grunted back.


It was easy to throw myself into other activities. There were few resort hotels in Bali then and few real tourists. Everyone was a traveler, staying in cheap losmen homestays, gathering in the cafes, and everyone was learning something a little bit Indonesian. Some took Balinese dance lessons, or gamelan lessons, or learned to do batik or paint in the Balinese style. A few were studying Bali Hinduism—Hinduism in Bali is related to but in many ways quite distinct from the Hinduism of India—and some dressed and tried to act Balinese, took part in Balinese religious ceremonies, and a few even affected to adopt Balinese names.

Even now in the age of mass tourism it is a common experience for Westerners to come to Bali and feel themselves entering into a new realm of mysticism and eternal truth. People want to know things in Bali. Each little fact resonates as if opening a door to new wisdom, and a wonderful thing about Bali is that all is so exotic and yet so accessible.

For instance, every visitor is delighted to learn about Balinese names: for the great majority of Balinese there are only four names—the first-born child be it boy or girl is named Wayan, the second Madé, the third Nyoman, and the fourth Ketut. Number five starts all over again with Wayan. Everyone also has a second name, like Jati or Suti, but there are no family names, and Balinese seldom volunteer their unique name at a first meeting—so every visitor meets dozens of Wayans, Madés, Nyomans, and Ketuts.

There, in three sentences, is an exotic and delightful fact. Even now, with just a ten day vacation in Bali, a visitor can learn dozens more and return home forever enchanted and transformed by their experience with the Island of the Gods.

I wanted to learn the language and so bought a book—How to Master the Indonesian Language by Prof. Almatsier—and devoted myself to it for hours each day, probably a study habit I couldn’t shake after grad school. On one of my side trips to the north of Bali, I tried using it for the first time with a woman on a bemo when in response to her few words of English I pulled out my book and tried to continue the conversation with some Indonesian, and she then invited me home to meet her family.

Or at least I thought she did. As I followed her to her house, pandemonium erupted, the same as at the losmen my first day in Bali, and even neighbors came rushing to see me and try out a few words of English. But as we reached her gate, she turned around and smiled and waved goodbye. I was puzzled and assumed perhaps I had misunderstood her, perhaps she had only asked me to walk her home or see her house, so I waved goodbye and began to leave.

“Oh, no!” she called and ran after me and grabbed my hand and pulled me back toward her house, while the neighbors laughed and made whooshing motions with their hands as if urging me inside. But at the gate she again turned and waved, and I stopped again, saying to myself, “what the hell is she playing at?” I started to back off again, but by now children were coming through the gate and they grabbed my hands and pulled me forward.

I was completely mystified as they brought me into their compound to an open-sided room called a balai that served as a sort of living room. They seated me at table—and that itself was a surprise, because aside from the handmade tables in tourist cafes I had never yet seen a full size table in Bali—and she and several sisters or neighbors took other seats.

As more people gathered, I saw them using the same hand signal to one another and realized it was not a wave of goodbye, but a sign of beckoning with the fingers curled to the ground. In fact I later discovered, told, fortunately, rather than through direct experience for once, that in Indonesia the American gesture of beckoning with the fingers curled upward is grossly obscene.

As usual, a large mug of tea appeared, and everyone gazed in wonderment at the real live white person in their very own home. The mother started the conversation, struggling to put together a few words in consultation with her sister, and then asked, after long moments of conference, “Why your nose so big?”

I tried to hide my astonishment as everyone watched me expectantly. I reached for my nose self-consciously but stopped, looking around the table at all the earnest faces hanging on my answer. “It just grew that way,” I finally said. “All white people have big noses.”

She interpreted to her family, and everyone nodded wisely to that, a good answer apparently. Another whispered consultation with her sister, and then she turned back to me and said, “I want my husband have big nose like that.”

I found that a conversation stopper, but soon the children took over and began pointing out words and phrases from my language book, and as I tried to repeat the phrases they shrieked with laughter and hung on my shoulders and screamed the correct pronunciations into my ears. Tidak! Tidak!—No!” they screamed.

Tidak,” I repeated. The littler ones collapsed in tears, holding their bellies.

Lebih kuat—stronger!” the older ones shouted in stereo. “tiDAH! tiDAH!”

The final K was silent with a sudden stop of breath, the stress was on the second syllable. Clearly Indonesian was not a language that could be spoken in a relaxed drawl—every word was forceful and popped distinctly. Three hours of pronunciation lessons with seven children did more for me than a six month Berlitz course could have done; my mistakes were actually painful as seven children shrieked their corrections just inches from my ears.

They also gave me Bapak and Ibu lessons. “Bapak,” often shortened to “Pak,” means father or mister. “Ibu” or “Bu” means mother or ma’am, and the terms are ubiquitous.

Indonesian, as I discovered, is a very polite language. In fact it is Malay, a language not even indigenous to Indonesia, but selected as a new national language by the young independence movement started in the 1920s by Sukarno. With dozens of distinct languages throughout the archipelago, selecting a native language as the basis for their aspiring nation would almost guarantee divisive jealousies, and since Malay was already widespread throughout Southeast Asia as a lingua franca in the trading ports, and was largely free of the caste and social distinctions that made Javanese and Balinese so complex, Malay became the language of revolution.

But Malay did have one peculiarity that carried over into Indonesian, emphasized even more by most Indonesians’ natural respect for halus or refinement—there is no good word for “you.” Even the word “I” becomes problematic in some formal situations.

There is a word kamu, but it is only for use with extremely close friends or children. There is engkau, often shortened to kau, but that sounds abrupt and rude. Indonesians tried to introduce a new neutral word for “you” in the 1960s, anda, but it sounds so distancing that it practically implies an intentional lack of warmth and is now generally used only for formal writing.

So Indonesian largely does without “you” as all but the most intimate conversations resort to Bapak or Ibu. Although technically it is the third person, after a little experience the distinction disappears. But it does lead to the sometimes maddening tendency of formal Indonesian conversations to wander into almost impenetrable vagueness, because as the tone becomes more formal, even the “I” is replaced by the third person “Bapak” or “Ibu,” meaning also in this case “me,” and words indicating tense and time drop out, until the speakers seem to wander in a timeless and featureless ideal space without cause or effect.

But of course it was many years later I discovered these distinctions. For now, I only knew well how to say “Pak” and “Bu” and knew these two terms applied to just about everybody. I didn’t know many words, but my pronunciation was good.


At the end of my second month I left Bali to see those sights in Java that my guidebooks told me were essential—the Bromo volcano, the ancient temple of Borobodur, the Sultan’s city of Yogyakarta—and when I returned to Bali several weeks later, Madé and McHugh had gone for a holiday to Lombok.

Sue and Lewis were still at Losmen Jati, but they weren’t speaking to each other. Lewis was unhappy, Sue told me, and hadn’t been out of his room in two days. He complained that Bali was too hot, but he didn’t want to return home to San Francisco. San Francisco was too cold.

Sue and I wandered down to the beach together and sat on a sand dune—this is in the days long before the beach front road was built—and watched the waves and the sunset.

“Do you fall in love easily, Michael?” Sue asked.

Her question surprised me and made me uncomfortable. I had to take a long pause. I guessed I was in love with Madé, but I hadn’t been often in love before. Obviously I was not doing well at hiding my feelings. Even more obviously, Madé was not hiding her feelings about me. She too often and too openly followed me on her motorbike.

“I really don’t know,” I finally answered.

“Madé’s a very easy girl to fall in love with,” Sue observed.

I had no answer to that.

“I think Lewis’s problem is that he’s fallen in love with her, too,” she added.

“Lewis?” I gaped stupidly in astonishment.

“Yes. He won’t talk about it. But I know him and he’s pretty obvious. She does that with guys.”

“Like with me?” I asked.

“I don’t know what she’s up to with you. Maybe she’s in love with you. Maybe it’s something else. I just hope you don’t get hurt. You need to be careful.”

I didn’t know quite how to receive Sue’s warning—whether it was sharp insight or a complete misunderstanding and meddling. Maybe she was jealous of Madé, irritated about Lewis.

“I don’t know how much difference it makes anyway,” I told her. “We aren’t lovers.” I didn’t explain why; maybe Sue would think it was a moral decision on my part. “You know I’m leaving Indonesia in a few weeks. Going on to Malaysia and Thailand. And Madé says she and McHugh are going to the U.S. for a visit. So chances are I’ll never see her again, no matter how I feel. She’s with McHugh, even if they do argue constantly. And I’ll eventually go back to California and … do something else.” I didn’t have plans yet of how I would end my journey.

“They do fight all the time,” Sue agreed. “I don’t know if they’ll last long, but some couples are like that, fight all the time and still stay together. For some reason.”

I didn’t want to talk about Madé and I changed the subject. “So what about Lewis?”

“One of the reasons we came on this vacation was to put our relationship back together. I guess that hasn’t worked very well,” she laughed.

“You don’t seem that upset by it,” I observed.

“Oh, I’m upset. But I’ve been there before. He’s made a fool of himself… again. And I guess I expected it, in a way. So I guess I also have to accept that we failed and I go on from there.”

“So what’s that mean… a divorce?” I asked.

“I knew it was coming, really.”

“I’m sorry,” I offered, and Sue shrugged.

There were no lights in Kuta when the sun went down, no electricity in this part of Bali. The sea was as it had always been in all the centuries past, and whether people rushed home in the rapid tropical dusk while they could still see the path or lingered on the sand after the sunset depended on the phase of the moon. Everyone always knew the phase of the moon. It was a three-quarter moon up early tonight, and we stayed on the dunes and watched as the phosphorescence began to appear in the waves.

Fishermen with kerosene lanterns prepared their nets on the sand. Probably Madé’s father was among them. A few dugout jukung, the brightly painted Balinese outriggers, were setting out farther up the beach with gas lanterns. Those belonged to the richer families, Madé had told me a little resentfully, the ones who could afford a jukung. They could catch more fish and bigger fish with a jukung, and they could sell them for more money; the rich got richer once they had their own jukung.


Sometime in the early morning hours I was wakened in my room by a tremendous shouting and banging. I recognized the pounding of the kulkul, the hollow log gong that served as the village alarm, and voices were hallooing back and forth through the night, first from one side of the village, then another and from down the lane and through the coconut groves. The moon had set some hours before and it was pitch black outside my veranda, but I could see a few flashlight beams waving through the coconut palm trunks and a glow of kerosene lanterns as men ran shouting through the trees. Dogs barked hysterically and seemed to be gathering from all directions.

The excitement eventually seemed to coalesce several hundred meters down the lane toward the sea, but whether it was a celebration or a conflict I couldn’t tell. There were angry voices, some raucous laughter, screams and wailing. I didn’t leave my veranda, and no lights were lit in Losmen Jati, and when the noises finally died down a half hour later, I pulled my sarong back over me to keep the mosquitoes off and went back to sleep in the hot pitch-black night.

Madé’s sister Nyoman Suti brought me tea in the morning and then sat on the step to talk. She was a funny little thing, skinny with frizzy hair—very unusual in Bali—but cute and lively and always in a good humor. McHugh made fun of her and called her “the monkey,” but Suti always took it well and just stuck out her tongue and made a face at him in reply. Her English was very basic, and with that and my even more basic Indonesian I tried to ask about the disturbance in the night.

“I heard a big noise last night, Nyoman,” I said.

“Kat teep,” she answered.

“Kat teep?” I asked, puzzled.

“Teep. Teep! Maling!” she insisted. “You know, take tings! Go in losmen, take tings! Bad man! Teep!”

“Oh, catch thief?

She nodded “Yah, kat teep.”

“So what happened to him?”

“They find him, he steal from tourist losmen. They hit him, many time, he dead.”

“They killed him?” I asked incredulously.

“Always kill teep. No teep in Bali.”

“No, I guess not. Not if that’s how they deal with it.”

I thought about it for a while. I had never mistaken the Balinese for the gentle flower-children as they were portrayed in the gushier tourist guides. But it still seemed a bit disturbing that the village men killed him so precipitately. I heard a lot of laughter along with the wailing last night.

“Who was he? Where was he from, Nyoman?” I asked.

She shrugged. “Don’t know, no talk, just hit. Not Bali.”

“If he didn’t talk, how do you know he wasn’t Balinese?”

“Because no Bali teep!” as if that settled it.

I sipped tea until my university logic got the better of me, and I tried to suggest he might have been Balinese after all, there was no way to know if they had killed him first without asking. Suti was adamant. If he was a thief, it was impossible he could have been Balinese because there are no Balinese thieves, and if he had once been Balinese, he was no longer Balinese because he was now just “dead teep.”

“What about the police, Nyoman? Didn’t any police come?”

“No police. Police come today, get dead teep.”

“Does anyone get in trouble for killing him?” I asked.

She just looked at me in puzzlement and shook her head. “This our desa—our village! No teep in Kuta!”


Madé and McHugh returned from their trip a few days later, but both my time in Bali and theirs was winding down. They would leave for California within the week, and I would at last start back across Indonesia, through Java, and through Sumatra, on my way to Malaysia, a departure I had delayed several times already.

Sue and Lewis left the day of the full moon, back to San Francisco and whatever awaited them, and that night, one of my last in Bali, I wandered by myself up the beach north from Kuta to the neighboring villages of Legian and Seminyak. Kuta and Legian and Seminyak now are continuous strips of developed nightclubs and tourist hotels and shopping centers, but in those days they were distinct and distant villages, separated by coconut groves, empty fields, and thickets. I picked my way along the shore through the dunes, and though the moon was full, it was just now rising in the east below the level of the trees behind the beach, and the sky was thick with scudding clouds on a strong wind, and the night was dark.

The faint music of a gamelan gong orchestra ahead pulled me on. It seemed to grow closer and then further as I walked, the sound probably carried by the fitful wind, but after twenty minutes of walking the music was clear and close, and through the trees I soon saw the lights of kerosene lanterns. In front of a temple facing the sea, several hundred Balinese were gathered, circled around the edges of a coral gravel courtyard, forming what at first appeared to be an empty arena. I joined the crowd and looked around. No other Westerners were here. I had been to a number of Balinese dances in Kuta which the community put on for the tourists, and although the dances were authentic, they were definitely tourist performances, and Madé explained to me they had changed parts and added characters so the tourists could more easily understand. Whatever was happening here tonight was for the village.

I craned my neck trying to see over and between the crowd and finally gathered that the gong orchestra—the gamelan—sat on mats on the ground in front of me, and in front of them sat about a dozen men dressed in sarongs of poleng—the sacred black and white checked cloth symbolizing the ubiquitous juxtaposition of good and evil, a Balinese version of yin yang. Each of these men had others attending to them, holding their shoulders or patting their backs as a priest moved among them sprinkling them with holy water and making signs. Some of the men were breathing heavily and a few were moaning softly.

I hadn’t noticed at first that at the far end of the courtyard in front of the temple gate stood a figure in the shadows, almost unmoving except for a slight trembling and the occasional flick of a scarf. I recognized Rangda, a witch goddess in a mask with bulging eyes and fangs and wild medusa hair. I knew the story, this was the kris dance, meant to symbolize the struggle of good and evil, and I had seen a tourist performance of the dance in Kuta. In the Kuta version, Rangda, accompanied by several attendants, appeared first and danced, representing the spread of evil in the world. Young men dressed in poleng dropped into trance as Rangda danced, until overcome with anger, they roused themselves with screams of rage and rushed at Rangda with their kris—the wavy sacred daggers of Indonesia—and attempted to attack Rangda. But Rangda’s powers of evil were so great the men couldn’t approach her, and instead she forced them to turn their kris upon themselves. Yet the strength of good in them and the depth of their trance also protected them from their own kris, and the men struggled and stabbed at themselves repeatedly, pressing the kris against their chests with evident force and yet never breaking the flesh. Eventually the Barong appears, a creature sent to protect the good and save the men. The Barong looked like a Chinese lion mask dancer, like a big shaggy puppy dog with even white teeth, and as it clacked its jaws and danced in front of the Rangda, the men gradually calmed and regained control and were led away, while the Rangda shrieked and gestured angrily and finally slunk off in impotence into the night and the Barong cavorted in joy around the stage.

But this Rangda wasn’t dancing; she simply stood silently in the shadows in front of the temple and vibrated almost imperceptibly as the tension in the men and the moaning and crying increased. One man stood up and pointed at Rangda and then another, but they didn’t have kris, didn’t shout or shriek or attack her. All the men were crying now, quietly but as if their hearts were breaking, and one had so lost control that long strings of snot dripped from his nose and mouth as his guardian tried to comfort him. No one moved and the crying continued, muffled and quiet for the most part, with an occasional louder sob breaking through, and the two men who had been standing dropped to the ground in despair. Long minutes passed, ten minutes or fifteen, as still Rangda only stood and vibrated with tension in the shadows. A slight shift in the crowd caused me to look toward the gamelan, and I noticed that the Barong had appeared behind them, but neither did the Barong dance or cavort or even clack its jaws, but simply stared at the Rangda, shuddering with the same tension, waiting as the men cried softly, seemingly lost in a world of endless sorrow. Eventually the handlers helped their charges to their feet, comforting them and escorting them out of the circle, back behind the gamelan and into the night where the men still cried. The last to go was the man with snot and tears still running copiously down his chest.

For a while longer the Rangda and the Barong stood in tension facing each other, then slowly they both backed away into the darkness and were gone, and the crowd broke up and drifted away. The performance left me with a feeling of endless sadness. There was no victory over evil, not even battle. This seemed a flabby good, confronted by a flabby evil, in a world of ambiguous sorrow. Not good for tourists; this version would never be popular.


I scheduled my departure from Bali for the same day Madé and McHugh were scheduled to fly to California. Madé and I walked down to the dunes the evening beforehand, and we said our goodbyes. Maybe we said the word “love,” I am sure we said chinta, and we ended with a long kiss—our first since that night in Singaraja nearly three months before. I probably said something trite like, “Have a nice life”—that was a popular phrase going around then in young-people-in-love movies. But I meant it. I never expected to see her again, and if I was in love, I knew, and I was pretty sure I was in love, it would eventually fade away, and we would go on with our lives, and I hoped she had a good one.

Madé and McHugh left early the next morning, and a few hours later I caught the bemo into Denpasar with my backpack where I booked a long-distance bus to Java.